ad technology

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I am about to piss off 1,200 CEOs. Or I will if any of the participants in the “2013 Global Marketing Effectiveness” online survey read this blog. A short article in BtoB Magazine summarizes the results of that study with a gut-punch headline reporting that “78% of CEOs say ad agencies not performance-driven enough.”

But first some advice to ad agency CEOs — get off your asses and start educating prospects and clients what it is that we do. I know you are already spread thinner than private label peanut butter, but prepare to add proselytizing about the power of advertising (not just your agency’s credentials) to that daily to-do list. Advertising is the business of great ideas. Ideas that stop people in their tracks. Ideas that inspire people to take action (including making purchases). Ideas that build brand loyalty. Ideas that cause other shops to subsequently copy and ultimately water down what was original and ground-breaking. Ideas that often scare C-level execs looking for immediate results. Clearly, when 936 CEOs (or 78% of 1,200 for those CEOs who think agency people can’t quantify) believe our business does not focus on generating quantifiable business results, we all have our work cut out for us.

The survey went on to add that 76% of respondents believe agencies are not business-pragmatic enough, 74% think agencies are disconnected from short and medium-term business realities, and 72% say agencies are not as data and science-driven as expected. To that I would add 87% of the same CEOs believe agencies are as worthless as chewing gum (or worse) on the bottom of their shoes. The study noted that the 1,200 CEOs represented small, medium, and large companies globally. So, it doesn’t matter whether they answer to a board and investors or to themselves as entrepreneurs, these CEOs don’t believe agencies have anything much of value to bring to the table. What would John Wanamaker say, who recognized that 50% of his advertising budget was wasted but was satisfied because the other 50% was working wonders?

Don Draper would answer a call for performance results with storyboards that tell stories.

Don Draper would answer a call for performance results with storyboards that tell stories.

More importantly, what would MadMen’s Don Draper do? I think he would turn the tables and ask tough questions of today’s CEOs. Clearly, we are living in the age of data and with so much of it at their disposal, CEOs have become know-it-alls. Miserly, risk-averse, short-sighted, attention-deficit, know-it-alls. Here is a list of additional questions that the Fournaise Marketing Group might have added  to their survey if Don Draper had gotten his hands on it.

Have you ever truly partnered with an agency before? Explained what your unique business challenges are, helped educate them about your business and industry and competitors, and made them an integral part of your team?

Do you realize that if you devalue marketing and entrust it to junior people inside your own company, who parcel out parts and projects to a variety of firms, your branding, corporate identity, and overall messaging will likely suffer and deliver sub-par results?

Can you chart a direct correlation between how little you budget toward branding, marketing, advertising, and PR and how flat sales are?

Are you satisfied that your marketing content and materials look and read like your competitors’ and do you expect commoditization or would you yourself prefer to be excited by on-target creative work that elevates your brand?

How well do you know your own prospects and customers? Are you capable of putting yourself in their skins or do you believe that they will naturally gravitate to the greatness of your products and services? And become aware of them through osmosis (thought I’d throw in a gratuitous science term)?

Do you recognize how truly fragmented the media universe is today? How few shared experiences remain out there from a mass audience standpoint? How much power has shifted to purchasers and how critical it is to hire the best communications people you can find to build awareness, communicate your messaging, your unique selling propositions, and your overall brand value to them?

Can you truly appreciate why the world of advertising is characterized by mad men? Creative geniuses who don’t fit into MBA textbooks? Graphic artists and videographers who can tell your story visually, compellingly, and uniquely? Agency types who willingly work long uncompensated hours because they appreciate clients who put their faith in them?

Are you willing to settle for mediocrity and short-term blips in profits because striving for greatness is scary and carries with it greater public attention and pain in the event of failure?

Does your company’s current advertising/branding/marketing carry your stamp or is it legacy work whose coattails you are riding on?

Are you the market share leader in all of your markets? Any of your markets? Are you a follower of competitors in your marketing efforts or do you blaze your own trails?

