Return of Big-Bang Campaigns

The Internet is on fire again. All the attention and investment is fueling a creative renaissance. Online campaigns have been getting bigger, bolder, flashier, and more complex. Check out Yahoo’s home page. It’s likely to have a large ad unit, often dynamic and above the fold. Several times last week, ads consumed a quarter of the page, prime real estate on one of the Internet’s most-visited sites. The trend began in earnest last May with the Coke C2 launch on the MSN and Yahoo home pages. Coke spent an estimated $50 million on the entire C2 online campaign.

Since then, automotive and entertainment companies (primarily) have invested in high profile ads on portals home pages, purchasing the east and west mantles, plus an overlay. These ad units are very expensive, particularly when customized. Depending on what you buy and when it runs, prices can range from six to seven figures.

What are you buying? Reach certainly. And, if you have an immersive experience such as a game or special promotion behind the ad, as many do, you create a dialogue with a customer that can last five to eight minutes.

Last week, Mitsubishi launched a big splash campaign for the 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse, which involved an innovative Yahoo home page takeover. When visitors arrived on Yahoo, they saw an Eclipse drive across the screen and park itself in one of two large Mitsubishi banners with an invitation to take the “Thrill Ride Challenge.” When users clicked the car, they could “drive” it around their computer screen, using arrow keys on their keyboard to steer. The right and left keys turned the car, up and down keys shifted gears. This was the first time a car could be driven across Yahoo’s screen, leaving skid marks across the page as it moved. The campaign concept was created by Atmosphere BBDO, BBDO North America’s interactive arm. Organic, an Omnicom network sister company, executed the campaign.

Why do advertisers choose to pursue these complex, expensive campaigns? “Portal home page buys are the easiest and most logical way to reach a large audience of Internet users. More eyeballs are on Yahoo, MSN, and AOL than on prime-time television,” said Heidi Browning, Organic executive media director. “And the ads are often engaging, so the consumer spends more time actively experiencing the brand than they do passively watching them on television. Plus, proof of delivery is simple because the ads are very easy to find, and we all like to see where our marketing dollars are going.”

How and when do you spend a million to make an splash?

  • Do it when you have a big launch or special event. The best time to consider it is when you have a major launch backed up with a big idea. Product launches, movies, or video game releases are logical candidates. So is highlighting a special event, such as a one-day promotion or a major sale.

  • Make it part of a larger, more engaging experience. To get the most value from a home page takeover, have a clear call to action so consumers engage in a dialogue with the brand, register to get more information, request a price quote, and so forth. Otherwise, the ad unit is just a big banner or an expensive billboard with low click through. Think of the ad as the first part of a richer, complete experience for the user.
  • Test and refine before launch, then measure carefully. Home page takeovers don’t allow for much optimization, if any; you have one shot to get it right. With such large investments, advertisers should try to test and refine concepts before they go live. When setting a measurement strategy, think through the total experience so you can measure viewers actions all along the way. Only then can you calculate true return on investment (ROI).

With broadband having reached critical mass and ad dollars pouring into the Internet channel, expect to see more big-bang campaigns.

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