Monday, March 30

Got Doubts About the Future of Advertising?

Here's the top 5 most-read articles on today:

Which shows where the average ad industry exec is focused.

However, if their online marketing strategies are driven by AdAge, then they need additional learning aides. Haven't we all agreed that you can't make something go viral?

Wednesday, March 25

Monday, March 23

@stephenstrong Got That Feeling Again

I find it fascinating when an online technology/trend achieves what I call the Doppler Hype Effect = the average American knows everything about it before they actually experience it. This usually occurs when the mass media mentions, refers, and explains it so often that even my parents can discuss it in conversation (and they are still on a dial-up modem).

This trend dates back to the beginning of the WWW. From 1995-96 you started hearing more and more about these websites that people accessed with a web browser. Being an AOL user wasn't exactly the end game. Apparently there was another Internet out there that AOL's browser couldn't even see. But over time everyone started feeling the itch to get a website of their own, even if their computer didn't have a modem. And you started feeling really awkward when everyone traded AOL email addresses -- except you.

This mass hype is an important part of consumer acceptance. It is easier to accept something when you assume everyone else is already doing it.

Internet history is ripe with examples of emerging technologies that were so hyped by the media that even a 10 year old could explain them before they went mainstream = email, chat rooms, instant messaging, search engines, e-commerce, personal web pages, webcams. Things we now take for granted were the untamed Wild West just 10 years ago.

Sending a complete stranger money based on a digital photo found on eBay sounds risky. But perhaps less so if 60 Minutes was just talking about the new craze of "Internet cyberBazaars."

Mobile phone carriers should thank American Idol every night for bringing SMS texting to the masses.

Every new Internet trend (fad?) launches in mass media with the initial How The Hell Does This Thing Work? articles. Then come the Look How Many People Are Doing This reports. Followed by Can You Believe People Are Making Money Off This? At which point it becomes part of our culture and common vernacular or quickly fades away, overrun by the next big hype.

This trend took a 5 year hiatus after the Dotcom crash in 2001. Web 1.0 faded away and new hypes were quickly dismissed in a flurry of VC-tainted catcalls.

Then came Web 2.0.

Remember all the reports about blogging and user generated content? New crazy sites like Flickr, YouTube, Second Life, Myspace, Facebook? Most of which the average American could discuss at great length, despite never having visited any of them. The hype wheel made one big loop and is spinning faster than ever.

Which brings me to Twitter. The current King of Hype. Get ready, your mom will soon have lots of questions about it.

The Wall Street Journal recently explained how the hell it works. Everyone is talking about how popular it is getting. It hasn't quite reached the third stage of making money, but Twitter is now receiving more shout outs than a high school hip hop concert.

Yesterday the Sunday Chicago Tribune published an article on page 3 promoting comedian Michael Ian Black's Twitter-driven Fuck It list [follow him]. And this morning NPR ran a story on a Los Angeles Korean taco truck's popularity, thanks to its use of Twitter [follow that truck].

Earlier this month the Daily Show served up a hilarious overview of Congress Twitts:

The other talk shows quickly followed. Leno asking Whoopi if she Twitters [nope]. Jimmy Fallon challenging his viewers to follow this guy on Twitter [follow Jimmy]. Ellen explaining how Diddy and Martha Stewart compelled her to start tweeting [follow her and him and her].

Expect this self-feeding hype to continue growing, thus reinforcing that it must be the Next Big Thing.

Twitter is the cool club kid, jockeying to crash the big party that is our nation's consciousness. Skype, Digg, and Yelp are still hanging out in the parking lot waiting for their turn. Mobile Web has been there so long that he set up an RV camper. But Twitter is right at the club entrance, working the bouncers and pleading that they keep searching for his name on the list.

Hmmmm, your name ain't here. But everyone in line seems to know you. So maybe...

Damn, Hulu just bribed the other bouncer with a big Superbowl TV ad. You might need to wait until tomorrow night when you can get their attention again. So it goes. Maybe you can hit up Good Morning America or Time for a backstage pass. Because hanging with celebrities is the fastest way to the top.

Thursday, March 19

Facebook: Freeware Going Nowhere

Well, at least Facebook is consistent. Consistently pissing off its users with design and functionality overhauls again.

The recent changes are no exception. Big ones like rearranging the homepage out of a knee-jerk panic attack to be more like Twitter. And smaller ones like reformatting Fan Pages to look like standard user profiles.

