Monday, June 30, 2008

There's nothing free about privacy

The Network Advertising Initiative is, much like the Direct Marketing Association's decades-old opt out list for direct mailers, an attempt at self regulation by the online advertising industry. It's designed to address the concerns of those who fear online profiling and tracking by marketers and advertisers.

Some would insist, as with the National Do Not Call initiative for telemarketing, that only punishment and enforcement (by an empowered government agency) can prevent abuses by marketers and the businesses they serve. Others (primarily the marketers and businesses), remind us that most of the 'free' online experience is paid for by advertising, suggesting a more laissez faire approach.

Though one can examine the details of the initiative (for example, the types of personally identifiable information that the policy guidelines would exclude), much of the debate seems to boil down to a simple question: do you think someone should have to opt-in or should they have to opt-out of behavior-based tracking designed to serve relevant ads?

Consumers have gladly exchanged access to their personal and purchase behavior information in loyalty programs for a few pennies off a purchase now and then. Online, with behavioral tracking for preference marketing, users simply aren't being asked for their permission...though the payoff would presumably be in more relevant content.

Users must specifically opt-out using the NAI website. Even then, it won't eliminate advertising, just the relevance with which it is served up based on a user's behavior...and only among the ad networks subscribing to the NAI policy.

Whether this type of initiative makes sense may depend on societal factors unique to particular countries and cultures. Are there high levels of trust among people? ..of the government? ...of business? Is privacy--in all its forms--viewed as a right? Is the web a public space or a private place?

In countries with a high tolerance for ever-increasing surveillance of citizen's behavior by governments, businesses and individuals, it may come down to a choice: between allowing a business community to occasionally annoy you in its attempt to meet your needs or in demanding protection from a government agency enforcing a well-intentioned idea with all the subtlety the law affords.

Friday, June 27, 2008

When less is still more

A couple of sources have reported updates to advertising spend trends.

AdAge reported that the top 100 advertisers (representing 41% of all measured ad spending) shifted almost $1billion from TV and Newspapers to the web. From the article:

Put another way, these top-tier marketers increased measured internet spending by $1 billion; slashed newspaper spending by $674 million; and cut TV budgets by $406 million.

TNS Media Intelligence reports a slowdown in the growth of online display advertising: from 16.7% growth in 2007 to 8.5% growth in 1Q08.

Two thoughts on what's at work here:

1. It's the economy: Of course, that's not really thinking, it's just stating the obvious. What's interesting is that even in the face of overall spending that is flat, advertisers continue to see the web as a place to invest. And with CPM rates continuing to fall online, there would seem to be little downside to advertisers taking their ad dollars there.

2. Display advertising reflects the advertisers using it: the top 100 advertisers, who control 41% of all advertising only control 37% of the display advertising online. Many of these companies are particularly sensitive to economic conditions.

So, maybe for those top 100 advertisers, it is about the economy. When times get tight, sometimes less is more. In this case, continued superior growth online suggests that, well, more is more.

Friday fun music link: One Les that's more (in the right hands)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Time is on their side: GooTube

There is a bit of a kerfuffle about Google's purchase of YouTube last year.

In one corner, you have Marc Cuban (Billionaire Dallas Maverick's owner, founder of HDNET and sometimes-rumored aquirer of the Chicago Cubs). He thinks Google screwed up buying YouTube because they aren't making money on he doesn't see the near term potential for them to. Marc thinks a TV network site like Hulu (see my previous posting on Hulu) has it right (see Marc's testosterone-fueled blog posting on the subject).

Then there's the others, like Forbes columnist Quentin Hardy (see posting on Quentin's panel at the South by Southwest Interactive panel). He thinks they have it right using YouTube as a data goldmine. In essence, YouTube is the biggest station on the planet.

Personally, I think it's hard to argue with numbers like these, which might indicate that YouTube has it right (source, comScore Media Metrix):

For one month, March 2008:

  • 73.7 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.
  • 84.8 million viewers watched 4.3 billion videos on (50.4 videos per viewer).
  • 47.7 million viewers watched 400 million videos on (8.4 videos per viewer).
  • The average online video duration was 2.8 minutes.
  • The average online video viewer watched 235 minutes of video.

