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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Google Releasing More Info About Click Fraud

CBS Marketwatch is ahead of the curve with this item. Google is releasing more detailed information about click fraud. Last time around, they were somewhat transparent in their approach as they chatted with Andy Beal. However, some stats never got fully examined - so now Google is redoubling its efforts to explain both the magnitude of the proactively refunded clicks (it amounts to over $1 billion per year in forgone revenue), but also the relative tininess of the proportion of clicks that get refunded by request in investigations after that (below 0.1%, well below). Recently I had an opportunity to speak at length with Shuman Ghosemajumder to discuss some of the stats and also Google's fraud detection methods. IMHO they have some pretty interesting tricks up their sleeve on the detection front.

Having gone over some of their info so far and reflected on how it squares with current opinion in the industry, I just completed an audio interview (a PZCast to be exact, hosted as always by Mona) with some detailed comments on the click fraud controversy. The MP3 file will be posted to the member area for Page Zero Advisor subscribers by noon Thursday. If you listen, remember as always, the initial 90 second throat-clearing banter is only outdone in its inanity by the official banter lasting three full minutes. Fast forward past both if you prefer content to yuks.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, February 27, 2007

MSN AdCenter Canada Launch: Where's Barry?

It's an inconvenient truth: Canada's online ad market is 10-15% of the US market, give or take. Inside that market, Microsoft has around 10% share of search referrals, on a good day. Also, Canadian marketers are more reluctant to spend and experiment online. So the amount of attention that a marketer with a pan-North-American focus might pay to Google AdWords in the U.S. as compared with MSN adCenter in Canada would, if we're going by associated dollar spend... if you have the math right, it should be a ratio of about 50:1. Throw in a little ADD, and you're talking 100:1.

So I suppose that's why a really big (and quite fun) Microsoft launch event today seemed strangely out of sync with reality.

While MSN aDcEnTer Canada (heretofore to be called microsoft adcentre, eh) had its Kevin Lee, it didn't have its Barry Schwartz. Please tell me I'm not the first to blog about this? I know some folks at the 400-attendees-strong Canada launch of MSN adCenter today were snapping the usual photos, but I don't see much live-blogging-chatter out there yet.

Maybe this is because it just isn't a big deal, in the sense that "you're getting to discover it much as we did several months ago in the States," as one speaker put it. Yawn?

However, it felt like it was supposed to be a big deal. Tony Robbins jumping up and down big. Steve Jobs dwarfed by a giant phone image big. Or maybe just, "thanks for acknowledging our country" big. Fair enuff.

We were wooed by a mysterious email and a fancy flash invite at a URL called thesearchisover.ca, followed by a collection of cookie-tin type boxes in the mail, containing a USB flash card, redundantly inviting people again but arriving after the RSVP deadline. Somehow, we managed to decipher it and show up, even without Ms. Dewey's help.

Entering the facility (Muzik nightclub at Exhibition Place) after dispatching the valet parking formalities, we encountered much signage, eventually making our way through the cavernous club towards the large hall. The light and sound show was louder than, say, Yahoo's recent Canada launch. It felt positively Ballmeresque -- though we were really just getting glorified Powerpoint.

Oddly, a business professor from UWO Ivey acted as the MC for the event. Some Microsoft folks spoke onstage about how excited they were. Quite a contingent from the Redmond and New York MSN offices were on hand too. And Did-It's Kevin Lee gave the most detailed presentation extolling the virtues of the adCenter platform.

Nothing new to see, but a reminder that yes, the platform does allow for some cool experimentation, segmentation, and learning.

Practically speaking, combining Microsoft's third-place status in search referrals with Canada's lower overall search volume (10-20% of the US market depending on the vertical), it's actually a pretty tough sell. Low volume search in a low volume place. To make it as clear as I can, if we were focusing just on Canada, we'd generally be looking at some pretty low-volume campaigns. Not only that, but as Martin Byrne over at YSM Canada reminds us, "search isn't sexy." (Even when you have Sam Roberts playing at the event.)

There will be writeups in the media, of course. I hope observers understand the importance of the paid search part of the market in general, but I also hope they get the market share numbers right. I believe at least a couple of the reporters out there are savvy enough to look at their own media companies' in-house search referral stats. That should put the story in perspective. Microsoft is in third place, no matter how hard you try to Sympatico up the story.

A glossy, impressive third place - well ahead of the also-rans - and definitely diverse and part of a very large company. But - still behind Yahoo, and those other guys.

A deeper explanation and visuals around, say, geotargeting, would have been time and cash better spent than the Star Trek intro imagery. Or maybe dull old Al Gore up there with a graph or two. Boring works nowadays. See: Oscar Night, 2007.

Speaking of local search in Canada, there is a steady stream of news on that front. There are several developments brewing, including the imminent launch of RedToronto's new brand (and new product and totally new approach to local search). I think I can tell you it's an offshoot of their merger with Zip411 and that it will be called Zip Something-or-Other. Some interesting ideas percolating there!

Also, Hyperlocal Media - which has launched with a couple of successful pilot sites including one in Brooklyn, is launching a Toronto site, Until Monday Toronto.

Whoops -- wasn't I supposed to be talking about Microsoft?

Points for trying - very hard. You have to hand it to whoever thought of offering blue drinks dubbed the "Microsoft Conversion." Talk about a double entendre. It wasn't a religious experience for me personally, as I opted for a Heineken. But I do in fact accept the premise that Microsoft paid traffic converts very well. The data never lie.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




This Echo Chamber Goes to 12 (Because 11's So Over With)

Infinite Internet Regression Awards: 2007 (aka The Reggies III)

By John Molson

Ah yes, 2003. When we were apologizing here for skipping 2002 in the Annual Internet Infinite Regression Awards. We then proceeded to skip 2004 and 2005, pausing briefly in 2006 to tip our cap to the concept following the mesh conference.

Some version of the Fibonacci Sequence now compels me to write again.

I now present the third ever Internet Infinite Regression ... hmm, nah, that's not going to fly, because the regularity of the dates got messed up completely.

