Tag Archives | Unique

Experience Prizes Keep Contests Alive

Contests, giveaways and sweepstakes have always been a great way to get a brand in front of a large number of people, but interest in the campaign usually wanes as soon as the winner is announced. To combat that trend, many contests have turned into hunts for the next online cewebrity, where the winner gets a chance to extend their 15 minutes of fame through the sponsor’s social channels (and on the sponsor’s dime) in exchange for extending the life of the campaign in the process.

The formula is simple: Mix one part love of contests with one part love of ‘reality’ entertainment, add a heaping spoonful of social media and you’ll end up with what I’m calling the ‘Experience Prize’.

Fiesta Movement

Ford was one of the first brands to experiment with adding the social media spotlight to their prize with the Fiesta Movement. In the Fiesta Movement, 100 winners (they called them ‘agents’) were selected from more than 4,000 applicants, and each was given a brand new Fiesta to drive for six months. Then, each month Ford would send the agents on themed missions, and the agents would complete, and then lifestream those missions with blog posts, photos, videos and status updates. Thus, the agents didn’t just win a car for six months; they won an experience prize that included ongoing interaction with the brand, and a series of unique trips and adventures in exchange for their willingness to share the experience with the world.

Queensland, Australia was the next to integrate social media into their prize, with one lucky winner spending six months as the caretaker of an island in what they called The Best Job In The World. During those six months, the winner explored the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, and the world followed along through a regularly updated blog, YouTube videos and Twitter posts. Instead of just a trip, this experience prize included a job title, roles and responsibilities, and the jealousy of thousands of people around the world.

Live Off Groupon

Groupon took the concept of the experience prize and evolved it into something else entirely, as their experience prize is more like an experience challenge. The contest, called “Live Off Groupon”, challenges one person to attempt to survive for one year with nothing but a laptop, a cellphone and an unlimited supply of Groupons. If he can last for twelve months, he wins $100,000, and if he can’t, he still gets to take home a pretty good chunk of Internet fame as a consolation prize.

Old Spice Internship Challenge

Lastly, Old Spice added sex appeal and competition to the formula for their experience prize, with Gretchen Bleiler and Anastasia Ashley hosting an Internship Challenge. While the two women act as ‘internship mentors’, the two winners get to go to Switzerland or Fiji, where they will compete with one another in various challenges spread out over five days. Each challenge gets documented with photo and/or video evidence that is then uploaded to the Old Spice blog and Facebook Page, where a winner will be selected by those following along to receive an extra $1000 per challenge.

The key benefit of the experience prize is that it finds people who are likely to be loud, far reaching and influential voices online, and then gives them the tools and the exposure they need to amplify their voice even further. This turns the winners into mini cewebrities, or enhances their current cewebrity status, and lets them use that status to promote the brand (and themselves) for an extended period of time.

In addition, another benefit of the experience prize is that the world can follow along as the winner essentially test-drives the sponsor for an extended period of time. Whether it’s an actual test drive, as in the case of the Fiesta Movement, or a test drive of the benefits of a service, like the Groupon challenge, it’s a chance for the rest of the world to watch as the winner uses the service in excruciating detail, and then shares that experience in the most entertaining way possible.

So what are the challenges that a brand faces when putting on a contest with an experience prize?

For one, the prize needs to be worth the effort required to enter, win and then use it. If the goal is to find an online personality that will engage others and be worth watching for an extended period of time, then you need to fish with the right bait. If the prize is too small, you either won’t receive many entries, or the entries that you do receive won’t be from the right type of people. Large prizes also tend to spread via word of mouth, as one person tells the next about the great prize that they can win by just entering a contest, and the result is that you can keep your promotion costs relatively low while still reaching a large audience.

The second challenge is that it can be difficult to transition the success of an experience prize campaign into the success of other social efforts. Unlike an online ad buy, which can drive traffic to a social channel that can then be used for a number of promotions, an Experience Prize often lives on its own microsite, and is not integrated into a larger social effort. While this can be mitigated by hosting part of the contest on a channel like Facebook, it’s important to remember that a few extra YouTube videos and tweets from the entrants aren’t suddenly going to turn your brand into an ongoing social media success story.

Lastly, there needs to be a concentrated effort to build buzz and excitement around the contest before the entries are due, because the quality of the entries will determine the quality of the content that the campaign creates. Whether it’s with voting, targeted ad buys, YouTube videos entries or a full blown social media bombardment, word of mouth is key, and the campaign must be easy enough to share that entrants will willingly help to promote it to their friends.

Despite the challenges, a well-run contest with a unique and interesting experience prize can generate a ton of buzz for a brand, and can keep the excitement alive for months after the announcement of the winner.

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

Ken Block And DC Shoes Make Gymkhana A Viral Video Guarantee

Ken Block Gymkhana

Viral videos aren’t usually made, they’re chosen, but the second Gymkhana video from Ken Block and DC Shoes was born to be viral:

Since I’m guaranteeing that this one will be a hit, let’s take a look at what makes it work:

