For those of an age (meaning old people) we remember a video arcade game called Dragon's Lair. And let me tell you, despite the fondness of nostalgia that colors everyone's memory of this game, it was the suckiest piece of kluged-together technology ever.
The thing was a glorified choose-your-own-adventure game that ran on a modified laser disc player, another failed technology of the 80s. So basically you used a joystick and pretended you controlled a pre-rendered scene in the game, made a choice and then waited for 20 seconds as the disc searched for the next scene and began playing another segment of beautiful animation that you had no control over.
Yet, however bad this game was back then, it was still better than most interactive video ads today. Because at least it tried to expand the horizons of what was possible.
Dragon's Lair captured imagination because it skipped right by the fact that video game graphics were dots and dashes on a CRT and envisioned the day when fullly rendered animations would replace outlined stick figures. It had the audacity to say it didn't matter that the technology wasn't up to the graphical processing challenge yet, it was still going to find a way to hack together a whole new way of experiencing interactive entertainment. And it didn't matter that the solution was broken and imperfect. It was still something completely new.
Meanwhile, fast forward to 2012, we have the most amazing arsenal of interactive tools ever assembled at our disposal and most agencies are still running their television ad as a pre-roll on YouTube, with a pop-up inserted that says, "Click here to find out more!"
Because as we know, what consumers really want from an ad is to click for another ad.
Do we not have the capacity to envision a total consumer experience? Does the ad itself have to be a static entertainment onto which all we can do is layer interactivity after the fact? In television ads we usually start with an idea and then worry about making it happen. It really shouldn't be that much different with interactive video. We should be pushing the limits of the vendors, not the other way around.
Interactivity is not just an after-thought, it's the culmination of the idea that started in the ad. So for godsakes, start thinking about what you're going to do online before you hand off the broadcast reel to the digital folks and expect magic. Otherwise the most innovative thing in interactive video will continue to be the little counter that tells you exactly how long you have to suffer through that preroll before you can click away.
I love that little counter.