November 16, 2010 § Leave a Comment
AdWeek and others have reported that online video is winning grudging acceptance from consumers. comScore says the total number of online video viewers is up 5% in October, as well as the amount of time viewers are spending watching video, which is now 15.1 hours per month. In parallel, FreeWheel reported that in the third quarter 54% of consumers made it through the completion of pre-roll videos, up from 45% in the first quarter.
AdWeek’s story, by veteran Brian Morrissey, notes the difference that professional content makes in a consumer’s willingness to sit through pre-roll. User generated video still has a hard time being worth the intrusion.
I can relate to that: this morning I started to wait through a pre-roll to get to a professional news clip of Prince William and his fiancée, Kate Middleton. When the commercial went on for more than 10 seconds I snapped out of it and moved on to other things. But, I was ready and almost willing, and I thought – in a vivid, thinking kind of way – wow, that felt almost like television: I was prepared to outlast the commercial by turning my attention to other bits of things at my desk in order to get to the programming.
The AdWeek story makes this point. It says: “[the FreeWheel] report concludes that the Web video ad market is starting to resemble TV — at least for content that’s professionally produced.”
Which drove me back to a funny conversation I had earlier this fall with an experienced media buyer who described substantiating an online video buy with a client by comparing it to TV. Said the client, “No one watches online video commercials!” Replied the media buyer, “No one watches TV commercials!” Thus, was approval won for the online video buy.
I don’t know. The Internet was supposed to help resolve certain consumer – advertiser relationship problems. We seem happy to simply transfer them. We appear to have a problem comfort zone (All video is broken. Long live video). Maybe also a sense of denial. The AdWeek headline, for instance:
More Videos Ads, More User Acceptance
Folks are showing grudging acceptance of such interruptions
Sounds like my father could sometimes sound. “You’ll learn to like it.”
I don’t know. For days last week, Simon Sinek’s piece, “The Ad Industry Needs More Accountability” ran in The Huffington Post (suggesting either the editors were delighted by his arguments or users were) discussing the ad industry’s logical disconnects and repeated avoidances. It was a bit of a rave that, when it got down to it, was about lousy commercials on television. But the final seething bit was about online.
“The final example is what ad agencies are doing online. When advertising plays before a video streamed over the internet, viewers are prevented from fast-forwarding or skipping the ad. It’s like that scene in Clockwork Orange when Malcolm McDowell is forced to watch disturbing images while his eyes lids are held open. In an effort to force people to watch their “valuable message” advertisers are simultaneously infuriating and disturbing their customers. On sites with large video libraries, news sites for example, customers are often forced to watch the same ad over and over and over each time they click watch a different clip. Even if they don’t want to watch the whole clip, they have to watch the whole ad first. I, for one, will not visit one of the network news sites anymore because I can’t stand the thought of being forced to watch an ad before every clip. With perfect irony, the advertising is actually hurting the viewer experience of the media platform that accepted money to run the ad. As for the strategic merit, yes a viewer can be forced to watch an ad, but they can’t be forced to pay attention. That little delicacy can only happen if the advertising is entertaining or compelling enough to hold someone’s attention.”
I don’t know. I’m not feeling the “grudging acceptance” here. More to the point, as brand champions and stewards, are we really in the grudging acceptance business?
November 5, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Given only one word to describe 15 years of digital media’s evolution it would have to be robotic. Nothing says this better than the balanced and comprehensive piece by Nicholas Spangler about his 40 hours, or so, as a Demand Media writer that appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review and was brought to light here thanks to MediaBistro’s Morning Newsfeed.
As a journalist that worked for years for The Miami Herald, Spangler writes with open resignation, but not malice, about the end of his journalistic world and the rise of the new one typified by Demand. It is a world of “commercial content,” driven by algorithms “without”, he writes (perhaps quoting Clay Shirky), “regard to civic value or subjective judgments about quality or any of the other sentimental trappings of the Murrow century.”
It is a drab landscape he paints. Gray and Eastern bloc-ish. It is all cement. Combined with similar trends on the media planning and buying side of the business – the automated this-and-that of real time buying and audience targeting – we appear ready to enter a machine-led world where imagination is being wrung from the fabric of information in order to reduce the high cost of it.
It is a world empty of bravery and out of step with the needs of brands except, perhaps, the needs of their capitalist overseers. As importantly, of course, it is world out-of-step with consumers. It seeks control.
