Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Says who?

Why, SaysMe!...on TV?!

Another online tool for enabling any old body to be their own Mad Men...this one on TV...get your ad on the tube for 6 bucks (at least in Cleveland)!

SaysMe.TV makes placement of your political spot on Cable easy and cheap (according to their site).

The site is currently making news for its focus on engaging individuals as issues advertisers. It's almost like creating a political blog post for TV...except that you use other people's words and have your name show up at the end. Which is quite like some blogging, actually! In an election year, this political focus makes sense.

But consistent with the do-it-yourself topic previously posted (here), SaysMe tv is another example of technology removing the complexity from communication vehicle production...and while this democratization of the Spot Cable TV vehicle is part of the story, the other part includes the collaborative way in which the ads are made and paid.

One can envision a group of likeminded marketers or PR professionals sharing the development costs of an issues ad and then using something like SaysMe TV (or Spotrunner) to run the spot locally.

Have a customer or distribution channel partner who can't afford the development and placement costs of global industry image advertising? Build loyalty by making a spot they can use, place and purchase on their own..for use locally. It's not a new idea, just a new approach and...a new low price.

After reviewing the site and it's process, the drawbacks of the SaysMe implementation are limited current market coverage (which is only a limiting factor if you don't live in those markets) and a focus on pre-produced ads that are political. But, like Spotrunner, AdReady, and Google's Print and Radio buying tools, it provides a glimpse of what do-it-yourself communications look like--and cost--when cheap computing power is applied to simplify complex systems.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

First things first:

I've got an idea: How about a YouTube video? Or a TV Spot? Or a press release? Or a social web 2point2 interactive myspace community dialogue blog site?

I've been in meetings to discuss business objectives and communication strategy where those were the ideas that got bantered about first...well except for the last one. Everyone in the room knew these things weren't really ideas, that they're vehicles for carrying ideas.

But sometimes the pressure to produce leads to shortcuts in thinking. In this case, the shortcuts get us to the end product a bit faster, if not better. One need not look long to see a TVSpot, a direct mail or even a website that was created with the vehicle driving the idea. They seem forced, self indulgent, or poor facsimile's of something original.

The best work is also obvious:

  • it is relevant to someone intended,
  • it has a clear 'now what' opportunity for that someone,
  • and it's where the someone wants it.

There are other qualities of good work, certainly. But how does 'good work' embody these elements?

Define the objectives and the narratives necessary to achieve them. The vehicles will come easier...and after.

McCluhan was right about many things...but I suspect he was misquoted on one...the medium is not the message.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cuil or UnCuil?

What with Google's world dominance in search, it's no surprise that yet another upstart wants to succeed where giants (e.g., Yahoo, Microsoft) have failed: trying to wrest a share of search away from the king.

You'd think the launch of the Cuil search engine (pronounced 'cool' for those who are in the know or just plain obnoxious) would represent a best shot. It has as it's parents, afterall, former Google engineers with oodles of search savvy.

All I can say after trying it is: um, not ready.

It does have a nicely designed search results page--clean results and images to help users parse the results...but the results can leave something to be desired.

I tried several searches, but one in particular pointed out some serious issues: searching on my name in combination with that of my employer...the result had a picture of a NASCAR announcer who goes by my name as an integral part of the result that links to a university page and text results for someone else entirely.

I certainly didn't expect my picture to appear, but clearly Cuil has mixed several elements from very different sources to create a single, mashup result: and that's uncool. Though it purports to have many more results for the same terms than Google, it only displays one. Google, not only displays more, but the results happen to be accurate.

For now, google would seem to remain the King of Cool Search. Perhaps Cuil will work itself out. Maybe I'll give it another try: but I'd need a real good reason to switch.

Here's screen grabs of my sample self search:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Are you Ad Ready or Not?

In what is surely the second sign of the online advertising apocalypse (the first being the rise of Google), here comes AdReady.

AdReady lets you--as in anyone--create an online banner ad, deploy it, and track it. If you are a small business, (or a large one with internal marketing minions) the promise is appealing: you have control.

IN addition to the cost-reduction message, AdReady is also selling the spot-on notion of realtime message/concept testing.

