Another End of Year List …

December 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Like just about everybody with a voice and a soapbox I am going to wade into 2013 nostalgia and present my top 10.   Sorry not movies, music, epic fails etc . just the 10 things I think had the most resounding impact on the online advertising space – and will have influence in 2014.   So in no particular order ….

  • Programmatic buying – 2013 was the year more and more brands accept programmatic buying as a viable compliment to their high impact programs.  Programmatic emerged from the “black box” to become a true component of a broader advertising effort and helped many advertisers create efficiencies by streamlining the partners they work with.
  • Content curation/distribution – We live by the mantra content is king and 2013 was the year brands realized that being a walled garden of content was, really, of little value.  Brands rushed to curate good quality content of their own or user-generated – and more importantly recognized that it is served best when distributed and shared to the masses.
  • Native advertising – along with “twerking” perhaps the most over used phrase in 2013.   Native advertising when done well is a beautiful thing – when done poorly seems like nothing more than a shrill plea for attention.  I think 2013 was the infancy/toddler years for this concept and 2014 will be its adolescence – which could mean more angst as brands learn to strike a delicate balance of engaging with consumers without seeming needy and pandering.  Stay tuned ….
  • Mobile – there are somewhere over 3bn smartphones in use on earth, almost double the number of PCs ….what more needs to be said
  • Blur … TV, video, beyond the screen – 2013 was not the year of video.  It was something much more as consumers found a whole new array of short and long form video content available, and a widening of choices for when, where and how to consumer it.  Also 2013 was the year in which content producers turned to the web in full force to keep the conversation and story going and providing fans with immersive experiences well after a season has ended.
  • Vine – it’s amazing what can be accomplished in 6 seconds.   Vine captures perfectly the immediate payoff viewers expect from content – got 6 seconds and here it is.  Brands are getting on the bandwagon and successfully using vine to partner with influencers, curate content and even create TV spots.
  • Moms – the consumer power this group has makes a brand manager’s knees quiver.  We talk a lot about the impact of youth on marketing, but think for a moment on how brands have shifted their marketing plans and spend to engage moms – its staggering and is impacting across the board how they market to nearly all adult demographic segments.
  • Cross-platform programs – 2013 was the year when savvy marketers went all-in with programs that took advantage of the unique characteristics and distribution power of multiple platforms.  We’ve seen this with social being affixed to nearly all programs, but the scope of programs today tying together in a cohesive package social, display, live events, influencer marketing, video, content curation etc… is staggering.
  • Traffic quality – kudos to marketers for demanding accountability and transparency.  Kudos to the supply partners who stepped-up and delivered on their promises.   We are in a very young industry and the pains we suffer at times are normal – when we have an environment of trust and verification we will all succeed.
  • Data – I’m not talking about NSA type data.  I’m talking about the deep, rich data we are getting about the impact and reach of campaigns – across platforms.   The data is providing us with a much clearer view of the effectiveness of a campaign – making optimization easier, inventory acquisition more efficient and ultimately our clients more successful.
  • Washington – OK so I said no epic fails, but any list not mentioning how the gridlock in Washington impacted marketers, agencies and consumers would be shortsighted.   The seeming inability of Washington to move beyond partisan bickering and the shutdown of the US government cast a pall over consumer sentiment and threw a wrench into many marketers Q4 planning.

The coming year will be a good one for the industry – all signs point to a recovering economy and hopefully a recovered consumer.   Year in and year out I am amazed by the kinetic pace at which our industry changes, adapts and evolves.   I expect a year from today I’ll be in much the same reflective mood and again be amazed at the strides the industry has made over the previous 365 days – and happy I am still here.

Spending Season 2013

November 5, 2013 § 7 Comments

Halloween is in the rear view mirror—and all eyes are on the upcoming holiday season.

If there ever was one, this is the year for mobile. According to our latest Online Insights study, where we surveyed 993 US online adults about how and when they plan to shop for the holidays, nearly one-half of consumers will use a smartphone to shop this year. That figure is up 51% from our 2012 study. Two-fifths will use a tablet for holiday shopping—a 190% increase over last year!

