TV & Streaming

Shoppable ads keep coming–but do viewers want them?

Streamers and publishers unveiled more in-TV shopping functions at this year’s upfronts and NewFronts.
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Francis Scialabba

4 min read

At the dawn of television, turning up the volume and buying something were two actions that required getting off the couch. Not anymore.

Shoppable ads, through which viewers can purchase onscreen products with the click of a button or the scan of a QR code, continue to grow in popularity: This spring, AMC, Condé Nast, and Roku unveiled new features that allow viewers to purchase products directly from the ads they see on TV.

It’s a move driven in part by the success of social commerce, as well as the potential for promising engagement.

“I like to look at the data, and when we see that we can get a 0.5% response rate on a CTV ad with the remote control, that is sort of mind-blowing to me,” Peter Hamilton, head of television commerce at Roku, told Marketing Brew. By “combining [TV] with some of these digital marketing and performance-oriented aspects that give us more data,” he added, “that gives us a better ability to target and to learn, and I think it’s a really winning combination.”

As shoppable offerings become more widespread, though, some industry leaders seem skeptical that TV can live up to the social media standard—and warn advertisers to tread carefully.

I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it

Getting purchase inspo from TV is by no means new—the product placement industry banks on it, and sites like Spotern and WornOnTV help people buy things they’ve seen characters wear. With shoppable ads, brands seem hopeful about tapping into that same enthusiasm while adding social commerce tactics, like easy add-to-cart functions.

“We’re learning from the brands that know commerce well, that know their customer well, and thinking about how to translate that to the big screen,” Hamilton said.

At this year’s NewFronts, Roku debuted the ability for viewers to use their remotes to tap “OK” onscreen during ad placements, which then sends a text with a link to shop for the item on their phone. Roku confirmed the button feature is currently live and running with beta customers.

The company also announced a shoppable ad integration with Roku Pay, which will pre-populate viewer payment methods, like credit-card information. Hamilton said more details on that integration and how it will work will be released later this year.

Unlike Coinbase’s bouncing QR code, Hamilton said Roku saw more success with the remote button than with QR codes when testing across products and advertisers. That’s in part because a remote prompt is easier than the multi-step process of getting up, unlocking your phone, opening the camera, zooming in, and tapping the screen to get the link.

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On top of 0.5% response rates, he said Roku tests also showed viewers were more engaged with 30-second shoppable spots compared to 15-second ones, which he chalked up to providing more time to explain the brand message and product. Shoppable ads also offer a useful data point, he said, by helping brands gauge purchase intent.

Not so fast

Even as companies like NBCUniversal invest in shoppable advertising capabilities, some marketers are taking pause.

Price Glomski, EVP at digital agency PMG, said he’s been surprised by the streaming industry going all-in on shoppable given market appetite. According to a 2021 Ad Age/Harris Poll survey, only 36% of consumers would be willing to buy a product or service directly from an ad during a show.

Allysun Lundy, VP of retail media strategy at Publicis Commerce, told us she’s curious to see whether shoppable TV ads can live up to more natural integrations online.

“If I’m on YouTube, if I’m already on my phone, if I’m watching a livestream from an influencer that I follow on TikTok, it makes sense when you make it super seamless to be able to just click and add to cart,” Lundy said. TV, though, is “a little bit of a tougher sell,” given how much more natural it is to buy something on a phone or computer.

Glomski said he’s seen some success with onscreen purchases for limited-release products, like Beats. He’s also seen success with hospitality and travel companies—but only when the ad sends information to other devices.

“I’m not gonna go spend $300 booking through my TV for Best Western,” he said. “That just seems weird.”

Another challenge: platforms’ ability to connect with suppliers to ensure product inventory is up to date and customer data is being protected. Glomski said Amazon Prime Video is one exception, given their role as both the streamer and the supplier—and because they probably already have viewers’ credit-card numbers.

The bottom line, Glomski and Lundy agree, is that shoppable integrations need to feel like a tool or resource for viewers, and be as frictionless as possible, to stand a chance.

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