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How not to do a microsite 25 April, 2008

Posted by Jay Ball in Uncategorized.
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Some microsites are little pieces of joy. Some are functional ‘more info’ affairs. Then there are those that turn you from being positive and excited to being frustrated and annoyed.

Naming no names, but take the Canon 450D site. Now, to declare my allegiances, I own a Canon 300D (in fact it is my fourth Canon) plus a bunch of lenses and I am beginning to think about upgrading. As such, I’m pretty excited about the brand spanking new 450D.

So today I got sent the regular You Connect email which contained an invitation to go to the Let’s Play site and take a look at the 450D. Perfect for a Friday afternoon I thought and off I went.

The site opens with the obligatory preloader counting up. But on my Mac it counted one number per second (without saying what it was counting up to ). I tried a different browser, same thing. Then I tried a PC which sat blank screened for ages before finally counting up at a reasonable speed.

Lesson 1: give your audience a clear idea of how much longer they are going to have to wait so they can decide whether they should bother.

Then we get to a choice of whether to ‘play’ in the city with an urban-looking woman or the mountains with a fleeced up guy. Hover over the nav and the two models change places, the one at the back going nicely out of focus. Now, while this is pretty, if this was the reason for the preload time it really wasn’t worth it.

Lesson 2: remember your visitors come to the site for a reason, don’t let the eye-candy get in their way.

I clicked ‘city’ and was introduced to a nav device that promised that I could pan round an image and the click a hotspot to zoom in and discover more. I was also introduced to another preloader (a progress bar this time). And I waited again. Finally, it opened the image with the urban model poised to take the shot. As I moved my cursor the the edges it allowed me to pan around the image. There was one hotspot. Just one. No choice, no real interaction. I started to wonder why Canon didn’t simply run a fully preloaded animation or a video or anything but this.

Lesson 3: if you are going to offer the audience choice, make sure there is some element of actual choice involved.

So I clicked the hotspot and, in the process, activated the third preloader of the experience, this time a spinning wheel of dots (at least there is variety while you wait). This (after a while) activated another animation that placed the viewer inside the head of urban woman as she moved in for the shot. She shoots, she scores and you are then presented with a new screen and a stack of photos that allow you to flick through the camera’s features – all illusion of the original idea now (thankfully) gone. Of course what you are left with is the most standard of microsites (and not a particularly interesting one at that).

Now don’t get me wrong, having an immersive microsite experience can be a really lovely thing. And it certainly suits the Canon photography brand (and actually, Canon did a much better job on the earlier 400D site). But this was just painful (and would have been even if it worked faster). As with doctors, the first rule of marketing must be “do no harm” – a rule this site could do with heeding.

I still love Canon cameras, but I’ll think twice before responding to their marketing again.

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