Lights, Camera, Point and Click!

First published January 19, 2006 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

In a flurry of announcements out of Redmond this week, there was one that struck a chord with me, because it is very similar to a development I forecast in an article entitled “All Roads Lead Online” about a year ago.

Product placement gone wild.

Microsoft will be making online video more interactive by creating the ability to click on a product in the video and receive advertising for whatever you clicked on. It’s like product placement on steroids. See a cool stereo, the car you just have to have, or a particularly yummy dinner in a chic restaurant–and you just pause, click, and immediately get more information. Cool, hey? And that’s just the first stage.

Imagine a little more functionality. Rather than just being served an ad, what would happen if a smart little Web app in the background did a little online research for you? What if it combs for product reviews and consumer ratings, then shops for the best price, determines availability and shipping information, and keeps all this information in a convenient file for your browsing pleasure when the show is done?

The virtual tourist.

Here’s another scenario.You’re watching a movie that features some gorgeous locations in France and Italy. As you watch the movie, you hit a flag button on your MediaCenter remote every time you see an interesting villa, an intriguing town, a vintage bottle of wine or that little bistro that seems so romantic. By the end of the movie, you have a complete travel itinerary planned, complete with the lowest fares available from your home, hotel availability, restaurant reservations and even menu suggestions. A couple more clicks and you’re booked.

Search: the connector between intent and content.

Whenever someone questions the longevity of search, this is one of the scenarios I trot out for them. Search is the engine that underlies all this functionality. It is the bridge that connects intent and content. This core functionality is what will drive almost all online connections in the future. And those connections will be controlled by whoever wins the search war. Suddenly, all the buzz around search starts to make sense.

Imagine what this will do to the world of product placement. It will be a feeding frenzy the likes of which have never been seen before. Suddenly, every video can be one long, multilayered commercial. And as frightening as that sounds, remember that you’re in control. You choose the advertising you want to be served. Advertising isn’t an intrusion when you’re asking for it.

Custom-tailored marketing.

Let’s further envision MSN’s demographic targeting layered on top of this. Now, different segmented targets can be fed different advertising messages. A 55-year-old male lawyer in Portland can see a completely different message than a 24-year-old female teacher in Armonk. A unique user experience can be wrapped and delivered to each.

There’s one last piece of the puzzle that really brings this home: personalization. The more the owner of this connection knows about you, your likes, your interests and your schedule, the more helpful it can be. As it aggregates information, it can be tailored specifically for you.

The announcement of interactive video by Microsoft is just the tip of an immensely large iceberg. As our entertainment choices converge online and become searchable through the same technology that powers Google, Yahoo and MSN, online becomes the gatekeeper for the vast majority of advertising that will be delivered to us. And search has the key to the gate.

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