A Familiar Formula


I’ve been on holiday for a couple of weeks. I have been back for a week and haven’t had much chance to go through the backlog of sales email until this afternoon.

In the past half an hour I’ve opened up 3 sales decks  from ‘prospecting’ networks with amazing data and despite the logos and subtle differences of the data they use to target the hottest prospects on the web; they are all exactly the same.

They begin by stating that there is lots of ‘big data’ in the marketplace but no one has data as good as theirs or have technology good enough to identify the right prospect at the right time. Each of these companies will be good enough to guide the agency through this murky world should we choose them as the prefered media partner.

If we try our hardest not to be cynical; at least two of these companies must be wrong if we believe their opening gambits.

They then talk about the uniqueness of their data / tech for 4 or 5 slides before moving on to scale. x billion requests, x million users etc.

There are then a couple of wooly slides explaining how well it all works, each deck has slide saying 6x, 4.5x or 4x greater conversion rate than the average (at no point is the average ever specified). One states that targets are outperformed by 90%, another than we can achieve ROI of up to 19x. There are no case studies.

Next we get onto the slide where everything is brand safe in a number of ways from blocking to iframes to viewability.

Now we could buy separate campaigns from all of these companies; have no control over reach and frequency and no chance of delivering sequential or truly dynamic advertising.

On the other hand; we could use our own trading desk with access to first party and 60-odd third party data sets to build robust audience profiles, manage R&F, sequential, dynamic, optimise in real time and dovetail alongside other digital tactics we are running.

Just a thought.


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Media Audiences and Cross Platform Buying

We all know Print is a dying medium. A big publisher told me the other day that readership of her portfolio was declining 10% YoY. She wasn’t upset though; total readership across print and digital was up and there was nothing but light at the end of the tunnel. ‘Eyeballs are eyeballs’ she said.

Publishers now encourage agencies to buy their audience across all channels & devices and many agencies are now set up to do this. The simple logic is that if the Guardian or Times audiences are now spread across the traditional paper, website, apps and social presence then brands should follow suit.

On the surface that makes complete sense. If you are bought into the audience  of these brands why not reach them on whatever device they happen to be consuming on?

But does it really make sense?

Our classic notion of a media audience is a homogenous group of people loyal to & likely influenced by a particular brand. It was in an advertisers’ interest to target a Guardian or Telegraph reader because on the whole they looked more like the people who bought their products and they could be reached at scale.

These proxy audiences are less important when you add digital to the mix; we can now construct and reach valuable bespoke audiences based on data.

In this mindset the Guardian becomes a source of quality (audience and environment) rather than just offering access to people who are a bit ‘left leaning’.

The evolution of print planning and buying isn’t just buying across websites, apps and social channels belonging to traditional publishers but planning and buying digital audiences based on data throughout quality environments.

Traditional publishers have a big part to play in the future of audience buying but the definition of audience needs to go deeper than just that of the brand.

If clients are desperate to hold onto traditional media audiences and want to buy one brand across all its platforms in the hope that a difference is made then please; at least have an attribution measure in place to prove the value either way.

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Real Time Media & The Suarez Chomp


At World Cup time almost every ad has a football aspect to it. I spent all day in the car on Sunday and lost count of the radio ads sung to the tune of ‘Ere we go’, contained lazy football puns or just had crowd ambience playing beneath the voiceover.

Other than the usual suspects like Nike & Adidas and newcomer Beats by Dre; most ads are a bit obvious and seem to serve little purpose other than make people cringe.

The World Cup has always been a social event but World Cup 2014 was always going to be a Social Media event. Facebook and Twitter have been fighting for the conversation crown; only time will tell who wins but both platforms have been awash with WC banter and real time marketing efforts.

Real time marketing, newsroom mentality & social media war room have been big buzzwords for a while now and many marketers talk up their activity in this space. The real spike came after Oreo posted the famous ‘Dunk in the Dark’ Super Bowl tweet and since then the bandwagon has been well and truly rolling.

From an audience reach perspective the World Cup murders the Super Bowl so media and creative types have been watching their social feeds eagerly for moments of marketing brilliance that they can retweet, share or critique. Up until yesterday I hadn’t really seen anything of note. Then Luis Suarez decided to take a bite out of Giorgio Chiellini of Italy.

Within minutes Peperami had posted a vine which was actually quite funny. Then Snickers got involved, then Budweiser, McDonalds, Nandos, