A big connected world

January 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Like a lot of folks I love data – data on its own is a bit like following the threads of a story. A person, place or thing pops-up in the text and the next thing you know you gone from reading about the local weather to investigating the best places to see the aurora borealis (and researching flights and hotel accommodations in Iceland). That free thinking is what good data, assembled into meaningful buckets lets you do. It doesn’t present conclusions – it provides the fuel for investigation, thought, and the development of your own findings. The folks at WeAReSocialSG have pulled together a lot of great data in this slideshow that is just incredible opportunity to let the mind meander and develop hopefully some new thinking. Enjoy .. and let me say the breadth of the reported data smacks you with the reality of how truly global and massive the connected world is.

Doug Weaver Gets Real About Micro sites in a Box

March 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

It strikes me that nothing stupid has ever come from the mouth or pen (or keyboard) of Doug Weaver, which is a remarkable record given his 15 years as an Internet sales activist and pundit. This is a more emphatic way of saying that Doug is always saying smart things; but emphatic matters here because what Doug says today in his blog, “The Drift” (“I Got My Micro Site in a Box”), should be pinned, like idiot mittens, to the sleeve of everyone in the Internet business each morning before they head out to wait for the bus to work.

Here’s his opener:

“For the last three years I’ve been on a mission to bury the micro site.  The whole idea of building these little Potemkin marketing villages, bolting them onto our domains and then coaxing and cajoling consumers to visit them would be quaint if it weren’t so destructive.”

Further in Doug says:

“In just about every workshop I conduct I urge — plead with! — sellers to end the madness.  “There’s no reason to do these anymore,” says I.  “Take the visual assets of your media brand, fold in some creative and product messaging from the sponsor, dump it all into a Flash ad unit and distribute it!” 

The part about “distribute it” made instant sense to me but I had to call Doug to make sure I understood who the “Potemkin village” builders were in his description. Publishers, it seemed. But why?

Well, it turns out that online publishers are in the habit of retro-fitting content to meet the special needs of advertisers by building custom environments more suitable to a product’s context. Advertisers desiring more on the subject of, say, acne skin treatments for teenage girls, 12 – 15 years old, against which to match their acne skin treatment advertisements, could prevail upon the publishers to create a “micro site” for that purpose to be buried among all the music and entertainment content (for instance) to which the teenage girls were first and foremost attracted, thus establishing an ancillary requirement to build traffic to that micro site.

(Exhausting.)

There is precedent for this sort of “Please, maybe you like something else?” practice of selling advertising. The editorial calendar in magazines and newspapers comes to mind. Once upon a time destination travel advertisers the world over would freely buy pages in the Sunday Travel sections of newspapers. Then, under pressure from advertisers for better access to their best customers, newspapers began to create special destination sections that eventually had the effect of training advertisers to anticipate and wait for those sections. Which leads to the question of how many sections on Hawaii one newspaper can reasonably run per year without undermining its coverage of the travel world for readers? Two?

“Fine!” the Hawaiian advertisers responded in those days. “We’ll take two pages. We can use the savings on the other four pages we use to buy from you elsewhere.”

This is what happens when we chicken-out on selling value.

Save that point for a rainy day and worry about the fact that in a new media world that provides for the limitless availability of contextual opportunities, we’re still building Potemkin villages – by definition, impressive but fake.

All the while Google has amassed a fortune on the genuine article: the distributed, contextual power of the Internet – the fact that the editorial circumstances exist in real time to satisfy almost every conceivable advertising objective. Online there is always a right time and place that is suitable (as suitable as every fake village) to host the right message.

Which should be the whole point of Internet media buying because, after all, we are sympathetic to our Hawaii travel and acne skin treatment customers who desire to reach their best customers, and who found it increasingly difficult to do so offline, enough so that they started to revolt against the waste of traditional media and advertising.

Doug Weaver wants to help publishers with his post; mostly brand publishers that he may be worrying aloud are taking short cuts on the value of their inventory and swimming against the tide of media distribution, which is away from the center. They have a chance using the creative resources available today to bundle their authentic selves with advertising and distribute it together, beyond their borders, to where the people are.

This post is for buyers. Listen to Doug and take the message to the people - now that the chance to do so is real, and not from a box.

“Rational arguments enclosed in emotional envelopes.”

June 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

Further to some of the thoughts yesterday in this space about the creative shift taking place in the advertising business and its impact on the quality of advertising up for awards at Cannes this year, is the Viewpoint from Hernan Lopez, President of .Fox Networks, in the Global Issue of Advertising Age this week. Lopez calls for a creative revolution in interactive advertising, echoing sentiments already expressed by others such as Randall Rothenberg of the IAB in the U.S.

