Monthly Archives: August 2010

Google use down 17%. Is tide of search going out?

If you’ve been having trouble lately with your Google PPC campaign, the table above explains why.

Search remains a vital part of any marketing plan, but shifts in consumer behavior are giving it a smaller slice of the media pie. Nielsen is reporting that the total volume of U.S. searches is down significantly year-over-year, with all searches down 16%, Google down 17%, Yahoo off 30%, and Bing making some gains. We noticed this trend back in February 2008, and it is rather obvious to anyone who has seen the rising tide of social media — with only so many hours in the day, time spent asking friends online what to do is time spent away from a search engine.

The solution is not to exclude Google, Yahoo or Bing from media plans, but to become sophisticated in how to make them work harder. Search is still the ultimate marketer’s dream — it provides people looking for exactly what you sell, and you pay advertising fees only if you get them to click. But search is also evolving into many other ways that consumers seek information — via video, friend recommendations, serendipitous Twitter or Facebook updates, product review sites, personalization, mobile proximity, location-based service Shopkick-type temptations. Rather than think of search as a PPC line item, think of it as a series of channels and modalities that people use. Then ask, how do we cover all the new search bases?

Via Dirk Singer, who gosh, wrote very nice things about us.

Reality within

The movie Inception with its dreams-within-dreams is a metaphor for our times. We live in a layered onion of reality with the physical world in one stratum and business, data and (now) social media illusions inside.

We explore this idea over at the Sundayed blog: “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?”

More here.

Planning media to differentiate response

Saneel Radia at BBH Labs suggests that media (defined for non-ad people as messaging conduits such as television, radio, print, online banners, etc.) should now be considered as important as advertising strategy or creative in influencing people. In a perfect example, he mentions music — and how the shift to iPods and digital formats and playlists has had enormous impact on how music itself is structured. The channels influence the idea within, just as paved highways have altered the designs of our vehicles.

This is not a new idea, of course; Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964 that “the medium is the message,” with the channel format influencing how messages are perceived. Yet Saneel builds on this, suggesting that individual media channels should not only be evaluated for how they affect message, but be planned to influence differentiated response (what Saneel terms “experience”).

One trigger. 20 results.

Differentiated response? This seems confusing at first for marketers used to targeting A person with B message through C medium, akin to splitting a single strand of spaghetti at the ends, so let’s use skateboarding sneakers on YouTube as an illustration. A shoe brand such as Vans could reach its audience in many ways: passive viewers could watch a YouTube video featuring the sneaker, or users could forward the cool video to others, or manipulate a video, or even create their own user-generated content filming kids in the backyard in Vans leaping off ramps. Saneel calls this the 1:9:90 rule: “If 1% of the audience drives the experience, 9% participates, and 90% just consumes, wouldn’t a brand want to understand each stratum of people, and how the experience could fit them appropriately?” With the biggest trend in media now being concurrent media use, for instance, teens texting on mobile phones with a laptop on their knees reading Facebook while watching TV, consumers taking different response pathways is now part of life.

And therein is a disconnect. Marketers still often focus campaigns on singular objectives such as lead gen, sales, brand awareness, product launch, and then set up media strands pointed at each target and desired response. Customers, however, interpret brands in any way they want, and engage or react or respond in multiple pathways. Any single message in any individual media channel can push consumers in different directions.

The solution is simple: evaluate all the ways customers could respond from messages in each channel, which types of response provide value, and then restructure your medium-message accordingly. Product differentiation was a 1940s idea. Brand differentiation was a 1970s fad. Customer differentiation rose in the early 1990s. Today, it’s time to differentiate media response.

Image: Trey Ratcliff

With free Gmail calls, Google smacks AT&T

In its effort to not be evil while taking over the universe, Google yesterday launched a free phone service you punch up from its Gmail program. The service allows you to dial any number in the U.S. and Canada for free.

Why would Google smack AT&T? More likely, it’s worried about Facebook, which has 500 million users and could soon launch its own calling or video-calling technology. Imagine the lock-in Facebook could achieve by adding the ability to record snippets, post to your stream, ring all your friends now online. So Google has elevated its Gmail game, leaving AT&T long distance a bit out in future third place. Play the game downstream to a world of mobile tablets with mics and webcams, and free two-way video may arrive sooner than you think.

Mobile eclipse of ad inventory

Brandflakes points us to this graphic showing how users of social-media tools are migrating to mobile. The graphic is slightly confusing — the overlap between the outer circle and inner one represents the share of mobile users in each category, with Facebook logging in at about 40% — but you get the drift. Mobile brings enormous challenges to the advertising industry since its small-screen formats limit ad inventory, users tend to be focused on a sharing/sending modality and not passive consumption, and achieving scale across the fragmented universe of handset formats and smartphone apps is a real pain. Think of the graphic above as a looming advertising crunch, with the inner circle eclipsing the old media consumption of yore. Solution? Get testing in the mobile space, marketers — it is not going away.

Why now it’s Obama’s mosque

Tis the season of negative advertising. Rick Scott, a Republican running for governor of Florida, is posting ads asking you to stand up to fight Obama’s … mosque. Confused? We mean, just two years ago Obama belonged to a radical Christian church. No matter. It’s a classic depositioning move, casting a seed of doubt not meant to lure the logical but to sway only 5% or so of the population both (a) on the fence about whom to vote for and (b) angry about the idea of another religion building a house of worship in New York City.

