Google stops by the old neighborhood on Super Bowl Sunday

February 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

According to MediaPost’s Online Media Daily report this morning, John Battelle, at least, knew Google would run a commercial during the Super Bowl yesterday. It was a surprise to most of the rest of us. But it was a welcome surprise. All was right with the world for 30 seconds when Google showed-up still looking and acting like its old self – a search engine – back in the Internet neighborhood, in touch with its roots.

“Hey, look who’s here!”

“Hey, Ma, Google’s outside.”

(“Hey, don’t he look swell.”)

“Hey, don’t you look swell, Google! Where you been!? Come over here.”

“Hey, you look tan. Nice suit…where’d you get it? Paris? Hey, Ma, check this out…Look who’s wearing a suit from Paris!”

“Wait…who’s the girl? This girl with you?! You with him?!

“HA HA HA!”

“Bonjour.”

(“Bonjour? Is she French?”)

“A girl from France, Ma!”

“Geez, it’s nice to see you, kid. All we know is what we see in the papers, you know? Oh boy, the papers say some things, don’t they? We all know better, of course. We tell ‘em, too. We tell everybody. Google never hurt nobody.”

“But, hey, look at you! A tan. And a girl from France! Geez. I never been to New York, let alone France.”

“HA HA HA. Laugh with me, you old dope! You lost your sense of humor?”

“HA HA HA!”

“It’s good to see you, Google. It’s good that you stopped by. Really good. Really good.”

(“Give me a hug.”)

“You stay in touch.”

“Do you hear me?! I’m watching you! You stay in t-o-u-c-h!

Google should not be tempted to give-up the sanctity of its home page

January 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Google is running a one-line ad on its home page – perhaps the most valuable real estate online – for its new Nexus One mobile telephone. This is notable for the reason that Google has been single-minded in preserving its home page as a temple for its brand, which seeks to organize all the world’s information and deliver it fast and reliably.

A line or two does not do much to undermine the sanctity of Google’s home page. It does not necessarily pervert the sense of mission. But these small cracks have a way of letting water in that eventually erodes foundations. Accordingly, I’m not sure I’d be as enthusiastic as Spark Partners analyst, Adam Hartung, was in the story about the event in MediaPost. Said Mr. Hartung:

“The company [Google] has something that almost seems like a religious idol. This ad demonstrates that Google is willing to change that and attack a sacred cow to step the company forward…And that’s a very good sign for investors.”

Google has plenty of irons in the fire trying to take the company forward, some of which approach science fiction. It’s tether to reality has always been its home page. Adam Hartung’s exortation to let go of sacred cows is the very sort of temptation in which the broader analyst community so often and so dangerously trades – whatever the business sector. It is a sell-your-soul kind of temptation. And it is never good for investors in the long run. 

Al Ries has practical things to say along these lines in an Ad Age piece yesterday. Google investors should read-up.

Striking value into the hearts of buyers and sellers online: $25 billion more might just do it.

July 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

 

Media Post reports that Dave Zinman, VP and GM of Display Advertising at Yahoo!, was talking about “signals” in his presentation to the OMMA Behavioral crowd in San Francisco this week. Dave is a long-time player in the Internet space with plenty of experience to inform his signal calling. With his view of history he postulates that the first $25 billion of Internet ad spending – about where we are now – was driven by search. I’d agree. It’s been essentially $25 billion of clicks and actions thus far.

Dave signals now that the next $25 billion will come from display advertising wherein the value of the impression, not simply the click, will matter most. Yes. For one thing, we can’t be sure there are $25 billion more in clicks and actions available online. The Internet would have to be intergalactic in size, or action rates would have to substantially increase, which is unlikely; consumers are just not that into advertising.

But there is no dispute that the Internet is a staple in the daily media diet of people worldwide. Other media are shrinking, therefore Internet advertising should grow. So if there is $25 billion more in ad spending on its way, how will it be accepted and provided for?

Again, who would welcome $25 billion in additional click and action driven advertising? Under those circumstances, if the Internet were an ocean you would be able to walk across it stepping from one flashing banner ad to the next. You could set the water on fire, which is probably a fair description of the reaction consumers might have to such a polluted environment.

Impression-driven advertising will be the only way to absorb the next $25 billion. Advertising that counts for engagement. Advertising that must, therefore, be creative and compelling (like some of these from this year’s Cannes festival). Advertising that is intended to woo 100% of the audience, not just .5%. Advertising that is efficient. Advertising that can then be bought in units of one thousand impressions at a time. Advertising that can scale without deforesting the landscape, or drying-up all the wells or burning the ocean.

Which must be what Dave Zinman is concerned about from his vantage point at Yahoo!. As he reports, portals got into the advertising network business a few years ago and vacuumed-up all the reach they could get. But impression-based results were never on their mind as part of that initiative. Impression-based results belonged to the people selling Yahoo! homepages and sponsorships. The ad networks were all about clicks and actions and as the market grew and a desire for action rates led to a desire for more action rates even the portals didn’t have the reach to accommodate the results. They needed networks.

