Friday, October 24

Best "Worst Advice" of the Week

eMarketer = Getting Clever with Social Media
“Suppose I’m selling Coke, and my ad appears next to a naked schoolgirl. Are people really not going to buy Coke? Allow yourself to make some mistakes. When you make them, apologize and fix them, and learn from them,” Ms. Dyson continued. “It’s not the worst thing in the world to have an ad that flops or a spokesperson who goes bad on you—if you listen to the feedback and fix it.”

From someone who obviously isn't:

1) The brand manager who has to explain this to the CMO, after the screengrab gets emailed to them by their PR agency

2) The agency Media Director who has to write the explanation for the brand manager (then makes a mental note to not invite the PR team to the next client dinner)

3) The media sales rep who has to quantify the "make up goods" that rectifies brand association with body parts, so the Media Director has some good news to tell the brand manager, who then can end their CMO conversation with "on the plus side..." (and then makes a mental note to invite the PR team to the next agency dinner)

Tuesday, October 21

The Revolution Will Be Merchandised

In one of the more bizarre twists of the election season, Walmart has posted election videos from John McCain and Barack Obama on their corporate and e-commerce websites:

According to Walmart's press release, their intent is to:
Enable the candidates to introduce themselves to customers, club members and associates, detail their plans and positions on key issues, and will reflect the candidates' campaign platforms in a nonpartisan manner.

What is probably more motivating for the candidates is this Walmart declaration:

An August survey conducted by Voter/Consumer Research of Washington, D.C. showed that nearly half of undecided registered voters say they are more likely to shop at Wal-Mart today than they were six months ago. currently ranks as the 250th most visited website in the US. Which practically makes it a mass media outlet on its own. Throw in their Sam's Club, corporate, and intranet sites, and the videos could reach a potential 15 million visitors over the next 2 weeks.

It is positioned as part of Walmart's voter registration initiative. I can't help feeling a little skeptical, considering they showcase their "Price Leadership Commercials" on the same page. I do give them credit for at least providing links to the other lesser-known third party candidates (Constitution party anyone?)

From a lobbying standpoint, Walmart will be able to publicize their site reports post-election and remind future candidates of their clout. The number of site visits, video views, and consumer comments about this initiative will no doubt demonstrate Walmart's influence and reach with the average American voter.

And don't forget about their in-store television network, which pumps branded content into 3,000 stores daily. That could be the next media outlet in 2012. It just went IPTV which allows advertisers to "better target shoppers by store, screen, day and time-of-day and change their messages more frequently." This gives Walmart the opportunity to promote, er I mean support, local elections as well.

Walmart is playing the neutral, non-partisan content distributor now. Let's hope they continue to follow that path in the future. Otherwise the Store Greeter might ask if you prefer cart or basket, paper or plastic, and Republican or Democrat.

Wednesday, October 15

Brother, Can You Spare Some KinzCash?

I've been thinking a lot about micropayments lately. Back in Dotcom 1.0, it was lauded as a sure thing to drive the success of the Internet. It was essentially the Long Tail of e-commerce = paying minimal fees for accessing content or services online. Which, over time, would add up to real big revenue for the companies providing it.

Dotcom companies tried all types of micropayment schemes = digital tokens, points, microwallets, etc. In the end we got Paypal, 99 cent iTunes, and affiliate marketing kickbacks via "buy this book" referral buttons.

But I have noticed the reemergence of micropayments in a most unusual place: kid-focused virtual worlds such as Webkinz, Club Penguin, and Neopets. The focus of these sites is accumulating virtual stuff for your virtual pet/avatar. This includes virtual houses, furniture, clothes, food. In order to purchase it, you need to accumulate virtual money. This is primarily achieved by playing online games and performing other tasks within the site. Most of these only reward you with a few points/cash at a time.

