Monthly Archives: December 2007

Wanted: The reason why Clear Channel digital boards cost 4 times as much

So now the FBI is using digital billboards to post AMBER alerts and America’s most wanted criminals in 20 cities across the U.S. It’s a brilliant concept that finally makes use of the flexible nature of digital outdoor.

A good thing, because so far the price structure of digital outdoor is out of whack. With all the buzz about those glowing, digital boards, what is often missed is the cost is eight times as high as that of the same sized board with regular illumination.

Here’s how it works. In LA, for example, an advertiser can buy a single unit on each of 10 digital displays in the Clear Channel Outdoor network. The ad would appear for 7.5 seconds as 1 in a rotation of 8 different ads — meaning that it is followed by 52.5 seconds of other advertising. The cost? About $8,500 net per digital board vs. $8,300 for a regular, full-time billboard (rates are unnegotiated and based on the Clear Channel Outdoor 2007 Media Planning Guide).

No matter how bright the digital board looks, we’re not sure that’s a good deal. Mathematically, even if half the drivers caught your message, you’d still be paying about 4 times as much for the same number of impressions.

Outdoor is a powerful media, especially as Americans spend more time in cars. We think digital media has huge potential for timely updates and even personalized messaging. Imagine weaving the day’s news into your outdoor creative, to hit consumers with something truly relevant. And we’ve heard that it costs Clear Channel and others more than $700,000 to put up each digital display, so they obviously need to recoup those costs.

But until the price structure comes down, we can’t see spending 4 times as much for the same outdoor display just to have your name in lights. Perhaps the FBI partnership with Clear Channel isn’t total altruism; at these prices, outdoor vendors may have trouble filling inventory.

(Tx Engadget.)

Apple won’t rule TVs … because cavepeople said so

So Apple will now offer Fox movie rentals via iTunes, finally giving us real video juice off the world’s most popular online music service. What’s puzzling is that the convergence of flat-screen computers and bigger flat-screen TVs hasn’t happened yet. Apple, Microsoft and numerous others have tried to conquer the living room with a widget box that does both, but consumers seem to like their movie equipment and computer equipment in separate rooms, thank you very much.

Why? Maybe it’s just distance. We’re much more comfortable interacting with a screen 18 inches in front of our eyes than a big TV 8 feet away. And, conversely, we enjoy sitting passively watching a movie 8 feet away much more than a video 18 inches from our nose.

Maybe it all goes back to our hunter-gatherer days. Our cavemen ancestors would interact with the tools in their hands, so we still concentrate intensely on sharpening flints … or typing blogs … close in front of us. But when we are relaxing, we prefer to see our mate dancing by the fire a few yards off … or, today, watch the theatrical equivalent on the LCD TV. That’s why we bet when the new, improved laser TV comes out next year, it won’t be connected to our iTunes.

We all want to be entertained, but not too close to the fire.

Google’s fascinating peek at market demand

Ever wish you could see the month-to-month market demand for your product or service? Go to Google Trends, type in any topic, and you can see how many people around the world search for it. The above graph, for instance, shows the annual cycle of demand for home heating oil, peaking as the weather turns cold each fall.

The charts have several uses. Google compares search volume (the top line) with news report volume (the bottom line), so marketers can draw correlations between news reports and market interest. Here’s a look at searches for “mammography,” with a spike each fall, a trough each Christmas, and an interesting peak in September 2005 when released a news report promoting the health benefits of breast screening.

Trends in search can be illuminating. In our own business, advertising, we note that searches for “advertising agencies” are down about 50% since 2004. So for our agency Mediassociates next year, we recognize we will need to expand other marketing channels to build national awareness for our media planning services.

Could be worse. Pity the poor folks at Amazon watching consumers walk away from its e-book reader Kindle. If your product search trend line looks like this, it’s time to find a new product.

The X Factor guide to overcoming office inertia

If you work in a big organization that, say, has a planning committee for the planning committee and an org chart that fills a large binder, don’t miss Marketing Sherpa’s guide to conquering office politics in 2008. Anne Holland has a brilliant take on the need for marketing plans that reach your internal audience. Get yourself on the company scorecard. Start an internal newsletter. Feed top decision-makers with news, while also referencing your successes. Avoid napping at your desk. (OK, that last bit was our advice.)

Holland calls this the X Factor required to help you break through an internal glass ceiling. The people who rise to the top aren’t shy about making noise; they have “X” that gets noticed. This year, make the X your own.