Well, how about the First Annual Internet Infinite Regression Warning. Yes, I like the sounds of that. Perhaps we can even set up our own Situation Room.

To sum up before starting, it's clearly a plus ça change... situation here in the world of self-referentiality. There's a whole new whack of quite prominent self-referrers here in the link-baitosphere, yet amazingly they're mostly seen as elder statesmen! And why not. This is America, metaphorically speaking.

To head off potential resentment of this post, let me say that I love and revere some of the folks listed below, and hate or am indifferent to others. Calling you names has very little to do with my regard for you, or lack of it. If I've erred, I'm sure I'll be owing you a fine meal somewhere hip.

So, since 2003 we've seen the rise of:

Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion. Home of today's most prominent "blogging about blogging".

Wikipedia, Wikipedia. The ultimate Wikipedia-Squared entry.

Googling Google. Did you know that Google shows up 941,000,000 times in a Google search? Note to radio newsreaders: this isn't called "941 million hits on Google."

Wikipedia-Watch.org. Note the charming look and feel.

Daniel-Brandt-Watch.org. I'd sooner watch Baywatch.

Lunch 2.0. To me, not disruptive or creative enough. I'm lobbying for Bathrobe 2.0; prerequisites being a bunch of self-appointed 2.0 Geeks, a nice hotel, a fire in the nice hotel, and a great conversation on the sidewalk outside. If the hotel is nice enough, everyone will be wearing the same bathrobe, and all the bathrobes will fit. Sweet.

The Echo Chamber: Sometimes expressed as a "worry" that something like this "might" happen, quaintly expressed by people who caused it to happen at least one bubble ago, and are still going strong.

Podcasting About Podcasting: Apparently this is already passe. Or is it? Don't look up. Seriously: what is truly happening in the podcasting-about-podcasting vertical is a shakeout. Before, you had to be goodlooking to get away with podcasting about podcasting. Soon, you'll need to be very goodlooking.

Linkbaiting About Linkbaiting: Well, what do you think this is? People, Matt Cutts actually endorses linkbaiting! He calls it white hat SEO! Link, Digg, do whatever you need to do to express your (and my) infinite regressyness. Please. Run, do not walk, to your blog client or other social media app. Tell them about this puzzling post. Create an endless loop of monetization for this website. I dare you.

Social bookmark about social bookmarking. Hey! Now you're getting the hang of it!

A Message from Chad and Steve
. Hi, we're billionaires, and we're going to post this video now. On the site that made us that billion! Yeah, baby!

All sounds a bit daft, doesn't it?

Don't knock it until you try it. Got any more to suggest? Post your own! On your blog, or podcast, not here. You don't have the password! This ain't a wiki, pal!

Plus c'est la meme chose. Really, I meant meme. "Meme" chose, get it?

--

John Molson, humorist, has been writing covertly for Traffick.com for several years, concurrent with overtly not existing. This bio, written by Andrew Goodman, is fake. The Blogger author field should take care of any remaining subterfuge. He spent half the day instant-messaging a friend about his instant-messaging habits. He lives in Toronto.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 26, 2007

Seth on Contextual Ad Targeting

Seth Godin wonders whether media buyers are right to pull ads off Google's and Yahoo's contextual networks because of how loosey-goosey they are with their approach to placement -- they match ads to pages, rather than allowing the advertiser "channel control."

While it's true that Y!&Goog would benefit from better sites joining their networks, I agree with Seth that being so afraid to show your ads on "Joe Schmo's Sports site" could be doing the client a disservice.

I thought we already had this debate. In the early going, lot of us were critical of the contextual ad programs for a number of reasons - mine was simply the poor performance, fraudulent or crapulent publisher partners, etc. Others in the biz, with more of an agency bent (and most likely to cheer for Quigo, Sprinks, etc.), demanded that Google's content targeting allow more direct control of what websites ads show up on, as opposed to forcing advertisers to accept the open-ended "smart matching" concept that used semantic technology to match ads with content.

So... first Google responded with site exclusion. Then, they released a site-targeted flavor of content targeting, in a parallel program. That as a direct response to these agency-style demands. Site targeting allows you to browse a menu of sites, add them to your list, and only show your ads on them.

I monitored ads running in both flavors for several months. A funny thing happened: the old "flawed" content targeting program got better, and my approach to managing those campaigns improved. The ROI came in line with search. Meanwhile, nothing on the "site targeting" side was converting. The performance was much worse.

At a couple of conference presentations I guessed that this is in part because computers do a lot better job of matching my ads against a million potential candidate pages than I possibly can in scanning down a list of 50 so-so potential publisher targets. You settle on 20 or so of these sites, then become obsessed with spending the full budget on just those. They convert poorly, so you've overspent on this handful of websites. That's a fairly typical scenario.

In short, because of computers aiding in the matching, classic content targeting offers more efficiency, as the systems get perfected.

Seth, both the intuition and the data point towards there being nothing inherently wrong with Google's approach to matching ads with content. No, the program isn't perfect, but placing high-CPM ads on big brand sites just because I want to appear respectable isn't exactly a challenge. It's more of the same: take too much of the client's money, and waste it, and claim the blue-chippiness of that approach as a benefit.

Both approaches -- the finicky put-me-only-here approach, and the "ROI-or-else" approach -- work in the marketplace. For very different reasons. Funnily enough, Google now offers two parallel programs to suit different ad buying constituencies, and are working on rolling out multiple ad products down the road, to keep everyone happy.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Contextual Ad Transparency Coming: Google's Malone

Search Engine Land has it. Expect more Google announcements re: click transparency in the near future.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Searchability of Everything: Google Earth and KML

Some sympathy here for Tim O'Reilly's comment on this post about Google Earth and the new capabilities being unleashed for developers. "People should be jumping up and down about this!"

I'm guessing the people who usually jump up and down don't understand it, and the people who will be working with it aren't given to jumping up and down.

For those who work with this type of thing, Google's tutorial intro to KML. I don't even know what the "K" stands for, so consider me as falling on the "jumpers up and down" side of the divide...

