When one website is not enough

Many businesses have a main web site. A digital corporate presence into which Internet users can delve to retrieve all sorts of information about the company, the products or services that it offers, or its personnel and ethos.  Occasionally though, a single web site may not easily cater for the wide range of people who visit a corporate web presence.  If you own a company you may want to present a different site to investors than that which you present to potential customers, and a different site again for existing customers who may have privileged access to services, tools or support.  Some organisations go even further than this though and create what are almost stand-alone sites the purpose of which is to tease the public or to purposefully play with the brand or image of the company.

One of the most successful examples of this type of online brand-extension has to be comparethemeerkat.com. Clearly, the site is part of a well thought through campaign, which includes the introduction of ‘Aleksandr Orlov’ a witty meerkat who is frustrated that comparethemarket.com is apparently stealing the thunder of the site he launched.  You can connect with Aleksandr using the social marketing tools of Facebook or Twitter where you will find him penning such missives as “I cannot find you cheap car insurance, now is time for you to offer greatest apology”, and you will also find acomparethemeerkat.com group over on Flickr.  Clearly, Aleksandr and comparethemeerkat.com offer no competitive advantage or logically compelling reason to choose to use comparethemarket.com over any other comparison site, but as a marketing exercise he is pure stick-in-the-mind genius and has taken on an Internet based life of his own whilst drawing in potential customers.

Clearly then, strong characters can play a part in building interest in what can be almost parallel brands, but Nike has taken a more serious direction in supporting girleffect.org, a site dedicated to creating “opportunities for girls, and for the world”. Through a small but effective web site, a YouTube andFacebook presence and a place for you to donate to the cause, Nike can project the image of a brand that is serious about social issues.  There is no doubting the worthy social message of girleffect.org, but as it also helps the Nike brand to be associated with the project, it is clearly designed to be a win-win situation.

There are more examples.  Win a tractor through a dedicated website courtesy of a potato chip brand, or perhaps you want to interact with the latestDerren Brown televisual series?  Then just visit stucktomysofa.com.  Maybe you are interested in an upcoming blockbuster movie?  Take a look at http://www.flynnlives.com (for those of you who are impatient, this site enables you to view a sneaky preview to Tron Legacy).

All the sites mentioned here contain a mix of marketing elements.  Sometimes guerrilla sometimes viral marketing.  Sometimes the URLs or information is tucked away so that you are led on an Internet voyage of discovery.  The sites are designed to extend our concept of the underlying brand and to associate it with perhaps innocent fun, or comedy, or a swelling excitement at the sinister movie world of Tron,  whilst all the while enabling the main corporate site of the brand to remain unchanged.

All these ‘fake’ brands or web sites are, in the end, disposable.  We understand that comparethemeerket.com is subordinated to comparethemarket.com.  We learn that Rubberduckzilla is a front for Oasis which is itself a brand of Coca-Cola.  We sympathise with girleffect.org at the same time we associate it with the Nike brand.  We wonder what it would be like to win a tractor (or take £25,000 cash alternative!) and that adds a little frisson to our potato chip eating experience.  Once we get past the home page, we understand that stucktomysofa.com is an extension of the Derren Brown persona.  Some of you – like me – may even remember the original Tron movie and been made excited at the Tron Legacy preview.  Sites like these are constrained only by the level of creativity of the owners of the underlying brands and can be a relatively cheap way of connecting with potential customers through unusual marketing methods.

Do you have a brand that can benefit from this kind of web site?

UPDATE (08 September 2009): McVitie’s have launched bonkersaboutbiscuits.com, compare and contrast this with the UK page for the McVitie’s brand on the United Biscuits site, which UK McVities customers are pointed to from McVities.com, though if you pretend to be an Australian customer you get a nice Flash based site with tweety birds. I’m sure that Mcvitie’s/United Biscuits have their reasons for this, but why are UK customers not encouraged to view the normal McVitie’s site?  And regardless of this, why is the United Biscuits site so dry compared to the McVitie’s site ensuring that UK customers get a completely different feel for the McVitie’s brand than other international customers?  Perhaps this is why bonkersaboutbiscuits.com was launched?

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