Interactive campaigns build buzz with fun

Laura Petrecca
January 18, 2007

Some marketers are getting personal in their viral marketing as they continue to invent ways to interact with consumers online and try to get them to pass along the product message.

Today, job site will announce the launch of, a site where consumers can upload a photo of a themselves or someone else, alter the image in a way that ages the person about 50 years and pass the result on to others via e-mail. The underlying message: The stresses of a bad job will age you.

Such personalized marketing is seen as a way to build brand buzz at a time when traditional advertising is losing power, says Richard Castellini, consumer marketing head for the job-finding site that is jointly owned by Tribune (TRB), McClatchy (MNI) and USA TODAY parent Gannett (GCI).

Marketers can no longer use "down-your-throat" ads that just push messages at consumers, Castellini says. "In this new millennium of ... user-generated content, you have to create a way that consumers can engage with your message in a way they want to."

Other brands that have recently let consumers create product messages in their own image include M&M's and OfficeMax (OMX).

During Tuesday night's season premier of American Idol, M&M's promoted the "character creator" on its new site. Consumers can create, in Mr. Potato Head fashion, a likeness of themselves as an M&M character by digitally sticking different eyes, hair, mouths, glasses and more on an M&M. There are about 27 million possible combinations for the character that can then be e-mailed.

"It's a little addictive," says Susan Credle, executive creative director BBDO, the ad agency for Masterfoods USA's M&M's.

OfficeMax took a similar tack with its holiday promotion Consumers could upload a photo of themselves and have their face appear on a dancing elf that could be e-mailed to others.

"People love to manipulate themselves and make themselves do something fun and funny," says Anne Bologna, co-founder of OfficeMax ad agency Toy New York.

Details on each company's effort:

•CareerBuilder: The Age-O-Matic rollout comes one year after CareerBuilder's successful campaign. That one let people send an e-mail featuring the chimp from the company's TV ads. Monk-e-Mail let consumers record a message, through text-to-speech or by calling an 800 number, that the chimp would lip-sync for those who received the e-mail. Some 85 million Monk-e-Mails have gone out so far.

As with Monk-e-Mail, the Age-O-Matic lets consumers mate their voice with the image in the e-mail.

The instant-aging site "is tied to the idea of, 'This job is killing me,' " says Karen Seamen, general manager of CareerBuilder ad agency Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago.

•Masterfoods USA: Just a day after the TV ads' debut for, the site had more than 34,000 visitors who spent an average of 11 minutes making characters.

Print ads for also feature the M&M caricatures. An M&M that looks like Burt Reynolds from his Smokey and the Bandit role is in the initial print ad.

Next up: Joan and Melissa Rivers as M&M's on an awards show red carpet.

•OfficeMax: In a bid to put OfficeMax "on the radar as a holiday gift-giving destination," Toy New York created 20 micro sites with different things for consumers to e-mail their friends, says Bologna.

The most visited was the ElfYourself site, where more than 11 million elves were created between Nov. 27 and its close at New Year's. At its peak, more than 41,000 an hour were being created. Some popped up on sites such as and

"Diane Sawyer and the cast of Good Morning America did elves of themselves," Bologna says. She says her agency also got a call from the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. The team made an elf of their mascot Moondog and put it on their arena's video screens.

"It was a pop culture phenomenon," she says.

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