IQ Interactive Quarterly: What Works

What is working online these days? We posed that question to four creative directors at interactive agencies around the country. We showed them five recent campaigns, from a variety of clients—AOL 9.0, Gillette Venus razor, Song Airlines, Ford F-150 pickup truck and SpikeTV—and asked them what they thought. We wanted to find out what worked and what didn’t work, whether the ads were compelling or intrusive, and whether the work inspired them to take that call to action—whether that meant going deeper into the site, or taking the quiz or voting for their favorite computer games. What they have to say—good, bad, but never indifferent—demonstrates both their tough standards for the industry and their enthusiasm for creative efforts that push the boundaries of this ever-changing industry.

The Panel

Ingrid Bernstein, senior vice president, creative director, iDeutsch. Bernstein has been at iDeutsch since 1998, and uses her background in design, architecture, account management and production to oversee the group’s work with clients such as Almay, Revlon, Monster, Snapple and Novartis. Before iDeutsch, Bernstein designed and produced interactive marketing initiatives for media and entertainment companies including Fox News, Warner Music and Sony. She works at the agency’s New York office.

Andreas Combuechen, managing director, chief creative officer, AtmosphereBBDO. Combuechen is one of AtmosphereBBDO’s founders. He oversees work for clients including AOL, Cingular Wireless, Frito-Lay and PeopleSoft. AtmosphereBBDO this year has won a gold Pencil from The One Club and a silver Lion at the Cannes International Ad Festival for its GE “Pen” campaign. He works at the New York office.

Colleen DeCourcy, creative director, Organic. DeCourcy leads the Experience Design Group at Organic, and oversees its integration within the shop’s development methodology. She has worked on everything from print advertising to video and commercial direction. She has recently steered creative on campaigns for clients such as Acura, Seiko, Honda Element and others. She works at the agency’s Toronto office.

Steve Lynch, executive vice president, executive creative director, Digitas.

Lynch has been at Digitas for 13 years, holding a variety of roles from global head of interactive advertising to creative director for clients such as AT&T, American Express, Bank of America and L.L. Bean. His work has been recognized by the Clios, the Boston Ad Club Hatch Awards and the New England Web Design Awards. He works at the agency’s Boston office.

Client: Gillette Venus

Agency: Digitas, with Unicast, Emode and

Gillette targeted teens and young women ages 13-24 in an effort to drive readers to try the razor. The banners combined online quizzes and personality profiles, partnerships with sites that have a large teenage audience and viral marketing—”share and compare the experience with friends.”

Bernstein: This campaign feels like it is talking to itself, asking “Are you pink, magenta or fuchsia?” Though the music in some of the rich media units might be attention getting, the ads themselves are not engaging. They are devoid of product information and rely on the tired idea that teens like taking quizzes. Ultimately the ads feel soft. The quiz experience itself is a little more engaging, though the tone of the quiz feels totally phony—something that teens would see right through.

DeCourcy: Shouldn’t this campaign be targeted toward folks old enough to grow hair on their legs? The designs would live comfortably on Overall I don’t think these are terrible. The banners are certainly better than the site: they’re vibrant, full of animation, music and are typeset fairly well. But when you get to the site, it’s all lost. I feel let down when I start taking the quiz—it has so obviously been complied by a corporation. The forms are pretty generic and there is little reward for input when I give information. My overall impression? A good execution of a basic media plan.

Client: Ford F-150 Truck

Agency: J. Walter Thompson’s digital@jwt, with Burrows and 2-Advanced Studios for computer graphics imaging

When Ford launched its new F-150 campaign in September, it purchased roadblocks to run the first day on all three major Web portals: MSN, Yahoo! and AOL. Visitors to the site see an automotive journalist, Rick Titus, walk onto the screen and talk about specific features of the vehicle, while 3-D animations point out various aspects including safety and performance.

Bernstein: This site is innovative and integrated and seems perfectly targeted to its audience. Although I had a couple of Star Trek flashbacks (which I think is unintentional), the use of Rick Titus as a host is very well done and brings the site to life. The information design is a little repetitive —by the time you reach the “Strength” section, you have seen the cool 3-D rendering of the vehicle twice. The video clips are the most compelling content in that section, but unfortunately, seem to be a bit hidden.

Lynch: In short, the Ford F-150 is very cool. Absolutely beautiful use of 3-D imagery and nice integration of video as well. What I love about this experience is its flexibility. Consumers get a quick (and slick) guided overview of key features, then are able to explore to get more information. It’s a quick, easy and engaging experience. Yet it is highly informative. The futuristic theme seems to stray a bit from the Ford brand. But perhaps they are trying to push the brand to reach a more youthful, tech-savvy audience. One suggestion: Let me shut the video guy off when I get tired of him.

