Monthly Archives: July 2010

Facebook Questions: a friend-powered Google?

What if search results included only answers from experts in a field plus your dearest friends? Would it be cool to get human response from people who know the topic, plus the added personal ideas of your close acquaintances?

Facebook is launching just such a product with its Questions tab, now in beta. As Facebook explains, if you were planning a vacation to Costa Rica and wanted to know the best places to surf, rather than Googling it and parsing out the paid ads and confusing lists of organic findings, you’d simply pose the question inside Facebook. Facebook in turn would serve the question to users who have expressed interest in the topic, plus to your online network of friends. The result is supposedly human, expert and personal.

It’s brilliant on several levels. First, Facebook Questions moves beyond the Q&A formats of or Aardvark, because rather than drawing on a pool of Wiki-type enthusiasts, the questions can be served to any “expert” in Facebook’s 500-million-member database. Second, your personal friends are added to the mix — unlikely experts, but the real opinions you count on in life. And third, Facebook has unlocked a new potential data set for serving up personalized advertising (because it knows you’re about to surf in Costa Rica). The queries will be visible to everyone, so we do have our own questions about privacy. Facebook, who do we ask?

GM shares the social love

If you just got back from Mars, last year candy Skittles and agency Crispin Porter and a host of other corporate entities began sharing social media chatter on their web portals, sort of a glowing, selfless way to brag while not bragging, you see, because other people are talking about us. GM has now stepped into the “why that’s so nice” wink-wink game with a Moment of Truth site that aggregates comments on the new Buick Regal from the site itself, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, or other social media sources. GM professed that it would not edit out negative comments, and sure enough, we did find a few hints of consumer dissatisfaction on the site (gas mileage and Obama bailouts were not admired). But it’s mostly raves.

Sharing social love is an intriguing idea in breaking through consumer resistance. Statistically it’s wildly invalid, of course, because what are 100 positive comments out of the universe of 16 million cars sold in the U.S. annually? But still, those happy people do tug at your mind. We’re not going to buy your Buick, GM, but we now kinda like the people who do.

We’re hiring marketing analysts. Come out and play.

UPDATE: Mediassociates is now hiring marketing analysts. Job is evaluating ad campaigns and online buys for media mix optimization. Database and SQL expertise a plus. Must be hip and good with clients. Email or chase us down in person — really, try.

If you have vision, if you know how to really get results for clients, and if you want to work with an agency that believes in measuring those results, email us your resume but include a damn good cover message on what sets you apart. Tell us where you think advertising is going. Explain your vision for the Internet. Describe your favorite flavor of coffee.

We want your ideas. We want evidence of the cognitive leaps you can make to delight clients. Prove that case, and we’ll want to hire you.

Image: Chris Mar

Ford honesty, or avoiding cognitive dissonance

Today Ford became the first automaker to launch a new vehicle via Facebook — with 12 updates providing a striptease of the new, more fuel-efficient Ford Explorer. We noted earlier in a guest post at Brandflakes that Ford seeded the campaign with an estimated $200,000-a-day in paid online advertising (thus dissing Mashable’s love note that social media works solely on its own). But beyond the integrated advertising-supporting-social synergy, what we really like is Ford’s honesty.

Honesty? That’s right. This entire bit is overtly promotional — there’s new sheet metal coming to the lots, boys! — and it’s all about selling the SUV. But that’s refreshing in a day when many brands resort to paying for tweets or shooting films of guys “walking across America” who really get there by van and hotel.

Sources matter

One cause of cognitive dissonance in modern communications is consumers get confused when they can’t determine the source of information. This wasn’t always the case; in the past, advertising was obviously paid, so you judged it with your guard up, like evaluating the pitch of a car salesperson. Editorial was supposedly unbiased, the external news collected by an altruistic reporter, and you reviewed it with similar guard against the mind of the writer. But today’s paid posts? Sponsored tweets? Quasi viral-truths? That’s all so confusing. And the risk is all communications will become less persuasive as consumers wonder which upstream sources are trying to bend their minds.

Ford ignored the temptation to pay people online to manipulate you, and instead paid for ads to invite you to a simple, clear social party. We find such honesty refreshing. We may not buy your truck, Scott Monty, but at least we can see where it’s coming from.

A fake walk across America

This is brilliant. And it also distorts the truth. This video professes to show a guy walking across America, strutting handsomely, in changing T-shirts but the same pair of jeans. Except the guy is a model, he didn’t really walk all the way across, and the images are a carefully staged compilation of 2,770 still photos shot between van trips — still a lot of work, but not a yearlong foot journey. The last shot shows him crossing off “walk across America” on his bucket list, with a closeup of the Levi’s back pocket. Guess what? Adweek editor Brian Morrissey says it was all sponsored by Levi’s.

