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Oct 12, 2005
Case Study

After Email Campaigns Fail -- Unusual Banner Ad Generates Loads of SMB Sales Leads for McAfee

SUMMARY: We never thought we'd report on a banner campaign that beat email -- but that's exactly what McAfee's new test campaign has done (with a 10.9% response rate.) Ok, it's not exactly a standard banner, but it is certainly an inspirational campaign (and it wasn't insanely expensive.) Plus, the best part is McAfee got killer data on post-view activity. Turns out 85% of campaign conversions happened up to 90 days *after* otherwise untouched prospects saw the banners. Makes you consider adjusting your online ad ROI assumptions, doesn't it?
"We were using email as an acquisition tool until this fall," explains, McAfee eCommerce Marketing Manager Gladys Gavlak.

Gavlak would probably have stuck with email to SMB lists for longer, except for one big problem: no matter how targeted the list by company type and job title, fewer than 1/17th of the names would be remotely in the prospect pool.

That's because small business executives are infamously uninterested in learning about anything that's not a super-urgent need.

"We found out from market research from the time a small business exec becomes aware of the need [to buy security software because their current system is expiring], they have a two-three week process. Outside of that very limited window of opportunity, it's as low on their daily to-do list as you can possibly imagine."

As email rental costs went up over the years and response rates slipped, it wasn't worth renting lists just to reach that 1/17th of the names anymore.

Gavlak decided to switch tactics. Instead of bullhorning a "buy now" offer in front of the masses hoping a few would be ready to buy, she'd try lead generation.

She probably would have taken the easy route and run a non-related free offer -- perhaps a sweeps or iPod giveaway -- to generate high response. But her research team had reported that SMBs didn't understand security software.

Now, the campaign had a triple goal - Gavlak had to shoehorn in some education and brand awareness along with lead generation. And, triple goal campaigns are nearly always doomed to failure because prospects don't have the attention span.

Gavlak's creative team invented a rich media "News show" banner. They figured, if prospects were surfing business and IT news networks where the banner would appear, why not present them with creative that is itself a news story?

(This reminds of us the looks-like-an-article space ads that direct response advertisers have been using in magazines and newspapers for decades with success.)

The creative (link to sample below) featured what looked like a real TV news team reporting on the news from a TV studio. News included sports headlines, but also info about security problems that were being stopped by McAfee. Otherwise, the only differences between this show and live streamed TV news were:

#1. The entire show was only 30 seconds because most people won't watch a banner for long no matter how entertaining.

#2. The show was presented to the left of a boxy banner containing several static free offers from McAfee (a white paper, a free trial, etc.) Most offers wound up at the same landing page but Gavnak figured a selection of clickable buttons might increase overall clicks.

#3. The newscasters and reporters weren't real people. They were avatars (cartoonish talking heads also known as "vhosts'.)

Gavnak had run an a/b test with avatars on the site the previous fall and discovered customers who experienced an avatar at the store were 10% more likely to convert to buyers on the spot.

Plus, unlike streamed video, the technology behind avatars allowed Gavnak to change scripting at almost a moment's notice. She didn't have to go back into a studio to reshoot footage, she could just type in new copy and right away the "on-air" reporters were talking to match.

The creative team tried to make the avatars feel as "genuine" as possible by creating a formal personality profile of each as in-house background info to drive creative. The profiles included a real-life headshot (selected from stock footage of actual newscasters) and a bio and resume for each character.

Finally, Gavnak chose to invest a little extra for ad serving technology that would allow her to track delayed sales. If the ad wound up being as attention-getting as she thought it would, she wanted to know how many viewers would remember it and purchase from days or even weeks later.

"Only 4% of traffic that comes into us deletes cookies, it's a pretty small percentage," she notes. The ad tracking might not catch all related sales, but certainly enough for useful statistical analysis of campaign impact.

The newsroom banner got an average 10.9% interaction rate -- that's the percent of viewers who scrolled over the banner and perhaps clicked on one of the hotlinks. That's a full point higher than a banner of this particular type.

On average, the typical viewer watched the news and interacted with click options for 15.7 seconds -- higher than the average 12.6 seconds for a banner of this type.

McAfee garnered loads of registered sales leads, which Gavlak handed over to her telemarketing team to convert during the specific time period each individual prospect indicated they'd be making a software buying decision. (She also plans to test targeted house email follow-ups in 2006.)

However, the data that thrilled Gavlak to her core was that delayed sale tracking. "85% of customers who purchased from us from the campaign did not come directly from the banner. They viewed it, and then they came back later to purchase." Sales attributable to the banner were still straggling in 90 days after the campaign finished.

"The ad tracking is giving me tremendous value. I can go back and tell my internal people how many dollars the campaign made. It's very hard to keep getting funded if you can't turn around and show immediate sales. We're hot on a successful strategy here."

Gavlak plans to continue rolling out versions of the banner for a long time to come. "This creative has legs."

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples from McAfee's campaign:

Past MarketingSherpa article: Using Talking Heads in Your Online Ads - Test Results, Creative Tips & Useful Links

Past MarketingSherpa article on another eCommerce site: Video Spokesmodel Lifts Ecommerce Conversions 78%: A/B Test Results

Oddcast -- the technology behind McAfee's talking head characters

Pointroll -- the rich media ad technology that powered the 'FatBoy' expandable banner McAfee used

Doubleclick DART -- the ad server used for the campaign which enabled the post-campaign response tracking

Numantra -- the ad agency who created this campaign for McAfee


See Also:

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