Tag Archives: advertising

Digging Out Of A Hole

Let’s begin the new year with some (more) sobering news. People think marketers suck and don’t trust us. Actually, that’s not a recent development according to the Gallup folks who conduct an annual poll about various professions and how they’re perceived. Since Gallup has been conducting the survey (as far back as at least 2001), “advertising practitioners” have always appeared near the bottom of the professional rankings:

When it comes to rating the honesty and ethical standards of people in various professions, American adults rate medical professionals highly. But advertising practitioners? That’s a different story. In fact, just 11% of adults rate advertising professionals highly for their honesty and ethics.

That’s from the Marketing Charts summary of the poll. You can see the chart listing the various professions off to the side. Is anyone shocked by these results? Let’s think for a minute about many of the prominent ad stories of the past few years. They’re a litany of theft and fraud but those don’t really affect consumers. The big consumer ad story is probably the rise of ad blocking which is a response to irresponsible behavior on much of the advertising/publishing ecosystem.

That’s just the online world. Offline, one needn’t look very far to find examples of “free” offers that require one to submit a credit card, businesses suing their customers for accurate but negative comments on social media, and just about any political ad this last year. Each of these things further reinforces the negative perception that this study finds.

It’s a new year, and every new year brings the possibility of fresh starts. Maybe this is a good time for any of us who make a living within the marketing community to start digging out of this perception hole? We can do so by reminding ourselves that our families and friends are the consumers we’re pitching. Would you try to run a scam on them? Would they find the ad you’re running offensive? For those of you not engaged in the ad business, you’d do well to ask yourself the same types of questions. My guess is that we’re going to hear a lot about ethics this year. Let’s try to make our profession a better example of the right kind of ethical behavior. You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, Huh?

Fighting About Data

I think everyone knows that a lot of data is collected as we conduct our daily digital activities. Google and the other search engines know what we’re looking for, Amazon and other commerce sites know what we’re shopping for, Facebook knows what we like, LinkedIn knows who we know, etc., etc., etc. These data footprints are collected and in many cases sold to marketers and their agents to allow them to serve ads to you. If any of that comes as a shock to you, I’m not sure where you’ve been for the last decade or more.

What you might not have thought about, however, is that the ads themselves collect data. How many times has someone seen it? What kind of person (that pesky data that the aforementioned guys have) has responded to an ad, and how well do the ads translate to sales (lovingly called the conversion rate as if someone is changing religions…). As it turns out, there is a bit of a controversy about who actually owns that data: the advertiser or the agency. The marketers believe that they are the rightful owners while the agency folks believe just as strongly that they are. Neither side feels that the publishers who serve the ads and, therefore make data collection possible, have much of a claim to it. Of course, even publishers came out ahead of one other group as the rightful owners in the survey: consumers.

As you can see in the chart, only 10% of advertisers and 15% of agency respondents believed that consumers had a claim to their own information. That’s tragic. Why? Because it represents a mindset that is ultimately self-defeating. It can lead to legal problems at worst and consumers opting out (if they can figure out how) at best. What have the advertiser or the agency done to give the consumer value for the data? Nothing, in my mind. One could argue that the ads they serve make possible the content the consumer enjoys, but those very ads make that enjoyment nearly impossible given the state of ad-serving today, particular in mobile.

Unless and until we on the marketing side see the consumer as at least an equal partner in our business and not as a bunch of rubes or just as “data”, the problems with ad blocking, anti-spam rules, and other protective measures aren’t going to go away. What will go away are the people represented by the very data over which the agencies and marketers are fighting. You agree?

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The Coming Vast Wasteland

Back in 1961, a man by the name of Newton Minnow was appointed to run the FCC. He gave a speech soon thereafter called “Television and the Public Interest” in which he coined a phrase with which he described commercial television, calling it a “vast wasteland.” He urged us to tune in our favorite station for a day and watch from sign on until sign off:

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few.

Fast forward 55 years. One can see something similar happening in our new media landscape. The public networks – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and others – are becoming vast wastelands. You might not be aware of it, but in the last year, more content is being posted on private networks such as Snapchat, Messenger, and WhatsApp than on the public networks. That private content tends to be what’s meaningful to people. What’s left is increasingly clickbait, corporate shouting, or, worst of all, content generated by bots. In short, a vast wasteland.