Writes Nicholas Spangler:
“…there is a point where traditional news organizations, which target to a greater or lesser extent a mass audience with advertising to match, will always fail: that failure to meet the needs of someone, somewhere, is built into their business model. Consider: The Miami Herald usually runs a story about the Kentucky Derby. It might also run one about pony-rental businesses in South Florida, and if magazines like Ponies Illustrated and Children’s Parties Monthly existed, they might do something similar. But no publication could afford to devote regular space to topics such as pony rides without ponies. Besides, no writer could conceive of such a story and no editor would assign it, because nobody could anticipate the need.
“This is the famous “long tail,” an example of what Shirky calls the “nichification” of the media landscape, unfeasible under the conditions of twentieth-century oligopoly but happening now before our eyes.”
No, it happened over 15 years ago. Demand Media didn’t invent the long tail. People did. And the point is that if fear weren’t the governing factor of life inside our new media industry today we might have stepped outside by now to discover this highly imaginative, highly responsive, highly personal, colorful, brave new world. Instead we send robots.
Brave new world, indeed. One Huxley might recognize.
There will be a final conflict and the people will prevail.
October 12, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Thank goodness Joe Marchese spotted the Economist piece, “The Return of Advertising: The Box Rocks”, on which he opined in his Online Spin column today, “Why television is Still King.” Per The Economist, advertising is leading an economic recovery driven by the resurgence of the 30-second commercial on TV. Per Joe Marchese’s Spin column, great, but The Economist also notes that, “Search engines and online banners are not nearly so good at making people aware of new products. Nor do they offer emotional experiences. Television’s ability to build brands by surrounding adverts with gripping content is unsurpassed.”
“…the differentiator is that television has created a system for delivering advertising in a way that fits with the medium and engages consumers, giving advertisements the ability to create discovery and tell stories. The Internet has the potential to offer marketers the same ability, but simply needs a better system than banners and search.”
I think Joe has it right in the first (two) parts and wrong in the third. Yes, the differentiator is that television created a system that fits with the medium and engages consumers. Yes, the internet has the potential to offer marketers the same ability (on which Joe has written eloquently for years). But, no, a system apart from banners or search is not required.
Indeed, look at search. Granted, search does not tell a lot of stories. But, man, is Google rich. Why? Well, its paid search business, inclusive of its substantial ad network, has done a good job of using the medium in a way that fits with the medium. The thing people need to do regularly online is search for stuff. Bingo, paid search!
The thing people need to do after searching for stuff is engage with what they came searching for. Bingo, display advertising. Except, that display can’t stop waving its arms and popping-up to shout, “Look at me! Look at me!” Display is dedicated to the proposition that it must be the center of attention, which is an attitude it picked-up from – you guessed it – television (okay, also radio).
There is nothing wrong with display. There is everything wrong with advertising expectations. And when the internet stops trying to be something it’s not (television), it can get on with fitting-in.
Before the Internet Works on Its Creative Problem, Advertising Needs to Work on Its Confidence Problem
September 28, 2010 § Leave a Comment
It is Advertising Week in New York and the agenda for members of the online advertising community is “branding” and “creative.” In his report for Adweek, veteran new media observer Brian Morrissey writes:
“As the advertising world descends on Manhattan this week for Advertising Week, the watchword for most is digital. Yet despite the lip service paid that the future of the industry is written in bits and bytes, the Internet after 15-plus years has still not proven itself as a branding medium.”
And he quotes IAB CEO, Randall Rothenberg, who says,
“We need to concede that going back 15 years, without meaning to or thinking about it, we fundamentally created the medium to be a direct-response medium.”
As leader of the internet’s trade association, Randall Rothenberg has been fabulously effective at confronting its demons and moving the industry forward. But, “without meaning to or thinking about it” is only partly true in regards to the 15 year drift away from brand and into direct response-dom. Yes, we didn’t mean to and we didn’t think about it, but 15 years ago we were positive nonetheless: advertising was broken and online was going to “fix” it. The difference between brand and direct response didn’t enter into it. Advertising, period, was a tired business and its heroes, the brand strategists and creatives, were to become relics of a by-gone age. Relics, purged by the New Media classes.
In his article, Brian Morrissey quotes Jeff Levick, President of Global Advertising and Strategy at Aol, which is stepping-up as a champion of today’s creative online initiative. Says Jeff:
“If we really want to fix brand advertising online, we have to go directly to the creative community. We have to understand the limitations of today’s unit that drives them crazy.”
