Monthly Archives: June 2010

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.


Wow, that big orange ball sure is high in the sky. So we’re taking a minor sabbatical, leaving you with a touch of physics we posted at our friend Jason Moriber’s Sundayed blog. It makes perfect sense, if you just look around.

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Many summers ago when I was a child hiking through the fields of Vermont because my parents were poor, there were no scheduled soccer matches or movie play dates or flat-panel TVs yet we owned four acres of gold and green and hiking outside was just what you did, I started down a winding, prickle-filled path that was no more than a dirt thread surrounded by shrubs when — zooooooooom — a bee went by.

How that bee flew. If you’ve heard of the term beeline, it really exists — a tiny yellow rocket flare firing in perfect direction like nature’s arrow on a string, headed to or from a hive or clover. Bees, you see, are amazing workers. They communicate with each other; one bee will leave the group, head out, find pollen, and upon its return signal the direction to the find in relation to the sun’s angle overhead by swooping in a figure-eight. (The idea that other creatures don’t talk to each other is an arrogant human misconception, but that’s another story altogether.) Signal received, other bees zoom out in straight lines to the new treasure. For a human, like us, it’s hard to understand how creatures so little can move so fast. For me, boy at the time, blue sky overhead and sun beating through the pines, I wondered how that bee could see where it was going.

So now I propose a radical theory, blindingly obvious once you grasp it. The perception of time is a function of size.

What do I mean? If you were a small bee, your flight would appear to be much slower. Your wings would be flapping like a bird’s, not vibrating at an impossible cadence. You’d see straight ahead and have time to make minor adjustments, say, avoiding a tree or a giant boy looming up to the clouds, not the millisecond reflexes an observer at our human scale would assume. And the high-pitch of your buzzing would be a deep, melodious throb. To you, small bee, you’re simply conducting a paced, leisurely daily commute to work.

Want more? Let’s scale out, farther, wider, for another example from nature. The whale song. To humans, the communication of a whale seems low, throbbing, impossibly slow, giant waves of auditory deepness floating lazily within the ocean. The signal travels vast distances, scores of miles to other whales, for reasons that we don’t grasp. The giants of our mammal race also appear to swim burdened by gravity, turning their direction in minutes not seconds, slowly waving tails, even exhibiting a time-delay flop when they leap from the ocean. But whales, if you lived at their scale, likely move as fast as bees — quickly rising, falling, sharing news in a melody that we tiny humans are too little to understand.

For whales, time moves quicker than we observe. For bees, time moves slow.

Scale out even further — look, say, at the Earth orbiting the Sun. It takes oh so long, 365 and .26 days, for the pole of our planet to edge back to the same angle against our closest star. But for Mother Earth, the motion may be swift — the swing a quick day’s arc, the pulse of oceans and tectonic plate shifts a visible feeling, the dust of tiny creatures such as bees and humans and whales on its surface as minor and unnoticed as the viruses that crawl inside our human blood or the mites that live upon our pillows. The Earth, you see, has its own perception of time tied to its scale.

Later, long after that sunshine-summer hike when I moved to college to learn about independence and life’s inconsequence, I sat in a chemistry class trying to fathom atoms — obscure subatomic particles such as electrons and protons and neutrons and, deeper in, quarks with bizarre names such as Strange and Charm, moving so quickly their position could not be determined by ginormous human observers. Maybe, for these atomic creatures I thought, they are swinging off to a morning’s task like a bee, sharing throbbing stories like a whale, completing a workaday circle like the Earth around the Sun, being watched by God-like creatures called humans that reach to the heavens.

I was larger in college, much larger than a child. And for some reason, time started to move fast.

Image: Wolfpix. Headline: Ferris Bueller.