Not only will this help elevate you within an organization, but if you value your work, it will draw the attention and resources to your projects required for you to reach your goals. Many initiatives never succeed because they can’t conquer internal inertia or build the momentum required to really launch. Convincing people internally that your ideas have merit is the first step in turning that idea into real performance.

Give your old tech junk a Second Rotation

Ars Tech tells how to clean out an old junk drawer and burnt out laptops with a clean conscience. Second Rotation is a web service that allows you to type in the name an old tech product for a price quote (they’ll buy old tech junk!) and a free shipping label sent to your home. About 90% of the materials are resold, and the rest are recycled, not trashed.

Now, if it would just help us stop losing all those mismatched power cords for the new gadgets.

How Pandora recognizes the many faces of me

Way back in the last Internet bubble, Stanford grad Tim Westergren had an idea to launch a music recommendation service. Today Pandora gives 4 million users access to songs magically matched by 400 different components; punch in Tori Amos, the site breaks down her songs by melody, chord structure, rhythm, and vocal style, and presto, the next song on your free online radio dial is by Bjork. The personalization is an intriguing combination of manual expert rankings (by 2,000 musicians who assess each song in the library), collaborative filtering (in which other users’ experience contribute to your recommendations), and 1to1 learning (in which you can rate each song that pops up as thumbs up or down).

Pandora makes money by pushing ads to its main site or pulling users deeper to buy songs they hear for free once on the online radio. The overall vibe is tremendous value and personalization, and a big temptation to click through when a new, unknown song emerges that you want to hold on to.

Unlike Amazon or Netflix, Pandora recognizes that consumers have modalities — we like different things when we are in different modes at different times. Users can set up channels for varying moods; for example, type in “U2” as your second channel, and Pandora will serve up harder songs in minor keys with strong male vocalists. We keep hoping Amazon will set up a similar channel personalization dial, so we get business book recommendations when we’re in work mode and pop psychology when we’re shopping for our wife.

What we really dig, though, is the clever way Pandora captures and identifies new users. Hit the site, type in a musician, and you’re off and running with 10 minutes of free tunes … and then Pandora gently cues you to put in some identifying information if you wish to continue. It doesn’t ask too much: just email, date of birth, if you’re male or female, ZIP, and a password. So simple. Pandora now knows how to reach us, how old we are, and where we live, but we don’t mind. It was so easy to open Pandora’s box, and the box introduced us to Cut by Plumb.

The horror of the American Marketing Association’s web site

Why does the AMA’s web site suck so bad? We hit it today to see what might be relevant in planning our own agency’s growth in 2008 … and were greeted by at least 45 links in 11 content categories. Egad. Maybe this is why blogs are so popular; you can find a point of entry quickly, the content is fresh, and you walk away with a useful idea or two.

This isn’t a quibble; this is a failure to meet member needs and probably drives AMA losses. The American Marketing Association is a subscription model with 38,000 members around the globe, and we suspect it has a churn rate of perhaps 10-20% of subscribers, with defections concentrated among year 1 members who bail after trying out membership and seeing limited utility. Members who defect may be lower-value in the AMA hierarchy (after all, if you are an executive for Ford you probably don’t pick up the tab, while smaller business members probably watch every expense). But younger members are the future of the organization, and younger members demand something meaningful from the web.

Let’s imagine what would happen if the AMA fixed its site. Say losses were reduced by net 5% — for 1,900 incremental AMA members a year each paying $185 in dues, for $351,500 in new revenue. In three years, that’s $1 million. The web site could be fixed for less than $100k. That’s a 10:1 payback.

There are also strategic reasons to light a fire under this project; if we, as marketing professionals, can now network on the 100 top marketing blogs, why do we need a stodgy old AMA? AMA might brush up on Porter’s Five Forces Model and consider it faces huge competition from new market entrants. A bad web site might do more than contribute to 5% annual member churn — it might be the frozen deer in the headlights looking at a social-media Mack truck bearing down on your membership heartbeat.

We imagine there are several challenges to solving the crappy site problem. Most AMA members have day jobs and focus elsewhere. The AMA is an event-driven networking organization, and the web site is probably item No. 49 on a list of top 50 priorities. Perhaps few AMA members dare to criticize the site, for fear they may bite the hand that publishes their white papers. We’re AMA members too and a little nervous about using the word “suck” and AMA in the same sentence.

