Aug 07 2014
Excellent and eye-opening piece on the history of advertorials, the "native advertising" of yesterday.
Aug 07 2014
Excellent and eye-opening piece on the history of advertorials, the "native advertising" of yesterday.
Apr 22 2014
Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, told a page one meeting shortly after the launch of the national newspaper that if the editors ran a photograph of a pretty girl on the front page to, well, make sure her chest was visible above the fold so it would be visible on a stack or inside a vending machine. Using T&A to sell stuff is Advertising 101. After years of wondering why pretty women want to be my friend, I've had enough.
LinkedIn is becoming a cesspool of strange spam, endorsements, clickbait and general vanity. I get three or four requests a day to add a stranger to my network, sometimes really, really weird crap like a upholstery service in Newport Beach, California (who I am as likely to do business with as a cement factory in Malaysia. But what really gets on my nerves is the use of "pretty girl" pictures and cleavage shots for fictitious individuals such as the cute "Sophie Middleton" in the hopes I will accept their invitation to join my "network." Am I really that predictable? I guess I must be. I notice it enough to blog about it.
I remember reading Yachting magazine in the 70s and 80s and realizing every single motorboat ad had a babe-in-a-bikini in it, so many that I began to wonder if motorboats came equipped with scantily dressed women as standard equipment along with boat hooks and bilge pumps.
This young lady was educated at the University of Manchester -- where she earned a "1st" in Economics -- hence her veddy British name. She works for ZingGaming, a London company, and she is looking for "Publishers CPI-CPL." I don't know what CPI means but I infer "CPL" is "cost per lead" or some other digital advertising acronym.
She is doing very well with her networking efforts and has over 500 connections. She is also already friends with a colleague and former colleague (both men) of mine.
Now she wants to join my network.
Ordinarily I trash these requests, but feeling grumpy this morning I grabbed her photograph and ran a reverse image search through Tineye.com.
There I found twenty-one examples of the cute "Ms. Sophie." She can be found on a Walgreens Photo site, on "FunnyPix" on a page titled "You'll Get Tongue-Tied Over These Spicy Pics Of Nickelodeon Girls" where she was given the caption: "Cute, Huh? Her Before/After Makeup Pics Will Make You Scream..."
"Sophie" can be found on sites such as The Naughty.com, Polydore, Speed Date, WattPad, Cavemancircus, and so on and so forth. Sophie gets around....
I'm tempted to fill out the contact form on ZingGaming's website and ask to talk to Ms. Middleton. But, knowing full well the world of affiliate marketing, CPL scammers, and the rest of the sordid swamp known as the digital advertising world where content is just so much cheese in the rat trap, I rather hit delete and move on.
I know everyone gets a ton of this crap -- this is like writing about spam -- so what? But I am intrigued by the spammer mindset that use bogus accounts on social networks to weave a web of inbound links and followers around fictitious people (with cleavage) to improve the siterank and visibility of their services. I realize it is a well known phenomenon to steal a another person's photos to create a bogus identity. The imaginary girlfriend of the football player a year or so ago is a classic example. And I know behavioral psychologists have quantified the attributes of the human face that people find attractive -- the facial characteristics and rations that make people ooh and ahh over cute puppies and babies.
I see this all the time on Soundcloud, Google+, and other networks ... enough to the point where if the "will you be my friend" invitation shows any decolletage or winsome characteristics I ship it right to the spam folder. I wonder if beefcake photos of men are used to trick women into accepting friends requests, or is this just a male phenomenon as old and primal as cave paintings? There needs to be a name for these artificial humans, fake people with names and college degrees and jobs and pretty faces that belong to somebody else.
Anyway, just another digression into the seamy underside of digital marketing where manipulators know that a headline with an odd-number in it, the promise of some sex, and a pretty face will deliver another click to their pile of pageviews and SEO.
Sophie, meet "David"
Aug 18 2013
GigaOm has published an opinion piece I wrote at the suggestion of Om Malik about the poor prospects for the present digital advertising model. I went off on a screed in my first draft against the protests of the Internet Advertising Bureau who have been attacking people like me who turn on ad-blocking software and turn off third-party tracking cookies.
I'll let the column speak for itself.
Jul 10 2013
Sitting on the deck the other evening with my 24 year-old daughter and her boyfriend, a San Francisco entrepreneur working on a real estate/apartment finder app -- while I grilled dinner I also grilled them on social media trends within their social and professional circles. Both are digitally driven individuals who have known a world that always had an Internet. He's on a divided platform of MacAir and Android phone, she's a follower of the Apple Holy Trinity of MacAir, iPhone5 and iPad2.
Interesting points I took away from this survey sample of two are:
Mar 06 2013
Bob Page emailed me a link to this Harvard Business Review blog post about how advertisers need to act more like newsrooms.
Written by Newsweek/Daily Beast CEO Baba Shetty and Wharton Professor Jerry Wind, the post cites some marketing trends where companies are:
Nice sentiments, but in my experience, the reality of putting such sentiments into action is a lot more frustrating. Getting big organizations to be faster and more open is always going to be an exercise in frustration and patience. Bob wrote: "This "marketers as newsrooms" stuff from Intel, Red Bull, Liberty Mutual looks an awful lot like the kind of team you got started at Lenovo."
I'll take the compliment for trying to push the company to be more agile on its communications and media, but the frustrations occurred when two traditional conservative corporate communications edicts were invoked: risk and quality.