Considering Hanukkah starts before Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday falls in December for the first time since 2008, the respondents to our survey are ready to hit the malls and shop online. In fact, of respondents of who specified when they would shop for holiday gifts, a plurality (44%) says they will start shopping after Thanksgiving. And that means marketers and retailers have distinct opportunities NOW to pinpoint and engage their target consumers.

Remember though—engagement is the key! Presenting captivating creative that allows shoppers to research and compare offerings, find a location where they can purchase products and grab coupons or sales promotion codes should be paramount.

Grab the full “Spending Season 2013” Online Insights here (PDF), and check out our Spending Season 2013 infographic below.


There’s a Big Audience for Online Video

November 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our recent Online Insights study turned up some interesting facts on how much and what types of online video is being consumed. Check out our findings below. And check out the full report here.

Give Me a Break

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Summer is in the air at Burst—and it’s not just because Memorial Day weekend is upon us.

We’ve just released our third consecutive summer-themed Online Insights covering travel and vacation plans. Earlier this month, more than 3,700 online respondents told us of their plans for the summer season. We learned some interesting things.

One-half of all respondents say they’re taking a vacation or personal trip this summer, and 30.7% say they’ll be taking more time off this year versus last. One-third of travelers taking more vacations/trips this year plan to do so because they “just need a break,” and women more so than men feel this way: 39.9% versus 31.4%. The gender divide manifests itself most clearly in the 35-44 years segment, where a majority of women (54.5%) this age cites “a break” as a reason for vacationing more, compared to just 30.0% of men.

Other reasons vacationers are taking more trips this summer include having more time to take off (26.3%), stronger personal/family finances (19.0%) and the need to make up for not taking enough time last year (15.0%).

Conversely, of respondents who are taking fewer vacations this year, economic reasons (44.1%), personal/family finances (34.5%) and busy schedules (27.9%) top this list. Interestingly, men outpace women (35.2% versus 16.0%) with feeling “too busy” this summer.

But everybody deserves a break, right?

One-third of all respondents plan to take a “staycation” this summer—a vacation where they stay at home rather than travel. Interestingly, 50.4% of respondents who say they are not planning to take a vacation or personal trip this summer do say they will take a “staycation.”

Saving money (43.7%) is the leading reason for “staycations” among all respondents—but other reasons include catching up on house/home projects (25.6%), family activities/obligations (17.8%) and plans to visit local attractions or engage in local activities (16.1%).

One-half of all respondents also say gas prices will impact their summer vacation plans to some extent. The traditional family vacation may be one victim of fuel prices, as 34.9% of respondents with three or more people in the household (i.e., families with children at home) say the cost of gas will definitely impact their plans, versus 26.5% of households with one or two people.

Be sure to check out Online Insights and grab your copy of the full report. Here’s to a happy and healthy summer!

A Pulitzer Goes to ProPublica, the First Ever Digital Only Award

April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

MediaBistro’s FishbowlNY had this to say about the Pulitzer given to ProPublica for the series by Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger on the role played by banks and hedge funds in the – still reverberating – financial crisis. It says it all.

“While all the Pulitzer winners deserve recognition, FishbowlNY wanted to highlight, which won the first Pulitzer awarded for a series that didn’t originate in print. Read that sentence again, because this is huge news.”

Quite huge, and it comes only two years after Pulitzer’s rules changed to allow entries from digital only participants.

Congratulations ProPublica, Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger,

Bill Cosby on Advertising: “Make the Program Interrupt the Commercial”

March 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

In Ad Age, Rance Crain interviews Bill Cosby, who will be the first-ever winner of the American Advertising Federation’s President’s Award for lifetime contributions to advertising in a ceremony at the annual Advertising Hall of Fame confab March 30th.

Explaining his approach to endorsing products such as White Owl cigars, Ford, Coca-Cola and (best of all) Jell-O Pudding, Bill Cosby said:

“I want to make the program interrupt the commercial.”

Anyone looking for a ticket to the Advertising Hall of Fame awards as a recipient in some age hence has Cosby’s manifesto to go by. There is also this, per Rance Crain’s report:

“Mr. Cosby professed he doesn’t know what makes a good commercial. “It’s like a room full of people looking at page one of calculus. How do you know who’s going to understand? And they might be laughing, but what was the product? You’ve got to entertain no matter what, but people have to remember what was being advertised.”

