Monthly Archives: August 2009

He doesn’t use Google to search anymore

Back in February we reported Google Trends data showing search volumes declining for numerous common categories. In the past four years, searches for movie reviews, financial services, florists, digital cameras, cancer treatment and sexy lingerie are all down about 50 percent. Now Alex Campbell, a strategy consultant at DTDigital / OgilvyInteractive in Melbourne, posits that consumers are migrating to social media instead of search engines to find what they need online. He lists three factors:

1. “Social networks have dramatically expanded my network of contacts” who “share similar interests,” Alex says, so he trusts their recommendations more than those from Google.

2. SEO experts have killed their own game. “The SEO industry has transformed from ‘help Google index my site better’ to ‘how can I beat Google’s relevance algorithms to show people results they don’t want’.” The natural result is many common searches turn up companies that are not the most relevant, but have gamed their way to the top of the listings.

3. “The flow of information has changed,” Alex suggests. “In times past, I was always seeking out information through Google search. Now the vast majority of the information I am interested in comes to me, rather than me having to go out and find it.” As people become skilled in setting up human networks among experts with ideas they like, they build their own information feeds that often supplant Google.

The movie review test

Here’s a test. Want to know if “District 9” is a good movie? Here’s what Google returns; and here is what gives you. Which results provide a better feel for the film?

Alex is not predicting the death of Google, and neither are we. Search engine marketing, especially paid search, remains a powerful tool for marketers to share wares with the customers searching for them. We believe, though, that Google requires ever more careful management of paid search campaigns due to rising competition and diminished consumer interest. With only 24 hours in a day, it is obvious that Google will reset at a lower search volume … because people seeking information via human networks spend less time asking computer algorithms for help.

Schwarzenegger taps Twitter to fix California

California is dying. If you haven’t heard, the state is in a $21 billion hole after years of voters bringing expensive spending measures to ballot without any requirement of finding funding to pay for them. Thanks to their crazy Constitution, California voters can lock spending in for the future, but taxes to pay for that spending can only be raised if two-thirds of both houses of legislature agree — a near impossibility. If California were a family, the kids would be eating candy every night for dinner while the parents argue over who pays for groceries on the credit card.

So Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger deserves a hat tip for bypassing everyone and soliciting ideas from the masses via Twitter. California’s new web site crowdsources potential solutions; anyone can submit an idea by adding the hashtag #myidea4ca to a tweet, and the message will appear on the site for voting up or down by other viewers. Because the site has tweaked Twitter to allow a voting mechanism, the best (or at least most popular) suggestions float to the top. So far California has received 910 ideas from the public, including using aqueducts to generate hydro power, eliminating agencies that are duplicated by the federal government, releasing non-violent prisoners from jail, and, of course, legalizing drugs.

It’s worth pointing out that California is using Twitter as a listening device here, not a PR broadcast vehicle. Instead of pushing out hyperbole about how one party wants to fix things, it’s asking everyone to pitch in their own ideas. Giant organizations in trouble that listen, instead of spin — imagine that.

IBM goes all Economist on us

How times have changed. Back in 1997 when IBM wanted to convince global businesses that newfangled IT systems could help them, it spent $40 million with Ogilvy & Mather on TV spots, radio, and some banner ads.

Today IBM is shaping opinions of itself with the new site, which combines 90% rub-your-chin content in the style of The Economist or Harper’s with about 10% self-promotion. IBM steers clear of politics and instead pushes science-report-toned entries on food, cloud computing, energy and the environment. The site is fed with banners around the web and dovetails with social media outreach on blogs, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Twitter (nicely run by real IBM humans @adamclyde, @jhodge88, @junkstar and others).

The starfish approach

Using quasi-editorial copy for corporate messaging is nothing new; Mobil broke the ground on this with its quarter-page, black-and-white NYT Op-Ed ads in the 1980s. But this feels different both in non-salesmanship of copy and in nuanced outreach. Tech blogger Robert Scoble calls this communication strategy a “starfish approach,” where various arms reach far into the web to give your audience multiple ways to receive and engage with your message. Perhaps the growing transparency of social networks, coupled with consumer skittishness of being sold ideas by corporations, is requiring large companies to provide more-objective value in their content. A decade ago IBM was a distant monolith. Now we can ping IBMers by their personal Twitter handles. That makes us think.