Of course one can question the viability of the entire notion of display advertising online (like this, this and this), but that's a cry in the wild for now. Rather, one might ask whether this trend in do-it-yourself advertising (see Google's AdPlanner and the Spot Runner company as examples) is any different than do it yourself anything?

Like do it yourself home improvement, or do it yourself surgery, some people have an 'I can do it' attitude in the extreme...others will choose to have someone else do it for them. The decision to go Nike or to have someone else do it for you may boil down to an assessment of risk vs. reward (e.g., cost savings, cost avoidance, ego gratification). And if the only value a client sees in their ad vendors--um, I mean Partners--is the ability to manipulate the means of production, well this is for them: price pressure.

It will become harder to justify pricing for agency services at levels that are higher than the do-it-yourself models...especially if the differentiation is based on the subjective notion of expertise or creativity. As do it yourself advertising marches forward, in multiple forms, expect continued downward pricing on traditional ad services providers.

So what's one to do? Being able to demonstrate the real dollar ROI of your role as a partner will be one thing. Having some skin in the client's game, via risk sharing agreements and pay for performance models, might tilt the balance too. In the end, doing more than talking about brand advertising and its value will be the only way to avoid sliding down the commoditized pricing bunny hole.

For a guided tour of the AdReady platform see this (interesting that in the section on metrics they show a banner ad with a 0.40% click thru rate!).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rock and Roll is Dead: Long live Rockband!

For those with an abiding interest in music, videogames and the face of Comedy Network News, check out...real rock stars trying to play their own songs on the video game Rockband!

For context, last week saw the Canadian band RUSH make an appearance on the Comedy Network's satiric (?) news show The Colbert Report. RUSH, which recently released a new version of a classic song for use with the Rockband game, is shown prior to their appearance on Colbert's show attempting to play their own tune, Tom Sawyer, on Rockband. Let's just say, video games aren't the same as playing instruments!

It's also a nice bit of integrated marketing with an online extension to Cable programming for both Comedy Central, Colbert, RUSH, Harmonix Games (makers of the game), iTunes (where game singles can also be purchased) and...for fans of the game, the show and the band.

But it's also a look at what some see as the future of music distribution...for one, the Guitar Hero and Rockband games have sold more than 6 million units. That means each of the licensed songs is a multiplatinum single! Rockband alone has also had more than 10 millions songs downloaded for the game. But what else generates such demand?

For one, the linkage of the music to an even richer experience than the ears alone enable. The gaming environment may provide a perfect platform for music releases because it melds three aspects of engaging experiences in teh gaming/music domains: the ability to play along as the air drummer/guitarist/shower singer in all of us; a challenge (competition/teamwork, scoring and progressive levels of difficulty); and a payoff (the ability to unlock additional tunes and add new ones).

Some might decry the games as a distraction from learning to play real musical instruments. I don;t think that's an issue. My own son, upon serendipitously hearing the Kansas tune "Carry on my wayward son" on the radio commented "oh, that's that song that is way too easy to play on Guitar Hero II even at the hard level." I thought about telling him how impressionable teens decades ago had seen it as a challenge piece for their progressive-rock leaning garage bands...but then thought better of that and just said "uh huh".

For those of us who may have spent the better part of two decades trying to master various musical faves on drums and bass...these games can enable you to play like a star in a couple of, you do get a sense of what real musicians have to do. How fun is that?! Recent releases of 'direct to Rockband' songs by Motley Crue and an entire edition of Guitar Hero built around Aerosmith are additional examples of musicians, fans (their kids!) and game companies crossing the traditional generational boundaries around an enhanced, shared experience with music.

video of RUSH' humorous attempt to play their own song--and failing--here

video of anonymous players mastering the same Tom Sawyer song in Rockband here

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ad inventory: an attention deficit disorder

Inflation, deflation, arbitrage, and debt.

No, I won't be posting on the causes of the next two years' economic de-leveraging. But these terms do have an analogy in online advertising which, despite what some say some of the time, can have an economic impact.

