Project Re:Brief reimagines classic ads for the digital age

Digital advertising is apparently 18 years old this year, yet in many ways is still in its infancy in terms of how brands use the online space. To celebrate the possibilities it offers, Project Re:Brief (by Google and ad agencies Johannes Leonardo and Grow Interactive) revisits four classic US ads and reimagines them for the digital age. But in doing so, does it also inadvertently highlight some of the pitfalls of advertising on the internet?

Digital advertising is apparently 18 years old this year, yet in many ways is still in its infancy in terms of how brands use the online space. To celebrate the possibilities it offers, Project Re:Brief (by Google and ad agencies Johannes Leonardo and Grow Interactive) revisits four classic US ads and reimagines them for the digital age. But in doing so, does it also inadvertently highlight some of the pitfalls of advertising on the internet?

As the intro film below explains, Project Re:Brief takes classic ads for Coca-Cola, Volvo, Alka-Seltzer and Avis and asks the creatives behind them to help devise new versions for the modern age, the intention being to demonstrate the scope available for brands online today.

The Project Re:Brief website features info on the project, and showcases the original ads, plus the new versions created for the digital age. So far, only two of the new ads have been uploaded to the site, those for Coke and Volvo. The Coke one is a reimagining of the classic Hilltop ad, which features the eternally catchy ‘I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke’. Here it is, to refresh your memory:

The new version takes the central premise of the original spot: buying the world a Coke, and offers up a digital solution that allows audiences to nominate a city that they’d like to buy a Coke for, and then send one via the internet along with a message. Special vending machines then distribute the free Cokes in the designated cities, and the lucky recipients can record their own messages saying thanks. The project can be accessed via the net or a mobile app. The film below shows how the mobile version works:

For Volvo, Project Re:Brief took the 1962 Drive It Like You Hate It TV ad…

And re-envisioned it as a mini-documentary about Irv Gordon, who has owned his Volvo P1800 for over 40 years and driven it a world-record 2.9 million miles. The project includes a film, below, and also an online timeline that you can interact with to find out more about Irv’s journeys over the years.

The re-imagined ads do highlight the possibilities available to advertisers online: the interactive elements that are unique to the web, and also the space offered to show longer-format pieces, that would be impossible to air on traditional channels.

Yet Project Re:Brief also serves to demonstrate some of the dangers the medium presents too. The new ads released as part of Project Re:Brief so far are well-crafted and well thought-out pieces of work, yet ultimately lack the verve of the original spots. It’s hard to imagine the Coke online campaign having anything like the impact of Hilltop, which in spite of being old-fashioned and twee, remains as catchy as ever, and I suspect will continue to be retweeted and shared more than its new version. Similarly, the Volvo ad, despite the charm of Irv, who is a great find, feels overly long. Do people really want to spend this much time with a car ad online?

And herein lies the problem of all digital advertising: how to use the powerful new tools offered by these mediums in a way that will engage audiences enough for them to volunteer to spend their time with the brands. Sadly Project Re:Brief, instead of showing how this should be done, just makes me feel nostalgic for the simple brilliance of a great TV ad.

Explore Project Re:Brief online at projectrebrief.com.

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