Seeking click with consumers online

By Published on .

After decades of sponsoring entertainment to expose people to ads, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tide brand tried a new tack earlier this month-offering ads as online entertainment.

Tide was among three P&G brands sponsoring the first round of AdGames, a service launched by Cincinnati-based Adternity. Formed by three former P&G managers last year, Adternity takes existing ads, builds trivia games around them and places them on broadband gaming sites, such as trancos.com. It's proposition comes on package-goods' companies favorite terms-pay for performance-with Adternity splitting payments with host sites based on how many consumers actually play games.

They've never been sold on banners, but package-goods companies haven't given up on the Internet, even as the dot-com meltdown claims dozens of victims. They were there at the beginning with such efforts as Unilever's 1995 launch of Ragu.com or even earlier promotions by Gillette Co. and by Duracell on Prodigy's dial-up service. Now, even as naysayers claim that interactive advertising doesn't work, package-goods players appear to be increasing their efforts to find ways to reach consumers online.

STILL SEEKING SILVER BULLET

Not that the category has yet discovered the silver bullet for interactive marketing.

For instance, Bob Gilbreath, assistant brand manager for Tide, admits he doesn't know whether consumers will volunteer to play games built around ads. But he wants to find out.

"Anything that's new and different in the interactive space, we want to at least take a look at," said Mr. Gilbreath, who believes online gaming is a killer app, but doubts players pay attention to banners surrounding the games. "The biggest thing we'll learn from surveys afterward is what are people getting out of it? Do they pick up the messages we're trying to get them to learn along the way? And is entertainment advertising a big idea?"

As P&G played its first round of AdGames, Unilever's Helene Curtis hair-care brands renewed and expanded their multimedia venture with Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, agreeing to spend $2 million to make MSN the brands' lead Web partner in 2001. And, Clorox Co. launched "Generations and Innovations," a minisite linked to Women.com that offers cleaning tips and bulletin boards supporting 10 cleaning brands. Among online marketing tools increasingly popular with package-goods marketers are e-mail newsletters and clubs, viral marketing programs such as online sampling, branded games and sweepstakes.

Though package-goods efforts remain experimental, they're not just fun and games. Finding successful online marketing approaches could be crucial for package-goods marketers as they look for new ways to reach consumers amid both ad budgets that, for decades, have shrunk as a percentage of sales and growing fragmentation of mass media, said Jim Gingrich, analyst with Alliance Capital Corp.'s Sanford C. Bernstein unit.

"We know that the future of communications is evolving from mass to one-to-one," said Andrew Gross, VP-brand development of hair for Unilever. "But no one knows exactly when you get to that tipping point when the future is here. And so our efforts are really about learning and building the resources to prepare us for a one-to-one future."

Increasingly, package-goods online efforts are getting more complex and integrated with off-line programs. Helene Curtis' deal with MSN includes integrating content from its branded Web site into MSN's WomenCentral channel plus new cross-sponsorships that Unilever hopes will include content on hair tips from Helene Curtis hair-care expert Richard Marin on MSNBC. He also will appear on NBC's "Today" show in September.

POSITIONING FOR EXPANSION

"This is all about positioning ourselves so we can expand this program in the future and use it in other venues," Mr. Gross said. "For instance, we're looking at ways of taking content we've developed for HeleneCurtis.com and executing that in-store."

A growing element of P&G's online marketing is becoming the store-at least in early phases of new product launches.

Via its HomeMadeSimple mini-site linked to Women.com and HomeMadeSimple newsletter, P&G last month promoted sales of Swiffer WetJet, a $70 battery-powered floor cleaner P&G is selling via QVC.com in preparation for a U.S. retail launch, expected later this year. P&G has similarly begun selling its Tempo handkerchiefs and Pampers Bibsters disposable bibs online, using online sales and sampling as "seeding" strategies-aimed at getting new products into the hands of early adopters who will talk them up to friends.

INTEGRATION IS KEY

P&G is far from finding a silver bullet through such experiments, said Global Marketing Officer Bob Wehling, but he said integration is one key. "If there is a silver bullet, it's in having all the different components working together," he said, "so your TV is driving your consumer to the print ad and the Web site, which is supporting your direct-to-consumer and sampling ... so there's a synergy there."

Maybe for weary Internet marketers, integration is the way to bring the magic back.

In this article:
Most Popular