New Yorkers with a particularly keen eye for subway or bus ads lately might have noticed a cryptic new web site being touted called WhatIsTheNewBlack.TV. The (admittedly dated) question tends to conjure thoughts of Anna Wintour, high-end retailers or maybe even a packaged-goods or makeup brand trying to associate themselves with fashion. Maybe even one of those late-'90s Old Navy ads with the dearly departed Carrie Donovan.
Those who actually went online to check out the site were greeted by an interactive video starring a perky young blonde inviting visitors to dress her, paper-doll style, to select the new "black" from a multi-colored wardrobe. The site featured no branding or any indication that it was a sponsored page, and no outside links -- just a whole bunch of interchangeable outfits. In short, it was viral marketing working its magic on unsuspecting time-wasters who think Brick Breaker is the coolest thing to happen to BlackBerries since remote e-mail access.
But we here at Adages, being the amateur detectives that we are, put two and two together at Bravo's upfront presentation on Tuesday, where NBC Universal's women's media chief, Lauren Zalaznick, made overt reference to more details emerging from a campaign "that I promise all of you have seen." So, we got in touch with Bravo PR, who confirmed our suspicion that WhatIsTheNewBlack.TV was, in fact, a viral ad for Bravo. Specifically, it's an ad for "The Fashion Show," a new reality competition that bears a striking resemblance to the old (now Lifetime-owned) "Project Runway," right down to designer Isaac Mizrahi filling in for Michael Kors and Destiny Child's Kelly Rowland doing her best Heidi Klum.
But even once the viral veil is lifted today on PerezHilton.com, and elsewhere on Monday through banner ads on key sites like WWD, Gawker, New York magazine and In Style, its effectiveness is somewhat dubious. Google "WhatIsTheNewBlack.TV" and the second result that comes up is a blog post from Fashion Indie, and the accompanying headline, "What IS THE NEW WHACK!!!" Among other gripes, the blogger wrote of the site's many marketing flaws: "Aside from the generic model with her cheap looking Louboutanies [sic], the poorly designed set with it's hideous neo-modern chair, and the fashion choices which can only be deemed Liz Clairborne pre-Mizrahi, the overall look and feel at this campaign would make any self respecting fashion person cringe in their Jeffery Campbells (sorry, I'm all about cheap footwear these days)."
Ask A Copywriter went one step further with its frustration over the ads by posing the question, "Have teaser campaigns become a waste of money?"
Indeed, Adages agreed it had a very 2001, CD-ROM look to it (and what, no iPhone compatability?!), but when we spoke to Bravo's senior VP-marketing, Ellen Stone, it turns out people are actually visiting the site (more than 500,000 page views since launch) and staying there. Essentially, the site was intended to mess with people's perceptions about who has the authority to ask the question, "What is the new black?"
"We created this fury around it. 'Is it a retailer?' 'Is it a magazine?'" Ms. Stone said. "When we do reveal it, the disconnect is going to be so fantastic. Bravo is one of the only networks where fashion really is a passion point, so the disconnect is going to be, 'Oh, it's a TV network,' but it's Bravo, and Bravo brings fashion into the living room."
Of course, the ultimate measure of the campaign's success will be the show's ratings when it premieres May 7, but Ms. Stone is looking for more immediate ROI. "We need to have the bloggers talking about it on Monday, we need to see our traffic maintain itself, and we need to keep these page views up until and even past the launch. It's all about taking our audience and making sure they have really interesting ways of touching the show." That tangability will also include a retail element at BravoTV.com, where viewers will be able to buy the week's winning designs directly from the site.
"It's all about activating and gauging the consumer. They keep telling us they want to hold this in their hand, and we're actually letting them do it," Ms. Stone said.