Posts Tagged ‘ advertising ’

Online: where advertisers no longer fear to tread

Imagine for a moment that you’re a small business owner. If you’ve survived this economic downturn, you’ve no doubt got passion, work ethic and a real talent in delivering what your company offers. What you probably don’t have is much of a marketing budget, or a lot of experience in conducting advertising campaigns.

Ten years ago advertising options would have been limited. You wouldn’t have the cash to be on the radar of major media companies, and there was no easy model to advertise online. It was pretty much Yellow Pages or billboards.

But now you’ve got two substantial choices. Those big media companies are desperate for ad dollars since car dealerships and retail chains are no longer thriving. So they’ve dispatched their attractive, charismatic ad reps onto your office with sweet talk on the “magic” of having a place in an established media brand. You probably grew up reading the newspaper or watching the TV program they’re selling space for, so the prospect is alluring.

On the other side is a nameless, faceless, utterly lifeless computer interface. In static pixels it promises to pair your ad to whatever specific audience you want to reach online. You decide where the audience will live and what they’re looking to find. You set your budget, and you only pay when potential customers click on your ads.

The verdict’s in, and it’s option two that is overwhelmingly proving the favored choice. That’s the approach taken by Google through its AdWords and AdSense programs that pair online ads to relevent search results or places them directly onto websites that have content matching the advertiser’s target demographic (my colleague Cory Morrison has a nice post summarizing how these programs work). Those programs now account for more than 95 percent of Google’s revenues, the cash cows for a company that rakes in several billion dollars of profit annually. For all the campaigning by legacy media that advertising can’t work online and nothing competes with the magic of a TV commercial, legions of business owners have voted otherwise with their marketing budgets.

This seismic shift in ad dollars is chronicled with precision in the fantastic book Googled. Written by Ken Auletta, a veteran in covering media issues, the book tracks the meteoric rise of the search engine giant, with the key turning point when the company figures out how to monetize its free search service by selling targeted ads.

For all the ways Google has upended the media pecking order, it’s in advertising where I feel it has made the most profound impact. Traditional media always depended on ads to survive. Newspaper circulation only accounts for around 20 percent of revenues. TV networks broadcast for free. Music labels and movie studios produce hits only if backed by expensive marketing campaigns.

But Google trashed that model by proving how a massive data network could more efficiently deliver ads. No more middlemen were needed. No need even for a big budget as long as you knew your target market. This single-handedly rocked the foundation of old media’s business model, and sent them scrambling to get online whether they liked it or not.

This has major implications for journalists and PR professionals, since the platforms where they deliver content are financed by ads. For too long their bosses haven’t embraced online platforms for fear they won’t produce ad revenue. In the pay-per-click model Google uses, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a website isn’t filled with good content it will get little traffic and thus produce little revenue.

Today, most legacy media companies say they can only charge 5 to 10 percent for online ads compared to print. But it’s hard to see that continuing. As the book points out, people on average consume 20 percent of their media online, yet only 9 percent of advertising spending is placed there. For all the billions the search giant has raked in by making online advertising simple, there are billions more to be claimed if someone figures out how to follow Google’s lead.

Going green: one shade doesn’t fit all

In the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, with everyone in the ad business weighing in on the best and worst of all those $3 million ads, mostly consensus emerged. Google’s low-budget spot (the only one that turned everyone at the crowded Super Bowl party I attended near silent) was pure brilliance. Snicker’s absurdist approach was absolute fun. And Dodge’s screed against marriage misery led a shamefully disturbing trend of misogyny in this year’s ad crop (although for the record my girlfriend found it funny).

But there is no commonly accepted view on how to receive “Green Car,” Audi’s attempt to market a fuel-efficient diesel vehicle. It’s the one that still has me thinking 24 hours later, given the enormous contradictions of selling a vehicle as “environmentally friendly” while simultaneously lampooning the environmental movement. It’s an ad that’s both highly rated for entertainment value and deemed controversial in its delivery. As Time Magazine’s James Poniewozik astutely pointed out, “it’s as if you used the Apple ‘1984’ ad to sell PCs, by making people want to please Big Brother. Maybe this would have been a better ad for Hummer?”

It’s hard to debate the humor inherent for moderates in depicting a future that combines the left-wing nightmare of a police state with the right-wing nightmare of environmental regulations run rampant. Teaser ads from the same campaign warning against “napkin abuse” and  “environmental contraband” are equally as funny. But is mocking environmentalism really an effective way to get people on board with going green? As someone who self identifies as an environmentalist, should I be offended?

Perhaps a few months ago, the spot would have provoked my ire. But a research paper and online presentation I gave for my public opinion and new media course last semester changed the “one shade fits all” views I had on the green movement. The research looked into how environmentalism has evolved in the digital age. What I found was that while the environmental movement was built on the efforts of those who want to preserve the natural world for conservation’s sake, it reached mainstream status only with the support of those who go green as an act of economic self-interest.

That’s the audience Audi undoubtably targeted with its “Green Police” marketing campaign. Credible polls have shown that a majority of Americans will support environmental protection, but only if it doesn’t hurt the economy . In other words, they’ll go green if it also means protecting the green in their wallets.

