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Top 10 Digital Advertising Innovations of 2010

As Mashable contributor Jesse Thomas recently noted, Silicon Valley is quickly becoming the new Madison Avenue. Looking back over the past year’s advertising landscape, it’s not the individual campaigns that stick in the mind as much as the use and pioneering of new technology.

This year was a transitional year in which much-hyped mobile advertising began to be a serious player, Apple once again changed the business and brands began fostering real, two-way conversations with consumers.

Here’s a look at some of the top new technologies that redefined advertising in 2010.

1. Old Spice’s Response Videos

Old Spice, a perennially troubled brand at Procter & Gamble, had watched Unilever’s Axe steal its thunder for most of the past decade. Miraculously, the brand was able to become relevant to a new generation of male consumers thanks to a clever ad campaign. The “Smell like a man, man,” ads featured an over-the-top confident Isaiah Mustafa, who somehow was able to make men insecure and be likable at the same time. If this was 1999, that would be the end of it, but agency Wieden + Kennedy offered a nice interactive twist: The agency and Mustafa shot more than 180 videos responding to consumers’ inquiries. Talk about breaking the fourth wall: For those raised on traditional TV advertising, it was like Mustafa was re-enacting Jeff Daniels’ role in The Purple Rose of Cairo — a matinee idol who popped out of the screen and into real life.

2. Bar Code Scanning

Marketers and mobile advertising firms had been trying for a while to foster the use of QR codes — logos that consumers could scan with their phones to access online content. But for makers of packaged goods, such codes take up valuable real estate on packaging. Stickybits and another firm called CauseWorld addressed this issue with new technologies that read bar codes. The former struck deals with both Coca-Cola and Pepsi as well as Campbell’s Soup. The latter worked with Procter & Gamble and Kraft on a program in which consumers could amass “karma points” for scanning the codes, which earned contributions to consumers’ favorite causes. Truth be told, the bar code readers don’t always work that well and it’s unclear how many consumers will take the time, but, by using bar codes, the two companies provided another big step toward mobile-enhanced interactive shopping.

3. Location-Based Advertising

Marketers were eager to catch on to the popularity of services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places, but successful programs were few and far between. Starbucks’ was a notable failure. The company rushed in with a program that offered $1 off any size Frappuccino for its mayors. The program resulted in a 50% increase in checkins at Starbucks locations, according to Foursquare, but many Starbucks locations appeared unaware of the campaign. Similarly, the first big promotion for Facebook Places, a jeans giveaway from Gap for the first 10,000 customers to check in to the program at a Gap location, encountered similar problems. On the other hand, SCVNGR may have found a winning formula with a more game-oriented approach that drew the likes of American Apparel, AT&T and Coca-Cola. The combination of new, perhaps slightly arrogant tech companies and inconsistent messaging at retail, however, is likely a short-term problem. Look for much more location-based marketing campaigns in 2011.

4. iAds

With its untouchable veneer of cool and its domination of the market of high-end, consumer-friendly, cutting edge gadgets, marketers are positively salivating about the idea of getting on any Apple platform. With the introduction of the iPad and the iPhone 4, Apple obliged with a new, full-screen rich media environment that CEO Steve Jobs described as “mobile ads with emotion” and positioned as a format for ads that consumers would want to watch.

With an eye on quality control, Apple set the bar high: Advertisers reportedly had to spend at least $1 million and as much as $10 million to run an iAd. But, the company may be relaxing a bit. This month, Apple opened iAd development with iAd Producer, which let marketers and their agencies create iAds even if they didn’t know HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript.

5. Promoted Tweets

As Twitter established itself as the third of the social media Holy Trinity (along with Facebook and LinkedIn), the company set its sights on a business model. With great fanfare, Twitter introduced Promoted Tweets in April. Taking a page from Google, the idea was that people searching for various terms on Twitter would see the sponsored terms along with organic results. Marketers like Coca-Cola and Virgin America experimented with the program, with laudable results. (Coke reported a 6% engagement rate for its campaign, while Virgin America posted its fifth-highest sales day ever thanks to Promoted Tweets.) By year’s end, like Apple, Twitter appeared to be democratizing the program. This month, a form for prospective advertisers appeared on Twitter’s site. The company is expected to start implementing that turnkey solution in earnest early next year.

6. Group Buying

Not for nothing did Google offer to shell out upwards of $6 billion for Groupon. The two-year-old company is profitable, popular and on to a winning formula that can be executed on a large scale. Groupon, which offers deals if a certain amount of consumers take part, proved the latter in August through its first national deal, with Gap to sell $50 worth of apparel and accessories for $25. While previously, the site was known for local daily deals with small businesses, the Gap program was a huge success. In one day, the company sold 441,000 Groupons, netting about $11 million. At the moment, Groupon is the biggest player in this emerging space by far, but the interest from Google will no doubt spur deep-pocketed competitors to file in.

7. Personalized Video

Though not traditional advertising, a video from the band Arcade Fire opened new possibilities this summer. Working with Google, the band’s video for “The Wilderness Downtown” could be personalized by typing in the address of your childhood home. If Google Maps has enough footage, the site conjures up a highly personalized video about the end of childhood.

Taking a similar tack, a company called Brave New Films, on behalf of the Service Employees International Union and MoveOn, released a Facebook-based app in March that let users plug in their personal info for a highly entertaining video of Glenn Beck ranting about…you. After using the app, Beck’s chalkboard was filled with pictures of you and your friends along with their names and other personal data. The point: Glenn Beck could just as easily be attacking you.

8. CAPTCHA Advertising

Everyone at one point or another has used a Captcha (an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”) to prove they are human and not a bot. But who would think to turn a Captcha into an ad? Solve Media, for one. The company worked with Toyota, Microsoft and Dr. Pepper, among others, on the type of ad that consumers just couldn’t ignore. For Dr Pepper, for instance, users were prompted to type in “There’s nothing like a Pepper” instead of the usual gibberish. Later, Solve incorporated video for a campaign for Universal’s film Devil.

9. Error Message Advertising

Taking a similar idea, Digg launched a program in March with Burger King to turn those annoying error messages into advertising as well. For a time, typos on Digg were countered with the message, “No results for ‘X’ were found. Looks like your search had a typo. Blame it on your tiny hands. The beefy $1 Burger King Double Cheeseburger gives tiny hands some trouble, too,” which led to a link to a Burger King ad featuring a man with tiny hands.

10. Chatroulette

Always on the lookout for the next big thing, marketers set their sights for a time on Chatroulette, an app that combined roulette and video chat with often unsettling results (the site quickly became known for the flashing of penises). The implication for marketers was unclear until Travelocity dropped its gnome mascot into the mix, just in time for April Fool’s Day. While Chatroulette doesn’t look to be the next Facebook for marketers, Travelocity showed that innovative thinking can transcend the limitations of any digital format.

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