I don’t know what drives the creative community crazy these days. I do know there was always plenty to drive them crazy in the past: the limitations of print and 30-second spots, Account Executives, outdoor billboards, bus shelters, packaging, copy testing, focus groups and budgets among a few. Every time I drive past a highway billboard at 70 miles an hour, however, I marvel at how creative and branding manages to break through the limitations of a cruel commercial world.
But, yes, time to fight back and push back on the creative envelope. Let it happen. Absolutely, positively, overnight. More and better and bigger if required. Get behind it and push. Stand in front and salute. It may be a cruel commercial world, but nothing helps makes it a little brighter than great creative.
But let’s be clear, advertising creative is not the problem. Advertising confidence is the problem. Believing is the problem. And, as anyone will tell you that sells for a living, before you can sell you must believe.
NYU Professor Jay Rosen Offers Advice to an Incoming Class of Journalism Students. He Should Offer the Same Advice to Advertising Students.
September 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
MediaBistro’s Morning News Feed points to the remarks NYU journalism professor, Jay Rosen, made to the incoming class of students at Sciences Po école du journalisme in Paris on September 2, 2010. His address, to “The Journalists Formerly known as the Media: My Advice to the Next Generation,” is a great read back over 250 years of cultural upheaval that begat the rise of professional journalism. Now, after 150 years of thinking and acting (and making money) one way, the so-called professional media class is being told to re-invent itself. In summary, Professor Rosen says:
“Seeing people as masses is the art in which the mass media, and professional media people, specialized during their profitable 150-year run (1850 to 2000). But now we can see that this was actually an interval, a phase, during which the tools for reaching the public were placed in increasingly concentrated hands. Professional journalism, which dates from the 1920s, has lived its entire life during this phase, but let me say it again: this is what your generation has a chance to break free from. The journalists formerly known as the media can make the break by learning to specialize in a different art: seeing people as a public, empowered to make media themselves.”
Rosen offers 10 pieces of advice (in bold print, below) to the incoming class of journalists to help them “break free” from the last media interval. It is advice that with a little work and some license we can make work equally for advertisers. Indeed, if we can’t make it work for advertisers something in the new media equation is broken.
1. Replace readers, viewers, listeners and consumers with the term “users.” “Users” is precisely the term for advertising audiences online. Why not consolidate audience terms in the same way as Rosen proposes as a step towards making advertising truly cross-platform.
2. Remember: the users know more than you do. A point Rosen borrows from media writer/reporter/commentator Dan Gillmor who recognized that the aggregate knowledge of his users is greater than his own. It is equally true of users as consumers. As the legendary David Ogilvy said, “The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.”
3. There’s been a power shift; the mutualization of journalism is here. There has always been a mutualization of advertising and marketing. Word of mouth is still the most potent advertising vehicle. The difference now is that media itself has become mutualized.
4. Describe the world in a way that helps people participate in it. Also from David Ogilvy: “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”
5. Anyone can doesn’t mean everyone will. Jay Rosen refers to the one percent rule, coined possibly by the Guardian in the U.K., that suggests for every 100 users online, one will create, 10 will interact and the rest – 89% – will simply lurk. It is a formula that easily describes user behavior in response to advertising. It is nearly inviolable as advertising law. Accordingly, stop regarding digital new media in purely response-driven terms.
6. The journalist is just a heightened case of an informed citizen, not a special class. Journalists are paid to ask questions which any smart citizen can do, says Professor Rosen, admonishing the incoming class to steer clear of any notion that the public needs them more than they need the public. Do users need advertising? No, as far as users are concerned they don’t need advertising and would happily seek to destroy it. There is no quid pro quo between advertisers and consumers. Break free from that idea.
7. Your authority starts with, “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” For journalists authority starts with, “I’m a witness to what’s happening and you’re not.” For advertisers authority starts with the strength of their product or service. “I can provide what you need or want.” Advertisers with authority make and keep promises.
8. Somehow, you need to listen to demand and give people what they have no way to demand. People will pay attention to what you think they need to know if they believe you are listening to them at other times. Mass media – nearly by definition - corrupted the listening skills of advertisers, who continue to try and dominate the conversation online. Advertising intrusiveness is not a virtue.
9. If your bid to be trusted, don’t take the View From Nowhere; instead, tell people where you’re coming from. Be transparent.
10. Breathe deeply of what DeTocqueville said: “Newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers.” Explains Professor Rosen:
“Alexis De Tocqueville, a Frenchman, visited the United States in the 1830s. Among the observations he made was: “newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers.” What I think he meant was: wherever people have a common interest and wish to discuss it, there lies an opportunity for a smart journalist.”
