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Friday, December 04, 2009

Destroy a Brand? Become a Marketing Professor

Alan Middleton is quoted as saying that a famous TV campaign accelerated the decline of the Labatt 50 brand in the 1980's. That being the same Alan Middleton who was president of the company that created the campaign. (scroll down to the part about "Me and the boys and our 50.")

Actually, Middleton is an always-quotable source who seems to know his stuff. As a prof, it's really a strength that he's willing to tell the truth. You can bet he wouldn't have said it as head of his agency.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, November 28, 2009

The No Advertising Fallacy

Adbusters. No Logo.

Buy Nothing Day.

Various guilt-ridden middle class people doing their best to march in solidarity with imaginary downtrodden, non-materialistic brothers and sisters, say the darndest things about brands, advertising, and when you come right down to it, the joy of shopping for, thinking about, and buying, stuff.

A typical gambit in their mission statements reads like something out of a formal revolutionary theory paper: "reduction in all (x, y, or z) to zero." So, reducing "all advertising to zero," along with reducing all exploitation to zero, all poverty to zero, tuition fees to zero, all greenhouse emissions to zero (well actually, I've never heard anyone say that), etc. And those are the nice examples. Bad examples, needless to say, might entail ethnic cleansing, enforced codes of thought, or being forced to settle for last year's handbag.

In social and political thought circles this can be nicely called "utopianism," but the habit of thought is called "reductionist." It's also tempting to render it as "totalitarian." When you remove a whole cultural or economic layer because it somehow seems superfluous to an elegantly-designed system, chances are you're forgetting that freedom, economic incentives, and cultural pluralism (that sometimes create messy things like being interrupted, the need to borrow for an education, etc.) are pretty acceptable messes in contrast with the alternative.

So how does an otherwise smart guy like Jerry Neumann, an "investor in marketing companies" with a quietly efficient blog called Reaction Wheel, come out with:

"Someday, somebody will discover a way to do away with advertising altogether, reducing that particular cost of transacting to zero. That company will be bigger than Google."

Well, one interesting distinction is that unlike the poshly-housed "anti brand warriors," he doesn't lament too much advertising as a blight on humanity or an assault on our right to peace and quiet (arguably you might say, too much of it indeed is). He's concerned that it is wasteful, from an economic standpoint. There's very little doubt about that, but this may be more of an empirical question of how to find customers and grow your company in a wide variety of industries, through a wide variety of methods. "Reducing all advertising to zero" is a pretty blunt way of expressing that.

Because he seems to work with a lot of smart people, and maintains a keen interest in ad exchanges and the like, I can only assume that Neumann's formulaic statement was a mental glitch, or maybe part of the vernacular of venture capitalists, who like to make vast, sweeping statements about revolutionary business models and technologies, many of them connected to efficiency, pricing models, etc.

Efficiency at what? Giving people what they "already want"? That's a sliver of our task. And I love that quest. Reducing friction in fulfilling demand is a big part of what my company helps companies do when someone searches for "organic quinoa" on Google.

BUT...

We live in a culture. "Already want" is supplemented by an incredible amount of "hey, by the way, I think you might really really want...," and "did you see the great episode of...?"

Neumann's post was called Eliminate Advertising. For a mature executive not toting a can of spray paint, that's pretty childlike. I guess the purpose is just to get attention. It's valuable, after all! And in an attention economy, can you logically even conceive of no advertising? Not even remotely.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How Google's New Ad Formats Depart from Google's Old Philosophy

Google has been up front about their upcoming ad format releases, so this doesn't come as a bombshell. Nick Fox shared the news at SES San Jose, and we were offered examples previously, posted here.

Today, VP of Product Management Susan Wojcicki officially describes a variety of the new formats, with appropriate screen shots.

One reaction might simply be, "OMG another nail in the coffin for SEO!". I'm sure some in the SEO community will be afraid that more and more paid screen real estate will make it harder to drive organic traffic, and to some extent that's true. Whether elements of "universal search" take away organic traffic by one mechanism, or whether big local (paid) units take away organic traffic by another mechanism, it's an ongoing shift in the works.

And yes, it's a shift we said SEO's should get used to even back when we wrote about paid inclusion and paid search in the period 2000-2002. It's not easy news to share; never has been.

Google will no doubt protest it isn't turning into the Yellow Pages entirely, and certainly there will remain a huge amount of "unmonetized" inventory.

