Highly integrated interactivity in Canada?

Interactive divisions, once seen as defensive strategies to shore up revenue losses to Web-based start-up agencies, are becoming commonplace. In Canada, the extent to which these efforts are integrated into mass media campaigns, however, remains suspect....

Interactive divisions, once seen as defensive strategies to shore up revenue losses to Web-based start-up agencies, are becoming commonplace. In Canada, the extent to which these efforts are integrated into mass media campaigns, however, remains suspect.

By 2003, U.S. adults will spend nearly three times as much time on the Internet as they will reading magazines, according to a recent study by New York-based media merchant bank Veronis, Suhler & Associates. Moreover, Forrester Research notes that by 2004 the Internet will have siphoned $27 billion, or 10% of all U.S. ad spending, away from traditional forms of media.

Senior executives at many ad agencies – those whom absorb the costs of starting up interactive divisions – are quick to acknowledge the overall importance of having a sound, integrated, interactive strategy.

But how interactively sophisticated are we in Canada compared to the rest of the world?

On the ‘very integrated’ end of the spectrum is what Volvo Cars of North America was trying to accomplish through its ‘Revolvolution’ campaign designed by New York-based FUEL North America, the integrated marketing communications unit of MVBMS, Volvo’s advertising agency of record, and Cylo, a convergent media solutions company. The promotion focused on the Volvo S60 sports sedan and played off the company’s sponsorship of the NCAA ‘March Madness’ college basketball playoffs.

Volvo’s message was carried via TV, the Internet, interactive TV, e-mail, Personal Digital Assistants, and WAP-enabled mobile phones.

Running March 15 through April 2, the program was designed to let Volvo interact with a new group of tech-savvy customers. Each contest entry was confirmed through a personalized rich e-mail from Volvo entreating entrants to visit Revolvolution. Once there, consumers could participate in a draw to win tickets to the ‘Final Four’ in Minneapolis. The winner of a Volvo S60 was announced in an April 2 Webcast.

The interaction that took place throughout the integrated campaign also provided Volvo with info about how consumers are using various forms of new media.

Across the Atlantic, Nestle Rowntree UK has recently decided to focus a larger part of its efforts on interactive new media. The chocolate-makers will tailor new marketing for Internet and mobile phone users. Initiatives will include Kit Kat branded games via mobile phones and third-party commercial tie-ups.

In Canada, the learning curve is still ahead, and no one appears to be reinventing the wheel with current new media efforts.

Paul Johnson, founder and co-CEO of Abovethefold.net, which provides new media solutions for Naked News and CTV Sportsnet.com, says that in Canada we are ‘definitely behind the eight ball where highly integrated campaigns are concerned, but it’s coming into play more and more. It really is about enlightening companies to the fact that you can use the Web to sell product.’

Rick Davis, VP and creative director at Bates Canada, says Canada may never reach the level of the Volvo or Nestle campaigns because the market is simply not big enough to support such an all-consuming integrated program.

‘If I look at national campaigns, we’re more adept at working terminal out towards the more traditional forms of media, whereas in the U.S. they start with the traditional and direct consumers to the Internet.’

However, the slow build from Web to traditional media can be effectively integrated without committing a massive amount of resources up front. Take Sunkist’s ‘Show Us Your Sunkist Smile’ campaign developed by Bates Canada, for example.

The agency goal was to deliver a relevant, actionable, and integrated brand promotion. To do so, they launched SunkistSmile.com to showcase consumer interaction with the brand and manage contest registration and fulfillment.

The contest prompted contestants to submit pictures of family and friends eating oranges. The prize? The winners’ photos on billboards eating Sunkist oranges, with the tag: ‘Can’t resist a Sunkist orange.’ Sunkist’s interactive campaign progressed from Web site to contest and then on to billboards, superboards, and transit shelters.

Bates cites it as the most successful client/national account initiative ever executed in Canada, with more than 20,000 consumers intercepted and sampled in a four-week period, 50,000+ Web site visits in a four week period, more than 4000 personalized photo entries and registrations, and 1000+ national account Web site hits in the same period.

While many marketers are testing the interactive waters, few cite examples wherein online is the linchpin. This makes measurement of effectiveness – key to selling it as a marketing tool – very difficult.

For PALM Publicité Marketing’s latest Volkswagen Passat campaign in Quebec, ‘The luxury of being yourself,’ it has created three 30-second spots portraying the Passat owner as young and hip. A print campaign will appear simultaneously in English and French business magazines in Quebec. And at the same time, the official Volkswagen site, vw.com, will add a micro-site dedicated entirely to the new Passat.

While not as integral a component as the Sunkist example, the site will feature technical data about the car, along with tips for staying young and hip. The site offers a VW-branded online radio network and a load of VW community oriented components such as upcoming VW events. David Fong president of TBWA/ Chiat/Day, similarly, has high hopes for client Nissan Canada in the same vein. ‘The Web allows advertising to be more of an informational experience, where the consumer plays a more active role.’

Fong believes his agency’s interactive division will be able to use the Web to ‘build community’ around Nissan brands. ‘Take the Pathfinder. There is a strong sense of identification throughout the SUV community. People are brought together through greater sense of identified connection and value.’

With the growth of such initiatives, a further question remains: What of dollars shifting from traditional media to interactive buys?

Optimedia Canada president Sunni Boot, puts it succinctly: ‘Most media purchases now have an online interactive component. Interactive media has reached mass media status in terms of consideration on all client portfolios. Depending on the goals, we would use it for awareness building through banners, buttons, sponsorships etc., dialogue through e-mail, newsletters, contests, etc., and transactions including acquisitions and sales.’

Boot echoes most industry voices in saying that, ‘Some dollars may shift from the so-called traditional component to the interactive component, but they represent a minor and tactical shift. In most cases traditional media have remained static, or if there are declines they are the result of marketing and sales objectives versus trading out for interactive.’

‘Our interactive business has grown over 200% in the past 12 months – albeit from a very small base,’ says Boot. ‘For the most part, this has been incremental dollars.’

Most big agencies say interactive buys now account for between 2% and 5% of overall budgets and are growing.

It would appear that the onus now falls on interactive agencies to prove how integral integrated Web-based support is to an overall communications strategy.

In other words, if the shoe fits, Web it.