Friday, 19 December 2008

Happy Christmas

(Photo Credit)

Last day near these pages for a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading and have a great Xmas. Good luck in 2009 everybody (and in the spirit of the last few months, a final thought stolen from Stephen: Of course, it is perfectly possible, however unlikely, that not everybody is reading this)

Bye for now

Online Advertising 101 - This Ad is Annoying

Advertising with my own money....
With all the possibilities that have opened up over the l
ast few years for brands to join in conversations, I sometimes forget that the economics underpinning the biggest social networks are still all about eyeballs, scale and broadcasting. So, selling display ads! I saw a presentation earlier this week talking about the success or otherwise of running traditional advertising on Facebook: now most people would say that this isn't the best way of using Facebook as an advertiser, but while there are millions of people using it there will also be lots of DR campaigns chasing their eyeballs and wallets. Interrupting people with commercial messages while they are chatting to their mates is no different from selling cheap DVDs table to table in the pub, but there is clearly money to be made in that as well, because people do it. And it is the same on Facebook: if the ads are cheap enough then it doesn't matter how few people notice them.

And they are really cheap - actually really really cheap: starting at around $0.10 CPM (as all Facebook ads are priced in US$). Now don't have much experience of direct response text ads on Facebook, so when I heard this, I thought it might be worth while having a go.... put something provocative together, stick $15 behind it, and that would get me about 150,000 page impressions.

So what do I have to advertise? Well, it might also be useful to see what the people who noticed the ads thought of them, so I came up with this:

This ad is crap.
Does crap advertising on your profile page
annoy you? I work for an advertising agency that puts them here. Tell me where we're going wrong.

So a lucrative sideline in copywriting clearly awaits.... Not surprisingly this wasn't accepted, because those polite souls who run Facebook don't allow offensive language in ads (this surprised me at the time considering what content is on Facebook, but what doing this has taught me is that each user of the site will set the content at a level they feel happy with by choosing who their friends are. Advertisers want to reach everyone, so have to be more careful. More on this later). So I changed it to this:

This ad is annoying.
Does annoying advertising on your profile page annoy you? I work for an advertising agency that puts them here. Tell me where we're going wrong.

And I set up a WordPress blog called This Ad Is Crap as a landing page giving a bit more information. The rationale for hiding my identity, and claiming in the personal information that this could get me into trouble if I was found out was to try and create a bit more of an undercover feel - that anyone reaching the page might feel more like they were part of a secret project. (rather than being part of a cynical piece of research - not sure if my rationale is correct or ethical, but that was the reason).

After having to remove all references to Facebook from the landing page ('breach of copyright' apparently), my ad was accepted. I targeted all adults 18-35 in the UK, and bid $0.10 CPM with a daily cap of $5. In retrospect I should have spotted that there was a CPC option as well, but this was a bit of a rushed job...

And sat back to see if anyone noticed it. My view is that this is a slightly different ad from what you normally see there, so I was expecting a 'good' clickthrough rate. 'Good' in these sort of environments means 0.01% (or an Ignorethru rate of 99.99%). So a click target of 15 ($1 per click). However my inept attempt at a landing page, and the fact that I was asking people to offer their thoughts in the comments, would probably mean very few actually commented. So these are the results:
29 clicks, 167,582 impressions, at a CPC of $0.51. And one comment. Considering lack of image in copy, dodgy landing page, all the online adverting 101 stuff that I would tell anyone doing it for the first time and didn't get round to myself, not a bad job. This shows why so many direct response advertisers are there, as it is so very cheap that it doen't matter if hardly anyone actually notices the ad. If you actually have something interesting to say or sell (rather then just being a smartarse like me) then this is a great system, particularly if the targeting is accurate: I didn't make too much use of targeting here, but that might well be a test to play around with next year if I ever have $15 going spare in 2009.

It is also interesting to think about when talking to people who think their 'web 2.0' project on Facebook means that they are participating in social media. I now have a case study paid out of my own pocket that says that just catching someone's attention while they are with their friends with an ad that is a bit different doesn't mean that they will the spend any time joining in with what the destination site wants them to do.

And although one comment is very far from representative, it is certainly an interesting perspective, and one that has made me reconsider my cynical reaction to my initial ad not being accepted.

Anyway, back to spending other people's money armed with a few new opinions.....

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

You are. Is it? Does Independent mean digital only?

Ok I wanted to come up with some awe-inspiring 2009 predictions about the future of media, advertising and the meaning of life (well, my geeky advertising techy life anyway). And to be fair I got a few…and then read what Peter Kim was curating, and it didn’t seem so groundbreaking any more. So looking at next year there was one over-riding theme

Well, hopefully not, but you know what I mean. But with all the talk of closures, losses and other economic related FAIL, one theme that seems unavoidable is that there is going to be a big casualty or two in the UK. And casting around for candidates throws up some unpleasant thoughts. In previous recessions, companies that invest in and build their brands have tended to grow at a greater rate in relation to competitors than they would in normal economic climates – due to less competition, greater share of voice, lower cost of media, etc. Actually The Economist sums it all up here

Ads on Edge
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: branding recession)

Obviously not everyone can afford to invest in their brands (that’s how the theory works: if 70% of your competitors cut their marketing budget as other costs are fixed, then share of voice is there for the taking. The 30% will see the benefit of their consistency through the years of recovery. Sorry for lack of links but it’s all in the slideshare deck). Amongst the traditional great and good of the UK media scene, there’s clearly some that can and some that can’t afford to invest, so those that are already struggling are where the first casualties will come from.

The TV market has its back firmly to the wall at the moment, but although I have been sceptical of Thinkbox in the past, they are absolutely right in saying that the country will be watching a whole lot more of it next year. Although that doesn’t mean more income for broadcasters, the model is far from broken, and (ITV share price aside) the big players will batten down the hatches next year.

Looking at the world of national press is more frightening though, as the medium has been managing decline for many years. Looking around for the weak and vulnerable here brings a bit of personal sadness here, as my introduction to the world of media agencies a few years ago was as a sales rep for The Independent, and state of my former employer now is downright scary.

