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17 posts from March 2009

03/31/2009 The Online Chicken Littles

Web Ad Growth Deteriorates” reads the headline today from AdWeek. Yikes, I new things were bad, but not that bad. Here’s what dictionary.com says about deteriorate:

  1. To grow worse; degenerate: The weather deteriorated overnight. His health had deteriorated while he was in prison.
  2. To weaken or disintegrate; decay: The nation's highways are deteriorating at a rapid pace.

And yet, here’s what the article says about the latest IAB report:

  • Q4 had the highest level of spending online ever, yet the growth compared with 2007 for the quarter was only 2.6%
  • The 4.6% increase in growth from the previous quarter was the lowest increase since 2002
  • While non-internet media was down 2% for 2008, eMarketer is still forecasting a 4.5% growth in 2009 for online advertising.

Disintegrate, decay, degenerate, and deteriorate. Yet this is all happening in a time when our economy is in the worst shape it’s been in 70-80 years. I would have expected even worse numbers, given what’s happening to businesses across the globe.


Instead, I see a lot of positives in those numbers. I see growth and opportunity, and a realization that people have moved online and brands need to follow.

As my old thesis advisor once told me “What you see depends on where you stand.”

Where are you standing, Adweek?

03/30/2009 Mac vs. PC Online

Microsoft and Crispin have launched its latest competitive ads against Apple and TBWA. This time, the focus is price, not a bad strategy in a down economy. They’ve seemed to give up on the “PC users are cool, too” strategy after Apple and co. reacted very quickly with a jab at the campaign itself.

I like the TV ad. I think it was a good execution of a “normal” person shopping.

Online, though, I have to wonder if Microsoft and Crispin are simply out of their league.

This promotion showed up on the home page of the NewYorkTimes.com on Friday. It was a slot machine execution to show how much money you would save. There wasn’t a lot to it; it was kind of small and hard to read; and it didn’t take advantage of the medium very well. You could spin to see what great extras you missed out on by buying a MacBook.

Pc ad3small
Think about what they’re up against: The latest Apple MacBook and iPod ads have the computer busting out of its assigned ad space. And the Apple vs. PC ads online have been the best, hands down, of repurposing TV ads online. Click here for a great, great example of what Apple and TBWA do with a NYT.com ad.

TBWA has used the technology in clever ways to gain attention, either by smashing up navigation on MTV or coordinating content in the banners themselves. The ads are eye-catching and entertaining.


I expected Crispin, who are one of the best agencies when it comes to doing both traditional and digital, to come up something better than a slot machine. Been there, done that. You’d figure that together with the Microsoft team at aQuantive, we would have seen something that would have pushed the limits.

Crispin and Microsoft need to move up a notch in using the online technology for advertising. We know they can do it on microsites. Let’s see that great creativity flourish in this limited space; we need them to do so.

As for content, in the TV ads are straightforward and clear. Online, I have to choose between a MacBook or a PC laptop and 65 Starbucks Lattes. I can already see Apple’s TV response.

03/29/2009 Another Contextual Ad on NYT.com

With all the dire comments on the future of online advertising, the one place marketers need to keep their eye on is the New York Times online. They’re the ones who seem to be experimenting with new models and solutions.

Last fall I pointed out an example from IBM, where the “ad” was links to NYT.com Opinion pieces that talked about IBM’s solutions. Smart and believable.

A few days ago I saw this as I was reading a business article. This “News for Marketing Professionals” seemed to know who I was, and it showed up in a place where I would have a good reason to click on it (as opposed to showing up in the Sports section).


Looking closer, I noticed that LinkedIn had sponsored the ad. I have an account at LinkedIn where I’ve identified myself as a marketing professional. LinkedIn teamed up with the New York Times to sponsor links I should have interest in which should:

  • Make me smarter
  • Show me how LinkedIn is helping my career

The best part, however, is that LinkedIn didn’t use marketing messaging. It used content from the site it advertised on.

This might be easier to do on big, content rich sites like the Times. I’d love to see some ad network figure out how to do this through multiple content providers.

Keep watching, I’m sure there’s more coming.

03/27/2009 How Fast Can Your Marketing Move?

