33 posts categorized "Online Advertising"

09/20/2011 Give consumers more control of online advertising

Opt-Out Online Advertising 

I was delighted to see an online ad the other day. While the ad was clearly relevant to me, what most intrigued me was a little line of text that said “Ad Choices.”


Choices? We have choices for online advertising? Obviously we don’t have enough.

That little line of text, though, seemed like a promise of future relevance, where I could imagine a day that I could turn off specific ads if I didn’t like the content or ad itself. A future of online advertising that gave more control to the people viewing the ads than the people making or serving them.

We’re not quite there yet. But the American Express ad on the NewYorkTimes.com site was an improvement. 


When I clicked on the Ad Choices, I received a number of options for information. I clicked on the first link and landed on the Evidon Web site.

Evidon runs the Digital Advertising Alliance’s self-regulatory program. One of the reasons programs like this exist is that the advertising industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent federal regulations that mandate stuff like this.

The site does let you opt out of certain ad networks.

Screen shot 2011-09-20 at 3.06.49 PM

It provides a little widget called Ghostery that shows you all the activity happening behind the scenes when you visit a Web page. Ghostery is almost enough to make people scream for more government intervention. 

Clearly, this is a good start. We need more, though, and it’s not nearly widespread as it should be. The concept of retargeting (that is, cookieing me when I visit a site, so I can receive that sites ad) is often a complete failure. Here’s one example (of several) that I run into daily. 

I have a subscription to Fuze for Web conferences. It works well; I’m a pretty satisfied customer. Yet I’m inundated by retargeting ads from Fuze continuously. I long to shut them up. But there’s no easy way for me to do so. I see this with a number of brands I’m not interested in, or not interested in right now.


These ads make me want to buy less from these brands, not more. I’m considering canceling my Fuze account so that I’ll never get their ads again.

When consumers have more control over the online ads they see, and have the ability to turn off both networks and individual brands and creative, people will continue to ignore or even despise display advertising.

Of course, when they do have control that will put the pressure on us marketers to create great advertising. And lord knows we need that pressure.

In the mean time, initiatives like Evidon are a step in the right direction, but we need more than baby steps at this point. Otherwise, bring on the regulation.


06/21/2011 Display Advertising: Working or Not?

A recent study by C3 Metrics reported that online display advertising accounted for 44% of advertisers’ transactions in Q1 2011. C3 was apparently able to study some 50,000 online transactions and found that display ads drove the initial awareness of the brand.

When you add that on top of the latest eMarketer report that the U.S. display market will increase by 24.5% this year to $12.3 billion, you’d have to think that display advertising has finally come of age, right?

Not if you read what most of the experts say. Or if you talk with anyone you know who surfs online. Here are a couple of the “nicer” critiques from Rob Gatto of Pointroll and Mitch Joel of Twist Image. When creatives talk about display, it gets uglier.

When was the last time anyone asked you “Did you see that banner ad today on the New York Times.com?” If they ever did, it was probably when Apple was rolling out its Mac vs. PC ad online. Otherwise, no one is talking about, albeit remembering most online ads. That’s because most online ads lack the creative juices imbued in other ads, like print or TV.

That’s too bad, because there’s lots of room for creativity here once you start looking at this format differently.

Most people aren’t. Here are a few examples of today’s display ads from some of the leading sites.


LA Times.com
Washington Post
My Favorites - Burlington Free Press
Now, these are just ads I found on the home pages today. Most are pretty bad. The LL Bean one at least makes me want to look at it. It wasn't until I visited YouTube that I saw an ad that made me want to watch and interact with it.


Now maybe some of you will say I'm only seeing these lousy ads because I'm being retargeted to (that's when advertisers cookie your browser when you visit their site. Afterwards their ads follow you around the Web like something stuck to the bottom of your shoe). That's not the case, though. I am being retargeted, mostly by companies I'm already a customer of and have already made the one purchase I'm going to make from them.

What do you think? Are these good ads or bad ads? Or is the only way to judge them based on clicks or conversions? I think it's both creativity and results, not one or the other.

As I’ve noted before, there aren’t a lot of sites promoting great banner creative. Even on my favorite, Banner Blog in Australia, I’ve noticed much lower quality and creativity than I’ve seen in the past.

