T-Mobile, OXO and Magners have added an online dimension to recent ad campaigns, aware that the dominance of TV as a brand-building medium is waning.
From pre-rolls - which appear before programmes and other content watched online - to branded YouTube channels and viral ads, brands are testing out a variety of innovative ways to engage with the public.
Integration is the watchword, with TV ads backed up by interaction online. However, these campaigns can have widely varying fortunes. T-Mobile's ‘Life's for Sharing' campaign featuring videos of mass dance- and sing-a-longs scored 23m hits on its branded YouTube page. Meanwhile, the most popular of the finalists in ‘The OXO Factor' - a competition in which families upload homemade ads for the brand - had attracted more than 9000 views at the time of writing.
Marketers know that there are big changes happening in the way people relate to ads but are struggling to grasp the ‘new world'. Libby Newcombe, marketing manager for OXO, believes ‘The OXO Factor' campaign signals a fundamental shift in marketing. ‘Consumers' expectations have changed. They don't expect brands to talk to them through one medium or preach to them through television,' she says. ‘They expect to be able to talk back. Brands are catching up with consumer behaviour.'
Meanwhile Paul Silburn, creative partner at Saatchi & Saatchi, which created the T-Mobile campaign, says: ‘There are so many different channels now that it is not enough to burst into people's living rooms through the TV screen. You've got to be invited in and involve them and participate.' However, he adds that TV is still vital in driving people to search for additional content on the web.
There is no doubt that marketing has moved beyond TV ad breaks. The growth of online video services, such as 4OD and ITV Player, has planted the seeds of a fresh approach to advertising.
Moreover, the pre-, post- and mid-roll ads around online video have some strong attractions for brands: they can't be fast-forwarded; there are usually fewer ads per video than in TV programmes; and on some sites, viewers can click out of the ad directly to the advertiser's website. They can also be aimed at specific groups depending on the content.
For these reasons, the cost to reach 1000 viewers (cost per thousand or CPT) is often far higher for video pre-roll ads than those on television. ITV says its CPT is up to £30 on the ITV Player compared with £10 on the main channel, because of the online service's ability to target audiences. ITV.com has had nearly 1bn page impressions this year. Video views on the ITV Player have reached 160m for the year to date, two and half times more than last year. Even so, ITV.com's ad revenue for the year to August 2009 is just £10m.
Online video advertising is a comparatively tiny medium at the moment, worth an estimated £40m a year - about 1.5% of the total TV advertising market in the UK - according to media agency MPG. However, it is a fast-growing sector - predicted to increase to £60m in value next year, at a time when most media are suffering steep declines in revenue.
More brands are testing out the medium. Online pre-roll ads can be particularly effective for brands aimed at young people who are light viewers of television. Magners opted to use this advertising format for the launch of its Pear Cider sub-brand this summer.
The brand set aside 5% of its £6m ad budget for digital media and two thirds of that was spent on pre-roll advertising via sites such as thesun.co.uk, guardian.co.uk and MSN.
Chris Allen, broadcast director at Magners' media agency, MPG, says: ‘If you are within the 18-34 age range, you are likely to be a light viewer of TV, but a higher user of internet. If those people are watching TV via the web, you should allocate some of your budget to hitting them to build reach and generate awareness.'
He believes such activity must be treated as a supplement rather than a replacement for TV, and points to figures showing that overall TV viewing in the UK is growing every year, as is the impact of commercials. ‘It is about using online video in conjunction with TV to get a multiplier effect,' adds Allen.
Despite many attempts, few ads have cracked the conundrum of how to become truly viral. It is sometimes assumed that what is required are stunning creative ads so engaging that consumers want to recommend them to their friends, sending out links which those friends forward to others, until the content reaches millions, proving that word of mouth is the best sort of marketing.
In reality, this rarely happens, according to sources in ‘viral' agencies. Ads and other content are usually seeded across the web by paying website publishers and blogs to feature them on their sites. It is rare for an ad to become an online hit, because only the most striking and original creative can really stand out in the cluttered online environment.
Watching ads online is still in its nascency, but Suveer Kothari, YouTube's UK head of sales, believes many more brands will set up channels to run ads on the video-sharing site. ‘YouTube is going to be a great platform for brands to distribute advertising and to create a hub around it,' he says. ‘We are going to continue to be a place with premium content for brands to advertise against.'
However, Kothari is also careful to avoid positioning YouTube as an immediate threat or competitor to TV channels. Indeed the site has recently struck a deal to screen Channel 4 programmes.
As watching long-form content on the web becomes increasingly popular, marketers will find integrating their online and offline communication crucial.
T-Mobile -'Life's for Sharing'
The campaign started in January with a mass choreographed dance at London's Liverpool Street station, with surprised commuters joining in. A two-and-a-half minute ad using footage shot at the event broke shortly afterwards, during Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother.
This was followed up in April with a mass singalong in Trafalgar Square, which was also turned into a TV ad. Members of the public were invited to attend via Twitter, Facebook and SMS and 13,500 people turned up.
A YouTube channel was set up to be the hub of the campaign and videos from both events were hosted there. Thousands of bloggers picked up the events, generating more than 23m hits.
Both events went on tour around the country, with the public voting which city should be visited next. One Facebook group re-enacted the dance with 2000 people in Liverpool Street station, while a branded Facebook group has attracted more than 17,000 fans. Campaign ads have also appeared on digital bus-sides.
Agency Saatchi & Saatchi
Premier Foods - 'The OXO Factor'
The campaign asks families to film a script for the brand's next TV ad and upload it to The OXO Factor channel on YouTube. Entries closed on 14 September and the judging panel has selected five finalists to have their ads shown during prime-time TV slots including during broadcasts of the current series of The X Factor. The public can vote for their favourite ad on the YouTube channel and the winning ad will be shown during The X Factor final on ITV 1 in December, with the winners receiving £10,000 in prize money. So far, the channel has received little more than 19,000 views, compared with 1.5m for T-Mobile's ‘Life's for Sharing' channel.
The campaign aims to ‘catapult OXO into the 21st century' and is part of a £3.5m marketing investment over two years. Next year, the brand aims to increase frequency of purchase by asking people how they use OXO, and offering tips and recipes to increase use.