Can We Play Too? A Small Agency Perspective 

Karl Schroeder


The introduction of interactive and new media at a small agency often goes something like this: “Look at what the big boys and girls are doing! Can we play too?” But many of our clients are new at it, budgets are modest, and our ambitious (but small) in-house interactive department can only do so much. So we regularly run into three problems. First, we struggle to define “interactive.” Is it slightly better than an HTML Web site, or does it require some full-on Minority Report action brought to your phone? Second, how do we determine the value of the message to the overall brand? No, seriously-how do we? Third, and here’s the clincher, what’s the best measure of success? Clicks and impressions are great, but these measurable data can ignore the valuable but hard-to-measure branding effort.

Occasionally, we successfully work around these problems. We have found that interactive can be an easier client sell and more effective if it appears as part of a larger, integrated campaign. Because we have experienced our shares of hits and misses, and because we do not really know what interactive means, I thought I would share examples of all three: a hit, one that got away, and a different take on interactive.

We create communications for a utility promoting energy efficiency. One of its goals is to see more customers take advantage of rebates. So as part of a larger campaign, we proposed an interactive, intuitive way to provide access to rebate forms. Previously, customers would go to the utility’s Web site, then click and scroll their way to a carpal tunnel flare up, likely never finding the rebate they sought. Now customers are directed to an interactive site dedicated solely to rebates. The site is a technical illustration of a home’s interior. Customers looking for a specific rebate can easily find it in the appropriate room, like the kitchen, garage, or even outside. Since its launch, the results have been great: More rebates than ever have been downloaded and submitted.

Now here’s one that got away: Another client of ours is a small airline that offers business travelers between Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, something no other airline can, namely, the promise of getting there in half the time. The airline can promise this because it avoids huge SEATAC Airport and instead flies into Boeing Field, near downtown Seattle. To enhance its brand promise, the proposed interactive component of their campaign would include a site that posted the next available flights, front and center. The site was also to feature a Google traffic mashup that knew which city each user was in and could display the situation in the local airport. Finally, passengers could sign up for automatic advisories that would send warnings to their cell phones if main routes to the airport were delayed, thus letting them know in advance to allow extra time or take alternate routes to catch their flight. All these applications would have reinforced speed and convenience, but it was hard to demonstrate how they would have equaled ticket sales. These and other ideas we had may not have resulted in new ticket sales, but I am relatively sure they could have created greater brand loyalty and more repeat business for the airline.

So what is interactive? I argue that it does not even have to be online. When SmartCar was coming to the United States, dealers had to compete to become the seller in their area. Our client was smaller and less well known, so it needed something to introduce it to Smart-something memorable to ensure the proposal did not seem like it was coming from a no-name outfit. We developed an interactive kit for building the ultimate SmartCar dealership, featuring cutouts of regional landmarks, dealerships, cars, customers, and more. The kits arrived in a shrink-wrapped, colorful, board-game-like box and were a hit. The client got requests for additional kits for other people at the Smart office. And then it got two of the three dealerships for which it sent in the proposal (very few dealers got more than one). Thus, successful interactive need not be online. As always, it is all about the idea.

To sell more, bigger, and better interactive or new-media creative, there remains much work to be done at our agency, and maybe at the industry level too. Defining the jargon would help. Web site, microsite, push e-mails, mobile, games, and more all get lumped under the heading “interactive.” Worse, all that and interactive get confusingly (and maybe wrongly) tossed under the “new media” umbrella. Honestly, sometimes it seems the vagueness is an intentional crutch to hide our own lack of knowledge. Interactive is constantly changing. It’s exciting. It’s okay to define what we know, and then confidently admit when we enter unnamed, new territory.

About the Author

Karl Schroeder is a graduate of the University of Oregon. Lover of vinyl, Legos, and Afro Samurai. When Karl’s not tapping keys, he’s out taking photos, screen printing, playing basketball or changing diapers. E-mail: [email protected]