One of the most touted benefits of online has always been that you could change your marketing more easily than other media. It doesn’t mean it won’t cost you anything and it doesn’t mean it won’t take you time to make the change. But it does mean you can move faster in the online medium more than you can print, TV or radio.

So now that we can move faster, do marketers truly take advantage of this? An article at Clickz.com got me thinking about this. They described a home repair service that optimized its paid search effort based on bad weather. 

American Residential Service’s marketing partner tracked weather patterns across the U.S. based on the understanding that the more extreme the weather, the more business ARS usually did. When storms hit certain areas, they wanted to make sure ARS was top of mind when people quickly, and sometimes desperately, needed help fixing their heating, air conditioning, sewers and drains. Face it, when one of these breaks down, you’re quite unhappy until someone fixes it.

So ARS’ marketing group identified the places where they would find those people. But they needed to be very nimble to take advantage of the opportunity. Once they saw the patterns, they shifted their paid search to those geographic areas hit by the bad weather. It was smart, fast, and, apparently, very effective.

I’ve seen and built online marketing that could tell where someone lived and could serve them geographically specific information. But those types of applications usually rely on a set logic. I’ve rarely seen marketing strategies that can react quickly to real time events.

Some, like Super Bowl advertising, don’t move at all, even when they know events will happen. There are many examples of missed opportunity around search, for example.

So how can you make your marketing faster? How can you turn it into Speedy Gonzales?


Look at what ARS did:

  • They set up a listening mechanism. If you want to react, you have to know when something happens. To do that, you have to listen. ARS listened through weather reports. Your brand could do the same, whether its watching markets, to news feeds or other social media listening tools.
  • They had an action plan. Once you’ve listened you need to have concrete steps to put in place once you have a trigger event. You have to map out the steps before hand, so that implementation is quick AND easy. Remember, time is of the essence here. The plan should not only tell you what to do, it should also tell you when NOT to do anything.
  • They had a strong conversion mechanism. Since you have a limited time opportunity, don’t use this as simply a branding exercise. Tie the problem you’re going to solve to a product or service you offer now. Make it easy for someone to convert; you should clearly show how you’re going to lift the weight off of your customers’ shoulders.

This type of marketing brings out the true promise of online marketing. While the examples focus on search, I think it would be worth it to examine doing so with online advertising networks as well. God knows they have the inventory.

Most importantly, put together a good strategic plan on how you’re going to move fast; how you’re going to act and why you’ll grow business doing so. Your clients need this. It also gives them a good reason to pay you for listening, a reason that’s clearly connected to ROI.

Maybe your business or clients don’t provide anything that has to do with outside events. Or maybe you need to use your imagination and you might uncover a missed opportunity.

Or, as Speedy said "Ándale! Ándale! Arriba! Arriba!"

03/26/2009 Sharing as a Social Media Strategy

I’m helping a client move into social media, a place they’ve been wary to enter. Their biggest questions circle around two very important points:

  • How much time will it take?
  • Will it drive any business?

When you dig down, they’re most wary of the commitment. It seems like a lot to manage for a short staff. Because of that, we’re focusing on a very simple, yet doable strategy:

  1. Focus on existing communities
  2. Share something of great value to them
  3. Commit to sharing over a period of time
  4. Measure activity

One of the more interesting parts about this sharing strategy is that this client, like a number of others I deal with, actually have vaults and treasure chests filled with content, product demos, research studies and pilot projects that are perfect to give away.  The problem, for many of them, is that they haven’t recognized the value of this “stuff.”

Luckily the Internet already has grouped people who are already into that “stuff.” Luckily for my client, these people make up a perfect target market. We’ve identified a few places where these people hang out and we’re about to start our sharing strategy.

My client is relieved that they don’t have to “manage” this community. I think the burden of even thinking about that overwhelmed them. On the other side, the challenge is to become a credible and authentic participant.

We’re banking that generosity and participation will pay off in social media. Of course, we’ll be tracking everything to show ROI, results that ultimately will determine how and when we grow this involvement.

In the mean time, just digging in the treasure chest is already spurring new marketing ideas.

What do you have to share? How are you going to show your generosity?

03/23/2009 Agency Social Media Strategy: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Five digital trends to watch for 2009 Edelman Digital:
“Devouring media is out. Selective ignorance and friends as quality filters are in.”

