Starbucks celebrates traditions with viral effort

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This season, specialty coffee retailer Starbucks Coffee Co. is running a viral campaign that asks consumers to share holiday traditions and express them through a combination of talking Web technology, e-mail, video and telephony.

The "On With Tradition" effort centers on a Web site at www.itsredagain.com that stars the Tradition Keeper, a bespectacled, suit-and-tennis-shoes-wearing 30-something who asks visitors to share their holiday traditions for his collection. The campaign also involves an in-store promotion; billboards; print ads; out-of-home such as station dominations, bulletins and train wraps; online rich media and standard banners. It is running worldwide, appearing in nine languages.

"Spending time with your family and friends is a common tradition with us all, regardless of our religious beliefs or where in the world we live," said Bev Davis, interactive producer at lead agency Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, OR. "We wanted to add an element of entertainment to encourage users to want to share their traditions and to read or view the traditions of others."

Site visitors watch a combination of video and customized animation. Cards they create are a way to pass along the experience to friends. E-mail addresses of users and their friends are not collected for a database.

"Functionally, the application and the site give users the freedom to be sincere, sentimental or funny," Ms. Davis said.

The Web site launched Nov. 9. Seattle-based Starbucks is tracking page views and e-greetings along with other metrics. About 3,000 users worldwide have submitted traditions. Also, the Tradition Keeper has 5,000 friends on his specially created MySpace profile page.

In addition to his numerous MySpace friends, the Tradition Keeper also works with six unique "spokestoys," animated characters that speak a holiday message consumers input in text on the Web or via the phone. The spokestoys, which include a gingerbread man, a Russian doll, a snowman and a reindeer, were designed by Wieden + Kennedy and get their functionality from Oddcast.

"Starbucks came to us with a clear idea of how to use our technology," said Emily Twomey, vice president of sales at Oddcast, New York.

This is one of the first times the software that enables animated text to speech or telephony audio transfer was used alongside video. Technology design firm Odopod, San Francisco, engineered and produced the Web site, which features video of the Tradition Keeper and sample greetings from the spokestoys.

Messages sent from a friend have a 70 percent open rate, Ms. Twomey said, and 35 percent of those opens are likely to pass such a message along to another friend or family member. Users also are apt to react longer with the material on the site, an average of four to six minutes, she said.

Oddcast's technology is fitted with an automatic "bad word" filter for text to speech that responds to vulgar language with a pop-up box that says "Keep it Clean." Oddcast provides screeners who listen to the over-the-phone messages and approve the content within 24 hours.

"Companies are opening up to not using censorship," Ms. Twomey said. "Censorship does kind of slow down the momentum of a viral campaign."

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