When contemplating what people do online--and therefore where they choose to spend their time--it would appear that the long tail of YouTube has sticking power.

Numbers like these support the idea that a distribution network (like YouTube or NBC) wants all the content it can get...while content providers want to be where there potential audience is. For a distribution network like YouTube, they can have both the best content (in the sense of well-produced by people who do it professionally) AND the most demanded content (even if the demand is from small groups of 10-15 friends, family, and colleagues who could care less if the shot was in HD or from a single camera). A network like Hulu or Joost are tied to the content providers who have locked in with the traditional broadcast networks...amateurs content producers need not apply.

Google has time to make it work...both the YouTube audience's and their cash flow statement's.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Intrusiveness = Calm

Back in the day, when AdMen ruled the world, intrusion was one of the secret sauce ingredients to capturing an audience's attention. Now, the empowered consumer is telling advertisers to CALM down.

CALM, or the Commerical Advertisement Loudness Mititgation Act, is the latest in proposed federal legislation dealing with real and perceived affronts by advertisers against their audiences.

The bill seeks "To require the Federal Communications Commission to prescribe a standard to preclude commercials from being broadcast at louder volumes than the program material they accompany."

One can argue whether this is the appropriate focus for our elected representatives...or we can simply evaluate it as one of unintended consequences of techniques that annoy customers and prospects.

Story Link

Friday, June 20, 2008

Powerpoint presents: gifts from slideshare

Who hasn't used powerpoint like a word processor? And who hasn't had to endure a presentation that looked like it contained the presenter's every word...on each slide? Boorrring.

But it's not the software that sends us's how we use it. And if you want to use the software better, then what better way to learn than by example. That's where slideshare comes in.

Slideshare is, to use a frame-based analogy, like YouTube for presentations.

You can upload your presentations, download the presentations of others (who have enabled them to be downloaded). You can set up webinars with your presentation and, of course, join a group or comment on a topic with presentations to support it (you know, social). You can embed presentation in your website or blog and...most importantly, you can see examples of good presentations as determined by popularity (assuming you beleive the crowd has wisdom).

For starters, check out this beautiful presentation on...presentations...specifically, how to avoid Death by Powerpoint!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Measuring PR: Why apples aren't oranges

Keena Lykin's (Senior Account Supervisor at R+K) prepared a point of view on Public Relations measurement for one of our clients. I thought this was very nicely done, would provide a nice complement to a prior posting on marketing communications measurement, and was exemplary of why I think the R+K PR capability is so outstanding. So enough already, here it is:

R+K Point of View on Audience Multipliers

Rhea + Kaiser does not use audience multipliers to report media impressions, although the practice is common within the PR profession. We believe it is neither a reliable nor accurate measurement of the value our clients derive from media coverage. PR practitioners often justify this practice by saying audience multipliers:
  • Represent pass-along value, or the number of people that read a publication in addition to subscribers;
  • Convey the PR value of media coverage because it is more credible than advertising and thus should carry more weight than advertising.

Reporting pass-along value through multipliers only compounds the challenge of accurately reporting how many people read or see a new report. Publication and broadcast audiences are based on subscriptions and ratings, but not every subscriber or viewer reads every article or views every segment of a broadcast. Additionally, there’s no way to accurately gauge how many consumers read materials passed onto them. Given these factors, we believe it is impossible to create accurate measurements that include a pass-along value.

According to the Institute for Public Relations, there is no known objective research to justify the multipliers often used to communicate the credibility of earned media. These multipliers anecdotally range from 2.5 to 8 and further call into question the credibility of audience multipliers.

Instead of reporting results with multipliers, R+K uses its proprietary Content Quality Scale™ (CQS) measurement system. This tool evaluates media clips against five factors that are both universal and unique to each client. Each clip earns a score per category, with the highest possible total score being 10. The scale gives a holistic view of media relations programs and captures a wealth of additional information. We can sort by media tier, geographical location, date, source, the CQS score, etc., to provide clients with the most relevant qualitative and quantitative data.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Speed thrills

Ok, everyone and their brother is posting what's up with the new Firefox 3 browser...great features, blah, blah. There is one reason to upgrade: Speed.