Do you honestly believe that most agencies don’t want to deliver performance? What is more important to you, the ability to measure the results of every expenditure or to be surprised and excited by creative that no one saw coming?

What are you going to do with all that additional data? Will it pay for an expansion of your business? Will it convince you that cutting more costs and staff was the right thing to do? Are you constantly checking your smartphone in today’s meeting because someone is telling you something that truly rocks your world or are you just bored?

Are you like 78% of the CEOs out there and the world of advertising makes you uncomfortable because it doesn’t fit easily into a spreadsheet? Where are the visionary entrepreneurial CEOs of other eras who built great products and understood they still needed great advertising and they insisted upon it?

Last one I can truly put in that category was Steve Jobs. Do you want to be like him?

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Dish Network's The Hopper could put tv advertising in The Crapper.

Dish Network's The Hopper could put tv advertising in The Crapper.

Dish Network, as you probably know, is a satellite dish delivered TV service that represents a great alternative to Verizon and Comcast locally and other cable providers elsewhere, especially in more remote areas where cable networks are spotty. Dish seems to have, more or less, equivalent content as competitors, but in the past there have been occasional nasty snits over Dish’s non-offering of a major league sports team’s games in its home market. Plus, recently, AMC, the cable network that broadcasts MadMen, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and other great original series has been having a contract dispute with Dish Network over being dropped from its service. It always comes down to dollars and cents. Dish wants more from AMC to carry its programming. Perhaps they deserve it. However, not based on Dish’s other current controversy and marketing decision.

Dish has a feature-rich new DVR (digital video recorder) called The Hopper. The Hopper does a great many things. Its main claim to fame is that it enables a lot of multi-set and even multi-device viewing and recording of separate programming with the ability to remotely control by smartphone. The Hopper puts a tremendous amount of user-friendly control in the hands of Dish Network viewers, so they can watch what they want, when they want, where they want, and on what player or tv they want. So far, so great.

One of those viewer controls happens to be the ability to skip commercials altogether. In other words, watch an hour of programming in say 45 minutes, sans all the breaks for advertising sponsors. It is a feature that has long been talked about, but represents a type of third rail in the broadcast industry. Advertising helps pay for programming. Advertising helps make networks, including Dish, profitable. Advertising helps the overall economy by helping businesses sell their products and services. Why would you ever want to do anything to disturb it?

So is Dish’s answer to charge networks like AMC a lot more to broadcast their programming over their satellite network? If so, and Dish viewers can zap commercials carried by AMC and other networks, how are those networks going to earn more to pay Dish? Sounds like a proverbial house of cards.

Amazingly, Dish has no problem itself with advertising. It has put together a very entertaining campaign to promote The Hopper using a Boston-accented family of humorous characters who effectively and entertainingly extoll Hopper’s many features including the ad-skipping one.  This spot, in particular, is both funny and a classic have-your-cake-and-eat-it moment for Dish. They clearly understand what they are doing, they are self-satisfied by their own cleverness, and they figure it is someone else’s problem.

The other networks are not taking this lying down, though. Most have voiced serious concerns. The Wall Street Journal noted a lot of upset among top execs, who are planning action.

Personally, I don’t think The Hopper is going to be the death of tv advertising or advertising period (Dish is also running commercial-skipping Hopper radio spots, as well as print and social media ads). But I think enabling The Hopper’s commercial-skipping technology is a bad business decision. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

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Earlier this week, I was distressed to read (online) that long-time b2b publisher Penton had made a decision to give up on print. At first, I thought the move to all-digital applied across the board to each and every Penton trade magazine. Turns out it is strictly their tech group titles. With the cost of paper, ink, and press time combined with the explosion of tablets and e-readers, it is mighty tempting for publishers to give up on their print properties, especially if pages are down and advertisers are off.

I’m a print guy and always will be. I’d far rather hold a newspaper, magazine, or book in my hands, than strain my eyesight scrolling, adjusting screens, and absorbing pixels. Also, as our art director pointed out this week, doctors and hair salons are never going to fill their waiting rooms with stacks of Kindles and iPads.

