Many brands have embraced the Internet as a way to engage consumers beyond what can be accomplished in a broadcast capacity. Experiences can range from informative to entertaining to interactive, and with mobile devices becoming even more ubiquitous each year, the opportunities to connect with a target audience continue to grow.
Agencies, production houses and post production studios are also embracing online opportunities. While budgets remain challenging, clients and brands realize the value and reach of Internet campaigns, and are allocating resources toward those efforts more so than ever before.
Each project presents a unique challenge, and many break ground, going beyond what’s been done in the past. Measuring success also differs from project to project, but one common belief is that if an experience is engaging, it can be called a success.
Here’s a look at a handful of companies that have completed online campaigns recently. Each discusses the challenges and execution, as well as what trends they are seeing in the online space.
Piston (www.pistonagency.com), with locations in San Diego, New York and Chicago, is an eight-year-old digital agency offering creative, production and analytic services to clients. The company previously operated under the name MEA Digital, and executive creative director David Schafer says they are hoping to continue to grow into a modern and influential agency that helps clients solve a multitude of problems.
The company recently used its range of strengths in creating a new online effort for Oakley, the maker of high-end sunglasses and athletic wear. “Oakley is a prime example of what I am seeing as a modern agency relationship,” says Schafer. “Oakley has an internal agency, and they create their assets. We run all of Oakley digitally, from their e-commerce platform to the campaign.”
The company commissioned drawings of Oakley athletes by several famous comic artists. The company’s print ads encouraged readers to text their favorite athlete’s name, which would then lead them to a branded microsite. “We basically cut out all the imagery and allowed people to create their own comic book,” he says of Piston’s work. “They could enter their own words and then share that with a friend.”
Oakley approached Piston with the idea of getting the drawings commissioned. Above all, they were looking to offer visitors an engaging experience. A small button in the corner of the site allowed visitors to shop if they were inspired by what the athlete was wearing.
Success, he says, was defined by the time visitors spent on the microsite. “If some people spend five minutes doing something as opposed to a :30 commercial, everyone is feeling good. If they clicked through and bought, that was a secondary goal.”
Schafer has been a digital creative director for a long time, but still considers himself a student when it comes to online marketing. He’s also noticed a digital divide between traditional agencies and modern agencies. “There’s what people are calling a creative or brand agency, and then there is an agency like ours, that’s mostly just digital. Digital agencies are perceived as not having brand skills, and likewise, the brand agencies are perceived as not having expertise in the digital world to create all these different things and make them work.”
Piston, he says, wants to help clients deal with the large number of challenges they face. “If we grow the right way, we can come in and become an influential agency for senior people.”
ASSASIN’S CREED III, FEDEX
Hollywood’s Modus Operandi (www.modop.net) has worked with many clients in an online capacity. The creative digital agency recently completed work on a series of videos designed to promote Ubisoft’s new Assasin’s Creed III videogame, which is set for a late October release.
COO Miles Dinsmoor says the company’s work with clients such as Nike Golf, FedEx, Sam Adams, Pillsbury and Foot Locker has given them experience in many different online scenarios. The Ubisoft project, he says, was a way “to bring people deeper into the story and give them more content to chew on.”
The Assasin’s Creed III project was conceived as a half-hour documentary, but released serially on a weekly basis. The first look was through Ubisoft partnerships, and with vendors like Game Stop. It was then posted on the Ubisoft Website and spread to YouTube and beyond.
This new title takes place during the American Revolution, and the series of six-minute videos combine game footage with behind-the-scenes, making-of elements. “We went out and interviewed experts on the period and gave additional context about what really happened during the American Revolution and how the game uses that period and the themes of America,” he explains. “We produced a long-form piece of content but then distributed it weekly so people got into it and followed it almost like a show.”
Modus Operandi worked closely with Ubisoft, from concept through completion. The studio wrote, directed and edited all of the video footage using its in-house resources, which includes four Apple Final Cut Pro editorial bays and a team of motion graphics animators using Adobe tools. Audio finishing is sent out of house.
Budgets, says Dinsmoor, are always a challenge, but Modus Operandi takes pride in finding ways to stretch them. “The unique challenges of this [project] was that there were multiple location shoots that needed to be coordinated, and then the schedule. It all had to get done very quickly.”
The whole project — start to finish — took about two-and-a-half months, and this was while numerous other jobs were going on in-house. The studio also executed a mobile-specific campaign for client FedEx, working with agency BBDO and Phluant Mobile, which develops ad serving technology for mobile apps.
The goal was to create a floating take-over ad on mobile sites and applications. While this is common for desktop experiences, Dinsmoor says it was ground breaking in the mobile space. The project features a banner ad that would appear and later be picked up and carried off the screen by a FedEx courier. “You see banner ads that take over a screen on the desktop, and that is usually running through Flash,” Dinsmoor explains. “That is something we had to overcome to create the same type of effect.”
Modus Operandi shot the original video elements based on specs determined by Phluant Mobile. “We talked to Phluant and BBDO about running the ad using Phluant’s ad serving technology, and everyone was on the same page. We shot and edited it, and worked collaboratively with them to figure out the right animation approach to get that footage to play on a mobile site.”
According to Dinsmoor, each project Modus Operandi has worked on has had its own measure of success. In the case of the Assasin’s Creed III campaign, there was immediate access to the number of views and visitor commentary, all of which, he says, seemed to be positive.
