Platform-Proof Campaigns

CrossPlatformHow marketers are crafting strategies that optimize and achieve the best balance across all platforms

Imagine you’re a banker. It’s 10:08 on a Friday night and you’re still in the office, reading an article online about the financial crisis in Greece. You’re 28 years old, living in New York City, but thanks to your job, you might as well be 78. You haven’t been out with friends, much less someone who might consider dating you, for months.

Suddenly, a familiar-seeming ad appears on your computer. It looks just like a funny poster you saw in the Wall Street subway station this morning — something about living in New York and making a million dollars but spending less time outside than a prisoner. There was something in Forbes last week, too. Or was it Worth? 

“It’s 10:08 p.m.,” reads the Internet ad, “and you’re reading an article about the financial crisis in Greece. Get a life. Find Balance. Find Ultimat.”

Creepy? Maybe. But also an example of how a good integrated campaign can work in 2012. Rather than operating across platforms simply for the sake of it, as some advertisers were inclined to do in the early days of digital advertising, good cross-platform campaigns today deploy a single idea across a select handful of media, letting each do what it does best, one building on the other. Posters grab your attention, banner ads exploit personal information, a Twitter feed offers deals and interaction. Today, a good integrated campaign feels tailored to your life and your habits. Sometimes, it can appear to follow you.

“How can you use different media to tell someone a story that motivates them and drives that change in behavior you’re looking for?” asks Nathan Swenberg, global communications planning leader at BBDO. “What’s important is understanding how people are using those different platforms, and then thinking about how you can string those experiences together.”

Like most good cross-platform efforts, the 2011 campaign for Ultimat, a premium vodka brand owned by Patrón, started with a very specific target audience and a big, flexible idea. It didn’t operate on every platform, just the ones it needed to grab its audience and make its point.

The campaign started with a simple challenge: Not everyone is going to pay $40 for a 750-millileter bottle of vodka. So “we started out knowing we wanted to hit a white-collar target,” says Eric Silver, chief creative officer for Amalgamated, the creative agency that handles the brand for Patrón. The decision was made to go after young finance professionals (bankers, traders) with an interest in nightlife and upscale brands — people who tend to have a lot of money but work long, difficult hours. Hence the tag line, “Find Balance. Find Ultimat.”

But where to reach these people?

The campaign launched with out-of-home ads, particularly in places like the Wall Street subway station where bankers were likely to walk through every day. To appeal to its young demographic, Patrón paired a matter-of-fact, almost mocking tone with a highly personal message: “You work for the best firm in the city. You make seven figures. You spend less time outside than prisoners of Rikers Island.” Similar ads followed in magazines that the target was likely to read, like Forbes, Worth and The New York Times Magazine.

But the key was to hit the bankers where they lived — at the office, on their computers. So Amalgamated came up with a way to make highly targeted Web ads. “Through this API, the banner would know what you were reading,” says Silver, referring to an application programming interface. “The banner would say, ‘It’s 11:08 p.m., you’re reading an article about how bad news in Greece is spilling over into the markets in Italy. Stop it and get a life.” Patrón knew that its target audience tended to be using the Internet for work purposes when they would prefer to be out socializing, and the banner ads turned that insight into engagement.

Later, on Facebook, the personal became social. Amalgamated produced an app for Ultimat called The Social Life Audit that would analyze your profile, grade your social life and give you suggestions on how to improve it. “It would scan your photos, and through facial recognition, mood recognition, gender analysis, come up with this score,” says Silver. (In a clever nod to social media trends, the app deducted points for pictures in which people made “duck faces.”) By providing suggestions on how users could improve their scores, it provided an incentive for them to change their habits (i.e., get out and drink).

The campaign might be as notable for what it did not include. There was no mobile element, no TV, no radio, nothing (gasp!) on Twitter. The campaign went where it needed to go — and nowhere else. “We had a target we wanted to go after,” says Silver, “and we used the media we needed to reach them.”

Such is the evolution of cross-platform campaigns. Five to 10 years ago, when the Internet was younger, social media was new, and mobile devices weren’t so smart, clients were more apt to demand “a Facebook strategy” or “a viral campaign,” much to the chagrin of their agencies.

“The thing I heard five years ago was, ‘We’ll just do a viral video, and everyone will see it and that way we won’t have to spend money on TV,’” says Swenberg.

While that mindset certainly still exists among many clients, as well as some agencies, the savvier operators have come to appreciate the various platforms for what they are: different pathways to various audiences, each uniquely suited to different forms of engagement. What they are not is a frontier land in which to plant a flag just to prove a point.

Which media channel to use “should be one of the last questions a client should be asking,” says Silver. “Where we try to start is, what’s your current brand perception? How do they want to be perceived? What’s the overarching brand strategy? What’s the urgency or what’s the time line?”

“Once you know that,” he says, “that’s when you calmly figure out the proper channels to attack.”

Of course, following this advice sometimes means being absent on platforms where your audience might be looking for you — a prospect that, five years ago, was considered by many to be brand suicide. But there is mounting evidence that being selective about which platforms you choose to occupy can work better than being on a platform in which you can’t afford to fully invest.

Swenberg tells the story of a consumer packaged-goods client who, faced with a tightening budget and increasingly fragmented media presence, decided to rein in his company’s media presence in order to better focus its spending. “The guy who did it took a lot of flak from a lot of people — if I told you the brand you’d be surprised,” he says. “This guy said, ‘You know, I’ve only got the resources to do a good job in TV and the store.’ So all these other things got turned off, and all of a sudden his sales went up.” Having seen the benefits of concentrating his ad budget, the client proceeded to carry out the strategy across its various brands, and, according to Swenberg, is still doing so today.

