Superheros Plug Super Technology

Internet.com (Nov. 6, 2000)

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a telecommunications PR campaign.

The world of WAP, voice recognition and Internet infrastructure may seem a strange place for superheroes, but six animated crime fighters are at least saving the world from yet another white paper on technology convergence.

“There’s so much clutter out there, so many white papers,” says Bob McWade, who came up with this so-far novel use of rich media. “The question is, how do you get a very serious and sober message about telecom convergence out there in a way that people will actually hear, see, digest and internalize?”

The answer, he decided, was the TeleBusters.

“I called my 12-year old son one day and asked him, ‘what was that thing that all the Power Rangers merge into?'” he recalls.

The answer: The Megazord, which McWade maintains, “is like telecom convergence — each element is more powerful when it works together.”

Ok, it’s a stretch. But remember the alternative.

The animated cartoons, produced on behalf of clients, are being embedded in interactive newsletters, which have the added advantage of allowing McWade’s oddly-named PR company, TheJelly, to track metrix on viewers and viral distribution.

The concept is the latest example of how increased access to broadband — and availability of autosensing technologies that determine whether an email program can handle rich media — are opening up new advertising and marketing opportunities.

Newsletters with an Attitude

“Newsletters are evolving into more interactive vehicles,” says Jeff Mesnik, vice president of IMakeNews, which provided the interactive newsletter platform in which the TeleBusters were embedded. “We can deliver the newsletter to the email box and then we draw you into the web page.”

It’s just the latest example of how the marketing communications industry is employing rich media on behalf of its clients — whether streaming video, animation, flash or audio. These days, just about every PR, marketing communications or ad agency has a subsidiary, a division, or a couple of kids in a back room developing rich media-enhanced pages.

“Rich media is the future,” says Adam Brown, director of eKetchum, the PR giant’s new media arm. “It has such a dramatic effect visually and esthetically.”

“Almost every website we have developed in the past year has some rich media component, especially flash and other vector-based animations,” he adds.

With flash plug-in penetration rates now above 90 percent, animation is a readily available tool. But, Brown is quick to warn, it also has a downside.

“Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should,” he says, echoing a common concern. “When we do use rich media, we make sure it’s the most prudent use — not just wasting viewers’ bandwidth.”

Hold the Kryptonite

The TeleBusters certainly aren’t the first animated action figures on the Web. There’s Breakup Girl, handing out advice to the lovelorn on Oxygen.com and superman on Entertaindom.com, but they’re probably the first to get paid for saving man (or woman) kind.

“With the high concentration of creativity in PR, I’m surprised there aren’t more things like this,” says Mark Newman, managing editor of PRCentral.com, an industry website. “Everybody wants to be cutting edge, but it’s so hard to do.”

The idea is that each episode illustrates a different use of telecommunications technology — each, of course, commissioned by a telecom company offering that particular product.

This isn’t the first time McWade has used cartoon characters. He previously created a film noire send-up Sam Stone, Internet Private Investigator, and inserted her into still pictures on behalf of a human resources client. The difference this time is the availability of rich media to give the cartoon life.

“We’re not aware of anyone else using brand animation like this to actually characterize the benefits of products,” he says.

OK, so they’re fighting for profits instead of truth, justice and the American way, but you have to give the TeleBusters credit, they’re way more interesting than yet another flash-enhanced training program or animated product demo.

There’s Faxxie who, thanks to a freak toner accident, can fax herself anywhere in the cosmos. He-Mail, a New Economy Hulk able to process thousands of e-mail messages at once. The telepathic Dr. Cell, who uses cellular brain waves. And on it goes, a superhero for each sector of the telecom marketplace.

In episode one, produced for a wireless messaging provider, the TeleBusters save the world by helping a MacDonald’s-munching president send a message from his car when his cell phone battery goes dead. The script was written by a moonlighting Gartner Group analyst and illustrated by a couple of Silicon Valley artists.

McWade’s plan is for them to tackle a host of other telecom challenges — all, of course, on behalf of paying clients. And like the good marketer that he is, McWade talks of T-shirts, action figures, even — dare he say it? — a full length TeleBusters feature.

Perhaps someday we can all watch it on our personal communications devices.

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