All of this is happening at a time when many companies are pushing hard to create and distribute content yet something like 80% of the content we publish is never seen by the intended audience. We are increasingly reliant as the shift moves to untrackable (by anyone other than the platform owners themselves) places on the folks who run the platforms for data. We can’t listen and respond to things that we can’t hear, and unless the consumer reaches out (vs. complaining to everyone they know in private), we’re deaf and blind with respect to being proactive and customer friendly.

The challenge for all of us is to foster engagement and to be proactively supportive. The expanse of the coming vast wasteland in the public networks is going to make that much harder, and subject to the will (and business models) of the walled garden gatekeepers. How do we address thins? Thoughts?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks

Why Apple Improving Privacy Has Marketers Upset

Apple announced a bunch of new stuff yesterday including the release date of the newest version of their mobile operating system, iOS10. You can read about all of the enhancements here (or just about any other place on the interweb) but one thing you probably won’t hear about piqued my interest because it gets to the question with respect to ad blocking that we’ve pondered before here on the screed.

First, a little tech talk. Apple has something called IDFA – Identifier For Advertising – that they use instead of a simple UDID (your device ID) or a cookie (which don’t work well in the mobile space). It’s used to track you, serve you ads, and also for privacy controls. What they’re doing in iOS10 will change how the IDFA behaves. When you opt in to limit ad tracking, the IDFA will return a string of zeros, effectively opting the user out of advertising. It will also prevent the previously permitted “frequency capping, attribution, conversion events, estimating the number of unique users, advertising fraud detection, and debugging” uses of this ID.

Needless to say, many in the ad world are very unhappy. “Ad blocking is stealing” according to the IAB. Pretty harsh, but I get that it’s a reflection of the disruption in the attention/value equation that underpins much of digital commerce. Here is the thing, though. Other media, many of which were built on the same equation, suffer from ad blocking and yet have figured out other business models. One blocks ads on TV either by watching on a delayed basis and skipping through the ads or by changing the channel until the program returns. Way back in the ’70’s, my fellow TV execs cringed at the thought of VCR‘s and felt they would irreparably harm the business. That thinking was repeated when DVR‘s (now at over 70% penetration) came out. Both lines of thinking were wrong.

The same is true of radio. No one is thinking about removing the buttons from your car that make it easy to change channels, nor is anyone thinking taking away your TV remotes would be a good thing. Ad blocking in print is as easy as turning the page. There is research that found people only fast-forward through about half of all ads during playback, and other research has found that even fast-forwarded ads make an impression on viewers. Even so, the business model for TV has changed a lot, and “ad blocking” was part of the impetus for that.

Maybe instead of worrying about Apple (or consumers, for that matter) doing what they can both to improve the web and mobile experience and to protect privacy, those of us involved in the digital marketing ecosystem need to keep refining our business models and whine a lot less? What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks

How To Stay Engaged With Your Consumers

OK, so you buy into my thinking on the need to stay engaged with your customers and potential customers in a meaningful way. Now what? That’s a question my clients and I face all the time so let me share a few things we’ve done to promote that engagement. Feel free to borrow!

The first and most obvious thing you can do is to support listening via social media channels. If you haven’t set up a listening dashboard, I’d make that a top priority. Hootsuite is a good place to start, and it can also be useful in populating those channels with content. There are plenty of other tools out there for listening, but listening and responding when appropriate is what we’re after.

Part of what we’re after is to become a friendly subject matter expert in the eyes of consumers. There are plenty of channels in which to do so, but what’s important is that you not try to be in every single one. Unless you have a support staff of a dozen people, you’re going to have to pick the channel that is most meaningful to your customers and focus your efforts there. My guess is that it will be Twitter since it’s the most interactive.

Next would be a decision about some longer form content. This might be on your own website, a blog, maybe a post on LinkedIn or Medium. Try them all and see which drives traffic and engagement. Remember, there is no garbage can on the Internet so whatever you write for one platform is probably reusable on another.

What do you write about? Start with thinking about how many questions do customers ask you in a week. The answers to each one of those questions can serve as the basis for a post. Unless you’re a masochist like me, you needn’t write every day either. A couple of times a week is a lot for most folks. Write about your customers. Featuring a long-time purchaser rewards them and shows all the others that you’re grateful. Explain a common problem your customers have and how you’re solving it for them.

