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.