Current users hate it. The mass amounts of new users signing up daily won't even notice. Training your eyes to reuse the site is one thing. Training your brain is another:

This is the user experience equivalent of a product recall letter. Their Head of IA needs to be publicly flogged via webcam.

The Fan Page reformatting actually has me the most worried, since this is where brand marketers have placed their bets. A few months ago Fbook screwed around with the location of widgets, moving them off a user's main profile page and burying them under a subtab. Branded widget impressions/interactions instantly plunged. Now they are taking the same liberties with the branded pages themselves.

Reformatting them to match user profiles has resulted in a loss of uniqueness. They just don't feel special anymore. Worse -- from what I heard -- Fbook didn't even notify the owners (brand managers, ad agencies, interns) until a few days before the pages were scheduled to change. Resulting in mad scrambling to assess them and relearn how to maintain the pages.

In general, Internet change is good. Sites that continue to innovate are the ones that survive and grow. Those that don't lose visitors and money to the pesky start ups with nothing to lose.

Hence the problem with Fbook. They got nuthin' to lose. Not revenue, not users. No matter what changes they make, people are not going to leave. They have too much time and emotion invested in their Fbook doppelganger. And brands/marketers? Hard to complain when you ain't paying a dime.

Fbook is the ultimate Freeware. No one gets charged for using it, not even marketers. Unlike Myspace, who charges wayyyyy to much for a branded "mascot page"; any brand can create a fan page for free. Distribute their widgets on the site for free. Send messages to their 50,000 "fans" for free.

Wikipedia defines Freeware as a free for all free-for-all:
The only criterion for being classified as freeware is that the software must be fully functional for an unlimited time with no cost, monetary or otherwise. The software license may impose restrictions on the type of use including personal use, individual use, non-profit use, non-commercial use, academic use, commercial use or any combination of these.
Screensavers, limited games, basic software applications. Freeware is as old as the WWW.

You download them, use them, and if you don't like them? Screw you, it was free! What more do you want?

Fbook carte blanche to do whatever they want with marketers. It's their site. Don't like it? Go ahead and leave. There isn't a media sales rep sitting in a cube sweating his ass off because you might.

This is their largest weakness -- acting like a freeware distributor. Offering tons of free stuff, hoping to sell a few ads on the side. Not really concerned if you delete the app 15 minutes after downloading it.

They are stuck in a loop of rapid prototypes, see if it sticks to the wall additions, and general controlled chaos. Which is fine if you are a 15 person shop trying to take down the big guys. But when you are the big guy, then you have to start acting like it.

Usability studies on new changes would be a good first start. Listening to marketers, the ones who will eventually support you financially (as soon as you get a rate card put together), is a necessity. At some point we will stop tolerating this 500 lb gorilla baby.

[Thanks to the guys at Colossal Squid for pointing out Fbook's similarity to the software industry]

Monday, March 16

@stephenstrong Got Twittered by a Porn Star: That's in our relationship safe-zone, right honey?

The porn industry always takes advantage of new online technologies first. Often identifying and defining new trends before anyone other industry.

Bootleg file sharing? Check. Webcams live chats? Check. Pre-broadband video streaming-on-demand? Check. Affiliate marketing banners? Check. Pop-up ads, digital-rights management, social networking? Check, check, check. Porn was practicing the Long Tail before most marketers even understood the short one.

It isn't important that porn always seems to be a first mover online. It is important that it always seems to be the first industry making money from it. The only reason porn grabs hold of an emerging trend is because it generates revenue. And there are a lot of people trying to get rich off online porn. Think of it as the world's largest startup, constantly testing/prototyping/enhancing/evolving. Only the successful survive. Which makes porn the perfect litmus test for any alleged Web 2.0 business model.

Which is where Twitter comes in -- probably the only website more desperate for a revenue model than Facebook. If porn can't figure out how to make money from it, then kiss it goodbye.

So as an experiment (let me reinforce experiment) I "followed" a variety of porn stars over the weekend on Twitter. Most of them have a couple hundred followers. A few number in the low thousands. Nothing compared to Diddy (173K), Ashton Kuchter (368K), or Shaq (323K), but probably more than you.

The online version of the Red Light District flag down is widely practiced. Some of you might call it lead generation:

E-commerce CTAs appear as well. If you want to drive traffic to your online peep show Friday night, then targeting guys who are bored enough to follow porn tweets is a pretty good start:

It may end up that Twitter cannot monetize any of this, leaving the revenue models to the companies that support its users.

When eBay first started there were a variety of feeder sites that provided added-value services for users -- photo hosting, credit card processing, last-second bid topping. Twitter is no different.

