Campaigns With Character

As the year draws to a close and our thoughts turn to 2006, there’s no better time to reminisce about the previous 12 months. For interactive marketers, of course, that includes the year’s ad campaigns.

2005 was the year of brand humanization. A number of interactive marketers created fictional characters to represent their products and brands and featured them in both online and integrated advertising campaigns.

As blogs are used to put a human face on corporations by introducing people to company executives and employees, this approach establishes and solidifies the relationship between consumer and brand. It’s a welcome departure from the ordinary and a memorable way to emphasize a product’s attributes.

Uncle Yaris

That’s just what Toyota Canada did this year with its amusing Canadian “Uncle Yaris” campaign. To attract a youthful demographic for its new Yaris subcompact, the company launched a marketing effort centering on a fictional character, Uncle Yaris. It began with a teaser site that later drew parallels between the hip but eccentric character and the Yaris car.

The theme continued offline with TV spots, billboards, and print ads. “Uncle Yaris was born in Europe,” for example, reflects the car’s European styling, while “Uncle Yaris goes and goes” represents the fact the Toyota Yaris is fuel-efficient. The glue of the campaign comes in the form of the microsite, where consumers can learn more about both the model and Uncle Yaris.

The site includes a blog, “Uncle Yaris Speaks,” which offers a lot of seemingly useless facts designed to emphasize Uncle Yaris’ quirkiness. More effective is the “As Uncle Yaris Sees It” section, which features additional parallels between the character and the car. Given the Toyota Yaris is new to market (expected release is early 2006), Uncle Yaris is sure to prove helpful in generating both interest and product recall among young Canadian consumers.

The Mudds

If you didn’t “Meet the Mudds” this year, you missed on another humorous, engaging interactive advertising effort. The new campaign for DaimlerChrysler’s Jeep brand featured an adventurous, mud-covered family whose story was told through biweekly Webisodes and a blog, and in person appearances at offline events.

It also included DIRECTV and mobile marketing components, as well as a virtual geocaching (define) contest in which visitors to the Mudds microsite could obtain clues to where the Mudds had hidden geocaches that offered more information about the family and the chance to win a 2006 Jeep Commander. Additional sweepstakes entries could be obtained by downloading content from the Mudds site and forwarding information to friends — a classic viral marketing tactic.

Cindy, the Hostess With the “Mostess”

Just in time for the holidays, Kraft Foods launched an online banner campaign for its Ritz brand. The campaign introduces Cindy, “the hostess with the mostess,” who, when it comes to entertaining, has “all kinds of neat ideas to share.”

Kraft’s campaign includes rich media banners with audio created by Unciast. The ads appear on lifestyle sites, including iVillage and E.W. Scripps properties, as well as on MSN and Yahoo They offer tips on how to increase the festivity factor with holiday recipes and snack ideas.

Internet users can further bond with Cindy on the Ritz site, where she acts as a friendly guide, appearing from time to time with hints and tips. Cindy also has a dedicated site section called “Dear Cindy,” in which visitors can read letters from Ritz consumers in sticky entertaining situations (“I was hosting a small get together that suddenly turned into a large one…”), and view Cindy’s helpful responses, which, naturally, advise everyone to keep Ritz crackers on hand.

Whether your ultimate objective is to boost brand awareness, educate consumers about your product, or increase sales, establishing a lively individual to represent what you sell can be exceptionally effective. Get personal with your customers, and infuse your campaigns with some much needed character.

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