A Flash in the Pan or Sophisticated Flambi?

Did everybody see the Jack Daniel’s ad on Playboy.com? I’ll have to admit that it was somewhat unnerving to visit Playboy.com while I was at work, but if any of my coworkers had tried to call me on the carpet for it, I was definitely there for business reasons… ;-)

For those of you who would rather not visit the site, allow me to describe it. The Jack Daniel’s ad is a Flash intro to the Playboy.com site. It features Playboy Enterprises founder Hugh Hefner pictured with his gigantic mansion, limousine, private plane, a spread of expensive seafood, about a dozen beautiful women, and, of course, Jack Daniel’s. Any visitor to the site who has the Flash plug-in can see the ad.

“You know, I’ve always enjoyed a relatively simple life,” narrates Hef in the ad. “A comfortable home, reliable transportation, food on the table, and a meaningful relationship. And, of course, Jack Daniel’s. Welcome to Playboy.com.” After viewing the ad and listening to Hef, visitors are directed back to the home page of the Playboy site. No, they can’t click for more information. They can’t fill out a form to enter a contest or sign up for a mailing list. No action is prompted, other than simply viewing the ad and taking in its message.

Soon after this ad hit, almost everybody I know in online advertising was talking about it. Why? Because there was no doubt about the ultimate goal of this advertisement. It was designed to create an association. That is, it was designed to brand.

I don’t know what the marketing goals are for the Jack Daniel’s brand. I’ve never worked on the account, but I imagine that they want to convey the idea that Jack Daniel’s is a sophisticated yet fun-loving drink. Coincidentally, readers of Playboy magazine and its online counterpart look to the Playboy brand to tell them what’s fun, what’s sophisticated, and what’s cool. Rather than fall into the trap of “Let’s run banners and try to get people to click over to the JD site,” some intelligent soul over at Jack Daniel’s ad agency made the case that the association and endorsement of the Jack Daniel’s brand on Playboy’s own site would achieve their branding goals.

The endorsement is quite a nice one. After briefly listening to Hef, site visitors are left with the impression that Jack Daniel’s is a regular part of the sophisticated lifestyle that includes an appreciation of the finer things in life. It is because the ad is so effective at creating that association that the entire online ad industry was buzzing about it this past week.

While I’m happy to see such publicity surrounding an online ad with branding goals, I’m still left with a question: How will the agency for Jack Daniel’s track the impact of this ad? Many of the smart people in the online advertising industry know that the Internet can be used to brand. After all, you can brand with something as simple as a matchbook cover. What people really want to know is how effective it can be. That is the question on everybody’s mind.

Although I think the Jack Daniel’s ad on Playboy.com is a harbinger of things to come, I’d like to issue a challenge to the brand and to the agency that produced and placed the ad: Show us how well it worked for you. Implement an online brand study and tell us how this ad affected Playboy.com’s audience. Did it affect Jack Daniel’s consideration against Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark? Did it make people want to increase their consumption? Did more people think of Jack Daniel’s as a sophisticated and fun brand?

Demonstrating success with respect to branding initiatives is exactly what this industry needs if it is to prove itself. We could use a high-profile case study to pull us out of the slump that resulted from the medium’s being pigeonholed as a direct-response medium.

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