Digg Ads proposes a radical idea: put the consumer first.

June 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

The new Digg Ads system has at least one very good idea at its core worth paying attention to: the consumer. This makes it different than most of the advertising intiatives out there which typically feature the advertiser or publisher vying for first place, and the consumer dead last – always odd to see in an age of “consumer control”.

Think about advertising with yourself as the consumer. Think about the advertising you would like to see that makes sense to you. What sort would you vote for as you make your appointed media rounds?

It remains to be seen if the Digg Ads embedded message, “advertorial” formula will strain credibilty with users. Advertisers that get involved should take pains to stay transparent and avoid the temptation to game the system by appearing too much like content; in other words, keep consumers first. But, the Diggs initiative has its heart and mind in the right place. It is nice to think that the greatest consumer driven media business would finally usher in consumer driven advertising.

Content wants to be free. Advertising wants to be accountable. It’s a tough time to be a new media child.

June 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

The story in Daily Finance reporting on Jonathan Miller’sspeculation that one day Hulu may charge for content has ricocheted around the news forums and digests. Boy, I’ll tell you, every time media companies take a step or two towards the invisible fence line surrounding the free content playground online the dog collar starts spitting electrodes. Posters to the column on Daily Finance were quick to jump on Miller’s comments:

“The fact that executives are still trying to figure out a way to charge for content online is mind boggling to me. It doesn’t work. Hulu was an ingenious idea. Since people were watching shows online for free anyways, why not create create an online platform and shift power back to the networks.”

“Another exec with no clue. I love Hulu in its current incarnation, and would certainly abandon it if it wasn’t free. What an idiot.”

Most of the 60+ posts were like that. The first poster (above) linked to a survey on a related topic at EngadgetHDthat asked, “How much would you pay for HULU on your TV?” When I took the survey the score was pay “Nothing”, 4,590 (76.6%), to pay “Something” (there were a few options), 1,401 (23.3%). I was among the “nothing” crowd.

Michael Kinsley’s article eight years ago in Slate, “It’s not just the Internet”, is still the best thing that’s ever been written on the subject of content economics. It should be required reading for media professionals. The truth is, content for a consumer audience is free, offline and on. If it’s not for free, it’s for darn near nothing. It’s underwater. It’s in the red. It costs the producer, not the consumer of the information.

So, of course, advertising has foot the bill for content for 30 years, maybe more, and grew weary of it at the start.  Despite their carrying costs advertisers got no input into the editorial products, little input into the position of their messages, and only some insight into how much of their investment reached its target - which was maybe half. Advertising has wanted a little money back, too.

The Internet, consequently, has grown-up in the midst of a stormy relationship and the impact on its personality has been profound. If ever there was a child that needed a little play time, it has been the Internet.

Listen to the shrill voices of it’s guardians: Be accountable. Don’t skulk. Answer me! Act responsively. You get nothing until the work is done. Why can’t you behave like a grown-up? What’s it worth to you? What’s the matter with you? Why are you crying? Here, try this. Try this. Try this! 

Michael Kinsley said in his 2001 article, “Information has been free all along. It’s the Internet that wants to enslave it.” Funny how that statement rings true as it pertains to the other partner in the relationship, the advertiser. Do you hear the echo? It resonates through the whole matter.

It’s a tough time to be a media child. You really have to wonder about the parents.

Adify Media’s transparency claims are 14 years too late.

June 3, 2009 § Leave a comment

Adify Media (div. of Adify Corp) announced a few new appointments to run sales for their emerging media sales business. Glenn Fishback, late of Turn and Claria, will be the new SVP of Media Sales.

I expect it was someone in their PR department that put these words in Glenn’s mouth in the release announcing the appointments:

“In today’s competitive marketplace, Adify Media has created a unique and differentiated alternative for brand advertisers. No other media provider today can offer site by site transparency and performance visibility, brand safety, and targeting efficiency all under one roof,” said Fishback.

Oops. There is at least one other media provider that offers site-by-site transparency - with all the trimmings, notably site level reporting - and that is the Burst Network. The Burst Network has been transparent, site-by-site, since it was founded in 1995.

You can access the list of all the web sites that the Burst Network represents by searching on “Content” here: http://www.burstmedia.com/brand_advertisers/our_channels.asp

Here’s where you can “access” the list of all the web sites Adfiy represents. Good luck. http://web.adifymedia.com/site/index.php/publishers/

Forbes.com study shows the gaps left open in the brand advertising sales proposition online

June 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

Forbes.com released results from a survey of top marketers conducted in February and March that got very different play in the two places I saw it picked-up, thanks to my various news digests. The difference is interesting.

