Monthly Archives: October 2010

Wanderfly’s inductive marketing


What if you helped customers find solutions they didn’t know they need?

This is very different than the linear, deductive path of most sales pitches. As you recall from Philosophy 101 class, there are two types of logic — deductive and inductive. Deductive reasoning reduces generalities to specifics; if you want to know what a brick is made of, break it down in lab tests to find clay composed of hydrated silicates of aluminum. Inductive reasoning expands upon specifics to generalities — using a few uncertain assumptions to leap to new ideas, a more creative approach to building conclusions, say, “What are all the possible uses for a brick?”

Marketers love deductive logic, the linear cause-and-effect reasoning that suggests if we do A and B, then C will happen. You carefully calibrate variables, weigh all options, evaluate all risks, forecast results, and then when you finally pitch to customers, the goal is to tap their needs to pull them through an awareness-intent-response-sales funnel to buy your one perfect solution. Your careful math leads to a near-certain conclusion. Direct mail is the classic example, and in the 2000s Google became the ultimate deductive solution — digesting nearly all the variables in the online universe, the search giant helps consumers match need with exactly the right finding.

But what if you leapt out of that box?


Which is why we love Wanderfly.com. This travel site expands to an inductive approach — punch in a few specifics, and it comes back with wildly creative answers. The site asks for your travel time, budget range, and a few interest categories, and then if you pick “anywhere” will suggest you fly to say, Amesbury, England, the famous site of Stonehenge. Obviously not every business can build such creative solution sets, but if you work in a customer service organization, inductive reasoning could be a point of differentiation. It’s nice that Travelocity and Kayak will tell us the lowest fare to San Diego on Jan. 15; it’s nice that your ad agency can build campaigns to sell X number of widgets. But a service that helps us figure out the creative potential in life or customer response, why, that’s a trip.

Harry Potter’s intersecting media


So someone unearthed a scratchpaper grid Joanne Rowling used to plot the “J. K. Rowling” Harry Potter books. The columns of intersecting characters and themes remind us that all advertising components are interrelated. One fallacy direct-response marketers may fall into is to think they can isolate all communication elements — search, print, radio, TV, online display, mobile, social media, PR — from each other to track individual channel response. It’s a nice theory, but all ripples on the lake of consumer interest send waves elsewhere. Each media character has unique measurable value, but is also influenced by others. Just ask Harry.

Tragedy of The New York Times’ commons

We’re all for effective advertising, which is why we wince sometimes seeing major publishers over-clutter their homepages in a desperate attempt to juice ad sales. Take NYT, which sold about 39% of its visual real estate to eBay with this massive trifecta banner concoction. Yes, you can’t help but notice it. Yes, CTRs and conversions may go up, giving eBay’s current campaign a little squeeze for its cost per acquisition. But what does this do to the total ecosystem of advertising in general?

Are you, dear reader, enjoying this view?

When advertising goes too far

A few years ago, Clear Channel radio got a bit (we’re hypothesizing only here lawyers and this certainly can’t be true) greedy and jacked up the minutes of commercials per hour. Ratings fell, and Clear Channel was forced (again, conjecture!) to launch a “less is more” campaign, promoting the fact it now ran less spots per hour.

This is a common pattern in communication networks. Car salemen were overly aggressive until automakers installed consumer surveys and learned distributors should back off. Telephones were encroached by marketers until consumers got pissed about telesales and all signed up for the Do Not Call lists, vaporizing that industry. And way back in the 1960s TV shows ran only 9 minutes of commercials an hour, while today broadcast stuns you with about 18 minutes — so is it any wonder now that younger generations are rushing to Hulu to watch shows with limited commercial interruption?

The sad reality for advertisers is they intrude upon a group of consumers whose majority doesn’t want the interruption, so some mutual restraint is required to make the model work. Direct mail may be the next victim of failure, if over-encroachment gets enough consumers to clamor for a “Do Not Mail list” (we’d link to it except we fear it might destroy the United States Postal Service). If every individual marketer or publisher goes for maximum selfish yield, they damage the entire advertising community, just as John Nash’s game-theorying laddies hitting a bar all go home without a date if they all try to hit on only the single prettiest girl. Group collaboration is required to optimize the yield on any ecosystem. Individual salesmen screaming for more dollars today may get the gold watch, but burn out their future.

