Effective Interactive Engagement: A Quick Look at Columbia Sportswear

Ian Rhett speaking at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference
Ian Rhett

on

November 3, 2010

Effective Interactive Engagement: A Quick Look at Columbia Sportswear

I was taking my dinner break tonight, catching up on the latest episodes of The Office on Hulu (as a longtime webhead, it's incredibly gratifying and still a little magical to me to see streaming media so widely adopted) when a "limited commercial interruption" occurred. It was an ad for Columbia active wear and I found it particularly effective. I normally avoid advertising, but I found this one particularly engaging.  While I watched it, I couldn't stop thinking about the possibilities of nonprofits using a format like this.

I'm sharing this because I think a) this is an exemplary piece of interactive work and b) there's a lot we as geeks for good can learn from this. Here's a raw screengrab of what I saw in the middle of watching one of the funniest series on telev...um... the Internet, followed by a marked up version wherein I denote the things I noticed about/during this bit of advertising and what I think nonprofits and movement builders can learn from it.

The first photo is a cropped version of the ad.  This was inside the Hulu content container. The second photo is the player in the context of the Hulu environment, which is how I marked up the player.  

What you are seeing in the middle of the screen is a man sloshing around naked in a frozen lake reciting a 5 sentence script explaining a new clothing technology that reflects heat back to you.  After he makes it through the recitation, he gets to get out of the water, run to two half-naked women and put on the jacket. On either side are thumbnails of the other scenarios of the campaign, similarly outrageous and very, very cold. There are a series of similar "stupid cold" stunts video taped with people in different languages reciting the seam script.

At first glance, this ad is a pretty straightforward presentation vehicle for a well-produced series of entertaining video ads. From an advertising perspective, this message gets delivered multiple times as viewers click to see what stupid human trick these people are doing and in the meantime making a branding point. 

But I couldn't help think what kind of impact this format could have as a campaign tool.  I thought of several large nonprofits/campaigns and imagined how they'd each tell the stories of what they were working on.

So below I call out a dozen things I noticed about this thing from both an advertising and an activist perspective and what I think the opportunities are of using a format like this.

 

Columbia Ad review ad only

 

 

 

Columbia Ad Review

 

 

(1) The video is arresting.  You are immediate captivated by the situation and made curious.  "Why is this guy thrashing in a frozen lake with two scantily clad women looking on?" "What is he saying?" The direness of his situation - tossing about as if he were drowning in a frozen lake - creates an irresistable image that draws you in.  TAKEAWAY:  curiosity is, (or ought to be), the first rung of the "ladder of engagement."  You have to have something that creates curiosity and interest in the person who happens to catch your message at some point in their daily stream of media.  If you don't grab them in the first few seconds, they're gone.  There's another takeaway here about "reality" video.  These videos work because they appear so authentic.  It may be that these were CG'd, but they're so realistic, and in fact, the reality is so central to the effectiveness.  People online are SUPER skeptical about media that presents itself as "reality" and at the same time, people online are starved for real video of interesting, unique things.

(2) People online are used to reading. For the time being, the web is largely text driven (though I recently learned that Netflix accounts for 20% of all bandwidth useage across the USA during "prime time"). The subtitles force the viewer to visually imprint the message. TAKEAWAY: layering subtitles on top of an emotional expression is compelling and deeply engaging. It causes the viewer to use two parts of her brain instead of one to imprint the message.  

(3) It's very important if you use video anywhere on the web, whether in ads or on your site, you MUST provide controls for the user to pause, rewind, fast forward, mute, etc..  There are artful exceptions to every rule, of course, but in general, users get pretty upset if they can't turn off music, stop video, etc..

(4) Video is the way of the new web.  There is very little text messaging on this page; it is mostly video. Yet, it is still highly engaging. This vehicle did not maximize engagement, however, in my opinion.  There was no call to action after each vignette, and the only call to action was the "Learn More" button at the top.  TAKEAWAY: Having persistent action buttons (something a viewer can click on to engage further) is fine, but had these been videos of homeless kids or mountaintops being blown up, calls to action at the end of each would be required.  In general I think a call to action should happen immediately after delivering a message.  Story/message, invite.

(5) in this example, the viewer is given six additional "episodes" to choose from.  Each thumbnail hints at a unique expression of the theme (in this case, "Stupid cold").  Many enticing choices make users clickhappy.  TAKEAWAY:  Each of these vignettes tell a story: a relatable character, challenged by something significant and resolving into a nice "aaaahh,"  all in 30 seconds. I'm working on another blogpost about the power of story...

(6) The persistent call to action.  Very very very important to have.  TAKEAWAY:  Always have an obvious and distinct way for people to take action.  

(7) Subtle branding.  I liked the placement of this from an advertising perspective. I thought it was just exactly the right size and placement.  I also liked it right next to the action button. TAKEAWAY: I really, really like associating a nonprofit brand with "take action."  I think that associating a brand mark visually with the take action button works really well.

(8) Rather than just leave the background a static photo, the user can interact with even the background image and get additional facts. Using an object central to the theme as a navigational device works for me, as well. People love "easter eggs" and hidden details. TAKEAWAY: I could easily see an NGO use this device (background image with clickable regions) to expand interactivity and enrich the user experience.  

(9) This title sets the theme.  In six words, you know exactly what you're going to get.  And it's phrased in a way that intrigues. Again, it tells a story (though I'm not sure how I feel about "stupid" being a relatable character). I also like the branding link between "warm and smart" and the product.  This is a pretty solid brand promise. It's the largest text on the page, and succinctly draws the thread through the entire experience. The text occupies the position of a headline, but reads like a tagline or subhead. It also implies a lot of drama by contrasting stupid and cold to warm and smart.  TAKEAWAY: Taglines are so important. Get a good one and use it. Check out the 2010 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Award Winners.

(10) I liked that the product was so beautifully presented.  Strictly an advertising perspective.

(11) It was something I noticed, that there were a lot of naked human bodies.  In advertising, we know that sex sells.  Nonprofits obviously don't have the choice of relying on that advertising crutch, which makes the need to entice viewers to click that much more imperative. Choices around creating that enticement is the art and science of content strategy. TAKEAWAY:  clicks require strategy.

(12) The banner ad created a repeat visual impression and reinforced the brand with repeating colors, logo, font, etc..  This is largely contextual and specific to Hulu (other advertising platforms may not have this particular feature of banner over video).  TAKEAWAY: In advertising, there are two axes of effectiveness - reach and frequency.  Visual repetition is a necessary element of marketing communications.

(13) Ok, I have to admit I'm a huge fan of The Office, and a bigger fan of Steve Carell.  Watching season 7, I've noticed a huge shift in the writing. Has anyone else noticed that?  I suppose I could have left this out.  But props to the friends of Dunder Mifflin. 

What are some NGO's or campaigns that you could easily imagine using something like this?

 

 

Share it!