Circulation on going fully tabloid (Jan - March 04) - 258k
Current circulation today - 201k

Full price UK circulation 2004 - 223k
Full price UK circulation today - 119k
(all figures Audit Bureau of Circulation)

Massive underinvestment over the last few years has meant that the world of digital sailed past without anyone noticing. The gulf between the Indy and the Guardian in press looks big, while the digital gap looks insurmountable.

Having spent a year of my life trying to convince people who really don’t care one way or the other of how great The Indy is, some of that has clearly sunk in and I’m struggling with the negativity of writing this…

So instead I thought I’d have a look at what can be done about it.

Well first you can’t manage decline in 09….

Reducing overheads by sharing office space and support staff is clearly a vital move to buy time, but looking at the figures it won’t buy much. Putting the cover price up from £0.80 to £1 seems totally short-sighted unless the additional sales revenue was needed to keep the paper afloat THAT WEEK. Otherwise it just gives the ever-decreasing readership an opportunity to reconsider the newstand and see whether their brand loyalty is worth a 25% price hike in a climate of cutting their outgoings.

The Indy titles are as or more dependent then their better funded competitors on Retail, Finance and Auto categories, and it doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that there won’t be much ad revenue from there next year.

(% of ad revenue from Finance/Autos/Retail)

I think there is a real opportunity here to change the game. Other than genius, the main advantage that Apple have had when revolutionising first music retail then mobile phones was that they weren’t trying to protect a legacy business. There were no existing vested interests to water down the business model, the design, or the idea.

So this isn’t the case for the Indy, but if you have a brand that will probably not be here this time next year unless it does something radical, and is already a loss-leading figurehead for a larger global plc, then you are going to have to think like that.

Fixed costs for a newspaper are all based around content (journalists), production (paper and printing) and distribution (physically carting the thing out to newsagents to try and sell to people who are busy checking their RSS feeds). None of this will change just because there is a recession on (except they will all be housed in a different building and their accounts done by the Daily Mail). All that has changed is that their scarcity business model is no longer valid. Income on the other hand is reliant on copy sales (down: see above) and ad revenue (down: see the news). Both hugely variable and not in a good way. Now this isn’t the first time that the paper has found itself in this position: the launch of the tabloid in 2003 was said to be a last ditch attempt to save the paper, and it not only worked, with sales up 21% after the first year, but it was copied worldwide.

And this is all totally consistent with the values and heritage of the brand. The Indy was launched as a response to a formulaic rightwing royalist press in the 1980s, and has tried to break the mould whenever it could afford to since. The viewspaper concept of running single issue analysis-based front pages, the avoiding all royal family coverage, taking minority sports seriously, anti-Iraq war, all innovative stuff for a newspaper. However having run with the idea that we don’t need breaking news on the front page of a paper as we already know it through 24-7 media they failed to invest in the sort of 24-7 media that would also allow readers to choose to opt in or out of all the other innovative stuff. They are failing because they aren’t being true to the brand. The ad campaign that launched the paper drove sales of close to half a million by asking

It is. Are you?

Now the tables have turned.

You are. Is it?

Because the core readership for the Indy is still far younger than the Times and Telegraph, and more financially literate and business orientated than the Guardian. Young, affluent and techy. Brands’ favourite people. But not people who like turning up for work with ink on their fingers.

The Indy isn’t the only one to feel the pinch though: according to a recent column, former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger believes local papers should be supported by public funding. In France print unions seem serious in suggesting that Google owes them a living now that out-of-date scarcity business models can’t support them any more.

So what is the solution? Scott Karp talks about newspaper execs having to think about how they would survive if forced to move out of print. This is exactly what those established US publishers that he is referring to should be doing, shoring up their digital assets and looking at how their brands will maintain a share of the revenue that moves out of newsprint. But not the Indy: it is too far behind the digital curve already for digital revenue to make a difference. They need to think what Apple would do. Okay, probably not quite as cool as what Apple would do, but think about how to redefine the category. What replaces print? It needs to be as mobile as print, but as connected as a mobile. So a mobile then? That really doesn’t do it justice: reading heavy text-y articles is about the least fun you can have on the mobile internet and is only marginally less bad on a proper browser like the iPhone.

The Kindle on the other hand was designed for reading text. So was the wave of competitors sweeping in from Japan. None have launched in the UK yet, although the Kindle has taken the US by storm this year. They make newsprint sexy again (or is that just booky-geekness?) One of the most profitable areas for a newspaper publisher is subscriptions: if you make sure readers pay you something every day, it doesn’t matter if it isn’t very much. The Telegraph for instance does 25% or so (might look it up and post a correction, but it's getting late...) of its total circulation through subscription – readers guaranteed every day. Digital print reading devices have no advertising model. If someone decides to bring them into the UK on an adfunded model then it is not out of the question that they could persuade some media agencies that 25x4 ads, or the 5” screen equivalent, were a more realistic way to advertise on such devices than banners. And that this could then be added on to press campaigns that would formerly have run in newspapers…..

So if you can maintain the variable income such as it will be in 2009 by maintaining ad revenue in a way that looks like print, but cut the fixed costs by not printing any more and distributing digitally, then the economic model starts to look more robust. Except of course no-one has a Kindle, and as I've suggested above a mobile phone, even an iPhone, won't cut it. So how about The Independent moves one step ahead of the game into the technology business. Skip all this creating digital content that their traditional competitors have been mucking around with. Don't worry about trying to be a TV channel. Just provide a subscription model that includes the cost of a year's worth of content (which in an attention economy of course is free really, but let's take this one step at a time) and more importantly a device to play it on. Oh, and do it in time for Xmas, as it will be a great gift. Doh!

