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The Digital Advertising Philosophy of Life

  |  March 25, 2010   |  Comments

Case study: Discovery Channel's campaign for its new nature documentary series offers lessons in best practices for media buyers and planners.

As a digital marketer, when was the last time you considered how online media could be used to reflect the core attributes of your client's product? Or thought about how the creative could be applied to get the most out of the functionality of your ad space? When we're faced with new campaigns, we often concentrate on the logistics of our placements - demographics, reach, cost, and such - without putting enough emphasis on how the placements could be infused with the essence of what's being advertised, in a way that also engages consumers.

You've no doubt read by now about Discovery Channel's introductory campaign for its new nature documentary series - and with good reason. It's fast becoming a case study for the aforementioned exercise, and a lesson in best practices for buyers and planners looking to make a purposeful and relevant impact.

When it was first introduced in 2007, the network's series "Planet Earth" quickly captivated audiences to become the highest grossing American HD title of the year. "Life," Discovery's newest offering, is a spectacular 11-part series that took more than three years to make.

"Life" promises to be just as engrossing as its predecessor, but Discovery wasn't prepared to take any chances on securing its success, or missing out on the opportunity to deliver digital advertising that's just as visually stunning. Its digital media campaign included the use of social media, takeovers, and instant messaging to quickly spread the word about the new series to recruit online viewers.

Discovering Facebook's Artistic Potential

Facebook has become an integral part of digital media campaigns, particularly those launched by entertainment companies. But depending on the advertiser's objectives and the product it wishes to promote, the way in which this social network is used can vary greatly from one campaign to the next.

Discovery has created a Facebook presence that's a rich visual experience, reflective of what viewers can expect to get from "Life." The imagery used was maximized to fill the page and deliver full visual impact - an approach that mirrors the experience of watching the show.

There's no greater tool for selling "Life" than its captivating photography. In addition to pictures pulled from upcoming episodes, fans are also given access to a half-dozen videos that can be watched without even leaving Facebook. By also integrating these creative assets into the existing Discovery Channel Facebook Page, the network is able to draw past "Planet Earth" viewers and other fans of the network's natural history programming, affording it a built-in audience right out of the gate.

A Richer Life Through Advertising

Discovery's media buying strategy included this same approach of delivering high-impact imagery from the series. The day "Life" began to air, its splashy Yahoo home page takeover ad featured banner placements along with floating elements that included some of the creatures featured on the shows (a praying mantis, for example, that greeted site users by scurrying across the screen).

Yahoo Discovery Life

More interesting still was the way in which the user was able to customize the placement. Yahoo's visitors were invited to choose from among several "Life" themed skins that could be applied to their home page for the rest of the day. The interactivity afforded by the placement was engaging enough to garner attention, yet simple enough to attract users.

To ensure that users really got the message, Yahoo Messenger was employed to deliver expandable rich media banners offering a video preview of the series that could be shared with other IM users. In keeping with "Life's" animal theme, users were also able to select from among featured animals and apply these as their IM display image, or avatar. Discovery no doubt knew that consumers would be emotionally invested in their favorite creatures to be featured on the shows; allowing them to display their animal allegiance online is a clever way of convincing them to watch.

We can all think of countless examples of Facebook Pages, home page takeovers, and IM campaigns that set out to achieve a similar goal and fell woefully short. The difference between those and Discovery's initiative is the sensible philosophy of using digital advertising to echo what the product will deliver.

"Life" is rich in high-quality imagery of natural wonders, so its ads are high-quality images and video content of the same. The series offers consumers a glimpse into the unexpected behavior and rituals of animals; so too is its advertising unexpected (unless you're accustomed to watching exotic insects crawl across your screen).

To say that Discovery Channel leveraged the best that its product has to offer for the benefit of its media campaign is an understatement. The network and its agency used online media to provide consumers with an honest and immersive interpretation of its programming that so accurately mimics the actual experience one might criticize it for giving too much away.

I'm quite certain that won't prevent anyone from watching.


Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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