Plugging into the digital revolution

It's been a slow process but some Canadian marketers realize that if they want to reach consumers, they have to speak to them digitally. So what's stopping the rest of you?

SITD? If you have to ask, you may be in trouble, given the rate at which consumers are adopting digital media. The vast majority of marketers are still scratching their heads about how to advertise effectively within the digital domain. A few Canadian pioneers, such as Molson, Schneider Foods and Schick, are slowly finding their way in the hope that acting as leaders rather than followers will pay off in dividends for their brands.

Interest in digital media is ‘increasing exponentially among marketers,’ says Tony Chapman, president of Toronto promotional agency Capital C. Last spring, the Interactive Advertising Bureau estimated Canadian online spend for 2004 would increase about 30% to $200 million, from $150 million in 2003.

Chapman cites three reasons: recognition the coveted youth target is spending more time online; new technologies are able to communicate immediately and with low production values; and strong interactive capabilities.

Indeed, several players in Canada have suddenly come to the realization that young adults like to download songs from the Internet (to the tune of 70% of Canadian youth, according to Vancouver-based youth marketing firm Alias).

Kitchener, Ont.-based Schneider Foods is one of them. Purchasers of Schneiders Hot Stuffs, Lean Stuffs or Egg Stuffs got one bonus track from Canadian site Puretracks between June and the end of this month.

Maurice Bianchi, marketing manager of frozen baked goods, believes Schneiders will be one of the first consumer packaged goods brands in the country to offer music downloads to consumers. ‘It is always rewarding to be first to market with an innovative promotion because it reflects very positively on the brand.’

The idea was hatched during a brainstorming session involving Bianchi and staff at Gencom, Schneider’s Mississauga, Ont. promotional agency. It started with a discussion about how to develop an entertainment-based initiative that would appeal to a wide audience.

‘We explored videos and movies first and then we came around to discussing music. The idea of a download just came naturally,’ he explains. ‘Soon after that, we noticed that some major brands in the U.S. were starting to do this sort of thing too, so we knew it would be a hot new promo idea.’

The cost of the promo, which is supported through on-pack graphics, in-store displays and merchandising, as well as on the Puretracks site, will largely be determined by the final redemption rate of downloads, says Bianchi, who adds that selling the program internally was easier than he expected. ‘I just focused on the merits of the program, such as instant win, mass appeal, national coverage and the opportunity for multiple redemptions, which leads to multiple purchases.’

Molson Canadian recently had a similar hook-up with Napster.ca. About 500,000 Molson Insiders – registered with iamcanadian.ca – received free access to the service for a month. Sales and promo staff handed out hundreds of thousands of ‘download cards’ for free tracks, says Rob Assimakopoulos, Molson’s Toronto-based VP marketing, who adds, ‘we have to be where that beer drinker is to deliver an experience to them. In Canada there’s a much bigger penetration of broadband users than in the U.S. so [we're] certainly set for Canadians to be huge consumers of digital music.’

And of course, McDonald’s Canada has been giving away tunes from Sony’s connect.ca with every Big Mac. The deal was heavily promoted in-store and via radio and TV advertising, using the QSR’s now ubiquitous ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ campaign. The effort is part of the chain’s worldwide strategy to reach consumers through their interests – music, sports, entertainment and fashion.

‘We’re always looking for new avenues to reach our customers,’ says Canadian spokesperson Ron Christensen. ‘Digital media continues to be increasingly a part of our customers’ regular lives, and if we can be more relevant by tapping into those media, we’ll definitely research it.’

McDonald’s would also like to up its hip status among youth, as opposed to being exclusively obsessed with winning over parents with two young ‘uns and a golden retriever. ‘Youth was traditionally not a demographic we were speaking specifically to,’ says Christensen. ‘I don’t think anyone can deny our advertising was safe.’ Globally the QSR expected millions of songs to be downloaded.

While these brands are using digital-related promos to connect with consumers, others are using the Net as a principal means to build awareness – with significant results.

In spring, Xbox Canada launched a viral campaign – an e-mail version of tag – created by Capital C. Each time a player tagged someone else they not only gained entry into a contest which gave away a limited-edition Xbox daily, they also viewed one of 12 videos of game footage.

The main objective, according to Chapman, was to capture consumer mindshare during a non-key retail period. But the video game console also wanted to reinforce its ‘social gaming’ positioning and broaden its appeal – the initiative was largely targeted at non-Xbox owners. ‘Our goal was to be less concerned about the [existing] target, but more interested in how many people activated, how often they participated, and whether they were motivated to watch the promo material.’

The inspiration for Tag came during a Capital C ‘Big Ideas Session’ which involved the agency and two client-side participants – promotions, events and partnerships manager Dawn Martyn and group marketing manager Jason Anderson.

Recognizing that the target was gamers, the group decided a virtual campaign made the most sense.

