Friday, March 28

The "Perception of Free" could be the new "Free"

So Chris Anderson's latest Wired article (about how "free" is the future of business) is now the #1 viral business idea getting emailed around corporate board rooms, marketing departments, and Marketing 201 classes.

Based on how his previous concept "The Long Tail" had a long tail of its own (it still shows up in marketing presentations), you can expect this one to have a decent half life. Especially with the book version coming out next year.

It will be interesting to see how the “perception of free” works its way into the e-commerce model.

I pay $79 a year for Amazon Prime, which gives me “free” 2 day shipping on almost all orders regardless of purchase amount. Which causes me to buy more things, more frequently throughout the year. E-commerce snacking.

Apple and Nokia are looking into an “all you can eat” music device that gives you a lifetime of “free” music downloads.

Which could lead to a Long Tail of Free essay from Mr. Anderson in 2010, followed by a book. Which probably won't be free.

No Shit Sherlock headline of the day

"Clinton Promotes Elton John Fundraiser On Facebook, MySpace"

Next up: "Sliced Cheese Maker Places Animated Banners on Recipe Site"

Monday, March 24

Jakob Neilsen Trumped by Webcrawlers

Google recently announced a new modification to their natural search rankings, based on site page file weight/download time. Sites with excessive file sizes will be ranked lower than other sites with similar content. According to this Mediapost blog:

Google states that this initiative will: 1) improve user experience and 2) help advertisers improve conversion rates. Google plans to roll this out over the coming weeks and provide advertisers with load-time calculations for review. Site owners will have 4 weeks to review their load-time stats and make changes before Google will integrate load time into the Quality algorithm.
Is this Google's first step into enforcing good usability practices across the world wide web? In a world that increasingly goes broadband, does it really make a difference? Or maybe a strategic move to get sites ready for their Android mobile platform, which would benefit from faster page downloads. Whatever the motivation, MySpace page owners are screwed.

You have to imagine that the sites penalized the most will be the big marketers. The ones spending money to build big beautiful, and often Flash heavy, sites. The same ones who buy Google keywords through Adsense. Bumping them down the natural search results would be one way to force them to buy more keywords.

I'm sure the SEO companies are loving it. Especially the ones who have been quietly building up site creative/production capabilities. Nothing helps a new business pitch like showing clients that not only do they rank on page 3 of search results for cherished industry keywords, but their current agency's bloated Flash content is the cause. Better pull those HTML 3.0 developers out of retirement.

Unfortunately the sites with the slimmest file size are the fake content ones. Those run by people trying to make a quick buck by serving up a bunch of ad links on their landing page and collecting the referral fees. Which means Google might be inadvertently promoting search spam.

Monday, March 17

Next Up, Viral Email!

I think they are taking this a little too far...
Discover the power of Web 2.0 email marketing:

Take the 5 steps that lead to customer-centric campaigns delivering unrivaled results. Silverpop's "Web 2.0 Email Marketing" will show you how to fully utilize rich recipient data for strong customer engagement.

Friday, March 14

Do No Evil... Yet.

Google is hilarious. Everyone thinks they are "just a search engine." That now owns one of the largest online ad networks, the largest video repository, photos of every place on Earth, is trying to scan in all the books ever printed, and probably 15 other scary things that you haven't heard about yet.

Forget about Microsoft's monopoly of computer systems/software. Google will have a monopoly on information itself. Which, as long as they are open about it, is fine. But once they go cloak and dagger on us, then get nervous.

Two reports this week that start to make that point:
Google to media companies: We're your friend
Google has no plans to become a provider of content, but wants to be viewed as a partner by traditional media companies, according to David Eun, VP, content partnerships. Eun, speaking at a conference Monday, dismissed speculation that Google will evolve into a full-fledged content producer. "That's absolutely not the case for us," Eun said.

Google Goal: Collect All Advertiser Assets
If Google has its way, all the world's ads will belong to it. Speaking at the annual Bear Stearns Media Conference, the firm discussed its brand and display ad goals, revealing its hope to become a virtual warehouse for every advertiser's ad assets. "We have a long term horizon here which is we want every advertiser in the world to put all of their assets into our system," said Tim Armstrong, Google's president, advertising and commerce, North America. "That's really what we're focused on." Kate Kaye, The ClickZ Network, reports.

