Thinking Inside The Box
Display finally finds the beat in clever ads
Does online display advertising build brand equity?
There is a lot of debate on this subject, but a comScore study commissioned by iProspect on the branding implications of digital media in 2010 concluded that online display advertising is indeed capable of producing brand lift. Meanwhile, brands are clearly convinced that online display works because they are spending serious money on it, and the smartest are going well beyond static — and boring — banner ads to entice and connect with consumers through breakthrough creative.
Two recent examples: Security Service Federal Credit Union and Supercuts. The companies couldn’t be more different. Security Service Federal Credit Union is a financial company serving Texas, Colorado and Utah; Supercuts is a national network of affordable hair salons. But both sought to achieve brand impact via online display and showed a willingness to experiment with new ideas and produce original content for a medium that has for too long subsisted on hand-me-downs from traditional media. While Security Service Federal Credit Union engaged in game play, Supercuts tapped into the power of music. omma takes a look at the thinking behind their successful forays into online display.
What’s in a Name? Service Is Everything
Security Service Federal Credit Union. “It’s a mouthful,” acknowledges Craig Mikes, co-owner/creative director of Austin’s Proof Advertising. The client is well aware of that, too, Mikes says, but a name change isn’t in Security Service Federal Credit Union’s immediate future. So Proof Advertising took what could have been a negative and turned it into a positive, having a little fun with the company’s lengthy moniker in a branding campaign designed to make consumers — young people in particular — more aware of the credit union.
“We decided to focus on the ‘Service’ part of their name, and we came up with a campaign that basically says nothing is going to get in the way of service,” Mikes explains. To demonstrate that, Proof created two fictional Security Service Federal Credit Union employees — Jimmy and George — who were bound and determined to shorten their employer’s name. In television spots, the duo took it upon themselves to alter various forms of Security Service Federal Credit Union signage so that it simply read “Service,” using a Bart Simpson-style slingshot to bust out the bulk of a backlit sign hanging at a Security Service Federal Credit Union branch, and paint to cover up most of an outdoor billboard next to a highway, again leaving only the word “Service” visible.
“The sign was used as a visual device, so there was a simple takeaway — you’d see the sign, you’d get some recognition, and then you’d be left with only the word ‘Service,’ and if nothing else, that was something we could back up,” Mikes says. “So it’s almost like they’ve created their own self-deprecating joke, and people appreciate a brand that can poke a little fun at itself. ‘Everybody’s got a flaw, and ours is that we have a ridiculously long name, but don’t let that fool you. We’re all about service.’ ”
A clever touch: The day after the aforementioned billboard commercial broke, people saw real-life outdoor billboards that looked just like the ones Jimmy and George attacked in the tv ad — the only word remaining in plain view was “Service.”
While the television and outdoor elements of the campaign were nicely integrated, Proof also wanted to take the story online. “It made sense that we’d reinforce this online, but we wanted to do a little better with the banner ads. We wanted to make them a first-person experience,” Mikes says. “So what we did was we brought the tv and outdoor to life, but in the form of a game like Angry Birds.”
Visitors to San Antonio’s ksat.com, woai.com and mysanantonio.com as well as cnn.com and Yahoo were greeted by interactive rich media ads that provided a game-like experience, providing them with either a slingshot or a can of spray paint that they could use to tamper with the Security Service Federal Credit Union name. Players were able to wipe out everything, except the word “Service,” which, in keeping with the other campaign elements, is immune to the effects of rocks and paint.
The hope was that players would have seen the tv or outdoor ads on which the game was based, reinforcing the campaign’s message. But if they hadn’t, the game, which was designed for repeat play, also worked as a stand-alone component, Mikes notes.
As for the ad spend on this campaign, which began last fall and ended this past February, most of the money was devoted to the online portion of the effort because that’s where the younger demographic is spending their time, according to Ly Tran, Proof’s digital marketing director. And the investment paid off: A brand awareness study conducted specifically on the online display portion of the campaign revealed “a huge lift in awareness among 24-to-35 year olds,” Tran reports.
