Jan 2011

Consumers do not like advertising algorithms.

Posted in Advertising, Business tactics, Social Media, Web 2.0, Web Design and Usability | 0 Comments

If you saw the recent article in the New York Times discussing the use of algorithms to generate adverts within your Facebook homepage or your Gmail inbox, I’m sure you’re aware of how this works. The algorithm takes your personal interests and uses them to create perfectly tailored adverts. To most people, that’s a smart way of ensuring that your advertising becomes more focused and targets people more likely to finish the load-see-browse process with an actual purchase.

To me, it’s an invasion of privacy. You’ve got to think logically about this – if you’re targeting games adverts towards people browsing game sites, that’s fine. But if I log into my social media homepage and I come across a load of adverts that tell me that some bit of code has read through my life and is now pushing product information into it, I’ll get pretty irate. The location of advertising is as important as the advert itself. If you billboard a concert, that’s fine. But paste the poster across someone’s bedroom window and they’re likely to call the police.

Privacy is a huge thing. Now that we live in a world where one man has administrative access to the personal details, conversations and darkest, most intimate secrets of some 500 million people and counting, that small place we can call both “online” and “private” has become even more crucial to us. To invade this space with discounts, product offers and movie trailers borders on telling people that their tastes are based on the tastes they wish to share with new friends.

Just because we have access to someone’s top ten favourite metal bands of 1989, doesn’t mean we should actually use that data for marketing purposes. Most of the things we’ve said to a friend, a partner or a relative on the internet have likely been seen by someone, and have definitely been logged. Cardinal rule of data? Nothing is ever completely deletable. But just because we’re given the option to lock ourselves off using viewing privileges (friends-only Facebook pages, for example) doesn’t mean we should have to do so.

Think about your image, say, as a small business selling indie videogames. If you stick a few ads up on albinoblacksheep, or Kongregate, you’re likely to be marketing very well. But the idea of someone listing Balloon Wars 9838 in a status post at some point on Facebook engendering a week-long stretch of Balloon Wars 9838 2: The Reckoning adverts should make you uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, think about your identity. You’re a small business. You’re one of the good guys. Don’t let that go because you want to shift another few copies of your latest release.

Keep in touch with your community, and advertise to them through paying attention. I once wrote an article on GamersGate for The Escapist, a digital distribution platform for videogames, a site that focuses on the indie credibility and deeper subtext of gaming. It might be worth a read if you want to learn how a small company has absolutely exploded because of their commitment to their fans. As I speak, and over the last 48 hours, their latest release, Magicka, has rocketed to the top of the Steam (another sales platform) charts. One of the reasons that happened is because CEO Frederik Wester is constantly twittering away and asking people to moan at him about bugs or link him to reviews, because he wants to read them. I know this from my personal experiences with him as an interview subject and an acquaintance.

Keep people happy, just don’t crowd them too much. It’s all too easy to stop logging in to a site so swamped with ads you’d swear you’d stumbled into the CGI back-catalogue for Bladerunner. You’ve been warned.

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Nov 2010

How far can advertising be taken?

Posted in Advertising | 0 Comments

Today, pinging around the web, I came across a rather interesting little beta. AdKeeper is a little tool that places a small button on every banner ad in your browser. Using the tool allows you to scrapbook banner ads to look at later.

This is an odd concept, and not just because most banner ads you see are either for terrible action-adventure films with budgets bigger than the brains behind the cameras, or the predictably testosterone-fuelled ads for MMORPGs full of scantily-clad women. But there are a genuine few that are fantastic, like the ones that offer little minigames, or ones that have smart advertising copy you might want to take as inspiration for some work you’re doing on a similar project.

I like the idea of keeping my favourite adverts. A long time ago, there was an advert for the Volkswagen Golf that blew my mind. It was a remix, visually and musically, of Gene Kelly’s signature scene from Singing in the Rain, with a street/breakdancing twist. It was one of the most creative uses of music in advertising I’ve ever seen and the remixed song went on to do fairly well, too. But I couldn’t scrapbook it, and of course finding an upload of that ad before the true rise of YouTube was a bit of a nightmare.