Susan Wojcicki makes another point worth noting, though, and that's "remaining loyal to [Google's] core principle" of "getting the right ad to the right person at the right time." Perhaps that's a core principle, but it's one that was invented and then emphasized by Wojcicki as a "core principle" in a blog post in 2008.

That implies that the new ad formats are, well, sort of an incremental, evolutionary change. On the face of it, this is disingenuous. In fact, if you looked up disingenuous in the dictionary...

I mean, look at some of the units. Hey Pizza Hut. Want to take up 50% of the screen real estate above the fold, on searches for "pizza hut"? You might have already, but with our new "pay us more" plan, you can sort of control how we display your listings.

Don't pay? Well, it might look something like the screen shot below, when a Toronto native searches for "pizza hut." Oh sure, you show up nicely in the organic results. But doesn't it really stick in your craw that the top sponsored listing is for Pizza Pizza, the leading pizza chain in Canada? Arrggghhhh! Pay up, Pizza Hut.















It naturally occurs to us, then -- given Pizza Pizza's success at "brandjacking" in this instance (largely legal in North America, though often subject to trademark litigation) -- that Pizza Pizza could scoop up the whole area above the fold, even on a search for "pizza hut," if they paid enough. I'm not saying it will happen, but while we're massaging core principles, what's a nuance among friends? Why not go all the way? I'm sure a few users will want to find a Pizza Hut, but they'll quickly lose interest when they see that Pizza Pizza has more locations anyway, to say nothing of seven flavors of dipping sauce.

It may well be significant that Nick leaned towards the word "revolutionary change" in his keynote. He wanted the community, and advertisers, to know that every assumption is on the table for discussion. Implying, in a way, that Google was adopting a new "open for business stance." While Google isn't about to throw its users under a bus entirely (at least if anyone remembers the Google Paradox that made them as wealthy as they are), it's hard to agree that this shift squares with Google "staying loyal to its original principle," unless that principle is a malleable, made-up principle that started making the rounds fewer than two years ago.

Are these significant enough changes to be unsettling, at least to the large contingent of longtime punters who thought they understood what Google's core principles were in the advertising realm? Absolutely. It's way beyond just rattling a few cheapskate SEO's. It's going to shake you up even if you liked buying the paid listings in the past.

Those who will be most comfortable with the changes may well be old-school big brand marketers, and agency veterans from the interruption marketing, big media buy era. Curious. Google spent ten years deriding that paradigm, forcing its adherents to play inside of Google's platform. Now, it's "you got money? let's talk."

They're radical changes, but naturally, Google is painting them as gradual. (Well actually, Nick Fox was honest. He used the word "revolutionary" at one point.)

Here are the key differences between New Google Advertising (2009-) and Google Advertising Classic (2001-2008):

  • Google is doing paid inclusion! In several ways. If this is just the beginnings of it, as it probably is, then Google is moving into paid inclusion in a major way. Almost all of Google's competitors have been lambasted for muddy ways of monetizing that didn't firmly explain what should go where, and whether it's paid for or not. Now that it has a monopoly position, Google is angling to do more of this muddy inclusion than any of its rivals ever did. Danny Sullivan, one of the only people in the industry who has followed the details of all forms of relationship between monetized and unmonetized search inventory, from Day One, of course called this right away in a column last week on Nov. 16, "Google Experiments with Paid Inclusion". And called "BS" on any attempt to deflect attention from this major shift in approach.
  • Google is ramping up a direct ad sales force and turning into the Yellow Pages, where it suits them. Folks, you can't buy all these various ad formats through a platform, and you don't have to adhere to an algorithm or an auction. Arguably, if you want to throw more money at Google, bunches more, for innovative forms of exposure and attention -- so innovative that they impact how Google manages the user interface, not just where it puts your message -- you're free to do so. Hello deep pockets, goodbye level playing field and transparent pricing.
  • Google, the search engine, is now heavily dominated by advertising and thinking about advertising. If you're into information, we suggest you consider Wolfram Alpha, or the local library.
I'm sure more bullet points could be enumerated, but that's the heart of it.

Heck, as a search advertising specialist, I should be thrilled. Maybe, but I'm also a search and information geek. Media buying is at the heart of what SEM geeks do, so I'll survive and so will our corporate clients, who seek ways to buy digital exposure on search engines and elsewhere. But I'm not entirely sure how anyone at Google can talk about their new ad formats cleaving to Google's "original principles" with a straight face, unless they're referring to an "original" principle that's all of two years old.

