BOSTON — THEY sing, they smell, they pop-up, they light up; some even talk to you. ``Interactive'' advertisements are fast becoming a hot way to sell products and services in magazines. Beyond outrageous photos, enticing copy, and money-saving coupons, interactive ads involve readers with the magazine page. They invade their nose with perfume, pop up three-dimensional cityscapes, sing Christmas carols, and talk about the latest developments in microchip technology.
Last year these spectacular ads boomed into a $340 million business, including costs for production and ad space in nearly every major magazine in the United States, says James Guthrie, executive vice president of marketing at the Magazine Publishers Association in New York.
Yet while these ads are trendy and splashy, they're expensive. Some marketing experts and advertising agencies wonder if the results are worth it.
Take the talking chip by Texas Instruments. A four-page ad in Business Week cost $4 each to produce, nearly 10 times the normal price, says Ed Morrett, an advertising director at Texas Instruments in Dallas. The ad targeted 220,000 addresses: corporate elite on the East and West Coasts and all international subscribers. Only 0.4 percent had technical failures.
Mr. Morrett says that 70 to 80 percent of readers polled by an outside agency found the ad ``very positive.'' His company received thousands of inquiries. Surprisingly, 80 percent asked how to use the chip in completely new applications - from warning signals on hazardous waste cans to instruction chips for factory workers. Even more surprising was the tremendous interest among newspapers, TV, and radio, notes Morrett.
Scent strip ``microencapsulations'' can add 70 percent to the cost of a one-page magazine ad, according to Eisaman Johns & Laws, the Los Angeles ad agency which pioneered the paper perfume ads for Giorgio Beverly Hills back in 1985.
While a regular ad in Vogue (circulation 1.2 million) costs $35,000, a scent strip costs an extra $26,000. The Giorgio fragrance is now the best-selling prestige perfume in the US.
The most widely circulated pop-up ad burst a city skyline from the pages of Time magazine in 1986 for Transamerica Life Companies. Intervisual Communications, an L.A.-based advertising packager and the world's biggest maker of children's pop-up books, designed both this ad and the Texas Instruments talking ad.
``They break through the clutter,'' says marketing director James Richwine. ``They are fun and very intrusive, which means that you can't miss them. People can play with them and show them to other people.'' Pop-ups are also good, he says, ``because people remember them from when they were children.''
But this playful approach is not the best way to get information across, warns Philip Sawyer, editor of Starch Tested Copy, a newsletter on print advertising research based in Mamaroneck, N.Y. ``Pop-up ads do get considerably higher-than-average notice,'' says Mr. Sawyer. ``But if advertisers wish to communicate something which is rather complex, the pop-up ad isn't the best format, because people get more involved with the gimmick than the message.''
And delivering a message, says Dean Laws of Eisaman Johns & Laws, is the purpose of advertising. ``They make that one bit splash; the consumer remembers it for a day or two, but so what's next?'' he asks. ``An advertiser is far better off positioning his product and giving it consistent exposure.''
On the other hand, these ads are often trying to create a positive image for the company rather than just for the company's product, says Rashi Glazer, professor of marketing at the University of California, Berkeley.
``The goal of advertising is long run, not short run,'' says Prof. Glazer. ``Only a naive advertiser would expect someone to purchase his products immediately based on a gimmick.''
The Texas Instruments ad worked by giving that company an image of being a modern communicator. ``You wouldn't usually think of TI off the top of your head as one of the most innovative advertisers,'' says Glazer. ``But this ad gets TI's name out in front of consumers and that has long term benefits. It's company advertising rather than product advertising.''
What's next in these ads? Scent strips are so popular that perfumers have to wait a year to buy space in most magazines, says Mr. Laws.
Talking chips are catching on more slowly, but costs are falling. Texas Instruments is already making talking chips for several customers' upcoming ad campaigns, says Morrett.
What's next? Expect to find ads that speak your name, says Morrett, but not in magazines quite yet. ``Just think, you get a piece of direct mail that says `Hi Liz, I want to tell you about our word processor.' Wouldn't that blow you away?''