It's faster. Noticeably so. I've timed page loads on several sites I regularly visit and FF is always 1-2 seconds faster than IE 7 and Safari...not a scientific approach, so here's a technical chart from Lifehacker:

Apparently a lot of word of mouth/mouse has worked wonders as this new version of the open source browser has been downloaded 6.8 million times in just under 24 hours. Check out the download counter here. Now that's product demand!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

FlyPods: Power to the people

Tired of inflight movies you'd never even rent on DVD? Listening to the cockpit put you to sleep? Word up for the head's up to colleague and fellow iPod junkie Jeff W on Apple's latest conquest: United Airline's inflight entertainment.

According to the press release I received (which does not yet appear on the slow-to-load United site):

"United guests may now reach cruising altitude with a new, personalized in-flight entertainment system. United is the first U.S. carrier to offer iPod and iPhone connectivity to its in-flight entertainment system, enabling customers to enjoy their individual content on a 15.4-inch personal television, all while the iPod or iPhone charges...Our guests may now watch or listen to what they want, when they want with programming they choose..."

I applaud the airline for seeing their customer's use of the portable music/video devices and responding to that in conjunction with a savvy marketing partner...Apple (sorry, sounds like Zune/MP3 players will have to await the aftermarket to create adapters).

One (well, this one anyway) wonders if there won't be unintended consequences of 'personal preferences' that are visible in 'public places'. One person's personal entertainment preference in the privacy of their seatback monitor might be another person's unfriendly skies when viewed from just across the aisle afterall.

Personally, I'd just be grateful for a functional power supply at each seat.

Either way, jacking in your own choice of video and music--using headphones--seems a nice step forward in customizing the otherwise uniformly dull flight experience. It certainly beats the open mike flight that unrestricted inflight phone use would if this keeps people's eyes and ears occupied while maintaining the choice to enjoy the silent skies, then go team!

For an interesting, slightly more serious look at the ethical issues of personal technology choices inflight, enjoy the following article on in-flight cell phone use. How would you respond?

Speaking of people's to oddly human powered music...or is that just oddly powered music?

Monday, June 16, 2008

What were they thinking? Mind control in Second Life

When I was 8 or 9 I remembered watching some PBS show on the brain. In one segment, a guy with a big mustache had wires attached to his head and, according to the monotoned narrator, he made a model train run using the electrical activity of his brain waves. It was a rather memorable, if unspectacular, display of technology even by the pre-Star Wars standards of imagining golly gosh science.

Now, a few unspecified decades later, comes word that those brain waves can be put to more useful uses than running model trains a few seconds at a time.

Researchers at Keio University in Japan (soon to award Bono an honorary doctorate) have demonstrated a system that enables a user to move an avatar in the virtual world Second Life and to engage the avatars of others in voice chat...using only brainwaves of their sensory-motor cortex.

Of importance, the demonstration (which involved a volunteer with a muscle disorder) may hold a great deal of promise for motion-impaired people.

Of note, it may also hold the promise of further developing efficient brain-computer interfaces for other uses ...who needs voice activated phone dialing if you can just think about ordering a pizza and have it delivered in 30 minutes?

Of concern, who has access to your brainwave signatures and how they relate to your behavior?

YouTube video of demonstration here

Friday, June 13, 2008

My that's a big fMRI you have there

For some time now (about a decade and a half to be more precise) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been transforming neuroscience.

As the tools have gotten cheaper and more widely distributed, some have applied them in ways that purport to 'see' not just what's going on in the brain, but--by extension--the mind. One outfit even specializes in fMRI for marketers.

And what marketer wouldn't like to know what's going on in their target's mind? "Hmm, the fMRI shows that the Coke logo stimulates the same part of the mind as does the image of a koala bear...that must be because Coke is comforting, familiar, and soft. We should use fluffy koala bears in our adverts! Science tells us so!"

