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What PR can learn from Interactive agencies

The last week has been all a buzz with the release of the first Social Media Press Release in Canada (according to Ed Lee) by Weblo & High Road Communications, and with the announcement of the new Edelman CMS for social media news releases.

I think SNR is a great idea. I applaud it… I’m glad communicators are taking the lead in engaging their audience. But… (and it’s a big one) PR agencies venturing into web development and Interactive marketing would do well to learn the lessons Interactive Ad agencies did over the last 10 years. I recognize it’s a new field, this social media stuff, and we’re each trying to find our way, but the nature and shape of the programming behind the web hasn’t changed.

The biggest issue with both releases is fundamental – they don’t follow Internet standards.

Neither follow W3C guidelines. Not only is this bad form for a website, it also defeats a part of the very purpose the release was developed for: to communicate broadly across all channels. By not coding the sites properly, both stand a huge chance of not being indexed correctly by the search engines. How does that help the client?

If PR is going to continue leading the charge in the social media/ interactive space, I suggest getting serious about the tech – in all its forms.

[photo credit: Simon Pow on Flickr]

[h/t - Strumpette & Ed Lee]

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Google and GM get innovative and integrated

In an on-going series of moves between the auto giant and the search giant, Google and GM in the U.S. have teamed up to showcase that Google delivers interactivity with the launch of the new Saturn campaign in partnership with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

Via CNet:

Visitors to a variety of Web sites in six cities around the country that are home to 22 Saturn dealerships will see what look like typical banner ads for Aura, a new Saturn midsize sedan. Clicking on an ad will produce a view of the earth that zooms in on the dealership nearest to the computer user.

The doors to the virtual dealership fly open, revealing the general manager, who introduces a brief commercial about Aura. After the spot ends, the general manager returns, standing next to an Aura and offering choices that include spinning the car 360 degrees, inspecting its engine, printing a map with directions to the dealership and visiting the Web sites of Saturn or the dealer.

The project is intended to stimulate demand for Aura test-drives with a twist: The dealerships will deliver the cars to the homes of consumers. The theme of the project is “Take the 250,000-mile test drive.”

I love that this campaign embraces the dealership walk-around experience and showcases the features and warmth of the Saturn brand without overkill or irrelevance to what I as a potentially purchaser would be interested in. And of course, delivering the car to your door? Priceless.

[photo credit: Elsie esq. on Flickr]

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Xbox dives into UGC

In a bold move sure to please gamers and artists alike, Microsoft will release a consumer version of their Xbox game design software this holiday season.

The software will be downloadable and have the ability to create games for both Windows PCs and Xboxes, which will of course immediately corner the independent game design market for Microsoft. Eventually Microsoft plans to allow designers to sell their personally created games on Xbox Live.

The buzz is already starting amongst a highly influential group, video game design teachers, and the unique selling points are two-fold – the ability to demo your games to your friends on your TV and the price point vs. high-powered and expensive PCs typically required to run the games.

Moore hopes the availability of easy-to-use programming tools will spark independent game development at many levels, from garages to universities. Already 10 universities have committed to adding Game Studio Express to game design curricula this fall. “We think high school science teachers will embrace this very quickly,” Moore says.

Georgia Tech University video game design instructor Blair MacIntyre says his students will now be able to buy an Xbox 360 rather than a high-powered PC to test their game prototypes. “Imagine how exciting it will be to be a student and be able to show your friends your class project running on their Xbox, hooked up to their TV in their living room,” he says.

I can see this as next-gen UGC in the next year or two, with the potential to create a cottage industry for many graphic designers/ game developers. Which of course begs the question — will users include brands in their games? If so, will it be handled by companies and marketers as a variation on YouTube, or because it’s Microsoft & users have the potential to make a profit, will we demand it be highly regulated? Will we start cutting individual product placement deals with indie designers?

Should be interesting!

[Image credit: warpaintlighly on Flickr]

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Farecast beta review

Thanks to Stuart MacDonald I was able to grab a private beta account with Farecast, a new online travel start-up that offers fare predictions. I like the concept of being able to tell if I should buy now or wait as a consumer. However, as Stuart points out, this could only add stress for consumers planning a trip, which is I think, a large part of why people have been moving more and more towards all-inclusive vacations… less hassle, less stress, one-stop shopping.

Which brings me to two thoughts I have about this service… The first, trust, is the key to any company’s success, but especially when you are an unknown commodity trying to break into a crowded and competitive field with a product that’s very premise is “trust us”… The trust factor needs to be a key component of their launch strategy. Why should I believe you? How do I know I can trust the information you’re giving me?

The second is the target market for the service… who are they? If they’re regular joe’s then Farecast needs to get some vacation packages in the service. Most people planning a vacation don’t do it a la carte. At the very least I would think they’d need to partner with a Hotels.com or similar service to make the process relatively seemless and valuable, and provide longevity in the marketplace. If it’s not regular joe’s then is it business travelers? Small and medium sized corporate travel? This could be a tough sell as a ton of business travel is done relatively last minute and with not a lot of time to deal with fare predicitions. Although, as Kevin pointed out to me during a chat yesterday, it could be done right with testimonials from satisfied small business owners or companies with a large number of travelling sales reps… in which case that should be a focus of the product design and functionality.

In terms of the site design, I like the prediction charts and graphs, and definitely like the options for refining the search terms, but overall the UI could stand some tweaking. The way the fare & prediction info is presented could be more intuitive, with an easier tie-in of information (i.e. the FF points from each airline, multiple ways to sort and view, etc.). Stuff like tool-tips could also be useful… make the service as simple to use as possible while keeping the value up front.

They’re still a ways off from launch, so it will be interesting to see how it evolves as they gather user feedback and keep refining the product. I’m a big fan of these betas from start-ups and anticipate they’ll take the feedback from all us consumers and make a better product. Only way to do it and be successful. ;)

I have 25 beta invites for anyone interested… drip me a line if you’d like to give it a test drive.

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Adidas’ Adicolor campaign: targeting the influencers

Adidas wrapped up a viral, podcasting campaign that is an interesting expression of targeting a niche audience and hoping the word spreads. It takes a chance, walking the line between being too ‘edgy’ and not risky enough, but I think it is a step in the right direction nonetheless. Today’s brands need to build their brand as a citizen brand, and take chances to illicit real and meaningful feedback in order to be truly effective in selling product & engaging a larger audience.

Roger Wong has the scoop:

…Adidas puts their own spin to this concept by commissioning shorts from
hip young directors, with only one parameter: Tell the story of a color.

However, instead of throwing up a website that consolidated all the shorts, Adidas created a video podcast that you could subscribe to get updates as these were released serially. The first, “White“, started the series in late March, and the last, “Black“, ended it in early May. Each url was the RGB value for the color.

……….

Oh and another interesting thing about this campaign: Not once is
Adidas mentioned on the sites or in the shorts. Of course if you’re an
Adidas freak, you’d know that these refer to the color-it-yourself
Adicolor shoes from the 1980s, but otherwise you’re left to do your own
investigation as to what Adicolor is http://www.adidas.com/us/adicolor/.

This is an interesting strategy & really integrates well with the types of things the Adidas evangelist cutomers are into online. The vip and underground aspect rings through loud and clear & I applaud the use of podcasting, serial releases (content rich), and the emotional and sensory tie-in with the 80’s brand.

But the URL’s as RGB values? Hmmm… It sounds like a cool underground tactic, but I’d only go there if it was truly integrated & user friendly – e.g. the links are integrated heavily with del.icio.us tags, technorati tags, Google, etc. etc. Making your customers work that hard to get to your content is never a good idea, even when they are the with-it crowd.

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