“In the case of FedEx and working with a partner like Phluant Mobile, they are able to track and get the analytics as to how many times people have seen it and get the actual total number of impressions. I think that was a pretty high-frequency campaign, so it was seen by a lot of eyeballs.”
Dinsmoor says today’s online campaigns require embed and share functionality almost standard. They also need to facilitate social conversation. “It is something that seems to be a mandate on anything that we create… In terms of videos or just experiences, that has become a foundational underpinning of Internet advertising.”
He also notes the importance of mobile components as opposed to desktop-only experiences. “Most financial analysts will tell you the same thing: the ubiquity of mobile as a platform is creating new usage trends. People are consuming more video than ever on mobile, they are sharing on mobile, and those trends continue to increase exponentially each year. Right now, almost everything we do requires creating parallel experiences for both — desktop and mobile — that’s something we’ve noticed even more this year. If we are building a desktop destination, most of our clients are asking to make a mobile-ready version as well.”
Venice, CA-based digital agency Whirled (www.getwhirled.com) was founded in 2010 by CD/director/producer Scott Chan, and in that short time has created Web content for some big clients, including Google.
Chan has seen the Web business mature in that time, along with clients’ attitudes and appreciation for what the Internet can offer. “I remember when we first started out, our budgets were whatever we could get — a couple of thousand dollars here and there. Now, we are commanding broadcast-quality budgets. I think people are now understanding the power of Internet distribution.”
So how does he accommodate those clients who come to him looking for Whirled to produce a video that will go viral? “The way that I always frame it is there is no guarantee. It’s something that we can do,” he says from a creative and production standpoint, “but whether or not it resonates with the people is up to the people. That’s the one great thing about Web content: it’s very, not democratic, but the people tell you whether something is good or not. Most of our stuff does go ‘viral,’ so I think we have a certain taste for what resonates online.”
Whirled offers creative services, production and post production, drawing the line at color correction and audio mixing. The studio has used Canon’s 5D on projects in the past, and has even worked with Arri’s Alexa on online projects. Editing is handled in-house using Final Cut Pro, while After Effects is used for graphics and design.
At press time, the studio was working with Google, for the third consecutive year, on the company’s year-end video. In the past, these videos have illustrated what some of the most popular online searches were for the past 12 months.
The first year Whirled created this year-end Google video, the studio had just a month to complete the job. They’ve learned from that experience and have built in extra time each year thereafter, allowing them to perform extensive research. This year, they are planning a three-month window to deliver the final product, which should be released some time in December.
“They are willing to spend, but they are smart about it,” Chan says of Google’s budgets. “They have realistic expectations.”
Google is a bit of a unique client in that the brand has a built-in audience, he admits. “We’ve been successful because a lot of stuff does get lots of views.” But it’s not a slam-dunk, he says of this year’s task. They still have to produce a video that resonates with the Google audience.
New York City’s Light of Day (www.lightofday.tv) collaborated with Stink Digital and video artist Marco Brambilla on an interactive Web video for Hugo Boss that promotes the company’s Just Different cologne for men. The video blends more than 300 visual effects and allows the viewer to change perspectives based on their head movement, as detected by a standard Webcam.
According to Light of Day creative director of development/co-founder Charles Nordeen, the video was made to be displayed on a branded YouTube page. “The camera would calibrate your head movement and take your center position, your left position and your right position,” he explains. “As you watch the video and move your head, it would change between the different layers.”
Light of Day created both interactive versions of the video as well as a longer, linear director’s cut. The piece takes an abstract approach at representing sophistication. In it, the mist from the cologne descends upon a desaturated metropolitan environment, where a well-dressed man walks through different film-inspired and nightlife scenarios. While primarily black and white, elements of red are strategically placed throughout. Viewer interaction allows them to look at the different layers within the video, which include theatrical, movie and performance layers.
“That piece of technology is fairly recent, and was sort of unused at the time,” notes Light of Day managing director/co-founder Amy Taylor. “There wasn’t a ton of money behind it, but there was a very long schedule, and it really is a beautiful piece, For us, as artists, it was about how beautiful the piece was going to be and how amazing it was to put together. The fact that it was going on the Internet, was a bonus.”
According to Light of Day creative director/co-founder Colin Stackpole, the piece was shot at high speed using an Arri Alexa, which would allow for ramp-ups and slow-downs. Much of the footage was shot against a greenscreen, and Brambilla also provided photographic elements. “It was a loose framework when we started, as far as what he wanted to have happen,” says Stackpole of the collaboration with Brambilla. “It was an evolution. This whole thing came together with editing and compositing. Editing was basically completed in Flame. We provided 3D elements that were created in Maya as well. One of Marco’s pet peeves is doing things that involve 3D, because he doesn’t want anything that looks videogame-y. We did a lot of photogrammetry, where we used real photographs to create the environments.” The shoot took place at a crematorium in Berlin.
The team says the goal of the video was to keep people on the Website. While the video itself doesn’t reveal the product logo or branding until the end, the Web page surrounding the video window is clearly branded. “From the advertiser’s point of view, [the goal] was to keep people on that page,” notes Nordeen. “They were engaged with it and staying on the page, and saying, ‘Hey, you should check this out.’”
Light of Day spent approximately three months working on the Web project, which Nordeen says required just as much attention as a broadcast or theatrical job. “There’s no difference,” he notes.