This is a little bit slash and burn as survival plans go, and does beg the question what will be the strategy in 2010. But the brand will still be around then, some of the staff might still be employed, and the future of newspapers will be rewritten. And if the 2010 plan doesn't work, at least you went down fighting. Good luck!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

MINI convergence

3D Press advertising on your computer screen
Ok this is a convergence trick I haven't seen before. MINI in Germany have a press ad that you can hold in front of your webcam and see a 3D car sitting on top of the m
agazine on the screen. There's a 'making of' video on their site, which doesn't seem to have an embed code, so I can't nick it and put it here (or maybe it does and I don't know the German for 'embed code'). Doesn't appear to be on YouTube yet. Essentially it looks like this
except much better, as it's a video. To me this is a classic case of first mover advantage: as a magazine reader once you have done it once, you might not bother again. Most people with the technology to hand (ie. the sort of people who will talk about how cool it is to lots of people) would probably have a go once for novelty value - so respect to MINI for being there first. Not sure about how easy those people will find it to explain the concept without it being on YouTube though, so maybe a trick missed there.To be fair maybe they want to let someone else to grab and upload it, so it appears more authentic than if MINI or their agency publish it themselves.
(Disclaimer: MINI UK is a Zed client, although not one I've ever worked on, nor that had anything to do with this)

Monday, 15 December 2008

IgnoreThru Rates

If an ad sales guy shouts about his site having average clickthrough rates of 0.9%, does that mean we could also say it has an IgnoreThru rate of 99.1%? Sounds different when you put it like that..

2009 predictions

Peter Kim has compiled a great set of predictions for next year from a range of social media experts, bloggers and commentators:
Social Media 2009

There's a couple of interesting additions to Charlene Li's piece on her own blog as well

Friday, 12 December 2008

Friends Reunited Shopping. WTF?

Surely this is a Friday afternoon joke? I've just had this email inviting me to try a Friends Reunited Xmas shopping site.
Great idea, I thought. Maybe ITV have finally cottoned how to use the site they bought up so far ahead of the curve back in 2005, and then completely failed to capitalise on. If they could use the (admittedly out of date and under-visited) data on there, potentially bring in Google Friend Connect functionality, Amazon style reviews, then they might be able to use Xmas shopping as a final desparate attempt to claw back some of that £120m investment. So I clicked on the link. This is what I saw:I mean..what? how? why would you show people this? Isn't this a holding page for unwanted domain names with the Friends Reunited brand in the corner.

Surely after spotting the rise of social media before any other 'old media
' company (although admittedly 3 years after the site got popular), buying a well trafficked site and then completely failing to build on it until well after Myspace and YouTube became the next big thing, you wouldn't want to email media planners to tell them how desperate you are? I hate writing critical posts, i like finding new things that are great and trying to work out why they are great, what makes me feel so good about them, but seeing this I just WANT TO KNOW HOW IT COULD HAPPEN

That is all

Monday, 8 December 2008

iPhone Snow Globe

The line between branded entertainment and branded utility is currently pretty fuzzy. There's some debate at Neil Perkin's about what Nokia actually gain from the (nevertheless very cool) Bruce Lee ping pong ads that have been doing the rounds over the last couple of weeks. I think this one is an interesting take - in these sales focused days there is a clear path to purchase within the application itself, taking advantage of the device's connectivity, but still enough novelty that it will be shared and shown off.

Now what would have been really special is if Men 18-24 recommended gift had been an iPint
(from CMD Global)

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Why isn't everyone using Viigo?

RSS on the Underground
Ok this IS in danger of becoming a mobile blog. To be fair I've been souping up a Blackberry Curve and playing with an iPhone and drooling over N97 videos this week, but the main reason is that TechCrunch and Mashable have been in mobile overload recently, and they are my commute to work reading. So then I can't resist looking up the shiny new toys whenever I get chance. I mentioned this the other day in a presentation as a reason why I never saw things like Metro and the Londonpaper anymore, and was amazed to find that there is STILL hardly anyone I know using
Viigo. I've been getting blank looks for the last few months when I talk about Viigo (both as a user of it and as a potential commercial partner), and so I thought I'd write the basic explanation down rather than explaining over and over (yes, slightly pretentious i know, but then you can't link to the supplier and download the app from me explaining it in person....)
Basically Viigo is a Blackberry app that aggregates RSS feeds (tech, news, sports, entertainments, etc) and downloads regular updates. You can customise it to, for instance, make sure that you are only downloading from sites that publish full-text feeds, and even better you can sync your GoogleReader to update your Blackberry. For anyone in London, commuting 50m below ground, this is genius - it means I can read all my regular news and industry feeds when i'm out of range of a mobile signal. It even has a one-click 'add to Delicious' function that stores up all your bookmarks and adds them when you reach the surface. Takes roughly 10 minutes to install and customise, and means you'll never have to rely on the ten words of one syllable that London Lite seems to think pass for journalism these days....

So if you have a Blackberry and you use RSS, especially in London, why aren't you on Viigo?

Social TV - a BBC Vision perspective

Isn't it great when you find that what you want to write has already been written by someone far more knowledgeable about a subject. I've written about how I think TV might develop using Boxee, Facebook Connect, Apple TV, XBox 360, etc, in a networked technological future, and wanted to find out a bit more (for a 'What to look out for in 2009' sort of post that may or may not happen this month). But fortunately Roo Reynolds, Portfolio Executive for Social Media at BBC Vision, has already written this - well worth checking out here

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Nokia N97 - the start of local social?

Amid all the hype about the unveiling of the N97, which mostly runs along the lines of 'is it a phone that does computing or a laptop that makes calls?' there's one question that I'm a bit unsure of. I obviously want one - full QWERTY keyboard, 32GB, N-GAGE functionality, 5mb camera and all, but the A-GPS integration is being promoted as a social networking tool. It's a great concept - the phone keeps track of your GPS location, and that of all your friends, and lets you know where they are etc. Remember (if you're over 25) how much planning used to go into meeting friends in the days before mobiles - you'd have to specifiy a time and place and all that. And stick to it! Then SMS took over the planning for you. And A-GPS enabled social networking has the potential to take this to a new level - to keep everyone in the loop about where you are. It becomes even more interesting as people move beyond 'real life friends' through networks like Twitter, and will mean that genuinely location-based apps like BrightKite will come of age. It is also potentially the start of a future I've written about before (okay, badly organised post, so look at theory 18!) where devices communicate amongst themselves and only warn you of people or places that might interest you.