Of course, that's not or otherwise. And the folks at Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have an interesting article (requires membership) challenging some of the approaches to using these tools...not because they are Luddites, but because some of the inferences made in the name of science turn out to be based on, well, not particularly scientifically rigorous interpretation.

Such as?

Such as the resolution of the images themselves: fMRI machines are unable to capture details smaller than a few millimeters on a side...that area contains millions of neurons.

Such as what is actually being resolved: the imagery tends to show the affect of blood flow...a proxy for the actual activity of the neurons themselves.

Such as control for other causal factors: there is still much to be known about the linkage of moral, emotional, and physical concepts in regions of the brain.

So what?

An fMRI picture may paint a million words (it is the new millenium afterall)...but what those words tell us is unlikely to be as simple as a tagline or market segment profile. Rather, the more complete picture of a prospect will likely come from what the prospect tells us directly through their responses to inquiries or through their observable behavior in the marketplace... approaches for testing hypotheses that marketers and market researchers know well.

For now, it would appear that our fMRI tools offer marketers only an unimproved means to an unimproved end.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Are you Textperienced?

Perception is reality...Until, that is, someone reveals the prevailing perception as misconception.

A study in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communications by researchers at THE Ohio State University (not to be confused with any other buckeye-loving institution of higher learning) takes on perceptions about instant messaging and concludes--wait for it--IM'ing actually reduces workplace interruption!

You can certainly read the details for yourself but the summary of accounting is as follows: IM'ing enables efficiency in managing interruption.

IM seems to beget efficiency of communication by managing the interruptive nature of workplace communications more effectively. Unlike the often meandering conversations of phone and face to face, there is a built in governor in the more phyisically demanding fine motorskills of instant messaging. Combined with the option for synchronous or asynchronous timing, and the ability to detect one's presence on the network ("I'm away right now"), IM offers the potential for less time to be spent for the same messaging impact.

Some people prefer "management by walking around" or the idea of "casual collisions" in hallways and office spaces. But one study referenced in the research article indcated that "...workers spent an average of just 11 minutes on a task before being interrupted or moving on to a new task, and more than half the interruptions (57%) were unrelated to the task at hand (Mark, González, & Harris, 2005)."

In the always on information workplace, IM users may in fact have a productivity advantage. Consider it Innovative Messaging. Add a few smileys, and you have nearly all the emotion necessary ;)

For a gratuitous headline reference to innovative musical messaging, YouTube brings you, Jimi Hendrix--reincarnated as a right hander!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Blending ads and games

What happens when you blend video game controllers and YouTube? Why, word of mouse marketing of course!

I've been following the Blendtec 'Will it blend?' series for about 9 months...and the latest installment made me laugh out loud (I'm easily amused, so your guffaw reflex may vary).

The entire series uses low-cost video and a finely tuned pop-culture sensibility to demonstrate the serious blending power of the Blendtec line of blenders...more than 70 videos blending everything from iPhones to Chuck Norris have worked the word of mouse magic to the tune of more than 10 million views.

In the latest video, Blendtec borrows interest from the smash hit Nintendo WII game Mario Cart...and creates Nintendo Smoke (don't breathe it!).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

KISS: keepin' it simple silly

Seth Godin has a post on keeping the marketing message simple by starting as if you were developing a classified ad. The point is that it forces you to get to the point...what's the offer, what do you want someone to do...all on the backdrop that every word costs.

I think this is exactly what writing an ad for a Search Engine Marketing campaign forces you to're limited to a set number of characters in the headline (25), the body (35) and the link (35 to use the Google limits). And to reprise the lead sentence from the posting a couple of days'll know you're simplified message is right (or not) in realtime, based on the clicks.

For an example of keeping it simple in pictures, see Jessica Hagy's site

For an example of keeping it lip-synch simple in Detroit, the Rock City:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Go big or go home

Sort of like reverse....

[Click on image to enlarge]

Soccer Fans arriving for the start of Euro2008 see this on final word on what passengers on the right side of the plane see.