Tinyurl converts web links into condensed URLs, saving precious character counts. Twitpict provides image sharing/instant tweets. Qik mobile video sharing is getting free word-of-mouth thanks to Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore posts. None of them are charging for these offerings yet.

There's even a Porn Tweet Portal that aggregates porn star posts, capitalizing on Twitter's open source content search. may actually be more risque. Sure you get the typical posts that would make a truck diver blush. But pornstars are people too. They can be just as boring as everyone else you are following:

Looking for hot photos? You are as likely to download a picture of their cute puppies or new car. Although it can be a bit surreal reading laundry day posts interspersed with on location blow-by-blows. Can being too normal online hurt a pornstar's street cred?

In the end, I decided to go straight to the source. Spamming a variety of them (oh, the irony) to uncover how they plan to leverage Twitter.

Which, based on their replies, shows we may have a long way to go:

Porn is everywhere online. What gives Twitter an advantage? First of all, it has an anonymous intimacy to it. You get an insider's view of the other 98% of a porn star's life, with some smut thrown in. Second, follow enough of them and you catch glimpses of intra-porn communication (if a retweet threesome is your kind of thing).

Lastly, it is a publicly-acceptable porn channel. Besides, you can read tweets and view links on your iPhone, Facebook widget, RSS reader, and eventually any web-connected device (hurry up color Kindle!) Those of you with Internet fridges can hold off bidding for those Jenna Jamson magnets on eBay.

My free advice to the stars? Start with micropayments. As soon as Twitter (or Twitpict) launches their own Paypal billing system, then you should be able to charge followers 10 cents for every naked photo click (charge 50 cents on weekends and after 10 pm). Exclusive coupon codes for discounted video content would help build a new customer base.

Use your public Twitter account for daily posts and new video teasers. Charge followers to access a private account for the real hot talk and behind the scenes details. Sorry, is already being squatted and really is for kids.

Eventually porn will find the Twitter money shot. It always does. How many marketers are too embarrassed to lurk its progress and leverage the learnings when the time is right?

For the record, I avoided taking advantage of tasteless innuendo and bad puns throughout this blog post. I count at least 9 that come close [there's 1! --ed.] But be warned, it's realllly hard to find them! [2! --ed.]

Wednesday, March 11

Just Posted Photos From Nutella's High School Prom

Always looking for someone to piss off, Facebook recently redesigned their Fan Pages. These are primarily used by brand marketers to rope off their social homestead. Weird thing is that they basically just turned them into standard user pages, complete with tabbed sections and status posts.

Kinda lazy if you ask me.

From a user experience standpoint, it can be a bit confusing since the only thing differentiating it from a human page is the user name and profile photo. Go one step further, and you can create a fan page that looks/feels like an actual user.

Hello Brian Nash, advertising guy who refuses to join Facebook. We just did it for you:
(Fbook users only, sorry)

And you have 60 friends, er I mean fans. Who actually are his friends in real life. So that's even more confusing. But if you didn't pay close attention, then you really would think it was Mr. Nash's personal page.

The other brand/human blur affects status posts. Brands with fan pages can now send them, which show up in your status scroll along with all your friends' statuses (stati?). So whoever created the Mr. Nash fan page can send status posts to the fans, which show up as coming from Mr. Nash.

The other side effect is that this actually opens up brand posts for users to comment on. Every fan can then view all the consumer feedback, I mean replies to that post.

This may seem like a great way to get consumers engaged with your brand. Only problem is Facebook is large enough now to mirror the general Internet population. There are a lot of idiots out there. You are protected from ever coming into contact with them unless they are your Fbook Friend (in which case you already know they are idiots and have accepted it). Opening up the status comments to any "fan" will turn Facebook into an AOL chat room circa 1998. Or MySpace circa two days ago.

It's been less than a week and I've already seen it in action. Check out the Herbal Essences page:
(anyone can view this one, even you Mr. Nash)

They have 59,000 fans and their brand status posts are harmless self promotion. Each one gathers between 40 - 100 user comments, more than a few that must be causing the brand managers to sweat bullets and keep their PR agency on red alert. Take a peek at this one.

A few negative user comments isn't the death of branded social media. But the other 58,900 consumers who are reading them? That is something to worry about. In the old Brand Fan Page Dimension, user comments were restricted to wall posts and were not broadcast across the site. Plus those were user-initiated, whereas now brands are almost baiting bored dumbasses to respond.

The good news is that the community usually self-polices itself, even when the topic is shampoo that smells nice. Unfortunately now it is being done publicly on one of the most popular sites of the Interweb.

