Everyone's a Copywriter with Modem's “Rant” Banner

A year ago in a letter to the editor at the NY Times (link, reg req), I argued that agencies would never support a TV ad model that required them to create hundreds of discrete creative units — one for each micro-target — for every campaign:

“Sure, the concept of targeting ads to tiny clusters of TV viewers, 300 households at a time, holds a certain appeal to marketers and consumers (Jon Gertner, April 10). But here’s the rub: This kind of ad targeting requires dozens if not hundreds of 30-second commercials for every single advertising campaign, each spot racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in video-production costs. In other words, creative costs could quickly outpace the media costs to place those spots on the air.”

Two months ago, working with a few blog authors, Microsoft’s agency (IPG’s McCann SF) figured out one way to do it efficiently, online anyway. They pointed these authors to the product’s brochure site and let them each develop ad messages for their own readers (ChasNote 3/8/06). Art directors stealing a page from Silicon Valley’s “distributed computing” playbooks! Or perhaps a Napsterization of ad creative, where content and server power is a shared effort. One blogger-copy ad drove a 60% improvement in click-through rates over the standard agency banner.

This past week, Stanford-based Modem Media (part of Digitas) took distributed creative a step further: Rant banners. These are ad units that create a conversation not just between a brand and individual customers, but among a community of customers all sharing with each other their experiences related to a particular brand, product or service. The banners feature a rolling thread of reader posts, like a group IM chat.

As Mark Galley, Modem’s VP / Creative Director, describes the first batch of rant banners for IT-jobs site Dice.com, the ad units are “a place where IT folks can vent to the world about how much their job ‘sucks’ (to use their language). Beyond that, it’s just flat-out entertaining to not only post as many comments as desired, but to read the endless amount of rants from other techies in similar situations. All that adds up to a ton of time being spent with the brand.”

You can’t beat that for engagement marketing. And it’s highly endemic: The particular conversation at a site, since it’s literally written by that site’s readers in their own voices, takes on the tone and personality of that community. There’s a safety valve, too. When someone posts a new comment, he or she sees the comment appear immediately in the banner, but in fact this instant-gratification process is a local one. I see my own “rant” right away, but I’m looking at a version of the banner cached locally in my browser. Before my comment shows up in the conversation that is viewed by other readers across the web touched by the campaign, my comment is vetted by Modem’s content filter to strip out inappropriate language or reference to company names.

Three days into the Dice campaign, the performance data is still being compiled. But the early signs are promising. Most people who have posted rants so far are posting multiple times, so time-spent will be the metric to watch. And personalized posts such as “Katie, are you there? Are you seeing this?” suggest that Modem and Dice have built an ad experience that their customers want to share with their friends. That’s more than cool.

  1. # dfgg said: September 10th, 2006 at 8:08 am
  2. # PSFK: “Time to Rape and Pillage as Many Bloggers as Possible” at ChasNote said: January 23rd, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    [...] Further, I worry that the Google approach — taking humans and creative brainstorming out of the mix — robs the advertising process of value for both buyers and sellers. Obviously, $0.30 versus $13 is a bad deal for a high-value publisher like PSFK. And if ad buyers reward cheapness over impact, we will never again see break-through marketing that accomplishes anything beyond direct-response calls to action.  Some of the early forays into “conversational marketing” that have come through FM in the past year — Dice’s Rant Banner or Symantec’s RSS-powered content ad or Cisco’s Human Network campaign, to name a few — still aren’t possible via Google’s self-service platform. [...]

  3. # Making Viral Marketing Work at ChasNote said: February 7th, 2007 at 6:48 am

    [...] In my first column as guest blogger for Alan Graham’s “Tales from the Web 2.0 Frontier (ZDNet), I talk about two case studies of “conversational marketing” in which brands managed to to stay on-message while also creating campaigns that achieved PR and viral success — Cisco’s “Welcome to the Human Network” and Dice’s “Rant Banner”: “Every marketer these days wants the kids at My Space befriending their corporate mascots, producing fun-yet-favorable YouTube videos that feature their products and writing blog posts on that fresh, revitalized feeling that comes from using their brand of soap. But here’s the catch. Most of us – the My Space kids included – don’t want to talk about most companies’ products. We want to talk about ourselves! So what’s an aspiring “conversational marketer” to do? Find a way to associate your brand and products with a conversation that your customers are already having or would like to have.” [...]

  4. # Dagan said: March 12th, 2009 at 10:34 am

    I wanted to comment and thank the author, good stuff

  5. # Dice’s Best Job Ever Video Series said: April 16th, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    [...] for some time, since the first time I saw ad creative that began with the provocative question Does Your Tech Job Suck? Forget about the sassy language; I like that Dice kicks off the conversation with its customers by [...]

  6. # Six Apart’s Sponsored-Question Ad Units, Sprint Takes Test-Drive said: May 13th, 2010 at 11:02 am

    [...] Six Apart, including Bernie Albers, David Tokheim, Andrew Anker and Chris Alden. Reminds me of the rant banner idea from Dice and its agency Modem Media / Digitas, a project Bernie and I had the chance to work [...]

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