No Shit Sherlock headline of the day

Online Video Will Not Replace TV
"There is no correlation between US Internet users watching video online and a potential audience for television content delivered on the Internet. Just because consumers are currently watching free, short-form video does not necessarily indicate there is a viable business model to support viewing of traditional TV content online."

Shameless Work Plug

We launched our first branded widget. Supports a music promotion for teens. Install from the promo site:

Includes streaming music and video clips. We partnered with Clearspring to produce it and measure performance.

Social Networking Marketing Reduction

Quote of the Day:
Campaign Aims To Create Buzz For Next 'Narnia' Film
"You can visit the Web site and click on the widget to upload onto the page to share," said HarperCollins spokesperson Elyse Marshall.

Sunday, March 9

You know Dotcom is back...

...when the Internet becomes dumping ground for things that failed in the real world:

The WB to Be Resurrected Through New Web Site

Warner Bros. Television Group plans to resurrect The WB television network in the form of a new Web site. On the site, whose working title is, users will be able to catch free streaming episodes of all WB-produced series airing on the net during its 1995-2006 run, including Gilmore Girls, Everwood and What I Like About You.

Coming Soon: Sundance Video Game Festival

One step closer to an Indie Video Game festival on par with Sundance or SXSW.
Video game industry opens its doors to upstart developers

The video game industry is welcoming upstart developers whose titles may lack polish but have style, quirkiness, humor.
This supports the trend of video game platforms going open source and user generated, about 2 years behind the Internet trend. So expect all the social media habits identified and exploited by YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Digg, etc. to weave their way into the video game industry.

News from the recent Game Developers Conference:
Microsoft's XBox to Adopt Player-Developed Games

Microsoft Corp. said it will make Xbox 360 videogames developed by players available for download through the console's online service. The new service will double the size of the Xbox 360 game library to 1,000 games within a year of its launch, scheduled for this holiday season


Nintendo, Microsoft Bow Indie Games Services

Microsoft Corp and Nintendo Co Ltd unveiled on Wednesday new online services or their video game consoles to showcase games by independent developers, part of a push by the companies to tap enthusiasm for so-called casual games.


Microsoft to Democratize Gaming Via Community

In a frenetic keynote address at the Game Developers Conference here, Microsoft showed off the next phase of a strategy it claims will "democratize" game development and distribution. For several years, Microsoft has been working on its XNA Studio, a platform that allows anyone to create games for the Xbox and for Windows.

But now, the company is expanding the XNA offering to allow the best community-created games to be uploaded to and distributed from Xbox Live. Microsoft is calling the new offering its "Creators Club," and the idea is to present the Xbox Live and XNA communities with a way to create games using the XNA tools, submit them for peer review, and then put the best of them up on Xbox Live.


Wii Fit, Other Innovations Unveiled

In another move, Nintendo will launch a new online service in the U.S. on May 12 called WiiWare that will allow game publishers to distribute new titles over the Internet directly to users instead of on discs. For games distributed over WiiWare, game makers won't need any approval from Nintendo, though they must get their games rated by an industry rating system.
Just another reason why it continues to kick Hollywood's anti-consumer on-the-same-path-as-the-record-company ass.

UPDATE 12/08 = most of these links are expired. Here's more info on Nintendo's WiiWare initiative from Wired Magazine. Xbox's independent game developer community (XNA Studios) is now live. A more recent Wall Street Journal article that doesn't require a subscription to view (at least for now).

Why Hasn't TMZ Bought Them Yet?

Add this to my list of online privacy doomsday warnings:

Received this cold-call email recently. Of course we are interested in talking to them. Especially our business development team.
Email Subject: Rapleaf append. 130 million people

Dear Stephen,

Rapleaf searches publicly available info on the Internet and has compiled deep profiles on over 130 million people. I thought you or someone at DraftFCB might be interested – hopefully this is something that can help your customers.

On any given person, Rapleaf can tell you what social networks and commerce sites they use, their demographic info (age, location, gender, etc.), psychographics (like favorite movies, music, etc.), interests, who their friends are, social web footprint info, and more. And we can even will you a person's social graph (who a person knows).

If you or another person at DraftFCB is interested in learning more about what we're doing at Rapleaf, we'd be honored to set up a quick phone call (we're in San Francisco).

Would this be something of interest to you?

- Auren
Is it any different from spam because they know my name and employer? True direct-marketing junk email? Or just personalized spam? Any difference, really?

More Reasons for a Social Media Input Brief

I know I've been ranting about it a bit too much, but more news about marketers and social media ignorance came out this week.

First a report from TNS Media/Cymfony about how agencies of all kinds just don't get the social media space. Which, considering this report is from a research company specializing in social media, is as much a ploy to divert marketer attention directly to them rather than through the agency filter (who could end up diverting projects to any number of social media research companies).

A similar strategy to media sites bypassing agencies and selling themselves directly to marketers. So kudos to Cymfony. I'm sure their sales reps got a couple extra credential presentations to mid-level CPG brand managers out of it.

It also fueled a new social media blog from Mediapost, which raises the same concerns but give some voice to the agencies. Although that boils down to the standard agency FTE % finance department position: Hey, pay us more and we'll hire someone who specializes in it.

But still no one recognizes that you can't put all the attention on the agencies. They would be moving a hell of a lot faster if marketers appointed someone on their side as Director of Social Media. Which instantly sets off the agencies' revenue spidey-sense, since there would be a marketing budget supporting that job title. And the money is going to come out of some agency's existing budget, which always puts them in a defensive paranoid position (probably PR or the fuzzy catch-all "interactive" pool).

Assigning that role on the "client side" signifies their validation of social media and would be a wake up call to agencies. And might open the door for yet another niche agency role, fueling start ups, VC funds, and eventual dotcom buyouts/mergers. The typical new media circle of life.

My Next Home Video Takes Place in Tiffany's

Click my home video to buy the toy my kid is playing with, and the Ralph's World CD he is dancing to, and the dress Jennifer Aniston is wearing in the Friends episode playing on the TV in the background...

Amazon mashes up video reviews and affiliate marketing:

Amazon Launches Video Widget Program For Affiliates

Amazon has launched a service for registered Amazon affiliates to upload videos, and then select products to can be displayed with them.

The Amazon Your Video Widget program has not launched with a destination portal--and so, for the time being, will not be competing directly with the YouTubes of the world. Your Video Widget welcomes a range of video from product review to personal family video, which are then monetized with ads paid as a percentage of generated sales rather than on a Cost-Per-Click or CPM basis.

Affiliates participating in the new program are restricted from including URLs in their video, along with availability, price, or alternative shipping information for products featured in the videos.

Gives a new purpose to all those unboxing videos.

Monday, March 3

No Shit Sherlock headline of the day

A-B Exec Says Bud.TV's Future in Limbo
The future of Anheuser-Busch's Bud.TV, which the brewer introduced with much fanfare early last year, remains in limbo, according to the company's top media executive.

Speaking at the Association of National Advertisers TV conference in New York yesterday, Tony Ponturo, president and CEO of the Busch Media Group, was less than enthusiastic about the service's prospects.

He described the online content offering as, "Not totally dead yet," and insisted that the company wouldn't kill the service altogether because, if nothing else, it provides, "a valuable link to the creative community." And it's creatives, after all, who produce ads.

But how Bud.TV evolves "is an open question," he said.

Does This Mean My TV Spot Can't Go Viral on Cable?

So it looks like the one high-profile outcome to the Hollywood writer's strike -- the online video series Quarterlife -- couldn't make the backwards leap into mainstream TV. It started as a hit on MySpace TV, got picked up by NBC since there weren't any new shows in development, and promptly reached only 3.1 million viewers. Then got canceled after the first show and kicked over to Bravo.

It was supposed to be the next evolution of video entertainment. A world where online professional content could make it big beyond the web browser. But let's be honest, wasn't it more a pipe dream by Hollywood hoping that this big break would breath life into an aging entertainment platform? And doesn't its "failure" just prove that you can't drive the wrong direction on the information superhighway without crashing?

So now the backtracking begins. And every aspiring online video director is back to posting their videos on Joost, Revver, and Crackle.

The funny thing is that the highest ranking online episode only had 557,000 views over 3 months. Which just proves that we have really low expectations for what counts as successful online.

150,000 views on YouTube? Awesome! 0.15% clickthrough rate on banners? Could be worse! 500,000 views of a video on a site that ranks as one of the most-used on the Internet? Must be the online equivalent of Bravo!

You know Dotcom is back...

...when a 6 month old startup no one has heard of can raise $30M dollars and acquire a competitor that no one has heard of:
Social Network Creator Mzinga Acquires Rival Prospero

Saturday, March 1

Migratory Patterns of the Interactive Strategist

Advertising agencies are getting hit from all sides these days. Even online marketing agencies, who are the bane of traditional agencies, have to watch their backs.