The data shows display works better now. Maybe it does. But the format and content still need a lot of work.


01/18/2011 The Elephant in the Online Ad Room

Since I’ve started watching TV shows online I’ve noticed something about advertising. Some shows run 15 to 30 second TV ads every 12 minutes, just like on regular broadcast TV. Others bring you out of full screen to an interactive ad, that usually include a small video of…a TV ad.

The interactive ads allow you to actually do something (Discover Card has a memory game, for example) as opposed to the TV ads. However I find myself much more irritated at the interactive ads than the TV spots. (My eight-year-old son, on the other hand, would rather stop and play on almost every interactive ad). Those interactive ads in online TV make me get up and click once or twice to get back to my full screen TV. And that makes me hate them, no matter how interactive they are.

When I’m watching a story on TV (which is what every program is) I want to get to the end of it. I want to find out what happens. I don’t want interruptions getting in the way. Broadcast TV wrote an implicit contract with us viewers: if we wanted to see a conclusion, we had to tolerate the interruptions.

DVRs have started to break down that contract (thank you Skip Button on Dish Network!). We still tolerate that contract in print magazines, for example, allowing ourselves to linger over the ads before flipping the page to the next article. On the Web, though, we brook no interruptions! We’re on the Web to be IN control, and we expect things to go FAST.

We talk a lot about contextual and relevant online advertising, behaviorally targeted so people will pay attention. But, for the most part, we’re not paying attention because we’re paying attention to something else. Advertising has worked in the past due, to the most part, for its interruptive ability. But on the Web, with the exception of interstitials, we’re trying NOT to interrupt anyone.  Maybe it’s time to rethink that.

Right now, we position Web ads to not get in the way of the flow of the Web page. Publishers offer positions all around the content, in places where they’re very easy to ignore.  After reading lots of UX articles, for example, we know that the prime real estate spots are not the spots we find online ads. Why not? Maybe its’ time for publishers to give advertisers the prime viewing spots on their pages. We’ll get to the content eventually, since that’s what we really want.

If publishers aren’t willing to give up the best real estate, perhaps they should consider different ways of interrupting the content. Increasing the size of the in-text advertising that breaks up copy blocks might allow people to scroll through the ad, but still put it in a place where people will actually have to look at it. Whether they interact with it is another question.

(By the way, for the sake of this argument, I’m leaving out the issue of quality of the online ads. While that helps, I don’t think that’s the big roadblock).

When Sweden introduced commercial TV in the 80s and 90s, they made the stations put all of the ads either before or after the show. Rather than interstitials, perhaps that’s the place to put the ads, as a price of entry to the content?

Face it, most of us don’t want ads, we want the content we came for. But online advertising will continue to underperform if we don’t, at least, make it easier for someone to notice and interact with it. And yes, context and relevance and targeting help make online advertising better. But they’re not enough.

Until publishers give advertisers their prime real estate online, just like they do offline, we’ll be talking about how this platform under delivers for years to come.


09/28/2009 Do You Trust Your Electric Company?

Most utilities aim for a high level of customer satisfaction and trust. Its one of the ways they can validate (they think) loyalty. Of course, gauging loyalty is hard when you don't always have a choice, which happens a lot with utilities.

I've worked with a number of utilities on energy efficiency campaigns over the years, including Green Mountain Power and Efficiency Vermont. We produced a number of fun and innovative campaigns to help people save energy and money. So I have a pretty good idea of what electric utilities are up against.

I stumbled across this banner campaign on Boston.com this weekend. I'm always on the lookout for interesting online marketing and when I saw what I thought was an efficiency campaign from National Grid, it caught my attention.


For one, that color just jumped out of the page. So far so good. And it sounded like there was something interesting going on with this 3% thing. Actually, I assumed it was going to mimic a campaign from Burlington, the 10% challenge where non-profits challenged people and businesses to lower their electric use by 10%.

But when I clicked on the banner, both on Saturday and Sunday, here's what I saw:


Firefox asked me to make an exception for this site. And I probably should have. But to be honest, I don't really know National Grid, except for when I judged its super MITX award entry last year from Mullen.

