Friday, January 30, 2009

Short attention span theater: The one second ad

In an email conversation last night, Wes Meador of our Media group mentioned the Miller Brewing Company's plans to air one-second ads in this weekend's Super Bowl (see here for prior post on Super Bowl ad). 

A one-second ad? When does an ad become subliminal?

Actually, the ad almost appears to be secondary to the ad format. In an interview on the subject during NPR's Marketplace segment,  the format appears to be part of a buzz strategy (not the "please drink irresponsibly" kind). Miller wants its ads to be part of the annual pre- and post-Super Bowl ad discussions (like this I suppose) this year, they are trying a format experiment.

Of course, like many advertising concepts, the novelty is gone after the first advertiser does it. 

But it does raise a few questions:

  • Might we see ever-shorter formats become standard (remember the novelty of the 15-second spot)? 
  • Will increasing inventories of ad space generate less rigidity among broadcasters in the length of commercials they price and the pricing models they use (is there a rate sheet for a 6 second spot?)?
  • Will the shorter ads be any more effective at generating measurable results than their long-winded brethren?
  • Would a one-second blog post on the topic look like this?: 1-second Miller ad. (Oh wait, that's Twitter!)
Uncertainty of outcome. I guess that's why the play the game.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Homegrown advertising: Beating the pros at their own game?

The festivities for Super Bowl Ex-El-aye-aye-aye (isn't the Roman empire dead?) have begun. The teams have imposed curfews on their players (as game prep or PR risk-management strategy I'm not sure). The city of Tampa is decked out to welcome its own sports-infused economic stimulus package...and all of America awaits the informal holiday that has become the Super Bowl...and no Super Bowl would be complete without at least a few memorable ads.

In the democratization of America's last bastion of collective advertising attention, Doritos returns with it's own version of the Super Bowl ad prize...Crash the Super Bowl.

This year's prize of $1 million goes to the winner if their advertisement finishes atop the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter. That's a lot of coin riding on a creative brief that's, well, brief:

"CREATIVE ASSIGNMENT: Here’s the deal. Think of an idea for a DORITOS® brand commercial. Not just any idea, but one worthy of being called the best of the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s an action-packed story about the first time you tried DORITOS® brand Tortilla Chips. Maybe it reveals what life is like for the spices on the surface of the chip. Anything. Make the video that would knock you out of your seat if you were watching the Super Bowl. Make it yours.

Shoot it. Submit it. Make it as one of five finalists and win $25,000. Then, if America votes it their favorite, your video will be aired as a DORITOS® commercial during Super Bowl XLIII. But that’s not all. If your ad gets the top spot on the USA TODAY Ad Meter, we’ll give you a $1,000,000 bonus. Sound good? We thought so. Criteria for the USA TODAY Ad Meter is determined solely by USA TODAY, which is not affiliated with this promotion in anyway."

So what?

Doritos isn't the only company to attempt to engage customers and unaffiliated creatives. Heinz Ketchup's TopThisTv, Miller's Life is What You Pour Into It competition, and others all cast a wide net in the style of America's Funniest Videos: you do the content, we'll pay for the traditional ad agency need apply. A key element of most of these approaches is that they involve some form of popularity contest (via voting).

Amateur advertising comports with at least one of our five themes for 2009: Testing in the real world.

How so? Amateur ad competitions give advertisers a low-cost way to develop, test and adapt ad concepts in the real world. And then, using engagement-via-voting (or lack of it), advertisers get to determine just what rings resonant with the marketplace...a focus group of self-identifying, self-selecting thousands...or millions?

The winners may not rise to the status of high art branding, but the continued devaluation of that approach to advertising may make the issue of no concern...either way, the advertisers running the competition don't have much loot at risk...and financial risk is certainly something to be managed diligently.

Questions in search of a point of view:

What, if any, risk to the brand exists in amateur ad competitions like Doritos'?

Steelers in a 20-point blowout?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

But wait, there's more! Direct response goes primetime

I don't watch a ton of TV, but is it just coincidence that I seem to be seeing more of the looks-like-it-was-shot-with-a-FlipVideo camera commerical for 5-hour energy ? Or the creepy and uber-annoying Sham Wow whammy of a shammy? Or Snuggie, the blanket with arms? Apparently not. I am seeing more of these direct-response ads...

We've posted before about the relationship between deflation and ad inventory (here) and the impact of auto and financial services exodus from brand advertising markets (here). But now, it's even hitting primetime. Direct response marketers are availing themselves of ad space that used to be called primtime for a reason: prime ad rates.