Search engine optimization: snake oil?

Search rulz! Yes, we all know that making sense of the online morass usually starts with search. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft (in that order) control the majority of search. So what's a marketer to do about ensuring they are where their customer's action is?

Some pursue Search Engine Marketing (the Sponsored Links one sees in a search result).

Some pursue Search Engine Optimization (the 'organic' result).

In theory, search engine optimization is more credible or relevant...because it presumably reflects the truth of what your site contains. In reality, an entire industry has cropped up purporting to deliver superior organic results.

Two thoughts:

1. There are things you can do--and legitimate companies to help you do them--to garner effective organic results. These are not secrets. The search engines even tell you how to accomplish them (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo) on their sites about search.

2. There are promises that can be made--by companies who purport to know secret forumlas--that won't necessarily be fulfilled.

The major search engines don't want to tell you the specific algorithms they use (which are always changing)...what value would they have if everyone knew how to game them? They do want your site to be appropriately indexed...and they tell you how that works.

Here's Google's advice (from their webmaster guide [PDF]):

"Many site owners fixate on how well their respective web pages rank. But ranking is determined by over 200 criteria in addition to PageRank. It’s much better to spend your time focusing on the quality of your content and its accessibility than trying to find ways to ‘game’ a search engine’s algorithm. If a site doesn’t meet our quality guidelines, it may be blocked from the index."

So when pursuing an optimization strategy, here's 5 simple questions to ask a potential SEO partner...if they suggest a simple "yes" answer to any of these questions, you might consider a second opinion:

1. Can a number 1 page rank be guaranteed?
2. Are techniques used that are able to fool the search engine algorithm?
3. Does every website need a search engine optimization effort?
4. Are large lists of keywords necessary to be programmed into each page?
5. Will pages be created that only the search engines will see?

Search Engine Optimization isn't a miracle cure for ailing site traffic. And it's not a supernatural mystery to solve with chants and witch won't lend itself to simplistic will yield to best practices and logical actions...tied to site objectives, user needs, and the competitive space a site operates within. A trusted SEO partner knows this and shares it.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Measuring MarCom Effectiveness: Now 10% off

"How will I know you're right?" is a favorite quote attributed to clients across any agency's roster. And it's the right question to ask...once this question has been answered: "What are we trying to accomplish?"

We've run workshops on measuring communications effectiveness recently and we've put a stake in the ground: Communications should be measured for what it can accomplish...nothing more, nothing less. I know, we would seem to have a firm grasp of the obvious here. But in the heat of input, planning and seeking the ever bigger idea, it's often important to touch this stone. Communications (and it's spawn advertising, PR, sales support and promotion) can do three things:

1. Generate awareness
2. Impact perception
3. Compel action

Sometimes, communications do a great job of awareness (like brand advertising) but the objective gets confused with a measurement of action (like increasing sales). Othertimes, branding objectives make taking an action (like coupon redemption) seem far too tactical for the big brand mission. We're simply trying to ensure that we help our clients by aligning objectives, what gets measured, and the idea.

Search engine marketing (e.g., Google's AdSense) and behavioral targetting of display ads has moved contextual-based approaches to targetting light years ahead of more generalized demogogic approaches such as age, income and gender.

And now comes Brandcaster. According to Wired, Brandcaster hopes to begin using the same principles of contextual and behavioral marketing as the search engines to deliver: coupons.

So what?

For one, pity newspapers. 90% of the 285 Billion coupons distributed last year were printed by newspapers according to NCH marketing services (ref: Wired article).

For two, cheer for advertisers. Only 0.4% of those 285 billion coupons get redeemed (ref: Wired article).

For three, get our metrics in order. If an advertiser is investing in promotions/coupons, networks like Brandcaster will make paying for peformance the defacto approach. And when you pay for performance, it will be important to have modelled your expectations of performance lest you underestimate or overestimate success.

Lastly, moving couponing and promotion online may also make tying communications to sales more routine because the ability to measure against objectives around an action will be--as they are online--a data-rich, realtime environment.