However, some publishers are making the most of digital platforms and they are making it harder for print to keep up. QR codes and MS Tags are being used (some would say overused) to link ads to relevant online content and measurability. Meanwhile, ICIS and others are producing digital platforms that integrate rich media. Our client, Graham Engineering, was able to run a full page ad in the print issue. Then, we adapted it for their digital issue on the Ceros platform, integrating an extended video clip within the space of the ad (see page 6).  Sure beats banner and pay per click advertising.

The other way to look at this is for publishers being in the content business and connecting with readers (viewers?) in the way(s) that each prefers — print publication, digital version of print publication, web site, video clips, e-newsletters, webinars, in-person at events (and virtual events), and of course, all the flavors of social media.

It can be done and it is working . I had that reinforced by Michael Pitts this week, a hard-working ad sales rep doing his job the old-fashioned way, making face-to-face appointments with new prospects. What was he selling? The Philadelphia Tribune Media Group properties. Yes, the oldest, continually running African- American newspaper (since 1884) is still going strong. It was thrilling to hear that weekly print circulation is at 221,977, the vast majority of delivered to subscribers’ front steps. That’s a loyal and engaged readership.

The Philadelphia Tribune is America's longest-running African-American newspaper published continuously since 1884.

The Philadelphia Tribune is America's longest-running African-American newspaper published continuously since 1884.

The Tribune hasn’t been content to rest on its considerable laurels either. In recent years, it has launched Metro editions taking it to specific Philly neighborhoods, as well as the Delaware and Montgomery County suburbs. It has also added special print publications like the Sojourner, a quarterly visitor’s guide to the region, and the Tribune magazine, with special editions on the Most Influential African Americans, Top African American Attorneys, and Women of Achievement.

Of course, like most newspapers, the Tribune has made its web site its 24/7 news platform, off which to build content for print via what is happening right now, what is engaging readers, and what demands the longer, more thoughtful coverage that print allows. Also, getting two-way conversations going via social media community pages. As Michael noted, the tragic passing of Whitney Houston has generated the kind of interest locally that it has nationally. offers some outstanding run of site ad opportunities, as well as rich media ad units that are going to reward sponsors generously.

I tire of the debate that digital is killing print. I’d far rather see examples like a 125-year-old newspaper continuing to successfully publish by delivering great content that doesn’t divide print and digital, but balances it instead.

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The NYTimes magazine features an amazing story on retailers' data collection and analysis practices.

The NYTimes magazine features an amazing story on retailers' data collection and analysis practices.

The answer is of course. We all are. Personal data is being collected on all of us at an alarming rate. We have written about it before and before that. The President and Congress and the Digital Advertising Alliance are looking at new legislation and new steps to protect consumer privacy. Meanwhile the databases continue to accumulate on you and me and your next-door neighbors and your cousin Louie and all credit card wielding members of the Kardashian family.

I’d like to thank Michael Smerconish and his drive time radio show for tipping me off to an amazing story on personal data collection and analysis from last Sunday’s New York Times magazine. I encourage you to read it in its entirety here and to watch the short video that accompanies it. There’s an amazing story about how data launched, crashed, and resurrected Febreze and a mini industry of household deodorizers. However, the main event is how Target is successfully collecting data and using it to predict key moments when customers might be induced to become even more loyal and big-spending customers.

The Target example given is focused on products that women purchase when they are in the early stages of pregnancy (evidently one of those retail window periods when customers might be influenced by special offers and promotions to become uber customers).  That sounds like a universal creepout and Target, smart marketers that they are, recognize how to use that data in such subtle ways that most customers will not even realize they are being beckoned siren song style by the ”growing family” clothing, feeding, and home decorating aisles.

Once the full ramifications of this article had sunk in, I began having nightmares about the data that various retailers are collecting on me and how they are interpreting it.

Does Starbucks know they have a serious caffeine addict on their hands and can now move beyond this gateway drug and start selling me crack lattes?