Paid search was also part of the campaign, and while generating brand awareness was the main thrust, there was also the expectation that people would sign up for Security Service Federal Credit Union accounts after being led to the credit union’s site via search and the online display ads. “The number of conversions that we were able to attribute back to search was significantly less than from the rich media ads,” Tran shares. “Normally, you hear about search being the part of the digital media mix that delivers the conversion, but we learned that if you put more muscle and more creativity into online display, you can actually flip that.”
“It was really nice to have these results because now we are in a place where we can go back and say to clients, ‘Look, if you are really trying to make an impact, it’s not about pumping money into Facebook ads or Google ads,’ ” Tran continues. “It’s really about getting back to the roots of what advertising is, coming up with something that’s memorable, humorous and compelling — even with online display.”
The level of online display creativity and the ability for brands to connect with consumers is only limited by the Web sites offering space to advertisers. “We wish some of the Web sites would give us a little better playground, a little more memory to play with and just a little more flexibility in letting us take over,” Mikes says. “We think that would keep people not only on our advertising longer but allow sites to be more relevant and more playful.”
Wanna Look Like a Rock Star? Rock the Cut
Music is at the heart of the Rock the Cut effort launched this past April to promote Supercuts. Created by Element 79, Chicago, the integrated campaign combines print, tv, radio, digital and social media to promote emerging bands through Supercuts’ Artist Ambassador Program, an online community that brings together more than 900 bands and a fan base numbering 5.5 million at press time. “The campaign is meant to differentiate Supercuts from the sea of affordable hair care that’s out there,” says Elizabeth Miller-Tyson, an Element 79 management director in charge of the Supercuts account, “and we needed to increase the loyalty of our consumer and start bringing in the younger male audience. So that’s what we were going after, and we felt like Rock the Cut was the perfect way to blend music and sharing music — something that’s very important to consumers today — with the fact that our stylists are skilled at doing any sort of haircut or style, whether you want a simple trim or something new and trendy.”
While the campaign is made up of many elements, the online display portion was anything but an afterthought. In fact, instead of repurposing other content for online display, Element 79 shot original video for rich media ads — dubbed Rock the Box — that feature acts, including rockers Vintage Trouble and electronic dance music dj Ken Loi, performing inside banners placed on espn.com and iheartradio.com. “It’s supposed to appear as if there are little people playing in the banner, so it was really important to shoot it that way,” says Tom Napper, Element 79 director of interactive. “We constructed a box that was the size, or proportionately the size, of a banner and had the musicians play inside that space. That would carry out the idea that they were actually in the banner space as opposed to shooting them on a stage where they wouldn’t be restrained by that format.”
The shoot involved four days of production in Los Angeles, and it was a complicated process that went beyond coordinating talent schedules. Not only did a box have to be built, it also had to be adjusted to accommodate the heights of the various artists — the idea was to squeeze them into a small space, not to torture them. The result is a piece of unusual and captivating video that doesn’t look like it was simply pulled from a commercial shoot or a concert video. “It appears as if the artists are a living portion of the page,” Napper says, noting that these ads push the boundaries of what is possible in the online display space.
“More and more of what we are trying to do, and what others are trying to do, is to really engage people in that deeper experience right there in the banner as opposed to driving them someplace else,” Napper says. “A lot of what we are being judged on now is interaction time. How long do people interact with our banners and our rich media banners especially as opposed to a click-through? Sometimes it’s not about the click-through. For some brands, clicking through is not really relevant,” Napper explains. “It’s really more about bringing the brand to the forefront for the consumer, and that interaction time helps us prove to our clients that, yes, many people are actually engaged with your brand more.”
Marcy Freedman, digital media supervisor at Hill Holliday, Boston, reports that the interaction rates are very good thus far (in April they were around .10 percent versus and industry standard of .07) and points out that the ads are actually performing slightly better on espn.com. “That’s a bit surprising,” Freedman says. “We would probably think it would perform better on IHeartRadio because of the music.” She theorizes that the reason might be these ads simply stand out more on espn because they are not sports-related.
Additionally, Supercuts saw acceleration in Facebook likes and mentions—April’s total was 315 percent higher than the previous month.
With the first round of online display ads grabbing attention and generating interest in the larger Rock the Cut community, Supercuts will launch more featuring other artists this summer. Meanwhile, the Rock the Cut campaign “is going to go on as long as humanly possible,” Miller-Tyson says. “It’s really resonating.”