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10 mind-blowing microsites

10 mind-blowing microsites Fred Brown
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With so many emerging marketing technologies to play with, it's easy for marketers to overlook the humble microsite. But, in many ways, microsites can be more impactful and memorable than a brand's main website.



Co-author Nuri Djavit is founding partner and creative director at Last Exit.

On the following pages, we'll take a look at 10 sites that demonstrate the power of the microsite as a marketing medium. But first, let's take a look at the characteristics that set microsites apart from brands' main websites. Microsites have six differentiators:


1. Scope
Microsites are subject to the discipline of the 30-second commercial. This may seem an odd frame of reference in the digital world, but the comparison is appropriate. Because you have to focus completely on a single message when spending a gazillion dollars on 30 seconds, boy, do you have to get the consumer right between the eyes. It is the same with a microsite. Because it is little, it has to pack a big punch and, because it only has one message to convey, it can focus completely on doing just that. Many brands' main websites say everything and, therefore, say nothing. For the user, if the subject is of interest, they get the full-strength, high-caffeine, widescreen treatment. (And because they do, users clicking through from PPC advertising are much more likely to stay and play.)


2. Latitude
Marketers feel they have more latitude when it comes to interpreting brand guidelines. Many times, agencies receive microsite briefs with the rider that they don't need to stick religiously to the guidelines. We can have some fun. And when the agency is having fun, the results are usually better -- passion goes a long way online.

3. Risk
Marketers and agencies take more risks with microsites. That is not to say they are cavalier, but microsites are a great test-bed for innovation and for generally pushing the boat out a bit.


4. Clutter
Microsites feel more akin to how the internet actually works -- a connected web of content. There is no reason why a brand's "main" site couldn't actually be a portal into all the content about the brand -- both generated by the brand and, increasingly, by others. Anyone in the market for a camera, for example, is likely to stumble upon KenRockwell.com and find his reviews of value. Why not do the hard work for the customer? Prevent them from having to wade through Google and dodge the annoying aggregator sites, and provide them with a coalescence of relevant content. I know there are arguments against a plethora of different user experiences -- consistency has its place -- but this could be facilitated by a design process that took proper account of the strategic and tactical ways marketers would like to use the web to connect with their customers.


5. Speed and agility
It takes months -- often longer -- for marketers to get changes made to the main site; microsites can be launched in a fortnight. And if it doesn't work, you can change it or take it down just as quick.


6. Budget
Not only are budgets for microsites smaller than for a main site, but they can be set against an individual product or service marketing budget much more effectively. Good for ROI, in other words.


Now here are my picks of the bunch.

Let's kick off with two microsites from Volkswagen, just to show how different they can be -- even within one brand.


VW Polo



My first car was a VW Polo, purchased in a color I am embarrassed to reveal. But then, if you haven't got an embarrassing car story in your garage, you haven't lived.


What I love about this microsite is the balance between creativity and utility. From the aspirational and inspirational videos to the customize function, VW basically gives you a "build your own" tool kit wrapped into a video-based microsite. Fantastic. This feels as close to a digital translation of a long-form TV commercial as you're going to get.


VW Golf GTi



A Mark 3 GTi was my second car -- quite an upgrade from the radioactive green Polo. I saw this microsite in German and, despite understanding not a word, I was mesmerized. An exciting site for an exciting drive -- just the way it should be. Full-frame video gives a rich experience, and a range of downloads gives users what they want.

Sprint Now



Fascinating. If you only click on one of the links in this article, click on this one. I had been there for what seemed like 20 seconds when I noticed the timer -- five minutes and 14 seconds and counting. That's an impressive statistic for a brand's main website. And it's absolutely off the charts for what amounts to a single page -- very clever.


Taser



Who knew that a weapon of serious personal injury (or should that be restraint?) could be so desirable? This microsite has one of the only intro videos that I have sat through -- and I did it twice! I can now tell you a lot about the new Taser X3. The microsite makes awesome use of video and, again, great use of Papervison3D.


My only problem with the site is not really the site's problem, but more of an endemic one related to the de-sensitivity regarding weapons; the site does not explain that carrying this thing requires great responsibility. A toy it is not.

The Economist



This is a lovely site -- almost unexpected for the brand -- that demonstrates the diversity of its readership and tries to appeal to a broad audience in a (decent) attempt to expand its subscriber list.


I found this site inspirational, and it reinforced my decision to maintain my subscription to the newspaper. The only letdown is the poor audio quality of the voice recordings. The blogs offer a good opportunity to discuss and even offer links to other blogs that have taken the time to discuss the site -- including Piers Fawkes' PSFK site and the main Papervision3D blog site.