  • If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It – Their original Gymkhana video, called Gymkhana Practice, was viewed more than 20 million times, including 12+ million views on Ken Block’s site, 5+ million views on YouTube, millions of views on a special Gymkhana site including downloads of the high definition version, and millions more views on copies of the video that fans uploaded into their own accounts. With success like that, why change a good thing? Thankfully, they didn’t, and instead, they took what was so amazing about the first video and just added to it, including more stunts, more speed, and more slow-motion.
  • Give Viewers OptionsToo many companies try to retain too much control over their video, and only let viewers watch it on a channel of their choosing. DC Shoes went in the exact opposite direction, and put the video in as many places as possible, starting with YouTube and expanding out from there. By giving viewers a choice, DC Shoes allowed them to find the video wherever they looked, and in all kinds of formats, including downloadable formats that could then be saved and shared with others using a laptop, iPhone or iPod. They also made it a point to release the video in HD whenever possible, giving viewers the full experience and showing off the intricate detail of the slow motion stunt shots. I’m always amazed by how many companies create a fantastic video and then cripple it by releasing a low quality version online, so it was good to see that this was not the case here. Finally, the video is embeddable and sharable so that any blog or website can grab it and feature it, allowing the view numbers to grow and the buzz to spread quickly despite the fact that DC can’t easily convert those viewers into sales. Like the low quality video issue, I’m always surprised and disappointed by companies that put their videos online, but then don’t allow them to be shared, since that’s what the web is all about, and a lack of sharing represents a huge missed opportunity for additional views and increased buzz. (I’m even more surprised by companies that go so far as to remove copies of their videos when they’re uploaded by fans into their own account, since these videos can only represent an opportunity for additional views, and are obviously created by fans of the work. Deleting these videos just limits the amount of free exposure that they will receive, and more than likely pisses off a major fan of the brand.) For DC Shoes, the extra views that these extra copies of the video generate will just make the buzz that much more intense, and the long tail sales will more than make up for the short term sacrifice in control.

Ken Block

  • Do Something Unexpected – Before the first gymkhana (pronounced jim-kah-nuh) video debuted, no one had heard of the sport, including most hard core car guys, so it caught people by surprise. (In fact, they spent a few moments in the first video introducing people to the concept so that viewers would know it wasn’t just something that the DC Shoes team had invented.) That being said, when a 500+ horsepower tuner car comes tearing onto the screen in a screech of tire smoke and then proceeds to spins around for five minutes, people are going to take notice. In the second video, unexpected comes in the form of unique stunts that were done as much for their visual appeal as they were for their danger. These stunts include a donut through a series of florescent bulbs, each one breaking in succession and sending a shower of glass shards into the air, a high speed spin though a field of water balloons, a slow motion smash against a water balloon being held by a crash test dummy made famous by a TV show that Ken Block’s cohort Rob Dyrdek stars in, a donut around a paintball firing Rob Dyrdek himself to pay tribute to the donut around a Segway that drove a lot of the buzz about the first video, and finally, a spin under a semi-truck (possibly referencing the original Fast and the Furious movie) that ends in a massive slow-motion explosion.
  • Know Your Audience – Even if the video doesn’t get viewed by millions of people, it will get viewed by every single automotive enthusiast with a computer and a friend, so DC Shoes is guaranteed to reach their target market with their message. Occasionally, this hyper-targeting results in the sacrifice of wider appeal in exchange for a greater appeal within the target market, but in this case, DC found a happy medium that will serve everyone equally. Plus, by understanding who they wanted to go after and what those viewers wanted to see, they were able to create something that was a must-watch for that target, and even better, a must-share as well. Fire? Check. Explosions? Check. Loud, brightly colored car? Check and Check. It’s all there, and it’s all got one goal in mind: Grab the attention of every car guy on the planet and hold that attention for five minutes.

Gymkhana Explosion

  • Set A Due Date – There was still plenty of buzz surrounding the first video when word of the second video started to spread, so when DC shoes announced a date and posted a teaser trailer for the second video onto their website, the frenzy just compounded upon itself. By giving (and also sticking to) a firm release date, DC made everyone a part of the debut, and didn’t just limit it to a few select blogs in an attempt to control the roll-out. This also meant that anyone who wanted to grow their whuffie by being the first to share it with their friends could do so, because everyone would see it at the same time, so chances are, if you shared it on the day that it debuted, then those that you were sending it to had either not yet seen it, or had just seen it and would be eager to watch it again.
  • Take Calculated Risks – One interesting aspect of this video is the fact that DC Shoes took a risk and lulled through the first minute of the video with product placement and blatant selling (normally a mortal sin for any video wishing to go viral). However, since viewers of the first video knew that delayed satisfaction was all but guaranteed, DC knew that anticipation would be high, and that as long as they kept the selling section to a minimum and made it fun and interesting (which they did) that they could keep the attention of their viewers for an extra minute, and sell to them at the same time. It’s a best of both worlds scenario that rarely gets pulled off effectively, but I think that DC Shoes did a great job in this video of combining both goals.

One Final Note: Another cool thing that DC Shoes did that hasn’t really been done before was experiment with holophonic sound, allowing the viewer to feel like they were a part of the action and placing them ‘inside’ one of Ken Block’s donuts. It’s basically an extension of point three above, since the ‘Donuts Audio’ video was released as a supplement to the main gymkhana video, but by toying with the audio and encouraging users to listen to it with their headphones on, DC Shoes was able to provide some extra content for the viewers that liked the main video, and wanted to dig a little deeper into the whole concept:

The Good:

  • Builds upon the success of a previous video while maintaining the proven formula.
  • Was made available in a variety of formats on a variety of channels.
  • Used a firm due date and teaser videos to build up a huge amount of buzz, and then delivered on that buzz.

The Bad:

  • Excessive product placement will turn some viewers off.

The Future:

  • Over-the-top videos almost guarantee viral video success, though companies will need to find a balance between entertaining and selling.

DC Shoes – Gymkhana Two Project