No one's holding a gun to anyone's head, of course. People love to shop. They love movies, and they love to compare mortgage rates. Hey, many consumers willingly watch infomercials. It's still a free country and you're still free to use or not use the engine and free to look or not look at the ads. But make no mistake, it's a significant change, and it comes at a time when the only significant challenge to Google's monopoly on commercial search in many markets is a search engine run by Microsoft.

Google's early experiments with blended search results made it seem like they never planned to charge anyone for appearing in a whole diversity of (often commercial) forms of listings. Viewed from a certain angle, it now looks like they're cooking up ways to charge everyone for everything. The free ride is rapidly coming to an end.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, May 25, 2009

Will Microsoft's Search Ad Campaign Work? (Groundhog Day... All Over Again)

So via AdAge, we're told that Microsoft is readying an $80mm+ advertising campaign, and that it will promote yet another brand of their search technology, this time, called Bing?

Further to Cory's piece about potential reasons for consumers to switch to Yahoo Search, now we have evidence that Microsoft plans to put not only persuasion, but money, into the "getting people to switch" effort.

What a shame, though, that these two companies don't get serious about working together to achieve that goal.

We can only be excited about the potential for Microsoft to create better technology in the space. Competition is good. But it's already a concern when the story is shaping up to be more about the promo of the alternative to Google, as opposed to the technology it actually offers. That's certainly been the case with the various lavish Ask campaigns (and I still won't forget when their PR people wanted me to write about the "significance of getting rid of the butler," as they saw it), and we all know that all that money didn't move the needle on market share.

The premise is that search technology doesn't matter all that much, and that brand does: you put a Google skin on other people's search, and consumers still prefer the Google. Sure, but how did Google build that brand? Through innovation, focus, and technology... not advertising. And by keeping the *same* brand for ten years. I don't think consumers are going to be compelled by the "meta-story" of how Microsoft is (again) spending a lot of money to make (another) stab at the search space.

Microsoft and Yahoo are already working together on some cross-promotion efforts. But the $80mm standalone campaign for the Bing technology seems to work at cross-purposes with that.

With one major search engine (Yahoo, say) benefitting from the largesse of toolbar love from 96% of browser share (IE, Firefox, + Safari, say), a real alternative could be created organically out of how consumers already behave, and how they already think about online brands.

So rather than waste breath casting aspersions on the potential cash sinkhole that could be opened trying to build the Bing brand, I'll vote again for the only major brand alternative to Google that makes economic and emotional sense to a wide cross-section of consumers: Yahoo.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nanotargeting?

In the past, I've ranted a bit about marketers "over-targeting" to the point of stereotyping, with the effect of alienating a large portion of the customer base. In a recent book chapter I used the example of car ads that seem to cater exclusively to 24-30 year old males, yet in my real world travels I see plenty of 50-year-old women driving that vehicle. This tendency was just confirmed for me as I trawled the (apparently, only available, if you go by what comes up in a search) car forums online. A car that I would want/drive is (if you go by the online image) actually more suited for the "tuner" set of punks who subsidize vehicle purchases by paying zero rent to live with their parents. Actually, if you're online, it seems that nearly every car is owned or driven by these people. It makes you want to buy a Cadillac or a Buick Riviera just not to be associated with them.

Anyway, further to my quest to be nonplussed by ads I see on a daily basis, I opened the Globe and Mail yesterday to see a half-page green-and-purple print ad for E*TRADE touting Canadian investment RSP (retirement savings, similar to an IRA) accounts. The differentiator was fewer fees, so with the two-fifty you'd save every month, the premise is that your wealth will grow faster. Really.

The headline, in giant block letters, was:

GET THE SPORTS CAR BEFORE THE BALD SPOT.

Now I have no personal exposed skin in the game (no bald "spot"), so no personal animus. I like sports cars just fine.

Let's start with the logical problem of your wealth growing fast enough to get a sports car "before the bald spot" (whatever that means). The money is going into your retirement account. To keep it tax-sheltered, it must stay there. The idea is to keep it there until age 60, 65... something like that.

Moving on, I'm pretty sure they've also let out the entire female audience with this headline. By combining "sports car" and "bald spot" in the headline, they've deftly conveyed (ok, entirely transparently revealed) that their "research" shows the audience they're targeting is male. But by doing so, they just untargeted (turned off, however mildly) the women.

Now as for the premise that you're in a race against time to save up enough cash to get that hot car (you know, to impress the chicks), and the bald spot thing would really put a damper on your overall hotness and sporty satisfaction level. Male pattern baldness (MPB), which does not affect all men, typically starts to kick in around age 25 - or milder forms, after 30. That is to say, most MPB dudes are going to have a bald spot by age 28-32.

