How ESPN and Ford Created the F-150 Ad

  |  January 9, 2009   |  Comments

First ads in site redesign are a cut above standard digital ad fare.

ESPN.com introduced a redesign this week that was accompanied by a unique execution from Ford for its new F-150 truck. In the ad, ESPN sportscaster Jay Harris -- appearing within a video player -- is splashed with mud from the truck as Ford spokesperson Mike Rowe walks toward the screen, lauding "the all new '09 F-150 and the new ESPN."

From a technological perspective the ad was a cut above standard Web advertising fare, juxtaposing two video segments with Flash animation. (View the follow-up ad here)

"We used green screen technology to walk a spokesperson out on top of a display space, interacting with another piece of video content in a simulated video player," said Marc Greenleaf, executive producer at Second Thought, the New York production company that designed the ad for Ford's agency, Wunderman Team Detroit.

Second Thought coordinated the integration of video segments that were shot separately at ESPN headquarters and a Los Angeles studio.

"The ad represents a new kind of home page takeover, with the advertiser interacting with the publisher," said Sarah Ripmaster, VP of auto vertical sales at PointRoll, which served the second execution of the Ford video ad on Thursday. She noted a traditional home page takeover consists exclusively of the advertiser's creative in a standard display unit, which may or may not include a floating element. "Here the video looks like the ad is interacting with the page content," she said.

The ad is part of an effort by ESPN to increase advertising opportunities on its Web presence. The large video player in which Harris appears "is going to be the main driver for how we tell stories on the site and provides a much larger video presence," said Lisa Valentino, ESPN's vice president of digital and mobile ad sales. The player replaces a smaller video screen that previously resided on the right side of the page. "The content runs front and center in a larger format, which we think is more compelling."

ESPN's redesign also speeds up the site, which Greenleaf said factored into the ad's execution. "ESPN's goal was to speed up load time and minimize file size," Greenleaf said. "We spent time optimizing the ad for a fast load. We wanted to do an ad that was interesting but not at the expense of slowing down the site."

The pre-stitial is capped at one view per user per day, but visitors to ESPN.com will continue to see a variety of other placements that also play into the redesign. New banner options have been created, from large 300x250 and 300x100 pixel units to small pencil strips of 924x50 and 924x56 pixels. Ford is using them all to "reinforce the interplay of Rowe and Harris and the message of 32 years of truck leadership," said Mark Russell, president of Wunderman Team Detroit.

Bobby Tulsiani, a Forrester Research analyst, says the extended advertising opportunities associated with ESPN's redesign are emblematic of the new way media companies are monetizing their sites.

"They're playing rich engaging videos that tell more of a story than a banner. As advertising ills hit the old forms of media it will take this type of rich experience to generate a high CPM... There's increasing pressure on media companies to monetize their Web brands in the down-turned environment, so we're going to see these types of executions roll out."

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