But scrapbooking banner ads raises an interesting question: are we really choosing examples of design that we enjoy, or are we, as happy little consumers, enjoying the brief flutter of excitement we get from seeing our favourite advert? Think about how many people would see year-old adverts if they saved the banner! It’s an endless supply of advertising well after the company sells the ad space, and it’s being done by willing consumers who don’t even notice. Genius, when you think about it, as you get to save your favourite ad and the company gets to show you it every time you go to take another peek at the thing.

The other odd thing I saw this morning was the fact that the Chilean miners were each given a pair of sunglasses on their exit. This I knew already, having avidly followed the event myself. But what I didn’t know was that they were Oakley sunglasses. So, for the cost of 35 pairs (at a value of $6300) of glasses and a little shipping charge, they got $41 million’s worth of exposure. Outrageous, say some, but truly, you’ve got to admire it. It was possibly the most subtle use of advertising anyone’s ever seen, and they got away with it save for those who wrote about it on smaller blogs.

I’d love to see that happen in other places, because if you work in Oakley’s marketing department and you weren’t high-fiving each other by that point, you should have done. Of course, American Idol has barely-censored Coca-Cola glasses, almost every American television drama contains a Blackberry (Grey’s Anatomy), a Macbook (Dexter) or Smirnoff Vodka (Mad Men) and we’re forgetting the epic amounts of brand names every time we walk or film outdoors. But to do it on national news sets a new, ever-so-slightly chilling precedent, that these miners probably knew nothing about the brand of the glasses, but just put them on to preserve their sight.

It’s manipulative, of course it is, but at the same time I doubt they were complaining when they were given a shedload of other gifts, though in reality their true reward was to enjoy the freedom of the outdoors and know that they could spend time with their families again – and, I’d imagine, quit their job at the mine. Not all of them will ever fully recover, but the world took care of them and it was an amazing coup by Chile as it was possibly the best possible advert for their goverment’s nice side.

Whether you’re clipping Hyundai banners or checking out Oakley sunglasses after watching the news, advertising’s control on you simply depends on how you respond to it. If you accept the product and move on, you’re in control, even if you keep the ad because it was cool. You live in a world of unprecedented choice, and all you’ve got to do is shop around for the stuff you like. Advertising is now offering us little products live on Sky News, CNN and the BBC. Now if they can work a Macbook into the recent Wikileaks success story, Steve Jobs will have officially won the internet.

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Jul 2010

Catch the worm

Posted in Advertising, Online PR, Social Media | 0 Comments

“The early bird catches the worm.”

So it’s been said since the beginning of time immemorial, or at least it feels like it. The first to anything tends to benefit the most, and of course in today’s economy, also tends to monopolise and monetise it to high heaven. This isn’t mean, or possessive – just good, solid business sense. The main reason that Twitter’s official @earlybird account is such exciting news for any business looking to use the micro-blogging specialist for advertising purposes is just this – monopolise and capitalise. Come first, win the race, take it to the bank.

If you’ve ever used a book of vouchers at a shop or, god forbid, gone for an item you’d never normally had bought in a sale, then this will appeal to you. Long story short: it’s a Twitter account manned by Twitter staff, giving you updates on discounts and offers from the companies they work with. It’s the closest thing to full-on advertising on the site, so it’s a big first step for a company with a colossal prospective audience.

Twitter currently has around 70m accounts. If even 1% follow @earlybird, any company advertising with Twitter will instantly gain an audience of the best part of a million people. Now picture 10% joining. Makes your bank account tingle, right? If I was a company with the budget, I’d be getting a slice of this action as soon as possible, because it won’t be long before we’re inundated by mega corporations (Apple, Microsoft) who’ve hit @earlybird with the force of a swan’s wing (which can apparently break your arm).

Of course, there’s also the viral nature of Twitter to take into account. Those 700,000 people, that 1% potential follower statistic (if it goes down well with Twitter users, that is) could then turn round and re-tweet. This has the potential to at least double the amount of eyes that see it, and grab more people’s attention and direct it in @earlybird‘s direction. However, there are many different sites picking up on the new account, and giving different takes on the service.

