There’s no need to convince most marketing folks that a presence on the web is critical. They appear to understand that. There also appears to be no need to convince them that they need to stand out on the web. The problem comes in the conception of what it means to stand out.
Over and over again marketing professionals, ad agencies, creative folks are proposing sites/microsites/widgets/advergames that are fundamentally distractions. The more distracting the better. Today’s candidate is an adorably rendered hodgepodge of random stuff from our friends at State Farm – nowwhat.com. Some of the stuff is on message: one mini-game on driving and another on stealing expensive stuff from an apartment. But a bunch of the other stuff is just thrown in for kicks: music festival video updates, free mp3 downloads, and a bunch of other junk I could barely get through.
It’s like the people who conceived of and made this site sat around and came up with as many things as they could to jam in here in the hopes that someone might stick around for an extra 20 seconds.
On a positive note, we’re very fond of the whole “street scene motif” replete with partyers on the roof, quaint retail storefronts, and a park. ;) We also think the level of branding (the tiny State Farm tab that pulls out in the bottom right corner) is understated yet powerful — just right.
Why do people think that their marketing presence on the web needs to be disposable? Do folks in the ad business only think six months out? Isn’t anyone actually building a brand for the long term? And if so, why not design your online experiences to be long term as well.
Here’s my proposal. Hey State Farm folks… hey DDB ad agency… hey OMD… hey all the folks that worked on this — how about a site that lets you catalog and document your valuables so that in case of theft you can present the list to your insurance company and get reimbursed. Not “out there” enough to compete with Geico? O.K. How about a site where you can store a treasured thought, photo, or memory for 100 years. Basically “ensure” that it remains long after your gone, accessible by your descendants. You would guarantee the site would continue to exist and remind people about the permanence, stability, and reassurance of working with State Farm. You really like the games on your site? Great. How about investing to make one of them actually good and worth playing more than once. The ninja game is at least cute. The driving game gets you all excited for 8-bit retro fun, but the controls are so unresponsive, and the hit detection so poor that the game is unplayable. How about one really good realistic (and even retro) driving game that puts real world obstacles in your way?
Ideas aren’t the issue. There are plenty more. Money isn’t the issue. I bet we could put together one of these sites for you to sponsor for a fraction of what you spent on nowwhat.com (which we’re sure cost you a pretty penny).
I was complaining to someone about nowwhat.com being another missed opportunity. They patiently explained to me that State Farm’s goal wasn’t to get you to come back over and over to the site, it was to get you to come once after you saw the ad. And that’s the crux of the issue.
The real problem is not the site. The real problem is that the people that built the site were thinking so small. When advertisers start to think about long term engagement (like Nike already has) then we’ll get a flood of great new apps on the web, and brand advertisers will reap the rewards for a fraction of their current budgets.
To be fair to nowwhat.com and the folks who put it together, at least they’re trying. I just believe it’s time to move beyond this type of experience. And clearly the folks who put the site together know how to make a lovely experience. They just need to conceive of one that can hold our interest for more than a couple of minutes. And likely, that won’t happen until the people with the budgets shift their perspective on what web marketing is really about.
P.S. And if you think that this short term thinking isn’t a disease that’s infecting the entire ad industry, nowwhat.com received an innovation award.