Google’s Take on the Next Generation of Online Advertising

Google has jumped into the discussion about the future of advertising with a series of blog posts, touting the creative possibilities of display advertising that combines its proprietary (surprise, surprise) DoubleClick Rich Media technology with hot services like Facebook and Twitter.
 
This week’s offering featured a Harley-Davidson promotion that was attention-grabbing, all right, with its incongruous mix of bikes, war and sex. The headline of the Veteran’s Day-timed message reads, “A Salute from the Home Front to Those Who Defend Freedom.”

On the left side of the ad is an invitation to write a “tribute to our troops.” The right side features a photo of “American Bombshell” Marisa Miller, a well-exposed star of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues, with links to more photos and videos. In the middle is a short video of Miller, wearing World War II-era pinup outfits and posing with assorted bikes. In the video she mentions the historic use of Harleys by the military and invites viewers to visit a showroom for postcards and other mementos.

 
This jumble does not make an obvious case for going out and buying a motorcycle. But shapely models alongside big wheels are as old as auto shows. And bike enthusiasts are probably as patriotic as the next guy.
 
According to Google’s Neal Mohan, the real point is interactivity and engagement, with a complex multimedia display that comes close to being a full Web site. More than 280,000 have viewed the video, he wrote, and 18,000 took time to write tributes. And they presumably thought good things about Harley-Davidson in the process.
 
I’ve seen this type of ad before, and I think our friends at Google are right that we will be seeing many more of these rich-media, participative ads.
 
Another example from Mohan is the introduction of the Volvo XC60 at the New York Auto Show. Prominently displaying a Twitter feed from the show, the campaign drew 170 million impressions, 50,000 clicks and 17,000 hours of brand engagement — pretty hot numbers.
 
 
And last summer at a digital marketing conference I heard about Whirlpool’s successful promotional partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Whirlpool donates a refrigerator and range for each of the new homes and underwrites construction of an entire block of houses in five cities each year. The company uses its Web site to invite contributions and real-time comments from residents as the homes go up. Once again, interactivity is the point; the experience casts a positive glow on the Whirlpool brand.
 
Four thoughts on these kinds of campaigns:
  • With a lot going on and an attractive invitation to participate, the DoubleClick ads overcome banner blindness and the annoying interruptions that have made so much of Internet display advertising ineffective.
  • The ad campaigns live on their own on the Web. Like so much cutting-edge Web marketing (and even plain-vanilla Craigslist ads), there is no need to run them adjacent to news content. Evian’s computer-generated baby rollerskaters are an especially good example — once introduced to the YouTube bloodstream, the spot is oh-so-cute that viral forwarding will propel it with no added cost to the advertiser.
  • Deep thinkers in traditional media are doubtless pondering (and they should be) how to get a piece of this action. In general, though, such experiments are going to be a drain on traditional media budgets, and most advertisers will find them a better use of online dollars than conventional display.
  • I have been intrigued for some time by how much the transformation of advertising parallels the familiar story of the disruption of the news business. Ramp up use of technology, find new ways to tell stories, exploit interactivity, get outside the box of traditional formats. Dare we say that these display campaigns are “a conversation, not a lecture”?
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At first glance, the Harley Davidson mashup reminded me of the classic show tune from the musical “Sweet Charity,” “Hey Big Spender,” in which taxi dancers shamelessly hustle potential clients with flattery. On second thought, the campaign may be a cagey 21st century way to tell the digital surfer, “I can see you’re a man of distinction” and get him to spend a little time with your brand.

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