Tag Archives | Audience

Skittles and Trale Lewous are Odd Partners

Sometimes you just have to make the most of the opportunities in front of you.

Skittles Vending Machine

About a year ago, Skittles took one of their sweet looking custom vending machines (the same vending machines they give to celebrities) and offered it up to anyone that could convince them through either photo or video why they were a worthy recipient.

One (well actually two) of the responses came from Trale Lewous, a character played by Nathan J. Barnatt, a YouTube ‘celebrity’ that creates wacky characters and makes odd videos with those characters.

Predictably, his entry videos were a little… odd:

But that should come as no surprise, since Trale Lewous made odd commercials for Skittles on his own without any reward:

Since Skittles is an odd brand, they seized upon this odd opportunity, and delivered Trale his prize:

Since Trale was already a huge Skittles fan, the videos continued:

Skittles again seized upon the opportunity in front of them, and delivered a custom boombox to help Trale Lewous with his music videos:

A month later, another video emerged from the Trale Lewous/Skittles partnership:

By keeping the videos low-budget, Skittles doesn’t need millions of views to justify the campaign. Even a few hundred thousand well targeted views would be enough to make this campaign a success, especially when many of those views come from hard to crack communities like Reddit.

Now many brands would have called it quits after a series of successful videos, but Skittles decided to take their partnership a step further by making Trale the star of an online video contest, which they teased:

And then formally announced with their new official spokesperson:

RideTheRainbow.com is, as you’d expect, a bit odd, but it fits with the type of brand they’re trying to create, and appeals to their intended audience. (The same people that watch and enjoy videos featuring Trale Lewous.)

Since this whole thing started with a vending machine giveaway, the hope must be that by giving away a Skittles pinball machine, they’ll unearth the next Trale Lewous, and start the cycle all over again.

And with an endless supply of new talent flooding YouTube every day, doing whatever it takes to stand out, Skittles should have no problem finding their next star.

Hidden ASCII Art Generates Buzz For Dante’s Inferno

Dante's Inferno ASCII Art

When the team behind the Dante’s Inferno video game hid ASCII art in the source code of many popular websites and then waited for that art to get discovered, they were taking a huge risk, but sometimes big rewards can only come to those that are willing to take equally big risks. The risk was mitigated by the fact that their campaign was innovative and well targeted, but there was still the chance that their idea was going to fall flat, or that consumers were not going to be receptive to the idea of hunting for what essentially boils down to fancy looking banner ads.

Hell Is Closer Than You Think

Before we dive into the campaign however, let’s do a quick history lesson: ASCII art, or art made with text, has been around since the early days of the computer. Back when printers weren’t able to make graphics, someone figured out that various characters could be combined to simulate them instead, and ASCII art was born. Because of its lengthy history and quirky nature, ASCII art has remained popular in the geek crowd for many years, and coders are even known to hide ASCII art in the source code of their websites so that other geeks will stumble across it and discover the hidden art while looking under the hood of another coder’s site. This type of ‘hidden reward’ is also found in video games, where coders will hide objects or inside jokes in hard to reach places or behind lengthy button combinations in what’s affectionately referred to as an Easter Egg. The goal for both is to reward users that dig into a website or explore in a video game beyond what the typical user would do, so that whether it’s hidden code in a website or a hidden Easter Egg in a video game, those that discover it feel like they have earned access to some sort of exclusive content or reward.

With that history lesson out of the way, lets look at how Dante’s Inferno combined the geek’s love of ASCII art with the gamer’s love of Easter Eggs into a unique and innovative ad campaign that generated a ton of buzz for their upcoming release.

Dante's Inferno ASCII Art - Death

The campaign featured six pieces of ASCII art that were hidden in the source code of various video game and technology websites. One of the first of these sites to get discovered was Digg (by Brent Csutoras) with the initial discovery leading to a large scale search that uncovered a number of other pieces of art scattered across the Internet in places like IGN, GameSpot, Daily Motion, Games Radar, and WWE. One site, Kotaku, even discovered art hidden in their own source code after a reader tipped them off to the campaign, which the editors claimed to have no knowledge of. In addition to the art itself, each hidden ‘ad’ also contained a URL and a password to a secret site, and by collecting all six of these passwords, users could visit that website and unlock a special bundle of content that included music, wallpapers, posters, concept art and more from the upcoming game.