You have to play a bunch of games, or complete a bunch of tasks, in order to actually purchase something substantial (in a virtual kind of way). Similar to collecting tickets at a carnival or Chuck E Cheese. After 3 hours of mindnumbing games, you then can get that cheap stuffed toy from China that will fall apart before you get home.

We are training a whole new generation of consumers to accept micropayments as a way of life online. Only this time -- in a bit of e-commerce role reversal -- they are the ones getting paid. Which in the next 10 years could lead to a whole new online marketing platform.

Marketing to kids in these environments is really tough. Unless you happen to be a provider of essential nutrients and vitamins. But soon these consumers will grow up and start accessing sites where you can market to them without getting sued. Will they be willing to watch your branded online video for a few Paypal coins? Click your banners and rack up points to get real stuff? Spend 3 minutes on your brand website and win their girlfriend an exclusive virtual unicorn for her Myspace page?

Google AdSense and affiliate programs already have marketers comfortable with spending micropayments of their own for ensuring consumer action. Can't wait to see what happens when consumer microrewards and marketer micropayments finally come together.

Tuesday, October 7

Can't Wait Until They Add a Voice Chat Option

So hands up, who hates the New Facebook? Seems like a lot of people, which is natural when something you are really fond of gets messed with.

My concern is that they have completely buried user widgets in the new layout. Not only do I need to click on the "Boxes" tab to view them, but anyone visiting my profile page must do the same. It's going to kill the efforts of most marketers who are entering this space. Number of widget impressions will plummet dragging the number of interactions along with it. Which will also limit the viral spread. It's been the one area of Facebook that advertisers could get a foot into and has been relocated to the basement.

Which isn't the end of the bad news for marketers and social networks. A recent report shows that 46% of social networkers accessed their fave sites via mobile devices (primarily MySpace and Facebook). Mobile access is mostly limited to posting text status updates, sending messages, and viewing friend profiles.

However, the new iPhone and Google apps are bringing more functionality to mobile devices. The most recent Facebook iPhone app provides access to most of the site's content and tools -- except widgets, sponsored text links, and banner ads. Which is going to be a buzz kill for marketers.

As sites port more content to mobile, there is less need to visit the website versions. As more consumers access content away from their computers, online media pillars such as reach/frequency, time spent on site, and page views will crumble.

Social networks will need to find ways to cram advertising and marketing messages into their mobile apps. If they can find room. And if they can do it without screwing up the consumer experience, which currently is fairly nice and clean. That whole social mapping craze is looking more promising...

Sunday, October 5

Drinking Games For Kids

Our Taco Bell online game was fairly successful in reaching a lot of people online. So we're trying it again for another client = MilkPEP to reach teens/tweens.

This time we're testing two types = one game purchased via online media on, and another launched organically via Kewlbox. Will be interesting to see how they perform against each other. We have a fixed CPM for Neopets which includes traffic-driving banners on their site. Kewlbox charges a fixed fee for game development, so its CPM is dependent on how many game plays we receive over time. Distribution hopefully goes viral via their gaming network and encouraged game embedding.

Neopets game:

Kewlbox game:

Saturday, October 4

When User Generated Content Attacks!

Last month United Airlines investors received the hard reminder that people believe everything they read on the Internet. A six year old article about United going bankrupt was accidentally posted to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's website, causing the stock to drop from $12.45 to $3 in 10 minutes. The Internet still has a huge influence on the dissemination of information.

For years the professional news organizations have complained that "amateur" bloggers would cause chaos with their undisciplined and objective posts. But apparently the rise of Journalism 2.0 hasn't been a complete disaster. The number of news organizations opening up their websites to the average Internet user is a growing trend.

First came the addition of user comments to news stories. Then CNN launched an entire site dedicated to video iReports -- basically a YouTube for news. These iReports are promoted and encouraged directly on CNN's homepage and in its news stories. Why have your journalists risk the latest hurricane when the locals are willing to do it for you?

