A shortage of skilled staff in the digital sector has made online planners and buyers some of the most sought-after people in media. But their popularity is also due to them producing some fine work, as shown by the AOL Online Planning Awards, in association with Media Week, which were handed out on 4 October.
The awards attracted a record number of entries and resulted in five category winners and a winner of the coveted Grand Prix award.
In a speech on the night in keeping with the upward trends of digital, Guy Phillipson, chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau, declared that the web would overtake TV to become the biggest advertising medium by the end of the decade. He was buoyant, having just announced the latest figures for online ad spend in the UK.
Spend for the first half of 2007 grew 41.3% compared to the same period last year to reach £1.3bn. Phillipson was surprised, as the growth in online even outstripped the IAB's projected figures.
Entries proving that clients are doing the right thing by ploughing money into online included the big winner on the night: I-Level's Talk to Frank campaign, which made innovative use of MSN Messenger to facilitate 1.2 million digital conversations with teenagers.
Frank is the drugs advice and information service of the Home Office, Department of Health and Department for Education and Skills (now the Department for Children, Schools and Families). I-Level and MSN spent two years creating the Frankbot, a software programme that mimics the way humans respond to questions in everyday parlance.
The conversations between the web robot and young people lasted an average of five minutes and more than 178,000 people added Frank to their MSN buddy list. Judges were impressed by the technology and said it provided an image of what future online marketing campaigns will look like. The initiative was based on the premise that when teenagers no longer pick up the phone to friends, they use instant messaging services instead.
The COI already had a Frank e-mail service, website and telephone service but, realising that 90% of 11 to 18-year-olds use instant messaging, the next stage was to engage with teenagers on MSN Messenger.
Engaging people with an insurance brand is also difficult, according to Zed Media account director Diane Rowe, winner of the Best Branding Campaign for the agency's Zurich Futurology work.
"Insurance is very competitive and clients spend huge amounts trying to get themselves heard," said Rowe. "Essentially, it's a very boring topic and a difficult area given the huge amounts clients spend on marketing. Zurich wasn't going to be a top five insurance brand in terms of scale, but we felt we had an opportunity to be innovative with digital."
Zed brokered a close relationship with Guardian Unlimited, whereby Zurich users were encouraged to sign up to the site through its Impact of Change campaign.
Best Direct Response Campaign went to Blue Barracuda for Pizza Hut's online ordering and delivery service. Judges were impressed by the link up with online DVD service Lovefilm. They praised the use of behavioural targeting and search in getting customers through the door.
OMD UK's Sam d'Amato, who scooped the Best Cross-Platform Campaign for Walkers Lunch Happy crisps, said the work was possible because the client was brave. With a huge online presence, the campaign used tie-ups with The Sun, GCap Media and Emap. Radio stations shut down for an hour as part of Walkers' aim to get people to reinvigorate the lunch break.
"Over half of Walkers sales occur at lunchtime and the company had witnessed a big decline in sales," he said. "We realised the British lunch break now usually entails 15 minutes at a desk and combined Walkers being a quintessentially British brand with reinvigorating lunchtime sales."
Finally, Hannah Lury, digital strategist at BLM Quantum, was awarded Young Digital Person of the Year. She was commended for her in-depth understanding of media and glowing references from clients and was declared "a great young face for the industry".
With online in rude health, expectations for agencies to deliver innovative campaigns are increasing. The AOL Online Planning Awards, in association with Media Week, showed the sector is maturing fast and that expectations are starting to be met.
ONLINE PLANNING AWARDS
- Best Use of the Online Medium
Alex Miller and Tom Dunn of I-Level for Talk to Frank Campaign for the COI
- Best Branding Campaign
Diane Rowe of Zed Media for Zurich Futurology in partnership with Guardian Unlimited
- Best Cross Platform Integrated Campaign
Sam d'Amato of OMD UK for Walkers Crisps' Lunch Happy campaign
- Best Direct Response Campaign
Martin Talks of Blue Barracuda for Pizza Hut's launch of an online ordering and delivery service
- Young Digital Person of the Year
Hannah Lury of BLM Quantum.