As the NYTimes confirms, the lack of primetime-paying advertisers has left the major network and cable outlets with inventory...and direct response marketers are in a position to take advantage of the opportunity.

The money advertisers spent declined 7.5 percent on network TV, and 5.5 percent on cable, from 2007 to 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

The money direct marketers are spending on primetime space is sometimes a tenth of what the space went for just one year ago.

Recessionary pressures and increased emphasis on revenue-generation among advertisers is creating a perfect setting for direct response marketers to redefine primetime advertising. We can all expect more of the slightly amusing, certainly annoying, wonder-product advertising into the forseeable future.

Consistent with an Increasing Discomfort Index (one of our 5 marketing themes for 2009), it appears that primetime is a comfort zone no longer...Subprime time has arrived...the question remains whether 'As see on TV' means anything special to anyone but the advertiser.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Things I'd like to know: The value of time?

Questions I'd like answered for a Thursday morning:

Is YouTube a time machine?

Seems the site is capturing 15 hours of uploaded video--much of it with music--every minute of the day. That's 2.46 years worth of video every single day. That's alot of clutter to shout through...and alot of potential time to spend with a network that lets you decide whats on. No wonder they call it 'consumer control'.

What's would you do for a Klondike bar...or a Tweet..or a positive review?

Seems Belkin has been paying $0.68 for positive reviews of its electronic gear on Amazon (here). In an era of transparency (thanks to the ubiquitous, always on network), you'd think this type of old school marketing + PR would have died already. Paying people for their time is one thing...paying for a product review seems like a misguided shortcut.

And in another real world experiement, we confirm the power of pride as a motivator for directing where people spend their time. Seems someone (many?) has been offering to pay for people to use Twitter to vote for their entry in the Shorty contest (a contest for short prose via Twitter. What were you thinking?)...a contest with no prize money, no swag...just being able to say 'I won'. Price for each vote: $0.48. Getting to say you won: Priceless (apparently).

Sounds alot like a calendar contest we ran a few years ago: our analytics data showed that some people spent as many as 8 hours of their day voting to get their pet's picture included on a calendar! Now that's the power of pride.

When does late become too late?

Remember the venerable encyclopedia? Or the last time you actually opened one? Yeah me neither. I have a stack of them in my basement (they've been for more than a year having migrated, unused, from a book shelf to a corner by the sump pump...I haven;t found the time to get them to the county recycling station).

Well, Encyclopedia Britannica 2.0 is launching online...and they are throwing down the challenge to Wikipedia (here). Seems like a good idea if they had started 5 years ago. Now, if they can just convince everyone to start their Google search with 'Encylopedia Brittanica'...

Gratuitous YouTube headline link:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Google says goodbye to print

One of our five marketing themes for 2009 is Testing the Real World (here). The basic idea is that you can fall in love with planning, but don't fall in love with your plan...testing ideas out in the real world will tell you everything you need to know about the validity of your ideas + assumptions...and when the real world says stop, organizations must be able to say 'ok' to themselves.

And so by way of example, Google's plan to expand it's digital empire into print seems to be at an end. They have announced the end of the Google Print Ads application effective February 28. Which is likely fine, given the sorry state of print (as in newsprint) overall (here and here for prior examples + data).

So What?

Google has exemplified the idea of the perpetual prototype...even some of its most popular applications are still listed as 'beta'. But what Google has seen in its 'beta' approach to enabling print ad buying using the same platform as online, is that the market says stop. 

Hats off to Google for having the guts to look beyond the fallacy of sunk costs and put an end to this particular experiment.  

Rest assured there will be more experiments (from the Google blog announcement):

"We will continue to devote a team of people to look at how we can help newspaper companies. It is clear that the current Print Ads product is not the right solution, so we are freeing up those resources to try to come up with new and innovative online solutions that will have a meaningful impact for users, advertisers and publishers."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Marketing 2009: Change we can believe in

Over the course of several impromptu meetings, colleagues Diane Martin, Robert Landa and I engaged in some dialogue about the road ahead for marketers in 2009. As a synopsis of these discussions--and the many others with many others that they reflect--we arrived at five themes for this year.

We see these themes not as predictions but as a set of lenses through which to characterize and inform marketing and advertising thinking in the year ahead...we'll look forward to describing the themes and their implications with examples throughout the year. And I hope that all will feel free to contribute to the discussion.

We recognize these themes as incomplete and they are posted with the humility required by H.L. Mencken's words about what is obvious:

"There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong."

