Never a day goes by without further doom and gloom-laden headlines about downturns, credit crunches and economic woe. While some insist that the economic downturn is being talked up, advertisers are invariably looking for ways to ensure greater brand stand-out for their limited budgets.
In addition to shrinking advertising coffers, brands are fighting to make their voices heard against a backdrop of consumers splitting their attention across ever-more fragmented media, and spending more time out of home, or online.
Advertisers have to be more inventive and creative to make their budgets work harder. On the following pages, Media Week presents 10 innovative and often downright quirky examples of how brands are grabbing consumers' attention in today's tough economic climate.
In many cases, the following approaches involve employing more of the five senses - from aromatic direct mail to branded helium balloons - in a bid to ensure better engagement and better recall from advertising campaigns.
1. Direct mail - Sensational Mail
Direct mail has long suffered from the junk mail tag, but Royal Mail clearly has a keen interest in shaking off that image and proving DM can be a more sophisticated method of communication.
To build on its benefits as a 3-D medium, the company introduced Sensational Mail to enable brands to engage all five of their customers' senses. The paper is impregnated with microcapsules that release a smell each time it is touched, adding the sensation of smell to the direct mail experience.
To prove a point, Royal Mail used the technology for a mail-out of its own to 6,500 top media decision-makers. The A4 chocolate letter was sent out in November 2007. Anthony Miller, head of media development at Royal Mail, says: "From our own results, this was the highest recall we've ever had for a campaign, at more than 80%."
The aromatic mailing has now been taken up by other advertisers - a chain of garden centres is currently using a cut-grass smell.
Cost: Adding the smell increases production costs by 10 to 20%
2. Press - Ann Summers vibrating page
Introducing innovation in press advertising can be a difficult task, but Ann Summers achieved it with vibrating press ads for its premium Rabbit vibrator, The Wave.
With 18 to 34-year-old women making up the target audience, and with Ann Summers aiming to position itself as a fashion brand, magazine advertising was an obvious choice.
Agencies Manning Gottlieb OMD and Goodstuff worked on the campaign, which ran in June/July 2007. Andrew Stephens, partner at Goodstuff, says: "The twist with the Rabbit was that you can't show the product, but you can use the core concept of vibration."
To keep costs down, a winning ticket mechanic was used, where 1,000 pages in NW magazine vibrated. Those readers finding a vibrating page could redeem it in-store for a free Rabbit.
Karen Hendry, head of marketing at Ann Summers, says: "Magazines provided us with reach in an environment with other high street and fashion brands. The results were better than we hoped for - the media cost of the vibrating insert was around three times that of a normal page, but redemptions were more like 40 times the average."
Overall, the campaign exceeded the sales target of 100,000.
Cost: Three times the cost of a normal magazine page ad
3. Outdoor - Orange balloons
With UK audiences spending more and more time out of home, outdoor advertising has proved itself the fastest-growing traditional advertising medium, with a near 10% share in 2007 (source: Outdoor Advertising Association). While new technology has been the focus of much activity in this sector, JCDecaux, IPM, Initiative and Fallon collaborated to develop a more low-tech method of gaining extra standout for Orange.
This involved attaching balloons and stickers to sites as part of its two-week, multi-format campaign in June to support its Animals packages. During this period, more than 40,000 balloons were distributed, with the sites regularly replenished to ensure a constant supply for intrigued consumers.
Rob Hesketh, strategist at Open@JCDecaux says: "All Orange's creative used inflatable animals, so it was a lateral step to give them a physical presence. The balloons and stickers are visually arresting, but each also carried a mechanic from Orange. There were tags on the balloons about the pay-as-you-go brand and the stickers had a drive to the website.
"We didn't specifically say people should take them, but it is human nature - people like taking stuff."
Cost: Balloons add a cost of between £1 and £4.50 per balloon to a six-sheet campaign. Stickers are about £1.50 a time
4. Ambient - Pizza boxes
Reaching a captive audience in their homes has become a difficult exercise, hence the bright idea to use pizza boxes as an ad medium. As one of the few forms of media delivered to the door, it has the bonus of guaranteed consumer interaction, and is typically in front of consumers for 20 minutes.
But the benefits don't stop there, according to Jonathan Schultz, managing director of ambient media specialist Look Media. "The ad is seen in a comfortable environment, when the consumer is relaxed and there are no other ads," he says. "Each box hits, on average, 1.5 people, as pizzas are usually shared."
For one fast-moving consumer goods client using a money-off voucher, redemption rates were about 3.5%. Look Media recently ran a trial campaign for Be Broadband, which wanted to increase its customer base in Sheffield where its new exchanges were going live. The box was designed by design agency My Agency to look like a laptop and the ad included a call to action, offering a special deal that ran for four weeks, involving 50,000 boxes.
Cost: 30p to 40p per box, with a minimum order of 25,000 boxes
5. Radio - Deal Breakers
Unlike many in the industry, Virgin Radio is no credit crunch denier. Instead, it has tackled the downturn head-on with Deal Breakers, a new advertising format that tempts listeners with exclusive offers.
Deal Breakers consists of an ad break containing five non-competitive ads, run five times a day throughout the week.
The breaks are top and tailed with Virgin branding, with the tail announcement telling listeners to visit the Virginradio.co.uk website.
Chris Goldson, commercial content director at Virgin's new owner TIML, says: "Research showed 50% of our listeners would definitely take up exclusive offers, 47% said it depended what the offers were and only 3% were not interested."
