Unlocking Your Market Potential

Report on ad:tech 2009 in San Francisco
Marketers, publishers, creatives, and the technology folks need sit down together and plan a roadmap for the future.

April 23, 2009.

Interesting choice of keynote speaker for ad tech SF 2009 - Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, the fourth largest site in terms of worldwide traffic, a classic web 2.0 achievement. But Wikipedia does not host ads of any kind. Part of the Wikimedia not-for-profit foundation, they get money through private donations, most recently driven by an appeal on Wikipedia that raised over $6 million at the end of 2008. Perhaps then another contender for the keynote was Craig Newmark of Craigslist, a wildly popular site with no ads in sight, raising cash through corporate job postings. Or maybe Dennis Hwang, Google’s designer of the commemorative logo variations that appear on the Google search page, potentially the internet’s most valuable but currently unused real estate for ads, an empty canvas for Dennis to play with.

Perhaps the ad community was trying to bring Jimmy into the fold, and I listened for any hints on this, but none came. Interesting snippets did follow – only 25 employees to date, use of the community of editors was forced by a lack of cash at the start of the project to hire internal editors, only 20% of Wikipedia content being in English, the rest in various languages and 165 contributing countries, national communities online.

Jimmy’s key point was that consumer media websites, as opposed to the top-down corporate websites, are becoming dominant. And whereas previously advertisers were very wary of UGC, unpredictable at best, and associating a brand with bad content equaled bad branding, now there’s really great user generated content out there. So rather than disappearing down the rat-hole of direct response banners (strong words indeed), brands should dive into the user conversation and reap the benefits of positive association with this fresh content.

Except not on Wikipedia, apparently.

Part of the attraction of Wikipedia and Craiglist is the complete absence of ads and the associated distraction.

The dissonance between potential and what’s being achieved currently in the ad world was echoed in the title of the panel session, “Innovate or Die”. Some new banner forms were mentioned – leaderboards conversing with adjacent skyscrapers etc, but with an average click through rate of around 0.05%, (that’s just one click though on every 2,000 ads served), how much better will it get?

Advertising tolerance has often been overloaded as exemplified by sites such as www.ny1.com.

Steve Haydens' keynote session "Fear, Love and Advertising" was insightful in that the creator of the iconic two-minute 1984 Apple Mac ad is hard at work grappling with the current digital platform. At its best, advertising creative is a true art form that tells a story and engages the audience emotionally. A great example is the XBox Jump Rope ad by McCann Erickson San Francisco:

TV is still very effective because that messaging format continues. But online, Hayden might have been asked to compress his two-minute epic story into a 468 x 60 pixel static web banner ad, that people have learned to avoid as they scan a page anyway.

Having your creativity shackled to a restricted medium is something to fear indeed.

But worse still for ad agencies is search. Typing in a search term shows intent – a pre-qualified audience. But the message that is presented to that valuable audience as paid adword and organic search results is simple text. Direct response does the job. OK, there’s potential to drive people to a very creative landing page so that’s one area where ad agencies can add brand awareness. But maybe search can remain simple and effective without creative content.

The keynote speaker on the second day offered support for the ad creatives, and perhaps Hulu was chosen as speaker for precisely that reason. Hulu transfers the TV viewing experience online and preserves the 30-second story-telling format for advertisers. Subscribers can even elect to have a three-minute movie trailer as an ad format. Seeing that advertising was responding to the internet revolution rather than being integrated into the medium, Hulu started with the goal of a balanced integration of users, advertisers, and content partners, and also appreciate the long-term value of brand messaging versus the quick hit of direct response. Advertising was not an afterthought, but part of the business plan. More power to them.

And they are focusing on branding, not direct response. Branding dollars in marketing and ad budgets is higher than direct response spend. The positive branding effect with exposure to smart creative content is in fact measurable with panel-based metrics.

Video content is engaging, great brand associations, but what about the negative intrusion factor? The pre-roll is intrusive, and overlays haven’t proved to be the answer.

balancing engagement versus intrusion is a dilemma for advertising, even more so when the consumer is in control of the story with UGC. An interesting point was made that brand-loyal communities spring up primarily as a response to a good product, and good customer service. Related to this, the panel was certainly in agreement that instead of trying to push brands onto the consumer, companies an advertisers need to listen more to the consumers and get involved in the conversation. Creative microsites are one avenue for this.

A demo at the conference showed that blogger influence can be mapped by new technologies, an appropriate addition considering the tech theme of ad:tech.

But the most measurable medium is still the most difficult to understand.

An observation from the panel summed it up quite nicely, stating that marketers, publishers, creatives, and the technology folks need to sit down and plan a roadmap for the future. And the more the consumer can participate it that discussion the better.

Keith Rayner, Kemarra Inc: April 2009


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