Tuesday, March 10

I Call Dibs On Dot-Stupid

This is officially the week for ranting about brand websites.

This one centers around custom website domain names that are only limited by your thesaurus.

A proposed expansion of domains means that by the end of the year there could be hundreds. Coca-Cola and Pepsi could request .soda or .softdrinks; Procter & Gamble and Unilever could sign up for .laundry or .soap; and McDonald's and Wendy's could get .burger or .fries. The potential for names and online branding would be limited only by the imagination of the creative marketing industry.

But what if you had to pay for every one of the new domains that relates to your brand? The initial cost estimated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit agency that oversees the distribution and policy of domain names, is $185,000 for registration plus anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000 in annual fees.

Which violates sooo many of my online marketing principles:

  1. Your brand site is increasingly irrelevant. See my previous posts (1, 2). The last thing you need to worry about is creating a .com strategy
  2. Consumers are more lazy online than in the real world. This has been the key to Google's success. Typing in the browser takes too much effort. Just type "diet coke" in the Google bar next to it and then click the search results link
  3. Google could care less what dots your com
  4. Consumers are not only lazy, they have really crappy long term memory. Think they have a hard enough time remembering your product name? Imagine if they have to remember whether your web address is .soda, .softdrinks, .pop, or .coke. You might as well register all of them just to be safe (that will be $740,000 please)
  5. It worked out so well for those .tv guys...
Do yourself a favor and save your cash for the next .mobi mobile URL firesale.

Here's One Way To Make The Logo Bigger!

Nothing annoys me more than when our industry refuses to innovate. Take online banners. 10 years ago the CTR was 0.45% (4.5 out of every 1,000 people clicked your banner). 8 years ago it dropped to 0.3%, then 0.2%. Finally stabilizing for the last 5 years at 0.15%.

A recent presentation by Doubleclick at iMedia now claims the average banner CTR is 0.1%. That's 1 person out of 1,000 clicking on your banners.

So what should the smart marketer do? Focus on behavioral and contextual targeting to make sure that 1 person is a better qualified site visitor? Stop depending on banner campaigns to drive site traffic? Stop depending on site traffic as a justification your online marketing dollars are working?

Of course not. Hey, I've got an idea!

Let's make the banners bigger!

(I assume you read that sentence more times than the previous smaller ones.)

According to Adweek today, this is the solution to decreasing effectiveness and online media spends:

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, ESPN and over a dozen more of the Web's most-trafficked sites that belong to the Online Publishers Association have agreed to run three new ad units that they hope will lure brand advertising dollars. The new units are:
  • The fixed panel, a 336-by-860-pixel banner that is wider than the standard skyscraper and follows users as they scroll down the page
  • The XXL box, a 468-by-648-pixel unit that can expand with video
  • The pushdown, a 970-by-418-pixel placement that takes up over half of the page before rolling up

As I expected, consumers avoid clicking on banners because they can't find them. If the home page interstitial [skip], exit pop-up [block], and page takeover ads [wait... wait...] aren't performing, then obviously we just aren't paying attention.

At some point the direct correlation between decreased effectiveness and increased ad sizes will reach a breaking point. Then we'll need to figure out how to cram the actual site content into the advertising.

Friday, March 6

23 Of Your Friends Approved This Rainbow's Taste

There has been a bit of hype around Skittle's decision to go completely Web 2.0 on their brand site. In effect deconstructing and rebuilding it with content directly from consumer generated sites:

Skittles, the Mars candy brand, has adopted its Wikipedia page as its home page in an effort to give more control to consumers. The effort, via, is a total revamp of the site and includes other social media hooks, like a Twitter section for live chats and links to Skittles pages on Facebook and Flickr.
Might want to point out that the advertising agency Modernista already took this approach with their site last year

I'm sure the justification wavered between the cost savings (Hey! Consumers are doing all the work for us!) and the legal freak out (Hey! Consumers are doing all the work for us!). From a consumer experience standpoint, it is a complete disjointed mess -- a direct reflection of the current disarray of consumer-generated sites.

Also hard to tell if this is a one-hit fad or if other brands will follow suit. In the end, they do get credit for being the first marketer to execute it to this extent. Any fast followers will be blatantly ripping them off.

