Does the Web Get the Best Part of Ad Campaigns?

Television spots that feature first-rate actors and directors. Double-page spreads in glossy fashion mags. Three-dimensional billboards that stretch the limits of the allotted space. Which of these is the epitome of advertising?

Which represents an ad in its superlative form, giving audiences the very best of a brand? The answer has vacillated over the years from one medium to the next. Increasingly, however, it’s looking like the winner is the Web.

Think of what brands are capable of achieving online. Digital media can now attract the same caliber of Hollywood heavyweights as TV. Those glossy print ads? Online, they become interactive. In terms of engagement, billboards have nothing on home page takeover ads. And as marketers come to realize how far they’re able to push their creativity as it applies to branded content, the Web quickly goes from being an afterthought to the nucleus of a campaign.


Last month, American fashion label Cole Haan launched “Born in 1928,” a cross-channel effort designed to celebrate the company’s 85th anniversary. To play up the year in which the brand launched, ads featured a handful of celebrities who share its 1928 birth year. Poet Maya Angelou, astronaut Jim Lovell, photographer Elliott Erwitt, and model China Machado all posed for black and white photographs with the images appearing in print, outdoor media, and Cole Haan stores. Arguably, though, the best of the campaign can be found online.

The brand shot a short video of each octogenarian for its Web page and social media assets, resulting in a collection of visual stories. Angelou recounts the time she sang a spiritual on stage in Egypt. Lovell tells of how he “lives on the edge.” Each video is utterly captivating, in a deeper way than the still images could ever be.

The campaign also includes a fair amount of related social media content, ranging from Instagram photos of other famous figures born in 1928, to a candid shot of Machado visiting a Cole Haan store that the brand posted to Facebook. There’s a Pinterest board devoted to the works of artists born in 1928. The brand even created a campaign-themed Tumblr page.

This kind of bonus material is often what makes a modern-day campaign. They might start out as supplementary, but the assets posted to social networks soon become a pivotal feature. Spend a few minutes perusing the countless brand pages on Tumblr and you’ll find a mass of great, exclusive content. It’s through the Web that marketers take consumers behind the scenes and deeper down the brand rabbit hole.

Digital media is ideally suited to storytelling, whether it takes the form of static images, animated GIFs, or videos. Traditional media limits brands to bite-sized ads that may not hold the viewer’s attention, but online, consumers routinely view and share viral videos several minutes long. Bounty’s recent video profile of Ken Delmar, an artist who uses the brand’s paper towels as his canvas, is 2:56 minutes in length, yet the story is engrossing and the delivery feels authentic. The video has already been viewed more than 750k times on YouTube, and has received a heap of consumer praise. Would viewers react the same way to a Bounty ad on TV?

It isn’t just that digital content is interesting; it’s timely, too. Oreo will forever have a place in the branding hall of fame for its impeccable Super Bowl and Royal Baby tweets (the latter read “Long live the cream”)–but let’s not forget that both posts were strategically consistent with Oreo’s offline campaign. Fischer-Price recently launched a series of lovely holiday-themed videos highlighting its line of toys for babies. Though the videos live online, they’re part of an overarching brand campaign.

As networks, publishers, and ad agencies compete for media dollars, one might think this a case of “us against them.” For all of its merits, digital content can require a hefty investment, and that can potentially lead to reallocating funds from traditional buys. Yet the Web excels at harmonizing with offline campaigns. Online content can up the ante for viewers by riffing on familiar brand themes, while delighting users with new material and methods of ad delivery. It can deepen the consumer-brand connection. If when we create content for the Web we make it cooperative, it won’t just absorb users online, but underscore the marketing efforts underway everywhere else.

The best online initiatives, whatever form they take, give a nod to brand communications as a whole. For marketers, there’s nothing better than that.

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