Tom Cruise and lizards: Hollywood’s double demos


Yak about community all you want, most marketers still target people with one-way communications, and the bull’s-eye in that target is called a customer demo. Demographics are vital, you see, because humans have vastly different interests … yet commonalities among age, income, home location, and psychographic affinities abound. Look across the street at the neighbor and you’ll find he or she probably dresses similarly to you, has similar appliances in the house, about the same size TV, may go out to your favorite restaurant. By identifying target descriptions, marketers are more likely to achieve higher response.

Yet … targets can overlap, and some advertisers rarely consider this. Is it possible to hit a double demo?

Hollywood is hip to this. We’ve seen several examples recently of sharp marketers reaching out to more than one audience. The film “Knight and Day,” with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, offers spies, romance, and cartoon action — something for mom, dad and the kids. The rush of Pixar animated films, with double entendres for grownups interspersed with digital graphics for tots, hits more than one button. “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe,” and of course the multi-billion-dollar-hit “Avatar” — the first film to top $2 billion in revenue — all appealed across demographic clusters. The film industry knows the only way to make it big is to hit more than one type of consumer. You could suspect the rehabilitation of Tom Cruise, post Oprah-couch-jumping Scientology-interviewing (we’re not judging, people, all religions deserve respect but oh people tuned out) required a severe multi-demo-pronged approach. And hey, we saw the movie with a 10-year-old, and yes, it rocked.

The Geico / Martin example

It’s not easy to hit more than one target with a single arrow, of course. Such marksmanship requires a product with multifaceted appeal, marketing that offers nuances to reach more than one demo type, and media buys that touch different genders, ages, and mindfulness of consumers in different channels. Orchestrating all of this may require Steve Jobsian manic control.

A few weeks ago we were privileged to speak at the DMA Echo Award judges panel, thanks to an invite from the uberpodcaster Bob Knorpp, who hates Tom Cruise, and met up with one of the principals of The Martin Agency, the fast-track group responsible for the brilliant cavemen and eyeball-dollars for Geico. After we asked the obvious question — “Does that lizard thing have a British or Aussie accent?” — we then dug in on the media plan. Geico, you see, is running several creative campaigns at once. “Of course we try to reach more than one demographic,” the Martin bloke told us, “because insurance has broad appeal, and we have to reach different consumers at different stages in their lives.” (We paraphrase wildly, but chill, this is just a damn blog.) So Geico launches several major creative prongs, tests individual creative elements in small markets, measures lift in response and awareness, and rolls forward like a giant board game. Geico, and its Martin gurus, have learned it is possible to target more than one type of human.

So here’s a mind game: Next meeting you’re in where everyone is drilling in on the one, single, perfect demographic target, ask: “Hey, what if we go for two or three types of people at once?”

Footnote: The man from Martin wouldn’t divulge the real lizard accent. But that’s OK, Wikipedia tells us there are an estimated 2,000 different species of geckos worldwide. Maybe, those clever lads at Martin are targeting more than one accent at once.

A conversation with Uncle Yield


In the incestuous world of advertising, most offspring have useful traits and yet, like in-laws seen years later at an unavoidable wedding party, also have grating flaws. You may find direct-response specialists focused on lead gen and costs per inquiry, all metrics, no vision. You encounter brand masters worried about identity and consistency and positioning, strategic geniuses who can’t spell results. You have creative types who ideate their way to castles in the clouds, visionaries who can’t count. You find young social media gurus, casting dispersion on traditional ad habits and talking about collaboration, communities and curation, all eloquence to little effect. And of course you know the New York City ivory-tower grandfathers, not really ad specialists but they’ve worked with Coke or Pepsi so they’ll skewer your ideas with a glare that says, where we come from, back in the day, we did everything so much better.

Yet, sometimes, rarely, you find the long-lost bearded-results mountain man, a crotchety oldster who legend has it once hiked the Appalachian Trail while making wine coolers hip in the 1980s. If he were an ad himself, he’d be Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World. We call him Uncle Yield. If you are lucky enough, you might ask Uncle Yield for real advice on how to make advertising work better.

He’d fix you in the eye, scratch off a heap of dandruff, stick a finger in his ear to adjust the wax, and say, inspecting the nail:

“Sonny, you’ve got to increase the yield.”

