A controversial man once said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sure sign you’re not trying anything very innovative.”

For eleven years my company, BrightLine, has been hard at work making mistakes -- a task we’ve accomplished many times over. Throughout our 600 plus interactive TV ad campaigns we’ve just about mastered the art of confusing, frustrating and -- let’s face it -- flat out annoying our share of viewers. But despite this undeniable truth, or more accurately because of it, we’ve earned our position as a leader in innovating TV advertising.

So what’s the secret behind our methodical stagger towards understanding this burgeoning interactive TV viewer? It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to (shamelessly) liken our theory of creative evolution to Darwin’s. He might have called it Survival of the Most Engaging. We call it Behavior Data Driven Design.

Understandably, in some creative circles (maybe yours) the mere mention of the word data will illicit more than a few “la, la, la, I can’t hear you’s” -- but indulge me for a moment and I’ll explain why as makers of TV ad products, hard numerical data may just be our secret superhero sidekick. Since the beginning of TV advertising time a whole industry has been dreaming up designs, billboards, concepts, commercials and the like --and after relying on closed studies over real-life behavior, basically tossing things out into the ether and crossing its fingers. Sometimes the work is praised, sometimes panned, but mostly it’s impossible to actually know what’s connecting with an audience. (At least there was never proof.) But now we’re living in an age where you wouldn’t be wrong to think of a TV screen as a virtual two-way mirror -- giving us focus-group-caliber consumer information along with real-time analytics that until recently only existed for the digital guys (and P.S., ours on TV are more reliable). So for the first time on television, with data’s help we get to definitively answer the question that’s constantly on our fragile artist minds anyway … “Do they really like my stuff?”

Love it or hate it, consumer behavior doesn’t lie and certainly isn’t afraid to bruise your sensitive ego. By all means let creativity ask the question, but understand how to listen when data answers back. Use what worked, toss what didn’t and the most engaging solution will always live to fight another day.

So in the spirit of celebrating the art of failure and the fruits that come along with it, I’m honored to share with you 10 surefire ways to lose an audience in TV advertising (and a few ways to keep and actually involve the audience, too).

1. How to lose them: Treat them like a “user.”

Let’s get a few things straight first.

What’s a user? Someone who leans-forward physically and mentally, is willing to search for content, and maybe even engages in some Facebook stalking.

What’s a viewer? Someone who leans back (again, physically and mentally), wants to be entertained and certainly isn’t looking to think too hard, beyond keeping up with the latest plot twist of “Game of Thrones.”

Perhaps the most fundamental faux pas that an interactive TV advertiser can commit is to assume that televisions are just big computers. After all, they’re both magical glowing screens that show content, plus you can check your Twitter feed! What’s the difference, right? Actually, connected TV consumers have a vastly different mindset from their digital counterparts. Put yourself in a TV watcher’s fluffy slippers for a moment. You’re lying on the couch on a weekend night, thumb glued to the up and down arrows on your remote and waiting for something stimulating to materialize in your channel guide. This, or you’re skipping the live TV experience altogether and making a beeline for your DVR list. Whichever the case, you’re looking to sit back, relax and be entertained. And you’ll be damned if you’re going to work hard for it -- that’s what you’ve been doing all work-week long, remember?

How to keep them: Treat them like the “viewers” that they are.

While it’s true that brands can have great success with their digital assets on television, if you think you can simply present TV consumers the same user experience that you have online you’ll have to think again. In fact, stop thinking in terms of users altogether. To effectively reach your interactive TV viewer, you’ll need to guide them through a strong, thoughtful viewer experience presented through a clean and intuitive viewer interface. You get the idea.

2. How to lose them: Make them think twice.

As discussed, asking your audience to think too hard may be akin to asking them to engage elsewhere. If a viewer arrives at your interactive experience and scratches his or her head for even a second, you run the risk of losing that viewer for good. Harsh, but true.

How to keep them: Tell them what’s up!

While it’s true that interactive audiences want to interact, they’re going to need you to show them how, when and where to do so. The key is to know when to hold their hands and when to let them explore. If your goal is to get them to request a coupon, make your “get coupon” button the most eye-catching element on the screen. This means using a highlight color that isn’t present anywhere else in your experience. They need to know where they are, and subconsciously, where you want them to be.

3. How to lose them: Ask too much of them.

Marketers have long understood that in-store consumers are more likely to buy a product when they’re presented with fewer variables to choose from. Not surprisingly, the same applies when you’re trying to get them to engage on TV. Ask them to do too many things at once and you may actually be convincing them to do none of them.

How to keep them: Don’t get greedy.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully driven your viewer to your branded content, because they were enticed by your offer for X. Don’t push your luck: Make sure that upon arrival they see the clear path towards X before you try to get them to Y, Z, and so on.

