Ooqa-Ooqa Goes Polite

United Virtualities is an odd company.

Shoshkeles were weird enough. Everyone pronounces the word differently. Most folks shorten it to “shosh” because we can all agree on how that should be said. Others make it sound like a combination between a mosh pit and a ukulele. It’s an odd enough word, but so hard to pronounce that it leaves you wondering if it’s a stroke of marketing genius or a lesson in how not to launch a product.

Then came Ooqa-Ooqa, the subject of just as many pronunciation disagreements. You just feel silly saying it no matter what. I almost didn’t include it in a client presentation because no one on my team sounded normal trying to pronounce it. You can’t throw on a faux accent and fake your way through it. You wind up sounding like a bad jazz singer stumbling his way through a tricky scat verse.

(I must pause a moment to say to my contacts at United Virtualities and any of fans out there that I do have a lot of respect for the company. There’s some complimentary stuff coming, I promise.)

The company Web site is odd, too. The homepage looks like the weird stepchild of a DNA strand and K’Nex (remember K’Nex?). This is your navigation? The product-focused nav at the left makes sense, but the stuff along the top is frankly bizarre: “UV, we, now, things, talk”.

Huh?

It’s remarkable a company exhibiting this many oddities produces products that are so cool. But they are cool, and the UV team is great to work with. A new twist and re-launch of sorts for one of their products is particularly interesting.

Ooqa-ooqa has been around for years, but has always been kind of hard to grasp as a consumer advertising vehicle. The easiest way to think about it is as a branded browser. It’s essentially a “skin” for the otherwise useless (from a marketing perspective) chrome at the top of an Internet Explorer window, where the “back,” “forward,” “refresh” and other buttons live. Ooqa-ooqa takes that space and turns it into branded, souped-up marketing real estate.

The whole concept seemed far too intrusive the first time I saw it; a little too shocking for consumers. It’ll scare some folks, I thought, to see that part of their browser go nuts with 7-Up bubbles for (see the demo section on unitedvirtualities.com). Years ago, the first demo I saw edged dangerously close to the annoyance line. I pretty much dismissed it.

Now the format has been officially re-launched in the United States. I recently saw it combined with a takeover ad. A shosh came up and played, and as the ad wrapped up, rather than resolve to a banner, it resolved to the chrome and took over all the standard buttons. For the first time in a very long time, I actually said, “wow.” It was very cool. The Shosh makes it OK, somehow, because it just seems like part of the ad experience, and the whole thing has a close button that’s pretty clear. The approach suddenly makes the ooqa-ooqa “polite.”

The format supports all kinds of additional functionality. The way I think about it is that just about anything you can do in a shosh, you can now do in the chrome. That’s very cool.

It’s always a challenge to walk the line between being effectively intrusive and just plain annoying. While the new spin on ooqa-ooqa certainly doesn’t completely solve a potential freak-out factor, it takes steps in the right direction. Check it out, but be careful. Test it with small audiences and see if you can find a publisher who’s run it before, so the audience is prepared. You may not want to be the first advertiser to do it on a particular site, but it’s definitely worth a look.

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