2008 was a very different time. After almost a decade of creating viral content and seeing amazing levels of traffic and astonishing conversion rates, marketing managers were still struggling to see past the banner ad and pre-roll. And so I wrote an article attempting to illustrate why digital engagement was a better way of advertising than CPM media buys – on every level. Obviously times have changed, but with advertisers like Google and Facebook taking into account the quality of the content when pricing up a CPC campaign, the level of consumer engagement with a campaign is as important now as it was (to my mind) then..
Six rules of digital engagement within online advertising
By Jim McNiven
March 25, 2008
The digital engagement agency is the creative child of the entertainment and advertising industries, spawned by the void left by traditional agencies that insist on applying heavy-handed advertising techniques to the internet, largely ignoring its interactivity.
This new hybrid agency applies creative principles to online advertising that engage rather than annoy the user, working with the network principle rather than against it. Digital engagement agencies usually try to understand their audiences, engage with them, entertain them and educate them.
We believe there are six simple rules of digital engagement:
1. It is rude to interrupt.
We advocate the use of engagement to deliver a message, rather than the interruption method preferred by online display advertising. A consumer is much more likely to connect with a message that they have chosen to listen to than one forced upon them, especially given that an interruption advert by its very nature stops the user from doing something that they have chosen to do. The implicit brand message gleaned from interruption advertising is: ‘We stop you from doing the things you enjoy’.
2. Reduce media spend and increase production spend.
The internet is constantly expanding and each day it becomes more expensive to place an advert where the target market might see it. The traditional formula of 90 per cent of budget on media buying is becoming untenable. Digital engagement agencies turn this formula on its head and maintain that spending the majority of the budget on creating something that appeals to a target market is much more effective. If the content is strong enough, the users will find it. Positive brand experience is not the only benefit. ROI is often massively better than a traditional campaign, particularly as the overall budget required is often smaller.
3. Every successful piece of digital engagement is a de facto viral campaign.
The internet was built to allow interesting content to be passed among users. Digital engagement content is the most popular kind of content on the internet — viral games dwarf the traffic that even the most celebrated viral video campaigns generate. Viral is the effect and not the cause and so, unless a viral effect is evident, the following do not instantly qualify as a viral campaign simply by virtue of the fact that they exist:
Content placed on YouTube.
Content placed on websites through a big media buy.
Content placed on a microsite with a ‘friend get friend’ mechanism.
A viral effect is the exponential growth in user levels of a piece of content that captures the imagination of the audience and cannot be achieved through media spend. As digital engagement campaigns rely on the strength of the content rather than a media buy, any successful digital engagement campaign ought to be truly viral by definition.
4. Friendly coercion = better conversion.
A successful banner advert can hope at best to achieve a 1 per cent click-through rate, with 0.5 per cent seen as a good result. The number of users who accidentally clicked and found themselves whisked away from their intended destination against their will is something that cannot be accurately tracked. A successful digital engagement campaign will see a conservative click-through rate of around 10 per cent. The reason for this variance ought to be obvious to anyone who experiences regular social interaction with other human beings. The former is an uninitiated, sales-oriented message from out-of-the-blue that is met by instinctive objections from the human brain. The latter is the end result of a user-initiated engagement that lasts more than five minutes. This digital engagement produces a positive experience in the user’s mind and creates a trust that clicking through will continue that mood. In the realm of real-life social interaction, a good metaphor might be this: a banner advert is a speculative chat-up line, yelled across the dance floor of a noisy, crowded club. The digital engagement campaign is an intimate dinner for two followed by a taxi home.
5. No more lies.
Traditional advertising is judged by an array of ‘finger in the air’ metrics and suppositions. It is assumed that a TV advert will have been seen by everyone watching a channel, whether or not they were making a cup of tea, and the number of people watching a channel is based on viewing habits of a small selection of the population. The impact of this advert is then judged by focus groups and by more guesswork, based on increases of overall sales that are affected by many different factors. This is then treated as fact. A digital engagement campaign carries accurate and transparent metrics. It is tracked remotely and so displays not only how many users viewed it — no matter how many different sites it sits on — but also tracks exactly how the user interacted with it and for how long. Where acquisition online is the goal, a properly executed digital engagement campaign should show exactly how many viewers become customers.
6. Video is good — interactive video is better.
Broadband internet makes seamlessly streamed video an attractive addition to the web. Traditional agencies will have brainstormed the many intelligent uses of video online and how this new medium can be exploited. The result is even more interruption advertising, this time with sound and an immensely increased file size. Imagine that! Users with 3G not only have to put up with interruption, now they have the pleasure of paying extra for it. How about that for a brand experience? ‘Improved’ media buying has resulted in the user not only seeing video adverts crammed into banners, but also pre-rolled in front of any video that users have elected to watch. The subconscious brand message is: ‘You will see our advert — whether you like it or not!’ The use of video within applications such as Flash makes for an infinite world of possibilities, with programming and video combining in a way that interactive TV could only have dreamed of. Digital engagement agencies recognise that interactive video experiences, personalised for the user, have a much longer retention time than any 15 second pre-roll, and they need no media buy. Rightly, they are seen as the user’s destination, rather than the irritant that sits between users and where they want to go.
Our team has applied these rules to diverse and successful campaigns, ranging from Sony PlayStation 3 to Stan James. We have proved that spending the majority of the ad budget on creating content that engages with users not only delivers a positive brand experience but also often produces an ROI that traditional online advertising formats cannot hope to match.
Article originally published in Feb 2008 here: