Monthly Archives: March 2008

Gary Vaynerchuk: With no privacy, you gotta be good

Fantastic view on how new media creates new transparency, where your customers will know more and more about you. This could be an opportunity for your brand, or a curse — all in how you play it.

At your next Marketing Steering Committee, toss a thought grenade on the table: What would happen to our sales and customer loyalty if our customers knew everything about our products and pricing? Could we still compete? And if not, what are we going to do about it?

Tx to Brandflakes and Chris Brogan for the find. Bonus points to Mr. Vaynerchuk for excellent use of hand motions.

Farewell, dear Shuttle: Why consumers of technology are daft


Technology is running in reverse.

First we gave up CDs, which back in the 1980s offered crystal-clear, concert-quality sound, for compressed MP3s that mute music with a strangled buzz. Then we stopped using film, which had resolution so fine we could turn snapshots into giant wall posters, for cell phone cameras that produce pixelated images enshrouded in bloody fog. Then we began swapping big-screen computers with comfortable keypads for little plastic, breakable mobile devices where one has to type with two thumbs.

And now we have YouTube — a brilliant video leap forward in which we can watch 4 1/2 by 3 1/2-inch grainy films produced by drunken college students.

So. Technology is getting worse, and now the horror sets in. NASA is ditching the Space Shuttle in 2010 for — we’re so upset we can hardly type it — a rocket with a capsule on top. This has been coming for years; talk of retirement surfaced soon after the Challenger accident in 2003. But damn if the new rocket doesn’t look like a 1960s moon launch.


The Shuttle was what technology is supposed to be about. Slick. Sexy. Reusable ships that soared to heaven and back, igniting imagination with double-delta wings and heat shields like something out of Star Wars, a design that a 5th-grader might dream up. The thrust structure was made from titanium, the engine cranked up to 104%, and when spent, the Shuttle could piggyback home on a Boeing 747, sort of a, look, I’m too sated from space travel to bother finale. The Shuttle made outer space seem within reach, a there-and-back again adventure, with parts that were recycled for a little green gift to Mother Earth.

But we blew it. Viewers stopped tuning in for live Shuttle launches, ratings went down, so NASA has stuck us with the Orion, above. Ick.

Maybe technology is running backward because we’ve all grown a bit selfish. Rather than share movie experiences on gigantic screens, we want secret video in little boxes from YouTube. Instead of socializing in concert halls, we demand earbuds that pipe in private iTunes.

If this trend continues, humans will probably stop talking to each other with rich facial expressions and vocal nuances altogether and instead take up lower-resolution alternatives, perhaps typing little messages on tiny keyboards and posting them in small windows for others to come find.

Oh, never mind.

Forbes: When chasing long tail of blogs, be careful what you bite


Forbes is the latest big-brand content player to try to compete with ad networks by getting in the game itself. The risk in this move is it may erode the Forbes’ brand.

We’ve noted that the problem with big brands online is their advertising results — you know, the number of people who actually click through the banner ads, the thing that marketers pay for — tend to pale compared to ad networks. Online ad networks are groups of hundreds of web sites that provide incredible targeting, by tracking your behavior across each site and then tailoring ads based on what you’ve been reading. If you make $150k per year and just perused a series of car reviews, an ad network will begin serving up Jaguar banners. Because you’re in the market for a car, you may bite.

Big sites can’t watch this online behavior at other web sites, so when you walk into their world, they have difficulty personalizing ads. This in turn hampers ad results, and advertisers suddenly don’t find a big brand site very attractive. Now, Forbes has launched Business and Finance Blog Network, a group of 400+ blogs that extends its tracking reach online.

The irony of all this is it may erode the Forbes brand. If users get comfortable obtaining expert financial advice and news from hundreds of blogs, traffic at Forbes.com may start to spiral downward.

As Forbes follows the dynamic that makes online advertising work — users surfing around sites — it may point readers away. Good luck chasing that tail.

Lawyers in lederhosen

If you wonder what a legal team is doing in leather shorts with H-shaped suspenders, so do we. There’s a certain type of advertising that tries to break through by simply being arresting; think Wendy’s red wig, Burger King’s subservient chicken, and now, law firm Hanson Bridgett.

Steve Hall at Ad Gabber investigated, and learned from firm managing partner Andrew Giacomini that they tried something “completely different” to tap into viral networks. You know, so bloggers would post it and pass it along to their readers …

Damn. We’ve been had.

Nice bill: Sprint’s Simply Everything

Bless you, Sprint. This battered cell provider is stepping up to the plate with a new, mind-slappingly easy $99.99 Simply Everything plan that makes it worth your while to switch. Is your current bill more than $150 a month? Switch to Sprint and you’ll save $600 a year — more than enough to cover that nasty termination fee.

The brilliance of all this isn’t the math, but Sprint’s movement away from fancy creative to a plainspoken CEO, Dan Hesse, explaining the facts: Here’s our idea: You get to use the phone for all the great things it can do without worrying about the meter running. Sure, it’s not as beautiful as Sprint’s spots last year in which puppeteers with flashlights turned night scenes into streaking displays of color. But apparently U.S. consumers didn’t “get” the message that they needed a faster, brighter cell network. What they really want is a bill that makes sense.

Sprint’s promotion is gutsy because it recognizes that consumers aren’t in love with cell providers due to technology — we simply hunger for a commodity payment plan to underwrite our wireless gadgets. Sprint also has the guts to tout a price plan in mass media knowing full well that millions of current Sprint customers, paying much more, will dial back in and renegotiate. They’ll be loyal but surely less profitable.

There is a lesson here for any subscription service or home service provider. Inside your organization you may have thousands of people working to build cell phone towers or deliver dry cleaning or pump heating oil, and you probably work overtime to train call service reps on quality service. But most of your customers don’t see what goes on inside operations. They simply get a bill, and they want one that they can understand.

It ain’t sexy. But Sprint got this one right.

Hat tip to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners for a clear message.

Why ESPN knocked down Specific Media


There’s an interesting battle brewing online between big brands and ad networks, and it holds lessons in how to make online marketing work better.

ESPN.com this week said online ad network Specific Media could no longer sell ESPN banner ad inventory. The people who run major brand sites, such as Wenda Harris Millard over at Martha Stewart, explain in Mediaweek that this is about price … claiming online ad networks despoil the brands of premium sites by selling ad slots at cut-rate discounts.

What the big boys aren’t saying is that ad networks such as Specific Media, which are collections of hundreds or thousands of sites, threaten the big players because the advertising results from ad networks are often better. It’s pretty simple, really. Ad networks can track one user across multiple sites and chase them with personalized ads, based on extremely sophisticated demographic and behavioral targeting, while single web sites can’t.

This is the deep irony in internet marketing — that the biggest brands may make the lousiest advertising channels. Think of what the dynamic is within a WebMD, iVillage or ESPN.com:

Lots of different users, all with varied interests (ESPN has 197 different sports links from its home page navigation menus alone), all hitting one site. Your ad appears, and many of the users won’t be in the market. An ad network, by comparison, works like this:

Ad networks allow marketers to track a single individual across multiple web sites, track their past behavior or click stream, and then serve up personalized ads in response. We’ve seen clients with click-through rates on ads five times higher from ad networks than the same ads that appear on brand sites.

In the advertising world, it’s not the price of the ads that really matters — it’s the cold, hard results of what it costs to acquire consumers. We typically recommend that clients do A-B testing to run major sites and ad networks against each other. By all means, set up a horse race and include ESPN. But remember: you’re not buying a brand — you’re buying a customer.

Scrubbing with Verve: How the green movement motivates good design


Spring and green are in the air. Norway just made news by announcing it would be carbon neutral by 2050. The New York Auto Show this week, filled with depressed automakers who realize Americans are not buying high-margin gas-guzzling SUVs and may retrench from buying cars at all in our home equity hangover, had one bright spot — sexy designs of small, nimble, efficient cars like the Ford Verve. One glance and you think, finally, designers are getting green right.

Our favorite environmental push, though, comes from Deirdre Imus, who founded dienviro.com with Hackensack to educate the public about how to control environmental factors such as mercury, lead and tobacco that may trigger cancer. Imus launched a line of home cleaning products, called Greening the Cleaning, which scrub scum with plant-based enzymes and none of those toxic fumes that require a gas mask.


This is a brilliant move, because the shelf-space for green environmental cleaners is still pretty empty, and Imus could rapidly build momentum even as the big CPGs catch on. Proceeds support a 4,000-acre cattle ranch in New Mexico for kids with cancer.

All of which seems a bit logical. Producing products that are beautiful, efficient, non-toxic, and give something back to the world. Can you hear the marketing opportunity for your own brand?

Clean sheet it, and start with crayons

Here’s a nice piece of whimsy from Slate. Crayon Physics Deluxe is a simple video game by Petri Purho of Helsinki, Finland, that pushes back on the hyper-realism of Gears of War II or Quantic’s artificial intelligence-laden Heavy Rain. You simply draw objects that become rooted in gravity, allowing a ball to roll or be pushed toward a star. The game created a sensation at the 2008 Game Developers Conference in February.

Why all the fuss? Purho did something new, totally out of the box. A fresh idea beats sophisticated graphics any time. Chris Baker at Slate commented the game looks as if it were designed by a third grader. Purho wrote back, I take that as a compliment.

More at Purho’s site here.

Perhaps if your ad contained a wild animal … oh, never mind

Dear Advertiser,

Your potential customer is not paying attention. Watch the above video and see if you catch the drift.

A recent study by MRI found that consumer attentiveness varies by medium and by the time of day. In morning drive, 21.6% of radio listeners were “highly attuned”; mid-day that number falls to 13.3%. Across the board, from internet to magazines to TV to newspapers, users had highs and lows of when they were attuned to the content. The bad news is that in most cases, about half of consumers said they were tuned out. The really bad news is that your precious media plans, which include detailed forecasts on CPM and GRPs, are largely fiction.

You see, impressions don’t count if they don’t really exist.

Marketers have known this for years; in the 1800s Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker said half his advertising was wasted, trouble was, he didn’t know which half. But technology is speeding up the tune-out curve. Consumer adoption of DVR — those fancy digital video recorder boxes that allow you to skip cable TV commercials — grew from 8% in 2005 to 23% this year. Facebook has launched new privacy controls, which allow you to cluster contacts and keep those risqué party photos away from Mom and Dad. Humans are circling the wagons on communication, and noisy advertisers may be left out on the dusty plain.

The solution? Evaluate the potential attention levels of your audience for each component in your media plan. GRPs, CPM, or eye-grabbing creative alone won’t cut it … even if it includes a dancing bear.

(Tx Monkeys.)