The AdweekMedia Plan of the Year

AdweekMedia Plan of the Year: Editor’s Note

The global economy may be in a shambles. The prospect of world peace may again be at its nadir. The U.S. government may now even own a majority of General Motors. Despite all these dire circumstances and events, it’s a pleasure to present one reliable, stable, happy truth: Some media agencies continue to execute innovative, original and effective plans for their clients to move the needle — sales or ratings. We salute all this year’s winners, from Goodby, Silverstein & Partner’s White Gold rock god creation (the dude with the guitar) for client California Milk Processor Board, to Greg Castronuovo, who pulls off the rare feat of having a hand in two winning media plans — at two different agencies (Initiative’s print win for Showtime’s Dexter series and OMD’s mobile win for client The CW).

But we’d be remiss if we did not also salute our first ever People’s Choice winner, Razorfish, which won a popular vote as the best media plan (hey, the customer’s always right). The effort, for client Levi’s, leveraged the media resources of several publishers and Web sites to dispel the notion among young women that the venerable jeans brand was only for men. We tip our hats to the campaign’s popular appeal. –Michael Bürgi

Index:

Spending Over $25 Million: GMMB

Spending Between $10 Million and $25 Million: Hill Holliday

Spending Under $10 Million: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Spending $1 Million or Less: R&R Partners

Best Use of National TV/Cable: Starcom USA

Best Use of Digital: MediaVest USA

Best Use of Local TV/Cable: CRN/Applegate Media


Best Use of Out-of-Home: Media Storm

Best Use of Radio: Butler, Shine, Stern

Best Use of Print: Initiative

Best Use of Nontraditional: Mindshare

Best Use of Mobile: OMD

Spending Over $25 Million: GMMB

By Noreen O’Leary

noleary@catskill.net

Barack Obama’s personal journey from Illinois junior senator to America’s 44th president is one of the most astonishing political marketing transformations ever. While much attention has focused on the Democratic candidate’s wide embrace of Web 2.0 strategies, his adept handling of paid media enabled him to strategically outmaneuver competitors in what became the most expensive presidential campaign in U.S. history. If Obama’s charisma, compelling life story and oratory skills caught the imagination of voters seeking change, it was his highly effective media campaign that first introduced the political unknown to Americans, driving them to the Web and to grassroots efforts supporting him.

As the lead media team for the Obama for America campaign, Omnicom advocacy agency GMMB earns recognition for the Media Plan of the Year Spending $25 Million or more. (The Obama campaign, which raised a record-breaking $639 million in fundraising, never disclosed its exact media expenditures, said to be more than $400 million.)

GMMB, whose senior partner Jim Margolis was also a campaign senior strategist, worked with a group of Obama advisors and agencies that included AKPD Message and Media, in which former campaign manager David Plouffe is a senior advisor.

The Obama campaign’s media strategy aimed to accomplish two very different goals in tandem: expand the electorate with broader messages while hypertargeting specific audiences. Daniel Jester, GMMB’s media director, describes those complex efforts as the first fully integrated presidential campaign. “The Obama campaign pioneered the collaboration of multimedia tactics, marrying offline with online media; free media with paid media,” explains Jester. “The strategy drove all aspects of the message, and the multiple tactics complemented the strategy. The effort throughout the primary and general election was, in fact, made up of many smaller advertising campaigns under the Obama umbrella, all simultaneously occurring with one another, though never in a vacuum.”

Just as the Obama campaign was creating one-on-one connections with voters online and in the community, GMMB used more traditional media to target subsets of voters with relevant messages. This focus began with the Iowa caucuses in 2007 and continued through the final phases of the campaign, putting Republican nominee John McCain on the defensive in red-state strongholds. Employing personalized tactics, GMMB constantly ran more than 10 highly targeted simultaneous messages delivered across all media.

In targeting women, for instance, GMMB focused on the issue of equal pay, using Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama grandmother who sued her former employer after discovering that male counterparts were paid more. The campaign used TV, radio, online, Web social groups, college newspapers, videogames and video on campuses to get out the message.

GMMB also had to counter third-party groups’ spending against the Obama campaign. In key states like Ohio, the agency focused on issues like gun control, using cable in rural areas to reassure hunters about Obama’s support of their right to bear arms. (The agency also found ways to include broader campaign references — jobs, for example — that would also resonate with the target.)

Another tactic used in the effort to garner the hunter vote: Christian format and sports radio. Whether it was the use of adult contemporary to reach women or urban formats to target African Americans, GMMB partner Greg Pinelo says the agency is a big believer in radio, media turf Democrats usually cede to Republicans.

GMMB wanted to forge the same kind of personal connection offline with voters that barackobama.com was creating in the digital space. Research showed that voters were curious about Obama. It also indicated that the more people learned about the candidate, the more they identified with him. GMMB capitalized on this finding by making use of long-form video, using 60-second, two-minute, on-demand — such as the Obama channel on satellite; Tivo; cable VOD — and a 30-minute special in October that drew 33.5 million viewers. “The [long-form] effort created extended networks of support that would reach back to our persuadable voters,” says Jester.

The Obama campaign’s ads were produced and cut so they could exist on the air or online. At any given time, Jester’s team was coordinating 20 to 30 TV commercials and as many radio spots airing along with print, outdoor and some digital. In the spirit of integration, they worked closely with other campaign advisors like Chris Hughes, the Facebook founder and architect of Obama’s online efforts, who is now with GMMB as a strategic advisor. “Dan and his team created mass-market media to drive interest to the campaign’s new social networking tools on the Web,” says Pinelo. “Mass media made these other tools so powerful.”

Ultimately, Jester and Pinelo agree, GMMB had a dream client. Obama provided the competitive advantage and a clear message on his own. “There was a consistency in Barack Obama’s tone and approach, whether in a speech at the Democratic convention or in an ad about fair pay for women,” says Pinelo. “We never had to reinvent ourselves as other candidates did. There was a real clarity of purpose from the top down and inspiration and ideas from the bottom up, with volunteers. There was a real determination on everyone’s part that no matter what happened with the ups and downs, we would stick to the strategy. It was all about the goals and winning the campaign and changing America.”

Noreen O’Leary is an editor at large with AdweekMedia.

Spending Between $10 Million and $25 Million: Hill Holliday

By Richard Brunelli

richardbrunelli@aol.com

Any insurance company these days would consider itself lucky to have a marketing hook as strong as a lizard that talks with a British accent — unless, of course, it has something even better. Like what? Like, say, millions of Americans associating its brand with moral stewardship and social responsibility for the post-9/11 era. That fortunate insurance company is Liberty Mutual, thanks to a multiplatform social awareness campaign called “The Responsibility Project.” That effort has earned Hill Holliday the Media Plan of the Year win in Spending Between $10 Million and $25 Million.

The origins of the online and print campaign from the Boston-based agency date back to the fall of 2006 with the release of a 60-second TV spot called “What Goes Around.” In the ad, people perform random acts of kindness (sharing an umbrella, letting the other car get the parking space, etc.) only to discover that one good deed begets another, and then another.
The spot’s simple civility was so affecting it generated thousands of “thank you” e-mails — including requests from schoolteachers for copies to show their classes. As Hill Holliday executive vp/chief media officer Baba Shetty recalls, “The response was actually kind of overwhelming.”