We will move towards this, but I'd question the impact that the N97 will have itself.... the power of a network is in the number of connections in it, and A-GPS tracking and social network integration will only be useful when enough people have enabled phones. Which will eventually happen, but proprietry technology surely can't be way to go. In the past, developers needed to protect their early mover R&D-funded advantage. Now, they need to scale it as quickly as possible before Google gets there. As Google is already in the mobile market, and as open, networked and scaleable as everything else Google does, surely the bold move would be to base the next N-series on Android, and make sure that it talks to every other Android phone, no matter who makes it or what network it is on?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

How to break a Blackberry

I seem to be writing about Stephen Fry a lot at the moment. Partly because I'm a big fan who could recite Blackadder off by heart when I was a kid, but I suspect mostly because he is always front of mind through his brilliant use of Twitter (not so much marketing his own work as marketing Twitter to the UK). Anyway, as I mentioned below, he is a bit of an Apple fan, and and as Guardian Dork Talk readers know, one of the country's leading authorities on mobiles, smart phones and the like.

Anyway, this is all relevant because of a couple of tweets he wrote last week.

"Been playing with the BB Storm. Shockingly bad. I mean embarrassingly awful. Such a disappointment. Rushed out unfinished. What a pity."

"Yes, I blame n'works more than RIM. Problems are terrible lag: inaccurate t'screen, awful, slow and fiddly text input. I SO wanted to like it."

"Plus the GPS maps won't work - issue with BIS connections. I see from forums postings this is widespread in the UK. iPhone killer? Ha!"

You'd expect that the sort of people who make up Stephen's 24,000 followers on Twitter would include lots of other people who grew up being captivated by his wit. They might very well also be the sort of people who might already have Blackberries, and be thinking around Xmas time about whether to upgrade the iPhone or try this potential iPhone killer. I certainly passed the link on to a couple of people who asked my opinion. And given that Stephen has worked all through his career at the BBC, you might expect one or two journalists might interested in this opinion. And sure enough, Rory Cellan-Jones picked this up over the weekend for the BBC's tech blog dotlife, and questioned whether Stephen Fry could kill a Blackberry?

Although it is a bit scary to put that sort of power in the hands of an Apple fan, you have got to question what RIM/Vodafone (not sure whose responsibility it would be) are doing in not involving someone with Stephen's authority in their field. It isn't difficult to map networks and see where the authority lies (although you'd hope they might know...)

His comments above would be valuable feedback if they were gathered BY Vodafone before the product launched. They could be addressed, and an authoritative tech blogger would feel that his experience had contributed to any success the product had. As it is, the gadget websites that probably formed the core PR campaign have got a much better story - a celebrity who hates the product. At this point I should link to a relevant gadget website, but I'm not going to do that. You see the media agency are just as culpable as the PR agency for not being in touch with what's going on. Check the Blackberry Storm contextually targeted ads are all over this T3 screenshot

It shouldn't be this difficult guys.....

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Geeks and Apple Fans

I was reading Douglas Copeland on the 25th anniversary of the Mac in Intelligent Life today (I do still sometimes read things on paper, even though i can't link to them), and as well as being as obsessive and superior as all Apple fan writing, it also suggested that Apple was a geek brand. I've always been fairly neutral about Apple products... actually no, I've always tried to be, but then get wound up by the fanboys who look down their noses at better products made by other companies. What I mean is that I don't personally use their machines as I don't like the software, but can see how you could get seduced by the hardware into overlooking the stuff i don't like.

It was the Geek label that confused me though, as to me Apple should be everything that a geek hates. It's the last big walled garden, that has never opened up hardware or software for computing or phone products. Personalisation, hacking and enhancing are core to geekery, whereas Macs are meant to be used exactly as they are - it is industrial era design; "we are the manufacturers, we know best". It also represents the opposite of open source, at a time when even major labels are moving away from DRM.

So I had a look back at what exactly we think of as a geek. Wikipedia has the following definition

"a peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, gaming, etc.

So you can be a subject specific geek like a maths geek or even an Apple geek. And I suppose it is a tech geek that would find the most problems with Apple - after all, being a geek is all about not conforming to mainstream opinions. But that is getting into splitting hairs - geek is also a generic term. So i completed the Geek Test on innergeek, which pretty much confirmed that all the things that I considered geeky are accurate. It also confirmed that I was a major geek, and I have the badge to prove it.
major geek
(The fact that I am writing this post would probably put me up to the next level in itself. As would the fact I care). So I thought about who I would class as geeks.... and the obvious place to start is England's Head Geek, the man who can make a social network famous and break a Blackberry with a few tweets, Stephen Fry. OK, probably the world's biggest Apple fan. 2nd person in the UK to own a Mac. Can communicate with the Twitterverse using iPhone video in parts of Madagascar where there isn't even a phone signal.

So i asked around the office, and sure enough, most people whose geek opinions i respect actually bring their Macbooks in to work rather than have to suffer using PCs.

So am I missing something? What part of the walled garden of Apple DRM is convincing everyone else that it is the one true tech path? Anyone?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Lighting lots of fires

The phrase comes from Mark Earls & Alex Bentley's piece on spreading through copying - the more things you start, the more strategies you pursue, the more chance one has of getting picked up and spread successfully

Anyway, the barrier to brands really getting stuck into this way of working (especially in these belt-tightening times) is that it goes against all traditional marketing business practices of controlling everything and putting huge investment into one big idea. As agencies our job SHOULD be to help make the case for starting future business practices now, so that brands get an advantage over all their competitors still stuck in the 20th century. Obviously it isn't as easy as that, and it is in this context that SnapAds fits. Snapads offers automatic optimisation of online display creative, testing various permutations of imagery and copy in the same way that Google auto-optimises paid search creative.

SnapAds - Display Ad Optimization from SnapAds on Vimeo.
While it isn't radically different in what the end results look like, using this system would be a step-change in the way that brand managers think about advertising messages. It's also a good time to start thinking this way before this type of adserving technology comes to a TELEVISION near you.