What the heck is “yield,” you ask? Why, you’ve just spent a million bucks on advertising with a sharp agency owned by an acronym in New York City, made the phones jump, captured 20% as leads and then sold a fraction of those respondents your product. The ads worked. You did your job. The arrogance of this old fart!

But your grumpy old uncle wouldn’t be satisfied with back-talk. He’d opine, “Laddie, when I was a child, we never threw anything out — especially your lost leads. Here’s what to do.

“Remember those people who called but you never caught as leads? Well, a lot of people get off the phone without giving you their contact information. But they called you, didn’t they? So they must be interested, right Sonny? So look up their originating phone number, append their address information, and put them in your prospect database. If you’ve only caught 20% of respondents as leads before, now you’ve increased your prospect pool by 5x!” Uncle Yield has been reading HBR, and he knows how to calculate a 400% lift in prospects. You blush.

“You with me lad? You’ve now identified a lot of people you didn’t sell! Now, get aggressive, Sonny! Do something! Call those unsold leads, and if you can’t get them on the phone, hit them with direct mail. And then hit them again. Because those unsold leads already told you they’re interested, like a girlie batting her eye at you in the downtown bar, so step up, you’ll reap double your regular conversion rate. You’ll be gaining many more customers for almost zero incremental cost. Why, a 10% increase in sales from your untouched, unsold leads equals hundreds of thousands you won’t have to spend on advertising next year!”

Well, damn, if he just didn’t teach you a trick about remarketing. You feel OK, it’s a good idea. Sure, there are risks. You bring up DNC requirements for remarketing, the need to get lawyers involved to make sure your contact approach is in line with the law, the fact that your direct mail budget may need some tweaking to free up funds from what until now had been an elegant intellectual exercise in targeting people who don’t know who you are. It won’t be easy, you say. Your uncle digs out more earwax, scoffs, and says, “For Pete’s sake, boy, turn up the office thermostat. Don’t you know cooling this operation costs money?”

Image: ToniVC

Lap dances: Why Twitter won’t fit on your TV


One great irony of our time is that technology gurus expect gadgets to converge into single interfaces with more and more embedded functionality … and yet miss that achieving singularity could diminish the usability they’re supposed to be advocating. Or in more simple terms: You don’t want your campfire in your bed.

You see, humans have three basic fields of communication — a concept by Robert Sommer called “personal space.” Sommer wrote of this way back in 1969, along the lines that our evolutionary ancestors were trained to listen to stories from the campfire, hold tools in their hands, and share whispers of lovers in their ears. Stories, work, sex — the basics you needed to survive in clans in the wild. Sommer termed these fields “social,” “personal” and “intimate” spaces. If a large man tells another man a tale from 10 feet away, that’s cool; if he gets too close, it feels like a threat; if someone you are sexually attracted to gets very close, you may be in for a new relationship or deep trouble. Our bodies are conditioned to react to the physical distance tied to the incoming communication around us.

So fast forward to summer 2010. TiVo announced this week it would load Facebook and Twitter streams onto television sets. At first blush, this seems like a superb extension of social media — more personal, real-time news on the big screen. You can almost hear the tech geeks yell yee-haw! Alas, is this what people really want? Twitter is really analogous to whispers in your intimate space; Facebook is almost as close, yet slightly more distant, more suited for the work-style typing and photo uploading from a laptop screen. Television is the distant social field, an incoming bath of blue light that warms us like stories from hunters around the ancestral campfires.

Humans don’t want all of these things together. Don’t believe us? Then ask, why in a world where consumers rush to buy new electronic gadgets of only slightly more marginal utility has no company succeeded in the past 20 years in building a convergence device — where you can watch movies and TV, read the Internet and type at work projects, and text or call your closest friends intimately? Why does the Apple TV box suck in sales? Why did you forget that Apple makes a TV device? Because society rejects convergence if it jumbles up our communication fields.

