Online Ads and Campaigns

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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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Before the Internet, before Facebook, before smartphones, local advertisers concentrated their ad budgets on TV and at least some of them felt they needed to work very hard to get noticed. Faux (or forced) insanity was the order of the day. The king of this method of advertising was Crazy Eddie, the NY metro area consumer electronics retail chain, that brought a heightened sense of urgency to take advantage of sale prices (and of Eddie himself) to everyone’s living room.

Not sure why the yelling announcer model became so popular, but it was employed by car dealers, restaurateurs, the Atco Speedway, and at least one local merchant in every city. In Philadelphia, Ben Krass made himself a hometown celebrity selling his Krass Brothers suits surrounded by a harem, usually in bikinis.  All of these “mad men” wanted to ensure that viewers didn’t miss their schtick by heading to the bathroom during program breaks.

It’s likely even then that mental illness advocacy groups lodged complaints about turning affliction into an attention grab. Most viewers, however, just found the spots obnoxious. Still, they did their job, created awareness and buzz for these businesses, and moved a lot of product.

Today, local advertisers would have to be truly loco to pass up the amazing range of online options for geo-targeting and reaching prospects and customers. They could save their vocal cords and save a lot of marketing budget dollars in the process. The array is dizzying. Local is the new focus of Google, which has hired local salespeople and repurposed its Local Business Center as Google Places. Businesses know that with so many spending so much time on Facebook, they need to be there with pages and ads. Yelp and Foursquare were ahead of the curve on helping advertisers build local followings. Groupon, Living Social, and in Philly Metro, Dealyo have bought couponing and promotions into the digital age. Then, with Microsoft Tags and QR Codes, retailers can build their own brick-and-click campaigns to generate sales with smartphone users.

Next week’s blog post is devoted to yet another local program/platform called Matchbin that gives local businesses a wide range of ways to connect with customers. So many choices for those looking for asylum from the crazy method of advertising.

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The familiar AOL symbols when Aol was familiar

The familiar AOL symbols when Aol was familiar

I have to admit, I have had America Online frozen in time. The company that brought dial-up Internet and e-mail service to every household in the United States (even if you weren’t a customer, you received one of their membership kits on CD by mail) faded into obscurity thanks to broadband, Google, mobile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a long list of other digital brands and technologies. Everyone can make that instant “You’ve Got Mail” leap to the not-very-distant past, but fewer and fewer of us visit America Online in our daily on line routines. I still have a free Aol e-mail account, but haven’t opened my mailbox in over a year, because I am frightened of being greeted by a 60 GB wall of spam.

Aol's ubiquitous membership kit markeing campaign

Aol's ubiquitous membership kit markeing campaign

That’s why I was surprised to get a call from my son who has had a part-time college and summer job with an online video syndication platform start-up called 5min Media. “Dad, Aol just bought my employer for a reported 65 million dollars.” I was stunned. I didn’t know that Aol still had 65 million dollars. And what were they doing buying a small firm with a more cleverly targeted variant of YouTube?
Turns out Aol has been on a shopping spree. They also purchased video creator and distributor Studio Now in January and IT news blog TechCrunch and Thing Labs, creator of social network content sharing software Brizzly in recent days. In addition, AOL has been hiring writers to focus on increasing the amount of original content on its networks. This all followed a serious stock price plunge and the decision to reinvent itself. I am increasingly intrigued by this storyline and wish Aol well. Large corporations that survive do so by keeping up with and hopefully starting new trends. It’s been a long time since people associated IBM with international sales of business machines. Or GE with light bulbs.

Project Devil is Aol's ambitious new approach to improve web advertising.

Project Devil is Aol's ambitious new approach to improve web advertising.

With all that news as context, I was not at all surprised to see a four-color Aol spread in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal advertising a new direction for web advertising called Project Devil. Even better, it touched on a hot button of mine. The miserable advertising experience and canvas delivered by most web sites. Too many pages have been overseen by neither an art director nor a production manager. They look like they’ve been spewed out by a blender without a lid. Banner ads. text ads. Popups. Sponsor logos. Video clips. All splattered on the page, some blending with, and blurring the lines between, editorial and advertising content. Is it any wonder why no one gets excited about interactive ads, let alone interactive ad campaigns. Measurable, yes. Memorable, hardly.
Aol is attempting to pioneer a new direction with Project Devil. They have discovered the value of white space and a designer’s eye. They are presenting a new view that draws obvious lines between editorial and advertising And gives both room to breathe. So far, it is hard to tell how much of this is wishful thinking and how much is a deliverable universal format. Will this clean uncluttered approach be available only on the Aol network or will it be transferable to other sites and communities, too? The danger in this is that people will soon grow tired of a Project Devil web page, because it looks like every other Project Devil web page. At least for now, it’s a great new look and a bold new direction for Aol.

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