This says less about the importance of consumer generated media, and more about the lack of importance of CPG brand sites. Except for the odd coupon or sweepstakes entry, there isn't much of a reason to visit (or most other CPG sites out there). Long gone are the days of sticky content and repeat visitors and funny microsites. isn't exactly a top destination online. Compete, Quantcast and Google Trends respectively report the most recent month's unique visitors as 18,000, 15,000, and too few to track. To paraphrase Kris Kristofferson,'s just another word for nothin' left to lose.
The reality is that consumers have very little need to visit brand sites these days. More marketers should just acknowledge that, put their sites on life support, and spend their money on other parts of the Interweb.

Thursday, March 5

Twitter: The Devolution of the Casual Game Portal

In January I posted about the first interesting marketing effort on Twitter = Flying Dog Brewery's Post & Win Some Free Shit microblogging promotion.

Since then, Dell launched a Twitter program to distribute follower-only deals via tweets. And Coupon Tweet utilizes Twitter's public search engine to aggregate tweets from any merchandiser posting coupon offers.

But perhaps the killer app is just around the corner. A variety of social games have emerged, per this post from Techcrunch:
Follow @TwitBrain and get served calculations on a regular basis (like 3 per hour). If you’re the first person to reply with the correct answer, you’ll earn one point and hopefully make your way to Internet fame (well, not really) by getting on the top 10 list.

@BeatMyTweet and do the exact same thing, but this time with word scrambles. Warning: it’s ridiculously easy so be fast if you want to be one of the first 10 to reply with the correct answer.
Casual games have always been the rage online. Social casual games were the first true widget hits (still pining for Facebook Scrabulous?) The idea that this extends to microblogging is not so far fetched. Granted it is a slimmed down text-only version, but what other technology could have such a broad instantaneous reach? Plus it provides a real world reward for setting up a Twitter account. Just like American Idol text mssg voting catapulted SMS into the average American living room.

This could be the simple approach that makes Twitter relevant to the masses. It extends the social gaming aspect that gave Facebook its viral energy and provides a mass audience as well.

Microtimesuck may become the buzzword of 2009.

The Short Tail of Internet Hype

It appears our industry has finally sweated out its dependency on widgets as the Holy Grail of social media marketing. Just in time to fall off the wagon and get handed a dimebag of iPhone apps.

"Come on, it's just a little branded iPhone game. Won't take too long to play. And it's freeeeeeee."

Of course, the iPhone's penetration in marketing departments is probably 5,000 times the average workplace. If you don't have one, then I bet your cubemate does. But all of the sudden iPhone apps are the new designer drug of choice.

Adweek reviewed a whole slew of iPhone apps in February. AdAge recently posted their special interest story: 10 Must-Have iPhone Apps for the Adman. Alas, Bullshit Bingo wasn't on it.

At a recent iMedia conference, the number of iPhone app developers outnumbered the widget guys. And most of the widget guys are branching out into iPhones.

There was also a contingent of media reps selling advertising space inside free iPhone apps (because that business model is working out so well for the widget guys...) And developers willing to make those ads for you. And rich media ad vendors wanting to serve them.

Interactive marketers have a habit of latching onto the newest hype, regardless of its potential for success. Remember viral videos? Second Life? Myspace mascot pages? All of these were flashes of potential marketing energy, greedily consumed and spat out when they didn't taste as good as they looked.

When a flashy shiny new internet technology comes along, we always gather around it and stare -- hypnotized by its brilliance. And we have a tendency to drag our "offline" marketing friends with us, imploring them to also check it out. Until they get bored and leave, shaking their heads and muttering "I just don't get it." Then the object runs out of batteries and we stumble away dazed, looking for the next blinking light to occupy our time.

The Dotcom crash in 2001 is the ultimate case study in embracing Internet hype without caution. Web 2.0 has brought this bad habit back to life. We find the newest social mobile video thing, convince everyone else to spend money on it, and then conveniently pretend it never existed if it doesn't pan out. Widgets will be the next case study in this long list. Twitter is on an upward curve. iPhone apps are just getting started.

We have reached that critical point in the Hype Tail where we need to ask the tough questions. How many people can we actually reach with this technology?(Spoiler alert = iPhones had a meager 6% penetration in Q3 2008.) Will they actually use it for more than 30 days?

All of these technologies have long term potential, if we let them grow out of puberty.

Second Life (or the virtual world 2.0 equivalent) will be back. Just ask any parent whose kids are obsessed with Webkinz / Club Penguin / Barbie Girls / Disney Fairies.

Facebook, despite its massive growth, is still a toddler learning to eat with a spoon. Twitter-style microblogging will eventually morph into a more integrated (and universally accepted) style of communication.

I truly believe that the iPhone-style application is the future for mobile technology. Just let it out of beta before milking it for every last drop.