Advertising's New 'Handshake'

By Ed Cohen and Mary Hamann | Spring 2011

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Mendoza alum Beth Doyle is helping design technologies to give advertisers and consumers the commercials they've both always wanted. And media companies need. 

The day may be coming when cat food commercials mysteriously disappear from the television shows you’ve been watching because your TV knows you own a dog, not a cat.

The day is already here when you catch an episode of “The Office” on Hulu and get to choose whether to watch a commercial about car insurance, smart phones or soft drinks.

If you find this surprising, you are likely not of the same mind—and probably not in the same industry—as Beth Doyle (’04), rising star of the advertising world.

Who says she’s a rising star? Mediaweek, the trade magazine that covers ad-supported media such as TV, radio and newspapers.

Each year, Mediaweek selects a group of media “all-stars” and one “rising star.” Doyle enjoyed the double honor of receiving the Rising Star award last October in New York City and appearing on the cover of the Oct. 18, 2010, issue of Mediaweek’s sister publication Adweek, standing beside the Chicago River in downtown Chicago.

The Mendoza alum is associate director of innovations for Vivaki, the media division of one of the world’s largest advertising communications companies, Publicis Groupe, based in Paris. Publicis Groupe owns Leo Burnett, the legendary agency that created such enduring advertising characters as the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Since joining VivaKi, the Notre Dame alum has earned an MBA from DePaul University with an emphasis on change management. She says her role is to be an advocate for new ideas, “helping people to see the world is changing, and how we need to change our habits.”

That includes convincing clients and executives that the “invisible handshake” has run its course. That’s the covenant that used to exist between viewers and broadcast media. Broadcasters provided endless hours of entertainment and information at no charge. Viewers “paid” for it by paying attention to commercials.

But consumers increasingly are skipping commercials by watching shows recorded on DVRs or subscribing to commercial-free media such as Netflix. So what’s an advertiser to do? That’s what Doyle and others are trying to figure out.

Mediaweek singled Doyle out for her continuing role in developing and refining new forms of video advertising.

One form that her agency is pioneering is “addressable TV.” This refers to a technology that allows cable and satellite TV operators to transmit commercials to individual set-top boxes, which record every click of a remote control.

To decide who gets which commercials, a cable operator might check out a subscriber’s viewing habits by reviewing the recorded clicks. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Through a third-party data collector, the cable operator could take into account the records of your purchases made with a loyalty card at the local pet-supplies chain store. Say you buy dog food, but never cat food—bingo, you own a dog and not a cat. 

This kind of pinpoint targeting has been the holy grail for advertisers for ages. John Wanamaker, an early department store baron, is said to have complained, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Ad rates are based on reach. So, generally, the more viewers or readers a TV station or print publication can deliver, the more it can charge. Mass media such as broadcast TV networks offer easy access to multitudes, but they’re also inefficient. Advertisers inevitably end up paying to pitch baby diapers to households without babies or glucose meters to non-diabetics.

Now the technology exists to gather and sift through oodles more information about consumers’ interests and buying habits. The next step: Develop a more finely tunable delivery system.

That’s where Doyle, addressable TV and related technologies come in.

Last December, Starcom MediaVest Group, part of Publicis Groupe, announced an agreement with DirecTV to begin testing addressable ads through the satellite provider’s DVRs. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Starcom has committed to buying $10 million to $20 million worth of addressable commercials on DirecTV in 2011 for clients including Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola.

Doyle has been working in video innovations since 2005 and is the right-hand assistant to its senior vice president and innovations director, Tracey Scheppach, one of the architects of the DirecTV deal.

In this area, Doyle runs a company initiative called The Pool, which brings together advertisers such as Kraft and Procter & Gamble with media companies including YouTube, CBS and the Discovery Channel. The hope is that, brainstorming together, these sometime competitors can solve the major advertising dilemmas spawned by the Digital Age.

There are plenty. Most involve money.

The biggest is the so-called “dollars-to-dimes” issue. Traditional media such as NBC and The New York Times have discovered they can’t make nearly as much money selling ads online as they did in print or through broadcast commercials.

Old-line media have tried repurposing articles and shows online, but Web audiences are even more fragmented; fewer people “tune in” at the same time. There’s more competition online, and, in the case of video, there are fewer “breaks” for commercials. Result: disappearing revenues.

In 2008, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker observed that broadcasters were trading analog (broadcast) dollars for digital (online) pennies. He’s since upped the returns online to dimes.

Finding better ways to monetize online video became the first “lane” or brainstorming focus in The Pool, says Doyle. The first innovation to emerge is a so-called “ad selector.”

Instead of users having to watch a random commercial—called a “pre-roll”—before the desired video, the ad selector gives visitors a choice of three commercials from three different advertisers. The thinking is that viewers will pay more attention if they choose the commercial of most interest to them. Advertisers, naturally, would be willing to pay more if the site could prove that people were paying more attention to commercials.

Visitors to the free TV-and-movie site Hulu have seen the ad selector in action. The Pool spent more than two years on research and tested 91 different executions of the concept. Result: In online surveys, Doyle says, the ad selector scored three times better than pre-rolls on key metrics like “top-of-mind” awareness and “unaided recall.”

Advertisers also were surprised to learn that all the choices in the ad selector found audiences. “Everybody gets picked,” said Doyle, “not just tech products. With all the shows available, you can find a placement that works.”

But will consumers tire of choosing their ads? Doyle says they might, which is why a major priority for The Pool is market research. So far, the members have determined that no more than 20 percent of the ad mix should feature these “choice” ads.

Researching what consumers will accept in new forms of advertising and figuring out what should become the equivalent of the “30-second spot” for new forms of media are the central goals of The Pool, she says.

Questions abound. When watching TV programs online, should commercials come at the beginning or mid-point? How many seconds should they be? How should display ads change as they morph from magazines to online tablets or from telephone books to mobile coupons on smartphones? Should display ads be more interactive if they are in online magazines?

And the major unknown: How will advertising forms need to be reinvented as the Internet, television and publishing converge?


Doyle was a marketing major at Mendoza. Her favorite class: Integrated Marketing Communications (now Advertising and Promotions), taught by Elizabeth Moore. She returns to give a guest lecture almost every semester. “It is fascinating to see how attune to technology the students are,” says Doyle, “and to take their questions.”

“We have this saying,” Doyle says, “‘Consumers don’t hate advertising, they hate irrelevant disruptions.” And advertisers hate wasting money on non-prospects.

Doyle says her work is about finding better advertising solutions for everyone—consumers, advertisers and media companies. If it weren’t for advertising revenues, she points out, there wouldn’t be “free” TV, or we’d pay more for TV and other media. Money has to come from somewhere to pay writers, editors, actors, directors, illustrators and everyone else involve in the production of content.

“The thing is, the business model is breaking,” she says. “What we’re trying to do is fix that model.”

Doyle’s office on the 32nd floor of the Leo Burnett Building looks out on the twin vertical corn cobs of the landmark Marina Towers, and is playfully decorated with things like a list of promises from Rick Astley’s danceable 1980s hit, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” There’s a Notre Dame banner, of course. Propped against a window is a genuine-looking life preserver with “Beth Doyle” printed on it, a gift from her 

It’s an apt metaphor for someone at the forefront, working to keep an industry afloat.