Risk is what a corporate communications department is designed to minimize. They plan the message, craft it, practice it, push it across the organization and limit the points where the media can engage. Rank and file employees can't, and shouldn't, talk to the press or randomly respond to social media. Even the CEO is given a speech written for him, carefully crafted down to every ad hoc joke and quip. External PR agencies and internal staff work together across product introductions, corporate messaging and investor relations, focused on cutting down the risk of leaks, illegal financial disclosure and embarrassing moments.
Risk aversion in corporate communications means slowing things down, stone walling, taking time to consider responses and reactions before blurting out something that isn't signed off. This doesn't work when a lynch party is forming over Christmas shipping delays and the CEO's home phone number is being shared along with form letters for submission to the Better Business Bureau. The realities of modern crisis communications is that minutes, not hours, are crucial, and when a customer service team needs to wait 24 hours for corporate communications to reply with a sanitized, bland statement opportunities are lost and tempers inflamed.
Quality is what gets invoked when a digital marketing team tries to get a video onto the company's YouTube channel. Suddenly the brand team and the advertising creative people turn into critics, and cry foul when a cell-phone video of an engineer explaining how he revved up boot times for a new PC is put out there on the same day of a product announcement claiming the new laptops are faster to start up than the competitions. The official announcement may make the claim, but the customers want to know how and why, so pointing a video camera at the engineer and putting up a 60 second answer suddenly makes the purists invoke HD quality standards.
Here's a video I challenged the team to shoot and post in a single day when I felt a product announcement lacked any substance or answers. This bummed some people out because of its low quality, but 80,000 views later, I'd declare it a success. It simply Kevin Beck interview Howard Locker on what he did to rev up boot times.
I maintain that if you're in a complex business and have opened the doors to questions through corporate blogs, customer service forums, Facebook pages, etc.. you better be prepared to get something up in a matter of hours, not days.
One thing will never change and that is that corporate content is ultimately advertorial and as such, inferior to independently/ objectively produced journalism.
I'm going to take credit for coining the term "corporate journalism" back in 2000 when I was at McKinsey working on the firm's knowledge management system. My friend and colleague Rob O'Regan and I realized our purpose in life was to leverage our experience as business and technology reporters in prying out of taciturn consultants conditioned to maintain client confidentiality some meaningful insights that could be developed into "content" for the benefit of other consultants and their clients.
The act of interviewing -- not media training where a PR person coaches a senior executive on how to spin a story -- but actually probing an expert in the reporter's equivalent of the Socratic method, produced some strong results: it forced the experts to clarify their jargon, realize when their points were obtuse, and understand what they considered interesting or important wasn't necessarily so. But the public result of this process -- a story in the McKinsey Quarterly, or a video series for client development -- is still content with an inherent proprietary bias.
Yes, brands need to be more agile, corporate communications needs to be faster and more authentic, and old strictures of spinning messages and planning ad campaigns deserve to die. But beware of flaks bearing the next new thing, it usually turns out to be unbearably bogus and contrived and designed to serve the best interests of the organization and its shareholders, not the public and its customers.
May 18 2012
I wanted to keep this to myself --if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all -- but here is my contribution to the pile of B.S. spreading today on the occasion of Facebook going public.
Facebook is over, about to topple over under the weight of a spectacular overvaluation, mass indifference to financial fundamentals, and most importantly my sense of the growing indifference of the generation it was supposed to serve -- college students. Facebook was famously founded as a digital replacement to the printed freshman directories of the Ivy League but has become obese with the inane status updates and vacation bragging of those same students' parents. My generation. The one's who pored over the original class directories in the 1970s and "posted updates" on whiteboards glued to our dorm room doors.
Wall Street is selling scale today when the trigger is pulled on Facebook at 11 AM EST -- that's dot.com hyperbole for "lots of traffic" -- and while your local investment club may be all atwitter with the prospect of buying some shares, and it's fun to count the herd of new Facebook gazillionaires now shopping for new Colnagos and bespoke skinny jeans -- the smart money has been cashing out for a long time in the private market and will continue cashing out quickly at the top. This is not Microsoft in 1984 nor Amazon in 1996. This is not a long term bet on a significant new way of doing business or even communicating. This is an investment in the 2012 edition of CompuServe and MySpace: yet another walled garden ripe to get creatively destroyed by the next big technical thing lurking over that hill known as the future.
Future performance of Facebook's stock depends on the company delivering profitable revenue and like Google, Facebook gets all of its money from advertising. Google builds semi-useful stuff and search is everything. Facebook advertising does not work. I managed Facebook campaigns for a Fortune Global 100 company and have first hand experience that ... Facebook .... Advertising .... Does..... Not ..... Work.
General Motors figured this out, and picking the week of the IPO to announce Facebook ads aren't working was simply perfect. Of course the counter argument from the social media douche bags is that "Facebook is all about authentic relationships and transparent conversations between brands and customers." Consider the source, given that the SMDB's make their bones selling their Facebook Unique Customer Karma and Emerging Digital services (you can figure out the forced acronym) to breathless CMOs who want audience, damn it, and the bigger the better. And consider that the public relations/digital agency world is always first on any shiny object bandwagon (can you say SecondLife) and their current solemn obsession is reporting "Social ROI" as the rest of the faddish get obsessed with big data and analytics. (If you want to watch some fun navel gazing, play pissed-off CEO and ask a Digital PR person "How much is a Facebook Fan worth?")
