The Great Digital Marketing Revolution that Wasn’t

Many years ago, in the prehistoric early ‘90’s, I remember strolling through a high-end shopping center and bumping into a then-state-of-the-art  technology demonstration stand. Their most eye-catching item was a cumbersome Virtual Reality helmet with a clunky graphics’ CG environment (similar, but not exactly, to what I attached below to give you an idea of what it was like).

In the simulation I experienced, you moved through a crude CGI futuristic town where you could even climb down the sewers while blasting Alien-Xenomorph-like blocky aliens.

When I saw this, it blew my mind! I thought this was a gigantic digital evolution leap! The future was here!

However, interestingly enough, the technology took a long time to be perfected and actually engage users. To this day, people still are not used to playing and exploring virtually inside the “cyberspace” (kids still prefer exploring the new hyper-real environments displayed on a huge flat screen, than wearing the currently available, slightly less cumbersome immersive VR technology).

There are some truly awesome immersive VR experiences that allow for on-site virtual team interaction, requiring a big location and very costly equipment, but these seem to be more of a one-shot fad than an ongoing media regularly explored, let alone used for marketing purposes.

Something similar happened with online advertising. When marketers took hold of the cutting-edge available technology, they did some spectacular executions that still amaze me to this day. However, due to restrictions of one kind or another (legal, corporate, lack of skilled programmers, or the actual digital platforms trying to have full control of content and tech advancement), these have not been able to take off.

For me, as someone constantly looking for innovative ways to promote films, this is frustrating.

Sometimes it feels like we make huge leaps forward just to be pushed and held back.

So, after that brief and slightly disgruntled introduction, here are four spectacular digital executions from years back that have blown my mind at the time that should have become commonplace, but are now practically impossible (or dated) to pull off.

As a big caveat, these executions were mostly done for a desktop experience (mobile phones and bandwidth were not yet as powerful as they are these days) and, to be honest, I have no idea how successful they were in terms of viewership and measurable interaction (probably not very cost effective). Proof of their success rests in the fact that they still feel like breakthrough executions, ten years after their implementation, and we are discussing them here.

Stallone blows up YouTube:

It was 2010 and YouTube was just 5 years young when Sly Stallone was promoting the first The Expendables film. If you clicked on a link, he appeared on what seemed like a regular YouTube interview, when suddenly the small screens with related videos at the right of the display began reacting aggressively at him.

Annoyed, he excused himself and responded, as a surprising, very explosive shootout involving all screens, ensued. Due to current YouTube policies, this (or something similar) is now practically impossible.

Carmen Electra has a crush on you!

Way back in 2008 when promoting the movie Meet the Spartans, a film with not a particularly hefty budget, mind you, the studio’s digital advertising team came up with a sophisticated, fun, interactive experience where users could input a friend’s name, phone number and photo.

Their friend received a link to an interview with Carmen Electra where she confessed her secret crush, which turned out to be that person! Carmen would show the “victim’s” digitally inserted name to the camera and his photograph on her wallet. Then, the target would receive a synched phone call from Carmen Electra inviting him to see the film. Sheer brilliance! One would think such interactive, personalized stunts featuring talent would have become commonplace after 12 years… but no. This was a rare, spectacular stunt, which today would be stupidly expensive, if not legally prohibitive for the use of a third person’s shared information.

It should be noted that a similar digital stunt was used that same year for TV’s Dexter and through recent years in the customizable Santa videos popular during the Holiday season.

Chaos in your town

In 2011 State Farm insurance’s advertising team created an ingenious interactive experience where you could input your address (or that of a friend’s house) and unleash a giant robot to deliver a message of unexpected destruction, using actual Google street view images from the real-life location!

The stunt was successful enough to prompt a sequel using a mobile app and AR technology. I haven’t seen this level of engagement and interactivity in years (and again, if you tried this today, it would probably cost millions to develop).

Jib Jab interactive e-cards

This one has not really disappeared, only underused, from my point of view.
Jib Jab’s interactive cards have been around since 2007 and I remember a High School Musical template that was really fun.

The technology to create template shareable videos where you can insert and animate your face along with those of your friends and family seems like a sure-fire tool to promote movies. However, for some reason or another (usually stratospheric development costs) have made partnering with the company very difficult.

Additionally, the visuals and interactivity style have not been updated in years, which makes these interactive clips’ style decidedly dated, with newer interactive platforms, like Tik Tok, having taken its place.

So there you have them, four digital stunts that seemed to be a turning point in interactivity, but weren’t.

Nowadays you’ve got face recognition, deep fake technology, filters, more accurate geo-localization and improved VR and AR technology, however for some reason it has become harder and harder (and not cost-effective) to create this type of engaging digital experiences, as technology platform owners and legal regulations tighten their grip on developers.

In my profession, we must seek ways to push the envelope, finding the best, cost-effective ways to capitalize on our Intellectual Properties and talent availability.

Meanwhile, today’s market seems to be limited to shopping around for the current trend (snapchat filters, TikTok videos, or candy crush/fruit ninja styled games), instead of creating new, truly original and engaging interactive experiences.

The technology and talented programmers seem to be there. We only need to listen to our maverick spirit to pull us away from the flock and drive us to explore uncharted territory, while navigating the corporate pitfalls, legal entanglement and the established social platforms’ chokehold.

There is a lot of innovating to do on the ongoing digital Revolution.

If we don’t do the conquering, who will?


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