MONKEYS AND BURGERS CREATE ONLINE PERSONAS

Media Morph: Avatars

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Every week MediaWorks’ Media Morph looks at how emerging technology is changing the way consumers get their information and media companies and advertisers present their messages. This week: avatars.

What it is: An animated or photographic image, human or non-human, that Web surfers use to identify themselves online, usually in chat rooms, but also sometimes included in viral e-mails or in mobile phone messages.

Who’s using it: The Monk-e-mail application at the CareerBuilder.com site, which was part of the Super Bowl campaign by agency Cramer-Krasselt. Visitors to the site build their own monkey avatar, choosing clothing, headgear, background and accessories, and then e-mail it with a recorded message to a friend. Also, Wendy’s recently sponsored ESPN.com’s Voice of the Fan Web page by offering users the opportunity to dress their avatar in a Wendy’s T-shirt, or have the avatar hold a burger.

Why you should care: Use of avatars puts the advertiser “at the leading edge of Internet-publishing technology,” said John Papanek, senior VP-editorial director, ESPN new media, who oversees the Wendy’s build-your-own avatar feature on ESPN.com. Internet telephone company Vonage used avatars in banner ads to grab attention on crowded Web pages and to hit home the innovative nature of the product. In an age of consumer-generated media, avatars also help keep consumers engaged with a brand.

Results: Like many novelties, avatars do get attention. Across the 10 campaigns that Oddcast CEO Adi Sideman has worked with to provide avatar technology, the average open rates of marketing e-mails containing avatars improved 70%.

Downside: Avatars can seem silly and might not work to sell home-security systems or credit cards. “When the contextual relevance is there, then you have this viral effect and big open rate,” Mr. Sideman said.

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