So, is this cool? It’s free, after all. No one is hurt by the implied promise of a true story. Yet if we all know traditional advertising is fake, which is why we’re rushing to social media to find fresher, grittier, more realistic content, do we really want to find manipulated material there as well? It’s lovely art direction, Levi’s. But is seeding the Internet with fake virals about arduous adventures with no disclosure, well, really building brand loyalty?

P.S., if you want to see real truth, Christoph Rehage walked 4,646 kilometers across China. We can almost hear the Levi’s agency pitch meeting: Dudes, remember that crazy guy who hiked across Asia? We’ll film it in a month, except with your jeans. And our guy will have better hair.

Disclosure: Ford is a Humongo Nation sponsor. We’ll be objective and critical anyway, ’cause we know Scott Monty can take it.

Here’s a little secret about “earned” social media buzz — it’s extremely difficult to control unless you pay for advertising to seed it. Ford, for instance, is getting a lovefest over at Mashable for its Facebook landing page doing a tantric-slow reveal of the new Ford Explorer. Skip over to and at 12 different times today Ford will release an interview or Q&A about the new SUV (a nice design with about 30% better fuel economy than the last model).

Buried in the Mashable review, however, is the news that Ford is also paying for online advertising to reach 50 million people per day. Assuming an efficient $4 CPM in their media buy, that’s $200,000 per day Ford is dropping to build the front-end buzz behind the Facebook landing page. If Ford sustained the campaign for a month, that’s $6 million in national advertising to grab you, a Facebook fan.

We love the promotion, the slow-build, the teasing nature — and Ford gets kudos for reportedly being the first automaker to launch a new vehicle via the Internet and not at an auto show (you know, spinning platform, lights and smoke, women in sequined dresses). Given how busy everyone is today, it makes sense to appeal directly to consumers on the web where we can slip away for 60 seconds to ogle a new vehicle. Ford also shows remarkable restraint in not pushing the new Explorer concurrently at the main site today — if consumers want to see the SUV, they have to hit Facebook, creating even more pull for that portal. But as Ford’s estimated $200k-a-day media burn rate attests, if you want to make friends on Facebook, you often have to pay for it.

Good-bye editors, hello Flipboard?

Robert Scoble kicked off a hype storm Tuesday with a glowing review of Flipboard, a startup that pulls in content from all your Twitter and Facebook friends and turns it into a polished magazine. The service, which works on iPads, is grabbing buzz because many think it may become the next big portal — simplifying social media, making your friends your editors, and providing content in a way that is digestable and beautiful for non-techie users like your Aunt Millie who remain uncomfortable with geeky Twitter chat streams.

The system is gorgeous, has reportedly attracted hotshot investors such as Ashton Kutcher, and by yesterday, thanks in part to Scoble’s post, had so much demand its servers went down.

The logic behind the hype has some holes, however. First, Flipboard can’t replace mass media such as magazines, because all that original content is required for Flipboard to pull your friends’ links about it into the glowing interface. Second, it’s really a glorified RSS reader — your online contacts link to stuff, it pulls the links together — and a pretty layout can be easily duplicated, creating no competitive advantage. And third, there is no “stickiness” or switching costs with this forum; any service could just as easily aggregate your social media connections to make your friends the hub of your news (see: Flipboard hints in the video above it is working on a filtering algorithm similar to Facebook’s EdgeRank, which could parse the vast content you get from friends into something personal and thus build loyalty, but it appears to be an early concept at this point.

Flipboard does point to a future where your friends replace editors. This new channel, as a category, will also depress publisher advertising revenue, since much of the content consumption will now be disaggregated from individual publisher ad inventory. And that in turn will make getting real advertising results more problematic for marketers.

Apparently, not only does information want to be free, but it also likes a sexy tablet layout.

Google market share slips. Is its redesign backfiring?

Web stats go up and down, but it’s noteworthy that Google’s share of total U.S. search volume has plummeted since it redesigned its main page back in May. In April, just before adding bells and whistles to its search venue, Google led U.S. search volume with 71.4% share. In June, its share had fallen to 62.6%. Third-place chaser Bing is gaining fast, up from 9.4% to 12.7% of all U.S. searches in the same period.

(Update: Bloomberg tells us this data is based on two monitoring sources, Hitwise and comScore, and the shift may be a function of their different methodologies rather than a decrease in Google share over time. However, we’ll continue with this little post to let you see where it could go…)

Google received a lot of press for its redesign, a bold and risky move we believe was meant to make its search functionality “stickier” and thus increase Google’s ad inventory, sponsored link clicks, and corresponding revenue. Google is under immense threat from both mobile smart phones (whose users love push-button apps that avoid Google search altogether) and social media (Facebook crossed 500 million users this week and has become an entirely new ecosystem for users to share information, again without Google search). Search remains an incredibly powerful tool for consumers, but it seems the days of Google being the single portal to find information are waning as consumers tap new search engines, apps, and social media recommendations to find what they want.

Image: Massless