There are very few open market niches, but when they yawn gaspingly open — think, the Internet refrigerator, people, no one is buying the damn thing — it’s usually a signal that the sum of two combined utility factors is less than the whole of its parts. Sometimes too close is not the right solution. If you don’t believe us, at your next office party with your spouse in attendance, ask if he or she minds if you let another attractive colleague sit on your lap.

What isn’t the problem?


Stuck on a project? Ben Malbon at BBH Labs points us to this creativity checklist by none other than the CIA. Apparently analyzing political intelligence requires keen diagnostic skills. This is worth printing out and posting on your wall.

THE PROBLEM
Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
What benefits will you receive by solving the problem?
What is the unknown?
What is it you don’t yet understand?
What is the information you have?
What isn’t the problem?
Is the information sufficient? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?
Should you draw a diagram of the problem? A figure?
Where are the boundaries of the problem?
Can you separate the various parts of the problem? Can you write them down? What are the relationships of the parts of the problem? What are the constants of the problem?
Have you seen this problem before?
Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form? Do you know a related problem?
Try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown
Suppose you find a problem related to yours that has already been solved. Can you use it? Can you use its method?
Can you restate your problem? How many different ways can you restate it? More general? More specific? Can the rules be changed?
What are the best, worst and most probable cases you can imagine?

THE PLAN
Can you solve the whole problem? Part of the problem?
What would you like the resolution to be? Can you picture it?
How much of the unknown can you determine?
Can you derive something useful from the information you have?
Have you used all the information?
Have you taken into account all essential notions in the problem?
Can you separate the steps in the problem-solving process? Can you determine the correctness of each step?
What creative thinking techniques can you use to generate ideas? How many different techniques?
Can you see the result? How many different kinds of results can you see?
How many different ways have you tried to solve the problem?
What have others done?
Can you intuit the solution? Can you check the result?
What should be done? How should it be done?
Where should it be done?
When should it be done?
Who should do it?
What do you need to do at this time?
Who will be responsible for what?
Can you use this problem to solve some other problem?
What is the unique set of qualities that makes this problem what it is and none other?
What milestones can best mark your progress?
How will you know when you are successful?

Image: Dark Matter

Looping technology

In his new book “The Shallows,” Nicholas Carr frets that technology may be making us more stupid as we frenetically search the Net for fads or ask Google to fill in our memory blanks. Steven Pinker counters that in a world of vastly scaling knowledge, we need technology to be smart, solving problems with engines that pull in data we can’t possibly retain ourselves. Clay Shirky parries most optimistically, suggesting the 1.8 billion humans now using the Internet have created a cognitive surplus that gave us Wikipedia at first, and perhaps leaps in creative output in the future.

All we can say about technology is: damn, KT Tunstall can jam with it.

What to learn from NYT banning ‘tweets’


Social media users shared a mighty laugh this week upon hearing The New York Times’ standards editor Phil Corbett had asked its writers to not use the word “tweet.” “We don’t want to seem paleolithic,” Corbett wrote. “But we favor established usage and ordinary words over the latest jargon or buzzwords.”

At first, this seems an obvious boner. Twitter now has more than 100 million users worldwide, and its brief 140-character posts are unique formats that can include hyperlinks to web articles, retweets of others’ messages, photos, and hashtags for tracking conversations. If the Twitter service is a fad, no matter; a large chunk of the human race is using it today, and there should be a word to describe it.

Yet The New York Times points to a deeper issue — language, like society, is splintering. Wired magazine reported two years ago that there are now more non-native English speakers in the world using the language, often incorrectly, than there are speakers in nations where English is the mother tongue. More than 300 million Chinese, for instance, use English tinged with strange vowel tones and wildly incorrect terms. In Singapore, “think” is pronounced “tink.” Even the logic structure is shifting; Wired author Michael Erard noted that in Mandarin, subjects are not required in sentences, so “Our goalie not here yet, so give chance, can or not?” makes perfect sense. English is morphing into Chinglish, not a bad thing, just a new language entirely.

