Give Your Brand A High-Tech Jumpstart

Some of the clients I’ve worked with over the past few years have had very strong traditional brands. Back in the year or two following the commercial explosion of the web, many of these strong traditional brands wanted to be associated in some way with high technology and the web. For most, that meant an expensive web site. But even back in 1994 and 1995, when many traditionally-minded clients were grasping for a viable web strategy, some quick thinkers realized that there were other ways to associate their brand with high technology.

The first advertisers to think of alternate ways to get their brand on people’s computers offered downloadable GIFs and JPEGs that web surfers could use as wallpaper on their PCs. This was a cheap way to literally put a brand on someone’s desktop.

When I worked on the U.S. Army account at Young & Rubicam several years ago, one of the things that attracted people to the GoArmy.com web site was all the attractive art. I recall a client meeting at Fort Knox in which one of the senior account team members proclaimed to several high-ranking Army officials that he wished he had a “digital Hoover” that could suck up all of the attractive military-themed art hanging on the walls at Recruiting Command and make it available for download from the web site.

Many other traditional advertisers used the same strategy – offer a cool visual with your brand attached to it, and people that download it will put it on their desktops, where it can help to create an association between the brand and the high-tech world.

This strategy took the next logical step forward when traditional brands began offering downloadable screensavers. After all, why give a consumer a boring still picture when you could give them an animated screensaver?

Downloadable apps were the rage for a while. Sometimes you still see them around. Last week, I downloaded a 7 MB monstrosity called the “Miller Lite Beer Pager” or something to that effect, which turned out to contain an Instant-Messenger-meets-Calendar-App type of thing that lets you schedule drinking appointments with your friends. Neat-o. All the while this Beer Pager is hanging out on my desktop, it’s creating an association in my mind. And since I’m too lazy to uninstall it Well, you get the picture.

I’ve always been a fan of these types of out-of-the-box brand advertising. Okay – I think the Beer Pager might be a bit silly, but I’m still a big fan of the desktop strategy. And frankly, I don’t think it gets utilized enough.

If you’ve been reading this column for more than a couple months, you know that I’m a pretty avid PC gamer. I find it funny that everyone in the world seems to be trying to grab my attention when I’m surfing the web, but hardly anyone cares about grabbing my attention when I’m laying waste to my office comrades in a game of Quake III Arena.

This isn’t a new concept. Many online game forums allow for advertising on the games themselves. The folks at HearMe can put your brand on the backs of virtual playing cards on MPlayer.com. Sony Online Entertainment can splash your brand over online games like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

There are other ways to get into PC games. I’ve lately come across a few sites that allow users to download patches that can alter their favorite PC games to suit their tastes. A couple years back, someone sent me a file that changed all the nasty monsters from Doom into Storm Troopers from Star Wars. I thought it was the coolest thing.

What if an advertiser like Cadillac hired some programmers to write a similar patch that would change some of the cars in Driver (a popular 3D racing game) into Sedan DeVilles? Or maybe Goodyear writes a patch to place its famous blimp in games like Flight Simulator? Hmmm….

Maybe some of these traditional advertisers don’t want to get too complicated. After all, programmers are expensive. Still, there’s no reason why more advertisers don’t hire designers to make branded skins for applications like WinAmp and the NeoPlanet browser.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a skin is a file that can change the appearance of the user interface for a given application. They’re very easy to develop (instructions are usually posted on the same web sites where you can download the application for which you’re developing the skin). Skins are also a terrific example of viral marketing. They are typically small in size, and they often get passed around the Internet like online trading cards.

Sure, downloadable applications are harder to measure than your run-of-the-mill banner advertising, but if you’re in the online game to give your brand a high-tech jumpstart, ideas like the ones above could be just what the doctor ordered.

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