We're Talking a Whole New 'Playbook' Here

Ad Age Asks Joe Plummer, Steve Rappaport, Taddy Hall and Robert Barocci About Their New Tome

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A sexy title it's not. But "The Online Advertising Playbook: Proven Strategies and Tested Tactics from the Advertising Research Foundation," written by the ARF's Steve Rappaport, Joe Plummer, Taddy Hall and Bob Barocci, is getting raves in the marketing world. The authors combed through thousands of case studies and culled hundreds of interviews to compile the best recommendations for tackling the web.

It's a book meant to prove the medium's worth, so "we can be treated as a serious part of the media mix and not a bunch of spinmeisters," said Mr. Hall, ARF's chief strategy officer. The authors sat down with Ad Age to discuss the book in greater detail.

What was your impetus to write the Playbook?

Mr. Hall: Three years ago, this Gillette executive walked into our office and sat down with Bob and me to talk about a number of issues facing their advertising. He said, "Look, here's my problem: I've got $3 million that I'm supposed to spend on internet advertising and I have no idea what to do with it." That was perplexing to us because the Yahoos and AOLs and MSNs that come into our office tell us all the stuff they're doing. But after talking with more advertisers on the client side, it became clear there's this huge disconnect between people out there doing stuff. As David Bell said recently, you have the internet inhabited largely by digital natives, but you have to make it safe for digital immigrants. By the way, it's the immigrants who have all the money.

The book discusses new advertising models. Which did you isolate?

Mr. Plummer: [Technology] has brought forward three new models of advertising, first and foremost a model built around the idea of engagement. This contrasts with the traditional, 20th-century model of interrupt-and-repeat. More than exposure, this new model of engagement involves not only a product message or brand message, but also a sphere of experience surrounding the brand. A nice example in the book is Purina and its evolution from provider of web information about different types of dog food to an experience about dog owning, driven in many ways by the dog owner. It's saying "If I want engagement, I have to understand what [the consumer] is engaged in." They're not that engaged in whether it's rice and lamb or chicken or fish. It's not irrelevant, but that's not what they're engaged in. What's also interesting is Purina went off their site. They're one of the few making a big push to go off their brand site and start using adjunct sites, like iTunes or Yahoo Pets, where they created a special widget.

Is there a shift in marketers thinking about the internet as a come-to-us medium?

Mr. Plummer: Absolutely. Purina's just one example. What drove that? They invested in a major segmentation study. It wasn't about who uses dry and who uses canned and how often owners feed. It was about understanding the triangle between the pet owner, their food [selections] and additional needs that allowed them to view other segments with an equally high level of engagement. You want to make it a conversation with the consumer, to both push and pull as opposed to just interrupt and repeat.

The second model driven by the internet is the idea of on-demand. It's what we call the aggregation approach to marketing, as opposed to the congregation approach. The congregation approach waits until media collects a big audience ("We've got them all in the tent right now, let's talk to them."). With the aggregation approach, it's critical you're very clear about what your brand idea is, as well as what message you want to deliver. If the brand idea keeps moving around it doesn't work.

And the third model?

Mr. Plummer: The last model is a new way of thinking, stimulated by our interview with Digitas CEO David Kenny. He talked about starting work on a brand or client by asking two simple questions: 1) What's the primary job the brand is trying to do, and 2) What knowledge needs to surround that message or what are the customers looking for? We said, gee, that's like advertising as a service model. It introduces the role of journalist to marketing, because that's how journalists think: They ask questions, they want to know what others are looking for, how they walk through an experience. They're not just looking for the headline. The headline comes from understanding a series of events or needs. Advertising as a service model should have a dampening effect on clutter. If you're truly thinking of yourself as a service, you're going to be opt-in almost all the time.

Did you notice anything surprising about the effectiveness of online advertising?

Mr. Plummer: In cascading order, the biggest impact came from combining online and offline. There's not a magic ratio or magic media combination. We were surprised by the level of impact -- be it purchase intent or brand-image shifts or actual transactions -- between radio and the internet. One example is KFC's launch of popcorn chicken. They wanted to use the internet and find a way to generate trial, especially during the week, when most people are at work. They drive to work with the radio on. The No. 1 medium at work is the internet. They put the two together and offered a free coupon. Radio and internet can both be localized. It was surprising how often that combination worked.

In researching the book, did you find a distinct difference in online effectiveness by category?

All three: No.

Mr. Rappaport: We really looked at this from the marketer's viewpoint, not just the advertiser's. We didn't want to get boxed in by awareness versus purchase intent. We looked at the objectives marketers are trying to accomplish using online advertising, sometimes in combination with traditional media -- everything from lead generation to brand growth, retention and loyalty. Some cases illustrated the effectiveness of online advertising for accomplishing each of those objectives across business-to-business and business-to-consumer, and a whole host of categories within business-to-consumer.

Mr. Plummer: Every case we looked at that had significant impact had big insight behind it. It wasn't, "Let's play around on the internet and see what happens." With the Tide Coldwater idea, we posited that people concerned about energy and saving the environment are probably our bull's-eye, so we'll do some advertising with those concerns in mind, with the goal of catching those people and urging them to come to our site. We're going to do some grass-roots promotion with other groups, including live events to dramatize the energy saved by washing with cold water. [Tide] did some very inventive things using search. The awareness lift was terrific short term, as good as a big TV or mass magazine blast. But that wasn't the point. The point was to get people really involved. They didn't want just a one-time, go-out-and-try-it response. They wanted a whole new business for Coldwater that wouldn't dilute their hot-water or warm-water traditional "Tide in, dirt out" franchise. [It was] great targeting, but behind it was an idea that struck home.

Mr. Rappaport: In today's world you've got to close the loop as much as possible. It's not enough to say awareness went up 30%. It's important, but more so is what happened to sales, what happened to our franchise, to our customers.