Now fast-forward two years. Fueled by leaps in technology, the media world is a different place. Social-networking portals like MySpace and Facebook are becoming household words. And savvy marketers are pioneering online campaigns that can engage, track and trace consumers better than ever before. As Shetty recounts, the agency already had a winning concept; it only needed to build on it — then expand it into the digital realm. “The audience loved that spot, which presented a worldview of people doing the right thing,” he says. “It wasn’t a big stretch for us to figure out that we needed to take that commercial and expand it to a larger platform.”

That platform would end up as “The Responsibility Project,” a viral Web site onto which visitors were (and are) encouraged to post stories and videos of everyday instances of kindness, consideration and doing the right thing. Like the episodes in the TV spot, the gestures were usually small — helping a stranger change a tire on the road, for example — but these acts were real. Launched in April 2008, the site was equipped with the latest search-engine optimization features to maximize its reach and penetration. By year-end, a Google search for “responsibility” ranked “The Responsibility Project, Presented by Liberty Mutual” as high as No. 6 out of some 247 million results.

During that April-December window, the campaign generated 1.4 million unique visitors, more than 985,000 film views, 1.2 million blog views and nearly 4,300 posted comments. Best of all (from a marketer’s perspective) was the consumer brand tracking that showed an 18 percent hike in Liberty Mutual’s appraisal. “This campaign highlights people who decide that they want to do good,” says Seb Maitra, senior vp of media, analytics and search at the agency and the day-to-day architect on the project. “But it wasn’t just a good thing to do. It was also good for Liberty Mutual’s business because people who live their lives responsibly are good customers for insurance companies.”

An insurance company associated with responsibility turned out to be a pretty good thing for customers, too. The Responsibility Project was the end stage of an ongoing process to tie together the notion of corporate values with everyday human ones — and it worked. Part of why it worked derives from what Shetty and Maitra both describe as the “findability” and “shareability” of the campaign, which also distributed film and blog posts via widgets such as Nabbr that facilitated content sharing. “All the online pieces had been there for a while, but the scale of this campaign would not have been possible even a couple of years ago,” says Shetty.

But another part owes itself to the stories lending themselves to interpretation and discussion. Taking the high road often has unfair outcomes (such as the woman who got fired from her job in a service station for telling a customer that he’d been ripped off on a repair). The personal stories of responsibility garnered comments from other visitors, and comments on those comments.

In addition to the online backbone of The Responsibility Project, the campaign also featured tie-ins with print partners such as Time,  Parade and The New York Times. Hill Holliday purchased contextual adjacencies to Times editorial heavyweights David Brooks and Paul Krugman and developed a wraparound reconfiguration of Randy Cohen’s Sunday magazine column, “The Ethicist.” “The campaign leverages this human truth of responsibility, and it does it in a very distinctive way,” observes Paul Alexander, svp, communications for Liberty Mutual Group and the executive who oversees the company’s marketing initiatives. “To be able to tie a brand to that in an authentic way was the real master stroke. As a marketer you hope to achieve this type of campaign.”

Alexander should know. He joined Liberty Mutual last November from the Campbell’s Soup Co. And despite the firm’s marketing pedigree, he was impressed with Hill Holliday’s online work with The Responsibility Project. “We used some of these techniques at Campbell’s, but not to the consistency of this campaign,” he says. “First, it was highly engaging. And then I think of all the halos for the brand. What Liberty Mutual and Hill Holliday have done is sustain a consistent effort, and they’ve been able to focus that on a single value. With this campaign, the social aspect wasn’t an adjunct. It was the centerpiece.”

Contributing writer Richard Brunelli last wrote about Tribune Co.’s content struggles in May.

Spending Under $10 Million: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

By T.L. Stanley

tlstanley8@yahoo.com

Never mind what eating spinach did for Popeye—check out what drinking milk can do for you. It turned a puny, brittle-haired geek into a classic guitar god, complete with the Axl Rose physique (circa 1990) and a silky, flowing mane.

Such is the miraculous turnaround tale of White Gold, a preening spandex-clad lead guitarist created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, for the California Milk Processor Board. White Gold was inspired by Spinal Tap (he wears a handlebar mustache and his volume goes to 11), and he does look alarmingly like any frontman from an ’80s hair band.
It’s just that this rocker owes it all—his body, his skin and especially his hair — to milk.
With help from the “Calcium Twins” (two female rockers on bass and drums), White Gold’s high-watt homage to dairy — including a cheeky EP titled “The Best I Can Give Is 2%” — was designed to be the foot in the door to talk to teens about drinking milk. Considering that the bev of choice for rock stars runs closer to Jack Daniels, White Gold is a pretty out-there approach. And that was the entire idea, according to Steve James, executive director of the CMPB.

“If you try to go straight at a teen target with a nutritional message, you’ll get yawns,” says James. “We were trying to get them to use the words ‘milk’ and ‘cool’ in the same sentence — basically, attempting the impossible — and do that in an entertaining, attention-grabbing way.”

James isn’t kidding about that “impossible” bit. The trade group’s research showed that by the time they turn into teenagers, kids generally leave milk in the fridge. They’re making their own buying decisions outside of mom’s influence, and are much more excited by Red Bull, Vitaminwater and even Starbucks coffee. These findings convinced CMPB (which had traditionally aimed its messaging at moms, anyway) to speak directly to teens for the first time. CMPB turned to longtime agency Goodby, originator of the iconic “Got Milk?” campaign, but charged it with the creation of something wholly unique.

White Gold is the musical messenger for all of milk’s virtues (one of his songs is called, “Is It Me, or Do You Love My Hair?”) and a shrewd linking of milk with attributes that preoccupy teens of both genders — muscles, skin, hair, etc. But how the agency disseminated the work was as important as walking the creative fine line between playful kitsch and complete goof.
Though White Gold is a fictitious character, Goodby execs followed a true music-industry model with his material. He sings original songs supported by full-length music videos.

Goodby also tapped into social networks and seeded iTunes, YouTube, Rhapsody and Last.fm with the content. Creative execs had an advantage over traditional records (they were giving the music away for free), yet they worked with some real rockers — members of Detroit’s Electric Six — to craft power ballads worthy of legitimate music reviews. “It was a lot more complicated than picking the right TV show that teens might be watching and buying ads there,” James explains. “We thought of how a record label would introduce a new band. That informed all the media choices.”

Goodby’s media team worked hand-in-hand with the creative side, making sure there were enough assets like photos, biographies, mobile downloads and music videos to fill the viral pipeline. But the biggest challenge was striking just the right, well, chord: getting teens to laugh with — not at — the guy in the gold-lame pants. White Gold’s character is satiric, but stops short of buffoonery. His props are funny (yes, that is milk inside his lucite guitar), but he succeeds in being just enough of a badass that you’re hesitant to make fun of him.

“We wanted to let people in on the joke without being completely obvious that it’s a fake band,” says Stephanie Charlebois, Goodby’s senior communications strategist. “That’s why we put White Gold in places where teens would find the band naturally, that weren’t intrusive or inauthentic.”

The marketing mix was about 60 percent TV and 40 percent print, digital and other grassroots outreach. The digital components allowed youths to interact with the mock rocker, posting photos of their homemade White Gold Halloween costumes and discussing the merits of tunes like “Tame the White Tiger.” The music videos racked up 1.5 million views, the Facebook page gathered more than 8,200 friends and there have been 443,398 (and counting) views of the MySpace profile.

