Sport Chek wants you to buy the coat off Jon Montgomery's back.
Mr. Montgomery is one of the Olympians appearing in a new ad for the Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd.-owned sportswear and equipment retailer. The ad, one of two unveiled Monday on YouTube, is an experiment – a "shoppable" video. Digital tags embedded in the video allow viewers to click on the items worn by athletes, who are depicted training amid winter scenery. Those who click are then taken to the retailer's e-commerce site.
In addition to selling sporting wear for Sport Chek, the ad is part of an important strategy for YouTube parent company Google Inc., as it seeks out more ways to attract advertisers, who account for 91 per cent of Google's revenue (excluding Motorola; 84 per cent over all). Internet video has become a key medium for advertisers as they battle against digital-age attention spans to try and get noticed.
"We think there's a tremendous opportunity for retailers here," Rafe Petkovic, head of retail at Google Canada, said. "Traditionally, they inspired customers through television advertising, but didn't link them to the purchase point."
For now, the Sport Chek video is fairly basic: The clickable boxes appear in a column to the right of the action as the ad plays. Unlike other shoppable videos, there are no clickable tags hovering over the items in motion. Sport Chek has bought pre-roll time to ensure the ad plays before other videos on YouTube.
It's part of a bigger transformation for Sport Chek. Last week a team from the company visited Facebook and Google headquarters in California to talk about new ad technologies and to send a message: When it comes to pilot projects, which are often rolled out in the U.S., Sport Chek wants to be the first to bring those experiments to Canada.
"We want to be a world leader in digitizing retail," said Duncan Fulton, senior vice-president of communications at Canadian Tire and chief marketing officer for Sport Chek.
The retailer has moved 15 to 20 per cent of its advertising budget into digital from other media in the last couple of years, a shift in spending that Mr. Fulton said will accelerate in 2014.
Early in the new year, Sport Chek is planning to pull its print flyer out of circulation entirely for a week, and to redirect all of that spending – as much as $400,000 – into digital advertising. It will test the strategy for two weeks in the first half of the year, and depending on how the digital ads perform, may reconsider whether the roughly $18-million a year the company spends on flyers is worth the cost.
"If we can get to the place where we can reduce the cost of advertising by half … I could see a world within 36 months where Sport Chek does not produce a flyer, and occasionally uses newspaper advertising, like around Boxing Day," Mr. Fulton said.
Google has been testing shoppable videos for about a year, with advertisers such as Dyson vacuum cleaners and fashion brand Juicy Couture. Sport Chek is the first Canadian retailer to take part in this phase of the program.
Last year, Roots Canada Ltd. experimented with a more rudimentary version of the shoppable video. The tags suggesting viewers could click on the products were more basic-looking, and the video did not attract many views. According to Mr. Petkovic, retailers are still working to find out what consumers actually want to watch and Google has been improving the technology to make the videos more attractive and engaging.
Advertisers are using video everywhere to breathe life into their digital advertising.
London-based wireWAX is one of the companies offering video-tagging technology to advertisers. Last year, it worked with Montreal-based online retailer SSENSE, which got in on a real music video, putting its clothes on rappers FKi and Iggy Azalea, and on celebrity DJ Diplo. As the video played, small squares with an "S" in them appeared next to the artists; scrolling over them with a mouse encouraged the viewer to "shop this look." WireWAX has also done campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger and mens wear retailer Oki-ni.
This kind of "content marketing" – introducing product advertising into videos people would watch on their own, versus in ads – is the next step for Sport Chek.
"We will, throughout 2014, continue to expand shoppable video," Mr. Fulton said. "It's such an obvious platform to drive brand and drive sales."