Microsoft Officially Unveils NUads

Spots employing Kinect tech will debut this fall from Toyota, Unilever

A year ago at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, Microsoft raised industry eyebrows when it teased NUads, TV spots that would somehow incorporate the gesture-based technology employed by Kinect, the company’s wildly popular Xbox-add-on.

Today, just in time for this year’s Cannes event, NUads are finally hitting the market. In fact, Toyota, Samsung and Unilever have both signed on to start running NUad campaigns this fall. In Toyota’s case, viewers will be able to answer polling questions during the company’s Superbowl spot for Camry—by either shouting commands or using a wave of their hands.

Similarly, Unilever is set to begin testing 15- and 30-second spots in the U.K. that incorporate a multiple-choice question for Lynx, the British version of Axe.

Microsoft sees NUads as—pardon the pun—a major game changer, as the format potentially brings interactive TV advertising to 40 million Xbox subscribers. The company plans to run NUads in two places: as click-to-play videos within Xbox Live, or with TV content delivered via Xbox’s growing list of TV apps (partners include ESPN and MSBNC, though Microsoft isn’t saying specifically which nets will carry NUads).

“It is the centerpiece of our [gaming ad] strategy," said Ross Honey, gm of Xbox Live entertainment and advertising.

Brands are naturally excited by the prospects of TV spots with built-in interactivity. “The creative possibilities of NUads are endless,” said John Lisko, executive communications director at Saatchi & Saatchi LA, which brokered the deal for Toyota.

But at first glance, NUads don’t seem to go beyond some of the products that have long been in the market. Companies like TiVo and Cablevision have for years run ads which allow viewers to request more information from or respond to questions from advertisers, or even buy things. What’s different in the case of NUads is that people can respond to such ads with their hands or voices, rather than just their remotes.

Some advertisers have complained that NUads don’t take advantage of the unique aspects a gaming device like the Xbox. "Where are the 3-D cars you can touch?" some might ask. “I would hope the launch of NUads leverages the platform,” said Brandon Berger, chief digital officer, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

But asking every TV advertiser to create a unique Xbox-oriented spot is probably not going to help get the new ad platform of the ground quickly either. NUads can be created using any TV spot.

“We need things that will scale,” said Honey.

Make sense. But if NUads are starting simple, what took so long? Honey explained that Xbox’s engineering team wanted to focus on quality, and were limited by the fact that Xbox’ software updates only twice a year.

Might some advertisers look to push for custom capabilities that were perhaps tough, or less realistic to pull off?

“Always,” said Honey. "Our clients are interested in innovating. And for TV ad buyers, sometimes we’re on Mars, they’re on Venus. We’re continuously looking at how to improve. But we’re going to deliver something very simple to interact for consumers."