This shouldn’t be a hard crowd to win over. As environmentalists we strongly believe that conservation and sustainable consumption is the only way to ensure long-term wealth for all of society. The challenge is communicating that to those wary of environmentalism and fearful of short-term economic loss. Maybe that takes some good-natured ribbing of the movement’s excesses. It definitely means recognizing that not everyone views ‘Green’ as exactly the same shade.

Great talent doesn’t require a big budget

NOV. 11 UPDATE: The commercial is now completed and uploaded to Doritos’ website. You can check it out here (just wait for Doritos to load all their promo animation). Let me know what you think or comment directly on the site.

For the past week, several of my most talented friends have spent more than 12 hours each doing corporate advertising work … for free.

It’s a pretty good deal if you’re the company we’re working for.

That company is Doritos, arguably the first major brand to fully grasp and trust in the power of user-generated content. This is the fourth-consecutive year the chip maker has entrusted the mighty responsibility of creating Super Bowl ads to everyday consumers. With a Monday deadline looming, there are already more than 600 entries uploaded to Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl site.

We’ll soon be joining that group, once my 8-person team completes some final edits on our 30-second spot. Putting together a quality submission required hours of brainstorming ideas, an evening of auditions for actors, a full day of set-up and filming, a couple of late nights in the editing suite, and a two-hour reshoot this evening.

Unless our ad is picked as one of the top six, we won’t be paid a dime for that work.

But there’s still ample self-incentive. The top six each get a $25,000 prize. The best of that bunch get the fame of airing during this season’s Super Bowl, with the possibility of millions more in prizes depending on how the ad is rated by viewers.

To poor grad students, this is a substantial amount, certainly enough to justify hours upon hours worth of labor. To Doritos, it represents just a pittance of what it would cost to hire a professional advertising agency, with no guarantees the company would even like the final product.

By going the user-generated route, Doritos’ marketing executives are only paying for the content they like. What’s more, they’re tapping into a groundswell of underground talent and creativity that’s eager and willing to take a shot at fame. The high price of technology was once a barrier of entry for amateur filmmakers like the ones making spots for Doritos. Now all the basic software and equipment is affordable without having to own an entire production studio.

It’s not like the winning entries have suffered in comparison to their big-budget counterparts. Take the 2007 winner, the first year of the contest. It’s by no means as polished as most network TV ads, but it’s a funny concept that executed with a lo-fi charm.

The following year, the winning entry (the one posted above) featured an absurdist form of comedy that for my money was among the very best of all Super Bowl ads, easily topping many that cost $1 million or more to produce. The slapstick comedy of the 2009 winner wasn’t as much to my tastes, but it proved immensely popular with viewers.

These ads prove that it doesn’t take millions in expensive equipment to produce an effective ad. The companies willing to trust consumers to produce content — not just in advertising but in news and entertainment — have opportunities to save millions of dollars through tapping talent that for years was stuck in a dormant state.

Now this talent is active and thriving thanks to technology. High-dollar professional agencies, take note. And be warned.

Unmasking Internet ads in disguise

If there’s any governing mantra to the mishmash of advertising campaigns floating about the Internet these days it’s this — don’t make your ad look, sound or feel like an ad.

Easier said than done. Consumers are highly attuned to commercial persuasion and are always developing new defense mechanisms against the bombardment of ads assaulting their senses every day. So marketers instead make commercials entertaining, or they sneak product placement into scripted movies/television shows, or perhaps they just package the whole message as if it’s legitimate news.

This third tactic is perhaps the most effective, and disturbing. Many Americans, at least among older generations, were raised to trust that mainstream news sources are objective with regards to commercial interests and will only praise a product if it meets exacting standards. So when they see print ads made to look like newspaper articles or TV commercials made to look like news broadcasts, significant credibility is fraudulently conveyed.

Maybe that’s the thinking behind the Federal Trade Commission’s newest regulations on bloggers touting a product. The guidelines stipulate that bloggers must disclose all ties to a company they write about, all the way down to any free samples they receive in order to review the item. Among certain demographics, blogs are now trusted sources of information. If a blogger is getting paid by a company in order to garner more favorable copy, the F.T.C. reasons, readers have a right to know.

It’s a fair point, but one open to scrutiny for its double standard. Both bloggers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have lashed out at the regulations only targeting blogs and not traditional media outlets. A blogger faces a possible $11,000 fine if he fails to disclose that a record label sent him a free CD that he reviewed. But if a music critic in a newspaper or magazine doesn’t make the same disclosure, there’s no punishment. And these critics get free goodies all the time.

The regulations also open up a slippery slope of potential new restrictions. How are Tweets and Facebook postings, with severe constraints on content length, supposed to disclose biased reviews? And what about traditional media outlets that do glowing feature stories on a prominent advertiser? Why are they left off the hook for such highly deceptive behavior?

It’s the F.T.C.’s job to ensure truth in advertising. Sharpening the line between independent content and paid advertising is an important part of that mission and worthy of some new regulations. The problem comes in singling out bloggers as the only ones engaging in the shady practice. There’s plenty of culprits to go around. In the end it will take a more savvy consumer and some more practical legal guidelines to unmask all these disguised ads.