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5 fantastic digital branding campaigns from 2009

5 fantastic digital branding campaigns from 2009 Jim Nichols

Some things have evolved so quickly in digital advertising that it can be a challenge to notice shifts in our medium that have taken place at a slower rate. One of these "pokier changes" has been toward genuine traditional/digital marketing integration. Oh, sure, there have been fabulously integrated campaigns almost since the days of "You've got mail." But they sure weren't the norm.

Co-author Christopher Filly is an account coordinator at Catalyst: SF.

Looking back on 2009, it's clear that marketing has made a great deal of progress in genuine integration. Perhaps it is the tough economy forcing brands to make fewer dollars work to their fullest. Or the advent of new models that recognize that digital creative and media services cannot be provided under the same financial models as traditional ones.

For whatever reason, genuine integration has happened a lot this year. Here are five brands that did it well in 2009.

1. Levi's goes forth to change attitudes

Levi's has been struggling for years to get Americans to take ownership of the brand again. With its latest campaign, it just might achieve that goal. The campaign works to encapsulate all the best parts of Levi's pioneer heritage.  

Some online pundits have questioned whether the use Walt Whitman's inspiring poetry -- and voice -- is contemporary enough for the brand's target. But the campaign's extension into the digital space is as fresh as it gets. Levi's is clearly banking on a highly involving digital component to reach young, trendsetting consumers.  

Yes, other brands have asked users to take ownership of campaigns before. But the campaign's website provides a visually unique forum for users to post their version of "The New Declaration." People are responding in words, pictures, and vids.

This multimedia experience leverages a broad range of new media types to drive additional credibility and impact. Most provocative of all is the Go IV Expedition, which is an intricate treasure hunt with cryptic clues and puzzles that lead to $100,000 of American explorer Grayson Ozias IV's buried treasure. Staying true to millennial passions, the campaign also includes a charitable overlay that asks visitors to identify a charity to get an additional $100,000.

Will it stick as a campaign idea? Time will tell. But what is clear is how well conceived the integration is for this campaign.

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2. Dos Equis delivers a most interesting and impactful campaign

Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World" campaign made controversial use of a gray-haired protagonist in a sudsy ad world that generally relies on delivering more bikinis in each successive TV spot. 

But Dos Equis' ad worked, and the brand experienced a double-digit bump in sales when many competitors in the oh-so-cluttered beer category were hit with steep volume declines. 

Many have commended the brand for ditching beer's go-to imagery. But we see yet another bit of genius in this effort: an integrated program laying its foundation with awareness-driving TV creative while maintaining the brand excitement through deeply involving participatory digital experiences. 

So what did Dos Equis do with the idea in digital? First, it founded the "Most Interesting Academy," which teaches users everything from the art of the bluff to surviving in the modern era. So far, the academy boasts more than 27,000 profiles. 

From there, the brand extended its presence on leading social platforms. The MIM's Facebook profile has more than 31,000 fans. Good numbers for a smallish brand.

But it's the amount these users interact with the brand that is most impressive. For example, a status update posted on the Facebook profile on Nov. 5 received "I like this" approval from nearly 800 people, as well as 97 written comments. We mention this because it's easy for brands to crank the social friend numbers with a sweeps or whatnot. That hasn't been the way for Dos Equis, which has attracted committed brand participants.

It's a feat that is perhaps even more impressive than the time the Most Interesting Man in the World reportedly brought in $13 million at a charity bachelor auction.

3. Queensland Tourism's best place, oops, job in the world

Australia is far away from most places. Really far. And while many people dream about going, they usually settle on sunny, sandy places closer to home. Jamaica's nice, and loads more convenient if your usual for breakfast is a bagel and schmear. You might choose nearby Ibiza if you spend most of your workday mornings slogging through London puddles. Maybe Puerto Vallarta would be your choice if you need to escape the maddening traffic on the 405.

