Built to last

In the past 7 days, these two things showed up. The first one is a campaign for ALL detergent, done by Razorfish. The second one is a campaign for GE, done byThe Barbarian Group. [Disclaimer: before I go on to butcher the campaign #1, I want to say that, while I have no respect for RF’s current work, I do have respect for people who work at this company, and especially for people who created this campaign, as I know them and I assume they worked very hard on this]. Ok, free to carry on.

I don’t want to focus here on the advertising quality of the effort #1, or if this campaign resonated with the target, or if the videos are funny (you be the judge). What I want to focus on is if this kind of advertising makes any sense. So, here comes the GE Adventure, as a PERFECT example of what I think the web is good not only for brands but as an marketing approach that makes much more sense.

Now, I very rarely, if ever, get excited about online campaigns or use the word “perfect” in caps when talking about something an agency had done. (I get more excited about stuff that people do & make online). But when I saw the GE Adventure blog, the idea got me all worked up [in a good way]. First, I thought it was an incredibly smart branding effort. It made us think that some brand I never think about is a real company with the real scientists thinking about solving people’s real problems and being a real, helpful part of their lives [just reading that blog made me think how we in fact need GE for all their scientific work. totally crazy — i would never ever have had that thought if i watched a GE commercial]. It actually reminds us that companies are much more than their marketing. Then, it exposed stuff about the brand that we would never be able to see and that is honestly much more interesting to see than any advertising. And, finally, it promotes transparency on both ends (agency’s and brand’s). Also, and this is not trivial, it looks like a ton of fun to do (and agency who is truly excited about their client’s work is going to make great stuff with that client).

So now, I am not saying that building a blog like this is a solution for all agencies and all brands (I somehow feel that Nike would be way less exited to open the doors of their factories … you know, lots of kiddies running around.) What I am saying is that there is an essentially different kind of thinking behind these two campaigns. One is built to last and another is built to disappear. So, now, in this economic climate which I hope will teach us how to build things that will last, how to be sustainable, and how to use available resources without destroying them, I wonder is spending millions of dollars on Joan Rivers and Laundry Fairy makes ANY SENSE?? How is this economically and socially responsible? How is this representing thinking about a sustainable future? And what exactly does it do for the ALL brand? As any advertising campaign, it will have its spike this week (it launched on Sunday), go on for a few more weeks (if lucky) and then end up in the advertising graveyard, together with J.C.Penney’s Doghouse (yea, no one remembers that one, either). Yes, maybe passing along videos donates money to charity (one of those “feel good fast” things), but how about not spending so much money on a mere ad campaign on the first place? And all of that for a short-term sales lift. It almost makes me annoyed how little long-term, sustainable, thinking went into conceiving and planning of this campaign. There is a good reason that advertising model of the past does not work so well anymore. It is not coincidental that the web is one of the reasons for it not working as it used to. And this is not because web is a new channel of communication, but it is because the web is a system that is built to last.

With that, back to GE Adventure. First, not only it does more for GE brand long-term (and I am not talking only about SEO and traffic measures, blog mentions, video views, etc, but also about a possibility of influencing perception of GE brand), than any Laundry Fairy video, minisite, or celebrity apprentice, did for ALL. I am rarely certain about things (and I also dislike predictions) but I am 100% certain about this. Second, the GE Adventure content is really interesting, exclusive, reality-show & behind-the-scenes- like. It is very well written. To compare, “Guess That Stain” video had 614 views as of this moment; I think that my blog had more views in the same period of time. Third, the GE Adventure execution is right on. Why? Online, it is THE IDEA that counts, execution should always be cheap. Again, why? Because in digital you build upon what is already there. Whatever you do needs to reflect the values and behavior of people on the web. And we all build upon each others’ contributions. So, you either use software that already exists (in this case maybe Typepad? Cost: $49.99 per year for basic service); resources that you already have (Noah and Benjamin); and/or content that someone else has already made and that you can make it cheaply yourself (e.g. photos and videos).

The bigger point here is that online, you don’t need a giant budget to build something that will have a lasting effect — or any effect for that matter. In fact, you are really a dumb ass if you choose to spend money to produce something completely new from scratch, with all those free available resources in front of your nose. The very fact that you build upon those resources is the sure guarantor that whatever you create will last longer.

If I were an agency, before I start thinking about any campaign, I would ask myself: how am I going to make this thing last? How am I not going to waste anyone’s time and money, but contribute to it? How am I going to use what is already out there?

There are fundamentally different questions than those we are used to ask ourselves at the beginning of our campaigns, and as long as Benjamin Palmer does not wander into some GE nuclear reactor and press the big red button, thinking “it’s gonna be awesome”, we are all safe to maybe think about them.

This post was first published on April 8, 2009