One response to 2009’s interactive creative trends has been the creative approach we’ve been calling Brand Reality Creative.
The approach aims to develop creative that is intrinsically structured to reflect people’s true relationship with interactive, but that doesn’t lose sight of the need to affect the real world. It aims to combine work that works hard with work that tells a more interesting and inspirational story.
But before we can jump ahead and answer the questions “what is Brand Reality Creative” and “why do we need to change the way we approach interactive work“, I think it is important to start by looking at what has been happening with a lot of existing interactive marketing and what are real people are actually doing? The two are often very different.
Firstly, what are a lot of brand organisations currently doing?
Whenever you create an online presence it becomes part of the network almost immediately. This has often led to creative work that takes the connections between media – between the pots of content and the ways in which they are served-up and linked – for granted. It leads to campaigns being shaped by one particular interpretation of the network: the marketing web interpretation that believes in an essentially hub-and-spoke structure to interactive strategy.
The marketing web places communication activities in a position where they drive in a more or less linear way to concentric circles of organisational focused content/technologies. This traditional, legacy model places social media and mobile technologies in a satellite orbit. Their role is essentially one of traffic driving to the core business function despite their two way potential. The model is dependent on compelling persuasion pathways, a high frequency of message exposure and repeated calls to action.
The problem is people are on the outside and the brand is in the middle. While it is an improvement on what was happening before (the old e-mail – microsite – send to a friend routine) it is still very website-centric.
Whenever I sit in a client meeting about a potential new website brief I always start out by giving our account handlers the jitters by saying to the client, “you don’t need a website.” When the account handler has been revived, or restrained from killing me, I finish saying, “you don’t need a website, you need a platform to share things with people. A website might just be part of it.” Just as we need “less advertising, more entertaining applications” maybe we should also declare “fewer websites, more interactive platforms”? More and more it is becoming what is outside your site that is most important.
The ever-increasing use of “Search online for….” as a call to action on TV and press advertising is part of this less site-centric movement and it is a good sign. I’ve sat in quite a few online-user research groups where, as part of the very first task, we’ve watched people type the URL straight into Google rather than the browser – a fact backed-up by many a search term site analytics report. Indeed if you ask someone what the internet “looks like” then the first thing that pops into their mind is a white page with a multi-coloured logo.
Unfortunately at the moment the “Search online for…” CTA is being used predominantly as a replacement for all the clever marketing URLs that are no longer available.
We need to move beyond shifting campaign journeys to the Google sponsored-ads. We need to target appearing in multiple locations with multiple functions within the natural search listings and beyond – whether this means websites, or application modules, conversation channels or even coverage of physical installations. All of these elements need self-contained, responsive, real-time content that is useful for where we are and what we are doing.
In a similar way to journalism accepting that “the article is not the story” so we have to accept that the website may not be the most effective communication tool – it might not even be the right place to have the necessary conversation. In a world of re-posts and video responses it is the story and context of the communication that is more important for fuelling any conversation. The conversation will not be centralised.
“When thinking about brands and media… we’ll need to make sure that we don’t confuse the article (the advertising) from [sic] the story (the context, the interconnected ecosystem of nodes that “bubble up” to a something much bigger).”
Dino Demopoulos, Chroma
One big brand that has taken a first step with this distributed approach has been Skittles.
Skittles “Interweb the rainbow” campaign is the great hype story of recent months and has been successful in creating noise, but not all of it is good – not that a single, on message, monologic approach to the internet could ever exist. However, the Skittles approach is a great example of the mechanic exceeding the message.
Skittles took an idea that had been previously implemented effectively by the digital agency Modernista! and “deleted their website” by replacing skittles.com with an overlay unit that sat over Skittles related content on other “real web” websites. It created a filter on a distributed internet experience across Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook so people could see the brand “through the eyes of the web”. The insight was quite sound, after all does an FMCG brand really need a website with yet another “About us” section?
Unfortunately the campaign implementation fell down. Skittles was marred by inexcusable usability issues – issues addressed previously in Modernista’s approach – and a blunt legal department-imposed age-checker that turned the experience into that of a site that happened to pull other sites into itself. But beyond this what let it down was the fact that it was actually a great mechanic rather than a conversation. Skittles provoked a lot of conversation but had nothing to say. There was nothing beyond the brand name. There was nothing to channel the crowd’s interest. The content stimulus was weak, and so it was filled and abused by people who like to swear in public.
However, the campaign’s relative merits are still being debated online thus adding to its success in generating more attention than a traditional microsite-focused campaign could do on a similar budget. In effect, it made us look, now what?
Despite these failings Skittles can still be seen as an important step forward by a big FMCG brand in its use of interactive marketing. Skittles recognised that there is an internet beyond the “marketing web”, where real people exist outside of brand control. There are platforms being used by real people that are “their territory” and they are far better than any “walled garden” faux-social network that most brands could afford to build.
Distributed campaigns like Skittles offer an effective and more interesting future for interactive marketing – campaigns that reflect what people are doing in the real world and the digital world.