More to the point: It's a lot to ask someone to click on a banner and interrupt their browsing. It's too much to now ask them to trust an untrusted certificate. Where's the value transaction in this? I'm sure this was probably a simple mistake, but if you're paying money for media placement and creative, it should be a small task to make sure your conversion page works.

When you get right down to it, most people don't trust utilities. Maybe it's the Enron effect.

Boy, online banners have it tough enough without adding things like this to the customer experience. No wonder they have such a lousy reputation.

I'd like to see National Grid adapt its banner creative with an "It's safe to go in the water message." Because the people who clicked this weekend are probably never clicking again.

I wonder what the 3% challenge is?
09/08/2009 Interesting New Ad Format; Same Crappy Banners

This weekend I noticed that the New York Times had introduced a new banner format, one that I hadn't seen them use before (and one that my NYT media rep hadn't told me about :-(). It was a persistent 300x600 online banner that followed me down the page. One of the challenges with online banners is that it's easy to ignore them by simply scrolling past them. Not here.

The persistent banner was part of my viewing experience. Since it was there the whole time, it was very hard to miss and harder to ignore. One reason is that it's strange for the eye to see everything scrolling except for one thing: the banner. Your eye makes its way over, just to see what's going on. Maybe that will change as we get used to this format. What I did notice was that the consistent placing made the ads feel as if they were more part of my Web browsing experience.

The other thing the new ad format did was that it removed a lot of clutter. You see this a lot in newspapers: since the online ads don't bring in as much revenue as print, they fill pages up with different kinds of advertising hoping this shotgun approach yields something. The result is a very busy layout and advertising you can't wait to skip over.

I have seen ads like this before. The Swedish afternoon paper Aftonbladet has had these for a while, but their ads were jerky and slowed down the whole browser. Their technology wasn't up to the task. Not so on the Times, everything was smooth and seamless.

I have to admit I liked this a lot and not only because I create online advertising for my clients. I like that the Times is looking for ways to make banners more integrated and effective. I certainly like this a lot better than the takeover ads. I'm looking forward to see how this develops and will certainly look into for my clients.

One thing the new ad format can't help, unfortunately, is the creative. I got stuck looking at what I think is one of the worst branding campaigns this year: TD Bank. TD is changing its name, as it's shedding its r remnant from a Vermont bank takeover, the name BankNorth. They've been buying a ton of all sorts of advertising proclaiming TD as America's most convenient bank and using convenient celebrities Regis and Kelly. Excuse me; I have to grab another sick bag.

I don't know about the rest of the country, but Regis and Kelly seem to have nothing to do with my community bank. Do they, somehow, represent local and convenience? Maybe I'm just cynical, but to me they represent overpaid, under talented media celebrities who have nothing to do with local banking.

If TD Bank really wanted to become America's most convenient bank they'd take all of their marketing dollars and start developing some innovative, customer focused services, like USAA, MoBank, or the other banks on Mint's Best Bank Account List.

For the New York Times consistent ads: Good format, lousy content. Hopefully the online ad creatives will step up to the plate more, now that we have better tools.
08/25/2009 If Only Online Advertising Were Like Early TV

A recent report by Dynamic Logic claims that smaller display ads, you know, those little buttons stacked neatly on top of each other, have a greater impact than bigger, more intrusive ads, like Leaderboards or Big Ads.

Just to confuse us, Dynamic Logic then goes on to state that Rich Media ads with video perform best of all. Simple Flash ads perform worst of all.

That would make sense, except for the fact that none of the smaller ads use Rich Media but many use Flash. So small ads perform best except for Rich Media ads that are never small ads.

To make sure no one's feelings are hurt, they fess up that size doesn't matter; it's all about the creative, really. And most ads don't work because the creative isn't very good, and its all the agency's and media planning department's fault.

Let's get real about this. Most online advertising is an afterthought. The ads are the bastard children of print or TV ads with all the style of the former but with no substance. Since most don't work, the DIY crowd rightfully creates dancing mortgage seekers, or worse, that perform better.

Despite the IAC's best intentions and larger formats, none of this will change until we start seeing marketers start the campaign online, and then move that to traditional. Has anyone ever heard of a TV spot coming from a Rich Media ad, rather than vice versa? The best online ads seem to show up when there's not a repurposing of the traditional ads, like the Tiger Woods banners, or the well-done takeover campaigns by Deep Focus for True Blood and Mad Men.

