You’ve heard the old saying about the United States and Britain being two countries separated by one language. On my latest trip to London for the International Direct Marketing Fair in March, I decided to see if that thought translated to Internet advertising. Are U.S. and U.K. companies divided on how they plug their Web sites, or are we united under the dot-com banner?
You might remember that I prattled on about this topic from a domestic angle last issue. To recap, the Internet promotion strategies of many American companies can be summed up in one word: Huh?
As I started looking at the numerous Web ads all over London, I began to wonder if British marketers did a better job of conveying their Web image to an offline audience that might not have heard of them yet. After a rigorous week of scientifically calculated research (I looked at ads on the wall while waiting for the subway and in magazines and newspapers while drinking in pubs), I have the definitive answer: Yes – and no.
Two of the best I spotted were on billboards near the DM Fair at Wembley. TotallyJewish.com had a simple ad with its URL and the tagline “Cross the Red Sea? I’d rather surf it.” Simple, catchy and memorable. No matter what my beliefs, I’d want to check out this site, a Jewish lifestyle portal with content ranging from community and international news to wedding tips, entertainment gossip like the latest about “South Park” (hey, Kyle is Jewish) and a compendium of the world’s worst Jewish songs (including “Matzo No. 5,” “Minnie the Moocher” in Yiddish and “Where is Love” as sung by Leonard Nimoy).
The other billboard was for the Financial Times Web site. The copy was simple – “FT.COMpetitive edge” – but made instantly “sticky” to the memory with type in pink, the color of the paper’s newsprint. When I saw an extended version of the same ad in the next day’s newspaper, it immediately linked my mind back to the billboard, and thus the site.
The same day, I saw a striking ad featuring a close-up of a beagle with windblown ears. I remembered the ad was for a job listings site, and assumed it was for Total Jobs.com, the next such firm whose print ad I viewed.
Later, I thought it might be for TopJobs.net, which ran a print ad asking people if they wanted to be the “top banana.” The ad featured a close up of…well, if you don’t know what, never mind. This made me think perhaps in the earlier ad they were walking the “top dog” theme? I dunno. This one’s a draw – or is it? I remembered the field, if not the company, which is of little use if I wanted to visit the site.
PetsPyjamas.com, I was informed by a native, is one of the United Kingdom’s leading online pet retailers. You wouldn’t know it by their print ads, which feature a sad-looking stuffed cat unfavorably reminiscent of Toonces from the old “Saturday Night Live” driving-cat sketch. The cat, with outstretched paws, asks: “Shopping from home. Isn’t everybody doing it?” While the accompanying text does a good job of pitching the site, it’s clunky.
As for the site, it’s not bad. A banner on the opening page proclaims: “What Every Pet Wants… Their Own Web Site.” (This must be a peculiarity of European pets. Other than sitting on top of it, my feline office mates have shown little interest in the computer.) Visitors who register are entered in a drawing to win a “cataerobic center.” (Again, likely another trait indigenous to Europe. When told of this fabulous opportunity, my cats politely declined, suggesting I’d benefit more from something aerobic.)
“Delay becoming your parents” is the slogan for Virgin.net, an online guide to entertainment surely set up as a competitor to the magazine Time Out. I’m assuming my age range – no longer a club kid but not yet at the changing nappies stage of my existence – is the target, and it worked.
As for GetOutThere.bt.com, I’m guessing I definitely wasn’t the target audience. The site allows musicians to upload their music to the Web and have it reviewed by their peers. The print campaign is pretty straightforward – text heavy enough to explain the concept, but not overly wordy. But the site – which requires a visitor to download four plug-ins before getting past the intro page – was beyond me.
Finally, we come to PeterWerth.co.uk. I had no idea who or what Peter Werth was, but was compelled to check out the site after seeing the print ad in a music magazine. The full-page ad featured a smiling nude man – tattooed and pierced from head to toe – sitting down and covering his naughty bits with his hands. The tagline read, “I am Peter Werth’s accountant.” My initial thought was that it must be a band, but no, it was a men’s clothing designer (or consortium of designers operating under one name, to be precise). Oddly, I had to go through five screens before I saw any clothes, which weren’t that impressive when I got to them.
In this instance, the emperor had no clothes. But he did have a heck of a lot of tattoos.