Companies, aka "brands," obsess and fret about how many fans and likes they have; spend money on third-party tools like BuddyMedia to manage their presence, and set aside a slice of their digital advertising budget to buy good old display ads to run alongside the torrent of notifications and shared links that make up Facebook's river of content. As I read elsewhere this morning, quoting Seth Godin (whom I never quote), "The Internet wasn't invented for advertisers."
Neither was Facebook.
Yet, in lieu of subscriptions or some twist on Warren Buffett's theory of a toll booth on the only bridge over the river, where is Facebook's money going to come from to sustain a valuation in the thin, thin air of $100+ billion ? If you know, then buy some stock. Me, I'm deactivating my Facebook account in honor of the TimeWarner-AOL/Prodigy/CompuServe/Groupon/Pets.com/WebVan of 2012.
Two weeks ago I began dinging every over-sharer on my timeline or wall or whatever the Zuckerborg called it this month. Goodbye pictures of glasses of beer, notifications that Ed was at LAX, weird R-rated bikini videos from people in Turkey and India I have never met and will never meet. Goodbye SocialCam. Goodbye Tweets. Goodbye to All That. Now .....
Goodbye Facebook and hello to less noise in my life.
Sep 12 2011
David Carr's must-read column this Monday morning in the NYT talks to the phenomenon of Acquisition-Assimilation when independent news sites lose their voice and attitude once acquired by big portal aggregators such as Yahoo or AOL. If issues of spirit and emotion are set aside, and the founders are forgiven for taking the money and running, the big shift is not so much from big brother bureaucracies snuffing out entrepreneurial energy (as Carr says: news sites that can feed the masthead with two pizzas have that fire and attitude) as changes in how online advertising is sold.
"....as news surges on the Web, giant ocean liners like AOL and Yahoo are being outmaneuvered by the speedboats zipping around them, relatively small sites that have passionate audiences and sharply focused information."
Carr posits that audiences could give a hoot whether their preferred content is housed by Gawker or AOL or even independents like GigaOm. That audience has splintered and creates its own bespoken news experience from whatever sites match their tastes, philosophy and particular needs. No one sees a 20th Century Fox Movie, they buy a ticket to see Gwenyth get the flu. I read Dan Lyons, not Newsweek. I read Paul Carr, not TechCrunch. Om Malik, not GigaOm.
The reason little independents can steal the most precious, un-scalable commodity of all from the big guys (a reader's time and attention) and survive to buy two more pizzas isn't the miracle of search, the push of RSS or the lack of prudish copyeditors who ban them from dropping F-bombs. It's how they get the ad bucks to buy those pizzas.
In the 1990s online ad sales came down to the old world of actual magazine ad sales people showing up at an agency to pitch a magazine's website to a junior buyer. Few Madison Avenues agencies had any digital experience -- some, like Agency.com and Modem Media were blazing the first trails -- and few sites (which mostly were digital versions of existing print titles, e.g. Forbes.com, HotWired, WSJ.com) had dedicated digital ad sales teams. Selling online ads was a wild exercise in selling a vision (It's called the Internet And It's Going To Be Big, Big I Tell You) and making up metrics. There were no ad networks, the portals were just getting their acts together, and the technology for serving up the ads and then measuring their performance was crude and in many cases hand-crafted and unique to each site. The process was inefficient, old school, involved lugging big projectors into meetings, and talking about impressions and hits in the context of the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Those were the days when online publishers could sell the excitement of the future directly to advertisers, cut out the agencies, and get away with reporting thin and at best crude metrics. Targeting, let alone behavioral targeting, was an exercise in giving an advertiser nebulous advantages like "category exclusivity" or "roadblocks." Yet by 2000 few if any titles could sell direct to brands, agencies were fighting to be the arbiter of the ad buy, and the big portal "frames" as Carr calls them, were the forces to be reckoned with. No sales force was more arrogant in 1999 than AOL's.
The evolution of ad sales, ad serving, metrics, and the eventual rise of ad networks, behavioral targeting, paid search auction bid interfaces, cookie pools, retargeting, look-alike modeling ... all combined to the point where a feisty voice can start blogging and open up his or her site's inventory with a simple AdSense account or membership in an ad network. The brands looking for ways to spend their advertising budgets don't want to take a meeting with the publisher of some tiny traffic site, they want to get in front of a specific psychographic profile and want to do it with as little fee and friction as possible. Few advertisers have the staff expertise to buy advertising efficiently and directly, but the gap between the upstart voices and the advertiser's budget is narrowing, killing off the big collector brands. Google got it right when they made the ad buy a simple exercise in bidding.
Carr ends with this great quote:
"Jonathan Glick of Sulia, a site that filters and publishes real-time content, said that, apart from cashing out the owners and sentencing those that remain to more meetings, getting acquired fails to meet a fundamental need. “On the Web, traffic, good traffic, is earned in terms of referrals,” he said. “You don’t need to be part of a big site because if you are doing it right on the Web, distribution finds you.”"
And as quality will always find its fans, so do ad dollars.
Jan 20 2011
A birth control commercial in which various young ladies scoff at the stork with its little bundle of joy and opt for a trip to Paris, grad school, or a new house. What do I know? Hey, it has vitamins and all the side effects you could ever want except for an erection lasting four hours or more.
Dec 06 2010
It was a matter of time before the winds of regulation blew over the mysterious world of digital advertising and behavioral targeting, just as they blew out the telemarketing-junk call industry in the 1980s, email spammers in the 1990s, and pay-per-post blogola two years ago. I think it's inevitable that the government will regulate online tracking and I believe the result -- counter to fears it will decimate digital advertising -- will be a much needed catalyst for innovation in online advertising.
From the 12.6.10 New York Times: "If the vast majority of online users chose not to have their Internet activity tracked, the proposed “do not track” system could have a severe effect on the industry, some experts say. It would cause major harm to the companies like online advertising networks, small and midsize publishers and technology companies like Yahoo that earn a large percentage of their revenue from advertising that is tailored to users based on the sites they have visited."
Nothing gets the public's libertarian hackles up like a threat to their privacy, even though 99% of them have no clue what constitutes identity and personal privacy in the digital age. The declared intentions of the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on online advertising use of tracking beacons, pixels or cookies is inevitable and has been brewing since 1995 when Mark Andreesen and Netscape first introduced the cookie to great consternation and misunderstanding.
This is an old issue, one that tracks back to the mid-1990s and was embodied by the famous comment by Sun Microsystem's CEO, Scott McNeally: "You have zero privacy. Get over it." McNeally uttered those words at a time when the technology and media industries were trying to head off government regulation by forming the Online Privacy Alliance (OPA). Evidently self-regulation hasn't been enough, and now the industry is on the brink of having some new regulations to conform to.
Let's look at what the issue is and how things got to the point that the issue officially was blessed as the most significant story of the day in early December by the front page of the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal's Julie Angwin gets the most credit for raking the privacy muck in a shrill series that is encapsulated on this page on the Journal's site which is actually a very comprehensive and chilling catalogue of news about the state of digital privacy in modern America. While some critics like Jeff Jarvis have accused the Journal of being breathlessly alarmist and turning the practice of cookie-based advertising into the modern equivalent of Reefer Madness, the Journal has persisted, making it an inevitable outcome that sooner or later some bureaucrats and Congressmen would take up the call and file a bill.
Let me attempt to simplify the issue in lurid terms: Web publishers and digital advertising companies are colluding to sneak invisible tracking devices onto your computer which report back personal information about you so they can deliver targeted advertisements to you and share your personal information with marketers, and other interested parties.
The issue comes down to whether or not a web user has the right, by default, to ban the placement of cookies or "invisible tracking pixels" on their PC when they visit a website or click on an ad. These cookies are the digital equivalent of a tracking device snuck under the bumper of your car so your whereabouts can be tracked by the cops or enemy spies.
One of the most prevalent digital bugs or tracking cookies is the Adobe-Omniture 2o7.net tracker. Omniture is a very powerful web metrics tool that web publishers and corporate web sites use to analyze traffic patterns and user behaviors. Most major e-commerce sites use the tool and I've spent a lot of time in its dashboards analyzing metrics at CIO.com and Lenovo.com. This is an expensive tool, not something a typical Internet scam artist would use to hatch some evil plan, and it never reports back any personal information about site visitors. Your name, your address, your phone number, your social security number .... none of its transferred back to the analyst.
Yet the 2o7 tracking cookie it classified as spyware and a threat by most spyware scanners. Why?
Privacy is becoming a matter of degrees. While your name may not be passed without your knowledge, your IP address is. And someone with a subpoena and some diligence can, in theory, track you down to a specific geographical address. Your personal information -- from your online medical records to your bank account numbers -- all of it exposed and can be stolen by a criminal clever enough to trick you into parting with that information on a fake site or through so-called "social" engineering. Identity theft is a very real threat online, and tends to trick the nontechnical, unsophisticated users the most.
But what does a ban on tracking cookies do to online advertising?
First, it will have an impact on re-targeting. This is where a site like Lenovo.com or Filson.com (two online retails I happen to visit occasionally) plant a tracker into your browser and then use it to trigger ads for their products when you visit other sites. So, if I go to Lenovo's ThinkPad store and check out a T410S, I can usually expect to see a lot of Lenovo ads as I surf around to CNET, PC Magazine, and any other sites that Lenovo's advertising agency deems appropriate to display the client's ads on. Do these ads greet me by name? No. Are they intelligent enough to distinguish my interest in one product over another? No. Do they get progressively more aggressive in offering me a better price as time goes by? No.
In some regards, re-targeting is somewhat pathetic. It sounds semi-intelligent to follow a visitor around and throw more ads at them, but in reality you have to keep in mind one very real fact: online advertising is, for the most part, completely ignored by most users. Click through rates have been declining on most display (graphical) ads since they were introduced in the mid-1990s, and only so-called rich media ads featuring video or some form of dynamic multimedia are getting higher CTRs. We're talking click rates under 1%. Digital ads remain noise for the most part, and the only stuff that seems to have legs -- witness the phenomenal one-trick pony known as Google -- is contextual search advertising (which does not use tracking cookies).
As tracking and re-targeting comes under fire a few things will happen. First, advertisers will lose insight into the buying patterns or behaviors of customers, and selecting media for their advertising will become more difficult. Will advertisers regress to what is known as last-click attribution, where credit for a sale, registration or other "success event" be credited to the last ad or link the user clicked before arriving in a store to make a purchase? Perhaps, but I think what will happen is the 2011 equivalent of New York City's solution to the threat of being buried under too much horse manure in the late 19th century -- technology (in NYC's case the automobile) will simply cause the problem to become moot. Advertisers and agencies have been lazy and deceiving themselves that they have some semblance of intelligence in their metrics -- which they laud as "behavioral targeting" - when in fact it's ad insertion based on cookie triggers, nothing more. Take away the cookie and I guarantee some motivated entrepreneur will rush to the table with a new ad format that performs without them.
So, bottom line, bring on the era of regulation, punish the most egregious offenders, and stay tuned for the online advertising industry to evolve into a more intelligent form of advertising which has been overdue since the invention of contextual search ads by Bill Gross.
Dec 01 2010
Sorry, but $6 Billion for a service that sends a daily email containing a coupon to a local restaurant or nail salon? Has Google lost its mind? Is its $33 billion in cash burning that big a stupid-hole in its pockets that it feels compelled to pull the 2010 equivalent of Time Warner buying AOL? This may be the deal that signifies the shark jumping of the social networking craze. Especially given that Groupon shows absolutely no social tendencies that I can determine other than a call to action to share the spam with a friend.
I signed up for Groupon -- the Chicago local online social coupon whatever service -- last month, and every morning get an utterly useless email containing a spammy offer to get a plate of cheap BBQ or a pedicure for half-off the list price somewhere in Greater Boston. Sorry, call me dense, but I just don't get the secret sauce that makes this deal worth $6 billion.
In other words: Sign up to receive a daily deal. Receive the deal. Maybe share the deal. Then redeem the deal. What am I missing here? The NYT goes for the jugular when it questions the payoff for the merchants.
"Not all small businesses are sold on the golden promise of Groupon. Ina Pinkney, the chef and owner of a cafe called Ina’s, in Chicago, said she was curious about Groupon when she first heard about it a couple of years ago. She ultimately decided against using it.
“We did the math up front when they first started coming around to us and I said, ‘No, it really doesn’t make much sense,’ ” she said. “If we were to offer a $25 coupon for $50 worth of food, it doesn’t work.”
Groupon’s cut is half the dollar amount of the coupon, so the average amount of money Ina’s would collect for each Groupon customer was around $12.50, she said.
“I would never produce that much food for such a small amount,” she said."
As this deal is questioned by analysts and investors, the most plausible explanation appears to be the most insane: Google bought Groupon to keep Facebook from buying it.
This could go down as one of the dumbest deals since Yahoo paid a billion for Mark Cuban's Broadcast.com.
Oct 19 2010
Peter Kafka at AllThingsD reports on the New York Times' earnings as a bellwether for digital advertising trends. Taken as a barometer for display revenues -- I assume paid search is a minor contributor to the Time's revenue stream as the channel is dominated by Google, et al -- it indicates that display is holding its own during a period of general economic malaise and the old prevailing wisdom that display was dead as CPMs trended lower and click-throughs continued to deteriorate. The Times is fairly innovative without being obtrusive with its display inventory, so my take is they are seeing strong demand for their supply.
"Here’s the full breakout for the Times’ digital properties NYT.com About.com, etc, which appear to be doing pretty well:
Total Internet revenues increased 13.3 percent to $89.4 million from $78.9 million.
Internet advertising revenues increased 14.6 percent to $78.3 million from $68.3 million.
Internet advertising revenues at the News Media Group increased 21.6 percent to $47.4 million from $39.0 million mainly due to strong growth in national display advertising.
Internet businesses accounted for 16.1 percent of the Company’s revenues for the third quarter of 2010 versus 13.9 percent for the third quarter of 2009."
Interesting fact - The Times has more Twitter followers than paid subscribers according to Journalistics:
"When it comes to Twitter followers, The New York Times is the top bird with more than 2.6 million followers. To illustrate how impressive this follower number is, The Wall Street Journal only has 464,591 followers in the #2 spot. The New York Times is the ONLY newspaper from the Top 25 with more Twitter followers than print circulation."
May 18 2009
From Blodgett's AlleyInsider -- Chart of the Day
Apr 02 2009
At some point last fall, some smart and brave person at Hyundai made the brilliant decision to look ahead into the future a few months and realize that consumers would place a new car nearly last on their list of life's necessities come January. By being the first automaker to promise a money-back guarantee should the buyer lose their job, Hyundai accomplished several brilliant marketing moves.
1. They established empathy with their customers.
2. They beat their competition who thought "employee pricing" -- letting consumers buy at the same price as insiders -- represented empathy. The competition has followed suit and looks like followers.
3. They tapped into the zeitgeist without resorting to the unimaginative marketing message most brands follow these days which is lower total cost of ownership -- the aftersale expense which few consumers want to depress themselves with in the elation of acquiring something new. Do you want to talk about depreciation, mean-time-between-failure, and service costs? Meet my accountant.
Marketers have diminished options in a down economy if they cling to their old campaign playbooks. Those playbooks are what I call megaphone tactics. Yell a lot in the right places with the right people by your side and good things will happen. This is good for selling cigarettes, booze, and hairspray circa the Mad Men Era of the 1960s.
First to go overboard -- sports sponsorships. Read Bill Simmons' great obituary on the NBA "The No Benjamins Association" on ESPN and look at the NASCAR cars rolling around the ovals with white hoods where the sponsor's logo used to go.
