Thursday, October 23, 2008

Anti-viral Marketing?

When Sony lauched its new line of HDTVs in 2006, the Bravia, they attempted a new marketing strategy focusing on the boldness of the colors present in their new televisions. A series of ads were developed highlighting the broad color range, and comparing it to the vibrancy of color as it existed in real life. To this extent, the ads filmed extraordinary displays of real color, such as paint exploding from an apartment complex in Scotland. The third ad in this series was the most anticipated, and when revealed, proved to be the most dynamic. A lengthy stop motion clip in the busy streets of New York using in excess of 2,5 tonnes of plasticine. (Conversion factors?) The ad, however, would not achieve its full potential until it made the jump to the internet, where it saw a huge surge in popularity. I believe this was not only an intention of the Sony advertising firm, but also that this ad was specifically tailored to appeal to “viral” audience of the internet.

The “YouTube” generation has always been a step ahead of the game in terms of what the mass audience craves. These techno-viral guru’s cling to the unusual and unique with such fanaticism that has the power to determine the fate of a potential internet media user. This power is responsible for the longevity of such phenomena as the “Numa Numa Dance” or “LolCatz”. It is no wonder that these elusive pop culture representatives are the new demographic of many advertisers. But just as advertising has grown to a new target, their target has outgrown the ability to be manipulated. The viral metaphor becomes clear when we examine the numerous failed attempts to harness this untraceable power of cool. (See Sony’s “All I Want for Christmas is a PSP”)
Marketing firms are forever searching for the next way to latch on to this self-propagated advertising, and Sony may have finally found it; for now.

The ad which has achieved so much recognition is the third ad in a series celebrating HDTVs. This final ad was anticipated widely due to the successful use of a “hype” machine and when it finally arrived, viewers were amazed. This video uses an age old technique in an not so unordinary way to create a spectacle that can somehow still amaze. The trick is simple, but would only be effective in this time period.
In todays world of computer generated imaging we have seen many things that were thought impossible and shows like the one in this Sony ad have become commonplace. What creates the buzz for this ad, is the obvious push away from that semi-realism we have come to see as common. This ad was made entirely without the aid of computers. 40 animators labored for over three weeks to carefully compose what amounted to over 100,000 still images of rabbits taking over a busy New York intersection. There is a scale of accomplishment here that demands to be respected. And the people that consider themselves video gurus, took the bait instantly.
The content of the advertisement is simple, non-informative, and curiosity inspiring. Almost begging the viewer to learn more.(That in fact was what led me to choose this ad.) And at a length of just over a minute, this video seems to be almost made for the internet. In addition, one only has to search once to find the plethora of additional material made for this hype. A sneak trailer was released on YouTube before the video came out, and following it’s release, a documentary on the creation was released. All these “bonus goodies” reward the curious viewer and inspire the thought that their curiosity would only be more rewarded by further investigation and eventual purchase.

An ad with an almost identical strategy is the Honda “Cog” ad of 2004. In this ad, engineers laboriously dismantled two full Honda Accord hatchbacks and built a fully functioning “Rube Goldberg” machine which moves precariously through incredibly feats of precision to finally unveil a still-assembled Accord at the end. Clocking in a two whole minutes, there is no doubt this ad saw little air time and built hype off of curiosity. Like the Sony Ad, this ad has no information apart from the title at the end, and a limited soundtrack. This ad was also released with a “making-of” featurette. This ad also commanded the respect of the viral audience with it’s authenticity. In 606 takes, the full machine only functioned fully once. When this ad was presented to the executives at Honda they remarked as to the technical proficiency of computer graphics and were floored when the were told the ad was real.1
The real success of these ads comes from the fact that they are not trying to fool an audience. Something new in the relatively one-dimensional “viral marketing” model--which previously focused on subversively incorporating “cool” product placement--the usually intelligent online community responded in kind. By presenting television viewers with something more entertaining than persuasive, and rewarding consumers for their curiosity with online goodies, the companies set a good model for themselves; and by demanding the respect of the online “powers-that-be” with honest technical prowess, these firms have earned themselves a veritable boatload of free publicity through the wonder of online communities. Although these ads are slightly dated, the seem to represent a new, more frank direction in the seedy world of viral marketing.


Zach Erdmann
Kate Brandt

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