These are all threads of the same story-line: good creative must come next in New Media. The people require it. The new generation of consumers has made the move to online and advertising must respond with messages that reflect the sophistication of the users and the environment. People are ready and waiting. Old commercials formats are drying-up creatively as attention shifts to new platforms.

Hernan Lopez leans on some of the findings of advertising veterans and researchers, Erwin Ephron and John Philip Jones, to make his points. Both have agreed in their studies over the years that the quality of the creative is the most significant contributor to the success of TV commercials. More recently, Mr. Jones distilled the ingredients of effective advertising down to “rational arguments enclosed in emotional envelopes.”

Creating emotional envelopes is the critical concept here. In a broadcast environment we do it with sight, sound and motion. Online we need to think more like we do in print and use the environment to help create the emotional envelopes.

Lopez laments that we have missed creative opportunities online given our fixation with things like click-through rates. Quite right. Our formative creative years online have been invested in action rates to the detriment of building bridges between our advertising messages and the reason people visit the web. Internet advertising has been lacking emotional context despite being surrounded by it.  

Fortunately, we are gathering ourselves around the need for creative answers. Unfortunately, the answer we are sometimes tempted to give is to make online advertising more like television by relying on video. Video feels like home, I suppose, offering emotional context to those of us in advertising business. But, consumers keep resisting this initiative by communicating through their proxies, the web publishers, that video is disruptive.

In the end, I think we’ll discover that the Internet is not a place for “commercials.” Sight, sound and motion works in the context of television because television is sight, sound and motion. The Internet, on the other hand, is about – well, come to think of it - emotional envelopes. 

We can make a strong new beginning, creatively, by tucking our messages neatly into those.

The International Advertising Festival in Cannes looms as a reminder that the advertising business isn’t what it use to be.

June 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

The International Advertising Festival in Cannes is scheduled to begin in less than a week and advertising critic and chaos theorist, Bob Garfield, is not looking forward to it judging from his column in Advertising Age today. Says he:

“They should give Crispin Porter & Bogusky every statue on Monday and send everybody to the airport. Gold. Silver. Titanium. Plutonium. Whatever.

Because first of all, apart from Burger King, the advertising year was a black hole worldwide. Besides, at this stage of Cannes’ history, what’s the point?”

The heart of advertising having gone out of the :30 second commercial, the death of creative at Cannes seems nearly final - or so it may appear. Of the 50 award front runners, reliably compiled over the years by Leo Burnett, Garfield reports that only 29 of them are TV commercials. The remainder are a mish-mash of online and offline submissions which by their nature have a hard time making us laugh or cry and, so, a hard time getting us worked-up enough to think happier thoughts about the state of advertising creative in the world today. If we are in Cannes, we will feel better going to the beach.

I’d have to go back and read it carefully again (which I’m not prepared to do just at this moment) to see if Bob Garfield spoke about progress when he launched his Chaos Scenario on the ad community. Clearly, advertising feels the rip-tide affect of significant changes that have been underway for a couple of decades. But is it chaos and disaster or progress? Can advertising reconstitute itself, creatively, in a post-film commercial world?

It can, but we must re-learn advertising creative - how to make it and how to experience it. At the moment, the un-tangling from TV commercial know-how has not been replaced with the know-how to make effective advertisements for an online and mobile world. The switch from one to the other is not automatic for any of us, creators or consumers. And, it is impossible that it would be, of course, given that big changes of the sort that have been taking place in advertising and media happen only one way: generationally, as one generation hands off to another.

The heirs-apparent of the TV generation were just getting comfortable in their corner offices when the creative protocols of New Media advertising descended on them. These were people that spent years navigating their way to those offices by dutifully absorbing the wisdom of their elders and, now, not enough of what they’d learned would pay for what they needed in a post-TV world. Worse for them - and us - finding what they needed might require asking the younger, dues-paying generation coming-up behind what they’d recommend, which old-timers everywhere are loath to do (and which the smugness of new generation-types doesn’t usually help).

One should not be surprised, then, that having to face forward and then backwards for advice and direction during their careers would make the current, transitional generation of advertising professionals feel irritable and less-fulfilled. The business ain’t what it use to be, or ought to be. As such, we won’t begrudge anyone a few trips to Cannes to wait out change on the beach. But we won’t be surprised, either, to find only 29, not-altogether-decent TV commercials and, then, a majority of other entries that we don’t fully understand, or warm to. We are leaving one art form behind while we learn another and our heart’s not completely in it.

We can’t have long to wait, however, before the ones and zeros of a digital age are making our creative motor go.  Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, is going to be named Media Person of the Year at the Cannes festival next week, an unlikely prospect even a few short years ago when Microsoft was still in the software development business.

It’s not just an online creative problem.

