Honda Test Drives the Ultramercial

When it began putting together its winter and spring 2006 media plan for Honda, longtime agency of record RPA had bigger plans for its TV spots than just… TV.

“We wanted to be able to extend our creative for television to the online space, to maximize the cost of production and take advantage of existing creative,” said Edmund Purcell, management supervisor at RPA.

To that end, the agency included in its buy an ad unit every online marketer has likely heard of but relatively few have actually used: the Ultramercial.

Ultramercial is perhaps the only ad unit bonded to paid Web sites by design. While its growth has been somewhat limited by the relative scarcity of paid content online, the company has also benefited from a unique end user value proposition that can’t be had with other units.

One thing RPA liked about Ultramercial is that it helped Honda create an “exchange basis relationship” with the consumer, said Purcell. “If they were willing to spend time with their brand, we were willing to help bring them content they wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive.”

Of course, that’s ostensibly the way all advertising works, but Purcell and Ultramercial contend the tit-for-tat is more explicit with Ultramercial. They also believe the ad format gives good engagement.

“I think it’s a smart extension of the threatened TV model: We’ll give you programming in exchange for our commercials,” said Purcell. “A lot of other video placements extend the threatened model. This doesn’t. It extends the model and uses the medium. We should use the Internet for what it is. I think this particular ad unit understands that dynamic. Most of them don’t.”

The campaign, which was part of a larger online video effort, began in December and will run through the end of this month. It included four different creative executions for three Honda vehicles: Odyssey, Civic, Ridgeline and Pilot.

RPA’s media buy for Honda included a site pass at Salon.com, a 14-day free trial at Rhapsody, a day pass into TheStreet’s premium site RealMoney and a session pass into ABC’s exclusive photo galleries for the show “Lost.”

The ad creative consisted of a number of :15 spots, followed by interactive elements that were baked into the experience. One such feature was a Ridgeline-themed “Concentration” game encouraging viewers to learn more about Ridgeline’s features.

Results for the Ultramercial executions were impressive. The click-through rate was “significantly” higher than Ultramercial’s Q1 average of 6.85 percent. They were also well above Ultramercial’s average CTR for the automotive vertical. Unfortunately, Honda declined to specify its precise click-through rates.

A perhaps more interesting metric is that users spent an average of 50 seconds interacting with the units. That’s at least 15 seconds more than is required to get through to the desired content, and it’s seven seconds more than Ultramercial’s Q1 average of 43.2 seconds.

“Fifteen seconds is half a :30 spot,” said Purcell. “We’ll take that additional engagement any day of the week.”

And what are those extra 15 seconds of interaction time attributable to? Why, quality creative of course.

“We’ve been working on online marketing for Honda since the very beginning of online marketing, for 12 or 13 years,” said Purcell. “We don’t just create an ad unit by slapping it together. We put in a lot of effort on these ads. We created an experience where engagement was relevant to the consumer, and it encouraged interaction. You could learn quite a lot about the product from the unit. We’re lucky in that we’re fully staffed to do this kind of thing and we take our time with it.”

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