"Here's a little game to play during your next NBA outing: Look around for how many suites are dark. (You'll notice them specifically in the corners or behind the baskets.) A dark suite means either that nobody bought it or that somebody did buy it for the season, then made the decision, "Screw it, let's save the $1,200 [or whatever the number is] on food and drink and not give tonight's suite tickets to anyone."
Sports marketing has been whacked. Corporate home rentals for the Masters in Augusta is off 20% this year and woe to the recipient of government bailout money who buys a hospitality box in a baseball stadium this spring.
Second to go overboard: feel-good branding. Those "eagles-on-proud-wings-standing-on-a-rock-spire-in-Utah" ads are done. If it doesn't have a solid call to action (please buy our crap now, please), then it's not running. Just for grins, next time you're on the mid-town tunnel approach to Manhattan or on any prime billboard region, count up how many are paid and how many are public service announcements.
Third to die: print ads. Sorry, read the remaining headlines while you can, this is the season when dead-tree publishing gets slammed. Business rags are seeing ad counts down 33% year on year. I won't echo-chamber the terrible news of newspaper bankruptcies in Seattle, Denver, etc. .... The print puppy died and daddy isn't bringing home a new one.
So, I could wring my hands and be all dour, but no. Instead I want to point out that for those marketers who still have money to put in market, they seem to cling to last year's playbook, just tuning the message around the advertising equivalent of a slasher flick to say everything must go, go, go at prices too insane to believe. I see it in the airline spam: Lufthansa offering off the wall fares to Paris -- $200 roundtrips to Europe.
What is happening at places like Hyundai is a realization that the rules have changed. Consumers are sitting on their wallets and will continue to. The question marketing needs to consider is not how to align to a corporate strategy built around volumes and market share -- cascading strategy based on sales yields little more than direct marketing and demand generation tactics which do nothing to distinguish the company from its competition.
Standing apart from the competition is the heart of the whole branding thing. Differentiating on price is a fool's game and leads to the whole slasher flick thing. Tossing the brand overboard in a down market strikes me as the equivalent of eating next season's seed corn.
My modest proposal? If your marketing budget has tanked, and is down 50 percent from last year, the last thing you want to do is spread yourself thin trying to cover last year's tactics. This is the time to take a flyer, to do something innovative, to take a risk and consider the high risk tactic that was dreamed about in good times. This is not the time to fall back on classic Four-P marketing. Of those four p's -- Product, Price, Place, Promotion -- I recommend.
Product: not the time to roll out a premium luxe model. Nor is it time to start reducing features around the product. Example -- this is not the time to reduce warranty terms, replace stainless steel screws with plastic screws, or cut any corners. The customers are more vigilant than ever. I saw an amazing presentation by the marketing reporter at Businessweek at Google last week and he showed how peanut butter makers are screwing us out of an ounce not by making the jar smaller. Oh no. They use a concave dent on the bottom of the jar (called a "punt" for you oenophiles) to reduce the volume. This is dickheaded and will come back to bite people.
Price: See my screed on taking the marketing message down to the gutter. Anyone can cut a price. Smart brands like Hyundai go a step further and say "we feel your pain and fear and will do something about it."
Place: I would not recommend buying the naming rights to a baseball stadium. I would slam the brakes on all traditional media and go 101% online. Call me digital, but there it is. The traditional media has lost its mass audience effect big time. Media has exploded and fragmented into a million niches. The only way to accurately chase the audience is with a ninja digital team. I am serious about this. This Deprecession is the catalyst that is killing the generational gulf between digital immigrants and digital natives. You stand up and wave a traditional campaign, media plan and I guarantee your days are numbered.
Promotion: This is where the opportunity to put on the thinking caps is. No, no viral. No UGC on YouTube. I'm talking killing the notion of the campaign -- as Charlene Li said yesterday on a panel, "campaigns are designed to end" -- and move to an organic, ongoing, pervasive conversational model with the crowd. This is not social media marketing hand wringing -- 99% of the self-annointed gurus couldn't run a valid social plan if they were paid to do it. This is 180 degree flip from one-way blah-blah message marketing, expensive research and focus groups, and dumb people saying "I know half my advertising works, just not ...."
Promotions need to die and be replaced with full marketing empathy. This is the time to design a product with the customers, the time to listen to their feedback, give them something in a novel way, and break the model being chased by the competition. This is the time to break out with no questions asked service, with golden-rule customer service, with beyond the pale actions that will define the organization and make it beloved, not loathed. This isn't about freebies, giveaways and concessions. It's about constant listening and response. ComCast, JetBlue, these are the listeners and doers.
Anyway, enough dour ranting. Bottom line -- this recession is the opportunity to kill off the tried and true and invent something new. Even if you decide to only risk a small portion of your seed corn this year, do it, and do it with every expectation of failing, but do it knowing that the customers will notice and maybe even like you for it.
I recommend a re-reading of Doc Searls' seminal definition of conversational marketing, it's worth the time.
Mar 28 2009
I spent part of past Wednesday at the the New York Googleplex with some fellow digital marketers and agency people as part of Google's Global Advisory Council. I consider the content and conversations as unbloggable/off-the-record, but wanted to share one excellent line from Scott McLaren at General Motors, who in the course of presenting how GM was able to centralize search marketing said:
"Centralize the science and localize the art."
