Unilever-owned Axe is taking personalization to the next level using programmatics. Under the name Haus of Axe, the brand is releasing a series of short films in Brazil entitled Romeo Reboot. The shorts are a remake of the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet, featuring four modern day romantics and directed by a selection of critically-acclaimed Brazilian filmmakers, including Oscar-nominated Daniel Rezende.
The content is being advertised using programmatic-powered trailers, which target four different audience segments based on factors such as musical tastes and previous brand purchases. Six of 11 scenes in the trailer can be personalized according to the viewer’s profile, resulting in a total of 100,000 possible permutations of the advert.
The customization ranges from subtle changes such as the background music to more radical shifts in the plot line. While some versions show a man in an office, for example, others feature a night-time crime scene or a dystopian Cyclops.
The campaign was created with research firm Box1824 and advertising agency CUBOCC, São Paulo.
CONTAGIOUS, FLEISHMANHILLARD’S JOHN ARMATO WEIGHS IN
Personalized viewing. Axe isn’t the first brand to experiment with personalized trailers. Netflix has long been championing similar tactics to get people to watch its content. While advertising the Kevin Spacey remake of House of Cards, for example, the on-demand service created ten different trailers, only showing users the one tailored to their watching habits. If you’d watched a host of different Spacey films, for instance, you’d be served a trailer featuring scenes with the man himself. Addicted to political dramas? Your trailer would have focused on the complex White House wranglings within the show.
Axe’s use of programmatics takes this to the next level, creating a selection of adverts even more tailored to the viewer. It’s a curious way to find an audience for branded content, and also shows the potential creative executions for programmatics, a topic that’s often touted as harmful to the advertising industry’s ability to deliver powerful creative.
A programmatic plaster? What’s more, the concept of a modern day Romeo fits neatly with Axe’s history of giving men the power to have women fall at their feet. But is having so many versions of the trailer really going to get people watching? Although it’s undoubtedly impressive to deliver such a vast array of executions, we fear all this fancy technology could still be standing in the way of creating truly great content. After all, a truly powerful piece of creative speaks to different people in a myriad of different ways, often all within a single advert (Exhibit A: Old Spice’s much-coveted ad). Axe’s experimentation begs interest, but is its content really be good enough for people to take notice? And, perhaps even more pressing, will the targeting be accurate enough to really work?
A smart, creative thinker recently said to me, “All ideas are born bad. It’s what we do with them after they’re born that determines if they’re going to be any good or not.” There’s room to quibble, but I think for the most part he’s right. And I think what Axe is playing with is – if not a newborn – then barely a toddler.
The Contagious review of Axe’s Romeo Reboot campaign is focused on programmatics, which is (to over-simplify) the use of massive amounts of data to drive the targeting, flighting — and even creative composition — of online display ads or other marketing experiences in order to target ever-more granular segments (down to individuals) of increasingly fragmented audiences.
Contagious, rightfully so in my mind, raises questions about whether the Axe Romeo Reboot ultimately will be effective. (While a change in one scene may be more to my predilections than the alternatives, will I actually be more inclined to buy the product?) But I’m not an ad guy, so I’m not qualified to comment on the promise of programmatics from an ad perspective.
As an evolution in creative communications, however, “chose-your-own-story” formats are relevant to any of the marketing and communication disciplines. (Okay, that’s a stretch; you don’t actually choose, but your Big Data trail does essentially choose for you.) So, here’s my take: Personally I think the Axe campaign is pretty amazing and I love seeing this kind of exploration. We need creative and fearless brands like Axe and other early adopters to experiment to keep communications disciplines moving forward. But with beta technology comes beta promises. It’s not clear yet what the long-term result of slicing content into ever-more tailored iterations means for the integrity of the creative, the effects in the market place and the impact on the brand.
Henry Petroski, the wonderful author of “To Err is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design,” has asserted persuasively that form does not follow function. Form, instead, actually follows failure. We don’t know what something can be until we try a form of it and discover its inevitable disappointments. Then we try another form, and so on until eventually we get to something that consistently meets a maximum number of needs. But there’s no guarantee that that ultimate failure-forged form will bear any resemblance to the day it was born.
Endless permutations of a narrative mean more individual targeting, but fewer shared experiences. What does that mean to brand integrity and the ability to amplify a common set of values? Perhaps I’m worrying about a bridge too far, but might this intentional fragmentation of story (a 100,000 versions today but a million tomorrow?) eventually lead to a future where a brand stands for something unique to everyone but means nothing in particular to anyone?