“He said, ‘I’m going to focus on the two platforms that are most important for my business,’” notes Swenberg, “and it worked for him.”

It may be a titillating story to CMOs with shrinking budgets. But what about the frustrated consumer who goes on Twitter to complain about your company only to discover no one is listening? Or who tries to find out more about your company by doing a Web search for the tag line featured in a print ad, and finds himself wading through two pages of results before finding your site?

“Yes, people expect you to be on Twitter and they might want to interact with your brand online after seeing a spot,” says Swenberg, but that isn’t always a good enough reason to open channels you aren’t prepared to monitor properly. “If your legal department isn’t set up to deal with something like that, if you don’t have people who can represent the brand on that medium, then you’re probably going to do yourself more harm than good for being there.”

Others find that the right idea can translate to almost all digital media without a massive investment of time or money. The creative challenge in formulating a cross-platform campaign has always been finding an idea that works across the chosen platforms. The old clichés about “the big idea” still apply when working multiplatform, say creative chiefs. But in addition to being “big,” an idea also has to be flexible. And if it’s flexible enough, it can work anywhere with minimal investment.

“You have to have an idea and an insight that isn’t media specific,” Marty Orzio, chief creative officer at Gotham, says. “And the better the insight, the more compelling it’s going to be.”
Sometimes, the most flexible ideas are also the most simple. For Denny’s, Gotham last year chose to promote a new “cheese-inspired” menu with the tag line “Let’s Get Cheesy.” The idea was just silly and broad enough to translate to any number of media.

“From top to bottom, everything resonated cheesiness,” says Orzio. TV ads featured diners using classic cheesy pickup lines to talk about their food (“This cheesy dinner is a parking ticket. It’s got ‘fine’ written all over it.”) But other efforts required more creativity than cash. Gotham created a branded “cheesy love song” station for music service Grooveshark. It launched a Tumblr called “Cheese on My ___” that invited people to upload pictures of their favorite things (say, their cat) with a slice of cheese on them. On Denny’s Web site, they offered cheesy ecards (“You’re Grate!”) that friends could send to each other (and that came with discounts on food).

Another creative challenge with any cross-platform campaign is maintaining a consistent look throughout, so your consumer makes the connection between different elements. Gotham used a consistent aesthetic throughout its “Cheesy” work — similar colors, fonts and vocabulary, for example — but Orzio says that these days, visual consistency is less important than tonal consistency.

“You find a way to make it feel the same, have the same kind of energy,” he says. “It may not have the specific words on a rational level, but it still makes you feel the same. You’re being consistent but inconsistent.”

One challenge regarding multiplatform campaigns that never seems to get any easier is measuring, buying and balancing your creative across media. Different media still measure and report their audiences in different ways, making it difficult not only to buy media in a cross-platform campaign, but also to know just how much of your budget should be allocated to one platform over another.

Luckily, most of the major measurement firms have at least taken steps to resolve these problems. Nielsen and ComScore have both debuted cross-platform measurement initiatives that profess to bridge the divide between incongruous metrics. “It’s still not as easy as it ought to be,” says Michael Epstein, director of strategic resource, North America, at Mindshare, “because the measurements are still not standardized.” But it’s getting there.

In a bid to bring some clarity to the situation (and promote its cross-platform measurement product), Nielsen teamed with Yahoo in 2010 on a study called “Cross-Platform Campaigns: Getting to a Smarter Mix.” The idea was to help shed some light on how cross-platform efforts could better balance buys. To do this, they analyzed four existing cross-platform campaigns to see where they were over-invested and where they were under-invested. Angela Reynar, senior director of category insights at Yahoo, says they used Nielsen’s software to “map the reach and frequency curve, and see at which point the curve flattens out and you get no more incremental reach.”

After finding that a campaign was over-invested in a particular medium, they tried to find a better balance by (theoretically) moving money in and out of other media. “What we did was complete trial and error,” she continues. “We said, let’s take 5 percent from the most over-invested media and put it somewhere else, and let’s take an additional 5 percent and put it somewhere else, and that’s how we got to what the optimal was.”

What they discovered was that, relative to where their audiences were, the marketers were all over-invested in traditional media and under-invested in digital and mobile platforms. In other words, rather than making new impressions with untapped consumers online or in mobile, the campaigns were making impressions with the same consumers over and over on television.

“They were getting no incremental reach from a large portion of that spend,” says Reynar, “so you could cut back pretty heavily on that TV schedule, put the money elsewhere and get the bigger bang for your buck in terms of reach.”

The idea that many marketers are still over-invested in traditional media won’t come as a surprise to most media buyers. Despite the rush toward digital in recent years, “it’s still safer to do what we did last year than it is to do something different and better,” says Reynar, “because if I did what I did last year and it doesn’t work, I can’t really be blamed for it.”

There are also still many CMOs who are simply more comfortable operating in the traditional media realm. “If you want to shift dollars out of TV,” says Epstein, “you all of a sudden are talking to clients about, well, if I take these 100 GRPs away from TV, you’re gong to get two online.” Epstein is using hyperbole to make his point, which is that explaining the benefits of digital impressions to people who’ve spent decades thinking in GRPs can be a challenge. “You start having these conversations about engagement, but what does engagement really mean?”

That comfort with traditional media, coupled with an economy that doesn’t exactly encourage experimentation, could have as much to do with marketers being more selective about which platforms to operate on as any other factor. But if the result is campaigns that exist on particular platforms for a reason, not just because a CMO is afraid of missing out, then that, too, can be considered progress.

“The smart way to plan is to understand what the role of each channel is going to be and then use it accordingly,” says Epstein. “You sometimes get people who just want to do something because it’s the new thing. I think we need to be a little smarter.”

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