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The Birth of a New Ad Medium

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Oh Elders, fleet and strong and wise, appear before my seeking eyes! - Billy Batson, The Magic of Shazam!

The Super Bowl is coming and with it the annual fleeting popularity of TV commercials. Many of the truths about television advertising stop operating on this sacred day. We look forward to the ads, rather than treating them like nuisances. We talk about them, we blog about them. We watch our favorites again on YouTube. Advertisers, understanding that they are making content and not banging messages into our heads, make a different sort of commercial: a narrative, a comedy, a storyline. They buy minutes and half minutes – and sometimes many minutes scattered through the game.

Since advertisers know that their next move is to cut these premium commercials into bits (that people will skip them for the rest of the year), they try to deepen and extend these first experiences. For the last 10+ years we've seen URLs and short codes promising more info and deals - and in recent years, promises of more content (or at least a bit more of Danica Patrick's skin).

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That's why last year’s innovative experiment, the Shazamercial, will be all over a third or more of the ads in this year's Big Game. Hold up your Shazam-enabled mobile device during a commercial and the app will recognize the unique audio signature of the ad and bring you more content (or, for the less clever advertisers, more ad). This is sound as QR code, and, if you’re prepared for it, much easier to use. Look around at the bar or party as you watch the game – if people are holding up their phones during the breaks and capturing ad material to watch later, you’re not just witnessing a fun fad (remember the 3D ads of the last couple of years?), you’re watching a medium develop.

Shazam has always been a great utility. What the heck is the name of that song? Depending on the ambient noise when you ask that question, the app will tell you. But this more expansive way of thinking of sound signatures as links to content is very powerful. Imagine areas of a museum with an ambient soundtrack – say, whale song or the bubbling of a Yosemite paint pot – and using your Shazam app can bring you more information. Or soft, unobtrusive, but unique tones in areas of a department store, the Shazaming of which will give you information on designers, prices, or similar merchandise.

These things may happen whether or not hands go up at the Super Bowl. Asking someone to want more advertising is, of course, different than a museum goer wanting more info on humpbacks or a shopper wanting a different color shirt. But it does bring one more dimension to the delivery of content through a sense that our devices are only just getting good at using.

Matt Rosenberg is VP of Solutions for SAY Media.

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