Interview: Louis Malafarina

CEO, Ripple Effects Interactive

CEO, Ripple Effects Interactive

Ripple Effects Interactive is a PA-based interactive advertising agency that works with higher education and tourism clients. It is responsible for the popular viral ad for the Pennsylvania Tourism Office's Groundhog 202 campaign, in which the groundhog goes crazy, a la the Shining, in between each year's Groundhog's Day. Malafarina talked with about the campaign, how students are picking higher education establishments, and how to make sure you don't oversell your work.

Q: Do you get most of your work directly from clients or do you get subcontracted by agencies?
It's very much half and half, and seems to depend on the type of client. Nonprofits and higher education universities seem to be much more comfortable with a direct relationship with interactive shops. I think it's because ad agencies don't play a huge rule in their marketing. In the tourism space, where we are also strong, we fairly often get a subcontracting relationship through the ad agency. However, the relationship with the client is very much direct.

Q: Does your company receive interest in all different types of industries?
We do, but the beauty of the higher education and tourism industries is that so much of their audience is connected to the web. Higher education and tourism have led the way [in adoption]. The reality is the web becomes the central marketing tool for those industries. PR, advertising, and direct mail are, in effect, becoming more support mechanisms. The other phenomenon is that consumer goods [manufacturers] like Johnson & Johnson are coming up with focused sites with soft product sells. You saw that with which informed parents about how to raise babies and care for them, while introducing various product lines. Consumer goods companies are beginning to realize that the best way to leverage the web is not to pitch product so much, but pitch lifestyles and fit their products in there.

Q: Have colleges embraced interactive marketing because of the difficulty of getting potential students to actually visit the school?
Absolutely. They use the web to narrow down choices in what I would call a scary fashion. The Christian Science Monitor did a report a couple of years ago that said students build a very long list and narrow it down by looking on websites [The CSM story quotes experts, saying "eight seconds on a college website is more typical for prospective applicants."] You have less time than you would with the average TV slot. A lot of the decision-making at that level is emotional. The more dynamic and authentic you can be, the better off you are.

Q: Do you get potential clients who wonder why they don't just throw their 30 second ad up there?
Very few. The caveat is that more clients are putting their TV spots online anyway. It's just that they're not relying on the TV spot to convert prospects. Most clients understand the 30-second preview spot is focused on the particular experience of watching TV. On the web, you're looking for something much more engaging, With interactive, you want to appeal to many more emotions than a TV ad can.

Q: Can you give an example of an interesting project you did for a university?
Students apply to one than more university. So the challenge for universities is not only getting people to apply, but also to attend. The key is to get students so excited about the university that they don't want to wait to decide. The way to do that is communicate to them when they've been accepted in a more meaningful and emotional way. We send them flash "Welcome aboard" messages with music, perhaps with something from the department head. We find that's much more effective than the traditional letter in getting students to respond.

Q: Do you work with PR agencies to push viral videos out?
We don't work that much with PR agencies. But clients and their [PR] agencies take the time to broadly define [the client's] messages, and we'll use the same ones that the PR agencies are going to use.

Q: How do you get your client's messages out there, like the Groundhog Day video?
Search engine optimization and search engine marketing are critical, especially when it comes to specialized programs. The two things that matter a lot is direct online advertising, either by banners or pop-unders, or online media vehicles [like blogs and chatrooms]. We've launched a social media marketing practice to identify conversations on the web that relate to our projects. With Groundhog Day, there are individuals that are interested in Pennsylvania, individuals that like the Shining, or people who like anything unusual. You just insert yourself into those conversations. You should identify yourself, but you don't have to do this in a corporate fashion. You can create the phenomenal product, but you can't create the [online] legs. You have to be careful to align the story with the product; to be honest if you claim it raises the bar. If you don't, it can create a [negative] story about you that does have legs.

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