That said, I grasp the basic outlines of the possibilities this unleashes, and as I had been expecting, a lot of the granular interactions among users and businesses will be very inexpensive. The Google Earth CTO uses the example of "fire plugs". Somewhere, I think in my Winning Results book, I thought of the example of gas stations with diesel or biofuel. Let's say you're cruising around in your car. You do a quick structured search for "biofuel" and "gas stations" (hopefully voice activated so you don't crash). Now you don't have to go cruising around fruitlessly.

Leaving aside for now the overabundance of specific product and store feature listings this might unleash, there are a lot of public-spirited mashup-planet type improvements we'll see that are not going to be proprietary to any given entrepreneur. Web 1.0's model might think (as I certainly have!), let's start a website where people share stuff like where are the cheapest parking places in town, or the common speed traps. What a great mashup! But starting a proprietary website might not be how this shakes out. On the wikinomics model of things, people just contribute to the buildout of mapping stuff like this, and eventually, you have a reliable guide to where all the public restrooms are in a large city... courtesy of Google Earth, and the people who use it; but presumably also someone who builds a layer that makes it possible for users to easily input such data. (Of course, it goes without saying that GPS-enabled cameras will add more geo-targeted objects to the collective dataset.) It's hard for me to figure out exactly where the value/profit builds up disproportionately in all these scenarios... all I can envision is its immense usefulness.

As to the business owner who violates the implicit pact of truthfulness, just imagine the firestorm of user complaints if someone ran out of gas because some gas station misreported their offerings.

If owners of businesses with particular attributes (like biofuel) go through the effort of integrating with Google Earth, it might well start out as free advertising.

It also leads to potential spam, doesn't it? (Yes, but in a much different sense; and physical business locations are scarcer and more verifiable than websites and pages, so while there might be loopholes for spammer types in the early going, they're not mile-wide holes.)

Bill Gates recently offered his bold prediction that the world will be a lot better in a decade. The technological optimism must however be tempered by a recognition that I still have to look at Viagra ads, and Nigerian bank scams, on a daily basis. If we can map, label, and sort "everything," surely we'll also have to expect & demand massive attention to the usual user-unfriendly incursions in adversarial information retrieval. I expect that effort will be shared, too -- among the wikinomics-enabled community who build the database, but also a disproportionate investment from the Googles of the world who seem to benefit from the disproportionate buildup of value akin to a snowdrift in a perfect technological snowstorm.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, February 24, 2007

Culture Shock in Comic Form


A little late, but Christine C. just reminded me of the hilarious SES-London-made-into-a-comic effort by Rebecca over at SEOmoz.

How come we don't have linkbait like dis, boss?

It was great meeting Rebecca and Scott at SES. That's what the shows are all about (other than the sessions I mean).

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 22, 2007

Skype: You, Too, Are Effing Up

Looks like Yahoo's not the only one to be experimenting with helpful add-ons that go overboard.

The Skype extension for Firefox appears to be picking up numbers that aren't phone numbers, erroneously displaying a country flag and a phone number with a little green phone icon. Trust me Skype, those account numbers in those private secure interfaces are not phone numbers. I know, three digits followed by a dash, especially when those digits are "617," looks like a phone number. But looks can be deceiving. They might just be part of an account number.

Normally, as you know, I am pretty mild about stuff like this. But seeing this kind of stuff really gets me stirred up. I guess I can turn off the extension. But you would think someone would have thought of this before touting the extension in the first place.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yahoo Mail: Mapping Obsession

In one sense it's kind of cool that apparent addresses are underlined in Yahoo Mail now, allowing you to generate a map, enter them into a new contact, etc.

However, this thing's overzealous. Quite often I want to cut and paste some contents of an email, but the underlined text wants to fire up a map instead of behave.

Just now, I exchanged some French emails with a friend. This email included the word "maisons," and Yahoo's app underlined this extremely common word, leading me to a map of "Maisons-en-Champagne," a town not too far from Paris, with a population of 414, according the the 'pedia.

Do I really want to go there? Well, sure, but not now, I'm busy.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Cutts Causes Polite Scrum in UK

Across the pond, they have actual scrums - in rugby. No need to talk about those metaphorical media scrums.

And then there is a third type of scrum, the table near the door after Google's Matt Cutts completes his keynote conversation at Search Engine Strategies. A bit smaller and more polite than the U.S. Cutts Scrums, this one still had Matt pinned pretty good against a piece of furniture.

You can find my full writeup of Cutts' wide-ranging keynote conversation with Chris Sherman at SES London last week, over at Search Engine Watch.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 19, 2007

Quality Score Transparency: Cool

Excuse my giddiness, but it's definitely addictive to look at your keyword quality scores. You could have guessed them before by the assigned minimum bids, but these are fun to look at anyway:



Yet confounding, too - no doubt seeing this stuff will cause some advertisers to overthink and to try to divine the impossible. The one with 5.1% CTR today is called "great" but there is one with over 10% CTR that is being assessed as merely OK. Presumably, that's based on some predictive stuff around the generic nature of one of the keywords (the OK one is too general maybe). And presumably it would only be a few hundred more clicks over a week or so at a high CTR and it might kick into "great" territory. We'll see. I guess that would be my advice in the "avoid overthinking" department: realize that an established CTR history will give you a more stable quality score than the stuff you see on new keywords.

I also think it's cool (laugh if you like) that Google makes it slightly difficult to display this, so it doesn't confuse newbies. You have to drill down a fair bit to find the place to turn on QS info.

At the campaign summary level, if you click on "customize columns," the only non-default column you can add here is "CPM." (I find this cool too. You don't need to do the math - you can measure the eCPM on your campaign by enabling it in the interface. On this ad group - a brand new campaign - we're getting a rock-bottom $0.85 CPM. So far, so good!)

Anyway, once you drill down past the ad group level to the "keywords" tab you can "customize columns" and enable the extra quality score information in the interface.

Speaking of new stuff... at the bottom of your keyword list in the available options is a button for "pause" and "unpause". Shut up! I'm pretty sure Google slipped this in without telling us. Some time ago they added a feature that allowed you to pause an ad (handy for testing and sharing info internally), but this pause a keyword was something I'd been hoping for. Heck, who knows what you'll use it for, but power users always come up with something.