The biggest impact, however, is in how teens view drinking milk. After White Gold’s debut, milk consumption increased 3 percent among the target demo (this despite the spike in commodity prices in 2008). Teens exposed to the campaign later said they understood that milk helps strengthen nails and hair and rebuild muscles. In California, 52 percent of teens reported they knew who White Gold was, and 28 percent said they’re more likely to drink milk multiple times a day.

White Gold, now in year two with an ongoing “Thrashteurizer” online game, will launch a new phase this fall. Details are being kept under wraps, but it revolves around the concept of putting the band in young fans’ hands and letting them customize it. “We love that the band’s become part of pop culture now,” Charlebois says, and she might soon mean that literally.
An actual White Gold tour has not been ruled out.

Rock on.

Contributing writer T.L. Stanley frequently writes for Brandweek.

Spending $1 Million or Less: R&R Partners

By Jennifer Comiteau

j.comiteau@verizon.net

Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn is not the sort of guy to skimp on things. For instance, before opening the Wynn Las Vegas (at a cost of $2.7 billion), the developer opened sales offices in 13 cities across the globe, ran a cross-promotion with the principality of Monaco and bought ads during the Super Bowl and the Oscars. So last year when Wynn introduced Encore, his newest five-star resort, marketers were buzzing again. This time, however, they were in for a surprise: The marketing outlay could not exceed $1 million. The earmark was, to be fair, only for the employee-recruitment campaign, but that’s a lean number — especially in a town like Vegas. It fell to marketing communications firm R&R Partners to work some Las Vegas magic on a shoestring.

And that’s what won R&R the Media Plan of the Year for Spending $1 Million or Less.

Jeremy Thompson, R&R’s associate media director, recalls Roger Thomas, executive vp of design for Wynn Design and Development, taking his team for a hardhat tour of the hotel and casino. The place was little more than a steel skeleton, but Thomas shared his vision for the finished product, including conceptual sketches and color palette. “That was the ‘a-ha’ moment to this beautiful brand campaign,” Thompson says. The boldness of the color scheme — a melding of red, blue, purple, green and orange — helped “bring the brand to life.”

“Brand” was, in fact, the key idea. Thompson, along with corporate media director Fletcher Whitwell, explains that R&R approached the recruitment challenge strategically, viewing every recruitment ad as a brand ad. That only made sense, in view of Wynn’s hands-on method, interacting with both customers and employees and seeing them as integral parts of a whole. “Mr. Wynn’s approach to customer service and the treatment of his employees is a primary focus that is paramount in everything he does,” says Michelle Mader, group account director. “He can often be seen walking the floor of his properties, speaking with employees and guests.”

As it turned out, interaction also characterized R&R’s work. “It was a very collaborative process — as anything for Mr. Wynn ends up being,” says Thompson. Other influential members of the R&R team included Pamela Payne, senior media planner/buyer; TC Torres, media planner/buyer; Shannon Dux, media planner; Lena Delgado, account supervisor; and Mindy Parker, assistant account exec.

As Steve Wynn is famed for his high expectations of his staff, it was determined that Encore would need 60,000 applications in order to find 6,000 employees with the personality and skills necessary to run the property. “The Wynns see their human resources as the most crucial asset to the enterprise,” explains Jennifer Dunne, vp of public relations and advertising for Wynn Las Vegas. Even though the economy was showing signs of slowing when the campaign started, the decision was made to go ahead.

Reflecting the philosophy of the property itself, R&R’s campaign refused to take the traditional, predictable route. Text-based classified ads (the usual way to recruit workers) were banned. Instead, full-page display ads borrowing from Encore’s rich colors and graced by a tropical butterfly appeared in major dailies and ethnic newspapers. The copy was classic Wynn-style empowerment: “I can’t be there to make every fantasy come true. That’s where you come in.” The property’s uniqueness was conveyed by another ad, this one for positions such as massage therapist and room attendant. “Work of art seeking heart and soul,” it said. R&R’s team also relied on Daily Candy e-mail blast sponsorships, presence on food and beverage blogs, and outdoor advertising that dominated Las Vegas bus shelters.

The campaign was 100 percent transactional; ads drove interested parties to the recruitment site or those hiring at Encore. It was also geo-targeted to tap into locations where the odds of finding top hires were high. Ads seeking high-end retail staff appeared in Los Angeles, for example, while ads seeking wait staff appeared in San Francisco and some for hotel managers ran in Hawaii. Street-level executions dominated bus shelters in areas by key locales, like Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas where security guards might be found. More than 25,000 applicants were received after an initial coordinated push that featured online, e-mail, search, print and radio efforts. The number would have been higher had the server not crashed at one point.

R&R’s coup de théâtre, however, was destined for a stage bigger than newspapers and bus shelters. The Saturday before the Monday launch of the Web site for applicants, a formation of five airplanes took to the skies over the California coast, their tail foggers spelling out “WYNNJOBS.COM” in letters taller than the Empire State Building. The stratospheric signage reached potential targets at Angels Stadium, Disneyland and every major beach.

“We wanted to be really out there and do something that captured the ‘Wynn Way’ and get people talking,” explains Thompson. It did. The Wynn phone banks were ringing before the planes even returned to the airstrip. The squadron returned to the air on July 21 — this time over Vegas itself — with the same results.

Well before Encore opened Dec. 22, 2008, Wynn’s team had hired its 6,000 “crème de la crème” staffers to run the property (where Steve Wynn himself lives.) “We were thrilled with the results of the campaign,” Dunne says. Wynn “would never settle for mediocrity in any endeavor, including advertising. He always looks well beyond the confines of the ‘norm’ and insists that we make a statement, an impact with each and every campaign.”

So it was written in the sky.

Jennifer Comiteau is a contributing editor for AdweekMedia.

Best Use of National TV/Cable: Starcom USA

By Steve McClellan 

smcclellan@adweek.com

Comfort and fit have always been mainstays for Playtex bras. Most anyone over 40 remembers how the Cross Your Heart Bra “lifts and separates.” Why? Because Jane Russell said so on those TV spots back in the ’70s. Playtex bras (the best-selling 18-Hour model in particular) were made especially “for us full-figured gals,” the former pinup girl said in her smoky voice. Women believed her, and for decades Playtex dominated the market.

Then along came Victoria’s Secret. No 18-hour support going on here. By the late 1980s, these lacy, satiny newcomers had seduced their way to being the top-selling bra brand in America — with a little help from TV shows and the hottest models in the universe (sorry, Ms. Russell). In a lingerie market valued at $9.6 billion (per Packaged Facts, 2007), Playtex’s No. 2 slot still isn’t bad, but with sluggish sales and a sense among company execs that the brand had become stagnant, Playtex decided in 2007 that it needed a lift of its own. Aiming for a better understanding of how its loyal customers felt about bras, talked about them, and chose them, Playtex convened focus groups across the country. The effort led to a major new ad campaign via the client’s media agency, Starcom, called “Girl Talk,” which uses TV and the Web as its key platforms, along with a major integration — a year in the making — on ABC’s The View.