So. Dear New York Times, we love you, but keep it up, and you’ll be done with print and HTML, posting news only to your millions of Twitter followers who prefer 140-character updates with no commercial interruption. Your online traffic is down about 20% since the height of Obama’s inauguration. Your Twitter followers now surpass your printed circulation. Is this the path to building a monetizable audience?

AOL cleans up your banner crud

Three years ago AOL.com’s online content ecosystem had 120 million monthly users. Today, the number has collapsed to 60 million – so AOL is upping its game with an innovation called Project Devil. AOL is streamlining content on its web pages and also making ads look better — with a clean vertical box at the right of each page, one advertiser per page, and a simple layout that makes it easy (gasp) to actually read the articles. It’s a continuation of the trend triggered by Apple’s iPad, in which consumers became stunned to see that web content could actually look pleasing to the eye.

AOL concludes with a tagline that strikes to the heart of any planner struggling with poor click-through rates: “Advertisers own one third of the web. Imagine actually enjoying that 33.3%.” At this point implementation seems theoretical; AOL’s home page still looks like a car-salesmen-weather-guy-convention afterhours dance party mosh pit. But we love the theory.

The Droid’s dude problem


Here’s a secret about new technology: Women are less likely to use it.

Repeated studies show that early adopters of devices such as tablet computers or smart phones skew male. 65% of iPad users are men, according to Nielsen. 73% of Android phone users are male, says AdMob. Even the iPhone and iPod Touch, devices that have been around for years, still have 54%-58% male users vs. female. The trend holds abroad; London-based Rabbit agency’s Dirk Singer notes only 5% of women told a UK study they would consider a Droid phone as their next mobile purchase vs. 11.4% of men.

Why is this important? Women direct about 85% of all product purchases in the United States, including 65% of new car sales, 80% of healthcare decisions, and a whopping 91% of new home sales. Their buying power is expected to increase in the next decade as Boomers age and men, with their weaker life spans, die off sooner; Fleishman-Hillard estimates women will soon control two-thirds of wealth in the United States.

Marketers enamored with the newest technology might pause and rethink their media strategies. Creative director Stephanie Holland has suggested that the majority of women “feel misunderstood” by healthcare, automotive, investment and other marketers. Are your channels in sync with the female consumers likely driving your sales?

Image: Pranav Singh

Predicting where the social dice will fall


When digital shop Organic hired economist Jason Harper to evaluate ad campaigns, Harper had a brilliant idea — rather than use social media to push sales messages or monitor fuzzy “sentiment,” how about crunching social media mentions to predict whether current ad campaigns will hit their lead targets? In other words, every campaign that penetrates consumer word of mouth tools such as Twitter’s tweets or Facebook’s Likes has an ebb and flow — a baseline of buzz before the campaign, a spike in mentions as the campaign message scales, and then a radical falloff of chatter. By measuring the velocity and acceleration of the curves, Harper came up with predictive models showing whether in-market advertising was on track.

MIT’s Technology Review reports Harper has successfully done this for auto companies and brands such as Kotex. The article mentions only a few case studies, and one client, Chrysler, eventually moved on to another agency, but we love the concept. Social media may not be about pushing sales or pulling mentions; instead, it could be about monitoring what consumers are saying about your ads in traditional channels, and then adjusting your course accordingly.

Image: Rob W.

The technology of love


We’re really busy up and down on airplanes this week so will replay a thought piece we published elsewhere. Enjoy.