UPDATE: OK, so via the Inside AdWords blog I see the "pause keyword" feature was added on Thursday. I spent Friday on an airplane... So by now it's still only five days old. And my spidey sense tells me that my colleagues here in the office are already pausing keywords! LOL, gotta love 'em. The "pause ad" feature was added some time ago, as I recall.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Some Bull About Venture Capital

On the surface it looks like Paul Kedrosky slipped in something and tripped over this cow analogy. :) But then again, it was probably on purpose.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 15, 2007

Google Ad Quality: What's Changed

Kevin Newcomb's take on the latest incremental update on ads quality. As Kevin does, I interpret the changes to mean an increase in transparency (obvious, because that's what Google tells us); and a more relaxed minimum bid status for "unknown" type new keywords where Google has little data to go on. Here, they might be less likely to punish you for the trends seen with other advertisers trying similar keywords for similar offers, and let you create your own good or bad track record on your own. (It's not a black and white change, more of a tweak in emphasis.)

At the same time, they also allude to the new algorithm being tougher on bad ads and nicer to good ones, so basically just further refinements based on machine learning and so on. If you're on the receiving end of the additional toughening up, it'll hurt even more. The majority of advertisers will likely feel the new regime to be slightly more liberal.

The increased transparency will lead to more questions. Once I'm absolutely sure of what keywords or groups of keywords are low quality, how should I respond. Google explicitly advises that you do not raise your bid, but rather, optimize your campaign. (So much for the "cash grab" theory.) And they point in particular to the relationships between your keywords, ads, and offer. This is what I was getting at in the last post.

Creating more granular campaigns will potentially boost quality for those who do have available content and offers on their sites, but who have been lazy in how they build the campaign structure, for whatever reason.

What still confuses me is how Google can know what score to apply if you're running a complex test that includes multiple ads and multiple destination URL's, where you're actively trying to understand the best places to send users on the site, the best wording to use in ads., etc. for any given keyword. Or does the mere act of doing more systematic testing of this nature possibly give you some brownie points? I think I'll have to ask them about that. By and large, I think the answer is this: the system is designed to be punitive to campaigns that have some aspect that falls really far outside the normal, relevant, user-friendly range. Most campaigns are going to run unimpeded, or in other words ranking and status are largely based on the old standbys of historical CTR and your max bid. That's what I call AdWords 2.0. The current iteration, 2.7, is probably not too far from 2.0 for the vast majority of campaigns, keywords, ads, and sites.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




What's a Low-Quality Ad, Anyway?

In one of the paid search sessions yesterday here at SES London, one audience member gave his account of the "death spiral" that seems to afflict certain keywords in his AdWords account. "I wake up and Google's asking for £2.50 for a keyword, so I raise the bid. The next day, they've put it up to £5.00. (etc.)."

Obviously this is a signal that the relationship between this keyword, ad, and landing page is seen as "very low quality."

So I asked roughly what industry he was in - turns out it's related to debt relief. The keyword in question? "Lottery tickets." Yup, I thought to myself - in the new Quality Based Bidding regime, that's seen as just too far off the mark in terms of relevancy to the service being offered to the consumer.

This might have fallen flat at any stage of AdWords history, though, by virtue of the low CTR it would likely attract. A "popular culture" type word (people looking up lottery listings is a very common navigational function) will be so high volume that the proportion of users who are thinking "transactionally" and willing to check out an offer is so low that it will lead to a CTR that is below any threshold of reasonability as far as today's PPC auctions go.

You admire the lateral thinking here: people desperate to dig themselves out of debt might be more inclined to buy and look up info on lottery tickets. If so, then an advertiser should probably try to get placement on relevant websites through direct media buys and various banner and text ad targeting tactics (one being Google's Site Targeting option).

But you'll have much more trouble doing this type of "loose targeting" if you're using AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing, unless of course you have a strong, established CTR and user experience history.

So is an ad for debt relief next to search engine results for lottery tickets really "low quality"? Yes, moderately so, because in the user's eyes, search is special. They want even the ads to be tightly targeted, or let there be no ads at all.

Google is no doubt going to continue to modify the Quality Score algorithm to fine-tune the balance between advertisers' needs and the user experience. Stay tuned.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Glass 99.8% Full

A tagline on LinkedIn emails says "Executives at 499 of the Fortune 500 companies use LinkedIn."

I guess if you were a "glass is 0.2% empty" kind of guy, you would have written "Those bastards at Murphy Oil don't use LinkedIn."

[N.B.: I don't know if it's Murphy Oil Corp. This post for entertainment purposes only. Please, no wagering.]

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Google Shifting Site Targeting Program to CPC?

At least one panelist (David Szetela) on the Ad Program Strategies: Compare and Contrast panel here at SES London, argued that while he liked the control of Google's Site Targeted flavour of content targeting, he wasn't so fussy about the CPM-based pricing model.

Coincidentally, today Google is announcing that they're beta testing a CPC-based version of Site Targeting, so advertisers who like the idea of paying by the click (that's pretty much anyone who is used to PPC as it's implemented in the rest of your account, and on YSM and MSN adCenter too) can do so.

Seems like advertisers just don't like switching to CPM-based thinking inside of a CPC-oriented platform.

Related Traffick posts:
Note, even if we go entirely over CPC's, it's always a snap to track the associated cost in CPM, if you're into apples to apples comparisons. In previous posts I had argued that even in traditional CPC-based content targeting, some of my favorite campaigns were successful precisely because of the price - which was effectively about $0.25 CPM.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google Headhunted Me

Nah, not really. :)

But their ad, "Google London Sales Job," did appear as a "web clip" in my Google Mail account.

The number and breadth of ad sales positions being added in the London office is surprising.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, February 09, 2007

Google Didn't Really Say That Thing About TV. Or: Yes They Did.

Richard Bennett's opinion.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Pipes & Tubes

Google's confirming publicly that they believe the current Internet may become choked by online video. This is related to a barrier to Google's growth -- one of the only serious ones -- that has been nagging at me for some time: globally, they don't own the pipes. Big utility monopolies still hold a lot of cards around the world. The smart money would likely partner with them. (We've noted in the past that this has been one of Microsoft's strategies globally -- taking stakes in utility companies.)

