Shell may bear the label “Big Oil,” but the global brand is not neglecting paid campaigns on the local level. Like many, the company is carefully testing performance of its owned vs. paid media channels.
An interesting example can be seen in its use of dynamic video creative to drive people to regional events.
“To some, Shell is a great company, but to others – it’s ‘What’s their intention here?’” commented Ignacio Gonzalez, GM of Shell Eco-marathon, Americas. “We have to look at, ‘Do people trust media?’ ‘Do they trust us in our channel?’ and ‘Do they pay attention to paid advertising?’ I think those three are always evolving.”
The Shell Eco-marathon event acts as an international innovation accelerator of sorts, bringing college and high school students together in a competition to build the most energy-efficient vehicle in the United States, Europe and Asia. Over the course of three days in Houston for the Americas competition, Shell invites the public to convene around energy topics and to witness some 110 teams from Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States in action.
One of the challenges for the brand has been to promote the event and competition to the right audience within resources and budget. Because Shell originally promoted the event at international and national scale, it was tasked with driving traffic to an urban discovery park in Houston and targeting families instead of just thought leaders in the energy space.
“We had a lot of content already and a lot of great video that powered the back story of the students getting to Houston and putting their cars together, but the competition touches so many different topics, that we thought, ‘How do we also get people locally who might want to work for Shell?’” Gonzalez said.
Shell wanted a platform to help integrate all of its messaging and content and to be able to deploy it quickly, as well as alter it on the fly throughout the duration of the Eco-marathon event. After retaining Hearst-owned agency Amuse Digital recently, Shell turned to cloud-based display ad platform Flite to create a content hub on the Houston Chronicle site to reach a Houston audience.
Shell ran 3.3 million impressions and garnered a click-through rate that was three times the rate of the publisher’s other rich media units (.25% over .08%). The average view time for the video ads was 41 seconds as opposed to the average 10.4-second view time.
Using Flite, “the brand and the agency can activate a media plan, buy the audience they want, guarantee their reach and then [gain] the flexibility to be able to program the content to make it as easy as possible [to alter content dynamically],” said Will Price, CEO of Flite.
Flite recently inked a deal with VivaKi to distribute Flite more broadly across Publicis Groupe agencies, which Price said will give the platform more legs to answer a universal brand question of how to get better at real-time content marketing. Flite has retained a number of accounts following the deal, including Kraft’s CornNuts, an account represented by Starcom MediaVest Group.
Flite, which essentially allows publishers and brands to integrate a range of applications like BrightCove and Ooyala to its ad server and to “create ad units on Flite that are syndicated versions of [the content or landing pages] with the exact same functionality the Web page has,” Price said. Flite, therefore, connects the content to the impression buy and runs analytics on the ad units with “media-specific” information about what content is driving engagement and what needs to be amplified.
Gonzalez said Shell will continue to experiment with paid vs. earned and owned media to see what effect each or a hybrid has on the brand at a local-event level. “We [expend] a lot of effort on earned media and we always question, ‘Are we getting the most value from that, or the most value of us being our own channel or our own media?’ At some point, you may be more effective pushing your messages through your own channel, but that’s our ultimate challenge – knowing, ‘Who does our audience trust?’”
Of course, earned media can be precarious for an oil company. Shell recently bore the brunt of a Greenpeace stunt staged at a Shell-sponsored Formula 1 racing ceremony --- the video ran rampant on YouTube and was subsequently pulled. In the video, grassroots organization Greenpeace raised a “Save the Arctic” banner splitting an image of the Shell logo and the mug of a polar bear.
As Gonzalez acknowledges, “we have some years where there are tough issues” to overcome. He offered Alaska exploration as an example. If the public does not respond in kind, it has a direct impact on the paid vs. earned strategy. And, inevitably, that means tweaking the investment accordingly. Testing and iterating based on daily events and public attitudes is paramount.