AToMiC 2017: Messing with media

Scotts Miracle-Gro, Duracell and the Canadian Safe School Network took dramatic steps to earn your attention.

Prickly Image

This article appears in the June 2017 issue of strategy.

The Wins: Scotts Miracle-Gro Canada / Weed B Gon “Prickly” by Rethink Silver AToMiC Engagement, Silver Best Digital Engagement; Duracell “Audio Deprivation” by Mediavest Silver Best Broadcast Engagement; and Canadian Safe School Network “Bully Ads” by BIMM / Touché Bronze Best Tech Breakthrough

An insufferable felt weed named Prickly is screaming at you in pre-roll, and YouTube gives you the option to kill it. The volume on the TV abruptly plummets as you watch the Jays game, the bars descending on the screen no matter how hard you resist with the remote. The banner ads that stalk you across the web start to personally insult you.

No, it’s not a Black Mirror episode, or a remake of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. In order to rattle complacent viewers and make them pay attention, Scotts Weed B Gone, Duracell and the Canadian Safe School Network (CSSN) manipulated the media supporting their ads. At a time when advertising invasiveness is being challenged with ad blocking, these campaigns don’t win points for subtlety (though Weed B Gon offered some playful catharsis with its pre-roll). But they were certainly hard to ignore.

Scotts and the CSSN based their campaigns around the built-in flaws of the media they used: pre-roll and banner ads can be viewed as pests and bullies, respectively. The brands decided to own those traits.

Playing off an ankle-biting weed with a grating voice, named “Prickly,” Scotts and agency Rethink partnered with Google to change the formula for skipping pre-roll: after five seconds, a “Kill Prickly” option popped up above the familiar “Skip Ad.”

The choice was embraced: 98% of viewers opted either to kill the weed (skipping ahead in the video to the point where Weed B Gon is used to eradicate Prickly) or to watch the video all the way through. Giving viewers the chance to kill a weed as annoying as a pre-roll ad allowed the brand to show how the product works, while making viewers active participants in the otherwise bothersome platform.

BullyTo stand out among cause campaigns, the Canadian Safe School Network, BIMM and Touché riffed on the characterization of banner ads as cyber bullies, stalking consumers across the internet to retarget them. It was the perfect medium for the organization’s anti-bullying message.

The CSSN sent invitations to influencers with a link to an anti-bullying event. Once the recipients clicked on the link, they were caught in the campaign’s cruel, cookie-generated retargeting, with as many as 60 banner ads popping up across the internet every day with messages like “That shirt makes you look stupid. So it fits perfectly.” or “You’re not funny. But your life is a joke.”

By simulating the cyber bullying experience, the “Bully Ads” campaign got the influencers’ – and then the mainstream media’s – attention, raising awareness about the problem and leading to a 37% increase in donations.

DuracellLike herbicide, hearing aid batteries aren’t the sexiest product to market. Duracell and agency Mediavest decided to highlight the importance of audio in a visually dominant content world to push a message around hearing tests. Taking audio away was the most effective way of making people notice.

Across 13 networks, during popular programming including the Modern Family season finale and a Blue Jays game, volume bars appeared on screens and began decreasing with the actual volume. The bars became a snipe ad for the batteries – asking viewers “Are you having trouble hearing this?” – followed by a Duracell spot promoting hearing tests.

In addition to the brand recall and digital engagement from the startling “Audio Deprivation” execution, Duracell hearing aid battery sales outpaced the category by 9%.

Invisible yet remarkable OOH

Invisible Dogs clipBThe Win: Home at Last Dog Rescue BC “Invisible Dogs” by Rethink Gold Best Print / Out-Of-Home

Like the Duracell interception, Home At Last Dog Rescue BC brought attention to its product by presenting consumers with an unexpected absence. To raise awareness about overcrowded dog shelters, the organization and Rethink developed an eye-catching and vaguely haunting metaphor: leashes with no dogs. The campaign tied rigid dog leashes, attached to empty collars, to poles and railings across Vancouver. The collars’ tag said that shelters in Canada put down 4,358 unadopted dogs the previous year. “Adopt. Don’t shop,” it urged.

The campaign relied on people to be alarmed and curious enough about the “Invisible Dogs” to stop and read the message. And for the most part they were: the organization soon had more people waiting to adopt than dogs available.

A transmedia murder mystery

The Wins: Showcase / Syfy’s Halcyon by Secret Location Silver Best Transmedia, Bronze Virtual Reality

Halcyon Image 2As brands look to incorporate VR into their advertising arsenal, content studio Secret Location created a TV series that straddles three types of media.

Halcyon is a crime series set in 2040, where people have VR implants in their brains. While viewers could watch the series on regular TV (it originally aired on Syfy International) or stream it online (through Showcase’s online channels in Canada), the show was one of the first to unite broadcast and VR, with special features that could be accessed with a VR headset through the Halcyon VR app.

The VR episodes were an integral part of the story, advancing the plot and character development. Viewers could even solve the murder on their own in VR ahead of the show’s detectives, and before the series finale aired. But the story was also developed to work as a standalone short-form series suitable for viewing on broadcast or web.

Halcyon showed how entertainment products can move between linear and interactive formats and across different user interfaces.