Site Gimmicks – When to Say When

Let’s face it: in the online world of abundance, grandeur, and immediacy, it’s tough to get ahead. However far we’re willing to go (and have gone, sometimes against our better judgment) to garner attention for our brands, it never seems quite far enough. Tomorrow, our biggest competitors will launch a new microsite, game, or social media stunt that has us skulking back in the war room to plan our counter attack. Our only consolation as we work is knowing that sometime, somehow, enough will be enough.

It isn’t easy to know when that time will come. For some brands, it’s when they least expect it. For example, when Chevy invited consumers to create their own Chevy Tahoe ads, or when Skittles brought forth a new home page that fed its customers social media content, lewd jokes and all. No doubt, these ideas seemed golden in brainstorming sessions. At the same time, risks can be incredibly rewarding, as Levi’s, Hershey’s, and HBO have demonstrated both online and off.

So how do you know when to say “Hey, this gimmick is more style than substance,” or deem something just too over-the-top? Is it even possible to gauge in advance how consumers will respond? And if you could, would you sacrifice your big idea or let it run in the hope that the hype it generates, whether positive or negative, will be enough to propel your brand forward? Test your skills by considering these uber-gimmicky offerings and rank their likelihood of success by commenting below.

The Sweetest Sites?

When Portuguese beer brand Sagres was preparing to launch its new chocolate-flavored stout, it tasked its digital agency with devising a unique way to promote it. The result: a website made entirely of chocolate. The agency designed the site, hired a master chocolatier to craft the components in chocolate, photographed the bonbons, and uploaded the images to bring the chocolate online. Early on in the campaign users were invited to sample actual pieces of the chocolate site along with the new beer (watch a video about the campaign here).


Unique? Yes, but perhaps not to the degree that you might think. Whittaker’s Chocolate launched “The world’s first chocolate website” in New Zealand back in April of this year. It wanted to showcase its chocolate craftsmanship, and did so by creating a mold of its home page, filling it with Whittaker’s chocolate, photographing it, cracking it apart into individual buttons, and photographing it again before inviting site visitors to “indulge.”


Are these digital marketing gimmicks incredibly clever, or a little too quirky? Are they sweet enough to entice consumers to buy the products, but more than that, will those products stand up to consumer interest in the sites? These are the questions marketers must ask before taking a bite out of online gimmicks.

A Flash in the Pan?

If in doubt about how to attract attention to their digital marketing efforts, brands invariably turn to Flash. It may facilitate fun and functionality, but we’ve also been known to take its use too far.

Is this the case with Tiffany’s recently launched What Makes Love True? The site has a lot going for it: a legacy of romantic ads from the brand, a famous Hollywood star (Edward Burns directed the short film that appears on the site). It also has an interactive “Love Is Everywhere” map that allows users to tag their romantic moments around the world and post anonymous notes about the experiences they shared there.


Besides asking oneself whether the site invokes the sense of romance inherent to the brand and its products, we must question how it (and our own brand efforts) could be improved upon. Does it make enough use of social media to sustain ongoing viral momentum and growth? Does it set consumer expectations for social interaction only to limit the campaign to the brand site?

Similar questions can be asked of Magnum Ice Cream’s Pleasure Hunt…or can they? This effort, too, makes beautiful use of Flash technology, but the result is something unlike anything consumers are likely to have seen. Part video game, part digital adventure, users can control the character’s actions to collect ice cream bars while seemingly moving through websites promoting all manner of luxury products and services; the character dodges wild animals at an African safari on one site, and tumbles a pile of buttons on the next in order to get to ice cream bars out of reach.



The intended advertiser message is that in the hunt for the “ultimate pleasure,” Magnum Ice Cream is tops. Does the site do this message justice? Does the experience – which can run anywhere from a few minutes to over five depending on the user’s speed – demand too much time and effort?

You be the judge.

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