Bringing the offline online is difficult. Asking someone with no desire to pull their phone from their pocket and interact with a brand to do just that is the dream of every advertising team, but what’s the magic formula? Gamification? Yeah, that’s worked in the past. Bad news, though: the people at the top of the industry claim that that particular carrot is about to drop off the stick.
How do you drag the offline online, why is doing it so important and what’s the next ‘-fication’ that’ll solve all your worries? Fret not, advertising world; we can rebuild you. We have the technology…
Getting people to pay attention to you used to be easy, you know; you’d just shout and use bright colours. People sure do love them some bright colours and shouty noises. Or they did, anyway.
The problem now is that advertising’s more a part of daily life than having a nice sit down, so it often loses its attention-grabbing effect. It’s white noise. Everyone’s got ad-blindness. What you need to do now, then, is steal people’s attention by incentivising them to play with your brand. That means not just looking at a logo, but actually doing something with it.
Last month Tesco became the latest in a widening range of companies to twiddle with your innately repressed reaction to wizzy colours and touchscreens. Why? Because interactivity on the street is proving to be a surefire way to get people through your doors – whether they’re virtual or otherwise.
In 2011, someone high up at Tesco’s South Korean ‘Home Plus’ division (presumably) travelled back from the year 2032 and declares that the company needs to install virtual shelves in Seoul’s subway network. And so that’s what it did. Customers with time to spare on the platform could scan pictures of items on the virtual shelves, and they’d be added to their app’s virtual basket. It made for hyperbolic headlines about how supermarkets will completely transform in the future. The phrase ‘Minority Report’ was bandied about, as is usually the done thing.
Last month, Tesco brought that idea to the UK, trialling similar touchscreen kiosks in the departure lounges at Gatwick Airport. Don’t fancy coming home to an empty fridge? Scan the items you want – from a list of the 80 most commonly bought items – and they’ll fling themselves into the basket on your Tesco Groceries app and be delivered just after you and your freshly peeling skin walk through your front door.
It’s all nice and fun to muck about on, but make no bones about it: the giant, inviting screens are nothing but brightly-lit, floor-level billboards designed to coerce people into downloading the Tesco app. Which is fair enough, really; of all of Tesco’s online customers, just eight per cent do their shopping solely with a mobile device. Some devout store customers probably don’t even know that there is an app, but might well be swayed to use it if they play through what’s essentially a corporate edutainment game. We’re talking about people like your mum.
To that end, people who want to come and have a go on the glowy kiosks – but who don’t have the app installed – will promptly be led down the one true path by a Tesco rep lying in wait.
Tracking the results
With this system, Tesco will have a measurable means of tracking app downloads: trial the shiny thing for X amount of time, and then jot down app account sign-ups in that time. Divide by the number of people you’d expect to sit about in Gatwick anyway, carry the 7 and there you go.
Roaring success? Do it again, only moreso. Everyone’s scared of it? Well, don’t, obviously. Thing is, with this sort of exercise you’re almost guaranteed to pick up new customers. And by the service’s very nature, a percentage will be repeat customers forever and ever amen.
Tesco’s the new kid here, though.
Last year, McDonalds launched its second digital billboard in Sweden in two years. The ‘Pick and Play’ ad hoisted itself above the middle of Stockholm, inviting general public punter types to enter into a button-mashing 30 seconds of billboard Pong, controlled by the mobile magic boxes in their pockets. And guess what? Creative agency DDB and McDonalds got this one really, really right.
Stroke of genius number 1: You didn’t need to download an app or sign up to anything – it was all done via a mobile website and GPS.
Stroke of genius number 2: Anyone who outfoxed the computer pong rival for the full duration was rewarded with a digital coupon (flung at pace to their phone) that’d drive them straight to the nearest branch of McDonalds.
This was an evolution of an arguably far simpler effort launched by the same firm in 2010, in which you’d have to try and take a photo of a sundae as it careered across the digital hoarding. Do that and you’d earn one of the treats yourself, again driving you through McDonalds’ door.
Both are simple, relatively inexpensive, and do a fine job of spinning what would otherwise be seen as marketing white noise into actual money makers. It’s cutting-edge, real world gamification, and it’s worked well as a marketing tactic for a couple of years now. McDonalds, in this instance, has driven in actual record numbers.
“This digital sign is a brief for us to solve every year, and every year we try to make the most of it,” says Magnus Jakobsson, DDB Stockholm’s Creative Director. “This time it became a truly playable outdoor sign.”
But, as Jakobssen is keen to point out, you need to strike a balance between clever idea and accessibility. It’s no good upping the wizardry if it’s just going to fly over everyone’s heads. “A technically advanced idea has to be simple to work for everyone. Particularly if it’s advertising. The Pong-style game was used because of its simplicity. The important thing was that it would be playable directly via a site, not by downloading an app. This had to be as fast and simple as passing a billboard.”
According to Jakobssen, if you’ve got to download an app, you might as well be “9000 miles away” from the billboard in question.
But, as the ad proved, if you can get people engaged, you’ll reap handsome rewards. “Pick and Play gathered 100s of players, 1000s of viewers and millions of fans during a series of Saturdays in May,” Jakobssen continues.
