Everybody seems to hate advertising, in part because it seems inescapable. Television screens are cluttered with commercials. Web sites are obscured by pop-up and rollover ads. Streets, sidewalks, and vehicles are plastered with so many signs and digital screens that many people are calling them graffiti. Yes, print media are becoming ad-free zones, but no other space seems off limits, from airport jet ways to elevators to clothing.
Add it all up and companies around the world spent $459 billion on advertising last year, according to WPP (WPPGY), a London-based advertising and public relations company. That total is expected to dip to $458 billion in 2009, a modest concession to the global recession.
So what's an advertiser to do? Making a message stand out calls for something new. Often this means using humor, new technology, eye-popping stunts, or an inventive approach or placement that consumers can't simply tune out. It's all about making—and leaving—an impression.
wow factor: Ray-Ban's Virtual MirrorThese days the most creative advertising is on the Web, where companies spent 13% of their global promotions budget, reports Group M, a division of WPP. That share is rising, and little wonder. The Internetis a great low-cost lab to show off new graphics, interactive pages, and ad-centric games. And if an ad goes viral—forwarded from user to user via e-mail or a social network—watch out: It could easily be seen by millions.
Ray-Ban's Web site is an example. The Luxottica division's Virtual Mirror taps customers' Web cams and virtually adds sunglasses to their faces. Users can move their heads up, down, and around to check out all the angles. They also can also check out the company's entire line of eyewear without leaving home. And the wow factor might entice people who weren't thinking of buying new glasses to visit the site, which means more brand exposure and sales.
There are innovations in old media, too, such as print ads for Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) Sundown brand. The ad shows a man and woman tanning together. She's wearing Sundown lotion, but he isn't. When the magazine ad is exposed to sun, the ink reacts to ultraviolet rays. The sunscreened woman darkens slightly, while the man turns a burnt red. To replicate the effect on bus-shelter ads, people can slide a dimmer switch to darken or lighten a sunbather's skin tones.
"You need a Zipcar for this"Time Warner (TWX) HBO subsidiary has found a way to make billboards seem fresh. For its vampire show True Blood,The cable TV channel has put up street-level signs that read: "In Case of Vampire." Attached are wooden stakes that can be snapped off like phone number tabs from a paper flyer. Photos are spreading across the Internet, extending the ad's reach.
Zipcar's latest promotion was aimed at creating Internet buzz, too. The Boston-based rental-car company placed a couch on a busy sidewalk in Washington with a sign reading, "You need a Zipcar for this." Another scene featured an entire campsite. Its sign said, "You need a Zipcar to go here." Not many people walked by the promos, but enough snapped photos and posted them on the Web to give the stunt a second life.
As these ads show, people may not really hate advertising—they hate bad advertisements. When sellers produce something clever or fun, consumers—and business publications—seem happy to help spread the word.
LIMITED-TIME OFFER SUBSCRIBE NOW