Digital Marketing Leads The Charge

It seems like only yesterday that interactive specialists were being invited to ride along when marketers and their agencies worked on upcoming campaigns.

Now, digital marketing is moving from the back of the bus into the driver’s seat as more brands place digital components—including online contests, Webisodes and user-generated content—in the lead position of their marketing. In these campaigns traditional ads play the secondary role of building awareness of the digital elements—geared toward personal connections and engagement—and driving people to the Web.

“TV and print ads serve the role that movie trailers do,” says Lars Bastholm, ecd, AKQA. “They promote the ‘movie,’ which is the digital marketing.”

Trudy Hardy, Mini Cooper’s U.S. marketing manager, says she sees traditional ads as the “storefront display” that entices customers into the virtual store.

Agencies and clients say one key advantage of the shift in roles is reduced costs, as digital components don’t require the lion’s share of a budget. “The primary digital stuff assembles easily and you don’t need to buy media,” says Courtney Buechert, president of Eleven.

John Butler, ecd, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, says even though Web production costs have increased, “the cost of buying TV and print is still relatively higher.” The components of a digitally led campaign use 30-40 percent of the total budget, say sources.

Here are three brands that engage customers by putting digital at the center of the action. Automaker Mini Cooper is tapping its target’s love of offbeat online video. Baseball team the Oakland A’s encourage disappointed—and, in some cases, angry—online fans to vent. And Nike has given runners personal encouragement and instant race info via mobile phones. These varied campaigns show how rapidly the Web’s ability to get personal with consumers is reshaping the marketing mix.