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Volume 20 No. 42
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What you'll see in 2013

Never before has the pace of change in digital marketing been this brisk. Technological advancements, in areas such as social media monitoring, advanced video streaming and consumer data mining, have made efforts that were fantasies or mere hopes just months ago not only reality now, but the basis of upstart businesses. What follows is a look at segments of digital marketing likely to grow in stature and importance in 2013.

Focus groups and exhaustive consumer polling still have their place in 21st-century brand marketing. They’re also frequently slow and expensive, and they don’t necessarily question the groups of consumers that brands want to hear from the most. Enter real-time, social media-based polling.

New York-based startup Poptip has been among those staking a leadership position in using Twitter as a means to probe consumers on their reactions and opinions about brand initiatives. Some questions are designed as direct responses on a particular marketing effort, providing feedback on whether to intensify or lessen activation. Others are more general queries aimed at gaining insight into consumer preferences.

Poptip’s platform allows brands to post questions on Twitter and track and display responses in real-time. Clients thus far have included the likes of EA Sports, Pepsi and ESPN, and the company is expanding its service to Facebook and Instagram.

“The polling is really just one part of where we’re looking to go,” said Kelsey Falter, Poptip president and founder. “What we’re after is an overall notion of crowd knowledge, and moving past push marketing to where there’s a real, two-way conversation between brands and consumers.”

The margin of error in Poptip’s instant polls is comparable to or slightly higher than traditional structures, Falter said. But the valuable trade-off is an immediate wave of unfiltered consumer sentiment.

“We think it’s inevitable that crowd knowledge becomes more and more infused into decision-making by marketers,” she said.

ESPN over the last several months has begun to get more aggressive with its online advertising treatments, particularly through site takeovers with high-definition video pushdown ads for movies and TV shows such as “Boardwalk Empire” and the “Assassin’s Creed” video game series. The company then took that takeover mentality to another level last month for promotion of its coverage of the BCS National Championship Game.

Working with the Red Interactive Agency, the ESPN effort featured a collapsible, widescreen video player, complete with a full complement of social sharing tools. But then the treatment, also involving matching side rail ads, took on another element, changing colors in real time to either Alabama’s crimson or Notre Dame’s blue based on users’ sentiment toward the game.

The effort generated more than 200,000 votes, split right down the middle, so the full effect of the color gradation wasn’t visible. But the technology is now being pitched to brand marketers with placements expected during 2013. Similar though less extensive overlay advertising concepts are also starting to be deployed on ESPN’s mobile properties.

“We’re trying to redefine what ad space is on the page,” said Marc Horine, ESPN vice president of revenue and operations for ESPN Digital and Print Media. “The basic idea is to bring in more interactivity into the video showcases, and engage users on a more active level. Before, we had to play more or less within the boundaries and standard ad units. Now, it’s a much more open canvas.”

People often don’t like to feel like they’re an overt subject of marketing, but in most cases, they like to compete and win. Enter “gamification.”

Applications vary widely depending on the particular market segment, including areas such as fitness and sports travel. But the base concept is turning any sort of marketing activity into a game. Users typically earn points for their activity, such as consuming media, purchasing tickets and merchandise, or attending events. Those points can then be redeemed for virtual and actual goods, discounts or other rewards.

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An emerging twist on the concept is quantifying social media activity by fans, and using that as a key rewards mechanism. The Los Angeles Dodgers last month were the latest pro team to launch a reward program in which fans earn points for activity on the club’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram destinations, among other actions to connect with the club.

The move follows similar efforts in recent months by teams including the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Orlando Magic, some of which have also expanded their loyalty programs to include other social areas such as Foursquare and GetGlue.

The programs are collecting large amounts of consumer data that are used for future sales and marketing activity. But with most of these programs, including public leaderboards, in addition to the prizes, the attempt to tap into fans’ competitive spirit puts a far different wrapper on the data collection.

“Being a sports fan is about passion and competition, and we believe through this platform we are entering the next phase of fan loyalty with the ultimate goal of rewarding fans for their support,” said Lon Rosen, Dodgers executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Sponsor-driven video segments and advertorials have often been viewer turnoffs at many sites. But Fox Sports, among others, has sought to bring life into the concept with additional star power and an increased effort on serializing the story narratives.

Fox recently introduced “Tailgate Fumbles,” an Oscar Mayer campaign for its “Carving Board” line of pulled pork.

Rather than look like an overt infomercial, the YouTube-styled video segments feature former NFL player Dhani Jones in football tailgate settings. The series also has a significant user-generated content component in which viewers are invited to submit tailgate photos of their own and vote on the best submissions.

The network, along with its online property Yardbarker, last fall ran a similar effort with Prilosec OTC and entertainer Larry the Cable Guy, who appeared at NASCAR races and college and pro football games. Other branded video treatments are in development for later this year.

“The usage numbers for all online video are obviously going up fast, so it’s about finding the right fit and developing compelling content,” said Marla Newman, Fox Sports senior vice president of ad sales. “Each use case is a bit different, but we’ve done well positioning these elements, and we’re going to be aggressive pushing this content into the social sphere.”

Twitter last month formally launched Vine, a short-form video sharing service it bought last fall. Vine allows users to post six-second mobile videos that play in automatic loops, providing a new form of content and advertising tailor-made for the super-brief attention spans of today’s consumers.

The service remains very much in its formative stages, but early users include the Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns,

Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Stars, New York Jets, U.K. soccer clubs Birmingham City and Liverpool FC, General Electric and the Gap, among many others. Most of the early experiments have focused on behind-the-scenes clips for fans, but more formalized treatments and professional-grade advertising are likely as Vine develops, as well as content specifically requested by users.

If Twitter has its way, Vine will become a social media verb along the lines of “tweet” and “like.”

“Posts on Vine are about abbreviation — the shortened form of something larger,” company founder and general manager Dom Hofmann said in a blog post. “They’re little windows into the people, settings, ideas and objects that make up your life. They’re quirky, and we think that’s part of what makes them so special.”