G's massive investment in infrastructure in the US is no doubt partly going to address this. It'll be fascinating to see how it unfolds. Net neutrality is at least a debate in the U.S. today. In some nations and economic zones, there are very different terms for the debate.

Meanwhile, Yahoo has released a mashup service extraordinaire, called Pipes. It's going to be worth a lot more study, but basically it provides an easy way for the layperson to pull disparate data sources into a web page -- like a smarter more agile feed reader? Kinda makes my head hurt: does it compete with Google Reader or supersede it? Some commenters are saying it's really nothing too new, and other products like RSS Bus would be better for those who are technically inclined. Stay tuned. (If you really know what you're doing: Jeremy Zawodny points to something called GData.)

And meanwhile meanwhile, over at Techcrunch, Arrington does something we apparently no longer make time to do: reviews and compares new Hotmail, new Yahoo Mail, and Gmail. All of these web 2.0 apps get the thumbs-up, but Google comes in at #1. That's about what I'd say. I actually use both old Yahoo Mail and Gmail, and don't particularly enjoy new Yahoo Mail. I'll likely consolidate everything in GMail, a decision I think you eventually have to make (one way or another, with Y or G) so you're using the same calendar and IM app and not confusing the hell out of yourself.

Mail, at least, we already use. Both Google's Co-Op and Yahoo's Pipes probably deserve weeks of our time, and here we are blogging about engagement rings and Ted Stevens. Time to tackle the to-do list. Also, posting will be light for the next week due to SES London.

Other random thoughts to wind up the week:

And Technorati's edgecraft: is it just me, or is calling a "buzz description" a "WTF" (as in "write a WTF for this query") pretty edgy? Edgy, I think. As I've told a few of you, my office building is owned by a commercial real estate company called WTF Group. Seeing that logo on the wall has gotten me through many a day.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, February 07, 2007

She Said Yes

Another search marketer proposes very publicly!

I was minding my own business today when I came across the news that Rand Fishkin had proposed to his girlfriend, Geraldine, in an ad on her favorite TV show, Veronica Mars.

Already comments and posts were flying around like confetti. A couple of hours later I realized just how big this story had gotten. I was nodding off into nap mode when suddenly there Rand was again - on *my* TV - as the last item on Global National with Kevin Newman (at 19:20 on the file, to those who want to stream it and check it out). (I'll be honest - for a second there when I saw Rand on my TV through sleepy eyes, I was getting really worried...OK, completely freaked out, man!).

It turns out that Rand (aka JP) has been anonymously hatching this scheme for months. His original plan, the Super Proposal, was to get it aired during the Super Bowl. When you look up chutzpah in the dictionary do you see this man's photo!? At some point Joe Morin, one of the folks supporting Rand's plan, came up with the idea to film her reaction.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Something That's Been Bothering Me

I'll take a cue from a paragraph that Robert Gorelli of Future Now slips into his post critiquing GoDaddy: the part where he basically reminds us: "come on, guys -- is the massively sexist cheesecake model the best way to sell a tech product in 2007"? T&A to sell product. To guys. Gorelli more or less asks: "don't a lot of women make these purchasing decisions, too?"

Yes, as a pretty liberal, joke-loving guy, I'm back on the Bob Garfield train: I am actually quite a conservative when it comes to my reaction to these interruptions that assault me from the ad world with notions that are actually offensive, not funny.

Some of the worst stuff I run across involves unfunny ethnic stereotyping. I mean, I don't run across it, it yells at me while I'm on an elliptical trainer or trying to endure a reality show not of my choosing.

Funny ethnic stereotyping? Sure, it can be done. A matter of perspective, but the rum ad that has an artificially officious lineup where you need to take a number and wait in a straight line just to buy fruit from a stand in the Caribbean... now that's funny. Apparently, I don't draw the line at melon jokes.

But I do draw the line somewhere.

Not funny:

I really didn't much like the ads for the recent Metro Toronto Home show that couldn't let go of the idea that the words Feng Shui are really funny. First it was on the website: Feng Shui isn't a Chinese vegetable. Then on the radio: Feng Shui isn't dim sum ya know (or something like that). This is just so far from amusing, I don't know where to start. Why work so darn hard, and wind up actually insulting people (their intelligence, at least)? Is the Home Show so trivial that we need to distract from its benefits? Did Feng Shui have anything to do with it, for 90% of the attendees?

In the unforgiving world of measurable search ad copywriting, I have never come close to seeing messaging like this succeed. It simply confuses people, and doesn't work.

Now, YellowPages.ca - "the find engine" - is running radio spots that truly fail to tickle the funny bone. Get this, imagine you type "hot chocolate" into an "ordinary" search engine, and you wind up getting, ha ha, an adult escort website (complete with the sexy voice of said male escort). That, the ad says, is the stuff you DON'T want. You really wanted Josie's Coffee House, or whatever. Whatever.

Not only is the sly stereotyping out of place, it makes you wonder what you might actually get when you typed the query "hot chocolate" into one of those "other" search engines. How bout Google? Looks like a range of results, including some gourmet hot chocolate ads in the margin. And a nice Onebox result pointing to the music of Hot Chocolate, of "You Sexy Thing" fame. If truth is the best sales tool, I think Yellow Pages Group just proved that Google is a pretty good search engine. Using local.google.ca in the "Find Businesses" category, I got a mapped view of the results, including the Low Carb Grocery and Pusateri's. On YellowPages.ca I got three results, pretty much bulk providers of hot chocolate - including Mother Parker's coffee. YPG, your search engine is actually giving me worse results!

They have another one on the radio. Something about typing in "iron curtain" and getting some crazy Russian guy instead of the drapery shop you were trying to find. (I can't be bothered to remember what the actual commercial said, but we are assured that this Russian dude is what we DON'T want. Is this 1970?)

I know, they're not supposed to be real examples - they're supposed to be amusing. Mostly, they're grating.