First, inventory inflation: Ad sellers rely on ad inventory to define pricing...tighter inventory usually means higher prices. Online, of course, the potential inventory of ad space is ever expanding as ad networks encompass more and more sites in their network...and people like you and me create more and more sites for narrowly targetted friends, aquaintances and peers. The potential inventory of impressions is, essentially, infinite. When supply of something moves toward infinity and beyond, you get...deflation.

Price deflation: Pricing on a cost per thousand impression (CPM) basis has been the norm for offline and online display advertising. CPM rates will, expectedly, suffer pricing pressures as inventory exceeds demand. Here's an early example of the cheap revolution in display ads...Lookery sells several billion ads a month and they are struggling to make money at 12.5 cents many advertisers have paid 7.5 cents CPM lately? A lot more may be soon.

Ad Arbitrage: You know those annoying pages that sometimes show up when you click a sponsored link and it's just another page full of links? That's arbitrage. Someone has bid on a word with a low cost per click or CPM price and sent users to a page full of links with higher CPM or cost per click links. They may be annoying, but they did serve a purpose in leveraging inefficiencies in the market to someone's advantage. These sites have become less visible though because Google has limited the market pricing mechanisms for their network using minimum bids. A preset minimum is not market driven. Think of Google as the Federal Reserve setting interest rates at the consumer level. What you would get is a non-market driven influence on prices...forcing people to pay more or spend nothing. Forcing others to pay less than they willingly would. Eventually any market prices the external influence in--or out--of its this case, the asset for online advertisers is inventory and the pricing unit is CPM.

Debt: In a pattern at play in the larger economy, the artificial pricing being propped up by Google with its minimum bids means that an imbalance is building in the market for online ad inventory. A deficit in demand if you will. Because a few networks are artificially creating a floor for CPM values, an external downturn in advertiser spending might be the impetus for driving inventory levels even higher. At some point, the inability to fill inventory requires that prices be lowered...and when that happens, you'll want to be the buyer, not the seller. If you are Google, you may not be be able to fill inventory if the market pricing can't support demand.

And when cost per click and other performance models deflate, you can bet the cost per impression models will already have beaten the deflationary path ahed of them. The only way to hold value is to earn it...from the end user...and the end user alone. Impressions can't do that. Attention is paid to relevant, engaging experiences. Only the end user gets to decide what those terms mean online. It's the difference between buying impressions and earning attention (see prior post).

Shout out to the following influences for this post


Monday, July 21, 2008

Spending or Earning?

The web is not an advertising medium. Come again? Well that's a shocker since so many advertisers seem to be taking their traditional ad dollars online. Can they all be wrong?

Of course not. But let's make a distinction...two really:

1. Advertising does not equal marketing
2. Buying something is not the same as earning it

First, marketing is more than advertising. Marketing encompasses all the activities that go into selling something...advertising is one small part of that. Here's a sample point of view on what marketing is, and is not, at (it seems a bit more practical to me than the American Marketing Association's definition).

Second, traditional brand advertising models have generally been based on the idea of buying attention (in the form of impressions, reach or frequency). Online (and in direct response), you can't buy attention. You have to earn it.

Problem is that many of the online advertising models are struggling with this notion...that a user who controls his or her own online experience can't be bought. In fact, attempts to buy attention--via banner ads, intrusive popups, unsolicited email--might even create a positive perception. The very old saying that any publicity is good publicity is, well, very old and very outdated.

But there are methods for earning attention. One is to be relevant. That requires listening. Another is to be responsive. That too requires listening.

Maybe that's why pay-per-click works. An individual provides a marketer with something worth listening to--the search query--when the marketer responds with a relevant response to the query (as in a sponsored link), the conditions are right for being invited into the consumer's click at a time.

The smartest marketers know that display advertising and pay-per-impression models online fall short in a medium that demands--and offers--more to those willing to market.

For an research-based take on the effectiveness of banner display advertising, see Jakob Neilsen's Banner Blindness article on

Friday, July 18, 2008

One screen to rule them all?

TiVo will let users view YouTube videos on the television screens beginning this week. See article.

This on top of recent announcements that Netflix will enable video downloads onto Xbox 360 game consoles, AppleTV enabling web video to tv screen, etc.