The "corporate promotions" announcement that happened to be right next to this ad actually showed a picture of a successful exec moving up the corporate ladder. He was late 40's looking, and had a full head of hair! For him, a double win! Any car he wants... *and* hair!

In essence then, the E*TRADE ad has decided to target youthful investors (suffering from potential MPB) who expect to be able to save enough to buy a $50,000 car (one dollar at a time, through lower fees), in time to beat the bald spot.

Target audience: high-earning males, age 22-24.

People alienated: all women, and nearly all men with money to invest.

Once again confirming to me that some of the people supposedly helping companies with advertising are hurting more than they help.

Someone might counter that the line was meant to be funny. But block letters
are rarely funny. Maybe a hilarious photo? Of some silly, oddly-dressed *old guy*? (Age 32?)

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 14, 2008

Burst Media, That Old Thing?

comScore's release for March contains some fairly riveting stats. Numbers this aggregated don't really speak for themselves, to be sure, but the picture painted is one that is far less monolithic than current media accounts (mea culpa I suppose) might suggest.

The ad network stats pictured here, for example, show many of the supposedly "tired old" companies doing some pretty brisk business. And some of the startups in the group show real promise.

Some niche ad networks are doing pretty well, too. As are individual sites, selling their own inventory.

If niche ad networks have a role to play, and if the best economics for large individual publishers (as Jason Calacanis recently argued) are to sell their own ads and barely use networks at all, then look forward to continued variety in the ad sales economy. No monolithic "takeover" by any big network is in the works. If anything, it proves the value of the publishers themselves. It is mighty difficult to control someone else's inventory, as disintermediation is only a click and a better deal away.

Conveniently left out of the tables: revenues.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, September 10, 2007

Yahoo Scorecard Post-Semel

Valleywag believes Yahoo hasn't done much, a couple of months into the "100 day" plan put forward by new/interim CEO Jerry Yang. Maybe summer isn't the best time to start the clock on something like that, though.

Without second-guessing whether these were good ideas in the first place, here's the update on what Yahoo has or has not done from my list of random big ideas posted as An Open Letter to Jerry Yang on June 19:

* Yahoo has not acquired any hot little search startup;
* Yahoo has not acquired Yelp;
* Yahoo has not acquired GoDaddy;
* Yahoo has not acquired Research in Motion, but Microsoft was rumored to be interested;
* I am not aware of whether Yahoo has downsized inefficiencies in management -- I'll leave that to Valleywag. However, some key Yahoos have left for startups like Veoh. This probably means Yahoo will need to show it is serious about attracting good people, by showing the door to less effective managers, and recruiting some high-profile people. Jeremy Zawodny showed good initiative by jokingly attempting to recruit Matt Cutts through his blog. Matt was jovial enough to reply in comments.
* No sign of a partnership with Microsoft;
* The home page is as uninspiring as ever (if you like that sort of thing, MSN.com is better);

One key move has been to acquire an ad serving company, BlueLithium, to follow on the acquisition of Right Media. Although the latter is not a major deal, the trend is important.

As long as advertisers are disgruntled with current ad networks and "contextual ad platforms," this is an area that new product development needs to focus heavily on. That, plus gobbling up more inventory in a variety of verticals (personals, home, travel, social networking, etc.), will have to be the focus for Yahoo for the remaining few days of this 100-day segment, and the 100-day extension we'll have to give them, because the wheels grind slowly when it comes to turning around a multibillion-dollar company.

It'll be interesting to see if Yahoo can integrate new ad buying features (and more relevant inventory) into its Panama platform, or whether they'll create separate automated platforms for buying ads online based on the emerging "exchange" paradigm that will eventually largely eclipse the old networks and traditional media buying functions.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, June 08, 2007

Country of Origin Effects on Consumers - Ad Age Report

Is it just me, or is the report on this study a little muddled?

Young people don't know about geography (not a surprise). They don't care about where a product comes from (or yes they do care). If it's a luxury brand or a high tech item, it matters that it comes from a place associated with quality or high tech (ok, now we're getting somewhere, and Ries and Trout said it a long time ago).

About the only clear conclusion I see is that the US auto industry is still in big, big trouble, and doubling down on the patriotism is making it worse, further alienating youth, the buyers of the future.

But no mention of the counter-case, such as American Apparel; or the substantive issue behind that (not all "countries of origin" are equal; some are low-wage places with no labor laws - does this matter to customers or not?). Rather disappointing.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, February 07, 2007

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




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