AmEx Enlists Ellen Avatar

NEW YORK American Express is diving into the world of avatar-ising. The company has launched an interactive user-generated storytelling campaign with celebrity spokeswoman Ellen DeGeneres.

Digitas, American Express’ digital agency, created a promotional Web site for the effort,, which invites visitors to “meet Ellen and her animals.” In addition to watching AmEx commercials featuring the comedian, users can create their own comedy bits with her.

The site, hosted by a DeGeneres avatar, has six different animated stories to choose from, featuring a range of her animal friends in different settings, such as the ski slopes and a karaoke bar. They can then upload their own audio, by phone or through a text-to-speech function, which is mixed with DeGeneres material. Users can forward their creations to friends, post them in a gallery on the site or embed them in their MySpace profiles.

New York tech firm Oddcast created the storytelling application, having created avatar-based marketing programs for the likes of Purina and CareerBuilder.

“We’re seeing general brands embracing more and more user-generated media,” said Adi Sideman, CEO of Oddcast. “The obvious value is users are inputting their own personality and creativity.”

According to Sideman, past campaigns have gotten 70 percent open rates, with 30 percent of recipients going on to create their own avatar messages.

“Because of their participation they’re more likely to share it with others,” he said.