It's also interesting because it proves Earls & Bentley's point at the start. Even at this micro level, we don't know what t he most effective mix of imagery and copy will be. Teh internets know, as this chart shows
(hat tip to TechCrunch for story and image)

NB. Statbollox warning. 1922% increes sound gud. 0.395% increes sound relistik

Spitting out the V word

A really important distinction passed on from Henry Jenkins:(via Joe Marchese in Mediapost's Online Spin)

People spread viruses by accident. It is not intentional to give someone a cold

When we ask people to spread things on behalf of brands, we aren't trying to trick them. But we need to make sure that they are getting something from it (other then the flu). If you think about telling a joke to your friends, the joke itself isn't important, it is the fact that you are making them laugh. People like to laugh, they look well on people who initiate it. And they re-tell the joke to generate the same social capital

So do we really want campaigns to get 'viral'? Or do we want to not leave it to chance, and create stuff that people want to share?

Monday, 24 November 2008

Monty Python's flying DVD sales

I've been watching this story since it bro
ke a couple of weeks ago (or at least when I wasn't watching the Monty Python archive on YouTube itself). Obviously this has generated a huge spike in python-related chat online:
(Posts that contain Monty Python per day for the last 30 days.)
Technorati Chart
But it is also important because this is a high profile example of a Freemium business model that is not just put out there to see if it works. Freemium? The business model of the Long Tail. Free content for everyone who wants it builds reputation and is easy to share. Assets that are easy to share are also more likely to be remixed, rebuilt, incorporated into other good stuff with even wider appeal. So although there may not be many people that need to buy the really exclusive content that has a premium price attached, the content will reach them, and will create more of them. This isn't an ad campaign that a few milllion people [might] see: this is freely available to everyone with a computer. If 0.00001% of them buy a DVD, that's some profit margin.

And how do we know that this wasn't a test, it was guaranteed to work? Because it launched in the run up to Xmas shopping, when DVD box sets are at their most appealing. And becuase the brilliant video above directs people to pythonline to buy rather than Amazon (presumably Cleese & co.'s profits are higher on their own site).

And why did I wait till now to talk about it? Because I wanted to see some sales figures, to show that the 0.00001% is a fairly pessimistic rate. Thanks to Jemima Kiss in the Guardian for actually finding them out - Monty Python sales on Amazon since 12th November? over 1000% up.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Future of Social Media

We've got a sort of deal at work, that anyone who goes to an interesting conference, especially one paid for by the company, presents all the best bits back to the everyone else over a few sandwiches on a Tuesday lunchtime. So I started trying to write up the Future of Social Media day I went on a couple of weeks back, and it sort of grew into 'what i think about marketing' mashed up with lots of other peoples' theories and analogies (referenced as we go). Not worked out Slideshare notes yet, so the words, links and thoughts that go with it are below.
The Future Of Social Media
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: brands technology)
1. The Future of Social Media

2. What this isn’t about.

There are lots and lots of sites out there that are based on the principle of the network. I’m more interested in the network than the sites….

3. or this….

I’ve seen loads of case studies,, from media owners, viral distribution companies, researchers and authors. So I’m not going to cover the same ground. I’ve been to a couple of conferences in the last few weeks which were mainly meant for marketing folk, and the speakers were some of the top strategists working in social media, some techie, some agency and some brand marketers. And they were trying to explain a little bit further ahead than the case studies do, to really go into why stuff works on the internet. Most of the ideas come from Andy Hobsbawn, Rohit Bhargava, Justin Billingsley, and Matt Mason. With a lot more added in that I’ve learnt from Neil Perkin, Faris Yakob, David Cushman, Chris Anderson, and Kevin Kelly. So I’ve tried to distill all this down.….

4. What I am going to talk about

What’s going on, What we can do to help our clients. And what we can do ourselves

5. What is a brand?

I’m going to talk a bit about how changing technology affects brands, so it is worth having a look at what a brand was. If you go back to when products like Coca Cola were launched, the brand was a symbol that you could trust and rely on to deliver quality and value for money. This worked because in the days before fast communications, the only people you could rely on for information were family and friends, and probably only those in your immediate vicinity. The brand became a mark of reputation – almost like a substitute for someone you know having told you that coke tasted good.

6. We are social animals

We haven’t changed – our species has grown up around narrative. Linguistic development gave us the competitive advantage to out-evolve our closest competitors. Companionship and a sense of belonging are basic human requirements. We need to belong to tribes, whether through shared interests, family bonds, religious beliefs, or supporting the same team, as this feeds our sense of who we are – it makes us human. Stories are what grow up around the tribes. Technology just opens up wider groups of people who share our interests – the tribes become bigger, and better informed, and the stories more complex.

7. Industrial Marketing

The idea of brands as a proxy for information grew up in the industrial age. The broadcast transmission of information belongs to this era too: it is a linear process where raw materials, labour and distribution are expensive, so needs to work on a huge scale in order to be effective. Linear production meant standards of living soared during the 20th century, and products became more reliable – to the extent towards the end of the century that the role of a brand moved away from its original definition as a substitute for recommendation, and became a set of imagery and design: a metaphor rather than a promise.

8. The production line

But the production line model was used as the basis for marketing products too. Like in the factories, raw materials (ad agencies) were expensive, so huge scale was needed at the start of the process. Getting the imagery in front of the eyeballs is even more expensive: that is what media agencies did. It is the goal of industrial marketing, because it relies on the audience being attentive. To be honest, with two or three TV channels, they usually were.

9. And how did that work?

Well how did that work? This bloke is called William Hesketh Lever, a soap manufacturer in at start of the 20th century. He made the very famous, and extremely over-used quote half his advertising budget was wasted, but he didn’t know which half. (the effective half was very effective though, and his company has since changed its name from Lever Brothers to Unilever).

That has become a truism in our industry that we have spent vast sums of our clients’ research budgets trying to correct.

10. And did we?

And this is a picture of what we’ve come up with. If anyone has ever tried feeding an 8 month old baby then they will know that it is messy, there’s a lot of wastage, and it quickly becomes very frustrating that any sort of dialogue or reasoning won’t happen until some unspecified point in the future. But after a lot of work, the baby gets enough to keep going. And I’m sure you can guess the point that I’m labouring… this is pretty much the same as mass media advertising

(thanks to Rohit Bhargava at Influential Marketing for the analogy)

11. Not this….

We know it would be better if communication was a two-way idea, but for now we keep shovelling in the food. All that research to find out which 50% was wasted has confirmed that recommendation is the best way to convince people of something. And going back to our coca cola example, a brand is still a substitute for actual recommendation.