Media agencies are already wary of web publishers/ad sales reps who go around them, directly to marketers, pushing their online programs and non-negotiated CPM rate cards. AOL was legendary for doing it in Dotcom 1.0, to the point where they were getting shut out of media agency programs and had to launch a mea culpa apology tour to get back on the RFP lists.

Last year came news that Google hired the President of Ogilvy Mather NY to create an Idea Lab as a "new global unit dedicated to collaborating with marketers, agencies and entertainment companies." A big warning shot to agencies who in the past considered 3 lines of text less than 75 characters the sole creative requirement for working with them.

It was enough to make Publicis pull the rip cord and announce their own strategic partnership with Google.

Couple that with Microsoft's $6 billion purchase of aQuantive last year, which includes online media/creative agency Avenue A/Razorfish. Their decision not to spin it off could lead to interesting mash ups between their other divisions such as XBox and MSN, who traditionally have agencies playing the middleman between them and marketers' budgets.

And a recent IAB conference forecast more doom and gloom for agencies, as site publishers continue to offer services directly to marketers.

So now agencies have to worry about getting skipped in the media/creative process. But clients will still rely on them for marketing strategy, right? And if they own the strategy, then that is a good first line of defense against losing the budgets to execute them. Um, right?

Well, that used to be the case. But I think the time is here when marketers (i.e. the clients) need to take control of their online marketing strategies, instead of relying on their agencies.

From 1998 - 2000 online marketing rewrote itself every 3 months. Technical and creative advances continued pushing the WWW forward: search engines, rich media, broadband, live chats, webcams, the AOL/Yahoo/MSN portal cartel, e-commerce, personalized e-commerce, reverse auction e-commerce, mobile reverse auction e-commerce...

This gave agencies the lucrative role of riding those waves, explaining what the hell was going on to clients, and developing new cutting-edge programs before the current cutting-edge programs were even out the door.

Then came the crash, and between 2001 - 2005 the only big advance in online marketing was broadband pre-roll videos. Which sometimes required editing the 30 second TV spot into a 15 second TV spot. We even shipped them on 3/4" tape to the web sites. Online innovation slowed to a trickle.

So marketers and agencies got lazy. We tricked ourselves into believing that banner campaigns and microsites constituted a solid online marketing program.

Then came this whole Web 2.0 thing with its user generated content, "be my friend" info sharing, cell phone and video game ad serving, microblogging, and funny terms like widgets and pokes. And now the Internet is complex and making everyone's brain hurt again.

But in Dotcom 1.0, you only needed your advertising agency -- or Internet hotshot agency -- to explain how to market online. Now everyone has a point of view. Ask your advertising, media, PR, promotion, and event marketing agencies how you should use social media. You will get a different answer from each of them, and none of them are wrong. Online has gone beyond just an advertising channel and now impacts your business in all kinds of new ways. Which is great if you have someone to sort through the 5 different agency recommendations and decide what to execute.

Which gets us back to the Strategy discussion. If the poor brand manager can't comprehend how to handle online marketing, do they pick one of their agencies and follow their lead? (Sorry PR and Promotions.) Or do they skip the agencies and buy into the multi-tiered programs that Microsoft and Google will be selling them? (Sorry Creatives and Media Planners.) You might want to get used to those deer-in-the-headlight-stares that are spreading across corporate America marketing departments.

The logical next step is for marketers to take ownership of their online marketing strategies. Most companies have individuals each responsible for brand advertising, media, PR, and promotions. Visit an integrated marketing presentation and the marketing department's all-star team shows up.

But for some reason the interactive marketing role has consistently been overlooked. When the agency's interactive point person presents those strategies, they end up presenting to the entire marketing team not a specialist, because that role does not exist client-side. And if you go beyond banners and a microsite, then get ready for a room full of stares and follow up "Internet 101" presentations.

So marketers need their interactive specialist. Someone who bridges between the other marketing areas and is responsible for deciding if widgets in Second Life is a good thing. Funny thing is that role doesn't exist in 85% of corporate America. You would assume it did based on how much they talk about the Internet's importance. It will be a serious handicap in the next year, since the Internet doesn't seem to be slowing down this time.

Given all of Nike's awards and successes online, you would think they had this person. But they just announced their first senior-level role with the hiring of a global digital brand leader. Which should make their interactive agencies feel a little bit better. Or maybe a little bit more nervous. Either way you can expect Microsoft and Google already have their introduction meetings scheduled.