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.....