Newspaper ad sales fall a whopping 29%

Yesterday the Newspaper Association of America released the worst news yet for U.S. publishers: Q2 newspaper ad sales were off $2.8 billion from the year prior, and ad revenue for the first six months of 2009 crashed 29 percent. Analyst Ken Doctor of Outsell believes only half this decline can be blamed on recession, and the reduced spending level is part of a permanent reset as marketers move budgets to the web.

It’s worth pausing to consider the cause-and-effect behind this trend: marketers spend ad budgets chasing results; fewer dollars flowing to newsprint mean results there are scarce; scarcity of results means consumers are reading less in newspapers, and even when they do they are less likely to respond to the ad. We still recommend newspapers in media plans for some demos, but the importance of measuring results with hard data feeds is now greater than ever. The old days of popping ads into newspapers with no tracking are now a wrap.

Image: Pensiero

The CDC’s Twitter Swine Flu virus

One of the remarkable things about Twitter is how versatile 140 characters can be. When Jack Dorsey held the first brainstorming meeting at Odeo, where Twitter was born, he suggested calling the service “” for updating a small group of friends. No one thought it would turn into a mass networking communication system.

Now the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has adopted Twitter as a personal, AP-wire-style news feed for updates on the Swine Flu. But the CDC Twitter stream goes beyond wire reports; it provides behind-the-scenes access to how health professionals are fighting the H1N1 virus, including links to planning conference calls if you wish to listen in and downloadable messaging to help cascade the flu-fighting message. It’s going to be a difficult flu season; the vaccine isn’t quite ready yet, and Americans who wish to get inoculated will need three total shots, one for the regular seasonal flu and two more to keep the pigs at bay. The feed is a good reminder, and taking Americans behind the curtain to show how health leaders are developing plans to fight an outbreak is a nice touch.

Disclosure: the CDC is a past client. Mediassociates is not affiliated with this Twitter program. We update you on their flu effort both for the marketing angle and as a public service.

Via: Benatgeo

Antimarketing: If it works for health care, why not you?

We’ve been watching the sordid healthcare debates in the U.S. with fascination. 46 million Americans still have no health insurance, medical costs are skyrocketing, total spending is on track to become one-fifth of the GDP by 2020, and the younger population does not have the numbers or tax inclination to support aging Boomers. But toss out one whiff that the government will hold death panels to kill old people, and hey, that sounds realistic, and suddenly people are mad.

We won’t say who is right or wrong (although we read pages 425-428 of the actual bill that described end of life counseling and have to say, it’s the basic job description of a social worker). The point we can all agree on is casting seeds of doubt works — as well as spitting in a salad dressing bottle.

Antimarketing works best in politics where you only have to tip a few percent of people in the middle of the spectrum to stop a cause. Political masses act like an inverted pendulum, a tipsy balancing pole with a hinge near the ground that can easily be pushed left or right. Antimarketing also appears in urban legends (remember the early one about not flashing your car lights to someone else at night cause a gang would then come and kill you? Or was that healthcare panels, we forget…). It plays upon our fears. It pushes us *away* from taking an action, and if enough people don’t act, your anti-cause has succeeded.

Warning: Our competitors’ products might kill you

The puzzle is, why don’t more advertisers try this same thing? We’ve seen whiffs of it — PETA ads protesting animal furs, anti-clean-coal ads showing nasty dust sprayed around a white house. Our favorite is the recent Australian skin-cancer rap, and not just for the swimsuits. But it is very difficult to push consumers away from buying objects, because the magnetic attraction of food/sex/shelter/status/signaling overrides any counter argument rather easily. We’d be fascinated to see more antimarketing in the real marketing world. Would it work? You fight so hard to attract customers to your product; what happens if you push them away from a competitor?

Image: We Made This

Nielsen confirms advertising impressions are often fiction

You’re not paying attention, dammit! Or at least that’s what advertisers are learning about consumers, as shown by the cute triangles on the line at above right.