That brilliant insight goes into my collection of business koans along with McKinsey's Dick Foster's line: "Loosen control without losing control" and that anonymous jazzman who told another musician "If you don't know what to do, then don't do anything."
What Scott summarized in that one-liner, is probably familiar to anyone in a global digital marketing role who has tried to evangelize a unified (credit to Carol Kruse at Coca-Cola for recommending "unified" over "centralized") approach to planning, spending and executing a marketing discipline across many oceans and borders.
Decentralization is the rule in a massive global organization, a throw-back to the Roman Empire when the edges of the empire were too far away from the center of power in Rome and the Emperor had to divide c0ntrol between four Caesars. When I was at International Data Group in 2005 I felt the 1970s edict by owner and founder Pat McGovern that decentralization was the way the company would be organized and run was out of date and a worn out necessity born from a pre-fax/pre-email era, one that ignored the economies of scale of consolidating 300 websites onto a unified analytics and content management system.
Information Technology tends to consolidate and unify. The oldest story in the IT playbook is the hub, the router, the server, the data center. All discussions of mesh architectures and complex matrixed "edge" computing models have been speculative structures, but in the end, the men in white coats want the users to be on dumb diskless workstations, working in unity off of one central processor. But - IT aside -- money likes to be decentralized. If you want "feet on the street" to take accountability for sales targets, then you have to push fiscal responsibility down to the regional and country level -- otherwise there will be no accountability or insights into local markets.
Back to McLaren's statement and why I think search engine marketing must be centralized.
What else can be centralized in global digital marketing?
What can't be centralized?
More later, but it was good to hear two very global, very capable marketers confirm the issues I've seen the past three years. Digital marketing needs to be unified around IT, analytics, and discounted volume negotiations but localized around creative and customer/blogger relations.
Mar 04 2009
Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz in the WSJ on not divorcing Yahoo's search and display assets in any discussions with MSFT:
"Yahoo’s search and display businesses are greater than the sum of their parts, she said. The two businesses are “linked in the minds of the top 200 advertisers,” she says, noting that Yahoo’s salesforce can sell more advertising because they sell the combined concept. She also said that any deal between the two parties would have to give Yahoo access to the raw search data to enable it to optimize all its other ad offerings. “We would never debone the company,” she said."
This is reaffirming the obvious -- that search and display advertising are inseparable and enhance each other's yields. Looked upon at large, Yahoo's value pitch is around the targeted of its tier one display inventory -- the Yahoo sales team spins a compelling vision of targeting and detection of consumer intentions much better than their counterparts at MSN or Google. But ... (big but), Yahoo search is not regarded as the defacto standard to the extent Google is (though it certainly beats Microsof't's efforts like a drum).
To revive Yahoo search I think the company needs to make an overt engineering committment to improving the quality of its SERP (search engine result pages) and make a convincing argument that its "black box" has attributes that distinguish it from Google. Until Yahoo can turn itself into a verb, it will hobble along, strong in a weak medium -- banner ads, but weak in a strong medium, paid search.
The best asset they have going for them: reach. We did a big push through Yahoo during the last week of the Olympics and the results were impressive and the buy, for all its global complexity, amazingly efficient (thanks to Neo@Ogilvy and their fast moves to nail down availabile inventory).
Mar 02 2009
... even if the august analysts at Forrester have convinced themselves that as long as the bloggers disclose the payment and are permitted to say whatever they feel, that pay-per-post sounds better redubbed as a "sponsored conversation."
I still think it is one of the dumber marketing manuevers in the social marketing bag of tricks.
Call me a purist but I like my critics to be objective and my reviewers to be uncomped. Product changes hands to be reviewed, not as gifts. Cash is spent on advertising, not on payola.
"As long as bloggers don’t hide who’s paying them and have the freedom to write whatever they want, we think sponsored conversation will fit in well with the other forms of marketing through blogs,” writes Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran. The report – written in conjunction with Forrester analysts Jeremiah Owyang and Josh Bernoff – also includes advice for interactive marketers considering using sponsored conversations in their marketing arsenal, much of it centered on the critical issues of authenticity and transparency.
Whether you agree with Forrester or not, we’d love to have you (and your readers) engage in this dialogue with us. Please let me know if you would like a copy of the new Forrester report, “Add Sponsored Conversations To Your Toolbox.”
There are so many more intelligent ways to get a blogger or group of bloggers to talk about your brand without resorting to cash payments. And I don't buy this re-tweet/give away for charity dodge either.
I will continue to unsub from "posties" and have long given up following analysts and experts who condone these tactics. The world is slipping into the Idiocracy quickly enough without the "experts" undoing all semblance of objectivity and honesty in the higest potential communications channel ever invented.
Links withheld in protest.
update: Owyang is determined to bait me into a pissing match on this one, now by citing Lenovo's Voice of the Olympic Games program as an example of a "sponsored conversation." I am not going to get semantic with him on "sponsored" and "conversation" definitions. Lenovo did not pay any athlete to blog nor once suggested, demanded, hinted or discussed that the athlete mention the word Lenovo. We gave them free laptops and FlipCams with no strings attached. The point that just won't sink in with him -- no matter who huffs and puffs, is payola is wrong, cash-for-blogging sucks, and Forrester is on the wrong side of the whole pay-per-post debate. I revert to Mark Cahill's pointer to the concept of journalistic ethics. I suggest every blogger with a shred of dignity read it. And yeah, yeah, I know. Bloggers aren't journalists. I'm suggesting they may want to avail themselves of some journalistic best practices and take the high road. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalistic_ethics
Feb 03 2009
Gary Milner, who runs interactive advertising at Lenovo, has opened up a blog.