Ask yourself how you keep in touch with your best friends. Don’t treat consumers any differently and you’ll be on the road to a productive, engaged relationship. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Scum Of The Digital Earth

I read something the other day that made me sad and then angry. It’s the sort of thing that lessens my faith in humanity, although as I describe it you’ll probably just say I’m naive. It concerns the PPI business. What’s that? It stands for pay-per-install and the companies involved in it, some of whom are business names you’d know, are the scum of the digital earth in my book. Why is that?

First, what exactly is PPI? According to the folks at NYU who did some research on this topic with Google, commercial PPI is a monetization scheme wherein third-party applications — often consisting of unwanted software such as adware, scareware, and browser hijacking programs — are bundled with legitimate applications in exchange for payment to the legitimate software company. When users install the package, they get the desired piece of software as well as a stream of unwanted programs riding stowaway. It’s big business, with one outfit reporting $460 million in revenue in 2014 alone.

Ever installed a legitimate piece of software only to find your browser behaving strangely afterward? You get a barrage of advertisements on the screen, or a flashing pop-up warning of the presence of malware, demanding the purchase of what is often fraudulent antivirus software. On other occasions, the system’s default browser is hijacked, redirecting to ad-laden pages. The vendors of this crap will claim that you approved the installation of all the additional malware by clicking through the terms and conditions or forgetting to uncheck a box approving the install. Having had to remove this junk from both my family’s and friends’ computers I can tell you that that simple error can cost you may hours of diagnosis and repair, or a bit of money to purchase an anti-malware package.

But it gets worse. Today it’s just crapware, adware and the like. What happens when someone takes a check from someone who has more sinister intentions? Keyloggers and other spyware could just as easily be installed. As one article on the study pointed out:

The one-year study by Google and NYU Tandon School of Engineering of affiliate networks running pay-per-install programs (PPI) found that nearly 60% of offers bundled with these programs are flagged as unwanted, and that in aggregate drove 60 million weekly download attempts with tens of millions of installs detected in the last year. These sites can run ad injectors.

Tens of millions of installs a week. Hundreds of millions of dollars changing hands, and a conscience nowhere to be found. I’m not one to encourage government intervention in the digital realm but someone needs to shut these scum down before something catastrophic happens. It’s not all “Russian hackers” doing this. These “businesses” are about as close to criminal as one can get without being arrested. What are your thoughts?

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Filed under Huh?

Restoring The Balance And Destroying The Blocking

If you are in business and you market that business at all, chances are that you’re using digital media of one form or another to do so. I suspect that much of your budget for that has shifted a bit based on how widespread the ad-blocking phenomenon has become. I’ve written about it a few times and the practice of installing ad blocking software on computers and mobile devices continues to grow.

While several ad agencies and the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) continue to denounce the software as violating the value exchange compact (attention to ads in exchange for free content), they’re finally getting around to studying ways to get consumers to turn off the blocking software. Both the IAB and Omnicom published some results of their studies and they’re enlightening.

Advertisements, Salem, Massachusetts

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Omnicom. Their study found that many ad-blocking users don’t dislike all advertising. They hate popups (who doesn’t!). 44% of those polled associate ad blocking mostly with blocking pop-up advertising. Popups are a type of ad that interrupts the content consuming experience, and that’s what’s pissing consumers off. As an aside, TV commercials do the same interrupting – is a remote control an ad blocker? Then there was this, as reported by MediaPost:

If consumers perceive a positive value exchange with websites, most are willing to go back to an ad-centric experience. In fact, consumers can be motivated to not only turn off their ad blockers, but will also disable them. Among those factors that would entice them to disable ad blockers, 28% would do so if the blockers slowed down their browsing speed, 24% if the ad blocker allows advertisements via payment, and 23% if they trusted websites to not serve annoying ads.  Consumers would disable their ad blockers if the website promised non-intrusive ads (35%).

In other words, people get that publishers need to monetize their content and don’t mind ads per se. They do mind being overwhelmed by ads or having to close several popups to get to the content they want. The IAB data echoed this:

A total of 330 people who said they used ad blockers blamed ads for making websites slower, either because the ads were too data-heavy or because there were too many of them…Not surprisingly, animated, moving and autoplay ads irritated consumers who used ad blockers the most, as did ads that covered up content and long video promos.

All of this sounds like common sense to me. Consumers don’t want their content consumption interrupted, delayed, or slowed-down. They don’t want to expend excess data loading ads. They understand the basic economics of the attention/value exchange but feel that publishers have tilted the balance too far in their own direction and are retaliating by blocking the ads that do so. If we’ll restore the balance the chances are good that they’ll go back to looking at the ads. Make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks