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4/5/2006
03:34 PM
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Truckin' And 'Pot'

If you're in IT, and if you're a member of the team working on your company's Web site and you think it's boring, chances are good others will, too. Don't be afraid to suggest things (particularly to the marketing types--they're generally open to ideas). Take a lesson from some other corporate folks who are pushing the edge a bit. It just might work. It might also get you some positive attention from the business types, and that's always a good thing.

So call the political correctness police already. But I'm betting the title got you to read this, or at least scan it. Didn't it?

If so, you're helping make my point that a little experimentation online can go a long way. Two interesting online marketing campaigns have proven that. Both were risky and edgy, for very different reasons.One, from Chevy, invites customers to go to a special Web site and submit an ad about the car maker's Tahoe truck. To say it got a, um, full load isn't an understatement. More about that later.

The other, from those wags at Park Seed, was an E-mail newsletter with the subject-line heading of "free pot," followed a few days later with a second newsletter whose subject line said, "oops, we meant, free container." (Full disclosure: I'm a subscriber to this gardening E-newsletter, which is how I learned about it.)

Curious about whether someone got fired and/or if customers complained over the first newsletter's subject line, I contacted the 138-year-old, family-run seed purveyor. Claire Kuhl, Park Seed's PR director--who incidentally used to work in IT--said it was indeed done on purpose. In fact, the seed company received a huge E-mail response--three times the normal volume--"from customers who wrote that got the joke and appreciated the humor," Claire wrote (in an E-mail, of course). Only a couple complained.

So the company connected with customers, and that's of course a good thing. Even better, the combined open rate of the pot and container E-mails broke Park's internal record for the year. (The "open rate" quantifies how many people actually open any given E-mail.) The pot E-mail actually set a record of its own, and the follow-up "apology" topped that by two percentage points. (Park Seed is privately held and so doesn't divulge much by way of financial info, or any other info for that matter, unless of course you want to know what types of daffodil bulbs they carry.) The company is still looking at other numbers, like how much money was spent by readers of both newsletters, but early indications point to success on all fronts.

As for the Chevy campaign, the whole notion ties into General Motors' sponsorship of The Apprentice TV show--you know, the one with the rich guy who's got a lousy haircut and tells people "You're fired" every week. What a job, huh?

Anyway, the idea was to invite Web-heads to a special site, where there are tools and TV clips and things they can combine in various ways. Some of the resulting user-submitted ads, as you may have already guessed, weren't very nice. Several berated Tahoes, and SUVs in general, for being gas-hogging planet-haters. Another had less than complimentary things to say about drivers of those kinds of vehicles. But out of the 21,000 submissions received end-of-day April 3, only 20% were negative, according to Melisa Tezanos, communications manager for Chevrolet. Even more interesting, the company has kept many of these less-than-positive messages up on the site. The only ones removed have been ones with profanity, obscenities, or anything negative directed at a particular group of people. (Ethnic slurs fall into this last category.)

Despite the negative messages, however, Chevy believes the campaign has been successful so far, Tezanos says. As of April 3, the site has had over 3.5 million page views. And over 40% of the traffic on the main Chevy site--the one that wants to sell you a car via your local dealership--originated from the Apprentice site.

Even the negative comments have an upside. "It's provided us with some of the misconceptions some consumers have" of the Tahoe, Tezanos explains, which include the gas-guzzling idea. The company now knows it needs to do a better job of getting out the message that the Tahoe runs on ethanol and has, by SUV standards, pretty decent MPG stats, she says.

What I came away with from both these campaigns is that the online world is definitely the place for wild and crazy things, even in a corporate setting. The Web is still a young medium, and there aren't any hard and fast rules. It's the place for experimentation. So if you're in IT, and if you're a member of the team working on your company's Web site and you think it's boring, chances are good others will, too. Don't be afraid to suggest things (particularly to the marketing types--they're generally open to ideas).

Take a lesson from some other corporate folks who are pushing the edge a bit. It just might work. It might also get you some positive attention from the business types, and that's always a good thing.

What have you seen online that has surprised you (in a good way) or perhaps made you smile unexpectedly? Or maybe caused you to buy something that you didn't think you needed beforehand? Comment below.If you're in IT, and if you're a member of the team working on your company's Web site and you think it's boring, chances are good others will, too. Don't be afraid to suggest things (particularly to the marketing types--they're generally open to ideas). Take a lesson from some other corporate folks who are pushing the edge a bit. It just might work. It might also get you some positive attention from the business types, and that's always a good thing.

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