With that in mind, here are five Inauguration Day themes that we believe will [continue] driving marketing change in 2009:

Theme 1: Wearing other people's shoes

The era of the simulacra in marketing--whereby we substitute a representation of what is real for what is real--will further resolve itself in 2009. Defining a customer's values by using a marketer's representation of those values will be discredited by...the customer. Unauthentic marketer monologues that rely on self-referencing notions or that characterize people as collectivist definitions based on gender, race, age, income, or as...consumers...will be cast aside. In their place, favor will rest with real conversations among real people that enable the real people in marketing to catch a glimpse of the real world as it exists where someone else stands.

Theme 2: Increasing the discomfort index

The tools and techniques that have gotten marketers where they are will be unable to sustain them going forward. In a year when many long held beliefs--from capitalism to consumption--are being questioned, people in marketing will need to question whatever makes them feel comfortable. If it's easy, if it's table stakes, it probably needs to be questioned.

Theme 3: Testing the real world

Along the lines of themes 1 and 2, the idea of market-testing ideas will continue to evolve toward a ready, fire, reload approach. With one-size-fits-all focus group and field studies too slow, too expensive and too generalized, creative and product testing will take place in realtime using clickstream data to inform evolution and variation in low cost, perpetual prototypes...much as direct mailers have practiced in paper space for some time.

Theme 4: Detailed online impressions

After years of ignoring the online space, many people in marketing have rushed in to fully embrace it...using the traditional models of impressions-based media, intrusion, and branding that they comfortably carried with them from meatspace. In 2009, impressions-based pricing online will continue its deflationary trend and be replaced by pricing models that pay only for performance. Intrusion-based ad units such as rich media and popovers will be ignored routinely. People in marketing roles will focus on the nuances of online brand experiences as defined by a long-tailed view of customer preferences and interactions with a brand. Usable, useful, and desirable will be the criteria against which meaningful brand experiences will be designed and delivered online--and off.

Theme 5: Time as a risk to manage

Time is the one commodity everyone has in equal portions each day. People in marketing will increasingly confront the reality that wasting a customer's time is a brand risk that must be actively managed. Engagement will be defined more precisely in terms of positive and negative engagements where efficient use of and respect for a person's time becomes the expectation. Whether it's call center catacombs, unusable information, spam like solicitations, or irrelevant pitches, marketers will find that a risk premium comes standard with every touchpoint.

Bonus Inaugural Theme: [Your theme here]

A human voice is a terrible thing to waste. If you have one, please make it heard.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pulp fiction?

Previously, I've posted on various dismal assessments of the newspaper business (here and here for example). Of the many options that didn't involve variations on the status quo, one idea was to enlist citizen reports (i.e., bloggers) to make newspapers the ultimate local news to be printed on demand.

Here comes an entrepreneurial precursor to making it happen: The Printed Blog.

The Chicago-based company will take the usual news gathering and distribution model and ignore it. Here's a few key features:

  • Anyone can submit content.
  • A physical paper will be printed twice daily and distributed at high traffic areas around the city.
  • Editors will select articles around an issue theme, but the article copyright is retained by the author.
  • Local versions could enable as many as 100 different papers being printed on any given day.
More on the many basics here.

So What?

Traditional news outlets have made half-hearted attempts to include video, blog postings and even Twitter-scratch in their news reports, oftentimes as a side show. But a couple of things stand out in The Printed Blog model that might be taken more seriously by Big News:

1. The model of journalists (in this case, interchangeable with the term 'bloggers') as owners of their work is something the traditional papers have been slow to make eye contact with. Except for celebrity opinionaters like Thomas Friedman or old-school investigators-turned-book authors like Bob Woodward, most electron-stained wretches get a by-line and a paycheck--but not the copyright--to their words.

2. Readers will select the blogs/bloggers they want more of. In this meritocratic approach to selecting who gets to be a reporter, one sees a different type of accountability being applied to local news reporting. Some may pine for the mythical days of the fourth estate as a place beyond the subjective demands of the marketplace or, worse, populist vagaries. But that bridge has already been crossed thousands of times. The Printed Blog acknowledges and embraces reality.

Like anything in the hype machine, the proof of concept will be told in the execution. But if the cause of any decline can be traced to a failure of imagination, The Printed Blog may at least provide a bit of inspiration for mapping a future that includes newspapers.

Required Pulp Fiction headline reference link:

Don't you beleive it: Google is green

Further indicating the maxim "Trust. But verify" the widely circulated story about the ecological costs of a Google search appear to be, well, not what they seem.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

History lesson: Interwebs as unintended outcome

You've probably heard about ARPA and DARPA. But do you know about NPL? or IMPs? Cyclades even?

