Launch That Campaign With A Bang!

Last week, NBC partnered with social networking portal to broadcast the premiere episode of the network’s new sitcom, “The Office,” online. Site visitors had the opportunity to watch the entire first episode over a week before it’s set to air on broadcast TV. The event was intended to increase awareness and generate buzz prior to the show’s official release.

Internet advertisers, I think we’ve just found our saving grace.

You’re sure to have encountered no shortage of statistics. Consumers, researchers say, continue to have very low online ad tolerance. A September 2004 study from the Ponemon Institute, Revenue Science, and Chapell & Associates found 44 percent of U.S. consumers think Internet ads should be legally banned or limited by law.

Without going into the absurdity of these Internet users failing to recognize most online content can’t survive without advertising revenue, I’ll just say it seems a good portion of them remain unmoved by what we’re doing on the Web.

Marketers are making every effort to rectify this perception, including increasing ad relevance through contextual and behavioral marketing. Even these great strides aren’t enough to get consumers as excited about online advertising as they are about, say, Super Bowl spots. Consumers don’t yet amass Absolut skyscrapers the way they collect the brand’s print ads. Rarely does the phrase “You’ve got to see that ad” apply to Web placements.

Because the Internet isn’t a medium for entertainment alone, we’ll always struggle with converting consumers into advertising evangelists… unless we start taking a different approach.

Consider the concept of offering a preview to consumers before formally launching a program. By prescreening “The Office” online, a remake of the hysterical and eccentric original BBC series, NBC stands to not only open with an already loyal audience but spawn the type of word-of-mouth promotion that could secure a sizeable following. In other words, extending an exclusive invitation to Internet users to view the new program sets the network apart.

Imagine if the same could be achieved with online advertising. To date, most new campaigns launch quietly. Advertisers may promote their intentions within the industry, in trade publications and on sites like ClickZ, but rarely do they inform their customers in advance. Neglecting to flaunt a new campaign among those for whom it’s intended sends the message it isn’t particularly exceptional. It’s a surefire way to relegate a campaign to obscurity.

Instead of dooming your advertising from the start, why not invite consumers to participate in its launch? Post news of your impending launch in your email newsletter. Spread the word in consumer blogs. Partner with a portal or network and offer an exclusive preview of your ads. The objective is to both relay pride in your campaign to consumers and encourage them to seek out and embrace your ads online.

You can pique their interest even further by inviting them to be part of the campaign development process. Survey your audience on existing creative, for instance, and put their recommendations for change into effect. Conduct a contest for the best tagline, or send out a request for material to be used in your new ads, as Mercedes-Benz did last year. Mercedes’ campaign incorporated pictures of real-life Mercedes owners posing with their cars. You can bet it had consumers actively seeking out every version of the ad they could find.

There’s no question online advertising has the potential to make mainstream media headlines, attract new customers, and make existing ones even more loyal. To achieve this on a mass scale, advertisers must start generating some much-needed hype. Inviting consumers to get involved in your ad concepts and the campaign launch is just one way to stomp out online advertising’s negative connotations.

As an advertiser, advertise your excitement. You’re sure to see it spread among your target audience. It’s about time we heard a consumer say, “Online advertising rocks!”

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