Producing Tag was also much cheaper than producing a TV campaign. With a relatively small database, an effort like this could cost under six figures, says Chapman – and that includes the media buy necessary to seed it. Yet, due to the pass-along factor, the results can be enormous provided the creative is innovative enough.

Certainly that appears to be the case with Tag; the average participant entered the contest 12 times – viewing all of the Tag videos in the process. At the end of the six-week program, over 36,000 people had played and half a million tags had been sent.

Similarly, Mississauga, Ont.-based Schick Canada launched a Web-based brand awareness campaign in early April, when the packaged goods firm introduced a series of eight Webisodes, produced by Toronto-based interactive agency Unplugged Studio (creator of the Jerry Seinfeld Amex work). In the ‘sodes, Peter, a sarcastic chest-thumping DJ, would go on about guy things – golf, relationships, and of course, shaving. The fake radio show shorts resided at Canada.com.

There were obvious benefits for Schick, which has long been in a cutthroat war with Gillette. ‘[On the Net], you’re not competing with all this other clutter,’ says Helen Kargas, associate brand manager on Schick. ‘It’s also a cost-effective way of reaching so many people. With TV, you constantly have to buy media time, you’re paying talent fees, [whereas] you’re just paying for the production of the piece here.’

Interestingly, CanWest Global’s Integrated Business Solutions (IBS) division worked with Unplugged to develop the creative concept (see sidebar below).

Despite these forays, several pundits say marketers are lagging when it comes to digital marketing and as a result missing out on opportunities in realms like video game and wireless marketing (see Gist Box, below). Most of the innovation in the digital space is coming from the States or overseas, says Andy Nulman, president of Montreal-based Airborne Entertainment, a wireless entertainment publisher.

‘People are starting to understand there’s a new way to reach specific segments, but as [with] any new medium, they are approaching it with…apprehension, and [with] square peg/round hole syndrome.’

BTW, it means ‘Still in the Dark.’

Behind the idea

Schick Webisodes

Here’s how it went down: Jeff Barlow, account executive of CanWest Global’s Integrated Business Solutions (IBS) was approached by Schick, which wanted to do something unconventional. Soon after, John Delamothe, manager of online projects at IBS, asked Barlow if any of his clients would be interested in a Webisode – a notion that sprung out of a conversation between Delamothe and the folks at Unplugged.

Since the bullseye target for Schick is a 30-year-old male – and since the brand had just launched Quattro – it was a perfect fit, says Barlow. ‘Then we engaged in brainstorming – John, Unplugged and myself – with a brief from [Schick's media buying firm] Zenithoptimedia [which outlined] the target audience. We came up with the radio show.’ (The group actually used Barlow’s own typically masculine behaviour as fodder: ‘When I’m in the car I listen to sports radio. And I think a lot of guys out there in their 30s do the same.’)

The creative was then pitched to the client.

IBS also suggested running a 15-second flash animation spot on TV; it too starred DJ Peter who encouraged viewers to check out his talk show at the CanWest site Canada.com. This meant convincing Schick to split its media buy between its 30-second brand commercial for Quattro, and the 15-second promo.

According to Cheryl Fryer, account manager at Toronto-based Zenithoptimedia, none of this was a particularly hard sell to the client – likely due to Schick’s underdog position in the marketplace. ‘Gillette has 70% market share and Schick is the little guy trying to challenge this huge leader, so they’re looking for new and interesting ways to break through. This was an opportunity for them to dare to lead.’

Schick was pleased with the results. Views reached just under 50,000, surpassing its expectations. ‘I would pursue it again depending on the target,’ says Schick’s associate brand manager Helen Kargas.

Gistbox – Doing digital right

Wireless promos should be as compelling as possible; consumers don’t want to pay for generic fare, says Andy Nulman, president of Airborne Entertainment in Montreal. His advice: take a cue from European firms and print short codes on candy bar wrappers and soft drink cans, so shoppers can receive a discount by sending a text message.

Or consider sponsorship opportunities and co-promotions. Airborne, for instance, has an NHL program that delivers up-to-the-minute scores and stats to users. Currently unbranded, ‘it’s crying out’ for logo placements and promotional tiebacks.

When it comes to youth, anything interactive works, says Simon Crowther, managing director of Vancouver-based Alias, a youth marketing consultancy. Here are some ways for marketers to tap in:

* Instant messaging is hot as kids appreciate ’30-way conversations.’ Marketers could customize messages with icons, etc., and somehow seed their product info in a viral fashion.

* Blogging is an up-and-coming avenue for marketers. Nike’s now doing it with its Art of Speed site, featuring short films and a blog. Why? Because it enables them to interact with their audience both informally and instantly.

* 60% of youth (unprompted) think product placement in video games is acceptable, according to Crowther. PricewaterhouseCoopers thinks the worldwide video game industry will reach US$55.6 billion by 2008. Get the picture?