* * *

Sarah Jamieson is a metro office worker who aspires to be a writer. She’s 24, slightly overweight, but knows she’s attractive because John at the front desk keeps ogling her chest. Sarah isn’t dating, though, because work is stressful and the hours are long and it’s just too damned hard to find time to go out. The last guy Brian was a jerk focused on unbuttoning her blouse, and Match.com is for losers — so a break is in order. Each evening after taking the G train home she cooks a microwave dinner in her apartment over a Brooklyn grocery, pours a glass of white wine, and retires to a wooden desk, a gift from her grandmother, to write a post for her blog AGirlWithoutAHammock.com. While Sarah types, her Mac’s TweetDeck program flashes updates from online friends every 15 seconds or so — tidbits such as “RT @johnhenry57 Do you remember the first time you fell in love?” — and she feels the warmth of human connection, of belonging to a tribe, of knowing others who know her needs. John Henry lives in Britain, she thinks, unsure and too tired to click to his bio. She pecks out a final sentence, hits Publish Post, tells herself she’ll call her mother tomorrow, and goes to bed.

That story is fiction.

The reality is closer: Many people live two lives, one with a lover or cat at home and another far away in a fictitious corporate environment, a battle of spreadsheets for entities that exist only in legal documents with surnames such as Inc. or LLC, in small rooms under fluorescent tubes far from the sun. Hours there are traded for numbers, no more than ones and zeros, that flow like blood into electronic scoring tables called bank accounts, and then can be transferred for goods, food and shelter. Perhaps stunned by the fake ambience of math, these people take recess in online games that pretend to connect to other people, with scoring mechanisms telling them they are growing more popular.

This story is real.

How did our world splinter in two — a home life with flesh and blood, and a corporate matrix populated by artificial-numbered social reality? If veal is disdained by some who would never eat a calf kept in a small bin, not allowed to roam free, trapped indoors for life, then who would eat you? In the United States, 9 in 10 people commute to work by car, spending a collective 3.7 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, only to arrive at job sites that require 9 hours or more of input into devices that lead to numbers in banks. If humans are social creatures, driven by sexual urges to procreate and parental desires to protect our young, how did we mortgage our lust-and-love connections to spend so much time in artificial environs?

Why is that which is closest to our bodies now furthest from our souls?

Social scientist Geoffrey Miller posed in Spent that the world did not have to end up like this; rather, it was series of unforeseen inventions, some helpful — such as trading markets or artificial currency — that allowed us to build and buy self-pleasuring items such as tickets to Tori Amos concerts or Hummers with poor turning radiuses. Unfortunately, Miller suggested, these inventions pushed us away from the bucolic values that once kept tribes cohesive and love close at hand.

Yes, you own a shiny iPod that can pump emotional music into your brain to bathe you in warmth, but you can’t hug your wife or kids at 3 p.m. while flying to Dallas or typing downtown. Technology has expanded our need set; we can fill our lives with near-perfect entertainment tools, the equivalent of 300 plays running concurrently in any hour on our TVs, pre-cooked meals of any flavor, voice transmissions around the globe … and yet most of this time is disconnected from the children who make us laugh or lover who brings us pleasure.

Is this too negative? Look around on the highway in the morning, at the cars crowding you, each with only one person inside its steel box. We have mortgaged our lives, and the answer lies in our drive for loyalty, for the stability of people or places or things that we can count on that will do us no harm. We crave predictability, because it helped our ancestors survive. The best way to predict the future is to find environments that have repeatable events driven by loyal people we trust. As environments have become more artificial, they’ve also improved in stability — and we find that loyalty pleasing.

Consider what loyalty is. Psychology has defined three aspects of faithfulness: emotional attachment (affective), perceived switching costs (continuance), and feelings of obligation (normative). Fear of switching and feelings of obligation are two potential motives for our inertia in staying in jobs, in living the same commute, in not fleeing the business world to go build sea-shell necklaces on a beach in Mexico. The false thrill of numbers in a bank have given us 2 of the 3 loyalty mechanisms we need to stay put in evolving society — we fear switching, and we’re obligated to go on.

But what of the other: emotional attachment? The affective aspect of loyalty is harder to fulfill, because it resorts to such funny stuff as novelty, humor, friendship, compassion and love. You felt this as a child with your mother, and perhaps when dating as a teen or falling for your spouse, the incredible drive to stay forever with another being who is filling your emotional needs. Emotion is the strongest impulse for loyalty, for going on one path and neglecting all others.

