INTERACTIVE: BEHIND THE HYPE/SCREEN SAVERS; Screen-saver success is not what you do, it’s how you do it

Steve Shipside reports on an engaging new medium that agencies have yet to understand or exploit fully

Steve Shipside reports on an engaging new medium that agencies have yet

to understand or exploit fully

What if you could run a three-minute television ad in the middle of a

crowded open-plan office? Better yet, what if you could loop it so it

ran continuously? And just to round off the fantasy, what if it was made

so that anyone who admires the ad only has to ask and they can walk off

with a copy of their own, which they then start playing continuously in

another company?

If we were genuinely talking television all the above would be no more

than a creative’s feverish fantasy. Transfer that ad to a computer,

however, call it a screen saver, and you’ve got a media form that plays

throughout the day in even the most sober of companies.

It’s generally accepted that screen savers entered the advertising

consciousness with the advent of the now legendary Guinness screen

saver. It was downloaded more than 40,000 times from the Internet,

passed on and, so the story goes, became a feature of every dealing room

and bank in the City. It did wonders for Ogilvy and Mather’s new-media

division and established the screen saver as a potent part of the

marketing mix.

So pervasive is that myth that one year on, if you mention ‘new media’

to anyone in the industry, the words ‘Guinness screen saver’ will come

back at you like a mantra. At the risk of committing sacrilege, however,

the Guinness adulation is perhaps both misplaced and past its sell-by


Michael Crossman, chairman of Bates Dorland Interactive, comments:

‘People forget that it was an extremely popular ad [‘anticpation’] -

it’s not the fact that it was a screen saver that made it so popular, it

was because it was derived from that campaign. Now there are so many

they’ve become commodities replaced by the next one that comes along.

You’re doing well if you can keep it on someone’s machine for two


One of the best uses for savers is for internal corporate messages, or

awareness raising. ‘They’re a great way of putting across a simple

message in a nice, lighthearted way,’ Crossman says. ‘They are a good

tool for internal communications and raising profile.’

It’s an approach that’s been successfully used by J. Walter Thomspon,

which has commissioned screen savers for clients that include Kit Kat,

Dulux and Jaguar.

Honorable exceptions aside, however, screen savers risk becoming the

mugs and T-shirts of new-media campaigns, a ‘must’ because of the

success of Guinness, but often ill-considered and badly executed, as

little thought or understanding goes into them.

‘Most of the screen savers we’ve seen have been very poor,’ Mark

Dickinson, director of new media at Lowe Howard-Spink, says. ‘It’s all

recycled material, usually just a couple of shots, and some looped

audio. There don’t seem to be any big ideas in the area.’

Which is perhaps to be expected, since few agencies seem to have given

screen savers any real thought, instead settling for a little lip-

service to the Guinness effect.

But even the Guinness saver was not entirely the agency’s idea. The

concept came from an e-zine, called Rage, which pitched to Guinness and

then O&M, while the job of creating the saver fell to NoHo Digital, an

independent multimedia company.

‘Often the problem lies with a client’s unrealistic expectations,’

Robert Corradi, director of NoHo’s screen saver division and creator of

the Guinness saver, explains. ‘They come to us as their print or TV

campaign is ready to launch, and say they want the saver yesterday.

Frequently no-one considers the saver until that point, and then they

decide they want a 60-second ad, running full screen, as a loop. It’s a

serious oversight because bad savers get removed quickly and can do a

lot of damage in terms of perception.’

The answer, according to Corradi, is not to stick rigidly to the

Guinness model, looping a TV ad, but to add variety. ‘Variety is all

important; we try to randomise savers, or make them read the system

clock and react at key times. For the Department of Energy we created

one with 20 or 30 animated Larry cartoons, some of which only occur at

certain times of the day or year.’

Dickinson agrees, hence Lowes’ work for Vauxhall/Opel and Euro 96

(Campaign, 17 May). ‘We have a Website,, where you can

download animated goals as they are scored.

The aim is to make it more interactive, so you have a reason to re-visit

the branded Website.’ The savers are also modular so each downloaded

animation adds to the others, building up the screen saver as you go.

But perhaps the prize for the most original concept goes to Emap Radio,

which has a game in its saver (also created by NoHo). Get a high score,

crack a code, and you have the opportunity to enter a prize draw - if,

that is, you submit some useful details to Emap’s marketing department.

For new-media departments it’s time to put down that pint and put on the

thinking cap.