Signed,

An uptight liberal with (some sort of) sense of humor

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Super Bowl Ad Integration: Some Mixed Thoughts

Reprise Media has released a detailed study of how well Super Bowl advertisers managed to synch up their TV ads with their online presence. Reprise are gaining a reputation as "Super Bowl integration experts." Of forty-some Super Bowl advertisers, only eight rate "Touchdown" in Reprise's study. Thirteen are seen as decent in their integration, rating "First and Goal."

I was interested to see a couple of our clients in the "done good" list, and none in the "poor" list. This doesn't surprise me - my sample would be companies who already get paid search marketing, which makes them relatively savvy by definition.

GoDaddy.com always seems to get the most attention here, perhaps due to the racy nature of their ads in the midst of an extravaganza (drunken, raucous, for many TV viewers) that has become Puritanical to the extreme (viz. the furor over the nipple slip that wasn't really), and the pre-hype that includes making sure early versions of the ad are "banned." Bryan Eisenberg (until now) has been including some criticism of GoDaddy's 2006 effort in his presentations, pointing out that visitors to the site around the Super-Bowl-spike time wouldn't have found any clear references to the Super Bowl ad, the GoDaddy Girl, etc. For 2007, this criticism has been addressed. Now there is lots of mention of the ad and the girl. [Addendum: For an updated comment by Bryan, see Godaddy Discovers Online Conversion.]

This leads me to doubt, however, that this strategy is really all that useful for other companies to pursue. What it leads to is making your home page all about the Super Bowl. For a company that sells a commodity product for $10 (or, as they now claim, $1.99), it really doesn't matter; the ability to get your brand out there above the other sober registrars to become top of mind is what matters. By contrast, does Mercedes or Prudential really need or want this type of integration? Maybe, but not if it dominates the home page. It should be for particular products or offers.

Should I be impressed with SalesGenie.com because they have "watch our Super Bowl ad" on their site? I'm not sure. Buying their own brand name in AdWords? That's advisable, but not earth-shattering. And yes they do rank first in the organic search results.

Companies will no doubt continue to experiment with how to both measure and increase the impact of their Super Bowl ads. Specific product websites are better candidates (let's say - FordF150.com) for integration, IMHO. (Of course you have to own the domain name first. Whoops, business just got better again for GoDaddy.)

Another thought: for some of these large companies, there's a hidden payoff for spending on these ads, even though they get a lousy rating on the integration/impact scorecard. The very act of running a poorly-integrated campaign gets you on this list, and onto the radar screen of consultants like Reprise, Future Now, and Page Zero :), and after some efforts to work on online ad campaigns and landing pages, the impact and measurability of the Super Bowl spend as it translates into online behavior kicks up a couple of notches. That's an opportunity not available to smaller, "less wasteful" companies.

GoDaddy makes their approach even smarter through intelligent YouTube integration. When you see the clip of their ad on YouTube, you get a 10%-off offer at the end, taking you to a dedicated landing page. That's using the noggin... if you can afford to give away a $10 product for $1.79, that is. :)

On the broader evaluation of ad effectiveness: according to some critics, many of this year's Super Bowl ads were "circus without purpose," in several cases actually doing harm to brands. Blame whoever you like, but agencies confusing exhibitionism and art-school angst with merchandising would be at the top of my list. Or to put it another way: "when in doubt, accentuate the positive." Suicidal robots? Edgy. Urgh.

I'm aware that at least one of the advertisers on the list is one that patiently grew direct online relationships with customers; they offer deep online content that people interact with day in, day out. Injecting one-off experiments in hype, and new, questionable brand imagery, is more risk than I'd be willing to take if I were that company. All forms of attention are not good. (But maybe they've gotten caught up in the GoDaddy mystique.)

Anyway, something tells me that the point of all this shouldn't be to make your home page all about your Super Bowl ad. That's fine for GoDaddy. But what companies should be doing is working backwards, figuring out what kind of offer they can build online, on a dedicated new site, that will integrate well with the massive Super Bowl exposure and concomitant free PR buzz. If I were an automaker, I'd probably make a big bet on a single product, a concept car ready for rollout in 18-24 months. I'd then do the utmost to build a discussion community and permission-based database around that single, incredibly worthy product. A tougher sell and a higher degree of difficulty than a $1.99 commodity tech product, to be sure, but the low-hanging fruit? -- that's already claimed by Bob Parsons.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Six-Figure E-Commerce

David Berkowitz writes [sorry, MediaPost article behind a reg. wall] that he used the Internet to plan a lot of his wedding engagement - including finding a retail outlet for diamonds via a Google Search. Moderately forward-thinking, but nothing like the venture capitalist I talked to recently, who enthused about buying his fiancee a big rock on Blue Nile.

It's so easy: just select a stone, setting, and box, and "add to cart"!

Click, click, and click, and you have a six figure item in your cart. :) Yes, people really do this.

And here I was balking at personalizing a $200 golf club using the online tool at TGW.com.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




On Alexa, Compete.com, Quantcast, et al.

So, you know the drill. People who don't know too much about web stats love to quote Alexa ranks way too much. And so that's seen as a silly thing to do by those "in the know". But still, darned tempting. You can buy better data, but Alexa is free.

More recently, upstarts that don't seem too dissimilar to Alexa have come along: Compete.com, Quantcast, etc. You can count *dozens* of respected industry folk who have been willing to say stuff like "Compete.com is cooler," "compete.com is better," etc.

So, here's the deal. OK, it's not the deal, it's just my opinion. (Judysbook and Compete.com have "deals," and to be honest I'd rather see them focus on content and metrics, respectively.)

Based on the evidence I've sifted through, there's not a shred to suggest that Compete.com is better at this stage, and some to suggest it's actually worse. That shouldn't be surprising. Going strictly on toolbar installs, the upstart service is bound to have less data, and less representative data. They try to augment that with "ISP relationships," I gather, a practice which is quite old and generally not well explained. (Are Hitwise's ISP relationships better than Compete's? Are Wordtracker's better than KeyWord Discovery's? Does anyone do anything transparently in this industry?)

