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To loosely follow on from a previous post, it’s not necessarily advisable to ignore innovation and creativity under the current global economic conditions. However, when faced with this kind of negative environment, thinking up imaginative ways to engage with users through existing channels can sometimes become a bit stale. 

Here, I’ve compiled a few different examples of relatively recent online campaigns that caught my attention through their resourcefulness and that follow six identifiable 'I's'.

Inspiration 

Look to your products or services for marketing ideas. No matter how restricting or unexciting they are, along with the means of promoting them, there's always a way around this. One great case study is from sixt.de, a German car rental company. Both the car rental and paid search markets aren't particularly sexy, and both seemingly have their creative limitations. But looking at what these guys did and how it relates to their business is pretty obvious: 

Google has strict policies in place against this kind of thing, but it still doesn’t seem to stop people from trying. Even though an ad like this is likely to have a lifespan of a few days, it’s claimed it can improve click-through rates enormously: PayDay One saw theirs increase by 50% when they ran similar ads. Other examples in this vein include a bit of self-promotion from the digital agency Collective and Littlewoods Direct running a James Bond promotion. 

However, as Google’s Matt Cutts points out: 

I asked someone about it and things like this are a violation of our ads policy. I would discourage people from trying stuff like this; I can certainly imagine someone getting banned from AdWords if they tried to abuse our policies.

You have been warned... 

Irresistible

Sometimes, the key is in the creative. For example, homepage takeovers can be pretty pricey, depending on where you run them. However, speaking in terms of design, there's so much scope to make online advertising stand out. Everyone’s seen the standard background-banner-MPU combination, but as the various means to stretch the boundaries continue to develop, we’re seeing an increase of visually gratifying advertisements built into high-traffic websites. 

I’m putting my neck out here, but it seems that for the most part, takeovers like this generally seem to be run by the entertainment industry: predominantly music, film and related technology.

To me, the obvious reason behind this is that the internet gives advertisers the opportunity to showcase these user-engaging “products” in a way that compliments the core of the medium being advertised. This in itself is a separate blog-post, but for now, a handful of great examples where takeovers demonstrate this include The Dark Knight (MSN France), the Wolverine campaign (IGN.com) and the Jack Penate takeover (NME).

I’m aware there are literally dozens of other outstanding examples that I haven’t mentioned, but I will say that my current favourite is The Day the Earth Stood Still campaign that ran on MySpace.

There’s no getting away from the ad itself and it completely reflects the nature of the film. It’s also incredibly engaging, if a user isn’t expecting it to happen, when the homepage suddenly disappears and then returns, how likely are they to refresh the page to experience it again? My money’s on very, meaning it’s more likely to stick in their mind, therefore making it an effective piece of creative.

But be careful with the stragegy you decide to follow, as intrusive ads can be very annoying for web users.


Integrate

Integrated marketing campaigns can be pretty cool. For the most part, it’s usually a cross section of online and offline media – generally a carefully planned mixture of internet, terrestrial television, radio, outdoor display and offline publishing. We see this almost everyday, no matter where we are or what we’re doing, which is exactly the reason the Why So Serious campaign stands out for me: covering an enormous array of platforms, this was an alternative reality game with digital at its heart. As explained by the Inspiration Room: 

...though centred on the web, [it also] branched out over mobile, mail, flash mobs, scavenger hunts, casual games, user generated content, collaborative narratives and streaming video. 

The success rate was unprecedented, with over 10m participants in 75 countries taking part. 


Interact

Getting users to interact with your brand or products is a sure-fire-way to achieving various marketing objectives. My favourite cases of users taking part in a brand-led experience include Sony Bravia’s Colour Tokyo! (where users could interactively change the colour of Sony’s Japanese offices), Orange’s Spot the Bull (originally created by Poke London and where users guess where a bull will be on a set grid reference using GPS in order to win festival tickets), the long cited and infamous case study of Blend-tec’s Will it Blend (this needs no explanation) and Sprint’s Now Network widget-crazy micro-site (where everything you see is an internet or business-related widget). 

The digital hot potato at the minute is social media and if you can come up with a fresh idea to connect your organisation with a social platform that’s widely used, it may mean you could be onto a winner. Brands doing this through Facebook alone include the likes of TopShop (Fashion Fix), Burger King (Whopper Sacrifice) and Pizza Hut (Pizza Hut Interface), and there are dozens more, across different social tools. 

Intuition 

Use your common sense. Behind every great innovative idea is an equally down-to-earth strategy and thought-out plan. 

BMW got this right with their winter campaign in Germany, where winter tyres on cars is mandatory. They created an MMS picture message, fully customised to each individual BMW owner, featuring the front of the car that person owned, detailed down to the colour and specific model, and of course, showing the new, relevant tyres.

They held the campaign off until the first day of snow and then bulk-mailed their customers. This resulted in an estimated 30% conversion rate, costing around $200,000 but pulling in a revenue of $45m. 

Invention

Often, something totally crazy works. There’s a massive risk in this and perhaps the most obvious area where we see this is in viral advertising, which is a huge, horribly complex subject. For the most part, video is one of the most widely accepted mediums in this area, with campaigns such as Nike’s Touch of Gold,

Agent Provocateur’s Kylie-on-a-bull, Dove's Evolution, QuickSilver’s surfing with dynamite and the Cadbury’s Gorilla being just a handful of the most commonly cited examples. They all couldn’t be any more different from each other, but all have had millions of views, sparked public imitations and generated huge amounts of interest. 

Get your imaginative hat on and see what ideas you can come up with. But be careful: for every success story, there are loads of failures. 

So to try and summarise, perhaps the best course of action is to focus upon your organisation as a whole, your products or services and how to bring the two together with consumer engagement at the core.
Tie this up with a solid strategy based upon a creative and exciting idea and it's likely you'll find you've got an ingenious maketing campaign that'll see great results. 
If you think I've missed any good case studies please share them in the comments below! 
Jake Hird

Published 17 July, 2009 by Jake Hird

Jake Hird is Econsultancy Australia's Director of Research and Education. Follow him on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn or see what he's keeping an eye on via diigo

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