About 15 years ago, technology began filling our loyalty gap.

Technology today has accelerated our fake relationships, the reinforcement of stability, of loyal beings who will give us what we need. Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, email (yes), texting, video-sharing, or Flickr all allow us to connect with others who seem to love us. Of course, they don’t, because love requires commitment and true understanding, but technology appeases those flaws by allowing each user to set up self-filters to screen the content most likely to simulate affection. Twitter brilliantly imposed a gaming-psychology device, a number of “followers” at the upper right that each user can track to see how many connections he or she has, a proxy for requited emotion. Facebook has taken another approach, installing an EdgeRank algorithm that pushes only updates from friends it deems interesting into your stream (based on how often you communicate with them, how many others have commented on the post, and how recent it was). The result is a warm flow of material that seems addressed to you by others who care, each item surrounded by popular comments showing a community of interest.

You are embraced by others who love the concept of you.

Yes, this sounds dark. Grave. Abysmal. But consider the deeper question: if we have lived for 500 or so years trading fictitious currency as a sign for the value of goods, instead of swapping real grain and furs, has the new set of follower numbers and social content that emulate real relationships provided an even more compelling fiction, which will further remove us from the real world in our lives? Perhaps that view is wrong. Perhaps you, reading this, think you have your reality under control, that the emerging smart phones and tablets and social network apps are simple extensions of your communication, just as eyeglasses help you see and sneakers ease the pain of your run.

Maybe there is no seismic shift away from physical, flesh-touching, semen-and-tear-and-Band-Aid-stained reality at all. The glowing screens around us are only tools, not encroaching windows ensnaring us in false worlds. We’ll think of that as we turn off this computer and go kiss our kids in bed.

Image: Philipp Daun

Google’s threatened pawn and Apple’s plotting queen


Everyone is watching Google this week with its stock surging above $600, primarily because it is getting traction in mobile and online display advertising. Google teased analysts a bit by releasing one-time-only data that its mobile revenue is on a $1 billion annual run rate, noting “mobile search queries have grown five times over the past couple of years.” Apparently with a spike in revenue, Google wants to lock in the perception that it will go gangbusters in mobile, but it will decline to break out mobile results separately in the future.

But total number of searches is down — way down

Beneath this rosy cloud rolls some thunder, though. Google needs to break through in mobile and display because its core engine, search marketing, is poised to decline. Nielsen reported in August that year-over-year U.S. total Google search volume — the number of times you punch in a term at Google.com — slid a whopping 17%. Search is being replaced by friend recommendations in social media, and if the trend continues, Google’s bread basket will shrink. This is one reason why Google has been tweaking its search interface, such as with Instant Search, to try to push more obvious — and thus more costly to advertisers — top terms in front of users to maximize the yield on the shrinking consumer search usage window.

And then there’s Apple chomping at the ad bit. On the same day Google announced banner, um, banner results, news emerged Apple will move its iAd mobile app advertising platform over to video, too. Apple already secured about 50% of U.S. annual mobile ad spending with its iAd commitments; if it can overlay ads onto the videos consumers will be watching on iPhones, iPods and iPads, it could circumnavigate the old world of network and cable advertising. Anyone with children or teens in the home knows they are as likely to watch video on computers as traditional TV sets; as the trend expands, huge dollars will flow to the companies that learn how to intercept new video transmissions with advertising.

Think of this as a chess game. Google’s search-engine pawn is under threat, so it is edging two moves ahead with a mobile-advertising knight and banner-ad rook. But opponent Apple is planning three moves ahead, with a video-advertising queen aimed at the center of the board. If rich media keeps getting richer, if phones keep getting better cameras, and if consumers continue to embrace mobile-tablet-online video, who claims checkmate?