Nielsen recently enlisted the Ball State University Center for Media Design to spend a whopping $3.5 million and observe 476 U.S. subjects directly for a combined total of 952 days to see how they really acted in front of TV sets, computer screens, mobile phones and other media devices. The study found Americans on average:

– watch 8.5 hours of content on all screen devices each day,
– spend most of that time, 5 hours and 9 minutes, in front of live TV,
– pay the most attention to television and video games (and the least to other media, such as radio, which tends to be on while John and Jane America do other stuff).

All sounds good for advertisers until, alas, Page 46 of the report shows that when spots run on TV, the “concurrent media exposure indices” go through the roof. Um. Yikes. You see the triangles above? In layman’s terms, that means when ads appear for dish soap, consumers change their environment — go to the bathroom or kitchen, pick up a magazine, call someone on the phone, or toy with a laptop computer, things other than watch the 30-second spot on TV. “During commercial breaks,” the report says, “people were observed shifting their primary attention.”

Impressions as currency

We call this the fallacy of impressions. “Impressions,” if you don’t work in advertising, are the currency used to price advertising. When you’re spending ad dollars, you compare cable network A vs. magazine option B based on the cost to make impressions on the target audience. Impression estimates, like prices in a store, help marketers judge which media thing to buy. But just as the dollar bills in your wallet used to be tied to the gold standard but now represent fictional digits in a bank computer, “impressions” in advertising are often more currency used to price media … than any actual imprint on the retinas of a consumer.

This is not really news. Numerous studies, such as this one by Mediamark Research, show consumers’ attentiveness to advertising slips and slides based on the channel format and time of day. Of course advertising still works, but the question, as our esteemed agency chief says, is “how much?” The solution we recommend for clients is to build some form of direct measurement into your advertising media plan. Impressions may or may not happen. The only way to evaluate your real impact in the market is to monitor the response results.

Now on Twitter, bet your followers

One of Twitter’s brilliant design moves was putting a psychological device on every page: a “following/followers” count that clicks upward like the high score on a game as you meet more people. It’s an addictive bit of feedback, creating the illusion of growing popularity no matter if 80% of the people who connect with you are selling get-rich-quick schemes or porn. More people love you today than yesterday. Your status is rising. You are loved.

Techies John Manoogian, Erick Michaels-Ober and Kevin Hunt have decided to toy with this psychology, launching Bet Your Followers in which you can gamble your online social connections like currency. They explain it best:

“We’ve been enthusiastic Twitter users since the early days and we genuinely value Twitter as a social service … our own followers are dearly important to us. But as Twitter grows, we’ve watched the race to accrue followers become a strange obsession. Whenever a sizeable group believes something to be sacred, it historically falls to artists, scientists, and hackers to question and play with that assumption.”

Human souls as poker chips. Winner rules the social media universe. All in.

Google launches future search

Say you’re a wine distributor looking to enter the Spanish market. You could conduct research studies of consumer interest, or pour over industry sales stats, or try to peer into competitor advertising plans.

Or you could just punch up Google.

Google has launched Insights for Search, which attempts to use historical data from millions of consumer searches to predict what people will want tomorrow. The service helps marketers choose advertising messages, predict seasonality in demand, look at geographic variances in interest (say, which areas of Spain want which wines), and even scrutinize competitor brand positioning.

Can Google search engines keep up with search?

Why would Google migrate from being a cash-generating ad channel to a complex research tool for marketing executives and advertising agencies? It’s likely a defensive move to shore up Google search demand. The world of search is changing rapidly; Twitter allows real-time search of consumer conversations; Radian6, SocialSense and PeopleBrowsr help marketers monitor broad networks of social media; YouTube is becoming an enormous search portal filtering the equivalent of 86,000 full-length movies uploaded every week; the Google Book Search project can search the full text of 10 million books. And big hurdles remain, particularly how to filter queries for video, the fastest-growing form of online content which typically doesn’t have searchable text or tags, or mobile, with 4 billion phones in the world filling up with apps that give consumers other ways to get online than through the Google front door.

Sergey Brin wrote in Google’s last annual report, “Perfect search requires human-level artificial intelligence, which many of us believe is still quite distant. However, I think it will soon be possible to have a search engine that ‘understands’ more of the queries and documents than we do today.” Predicting the future is one step. With Internet access becoming as fragmented and commonplace as wall electrical outlets, we wonder what the future holds for Google search.

Image: Sebastien B.