Innovation Nation: 5 Marketing Campaigns for a New Generation
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Advertisements can be broadly categorized into three buckets: the ones we see offhandedly and never think about again; those we see, scoff at, criticize, and eventually tire of and let blow over; and then the ones we can’t resist, the ones that stick with us when we go to make a purchase. These are the ones we have to send to a friend—if you loved it, they must!—the ones we have to talk about because if we don’t, someone else certainly will.
Amazingly, the campaigns that stick these days are the ones that don’t feel like campaigns. Therein lies the Catch-22: “Buzz” is an extremely powerful metric, but equally difficult to measure. Given today’s economy, executives want tangible proof, which makes creativity a tough sell.
Certainly, executives are warranted in their skepticism. Not every innovative campaign can guarantee success, nor is every successful campaign innovative.
Burger King, for example, has unleashed its share of innovative campaigns within the past couple of years—most of which could never explicitly prove their worth in hard returns.
Lisa Bradner, principal analyst at Forrester Research, points to the fast-food company’s 2004 Subservient Chicken campaign as a “buzzworthy campaign that got lots of attention, interest, and clickthroughs but didn’t raise chicken sales.” Its “Whopper Virgin” campaign last December aroused controversy, namely from consumers who were infuriated by what some perceived as a hint of Western superiority. (The campaign asks, “What happens if you take remote Chiang Mai villagers who have never seen a burger? Who don’t even have a word for burger?”) Just a month later, the burger chain served up the “Whopper Sacrifice”: De-friend 10 friends on Facebook for a free Whopper. Less than two weeks—and 233,906 sacrificed friendships—later, Facebook deemed the application a violation of its terms of service. But before the “Whopper Sacrifice” was sacrificed, Burger King had anointed a whole new category—“anti-social” marketing.
In just under two weeks, Burger King managed to induce Whopper-loving Facebook users to “kill off” hundreds of thousands of friends—the world’s first “anti-social marketing.”
Measuring success is, of course, subjective. Bradner says that Burger King and its ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, claimed the intent was to promote brand awareness and deliver on creative energy. In the battle of innovation versus success, she says, the decision often comes down to a debate between wanting immediate wins and establishing long-term goals.
But now it seems the very nature of advertising has changed. It’s a new era where customers are bigger, faster, smarter, and to know them is to let them do their thing. At least, that was the choice of the innovative campaigns we’ve highlighted here. Whether or not they worked—that is, regardless of whether they could be shown to have generated increased sales—these campaigns are among a handful that have a role in revolutionizing how we interact with print, mobile, video, the Web, and even house parties.
TRIPLE WORD SCORE
The AT&T Text Jumbli campaign allowed users—from anywhere—to text in a word made out of an assortment of letters. High scorers won a prize—but AT&T won something far more valuable: engagement.
Word scrambles are the type of games we stealthily play when we should really be doing work. It’s edifying our minds!, we tell ourselves, typing feverishly to feign efficiency, a finger poised to hit the escape button at any hint that someone may be coming. Not often do we think to play these games sitting at the counter of our local bar, and certainly not as we stand in the middle of the tourist Mecca that is New York’s Times Square.
Phone and cable service provider AT&T tapped into the verbal zealot in us all when it partnered with Massachusetts-based LocaModa, a software platform provider that allows mobile-phone users to engage with digital signage networks. LocaModa created Jumbli, a word scramble based on the SMS text-messaging standard, where users form words out of a random group of letters floating in colorful bubbles on a screen. In February 2008, the game made its big-city debut on Clear Channel’s massive Times Square Jumbotron.
Stephen Randall, chief executive officer of LocaModa, said that the way to get users hooked on mobile is to turn the device into “the remote control of your life.” With this motto, it’s not hard to see why AT&T got on board with LocaModa in November 2008 to create AT&T Text Jumbli as a way to promote four of AT&T’s text-messaging phones. The player with the highest cumulative score and/or the highest-scoring word won a free phone.
The prize itself was beside the point, says Jason Newport, chief marketing officer and managing director of Mobile Behavior, AT&T’s agency of record. “You’re being recognized and individualized for your performance,” Newport says. This recognition, he adds, goes both ways: The user is rewarded for her performance, and, in turn, she recognizes the value of wireless technology and the service of AT&T.
On a screen bigger than the square-footage of many New York apartments, the company exploded a game once reserved as an individual pastime into a full-on social experience. AT&T Text Jumbli also appeared on 1,200 screens in bars, restaurants, and cafes across the nation. In addition to setting up a nationwide presence, Mobile Behavior helped the company come full circle with the introduction of AT&T Text Jumbli as an application on Facebook. In fact, to win, players have to be a “fan” of the game—thereby spreading the buzz even further.
