When Tech Is Second Nature

SAN FRANCISCO You’ll know advertising has turned a corner when every creative team consists of an art director, a copywriter and a technology specialist, and ad campaigns matter of factly use technological advances — as well as words and images — to leverage a brand. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer, as an increasing number of ads and campaigns prove technology is as powerful a creative tool as a hilarious script, a striking design and an iconic celebrity.

The utilization of new technologies is hardly worth a second thought for the many consumers already living in a high-tech world. With electronic games, and gizmos and gadgets such as Wii, smart phones, iPods and PDAs woven into their lives, the use of leading-edge technology has become second nature.

Naturally, marketers are racing to catch up with these click-happy, tech-savvy consumers. They’re positioning themselves as innovators by tapping emerging technology for use in their creative work and, in some cases, to shape an entire creative effort.

Burger King’s online Subservient Chicken from 2004, in which typed-in words triggered the responses of a man in a chicken suit, and OfficeMax’s Elf Yourself microsite for the 2006 and 2007 holiday seasons, where people were turned into dancing elves, as well as other unique campaigns are proof that interesting tech tools can create marketing that is fun, engaging and certain to go viral.

Hot technologies can “serve as the key concept” behind a brand strategy, says Dorian Sweet, ecd at Tribal DDB. Some marketers “look at the technology [in any campaign] as an integral creative idea.”

Increasingly, a brand’s sex appeal is all about the tech, such as Nike’s 2007 association with Apple’s iPod for its Nike+ marketing. A sensor in the Nike+ sneakers wirelessly “talks” to runners via their iPods, syncing up music and verbal encouragement. Both Nike and Apple logos are used in the marketing, positioning Nike as forward-thinking. (Back in 2005, Nike used emerging technology in an interactive Times Square billboard: People were able to use their mobile phones to design a sneaker appearing on the sign and then purchase a pair.)

More recently, brands such as Adidas, Red Bull and A&E Television Networks have relied on technology-centric campaigns to grab consumers’ attention and tell the brand story.

To promote Paranormal State, a series about ghosts that launched in December 2007, A&E used an audio transmitting device connected to a billboard in New York. Working with Horizon Media and Holosonic, creator of the technology, A&E used the device to project voices in a discrete beam of sound, in much the same way a flashlight projects a narrow beam of light. People would hear the projected voices only when they were within the beam. The result: Random passersby felt like a voice was talking inside their heads, creating a sort of pseudo-paranormal experience. (People did not need to be using a mobile phone, iPod or any electronic device for the sound effect to work.)

The effort, which ran during the month the show launched, was designed to jolt innocent pedestrians out of their daily routines and to generate water cooler and online buzz about the show, which it did. One Gawker commenter responded to an item about the audio billboard, “Yipes! It’s a test, isn’t it? A test secretly sponsored by the CIA. Right?”

Adidas Enlists FBI Tech Tool

Although A&E could only freak out those who happened by, Adidas is reaching significantly more people on the Internet with a technology that allows for 360-degree views of videos.

As part of Adidas’ marketing campaign for its Team Signature basketball gear, the brand created the Basketball Is a Brotherhood microsite (adidasbasketball.com.) with 11 webisodes about a youth hoops camp hosted by NBA stars [Adweek, Oct. 29, 2007, “Adidas Calls the Shots”].