Interactive brands gain competitive advantage

Competitions run through Facebook and other social media platforms are the latest way brands hope to win consumer affection.

Italian clothing brand Benetton was famous for its marketing in the Eighties and Nineties. Its “shockvertising” images featuring hard-hitting photos of people dying of AIDS garnered headlines around the world.

Now the company is hoping to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of the times by using a competition for its fans to become the “face” of the brand, run through social media and augmented reality. This follows supermarket Iceland’s announcement that it will drop controversial celebrity Kerry Katona from its marketing strategy in favour of finding a real-life consumer to front the brand.

Benetton is inviting Facebook users to enter a competition called “It’s My Time” to become the star of the brand’s new commercials. Users create profiles of themselves on a dedicated Facebook fan site and other subscribers vote for their favourites. They can even see images in augmented reality (see box, page 23). The winning entries will appear in Benetton’s next ad campaign.

Erik Ravelo, creative director of Fabrica, Benetton’s in-house communication research centre, explains the idea originated as part of research undertaken for the brand’s quarterly magazine, Colors. Rather than developing all the content in house, the brand opened the pages up to global contributors, who sent in their own pictures, stories and ideas via the website.

This then evolved into the brand’s current competition. Ravelo claims: “Showing the democratic face of fashion has always been a key element in Benetton’s communication. The very positive feedback we had with the Colors initiative convinced us to go into more depth and conceive something unique.”

Using consumer input for campaigns is not unusual. If Henry Ford was selling cars today, he would never be able to use his famous phrase: “You can have the car in any colour as long as it’s black.” Instead, his Facebook fans would be voting on next season’s Model T colour.

“The true future of using social media will be to relax about how customers experience your brand in its beta phase and give consumers a platform to share problems”

Simon Tucker, Attention Seekers

The sheer volume of campaigns run as social network competitions suggests the competition-through-social-network route is now a mainstream marketing tool for many brands. Earlier this month, controversial fashion brand American Apparel launched a campaign to find the “butt” of the brand.

Entrants post pictures of their posterior – clad only in underwear – on the American Apparel website, where other visitors can rate them and leave comments. The brand reports that two winners will be “eligible to be our next butt model” and win $300 worth of AA items.

In a less risqué move, Wal-Mart has asked consumers to put themselves forward to be its new face for the L.e.i. own-brand jeans line. It offers, among other prizes, a $100,000 prize, along with a Teen Vogue internship. Consumers must submit a two-minute video proclaiming why they are suitable to be the face of the brand, and can interact with the competition through Facebook or Twitter.

It isn’t just clothing brands getting involved. Coca-Cola-owned Vitamin Water recently invited Facebook users in the US to develop a new flavoured drink in return for a $5,000 prize.

Matt Burgess, managing director for Peperami at Unilever, who ran a competition last year to find consumer-created ads for his brand, adds that using the public can be “cost-effective” as a marketing push, and also produce really interesting creative ideas. He says: “We envisage continuing this strategy.”

Because of the speed of turnaround and relative low cost involved in setting up networking pages, applications and blogs, social media has proved a particularly popular platform for corporate social responsibility activity.

Benetton turns to augmented reality

The Benetton “It’s My Time” competition involves consumers from around the world uploading images of themselves to a special website or visiting a Facebook group to become the brand’s “face”. The company claims it is looking for “something different, something unconventional”.

The competition is open to consumers globally, in keeping with the brand’s former style of marketing, which has always featured many people of different ethnicities and ages. Once the images have been uploaded, other visitors can vote on their favourites.

Augmented reality also features as part of the experience. Erik Ravelo, creative director of Fabrica, Benetton’s in-house communication research centre, had previously used the technique in the brand’s in-house Colors magazine. Special 3D barcodes were printed at the top of photos, which then appeared to come “alive” when held up in front of webcams.

“We wanted to find a way to connect the magazine with all the amazing stories out there,” says Ravelo, who adds that this is how the augmented reality aspect was extended to the “It’s My Time” competition. As a result, the competition website lets users print out special PDF files showing images and use webcams to bring these to life.

Once the voting on the “It’s My Time” competition has been completed in early March, a judging panel will pick 20 men and women from the top 100 chosen by online voters to fly to New York and appear in Benetton’s marketing.

The 20 winners will receive a professional modelling contract and remain in New York while production of the Benetton Autumn-Winter 2010 campaign is completed. As well as all their expenses in New York being covered, they will also receive a €200 voucher for Benetton clothing.

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