For whatever reason, today I found myself looking at this selection of corporate websites from 1996. That was the year I first learned HTML, so it's a bit of a trip down memory lane for me, as well as a chance to laugh at some howlingly poor design.
But as I looked, I realised something. These sites were thrown up in the days when digital marketing just didn't exist as any kind of discipline; when someone in the IT or marketing department with a bit of spare time and some basic image editing software would be tasked with chucking something onto the web server to stop it being empty. When there was, from the looks of it, very little oversight of what was being done.
And you know what? When you ignore the design, they're pretty good.
Have a look. Check out McDonalds, for example. The copy on the site reads:
Just click on the adults or kids to your right to enter our site as a grown-up or a child. Have fun! If you're interested in the fine print, now is an opportunity to check it out.
In other words, the kind of 'chatty packaging' tone that corporations now pay tone-of-voice consultants large amounts of money to reproduce.
Coke's weird little history lesson? Brand stories and heritage. Nickelodeon's 'Backseat Traveling Show'? A high-engagement microsite. Best Buy's extended holiday hours and terrifying animated pig? Brand utility and viral content.
Enough to reinforce the point I've long suspected. When someone asks you to 'deliver best practice in digital engagement', or whatever, what they're really saying is, please make your website feel like it was put there by a thinking, feeling, intelligent human being with a sense of humour and the ability to talk to people normally.
And from the evidence, maybe the way to start is to give your digital channels the kind of breathing space websites enjoyed back in 1996. Even if that does mean the odd animated GIF.
# Alex Steer (19/10/2010)