The CEO of Quantcast, Konrad Feldman, was good enough to talk to me a couple of months ago. I'm still uncertain about where the service is headed, given its newness. Essentially they attempt to combine various data sources to arrive at more accurate rankings, including demographic information for a site. To aid this, sites are encouraged to download some javascript code. Interesting, but no different from the scores of competing analytics services hoping to do the same. Who can get every site or even a lot of sites to install that code?

Evan Williams had a look at Quantcast and found that his site's rank skyrocketed from 15,500 to 2,900 after installing the code. What's wrong with this picture? Doesn't it indicate one or the other number is wildly inaccurate?

A number of analysts, from Greg Sterling to John Battelle, have given Compete.com favorable comments. But the uber-sceptical Matt Cutts just says no. (Check out the epic comments there, with everyone from the Compete.com founder to Lawrence Coburn, to one of the founders of Direct Hit(!) weighing in. The pro-Compete comments sound to me like empty cheerleading, but maybe that's because I'm not.)

And then there's SEOmoz's exhaustive (though restricted unfortunately to the SEM blogger community) attempt to look at the relationship between third-party traffic estimates and the "actual" traffic numbers of the site. This was so thorough that it got into the correlation coefficient between potential indicator of traffic, and actual traffic. Technorati links won as the best predictor. My caveat on this study would be that the "actual traffic" numbers are not reliable enough to give an accurate read - they are not "actual," but rather reported based on whatever log analyzers or other tools the sites use. Most of the site owners are savvy, but that doesn't make them perfect, and their chosen analytics providers are neither perfect nor consistent across the many sites in the survey. Nonetheless, there is something interesting in this study. It would be nice to see it replicated, with slightly more rigor, in different verticals. I found the fact that the third best predictor of actual traffic was the number of inbound links identified by Yahoo Site Explorer to be pretty interesting. Apparently, links matter.

And how! Timely, isn't it, that Google has just weighed in with the availability of a comprehensive linkage report, within Google Webmaster Central (formerly Google Sitemaps). Let's call it the "full linkerooni" - not to be confused with the publicly-available sample available with the "link:" operator. Incredibly extensive account by Danny at SearchEngineLand. Various versions of this might turn out to be topnotch predictors of actual site traffic.

So: some services that aren't really intended to be traffic measurement services predict actual traffic far better than those who make this claim for themselves, it appears. And Compete.com, in SEOmoz's study, comes in below Alexa, which doesn't fare too well in its own right. Shouldn't our cheerleading, then, be directed at Technorati and Yahoo for their fine free tools, and not mysterious startups who have yet to show us anything concrete?

Those in the driver's seat user-tracking-wise are the toolbar (or related user accounts) meisters. No, I don't mean the spyware and low level toolbar hawkers - I mean the respectable guys users hand over their browsing habits to, willingly. The king of toolbars: Google. Others in that vein, like Yahoo. The browser makers, and the like, also. Microsoft, on many levels. Companies that look even a bit like that, have scads more data than any of these "please install our code or download our toolbar so we can get more accurate data" startups.

So: we have panel-based measurement; toolbar-and-browser user tracking; ISP data; javascript code installs; and probably a few other methods I'm forgetting for third-party analysts to get ahold of information about sites they don't personally own, and aggregate rankings and other user behavior data. And as the SEOmoz study shows, if you're not fussy about what a service calls itself - Yahoo Site Explorer is just a private area for webmasters and SEO types to understand site status, for example - there are some great indicators out there that don't even claim as much.

Depending on who owns what info, some self-proclaimed "better traffic measurement" services will continue to provide wildly inaccurate data. Supporters will defend them by saying "sure, but it's free."

Free, as we know, can be costly. Om Malik still threatens to walk out of a meeting for a smoke break if you tout your startup using Alexa stats. Even if he quits smoking, you get the feeling the threat is still good.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 05, 2007

YSM Confident in Canadian Rollout

Last week I attended the Yahoo Search Marketing launch event in downtown Toronto (held at Kai Lounge). It's intended to confirm to Canadian advertisers that yes, now you can use the full suite of search marketing tools to target just Canadian searchers; you can geotarget; and you can do all of this using the new Panama platform. This is now live with a full complement of support reps available to provide support and assistance. My company hasn't worked with a huge number of Canada-only campaigns in the past, but coincidentally demand for it is now picking up and questions about Yahoo are increasingly common now that companies are aware of it as a second option after AdWords. An example of a field where you pretty much won't be marketing "across the board" to the U.S. and Canada would be a highly regulated area like drug trials or pharmaceuticals. As another example, a major Canada-only ecommerce site I'm pitching right now will benefit immediately from the Yahoo rollout. Money will no longer be left on the table due to platform limitations. What were companies doing in the past? Well, nothing. You couldn't buy PPC just for Canada through Yahoo.

For those who are confused by this latest launch event - because it's the second time Yahoo has held a launch event for YSM in Toronto in the past few months - I think this latest was more of a "we're flipping the switch" reminder to a selection of businesses who are particularly plugged into the scene. The previous event was broader-based and intended to gain media attention and to introduce the local advertising community to a range of Yahoo execs.

Of course for oldtimers in the industry there was little new here, but the agency community and larger advertisers should take note that Yahoo consistently refers to the extensible nature of the Panama platform. Eventually (similar to Google's trajectory), you'll be able to bid on a range of media through the auction. That consolidation is healthy but it's going to be awhile before it reaches critical mass.

I'm not sure how accurate this is, but at a dinner following the event I was told that the Yahoo Canada team has grown to well over 100, currently all crammed into the Front Street office (though they're still on track to move to a more spacious location sometime this year). The team specifically devoted to search marketing is smaller, of course - Yahoo's a diversified company so that explains the "well over 100" number.

I haven't seen much coverage of this event, other than Sulemann Ahmed's brief overview. What Sulemann didn't cover was the door prizes. In keeping with the company's fun image they had a few giveaways for those who handed in business cards. After the first ho-hum drawing, all eyes were on the next prize: the video iPod. I apologized to the friend standing next to me, warning her that "I always win the door prizes at these things." The next thing you know, her name was being called as the owner of a new iPod! So much for me being evil. :)

The final door prize, dinner and Raptors tickets, was going to be a great way for me to treat some of my buddies, so I was really looking forward to winning that one. Unfortunately, Martin Byrne (Director of YSM Canada), the MC, called me over to do the drawing, so I was ruled out! A guy from Lavalife won it. I apologize for having trouble reading his name (small white print on a bright red business card). Or maybe this was because I still had my eyes shut from the random drawing process.