Just what TV networks--the cable and broadcast kind--needed: more competition for attention. Only this time the competition is content from their audience. Yes, yes, we'll debate the qualitative differences between YouTube video and HD by land and by air on a large screen...these are temporary distractions that cheap computing power will address.

As the three screens (smartphone, computer, TV) begin to resemble each other--essentially becoming variations in size for delivering the same content in different contexts--one continues to wonder whether it's finally time to redefine the word 'television' to the piece of commoditized hardware it is.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The future is here's just unevenly distributed. So said sci-fi writer William Gibson in 1999.

But what does a sci-fi novelist have in common with the world's most deliberative body, the UN? A keen interest in looking forward for one. And so comes, unleashed on the world, the UN's massive tome: 2008 State of the Future. For only $49.95, the UN's millenium project offers it's 6000-pages of paperback insight into, well, the future.

And what does that future look like?

Aside from recognizing that the future isn't what it used to be, the report (which also contains the past 12 year's of self-referencing research on the future) acknowledges many aspects of the future that, for many people, are right here, right now.

The Internet, which, unlike the UN's report is no longer available on CDROM, gets a special shout out:

The internet, the report observes is "already the most powerful force for globalization, democratization, economic growth and education in history.

"The internet allows self-organization around common ideals, independent of conventional institutional controls and regardless of nationalities or languages. Injustices in different parts of the world become the concern of thousands or millions of people who then pressure local, regional or international governing systems to find solutions.

"This unparalleled social power is reinventing citizens' roles in the political process and changing institutions, policy-making and governance."

Though not nearly as lofty as politics, social justice and policy-making, the economic changes wrought by the 'Net are certainly applicable to marketers and PR minions: consumer control, self-organization, and education are impacts from the future that are here today.

For a look at what some people think the Future of the Internet looks like, check out the 2006 report "The Future of the Internet II" produced by Elon University. It's free to download. (full disclosue: I participated in this survey).

For one musical take on yesterday's future, see...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mobile is not a device: Part Deux

As part two (part 1 here) in an unplanned series highlighting the inevitable march toward one mobile, anytime, anyplace, anyone screen, I bring you...the Worldwide State of the Mobile Web!

Well, not me actually, but those traditions-in-transition media mavens at Neilsen.

They've just released their report 'Critical Mass: the Worldwide State of the Mobile Internet report' and it contains a few interesting numbers:
  • 40 Million Americans now use their mobile devices to access the internet...that's a world- leading 15% of the US mobile subscriber base.
  • The most popular device for using the interwebs is the lowly Motorola RAZR at 10% followed by the sure to grow iPhone at 4%.
  • Median age of a mobile internet user is a too-old-to-rock and roll, too-young-to-die 35.

And what do people go online for when they are mobile? Why many of the same things they do when they are immobile and online:

  • Email
  • Weather
  • News
  • Search
  • Maps
  • Sports
  • Entertainment (the un sports kind)
  • Videos (the unentertainment kind)
  • Music

You can get the full PDF for yourself here

The report's title hints at other elements that butter Neilsen's bread: namely, they suggest that the critical mass of mobile internet users is now in place for mobile advertising.

To their credit, they identify the general challenges to mobile advertising such as the lack of receptivity among people to mobile advertising (86% say it's not okay with them).

Neilsen falls back on concepts like inventory availability, demographics and the need for planning tools to see a rose-tinted future nearby where consumers 'warm to the idea' of advertising as part of their mobile experience. I guess it depends on the point of view.

Left to their own devices, mobile users would seem no more likely than non-mobile users of the internet to value interruptive, uninvited, irrelevant messages from impersonal marketers.

Monday, July 14, 2008


In a talk we give to client teams, we stress three technology-enabled trends affecting marketers (not that marketers are special mind you): The cheap revolution, always-on connections, and the transparent society.

This weekend I got a fun reminder of how those three trends apply outside of a theory.

I went to an MLS soccer game Saturday evening. My son got to go out on the field before the game as part of a youth soccer event. And then...

My wife sent a text to my daughter (who had stayed behind at a friend's house) letting her know that her brother was on the field. My daughter replied that she knew that already. Seems a friend of my daughter's--who was at the game---saw my son on the jumbo screen at the stadium and had sent my daughter a text noting that and asking her if she was there too...all occurring in the span of 5 minutes.