Red Bull Flight Lab



Red Bull is the answer to anyone who questions the online relevance of what is really only a fast-moving consumer goods product. You just have to use your imagination, identify who your audience is, and provide them with things they like. Red Bull does it better than anyone. I love this site even though I can't stand the taste of the product (too medicinal for my palette). But I am clearly in the minority.

Nokia Unloader



The impetus behind this microsite was nicely judged. We've all had enough of emails, so Nokia provides the means to dispatch a few into the afterlife. If the ultimate Nokia "unloader" -- the iPhone -- hadn't come along and caught them napping, we'd all still have one.


Waterlife



Of all the environmental awareness sites out there, this one has to be one of the best. It's not just a promo for a documentary film, but rather a fantastic digital companion.


The agency's consideration and attention to detail is present throughout, from the water-inspired loading bar, where you can start to interact with it even before the site has fully loaded, through to the rash notes of content and the excellent 3D Papervision execution. The stillness inspired by the site gives you space to properly consider what the hell we're doing.

Philips



Next up, a blast from the past. This microsite is witty, inviting, and reaches customers in places they weren't expecting. I bought one -- the claims are all true.


MINI Cooper



And finally, your correspondent is from Britain, so allow him one indulgence from his homeland -- from those talented chaps at Glue London for the iconic MINI. The brand has the license to do almost anything cool, and this is sub-zero. What works so well is that it creates desire -- both for using the site and, thereby, for the car itself. It's achingly on-brand. When the ordinary customer is deciding among all sorts of models, the MINI customer knows the only choice is the option to personalize; for them, no other motor will do. The site was launched a while ago now, but it's still fresh. Try it out and treat your friends.


Finally, a couple of thoughts to conclude: I remembered all these microsites. They linger in the mind long after all else is forgotten. And Google is arguably the greatest microsite of them all. At a time when other search engines were trying to give us everything we didn't ask for, Google focused on providing exactly what we needed. May all your microsites be so successful.


Fred Brown is a partner at Last Exit, where Nuri Djavit is founding partner and creative director.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Fred trained as a product designer, graduating with a 1st Class Honours Degree from Southbank University in London. Whilst organising and running the degree show event for his course he made contact with PDD, Europe’s foremost product innovation...

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Comments

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Commenter: Barbara Coll

2009, October 13

Fred, this is an excellent article to show the value of 'fragmenting' corporate content. I think it is a good thing. I blogged your article with a few comments about the Search Engine Marketing aspects of microsites. Summarized here:

"If you look at from the Search point of view: it gives you a targeted destination for converting keywords, it provides more content associated with your brand that you control, and the sites may get you another place on the coveted first page of results. On the down side: many developers of microsites do not design them in a search friendly way, they don't tend to be linked into the rest of the world, and rarely do they have enough text-based content. If I were developing a microsite and would like it to be visible in search results, I would make sure it was search friendly."

Commenter: Fred Brown

2009, September 23

Thanks for your comment, Kathryn. I completely take your point, and think that 'Great sites on a budget of $10k or less' would make an interesting article in its own right - I will suggest it to the editor. As Last Exit didn't create any of the sites referenced I don't know the budgets involved, but I think it fair to say that they would have cost relatively less than the main sites for the brands featured.

Commenter: Fred Brown

2009, September 23

Hi Cyhyoung Park. Apologies in advance if any of these are attributed in error, but so far as I know... both VW sites were by Tribal DDB, Sprint Now was by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Taser was by Your Majesty, the Economist was led by AMV BBDO, Red Bull by Less Rain, Nokia by FarFar, Waterlife by Jam3 Media, Philips by Struck Creative and Mini by Glue London. If any reader knows different please let me know and I will be pleased to make a correction.

Commenter: Fred Brown

2009, September 23

Thanks Damir - I love your analogy!

Commenter: Kathryn Klein

2009, September 23

"Not only are budgets for microsites smaller than for a main site, but they can be set against and individual product or service marketing budget much more effectively." I think it is misleading to tell most advertisers that budgets for microsites are "smaller" and then to show microsites which clearly have budgets that by far exceed the budgets for most advertisers main sites. There is not one of these 10 microsite examples that has a budget even close to what many, many advertisers have for their entire web and/or overall marketing budget. Show us some great sites on a budget of $10K or less.

Commenter: Damir Saracevic

2009, September 23

Fred, great article! Another anology I have used in the past is one of the catalog and a sell sheet. Think of your corporate website as a catalog and a microsite as a sell sheet and it definitly resonates with the clients.

Commenter: CyHyoung Park

2009, September 23

Fred, do you have names of agencies that worked on some of these microsites?