New Solutions for New Times
Published on February 6, 2004 By Larry Kuperman In OS Customization
As Sales Manager for Stardock, we are constantly finding new uses for our technologies. For the past two years Stardock has created desktop themes as an integral part of marketing programs for some of the largest and most innovative companies in the world. Nintendo, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Touchstone Pictures, Universal Studios and other corporations have licensed Stardock’s desktop customization products as part of their successful marketing efforts. This article explores why desktop customization has been so successful as a marketing tool and points out how any company, high tech or not, can benefit from this approach.

If your company wants to promote new products, there are many avenues available. The first that comes to mind, naturally enough, is television advertising. In theory at least, your message will be seen by millions of viewers. Nielson ratings that measure the number of people that watch a given television show are used as the metric to determine advertising prices. The more people that watch a show, the more that it costs advertisers to buy commercial time during that show. The most expensive ads are broadcast during the Super Bowl. This year a 30 second spot averaged $2.25 million dollars, not counting production costs. Yet, no one knows what percentage of the audience choose that moment to go to the bathroom or to get a snack. With the proliferation of electronic “zappers” that eliminate commercials and of Personal Video Recorders, advertisers’ certainty of reaching their target audiences through television continues to decrease.

During the Dot.Com days, banner ads on internet sites were touted as the future of advertising. You could post your message on popular internet sites and be sure that millions of people would be exposed to your message. Yet banner ads proved ineffective for a number of reasons. Perhaps the greatest problem was that the companies that were responsible for distributing these ads seemed unconcerned about matching the ad to the content of the website where it appeared. Seemingly random rotations often posted ads in the most inappropriate places. Click-through rates were low.

Internet advertisers then turned to pop-ups, pop-under ads and a host of other attempts to put the advertiser’s message in the face of every surfer. As if this was ever going to get someone to buy a product! The development of software programs to block these ads was a natural evolutionary process. And let’s not get started on spam mail! Spam blocking software is only one step. Soon, I am sure, advertisers will be sued if they or a company they hire sends out spam.

Why are these forms of advertising so ineffective and why is Stardock’s alternative a better solution? All previously mentioned forms of advertising have this in common: They provide nothing of value to the target audience and interfere with that audience’s intended activity. Oh, perhaps we do look forward to some of the new ads that premiere during the Super Bowl. But, except for people in advertising, most people turn on the game to watch (surprise) the game itself. The same with commercials during any TV show. They are an intrusion into an experience. Ads cause sporting events to run longer and interrupt the continuity. It is only natural that people resent them. Banner ads and pop-ups interfere with the user’s browsing experience. You visit a website to do one thing and the ads try to get you to do something else.

Desktop objects and themes on the other hand are downloaded and installed by choice. We go to great pains to make sure that users will want to download the theme or object and will provide some value to the user. Moreover, the objects are interactive and provide a “call to action” for the user. Let me give you some examples to illustrate how this works.

Using DesktopX technology, Stardock recently created an object to promote a movie. Download size of the object was just over 1 Mb. Once downloaded the user had a small executable file that would show the movie’s preview right on the desktop. Users didn’t need to bookmark any addresses or worry if they had the right media player. It just worked. Buttons on the side let consumers find a theater in their area and even buy tickets. And it was nicely designed, with what I like to call a high “cool factor.” If a friend saw it on your PC desktop, you could email it or copy it. Viral marketing is very powerful.

Another object created using DesktopX technology was designed for a chain of supermarkets. It was a useful desktop calendar that let you check the weekly specials and create a printable shopping list to take with you. Again, the idea was to provide a functional value, to reward customers and to encourage shopping at a particular chain of stores by making it easy for the consumer. If Store "A" lets you print out coupons and alerts you to their specials, you will be more likely to go there.

In both these cases the object was created to be downloaded or to be freely given to the consumer. Now, Nintendo has taken a slightly different tack. They wanted to gather data on buying patterns and to provide an incentive for consumers to register games that they had purchased. Any marketing person will tell you how important this kind of data can be. Imagine being able to direct ads for new games to a list of people that had already bought a similar game. As part of their Customer Rewards program in Europe, Nintendo customers who register a purchased console or game receive a desktop theme from that game.

To recap, the advantages that desktop objects or themes offer to advertisers are greater customer satisfaction, value and interactivity. Objects let consumers buy the product right from their PC and don’t antagonize people. They are the marketing tools for a changing market.

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