So how could Tourism of Queensland convince people to travel literally around the world to visit the islands of the Great Barrier Reef?  At the same time, how could it be done on a budget that was probably less than some tourist destinations spend on a single 30-second TV spot? The "Best Job in the World" campaign put an entirely new spin on making Queensland's places more desirable. By offering a dream job as the caretaker of an island, the destination became more than an escape -- it became a fantasy we all wish we could live.

Tourism Queensland's campaign did not involve a paid TV spot, just an unbelievably viral job posting in an economic environment where 3,000 people camp out overnight to apply for a job at the dollar store. A vacancy that TV, print, radio, and online news outlets couldn't resist.

OK, that's the bait. Now let's examine the lure.

To apply, folks were required to upload a one-minute video to islandreefjob.com. Nearly 34,000 videos were eventually posted on YouTube. Videos like this:

A voting component turned each of these users into little self-promoters, sharing their videos with everyone they could, and led to nearly 450,000 votes being cast. Great content creation didn't end with the contest. The winner has been blogging and sharing video of his adventures across Queensland. 

The campaign achieved massive reach and great viral content on a shoestring. When you have a compelling story to tell, and a truly unique concept with which to tell it, a little money can make a big splash.


4. Sprint focuses on the now

When a brand is being built on the idea of now, it's difficult to deliver that message credibly through TV. Actually, let's rephrase. It's difficult to deliver only through TV.

Sprint's campaign is definitely a branding idea that has found great roles for different media. Nothing can deliver fast awareness and brand imagery like TV.

But nothing can bring now to life like digital.

A strong digital component makes sense for mobile carriers. Sprint's microsite is an interactive experience containing several gadgets, meters, tickers, and widgets that deliver factoids about what's happening in the world, on the internet, and on Sprint's network right now. It contains everything from a Now Clock made up of user-generated YouTube videos to a real-time national debt calculator. 

Elements of this site can be found across the web and translated into traditional media channels. Consistent and clever execution here has made what could have ended up being another piece of ersatz mobile differentiation into something people can become aware of through TV. But consumers can really feel, understand, and care about it via digital marketing.

5. "The Office" keeps it real-er

Six or so years ago, when NBC made the decision to remake the BBC's wildly successful mockumentary sitcom "The Office," there were a lot of skeptics.

  • First, because the U.S. sitcom model -- making 100+ episodes of a concept so as to garner syndication deals -- is very different from the U.K. model, where six episodes constitute a "season."

  • Second, because a big part of the humor in the U.K. version came from moments where nothing happened: A copy machine ran off dozens of black and white memos about nothing. People sat at their desks looking bored.

  • Finally, no friggin' laugh track. How were Americans going to know when to laugh?

Of course, the U.S. version of "The Office" has gone on to enjoy great ratings all the way into its sixth season. What started as a scene-by-scene remake of the British version evolved into a somewhat different humor model. But the basic premise -- a documentary film crew's look inside an actual business office -- still drives the show.

From the beginning, "The Office" has been fairly active in matching its heavy TV promo schedule with extensive online efforts. Each of these digital efforts was designed to reinforce the "realness" of the people at Dunder Mifflin, the fictional company depicted on the show.

2009 is no exception, as these several efforts illustrate.

First, there's the show's spoof of the wedding video that flew across the internet all summer long.

Another example was the wedding site for the characters Pam and Jim, whose nuptials were part of the sixth season's story arc. The website itself aped the lameness of many of the prefab wedding site platforms.

What works about this effort is that the online programs pop up haphazardly with uneven quality and depth, just like the efforts of real people in the social sphere. At the same time, the adept PR team for the show is excellent at extending the reach of these efforts to a broad audience. NBC has long led other networks in its multifaceted and innovative approach to the web. Certainly the latest effort for "The Office" fit squarely in that category.

Jim Nichols is senior partner at Catalyst: SF, where Christopher Filly is an account coordinator.

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Jim Nichols is VP of Marketing for Apsalar. Jim has 20+ years experience in over 80 different categories, including developing successful positioning and go-to-market plans for more than 40 adtech and martech companies. He joins Apsalar after...

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Commenter: Michael Wokosin

2009, December 09

Nice work Jim....always insightful.