Wednesday, September 29

Putting Lipstick On An Ad Banner

Google has apparently milked the Long Tail of search advertising all the way to its itsy-bitsy tip. Their declaration this week to begin dominating display advertising (WSJ, NYT) was most interesting for its yawn factor.

The highlights of the announcement:
  1. Banners with video!
  2. Banners with video charged as cost per view!
  3. Banners with video that expand and are charged as cost per view!
They could have just bought VideoEgg. Oops, too late.

Their social activation of ad units received the most hype:
In five years, Salzman said 75% of display ads will be “social,” meaning people will be able to comment on them, share them with friends on social networks, or “subscribe” to them, implying that users could sign up to receive notices of when similar ads are available to watch.
Which might be a great way to keep those Superbowl TV spots chugging along post-game. But seriously, you expect me to become a fan of your banner ad? Assuming I even notice it to begin with? It better be damn good. Or at least appealing to the eye:
During a presentation during the IAB advertising conference, Google executives said the medium will become much more engaging. In past years, display ads were “static” and it was “tough to engage Madison Avenue’s most creative minds,” said Barry Salzman, a Google managing director for media. Now “display is bringing ‘sexy’ back.”
Ask any Art Director for their opinion about creating banner ads. Sexy is not the four-letter word at the top of their list.

Facebook has traction with their whole "your friends like this company" automated recommendation ad unit. But that's in a closed social environment where people are used to liking things out of habit. And they are raising their hand to be connected with your brand, not your 25K 3-loop animated Flash rectangle.

It is reminiscent of Digg's announcement last year allowing users to vote on their favorite banners. An initiative that hasn't been publicized much since.

The Internet doesn't need sexy banners. In my opinion, it doesn't need banners at all. There are much more creative (and effective) ways to spend your online media dollars. As more marketers and site publishers figure that out, display advertising's long tail will eventually get clipped. As will a wide variety of advertising revenue streams. Even the sexy ones.

Thursday, September 9

Google Makes the Interweb Faster and Lazier

Wow there's a lot of hoopla over the announcement of Google Instant (positive, neutral, and downright indifferent). Auto-populating content based on what you half-type isn't really new. I blame my iPhone's autocomplete spelling function for completely destroying my ability to type on any other keyboard. Now we can apply the same principles of devolution to finding stuff online.

Google's concept around saving "350 million hours" of user time a year -- since we won't wait 2-3 seconds for every search result to appear -- is what has me worried. Over the years we have jumped from dial-up modem speeds to faster dial-up modem speeds, from broadband to faster broadband. Now we are moving from real time to faster real time.

Which is great progress for someone who's been around the Internet awhile. But to users like my kids, who are just starting to interact online, it becomes a starting reference point. Everything else is going to seem slow. Even if it isn't. Instantaneous is the new Fast.

What's faster than instantaneous? Not having to take any action, starting a whole new race into predictive content. Why go through the whole pain-in-the-ass process of actually seeking information? Shouldn't the Interweb just provide it to me when I need it, before I realize I need it?

Predictive Content has been online marketing's holy grail for a long time. From's "you might like" shopping lists, to behavioral targeting of ad banners, to Facebook's "your friends like this" recommendations. Everyone wants to provide you with information that they think you want.

So what happens when we solely rely on this type of content? The Interweb definitely feels faster. And easier. And slothier. On an extreme, it's dangerously close to eliminating Free Will. Or at least Searching Will.

There's already an entire grey market of companies reselling your website browsing cookie data to ad networks. Combine this with all the Facebook "likes" you are clicking across the Internet. Add a healthy dose of "we know you like this, and these other people like this also, and they browsed here, so you must be interested in the same things" logic.

Which is all good and fine, until we reach the point where we don't actually take independent action online. We lose our autonomy when we stop proactively seeking content. When I start consuming the same content as my peers -- just because it is fed to me and easier to consume -- then these predictive algorithms lose their edge. The content they recommend gets marginalized. Our cookies get fat and lazy. Our social content becomes generic groupthink. And the Internet will start to feel so, well, boring.

The big question is at that point, will any of us remember how to actually find content on our own? If only there were a web site for that...

Sunday, September 5

A Love Letter

Dear Interweb,

I really love you, but lately we don't seem to have a lot to talk about. Maybe we are just getting old. Don't get me wrong, the last 15 years have been great. We made it through some rough patches. That whole Web 2.0 craze was a much-needed energy boost and brought sparks back into our relationship.

We haven't had much in common so far in 2010. Mobile QR Codes? iPad ads? Facebook Places? Really, that's the best we can come up with?

SXSW was a great diversion, full of stimulating conversations and non-advertising industry memes. Crowdsourcing was a hot topic. Especially how the democratization of content will doom the creative process (Andrew Keen, Sean Lennon). So that was a bit of a buzzkill.

Plus no one seemed to care enough to embrace the QR codes on every conference badge. Beware the technohype that can't catch on with 14,000 Internet geeks. I did sit next to Bruce Sterling at a small session, and stand next to Jaron Lanier at a urinal. Unfortunately FourSquare doesn't have geek street cred badges for those.

I know it's been a year since I last talked to you on this blog. I have been talking about you (NY Digital Media Summit, Social Commerce Summit, IAB Mobile, Blogwell). So don't think that I don't care.

I pledge to find more interesting topics to discuss, defend, debate, and demean. This just needs to work both ways. I"ll try harder if you will.