Media Buyers Get Involved in Their Communities

When we launch a new marketing campaign, we often don’t know quite where we’ll end up. In every case I can think of, the initial concept proceeded through countless transfigurations before it went live — and some after. What starts off as a great idea can take some serious massaging before it’s client- and consumer-ready.

Often, a yen for consumer participation shapes the campaign outcome, particularly when marketers realize the importance of what their clients’ target audiences have to say. This can lead to the evolution of the simplest promotional ideas into something truly engaging, something with real staying power. I was recently pointed to a site that’s both.

Taking a Detour

When Saturn and its partner, Rodale, a health and wellness content publisher, first hatched the idea of Find Your Detour, it was to be a simple promotional microsite. Through it, the automaker aimed to reach a niche audience of active, health-conscious consumers.

At first Saturn used the site primarily to promote a branded contest, with additional media support from Rodale’s stable of online and offline media properties, including “Men’s Health,” “Prevention,” and “Runner’s World” magazines. Quickly, the two companies realized the site could be more and the key to connecting with this audience would be marrying content with community interaction in a meaningful way.

Social media technology company Pluck Corp. was brought in to infuse the microsite with social networking and blogging capabilities that promoted user interaction. In the spring of 2007, the site was relaunched as a full-fledged social hub that merged expert content from sports authorities like Gabrielle Reese with consumer commentary, essays, and photos. Oh, and that original contest? It’s an ongoing feature.

“The interactivity, which started out fairly simple, has become a full-on social experience on the site,” says Eric Newman, Pluck’s general manager. “It’s all wrapped up with the Saturn brand, but there’s no talk of cars on the site.”

In fact, to an outsider Saturn’s participation resembles a third-party media buy. There’s a banner at the top of the page and a home page logo placement reminiscent of a traditional site sponsorship. That, Newman says, is what makes the site such a successful example of a marketing-campaign-turned-branded-community portal.

Increasingly, media buys are becoming more interactive, whether as the result of the format employed or the tools and features incorporated into a campaign microsite. Call it the flavor of the week, but inviting current and potential customers to partake in the discussion is clearly where it’s at for media buyers and planners.

Debating the Issue

If the outcome of Find Your Detour doesn’t offer enough persuasion, take a look at “The Economist” Debate Series, sponsored by tech behemoth Intel. An Oxford-style debate that takes place on the site, the interactive sessions feature experts addressing both sides of a hot political or cultural topic and encourage the audience to enter the “debate hall” and share their own opinions on the matter.

Here again the advertiser has shunned contextually relevant subject matter in favor of the interests of a niche audience, and again the Internet community is invited into the conversation. It gives a whole new meaning to the concept of an interactive media buy, doesn’t it?

As a marketing channel, social media is still relatively new. There are no guarantees as to how consumers will respond to brands being inserted into seemingly unrelated content, but there’s no question they’re eager to share their views on topics of interest, and advertisers like Saturn and Intel can facilitate that. This may not have been what the brands had in mind when they first broached the subject of a new online campaign. I’m quite certain, though, they’re pleased with the results.

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