November 3-4, 2010  |  New York, NY
Published: November 11, 2010
Creating an emotional connection with digital media

Vibrant Media and comScore discuss how brands can bridge the gap between the emotional effect of television and the perceived direct-response nature of digital advertising.

Vibrant Media is well known for its in-text dynamic ad units. Typically, the keywords are in green and double-underlined. When a user hovers a mouse cursor over the text, an interactive ad is produced. comScore is known by many digital marketing professionals as the go-to service for market data.

Eli Goodman, search evangelist at comScore, suggests that the two primary ways that all users navigate the web are search and hyperlinks. Therefore, how can brands employ different techniques via both search and hyperlink navigation to build their brands? First, it's important to recognize the differences in user brand interaction between 2003 and 2010. In 2003, people spent the majority of their time using email and instant messaging. Today, users spend the majority of their time online interacting with content like news and social media.

Currently $186 billion is being spent per year on brand advertising, but only $26 billion is spent online. Of that $26 billion, two-thirds is direct response, which is disproportionate to the amount spent on direct-response advertising in the offline world. Goodman suggests that digital should take cues from the offline world about what types of advertising can be effective. Citing data from a September case study on large consumer brands like Wal-Mart, brands are spending heavily on driving traffic to their web properties via brand name keywords, but they are missing opportunities to create emotional connections with their consumers the way that they do on television.

Digital myths debunked:
Search behavior does not always represent the bottom of the conversion funnel. The majority of [non-direct response] television ads don't have calls to action -- digital doesn't always have to either. It's possible to create emotional connections with text search ads.

Goodman provided an example of two consumer electronics brands, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox. A Google search for "broken Microsoft Xbox" produces search engine results that are non-branded. On the other hand, "broken Nintendo Wii" produces a No. 1 organic result for Nintendo's customer service page. Goodman urges brands to think about bidding on and optimizing for keyword terms that contain words like "how" and "why." He continued with the Nintendo example and showed that Nintendo was bidding on keyword terms like "club Nintendo" and "fix a Nintendo DS."

These types of terms, unlike brand name terms, are responsible for creating an emotional connection with the user. Furthermore, Nintendo's site doesn't sell anything, instead it's purely about a brand experience. This reinforces Goodman's assertion that "bottom of the funnel" and direct response don't necessarily need to be components of a brand's digital strategy. In search, these "how" and "why" terms do not necessarily have to be part of a long tail strategy. Instead, these tactics can be incorporated into aggressive brand keyword tactics.

Ariff Quli, SVP Sales GM East Coast, Vibrant Media, pointed out that hyperlinks are the most common way that page-to-page content on the web is navigated. Content drives brand discovery, and this is content's most powerful characteristic. Content also increases consideration.

Case studies:
Vibrant Media partnered with Bing to drive more search queries via in-text keyword ads. In Quli's example, he showed how the text "Tiger Woods" produced an interactive ad unit that contained Bing search results for "Tiger Woods." This drove increased search queries for Bing and helped them continue to compete with Google.

Quli's Toyota case study showed how Vibrant Media partnered with publishers whose automotive-based content mentioned the word "recall." A mouse-hover over the word "recall" popped-up an ad unit that contained an educational video, produced by Toyota, about the facts surrounding the recent vehicle recalls.

For Unilever, a parent brand that owns many smaller brands like Hellman's Mayonnaise, Vibrant placed contextual ads around recipe and food-based keywords like "potato salad." Recipes for dishes that contain Unilever products were featured in the recipes, and these ads promoted deep user interaction and engagement with the process of using the brand.

The final case study featured Best Buy's Twelpforce, a Twitter-based customer service channel. Consumer electronics keywords were targeted and would produce a pop-up box that contained Twelpforce's real-time Twitter feed, filtered by the contextual keyword over which the ad unit appeared. Furthermore, the user could ask Twelpforce a question by typing directly into the ad unit box.


  • Time spent online is increasing, and 5 percent of total ad spend online is not enough.
  • Branding strategy needs to be the reverse of the traditional model of telling the consumers what they want. Instead, the focus needs to shift to monitoring consumer behavior and then creating brand advertising that is based on consumer demand.
  • These tactics are industry-agnostic. All brands in all niches should be exploring how to create a closer emotional connection between users and their brands.

Drew Hubbard is an internet utility player with experience in hands-on web development, technical support, SEO, PPC, social media, email marketing, lead generation, and affiliate programs.