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Columbia Uses Pandora To Create An Experience

Columbia Pandora Banner

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of music on Pandora, and while their Music Genome Project is great, it’s their advertising that has kept me coming back for more. By working with companies to integrate their ads into the overall experience, Pandora is able to use their advertising format to create value for both the advertisers and the users. One example that really stood out recently was the integration of Columbia, which brings together a banner, backgrounds and playlists to create an entire branded experience.

Experience marketing is a growing trend in recent years, as companies think outside the banner and look beyond traditional media for their next customer, but it’s often costly, time and labor intensive, and usually relies on social media to spread the experience of a select few out to the larger population. What Pandora has managed to do with their advertising is to create an experience that, while not at the scale of a traditional experience marketing campaign, does manage to spread a sponsor’s message to a much larger audience.

The ‘Pandora Experience’ goes like this: When listening to the free version of Pandora on Pandora.com, any user action (such as changing the volume, skipping or rating a track, or changing a station) changes the banner(s). This allows Pandora to ensure that their ‘views’ are actually being viewed, and probably helps boost the numbers when it comes time to negotiate costs. Sponsored banners (vs. remnant ads served through ad networks) usually include a site takeover that changes the background as well, though not all advertisers are using that feature to its full advantage.

When Columbia makes it to the front of the sponsored banner rotation, listeners are presented with a banner that looks like a dashboard interface that has been customized to include their local weather forecast. While banner customization based on IP address has been available for a while now, it’s often inaccurate at best, and usually results in a very rough and forced feeling of customization. On Pandora however, account holders provide a zip code when they register, so the Pandora system can accurately match each user to a location they’ll recognize, even if they happen to be traveling or at work and away from their home base.

With this single piece of user data in hand, Columbia matches the user’s current weather to a piece of clothing in their current collection. Users can then scroll over the rest of the five-day forecast to see what Columbia would recommend for the upcoming weather, or arrow through a larger catalog if they see something they like and want to investigate further. Each type of weather also includes a customized playlist that a user can add to their collection of Stations, and when listening to that custom playlist, the user exclusively sees the Columbia banner and the Columbia-sponsored background that matches the weather. (Or maybe the weather that the user wishes they had, as Columbia also allows users to select a variety of alternative weather options in case they want to brighten up a stormy day with the Sunshine Playlist.)

What’s so great about this medium is that Columbia can use it to transport your mind away from your desk and into a winter wonderland, where you can see the snow and hear the winter music, and then think to yourself, ‘You know, I probably will need a winter jacket for that ski trip I’ve got planned.’ They grab your attention with personal details that you wouldn’t expect an advertiser to present you with, and then use that attention to draw you into an experience that promotes the brand to more than one of your senses.

Columbia’s attention to the detail can also be seen in the way they have designed the banner, with plenty of arrows to direct an interested viewer’s attention to the important areas of information. For starters, every arrow but the ‘Buy Now’ button points away from the product, giving your eye a point to focus on that centers on the product they want to sell you. Then, if your eye works its way down from the forecast through the trail of orange, there are arrows along the way to guide you from the product to the weather to the custom playlist to the ‘Add Playlist’ button. It’s subtle, but there’s some good UI going on in this banner that works well for the intended purpose. If I were to find fault, I’d say that the alternative playlist selection is a little funky, but that’s nitpicking at best, since most users will just want to select the playlist they’re given that matches the weather they’re currently experiencing.

By presenting each user with a single banner at a time, and not overwhelming them with a barrage of advertising, Pandora has created a valuable placement that advertisers should be willing and happy to pay a premium for. At the same time, companies who are going to pay that premium need to be smart about it and think like Columbia to create an experience that adds to the medium and gives users a reason to engage with the advertising.

The Good:

  • Integration creates a full experience that can be shared by a large number of consumers.
  • A small amount of user data goes a long way towards creating a look and feel that is customized without being intrusive.
  • Repeat engagement is dynamic, and the experience changes with the weather.

The Bad:

  • Alternative playlist selection is a rough edge on an otherwise smooth experience.
  • The available backgrounds are a bit… ugly.

The Future:

  • Custom integration within specific channels allows advertisers to cater their message to each user and create a small-scale experience that packs plenty of impact.

Amnesty International Uses Eyeball-Aware Ad To Enhance Message

Amnesty International Eyeball Aware Ad

Amnesty International’s bus stop ad is a great example of how interactivity and eyeball-aware ads can be used to engage viewers and add another level of meaning to the overall message. The ad is for a campaign that aims to bring awareness to the problem of domestic violence, and uses a small camera to detect faces. When no one is looking, the screen shows a man abusing his wife. When the camera detects a face, the ad waits a few seconds for the message to sink in, and then the couple stops fighting and does their best to look normal. It’s a subtle message, but definitely drives home their tagline, “It Happens When Nobody Is Watching.”

It’s easy to see why an ad like this would be effective. Usually, when a viewer looks at an ad, they may only see the message for a few moments before looking away. However, with an interactive ad that responds to the viewer’s gaze, they’re more likely to look longer to see what will happen. Thus, views last longer, and the message has more time to sink in. (It’s important to note that video ads for the sake of movement is not what we’re talking about here. The movement needs to be a part of the message to really be effective at enhancing the overall ad.)

Taking the concept a step further, imagine an ad that ‘talks’ to the viewer. Since the technology gives ads self-awareness, a donut shop could create an ad that says good morning to anyone that walks by, or a clothing store could create an ad that compliments (or mocks!) outfits in the crowd. The technology would also allow advertisers to incorporate a video that starts only when someone is looking, rather than playing over and over again on a constant loop.