DeCourcy: The interactive design is dated and not terribly compelling, but the 3-D is very impressive. I also love the effects on the spokesman. Just a note: They should have shot him at the right angle. Look at his feet; you’ll notice the angles of the vehicle and the man do not match. In short, although I like the idea, the production handling of it makes it a little surreal. The rollover spots on the truck look very flat. After the intro, I think I expect more texture and depth. The content areas are very dead and the type is small and therefore not engaging. I would have rather had larger bitmapped text that I scrolled through or activated with my mouse. The image in the window above was also disappointingly uninteractive. The piece felt too technical and humorless for me, but I’m not the demographic.

Client: AOL 9.0 Optimized

Agency: AtmosphereBBDO

To promote its 9.0 Optimized version, AOL took the offline “Life needs” campaign and adapted it to the Web. The ads, part of AOL’s largest online advertising effort ever in terms of both reach and budget, debuted on Oct. 15. Each ad promotes a special feature of AOL, such as parental controls, spam filters and speed.

Bernstein: The campaign is very successful. Though the problem/solution concept is a little formulaic, I love the way the problems are set up, particularly the ones that really express the context. “Balding” is a funny way to talk about spam that anyone with an e-mail account can relate to; ” Potential” morphs standard buddy icons to superbuddy icons in a way that makes me want to run out and get AOL 9.0 immediately. The ads are all well executed with a richness and quality that is (sadly) not seen too often online.

DeCourcy: At first glance these banners are everything that AOL represents: safe, responsible, mass market and task focused. The corner curl-up revealing the child’s face [representing a mischievous child to promote its parental control feature] was slightly unsettling to me. I was a little unsure of the message being communicated. Is this a PSA? The smiling faces aren’t as playful as the device that sets them up. Perhaps an image more indicative of the lovely chaos an inquisitive child creates would delight me more. I like the fact that the graphics borrow from application interface design with the use of buttons and shading—it is true to the product. The takeovers are killer. I couldn’t stop watching them. Overall the work is very nice, simple, clean and well-paced, like AOL.

Client: Song Airlines

Agency: Modem Media

These online ads for the recent addition to the airline industry play up Song’s unusual offerings, including satellite TV and Nintendo at every seat, organic fruits and exotic teas, and service to suit the customer’s every whim.

DeCourcy: These are so good. Well written, direct, simple, friendly, smart and funny. In the “Hospitality” banner, I of course checked off everything on the list, and when my attendant came back with a giant heaping plate of Song offerings . . . I lost it. Hilarious. You’d have to be a real sourpuss not to be charmed by these spots. Great work. These executions are really impactful through their use of color and imagery. The consistent triangular button on the bottom right is a nice prominent call to action (find a flight) and the fact that it and the images extend out of the ad is great. I do have a concern that these ads may only work on sites that use a white background fill. I like the flash ads a lot, but I find the flat ones to be better. The use of imagery is better in the “Fare” section (roller coaster, etc.) and the textures of the “Branding” pages are intriguing.

Combeuchen: There’s nice work here: fun, customized, refreshing in the category. It gives a distinctive look and feel to the brand that I’m sure is consistent with its offline efforts. The juxtaposition of class and low price seems like a compelling argument. However, not enough is made of it. For example, the hospitality flash banner is cute, but the “also serving low fares” idea is buried and clearly of secondary importance. And the “Fare” banners make no mention of “class service.” Low fares by themselves are not ownable. Even a cool idea like organic foods seems lost in a branding banner. I don’t get a sense of what sets Song apart. So, while the online work is clever and involving, the message is not.

Bernstein: This is a well-executed campaign. The banners are nice looking and have some richness because of the interactivity, but they are a little devoid of an emotional message because they never land on the end benefit. The “Hospitality” one is my favorite—it’s mesmerizing to get service in a banner and it made me want to play it again and again.

Client: SpikeTV

Agency: Fusebox

SpikeTV promoted its first Video Game Awards with this site. The site employs a technology called Machinima—short for machine and cinema—filmmaking within a real-time 3-D virtual environment.

Lynch: Maybe harkening back to the days of Atari and Space Invaders will help capture the audience. The creative felt on-brand for SpikeTV, and the 3-D category intros were compelling. But these ads take too long. They assume that people have the time and interest to watch frame after frame of a banner unfold. Likewise, the site didn’ t work too hard to get me to vote, pronto. It took me one long (unskippable) intro plus too few clicks to actually get to the voting page. The overall experience left something to be desired.

Combuechen: Video games are exciting. Video games are engaging. Video games are interactive. So, the opportunity to participate in SpikeTV’s Video Game Awards should have been equally exciting, engaging and interactive. But, the banner ads are static and one-dimensional; the Machinima clip was the same for each award; a visitor cannot experience the games. The online work does not take advantage of the mind-set of the game enthusiast.

Bernstein: The site feels underdesigned and does not take advantage of the visually intriguing content at its disposal. The Machinima technology does not feel substantially different than Flash. Though the technology itself may be breakthrough, it does not impact the user experience positively.