Media Ascending

March 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

We were discussing Content Ascending in this space a few weeks ago. How about Media Ascending? This was essentially the point of David Carr’s column in the New York Times describing the evolving mission of Google from Technology Company to Media Company. “In essence,” he wrote, “Google, which cracked the code on the Web advertising model, has come to realize that if content becomes just a commodity, then advertising will follow suit.”

Indeed, the stakes are very high for advertisers in this regard, where the separation between soap-the-brand and soap-the-commodity is wafer thin. Content and creativity are the only things keeping the affects of advertising from being overwhelmed by price and promotion. Commoditize content and the burden upon creative to make the case for brands will exceed advertising’s ability to create compelling messages. It is just too hard to produce great creative – which is why so much advertising depends on the ability to intrude on consumers with the volume up.

…But, as to Media Ascending:

The pattern was pointed out in an iMedia column long ago: every new media revolution starts with technical innovation, followed by rapid adoption, a dominant technology culture and then, finally, a media proposition grounded in content. Most recently, of course, it was television and radio. Once their respective boxes had been packed and shipped and switched on in the parlors of America, manufacturers saw the need for content to keep their enterprises growing. They built networks, as David Carr describes:

“RCA commercialized a spectacular invention called radio, but by the mid-1920s the company realized its new wonder needed great content, so it bought and merged several radio stations to form a media company called NBC. Later, RCA did the same trick with another catchy invention: television.”

Today, RCA’s legacy is NBC. And nobody – nobody – sits at home marveling at the fact that the picture on their tube is bouncing off a satellite over the equator. There is, instead, only, ever, one question on their minds: what’s on?

It is a media question.

Richard J. Tofel Foresees Better Media Days Ahead Without Search Engine Optimization

March 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Peering through the lens of search engine optimization (SEO), over at the Nieman Journalism Lab, Richard J. Tofel looks into the future of the World Wide Web and reaches this conclusion, or so it seems: the media business model will reset around the value that binds a reader to content. Call that value loyalty and intent.

Tofel is tipped-off by two events. First is the widely discussed action that Google has taken to shore-up the quality of its search results against the tide of search engine manipulators, optimizers, content mills, etc., that has been building for years. Second, is the sale of The Huffington Post, a reputed master of SEO, to AOL for $315 million. In these things, Tofel sees the signs of backlash and correction. He writes:

“…SEO itself is an inefficiency, a transaction cost rather than a value-creator — it is a technique designed entirely to compensate for the failure of the search engine to correctly analyze site content, searcher desire, or both. Over time, economics teaches us, inefficiencies tend to be wrung out, and transaction costs reduced.”

And then, later, referring to the Huff Post/AOL deal:

“But if it is true that most entrepreneurs sell out near the top, and it is, then perhaps we have just been sent a signal by one of its masters that the dark arts of SEO have peaked and that the century’s second decade will see them fade, perhaps into near nothingness by the third decade. In other words, it seems increasingly likely that, when the history of this era is written, SEO will turn out to have been a transitional phenomenon.”

Transitional from what to what? If I may, the short answer is from big to small. But that’s not a complete answer. Richard Tofel would probably say transitional from an advertiser-centered media business to a reader-centered media business, with the difference being that readers will substantially subsidize the cost (if not the profits) of the media through their wallets, or their loyalty.

Tofel writes:

“…a focus on readers rather than advertisers as the heart of business model will, inevitably, create a more segmented dynamic, as the strongest appeals to readers tend to be in niches, and as, to venture an impolite reminder, some readers are a great deal more valuable than others. This is not only because some readers have more money to spend on content (as they do, admittedly, on the goods and services offered by advertisers), although that is true. But it is also, and ultimately more importantly true, that some readers are willing to spend more time, to develop greater loyalty to particular content, to value it more highly.”

As a media consumer I can say unreservedly that this is what the internet has meant to me from the beginning: the value of particular content. I can also say unreservedly that search engines have never been especially good at connecting me with that value. The process has always been awkward and imperfect and time consuming. It has always been inefficient, just as Tofel observes.

