|A virtual felt-tip marker appeared onscreen to be grabbed and moved around by the user's mouse.
The online program ran from January through June and received a Silver Lion at the prestigious Cannes advertising festival, a Gold Pencil from One Club and, most recently, first-place honors and a $10,000 prize in the branding category at MSN's creative awards show. The Flash-rich concept was a key component of a corporate brand makeover for GE. It also marks the first time that the company, best known for its NBC TV network, plastics, aircraft engine and medical imaging businesses, had undertaken such an groundbreaking online campaign.
"The idea of serving up a drawing tool within an online ad is something that hadn't been done before. Nobody [on the agency team] expected to do anything like that within an ad," said Arturo Aranda, the creative director of atmosphereBBDO who led the four-person creative team that worked intensively on the project.
Some deeper chord
Not unlike the "Etch-a-Sketch" toy that has captivated children and adults since 1965, the GE "Pen" ad initially appears to be little more than a collection of relatively crude line-drawing functions. But like an "Etch-a-Sketch," it touched some deeper chord, causing large numbers of users to doodle out illustrations that were then e-mailed to co-workers, friends and relatives. The ad featured the text tagline "All Ideas Start With a Sketch. What's Yours?" next to a virtual felt-tip marker pen.
While GE declined to share data on key brand awareness metrics, interaction and viral pass-along rates from the campaign, "Pen" was so popular that it sprung up on sites frequented by Web developers, animators and others throughout the creative community. The viral aspect of the campaign spawned an underground movement as people began trading sketches and holding competitions for the most unusual drawing. (See above left for samples of the kind of drawings that were executed on the pen tool.)
High click-through rate
According to Omnicom's OMD, GE's advertising media buying and planning agency, the click-through rate on "Pen" was three times higher than the average click-through for banner ads, and the viral send-along component had a 28% higher e-mail opening rate.
Because the effort appears to have successfully boosted brand awareness, GE is said to be planning a similar online effort for January 2004, the details of which have been closely guarded.
"Pen" was part of a larger interactive advertising campaign designed to raise public awareness about GE's product lines and broad corporate capabilities. Overall, the effort was a multimedia image overhaul led by GE's main ad agency, BBDO Worldwide, New York, that replaced the company's longtime tagline, "We bring good things to life," for "Imagination at Work."
The first phase of the online campaign consisted of technical sketches representing GE products and services, including an aircraft engine and a football helmet made of Lexan, a thermal plastic made by the company. Surfers were then presented with "Pen" and were encouraged to sketch their own ideas and pass them along.
"The idea came out of the concept of representing the collaborative nature of GE," said Tim McCleary, GE's manager of corporate identity and online marketing. "We have a whole lot of creative people who are thinking outside of today's boundaries," GE wanted to convey the idea that "what we can imagine for our customers, we can make happen," Mr. McCleary said.