AT&T Wireless, Paramount and Others Sign on to Brand Slide’s Widgets

About one third of Facebook’s 31 million members have used a widget provided by photo slideshow application company Slide, and now that the firm has achieved substantial distribution, it’s adding brands to the mix. Advertisers including AT&T Wireless, Activision, Paramount Pictures and Discovery Channel plan to launch branded photo applications through Slide, and Lions Gate Films has already begun running a personalized slideshow widget featuring characters from its slinky doll-inspired flick “Bratz.”

After developing its applications and getting them distributed, “Now we’re starting to begin the third step…finding new and creative ways to monetize,” said Slide VP of Finance and Operations Kevin Freedman.

Social networking site users will get the chance to adorn photos of their friends with virtual AT&T Wireless branded phones as part of an upcoming widget campaign by the mobile provider. The app will let people place images of cell phones into digital photos on their profile pages; the Flash-based photo accessories will vibrate upon rollover, and can even be souped up with ringtones.

To promote competitive reality show “Last Man Standing,” Discovery Channel will develop widgets centered on sports related images. That effort is set to launch in September. Paramount will allow fans of its to-be-released “Bee Movie” to attach audio clips or branded skins and icons to their photos through a future initiative to push the Jerry Seinfeld film. Activision has also signed on to advertise via Slide widgets.

Lions Gate is already running a campaign through Slide. Fans of the Bratz dolls can surround their photos with branded skins featuring characters from the upcoming movie based on the hot MGA Entertainment franchise, and glamorize slideshows with sparkles, gems and lots and lots of pink. Like other spreadable platforms and applications, viewers can easily generate their own photo widgets through the ones they see on sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, as well as blogs.

Widget advertising is in its infancy, and a variety of advertiser brands and media firms are testing the easily sharable apps. Using technology from its subsidiary PointRoll, newspaper and broadcast firm Gannett Company recently introduced a widget called Nimbus that dynamically updates weather information. The company serves “Run of Nimbus” network ads targeted based on weather conditions into the expandable widgets.

Slide advertiser Discovery Channel has also used NewsGator’s widget platform to push out its own content associated with programming such as “Shark Week.” Advertisers like Red Bull and Warner Bros. Records have tried out widgets, too.

“There are lots of conversations and CMO-level dictates to do something with widget advertising,” said Chawla.

Slide considers the decision to slap on branded elements an indication that users are endorsing the advertiser. “We believe our users are actually brand ambassadors,” said Sonya Chawla, senior director of advertising at Slide. “Every single ad they do is entirely user selected,” she added. Users don’t have to add branded elements to the photo and video applications if they don’t want to.

Using age and gender data provided by site publishers, Slide serves additional promotional units within the widgets; for instance, a star icon in the Bratz skins launches the film trailer. Interaction with the branded widgets can be tracked through third-party ad management systems.

The company sells ads on a CPM model, based on the number of times a widget is installed, though the branded apps can also be sold on a cost-per-action basis. “The easiest one to communicate [to advertisers] has been the CPM based model,” said Freedman.

Slide, which launched in 2005, has taken advantage of Facebook’s recently-opened platform to disseminate its Top Friends widget to users of the popular social site. Over 10 million of Facebook’s 31 million members have downloaded the app to display their favorite friends, reveal their current moods, and even send a digital drink to someone. Last month, Quantcast reported Slide’s U.S. daily unique visitor count rose 265 percent since Facebook opened its platform in May, from around 312,000 to over 1.1 million, an increase of 265 percent.

The company has done little if anything to promote distribution of its widgets, which began spreading after Slide seeded them on friends’ sites. “We’ve spent a whopping zero dollars on marketing,” said Freedman.

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