For Playtex, the campaign was a reassertion of the pioneering spirit that led it to become the first company to advertise bras on TV back in 1954. Now, half a century later, the newest campaign’s results have far exceeded expectations with a sales boost of 3.4 percent in the second quarter of 2008 (versus the comparable prior-year period) and double-digit sales increases for specific labels, including the 18-Hour and Secrets bra lines. Web traffic at Playtexfits.com is up a staggering 90 percent year-over-year (based on Q2 2008 comparisons), dramatically topping the goal of a 10 percent increase. For its creative blending of TV and Web platforms that yielded outstanding results for the client, Starcom’s “Girl Talk” plan for Playtex has been named Media Plan of the Year for National TV and Cable.

Two years ago, recalls Vicki Seawright, Playtex marketing director, the company had decided that “we needed a fresh approach.” But it had to be an approach that would win converts from beyond Playtex’s somewhat older-skewing demo while not alienating women who’d made Playtex their bra of choice for decades. The goal, Seawright explains, was to augment sales and also “refresh the brand image and change the perception that Playtex was just your mother’s bra.”

Easier said than done. The focus groups had revealed not only that many women have
concerns about bra fit and comfort, but that they enjoy talking about those concerns with close friends. Therein lay the seeds of a branding campaign.

“There was this ‘girl friend’ kind of attitude with respect to consumers discussing bra issues,” notes Seawright. “We hadn’t been addressing that at Playtex. We’d been advertising, but not engaging the consumer and showing her the side of Playtex that we knew her and understood her.”

Playtex brought those insights and goals to the doorstep of Publicis-owned media shop Starcom for an execution. First, the Starcom team “looked at the messaging, which was about women who were open to talking about issues,” relates Erin Houg, activation director in charge of the Playtex account. They next applied what Houg terms a “girl-friend filter” — allowing the team to determine what themes would resonate conversationally with consumers. “That,” Houg continues, “led us down the road of syndication talk shows like Oprah and Tyra Banks, morning TV and Web sites like iVillage.” In the end, “Girl Talk” was a service-driven campaign grounded in solid research, but delivered in a way that was both casual and genuine.

For the TV component, Playtex opted for a series of spots on a number of programs and a major branded-content integration with ABC’s morning gabfest, The View. The format featured five women in conversation who “epitomize what we were going after,” says Darcy Bowe, Starcom’s investment lead on the Playtex account. “These are women with different concerns and life stages, and of different shapes and sizes. It was the perfect environment.”
The integration also featured three female audience members who modeled bras and discussed their “issues” with The View cast as well as with a Playtex rep. About that girl-talk stuff? Houg wasn’t kidding. The women freely used breast euphemisms (“ta tas” and even “the girls”) as the rep explained how different Playtex bras could resolve specific issues.

The segment also aired on a microsite the show created for it, which in turn drove traffic to the Playtex Web site. Small clips (largely B-roll from the spots that were produced) also ran virally on YouTube. These generated over 1 million views. iVillage featured a bra fitting tool on its site that generated 500,000 views, driving six times the normal traffic to the Playtex site.

“Girl Talk” has “been a great success,” Seawright says, and promises that the campaign “will continue” (she won’t reveal details). Surveyed about their feelings about the brand, 32 percent of women consumers now say that Playtex “makes me look and feel my best.”

Didn’t Jane Russell used to say that, too?

AdweekMedia department editor Steve McClellan covers network TV and media agencies.

Best Use of Digital: MediaVest USA

Mike Shields 

mshields@mediaweek.com

Branded entertainment Webisodes have been popping up on the Internet lately almost as frequently as those infuriating “your mailbox is full” e-mail messages. Too often, branded entertainment really means awkward product placement — a can of soda conspicuously placed here or nonsequiturial clips of characters driving a particular car there. “Branded entertainment for the Web is difficult,” says James Kiernan, MediaVest USA’s vp, group director of digital media and innovation. “We see a lot of good ideas in the market. And we see a lot of stuff that looks like it belongs on cable access.”

But what if you could produce a video series that featured recognized experts extolling the attributes of your new brand — and celebrities using and praising your product? And what if you could do so in a way that doesn’t resemble a colon detox infomercial, but rather feels natural and actually entertaining?

That’s just the neat trick that MediaVest, Procter & Gamble and Yahoo Shine all were able to pull off with The Thread, a fashion and beauty-oriented Web series/blog that launched last fall. The effort has earned MediaVest the Media Plan of the Year in Digital.

The service-oriented show — with 80 Webisodes produced to date — provides users with practical beauty and fashion tips, with an emphasis on how to recreate celebrities’ looks on a budget — such as Katie Holmes’ recent blazer and jeans ensemble. Originally conceived just for Herbal Essences, The Thread eventually became a showcase for six P&G brands, including CoverGirl, Secret, Crest and Olay — with each brand taking turns receiving the branded-integration treatment during the show’s initial run. “When we saw the breadth of programming and the amount of content we’d need, we realized that every integration can’t be about Herbal,” recalls Nate Lawton, brand manager, Herbal Essences. “We realized this was a big idea and a great way to use our portfolio. One of the advantages we have at P&G is that we have this huge portfolio of similarly targeted brands.”

According to Lawton, that target for these brands (and The Thread) is a younger woman who is highly celebrity and fashion conscious and is used to having lots of control over her media consumption. “She’s just constantly online, multitasking,” explains Lawton. “She’s used to watching video and TV online. When she’s receptive, she will engage with brands, but she hates being disrupted.”

Though the typical Thread brand integration isn’t exactly subtle, nor is it cheesy or pushy. Ann Lundberg, sales director for Yahoo Shine calls it “honest brand integration.” For example, take the episode from last February’s Fashion Week in New York. The clip kicks off with a classic “brought to you by” ad message for CoverGirl. But later, after chatting with designer Shoshanna Gruss about ways to add color to a drab wardrobe, The Thread host Sarah Bernard shifts into voiceover mode, describing Cover Girl’s Outlast Lipstain as “one of the new products I found at Fashion Week that I absolutely love.”

Even more powerful than that gentle shill is when Bernard interviews professional stylist Ariel Kaiser and supplies her with some Outlast: “I think this is brilliant because it goes on it stays on, it doesn’t rub off on your clothes,” says Kaiser. Similar praise comes from a string of other attendees, including a self-described “big, big lipstick girl.” But the coup de grace comes near the end of the episode when Cover Girl spokesperson Drew Barrymore calls Outlast “amazing” during an interview for her movie He’s Just Not That Into You.

That’s a dream endorsement lineup for any marketer. It could also be a complete nightmare to orchestrate, given the sheer number of players involved in The Thread, from six brands to MediaVest to Yahoo. But all parties took a teamwork approach early on. “The key here is that the partner was involved in the strategy from the outset,” says Chris Dorne, vp, director of production at Starcom MediaVest Group. “Everything from the talent to the name of the site was a group decision.”

Yahoo’s Lundberg concurs, calling The Thread’s development process an “ideal collaboration. This could have been very difficult, but it was incredibly positive from day one. MediaVest created a process by which innovation would be rewarded.”

Ultimately, results matter most, and on that front, The Thread sewed up a win. So far, it has generated 30 million streams which “way surpassed expectations,” says Kelly Burke, vp, digital associate director, MediaVest. “And it’s a really great story on engagement. People are watching the content straight through. And The Thread site has become a destination.”
Indeed, the site, which is constantly updated with fresh text content, is cited by all involved as key to the show’s success. “Measuring branded entertainment content continues to be a challenge,” adds Dorne. “But by creating a digital destination that is so interwoven, we’re able to use some of the traditional metrics like page views and click throughs.”

