By Contributing Editor Anna MurrayCHALLENGE
It was a wonderful campaign that ended up in a drawer.
Johnson & Johnson had developed a series of print ads and TV commercials around the simple but incisive observation: "Having a baby changes everything." To enhance their authenticity, the commercials and print were shot in black and white and used real people. The goal was to capture the profound shift that new parents feel in their lives when they have a baby.
"For example," says Owen Rankin Johnson & Johnson's Executive Director of Corporate Contributions, "One of the commercials shows a mom giving her infant a bath, and says 'Who'd have ever thought the love of your life would be short and bald?...Having a baby changes everything.'"
But there was a problem, "It was an incredibly wonderful campaign," says Rankin, "We got the emotion. People really identified with it. "We had people crying in the focus groups. They would say things like, 'This is me. This is my life.'
"But every time we put a product or brand into it, people didn't notice, the power of the communication overwhelmed everything else."
Although the campaign was shelved, Rankin began to wonder if it might work well online, where users are so distracted by multiple visual elements and their own search, that they are less likely to notice a particular ad.CAMPAIGN
Acknowledging their limitations was a first critical step. "We'd never leveraged any corporate advertising online," says Rankin. "We had to admit to ourselves, we don't know how to connect effectively with people online."
But, since 96% of parents say they feel that the web is a reliable source for parenting information, according to the Pew Internet and American Life data, Rankin felt online reach out would be critical to Johnson & Johnson's future.
Fortunately, Johnson & Johnson had acquired an online division, the BabyCenter site from eToys when the latter folded. And according to comScore, BabyCenter.com is the #1 destination for new and expectant moms, with a 52% reach of all US births annually.
"We said to BabyCenter, 'You have to help us understand how to make this powerful connection online,'" Rankin explains.
So, together with agency Lowe & Partners Worldwide, the Johnson & Johnson and BabyCenter teams created a campaign to test and transition TV creative online.
-> Strategy #1. Commit enough resources from the start
"We had never done corporate advertising online before," says Rankin. "And we didn't know if it was gonna work. But we knew that if we didn't put enough resources behind it, we would never know. We had to commit enough so that it would be effective. So it wasn't just throwing 25k at it."
They invested "six figures" and "built in research," he says. The program was accompanied by a Millward Brown cross media survey to validate the marketing impact.
-> Strategy #2. Testing a variety of creatives (Link to samples below)
The creative team translated print and TV commercials from the failed offline campaign into powerful online creative. Over time, they tested everything from the expected -- traditional banners in a variety of sizes -- to the wildly creative -- a "video peel-away" where the upper right corner of BabyCenter's home page was peeled down invitingly.
Creative offered consumers the chance to click to see an instantly streamed commercial, and the landing page offered two additional commercials for viewing as well.
Additional tests included allowing visitors to play the video right in the banner rather than clicking to a landing page.
-> Strategy #3. Asking viewers to respond with stories
"We leveraged the community aspect of BabyCenter and asked people to write in their comments," says Rankin.
Just below the invitation to view the commercials, the ads asked users to "Tell us how having a baby changed your life." "Advertising has always been a monologue," says Rankin. "This process allowed us to turn it into a dialogue."
It's worth noting there was no incentive for responding, aside from seeing one's post appear on the community bulletin board.
In addition, BabyCenter posted all three of the available ads on a special site section devoted to the campaign so that users could explore the ads at their leisure and read the comments of others.
"We had high hopes and low expectations," says Rankin. But the campaign paid off on every metric tracked.
Most critically, brand association more than doubled from offline results using virtually the same creative.
Among those people who viewed the ads online, 83% surveyed correctly associated Johnson & Johnson with them. For those viewing the ad on TV, only 36% made the proper association.
In fact, the rate of correct brand association for the online commercial was comparable to the forced-exposure group. Among those people studied who were forced to see the ad, then asked which brand the ad represented, 86% made the correct ID.
Finally, as users saw the ads more frequently, their brand association percentages went up. 91% of those who had seen the ads previously correctly identified the sponsor as Johnson & Johnson.
- Winning creative: The creative team found out that providing a "play" option right in the banner was the best way to drive exposure to the commercials -- even better than ultra-cool home page "peels" and anything leading to landing pages.
Why? Consumers liked the feeling of control it gave them, and liked knowing they didn't have to fret about finding their way back to their original destination after the landing page experience was over.
Out of the banner sizes and types - the 250x300 size generally worked the best.
- Multiple ad views: among those people who watched more than one commercial 86% watched all three, for over 6 minutes of involvement with the campaign. "People were voluntarily exposing themselves to advertising," says Rankin.
- Hundreds post comments and personal stories: "In the first couple of months there were 500-600 people who commented about what having a baby meant to them," says Rankin.
"And these were 1500- or 2000-word stories. They were incredibly personal and detailed. For example we would hear from a couple that they had been married for only a short time and weren't ready for children. But then they got pregnant. They were really afraid. But then they had this wonderful baby. They would tell us why they found the advertising very relevant and powerful to their lives."
Ultimately thousands eagerly posted stories and comments -- without a single incentive.
- Posted stories are popular reading: 52% of people viewing a single ad went on to read postings. 76% of people who both noticed an ad and viewed at least one streamed commercial in its entirely, went on to read postings. And 86% of people who took the time to watch two-three of the streamed commercials, went on to read postings.
- Pre-testing new TV creative online works: "TV media is very expensive," says Rankin. "We had more executions than TV time. So we took the three that were not playing on air, and put them on Baby Center. Baby Center was the only place you could see them. It was like a mini-exclusive for a while."
Rankin says, overall, the program taught him three lessons; First, he says, you have to commit enough resources in order to see if what you're doing is going to work. He says, "It's not about checking a box and saying you did the online thing."
Second, "We probably over-researched what we were getting online," he says. Still, he admits, the depth of the data was helpful for educating the company internally about the effectiveness of the program.
Third, he says admitting their own lack of knowledge was key. "It would have been very easy for us to go to Baby Center with a prescription for what we wanted. Instead, we asked, 'Help us figure out the best way.' We're trying to create something new and different. On the corporate side, we dip in and out of this space. You in the online world live it and know a lot more about it."
As to what will happen with the campaign, Rankin says, "We're sitting down in the New Year. We can stop patting ourselves on the back, now, and say, 'What's next?' That's our challenge for '04."
Useful links related to this story:
Samples of the online ads:
Eyewonder - the company that provided the tech for the instantly-streamed commercials