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Digital advertising agencies are built for the Internet age

Westside firms with names like Omelet, Ignited and Blitz are pushing clients beyond TV and print ads and onto websites, smartphones and tablets.

July 08, 2012|By Meg James, Los Angeles Times

One of Ignited's first clients was theU.S. Army, which needed a new way to inspire potential recruits. In 2001, Johnson's firm helped create "America's Army," an Internet video game that turned the adrenaline rush of simulated combat into a recruitment tool.

The game was downloaded 12 million times, Johnson said. "It was a watershed marketing experience."

Now the challenge is to stand out amid the clutter. Sixty years ago, consumers were exposed to about 100 brand impressions a day.

"Today, the average person sees between 1,500 and 2,000 brand impressions a day: company logos, commercials and billboards," Johnson said.

The digital revolution has created a bounty of business for another Westside agency — Blitz Digital Studios, which sits above the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

Google,Nike Inc., Naked Juice Co., Microsoft,Walt Disney Co.andWarner Bros.Entertainment have commissioned Blitz to customize visually rich Internet campaigns full of motion and interactive elements. One campaign for Hilton Hotels attracted more than 1 million viewers and prompted more than 50,000 people to send Hilton e-cards.

Blitz also created an "augmented reality music video" to promote a new album from singer-songwriter John Mayer. The 3-D video resembled a children's pop-up book, with Mayer morphing into a guitar-playing, computer-animated character in a video game world.

Blitz currently is working on a digital application for the Irish rock band U2.

"Digital today, in almost every way, is woven into the fabric of how we communicate with others," said Ivan Todorov, chief executive of Blitz. "Brands and savvy marketers recognize that they need a digital presence."

The 10-year-old Blitz has been on a hiring binge, snapping up prominent executives from established ad agencies to round out its roster of more than 100 online ad experts. Revenue last year exceeded $16 million.

Last fall, when Whole Foods Market Inc. wanted to find ways to engage customers by sharing stories of the artisans and farmers who supply food for the chain, it turned to the Gen-X crew at Omelet.

"They were cool, not all L.A. flashy," said Andi Dowda, Whole Foods' regional marketing coordinator. "They didn't come in wearing suits telling me what I should do; they listened and tried hard to understand our business goals."

The result was a series of mini-documentaries for Whole Foods' in-store monitors, Facebook page and website. The Omelet team interviewed organic turkey growers in Sanger, Calif., and oyster farmers in Morro Bay, Calif.

"We haven't put a lot of adverting dollars behind these, but they have real appeal," Dowda said. "And younger people are much more drawn to these online stories than they would be for a TV commercial."

Online video has become the fastest growing piece of the overall Internet advertising pie. Ten years ago, advertisers spent $48 million creating online videos, according to eMarketer. By 2009, the expenditure had swelled to $1 billion and is expected to top $3 billion this year.

Now Omelet is expanding beyond the Internet. This spring it launched Omelet to Go, which designs and stages live marketing events.

HBO hired the firm to generate a presidential-like motorcade, complete with actors posing as Secret Service agents, to promote the launch of the cable network's new series"Veep."

"These worlds are slamming together faster than anyone realized that they would and the shift is undeniable," Omelet's Fey said. "But convergence is done. Brands are online, they are in mobile. Now it's all how you develop technology and apply it."

meg.james@latimes.com

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