The Guardian, being cautiously neutral as usual, have spoke about how Coca Cola received a mind-boggling 86 million impressions after running promotional content through Twitter. This is a big return on an investment that, for all intents and purposes, only costs the thirty seconds required to write and hit “tweet”. Realistically however, I’d imagine Twitter are making a pretty penny out of it too. It just goes to show what you can do by exploiting what appear to be officially endorsed channels on various social media.

But should use these channels over more usual advertising channels? Well, when you think about it, people are more likely to see it, and definitely more likely to read it, pay attention to it and therefore absorb it. WordPress (we’ll discuss this site’s social media identity in a future post), Twitter, Facebook – it doesn’t matter where your social updates come from, realistically speaking these guys have more access to you than other users. They can post things to you via email, through your dashboard, or a multitude of other hidden means.

What this means for you, the blogger, the status-checker and the Twitterer, is that you’re now opening yourself up to social media’s new wave of advertising in a way that’s not intrusive, annoying or outrageous – simply helpful. We see adverts on sites as an invasion of the information we want to absorb and mentally download. However, discounts, sales – are these adverts, or just a nudge in the right financial direction? It remains to be seen whether @earlybird will be a success, but going on Coca Cola’s statistics, I’d say it will be.

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Jun 2010

Facebook advertising for the future?

Posted in Advertising, Business tactics, Social Media | 0 Comments

500 million users? That’s not nearly enough, well according to Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg who said that they are on target to have one billion users.

Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival on Wednesday, Zuckerberg who picked up Media Person of the Year, revealed his plans to maintain growth for Facebook.

The aim is to crack the markets in China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. These are the only countries where Facebook is not the leading social network, he said: “We are down to [the above] four countries that we are not the leading social network in, now for the first time we are focused on doing some specific things in specific countries.”

The most interesting part of the hour long Q & A is the company’s attitude to advertising. According to Ian Maude, an analyst at Enders, “The fact that Zuckerberg is going to one of the main advertising events shows they are taking that very seriously.”

And it has been reported that they are expected to make $1 billion this year from revenue. Zuckerberg has big plans, saying “It’s a similar dynamic on marketer side as it is on developer side. We’ve built an A-class developer platform and we need to do the same for advertisers.”

But in case you thought they haven’t put their plan into action yet, Zuckerberg argued that advertising on Facebook is “squarely out of the experimentation phase.”

He pointed out that Nike’s recent decision to debut its World Cup ads on Facebook had led to the rapid addition of 3 million connections to the brand’s pages. And he said that Disney/Pixar’s decision to support Toy Story 3 ticket sales on Facebook is an example of a brand helping users connect with each other.

But what does this mean for smaller businesses? Well, the future is looking good for you, it seems Facebook could help even the smallest of SMEs (Small and Medium size Enterprises).

In the US Facebook took over from Yahoo! as the top publisher of display adds on the Web. AFP reported that according to online tracking firm Comscore, Facebook delivered 176.3 billion ads to US users in the first three months of 2010, a 16.2 % market share, more than double its 7.5 % share of last year.

However although Facebook may be running more adds, MSN Money reported that Yahoo! is still making more money because the ads rates for social media sites tend to be lower.

So Facebook aren’t making much money but will you? The thing with Facebook advertising is that you won’t instantly make money from it. What Facebook does is give you a change to get social with your potential clients so you can really build up a relationship with them.

Facebook is different from other advertising techniques because instead of targeting absolutely everyone it is much more specific. There are 11 different factors that Facebook uses for its advertisers, they are location, age, sex, keywords, education, workplace, relationship, interested-in and languages.

Zuckerberg said at the conference that Facebook is close to providing location-based advertising services:

“We are working on this, knowing where a person is and being able to personalise what’s around them,” he said.
This would be great for businesses as they could deliver ads to users who are near their place of business or they could let them know about any deals.

So is this the future of advertising? Will all businesses go via Facebook in the future?