12. What has changed?

But marketing is still a way of creating economic advantage. So has economics changed? (ignoring the last couple of months’ worth of banking disasters). Well here is a definition of ‘economics’, and this starts to explain where the change comes in. The key word is ‘scarce’. Because networked distribution changes everything

13. What will happen next?

This is Gordon Moore. He set up a company called Intel. He is very very rich. In 1965 he observed that although the number of transistors that could be placed on a circuit board had doubled every two years since the invention of the integrated circuits in 1958, and predicted that this exponential growth would continue unchecked. So far he has been proved right, and this law of exponential increase in computing speed and memory capacity is what has fundamentally changed our methods of communication.

14. Scarcity and abundance

In the industrial age, media were expensive. Movies relied on people and technology to create them, and time, space and money to distribute and store them . Newspapers were hugely labour intensive to write, expensive to physically print, and had to be distributed quickly to maintain demand. The increases in processing power and storage predicted by Moore’s Law mean that production and storage is now virtually free. The internet means that distribution is virtually free. So information and entertainment is now infinite, while Economics relies on scarcity to define value. And a virtually infinite amount of information and entertainment is a drain on the finite amount of attention available to consume it. What is scarce, and therefore valuable, is attention. As people form networks, their attention becomes focused more on conversation – on non-commercial media. Familiarity breeds trust, as it did for the industrial era brands. So now we trust people we don’t know just as much as we those we do.

15. What a brand will be

In this environment where immediate open global communication with people that we don’t know but that we trust is the norm, there is no need for a substitute for recommendation. A brand is whatever people say it is. This is important, as it isn’t what brand marketers or the media say it is. Rather than being a one-way substitute for recommendation, as it has been all the way through the era of industrial marketing, a brand is now the sum total of all the recommendations that already exist for it. And this is a dialogue. As long as the positives outweigh the negatives, then the main thing a brand has to do is be talked about. And if the conversation is negative, then it is easy to find out using a whole range of free tools like Brand Tags, and to address the negatives. In an open conversational way.

16. Recommendation and Reputation

Remember that by conversation, I do mean real life as well as online. It‘s just that more conversation happens online and it happens globally and immediately. And recommendation online also helps your product’s sales directly. ‘Recommendation’ online is hyperlinked. When Google launched, the huge advantage it had over all the other search engines that were around at the time was that rather than just counting the number of time a word appeared on a page to give a relevancy score, it also included the number of links to that page – ie it counted how many times the page had been recommended. The total number of recommendations made up the page’s Reputation, or quality score. So it follows that to grow your market, a brand must be part of the conversation

17. Markets are Conversations

In fact, markets are conversations. I like the first quote, not just because it is true, but because it sort of proves the second.

We forget how revolutionary the Cluetrain Manifesto was in 1999, and sure enough it took longer than two years for technology to change the world. But it is worth remembering when listening to geeks like me get overexcited about the future that this I’m probably underestimating the change in the next ten years

18. Intelligence Development

Why? Well since the internet was invented, it has slowly grown to a point where it has roughly the same number of computers connected as there are cells in the human brain, and about the same number of links as there are connections. The number of synapses, or connections, in our brains is taken as a proxy for intelligence – it is basically processing power. So in 16 years between 1990, when Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the worldwide web, and 2007 when Kevin Kelly wrote this theory, the internet has developed the intelligence of one person.

And as we’ve seen, Moore’s Law means that all the processors, and all the storage, and all the other capacity will each be doubling in capacity every two years. By 2040, the internet will have the brainpower of 4 billion people.

The next big development will be the move from the Internet of data to the internet of things – everything can communicate with everything else.

We are going to move over the next few years from millions of computers CONNECTED by the internet, to one huge computer that IS the internet. Every device will be a window into it. Your phone will be able to socially network with other phones in the surrounding area, and only alert you if you need to know about the people carrying them. This will obviously mean that a huge amount of data is flying around, and that where there is more information, there is less attention. So brands will have to work even harder to earn that attention. Most of the time they will not be able to communicate with us unless they are invited into our digital life by our devices. As an example, if you switch on your phone, only ads that are better than the programmes you want to see will have been showing up as recommended for you. You will not need to look any further than your phone’s recommendations, as it knows far more than you could ever have time to about what you want to watch. Gaining attention by interrupting people starts to look a bit outdated.

19. Information Systems

So the result in a completely connected, always on world, is that the internet is like air – always there, but in the background. People are starting to worry about Google dependancy where they are no longer able to remember things because they have come to rely so much on just being able to search. I get withdrawal symptoms if I am away from a Wifi connection for very long. But is this reliance on an information system really such a bad thing?

Remember, the internet is not a medium, it is a way of organising and structuring information. To have more chance of unlocking its potential, we need to think of it in terms of other systems for structuring information. For example, the alphabet. We haven’t worried about relying on the alphabet to store our information for the last 1500 years. And we don’t use the alphabet as an advertising medium. Well, we do, obviously – copy is written in words, ideas are created and sold in words. But it is something so fundamental that it goes on in the background. If we think of technology in terms of media channels like TV and radio, our frame of reference is too narrow

20. Opportunities not to see

Now I don’t think that very much of that is futuristic…

Not least because I can’t wait until I can google my car keys when i can’t find them

As sci-fi author William Gibson said, and every advertising blogger has repeated, the future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed yet. I can already screen out all TV advertising, and all online advertising, search and display. But I don’t, cos I work in advertising. Most people don’t know how. Yet. Historically there was an understanding that advertising was a necessary evil, because it paid for content, and content was expensive. Now content is free and on YouTube (this is why YouTube are struggling to make money out of the old media economic model). Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information…. And content is just information.

21. What is technology?

Change has never happened faster than it is doing, and change will also never happen this slowly again. So it is important to understand what has changed and what hasn’t

Are the ones on the right technology? Are the ones on the left museum pieces? Technology is a relative concept - just a word for anything that wasn’t invented when you were born.

