A frazzled woman pulls up in front of a car repair shop, the third one she has visited in the same day. She knows she needs brakes on her car – the car is slow to stop and the pedal is low – but she is underwhelmed by the scope of the necessary repair as explained to her at the previous two shops. Almost immediately, she notices something different, even inviting, about this shop. She steps up to a large, plexiglass screen that asks: “Having problems with your brakes?” In fact, she is, so she presses the “yes” button. The computer screen asks her to input her first name as well as the make, model and year of her vehicle. In moments, a sketch of her car appears on the screen, depicting a car in motion. “Want to stop now, Theresa?” the screen asks. Impressed that the computer “remembered” her, she hits the “yes” button.

The screen responds by zooming in on her brake system, showing her how each component works together to stop her vehicle. In brief, concise sentences, it explains how the brake pads, rotors and calipers should function and how, if one part is faltering, it affects the entire system. The woman finally feels as though she understands how her brakes work, though she still wants to know the scope of the repair her car needs. So when the screen asks, “Want us to take a look at your car, Theresa?” she eagerly hits the “yes” button. On the spot, she decides that even if the repair quote here is a little higher than those from the other shops, this is the one that will get her business. And she comes to this conclusion before she meets the owner, who's approaching her now and offering her a cup of coffee.

Interactive digital ads of this type are becoming more commonplace all over America. And with a little imagination on your part, they could become part of your marketing repertoire, too.

Unlock the Key to Interactive Advertising

You're absolutely correct to focus on the adjective “interactive.” And you're equally correct to wonder if you haven't already embraced an interactive approach to connect with customers. You are if you engage with customers on your website, where you may encourage them to “contact us,” or offer them a downloadable app.

But “interactive advertising goes beyond simple banners and clickthroughs, using social media, branded polls and games and many other approaches to engage the target audience,” TechoPedia says.

Some of these approaches include 360-degree video, augmented reality and virtual reality, similar to what Theresa discovered at the repair shop. And these approaches are starting to transform traditional advertising mediums, too, in which people read a print advertisement – if they want to – or stop talking and pay attention to a TV ad, if they want to.

Interactive advertising doesn't reach out and grab consumers by the neck to get their attention, but the most successful techniques are ones that are difficult to ignore. This is why these ads are sometimes referred to as “immersive advertising.”

“Interactive ads are the future,” predicts Kara Manatt of IPG Mediabrands' MAGNA Agency, which tests ad strategies and tactics. “People expect to be able to interact with their screens, so why shouldn’t ads do that?”

Mull Your Content and Placement Choices

The fun part for small-business owners is deciding just how interactive they want their ads to be and where to place them. For example, the car repair shop could have asked Theresa for information beyond her name, such as her phone number and email address. This way, had she decided to leave the shop without getting a repair, the shop owner still would be able to reach out and promote his services to her at a later date.

This is precisely why many small-business owners have made customer surveys a regular part of their marketing outreach efforts. Once they know how to reach a customer, they make the most of this basic information by soliciting more meaningful input about what the customer wants, what the customer needs and how the business might address both.

“By tweaking ad approaches, colors and content, and soliciting feedback from the target segments, advertisers have given potential customers the opportunity to interact with companies and their advertising, rather than simply being pitched to,” Techopedia says.

Figuring out places to “pitch to” potential customers is hardly a new exercise for small-business owners. And interactive ads obviously shouldn't be limited to an official place of business. After all, one could argue that once a customer has entered a business' domain, the business owner is at a distinct competitive balance. “All” he has to do is close the sale.

Interactive ads like the one at the car repair shop can be placed virtually anywhere a business' ideal customer is likely to congregate. “Choice” locations will obviously vary depending on the type of business and its primary product or service, but some common public places include shopping centers, grocery stores and bus and train stops.

“Interactive ads are a way to spend more valuable time with consumers,” Manatt says, no matter where it happens.

Gather Interactive Advertising Ideas

Since inspiration often helps kick-start the creative juices, it may benefit you to look up some interactive advertising ideas that some well-known companies have developed:

  • Interactive print media ads created by Glacial, Nivea, Peugeot and Volkswagen.* A particular standout: Peugeot's interactive print ad encouraged people to strike it, after which a tiny air bag inflated on the following page.
  • Interactive digital ads created by Coca-Cola, The New York Times and Verizon.* A particular standout: Well-known for its challenging crossword puzzle, the Times produced an Instagram ad targeting millennials with a nine-character prompt to name a Nickelodeon character with a “football-shaped head.” The winners got to download an interactive crossword app.
  • Anywhere” interactive ads created by Chanel, Reebok and a joint effort by The Ad Council and R/GA.* A particular standout: Reebok installed a speed cam near a shoe display and clocked runners who sped by on foot. The fastest runners got a free pair of Reebok shoes.

Just imagine the crossover marketing opportunities available to your small business, too. For example, while a car repair shop and a shoe store may seem to be unlikely strategic partners, they could develop an interactive advertising campaign that encourages consumers to “lace up” before heading to the repair shop or “take the next left” to the shoe store. With interactive advertising, the unknown turns can be the best part of the journey.