Another measure of The Thread’s impact: The show is turning into a destination of sorts for celebrities, such as recent guests Jillian Michaels, Lady Gaga and Amanda Setton. And host Bernard is now a sought-after beauty and fashion expert, having made appearances on Extra, Good Day N.Y. and other shows. “People are now reaching out to us,” notes Brandon Holley, Yahoo Shine’s editor in chief. “It’s become a stop on the tour.”

Holley credits The Thread for helping put Yahoo Shine on the map. As reward, the series will continue beyond its original 80-Webisode plan. “Over time, it’s shown continual growth,” she says. “We want this to become a franchise. This was a breakthrough program for Yahoo.”

Perhaps even for branded entertainment on the Web.

Mike Shields is digital editor at AdweekMedia.

Best Use of Local TV and Cable: CRN/Applegate Media Group

By Anthony Crupi

acrupi@mediaweek.com

Other than the military, perhaps no other business lends itself to the vagaries of the acronym quite like the telecom space. The endless ladling of alphabet soup serves as both a time-saver and a secret handshake, the code word uttered at the speakeasy door that lets the other guy know that, hey, we’re all in this together.

DVR. VOD. VoIP. WiMax…Wait: WiMax? WTF?

In order to pipe a signal through the white noise of initials, we often resort to describing a product or user experience in terms of everything that has come before. For example, a DVR is a souped-up VCR, a BetaMax that’s been snuffling through Manny Ramirez’ medicine cabinet. Whereas WiMax is, well, a standards-based technology that provides 4G wireless broadband at speeds of up to 100 Mbps…No, wait, let’s try that again: WiMax is like WiFi if it spent most of its time at the gym.

You see the difficulty here, the built-in challenge of trying to market something that’s not only new but practically invisible. Say you’re Clearwire and you’re looking to launch a product in a tech-savvy market, and in so doing, you’re going to have to convince virtually every subscriber you sign on to switch from a legacy service. The first thing that gets stripped away is the jargon.

“We weren’t just targeting the propeller-heads, the top 2 percent to 3 percent of the population that always seem to be on top of all the latest tech developments,” says Jeff Hall, director of marketing, Clearwire. “When we describe our service, we talk about speed. And when we talk about speed, it’s always in terms of what you can do with that speed.”

Media shops Applegate Media Group and CRN figured out pretty quickly a solid way to get the message out speedily in the test bed of Portland, Ore. — go to local TV news outlets.
Local reporters at the affiliates would also make sure to sidestep the quicksand of jargon rather than yak about download speeds and tech specs. The teams hit the road with the Clear Mobile Showroom, a roving demo van that canvassed mall parking lots and other high-traffic, pedestrian-friendly areas, for appearances that became media opportunities.

“We worked out deals with the local news talent, where we asked them to do some on-location stuff,” explains Dick Kalt, executive vp, CRN. “We approached the four affiliates to see if they were interested in talking to people about Clear on camera…because they impart a high level of credibility.”

Reporters from KPTV-12 (Fox), KATU-2 (ABC), KOIN-6 (CBS) and KPDX-TV (MyNetworkTV) appeared at selected Clearwire events in order to kick the tires on the service, and in some cases filed reports that later aired on the evening news. And lest anyone think the news teams were somehow compromised by their coverage of the demos, reporters were also quick to pick up on stories that sometimes cast Clear in a less favorable light. For example, KATU recently filed a report about the annoying humming that emanated from a Clearwire antenna in a residential neighborhood.

“Having done endorsements on radio for many years, I’ve learned that these kinds of endorsements can deliver big results…Although you do have to be careful about how the message is perceived,” adds Barry Berman, CRN’s president and founder. “You need to use personalities in ways that are honest and not crassly commercial.”

The effort took an even more grassroots approach that not only demonstrated how easy it was to get online with Clear, but also why it was worth leaving one’s current broadband carrier in order to get onboard with the new service. The Human Kiosk, in its essence, was a simple enough stunt: Clear deployed a temp strapped to a laptop who approached Portlanders in the street, providing a real-time demonstration of the power and reach of the wireless Internet offering. (The Portland network encompasses more than 650 square miles and passes 1.7 million consumers.)

For CRN and Applegate, the nontraditional executions also skirted some of the obstacles that litter the media field today. “Everybody’s looking for innovation, for ways around the commercial-avoidance trap, the time-shifting that makes your message practically invisible,” adds Berman. “The kinds of things we did directionally, this multifaceted approach, portends to where the industry must go — and where media has to go if it’s going to survive as well.”

Which isn’t to say that traditional TV time wasn’t baked into the plan. In fact, CRN did a Super Bowl takeover on Feb. 1, buying a local spot in the big game and its shoulder programming for eight consecutive hours. “Anyone who watched would have thought we spent millions to be in the Super Bowl,” says Kalt.

(As far as the division of duties is concerned, CRN handled the TV and radio components of the launch, working alongside Applegate, Clearwire’s agency of record.)

While Clearwire is becoming a known quantity in Portland — –the CRN campaign quickly exceeded early expectations, generating 12,000 sign-ups and $3 million in sales in the first 10 weeks, double the expected result and $1.3 million above the initial revenue target — the company isn’t resting on its laurels. Up next is an Atlanta launch, followed by a late summer rollout in Las Vegas.

For Clearwire’s Jeff Hall, the successful media blitz sets a template for the next several market launches. “Ultimately, we were looking to introduce this new brand in a way that made us stand out from the sea of sameness,” he explains. “The plan was and continues to be a great success. We did an awareness tracker six weeks after we launched, and we already had 27 percent unaided awareness and 79 percent aided awareness.”

In other words, with a boost from Applegate and CRN, Clearwire has turned all of Portland into one big hotspot.

Senior editor Anthony Crupi covers cable networks and the auto companies for AdweekMedia.

Best Use of Out-of-Home: Media Storm

By Janet Stilson

jstilson@nyc.rr.com

It isn’t every day that sports fans are lucky enough to bump into a Heisman Trophy-winning running back—let alone one who’s really friendly, puts his arm around them and encourages them to have a photo taken. But it happened at Indianapolis’ Conseco Fieldhouse when Eddie George — who these days hosts the Big Ten Network’s Big Ten Quad talk show — was on hand to smile and happily pose with thousands of amazed fans. There was just one catch. Sometimes the Eddie they engaged with was actually a hologram.

The holographic Eddie George was a lifesized, 3-D interactive digital creation that may have had some fans missing Eddie in the flesh, but still left them amazed and excited. That was the whole point. Agency Media Storm, with a technical assist from Creative Images, created the hologram to generate buzz for the premiere of George’s talk show.

As a supporting move, the agency also built an out-of-home network around “Virtual Eddie,” setting it all up outside the Big Ten Conference Men’s and Women’s basketball tournaments in Indianapolis, held March 5-8 and 12-15, 2009. According to Craig Woerz, Media Storm managing partner, consumers often don’t engage with OOH campaigns because they’re too “passive,” he says. “This gave us an opportunity to create something that forced engagement.” Yeah, a six-foot-tall optical effect that talks to you might just do that.

For its innovation, nerve and technical ambition, Media Storm takes honors for the Out-of-Home Media Plan of the Year.

