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14 posts from October 2008

10/31/2008 Elf Yourself is Back

You only have to wait 10 more days until you can Elf Yourself for the 2008 holiday season. The OfficeMax campaign is probably the most viral online effort ever. And why not? People love seeing themselves and Elf Yourself lets you see yourself and others in a short, entertaining Web dance-o-mercial. My favorite last year was when my sister put all of her pets, cockatoo included, into the mix.

Of course OfficeMax isn’t the only one doing this. Time Warner Cable just launched Fame Star, where you can create your own trashy Hollywood rags to riches to rags story online. I don’t know why it’s so funny seeing yourself with weird hair, but there it is. This one is really mixes it up, as it keeps reusing your picture in different places. Well done, Time Warner.


I have to admit, though, that my favorites are on JibJab. While you have to pay for them, last year they let you send one on Valentine’s Day for free. It was, without a doubt, the best virtual strip-o-gram my wife’s every received, judging by how many times she looked at it, and how much she laughed at it. 


On the weirder side is the Baby Maker at VW’s Routan Boom. I didn’t get it. It didn’t do much, nor could I adjust anything. Maybe it’s the cross-dresser in me, but if it doesn’t make a movie, like the previous examples, I’d rather play around with something crazy like you find on SevenTeen.com.

Pffdd946e3adc4f724eb8684b73c918a9_7920001All of these are good, non-serious viral examples. Let people waste some time and have a good laugh, and they’ll share it. Whether that translates into sales is another question.

But from a branding stand point, if you can make a person’s day more enjoyable, especially in tough times like the next few months, you should come out ahead.

10/29/2008 The Online Advertising Opportunity

So newspaper and offline advertising is going to contract and online marketing growth will expand, but more slowly. That doesn’t mean that online and digital folk should start patting themselves on the back and gloat that the tide has finally turned. The onus is still on us to up our creativity without losing our focus on dialogue and results.

Note that there are tons of sites that focus on showing off good Web sites. There are lots of media sites and pubs showing off print and TV ads. But I know of only one quality site dedicated to showing off good online advertising, Banner Blog. True, PointRoll and EyeBlaster do their best to highlight online ads, but since they’re selling, they feel somewhat biased.


What does that tell you? Maybe no one’s that interested in it, or the creative work isn’t worth showing off.

There are some great online ads out there, but not enough. The chance to tell stories, to engage in dialogue and interactivity, and to convert through that little space is where the opportunity lies today. But somehow we end up with animated billboards or worse.

We need to explore richer experiences within the banner or its expandable size. I’d like to see more sequential advertising, something I almost never see. I mean, even the old Burma Shave billboard example would be interesting to see online. Instead we’ve focused on ad network technologies such as retargeting to show us the same ad over and over and over again. As digital creatives, we need to add value to that technology, or else we’ll blow the opportunity at hand.

Maybe because I didn’t have a lot of online advertising opportunities years ago, I took each opportunity to create something unique in the banners I did work on. From dynamically sending up-to-the-minute weather reports to banners in 2004 to broadcasting live radio through them in 2007, each banner was opportunity to provide unique content, not just messaging.

It’s why my first Stowe banner was able to beat Web sites and microsites in the travel category of the MITX awards last year.

Just because online ads are small and weird sizes doesn’t mean we have the excuse to be boring. We have the technology to do whatever we want.

We have the next year of opportunity to raise our game.

10/27/2008 Newspapers ads down, digital adds up

I read in our local paper this weekend that Gannett Corp. (which owns our local rag and was actually started by its old publisher) announced that their earnings declined compared with last year. The publishing side of the business led the downturn due to sub par ad revenues. USA today saw its paid advertising pages decrease by almost 12 percent.

According to news reports, other publishers will show the same trend as Gannett. On the bright side, Gannett’s digital business was a clear bright spot, with properties such as CareerBuilder and PointRoll.

You might say that the ailing economy is the reason and you’d be partly right. But think back and look at the fact that we’ve had a summer Olympic and a presidential campaign this year, two great ad drivers.

It’s clear that news ads continue their decline, while online ads continue their ascendancy. Microsoft just reported that they expect a 10 to 13 percent growth in online ads over the next year.

All of that is good news for us digital marketers and worrisome for publishers. What businesses need, however, is not just a shift into online marketing but an effective engagement strategy when they do so. We need to help develop dialogue branding, the key advantage of the digital space, rather than repeating the monologue branding of yore.

