Engagement is common thread through ad:tech New York discussions

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NEW YORK - The term engagement was a topic of much conversation at ad:tech New York, an interactive marketing and technology show that has attracted more than 11,000 delegates this week.

David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America, spoke Nov. 6 at length about engagement in his keynote titled, "From the Alley to the Avenue."

"I don't care what the medium is as long as it's something that people want to engage with it," Mr. Lubars told a packed room of interactive marketers.

He proposed that successful ad campaigns no longer begin at the media plan. Instead, advertisers must come up with an encompassing idea, which then determines the most appropriate channel for the message.

"If you have an insight, then the work that comes out of it should be logical," Mr. Lubars said.

He pointed to his agency for an example of a Dodge Caliber "Anything but Cute" campaign. The campaign had a base demographic of young men who could afford nothing more glamorous than the $15,000 car but identified with a "rough and tough" attitude.

A low budget online video clip that depicted hand-drawn fairy tale characters named Pig and Bear seeking to go into the meadow and frolic in the flowers saw amazing viral response.

The duo was turned into ham and a mounted head after daring to hitch a ride to the meadow from the Caliber. The popular campaign was followed with a My Space page where consumers posted comments and interacted with the brand.

A later panel addressed the definition of engagement - "Turning on a prospect to a brand idea through surrounding content" - and consumer-generated media's role in creating valuable product buzz.

Ze Frank, founder of ZeFrank.com, introduced the notion of online participants having various energy states. He spoke about the need for marketers to improve their online conversation skills.

"In order to have a good conversation, you don't walk into a room and tell people what you're going to talk about," Mr. Frank said.

Instead, he said getting users engaged requires facilitating several ancillary conversations around relevant lifestyle and related topics.

Jonah Peretti, partner at online media blog Huffington Post, recommended marketers create a "war room" panel within a corporation or campaign to quickly address user feedback in a strategic way to drive more engagement. He warned against a desire to over-reach with creative or controversial campaigns.

Representing AOL, which recently re-branded as "serving the world's largest engaged online community," was Terry Pittman, executive director of consumer insight and innovation frameworks of the company's digital services arm.

Mr. Pittman said that engagement was a symptom of good content and product, not a cause of business growth.

Bob DeSena, managing partner of Mediaedge:cia, also addressed the question of dramatically monetizing engaged online consumers.

He said engaging online campaigns should lead to deeper data collection in order to personalize offers and walk customers through the buying cycle. At the end of the day, the success of any technique will be judged on conversion.

"Engagement isn't about engagement - it's about accountability," Mr. DeSena said.

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