The latter is clearly the wave of the future as it pulls out the creative stops by embedding relevant content with creative on key sites, rather than blasting out ads all over a content network. The thought and detail that has to go into something like this, or even a well done rich media ad like the VW Twitter analyzer, is surprising only because we're not used to seeing the attention and creative power focused on online advertising.


I'm still hoping to see a parallel with early TV. The first few years were terrible. Then young directors realized that there were far fewer rules in the new medium and started creating for TV instead of Hollywood. They were so successful that they either became big name directors (Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet) or Hollywood simply remade the TV shows into Oscar Winners (Marty).

The opportunity is there. The question is whether enough of us will pay attention to it.
07/24/2009 Using Twitter for Advertising

With marketers sold on Twitter's impact and business's interest in testing the Twitter waters, it's only been a matter of time before we'd start seeing online advertising campaigns using Twitter. Since Twitter is still working on its own advertising model, marketers have been creating their own variations.

Volvo and Intuit have used Twitter in their banner ads. VW had a good campaign analyzing your Tweets to recommend a car. Some are trying to show those Tweets in the banners themselves, allowing people to create the content themselves (after someone screens it, of course).

Yesterday I stumbled across another variation from the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince U.K. site. The entire site focuses on getting you to perform some magic on one of your followers' Twitter page, while it sends out a Tweet that you're doing so.


Here's what I found interesting:
  • The site takes some proven technology (page takeovers) and performs them on your personal page.
  • While it taps into Twitter to broadcast the message that you're using the campaign, only one person at a time can actually SEE what you've done.
It's kind of a mishmash between social media and microsite advertising, between broadcast and one-to-one advertising. While I think this is cool, it didn't really spread that quickly online, from what I could see. And that, after all, has to be the goal of a campaign like this.

We're still in the infancy of Twitter advertising. Although, really, the best Twitter advertising happens in the Tweets themselves: reviews, recommendations, rants and shout outs.


06/10/2009 Buying Impressions vs. Making Impressions

This last week has seen a rash of good news for online advertisers. Sites like the Daily Beast, Digg and Twitter are ramping up alternatives to the sorry state of online display advertising. Hopefully this will move us away from the old media habit of buying impressions toward a place focused on making impressions instead.

Since most display advertising has poor creative and predictable placement, it’s easy to ignore. While adding rich media and creative thinking that takes advantage of the technology helps, it might be too little too late.

The Daily Beast has now embarked on a path of custom advertising integrated more closely with its content. This sounds pretty exciting, although it would be good to hear how easy and scalable that is. That’s one of the advantages of the current display model: you don’t have to custom build creative for a gazillion different sites. Hmm, maybe companies like Adroit should take note.

But the concept is spot on and similar to some ideas we’re testing out as well. I can’t wait to see the first results from these types of ads.

Digg is also placing ads into its content stream and letting people vote on whether they think its good advertising or not. Hurray for Digg, finally letting people have a say in this is a good thing. Surprisingly, this may have the affect have making more people pay attention to the ads, even if they stink.


While Twitter got a lot of negative Tweets about it’s pay-per-Tweet idea, you’d be hard pressed to make a case that those tweets are going to be worse than many in your current stream.

Each of these approaches focus on content in content areas and we’ll see winners emerge who provide the greatest relevancy. At the end of the day, it’s about making impressions with the people who want to talk with you rather than buying impressions to bother people who don’t want to talk with you.

One thing we need now is a pricing model that reflects that.

05/11/2009 The Problem with Online Advertising

The problem with online advertising is that it’s not print, radio, or TV. If it were, we’d know what to do with it to make it work. We’ve tried the print model, placing small space ads throughout the layout, and while some say it does work, most say it doesn’t. Even if we have tried making those ads more interactive.

We’re about to start trying the TV model. Yes, interstitials have been around for a while, but now we’re about to see a new initiative: Full page ads with 15 or 30 second TV spots in between your Web pages. We should expect this to work as well, or even less so, than the newspaper model. Why?

"It's not user initiated, but it's really clean and high quality," says Riley McDonough of Thomson Reuters. If advertisers think Web users don’t want control but want high, clean quality, then they’ve been sleeping on the job for the past dozen or so years.

