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?!



(“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?”


“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!

The Apple iPad: offering a way forward to many beleaguered publishers and content producers

January 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

The most inspired thing to emerge from the iPad launch is the notion that book publishers will be given firmer control over their pricing (“Apple Tablet Portends Rewrite for Publishers,” Wall Street Journal). For this reason, perhaps, iPad launched this week with the support of Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group and Macmillan Publishers (“iPad Launch; Apple Unveils iBooks”; PaidContent).

Perhaps Apple sensed the scorn of so many publishers and content producers over their treatment by third-party distributers and tech enablers – angry publishers like Rupert Murdoch that have decided to erect pay walls, and ones like CBS Interactive that have decided to dump ad networks. Perhaps in the midst of that scorn Apple sensed an opportunity. It has the brand, the device, the distribution and the objectivity to be the partner of choice for content producers. It has no portal, no ad network, no search engine, no ad exchange. It has no dog in the fight for ad dollars. It has only a gleaming, portable device and millions of loyal users.

Microsoft has wound-up in the content business. Not Apple. Google has wound-up in the network business. Not Apple. Each of them is in the media business, but only Apple doesn’t have to sell advertising – so far -which means content producers may be breathless to work with them. Indeed, Martin Nisenholtz of The New York Times was sounding pretty excited in the report in Paid Content:

“Martin Nisenholtz said that since The New York Times website is beautiful on the iPad, why bother with an application? “Well, our app for the iPhone has been downloaded three million times, and we wanted to create something that combines the best of print and digital all in one. It captures the essence of reading the paper. Articles can be saved, and read later on the iPhone.”

If you step back and squint, in order to have a dimmer view, it’s possible when looking at the whole of the media landscape to see nothing but the hunched over frames of depleted, disaffected content owners and producers worn ragged by the ungratefulness of new technology. Enter Apple with a potentially credible solution to finally help many publishers get upright again, and in the process catapult itself into the hands of millions more users eager for content relationships that you can still practically touch.

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.

Digital Media: so simple a caveman could do it

January 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Ad Age staff compiled a list of challenges and pitfalls awaiting the advertising industry as it turns the corner into 2010 and the start of a new decade. Editors gave the issue of agency compensation and the role of client procurement officers prominence as the first entry on the list. Quoting Mediabrands CFO, Tara Comonte, from her remarks at the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement Awards, Ad Age summarized the issue: “Procurement wants to pay less than enough. And it will be self-destruction.”

It is an issue that deserves to be at the top of the list. The issue of agency compensation must be addressed if the industry is going to be able to afford to keep pace with the rapid advances in new media in a way that provides maximum benefit to marketers.

In that regard, further down the Ad Age list was what to look for in Digital Marketing. “In short”, says Ad Age,

“marketing on the web has not been about creating demand so much as reacting to it by delivering the right ad to the right person when they indicate they want it. This has been a boon for Google (and has given birth to 400 ad networks), and represents the best thinking of largely West Coast technologists. But it is increasingly disastrous to content industries that are watching offline revenue erode and finding no equivalent revenue stream online.”

It remains a mystery (sort of) why the media value of the Internet can be so obvious and so invisible at the same time. Ad Age reports that delivering the right ad to people when they indicate they want it has been a “boon for Google.” Yes, but this is not the invention of West Coast technologists, nor the impetus of 400 ad networks. Google’s success is tied to rules cavemen (whose primitive work got us on the right track with media as much as with the uses of fire and raw materials, we might say) understood: the right message in the right place reaches people predisposed to what you are trying to sell them. Ug.

Most ad networks evolved differently. Most pay very little regard to placement if they are paying regard to anything more than price. Those that invoke any targeting do so almost exclusively on the basis of person, not place; and not time, either, though some would argue that “in-market” means “right time” as much as “right person.” That may be the best thinking of West Coast technologists. Hunters and gatherers, however, think differently. They fish where the fish are.


Google has successfully leveraged all of  the Internet’s power beginning with place, which has been the thing most responsible for the boon. One person has learned that lesson well-enough: Tim Armstrong. Hence the new and improved, comes-in-a-resealable-package, add-water-and-stir,  instant content formula of Aol. Will it work? Not like Google. It’s instant after the fact, which is an instant too late. But, the heart is in the right place: content. Place. Audience pre-disposition here (an operative word) and now (another operative word). They are both on sale, online  (you’re probably already buying them, thanks to Google) and available – as Ad Age says – in “millions of tight niches.”