Adweek reported that marketers still regard the Internet as a direct response tool. Their piece was titled, “Most Marketers Ignore Brand Metrics Online.” Over at MediaPost, editors gave coverage to the Forbes study under the heading, “CMOs not satisfied with Ad Nets,” (meaning ad networks).

The results of the study, which polled 119 marketers, seem to imply that advertisers may retreat from using display advertising as a vehicle for direct response messages. They like Search and Email. Ad networks, as major purveyors of cheap, direct response display advertising over the past few years, get stuck in the cross-hairs of that change. Hence the varying treatment of the story in Adweek and MediaPost while the market figures-out what’s going on and who is likely to be affected.

I suspect that some of the ad network spin is coming from Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes.com, who is a consistent spokesperson for brand publishers and brand advertising online, and a frequent critic of ad networks. Quoted in Adweek, Jim says,

“On the Web specifically, advertising has moved into more demand fulfillment as opposed to demand creation. That’s not really advertising. There’s nothing wrong with it. Doing search marketing and point-of purchase displays all works, but it’s not advertising. It’s not about creating demand and improving brand metrics.”

In MediaPost, he says,

“Ad network spending is all about demand fulfillment while direct-to-publisher display is much aligned with the traditional advertising goals of demand creation.” 

Unfortunately, I think Adweek probably has the story line right in its title, “Most Marketers Ignore Brand Metrics Online.” But don’t just blame ad networks. The survey data has very little to do with ad networks. The survey data implies that Marketers still don’t respect the Internet as a branding vehicle and that makes all display advertising purveyors guilty. 

Jim Spanfeller has the gumption, at least, to say “it’s not advertising” when he talks about the pervasiveness of what he calls “demand fulfillment” advertising online. I’m not sure I agree that it’s not advertising, but I take his point. Too bad we didn’t have Jim nearby when the industry as a whole was rolling-out its fulfillment value proposition in 1995 extolling the one-to-one results and risk-free benefits of online advertising.

The Forbes.com study shows, once more,  just how ill-advised that positioning strategy was. We should hope that our ability to encourage brand advertisers to see the engaging and deeply relevant value of online media to audiences gets here before digital technology levels the playing field for all media, especially TV.

Exit the middlemen: ad agencies are looking to reassert control over media planning and buying

June 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

The move by advertising agencies to reclaim media planning and buying authority in the marketplace is shifting into higher gear. This is particularly relevant to planning and buying online, but the implications should extend to offline where new skills and practices learned in the digital arena will offer agencies the chance to re-assert their value to marketers.

The enabling device, of course, is data, and ad agencies are signaling that they can and will invest in the means to manage large audience databases and harvest the information in the interest of their customers. This was the real story that The New York Times missed in its report today (“Put Ad on Web. Count clicks. Revise.”) about how data allows agencies to manipulate ad spending based on results and behavior. Everyone has already heard the news about data (was the headline from the Time’s piece really from 2009?), even Congress. The fact that the Times report was largely about ad agencies and their offshoots, such as Varick Media Management, and that it never mentioned a behavior ad network was the real headline. MediaPost came much closer to the heart of the matter in its story today about Interpublic’s new media trading system, Cadreon, with a title that aptly begins, “Searching for the New Heart of Madison Avenue…”

Indeed, searching for the new heart of Madison Avenue has been the past-time of many people inside and out of the industry for years. Maybe love has finally found a way. Once again, information is power and much of it derives from the sort of relationships that ad agencies have continued to enjoy  – albeit in serf fashion – with their clients. Sitting atop copious amounts of campaign data, which they have watched get turned into fortunes by vendors with shifting attachments to the strategic welfare of a client, ad agencies have decided they are - and ought to remain - media planning and buying vendors of first and last resort.

Good for them. Now they just have to figure out how to get paid for it, but the excitement and opportunities increase when they consider how data can begin to play a livelier role given the expansion of digital media technology to all places offline, especially TV.

Stay tuned for more from the publisher (content) side, as well. Everyone has decided that data is proprietary, not just the advertisers and ad agencies. Cable companies are considering their subscriber boxes, web publishers their audiences. And newspapers, with their backs more against the wall than most, finally held a meeting last week to link arms around the issue of content and audience data.

Provided everyone steps out of the shadows and conducts business transparently, the media planning and buying business is headed for a period of renewed creativity and value led by ad agencies back in control.

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