“It’s a good idea and a creative execution to add on to a multichannel, interactive campaign,” says Peter Kim, a former Forrester Research analyst who’s now a senior partner at Dachis Corp., a new enterprise social-technology company. Kim notes that, in fact, a prize isn’t absolutely necessary if brand engagement is the end goal and the text-messaging game itself serves that purpose.
He does warn that, while Jumbli’s community aspect is attractive, the Facebook profile is relatively small considering the social network’s 150 million subscribers—and, worse, threatens to dilute AT&T’s brand involvement. “The engagement through the interaction component is lost online,” he says. “AT&T is suddenly irrelevant and an interloper if I’m logging onto Facebook from my Apple laptop, using my Comcast Internet connection.”
Whether users are submitting a word in Times Square, at a favorite restaurant, or at home on a laptop, the game operates as a single entity: A word submitted by any user appears on every other screen in real time, adding the appeal of friendly competition. “Whether you’re in Indiana or New Jersey, you’re connecting with every user, no matter where they are. In the gaming community, you can’t put up walls,” Newport says.
“It was an obvious fit,” Newport says. “It’s a product that really spotlights the power of the network. This is a case of true branded utility, not just slapping on a brand.” In just under a month of the initial launch, Newport says there have been over 300,000 unique plays. Generally, users average 50 words per session, and he estimates that there’s a 70/30 split between Web and mobile players. (Bonus-point offers directed to mobile users, he says, such as double word scores, aim to even the playing field.)
“There’s a whole reverse side of mobile that hasn’t been explored,” Newport says. “It’s not just about pushing consumers content. There’s got to be some learning and engagement on the back end.”
“Once people get engaged with this, they quickly, for better or worse, become obsessed with it,” says Jayne Karolow, LocaModa’s director of community. Even she sounds surprised as she pulls up reports from the previous day. Counting mobile and Facebook, the average users weren’t doing 50 words per session anymore—but nearing 200. Referring to them as “absurdly obsessed,” Karolow says that, when it comes to brand identification, this fervency suggests serious staying power.
The marketing campaigns for Season 2 and Season 3 of Showtime’s Dexter broke new ground: first, with a viral video campaign so frightening viewers felt the need to call the police in fear; then, by teaming with familiar magazines and upending viewers’—well, readers’—expectations.
Scanning over your emails, one in particular catches your eye. A friend has sent you a message with the subject title, “Check out this news alert.” You open it. Inside, the message is short and—well, not so sweet. “You have to see this—is this YOU?” followed by a URL. Clicking the link, a breaking news report begins to play. A serial killer recently killed a fifth victim, and is still on the loose. Yellow tape surrounds the crime scene and investigators in white jumpsuits are searching for evidence. A press report indicates that there’s a thread connecting the victims—a thread which, you realize, applies to you. You freeze as the camera centers on a horrifying image. Giant letters written in blood spell out your name on the wall of the crime scene. You’re horrified: Under your name the killer has written, “You Are Next.”
You can exhale: It’s all a campaign for Showtime’s Dexter. London-based digital creative agency Ralph created “The Dexter Treatment” in 2007 and saw impressive results from the United Kingdom audience. It wasn’t hard, then, for Showtime’s New York–based digital, marketing, and media agency Initiative to convince the network of the impact the campaign could have on American viewers.
The series premiered in the United States in December 2006, somewhat out of the limelight; for Season 2, though, the network wanted to launch in the heart of premiere week, up against powerhouse competitors such as HBO’s Entourage.
“We really needed something out there that could distinguish the show from everything else that was being promoted by the traditional networks,” explains Rob Ross, Initiative’s vice president and account director of entertainment. So, two weeks prior to the premiere, America, for better or for worse, was exposed to “The Dexter Treatment” on SliceofLifeTV.com. “[The video] was so seamless…so right for the show,” Ross says, adding that “the PR and buzzworthiness [was] just as valuable as any paid media we do for Showtime.”
And buzz it got. In London, Scotland Yard Police reportedly received calls from recipients. In the U.S., the blogosphere was swarming with opinions from senders and recipients debating whether the campaign was brilliant or brutal. “They were looking for impact and, yes, they achieved their goal,” says Elisabeth Bertrand, online media consultant at advertising and media consultancy TWESTC. Sure enough, Season 2’s first episode captured a million viewers, a Showtime record at the time, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Impact and innovation don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, though. The viral video, Bertrand says, was a “predictable and unoriginal use of the medium.” Campaigns of this kind, she says, “get old quickly and we have to think more creatively [and] more interactively.” Personalization on video may seem sexy, she says, but “sexy, in a way, like, 10 minutes ago.”
Tracy Tuten, associate professor of marketing at Virginia’s Longwood University and author of Advertising 2.0, argues that the Dexter video was “brilliant,” achieving “all the things you want to see to incite viralness in a campaign.” Fun and interactive, the content was worth sharing namely because it “would really surprise the recipient,” she says. “The video had entertainment value in and of itself,” she adds, leading viewers to think Dexter has entertainment value.
