The surrealestate life: developers turn to online films to sell buildings

Several weeks ago, we posted on Artie, the madcap butcher from a series of online ads produced by Mesirow Financial‘s West Loop condo project, R+D659. Mesirow’s not the only developer using characters to sell its products, Chicago Tribune real estate columnist Mary Umberger reports. Vancouver-based developer Cressey has created a series of online films touting the Donovan, a high-rise in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighborhood. The five “Webisodes,” titled Donovanlife, chronicle the ups and downs of Anya, who moves into her friend Dougal’s condo in the Donovan to escape an unshaven commitment-phobe of a boyfriend. Anya and Dougal traipse through rooms appointed in chic neutral shades in what Umberger calls a blend between “Sex and the City” and “Will & Grace.” The plotlines are yawningly familiar (a hot stranger steps off the elevator. Is he gay or straight?). Still, Donovanlife has so far been a big success, gaining as many as 21,000 hits per day.

One of the biggest challenges for developers in a cooling market will be to distinguish their buildings from the competition, Gail Lissner of Appraisal Research Counselors said at the company’s annual luncheon last week. Online films are perhaps a natural corollary to the lifestyle marketing undertaken by several prominent Chicago developers (witness the “lifestyle center” at Frankel and Giles’ and Kargil Development‘s X/O in the South Loop). Whether through slick “advertainment” or lavish amenities, the idea is to give a buiding an identity and, even more than that, a narrative. Should we expect developers to begin luring us with versions of CSI or Supernanny in 2007? That might be a stretch, but if inventory floods the market, as Lissner predicted, perhaps developers will have get more creative with their marketing to pull ahead of the pack.

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