Monday, December 29, 2008

Brand banner advertising: does it work on social networks?

Life would be terribly easy if banners and islands and rollovers just let us get on with making the usual ads. Shiny readers would flock to them in their droves, merrily clicking and willingly absorbing brand messages before going off and buying the glittery items in the shops - or even better, online! Clients would worship us and the agency reception would again be a place of bright-eyed wonder for the client's junior brand manager and bicycle courier alike.

But internetland and adland speak different languages. People are on the net increasingly for social reasons, which is what gives Facebook 140 million members. Their eyes glaze over your twinkly little banner ad with its kerb-crawl promise of happiness. It's not what they came here for.

That doyen of print media, The New York Times, seems a little bit too smug when it points this out in a fairly unambivalent article by Randall Stross. He doesn't glean any real insight directly from either of the two key players: giant advertiser Procter and Gamble, or giant social medium Facebook. Some salient items:

  • Seth Goldstein, co-founder of SocialMedia Networks, an online advertising company, wrote on his Facebook blog that a banner ad “is universally disregarded as irrelevant if it’s not ignored entirely.”

  • IDC, the technology research firm, published a study last month [Nov 08] that reported that just 3 percent of Internet users in the United States would willingly let publishers use their friends for advertising. The report described social advertising as “stillborn.”

  • All Web sites that rely on ads struggle to a greater or lesser extent to convert traffic, even high traffic, into meaningful revenue. Google’s own YouTube, which relies heavily, like Facebook, on user-generated content, remains a costly experiment in the high-traffic, low-revenue ad business.

  • At a conference last month [Nov 08] sponsored by the Advertising Club of Cincinnati, Ted McConnell, manager of interactive marketing and innovation at P.& G., said, “I really don’t want to buy any more banner ads in Facebook.”

  • Brand advertisers on Facebook can try one of two new approaches. They can be more intrusive, but the outcome will not be positive. Or they can create genuinely entertaining commercials, but spend ungodly sums to do so.

When the nation's tea drinkers almost collapsed the national grid by jumping up en masse to pop the kettle on during the commercial break in Eurovision 1980, they weren't all that bothered to be missing the ads. They knew that they were all facebooking with Johnny Logan, right there for real by God. They needed that cup a tay just to handle the ferocious international political pressure of it all, and no shagging Cadet Lemonade ad was going to distract them.

Plus ├ža change...

How Dell raised sales by 84% without spending a cent on advertising

I found this via Mulley Communications. It's a very simple demonstration of a runaway marketing success from a no-nonsense corporation. It also shows why mainstream media advertising has to readjust its telemetry.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The importance of the logo to advertising

How many can you recognise? Extra points for knowing what the people behind the button actually do.

While facebook is a relatively new company, much earlier into its career than say, a creaky 23 year old Wayne Rooney, that didn't stop Microsoft from paying $240m for a chunk. Well, more a crumb really. 1.6%. That makes fb worth fifteen effing billion dollars. Not bad for a four year old. As a tradvertiser, if you're not asking why a social bloody network where people 'poke' each other is so bloody expensive, you should possibly stop playing Scrabulous for five minutes and find out.

And then there's YouTube. It's interesting to note that on the day your new €275,000 (excluding terrestrial media buy), 40" spot for your client's SwankyShine Shampoo breaks, two hundred THOUSAND people will upload videos of their own (many featuring themselves, with their bedroom walls in the background, mostly in the US and UK and, increasingly, here) and two fifths of them will be in the music and entertainment categories, stuff that other viewers will actively seek out. You don't have to be Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry either. Any old low res tat will do, as long as it's entertaining or informative.
Good luck with the new SwankyShine spots on terrestrial TV, btw. Thank God it's got added ProPylaxaToriAmos Ten, huh? At least YouTube can never make that sweet shit.

There are one million Irish profiles on this social bee already. About half a million of these seem to be Dublin nightclubs. It's Bebo, of course. Correctly used, this is an incisive way to reach a younger demographic. It could however also be a bit like standing in a lush, green meadow and shouting at the grass to try purple for a change. You need to be punting the right product or you're wasting your time. There is an interesting early test case involving the marketing of Granard's most famous export analysed here. Rarely has thirty grand generated such intense debate.