Look, AMA. Call it tough love. We want you to succeed. We want the marketing industry to grow. So it’s not about you — it’s just about your site. So turn this thing around. For inspiration, we recommend two doses of Adgabber (look, members are engaged and seek out other members!), one dose of Slate (hey, clean points of entry!), a dash of Janet Jackson (not the thong — the user-generated viral content), and seasoning from (make us want to come back with something personal and useful). Come on, AMA. It’s time to market yourself.

Is Apple really trying to crush Fake Steve?

Just in time for the holidays. Daniel Lyons reports Apple is threatening legal action — and making a $500,000 offer — for him to shut down the Fake Steve Jobs blog. Lyons, the real author behind FSJ, says he had this exchange with Apple before Christmas:

Lyons: But you guys put Martin Luther King Jr. in your ads. And John Lennon. You had Gandhi in your ads. Gandhi, dude. Think about that. Think about what Gandhi did in his life, what he stood for, the price he paid for freedom of expression …

Apple lawyer: I’m authorized to go as high as five hundred thousand dollars, but that’s it.

If Lyons is simply mocking Apple’s recent shutdown of Nick Ciarelli, then that’s guts. But sadly, this feels true, because Lyons has broken character a bit and is expressing honest frustration as the imperiled author behind the scenes. We’re not sure what Apple will accomplish if its PR machine becomes the sole source of news and reviews about its products. But in the long run, if fans are shackled and prohibited from having a little communications fun, then Apple will end up with fewer fans.

Note to Apple: Information wants to be free.

Why some memories stick: Jingles all the way

Sometime on Jan. 1, 2008, the radio networks of the United States will switch from a five-week rotation of holiday Christmas classics back to regular music programming. Which makes us wonder: What is it about some traditional music, and some repeat impressions, that can be so compelling for humans?

This is no trivial question, given the trend in advertising to constantly barrage consumers with the latest, and often loudest, new concept. Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist best known for being portrayed by Robin Williams in the film Awakenings, has studied the effects of music on memory and found that, somehow, music is rooted in the most primitive parts of our minds.

In simple terms, music combined with communications hits the brain with a form of double impression — the message sinks in deeper, and once in, the music replayed can accurately withdraw it. This is important, because our minds often have trouble processing or recalling memory accurately without strong cues.

Sacks tells of his own memory slipping when he thinks back to a North London bombing during World War II. He vividly recalls seeing two bombs fall:

On another occasion, an incendiary bomb, a thermite bomb, fell behind our house and burned with a terrible, white-hot heat. My father had a stirrup pump, and my brothers carried pails of water to him, but water seemed useless against this infernal fire-indeed, made it burn even more furiously. There was a vicious hissing and sputtering when the water hit the white-hot metal …

Trouble was, Sacks never saw the second bomb explode; his brother Michael told him recently that his memory had deceived him.

I was staggered at Michael’s words. How could he dispute a memory I would not hesitate to swear on in a court of law and had never doubted as real?

“What do you mean?” I objected. “I can see the bomb in my mind’s eye now, Pop with his pump, and Marcus and David with their buckets of water. How could I see it so clearly if I wasn’t there?”

“You never saw it,” Michael repeated. “We were both away at Braefield at the time. But David [our older brother] wrote us a letter about it. A very vivid, dramatic letter. You were enthralled by it.” Clearly, I had not only been enthralled, but must have constructed the scene in my mind, from David’s words, and then taken it over, appropriated it, and taken it for a memory of my own.

This is extraordinary — one of the most brilliant men in the study of neurology can’t recall accurately seeing a bomb explode, and admits it. It points out that advertisers and communicators need far more the CPMs and GRPs to make an impact on the consumer’s mind; they need something heavier to make the impression stick, and be recallable.

Music is one powerful tool, and advertisers have long used it. If you think back to the 1970s, many TV and radio commercials had musical narratives — Oscar Mayer had a way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a, Coke taught the world to sing in perfect harmony, and Burger King sang about having it your way. Even the famed early outdoor signs of America had a musical cadence: Around the corner, lickety-split, beautiful car, wasn’t it? Burma-Shave. Our dad saw that in the 1940s, told us the rhyme in second grade, and we still recall it. For some reason, the use of music jingles in advertising has faded. Perhaps the market was oversaturated, and like the 1970s moustache music just went out of vogue.

Musical communication reaches something primitive in all of us, tied to deep memories and our desire to survive. However annoying, we can’t get some tunes out of our mind. Soon, we bet, some clever marketer will bring the jingle back.