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May 2010

Businesses Are Growing Through Social Media

Posted in Advertising, Business tactics | 6 Comments »

When venturing into the world of social media for the first time, with the intention of increasing your business growth as a result, it’s sometimes a daunting and slow process, with a lot of uncertainty and insecurity thrown in for extra discomfort. But a look into the effect of social media on small businesses is sometimes enough to turn even the most archaic workplace into a haven of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Let me hit you with a scary statistic. The world’s most widely read newspaper – and this will come as a shock to devotees of USA Today – is the Times of India, with over three million copies read every day. Add to that the rest of the top ten and their respective circulation figures and you’re looking at around 18.7 million papers being read on a daily basis in the top ten around the world. That’s almost twenty million pairs of eyes looking at advertising, news, gossip and other sources of information that would, surely, cancel out any effect of word-of-mouth product, service and business recommendations. Right?

Wrong. Twitter, as of January this year, has 75 million users and climbing. Say each of those users don’t post more than once a day, but they read the hundred or more tweets of other people. That’s a 300%-plus advantage over the papers we read, filled with adverts that are never taken is as readily as a friend’s opinion, be it positive or negative. In fact, Buzz Agent is commonly quoted as indicating that a word-of-mouth recommendation will do more for brand awareness than 200 TV adverts. When you consider the budget involved in producing and maintaining a run of 200 ads on television, and compare it to the non-price of a few good tweets supporting a recent product or service you offer, the choice is clear.

Jack and the Digital Beanstalk

But statistics and opinion are nothing without examples. A mere several months ago, a man called Ramon DeLeon was simply a manager of seven Domino’s outlets across Chicago. A regular manager of a small group of franchises, advertised globally but still never seeing any major changes in operation or surges in demand across the year. However, when an unsatisfied customer turned to Twitter to berate one of his outlets for delivering a cold, incorrectly-made pizza, he took to social media to apologise. The resulting video was then embedded almost 100,000 times – everywhere from blogs to major newspaper outlets.

Social media is all about the individual. Twittering as a business is a great way to interface with the public in a more relaxed forum than, say, a one-way TV advert or sponsoring a sports event. Even so, allow the public to put a name to the person behind the businesses’ Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn page. These people will have opinions, visit industry events, and become an ambassador for your business in the new era of the first online source of digitised interactivity to outrank the pornography industry. Of course, there are risks, and these usually come with careless employees who aren’t as well-read on social media as their peers, but chosen to be the businesses’ digital ambassador simply because they’re young and hip.

For small businesses, it’s an important first step. Twenty years ago, starting out as an entrepreneur with a dream was a risky venture, and usually ended in tears. For those of you involved in one of the many, many dot com collapses in the early millennium, it seemed like a risk to attempt to launch an online business. However, what most people missed out on until the rise of sites like the IKEA online store or your local florist was that we were looking at the problem from the wrong angle. It wasn’t necessary to build a business as an online-only entity when it was in its starting phases. The key was to develop the business as physical presence – an office, a shop-front – and then build its online presence alongside it to maximise potential customers.

I Came, I Saw, I Hash-Tagged

Men and women striking out on their own and winning big is a common fairytale, and one we’re reminded of all too well by Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne and the like. But when we take the plumber uncle we see at a family gathering and the business cards of his we give out to locals who are suffering a broken pipe after a holiday, and transpose it onto Twitter, Facebook etc, it stops becoming a willfull word-of-mouth in person, and becomes a series of online adverts.

Anyone who insists the internet isn’t viral is lying through their teeth. Every single successful site on the web was put there by customers, and the same can be said for any physical business. Amazon, Twitter – these things are spoken about on forums, in bars, on iPhones, and in chatrooms. They spread faster than wildfire, and you’re never waiting for the newspaper the following day to see if your shop launch was a success – as of late, that make-or-break announcement will be coming to you directly through social media sources.

Of course, there’s a trend to be noticed, and one covered well by many social media industry sources: you’re relying heavily on the customer to do your work for you. Word-of-mouth is a fickle beast – either something goes viral and explodes across the web, or it fizzles out within a few re-tweets. The main thing you have to remember is that Twitter is not a replacement for a good reputation – keep satisfying customers, and more importantly let them know that your avenues of feedback have expanded to incorporate social media and the web. The ability to tell someone my pizza is not only cold, but has anchovies instead of chicken on it, and have them respond with a video watched by hundreds of thousands of people, is a pretty good indication that business cares about its customers. And when did you last hear of Domino’s Pizza going bust? Tweet away and remember: it’s not what you’re selling, but how you’re selling it.

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