It is just good to see that due to an influx of full time Yahoo people in Toronto, there are more search-savvy people to discuss customer targeting with and to generally advance the cause. Some staff have been lured back from sojourns in the UK and continental Europe - call it Canada's brain gain. Yahoo plans a full slate of events to evangelize search to marketers in Canada, beginning with some introductory level academy type courses (by a third party company) at a very reasonable cost.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Yahoo! Panama Migration Past Q1?

I was under the impression that migration to the Panama system would be completed by the end of Q1. You can imagine my surprise when I logged into an account and saw an upgrade date of May 31 2007.







After asking some questions, I was told that diamond and platinum level accounts (the two highest service tiers) will be migrated to the new system by the end of Q1. For gold tier and below advertisers, migration to the new Panama system will continue to into Q2.

Has something happened at Yahoo! to throw the Q1 migration plan off kilter?

In other news, Yahoo! Search Marketing’s new ranking algorithm called Marketplace Design will launch in the US market today. The scheduled roll out time for the new algorithm and associated new pricing mechanism is 3pm PST. It will take several hours for it to roll out across serving centers in the US. For more information, take a look at my post on Search Engine Land.

**EDIT TO ORIGINAL POST**

After fact-checking, I took more time to look into the Q1 migration timeline. I'm now assured that all "active" accounts will be migrated to the new Panama system by Q1. In the earlier post, there was some confusion around the word "active". An active account is an account that has been online within the last 90 days.

Posted by Mona Elesseily




Kris Cringely Sees Trillions in GOOG's Future

Take the equation (((dark fiber) + Google + BitTorrent + South Carolina))*skrenta) and what do you get? Google at $4,000 a share.

Looks like the smart money is taking the opportunity to take profits. GOOG stock is down about 2% today.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google's Click Quality Team Post

In a densely-written post about click quality on the Inside AdWords blog, Google provides a surprising amount of information in a short space. They combine an informative approach to different types of click fraud and the steps advertisers need to take to document it, with a new, consistent approach to communications that includes a dedicated contact form.

Google has been opening up its communications in several areas. For example, a member of that team took the trouble to chat at length with Andy Beal about the invalid click detection process. And Nick Fox of the Ads Quality team has commented directly on this blog on issues relating to arbitrage and the adwords ranking algorithm.

Permit us one small note of churlishness however, by way of defending conventions of ordinary human conversation the way we remember them pre-Google. "Meet the Click Quality Team" as a post title gives the impression we'll be hearing attributed commentary from identifiable individuals. We might even get names, or a group photo. Here, we're getting nothing of the sort, so we haven't in fact "met" anyone, although information has been disseminated. Also, there is a big stylized "open quotation" mark, and the use of the first person (singular as well as plural), but the quote is never closed and the person(s) is/are never identified. Am I the only one confused by this?

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, February 04, 2007

Big Pig Stands Down: Freud Enters the Building

I always knew pigs were nicer than they seemed. They make great pets, I hear. Now all the "Babes" can get along.

The National Pork Board has relented in its lawsuit threat against The Lactivist, according to Jennifer Laycock's latest.

As this kerfuffle blew over, I learned a few strange things. Such as: the site Six Degrees of Bacon was started by a search marketing firm, Optiem. Optiem's Jeff Rohrs also happens to be a lawyer.

Could it be that he and Jennifer at some point sat around thinking up ways she could get sued? Nah, sorry, I'll trade in my tinfoil hat for a Chicago Bears cap today (although I came this close to ordering a "Fueled by Bacon" hoodie).

Anyway, QED once again on the "search marketers and breast feeding advocates: don't cross 'em" front.

Also, the unrelenting tendency of search marketers to reference food niches in their posts, examples, and book chapters cannot go un-noted. Costanza-like, some search marketers are probably huddled under the covers right now, a Blackberry in one hand, pastrami sandwich in the other... try to put it out of your mind.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, February 02, 2007

Buffalo to Go

While it's now too late to get 'em in time for the Super Bowl... did you know, you can order the original Anchor Bar wings online?

If you're looking for a hot new trend for '07, the idea of ordering food - any type of food - online (even getting hot wings delivered across the country) seems to be catching fire.

"Sorry, U.S. orders only"? Gaaah! Luckily, it's only a 90-minute drive to the Anchor Bar from here.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 01, 2007

Big Pork Sucks

Funny. I was just chatting with an exec in a major media company. On a bus. Last night. A very nice bus outfitted like a limo. But that's another story. Anyway, her interestingly random comment was "never pick a fight with breastfeeding advocates." I think she got that right!

So today I find out that Big Pork just picked a fight with my friend Jennifer Laycock. I get the feeling they are soon going to wish they were never born.

What happened? Well as readers of this blog know, Jen decided to see if she could make a profitable ecommerce website inside of 30 days. She offered a bunch of humorous t-shirts and mugs with slogans relating to breastfeeding at her site The Lactivist. One of those slogans was "The Other White Milk." Harmless, right?

Not to Big Pork. They figure that harmless reference to their cute slogan is not so harmless, and they've decided to threaten Jen with a big lawsuit. Moreover, in the wording of their threat, they implied that she was an advocate of "breast milk for purposes beyond infant feeding." What? No she isn't. Rightly so, now Jen takes umbrage at their supposition that she is some kind of fetish peddler, which would harm her reputation.

Do I smell a huge countersuit?

I'll admit it. I'm a pig man. No, not a pigman, just someone who likes a nice tenderloin now and then. I like pork at least as much as I like, say, milk. But now I'm having second thoughts about these bullies. Maybe I'll order the eggplant instead, and wash it down with a soy drink.

Big Pork should take Jen's cue and, well, lighten up. Back off National Pork Board!

Update: Danny helps.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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