Ad-dendum by Shubhradeep Guha
I used to know what ‘digital’ meant. Of late, the D-word fills me with trepidation. Two decades ago I was introduced to digital by Negroponte’s book. Soon thereafter when I was a young consultant, digital meant banner campaigns: the trick was to get the user to click on one. A few years later digital was still quite easy to get your arms around—it mostly meant engaging and good-looking websites. We looked at page views, clickthrough rates, repeat visits and talked about bounce rates and stickiness.
A decade later, advertising and marketing, and the media it used, have experienced an incredible upheaval in the shape-shifting new world of smartphones, social media and 4G. Brands and agencies are having to design digital campaigns bearing in mind ARGs (alternate reality games), social networks, mobile apps, augmented reality, and massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), micro-blogging, virality and more. Digital has morphed beyond recognition, what then is a digital campaign? How has the digital campaign evolved over the years, as agencies tried to keep pace with the ever increasing scope and pace of digital creativity?
First things first, some brands and even entire industries have been early adopters and the rest have jumped on to the digital bus – or are running behind it—at different times. The broadest difference is in how a brand looks at digital: just as one channel amongst many, or does it lead with digital.
Digital as a channel
One of the first examples of a brand leveraging the power of digital in storytelling was BMW’s The Hire, a web-based series of short films that became a Harvard case study and was the first campaign ever to win a Cannes Titanium Lion. Instead of languid shots of dents and dimples of cars, The Hire involved footages of BMWs getting smashed and damaged. And instead of sharing these shorts through any traditional channel BMW put them online, four years before the launch of YouTube. This was over a decade ago, when a high quality video would take hours, even days, to download.
The Hire was a runaway success: it proved that if what you create is truly awesome, people will come and they will share.
Another iconic campaign that went viral before we knew what viral even meant was Budweiser’s Whassup, in 1999-2000. Digitally, it was ahead of its time: television viewers were directed to Budweiser.com where they could learn how to say “Whassup” in more than 30 languages. Traffic went through the roof. Despite BMW’s success and traditional advertising agencies’ agreement on digital’s ability to engage with consumers and influencers, most marketers still treat ‘digital’ as just another channel. No surprise that most are yet to crack the revenue model which still is often a bun fight between advertising, PR, media, digital, and ‘social’ media agencies.
Digitally led campaigns
A digitally led campaign really is anchored in digital channels and leverages all touch points to increase brand affinity with its consumers. Aside from the Old Spice Guy achieving iconic status, what made that campaign truly path-breaking is how it connected with fans through its Twitter response videos. This was over five years ago; the Twitter responses the brand then created were amongst the first viral ads. A towel-clad Mustafa maintained his “paragon of manliness” persona while recording personalized video responses to Old Spice fans on Twitter.
Digital is a strong message carrying platform and consumers exposed to digital media are attentive in comprehending the communication. Red Bull’s Stratos, dubbed “the mission to the edge of space”, was webcast live through 280 digital partners and racked up 52 million views, the most-watched live stream in history. Consumers today affiliate themselves with brands that align with their personal value systems. Look at the success of Dove’s Campaign for real beauty that married social change with the brand. Engaging the consumer in the narrative can take a brand far, as the successes of Only Jeans, HCL’s CoolestInterviewEver and most recently SapientNitro’s Chilli Paneer campaign for DBS demonstrate.
Digital advertising has now evolved into multi-channel engagement with the consumer. One of the recent successes amongst digitally led campaigns has been Melbourne Metro Trains’ Dumb Ways to Die public service ad campaign. Deliberately created to promote viral share-ability the campaign song was launched in November 2012 via iTunes, radio, YouTube and more. The campaign also included posters and ambient displays targeted at Instagram and social media. People could take selfies with the campaign’s characters and press a giant button to take the pledge to be safer around trains. An extremely popular mobile game was launched recently, and it has been a top iPhone and iPad app in over 50 markets. Dumb Ways to Die has become the most awarded campaign in the history of Cannes (28 Lions, including five Grands Prix) whilst being equally effective: over 20% drop in accidents and deaths.
It is quite appropriate to refer to digitally led campaigns as consumer-centred campaigns that frame the brand’s story within the consumer’s context. The campaigns I mentioned above serve as mile-markers in the evolution of digital advertising. These led the way in showing how to use digital effectively and entertainingly besides being great examples of solid marketing built on unique insights and perfectly executed. After all, “digital” is the state of permanent beta – ideas, creativity and technology constantly challenging and inspiring one another.
The author is vice-president and global lead for digital marketing and content, SapientNitro