CBS offers similar amateur news reports via its EyeMobile site. ABC has i-CAUGHT. Fox uReport.

For a generation of consumers raised on Web 2.0, this seems like a natural evolution. However, these respected news agencies seem to have quickly forgotten their own warnings. People will post anything they want on the Internet. People believe anything they see on the Internet. The association of your brand with that content, and the implied endorsement it provides, is where things can get really tough.

So it can't be that much of a surprise that a fake iReport posted to CNN Friday whacked Apple with a United Airlines-style roundhouse kick. The report that Steve Jobs suffered a heart attack sank Apple's stock 10% in 10 minutes before it was pulled.

And definitely shouldn't be a shocker that a photoblog service might end up with some NSFW content. (Not Safe For Work for those of you who have never visited Perez Hilton or TMZ.) Risque and downright naked images have been showing up on the CBS Eyemobile site and through its iPhone app. And Google has been serving ads right next to it.

User generated content is the shiny sparkly object right now. Most marketers are standing a few steps back and poking it with a stick, trying to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. Some industries, such as healthcare/pharma, are standing wayyyy back watching the other marketers with binoculars.

Perhaps consumers will become desensitized to the presence of misleading and offensive content, giving brands a break when they step into it. Or perhaps marketers will retreat to more controlled versions, leaving the wild wild west to those who can get away with it.

Thursday, October 2

Please Be My Closely-Proximal Friend Who Likes Dive Bars

Social networks are rapidly migrating into mobile territory to keep up with their users. Mashing up the cellphone's GPS capabilities with Google Maps has led to the latest trend = social mapping.

Basically it is nothing more than finding your "friend's" current location on a map. Or maybe your "friend's" latest comments about the Thai restaurant that is just around the corner. Newsweek, Washington Post, and Technology Review provide decent overviews of the trend. Especially love the story of the guy who used it to avoid people, rather than meet up with them. The antisocial social machine.

The iPhone has become the premiere launching pad for a lot of these social apps: Yelp, Where, Platial Nearby, Loopt, Whrrl, Moximity, seem to be leading the path. Nokia purchased UK-based social mapper Plazes, so expect that functionality to be automatically loaded into their phones. Google Android's mobile operating system should attract even more social map providers and provide access across multiple cellphone types.

Which leads to the bigger question = if anyone can tack on a GPS Google Map to their service or application, does it become so autonomous that the "find your friends" feature is irrelevant? Do I need all my friends to be signed up and using all these apps in order for them to provide value?

Many of these start ups have fallen into the risky business model based on "he with the most users signed up wins." Which is fine when there is only a limited amount of competition. But there are currently 88 social networking apps available for the iPhone, all of which could become GPS map enabled. Slim chance any of my "friends" are also using them. Not to mention that they now also have to be physically located close to me to be of interest.

Expect the social network giants like Facebook and MySpace to buy up the ones that have the best technology or interface, incorporate it into a new tab on their mobile app, and quickly decimate an entire start up vertical. Or just ignore them completely and do it on their own. Either way the same outcome prevails.

On the other hand, with the Google-supported OpenId movement, there is a chance that these apps could grab onto the holy grail of an XML friend list feed. Thus not requiring you to build up your friend list from scratch on each app, just import one from your fave social network site. Then the apps with the best features or niche community focus could prosper. Which would be great for Google, since any app using a Google map mashup becomes lucrative advertising space for them. I'm sure they would prefer to have it spread across multiple social map providers, each signed up with the AdSense network and receiving micro-kickbacks when a Google map link is clicked.

As for me, I'm working on the new iPhone app Loozr, which shows you where everyone else's friends are and how much fun they are having. Then connects you to other Loozrz in your area. The bar around the corner offers a half price "beer to cry in" if you show up in the next 15 minutes and invite 3 other Loozrz to join you.

But be careful, collect too many Loozr friends in a 1 mile radius and you get kicked off the app. Being antisocial has never been so much fun.