Sprint’s Data Control

It’s been more than a decade since Al Gore bragged about inventing the “information superhighway,” and in that time the lanes have gotten crowded. Thanks to the advances in broadband and mobile technology, consumers have almost any fact or figure available at their fingertips — so much so, in fact, that wading through the deluge of data can be daunting.

“Now,” the latest campaign from Sprint and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, showcases the Internet’s real-time tracking abilities with its centerpiece element: an app that presents live, constantly updating data ranging from practical (weather reports) to offbeat (“burgers sold now,” “number of planes in the air”) to promotional (“number of texts on Sprint phones”). Users can also click on each piece to flip the data over and find out where it came from.

Using a combo of live feeds from sources like CNN, The New York Times and YouTube, as well as statistical information compiled by Goodby, “Now” — which launched in April as a full-fledged campaign-uses data visualization techniques to tap into consumer culture’s latest obsession with digital connectivity and data consumption. And Sprint is not alone: brands including Nike, Zappos and Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo are also employing a variety of data-driven tools in their marketing.

“Now” focuses “on as many real-time feeds as we can so you can get the sense of things that are going on right now,” says Derek Richmond, executive interactive producer at Goodby. The challenge: pulling together the approximately 80 elements.

“We’re trying to create the world’s greatest widget,” adds Franklin Tipton, creative director at Goodby. “In a branding sense, it can go on forever.”

The origins of “Now” began as an unpromoted app on the Sprint Web site last November. It proved so popular that Sprint and Goodby decided to make it a larger branding initiative with a new Flash-based site (produced by Mike Kellogg of San Francisco-based facefaceface) and a TV commercial, both of which launched in early April.

Launched last week were home page takeovers on YouTube and Yahoo, and customized banners that pull real-time data relevant to the displayed content. Later this summer, the data dosing will hit the streets with digital outdoor.

In its first three weeks, the site (sprint.com/ nownetwork) had nearly 700,000 visitors, and 10.1 million actions were taken within the Flash tools, representing approximately 15 actions per visit. Time spent on the site averaged four minutes, and the company says it has found that 38 percent of visitors go on to explore other areas of Sprint.com.

“We’re bringing the network to life and making it relevant,” says Candice Wolken, advertising manager at Sprint. “We have a lot of fun facts in there — and they’re interspersed with facts about the Sprint network.”

Other brands to use this data-driven soft sell include Nike+, which offers runners information such as their distance and pace, and allows them to track their runs, set goals and more. Online retailer Zappos.com offers Zappos.com/maps that highlights which products are being bought where. Uniqlo has introduced its Bra Top with a microsite greeting visitors with hundreds of women from a focus group giving their feedback on the product. (Uniqlo calls this “research entertainment.”)

“Culturally, people are inundated with information in a way they have never been before,” says Michael Lebowitz, founder of digital agency Big Spaceship. “I love seeing that people are feeling comfortable enough with data as a super abstract thing to start playing with it and letting it be part of the creative palette. … There are incredible new possibilities.”

The Sprint campaign, he adds, “is wildly clever. There is something so inherently whimsical about it, even though it’s all about data, because of the curatorial decisions they made. Even though it’s clearly an overt marketing thing there is enough in it to explore. There is a sense of discovery.”

Yet as current as the campaign tries to keep the creative, the commercial that kicked off the campaign already feels static because the numbers featured have changed since the production. “We wanted to do live commercials, but it’s a little prohibitive,” says Tipton. “The TV is an emulation of the online and how immediate it is.”

“Data on its own is a pedestrian term,” Tipton adds. “But when you see the creative manifestations, data is delightful.”