Podcasts, videos herald new ad era

Advertisers turn to Internet reality shows to build brands

Plugged In

August 24, 2006|By Eric Benderoff | Eric Benderoff,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Chris Lawrence knows how to get people to watch an online reality show that promotes a dull product: get them to laugh at themselves and learn at the same time.

"People don't wake up in the morning thinking about what kind of paper towel they will buy," said the group account director for Minneapolis ad agency Fallon Worldwide. So Fallon developed an online campaign for Brawny paper towels that encourages men to be better husbands through a series of humorous challenges that teaches them how to clean.

The Brawny Academy series is among a number of advertising experiments popping up across the Internet using original video programming, podcasting and even downloadable ringtones to shape a new era of brand promotion.

The experiments abound, such as videos and text-messaged pet care tips offered by Purina and the "Heather & Jonelle" podcast at Johnson & Johnson's Acuvue site, where two teenagers talk more about issues than contact lenses.

In the battle to capture consumers' attention in today's cluttered media world, advertisers are learning new ways to control a brand message. But whether consumers find the message is a major concern.

The goal is to draw eyes and ears and then hope people share it with others. They could e-mail a video to a friend or have it posted on a site like YouTube.com where it could spread virally across the Web.

"You can create a better relationship online, more immersive," said Dave Friedman, president of the central region for Avenue A/Razorfish, based in Chicago.

Online advertising spending this year on video and media such as podcasts, is expected to be about $1.8 billion, roughly equal to text advertising, according to a July report from JupiterResearch. By 2011, video and other online media ads are expected to hit $4.9 billion, dwarfing the $2.9 billion expected for text ads, Jupiter estimated.

Consider Episode 2 of the Brawny Academy series (www.brawnyacademy.com). It opens with the Brawny Man (played by actor John Brennan) in the bathroom of a cabin in the woods.

Seemingly surprised by the camera, he says: "Hey, you caught me. I was just putting this toilet seat down. My mom used to say, `True love is never having to sit on a cold, exposed toilet rim.' It reminds me of one of the things we are teaching here at the Brawny Academy, empathizing with the woman in your life."

The scene shifts to the cabin's central room where the Brawny Man talks to the contestants about a coming challenge.

"Probably the No. 1 complaint your wives have about you guys is that you live like pigs and that they are constantly having to pick up after you. Case in point. (Brawny man looks around the room, a mess after a night of poker playing and cigar smoking.) But here at Brawny Academy, if you live like pigs, you live with pigs. Bring them in, boys."

Nine pigs storm into the room and start doing what pigs do, rutting around and making a bigger mess.

"All right, here's your first task," the Brawny Man explains. "You guys need to clean this place up while these pigs are going around making more of a mess. Kind of what your wives have to deal with."

Five episodes of the reality show are posted, with eight scheduled to air before the end of September.

As entertaining as the show is, there are risks for Brawny.

For one, it's the first time in the 30-year existence of the Brawny Man character that he has been brought to life as a real person, said Steven Sage, vice president of category marketing for Brawny, which is owned by Georgia-Pacific Corp.

"That was a very big decision," Sage said. "It's clear that [online] is a space you have to be, but it's early. There is a lot of experimentation going on.

"Our premise at the beginning was to direct people online and get some viral marketing going, to hopefully have it passed on to other people," he said. "With television, you don't have the ability to share that content with someone else, so the Web is a fascinating place for a marketer to play in.

"But at the end of the day, we are trying to sell paper towels."

Friedman, of Avenue A/Razorfish, said it is possible to study how engaged people are with a brand online. You "quantify" engagement by how long they stay at a site and what they looked at. All of that is measurable, including the time of day people went to a site, which is important if they were prompted by a more traditional TV ad.

But he added that "the tools to measure the customer experience online are still evolving."

There also is the old-school tactic of using television, print and radio ads to try to drive people to a Web site, a technique Brawny is also using.

Marketers call this "pulling" people to the message.

"Consumers are seeking the information, but they have control of where they go, and to a degree, choose the people they want to advertise to them," Friedman said.

Eric Benderoff writes for the Chicago Tribune

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