Inexpensive communications, with relationships a few clicks away, sharing events of interest as they happen...applied to a brand, the opportunities--and obstacles--would seem immense.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Google Ad Planner

I was accepted as a beta tester when Google's Ad Planner tools were released two weeks ago. You can see what alot of others think about it by checking out their first blush impressions. There's thems that says it replaces the agency and those that sez it's nothing new. Somewhere in between lies the truth.

What does Ad Planner do?

It allows an ad planner to evaluate traffic and audience demographics against specific websites and understand what (Google) ad network options are available for reaching

For example, let's say I want to reach a traditionally defined demographic online for 25-54 year old females, with bachelor's degree and more than $75,000 income. Google ad planner suggested the following sites (out of a total listing of more than 40 sites that support Google ads and hundreds of other sites that don't):

Apparently, this demographic is interested in babies, celebrities (who may be babies), jobs, healthcare and whatever it is that Martha Stewart does. Who would have thunk that? While these aren't necessarily the insights that make for great campaigns, they do come with some other great Google features. Like the ability to see traffic on these sites.

So here's a quick eval of the good, the bad, and the unknown:


  • I can enter a specific site and see what kind of traffic and the demographic against it.
  • For sites that match my criteria, I can see what other sites these people visited and the traffic they support.
  • A great way to gain insight into competitive web presenceseses
  • The dashboard interface is typically spartan Google and easy to use.

  • Only sites with sufficient traffic (as defined by Google) will show up...limiting utility for planning against Long Tail sites
  • The number of sites able to be researched is far greater than the number who accept Google advertising (which is, perhaps, only bad if you are trying to integrate your planning and buying with Google).

  • It is not at all clear where the demographic data comes from...but then Google is likely as trustworthy as any of the traditional demographic data sources (e.g., MRI, Neilsen).

In the end this is a beta. AdWords alone is a $10billion dollar business. As Google enables do-it-yourself media planning--and buying--expect AdPlanner to evolve in connecting marketers with the online world's Long Tail dialogue.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Scientific advertising

I came across an interesting document, entitled 'Scientific Advertising' (shout out to Clix marketing for repackaging it). It serves as an instructive take on principles of advertising in a pay for performance (i.e., pay per click, pay per transaction, direct response) online model. The curious part is that it was written in 1898!

From the document (which you can download here):

"Advertising was a gamble, a speculation of the rashest sort. One man's guess on the proper course was as likely to be as good as anothers'. "

"It [advertising] is not for general effect. It is not to keep your name before the people. It is not primarily to aid your other salesmen. Treat it as a salesman. Force it to justify itself. Compare it with other salesmen. Figure its cost and result. Accept no excuses which good salesmen do not make. Then you will not go far wrong."

"The advertisement is read only by interested people who, by their own volition, study what we have to say."

The document covers everything from headline writing (the purpose of which is to pick out people you can interest) to psychology (it being unchanging and largely driven by curiosity) to the value of being specific (platitudes and generalities not generally creating understanding) among other topics. And throughout, a reiteration of the value of testing ideas (especially as enabled by response-generating approaches).

More than a century after its publication, many of the ideas seem eerily relevant today. What sometimes seems necessary is that we remember what those before us have learned so that we can distinguish between what is truly new and what is merely new to us.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Advertising, Beijing and Cycling

Oh8, oh8, oh8 is the mnemonically-driven start date for the Beijing Olympics.

In addition to world class athletics that may occassionally interrupt the Bob Costas human interest stories, this year's half-a-world-away timezone games will challenge media coverage to remain relevant to North Americans in the face of globally connected information providers.

To wit, R+K's own Christina Harp will be covering cycling on her blog Christina and others like her will be able to provide realtime results and human experiences to anyone who's interested. Given the focus on cycling, interested visitors should be able to get a degree of specialization and indepth coverage that would be unlikely to be found on more general, mainstream mass media outlets.

Speaking of which, NBC will cram 8 days of Olympics coverage into each day using streaming video online ( and alerts via mobile phone. As if that weren't challenging enough, they'll be using the games (and their multi billion dollar investment) to try and understand how people use media and how much attention they are paying to the Olympics. Presumably, to convince advertisers that they should continue to find NBC's coverage valuable.

