Interactive advertising is mad!  Who would think that people would actually take the time to interact online with a brand?  Well, millions of people are doing it, and hundreds of companies are jumping on board.  Who's succeeding - the companies who are using attention, education, communication, and calls-to-action to drive brand awareness and sales.

What is interactive advertising?  It can mean a ton of different things.  In my general opinion, interactive advertising is something that requires activity on both the part of the consumer and the brand.  In the past, interactive advertising has often been a driving force behind sales, but in today's society, interactive is playing a much different role.  It is allowing consumers to communicate with a brand, to educate themselves on their own terms, and act on the immediate feelings they get upon interaction.  

Let's take a look at a relatively old example of interactive advertising: Elf Yourself.  Elf Yourself was an interactive website that allowed users to upload their pictures onto an elf body and watch it dance around the screen.  Sure, this was a fun little game, but the team at Office Max was the real winner in this situation.  The game was shared amongst millions of people nationwide.  It not only created brand awareness for Office Max, but it got people to act on behalf of the brand, something not easily achieved.

More recent efforts at interactive advertising have taken this basic idea to new levels.  For the hit TV show Mad Men, a website was created that allows users to create their own characters for the show and share them through social networks.  Not only does this promote the television show, but it also tells a story through clothing, backdrops, accessories, and styles that you can choose from while creating your character.  Most importantly, it's fun.  People, even those who don't watch the show, have shown interest, shared that interest, acted on the interest, and educated themselves and others in the process.

The best, and most recent form of interactive advertising was just released this week.  It's a campaign that I have yet to find a fault with.  It takes my four basic truths of interactive advertising by grabbing the attention of consumers, educating them on multiple levels, communicating an important message, and allowing them to act on the message they've received.  The campaign is called "Body By Milk."  It allows users to upload their pictures and put themselves into their own "Got Milk Ad," complete with intelligent copy, a personalized header, and their very own milk mustache.  To top it off, for each ad created, a dollar is donated to a VH1 Save the Music charity.

How does it grab attention?  Well, who doesn't want to be in their own "Got Milk"  ad.  Top it off with some top-notch character bodies, and who wouldn't want to have some fun.  How does it educate?  It asks the question, "what are you looking for in milk?" and gives intelligent evidence on how milk "does the body good."  It communicates to consumers that milk is for everyone, that they care about the brand, and that, in their honor, they'll donate money to a charity that they believe in.  As for acting?  The more people you tell, the more money that gets donated, and trust me, the site provides you with any tool you might need to share (links for facebook, twitter, myspace, etc.)  

This does go past creating characters and uploading photos.  Companies can make website games, choose your own ending adventures, create an educational website that explores each line of products and how they're most effectively used, heck, you could even create a virtual world online created around your brand.  Think about it for 5-minutes and I guarantee you could think of a brand, and how you'd like to interact with it online.  The opportunities really are endless, as long as you make it something people want to pay attention to.

The idea is as simple as ever.  Create a fun, interactive, intelligent, and shareable application that allows users to immerse themselves into the extreme depths of a brand.  If done successfully, users will learn about the brand, connect with the brand, and deliver the message about the brand to others. Is this the future of advertising or just a temporary playground for us online addicts to get our kicks?  I'm interested in knowing.

What are your favorite interactive ads?  Have you tried any of the one I discussed?  I'm always looking for something to share.

Elf Yourself
Mad Men
Body by Milk