Product Pitch

NEW YORK Back in the days when three channels dominated the media choices for marketers, great industry minds professed that if advertising was clever and engaging, consumers would not feel harassed by it, and would even respond to it. Today, some agencies and their clients are discovering that while digital video recorders allow approximately 15 million TV viewers to fast-forward and ignore commercials, consumers are actually willing to fork over hard-earned cash to pay for advertising.

At the Clio Awards on May 11, the judges of the Content & Contact competition, the award that recognizes the creativity of an execution and its media delivery, rewarded several efforts that featured not only traditional, viral and promotional tactics, but products that served as physical manifestations of the brands and their advertising. C&C is an increasingly critical combination given the fragmented media universe and ad-skipping devices.

This year, the Clio Awards rewarded ideas that take the communications platform to a deeper level of consumer contact. Among the efforts recognized were: Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s Burger King Xbox video titles, which sold 3.5 million games at $3.99 a pop with a BK Value Meal; a Nissin Cup Noodles DVD anime series created by Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo for Ground, Tokyo; a Victoria Bitter campaign from George Patterson Y&R, Sydney, Australia whose centerpiece was a “Boony” doll character that topped beer cans and used advanced infrared technology to “communicate” with TVs; Crispin’s VW initiative that gave buyers VW-customized First Act guitars that could be played through the car’s audio system; and a Centers for Disease Control campaign against childhood obesity called “Verb” from Arc Worldwide, Chicago, which centered around a yellow ball designed to inspire kids to play.

Andrew Keller, ecd at Crispin in Miami and jury chair of C&C, stresses the need for such forward-thinking ideas. “We should be working as an industry” to take advertising ideas into popular culture in new ways, he says. Otherwise, “we’re not doing our jobs.”

Burger King credits the three Xbox games—Pocket Bike Racer, Big Bumpin’ and Sneak King—with lifting the restaurant chain’s sales. Johnny Vulcan, partner at Anomaly, New York, and a C&C judge, says what impressed the jury was the “appropriateness to the target audience” and the fact that “it was a complete and compelling package.”

Keller, whose agency has also teamed VW with fashion designers Lutz & Patmos to create an accessory line for Eos, says that in order for the customized ad product to make a strong connection with consumers, they have “to be fully integrated into the campaign and the [brand].” The strategy behind the games, Keller explains, was simply part of the larger strategy the agency has had on the account since it started working with Burger King in 2004. “From the very beginning, we wanted to create intellectual property that could embody and symbolize the brand,” he says.

As the agency worked on the development of the games (it took about 10 months), TV spots introduced new characters, such as the Whopper Jr. boy, and gave older ones new story lines, such as the Subservient Chicken on a motocross bike in anticipation of a game introduction.

Big Bumpin’ features the King and familiar commercial characters such as his girlfriend Brooke Burke as they navigate bumper cars through different theme parks. In Pocket Bike Racer, the King and other characters race on mini-bikes. Sneak King has the King hiding from townspeople and surprising them with the restaurant’s menu items.

Keller says he’s not sure whether there will be additional games produced. “This proves people will pay for this advertising and this content,” he says. “I think it means we can do anything at this point. It’s like managing a celebrity. How do you push this personality out into the world?”

Peter Nicholson, CCO of Deutsch, New York, and a Clio attendee, says that the success of ad-related products may show clients that bringing agencies into the process of product development can have an even larger impact on the future of their businesses. “It restructures the way you get paid, the way you work, the way the client thinks about you and creates a product that succeeds beyond the advertising,” he says.

And with greater responsibility may come greater compensation opportunities. While Crispin has made some notable equity deals with clients such as Haggar and former client Method, Keller says the Burger King case study could help to redefine future relationships with clients: “It makes sense that we should be compensated. We have to get engaged more to really take the next step as an industry.”