Recent conversation with agency CEO:
“If another person says the word ‘Twitter’ I’m going to explode!”

Agencies are having a tough time with social media. It’s not all that different from the troubles they were having with the Web 10 years ago. We all realize the challenges with social media: it’s hard to manage, it’s hard to sell and it’s near impossible to make any money on the deal.

I have a simple suggestion for these struggle agencies: Forget social media. Don’t ask about it, don’t jump into it and don’t tell clients about it.


If you’re one of the agencies that do get it, you can skip the rest. But for the traditionals, read on.

Do what you do best: branding, advertising and media placements. This is what you’ve made a good living from over the past 50 years. Stick to your basics and just let this social stuff pass.

Forget all the blogs out there, too. There’s just one blog you need to read and that’s the Ad Contrarian. Just follow Bob. I think you’ll relate to him really well and he’ll put things into proper perspective for you.

With a little luck, everything will go back to normal in a few years. Maybe we’ll find a new advertising model where the 30-second spot still dominates. Top-down branding could make a comeback as the economic downturn opens the door for new totalitarian movements. Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

In the mean time, let the social media craziness go to the smaller guys, the independents and entrepreneurs, groups without lots of overhead and who aren’t really a threat to you anyway. That way no one will blame you if the social stuff goes awry. Of course, if something good does happen, just let the brand take credit.

And if your clients ask about, just tell them how much extra work it will mean for them, personally, and they probably won’t ask again. Just don’t tell them to watch companies who are making it work.

Sit back, close your ears, and keep your head down. After all, it took over 100 years to bring GM to its knees so you should have at least a couple of years left.

03/21/2009 Springtime

In honor of the first day of spring, I'm reminded Dad's favorite springtime poem

Ode to Spring
(Recited with a Brooklyn Accent)

The Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I wundahs where them boidies is.
The boids is on the wing.
Ain't that absoid,
The wings is on the boids.

03/20/2009 Read this Book!

I may be the last person on Twitter to do so, but I finally read the book Groundswell by present and former Forrester Research people Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li. Here’s my short review:

Buy this book and read it, now.
Then give it to your boss and make him read it.
Then get everyone in whatever group you’re in, and get them all to read it.

If you read one book on online or digital marketing this year, that book should be Groundswell.

Okay, now the longer version.

Groundswell3 I’ve had a pile of marketing books on my desk and night table for the past 10 years. I’ve actually finished a few of them. I’m not sure if I’m suffering from Google brain or whether I don’t have the patience to dig through some dense but informative volumes. From what I hear, I’m not the only one with the unread books around me.

The writing is the first thing that makes Groundswell stand out. The book explains complex and new technology quite simply. I’ve written a number of blog posts on writing and simplicity and I’m a big fan of how Bernoff and Li write. They are very good explainers without becoming overly pedagogical. This is a book your boss will understand.

The examples or cases are the second thing that makes Groundswell stand out. The cases are great stories, filled with people and they tell as much about the land mines as they do about the successes. Most of us can see ourselves in a lot of these stories, even if most of us can’t envision ourselves in some of the larger campaigns. That’s because the stories are about people, not about technologies.

And people are the third thing that makes Groundswell stand out. The book puts the focus on finding smart ways to communicate with people, customers, prospects or employees. It’s about finding relevant ways of listening to and talking with people.  That’s why social media is so hard: it’s a dialogue.

While Bernoff and Li hit on what are now familiar concepts - giving up control, starting small, listening instead of announcing – they do so in a way that adds depth and imperative.

Personally, I love the way the challenge you to disrupt thinking about the value of your products to instead look at what’s valuable to your customers. Those two things might only touch each other tangentially. The story about how to talk to young girls about tampons when that’s the LAST thing they want to talk about should ring alarm bells for all of us. The same thing applies to lots of low interest categories, like banking or electricity, to name two.

Don’t get distracted by some of the bigger examples they give and the talk about expensive third party solutions. This book is chock full of advice for marketers of all shapes and sizes. Some of the best solutions in the book cost almost no money.

So read the book and start helping your clients change. But first, do the same thing for your agency, shop or yourself. Since you’re going to make mistakes, it’s probably better you make the first ones on your own dime.