Reap Your Earthly Rewards

What’s interesting about this campaign is that it was very risky, since the ads could have sat unnoticed for a lengthy period of time before being discovered, and even then, they would have to be almost exclusively passed around by word of mouth, since there is no way to view them except by manually selecting to view the source code of a website. Thus, the campaign would have been dead in the water if it had not generated the buzz that its creators were hoping for. In addition, there is no way to track who views the source code of a website or the traffic generated from those views, except through a very rudimentary URL tracking system that uses custom URLs to track the source of visits. Thus, the only way to judge the results of this campaign is to track how many users download the special bundle, and what kind of buzz the campaign generates. (It’s interesting to note that Dante’s Inferno decided not to track what sites users were grabbing their codes from, since the same URL was used across all sites, and secret codes were shared among sites as well.) Another challenge is that while bundle downloads do indicate the total number of people exposed to the campaign, they can’t differentiate between a user that actually viewed the ASCII art in the source code of a website, and a user that simply found or was given the six passwords on a gaming forum or other less involved medium and then used them to unlock the bundle.

The result of these challenges is that for a campaign like this to work well, it has to be used for the right product at the right time and with just enough luck thrown in to capture the interest of the right audience long enough to make an impression. Judging by the blog reactions and user comments about the campaign however, this seems to have struck just that balance, with comments ranging from “I am pretty impressed by this campaign” and “it is an advertising campaign and quite a clever one if I must say so myself” to “The latest stunt is eerie, and gets bonus points for both creativity and giving the fans some fun bonuses.” Even Digg’s Chas Edwards, Digg Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer was quoted as saying, “Since Digg’s early days, ASCII art has been ingrained in our site’s culture. We’re thrilled with the opportunity presented by our partnership with Electronic Arts and the Dante’s Inferno team — incorporating ASCII art into advertising on Digg, while providing the 40 million users in the Digg Community first access to the promotion code.”

Gluttony

Hiding an ad in the source code of a website is a great example of a company that’s willing to think outside the banner, but does the success of the Dante’s Inferno campaign mean that hidden ASCII art is a viable option for other ad campaigns as well? In this case, I don’t think that you could duplicate the results of this campaign in the near term, as the success was due in such large part to the combination of right place, right time to the right audience for the right product. However, if enough time goes by and users once again forget about a company’s ability to hide ads in places as remote as the source code of a website, I think we could see another campaign or two reach a similar level of success by using a similar idea.

So why can’t companies just start hiding ads in the source code of all of their favorite websites and then wait for people to find them?

  1. There is a very small percentage of people that even know how to view the source code of a website, and even then, it’s not a guarantee that they will like ASCII art.
  2. Much of the buzz around the Dante’s Inferno campaign was driven by the novelty of the idea, so each subsequent implementation will have substantially less buzz as people get accustomed to seeing ads hidden in source code.
  3. If people don’t care enough about a product to go searching for hidden art with secret codes and mystery websites in exchange for exclusive content, then the campaign will never get seen by more than a handful of consumers who accidentally stumble across it.

The take away from this campaign is that it’s important to always keep your eyes open for new and innovative ideas, and to be willing to take a risk on a new format that might drive a lot of interest in a product, even if that format can’t be directly tied to traffic or sales. In addition, because the lack of direct tracking means you will never know the exact impact of a risky or non-conventional campaign, you must find a new way of defining your reward (besides just traffic and clicks) so that you will know if the risks were worth it, and if the campaign was a success.

The Good:

  • Unique and innovative campaign generated a massive amount of buzz.
  • Exclusive content motivated users to seek out additional pieces of hidden art and pass along the campaign to others.