According to Jamie Melecio, managing director of Media Storm, one of the project’s major hurdles was the lack of high-visibility locales in the Indianapolis market. That led to the decision to station Virtual Eddie in the concourse area of Conseco Fieldhouse, where the games were held. Just for good measure, the agency hired street teams to help generate awareness. Virtual Eddie (along with the real Eddie George) also hit the road in a wrapped bus, visiting a local mall and 10 restaurants and bars, each chosen to host a Big Ten team’s fans.

The biggest challenge, however, was Virtual Eddie himself. Technology does not yet allow for holograms that are fully interactive, so Virtual Eddie was programmed to read various scripted lines — “Hey, you! Yeah, you! Enjoying the tournament?” or “Boy! That Coke looks good!” — that could be triggered to suit the circumstances. “Creative Images manned the booth to make sure [Virtual Eddie] was working,” Melecio explains. “And we were there with our street team members managing everything [else].” Even though the hologram could only read canned lines, the effect was real enough for most — especially because Virtual Eddie’s eyes could follow passersby.

“It gave the impression he was looking at you,” says Larry Mago, svp of marketing at Pacers Sports & Entertainment, which manages the Conseco Fieldhouse as well as the Indiana Fever and Pacers basketball teams. “We’ve done many things in the building, but [this one] was highly unique and creative.”

Fans had other terms. “People would either say, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,’ or ‘That really creeped me out,’” relates Erin Harvego, vp of marketing at Big Ten Network. She adds that the whole campaign required a “leap of faith” on the part of the cable channel. “I was a little nervous going into it because the hologram hadn’t been done before, and we  couldn’t check it out ahead of time. But I had a gut feeling it was going to be a real success.”

It was. When the Quad show premiered on March 13, it garnered a 1.59 rating in Indianapolis. That compares with a cumulative rating of .18 for nine other markets: Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh. Virtual Eddie received press coverage on one TV station, four print publications (including the Detroit Free Press) and 12 radio stations. Once word spread about Virtual Eddie, lines of people formed down the block. Some 1,200 images taken by the on-site photographer were posted to a branded microsite. 1,000 of those were retrieved, which gave the network the chance to have the show make a second impression. “We saw the translation from buzz to awareness to sampling,” says Woerz. “What more could you ask for? That’s typically the response you’d see from a more direct, actionable strategy in television or the online space.” (The response came at quite a bargain, too: less than $100,000, according to Melecio.)

But how did the living, breathing Eddie George feel about all this? Well, Virtual Eddie couldn’t have been created without the real one. “He was very approachable and willing to do whatever we asked him to. He showed what he was like on a personal side,” Big Ten’s Harvego says. Which means, the hologram did, too, giving fans a real-world sense of George’s outgoing personality both as a pro athlete and show host.

In the end, as Woerz puts it, the OOH campaign was “an opportunity for people to experience the show through Eddie — to really get to know him and his flair and tonality, and to be encouraged to go ahead and [check out] the show.”

Meanwhile, Media Storm plans to build on the expertise gained from Virtual Eddie and move into 4-D executions. What’s the fourth dimension? Smell. Stay tuned for details. Woerz says, “Anything we can do to cut through — that’s not just for the sake of cutting through, but ultimately for connectivity to our target — we’re going to do.”

Contributing writer Janet Stilson frequently writes about out-of-home and local television.

Best Use of Radio: Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

By Katy Bachman

kbachman@mac.com

An eclectic radio campaign for a small car had a big impact in New York. At a time when most auto sales were down 20 percent, the worst drop since 1992, Greater Gotham Mini, a group of eight Mini Cooper dealers in the tri-state area, had its best sales year ever, up 33.6 percent.

Developed by Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners for Greater Gotham Mini, the dealer co-op campaign tapped into what radio does best: move Minis off the lot. Instead of just buying a heavy schedule of spots, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners worked closely with seven New York stations to create a variety of different promotions from live reads to sponsored editorial segments that appealed to each station’s unique local audience. The effort landed BSS&P this year’s Media Plan of the Year in Radio.

This isn’t the first year Mini turned to radio to drive sales. But since 2005, when Mini started advertising during radio broadcasts of Yankees games, Mini’s radio presence has grown.
“We used to use a lot of visually oriented media. People liked the design, but now they know what the Mini looks like. That’s why we began heavying up with radio,” notes Dave Pierotti, associate media director for BSS&P. “We needed people to learn more about it.”

To dispel the myth that the Mini was expensive, the campaign zoned in on three messages: that the car had no cost maintenance for three years, had a high fuel efficiency of 37 mpg, and was inexpensive with a starting msrp of $19,200.

But just like the car, Greater Gotham had a “mini” budget, only a fraction of what other carmakers and dealers were spending in the market. That dictated BSS&P adopt a different approach, one that didn’t just rely on the usual hard-sell canned dealer spots that are often more annoying than appealing. “Our dealers told us that radio works in driving traffic and if you use it properly and creatively and do things differently, you can really break through,” says Gerry Matthews, regional business manager for Mini. “We’ve coined a phrase, ‘meaningful radio.’”

For Matthews, that entails creating unique messaging for each station that “plays to the personality of the station. We didn’t want to do the typical 30-second spot,” he says. “That’s where BSS&P comes in. They’re out-of-the-box thinkers.”

Agency and client got a little help from the radio stations. In February, BSS&P held a Media Day, inviting stations with audiences that delivered men 25-54 — who make up 60 percent of all Mini sales and were the campaign’s target customer. “Both men and women buy the car, but it’s more difficult to convince men. We have to work a little harder with them,” Pierotti says. At the meeting, Mini laid out its messaging and asked the stations to come up with proposals, particularly those tied to on-air personalities or shows that included live reads.

The collection of personalized campaigns ran on all the stations, most at the same time, heavied up in morning and afternoon drive, Wednesday to Saturday to keep Mini and its Greater Gotham dealerships top of mind with potential buyers leading into the weekend.
“You wish all accounts were like this. It’s the difference between advertising and a partnership,” says Tom Varrato, sports account executive for CBS Radio, which ran Mini campaigns on its two news stations WCBS-AM (the flagship for the Yankees) and WINS-AM, Sports WFAN-AM (the flagship for the Mets) and Classic Hits WCBS-FM.

One of the more unique ad approaches on WCBS-FM had the dealers calling in to the station. In one ad, the dealer manager called in, identified him/herself as the dealer manager and introduced the next song to be played, “This year the Mini turns 50. When Mini was first born, this song was on the charts.”

WCBS-FM also created a fortuitous “Stump the Pump” promotion, which had a lot of payoff last summer when gas prices headed into the stratosphere. In the ad, the station highlighted the lowest gas prices located nearest the Mini dealers, which included a Mini sponsorship tag and a dedicated Mini Web page with updates on where to find the lowest gas prices. WCBS-AM also created a custom segment that featured destinations that could be driven to and back, on one tank of gas in a Mini.

Associating the iconic car brand with some of New York’s most iconic radio personalities, Mini benefitted from live reads and banter by hosts such as Brad Blanks, morning drive on WPLJ-FM, the Hot Adult Contemporary station owned by Citadel Broadcasting. Blanks was given a Mini to test drive and he talked about how much he loved it during his show and posted video blogs on the station’s Web site. WEPN-AM, Disney’s ESPN Radio station, ran Mini ads voiced by Michael Kay (the TV voice of the Yankees on the YES Network), who went on about how much he liked the car for nearly two minutes.