The campaign, she says, was perfect “dark marketing”: The video doesn’t have any overt clues linking it to Dexter (as evidenced by the reaction of some very frightened viewers). “It’s more successful when there isn’t that call-to-action,” she says—none, that is, other than to send it to friends. “[Viewers] don’t want to feel like they’re participating in a branded event, but they do want to participate.”
For Season 3, Initiative began its brainstorming unusually early. No video this time, but Initiative was intent on maintaining a viral appeal. Two seasons in, the Dexter character had officially made a name for himself as “America’s favorite serial killer.” The challenge, Ross said, was “How can we make him stand out in this world of icons? What kind of iconic brands can we marry his image into?”
Then the idea hit: Some of the most iconic brands are in print. Together with Showtime’s internal agency Red Group, the team assembled a list of 12 “iconic” magazines, including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Us Weekly, and Rolling Stone.
“We’re always looking at how we can not only create new media and digital media, but also how we can use traditional media and look at it differently,” Ross says.
The campaign ran once, either the month or week preceding the season premiere, depending on the publication. Some magazines featured the cover art as a single inside page, or on the back cover, while others included four to eight pages of content about the new season.
Each version fit the look and attitude of its respective publication. On the cover of Wired, for instance, the magazine’s title is replaced with “Dexter” written in the typical Wired typeface. The cover line reads, “Everyone’s favorite hacker is back.”
“You can be innovative on any number of platforms…TV, print, online, anywhere,” says Tom Siebert, Initiative’s vice president and director of corporate communications. “Print’s been around for hundreds of years, but nobody did what we did.”
At a cost at least 75 percent higher than the videos, the magazine gambit was certainly money well spent: Season 3 set a new Showtime record for Sunday-night premieres—1.2 million viewers.
Teaming with viral-event specialist House Party, Hershey’s sponsored—but didn’t host—more than 10,000 parties on a single weekend in April 2008. The hosting duties fell to volunteers who had enthusiastically applied for the honor. That enthusiasm translated into a massive ripple effect with attendees—and the eventual reach of the event may have topped 10 million.
“One of the challenges of viral is that you can’t make viral happen,” says Forrester’s Bradner. “You can’t just put something out there and insist that it goes viral.”
Maybe so, but Hershey’s, the chocolate maker, might disagree. One weekend in April 2008, 10,103 house parties took place across the nation—allowing Hershey’s to unite arguably two of the most important aspects of a woman’s life: friends and chocolate.
“Without being sexist, there’s an emotional connection of women-to-women that gets leveraged,” Bradner says. “Women are the majority purchasers. Brands recognize that even if you’re selling to men, you need to win over the women.”
Each party was built on the theme of “blissful moments in everyday life,” while the women enjoyed the company’s newest product, Hershey’s Bliss—bite-sized candies available in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and “milk chocolate with a meltaway center.”
Hershey’s worked with House Party, which calls itself a viral-marketing platform provider—in other words, it helps companies plan and initiate parties hosted by volunteering consumers.
In this case, the number of applications to host a “Hershey’s Bliss” Chocolate Party was five times greater than any previous House Party. The huge response speaks directly to the fit of the brand and the medium, Bradner says. “It wasn’t a brand being overzealous. It was people saying ‘Yeah, this is a great idea. Hershey’s makes total sense.’ That’s where the ad agency distinguishes itself—finding the right theme to get people excited.”
“There’s a lot of love in females for getting together,” says Jody Cook, director of product publicity for The Hershey Co., which oversees the Hershey’s division. Playing to that affinity, Hershey’s provided party packs filled with not only chocolate, but scrapbooking materials to facilitate the bonding experience. “Hershey’s is looking for people to talk not just about chocolate, but the experience they had with chocolate,” Cook says.
More poignantly, chocolate is woven into the center of a very personal experience, adds Kitty Kolding, House Party’s chief executive officer: “It’s in your home, your living room, with your friends.”
“This consumer-generated media that everyone’s talking about? If you believe in your product, go out there and share it with people,” Cook says. “They’ll be your best ambassadors.” After all, if your product isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how pretty the party favors are.
That weekend, 141,329 guests gathered to join in the Hershey’s Bliss parties—but House Party estimates the total reach was over 10 million. Post-party surveys indicated that more than 80 percent of guests were likely to purchase and recommend the chocolates, and 95 percent of hosts said they’d definitely host a second party.
Even House Party was impressed: “We learned on a larger scale how creative our consumers are when you give them the ability to customize what’s meaningful to them and give them the tools to share it,” Kolding says.
The post-party energy was unprecedented. Hosts and attendees kept visiting and contributing to the Hershey’s Bliss House Party Web site for 90 days—two to three times longer than average. Post-party excitement led to 15,390 blogposts and 24,532 videos and photo uploads, giving further voice to Hershey’s advocates.