4. How to lose them: Make them read.

What do a TV viewer and a ninth-grade English student on summer vacation have in common? Give them a novel, and watch them run!

How to keep them: Keep it simple.

Don’t forget, TV is a visual medium. Viewers expect to watch shows and movies and play the occasional video game. (Believe it or not, French films with subtitles aren’t exactly the norm.) If you want to keep them engaged, choose imagery over text where possible and less over more when text is unavoidable.

5. How to lose them: Make them squint.

While burying one’s nose in a laptop/tablet/phone in the office/street/train may be the latest craze, when it comes to your content on TV picture the exact opposite. At the distance from which they’re engaging your audience will bail unless you speak to them in big, bold, beautiful terms. Straining to see your content equals work, and we’ve established how TV audiences feel about that four-letter word.

How to keep them: Go BIG.

The average TV viewer is curled up at least ten feet away from the screen and has no intention of moving closer on your account. To engage them properly, make sure your font is LARGE and use high-quality imagery as generously as possible. You’ll also want to avoid using serifs and thin typefaces in general, as they’re easily lost in the mix on many TV platforms.

6. How to lose them: Trap them.

So, you’ve successfully enticed your viewer to browse through your branded content. Maybe they’re checking out some recipe ideas. They move from recipe A, to recipe B, to recipe C in a horizontal line. That’s all good -- until they want to go back to the main menu. If your main menu happens to be a vertical stack of buttons and the only way out is to reverse it and go C, B, A – then click, they are gone!

How to keep them: Let them jump around.

Unlike cursors in the digital world, TV viewers are limited for the most part to four possible moves: Up, down, left and (you guessed it) right. To successfully free your audience, whenever you must have two distinct menus onscreen make sure they’re parallel to each other, never perpendicular.

7. How to lose them: Underwhelm them.

This may come as a surprise (hopefully not), but your viewer isn’t going to simply drop everything and engage with your content. Quite literally he or she isn’t -- the average viewer today (about 84%) is watching TV with his or her smartphones or tablets in hand. Neglect this fact, and you may be missing out on 180 degrees of a possible 360-degree ecosystem.

How to keep them: Surround them with your experience.

Today’s connected TVs come equipped with some pretty incredible technology. But where certain tasks may still be cumbersome with a remote, smartphones and tablets are right there to pick up the slack. Let viewers use their devices for things like typing and making purchases as they engage with your stuff in real-time. They’ll thank you by sticking around.

8. How to lose them: Make them antisocial.

If a consumer engages with your brand and no one hears about it on Facebook, does it even make a sound? If a viewer enjoys interacting with your content, you’ve got a very small window during which they’re willing to let all their friends know on social media. Make sure you give them that opportunity while you’re still top of mind. It won’t be for long.

How to keep them: Let them use their words.

Many major TV platforms have instant social sharing and liking capabilities. Whether it’s a single click using the remote control or via second screen device (they’re holding theirs anyway) make sure to give them the chance to share your content or see what others are saying in real-time.

9. How to lose them: Ask them to participate, just because.

While it’s true that today’s viewers have an appetite for engagement, don’t expect them to bite for no reason at all. You can throw all the hashtags, QR codes and URLs in the world at them, but without something tangible in it for your audience, don’t expect it to play ball.

How to keep them: Give them a reason.

When it comes to getting your viewers to engage, even the smallest incentive can make the biggest difference. If you want them to put themselves out there (in the social-sphere) on behalf of your brand, consider offering coupons, samples or exclusive content in exchange.

10. How to lose them: Assume they’re all the same.

Although it’s true that your ads should speak to the “TV viewing audience,” don’t forget that this vague term encompasses a myriad of consumers, each with their own desires and unique viewing habits. Serve them up a rigid viewer experience and you’re sure to alienate a good part of the audience you’re trying to engage.

How to keep them: Let them be themselves.

With today’s capabilities, there’s no excuse not to offer viewers an ad experience that is customizable in one way or another. Consumers spend their days surrounded by search engines, devices and games that appear to bend intelligently to their every need, so why shouldn’t they expect the same from their TV? Tactics like customizable product recommenders, targeted calls to action and the ability to save favorite content onscreen all go a long way for your audience in making the ad experience feel like their own.

Daniel Cohen leads BrightLine's creative team. He crafts cutting-edge experiences infused with aDaniel Cohen deep understanding of consumer behavior and his signature wit as a copywriter. Since joining the company in 2010, he has led the ideation, execution and management of countless campaigns for Fortune 500 companies like Unilever, Disney Parks, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, AB Inbev, Beam Global and GM. Notably, his creation of L’Oréal’s The Next Level and recent Disney Parks applications were touted by major media outlets as groundbreaking endeavors, opening new doors for marketers industry-wide. Dan can be reached at dcohen@brightline.tv.

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