That means that newspapers, agencies and clients need to get past the moving billboards and splashy technology that plagues the online channel and step it up a notch.

I’ve noticed that a number of local newspaper sites are offering things like peelbacks or images moving across the screen for free now. While those technologies look pretty cool and are fun to play with, they simply follow the pattern of intrusive advertising we’ve lived with for so long.

If I were Gannett, I’d integrate PointRoll into every single online newspaper I own. Make it part of the product and let businesses and agencies have a PointRoll specialist help develop the creative. I think they’d end up growing their online ad revenue by twice as much while providing advertisers with great results.

The online ad space has come a long way, but it’s still got a long way to go. I’ll be talking about some of the things we digital marketers should push for to make this happen.

10/24/2008 Crispin and Windows, take 2

Sometimes I can’t resist piling it on. Back on September 10th I wrote a blog entry lamenting the fact that Crispin Porter Bogusky spent Microsoft’s money on an expensive TV ad campaign (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Well, Apple has responded. And, of course, the ads are much more fun to watch than Microsoft’s. Please, Alex, make a Subservient Bill for us, please! Since Subservient Vista is apparently out of the question.

10/22/2008 MITX Awards

MITX announced its finalists in its 2008 Interactive Awards competition. This is the 5th year I’ve judged in the competition and while I've competed for the past 7 years. The MITX awards have always been, in my opinion, one of the better award competitions in the interactive space.

13thAnnual This year I judged the Best Brand and Best Integrated Campaigns. I noticed two big differences this year.

First, the level of entries was the highest I’ve seen in any of the competitions I've judged (and I judge a number of them, including WebAwards and W3 Awards).  That’s saying a lot for MITX where in years past shops Barbarian Group and Zugara dominated the awards.

Second, I was surprised and delighted to see such a wide range of entries in the Integrated Campaign category. Yes, the big agencies had a number of entries, but there were also some great smaller shops and client entries. It showed that, across the board, everyone took the idea of digital centric campaigns seriously.

What’s less clear, though, is what an “integrated campaign” actually consists of.  In the old agency days, integrated meant that everything, whatever it was, had to look exactly the same. Repetition, however, does not equal integration. Now, it looks like shops deem integration to mean that you have a clear media mix of offline and online marketing. Integration means lots of touch points including digital.

I think a better definition would be that each medium adds it’s unique engagement opportunity to your marketing dialogue. Kind of like the sum is greater than all of its parts.

Take an example of a campaign that lets people upload their own picture and voice recording online. Wouldn't a good integrated print or outdoor execution include some type of mirror so you could start seeing yourself as you would in the final conversion? Wouldn’t the mobile integration ask you to record the message and then download the background music as a ringtone?

To me, integration is a finely tuned machine, all working in unison, but with each part doing something unique that makes the whole better.

I would love to see those campaigns.

10/20/2008 A Selling Ad

I’m always on the lookout for groups trying to push online advertising to the next level. That’s why Adgregate's ShopAds caught my attention. Its premise is that you can complete purchases right within the ad itself. No click-throughs, no landing pages.

Most online ads still suffer from animated billboard syndrome. Providers like PointRoll and Eyeblaster, Adroit and Offermatica have allowed us to engage with customers from within the banners themselves, providing a less interrupted and more effective dialogue.

Adgregate has now taken that a step further. Now you can convert sales from right within the advertising. At first glance, it seems that book and music publishers have taken the first plunges. That’s probably a good target for ShopAds. I mean you’re probably not going to make any high-end purchases through a banner ad. But things like music or audio books, both of which you can preview within the ads, make sense. So do downloadable films or TV shows. All of the above assume some prior knowledge of the product.


Which raises the question: What else would you buy through a banner? Clothes? Not likely. Electronics? Probably not. Ringtones? Absolutely.

I think ShopAds might even be a boon for non-profits, if they could ever figure out a way to use them. Properly placed, with the right message, might increase their fund-raising opportunities. Think about a relief fund ShopAd next to news about Katrina or the Sunami.

Last month, TechCrunch 50 named ShopAds as one of its finalists. It will be interesting to see who starts using this in a significant manner.

What would you buy through an online ad?

10/15/2008 It’s Award Season

W3winner_gold_wht I just found out that three pieces of my work won awards in this year’s W3 Awards.

Start Where You Are, which won a Web Award and an Adobe Site of the Day, took a Gold Award.

