The Khloe effect. Has internet advertising abandoned creativity?

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The Huffington Post reports that Khloe Kardashian (who?) is now being paid as much as $13,000 per tweet. The fee doesn't cover profound wisdom like "Remember sweat is fat crying" - it's for equally useful posts wherein she names brands and includes links to products.

This practice isn't uncommon in Hollywood. Facially tatooed ex-boxer, Mike Tyson, has some sort of tie-in with  Golden Crisp breakfast cereal, for instance. Although the average sleb has to be careful (Wayne Rooney was reprimanded by the mighty ASA for passing off Nike endorsements as personal tweets in 2012, which I'm sure worried him enormously), this seems to be a handy revenue stream for the well-known. And why not? I'd be delighted if someone gave me so much as a quid for each of my tweets. Or even ten pence.

But is this really the way we thought internet advertising would go? Surely, fifteen years ago,  I wasn't the only creative professional who imagined the web would open up a whole new field of conceptual possibilities. At last, here was a platform which allowed for genuine interaction with an audience. Many designers suddenly had the chance to introduce movement and animation to their work, without a spectacular increase in budget. Likewise, print copywriters could progress from sales prose in press ads to scripts and storyboards.

For a while, these ambitions bore fruit. I recall a truly wonderful microsite called Subservient Chicken, promoting Burger King chicken sandwiches. The visitor was greeted by a bloke in a bad chicken suit, standing in a flat, in real time on a webcam. Next to the screen was a text box, into which instructions could be typed. To the surprise and delight of the user (alright, me) the chicken man would then obey the command. Tap in 'Do a funky dance' and that's exactly what he did. The process was actually generated by a database of clips - the costumed hero wasn't actually live at all. Funny, fascinating and engaging - this was really tremendous work.

I was involved in a campaign for a telephone bank, which used a slider, placed at the side of the online ad, to change the mood of the people portrayed. Not as humorous as the chicken, but still pretty effective.

However, gradually but noticeably, this adventurousness gave way to standardised, clickable banners and buttons. Disappointingly, the online portion of many campaigns was simply an adapted version of the press execution. Some clients became very keen on 'disruptive' ads, designed to intrude on the viewer's browsing by expanding across the web page. But, to my mind, these were no better than the awful and much-hated pop-up ads, which plagued the internet for a couple of years, before browser technology blocked them.

Of course, it's impossible to discuss internet advertising without mentioning Google Adwords. As we've seen in the recent controversy over their tax affairs, Google pretty much owns advertising on the web. And it would be a fool who didn't admire their 'pay-per-click' business model. From the client's point-of-view, this is manna from heaven: ads you only pay for if they work (or at least generate clicks). Unfortunately, from a creative perspective, Adwords is almost a desert. Yes, that little paragraph of text does require some basic copywriting, but conceptually there's very little scope. The real skill lies in the management of the campaign, rather than in the studio.

There are some honourable exceptions. The Fosters work with Steve Coogan, which saw new Alan Partridge sketches appear with the brewer's branding, was a tremendous idea. Although I'm surprised this sort of sponsored content hasn't really blossomed. Not yet, anyway.

Which brings us back to social media and celebrity tweeting. I have no doubt that advertisers see this as a potent and powerful opportunity. For $13,000, a brand can reach Khloe Kardashian's (who?) eighteen million followers in a very intimate and immediate way. I just can't help thinking this is a very base form of marketing - and wondering what happened to  all the web's exciting creative potential.

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant



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