“The premiere Saturday we attracted 460 players during 5 hours; which resulted in 400 cashed-in coupons, and helped create a record-sale (the best Saturday of the year) for the closest McDonalds.” Get similar results from a frozen graphic and we’ll buy you 400 Big Macs ourselves. Thing is, actual sales is just one facet of the hoarding’s success.
“Pick and Play gained 4 million hits on Google. A film documenting the event reached over 400,000 views on YouTube within the first month. Over the course of the campaign the ad was ‘in game’ over 85 per cent of the time.” This, on top of some pretty far-reaching media attention.
Killing time, or drawn in?
Naturally, there’s a common factor among the success stories in this field. Generally, you’ve got to grab people when they’re most willing to do stuff: when they’re bored out of their idle commuter minds. Tesco’s Gatwick exercise proves this.
Billboards in public squares do the same job, really – attracting and distracting people who’re waiting for friends, busses or a purpose in life.
So, bored people are a market to shoot for. But you already knew that. How about we march in a few things you didn’t? Well, for a start, how about the fact that the gamification trend is already all but over?
The death of gamification
“Interactivity is and will be important in the future, but I believe that ‘Gamification’ as we know it (do x, win x) won’t last longer than, say, March next year,” concludes DDB’s Jakobsson. “It [advertising] has to be engaging in new ways.”
“Social experiments and so on are coming on strong, and I believe ideas like these have to be smarter/engaging in ways other than ‘just a game’ in the future. Gamification is over, but there are loads of other ‘-ifications’ out there, so to speak.”
Other -ifications? Erm… Like what? Well, we’ve already seen some possibilities, even if no one’s been bold enough to name them yet. That’s probably because the names start to sound a bit mental. Like feelgoodification…
In June this year, the team at US-based Breakfast NY put together a properly jaw-dropping campaign for a US TV show that you’ve probably never heard of called Perception. Using the kind of motion sensing witchcraft that lets Microsoft’s Kinect track your Gran as she plods around the living room, along with – get this – the natural allure of an interesting noise, the Perception ad literally stopped people in their tracks.
“The sidewalks of New York are a lot like a highway,” says the agency’s Grimshaw-bouffanted creative director Andrew Zolty. “It’s incredibly hard to get someone to slow down.”
Well yeah, but it’s clearly not impossible; let people pretend they’re a kid again and they’ll quickly forget all about wherever the hell it was they were speeding along to. Which, when you think about your average New Yorker’s perceived sense of importance, is an impressive thing to manage. The ad just made people feel good, pure and simple.
The social elements that Jakobsson hinted at are also at the frontier of brand interaction. Mr Kipling capitalised on this earlier in the year, for instance, when it installed 19 bus stop billboards around the UK that dispensed up to 500 gratis Victoria Sponges per day. Dishing out inventory for free pays dividends when people start tweeting and Facebooking about it.
If you strip that basic idea back to its bones, you don’t even especially need to use anything with even a hint of technology of a snifter of sugar about it. In March this year, Shed Simove, the man with such a forward-thinking brain that he’s famed for inventing the ‘Flying Fuck’ toy helicopter, installed this in London:
Simple genius, that; it got people tweeting, sharing and sending pictures of his book (bottom right of the pic) without even actually being asked to. And there’s nary a motion sensor or blinking light in sight. It’s just a bit of lateral thinking and good timing (this was done a week ahead of Mother’s Day). Treat people well enough, and the unwitting masses become your grassroots marketing team.
The next wave
Ok, so, with the right kind of thinking it’s possible to get anyone’s attention. But getting someone’s attention is just half the battle, and if you only stop there, you’re already being beaten. Other brands are doing great things in terms of getting people who’re not on the internet, onto the internet. And that, in blue-sky marketing language, widens the purchase funnel. Get someone to a mobile website and they’ll do one of three things:
- Post about the brand/ad on a social network
- Hand over their email address or phone number
- Walk into a store
You’ve got to make one of those three things happen now, because if you can’t somebody else will. That’s the crux of the thing – in 2012, a simple picture or video ad is a chocolate teapot.
Are billboards becoming nothing but white noise? Yeah, standard ones with a logo and slogan probably are. We’re a bit beyond the naive titilation of ‘Hello Boys’ now, see. We’re also not quite yet at the Minority Report level of tailored advertising, but we are getting there.
To that end, we’ll leave you with two thoughts:
Clever thought number 1: At some point in the next five years we’ll all be wearing some version of Google’s Project Glass headsets. These will be geographically aware and throw us all into a world of augmented reality. Which, when you think about it, is an advertiser’s playground just waiting to be explored.
Clever thought number 2: Why, in the name of all that is holy, has no one yet put some sort of interactive, mobile phone-including game on the digital screens that line London Underground’s escalators? That’s a completely captive audience you’ve got there, for about 30 seconds per go.
We’re happy to give that idea up to whoever wants it, as long as it means we’ll be able to use that dead time to get something for free, rather than just stare at our hands and worry that we’ve rubbed escalator muck onto our face, as per usual.
Either way, if you’ve got the right approach, the right tech or just a good enough hook, every hoarding can become a goldmine, prying open the user-to-sales bottleneck and driving up every type of interaction. Gamification may be dying, but there are always a myriad other ways to drive the offline, online.
One thing’s abundantly clear: if you don’t manage it, somebody else will.
Thoughts? Scrawl them underneath…