NEW YORK: Brands such as Gillette and Sony are experimenting with 3D television ads, despite the fact the audience for this kind of content remains limited at present.

ESPN, the sports network owned by Walt Disney, recently launched a station that will broadcast a variety of major events, including a number of games from the World Cup, in 3D.

This channel will be available to subscribers to Comcast, DirecTV and the pay-TV service operated by AT&T, giving it a potential reach of some 50 million households across America.

However, the actual penetration is likely to be more modest, as the uptake of television sets capable of showing material in this format is still small.

The research firm iSuppli has predicted that retailers in North America will order 1.7 million 3D TVs this year, rising to 26.6 million in 2015.

Given this, ESPN did not sell its 3D inventory separately, but approached companies that it had already signed up to more conventional deals as an incentive to test this model.

Gillette, Procter & Gamble's grooming range, is one brand which agreed to participate in this scheme in a bid to connect with male shoppers.

The ad for its Fusion ProGlide shaver was created by BBDO, and will see the razor and a football come out of the screen.

"If consumers continue to go there, we will be there," said Damon Jones, global communications director, male grooming, at Procter & Gamble.

Sony, the electronics specialist, developed its corresponding spot in partnership with independent agency Anomaly London.

The commercial features Brazilian player Kaká shooting a ball into an empty goal, causing it to shatter and send pieces out towards the viewer.

"Unless you give viewers a bit of a jolt, a wake up, if you can't make a serious impact then it is just another bit of fancy TV wallpaper," said Paul Graham, the co-founder of Anomaly.

Pixar, which is a unit of Disney, will also air an ad for its 3D film Toy Story 3 in the same format in which it will be shown in cinemas.

One obstacle to the future growth of this type of advertising is cost, with a 30-second execution in 3D estimated to require an investment of between $500,000 (€412k; £340k) and $1m.

This marks an increase of between 30% and 40% on standard alternatives, and could dissuade many marketers from following this route.

Brad DeHart, practice leader, marketing services at ICG Commerce, the procurement consultancy, said this will be a "high hurdle" at time when clients are "increasingly scrutinizing" their production budgets.

ESPN itself made a 3D promo for SportsCenter with Wieden + Kennedy, and this project ultimately came in at twice the expected cost.

In spite of this, Ed Erhardt, president of customer marketing and sales at ESPN, was optimistic about the prospects for this emerging medium.

"I think that advertisers are always looking for ways to stand out and to build their brands and if they can figure out that these 3-D ads enhance a brand or sell a product they will do it," he said.

He also argued that in the past companies had proved reticent to film ads in high definition because of the expense this induced, but around 65% of spots on ESPN are now transmitted in HD.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff