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DVD: Just Another Milestone

by Glen Emerson Morris

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There was a time in the not too distant past when having a professionally typeset letterhead automatically gave a business a certain degree of credibility. Today, many kids bedroom computer systems can print photographic quality graphics, and a typeset letterhead has only slightly more credibility than a hand written note.

The development of DVD is a major sign that video production is going through the same kind of revolution. Once, a good thirty-second TV commercial was something only a large, well-established, company could afford to produce. In a few years, anyone with a PC and a few hundred dollars worth of software will be able to produce a decent video, using a combination of canned and automatically generated video clips. It's going to become increasingly difficult to maintain a significant delta between the visual quality of mom and pop store commercials and those of the biggest advertisers.

Technology induced credibility erosion is already affecting the television market. Children of the nineties don't see and significant difference between the major networks and the dozens of other channels on cable. Why should they? The video graphics for the station IDs are comparable, and in many cases they're playing the same shows (though in some cases, just reruns.) Soon, both the major networks and the cable channels will face competition from thousands of channels on the Internet featuring video of comparable quality.

Video production is becoming commodity priced, like typesetting, and word processing before that. At some point in the near future, video commercials won't cost any more to produce than print ads. As this transition occurs, digital video is morphing into new, sometimes bizarre, technologies, which offer entirely new opportunities for advertisers.

In the next decade advertisers will have to learn to be as creative with digital technology itself as they are with its content. This could be a problem for mom and pop businesses, and for that matter, larger companies too, since creativity has never been their primary product. Advertising agencies may do better, since creativity has always been a primary product, if they can get past their tendency to think of advertising in traditional terms. Some of the technologies that will be available soon will require some very creative thinking to exploit properly.

Recently, H. Shrikumar, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, demonstrated an Internet computer the size of an aspirin, designed to connect household appliances to each other using the Net. The demo unit cost about one dollar to make, though in mass production, costs could be expected to drop. (The microprocessor used costs 39 cents.) Various industry groups have already done considerable work to develop an Internet protocol language for this kind of device, so a complete, working, technology is relatively close to market.

On another front, recent refinements in the printing process used to create computer chips and solid state displays mean its only a matter of time before it's possible to print animated images on magazine pages. This technology could provide a thirty-second video, automatically activated when the reader opened a magazine to that page. Whether a reader would put up with a transplanted TV add flashing at them from the same magazine they were trying to read is another issue, but it will be possible to do it.

It will also be possible to print animated images on product labels. It's not hard to imagine a besieged shopper walking down an aisle with every product on the shelves chanting buy me, buy me, and lighting up with attention getting graphics. At some point, product labels will be able to make a sales pitch custom tailored to each consumer within range, using customer profile data downloaded by wireless Internet connection.

A more civilized approach might use a variation of a ring Sun developed a few years ago which contains a microprocessor capable of receiving, storing, and transmitting data. Computer exhibitions are giving them to attendees now, custom loaded with the attendees contact info and beverage preferences. When attendees want more information about a product they see at the exhibition, they simply press their ring against the exhibitors ring reader, and their contact information is automatically entered into the exhibitors database.

In the future, rings something like these could be programmed to monitor the consumers inventory level of each product at home. For instance the ring might detect that the consumer was running low on their favorite brand of toothpaste, and transmit this to that brand's toothpaste boxes on the shelf, as the consumer walked by them at the supermarket. The toothpaste box labels would then change to a message like "You need me!" providing the consumer with a welcome, and reliable, reminder that they did need to buy the product. The ring could also have a wireless connection to the Internet to so, if for instance a light bulb burned out at home while the consumer was shopping, it could still alert the consumer to buy a replacement bulb. (Or that the kids just drank all the Coke.)

The combination of animated product labels connected remotely to the Internet would also offer an advertiser the opportunity to completely redesign a product's label after the product was on the retailer's shelves. Virtually all the graphics on the packaging could be changed remotely to adjust it to fit sales reports made available in real time. This kind of system would make prototyping labels vastly easier, and far quicker, too. An advertiser could easily test a hundred different package designs with no more printing costs than testing one.

These ideas may sound like science fiction, but so did the idea of putting entire movies on pocket-sized silver disks when most of us were children. The successful advertising professional of the future will have to be part David Ogilvy, part Tom Swift.

Just as digital technology is reinventing communications, advertisers are going to have to reinvent advertising. DVD technology, wonderful as it is, is just another milestone on a long road of constant technological innovation. The most important contribution DVD technology may make to the advertising is that of a wake up call to just how much media has really changed, and how drastically it will be changing in the future.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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