Negative ads work because they tap our deep-rooted, evolutionary fears. It’s the same impulse that makes you retreat from a spider or snake, potentially poisonous in the tropical lands of your ancestors, who were smart enough to flee and pass those fearful genes downward to you. We cringe before the strange, the foreign, the unknown that might hurt us. You can’t fight aversion. Fear is hard-wired to survival, because even if unjustified 99% of the time, the 1% that protects you from being bitten is enough for your DNA to survive.

Expect to see more fearmongering this fall as politicians warn us of snakes and spiders all around. If only a few percentage points step back from suspicious half-truths, those who cast doubts win the game.

Via Brian Morrissey.

The pricing genius of the $0.01 iPhone case

Ah, mimicry. is making hay off of Apple’s iPhone 4 reception troubles by running contextual ads online next to articles about iPhones. The banners are designed to look like official Apple ads (same fonts, layout style), and clicking through to the site offers a killer promise — get an iPhone case that solves your antenna issue for only 1 penny!

The math is impossible, you say? Why, yes. Check out and the company adds $3.99 for shipping and handling. USPS tells us the cost to ship a 3 oz. package is $1.22, leaving DefaultCase with a nice estimated $2.78 for each small piece of plastic. Great case study in how to manipulate prices to convey value, while also riding a major company’s bad press.

P.S. The site also suggests the cases are a $35 value. A touch of reference pricing to sweeten the deal. Yum.

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SXSW spam? Blame the network gravity well.

Adman Bob Knorpp has been poking fun at the SXSW “panel picker” — a crowd-filtering technique in which democratic votes are supposed to help select the best panels for the Austin digital-media conference, but which instead has devolved into “please-vote-for-me” indignities. Sure, only 30% of the decision comes from voters like you, but how can anyone realistically judge 2,401 panel contenders?

SXSW is proof that social networks can’t duplicate democracy — because, unlike voters, not all nodes in a human network are created equal. (Voting networks don’t work well, either, which is why the U.S. founders set up a Congress with representative experts to filter decisions away from the sometimes-hysterical masses.) Edward Boches, creative chief of Mullen, has 12,763 followers on Twitter and thus gets noticed when he complains about Marriott. Blogger Chris Brogan has 150,485 followers. Both are likely to get voted in if they float a panel, however brilliant or stale the concept. If the SXSW goal is to build a meritocracy of ideas, and no one has the patience to judge 2,401 individual entries, then what remains is a popularity contest.

The gravity well of networks.

We call this network lock-in — a form of groupthink that emerges when networks reinforce their current structures, similar to the stardust coalescing in gravity wells to form a new sun and planets in orbit. Humans are drawn to ideas, and they chase other nodes who espouse their own ideals most fervently. This like-drawn-to-like dynamic explains the rise of extreme news (Fox, MSNBC), horror-movie porn, punk rock, shouting politicians, and uber-bloggers. Fragmenting media blows self-reinforcing communication bubbles, where you, if extremely conservative, can find videos and commentators explaining why Obama is a socialist; or, if liberal, find an equal number of talking heads explaining how Obama is saving the economy. We are lured by gravity; tidal forces pull us to nodes that take power from our joining masses; the extremes of commonality rule the day.

Unfortunately, for edgy forums such as SXSW, this means a concept on the fringe of public consciousness — stardust far afield — may be ignored in favor of the topics already talked the most about. In the interactive series categories this year, we see 136 proposed panels on “social networking,” 77 on “advertising,” yet only five on tablet computers and none at all about artificial intelligence (they are there, but you have to dig). Tablets are the edge of media; AI may change the world soon. Unfortunately, few at SXSW may talk about that future.

TiVo fast-forwards the TV ratings industry

U.S. marketers spend about $70 billion annually on television advertising. What happens if the data guiding those investments was wrong?

TiVo, the little gadget that helps you record television programming, is poised to give Nielsen serious competition in how video audiences are measured — and perhaps to fill some gaps. Nielsen, as you know, compiles ratings for television programming that explain what percent — or share — of the 114 million TV sets in the United States are tuned to any program. Trouble is, Nielsen bases such ratings on a sample of 25,000 U.S. households. While Nielsen does process more than 2 million paper diaries in its four “sweeps” heavy observation periods, in general only 0.02% of the entire U.S. television audience is actually measured — and 99.9% is not.

TiVo will shake that up by releasing directly observed data on 375,000 households: second-by-second viewing from TiVo’s set-top boxes including whether you skip commercials, play shows back later, or pump content from Hulu or YouTube through your set. Critics have long pointed out that Nielsen’s panel-based measurement leads to errors. Panelists tend to overestimate their viewing of new programs they think they’d like; college students, in that sweet youth demo, have been underrepresented; viewing outside of the home, such as in bars, is not recorded; and thanks to the blunt scoring system, some shows with real audiences have been given 0.0 share. New data is coming, and the shifts may unnerve $70 billion in TV investments.

Image: Môsieur J.