Gary is by far, with no argument, the best digital advertising expert I've ever worked with. His insights into metrics, ad ops, optimization, and the hairier details of how to make every cent in a digital campaign be accountable is going to be invaluable.
Jan 16 2009
In the world of advertising, the "Call to Action" is what you want the customer to do after viewing or suffering through your ad.
"Mention WMVY and receive 10% off"
In the web world, it used to be called "CHA" for "click here a$$hole."
Then it was punch the monkey.
Now Microsoft gives us ....
Jan 16 2009
As part of the occasional series of how to survive this evil, ugly economy with digital marketing, let me acknowledge the need of a lot of experienced marketers, to get smart -- and fast -- on all this Digital Stuff. Because a colleague just asked me for a bibliography to help teach himself digital, I figured a blog post and an invitation to you dear reader to suggest some additions would kill several birds with the same post.
Let's start by saying I am not a fan of "business" books. Sure, I've read Tipping Point and Execution and Blue Ocean/Red Ocean ... I was even involved in the writing of a business book when I was associated with Gartner's editorial board in 2004. (Multisourcing) I tend to order and read a so-called "business book" only when I need to, and then only if I need to get smart fast on a specific function.
There is no omnibus guide to digital marketing. Maybe I should write one, but it would be out of date before it was even outlined: for the future is here, it's just unevenly distributed.*
Later on I will try to compile a blog roll of essential digital marketing blogs, but the genre of digital marketing blogs is a mess, and I'd say I personally only can read three or four on an ongoing basis.
This is a only a bibliography. Here is an "aStore" in Amazon if you want to buy them.
Where to begin? Let's begin at the center of digital, the very hub of where it all begins, and that is search. If you don't understand search and how it works, then digital marketing in all of its forms and variants is going to be lost on you.
The best explanation of the history, the process, and the impact of search was written several years ago, but still is valid, and that's John Battelle's The Search. Trust me, but if you want to understand digital marketing you must understand search. Everything digital starts with a search.
Battelle gives you the history and theory, Moran and Hunt give you the nuts and bolts of how to run a search campaign from both the paid (SEM) and the organic (SEO) side. Search Engine Marketing, Inc. is out in a revised edition and gives a strong step-by-step cookbook for running a paid search campaign and developing a website that will rank high in any search engine's organic rankings.
The heart of digital marketing, the reason we care about it, is its accountability through metrics. One strong recommendation here is Avinash Kaushik's Web Analytics: An Hour a Day. There are also some specific titles around Google Analytics, which isn't a bad idea for some trying to master that environment specificially. Avinash is where you start.
Tim Ash has a decent book on landing pages and the art/science of optimization. Landing pages make the world go round in terms of improving "cse" or customer success events, so take some time and read Tim's Landing Page Optimization
Display and banner media
I don't know of a single book in this genre, but I would say that there is lot of good stuff at the Internet Advertising Bureau's site. Especially on standards and practices.
If you are trying to make a case to stop doing dumb-ass traditional advertising and move it online, then read Joseph Jaffe's Life After the 30-Second Spot.
There a few good books out there on this topic. Allen Adamson quotes me in BrandDigital. Andy Beal quotes me in Radically Transparent, a good book on reputation monitoring and management. Rohit Bhargava's Personality Not Included is a good read. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff's Groundswell. Scoble and Israel's Naked Conversations is worth mentioning in the context of corporate blogging ... so many books, so little time. Seth Godin is an industry unto himself. Meatball Sundae is a good change-agent manifesto, but the granddaddy of all manifestos is Cluetrain.
I'll tackle blogs later. This is just a quick lunchtime post for a colleague. I'll revise this as time goes by -- please give me some recommendations in the comments and be sure to only suggest books that you've actually read and would force me to read.
This is a weird suggestion, but it did have an impact on me back in 1995 when I was developing and designing my first two sites: Reel-Time and Forbes.com. That is A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander. Richard Duffy, a friend from PC Week and the early early days of Forbes Digital Media recommended that book and it had more of an effect on how I think about functionality and usability than anything that followed.
*: William Gibson
Jan 10 2009
Writing from the airport with blessedly free wifi but no AC power, I get ready for that middle seat back to Boston and an alleged snow storm. Last night's blogger dinner went well. I got to meet Greg Verdino, Steve Garfield, and Joseph Jaffe in person. Had some interesting conversations about monitoring, advertising, media, new products, clouds, gadgets, porn stars and old french brandy.
I demoed a few products, but more importantly received some great feedback from Jaffe on the art of hosting a blogger event.
Just read a good post by Rob O'Regan at Magnosticism about budget cuts and social giving way to the tried and true world of demand generation. He makes good points which I pledge won't become the rule at Lenovo. The point of the post -- survey shows marketers are sick of hearing Web 2.0 buzzwords but still feel the need to know more.
Which reminds me -- a new role for me at the company. I'm now more focused on social media, less on "demand" generation (paid search, banners, metrics) and a project I can't talk about. So, will my title change from VP of Global Web Marketing to something else? I dunno. Not a title person. Basically if it happens in web 2.0 it is my problem.
So I have that going for me.