Technology, the great divider

Technology and the Internet were once thought to be great unifiers, but instead they may be accelerants helping us form divergent microbubbles of interests, expanding new niches of humanity that lead to more rapid evolution of language, concepts, and culture. Like the oceans and mountains that once divided us, we can now use web browsers and mobile handsets to set up walls against others and see only others like us. Readers of Fox News self-select conservatively biased reporting; readers of Salon click to find their own liberal viewpoints reinforced. Global warming is a threat/hoax. Obama is saving the country/slinking toward socialism. BP is corporate evil writ large/a victim of all our personal oil consumption. Politics, news, jargon, argot, slang and the ideas behind them are all fragmenting in new directions. It’s not right or wrong, New York Times; it’s progress, and perhaps something worth tweeting about.

Image: TarikB

Has Apple snared 20% of total mobile ad spending?


Do the math and your jaw will drop.

While Steve Jobs was distracting you Monday with the glittering iPhone 4G’s front-facing camera, potentially heralding an era of video calls into the U.S., Apple was plotting its real move — staging a 40% margin slice of the nascent mobile advertising market. If you can believe Apple’s announcement, it has already booked one-fifth of the entire mobile advertising market — and the crazy thing is Apple’s mobile ad platform won’t go live for three more weeks.

Mobile advertising has been hampered for a decade by shoddy interfaces, shrunken visual inventory, changes in consumer modality (you use tiny handheld devices to talk and text things, not surf the web), and — most recently — Apple’s own groundbreaking app universe. More than 225,000 push-button apps have now been downloaded 5 billion times, and each of those buttons gives handset users a way to find information online — weather, sports scores, games — while avoiding the old-style Internet. Until now, that’s almost 225,000 unique tiny media formats that advertisers would have to push their way into if they want to try to intercept that audience. (Don’t think mobile advertising has stalled? Then please review the past decade’s comical missed mobile ad spending forecasts.)

But on Monday, Apple announced its iAd mobile advertising network had booked $60 million in ad commitments for the second half of the year — a run rate of $120 million annually, or 20.2% of the total $593 million that eMarketer says will be spent on mobile ads in 2010. Let us repeat. Apple’s iAd mobile ad platform, which will turn on July 1, has already gained one-fifth of the mobile ad market. At a 40% margin.

Apple’s platform gives hungry garage-based app developers the other 60% cut, something better than nothing, and marketers a way to outwit all of those nasty web-ad-inventory-avoiding applications by intercepting them all. And unlike Google’s app-ad systems, Apple’s doesn’t push you away from apps into the web when you click on one but lets you continue easily onward in your app-fueled journey.

What can we say, Steve? Forget that glittering glass iPhone; your margins are looking su-weet.

Image: Stephen Mitchell

Do brand marketers have more or less options? Why, yes.


Here’s a brain-teaser: Today, is there more or less ad inventory in the world than 10 years ago?

The puzzling answer, we suggest, is yes to both. Like the Schrödinger’s cat physics thought experiment, marketers live in a paradoxical universe in which there is both more and less space to send a message to consumers.

First, why more? Because consumers now consume more media than ever before. The New York Times reported today that the typical U.S. resident watches three times as much media now as they did in 1960, taking in 12 hours of content each day including 40 web sites on average. Behind this time-use tidal wave is an ocean of material, thousands of cable channels, hundreds of thousands of apps and millions of web sites that allow consumers to find anything they want. This expanding universe of content has created an almost limitless inventory for ad placement — one reason why CPMs are falling as advertisers learn to target consumers via ad networks (online collections of thousands of web sites) or ad exchanges (online bid systems that help marketers reach specific target audiences).

But second, why less? Because consumers are paying less attention to intrusive media than in years past. You see, advertising impressions don’t really exist unless they reach a consumer’s mind. Dig into each media arena, and the data shows consumers blocking marketers everywhere.