Ditto: wherever people have a common interest and wish to discuss it there lies an opportunity for smart advertisers.
July 28, 2010 § Leave a Comment
John Battelle shares his thoughts in iMedia Connection about the hidden implications of a Google print ad in Fortune magazine encouraging businesses to “Go Google” and switch to Google apps. From a post that originally appeared on his search blog a week ago John writes:
“I am fascinated by what it means that Google, the verb that means “to search”, is being used by Google, the company, to mean something entirely different.”
The “something different” means Google is back in the software business as a producer of applications that compete with Microsoft. John references his 2010 predictions from earlier this year, which explain:
“While [Google] flirted with the title of “media company” I think “software company” fits it better, and allows it to focus and to lean into its most significant projects, all of which are software-driven: Chrome OS, Android, Search, and Docs (Office/Cloud Apps).”
Indeed, fascinating; and, as John points out in one of his posts connected to the topic, Google’s mission statement – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – probably succeeds either way.
What is Microsoft’s mission statement? From its web site:
“At Microsoft, our mission and values are to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.”
In answer to how it plans to do that I suppose no one would be surprised if it said, “By, organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.”
If you are a brand junky, as I suspect John Battelle is, you can see opportunity and danger in all of this. If you are Microsoft, tired of upstart Google after years of being the fair-haired growth child, you see a message from Google like the one in Fortune magazine and think, “We draw them into shallow waters, then BLAM BLAM!” If you are most everyone else, you see the message from Google and think, “Sad about Microsoft; proof once again that nothing lasts forever.”
Of course, if you are Google what do you think? (Clearly, they’re working on it.)
In the meantime, The New York Times has had an especially crisp way to evoke the full-potential-of-universally-accessible-organized-information for roughly 114 years; and, remarkably, we might think, “All the news that’s fit to print,” manages to overlap the discussion today.
July 22, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Who is responsible for value in the media supply chain? The question has been almost lost in the maze of suppliers that cram the middle of the online display ad sector. But there is still only one answer: the publisher. The publisher — the content creator — is responsible for the value that gets created online.
Arbiters of that value are the consumers. They evaluate the quality and relevance of online content everyday and award content providers with their attention, once or repeatedly. When they feel like it, they tell their friends.
The back and forth exchange between content and consumer releases value nutrients into the media atmosphere that attract advertising, which in turn emits money, which content recycles in order to flourish and produce more consumer value.
In turn, other microbes are sustained. Data microbes, for instance, ferry bits of value created by publishers around the ecosystem to absorb waste. Product microbes, such as video, attach to and ferry the advertising.
It’s a virtuous circle of life that has taken firm hold within the larger, mature media world. But, as always, the competition is frenetic and intense. Hence, there is a sense of chaos that prevails in the display ad sector as new media shoots (and weeds) clamor for air and light.
What to do?
Nothing. Wait. Estimates are now up to $100 billion for the global online advertising business by 2015 (MagnaGlobal). New devices and opportunities continue to enhance the ability of consumers to connect. A new generation of advertising buyers is more accommodating to new media. Publishers are managing to reject parasites in the system. Resistance that comes from maturity is growing. It’s a process.
Value conditions will improve in the display market. Advertisers and publishers will be increasingly drawn together because publishers manufacture the consumer relationships on which advertisers feed — the relationships, that is, not just the audiences.
Meaning, brands are relationships. They are carefully bundled packages of trust and attitude. Otherwise, what is one bar of soap compared to another? Both of them clean and rinse away. What is one airline compared to another? Both fly to the same destination. What is one car compared to another? Both stop and go. Brands are possessed of sensitivities that make them shy and risk adverse and susceptible, positively and negatively, to tiny alterations in the atmosphere. Ultimately, these things make them different.
Consumers are like that: nuanced. Separated by looks and a history of circumstance. They are packages of trust and attitude. As with brands, they are deeply influenced by environment. Which is why consumers adapted so well and so quickly to the internet. Its ability to distill content and refract traditional media programming and publishing schedules changed the world from mass to vertical and from “appointment TV” to “always on.” Content divided and grew roots and entered a new age of “personal.” Not community-driven media like television or aspirational media like magazines. Or informational media like newspapers. New media is me media. Perfect for brands.
Content exudes personal value. Consumers absorb personal value. Advertisers will gather that value as bees gather nectar and distill it as part of their unique brand mixture to sustain their small, but important, differences. Brands are fragile packages of trust and attitude, and they rely on getting as near as possible to the source waters of consumer media value: content.
