Drawing on Experience
Tracee Lawes, Jill Griffin, Christine Peterson and Toni Racioppo

Quick-Who “brings good things to life”?

General Electric, of course. Who could ever forget the ubiquitous tagline one of the largest companies in the world? The giant has used the phrase for more than two decades and spent more than $1 billion to define its image.

Therein lay the problem for agency OMD, which GE hired to shake off consumer perceptions about its stodginess and prove its innovative bona fides, and to roll out a new motto that would promise to make as strong and long-lasting an impression as its previous catchphrase. OMD’s $3.4 million “Pen” campaign on behalf of GE earned the Plan of the Year honor for Best Use of the Internet.

To support GE’s new “Imagination at Work” tag, introduced last year, OMD determined that consumers needed to, as nearly as possible, actually see and feel imagination at work. What consumers could imagine, they could make happen, the agency ambitiously proposed. In addition, OMD had to contend with consumers’ preconceived notions about GE, notions that the company was all about appliances and lightbulbs. Client GE wanted to convey that it also was about jet engines, medical technology and homeland security, among a vast array of offerings. So OMD set out to use the Internet to re-educate consumers.

“One thing about the digital space is, it has the ability for creative and media to work hand in hand. It’s not bound by the parameters of other media, where there is only so much time or space. Here, we had a beautiful canvas to make [the ad] what we wanted,” explains Jill Griffin, associate director of strategy for New York–based OMD, who worked alongside strategist Christine Peterson on the GE account.

“We knew we had something really special with Pen, and OMD delivered a great plan to integrate it into our complete Imagination at Work campaign,” says GE’s Judy Hu, global executive director/branding and advertising. “We couldn’t be happier to see the outstanding OMD team being recognized for their efforts.”

Innovative as it might be in developing products, GE hadn’t had much of a Web presence beyond its corporate Web site. OMD set out to harness the ever-growing power of the Web while empowering GE’s targets to put their own imaginations to use.

Realizing that it needed to connect to the broad audience that reflected GE’s many diverse constituencies, OMD partnered with top sites, running appeals adjacent to entertainment and soft-news areas, where, the agency team surmised, users’ attention would be more easily diverted and they could fully interact with GE’s site and, thus, become educated about GE’s innovative spirit.

The agency created a unique, interactive ad space that allowed users to create artwork on their computers without leaving their current Web pages. OMD linked up with areas of sites “where people tend to be more open to exploring,” Griffin says. Via the GE template—literally a blank page—users could click on an illustration of an artist’s pen, drag the mouse around the pad and—voila!— become Renoir or Keith Haring. Users could choose among several colors with which to draw and pick among several background colors, making the creative possibilities virtually endless.

Participants could then e-mail their creations to friends right from the ad. Then, recipients of the e-mail were sent straight to the GE site, where the sender’s creation was reproduced. Recipients then could add their own creative flourishes to the sender’s artwork and send it on to someone new. The functionality OMD added, via a button on the banner, made it simple to pass the illustrations on to family, friends and coworkers, creating a tremendous viral effect. (Meanwhile, the GE site invited users to experience “Imagination at Work” and to “Learn more about GE’s latest innovations.” Readers could click on one of a virtual parade of icons, depicting everything from the company’s wind-based technology to water-treatment systems, to learn everything they wanted to know about the company’s products and services.)

Users ate up the opportunity to create and share their artistry with others. Many used the template to create and send greetings on Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day. Some drew a lightbulb, or Albert Einstein, true symbols of ingenuity. Although the target of the campaign was adults 18-49, tweens were documented to have widely used the technology.

OMD reported that the campaign resulted in a 127 percent lift in message association, with a whopping 70 million users visiting the GE site and 1.7 million Internet users receiving the ad virally. There was an equal impact on both genders, and the interaction rate was 14 percent above average, the agency says. The treatment for Yahoo! generated more than 25,000 searches in 24 hours.

Griffin says she knew the plan had met its goal of reaching across broad demos after hearing that her father had received an e-mailed drawing from one of his colleagues across his computer. “It hit all different stages of life, all different types of careers,” she says.