The Bad:

  • Results would be difficult to duplicate, as much of the buzz was driven by how innovative the idea was.
  • Limited tracking means the success of the campaign is based on a single number (in this case, bundle downloads) and that the awareness generated by the ads themselves, separate from clicks, was all but impossible to track.

The Future:

  • Unique ad formats that reward the viewer are sought out by consumers, rather than needing to be forced upon them.

Hell Is Nigh

Samsung Sponsors NOTCOT With More Than Just A Banner

NOTCOT Netbook Resource Center

Samsung’s NOTCOT sponsorship is a great example of how a company can go beyond the banner to integrate itself into the uniqueness of a blog and speak directly to that blog’s audience through custom content. It also shows how the continued transition of ad dollars from traditional media into online media will fund new opportunities for advertisers to reach their online audience in new ways as blogs capitalize on the customizability of their medium.

NOTCOT Theme Integration

The Samsung Go sponsorship includes a special section in NOTCOT called the Netbook Resource Center, which covers netbook news and accessories (they call it ‘fresh mobile lifestyle content’) and lives inside of a branded wrapper featuring images of the Samsung netbook done in the traditional NOTCOT style. There’s also a traditional banner that leads each post, and a rich media banner at the end of each post that’s co-sponsored by CNET, and lets readers see reviews, change color options, view the netbook from different angles, and compare prices.

Samsung Rich Media Banner

(Tip for Samsung: If you’re going to feature the CNET Editor Rating in your banner, make sure you actually give CNET a netbook to rate.) Lastly, posts written ‘out in the wild’ on the Samsung netbook receive a special banner style tag that’s appended to the lead image.

Samsung Wild Banner Tag

The result is an integration that lets the blogger keep control over the content, allowing her to continue to make the content that created her audience in the first place, while Samsung can wrap it in advertising that goes well beyond the traditional banner and works to become a part of the overall experience.

While the POPURLS sponsorship allowed UPS to brand business news without paying any writers for the privilege, the NOTCOT sponsorship is on the opposite end of the spectrum, and allows Samsung to speak directly to their target audience by paying a writer to create an entire section of specialized content dedicated to related news. The end result is that Samsung has more control over the message, though that control must be balanced with the idea that blog writers know what will resonate with their readers, and should usually just be left alone with a minimal amount of guidance.

Uncrate TrendHunter Sponsorship

In addition to NOTCOT, Samsung also sponsored Uncrate and TrendHunter, which highlights another interesting aspect of this campaign: The difference in integration between the three. While NOTCOT created an entire section dedicated to netbook posts, and redesigned the blog’s theme to includes the Samsung Go, Uncrate and TrendHunter have just appended the leading and trailing banners to their netbook posts and placed the content aggregating banner into the sidebar, giving their sponsorships a much more traditional feel. As blogs continue to evolve and take over the role that traditional media used to serve in the consumer’s consumption of media however, I expect more sites to go the route that NOTCOT has pioneered, offering advertisers a much more customizable and comprehensive option for integrating a brand and its products into the overall experience.

While this was obviously a one-off campaign that required a lot of planning and integration, it’s not hard to imagine how blogs and advertisers can use this as an example of how to think outside the banner and reach their intended audience without feeling like the brand is being forced upon them. However, the key will be to avoid sponsorships that feel like the blogger was bought and paid for, and work to create sponsorships that feel like a natural extension of the content that the sponsored blog would cover anyways.

The Good:

  • Sponsorship highlights the brand in a natural, non-intrusive way that’s specific to the blog being sponsored.
  • Innovative placements cut through a viewer’s ad blindness.
  • Content doesn’t feel forced, and integration is a natural extension of the blog’s typical subject matter.

The Bad:

  • Expensive one-off requires a lot of planning and setup, and would be difficult to roll out on a large scale.
  • Consumers are wary of sponsored content, which can affect their opinion of any review.

The Future:

  • Brands work closely with blogs to integrate themselves into the experience, going beyond just a banner ad or sponsored post, and becoming a much larger part of the new digital media.

NOTCOT Netbook Resource Center