Must Wal-Mart be convinced by the number of boxes of Cap’n Crunch and other child-friendly cereals I purchase that I am now ready to acquire a steady stream of action figures and Pokemon cards?

Will Wegman’s tally up my craft beer six pack totals and write me off as asleep on the couch Rip Van Winkle style and unlikely to shop again prior to 2015?

Lord, please make CVS destroy the servers where my Rx and OTC pharmaceutical purchases are stored. They may be calling the asylum now.

I think we can all take some comfort that Ryan Braun, last season’s National League MVP, managed to get his drug testing suspension overturned this week. It may not restore the appearance of purity to Major League Baseball, but it’s one small blow against the data collectors and wielders.

On the second anniversary of our weekly blog. Thanks to all of you who read on an occasional or regular basis. This marks our 106th post. Last month, we broke the 10,000 unique visitors mark and it felt gratifying that the meta tagging of all those pornographic search terms are finally paying off.

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The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

This week, it dawned on me that the world of digital advertising has become a morning commute from hell. I envision sun glare, tractor trailers overturned on off ramps, gaper delays, highway construction crews, crumbling infrastructure, and side streets not designed to handle the traffic they are swollen with.

What led me to that conclusion was sitting in on the excellent, well-attended Digiday Agency conference on Monday. Digiday assembled a sterling lineup of industry experts from the agency, publisher, and technology sides who made individual presentations, participated in panel discussions, and offered wide-ranging articulate opinions on the landscape of all things consumer digital advertising. I was probably the only business-to-business guy and one of the few creatives present, so I came to listen and learn. Here is what I came away with:

  • Things continue to morph faster than anyone can keep up with, let alone get ahead of. Digital now encompasses digital display, search, social, video/rich media, mobile, and more across a vast span of publisher and affiliate sites, plus desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphones that accept advertising. Throw in TV advertising that leverages and attempts to cross-link digital, social, etc. and you have media planning that often collapses under its own cleverness and targeting potential.
  • Analytics and metrics are overrated. One of the more incredible statements of the conference was a derisive one about digital display advertising measurement being still stuck in the stone age — specifically, the continued importance placed on click-through rates. The speaker noted that the demographic of those most likely to click on display ads is populated with low/no income types, online gamblers, and assorted tire kickers.
  • Video, Social, and Mobile are the future. Pretty obvious shift driven generationally and by tablets and smartphones. Of course, by the time that the ad industry sorts it all out, we will be on to other new technologies and tools.
  • Remarketing (retargeting) via browser cookies of those who visit advertiser web sites is only going to get bigger. A number of speakers used the funnel analogy of awareness advertising at the top and very targeted, directed messaging at the bottom to catch buyers when they are now informed and ready to make a purchase.  The theory is great. I just don’t believe that ads relentlessly targeting people whom cookie data has identified as hot prospects is going to be ultimately successful or a great idea. I still believe that the average person is suspicious of Big Brother approaches and privacy concerns trump marketing opportunities.
  • Digital media buying has been reduced to an RFP process. Publishers spoke about how hard it was working with agencies in digital space because the media planning contacts are all junior people and there is a revolving door between agencies. Not much time or room for relationship building and value adding when it becomes a “give me your best deal” RFP request.
  • Agencies are being courted as digital advertising venture capitalists. That seemed like a completely foreign concept to me because running lean and mean continues to be the norm outside of Madison Avenue; however, a number of shops spoke very intelligently on this subject.

Ironically, a couple of days after the conference, I came across this article on Adobe investing heavily in traditional agency territory and challenging Madison Avenue in the data sweepstakes of this space. There were a lot of technology companies like Google present at the conference, but Adobe wasn’t one of them. I suspect they will be heavily discussed when Digiday holds the west coast version of this event in Los Angeles in early 2012.

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Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

No wonder advertisers get confused about how to allocate media dollars. It is an absolute free-for-all. A day does not go by without another news item suggesting how one medium or platform is overtaking or supplanting another. I routinely remind myself of the progression that TV did not kill radio when it came on the scene, and likewise, the Internet did not replace TV. Every form of media is still in active use (papyrus scrolls and carrier pigeons excepted). I see latest Conan TV ads feature blimp advertising blended with mobile platforms. As a big fan of Team Coco, I am hoping for Goodyear associations, not Hindenberg.