March 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

Nice interview by Rich Cherecwich in iMedia today with Lars Bastholm, Creative Director at AKQA, to discuss “What’s crushing creativity?”, which refers specifically to creativity online, although I don’t know why the question shouldn’t be put to creativity offline. A :30 commercial may feel substantially more satisfying to a marketer compared to a 728 x 90 leaderboard, but it’s of no greater value if it’s not memorable. And there’s very little memorable advertising breaking-through these days, if you ask me as a consumer.

As it happens, I think Lars Bastholm speaks about a broader problem when he says: “…it’s not that you can’t do something fun with banners. It’s that we’ve effectively managed to kill them by plastering them everywhere and making rigid rules for what you can do in order to maximize sales, not actual consumer satisfaction or consumer enjoyment of the marketing we’re doing.”

Really, how different is this lament from the one we would make about any commercial media? The only difference online might be the extent to which we should be additionally mournful for having failed to act with any restraint early on before “plastering” the market with ads that don’t have much more to say than, “Click Me!” It’s not like we didn’t know, thanks to the remote control and VCR, that consumers were having issues with advertising.

Shift Happens (Or, “Who’s for fighting – Part II”)

March 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

The latest edition of the Shift Happen videos (below) - just reaching my small corner of the world – is cruising past 2.5 million views on YouTube. What it does for me, as an advertising and media professional, is make me thankful again to be at work during an extraordinary information revolution. It reminds me that, no, I don’t miss the good old days of magazines and newspapers, though I loved them. And it makes me nuts that the advertising business sits in a corner, forced by its minders to stay indoors while the world plays outside.

Who’s for fighting? 

I Love You, Man.

February 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

As reported by both Advertising Age and The Wall Street Journal today, Bob Lachky, Chief Creative Officer of Anheuser-Busch is leaving the company after 20 years. Mr. Lachky was the person behind many celebrated Anheuser-Busch campaigns, including “Wassup?!“, the Budweiser Frogs and the “I love you, Man” commercials.


Mr. Lachky’s commercials, created in partnership with long-time agency DDB, won numerous awards and wove themselves into our culture. Before the term “social network” was popularized by the Internet, his commercials were creating social networks around water coolers – social networks that then got together after work for a beer.

Watching these commercials again on You Tube this afternoon all my thoughts were about the risks that Bob Lachky took with the Anheuser-Busch brand messages. I watched “Wassup?!” and thought, “How did he get to ‘yes’ with that?” The frog’s? I can clearly remember my reaction the first time I saw the frogs commercial; it was, “Huh?” They grew on me. Looking at them today, I love them. But, it is interesting to note that both Ad Age and The Journal essentially summarized the career and success Mr. Lachky had at Anheuser-Busch with a quote from him at the end, as follows: “I was fired more times than Billy Martin.”

You see, in the creative business risk is everything. Great creative does not emerge risk free. That is why Ad Age and The Wall Street Journal summarized Bob Lachky’s career as they did, in my estimation, because intuitively it is known that what made Mr. Lachky great were the risks he took, risks that nearly cost him his job as many times as Billy Martin (who was fired five times).

Now, let’s talk about media as the “new creative,” a popular term today. How much media risk takes place in the world today? Executional risk such as video and widgets and layer ads doesn’t count. That’s creative. Not media. I’m talking about planning risk: TV v. Internet. Satellite Radio v. Broadcast. Branded Content v. the Long tail. Actions attributable to less than 1% of an audience v. Impressions attributable to 99% of an audience. What’s our gut about media value? What bets have we made on it? Who’s bet their job on a media instinct?

Advertising.com, before it disappeared inside Platform A, used to talk about “risk free” advertising. No surprise – and very much to the point being made here – they got big. But what has it done for us online all this talk about risk free and results? Reading Randall Rothenberg’s exceptional piece on Interactive Creativity (featured on this blog yesterday), the answer is not much. As the new creative, media is simply failing  to inspire those who would take their cue from it in order to develop messages that move people and brands online.

We have to kiss some frogs here. We have to take some chances and say “I love you, Man.”

Really. I love you, Man.

A Manifesto on Interactive Creativity

February 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

IAB CEO, Randall Rothenberg, has given us an exceptional treatise on the current state of advertising creativity online: http://www.randallrothenberg.com/2009/02/heartbeats-and-mouseclicks-manifesto-on.html

Randall’s column is not simply about the business of producing great looking ads, however; it is about recognizing and extracting advertising value online.

It’s a great read. Well done, Randall.

Networks Provide Brand Response vs. Direct Response

October 16, 2008 § Leave a comment

Ad Age recently reported on the Epsilon CMO Survey that noted a shift in thinking and ad budgets away from traditional media and into digital advertising among large brand CMOs. The study found 60 percent of firms are decreasing traditional media spending, while 66% are increasing their digital media allocation. While the actual dollars may not be a one-to-one trade off, this reallocation of budget exemplifies the strategic role digital advertising will play with large brand owners. Unlike the Internet bubble advertisers flush with VC cash, these are big brands making large budget shifts that will become a permanent part of their media spend.