As a shareholder, or an advertiser, you might wish NBC had answered the latter questions before they paid for the right to broadcast the games or you paid for ad space. But then if you are invested in NBC's coverage, you probably have other concerns right now.

To avail yourself of the NBC coverage, you will need Windows Vista and Silverlight installed on your machine (see unheralded announcement from January). This ensures NBC's ability to control what you do with their content. It may also add a bit of risk to an already significant undertaking as many users will likely have to download the Silverlight plug in.

To view Christina Harp's coverage, you need only a web browser and an interest.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Mobile is not a device

An interesting look at the evolution of the mobile phone handset in the video below (in what may be a Nokia video).

When people have the freedom of movement...and the power of taking their communications with would seem that marketing communications must be as diversely mobile as the people it seeks to engage.

A few favs:

  • I didn't get my first camera-enabled phone until 2002...a year after they were introduced in Japan.
  • Text messages...more than 1.9 trillion were sent in 2007...up form 500 billion in 2004.
  • The value of a consulting company's forecast? Well, in 1990 McKinsey and Company forecast a worldwide market of 900,000 phones in 2000...that many phones are sold every 3 days!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Game on: Interactive bloodsport

In this US election year, budget politics will no doubt be flogged by candidates to support--or even inform--their positions. But if there's lies, damn lies, and statistics, how is an average Jeff or Jane to grapple with the complex tradeoffs between statistics, politics and the demands of the real world to gain some understanding?

American Public Media has used interactive gaming to help generic you's and me's understand the tradeoffs involved...and why sometimes it's easier to talk about budgets than to take action. Their game, Budget Hero, outlines several common positions and asks players to assign their values and priorities to spending and taxing...then it calculates the impact of pursuing your priorities...not perfect, but thought provoking...

So what? What does this have to do with marketing...or new media...or the price of corn?

It is, to me anyway, exemplary of the power of games to help engage complex subjects at an individual level. As marketers, games have held an obvious place in promotional trade shows + carnivals (redundant, sorry). But combined with the power of data and computing, games can serve well in engaging prospects with more complex or controversial brand, how does one product work...better?

There are lots of great examples out there. Here are links to a couple of brand-education games: can you tell what the Brand Learnstitutors would have us know?

Here (we did this for a client)

Here (one of our client's competitors)

And for science buffs (or those interested in visualizing the ripple effect of policy decisions), here's a great look at the power of Chain Reactions

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The cost of cool

Several posts around the web last month have discussed the apparent 'cost differential' between Macs and competitive products, from computers to phones. See here and here for examples.

And while I don't mean to take sides in a debate that is, largely, style over substance, it is interesting to note the premium price differences between a brand like Apple and the prices that can be charged by a branded generic (like Dell).

According to IDC, while the average cost of PCs has dropped from $1,046 in mid-2005 to $963, the average price of a Mac has risen to $1,526 because of new high-end products such as the razor-thin MacBook Air.

So here's a chart I created to show what PCs lack...and what the value of the Apple brand is to shareholders. I suspect your point of view will depend on which side of the Mac-PC debate you've already staked out. Either way, one must be impressed with the ability of Apple to charge the premium.

Indispensable people

"The graveyard is full of indispensable people". That's what a vice president at Westinghouse once told me.

I had described a departing member of my team as 'indispensable' in a staffing meeting. And while, on the surface, the logic of his statement is impeccable, it fails to consider the equally logical and very human nature of the relationships we often form at work.

People come and go in our professional and personal lives. Today, Kim L leaves to pursue what comes next in hers. We'll miss my book she's one of the indispensables.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Will work

Facebook, with its 116 Million unique visitors worldwide and 35 million unique US visitors (where growth has flattened) is capturing alot of alot of people's time.

And alot of that time is being spent with the 22,000+ applications that have been developed for the site's users...and for what grand purpose are these application developers working to create the applications? Mostly, just for fun...

Many pundits and commentatorians call these applications largely pointless. Mostly, it's a shame all the other categories aren't thought of as just for fun.