1936FibberMcGeeAndMollyTop We’ll probably see the old radio model pop up again, even before this new/old TV model fails. Maybe your parents or grandparents remember how brands sponsored and owned radio shows in the 30s. We’re already hearing ideas of content distribution and sponsorship, even if we haven’t seen brands own sites or site sections in a meaningful way.

While it’s not wrong to try old models on new ones when they arrive, the success of the old models rested on the fact that they adapted from one to the other. We’re impatient to see that new model on the Web, which seems to confound everyone. Well, not everyone: it hasn’t confounded Google because they’ve built an AdWords model on what makes the Web great, instead of trying to change it.

In Paco Underhill’s classic “Why We Buy” he explained how in-store merchandisers sought to slow down shoppers. If they could break shoppers’ speed and rhythm, they could sell them more. All traditional advertising does the same thing: it seeks to interrupt someone, whether they’re listening to the radio, reading the paper or watching TV. It works since none of these media has speed as a key benefit.

But on the Web, speed is a key benefit. If you slow someone down and take away control, they hate it. That’s part of Google’s brilliance. Rather than slow you down, paid search actually speeds you up! A huge challenge with the Web is actually finding what you want. Paid search seems to serve the opposite of Underhill’s slow-down: it saves you lots of time while directing you to relevant content.

Visual online advertising will have to figure out a way to do the same. Contextual advertising seems to hold promise, but it’s not enough. I’d like to see a re-imagining of the Web page itself. Right now it’s too reminiscent of print with its advertising spaces. I’d also like to see (as I’ve noted here before) a ranking system that lets people tell when to stop showing ads or when they like them. 

We might even want to think about not even showing ads until someone has clicked on a search ad or Twitter link, which makes the ad less a 30 second spot and more like a targeted microsite posing as a rich media banner posing.

And none of this may be enough. We have to start completely re-imagining advertising for this media by throwing off the shackles or our old media habits.

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04/02/2009 Behavioral Targeting with Incentives

The other day I wrote about Exelate and what it’s up to around behavioral targeting. Well they have company. [Note: Several details are updated below]

BlueKailogoBlue Kai is another new company focusing on making online advertising more relevant to consumers. They, too, buy cookie information but they have a more targeted in their approach. Even more interesting, they’re exploring models that actually give something back to consumers for using their data. I can’t wait to see how far they will go with this.

Blue Kai focuses on intent:

  • Have you searched for something?
  • Have you shopped for something (e-commerce)?

For now they only focus on three verticals: Retail, Auto and Travel. According to Rowena Toguchi, Marketing Strategist at Blue Kai, Blue Kai wants to make sure they have the cleanest data possible. They want to separate people who are reading a blog about Hawaii, for example, from people who are actually pricing out airfares to Honolulu.

Blue Kai does this by only using data from the top five sites in each vertical. One big difference is that data providers only get compensated once and advertiser purchases the data. Once they auction the data off to Ad Networks or Advertisers, they compensate the sellers and the better the data works, the more they receive. This way Blue Kai makes sure that if advertisers think it's good data, they'll buy it again, and put more money back into the system.

They’re big on taxonomies and breaking the cookies into multiple data stamps. You can purchase segments based on departure or destination cities, or length of stays.

It sounds pretty interesting, as long as you’re in one of those verticals. And it seems to work the same way that working with any online ad third party does, like with rich media or multivariate service providers.

I’m very intrigued by being able to target someone with a specific ad who I know is shopping for my destination. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of specific case studies on the Blue Kai site.

Incent One of Blue Kai's big promises is transparency. While Blue Kai also offers controls to consumers to manage preferences or even opt out, what separates Blue Kai from others is that they donate a small percentage of the money they make to the charity of your choice. Right now you can choose between four, March of Dimes, Action Hunger, Reading is Fundamental, or Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

It’s the first step in putting some skin in the game for the people on the other end of those ads: you. Ultimately they’d like to create some type of point system where the more you participate, the more points you get for travel credits, for example.

I for one, hope they do this sooner rather than later. If the customer is in control, then maybe the customer should get a cut in selling their cookies. This is, by far, the best attempt I’ve seen yet.

Blue Kai seems to have a lot of promise. They seem to be growing fast as well. If I end up using them, I’ll let you know what happened.

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