Here be bloggers. I know the word sounds fluffy and dismissable, but when everybody's TV analysis of the US election is certain sure to have its own blogger, then pay attention. No marketing campaign on earth is more finely tuned to the nuances of its target market, and if they say blogging is necessary, you should believe them. The W is for Wordpress, the B is for Blogger. Two of the main software providers for most bloggers. There are some differences between them (like Wordpress is a commune of freeware-loving hippie geeks and, er, Google owns Blogger), but fundamentals are the same. They give you a voice and a set of ears in a very big world. It's lunchtime as I write: already 88,570 posts have been written on Wordpress blogs alone today. The simplest way to understand the phenomenal attraction of blogging is to just start one.

This is Feedburner's logo. If you publish content on the web, in a blog or a podcast, and you'd like to advertise your stuff, Feedburner can help with that. Anyone who wants it will be given regular, automated updates of your new content by Feedburner. It can also help you analyse who visits your stuff. Owned by Google. The more you blog, the usefuller it is.

If you use StumbleUpon it means you can give the thumbs-up to web content you like. Wikipedia calls it a 'personalized recommendation engine which uses peer and social-networking principles.' StumbleUpon themselves say that it 'helps you discover great content you probably wouldn't find using a search engine.' Seven million people are out there using it, bigging up what they find cool or useful or relevant. Sounds nerdy? A waste of time? Yeah. That's probably not why eBay parted with seventy five million dollars for it in 2007.

When an engine is developed just to search blogs, it's safe to say that bloggers have arrived as a legitimate and understood voice in the social and commercial media mix. Technorati is the engine. But it's a bit more than that now too, as it also acts as go-between between the blogger and the advertiser. Oh, didn't I mention? If you're a good blogger you can get paid by advertisers who want your space.

Digg is where people share and discover web content. Users vote on popularity, and the best stuff rises to the top. This is, in theory, all done by users. I can, also in theory, give this blog post an extra boost by submitting it to the upcoming stories section on Digg and get some extra readership thataway. In theory.

Delicious (or del icio us) is a social bookmarking site. Instead of just bookmarking a site or page you like, you instead have a Delicious account where you keep all your favourites online. Everybody else can see and share and swop. This exposes you to more of what you like, so if trans-Carpathian slapstick cookery programme outtakes is your big thing, then you'll find like minded souls on Delicious. Or not.

Twitter is a relative newcomer, having started in California (you don't say) in 2006. In essence it's a way to network with your own friends by keeping them up to date with your movements in info bursts of up to 140 characters. This can be fed through to your computer on your Twitter homepage, Facebook, a variety of other apps or, more popularly, on your mobile phone.

You get a 'tweet' SMS or email telling you and your network that Sean has found his lucky sliothar and so won't need to kill you for accidentally giving it to Mrs Quin's Charity Shop. It may sound stalkerishly obsessive, but it's getting ferociously popular, adding on users every month by the million.

Linked in is yet another social networking site, this time for business purposes. It's your CV, portfolio and business card online. Your contacts/network is an extremely valuable part of the site's architecture, as they act as referees and an endorsement of what you're about. 30 million users are registered on Linked in. I'm dismayed to think that anyone would suggest I've added it in here so that I can be readily checked out. Shameless.

Some postscript observations.

I'm guessing that not one of these dorky names went through the focus group hell that a lot of big brand advertising is forced into. Just a small bunch of startup people with a working title and butterflies in their tummies. There are lots more out there: try 10,000 new downloadable applications already for the iPhone alone, and it's an infant.

The single unifying theme for all these new social tools is their interactive nature. They rely on user input, commentary, feedback. They thrive on it, including the critical stuff. Traffic is blood. And that represents the divergence between the old world and the new. Top-down communications the ad agency way is gone, at least for the foreseeable. Not listening is no longer optional. Marketing has undergone a radical shift, and the polarity between the young who have always known social network media and how to integrate them into their lives and interests, and the 30-plus demographic who have a half-hearted interest in a facebook account at best, has never been wider. The important thing from the agency's perspective is to appreciate which one of these is the growing market, and then learn - quickly - how to connect with them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Four reasons why you should be blogging, Mr Ad Guy

I know you had a pitch last week. I know that you have two in the next fortnight. Yes, you're stretched. But while you were moving like boardroom lightning from kappa to powerpoint and then back again- oops, the game kinda changed.

The nerds got in.
Not Sean with the Powerpoint savvy.
The real nerds.
They changed the effin' game. The geeky bawsthurds.

But d'you hear the tap of hope, Ad Men? I'm knockin on the door of your open-plan office space to give you four solid reasons why you ought to put the presentation boards down now and move your heads this way.

