Advertising is not exactly rocket science. Yet tha

Advertising is not exactly rocket science. Yet thanks to the Web and new wireless communications, it increasingly relies on science-like experimentation. Agency creatives and techno teams search for the perfect combination of elements to burn a brand into consumers’ minds and drive them to the cash register.

That this component is new and results unknown only raises the stakes. But instead of waiting for concrete metrics, many agencies are going forward, even if they’re treading lightly when it comes to financial investment. (Lee, for instance, spent a mere 5 percent of its Buddy Lee campaign budget on its online arena.) And yes, it seems as if advertisers are making it up as they go along. Which is exactly why many creatives believe advertising is finally getting fun again.

This past year, a host of integrated campaigns from companies as varied as Nike, Hewlett-Packard and Levi’s have added unusual Web components to capture eyeballs and user interest, mostly from the 18-24 crowd that lives and breathes all things Web. Trends include the blurring of content and commerce, the utilizing of viral marketing tools such as e-mail postcards, and the provision of links that prod users to delve deeper into a site to reinforce the brand experience.

For campaigns that “work”—and again, measurements are still an intriguingly gray area—the obvious advantage online is the ability to keep consumers “tuned in” far beyond the length of a 30-second or 60-second TV spot.

Pictures of People

In looking to attract a larger demo than the 18-25ers, Hewlett-Packard has employed an innovative approach. Its “The 100 Cameras Project” from San Francisco’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners is seeing how long users will stay on a site to browse pictures, as if in an art gallery, without any interactive “rewards.”

“This was a pretty bold gamble on the part of HP,” says Steve Simpson, Goodby creative director and partner. “It [allowed us] to present a massive amount of content that requires some intensive involvement and a longer attention span than Web users are mostly given credit for.”

Launched in October, the focus of the project, designed by San Francisco-based Eleven for Goodby, is a print campaign featuring shots of the photographers. It’s running in magazines such as People, Rolling Stone and Newsweek.

The effort, the latest peg in HP’s “Invent” campaign launched last December, shows how non-tech savvy people—like a Tibetan monk—can shoot beautiful pictures.

To put the “show” together, digital cameras, PCs and printers were sent to 100 people around the globe with simple instructions: take pictures, be creative, invent. The photos—an average of 10 per photographer—have been put online in sets of 20. The final 20 went up last month.

Choosing the photographers was left to the brainstorming team of Goodby project manager Anh Crutcher and assistant Holly Rogers. They include a Masai tribesman from Kenya, a chimpanzee from the Chimpanzee Study Center at Ohio State University and the aforementioned Tibetan monk, who was traveling from Nepal to India. On the site, to see each photographer’s work, users click on a thumbnail sample and are then taken to a page with a photo of the photographer, a brief bio and more thumbnail photos to click on, each accompanied by a caption and links to product information.

“We wanted to bring digital imaging out of the professional realm and get it into the hands of the rest of us,” says Maia Ozguc, director of global brand advertising at HP. Though she adds the company has yet to fully analyze the metrics, “Goodby did a brilliant job. The idea was aggressive, and I like that. If HP is going to sign off on ‘Invent,’ then our advertising needs to be as inventive as our products.”

Adds Simpson, “I imagine people go to the site and find some [photos] that are interesting and then may come back—or not. But [HP] gets credit for the project, and people know that it’s serious about being in photography.”

Desert Living

Levi’s Silvertab—with its “equipment for modern living” tag—also has a large Net presence. In fact, the integrated campaign, called “Lost But Not Lost,” consists only of print work with URLs and an innovative online component, which is designed as much with Silvertab’s partners in mind as it is for Silvertab itself. (Silvertab also has a variety of offline music partnerships.)

Launched in September, “Lost” revolves around a fictionalized Moroccan journey taken by three hip model types. “We were going to Morocco to shoot the fall campaign and wanted to find a way to extend what we were already doing,” explains Jim Stone, Levi’s Internet marketing manager of the online component. “A print ad might get two- to three-second exposure for the brand, but if that exposure can lead to another two to five minutes, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Offline, the campaign consists of print work from TBWA\Chiat\Day in San Francisco, including 16 print ads that broke in August (running through December), go cards, retail postcards and billboards. The photography—heavy on young model types and richly colored textiles—was shot by Albert Watson, who shot the first Silvertab campaign in 1990.