22. What will media look like?

And what will media look like? Media is just the means for distributing information, and this is one of Chris Anderson’s examples of what has changed. Hollywood was based on the fact that there were a limited number of really successful movies, after which demand fell quickly away to zero. Actually turns out it wasn’t that people only liked a few movies, rather that the distribution system was really inefficient at matching supply to demand. Although over 10,000 movies were being professionally made each year the capacity of US cinemas was only 120 movies – so they created the concept of the Blockbuster – the syndicated, extended, marketed extravaganza.. Now technology is able to cater for demand, the Blockbuster model starts to look very inefficient.

23. Broadcast Model

This is an image of the Blockbuster model from social media consultant David Cushman. Messages are one-way, and value is all about the number of eyeballs. This is industrial information.

24. Networked model

But what about when the audience BECOME the media channel – when they can create and distribute through networked conversation without relying on a broadcaster? And it is harder to interrupt a conversation than it is to interrupt content. Brands will have to become part of the conversation.

25. But what does all this mean?

26. Rampant Disintermediation

Whatever that means….It means the audience is up to something……

27. Summary so far

The role of a brand in the age of industrial marketing no longer exists

Attention is scarce and expensive. Media is not

We already have tools to avoid advertising. They will increase exponentially

28. What to do about it?

And what to do about it? Understand that all media is social. The revolution will be hyperlinked. We are now the producers and distributors of media. And there’s more people than there are media outlets. Change is only going to get faster, so the main thing for a brand to do is jump into it. I’m going to try and explain without referring to the same old case studies again

29. People haven’t changed

Confucius wrote this 2,500 years ago and it is still just as true today. What has changed is that the involving bit was always difficult, so as advertisers had to show & tell. Technology makes involving easier, and as we’ve seen, also make it much easier to avoid the show and tell stuff. If something is entertaining and involving, we will understand it and talk about it. This is the first thing brands can do to be part of the conversation

30. We are all individuals

You know the quote right? Actually in the world of real conversation, we are all individuals. When all media was mass, demographics made sense. Now a lot of media is becoming about one to one conversations, there’s no need to deal in averages any more. Remember, the average UK resident has one breast and one testicle. We could of course track and monitor everything that people do online, so that we can interrupt people in new and more relevant ways. And as long as the industry is open and thought-leading about the development of privacy laws, this will make direct response advertising far more effective. But that is jumping further straight into the middle of the conversation. We need to know what people are talking about first. If a brand is a sum of all the recommendations that exist for it, then all the brilliant targeting in the world won’t make up for crap products or poor customer service.

31. Light lots of fires

And how do you appeal to lots of different niches?

Simple. Do lots of things. Get busy.

But won't that be a bit half arsed? Well, Bill Buxton, who wrote Sketching User Experience, talks about an art college ceramics professor, who comes in on the first day of class and divides the students into two sections. He tells one half of the class that their final grade will be based exclusively on the volume of their production; the more they make, the better their grade. The professor tells the other half of the class that they will be graded more traditionally, based solely on the quality of their best piece. At the end of the semester, the professor discovered that the students who were focused on making as many pots as possible also ended up creating the best pots, much better than the pots made by the students who spent all semester trying to create that one perfect pot.

I like this analogy as it is what the more forward thinking brands have been doing. Testing everything. Orange’s Internet Balloon Race might have been a huge success, but equally, their island in Second Life looked great and had no visitors. So they are investing more in ideas like Internet Balloon races at the moment. Actually that’s an interesting example for media agencies to take note of – the balloon race is an example of advertising that media owners want to carry for free – 3000 sites, including the Sun and Vodafone, asked to be included. As you can imagine, no media budget was spent.

32. We don’t ignore marketing

Because we don’t ignore marketing…. we just ignore crap marketing – it’s become really easy. This is an example of what OTHER blender ads look like. Worth seeing, as you won’t have seen any blender ads. Well, any other blender ads. Obviously you’ve seen Blendtec, cos it’s great, and everyone’s seen it so you’d be missing out an important cultural meme if you hadn’t. But this is what the rest of the category does.

33. Fail little and often

So the real step change for clients is about not trying to build that perfect pot – it’s about not worrying about the bad ones. Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” We know that species of animal can remain unchanged for millennia, and then suddenly evolve in a few generations as their environment changes. As the internet ushers out the era of industrial marketing, we need to help our clients avoid erring on the side of caution.

34. We are the eighth mass medium

The first seven are print, audio, cinema, radio, TV, internet and mobile. As I paraphrased from Kevin Kelly, soon these will all just be screens into the internet, and the mobile will presumably be the most important screen because it is always with us and always on.

WE are the distribution,

WE are the content,

WE are the 'user journey',

WE are how messages are transmitted.

WE are the medium and the media carried by it

(concepts from David Cushman and Tomi Ahonen)

35. What about content. Didn’t that used to be king?

And where does that leave the things we have watched and listened to? This is what TV was all about – the watercooler moment. This is why music drives popular culture. Now back in the early days of commercial TV, when people were first working out what to put on it, how it differed from press and radio, how you might use it to advertise, FMCG brands realised that there wasn’t enough of the right kind of shows to target their housewife target audiences. So they got together with the broadcasters and created regular chunks of real life drama that they could advertise household products around. Because of the way these shows came into being, and the content of the ads around them, they were dismissively referred to as ‘soap operas’.

Today CBS are setting up social viewing rooms to allow people to connect with other fans of shows in real time, and schedule their non-scheduled viewing around when their friends are watching (whether or not they are friends they have met). In the 50s, value was in content that appealed to mass audience. Today it is in the network that talks about that content.

36. Something to talk about

Because today, we are not limited to 2 TV channels or the radio as a choice of our evening’s entertainment. The advertising industry grew up on the basis that if it interrupted your viewing, there was very little that you could do about it. When the internet came along, it repackaged those expensive TV ads into small screen formats, and created something called a microsite, an online version of the millennium dome that cost lots but contained nothing. Content may “just” be something to talk about, but the value in a network economy is not in the content, it is in the talk.