Image: Alejandro Hernandez

Predictive search

Recorded Future is a start-up service that looks at patterns in recent events to predict what will really happen in the future — for instance, assessing Apple’s sequence of past product updates to predict when the next generation of the iPhone will be unveiled with new features. The service locks most goodies behind paywalls, but you can visit to see which Senate candidates have the most momentum in the upcoming U.S. elections. Quants have been playing this game on Wall Street for decades; it’s about time someone told you which company will expand in India in 2014.

This isn’t exactly a prediction market, that is, a group of individuals whose average guesses can tell you uncanny things about the future (see our BusinessWeek riff on this back in 2008). And we’re not sure how good Recorded Future is at turning trend lines into future targets. But it does seem a natural extension of modern search rankings, which have moved from content links in Google to personal recommendations from Facebook, Twitter and other social media. If search relevance is to become any more relevant, we’ll have to know not only what we want today, but also tomorrow.

Via The New Shelton Wet/Dry.

The sexual impetus for your hatred of Gap’s logo


Word to the advertising community: The new Gap logo doesn’t suck. You’re just hung up about sex.

Before we explain, let’s review the rebranding kerfuffle. Gap, a purveyor of American denim and flannel, this week did what companies often do — redesigned its wordmark. The advertising world screamed bloody murder. Abe Sauer over at Brandchannel said the revamp “looks like it cost $17 from an old Microsoft Word clipart gallery.” David Brier of Fast Company called it “goop” and suggested protagonists would get fired. Someone launched the site CrapLogo.me offering infinite versions of Gap-crappy logos, and Adweek named the mock @GAPlogo to its top 25 Twitter accounts. And when Gap backpedaled suggesting it was open to new ideas, the blog ISO50 gathered more than 260 submissions.

What gives? Well, sex…


Ad gurus are steamed, you see, because Gap didn’t include enough nuance in its design, and nuance drives humans at the sexual core. It’s certainly not about the actual result, because Gap’s new use of the classic font Helvetica is similar to the wordmarks of other major brands — 3M, American Airlines, Panasonic, Toyota. Agency types are wringing their hands because such simplicity leaves their minds out of the game.

Nuance is a foundational human incentive because sex, food and shelter require it. For sexual attraction, humans look to symmetry as the core indicator of health and high-value sperm or eggs to produce strong offspring. Look at a photo of anyone you consider super attractive — Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson — and you’ll find near-perfect symmetry in their features. We focus on nuance because it signals reproductive health. In the long history of human evolution, nuance also led us to berries with more vitamins, tar for blocking shelter gaps, and metal better for battling enemies. Nuance is how we grow and survive.

If nuance is an over-focus of humans in general (Did you see the lines on the latest BMW? Did you try the latest Starbuck’s Via coffee?), it’s even more vital to ad agencies. Agencies are glorified temp workers, extensions of real marketing departments often filled with extremely intelligent right-brain creatives who are rewarded for ideas that scale memes across the masses. This is hard, because the idea marketplace is crowded, so ad creatives explore every angle of every communication and possible response. When found, a slight nuance is often the edge required to succeed. Nuance is the key to breakthrough success.


Gap’s logo failed for the design community because it lacks their core value: nuance. The logo is achingly simple, based on the old 1957 Helvetica typeface that has been used for decades by New York City subway signs. The irony of the outcry is the Gap logo’s Helvetica is one of the most beloved fonts among typography geeks; Helvetica is an everyman’s font because its thin lines are filled with nuance, such as a defined spur in the capital G or slight curves at the terminus of the lowercase a. Heck, designers love Helvetica so much they often mock the competing font Arial as a bastardized Microsoft knock-off. You see Helvetica in the logos for BMW and Target. You could argue Helvetica is the most popular font for brand icons in the world.

In its wrap-up of the debate, Yahoo Finance noted Nate Jones as one commentator who actually liked the Gap wordmark redesign. Jones wrote the new icon “brings to mind visions of a streamlined, technologically dominant future America where everyone wears white suits and cool glasses.” Gap’s icon moved away from the nuanced differences. Gap just went simple.

And since simplicity is the opposite of what you want in food, shelter and sexual partners, no wonder you are pissed.