An online campaign isn’t just for Christmas, it should work for everyone every day says ais London

Geoff Gower, managing partner-creative of London-based digital and direct agency ais, says that the best online ‘campaigns’ are more than that: instead of asking how can we promote ourselves they should start from how can we help?

Bugger, still haven’t sorted out the agency Christmas card. This is what it feels like to be a client. I know full well the only seasonal campaign I have to worry about is going to happen in December, but I still left it to the last minute and now we’ll have to rush it.

There’s probably no real benefit in us doing a fancy ‘card’, but we got a fair bit of PR for an idea we did a few years back where clients could shoot our staff with a snow blaster so it’s become just one of those things we do (like a lot of agencies). Annoyingly though, even as I start worrying about it I know it’s not the right thing to do, it’s the opposite of what I keep telling clients. Don’t put all your money and effort into ‘campaigns’, think longer term – build applications and services that have a longer-term benefit, that customers can use every day (they probably won’t, but they could). Try to genuinely help, inform and entertain little and often, not rarely and grandiosely.

We did some nice work for O2 a while back. It’s a phone network that sponsors music venues including (obviously) The O2. We built an app that tracks the music you listen to via Spotify and then matches it to bands playing venues near you. The fans get to see gigs they might have missed, the bands and venues get a bigger audience and everyone loves O2.

We’re not alone of course, some of the most awarded work in the world follows this model. The obvious example would be Nike+ and, more recently, the Nike Fuel Band, both lovingly and brilliantly executed by R/GA.

And, it’s not an approach that’s only evidenced in physical applications and products, it could be a great new service or a great new way of servicing the customer. It doesn’t even have to be useful, it could just be fun – look at the Heineken Starplayer app, which adds a little excitement to even the drabbest, most lopsided Champions League game by rewarding accurate predictions of forthcoming events.

It even works in the B2B world. American Express has already beaten the competition by synchronising Facebook profiles with account data, but with the ‘Small Business Gets an Official Day’ campaign they and their agency CP+B applied similar service-led thinking to their SME audience. Fundamentally, they didn’t start with the question, ‘how can we promote ourselves’. Instead they started from the point of view ‘how can we help?’.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t create beautiful, moving, pieces of film, but I’d like to see a similar level of investment and effort into work that works for everyone, every day. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and put 100 per cent of my microscopic budget into something similar for our clients next year.

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