Butter Side Up

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When I first started editing this newsletter, I had a revealing conversation with an industry insider about the relative importance of creatives. Though it was my stance at the time that campaigns really are only as good as their creatives, this old-timer straight out told me I was wrong. “It’s not about the creatives,” he said.

“It’s about how you market the ads, not what’s in them.”

Well, hmm. I’ll give him at least half of that point: marketing is clearly a crucial element of any campaign; that’s why most of you have jobs. But no matter how much I learn about this industry, nothing has come along yet that will change my mind about the importance of the creative content of ads. Look around and listen: the campaigns consumers talk about endlessly are the ones that, yes, were marketed effectively—but that’s not what consumers notice. What they notice are the cool effects, the ingenuity of the design, the unexpected humor or touching moment that the best in advertising provides.

I’m constantly amazed at how low the bar rests for the majority of online creatives. The banner ad becomes more ignorable every day, and with the exception of the cool expandable technologies coming out of place like PointRoll, and the increasing use of streaming video, there’s little happening from a creative perspective within the standard IAB formats (note: displaying text in bright colors and making it shake is not, strictly speaking, “imaginative”). Which is why, when something terribly creative does pass across my plate, I can’t help but pay attention to it.

If you’ve never heard of the brand, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”, 1) you need to get out more and 2) here’s a fun chance to check it out—and learn a little something about good creative. The brand, which is owned by Unilever, has just launched a new campaign for the spray version of it butter substitute, and they’ve decided to do it all online, rather than via television. So they had Connecticut-based Byte Interactive create a four webisode campaign for them—all designed to spread via email once you visit the microsite.

The campaign is, in a word, brilliant. The brand’s target demographic is women over 35, and to make the webisode content appealing to the folks who are doing the shopping, the creative team fashioned the animated content on the model of a soap opera. So what you get, when you visit http://tasteyoulove.com/webisodes/default.asp is the chance to see the latest episode of “Sprays of Our Lives”, featuring heroine Spraychel and her nemesis Buttricia. There’s a mysterious illness to be solved (an asparagus stalk named Gus is suffering from “acute dairy asphyxiation”), along with a romantic triangle involving our two buttery vixens and the husky voiced Dr. Cobb. If you watch these episodes—which are rendered against an utterly appropriate soft yellow background—you will be entertained. And you may just want to buy some spray on un-butter when you’re done.

Does the content on the microsite remind you of a TV commercial? Yes—but only in the best ways. It is narrative in structure, its production values are high, and it refuses to cater to the lowest common denominator when it comes to ingenuity. It is campaigns like these that raise the bar for what creative interactive content can and should be…and thank goodness they’re out there. If we hope to see more companies ditching their TV spends in favor of our medium, we’ve got to give them proof that we’re doing stuff that dazzles—and matters.

So while some of you might believe that it’s true, as that industry expert told me, that marketing is what it’s all about, I’m not quite ready yet to give up my belief in the power of creative. Bravo to the folks at Byte Interactive, and to the honchos at Unilever, for thinking big. Here’s hoping they provide inspiration for the rest of us.

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