In addition to enhancing the message, an outdoor ad that’s aware of when people are looking at it ushers in a whole new level of measurement, as view numbers no longer need to be rough estimations of foot traffic and awareness. Instead, each ad can be bought and sold based on accurate view numbers and actual engagement, giving advertisers proof that they’re getting what they’re paying for, and allowing media companies to price their high profile ad placements with the premium they deserve.

Like any new ad format, eyeball-aware ads are in their creative infancy, and I would expect to see many more uses emerge as advertisers start to understand and explore the technology, but as an effective and engaging means of enhancing a message, this is definitely one format to keep an eye on.

The Good:

  • Uses eyeball-awareness to enhance the message and engage the viewer.
  • Allows for advanced measurement techniques that take into account actual engagement.

The Bad:

  • Expensive technology makes ads difficult to scale.

The Future:

  • Ads that are viewer-aware allow advertisers to create more interactive messages and engage the viewer in new and unique ways, while better matching cost to value.

Carl’s Jr. Uses YouTube Stars For Online Video Success

Carl's Jr. Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger

One of my advertising rules of thumb is this: Content that works well online is not the same as content that works well on television.

To see why, let’s look at Carl’s Jr.’s latest ad campaign for their Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger.

First, their television commercial:

Next, one of the videos created for their online campaign:

See the difference?

While their heavily produced, perfectly scripted, hero-shot filled 30-second commercial managed to acquire more than a quarter million views in under a week, less than 200 people rated the video during that time, and less than 500 commented on it, indicating that a very low percentage of those quarter million viewers were actually engaged by the video. (Plus, their previous videos have around a thousand views or less, so I’m guessing most of the Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger’s quarter million views were bought and paid for though an ad buy.) By contrast, the second video, created by one of YouTube’s top users named NigaHiga, acquired more than a million views in under a week, nearly 20,000 ratings, and more than 16,000 commentst, indicating a HUGE amount of engagement.

So what did Carl’s Jr. do right?

  1. Create original content – Instead of trying to push existing assets online with banner ads and video buys, a smart company will reach out to prominent users and elicit their help with creating original content that will appeal to that user’s existing fanbase. The resulting videos might not have the highest production quality, or may stray from the strict brand guidelines from time to time, but they will be done in a style that the online community has come to expect, and will be an open and honest interpretation of the product by the creator, rather than the company speaking through a hired personality.
  2. Involve the viewer – If online content is good, viewers will often want to emulate the campaign with creative of their own, so smart companies will encourage that response and find ways of compensating users that go above and beyond to engage with the brand by creating videos of their own. In this case, each sponsored video ended with a call out by the star to the viewers to encourage them to make their own ‘How do you eat yours?’ video. As a result, while most pure UGC campaigns require a huge prize or some other promise of fame and fortune to get a response, this campaign is fueled by viewers’ desire to relate to the personality behind the video, and the compensation is the fact that the star might actually see the video response. A UGC video response campaign also doesn’t have to cost a lot when using YouTube, since the site’s built-in video response feature and viral sharing tools mean the backend is already in place for a campaign with little to no effort required from the sponsor company.
  3. Use the toolsYouTube provides built-in tools for creating and spreading a message, and smart companies will make sure any online video campaign uses them to the fullest. For one, each video should be embeddable. It sounds obvious, but there is still the occasional video that gets put online by a company that can’t be embedded into other sites, and it’s just a waste of potential free media. Second, smart companies will establish a way for viewers to integrate their own content quickly and easily into the overall campaign. Whether it’s posting video responses to campaign videos or tagging their own videos with a specific keyword, giving users the ability to contribute will do a lot to increase the viral spread of a campaign idea. Lastly, tools like the ‘Favorites’ area of a brand’s channel and Flash video viewers allow a company to separate videos into unique campaigns and make it easy to do a lot with a little.
  4. Start from the top – If the budget is big enough, there’s a lot of value in going after the biggest online stars you can find and afford. In this case, Carl’s Jr. got a few of the top 10 most subscribed to YouTube stars to create a video, and the results speak for themselves: After less than a week, each video had an average of 250,000 views, with some receiving more than a million. It might be tempting to save a few bucks by going after the up and coming stars, but there’s a reason certain content producers have so many subscribers, and that’s usually because they consistently make quality videos that others want to watch.
  5. Give creative freedomToo often, companies get online stars involved in their campaigns and then limit what they can say and do, or try too hard to keep them on brand. The main problem with this is that viewers can usually tell when a message is heavily controlled, and views, pass-along and overall engagement will decrease dramatically as a result. Second, the popular YouTube users are popular for a reason, and they will know what their fans want and what works best, so why try to reinvent the wheel? By giving the content creators more creative control, the videos will be more original and more unique, the views will be higher, and the costs associated with trying to control the message will be much, much lower.

As far as online video campaigns go, the Carl’s Jr. Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger campaign was a complete success. They got a number of top users to create content, that content has generated a high amount of engagement, and viewer response has been very positive overall. Sure, it’s not the flashiest campaign, and it’s definitely not the most expensive, but when the results can speak for themselves, who can doubt the power of a well-run online video campaign?

The Good:

  • Uses existing cewebrities to tap into existing communities and create content that is specifically targeted to the online audience.
  • Engages the viewer and encourages participation.
  • Uses existing YouTube tools to their fullest, which extends the campaign while keeping costs down.
  • Offers an online only coupon to try out the product, giving viewers an exclusive offer and connecting the campaign to actual sales.

The Bad:

  • Some of the videos are a bit on the quirky side, and may catch unaware viewers and those that aren’t used to web content by surprise.

The Future:

  • Brands use existing online personalities to give their campaigns life and guarantee initial success.

YouTube – Carl’s Jr.