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The definition of advertising has gotten stretched in some weird digital ways lately and it is only getting worse.  When I received this e-blast yesterday from IBM company, Coremetrics, my head came very close to exploding in the style of David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci fi flick “Scanners.” There isn’t much that gets my attention in the way of templated assembly-lined e-mails, but this one broke through all the clutter. Unfortunately, it was not in a good way. This isn’t Big Blue’s finest hour.

Coremetrics confuses with this e-mail that has little to do with true advertising.

Coremetrics confuses with this e-mail that has little to do with true advertising.

The word, Advertising, drew me in strictly by way of association, because I am in the profession, and only because it was the largest font on the page. That’s not setting the bar very high. I skimmed the copy to see what Coremetrics was selling. The promise of a free white paper led me to the following instructive title: “Appropriate Attribution: Addressing the Dramatic Inaccuracies Associated with Last-Based Campaign Attribution in Digital Analysis.” Now, I admit I am not an online media metrics wonk, but I know a few and if they were ever confronted with this phraseology, their craniums would self-immolate, too.

Granted, complex tech topics depend on audience knowledge of industry trends, jargon, and conventional wisdom and methods. However, this is the very antithesis of what advertising and marketing stand for — copy and design working together to dramatically and effectively convey a single simple idea. Eventually, if anyone ever gets that far, there is a Voice of Reason web site that explains this e-mail campaign and the Coremetrics value proposition in great detail.

And that in a nutshell is my main gripe with online advertising — it may be measurable, it may be metrics-rich, it may be analyzable, but it is seldom anything I would describe as advertising.  Similarly, Google deserves special derision for naming its PPC program, Adwords. Random search words on a web page do not an ad make. They may fall under a marketing budget and they may generate a lot of revenue for Google, but they are not ads.

As the economy and business continue to flop around on the deck like a fish desperate for H2O, many companies (including some in the Fortune 500) seem to miss basic truths and common sense approaches. I recently saw the chief marketing officer of a large global chemical company proudly quoted about the transformation of his employer into a company now known for science instead of chemicals. The problem is that the products his company manufactures and sells are chemicals. The products that his customers buy are chemicals. He can market science all he wants, and thought leadership is important, but he ultimately risks confusing prospects.

As Coremetrics’ approach ably demonstrates, clarity is in short supply these days. I’ll take the measurability of a revelatory, idea-and-results-driven print or broadcast ad’s two-by-four upside the head Eureka moment over any click-through rate any day.

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I often marvel at how advertising media planners never reach the saturation point. There is seldom a lack of worthwhile media options for an advertiser. There is almost always an overload of places to advertise on a limited budget.

As noted in last week’s post, that is definitely the case these days on the local level (any business with a well-defined geographic territory).  Even that is changing — for example, Mallon’s, a wonderful Ocean City, NJ bakery used to rely on summer vacationer business; now, it does e-commerce and I can arrange to ship its marvelous sticky buns to my aunt in Texas.

Matchbin is helping local media and local advertisers leverage digital.

Matchbin is helping local media and local advertisers leverage digital.

The other month I responded to a print ad in the Norristown Times Herald advertising a free online and search engine marketing seminar. I was curious about what a local newspaper might say on the subject. Turns out, a lot. They, and all of the Journal Register newspapers locally (Pottstown Mercury, Lansdale Reporter, Phoenixville Phoenix, West Chester’s Daily Local News, The Trentonianthe Delaware County Daily Times, and others) are wisely partnering with Bountiful, UT-based digital media company, Matchbin, to help expand their traditional media options to local advertisers.

There isn’t anything unique that Matchbin is offering that advertisers can’t find elsewhere in some form. It is the scope of content management system-based offerings that Matchbin has, enabling a local business to manage its marketing and online business across multiple media and outlets.

Through the Times Herald (and other Journal Register papers), advertisers can continue promoting via print, web, or a combination, plus get featured status in an FYI: Central Montco Online Business Directory. To this, these businesses can add a range of Matchbin tiered programs to match needs. To boost local Google rankings, they can create a templated landing page or mini web-site that through Matchbin’s network will put them on the first page of Google search, so local prospects can find them. If they want to promote via video, there’s a video package. If they want to launch e-commerce, there is an e-commerce package. If they want to set up and manage multiple social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.) and business reputation, they can via one dashboard. There are additional options to set up blogs, to create couponing and special offers, to promote via testimonials, and to reach out to prospects and customers via mobile phone marketing.

The Journal Register papers can help advertisers find a Matchbin program that fits their needs and budget (the tiered programs are priced right). And local businesses can more easily manage their marketing and business-building without taking them away for extended “hands on” periods from their businesses. These are not one-size-fits-all solutions — they are well-thought-out programs to help local businesses that don’t have Coke’s global marketing budget to raise their profiles dramatically within their communities (geo and social).

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AdweekMedia/Harris Poll says banner ads aren't cutting it.

AdweekMedia/Harris Poll says banner ads aren't cutting it.

The other day, an AdweekMedia/Harris Poll caught my eye. It was about which type of advertising most often gets ignored. An overwhelming 42% of respondents said Internet banner ads. Can’t say that surprised me. Despite a variety of formats, online readers have a tendency to spend time instead with editorial and video content on the web pages they visit. Driving web traffic and measuring results remain the major reasons to advertise in this medium.
But banners have never been a great canvas. Even fractional print ads offer more generous real estate for attracting attention and building brands. Occasionally, I see a banner that generates a smile or piques my curiosity. More often, I don’t notice because too many banners are just web wallpaper.
Case in point is this effort on behalf of a small advertiser by the name of Sheraton Hotels running on the pages of the Philadelphia Business Journal web site. The banner invites readers to rediscover Sheraton, but doesn’t give so much as a single visual hint why someone might want to. Actually, there is a sub-head that says “Featuring $6 BILLION in enhancements and over 180 new or redesigned hotels.” Great, why didn’t Sheraton set aside a few of those billions to assist in the advertising of all these terrific new hotel properties?

Sheraton spent billions on its hotels, peanuts on its web ads.

Sheraton spent billions on its hotels, peanuts on its web ads.

Not so much as a glimpse of all that excitement. Just muted colors, a curlicue that looks like a vine in need of trimming, and type that is too small to read. The tag under the Sheraton logo is too small to be read without a zoom lens. Then, there’s the separate signature for spg, a cryptic unreadable acronym that spells Starwood Preferred Guest for those who are adept at deciphering eye charts.
Maybe that’s the new approach — get noticed by going small and forcing readers to really scrutinize the fine print. I’ll take a big idea in just about any other medium any day.

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