Killer Desktop Apps, Part 2: Look Who’s Talking…

In part one of this series, we talked about desktop applications. From continually updated weather information to desktop music players and RSS aggregators, desktop apps are becoming increasingly important to consumers and increasingly attractive to online media planners and buyers. One of the most popular desktop tools of all is IM.

Can We Talk?

No, I’m not talking about face-to-face conversation (how antiquated). Are you still catching up on gossip over the water cooler? How yesterday. Playing voicemail tag? Completely old school. I’m telling you, IM is where it’s at.

IM apps allow you to see if your peer group is online, on the phone, offline, busy, or out to lunch. If they’re online when you are, you can send real-time messages back and forth. IM comes in various forms, the most popular being from AOL, MSN, and Yahoo

As long as we’re talking, let me tell you my wish is each and every one of you have experienced the wonders of IM. The reality is some of you probably haven’t. For some, it’s because corporate IT departments are unwilling to allow these applications. For others, your peer group hasn’t adopted IM as a standard communication form.

IM isn’t limited to online chatting anymore. It allows you to do some very cool things. You can route messages to your mobile phone. Participate in video chats. Check the weather. In fact, a recent ClickZ article focused on some of IM’s cooler features, centered around the notion of IM as a social platform.

One of IM’s shortcomings is the lack of interoperability between the major IM platforms. Someone using MSN’s platform cannot engage in an IM conversation with someone on Yahoo’s platform. A recent announcement indicates this won’t be a long-term problem. For now, though, it’s still a challenge.

There are independent IM tools that allow for cross-platform communication, however. These include Trillian, Pexit, and Miranda.

Let’s look at the big players and the growing opportunities.

According to comScore’s April 2004 numbers, AOL IM (AIM) is the largest IM platform, with just over 32 million users. Yahoo comes in second with about 20 million; and MSN brings up the rear with approximately 17 million users.

AIM offers streaming video placement; branded bots (which supply automated answers to consumer questions); and branded skins, called “Expressions,” which brand the user interface.

One of the coolest things about AIM is the branded bot. The Wall Street Journal Online’s branded bot, for example, allows users to request stock quotes and get the latest world, technology, and (naturally) financial news through the IM interface.

MSN’s IM features include branded games and pregame ad units. It has a great movie tie-in going now for Hilary Duff’s new film, “A Cinderella Story.” When you play checkers with someone through the IM interface, the checkerboard and pieces are all branded for the film. If you ever wanted to play checkers with pink game pieces, now’s your chance…

One of Yahoo Messenger’s cool features is IMVironments. More than a simple skin of Yahoo’s interface, IMVironments permits truly branded interaction. Purina’s IMVironment is a great example.

Not just a forum for online conversation, it also offers a virtual pet. Purina’s IMVironment allows the user to pick an interface, select the pet’s name, feed and water the pet, and play “catch,” all within the IMVironment. Purina encourages prolonged interaction by only allowing access to certain features after a certain number of messages are sent via the branded IMVironment.

This is all pretty cool, right? But what’s the benefit of incorporating this type of ad platform into a media plan? Advertising in an IM environment can achieve a few objectives:

  • The cool factor. Every media vehicle is battling clutter issues. The problem is hardly limited to the online environment. Standing out from your competitors is more important, and more difficult, than ever. IM ad platforms have the cool factor that makes an advertiser stand out — not to mention the lack of clutter within the platform itself.

  • Blurred lines. We know most consumers say they don’t like/don’t respond to/are annoyed by online advertising. A platform that does a great job of blurring the lines between advertising and utility is wonderful. On this platform, users actively and happily interact with the advertisement. Purina takes that idea a step further with its IM ad by seamlessly incorporating repeat ad exposures.
  • The virus. The IM ad platform has a built-in viral component. Users who download an IMVironment or play a game with a friend pass that application’s background to the person they’re IMing. So, the person I’m conversing with is exposed to the advertising that’s part of my IM background. Who knows? My conversational partners may also want to download the background themselves (and pass it to another person, and potentially everyone they talk to).

Whichever platform you prefer, IM is an important environment for consumers. It’s one you should seriously consider for your media plans. I’m telling ya…

And if you’ve got something to tell me about how IM applications can be used in a unique way or have ideas on desktop apps I should explore in future columns, please let me know.

Join us at ClickZ’s upcoming AdForum and at Search Engine Strategies.

Vote for your favorite product or campaign from July 20 through close of business August 2.

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