These TV ads follow you around your living room

Alphonso serves up ads on mobile devices and desktop based on the TV shows you’re watching.
Alphonso serves up ads on mobile devices and desktop based on the TV shows you’re watching.

A new wave of technology is offering brands cross-platform reach (and no bathroom breaks)

Picture this: You’re sitting in your living room watching one of your favorite TV shows, when a Land Rover commercial comes in. Instinctively, you shift your attention to your iPad while the ad blares in the background.

As you open an app, though, it launches into a video ad — the same Land Rover ad that’s playing on your TV at that moment.

This is not some dystopian vision. Land Rover is a client of Alphonso, a San Francisco company that specializes in serving up ads on your mobile devices and desktop based on the TV shows you’re watching.

How? As Alphonso CEO Ashish Cordia explains it, the technology is similar to Shazam’s. Launched as an app that applied machine learning to listening, Shazam originally let users point their smartphone in the direction of a song that was playing to discern the name of the song and the artist playing it. The company has since branched out, using its technology to let mobile phones answer a call to action from TV ads. For instance, Coke Zero tied in with Shazam during the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament this spring to let viewers access a coupon by tagging a TV ad.

Alphonso, which now serves adds across some 5,000 apps and is built into set-top boxes and smart TVS, takes a more passive approach. That is, if you’re at home watching TV and open an app, it might recognize the ad playing on your TV as a Coca-Cola spot. Coke could then blast the same ad or a completely different one to that mobile device.

Coke isn’t an actual Alphonso client — yet — but Land Rover is, as are some 20 other brands, including Microsoft, CVS and Royal Caribbean. Cordia says that Alphonso can provide a brand lift of 1.5X to 5X. A recent Land Rover campaign got a 73% lift in aided brand consideration ("When thinking of luxury cars, which two brands comes to mind first?") and a 6% boost in aided ad recall ("Have you heard of any of the following luxury car brands?")

Alphonso’s not the only firm providing this sort of technology. A rival in the space, Samba TV, embeds its technology in set-top boxes. Ashwin Navin, Samba’s cofounder and CEO, says Samba uses visual technology similar facial recognition to determine which shows people are watching.

Samba has hundreds of clients, including McDonald’s, BMW and T-Mobile. The brands use the technology in myriad ways. Some serve up ads on mobile or desktop that people skip with their DVRs. Some show Part Pne of an episodic ad on TV and then the second part on mobile.

Scion, the Millennial-focused Toyota brand, has used Samba’s technology to show ads when a competitor’s spot appears on TV, says Pamela Park, advertising and media manager at Scion. The company is still testing the targeting method, though.

"It’s looking promising," she says. "It depends on the number of eyeballs and the engagement in the program that’s running."

Navin says Samba’s programs are effective, but he declined to provide an overall brand lift number. "We like very precise measurements," he says. "Like this ad buy yielded this many visits to your dealership. The Holy Grail would be to put together how many sales of cars happened after the advertising ran."

When the technology is used to reinforce a TV ad, Chordia says it’s applying the psychological principle of cognitive elaboration. That is, we recall messages that we don’t directly consume.

Jeff Minsky, director of emerging media at Omnicom Media Group, says lots of clients are asking about this type of technology, but he’s not completely sold on it yet. "We’re still trying to assess the real effectiveness of it and the real reach of it," he says. What gives Minsky pause is that the system relies on a "double coincidence" that may be fairly unusual. "Not only do they have to watching the show when your commercial is on, but they have to have the right app open."

Minsky says the case studies he’s seen have been positive. Marketers also like the idea that they can prove that their TV ads have actually been viewed, even if you leave the room, provided you bring your mobile device with you. Finally, an issue that has plagued advertisers since the dawn of TV — the dreaded bathroom break — has an antidote.

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