Blog because:


If you are fortunate enough to have a sizeable client or two - a telco, apparel trophy name, games software giant etc - then you have to know that they're already doing it. Don't you? They're in a constant two-way with customers because they know it's the smartest way to test their new line, the best way to get honest feedback and the absolutely most lethal way to be found out if they're failing, or worse, faking. Two years ago when a Thinkpad burst into flames at LAX as its owner was getting on the plane, manufacturers Lenovo were onto it within an hour to avert a PR fireball. Because they were bloggers themselves, and another blogger had already posted about the incident. They were able to get their story straight - and out - immediately. You cannot buy the fire engine that will stop those flames, but a blog will snuff them out if you use it right. And your big client knows that. And they don't care so much that the 48 sheet looks better on Kappa board btw.
(Speaking of fanning the flames, look here for a very simple explanation of why an understanding of blogging is a wee bit important to the communications industry.)


Ten or twenty or thirty years ago when I was a nipper in college, my marketing friends would scoff at my meagre advertising aspirations. 'It's just a flea,' they'd chortle. 'We're the dogs.' 'Piss off,' I'd wittily retort, 'advertising is the sexy in the marketing mix.' Not that sexy was a noun back then, but this is my blog and history is now written by the blogger, okay? So while your creatives are arguing about the film stock on the shoot and the grain on the telecine, big clients Do Not Care. I recall a test case in the mid 90s when P&G took an ad (Fairy Liquid?) and shot it on film stock and on video, just to shut the agency up. Research proved that nobody gave a shit. But I could be lying about that. It matters not. The race has run far beyond that now. Quality of imagery is playing catchup with content and nobody cares if it catches up! If I decide to put an image with this post, I will damn sure make sure that its quality is low, because that will deliberately help my readers. You see, I want them to see my content. My thirteen year old nephew can make an ad, with his phone at one end of the production chain and his laptop at the other, and get it seen by half the Junior Cert schoolkids in Sligo between tonight and tomorrow. And if it's raining he won't even bother to use the phone. Are you listening?


Let us admit it. Agency arses have been padded luxuriously over ten to fifteen years of fancy Shanahan dining. But time's up, peeps. The belt tightening is now choking off the bloodflow to the brain. This from a rara avis, the clued-in Irish digital marketeer. Thank you Cybercom, for condensing it for us.
The Third Annual Online Customer Engagement Survey, produced by E-consultancy and digital agency cScape, examines the likely impact of a worsening economic climate on customer behaviour and psychology. In short, the survey concludes that businesses will invest more money and time in social media during the coming year, in an effort to boost customer engagement. The primary tools are set to be blogging, community sites and user-generated content, according to research. The survey found that 51% companies say that the economic crisis has caused them to place greater focus on customer engagement. With this in mind they same group indicated that they would increase their utilisation of social media in line.
I can't really make this clearer, can I? Get blogging, get your other clients, who don't happen to be Coke or Adidas or Vodafone etc, to interact with their customers. Get the conversation going. This is now part of your remit. Essential, in fact. I've heard too much yakking about 'brand stewardship' in grandiose tones down the years. Where is it now?
Only do it right. No Pat the Baker on Bebo, ok?

Blogging, community sites and user-generated content. Not a fucking shred of Kappaboard needed. Unless you plan on sleeping out.


Every agency and its granny seems to have a website now. Some of them knew what they wanted and built what they needed and got what they desired. The rest just built a shomera in the back garden and chucked all the content they could find into it.
Occasionally they'd rearrange the boxes and the foldaway sun loungers and that stupid patio heater and the ten page history of the company, but mostly they'd just point to the web address on their comp slip with a smug expression whenever they had a prospective pitch client in. 'Oh yes, we've got a Flash website. You must visit. It's got staff photos from Punchestown on it. Hilarious. Really. So have you seen the latest in Kappaboard?'

If it's not functional, don't bother.
If it doesn't represent your company's tone of voice and personality, don't bother.
If it's boring, don't bother.
If it's a rehash of everyone else's news, don't bother.
If it's an exercise in showing off your awards, don't bother.
If it isn't actively encouraging other comment, dissenting viewpoints even, don't bother.
If it's static, don't bother.
If it isn't working to bring you traffic, don't bother.

And at the risk of sounding pedagogic, you are a communications expert, no? So where is your blog? Look, it's just another part of you. It's your content, your peacock tail. A chance to show off while engaging at the same time. That's the part that most agencies have trouble with, I think. Engagement. Nowadays everyone's opinion counts for something, and for a traditional ad agency (like Dublin is still shockingly full of) that's hard to accept.

Bloglessness equals a dildo without batteries. You'll get fucked in the long run, but it'll be a lot more hard work and always, always the certain knowledge that really you did it to yourself.