Now what? Dave Zinman signals the future: the next $25 billion is going to have to be about the value of impressions. Tim Armstrong may be signaling the same thing at AOL with the dissolution of Platform A and a renewed commitment to selling content and brand.

There has to be something that strikes value into the hearts of buyers and sellers online after all these years and maybe the next $25 billion is that thing.

Interpublic separates the forest from the trees.

July 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

After sounding off in this space recently about the myriad descriptions we have for online advertising (“What the heck is display advertising anyway? And who cares?”) it’s good to note that Interpublic’s Magna business unit is trying to bucket things along more sensible lines. Per the story in Media Post, Interpublic is proposing we regard online advertsing as follows:

1. Total Direct Response-based advertising, which includes search, lead generation and yellow pages.

2. National Digital/Online advertising, which includes rich media, online video, classifieds, emails, display and mobile

3. Local Digital/Online, which includes revenues from local TV, Radio and newspapers.

It’s not clear, but I assume Local Digital/Online is inclusive of all the advertising formats detailed in National Digital/Online. 

The sensible nature of Interpublic’s initiative is the desire to catalogue spending by marketing objective, not creative format, or application. It is to try and see the whole of the online picture, not just the parts. The creative toolbox available to advertisers online is wonderfully diverse versus other media, but it is not the tools that should determine the job for marketers, as in “Should we use widgets? Why aren’t we using widgets? I want to see some widget uses!” So, it is almost impossible to see the big picture in terms of value versus other media by concentrating on what’s in the box. Interpublic’s break-out response to ad spend measurement may help us lift our gaze.

Conde Nast research tells us something we know, and something we ought to know

June 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

MediaPost reported on a study by Conde Nast and McPheters & Co. documenting that ads running on web sites with related content were 61% more likely to be recalled than ads running on web sites with unrelated content. This is not especially news, but it is always welcome news among publishers, on and offline, who invest considerable time and energy creating quality content for their audiences.

There was an interesting twist at the end of its report about the Conde Nast study, however, that MediaPost may have felt obliged to insert in the spirit of full-disclosure. I should do likewise. It’s truthfully more interesting (and bigger) than the news that the right message in the right place produces better results, which has been shown to be true since, maybe, 1517 when Martin Luther tacked his 95 Theses on the door of a church instead of a tavern. (One wonders if the Protestant Reformation would have got off the ground quite as well if patrons passing through the door were headed in for a drink instead of spiritual reflection.)

According to MediaPost, a Conde Nast study from earlier in the year (April, as I learned) revealed this about online advertising generally versus offline:

“According to data released earlier in the year by Condé Nast and McPheters & Co., nearly two-thirds — 63% — of banner ads were not seen by Web users. Respondents’ eyes “passed over” 37% of the Internet ads and “stopped” on slightly less than a third, McPheters found.

In contrast to online ads, TV and magazine ads generated a strong propensity to be seen and recalled, according to the research.

Full-page, four-color magazine ads were determined to have 83% of the value of a 30-second television commercial, while a typical Internet banner ad has 16% of the value.”

I missed that story last time. It is clearly – sadly- the most newsworthy piece in the context of Conde Nast’s research. And, rats, if you sell online advertising. One assumes Conde Nast went to market with partners McPheters & Co. (and CBS Vision) to bring back answers in defense of print and afterwards went back to the well for news to support their digital team. Well, they got it: Content matters.

Thanks. Very interesting.

Frankly, however, I’m inclined to want to pay careful attention to those results reported again at the end of today’s story. I suspect they may be more right than wrong in regard to Internet advertising, the distribution of which has appeared – and continues to appear – largely indiscriminate despite improved targeting features. Most of those features are late to the game and still devoid of consumer partnership – meaning, consumers don’t get that the messages may be targeted usefully towards them; they just see the same @$%! advertising everywhere and have conditioned themselves to ignore it.

The “content matters” question, therefore, is quite possibly more important than what it has been shown again to contribute to advertising that relies upon it. In the negative sense, advertising (and marketing) that does not offer proper context to its targets and customers may be cheating the advertising body politic as a whole.  

Interesting. This may be an acute side-effect of an Internet pumped-up on data hormones; though magazines, most of which are specialized, might also be vulnerable if they were to suddenly start mainlining data. Consider a Fortune magazine edition with no business advertising and a Parenting magazine with nothing but business advertising. The effect would probably start to chip away at the 83% value quotient that print enjoys versus the :30 spot. The rational basis for the advertising in both publications might be the consumer, but the consumer’s associations are with the media. Eliminate the associations and advertising stops being break-through in the way that data can enhance break-through. It simply breaks. It stops making sense.

Conde Nast’s research is telling us something we know. More importantly, it is telling us something we ought to know and perhaps do something about (quick).

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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