While extensions have been around for a while, as far as digital marketing trends go, they’re a pretty new fad. Browser extensions are plug-ins that extend the functionality of your web browser in some way, like blocking ads (much to the chagrin of publishers) or by swapping all web images with pics of Nicolas Cage (to the delight of web surfers everywhere).
Given how much time people spend using browsers, it’s surprising how few brands have jumped into the space. But the breakout success of one extension (hint: it’s Trump-related) might spur the interest of more brands and organizations. Extensions do offer utility and novelty, key ingredients in a tasty digital marketing trends dish. They also help a brand tell its story. If you’re a brand like Dove that is devoted to changing beauty standards for the better, building an extension to support that view can help spread your brand’s message and attract new converts. Nonprofits, too, have gotten into the game with extensions that reinforce their mission.
But like custom emoji keyboards and real-time marketing efforts, branded browser extensions have the potential to quickly turn gimmicky. Consumers aren’t dumb: Neglect usefulness or uniqueness in favor of gimmick, and (surprise!) the extension won’t gain traction.
Comedian John Oliver jumped into the browser game with his “Drumpfinator” Chrome extension, which changes every Internet instance of the word “Trump” to “Drumpf.” Oliver argued on Last Week Tonight that presidential candidate Donald Trump is all brand but no substance, and his last name reinforces that mystique. Change it to Drumpf—Trump’s supposed ancestral surname—and the Trump brand loses its cache.
In addition to the extension, anti-Trump fans can visit the Donald J. Drumpf website and pick up a “Make Donald Drumpf Again” hat. The message has clearly resonated: Almost half a million users have downloaded the Chrome extension.
With the Drumpfinator, Oliver created the golden ticket of extensions: It’s funny, it’s useful (for anti-Trump users, at least), it’s shareable, and it reinforces Oliver’s brand as a political comedian. He did it so well that it’s unlikely any other comedian (or politician, for that matter) will get away with it on the same scale anytime soon.
Lean Cuisine’s #WeighThis Diet Filter, launched this January, worked similarly to the Drumpfinator: The extension filtered out the word “diet” and its derivatives on the internet and covered it up with an orange rectangle. The filter aimed to “allow women to focus on what really matters” during a time of year when diet messages are unavoidable, says Julie Lehman, Lean Cuisine marketing director.
The initiative aligned with Lean Cuisine’s shift from a “diet” brand to a brand focused on overall well-being. According Lehman, extension users filtered out “diet” over 3.2 million times from January 12 through February 14.
The filter-and-switch concept isn’t anything new. But the campaign’s timing—just after New Year’s—got a nice bit of media buzz, given how often diets factor into resolutions. “The campaign saw great results and a very positive response from consumers and media,” Lehman says.
For users that are annoyed by social media posts and blogs about the latest diet fad, the extension provided an easy way to cancel those out. But will an orange box really help people “focus on what matters more?” And can Lean Cuisine really untangle itself from a being a diet-focused brand?
Curiously, Lean Cuisine’s commitment to end diet talk by way of a browser extension had an expiration date. The campaign ended on February 14 and the extension is no longer available, although Lehman notes its impact continues through a $25,000 donation to Girls Leadership.
Some filter-and-switch extensions are aimed at humor (ahem, Nicolas Cage extension). But like Lean Cuisine discovered, such extensions can take a social turn as well. The National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund partnered with an anonymous extension creator for the “Choice Language” extension, which changes the word “pro-life” to “anti-choice.” The extension aims to shed light on about how language is used to discuss the issue, but it’s only been downloaded 1,500 times.
Another extension, reword, is designed to combat cyberbullying in real-time by identifying insulting words in online posts or messages, then crossing them out with a red line. The tool was developed by Headspace, Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, and aims at discouraging hateful and bullying messages before they’re even posted. The concept, while clever, has only earned about 3,500 users.
These types of extensions seem to earn a short media boost but then disappear quickly into the browser extension crowd. If brands and organizations want more than a few media hits and downloads, they need to make more than a statement. Unless the utility is there, they won’t stand out in the crowded extension space.
Dove has long aligned itself as a brand dedicated to empowering women to speak positively about beauty. While not a browser extension, Dove’s recent partnership with Twitter has extension-like features. When women retweet a Dove post with the hashtag #SpeakBeautiful, Dove automatically responds with a link to a custom microsite with personalized Twitter data, showing how your negative tweets stack up against other women.
The campaign offers one pathway for brands hoping to earn more traction than a simple find-and-replace extension might offer. The more value brands can offer—like personalized data analysis or additional features—the more consumers will have to chew on.
The run-up to Star Wars generated lots of browser extensions, including nifty third-party spoiler blockers that filter out web pages with The Force Awakens spoilers. But the Lightsaber Escape, a Chrome Experiment developed in collaboration with Disney and Lucasfilm, took “cool things you can do with your browser” to a new level.
Lightsaber Escape takes advantage of your phone’s accelerometer to put a lightsaber in your hand. Wave your phone and your lightsaber follows on your browser screen as you battle Stormtroopers in a Star Destroyer.
This type of immersive, mobile-enhanced browser experience offers a clue as to where extensions are going—and ultimately where brands will have to follow. Swapping out one word out for another is an easy extension gimmick; use it once and then it’s stale. Giving users something more—whether it’s humorous, inspirational, entertaining, or useful—will be the challenge as brands take advantage of an old favorite, the browser.