New Year's Resolution: Don't start smoking

Here's a website from New Zealand that really gets it. Not our Future is sassy, looks great and doesn't put a foot wrong with its core target. It's engaging by avoiding a patronising tone, it uses the right kind of target-focussed celeb endorsement (all of them dismayingly younger than I am), it's trying to be inclusive (recruiting for next year's tv ads) and it's just so easy to tool around on it. The Did U know section on poisons in particular is a gas.

The takeout is strong and simple: smoking/smokers/smoke is unattractive. I'm going way out ona limb here, guessing that the hardcore target here is the mid-teen or even younger. Everyone on the site seems to be a bit older than the people they're talking to. Possibly a regulatory issue, but it certainly works for the site. Not old enough to be distant, but still enough to be listened to. Aspirational, as agencies love to say a lot.

There are also a couple of simple, fun games that are addictive (ahem) for a few minutes.

Where the site misses out though is on not having an active chat/blog feature. Again, there might be health reg reasons, but with proper moderation it's definitely something that stimulates the conversation and adds to its real effectiveness. Maybe the target are all outside the pub interfacing the old-fashioned way, settling it through the medium of smoke ring blowing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blogging - why don't agencies get it?

Why are Dublin advertising agencies not blogging? Isn't anyone telling them, I mean really telling them, that there's a vital need now to be in on the two-way conversation? Actually there is, but they're not listening. A post for another day.

I spent ten minutes just now checking out the websites of some stellar names in Dublin adland.
In no particular order, yikes.

Irish International (more properly known as IIBBDO)
The Creative Work Comes First, I am assured on their very-difficult-to-navigate site. But that doesn't include having a blog.

Universal McCann. Wallpaper. That unfurls infuriatingly slowly. They also have a philosophy.
'Strong creative thinking is not an indulgence. It is essential to a campaign's effectiveness.' Right-oh. So where's the blog?

AFA O'Meara have links. 20 of them. To sites like radio stations. And marketing magazines. And poster companies. They have got a schmaltzy hotel bar piano theme tune, but no blog.

McConnells. Now I had hopes here. A self-proclaimed new website existing 'somewhere between Tron and the end of the universe (but in no way connected to Jar-Jar Binks).' Because that would be un
cool. So where's the blog? That's right. Nowhere.

Rothco. Friendly new site. And they do have a news section. Oo-kay, so why is the last entry the 21st October? (It's about the launch of a contraception campaign. Insert witticism here.) They have Google Maps though, to navigate the future.

Cawley Nea TBWA. There's a blog! Yay!! Averaging a post a month! You can comment on them too! But nobody is doing.

I'm not picking on the six above. I could've picked a different six. They're the first ones I looked at just now. I'll do a more balanced overview of some of the more savvy, smaller digital agencies later. But the conclusions in the main won't be startlingly different. The people who have most to gain just aren't using blogging here.

Lookid, there are already people out there arguing that the website itself has hit its peak. It is the supermarket now, or even less sexy, the builder's providers. The blog is its natural successor because it genuinely thrives on two-way communication. It's the coolest CB radio ever. But agencies aren't grasping that. And they really should.

Change is uncomfortable. The alternative is certain death. Once upon a recent past the consumer had to swallow whatever the advertiser fed them, but now they can chew it, decide if they like or hate it, pull it apart, make a mockery of it and post it back up on YouTube within minutes. Except it mightn't always be a version that the advertiser wants. And they'll disseminate it to their friends and peers in a multiplicity of ways that the agency isn't keeping track of.

I know the arguments. God
knows I've heard them enough. 'TV in the 50s just blew the valves out of the wireless, but it all came good. This internet website thing will find its level. Just another meejum. Y'know, you bloggers are funny. The uptight little heads on you. Relax, we're getting there. Did you see the thing that Sean did in Powerpoint? He's great. We'll going to do a rate card and we'll have islands and banners and sky scrapers and this cute little interactive rollover th-' NO NO NO NO NO!

This is NOT the same thing!

The all-important yoof market has only ever known a two-way street. They are not you! And they're not even the 'elusive' they anymore. They leave their identities around everywhere they go, and they go lots of places where the agency doesn't dream of getting up from its barstool to venture. The last frigging place old adland even imagined that kind of tracking could exist was in a William Gibson novel.

They - the new consumers, the ones who know how to blog and twitter and use all the social media out there - are way ahead of your curve. And even in little old Ireland, some people know that this isn't good enough. Not even to pay for your headstone epitaph:

They didn't blog.