The millions of niches part, of course, has been the distraction. New media is a vast place and the buying industry has been ill-equipped to navigate it.  The digital market, therefore, has a very clear stake in the future of ad agency compensation (see above). If the industry wants the Internet to emerge as a boon for itself and not just Google it must figure out how to reward planners and buyers for the work that goes into harvesting the power that Google has harvested – deliberately and transparently, not passively or non-transparently through third-parties, or by trying to find escape routes around the media nexus of person, place and time.

Maybe it’s not so simple that even a caveman could do it today. But it’s still pretty simple.

Editor & Publisher magazine closes after 125 years

December 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

After 125 years as the “bible” of the newspaper business, Editor & Publisher magazine announced yesterday that it would shut its doors at the end of the year.

One hundred and twenty five years and pffft. E&P goes down with the newspaper ship.

Where will Google be in 125 years? What will Google mean in 125 years to media students and consumers? I heard Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, say once that after careful figuring the company estimates it will take approximately 300 years for them to catalogue all the world’s information, which they aim to do. He had a good chuckle about that along with everyone else in the audience.

What will information even look like in 300 years?  

Truly when you’re young you expect to live forever.

One hundred and twenty five years is a pretty good run. The best thing I can think of saying to everyone at Editor & Publisher is congratulations. It is an extraordinary record of accomplishment, and we salute you.

The Rise of the Audience Marketplace

November 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

The high-level disconnect in our conversation about online media and advertising – now in its 14th or 15th year – remains the notion that positioning matters to consumer brands but not consumer media.

Eric Picard’s thoughtful piece in iMedia today puts this on display again in his recounting of a panel discussion titled, “The Rise of the Audience Marketplace,” at ad:tech in New York a week ago. During the panel, participant Quentin George, Chief Digital Officer at Mediabrands, reportedly observed:

 “In a world with such massive overcapacity, the only way for companies to differentiate and capture a disproportionate share of dollars is through building a brand.”

This was a very sensible assertion. Hold that thought.

The panel discussion then veered into talk about media planning and buying online with a great deal said about the rise of new buying solutions such as IPG’s Cadreon and Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi. These fall under the heading of demand-side buying systems, discussed in a recent post to this space.

Demand-side buying systems are energizing media buying companies with a renewed sense of empowerment. There is no harm in this. It represents a transfer of power from certain horizontal networks that have been conducting business this way online for a few years, and keeping the money. Now, the media agencies get to keep the money. The industry needs media agencies (all ad agencies) to feel energized and empowered, so to the extent that certain amounts of planning and buying can be conducted through demand-side agencies, there is no harm in this. Perhaps it will serve as a catalyst to help fix agency comp so that life can continue on a transparent basis ultimately favorable and necessary to marketers.

I digress.

In the midst of the panel’s enthusiasm it sounds like Bill Demas of Turn got up the nerve to suggest that most of the inventory wafting through the demand-side buying systems is non-premium inventory (much as it has always been through the horizontal networks) and that premium inventory is still making it to market thanks to human sales forces and their interactions with human media planners and buyers.

From Eric Picard’s recounting it then sounds like Bill Demas’s observations disappeared quickly under a pile of demand-side enthusiasts. Fellow panelists pointed-out that the idea of premium inventory is a relative concept. Brands care about quality content, but the quality of the audience is not measured by this alone. Basically, quality does not depend upon context.

This is the important question of our day: is the quality of an audience shaped by the context of its media environment.

Back to Quentin George who was on the panel. As he did, marketers will insist – with every justification – that brands matter, and the more complex the environment, the more imperative the need for brand. Brands differentiate.

What does that mean? It means context. Context is the differentiating agent. Context determines meaning. It is everything to brands. It says so clearly in the dictionary (from


[Middle English, composition, from Latin contextus, from past participle of contexere, to join together : com-, com- + texere, to weave.]

  1. The part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning.
  2. The circumstances in which an event occurs; a setting.

Brands are about meaning and circumstance. If they are not, then soap is soap. A car need only be black, as Mr. Ford would have had it, and get a traveler from point A to point B.  One smoke would be as good as another. Brands need positioning.

