September 29, 2009

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Can Online Display Ads Work Harder? Online display ads are the red-headed freckled kid of interactive advertising; present but not quite understood even though last year 4.5 trillion ads were served and each of us was exposed to nearly a hundred ads per person each business day. Marketers spent an estimated $5.9 billion in 2008 to spray and pray banners, skyscrapers, advergames, “ghost” ads and moving or animated images (the top five ad formats) across the Internet. Some hoped to provoke clicks and convert those clicks into sales. Yet many just hoped to expose passing web surfers to a brand image or brand impression in the hope of raising or extending awareness or priming the pump for later consideration or sales. And while the metrics of direct response advertising is generally known there is still no real consensus around and the value and utility of display advertising other than the logical belief that what worked for a century in traditional media ought to work in digital media. And while we buy the logic, many of us still have the “banners suck” mantra at the forefront of our consciousness. But rationally it makes sense. Images, sound, moving pictures and uber creativity ought to capture the attention and motivate consumers at least as well as short text ads served up by search engines. But the difference for leading display ad sellers like Yahoo, Facebook, Fox Interactive, Microsoft, AOL and Google is in the perception of value and the ability of marketers to target and measure campaigns. And while 9.5 percent of campaigns were “behaviorally” targeted using a variety of methods and measurements, most marketers don’t have faith that they can effectively and efficiently reach target audiences using online display advertising even in this environment where there is a glut of inventory at significantly discounted prices and a gaggle of ad networks peddling remnant inventory for as low as 40 cents per thousand. The Online Publishers Association and ComScore, both seriously interested parties, did a study of 80 campaigns for 50 top brands which was tracked across the top 200 highly trafficked sites and concluded: 1. The 80-20 rule applies to clicks. Eighty percent of the clicks come from 20 percent of the people exposed to the ads. At very best only 1 in 5 ads draws a click whether that was the intention of the ad or not. 2. Displays Ads Prompt Search. Queries for terms exposed in display ads were searched 50% more often a week after exposure and 38% more often even 4 weeks after exposure. If you see something that intersects your interests or your personal wish list, you are more likely to search for it directly when you’re ready to buy. Direct and brand advertising interact synergistically online and offline. 3. Display Ads Drive Site Engagement. Those exposed to ads spent 34 minutes per unique visitor on the sites exposed. This is hard to believe in terms of the time spent on site and the amount of “lift”. Maybe it just measures the vagaries of site architecture and navigation. 4. Brand Exposure Bumps Up eCommerce. Those exposed to brand ads spent 7% more on average when they bought. This feels like advertising orthodoxy; exposure drives awareness, consideration and purchase and maybe added exposure convinces customers to trade up a little. But whether you buy this data or not, the issue of buying, targeting and measuring still looms large for anyone seriously contemplating an online display campaign. Into this fray comes Shaukat Shamin, a Yahoo veteran with $6 million in venture money from Rembrandt Ventures, Onset Ventures, Reid Hoffman and SoftTech VC, and a brand spanking new display ad platform solution called Permuto. Permuto purports to create tools for display advertisers similar to the Google Adwords toolbox which will enable targeting, price negotiating, clearance verification, reporting and more effective sales conversion from display ads. Shaukat has organized a network of about 100 eCommerce, comparison-shopping sites and bargain hunter sites that cookie prospective buyers based on the category, product and SKUs they look at online. They observe, infer and assign an “ActiveShopper Score” to these individuals and then offer marketers the opportunity to follow and serve them display ads for the products they spent time with on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis. He claims this is different and better than existing "remarketing" solutions but I can't see how. You buy this service on a per-SKU basis and, so far, there are no packaged deals to be had for multiple product sets or categories and there is no...
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Google's Sidewiki : A Revolution Worthy of Chairman Mao On the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Google has unleashed a revolution wrapped in a velvet glove that could upend all social media competitors and radically change the game in Google's favor. Google Sidewiki is a persistent social media space adjacent to every web site. Embedded in the Google Toolbar it pops us with each site you visit. So far its compatible with IE and Firefox. Chrome access is exected soon. Assessing the new offering Josh Bernoff in his Groundswell blog called it "a land grab." But this is way too mild a caution. Sidewiki is as ingenious as it is insidious. It's as if the masses in Mountain View set out to launch a revolutionary disruptor that would roll up the best aspects of their competitors' functionality into a tool that not only would grow virally but would force site owners to further connect and kow-tow to Google. It's a not-so-naked play for social media and maybe even Web domination. How and why can they do it? As Chairman Mao said, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Allow me to illuminate the plan as I understand it. I. SideWiki splits the browser screen and sets up a running commentary field on the left side of your screen. That's right, the primary side you look to for navigation and the key junction in the "F" scanning pattern we all use when viewing Web sites. They set up shop on your most desirable real estate. II. It's embedded in the Google Toolbar which makes it easy to download and gives Google a launch pad by using their installed base of users. Think of them as a network in waiting of "fellow travelers" ready to embrace and advocate the revolution. The pitch is not only benign but helpful. "What if everyone, from a local expert to a renowned doctor had an easy way of sharing their insights with you about any page on the web? What if you could add your own insights for others who are passing through, " write VP Product Management Sundar Pichai and Engineering Lead Michal Cierniak on the Google Blog. Couched in social media-friendly language, its something consumers are doing and expect. It feels like the natural evolution of things; the onward march of civilization gently goosed by Google. But consider the implications. III. Google sets up shop next to your web site with the intention of participating in the content and conversation. You don't get a vote. In fact, they probably already have more viewers and advocates than you'll ever have. Your new partner offers your visitors the opportunity to post comments on a wall-like device (Facebook) or instantly and viscerally react (Twitter) and these comments or reactions are broadcast in real time to other sites featuring similar or relevant content (RSS). The comments could include additions, amplifications and corrections (Wikipedia), rankings or ratings (Zagat, Judy's List), references or bookmarks (Digg, StumbleUpon) or denunciations, attacks and the ever popular "you suck" messages. Ideally this a free gift without purchase which benefits you greatly. Its an all-in-one social media tool that vaults you from worst to first in the social media competition because in one swoop it can be a listening device, a customer service tool, and customer relationship management tool, a community or a common and searchable storage tool for your content and related content. The built-in inference is --- Google gives you their best stuff for free to help your business. Not only will Google give you these goodies, it will use "an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high quality entries" to insure relevance and viewer interest. They are applying a variation on the page rank algorithm to the comments on or about your site. So now you are being ranked by your participating customers and prospects and by Google. You have to do macro and micro SEO to manage or impact the conversation about you on your site. Google has inserted itself strongly and seamlessly into your business overnight. God help you if you are deemed a "capitalist roader" or an "unrepentant bourgeoisie." IV. But put away that paranoia. You can claim back your own Sidewiki space, if you validate your site ownership using Google's Webmaster Tools, download the Google Toolbar and then publish the first listing to address your site visitors on their new turf. It sounds benign. As if Sundar and Michal are saying, "No biggie. All you have to do...

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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