Television: Did you know channel surfing no longer exists? The typical U.S. home receives 130 TV channels but dials in to fewer than 18 — because consumers now click on guide menus and scroll down to “tune” to the exact channels they want. Yes, according to the Nielsen / Ball State University March 2009 study of 376 participants directly observed over 48 hours with media exposure logged at 10-second increments (whoa), U.S. consumers still watch 5 hours and 9 minutes of live television a day — but concurrent media use, or watching more than one device at the same time, is the biggest media trend. When commercials air, eyeballs go to the computer or smartphone in the lap.

Radio: Arbitron’s expansion of Portable People Meters, which measure radio usage via an actual electronic signal vs. the older, less effective diary panels, has found that consumers tend to rapidly change the dial when :30 second spots come on.

Online: Consumers change viewing windows on computer screens about 37 times an hour — clicking away from any content that doesn’t immediately meet their needs. The falling click-through rates for banner advertising, once above 4% in the 1990s and now below 0.08%, are the surest indication that consumer attention to marketing messages online is fading.

Mobile: And the world of mobile apps, launched by Apple’s iPhone, allows you to tap a single button to find a sports score or weather report, ignoring the old world of advertising inventory altogether. Mobile advertising has been perhaps the most disappointing arena for marketers, with missed forecasts for each year in the past decade. Wall Street analyst Mary Meeker has noted that we’ll soon live in a world of 10 billion mobile Internet-connected devices, and most of those will not use the old browser portals that enable standard advertising inventory. As consumers migrate to content-specific applications with traffic alerts on car dashboards and weather advisories in umbrella handles, mobile advertisers will face a continued squeeze in ad inventory.

The great paradox of our age is that consumers, floating in a sea of advertising inventory, are finding ways to ignore most marketing messages by controlling what they watch, spending more time in content creation, and sharing only what they find relevant. For brand marketers this means the cost of placing ads against your specific targets is now cheaper than ever before; the question is, are those inexpensive impressions really making any impression at all?

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We’ll be discussing this issue at DigiDay Target this Wednesday in New York City with Dave Smith of Mediasmith, Tariq Muhammad Walker of AOL Black Voices, Mark Zagorski of eXelate, Jeff Hirsch of AudienceScience, and Omar Tawakol of BlueKai.

Can online ads be 2/3 of media spend? No.


We had a friendly virtual debate with Shiv Singh tonight. You should read his blog, he’s a bright mind for Razorfish. Here’s the replay.

Shiv:

If you’ve wondered why the Internet is hot and continues to still be, this chart says it all. Advertising dollars are moving online in a big way… According to Union Square Ventures partner Fred Wilson, he can see this percentage becoming two-thirds of all advertising spend as TV and radio become audio on the Internet and video online. Do you agree?

Ben:

No. I appreciate the enthusiasm but I also suggest that following hockey-stick projections is a sure way to look silly in a few years. The facts are the average U.S. household has more than four TVs — more TVs than people — and the typical consumer watches 5 hours and 9 minutes of live television. The biggest trend is concurrent media usage, in which people, like myself, watch CNN while typing on a computer and using the phone. The Internet is additive but itself is facing the end of its bubble, a la the emergence of mobile as the new Internet, the diminished ad inventory inside smaller mobile screens, and the shifting modalities of consumers who are learning to create and share their own content. Apples’ “app” innovation has put a nail into the young coffin of mobile advertising since most apps have extremely limited visual inventory to insert any ads at all.

Now, if mobile is the future — and Wall Street guru Mary Meeker says it is, with more than 10 billion untethered devices soon to be in human hands — how has mobile advertising fared? Why, we’ve missed every mobile forecast for the past 10 years.

It’s cool to be visionary, but Internet advertising has a big problem — banner CPMs are falling to the floor, consumers are moving to smaller mobile screens with less inventory, and gadget manufacturers have an incentive to put up new walled gardens that make advertising insertion even more difficult.

Image: XiXiDu