Brand owners also want wide distribution for their message, which typically means less content integration and “out of box” creative, and far more reach. They also want to drive clicks, actions, and sales to complete the sales process and make the cash register ring. So when these brand owners move online they are not just jumping with their eyes closed. They are testing and learning ways to manage their brand in, for them, a new environment. They seek broad distribution on portals like AOL and Yahoo!, but increasingly see the importance of relevancy in their buys. They work with technically sophisticated ad networks to find the users they believe are most interested in their product. But they want to show that message when the user in engaged in a relevant topic where the ad provides value.

In addition to testing new media distribution options, marketers are making new use of sophisticated, relevant ad creative to move consumers through the purchase funnel. The creative they utilize for upper-funnel activities – brand awareness, favorability, and consideration – includes sponsorships, site takeovers, roadblocks, as well as a liberal use of rich media and content integration to introduce their brand to the audience.

A spectrum of advertisers, three flavors of ad networks

Getting the proper mix of distribution and ground-breaking creative is tricky business. Enter today’s ad networks, broadly defined as companies that represent multiple sites and serve the needs of advertisers. Ad networks fit into three categories: pure brand networks (also known as site rep firms), direct response networks, and networks that can fully serve brand advertisers with both branding objectives and performance goals – let’s call the last type “brand response networks.”

Comparing, and depending on the campaign using, all three requires some definition. On one end of the spectrum lie networks that offer premium content and focused audience composition at high CPMs, but limited distribution and reach. These networks focus on pure brand advertising, where the brand plays a large role in supporting the content on the site. These networks often own or control the content on the sites they work with, limiting their reach. The other extreme consists of the horizontal ad networks and their exchange partners that flood the market with low priced ad impressions and focus on driving a direct response metric. These are networks that tout the ability to reach nearly all Internet users at some point during the month, and use a mix of tools to reach an advertiser’s performance goal. However, these ad networks are more focused on massive reach than focused targeting or transparency.

Emerging in the marketplace between the brand and direct response extremes are the transparent, vertically focused ad networks that offer reach, direct relationships with publishers and very detailed reporting. The value they offer as brand response networks marries the requirement to distribute and promote the brand, deliver results, and protect the brand asset along the way. Brand response networks narrow distribution to capture the highest composition audience to an advertisers target while still providing reach. They are fully transparent and provide advertisers with a full site list specific to a campaign, site level reporting and work towards a performance goal based on the metrics set by the advertiser. Additionally, brand response networks run on the type of technology platform that provides state of the art targeting options, as well as unique, distributable creative units to get the message noticed.

What’s your brand response sensitivity?

The brand response advertiser walks a very fine line between the brand part of the brain (“I must retain the highest standards of quality no matter what cost”) and the response side of the equation (“We must meet our numbers at all costs”). Both needs of the advertiser are effectively addressed by the brand response networks if they:

  • Live by metrics. Measurement, as we all know, is the key factor in driving performance. However, advertisers must be certain they are using the correct measure or combination of measures vis-à-vis their campaigns overall objective. Effective campaign measurement can incorporate a host of ROI metrics including CPA, CPL, CTR, eCPM, brand lift, ad recall, interaction time and many others. A brand response network can provide you the metrics you need, not just the one they have for you.
  • Are fully (and I mean fully) transparent. Most networks will provide you with some form of a site list. But to be truly transparent, the network must provide a site list of the exact placements (to the URL level) for your campaign – not an abbreviated or exhaustive list of where you ad could appear. Additionally, campaign reporting must be to the site level (see previous bullet point) and show you how sites were optimized on and off the campaign. This site level reporting is critical for you to understanding where your campaigns work best and allows you to optimize future media spend.
  • Excel in customer service. While it is imperative that the first two criteria are met, it is more important that the company serves your brand needs. Getting to the root of a performance issue – be it a creative or placement issue– requires your network rep to be available at all times. If you can’t get them by phone, email, Blackberry, Facebook profile or any other means of communication, you risk your brand’s reputation while trying to track them down.

Do brand response media buys cost more than direct response? Yes, but the value an advertiser receives from the higher CPM on a brand response network offsets the additional price. They provide a closed network of high quality sites, a finely targeted audience, and the reporting and service to back up what they promise to deliver. They cost less than content integration platforms, but more than broad, blunt, blind reach networks. For advertisers balancing the demands for both branding and performance – brand response networks may be the answer. They provide the creative solutions, targeted reach, transparency and reporting that ensure success.

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