Science and technology have never altered the laws of nature, and 15 years of internet travail have taught us the same. Technology can enable, test, observe, and measure, but it is never the thing to tame or reconcile. Technology can gather, but it does not consume. It can be taught the differences, but it does not care. It can search aggressively, but it does not want. Technology can develop into a robot, but robots have no use for brands.
Only people have use for brands. Ergo, 15 years or more of trying to convert advertising into a technology business has been a fool’s errand. “Adtech” is a misnomer. It does not describe the problem or the opportunity that confronted the advertising world at the time of the internet’s incubation, which was a media problem, not a technology problem. It was a people problem.
Who is responsible for people in the media supply chain?
The answer to that question is the publisher, and it predicts the future of display advertising online.
July 20, 2010 § Leave a Comment
It’s time to draw the distinction between audience and loyal audience. We are awash in conversation about audience online, but say very little about loyal audience.
It is equal to the difference between customer and loyal customer. For instance, occasionally I am required to shop for groceries at a supermarket other than my usual and preferred choices. On those occasions it is as close to smash and grab as I can make it: someone needs to stay behind and circle the parking lot in the car. Someone needs to make a beeline to the poultry section and grab a chicken. Someone grabs potatoes. Someone grabs frozen peas from the frozen foods section. Then, through the express check-out line and into the circling car to make a fast escape from the parking lot and away from the supermarket.
Such is a customer experience.
Under more favorable circumstances I would be at the butcher shop where I am on a first name basis with people behind the counter. They know what I like. I trust what they say. In fact, I trust everything in the store including the displays of gourmet food stuffs, interesting jams and jellies, olive oils and vinegars. It’s a satisfying experience and I am never in a hurry to leave. I pay-up for the privilege. Uncharacteristically, I urge people to go ahead of me in line. I am a regular, after all. I’m practically staff. The (other) customers must come first.
Such is a loyal customer experience.
In the first case I am not motivated by any desire to be there. I need to feed the family. I will take no chances, grab what I must, and exit the arrangement. In the second case, I am delighted to be there. I cook. I take all of my risks with new food products on the implied recommendation of the establishment: if it’s good enough to be displayed on their shelves, it’s good enough for me.
I care about food. So does everyone else that shops regularly at the same butcher and feels they can afford it, because if you care that much it will cost you – it will cost you weekends away if you’re on any kind of budget. And I care enough to make that sacrifice and the family still seems to love me.
The parallels to media and advertising are obvious, or they should be. I am not the same person establishment to establishment, nor am I the same user one media outlet to another. Sometimes I am engaged. Many times I am not. Always, I am influenced by the surroundings, which are invariably influenced by who I am.
Under those circumstances, when I am less than interested, and at a place by necessity or chance - as a member of the audience, but not a loyal one – as a customer, but not as a loyal customer – the only way to take rational advantage of my presence if you are an advertiser is to pay less for the privilege.
Appropriately enough, this characterizes a substantial proportion of online advertising today. It is audience driven; therefore, the price is less.
It proves the system works according to how we sell it. Unfortunately, how we sell it is leaving substantial value on the table for brands which, themselves, depend on a value system that depends on customer loyalty. Online media needs to align better with that requirement by asserting its audience loyalty credentials: not just people in a place, but people in a place that matters to them.
This is an easy story for the internet to tell because it is almost exclusively an interest-driven media. Most media is somewhat interest-driven, but no other media can afford to serve-up interests in such well-proportioned slices so as to effectively do away with the uninterested. Such purity is called 100% audience composition.
Online was going to rescue audience composition, but it was shanghaied by the notion that 100% composition can add 100% of its value divorced from the circumstances of its creation. It cannot. You may know me as a cook from my observed media behaviors, but sometimes I am in the mood to cook and sometimes I just need to feed the family.
Dealing with this terribly small distinction wouldn’t matter if the fate of the brand marketing universe wasn’t utterly dependent on it. Brands, themselves, rely on even smaller distinctions. Soap is soap. I should reach for the generic brands if I weren’t so inexplicably attached to Dial. Perhaps it is only the color, or maybe the shape? It’s not the cost. I have no idea what the cost is. Dial works like other soaps work, but other soaps are not the same, don’t ask me why.
Such can be the nature of loyalty. Happily, I am much clearer about the reasons for my media choices, which conveys an instant advantage to the small distinctions of brands – and separates the value of an audience from the value of a loyal audience.
Don’t waste audience.