“Many of our instructions to stations was just ‘talk about our product,’” Matthews notes. “It’s hard to determine what’s a commercial and what’s a conversation. It was cool radio.”
Mini continues to be a believer in radio. It’s currently in the market, building on the strategy and approach it found so successful in 2008. “The natural tendency is that when revenue is down to pull back on expenses,” sums up Matthews. “The last thing we want the [dealers] to do is cut back on advertising. We want them to do the opposite. Let’s continue to advertise.”

Katy Bachman is AdweekMedia’s local media editor.

Best Use of Print: Initiative

By Lucia Moses

lmoses@mediaweek.com

Showtime’s campaign that used mock magazine cover-style ads to promote its dark comedy/crime series Dexter was one of last year’s most buzzed-about print campaigns. The irony is, much like the leading man’s victims, the idea almost didn’t live to see the light of day.

When Initiative, Showtime’s then-media agency, approached publishers with the idea of putting Michael C. Hall in cover-style ads as Dexter, the show’s serial-killer star, the initial reaction was, you might say, a bit stiff. “The first round of requests came back with all ‘No’s’,” recalls Beth Fidoten, Initiative’s senior vp, account director for print. The response didn’t come as a complete surprise, however. After all, Showtime (which is owned by CBS) would have to approach the publishers of major newsstand glossies like Details and Rolling Stone for permission to allow it to “Dexterize” their covers. That meant not only featuring a fictitious killer’s face on the cover-like ads, but using facsimilies of the magazines’ trademark fonts and replacing the titles with the word “Dexter.” A gamble of this sort simply hadn’t been attempted before, and it trod on potentially risky ground. The American Society of Magazine Editors’ voluntary but widely accepted editorial guidelines frown on using covers in a way that suggests an advertisement or using a magazine’s logo in connection with an ad.

Undeterred, Initiative went ahead anyway. Leapfrogging the publishers, the agency team approached the media companies’ top brass. Those at Time Inc. would not budge — but that turned out to be the worst of it. Despite its inflexible reputation, Condé Nast softened over a meeting with fruit and cookies, held at the company’s Frank Gehry-designed cafeteria. “We jealously protect our editorial,” explains Lou Cona, senior vp of the Condé Nast Media Group. “My first reaction was, ‘Hmm, let me make sure we can do this.’” But in the end, he says, “on many levels, it worked — the sophistication of our audience, the iconic status of our brands, the sophistication of their show.”

The end result was the successful Dexterization of five Condé Nast titles, as well as Wenner Media’s Rolling Stone and Us Weekly, Hearst’s Esquire and others including Interview and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. For refusing to give up on a fiendishly clever idea, Initiative takes the laurels for Print Media Plan of the Year. Key to the effort was Greg Castronuovo, former senior vp, entertainment, who with former Initiative West Coast president Alan Cohen have since decamped for OMD, taking client Showtime with them.
Also involved were Tom Hallock, supervisor for print at Initiative, and Rob Ross, former account director there.

As it turns out, getting the magazine companies to acquiesce was only the initial hurdle. A flurry of e-mails ensued over details like the fonts and type sizes that could be used to resemble — but not replicate — the actual nameplates of the magazines. (To sidestep ASME disapproval, the final ads all bore the word “advertisement.”) As Fidoten recalls, none of it would have worked without singular determination on the agency’s part. “You had to have the persistence of a dog with a bone,” she says. “A lot of hand-holding had to go on, working very closely to make sure the idea can be out there in full form but not trampling on those guidelines. It’s a delicate balancing act.”

But a successful one. In the end, the campaign did as much to publicize the Showtime series as it did to accentuate the magazines’ own print products. Despite early reservations about “giving over our cover and how that would be interpreted by an advertiser,” relates Esquire publisher Kevin O’Malley, “once [Initiative] demonstrated they really wanted to execute this in a way that really recognized the brand in a spot-on way and as something that was really born from Esquire, we said OK. We think they did a pretty good job of capturing our tone and sensibility.”

Dexter was Showtime’s best-rated program — and one that already had inspired some colorful (namely, blood-red) promotions. For season two, the network had already rigged up public fountains in 15 cities to spout fake blood. To kick off season three, it had partnered with Metropolitan Home magazine to open a stunning show house — one rendered all the more stunning by the gore splattered all over the dining room (Mediaweek, Sept. 22, 2008).
The mock-magazine covers were meant to top that array of already over-the-top efforts. “We realized in Dexter we had a kind of pop icon,” says Len Fogge, executive vp for creative marketing, research and digital media for Showtime. “We were thinking of ways to extend his pop iconography.”

The print campaign’s original idea had been to put Dexter on the cover of a magazine made up for the purpose, but that quickly morphed into simulating the covers of actual magazines.
Showtime’s in-house creative agency, The Red Group, along with the media companies, designed the ads, which variously took the forms of single pages, back covers and inserts and cost close to $3 million. The most extensive ads ran in Wenner’s Rolling Stone and Us Weekly, which created 8-page ad supplements written in the style of the host magazine. As RS publisher Will Schenck explains, “The challenges were to make it something really engaging and have a really high level of connectivity for the reader.”

Ultimately, the ersatz magazine ads proved even more engaging than that. They’d go on to appear on billboards, bus shelters and on Yahoo’s home page — boosting viewership of Dexter in the process. As Fogge says, “The season did terrifically well for us.”

And as anyone else might say: Killer idea.

Senior editor Lucia Moses covers print media, fashion, health/beauty and retail advertising.

Best Use of Nontraditional Media: Mindshare

By John Consoli

johncon27@aol.com

Reaching that golden but elusive male consumer aged 25-35 and getting him excited about your product has never been easy. The digital age, and its effect on TV viewing, has made it no easier. But for executives at Unilever, this task was rendered tougher still. How? They wanted to get the young dudes excited about using deodorant.

Eager to turn the demo on to its Degree brand, Unilever called on agency Mindshare,  which understood immediately that something both dynamic and unusual was the only tactic that stood a chance. In the end, though, the message seemed an unlikely one: Risk.

What’s risky about swiping an antiperspirant under your arm? Well, nothing, but Mindshare was armed with research that proved men are motivated by taking calculated risks. All there was left to do was figure out what risk and Degree’s Absolute Protection line of products could possibly be made to have in common.

The Mindshare team found its answer in the Fox hit drama 24 — an espionage action drama with no shortage of risk. Mindshare executives partnered with the show’s production company, 20th Century Fox, to create a fictional character, Jason Blaine, who they called The Rookie, modeled after 24’s anti-terrorism agent and lead character Jack Bauer. The effort wins Mindshare the Media Plan of the Year in Nontraditional Media.

Six original, long-form episodes of The Rookie ran on a special online site via Fox.com, as well as on an Interactive TV channel via DirecTV and Comcast VOD, where, for the first time, branded entertainment content was shown in high definition. The six episodes mirrored the style of 24, all taking place in the same day, as Jason Blaine took on Mexican drug smuggler Esteban Salazar.

In addition to the episodes, custom content for The Rookie was created for male-oriented online sites like My Space, Ask Men and IGN. Viewers who engaged through the Web site, the ITV channel or VOD could access additional content such as character bios, behind-the-scenes footage, photos and videos. They also had access to episodes of 24 during its “rookie” season seven years ago. A trivia sweepstakes program was added to the media plan, encouraging viewers to get engaged in The Rookie episodes. Weekly prizes were awarded, along with the grand prize, a new Hummer H3. And mobile text messaging was leveraged with on-demand billboards and online interactivity. Viewers were invited to sign up for mobile weekly reminders to view the next episode and reminded to enter the sweepstakes.