A quick sampling of recent stories should give everyone pause about claiming superiority over another medium or about writing a competing medium’s obituary.

This intriguing story from Advertising Age suggests Facebook is voraciously eating the lunch of major magazine brands. It left me scratching my head about how Burberry, frozen in my own brain as a conservative British purveyor of fine raincoats, has attracted over 8 million followers on Facebook. I visited their pages and came away still scratching my head. This Google search revealed a few clues — fashion launches via Facebook and iPads, free samples of a new fragrance, interactive videos, and easy-to-follow followers like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Still, that is a staggering number of followers, but more power to them. Whatever Burberry is doing, it’s working.

Next up, two stories from Digiday. One reveals how Google is preparing a full frontal assault on newspapers’ biggest cash cow — Sunday circulars. Imagine a digital version of a circular that gives a retailer all kinds of local control to customize content by store, pricing, and product category. Also from Digiday is a rather depressing, confusing  picture of the landscape of digital advertising tech companies. The bar is low for entrants. The result is a mixed bag of options and results for advertisers. Not sure who is being served by this.

This week, New York magazine devotes an extended article to Twitter and whether it is becoming too big for its 140-character britches, er tweets.

If you’re not completely boggled yet, here is video reporting by the print-based Wall Street Journal delivered online from their web site to explain how tv ad spending can be rising as viewership is dropping. Got that?

My next media recommendation? Burma-shave style billboards but delivered with a twist — constantly changing messaging on a series of digital billboards. The product? Attention-deficit disorder drugs.

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Big brother is watching you!

George Orwell would not be surprised by latest ad technology.

If the privacy police weren’t concerned about intrusive advertising before, they’re going to have a field day with this one. I encourage you to read this story in the Los Angeles Times about the increasing use of facial recognition software technology to identify the age, gender, and race of those who approach new digital advertising displays. When the display pegs your demographic, it serves up targeted ads for products it believes you should be interested in.

When these displays are in a specific retailer (i.e., Banana Republic), they will tailor ad content for merchandise carried in that location. Think of it like’s suggestions of books that you may like based on other books you have previously ordered.

But it doesn’t take much imagination to conceive of situations where this technology is ripe for abuse. For instance, I doubt many middle age men will appreciate having  Viagra ads launched when they step in front of a digital display. Those who are overweight won’t enjoy being treated to a steady barrage of ice cream and candy bar commercials.  Mirror, mirror, on the wall.

Latest NEC digital display technology uses facial recognition software.

Latest NEC digital display technology uses facial recognition software.

It isn’t a big leap either to build facial recognition software into the average TV set.  It will be more than a little unnerving to have ads of specificity delivered when you enter the room of your own home. Guys may not notice any difference if it is a beer commercial during an NFL game, but if it is a spot for a sleep aid, because the TV in your bedroom notices you are still awake wide-eyed at 3 am, then most people are going to be disturbed by the intrusion.

We all wear our gender, race, and age on our sleeves, I mean, shoulders. However, that doesn’t mean we want to be continually reminded of our demographics by the talking box. Opportunities for abuse by advertisers, law enforcement, government policymakers abound. Time to dust off your copy of Orwell’s 1984.

We’ve written before about how companies like Preference Central are trying to solve privacy issues in online advertising before the regulators dictate tougher controls.  This opens a whole new front for major consumer brands and retailers to be careful about. Facial recognition software has long been used in CCTV video monitoring in the security and access control industries. With QR codes and personalized URLs now delivering customized ad messaging, it would not be hard to imagine a future where TV commercials are talking to you by name and citing past purchases and inner cravings. It’s all a lot unnerving.

Racial messaging is an especially sensitive topic right now. For instance, can anyone imagine any young African-American men being appreciative to look into a digital display and having this ad served up to them?

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