John M. Jordan, Clinical Professor, Supply Chain & Information Systems, Penn State Smeal College of Business
While viruses date linguistically to antiquity, the word “viral” has been in the English language less than 70 years, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. 50 years after being coined in 1948, the term was used by Chiat/Day to describe marketing campaigns in which “the consumer becomes the transmitter.” Given social media platforms and ever more powerful portable technologies, it is impossible to discuss the future of advertising without accounting for these person-to-person transmissions.
While others will address the mechanisms of successful viral creation, my point here is to look instead at the multiplication of options for getting out a video advertisement, promotion, or announcement. Those who want to disseminate a message now can allocate resources independently to creation and distribution; previously, expensive production was typically accompanied with expensive distribution. For our purposes, a Super Bowl ad buy will be the proxy for this behavior. In the future, however, advertisers can be much more precise in the allocation of their spend, given the availability of low-cost, widespread viral distribution.
The simplest way to understand this decision environment is with a 2-by-2 matrix, with costs for creation on the vertical axis and costs for distribution on the horizontal. Six successful campaigns can then be plotted to illustrate the range of available options.
Starting at the top right, the Chrysler “Imported from Detroit” spot from the 2011 Super Bowl was extremely expensive to create, running two minutes rather than the customary 30 or 60 seconds, featuring a celebrity endorser, and including cinematic photography and production. The ad buy for distribution was similarly expensive, and total cost estimates run in the $9-10 million range. Given that Chrysler was emerging from bankrutcy, such a bold move was essentially a “bet the company” decision, and it paid off as sales across the brand rebounded 26% on the year. Such a campaign illustrates a perhaps outsized version of the traditional broadcast model; online redistribution appears not to have been a major consideration.
By contrast, Google spent effectively nothing on production for its Super Bowl ad, entitled “Parisian Love,” which ran in 2010. The spot was a repurposed “search story” from the company’s YouTube channel and consists only of screen captures with emotionally deft sound clips overlaid. As with the Chrysler Eminem ad, viral redistribution was strong.
In the low cost bottom left quadrant, “video” need not refer only to television-like productions. The alternative band OK Go shot a charmingly clever music video using only a tarp for a backdrop, a tripod-mounted stationary camera, and eight rental treadmills, upon which band members perform original choreography. Web reaction went beyond viral, and the band later resigned from its record label, relying now on non-traditional methods of awareness generation, including a subsequent video, an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, sponsored by State Farm.
The man with the rose petals may be less familiar. In late 2010, Ob tampons were unavailable on store shelves for a period of many months. Johnson & Johnson wanted to apologize for the supply interruption, but rather than mailing coupons or issuing a press release, the company created a personalized song video dedicated to the person whose name is typed in that ends with a coupon offer (at least for Canadian customers). The gambit could never run as a TV spot, so games and similar video formats can also be evaluated as options alongside more conventional vehicles.
The centerpiece of Nike’s campaign for the 2010 World Cup, entitled “Write the Future,” runs three minutes long. Featuring global icons of the sport already signed as Nike endorsers (as well as Homer Simpson), the narrative switches from potential winning country to potential winning country with extremely high production value; it’s essentially a mini-movie, directed by a noted Mexican filmmaker. Broadcast time during the soccer tournament was inexpensive (in the U.S.) relative to Super Bowl rates, but the video received substantial viral redistribution despite relative few broadcast plays.[i]
By now the Old Spice campaign, integrating as it did broadcast TV, YouTube, and social media, has entered advertising lore as a landmark integration effort. The talent, Isaiah Mustafa, became a celebrity, and Old Spice sales jumped after the campaign. The web-only fan response videos, built in real time at the studio/render farm/social media listening post, remain unlike any other campaign in their sheer numbers, quality, and responsiveness to cultural buzz. [ii]
Several challenges present themselves to organizations thinking in these terms. First, just as social media can appear to be low-cost in that the platforms are often close to free but expensive in resources of the human variety, all of these campaigns shared a cleverness that makes them difficult to replicate or emulate. “Authenticity” is a key tenet of social media generally, and online crowds quickly sniff out anything that’s fake.
Second, and related to cleverness, digital talent appears to be unequally distributed: the Nike, Old Spice, and Chrysler campaigns all originated from the same agency, Wieden + Kennedy.[iii] Generating similarly breakthrough marriages of online and broadcast media will require a willingness to experiment that comes only in the strongest client-agency relationships.
Finally, the online world has proved to be anything but stable. Smartphone penetration in the U.S. has passed 50%, and the speed with which the rest of the world (literally, every country in the rest of the world, excepting North Korea and a handful of other outliers) follows will tell a fascinating tale. Wireline broadband via cable modem or a telecoms firm is rare outside a very small number of countries, so extrapolating from the U.S. and Canada will be deceiving; thinking “wireless first” will be the rule in most markets. Time-shifted viewing will only increase, most likely making sports events and some news coverage such as elections rare instances of real-time television-watching.
For all of these reasons, the hybrid web/tv distribution model will evolve rapidly in the coming years, giving advertisers unprecedented opportunities, challenges, and risks.
[i] For more information, see http://wklondon.com/work/view/nike_write_the_future and http://www.psfk.com/2010/06/measuring-the-value-of-a-sponsorship-nikes-world-cup-buzz.html
[ii] For more information see http://www.wk.com/campaign/old_spice_man_man/from/old_spice , http://www.wk.com/campaign/digital_response/from/old_spice, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS-4WxmKBNI , and http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/how_old_spice_won_the_internet.php
[iii] In two consecutive years, the agency won Grand Effies, the industry’s top Oscar, for the Old Spice and Chrysler work.