Commentary

One Lovely BlackBerry Ad Equals One Lousy Web Experience

Browsing engadget.com, I saw a lovely, new, multimedia ad for the BlackBerry Pearl. Beautiful phone, compelling ad, lavish splash page.

It is now my poster child for lousy advertising on the Web.

The ad is beautiful in its simplicity and it serves its purpose -- but only to an extent. It enticed me to click through, and the splash page enticed me to click through further. But when I got to the Web site, the experience ended with a bone-rattling thud. I was forcefully (and, I might add, brutally) thrown out of the "ad" and onto the "site," and the experience couldn't have been more jarring.

It's a 10-second clip in a 30-second slot. Would BlackBerry purchase a 30-second TV spot, only to run a 10-second ad? Certainly not.

So why would the company spend thousands on fabulous Web creative, only to dramatically fumble the ball? The obvious answer is that neither the client (BlackBerry) nor the agency was aware that they were doing it.

And that, I believe, sums up exactly what is wrong with advertising on the Web.

Let me explain.

The BlackBerry Pearl ad read: "How to live a remarkable life with an amazing new smart phone," and it showed an image of a man named Richard Wright, "Modernist Auction House Owner."

The background of the ad was black, with a purple border. It was nicely produced, clean, and piqued my interest about this Richard Wright fellow. I had to know more! So I rolled over the ad, and I saw a splash page:

Again on a black background, the BlackBerry Pearl itself showed a picture of Douglas Coupland, headed "Douglas Coupland's life." Next to the photo, the text read, "Generation X Author. Screenwriter."

Now, it just so happens that I like Douglas Coupland (I'm sure the creative agency behind the ad knew I would). And I am Generation X. (They really have my number.) So far, big points were due to BlackBerry and its agency.

The resulting micro-site was painfully slow to load, but perhaps that was the cost of style -- the site was lush, smart and hip. I craved more information about the BlackBerry. Where could I get this fetish object? How could I satisfy the cravings of my monkey-brain (that part of the brain that makes snap decisions without input from the high-consideration, conscious self)?

Bottom line: I wanted that dark, beautiful Pearl. Where could I get it? Best Buy? Cingular? I clicked the "Where to Buy" link.

Thud. I could almost smell the odor of over-heated plastic as I clicked through to the resulting landing page and the experience melted down. The moody, dark Pearl experience had disappeared. Suddenly, I was on a white page with bright blue and green borders. The screen on the phone in the center of the page showed a blue sky with fluffy, puffy white clouds.

Where was the brooding Douglas Coupland? What happened to modernism and auction houses? Where was the regal black and purple?

Not to mention, for the moment, that this page did not even answer the question "Where to buy..."

I can only describe the painful disappointment of that page by asking you to remember that day in grade school when you were allowed to watch a movie in the gymnasium because the weather was too wet for recess. A movie! At school! You were mesmerized by an overly emotional rendition of American patriot Johnny Tremain, and the world disappeared.

Alas, due to poor maintenance or the vagaries of fate, the image suddenly froze on the screen as the film melted through, in front of your very eyes, leading to the unhappy "fwap, fwap, fwap" sound of the uptake reel slapping the ruined film against the projector housing.

One minute you were fully caught up in the dangerous world of the American Revolution, ready to fight for your country. The next, you were blinking in the fluorescent lights of a dingy gym. The disconnect was disheartening.

Back then, I trudged sadly back to my classroom... just as I turned crabbily back to my "real" work when the BlackBerry ad disappointed.

So here's my challenge to BlackBerry, its creative team, and every other online advertiser who creates an ad without creating an entire experience: Fix this problem.

Let's learn to create a smooth interactive experience where a customer is engaged from the first impression through the entire interaction. Let's not drop the customer on the existing site and assume it's up to the "site guys" to conclude the sale. Let's stop justifying the disconnect by saying that Agency A created the ad and Agency B created the page within the site. Let's stop complaining that the folks who handle merchandising won't give us real estate on the page to make the connection between the ad and the site.

Let's just learn to work together and fix the problem.

If a client asked a creative agency to produce a 30-second spot, and they produced a beautiful 10-second reel, the agency would be fired. It's time we raised the bar on our online advertising efforts. Our consumers will thank us.

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