37. This isn’t a new idea

Using advertising to generate PR isn’t a new idea, it’s just much easier now. Mainly because as we’ve seen ‘PR’ didn’t used to be true. It wasn’t Public relations, it was media relations. Now the media and the public is becoming the same thing, PR is becoming real and therefore has to be transparent and true. Anyway…these are the ads that made the careers of the Saatchi brothers and Trevor Beattie. None of them ran for long, and not much was spent buying media, but they were all about getting people talking. Back then, this meant do something so different or risque that the national news media talked about it, which meant everyone else found out about it. Now, it means the same except there is no longer a requirement for the national media. It isn’t a top-down broadcast economy any more.

38. How to be talked about

But being talked about is still about creating things that are remarkable. The analogy is Seth Godin’s: a brown cow isn’t interesting. If you have a purple cow, people will talk about it. Whether that is great advertising, exemplary customer service, a perfect product, even brilliant packaging.

39. Commitment not campaigning

This isn’t just an example of brilliant packaging – Innocent is a collection of values, experiences and nice touches, like cheeky bottles that carry on the conversation after you’ve drunk them, and this is important because you can’t run a traditional campaign socially. You can release ideas and assets into the wild, and if they are any good, they will mutate and spread. But there isn’t a beginning middle and end

40. Piracy is just another competitor

And mutating and spreading is what it is all about. The concept of owning copyright on something that costs nothing to produce or distribute is a fairly odd one. In the networked world, intellectual property is called reputation, and reputation is a result of sharing. Most businesses that relied on copyright during the industrial marketing era have realised that the world has changed: the quote on the slide is from the CEO of Disney. But it is more important to realise how things will change from now. For example, the Guardian became the first traditional newspaper publisher to publish full RSS feeds last month. This frees up all their content to be shared, embedded, linked and remixed by anyone that wants to. The New York Times has gone one step further, and released a number of APIs – if you don’t know what one of those is, think of Facebook apps or Google Maps. They allow any developer to build their data into new applications. To share and re-distribute is now the goal of business. Brands need to open up and copy publishers, because the user is the destination, not the website.

41. Why so serious?

And part of opening up is treating brands less seriously. It is difficult to see value in people who are co-creating stuff around your brand if you have a restrictive set if brand guidelines. Now if people are interested in your brand, then they will create and share around it regardless of what guidelines you have. The value in a networked economy is in what is shared. So if you want to take full advantage of this value as a brand, you need to lighten up and accept it. In fact, you really need to help and encourage it. People form networks for fun as much as for support, and brands that want to join in have to be able to do fun in a human voice.

42. Communication = dialogue

And whatever voice you use, the most important thing for brands to remember is that listening is more important. Brands generally aren't good at listening, because they've never had the opportunity to practice. Industrial marketing was too expensive to work as a dialogue, so brands had to rely on focus groups as a proxy. This tended to be conversation in a marketing voice, not a human one. It was also only a quick chat, not a conversation

43. Marketing is customer service

Dialogue is an ongoing process – brands will be found out if they screw up at any stage of their relationship with people.

Comcast had a similar reputation in the US to NTL/Virgin here in the UK: the ISP equivalent of Ryanair. Or at least it was until one bloke in their minimal customer service department realised that he could cut through the bureaucracy and speak to people directly and in a human voice on Twitter. Google ‘comcast customer service’ and this is in the first three results. .Markets are conversations, and marketing is customer service

44. We are what we share

Okay so we’ve seen that brands are just the sum total of all the conversations that they are involved with. We’ve seen that content is just information, and all information is free to Google and to the Single Big Computer that all our screens are going to peer into. And we’ve seen why media is no longer scarce, and therefore why it is now attention that is valuable.

This is why free is now a viable business model. IBM for example used to be in the computer business. As we’ve seen, there isn’t much value producing hardware any more, so they moved to the consultancy business. And a lot of what they do is given away by an research organisation called the IBM Institute for Business Value. This is all research from top level academics, that would cost thousands of pounds a few years ago. By giving this away, their content reaches the attention of more potential customers than other consultancies. They develop reputation and authority. In the past, we were what we owned. Now we are what we share.

Closer to home, anyone in a media agency who has tried to present social media to a client soon realises the value of sharing. The only robust global survey on social media usage was conducted by Universal McCann. Rather than locking this expensive research away for their own clients’ use, it has been widely shared to strategy bloggers, and distributed to agencies round the world. If I try and present any facts about social media to a client, I will refer to our competitor’s market leading research, and position Universal McCann as the authority on social media.

45. Experiences will always be scarce

So if image isn’t enough to create business advantage any more, and both the production and distribution of media are close enough to free to be done by anyone, how do you stand out enough to build reputation? How about looking at what isn’t abundant? Creating experiences. Standing for something. Being generous. Orange Rockcorps connects worthy causes with willing volunteers (whether they are digging a hole or playing at the Royal Albert Hall), it connects music fans with live music, it CONNECTS. It puts the brand at the centre of a network – enabling the network, creating experience and doing good.

46. What should brands do?

Listen to what people want. Enable it. Commit don’t campaign, and remember communication is a two-way process.

47. Conversation not conversion

So what can we learn from the most expensive marketing campaign in the history of the world? From the moment he became the Republican nominee, McCain focused on one thing – making sure he had people’s vote on 4th November. Obama on the other hand had been asking for people who supported him to give $10 since the start of 2007. The 4m people who did remained in contact through email, through the campaign network mybarackobama, and via Twitter, Facebook, etc. When the time came to ask people to come out and vote, there were 4m people ready to make 5 phone calls each to undecided voters when they were asked to. The campaign didn’t need to rely on overworked campaigners, just millions of volunteers doing a little bit each. And those donations that started them off meant that the Democrat campaign could outspend the Republicans by 3 to 1 in battleground states. (and do something different for half an hour of mainstream primetime television, as the future isn’t evenly distributed yet)

48. Join in

It is the same for us as it is for the brands we represent. You wouldn’t think of planning press without reading newspapers, and you wouldn’t have much of a future as a TV planner if you didn’t know plenty about the programmes. Being part of the social media is a two way thing though, and while we all have Facebook, LinkedIn, Bebo and Myspace profiles (and if you don’t, get one of each, and use it for a while) so do most of our clients. If we’re going to be able to advise them on how to use dialogue as an advertising medium, we need to know it ourselves.

49. Learn from others

There’s also a lot of people out there who want to share their ideas - I’ve listed some of the ones whose ideas contributed to this…