iMediaConnection invited me to contribute to the Best & Worst of 2007 round up. My favorite campaign of the year: Ask.com’s sponsorship of Ask A Ninja. The campaign that made best use of user-generated content — if you count editorial posts on Boing Boing or OhGizmo “user generated” — was HP iPaq 510′s sponsorship of “voice posts.” The agency that, to me, went furthest in pushing the envelope was Goodby Silverstein for Sprint’s WaitLess.org concept, HP’s campaign around voice posts (above), and HP’s Blackbird gaming system launch.
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Eric Wilhelm, the CEO and Chief Project Doer at Instrucables, recently accepted ads from Sprint on his site — ads promoting “Sprint Cuts” at Sprint’s WaitLess.org site. Then, in his words, “After watching the ‘Sprint Cut’ on how to peel an egg at http://www.waitless.org/ I was intrigued. I thought this might be useful for Tim and me considering how many hardboiled eggs we eat. So we gave it shot. Results are below…. We’re not certain whether it belongs in Handy Tricks or How Not To…” Here’s the post.
The post also includes a disclosure, “Sprint is an advertiser on Instructables, and waitless.org is part of their advertising.” To be clear, Sprint and their agencies (Goodby and Mindshare) bought ads on Instructables, but did not ask for or expect any coverage on Instructables. Instead, the fact that Eric tried his hand at one of the short-cuts featured in Sprint’s advertising is an unexpected (if wonderful) outcome to a well-crafted creative concept. Among the 40 comments submitted to this post, I couldn’t find anything negative toward Eric, Instructables or Sprint. Nor could I find anyone who seemed confused or upset that Sprint made its way from the advertising section to the main projects section of the site.
A few months ago, the marketing crew at Toshiba and their agency, nFusion, showed us some of their print ads built around the word innovation
How could that message play out as conversational marketing, they asked? How could we spark a genuine conversation among people who care deeply about technology — famous gadget bloggers and ordinary geek citizens — that would inspire Toshiba’s product development teams (and the rest of us) to think big? And when they asked those questions, they also told us something that made all the difference: We’re not joking; we want innovative thinking and we’re willing to take the necessary risks.
So we invited the Ninja (of Ask A Ninja) to emcee a Tech Battle Royale — the site launched last week — among a handful of gadget gurus, industrial-design visionaries and do-it-yourselfers who like to build their own dream gadgets from spare parts. As part of Toshiba’s sponsorship, the Ninja throws down a new gauntlet each week — he poses a question in the post-roll sponsorship segment of his video program. The first two questions: “What technology from TV, movies or books would you most like to see become a reality?” and “How can we better use technology to preserve the environment?” A handful of FM authors submit answers on the Tech Battle Royale site, sponsored by Toshiba, where visitors can vote for their favorites or submit their own suggestions.
Simple but smart. Here’s why.
While Toshiba underwrites the conversation and its brand benefits from association with it, they leave the content of the conversation to outside thought leaders. They’re not trying to spark a conversation about the comfortable feel on your fingertips of Toshiba keyboards, but rather to create a place for gear lovers to share hopes and dreams about a better world through tech. By keeping it authentic and vendor-neutral, Toshiba attracts voices from well beyond the core authors — more than 200 visitors unaffiliated with the sponsorship program submitted entries in the first week, and more than 1000 weighed in with votes.
Second, since the conversation is built around content by participating authors — their own content with their names next to it — and visitors to the site can vote for their favorites, the competitive juices start to flow. Deane Barker at Gadetopia wants his readers to vote for his ideas, so he blogs about the contest with a tongue-in-cheek hard sell: “I’ll make it easy for you: my answer is always best. Go vote for me.” Not to be outdone, the team at UberGizmo links to the Tech Battle Royale contest at the top of their homepage. And surprise, surprise — UberGizmo won the first week’s battle.
To be clear, the terms of Toshiba’s sponsorship include banner ads and an agreement to answer questions the Ninja poses — Toshiba doesn’t attempt to buy influence over any editorial content or pay for links on any of the participating sites. With campaigns like this, FM recommends that authors disclose the sponsorship details to their readers for the sake of full transparency. The extra efforts by Gadgetopia, UberGizmo and others are added-value bonuses, done by participating authors because they are genuinely having fun with the concept. Fun that turns into web momentum.
One participating author, Eric Wilhelm of Instructables, asks his readers directly for help answering the questions. Hereâ€™s the question from week one, and here’s week two. Sixty-five Instructables readers contribute ideas to the first and 77 do for the second. And wait a second, is this cheating?! Instructables is posting in advance three more questions (here, here, and here) and already 89, 23 and 14 suggestions have been submitted, respectively. What does Toshiba get out of a conversation on Instructables they had a hand in starting? A core group of the Instructables community is spending serious time on a page that, per Eric’s disclosure at the top of the page, calls out Toshiba. Several comments then talk about the Tech Battle Royale site itself, which drives additional visitors to the contest, including a few who go back to Instructables to say they’ve voted for one of the ideas born of the Instructables conversation. In other words, Toshiba’s marketing conversation spreads onto the pages of Instructables. Meanwhile, Eric does something right by involving his readers — he’s riding high in 4th place!
Another participating author, perhaps to drive more votes to his or her entry, submits the contest to Digg, though the Digg link appears to benefit all contestants equally. In the process, Toshiba’s Tech Battelle Royale makes its way onto Digg organically. If instead Toshiba staffers tried to plug their own marketing campaign, they’d risk an unsavory backlash on the pages of Digg.
And, finally, the campaign makes its way into the online press. Robert Seidman picks it up on August 27:
“Sometimes I think my brain is so well trained to ignore marketing (it’s not perfect, I do have an iPhone) that my eyes don’t even notice it. There are definitely a couple of FM Campaigns that I’d put in the conversational marketing realm. One is very, very well done in terms of doing something new and that’s the FM: Tech Battle Royale (brought to you by Toshiba). It’s true three-way conversational marketing and I’d like to learn how the campaign fared someday.”
Robert, stay tuned!
(Note: The creative thinking by the FM team was led by Lester Lee.)