Naturally, the Degree logo and product information were seamlessly integrated throughout all the windows. The Rookie mirrored 24 closely — including the use of its music.

The result was more than 15 million video views, approximately one billion impressions overall, and in the VOD environment, viewers averaged seven minutes and 57 seconds per visit with The Rookie content, nearly 16 times more than a traditional 30-second TV spot. A postcampaign study found a 37 percent belief of the brand promise: “Degree won’t let you down.”

“This was an integrated effort within Mindshare from Nicole Hayes in client leadership, Gretchen Seibert in Invention, Melissa Shapiro in Exchange and Greg Manago in Mindshare Entertainment, along with Brightline, which executed the ITV and VOD portion, and the Degree executive team,” explains David Lang, president of Mindshare Entertainment, who effectively oversaw the plan.

Degree’s team included Sam Chadha, then category director, deodorants; Malini Patel, Degree brand manager; Ami Shah, associate brand manager, Degree Men; Jay Matthew, current category director, deodorants; and Kevin George, vp, hair care and deodorants.

“From exciting content produced by cast and crew members of 24, to an innovative, forward-looking distribution strategy, The Rookie is a peek into the future of television programming,” says Degree’s Patel. “This program was a complete digital experience across video on demand, broadband, interactive television and mobile devices. This is the way men have demonstrated that they prefer to consume, interact with and pass along content, and Degree Men is out in front of other brands in this area.”

The goal of the media plan, Lang continues, “was to leverage all the good will and assets of the Fox show 24 with Degree. We took a deodorant brand and tied it into one of the most successful TV shows of all time. And we gave our show, The Rookie, the look and feel of 24 so it would appeal to that show’s viewers.”

As timing would have it, the ITV plan launched in 2008 even though 24 did not air on Fox that season (due to the writers’ strike). “There was a lot of debate as to whether we should go ahead with it because 24 was not running, but we decided to do it and it worked out great,” Lang says. “We found that 24 fans were glad to see it because it enabled them to get a little fix of their show.”

The 2008 plan was actually the second year of the campaign. The Rookie made its premiere in ’07 with two episodes, and Degree ran seven traditional TV commercials. But the ’08 plan represented a far more immersive digital and ITV experience. Also, the entire ’08 campaign ran without using any traditional 30-second spots on broadcast or cable (spots driving viewers to Degree’s ITV channel ran on DirecTV).

“As media consumption becomes more and more fragmented, it is imperative that we supplement our plans to enable men to have access to the content on demand,” sums up Degree’s Patel. “This will ensure that if the content is good, our consumer will seek it out and engage with it.”

Seems that was a risk worth taking.

AdweekMedia contributing writer John Consoli frequently writes about network television.

Best Use of Mobile: OMD

By Dan Ouellette

danouell@aol.com

Tune in to any episode of The CW’s Gossip Girl and the mobile phone is omnipresent. It has to be. How else can private-school socialites engage in nonstop chatty intrigue and catty texting? With mobile devices positioned center stage, the trendsetting show not only reflects the social-tech climate of its young adult audience, but it also opens a new vista for enticing viewers to communicate beyond the prime-time TV drama experience. Instead of merely watching in passive mode, what could be better for young viewers than to participate, virtually, on their own? They can, courtesy of show-commentary text messages from the narrator (the eponymous Gossip Girl herself) synced up with the on-screen dialogue. And then, of course, fans can text about the story line within their own social networks.

Building the Gossip Girl  buzz, boosting its ratings and bringing the show to the next tier of popularity were the goals of agency OMD when it developed the mobile-media campaign for Gossip Girl’s season-two premiere that aired Sept. 1, 2008. As a result of its innovative Web site and widget strategies for mobile phones, the agency helped the premiere to outperform the 2007 season average by 44 percent in adults 18-34, and 35 percent in total viewers.
Gossip Girl enjoyed its best ratings ever with adults 18-34, women 18-34 and women 18-49.
It also outperformed ABC, CBS and NBC by scooping up 3.4 million viewers — 1 million more than the series’ debut-season average. For its mobile initiative that was one part of several campaigns for the show, OMD receives  the Media Plan of the Year for Best Use of Mobile.

“We wanted to create a medium platform that was more engaging than TV, print or radio by capturing the environment of the audience,” says Greg Castronuovo, managing director of OMD West and head of the entertainment division that oversees The CW account. “Gossip Girl is hip, cool and popular, so our team set out to use strategies that were relevant to the brand of the show. Mobile is in a nascent stage, so this wasn’t so much about reach as it was getting people to talk interactively through that platform.”

Castronuovo and his team brainstormed ways in which to reach the target audience. “Based on our research, we found that young women are passionate about using their mobile phones, whether talking or text-ing,” he says. “The mobile phone is now a valuable accessory to their wardrobe. So we decided to use that medium to target the right audience to get more people talking about the most-talked-about show on TV.”

Calling Gossip Girl “a digital-friendly show,” Rick Haskins, executive vp for marketing and brand strategy at The CW, says that when figuring out the media plan for the show’s premiere, the network sought a strategy that “was organic to the show, not cookie-cutter. We asked OMD to find ways where the audience could engage with the show through their digital devices. They came up with a variety of online applications to make that possible.”

OMD worked in lockstep with The CW in devising the mobile campaign, then set out to seek partners. A key collaborator, says Castronuovo, was the McLean, Va.-based widget-creating company Clearspring that designed a “get gossip” widget aligned with the RSS feed for the mega-magazine People. The widget was also promoted as a mobile application on several Web sites, including the Clearspring Social Distribution Network, The CW, MySpace and Facebook. In addition, Web banners drove traffic to the mobile application of The CW’s Web site mobile platform as well as the Gossip Girl page on CWTV.com. Plus, OMD utilized DoubleClick’s Dart for Advertisers, which offered third-party visibility into how well the mobile campaign performed.

The campaign’s truly unique component, however, would allow viewers to be engaged in the Gossip Girl season premiere by receiving text messages sent in real time as the show’s plot unfolded. Viewers used their mobile devices to access the live commentary of Kristen Bell, Gossip Girl’s narrator. “The viewers did a lot of texting during the show,” says Haskins.
“Studies indicate the younger audience multitasks while watching TV. They’re involved with social networks, they blog, they post text messages. So we figured, Why not be a part of that?
Any time you show up in the mobile medium space the way we did, those people appreciate it. They like the idea that we know who they are and how to reach them. Many advertisers don’t get that concept.”

Thanks to the incorporation of mobile devices, the show’s fans brought new viewers into the mix. The OMD campaign resulted in a sizable number of widget and application downloads as well as hits and friends on The CW’s community pages. The buzz of season one became all that much louder before season two launched.

Haskins says that The CW has discovered that a show like Gossip Girl has “a communication currency that people love to talk to their friends about. It captures the media attention of consumers.” He’s so pleased with OMD’s campaign for season two that he’s already looking ahead to season three. Will the initiative continue? “Absolutely,” Haskins says. Not that he’ll get into much detail right now. “Let’s just say,” he ventures, “you’ll see some interesting new applications and a lot of new fun things.”

Contributing writer Dan Ouellette recently wrote a biography of jazz bassist Ron Carter.