Yes, brands can certainly exist out of context for periods of time, like I can swim under water or a fish can flap on the ground. I use brands all the time unconsciously. But there are no unconscious brand champions and brand loyalists and there are no automated brands. In my house you will get one kind of vodka, which is an otherwise orderless, tasteless, neutral spirit with one purpose that can be met by any run-of-network vodka that will be (fall-down-drunk, for fall-down-drunk) cheaper. Yet, I am loyal to one brand. Go figure. 

Let’s be frank: really, the question is about money. The world is trying to impose cheap on marketing and context is not cheap. Neither are brands. Our world is hung-up on this problem and we know it. It is a dis-connect if ever there were one.

Truthfully, if there were enough great advertising creative in the world brands might be able to survive out of context. If every ad were brilliant, touching, funny, compelling – even simply polite – advertising could, perhaps, live and breath outside of a naturally supportive, media environment. We are not so fortunate. Advertising is hard. Great advertising is really hard. 

As we continue to bang around the miriad opportunities with which the Internet presents us in order to target our best customers let’s remember the obvious one, present from the beginning, the one that aligns us most with consumers, the one that made Google particularly rich: context. I don’t notice anyone else getting as rich as Google (or Google as rich from anything else).

The only thing I notice is the European Union and the FTC getting ready to drop a safe on our head. Then what?

Rupert Murdoch’s serious Internet strategy

November 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

It’s not all sour grapes that has Rupert Murdoch suggesting News Corp will eventually pull its content out of Google once it converts users to a paying basis. Listening to the interview with Sky News political editor, David Speers, in which Murdoch laid-out his plan to withdraw News Corp content to within paying boundaries, Murdoch makes clear that it’s all about getting serious online.

Murdoch observes that very few (actually, he says, “no web sites anywhere in the world”) make serious money. Likewise, he observes that “search people” – i.e., visitors to News Corp content that arrive by search engine – are not loyal readers of content. Ergo, they are not serious.

Therein may lay the calculation Murdoch and News Corp are doing in connection with their strategy to get consumers to pay for content and, then, deny access to all the non-paying transient onlookers who come courtesy of Google. The strategy advocates a retreat to defensible, higher value positions. As everyone has freely (no pun) pointed out it means much smaller audiences. But Murdoch’s comments suggest that News Corp has taken this into account and it doesn’t care. What have big audiences and an over-abundance of inventory given to the world but ad networks and lower prices? It’s time to get serious. It’s time to get back to business.

The issue of “serious money” is an important one. It has confounded traditional media companies online since the beginning. Plenty of money flows through plenty of big web sites, but the end results in terms of profitability have been underwhelming, certainly in Murdoch’s view. For many of the Internet’s largest players it has been equally disheartening to ponder a future full of exertions to grow traffic by relying on competitive third-parties, while struggling to raise advertising prices in an ocean of inventory. As Murdoch asserts, there is not enough advertising to go around for any web site to make serious money.

There are two ways to chase after serious money as a publisher, however, and one of them is to be small. Having tried big, Murdoch may be coming to terms with the alternative.

The media world has been addicted to “big” for years. Big has meant serious money thanks to advertising. But, that hasn’t translated online where smaller, independent publishers capable of generating $1 million per year in revenue out of a spare office thrive, while large publishers huffing and puffing to do 50x – 75x that amount feel unfulfilled.

Online there is, in fact, plenty of advertising to go around allowing many, many publishers to feel like they are making serious money. The Internet landscape is dominated by those publishers, and collectively they are changing the rules, agreeing to work for lower prices and agreeing to be positively delighted with sales results that wouldn’t keep News Corp in corporate jet fuel for a week.

At the same time the advertising community is slowly, but surely, shedding its own dependence on big. Ad networks have left one positive impression, which is that it is possible to aggregate many sites online for less and see results that are equal to or better than what $30 CPMs on big sites may have delivered. The taste left by some ad network experiences was bitter, but the implications of a freer, more open, and more targeted market have broken-through.

Most publishers couldn’t survive without Google and other search engines to direct people to their web sites; nor could most Internet users, which should assure the market of free and open access to search engines of one sort or another for many years to come. News Corp, however, has considerable resources of its own to drive traffic to it web properties. It may not be the sort of traffic that earns it a top 10 or even top 20 position among its peers, but perhaps they’ve stopped caring. Perhaps big isn’t quite so important in their calculations anymore. Having experienced the tiresome affects of being big online perhaps Murdoch is getting serious about Internet strategy.

And he may be right. Seriously.

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