Here's a fascinating 6minute look at how the interwebs got where they are from 1957 to now. One can't help but notice that the aggregation of bits and pieces of technology and intentions from multiple sources--defense, commerce, academia--are all embedded in the DNA of what is known to us now as the smartest networking approach of all: the the stupid network.

It's also a nice example of history made interesting using simple animation and voice over.

History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

Monday, January 12, 2009

House of brands or branded house: AOL says both

Big companies with diverse product lines have sometimes struggled with the idea of being a branded house (think Apple or Microsoft) or being a house of brands (think P&G).

And for all the 'new' bandied about in new media, many early movers have struggled with a portal, vortal, niche site personality disorder.

One early mover online, AOL, appears to be shifting strategy to become, to some extent, a house of brands. Having migrated from it's proprietary, garden-wall software experience (does anyone remember the landfill's worth of software install discs they received in the mail?) to a web-based experience, AOL's content remains largely branded as AOL Sports, AOL Finance and so on.

But much like magazine publishers of years past, AOL is pursuing web properties that have little, if any, brand identification with the AOL mothership. Sites like, Engadget or Joystiq are all part of a 75+ site AOL universe and yet you have to look very hard to see any branding with AOL.

Of course the web facilitates fragmented media for fragmented interests, but this also seems to be a turning point for AOL: Pursuing a mixed branding strategy of both branded house and house of brands.

Is it possible to pursue seemingly competing strategies? Time (Warner) will tell.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Advertising in a recession: Trust me. Honest.

When bubbles burst, the reality of the world rushes in...sometimes it just takes a while to sink in. When it does, it can be bracing...or life changing.

In our current burst bubble, many of us are experiencing a deficit of trust. In our leaders, in our advertising?

For some, it's been an accepted truth that advertising sells. And when times are tough, well, that's precisely the time to put your trust in advertising. Some have even go so far as to say that "you should advertise in good times, but you must advertise in bad."

But is that really a truth we can trust?

TNS Media Intelligence released ad spending for quarters 1-3 of 2008 (here). As many expected, Jan-Sept 2008 reflected a decline of 7% in ad spending overall. But I decided to take a look at the top 10 advertiser's spending and see what happened to their stock price during the same period.

The premise being that, if the recession began in December 2007, then wouldn't the biggest spender's stock price be a good proxy for earnings against which to test the must-spend pablum quoted above?

Here's the table from TNS appended with my analysis of the stock prices:

So what?

Two facts and a thought: (1) those who increased ad spending fared worst; (2) those who cut ad spending did better; (3) you can neither cut nor spend your way to growth.

My comparison of ad spending to stock price does not present a comprehensive picture or an absolute truth of course. But it does present a challenge to those of us who beleive in advertising: be honest about what advertising can do. Honesty...with ourselves and our the only foundation on which trust can be built. And honesty requires more than words.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Five questions: what's changing?

Random questions for a Wednesday:

Will the NYTimes really default on $400 million in debt this spring? And why is the story being covered in the online version of a 150-year old print publication?

Will Ogilvy's layoffs of 10% of North American staff be full price...or just a downpayment?

Apple's new DRM-free iTunes sounds great. But what about my previously purchased tunes and albums? Am I reading it right? I have to pay 30% more to unlock the songs I already bought?

Noone can predict the future, but is Ray Kurzweil's decade-old vision of 2009 as Nostradamus-like as anyone?

If you could have money or happiness, which would you choose?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Time and motion: online video

While Federal Reserve Governors continued to list inflation as their 2009 new year's resolution, at least one aspect of our lives into the new year is already rapidly inflating: the amount of time spent watching videos online.

Comscore released its numbers and the rise looks like this: a 40% jump in one year in the number of videos viewed online. In addition, the average length of a video viewed was a whopping 3.1 minutes. (See chart below or press release).

So what?

Google (which is YouTube) dominates...more than 5 Billion served in one month...followed by MySpace (which is the Fox Interactive Media number). But what the numbers also may be saying is this:

1. Broadband is enabling the rapid growth of video online.

2. Cheap digital video capture devices are continuing the growth of user-generated video online (prior post on mobile video here)

3. There is a role for professionally produced video online (via traditional network sites like Hulu, Disney, Turner) it just doesn't look like double-digit share online.

We've said it before, but if you are a network, you want all the content you can get your hands on. If you are a content producer, you want to be on the network with the broadest exposure...YouTube fits the bill. As does MySpace and certain others who let anyone be a content creator...

And in another irony of the online marketplace of ideas, some are even taking YouTube video to the big screen (see here)

Now, if the Fed, er, Google could just figure out how their YouTube debt can be monetized...