Online, users can trace the models’ adventures through photos, videos, character journal entries and personal e-mails. Visitors can enter the narrative at a number of points, as the “Lost” story path is spread out over 16 URLs. Each step of the way, users can click to product information as well as to partner sites, which include Sony.com, Omnipod, Shockwave.com and iMovie-Studio.com. (Brian Boigon, founder of Toronto-based ThinkThinkThink, developed the online concept with Mitch Kanner, chairman of Idea Bridge, Los Angeles, an agency/ brand consultancy. Lateral Net Ltd., London, designed and built the sites.)

“We’ve done something almost opposite of the way the existing ad model works,” notes Stone. “We said, ‘Yes, [the partner sites] will drive traffic to our site, but in exchange, we’ll drive it back.’ ”

There’s a whole lot of clickin’ going on. The question is whether the sparse narrative is strong enough to justify it. Can “Lost” sustain user interest? Stone declined to share numbers, but is enthusiastic about the Net’s possibilities. He points to other Levi’s online work, such as the Engineered Jeans microsite—the link for which is on levi.com. It mirrors the brand’s TV ad campaign in its use of strobe lights and rearranged songs.

“It’s a brand-building exercise. We wanted to equate Silvertab with technology and modern living, travel and innovation,” says Stone. “Of course, having concrete metrics is really important to us. We’re just trying to figure out what’s the best way to measure [brand equity].”

Sonic Youth

“Rock the Vote 2000” joined the Web generation this year with an integrated campaign from San Francisco-based Collaborate—the first major Web effort for the nonprofit activist organization, which had previously relied on broadcast and rock-star images, such as Madonna wrapped in the flag, to entice young people to vote. “Our feeling was kids had been there, done that. Rock stars presenting the message of ‘vote’ is important, but it is only one tactic and wasn’t enough to break through the cynicism,” says Robin Raj, Collaborate’s creative director and partner.

“That, combined with the fact that there’s this new thing called the Internet, led us to question how we could rock the vote using the power of the Net and actually facilitate awareness and in some cases, facilitate kids to register,” adds Raj.

Collaborate created provocative, in-your-face work online, taking a playful tack to political awareness. It also tackled a variety of components, utilizing what Raj calls “a convergent production approach.” The work included TV spots, print ads and special events, outdoor wild postings, and a Web site loaded with content, viral e-mail postcards, superstitials and CD-ROMs.

At the heart of the campaign was a “Y/N,” or yes/no, component, which featured compelling and aggressive images illustrating a variety of controversial issues. For example, one has viewers staring straight into the barrel of a gun held by a scared if determined looking boy in soft focus. On the image is two boxes to check off, one with a “Y” over it, the other with an “N.” Other images included a fetus and an electric chair. The Y/N was put on print ads and wild outdoor postings and featured on the site.

On television, “Rock the Vote” broadcast five 15-second spots featuring the same imagery from print ads and wild postings, including the Y/N ballot boxes.

Online, the Y/N image is dramatically highlighted on the home page, being the only nontextual image in a sea of bold, playful text. Raj says the online Y/N component was a huge success, citing a 17.5 percent click-through rate in the first two weeks of release (according to partners AltaVista, Unicast and Real Broadcast Networks). In addition, over 8 million viral e-mail impressions were recorded, he says.

The beauty of having Y/N online, adds Raj, is that when users are done clicking through, they were delivered to a page where they could register online via elections.com, a partner site. (A total of 155,000 people registered via elections.com this year.)

Not only was the campaign a success, he feels, but this year’s presidential election was nothing if not an affirmation of “Rock the Vote”‘s get-out-and-vote manifesto.

“When we see a vote this close,” says Raj, “it speaks to the very issue ‘Rock the Vote’ has been trying to combat with young people who are cynical and feel their vote doesn’t count. Clearly, it does.”