03/17/2009 Copy or Design?

Companies will spend a lot of time and effort on new designs for its marketing materials. The same companies seem to spend a lot less effort on copy or content. I see this constantly when projects include solid budgets for design and programming but almost no budget for writing or content creation.

So my question to you is: If you were building a new Web presence and could only pick one, would you pick copy or design?

Whoa, slow down. Before you answer that quickly take a look here:

  • One of my all-time favorite digital shops, The Barbarian Group, creators of Web legends such as Subservient Chicken and Cleanse This has a site that is almost entirely (gasp!) copy. Yes it has some design, but it’s minimal. No, it’s very minimal. The Barbarians chose copy.
  • The old Zeus Jones site and the new Modernista site chose no design for their sites and relied on textual based social media sites to showcase themselves. And then Skittles copied them.
  • Cool Swedish creative shop Farfar has one of the simplest designs, but good pictures and copy. There are a number of Swedish shops doing amazing work, yet their own sites have minimal design.

When some of the top thinkers and doers in our industry focus on their own copy and content instead of heavy design, it’s worth noticing.

Maybe the bigger problem is that most shops have greater design resources than copy or content resources. At a lot of digital shops I know of they use outside resources for copywriting. If that’s true, and the clients come asking for design, changing the conversation to copy and content will be a challenge.

With the rise of social media, though, it’s a necessary conversation. I think it’s time we started reexamining our priorities.

03/15/2009 Spec Work. For designers or all service providers?

Jeremiah Owyang led a panel at SXSW and now has a well-commented blog post about spec work for design. One of the big issues seems to be that with  people more desperate for work, and less money for companies to spend, we’ll see more of spec work for design.

On the plus side for workers, you could make a case for people doing spec work for design when they get work through the Web, competing with other designers in the same situation. In this case, spec work is simply a new business cost. In the scheme of things, this might be one of the more efficient new business spends, as long as you win some business through it.

On the plus side for businesses, you reduce costs but get lots of choice. Of course, as a business, you’d be hard pressed to complain when the same thing hits you: cheaper priced imports, Walmart moving into your area, etc. If you’re not into paying for and building up value, please don’t complain when your business suffers from the same ailment.

I see a lot of issues with this one. As Jeremiah points out, spec work leaves out strategic development. The biggest question I have with spec work is how it’s possible to create something authentic and unique for a business if you know little to nothing about it or its clients. Sure, you can make something look good, but that’s just one part of the equation. With such intense economic pressures and competition these days, you’d think businesses would want to develop marketing builds something lasting. A logo or brochure doesn’t go as far as it used to.


Another issue I have with spec work is that for the designer, or any of us, we want to develop business relationships with our clients beyond one-night stands. Does spec work lead to other work? Maybe as part of a longer RFP process, but you have to ask yourself two questions with that:

  1. Is it worth it? I know an agency that supposedly spent $100,000 of its internal time doing spec work on an RFP. They won, so they'll get a $250,000 contract for $350,000 worth of work.  Is that an acceptable ROI?
  2. If the client treats you this way at the beginning of an engagement, do you seriously expect them to treat you differently later on? I wouldn’t. Please don’t tell me clients change over time. Some do but most, just like people, establish patterns early on. If they’re looking for something without paying a lot (or not paying some people at all) that’s what they’re going to be like for the most of your relationship.

It’s funny that we have spec work in design but not in other service areas. I think if we’re going to accept spec work, why not apply it to other service areas.

  • Accountants – Send your tax work to three accountants. Only pay the one who gets you the biggest tax return (But you may be in trouble later).
  • House Painters – Hire four firms to each paint one side of your house. Only pay the one who does the best job.
  • Lawyers – Hire three firms to deal with a legal issue. Only pay the one who gets the issue resolved most favorably (e.g. this does not apply to litigation where they take a cut!).

I was trying to figure out a way to do this with car repairmen but couldn’t figure it out. Any other suggestions of professions we can use spec work for?

The best antidote for spec work? Talk to other people and agencies in your industry. There will always be those who do this but we would be remiss if we train clients to think this is a good way to do business. Honest and open talk between competitors is sometimes uncomfortable but incredibly valuable.

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