A Deal Breakers microsite has been added to Virgin's website, where listeners can gain further information on offers such as downloading a coupon or getting a discount code.
Virgin expects the initiative to get off the ground by the end of August.
"Another benefit is that this service is going to be very accountable, because it involves data capture and you can count the number of people that take up the vouchers," adds Goldson. "Deal Breakers drives footfall and online traffic very directly."
Cost: Normal rates plus online page rental of £4,500 for a 10-day campaign
6. Experiential - Taxis
The black cab is a familiar sight on the streets of the UK's major cities, and its ability to act as a moving ad, reaching an urbanite audience, has been recognised over the years.
Andrew Barnett, managing director and founder of Ubiquitous Taxi Advertising, says that times are getting tougher as advertisers are becoming more cautious.
"But money is out there and taxis are well placed because of their broadcast opportunities for a low entry cost," he says.
And taxis can be more than simply moving posters these days. For while cab drivers can't act as advertisers' agents, they can offer experiential opportunities, as Seasonal Berries, the UK body representing fruit suppliers, proved last year.
The firm ran a 12-week campaign from June 2007, using 10 cabs, with the added impact of sending the cabs out packed with punnets of strawberries and raspberries, which promotional girls then handed out for free.
As a result of the campaign, the e-zine Superberries.co.uk had a significant uplift in visitors, reaching a record high of 700 unique visits per day and the number remained higher than the usual 250 unique visits per day for the duration of the campaign.
Cost: About £30,000, including cost of cabbies' time and promotional girls
7. Direct mail/digital - Personalised Integrated Media
The concept behind Personalised Integrated Media (PIM) is to combine the depth and pull of digital communications with the push of physical mail, in order to achieve better response rates.
The technique adds measurement capabilities to digital media, as the brand owner is alerted every time a recipient opens a CD-Rom.
To keep costs down, companies can repurpose existing media such as TV and radio ads, and they can make the experience unique to the recipients.
Anthony Miller, head of media development at Royal Mail, says: "The service is cost effective because you can put all content for all audiences on one disc, but then lock and unlock it, so it's personalised. You don't have to make an individual disc every time."
Audi was the first company to use the technique and others have followed, including Lexus, which used PIM to stimulate test-drive bookings for its IS200 series and achieved a response rate of more than 11%.
Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur is currently using PIM to encourage season ticket renewal - the content can be personalised down to the seat in the stadium, and the disc includes highlights of last season's games.
Cost: 80p to £1 per person for a 10,000-plus audience
8. TV/online - Doritos' user-generated ad
Big brands, traditionally reliant on TV advertising, are finding it harder to reach their target audience of young adults.
Crisp brand Doritos tackled this dilemma by embarking on a cross-media campaign with Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and OMD called "You make it, we play it". The campaign promoted a competition asking consumers to create their own Doritos ad, with the winner's ad being aired on national TV.
Pete Charles, marketing manager for Doritos, says: "We started by targeting creative amateurs, such as university students and film and art enthusiasts, with direct marketing, targeted print ads and online activity, so we used a mix of traditional and new media. We broadened out over time to a wider audience, for making and watching the results."
He adds: "The response was overwhelming. We expected about 200 entries and we received 1,300, of which 900 were valid. We selected the final five and they were voted for on our site. More than one million videos were viewed on YouTube and the Doritos.co.uk site."
The winner, Matt Bowron's "Tribe" ad, was initially aired during Euro 2008, and became the first ad to be beamed out to space, adding a further PR angle to the campaign.
Cost: £2m for total campaign
9. Cinema - Bluepods
Cinema audiences are experiencing a new level of interactivity with the convergence of Bluetooth technology and foyer advertising, courtesy of Bluepods. The technology allows advertisers to offer exclusive downloads to mobile users visiting the cinema.
Mike Hope-Milne, enterprise director at Pearl & Dean, says: "The technology now means Bluepods are about the size of a cigarette box, which you plug into an electrical socket and set to a range of about 50 metres. Bluepods can be operated remotely via wi-fi or a hardwired connection."
Toyota was the first brand to test the system, offering free downloads of a Michael Fakesch track last June. "The campaign beat all expectations, with 33% accepting the download, and an average 1,000 downloads per site per week," says Hope-Milne.
The system has since been developed to include a menu that allows users to pull what they want out of the information, avoiding the irritation factor and making the service more valuable to the advertiser. The advertiser only pays for content downloaded.
Cost: 75p per download. A typical package consists of 100,000 downloads
10. In-game advertising - NSPCC
In-game advertising, which allows advertisers to communicate with young people in their world without being too intrusive, is a growing medium, with some predicting it will be worth more than £1bn globally in the next three years.
Working with video gaming network Massive and Zed Media the NSPCC became the first children's charity to use in-game advertising this year.
Emily Knee, senior digital account manager for the NSPCC, says: "Our spring campaign was all about calling ChildLine about any problem, and we identified this as a large and growing area to reach an audience of boys. We went for games that were popular among 13 to 17-year-olds."
Barry Lee, board digital planning director for Zed Media, says that while brands cannot expect gamers to click through and step out of a game, the environment is very good for impressions.
"The quality of the impression is more robust. It has to be a certain size and angle and shown for 10 seconds before it counts as an impression," he explains.
NSPCC used dynamic in-game advertising, which is more cost effective, as the brand doesn't have to work with developers at the outset, but can instead book on number of impressions.
The ads can be serviced for as long as the Xbox gamers are online.
Cost: £5,000 for a four-week campaign with a guaranteed 250,000 impressions.