“When you see the 3-year-old saying ‘Hershey’s Blith’ with a chocolate-covered face and a lisp, you can’t help but fall for it,” says Josh Bernoff, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research (which gave the campaign one of its 2008 Forrester Groundswell awards).
Bradner suggests that the real innovation is how the viral party became a social community. In the past, communities were established on company Web sites, forcing consumers to do most of the legwork. “In the first round of social computing, a lot of brands said, ‘If we build it, they will come,’ ” Bradner says. Unfortunately, they didn’t always come—at least, not in large numbers, or for long enough.
“Our data shows that even among people who want to engage with their favorite brands, social networks are sort of the last channel they find positively influential and interesting,” Bradner says. The after-party success is a testament to the combination of a well-known brand and a social network of existing personal connections. People trust themselves, their friends, and their families to such an extent, the brand almost becomes secondary.
WHAT'S YOUR EPSONALITY?
Epson’s “Epsonality” campaign on the Pandora music Web site was a marketing revelation: an “ad” not only embedded in a consumer site, but built to interact with that site in a manner the Web visitor had already been trained to appreciate.
Are you the Artisan 700? The NX100? The WorkForce500? Surely you’ve wondered! Enter the Epsonality Laboratory and use its sleek onscreen slider tool to gauge your needs and preferences. Voila! Your perfect match. Who knew printers had personalities, let alone one so in sync with yours? Epson did. But wait! There’s more! Want a soundtrack to encapsulate this revelatory experience? Done!
Epson brought its existing “Epsonality” campaign to Internet radio platform Pandora, but with a twist: As the onscreen widget allowed you to “Tune Your Epsonality,” based on how you like your music—BPM (beats per minute), Funkmeter, and Popularity—Epson worked with Pandora’s extensive library to create the perfect playlist just for you.
On the Pandora site, each user typically enters the name of a preferred artist or song and the site builds a “radio station” based on that user’s thumbs up/down interaction, says Cheryl Lucanegro, the site’s senior vice president of advertising and sales. “Why not have your advertisement do the same thing?” she asks.
Visit any Web page and you’ll likely be hit with advertisements left and right. Being the savvy consumers that we are, we’ve acquired a defense mechanism often referred to as banner blindness. As a remedy, Pandora hosts only one advertisement on the page at any given time. This gives advertisers exclusive access to the user experience and protects the user from what Lucanegro calls stimulation overload. Second, and more important, advertisers are able to focus on developing campaigns that are contextually relevant to the listening experience.
Epson’s ad agency, she says, “made ‘discovering the right printer for your needs’ fun and engaging. On Pandora, we could take the core concept of ‘Epsonality’ and add the discovery element of music so our users could come up with stations that reflected their ‘Epsonality.’ ”
What’s innovative is that the campaign “fits…into what the users are already doing,” says New Marketing Labs’ Chris Brogan. “With a few simple sliders, it made some judgments about me and got me into their product by [having] me do something I was already doing.”
Brogan admits that the landing page and design of the campaign wasn’t earth-shattering—that is, a Pandora user could very well have dismissed the advertisement as just another banner, missing the campaign altogether—but for those who engaged, it was an innovative segue to the product. “It was really powerful to me,” Brogan says. “It was an offer for me to move out of the [site] I was in onto a new site, which you normally wouldn’t expect, least of all from a company like Epson.”
In fact, Brogan suggests that “innovative” was certainly not one of the words that previously leapt to mind to describe Epson. “‘Steady,’ ‘staid,’ and ‘beige,’ ” he says, were more likely.
This campaign turned all that around. “They offered something sort of fun and in context that wasn’t about the printer company,” he says. Epson wasn’t presumptuous about its product, and knew there had to be a little “give” before the possibility of a “get.” Moreover, the Pandora campaign actually trained users on the use of sliders, preparing them for their experience in the Epsonality Laboratory.
Lucanegro admits even she is amazed at the level of engagement consumers are experiencing. “This is the first place I’ve ever worked, in advertising, where we get love letters about the advertising.”
ONLINE EXTRA: Good to Great
What differentiates a good campaign from a great campaign?
>> “A good campaign delivers on its objectives, provides a creative boost and energy to the brand and gets a profitable response. A great campaign uses a medium in a new or unexplored way, generates word of mouth and pass-along, helps people remember the brand advertised, and delivers a more-than-budgeted response.” —Lisa Bradner, principal analyst, Forrester Research
>> “Good campaigns are those that have some desirable attributes -- but not all. They may be on point for the target market and product, but lack clever creative. Or they nail creativity but aren’t well-integrated. Or [they] fail to include a response device.” —Tracy Tuten, author, Advertising 2.0
Assistant Editor Jessica Tsai can be reached at jtsai@destinationCRM.com.
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