Interactive and what hasn’t changed – Strategy Magazine February 13, 1994

It’s been said that the trouble with the future is that it usually arrives before we’re ready for it and, in interactive media, the future has started to arrive, heralded (as it usually is) by the unmistakable sound of money hitting the table.

If you’re looking for opportunities to grow your business via interactive media, the key word is opportunities. We’re a long way from a significant reality…and not just in the technology department.

Somebody finally thought to ask consumers what they think of it all. A study conducted by Advertising Age found that only 19.1% of US consumers are even aware of the concept of interactive media. 80.4% were not aware of interactive media at all! Despite the proliferation of front-page banner headlines, business news stories and hyper hype.

So, who’s going to be the home shopper of the electronic future?

Traditionally, 60% of shopping from home has been conducted by women, but when it comes to TV shopping almost 50% are men. Does that say men spend more time watching TV? It probably depends on the day of the week and the progress of the home team!

Not surprisingly, age plays an important role in TV shopping. In theory, retired people have the time, money and interest in TV to be good prospects, however, scarcely 11% of retirees actually shop from TV. Meanwhile, almost 45% of TV shoppers are under the age of 35. Compare this to traditional catalogue shoppers where less than 33% are under 35 while almost 14% are in the senior age bracket.

Traditionally, the majority of paper catalogs appeal to a, relatively, up-market crowd. Almost 40% of catalog-shopping households earn over $40 thousand. TV shoppers, on the other hand, have been decidedly down-market with almost 45% earning $25 thousand or less.

Given the billions of potential sales dollars all the articles about interactive tell us about, the gentrification of TV home shopping is to be expected. Upscale American catalogers are not jumping on the band-wagon to sell junk jewellery to housebound women from blue-collar households with overextended credit cards which is how traditional marketers have generalized home shoppers.

Interactive television and the super information highway has become the buzzword of the 90’s, but, by the time it all comes into existence, I’m afraid, we’ll all be tired hearing about it.

There was a wonderful cartoon in the Globe and Mail recently. The scene is a dark and stormy winter’s night. Snow is piled to the eaves of an isolated house. The first dialogue balloon says, “Another ferocious blizzard! No power! No phone! No TV! No computer! We’re totally cut off from the information superhighway!”  The responding balloon says, “Isn’t it wonderful?”

Despite all the news stories assuring us it’s just around the corner, at the moment, interactive TV is confined to some very localized testing in the US among a few thousand households. Predictions are that systems will roll out from 1996 to 2000 and that by 2000, $3.5 trillion in worldwide sales will be conducted through interactive TV. Meanwhile, the Canadian company, Videotron, has had a modest head start in Quebec since 1990 with the largest, most advanced system and 230,000 subscribers.

What does it all mean for marketers? For starters, don’t panic–time is on your side so let those with the most money iron out the bugs first. Likewise, don’t cancel your printing contracts. The paper media won’t disappear. It will  (or should) change to integrate with all marketing efforts in whatever media, so get ready for a metamorphosis. Tune in now to learn for the future. Get involved, if you can, in helping mold the products and services consumers will be offered. Build relationships with people, and companies who are in the fore-front of technological developments.

Since the superhighway is still in the future, in the meantime, try to learn how to use television. And, look for co-venture opportunities because it’s often too expensive to do on your own.

In the end, always keep in mind that it’s only the media that has changed. You still must offer high quality products at affordable prices, satisfaction and personal service.

Joel Barker, the author who made “paradigm” the business buzzword of the early 90’s said, “The best time to look at new ideas is well before you need them”.

And, I say, the time to start looking at interactive media is now But, look hard before you leap! Don’t forget about that 80% of people who have yet to figure out what interactive media means…and could care less!

Charles de Gruchy remembers how it was

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