Brian Hunt, Yahoo's senior creative director, knows how hard it is to get a big idea out there in the digital marketing space. The veteran website has a history of reaching out to the creative community, but Hunt recently felt as though things had been a bit remiss.
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"We took a step back and decided we had to provide a larger canvas -- and better creative opportunities -- for our advertisers and our users," he said. The solution involved the one-two punch of taking full advantage of the digital canvas and incorporating branded entertainment.
Hunt and his team tackled the expansion in several ways, primarily by allowing for customization. One particularly inventive concept was created after some retail clients remarked that they missed "the big beautiful pictures that they had in magazines." Thus the Yahoo "mag ad" was born. On the website, it looks and plays like a catalogue -- users can actually turn the pages -- but it allows for deeper exploration with digital extras like video. Initially developed for retailers only, other campaigns have embraced the technology. CBS put its fall schedule in "mag ad" format, and the newest movie in the Harry Potter franchise took advantage of it as well.
For the second part of the rejuvenation, branded entertainment, Hunt relied on the information garnered from Yahoo's wildly successful homepage. "Much of what we do comes from data to begin with, because we want to make sure we know what people want to watch that we're developing. This has worked very well for us -- in comScore ratings, Yahoo's front page dominates."
Articles like "'Extinct fish found thriving," and "Actresses show off risqué red carpet looks" are designed to draw users in, and Hunt's team took advantage of the data harvested from those types of pieces. Noting that users tended to click on "weird science stories," Yahoo worked with Toyota to create the Who Knew campaign. Designed to provide users with out-of-the-ordinary facts, the first video they ran was about the Kingda Ka, one of the world's largest and fastest roller coasters. In its opening week, the page views compared to those of typical cable network shows. By the second week, it beat those numbers.
One of the team's riskier -- and outstanding -- campaigns was State Farm's "Ready, Set, Dance!" As described on the Yahoo blog:
"Aimed at tapping into the national obsession with TV dance shows and web videos, each episode features two contestants selected during a series of entertaining auditions. Once chosen, the contestants will be caught by surprise -- any time or any place -- and must immediately break into their dance routines for a chance at 'Ready, Set, Dance!' fame and fortune. Each week, viewers can vote on their favorite dancer, and winners will receive $10,000 in each of the six dance contests."
The campaign resulted in the highest search traffic for State Farm in six months and, as of October, an average of 14.1 entries to State Farm from the campaign page.
Due to the numerous successful campaigns on its hands, as well as millions of daily visitors, no one would blink an eye if the Yahoo creative team announced its goals had been accomplished. Yet Hunt and his team continue to ask: "What else can we do on our network?" and innovate from there. With their track record, whatever's next is bound to be exciting.
Lucia Davis is associate editor for iMedia Connection.
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