Two others received a Silver Award: the Stowe “I Found It” rich media banner, a previous winner of an IAC award, and NewBulbInTown.com, for the energy efficiency utility Efficiency Vermont. New Bulb had previously won an Adobe SOD as well.

W3winner_silver_wht Those awards mark an end to an era: they’re my last awards for work I did at Kelliher Samets Volk. It was an amazing and somewhat unlikely run, given the fact that there were never more than 3 of us in the interactive group.  But we racked up a good deal of recognition.

For this last round, thanks again to Corey, Joe, The Hired Pens, Ken and all the others who helped make this work award-worthy.

10/14/2008 Credit crunches, mortgage backed securities and online marketing

My friend Andrew, a honcho at Deutsche Bank, who’s been working with mortgage backed securities since the late 80’s, warned me last summer that things were going to get ugly. How right he was. Now that we’re facing a major economic recession, the pundits have started to forecast the decline in advertising and marketing budgets.

Media analyst John Janedis sees total U.S. ad spend slipping to a 0.8 percent growth rate this year and next year. He and others have revised their online spending estimates, and online media outlets have reported this with headlines such as:

Credit Collapse Dampens Prospects for Web Advertising (Clickz, 10/10) or
Online Ads to Take Hit Based on Economic Crisis? (Mediaweek 10/9)

What’s interesting in this is that their revising their growth forecasts downward, so that online advertising is expected to grow 10% and not 15% in one estimate (Wachovia) and 14% not 24% in another (Barclays).
Let’s see: we’re entering into a recession, overall ad spends will remain static, and online will increase between 10%-14%. That sounds like opportunity knocking. Marketers will demand that their spending be more targeted, efficient and results driven. Exactly what online delivers.

So while the economy is pretty scary right now and my 401K is only worth a 301K, it’s time for us online marketers to put our engagement ideas on the table to help our clients over the next year or two. It’s up to us. The money is there; the question is with whom are companies going to spend it.

Brian Eisenberg has a good article about this over at grok.com.

If you’re an interactive or Web firm, now’s the time.

10/13/2008 I’m in Seth Godin’s New Book!

Well, would you believe, I’m on the inside of the book jacket? I pre-ordered the book “Tribes”, joined Seth’s online tribe, and he put my crazy picture (along with other tribe members) on the inside of jacket cover. I've received other cool things when pre-ordering his books, like getting a cool milk carton containing Purple Cow or a cereal box with Free Prize Inside. Why do I keep doing this? For one simple reason:

Seth Godin is my Yoda. That’s the best description I can think of (now that my son Felix is making me rewatch all of the Star Wars movies). His writing and the inspiration it’s given me has helped me make the move to go out on my own and leave my “safe” agency job.

Banana_tribes “Tribes” is about leadership. The best thing about Seth’s writing is that he doesn’t pull his punches; it’s a book that challenges and inspires.

Best of all, he practices what he preaches. I’ve written a number of blog entries about making your customers part of your product. Here’s a living, breathing example. It’s not surprising that Seth G. has a pretty close relationship with BzzAgent, a company devoted to this type of word-of-mouth marketing.

And if you’re reading this, it’s proof it works.

This is a good book for you if you’re stuck in a large organization, figuring out your next career move, or just trying to become more active in your neighborhood, local politics, or religious community.

Thank you, Seth.

10/08/2008 Start Schlepping

If you haven’t heard about this, the Jewish Council for Education and Research has launched a social media campaign for Barack Obama. It’s called the Great Schlep (http://www.thegreatschlep.com). The core of the campaign is a very funny video by Sarah Silverman with one aim: Get your grandparents to vote for Obama.

What a very smart use of social media:

  • It’s simple.  The site has 3 pages, total.
  • It shares the burden. It uses other sites like Facebook, Cafepress and Actblue to do what they do best.
  • It uses humor. The best pass-along element there is. And also one of the most effective ways of explaining complicated problems.


The Great Schlep has over 18,000 fans on Facebook, it’s generated almost 2,000 blog posts according to Technorati. And there are pages and pages of Tweets on Twitter.

It will be interesting to see how many people actually connect with their Nanas, but if the recent polling is right, maybe its already having an effect.

This is just a very smart campaign. It knew its audience. It used existing social media tools rather than trying to build everything on its own, and connected them all together. And it sprung from a great idea, perfectly executed.

This is a good primer for anyone planning a social media campaign.

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