More people than ever are accessing the web during work time, often for job-related tasks but also for their personal needs - to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip or world news, book a holiday, sort out their finances, buy a gift or play a game. And, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau, the number of people accessing at work rose six per cent over the last year.
"We have noticed that people steal back time from their employers by browsing non-work related stuff," points out Mike Williams, strategy partner at Dare. "People believe it is their own leisure time, so it's interesting how much entertainment stuff they do at work. They also do a lot of utility stuff on a Monday, like online banking or researching holidays."
Charlie Dobres, deputy chairman and executive planning director at i-level, dubs the start of the working week "e-commerce Monday" due to evidence that this is when people are more inclined to buy online. They do research at home over the weekend before using the office's faster connection speeds.
Workers use the web differently, depending on whether their search is related to their job or personal use. Their mood and receptiveness to certain kinds of commercial messages change to suit. But, if brands accept that work time might by buying time, then they should target their audiences at work and shift their approach to appeal. "It is clear that the most widely consumed medium between nine to five in the UK is online," comments Jez Dutton, digital strategist at Agency Republic. "This is made up of people who fit into two camps: consumers and businesses. The common thread being that it's the same person using different web sites in different mindsets, but probably using the same search engine."
"We know there are real opportunities for brands to do more with time-based promotions," he continues. "The reason they haven't yet may be related to anything from logistics to the way online media has been sold on a volume basis of impressions. The classic case is where a site is transactional and has a clear rationale, such as eBay, but even that tends to run day-long, rather than minute-by-minute, advertising. For example, it is going to be an uphill task to drive traffic to a supermarket's site on the promise of a multi-save, ready-meal promotion at lunchtime, but if the geo-targeting (which identifies the user's location) was accurate enough, maybe it could drive consideration of home-delivery. Unfortunately, a medium level of inaccuracy will make this largely unusable as digital has created a guiding principle for itself that it should be almost 100 per cent spot-on each time," adds Dutton.
For O2, Agency Republic ran a number of page takeovers with free SIM offers on key portals. Although they were day-long campaigns, Dutton sees a strong rationale for creating a 'rush' by limiting the availability of the offer; because the web is open 24/7, very little feels exclusive any more. On the other hand, an hour-specific campaign for O2, called Happy Hour, featured media that was weighted towards people at work.
Jane Ostler, digital strategist at Outrider, says the agency is planning a campaign built on 'day-part targeting', identifying the hours of 9-10am, 1-2pm and 4-5pm as the peak times when office workers are online. "Our suspicion is that people are using web sites like lastminute.com at work to think of things to do. There are wide technical and creative implications in targeting people at work. Most people have higher-speed connections, so you can use streamed video and more advanced creative formats. But, it mainly comes down to 'day-part targeting' and the type of sites you use."
Robin O'Neill, head of media at Tribal DDB says it hasn't run any campaigns specifically targeting workers. He concedes that, for building society client Nationwide, there is plenty of evidence of people sorting out their finances at work, but he questions whether this has any bearing on campaign planning. "It's more important to get in front of a person when they're in the market for sorting their finances. It doesn't matter if they are doing it at work or home. If somebody is seeking financial information and we present them with an ad in that environment, it doesn't matter what time of day it is." he says. "There's also the issue of the technological management of getting messages up and down in a short time period."
Yet, 0'Neill sees opportunities in the food and drink sector where timeliness is key. McDonald's, for example, could advertise a lunch offer to office workers from 11am-1pm. Williams also takes the same view: "Some advertisers, like KFC, wouldn't necessarily see it as an opportunity to have a massive presence before lunch, but that is a good time of day. Unfortunately, a lot of media people don't allow you to be that time-sensitive. The big FMCG brands are missing targeting people before they go to the shops - you don't see them trying to get people to put their brands on a mental shopping list. But, with the fast-food example, you would have to spend quite heavily in order to get any form of frequency of coverage in that time window."
Some of agency Diffiniti's clients have considered targeting consumers at work but, as yet, none has actively done so, says head of digital research Nick King. He says part of the problem is an inability to accurately track 'at-work' usage: "Measurement companies claim to track home and work, but we feel that up to 95 per cent of its tracking is really for home use."
Undoubtedly, there is demand for clearer insight into 'at-work' usage as a basis for informing campaigns. Associated New Media's chief operating officer, Mark Milner, says its site, Thisislondon.co.uk, demonstrates a strong grasp of consumers' browsing habits during the working day.
In the morning, the editorial is more hard-news driven but, as the day wears on, entertainment stories are given greater prominence.
"On the site today, we ran a Coldplay gig review," says Milner. "That sort of story moves up during the day because we recognise that the reader's mindset changes. By the afternoon, they are thinking about what they're going to do in the evening. Ad campaigns can flow with the changing mindset of consumers during the day. Advertisers are starting to pick up on that - those that don't are missing an opportunity. It all comes down to a better understanding of how consumers use the medium."
Milner thinks marketers should think about 'week-part', as well as 'day-part', when considering tactical offers aimed at workers as people's mindsets are different on a Monday compared with a Friday when thoughts drift towards the weekend.
Working with Zed Media, luxury car brand BMW sought to target an affluent audience at work with ads for its 7 Series. Activity on core business and finance sites was 100 per cent targeted at the peak consumption period of the target audience - 6am-6pm - for maximum impact and minimum waste.
"From the outset, we had a tacit appreciation of the critical importance of news and finance sites for reaching the high-net-worth business audience," says Damian Burns, head of digital at Zed Media. "We were aware that the core consumption period for these sites by this audience was during the day. We knew this audience relied on those sites for critical business information and that interrupting this lean-forward mode with high-impact ads would not engender warmth towards the BMW brand. So, our campaign was weighted towards daytime exposure and we used non-invasive, contextual formats."
During Euro 2004, Cisco partnered The Daily Telegraph to sponsor its web coverage of the tournament. "We used football as an analogy to demonstrate Cisco's Security Solutions, creating a message that resonated with one of their key interests at the time," says John McDonald, account director at OgilvyOne. "The creative brought the Self Defending Network to life by using footballing scenarios demonstrating that concerns over defence in football are similar to those faced in business."
Interactive video executions involved a defensive dilemma and a penalty game, released the day after England's exit on penalties. It was impossible for the player to score due to the self-defending nature of the goal, ensuring protection time after time - Cisco's key message. The push was designed to reach IT professionals catching up on sports coverage at work. In a similar vein, HP ran a four-country promotion through Modem Media that aimed to target IT buyers with messages relating to various hours in the working day and the type of problems they might have with their servers at those times.
Panlogic, meanwhile, went for a viral approach in a campaign for BBC Learning. It created a site, (www.boringboringboring.com) containing a simple but addictive online game in which the player is a bored office worker at a training course, trying to throw rolled-up bits of paper into a wastepaper bin. It aimed to reinforce the message to HR professionals that training need not be tedious. Database marketing using a 5,000-strong list was used to create initial awareness of the site among the target audience and kick-start viral distribution.
"The game has been up for two years and we've had five million people playing it," says Panlogic's chief executive, William Makower. "Moreover, we've had 53,000 HR professionals giving their email addresses. So, in terms of getting to a different audience of HR professionals, it has been very successful."
BBC Worldwide's acting head of business learning, Carlos Rodriguez, enthuses: "It was phenomenally successful for us. It got us a new customer base. I can't disclose the ROI, but it is good. As a business, we tap into high-quality comedy from the BBC archives like Reggie Perrin, The Office and Are You Being Served? - shows with hapless managers in them." Most office workers, hapless or otherwise, can be reached online. And, with innovation, opportunities exist to target them properly.
SONY SCORES WITH SURREAL 4.25PM SITE FOR THE PLAYSTATION
"Since the dawn of time, 4.25 has been associated with pain and suffering, the worst part of human existence. And by far the worst part of the working day." Thus begins the copy on fourtwentyfive.tv, the new site for PlayStation created by Greenroom Digital.
The channel provides an online-only broadcast from 4:25pm to 4:35pm that is designed to be a fun "holiday for the mind" to ease tedium.
Rather than a generic site displaying PlayStation's TV ads, Greenroom decided to push the technological and creative scope of the project to deliver a unique event.
The web site features PlayStation ads created by TBWA plus bespoke content by Greenroom. It uses rich media and video company Eyeblaster's 'true-streaming' product, powered by its Flash Communication Server, to stream the content.
PR was used to drive awareness. The strategy was to get the site out to the gaming press and ensure gamers had the chance to see it.The campaign had more than 100,000 views in one month and became the number one viral on the Lycos Viral chart.
Greenroom's creative head, Stefan Shaw, says: "It really became a 'did you see?' campaign, with huge traffic being driven from people talking about it in chatrooms and referring it to friends, and from viral sites and charts. It became extremely popular all over Europe. Even Japanese and US sites picked it up."