The ability to switch gears fast may prove to be one of the Net’s greatest advantages. Case in point is “Rock the Vote”‘s warp-speed decision to launch a campaign in 2001 tagged “Real democracy,” which will focus on election reform. “It’s due to the outgrowth of the last two weeks,” says Raj, alluding to the as-yet-undecided presidential election. “We’re going to [focus on] one ballot, one vote.”

Valley of the Doll

Besides Levi’s, another denim maker is on the Web. This past summer, Fallon, Minneapolis, broke three 30-second TV spots for Lee Dungarees that encourage viewers to turn to their mouses. And once it gets them online, Lee orchestrates an organic way to get users to the online store. Dubbed “The Buddy Lee Challenge,” the campaign features spokesdoll Buddy Lee, the vintage doll resurrected by Lee and Fallon in 1998 as a mysteriously enigmatic icon, and three insufferably egotistical villains.

“We wanted to keep the humorous tone, of course,” says Fallon’s Paul Malmstrom, art director for the project. “When you decide that a real live person is going to challenge a 14-inch doll, it’s already absurd.”

The campaign’s offline components include teaser radio spots, e-mails, wild postings and the TV spots which air through the fourth quarter, complete with URLs.

Online, users can participate in the challenge via a videogame designed by Swedish company netbabyworld. (The game will be up until the spring.)

“We also wondered,” says Fallon’s Linus Karlsson, the campaign’s copywriter, “if it was possible to make a campaign where we actually have people interact more and lead them to the store where they can get to know the products and find out where their local Lee retailer is.”

Thus, a step for enhanced playing was inserted into each videogame that requires a code to unlock certain features. The code is gotten from inside a pair of Lee dungarees and—here’s the pretty part—to get to the pants, users must click through to the online store.

“It’s clear to us and a lot of people that so much is happening in trying to close the deal,” says Karlsson, “especially in retail. I think what we did is one little step in the right direction.”

To date, adds Kathy Collins, vice president of marketing at Lee, more than 250,000 user IDs have been issued to unique viewers of the online challenge.

Creative Cliffhangers

One of the earliest high-profile examples of this brand-experience extension was Portland, Ore.-based Wieden + Kennedy’s interactive ads for Nike’s Air Cross Trainer II last January. Sprinter Marion Jones, slugger Mark McGwire and snowboarder Rob Kingwill were featured in TV spots with cliffhanger endings that directed viewers to continue the action at whatever.nike.com.

There, users were able to choose from several endings via streaming media technology.

The buzz was big, and so were the numbers, says Scott Reames, Nike senior PR manager for advertising.

Though the company does not release specific metrics, Reames says “it was clear the campaign generated traffic. The numbers went up, and this is [post-holiday] when retail typically falls off.”

The success of the integrated campaign convinced Nike to include some kind of Web component in most of its advertising.

And, notes nike.com PR manger Beth Gorny, the company’s latest effort went a step further: It used the Web as a teaser platform for the newest high-profile footwear from Nike, posting information and streaming video spots months before the TV spots aired this past Thanksgiving.

“It was getting harder to keep the shoe under wraps,” explains Reames, “but it didn’t make sense to talk about it when the launch was months away. So the decision was made to have some fun with it, to do something different.”

“The Web site allows us to give information you can’t get in a 30- or 60-second commercial,” adds Gorny. “We can go so much deeper.”

The Future

As one agency creative executive notes, the Internet is a hotbed that is getting hotter. New technologies will continue to drive users deeper into sites and, clients hope, on to points of purchase.

“In the future,” says Simpson, “we might entice you with a kind of broadcast spot, or the broadest suggestion about what we want to talk to you about, then present you with stages of involvement. The Web will do a lot of work for a client rather than having to deliver just sound bytes.”

Stone says look for continual efforts to put users in the driver’s seat. “Campaigns will introduce online experiences that are user-controlled,” says Stone. “It’s all about continuing the dialogue with the consumer, providing them with entertainment content and giving them the key decisions and the option to say, ‘I want to know more.’ “

“The medium is becoming more mass and more powerful,” adds Raj. “But I still think it will all depend on context, on the brand. “The question will always be, ‘What’s the appropriate way to tell this story?’ “