IBM Atom Boy Joins Police Sketch Artist to Give Ads Novel Twist

A police sketch artist and “the world’s smallest film” are helping to sell soap and technology for Dove and IBM as advertisers unleash a wave of more subtle, intelligent and entertaining campaigns to lure a jaded public.

Unilever NV’s six-minute “Dove Sketches” film, in which a former San Jose Police Department sketch artist helps women realize “You are more beautiful than you think,” became the most viewed online ad of all time in May with more than 114 million views. International Business Machines Corp.’s researchers manipulated individual atoms to depict a youngster playing with a ball. The result is “A Boy and His Atom,” which holds the record as the world’s smallest stop-motion movie.

These spots from WPP Plc’s Ogilvy & Mather agency weren’t part of a traditional TV and newspaper campaign, yet racked up millions of views online at YouTube. As the divide between content and marketing narrows, a new category called native advertising is advancing. In addition to expensive films and mini-documentaries, it includes sponsored newsfeeds on Facebook and LinkedIn, and branded content for magazines and newspapers.

“The ad industry is getting smarter about putting the right ads in front of the right people,” said Jonathan Nelson, chief executive officer for digital at Omnicom Group Inc., the second-largest advertising company. “We’re not trying to dupe the customer into not knowing it’s an ad, but in a world with so much fragmentation it’s hard to get attention.”

Racing Driver

Omnicom’s BBDO ad agency this year unveiled a three-minute film for PepsiCo Inc. in which disguised racing driver Jeff Gordon takes a car salesman on a wild test drive. A camera attached to a Pepsi Max soda can inside the car filmed the salesman’s frantic pleas as he hung on for dear life. There’s no flashing sign urging viewers to drink Pepsi, and the film’s effectiveness lies in the fact that more than 37 million people have viewed it.

SapientNitro, a New York-digital advertising agency, made a series of short films for Chrysler Group LLC’s Ram trucks, including one about a Texas rodeo and the people who made it happen. The agency also oversaw films on preparing flavored olive oils or pairing beer with pizza, to promote Bertucci’s Inc. Italian restaurant chain and Samuel Adams Brewery Co.

Unique Content

“What native advertising is doing is creating content that’s unique and distinct,” said Donald Chesnut, vice president creative at SapientNitro. “I’ve always felt that banner ads felt like outdoor advertising; it’s an interruption.”

The new breed of ads is designed to be more personalized and to avoid the traditional pitfalls of bombarding potential customers with annoying promotions and pitches for irrelevant products.

“Native advertising to me is another way to say non-intrusive,” said Christophe Parcot, managing director of Yahoo! Inc. for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “Everything is about relevancy and the content has to enhance the experience.”

Yahoo’s native advertising initiatives include editorial content created for last year’s London Olympics, sponsored by Procter & Gamble and featuring a video of medalists’ mothers.

Brands are also sponsoring text on websites and in magazines and newspapers.

BuzzFeed Inc.’s website, which publishes quirky and humorous content, allows sponsorship for selected posts, such as “18 Kids Who Are Too In Touch With Their Wild Side,” sponsored by Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, and “6 Places We Wish We Were At Right Now,” presented by Visa Inc. The Atlantic and Washington Post newspaper feature sponsored content online and the New York Times Co. is considering allowing advertisers to sponsor more stories on its website, people with knowledge of the matter said last month.

Newspaper Revenue

For newspapers seeking to revive sales and boost their online presence, brand sponsoring brings new revenue.

“I’ve always been of the view that the dividing line between editorial and advertising would blur, and that was fine as long as you made it quite clear to the consumer,” WPP Chief Executive Officer Martin Sorrell said in an interview at the Cannes Lions advertising festival. “Publishers are going to have to be much more flexible in their model. You’re going to see more traditional models turning to ways to make them commercially meaningful.”

LinkedIn Branding

LinkedIn, a social network for professionals, began piloting brand-sponsored news feeds with a handful of companies including Xerox Corp., General Electric Co. and BlackBerry in February, and this has now grown to more than 30 brands, said Joshua Graff, director of marketing solutions for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“This type of advertising has to be additive and resonate with our members or it doesn’t work,” he said. “Advertisers have to be thoughtful of the relationship they want with those customers.”

Despite the emergence of native advertising, traditional banners and blocks of ads aren’t about to fade away, said Miles Young, chief executive officer at Ogilvy & Mather.

“Normal advertising isn’t dead or inappropriate, and any effectiveness study will show you still have to have traditional paid-for advertising,” he said. “We’ve just expanded to material that’s fundamentally interesting to the consumer, in which they can invest tiny bit of time and energy in finding and retrieving.”

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