The search engine business model, however, and its exploitation by publishers, with both good and bad intentions, mimics our experience – what we have known – with traditional media. Long ago media started playing an audience game, which mostly continues today. Richard Tofel is describing the results of SEO, but he could be just as easily describing the results of media business behavior the past 30 years when he observes:

“SEO has been, more than anything, about growing pageviews and unique visitors — any pageviews, and any unique visitors, the more the merrier. It is a force, therefore, for lowest-common-denominator publishing. And after a decade of SEO, a lot of lowest common denominator is what we have.”

How about after three decades? The Real Housewives of New Jersey, anyone?

I suspect Tofel is rooting for a backlash against lowest common denominators. I’m with him. Advertisers, if they could be persuaded to stop chasing sticks around the yard, would do well to root for a backlash, too. A more “segmented dynamic” media world exists to give them what they need for their “segmented dynamic” brand world. It is not more audience. It is loyalty and intent.

Ad Industry Self-Regulation: History Says, Better Than the Alternatives (or Your Money Back)

March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Rance Crain, President of Crain communications, and Editor-in-Chief of Advertising Age, offers a retrospective on advertising industry self-regulation going back to the good old, “Mad Men” days. We take it for granted today (or should be able to take it for granted) that product claims in advertising are credible and can survive scrutiny, but it was not always so. Reminisces Rance:

Colgate’s Rapid Shave, for example, demonstrated in TV commercials that its lather could shave through sandpaper: “To prove Rapid Shave’s super-moisturizing power, we put it right from the can onto this tough, dry sandpaper. It was apply … soak … and off in a stroke!”

Never mind that it took 80 minutes of soaking to penetrate the sandpaper or that the sandpaper wasn’t even sandpaper; it was really Plexiglas made to look like sandpaper.

Campbell’s Soup was called on the carpet for putting marbles in the soup bowl to better show off its ingredients in TV commercials. And Listerine was forced to run corrective advertising to admit that the mouthwash couldn’t cure colds or sore throats.

Advertising had to have its back to the wall, however, in order to make progress towards self-regulation. Rance Crain concludes by quoting Howard Bell, Chairman of the National Advertising  Review Board:

 “If there hadn’t of been a firestorm against the industry, ad people would have said we don’t need it, and some did anyway.”

The call for advertising self-regulation happened and it worked. The call is happening again, and it can work again.

Time (Magazine): Same as it Ever Was.

March 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

MediaBistro’s FishbowlNY points to an article in Fast Company by Steven Rosenbaum, the author of Curation Nation, who is seeing signs of the past in the curating, blogging, sharing media world of today. In this case, Rosenbaum makes note of the early days of Time Magazine, which began life as a news digest. He writes:

“Now, 90 years later–the magazines of Time Inc. are among the elite of publishing–the top of the content creation food chain. But that wasn’t how it all began. In fact, as Luce biographer Douglas Brinkly tells the story–there were sliced-up copies of The New York Times and piles of foreign magazines everywhere around the offices. Luce’s idea, and that of his business partner, Briton Hadden, was to condense all the news busy people needed to know into one weekly read. The magazine, Luce wrote, would ‘serve the illiterate upper classes, the busy business man, the tired debutant, to prepare them at least once a week for a table conversation.’ There was not a lot of brooding about other people’s intellectual property rights.”

The next paragraph of the story offers a more colorful description from Michael Kinsley taken from an article by him in the Atlantic:

 “Time was intended from the start to be what we now call ‘aggregation’ or (if we’re being hoity-toity) ‘curation.’ Although it later succumbed to bureaucratic bloat–an insane system of researchers feeding material to reporters that fed it to writers–at the beginning it was just a lot of smart-ass Yalies rewriting The New York Times. “

Happy? What’s old is new again. So much for all the angry, resentful talk from the content creators of today aimed at the content curators.

Except that as sure as history repeats itself, today’s curators all want to grow-up to be Time Magazine – or any similar vestige of the bureaucratically bloated media era. In fact, at the beginning new media had another word for it besides “bloated.” The word was, “portal.” It makes you feel bloated just to say it. Bureaucratic and portaled.

Same as it ever was. Count on it.

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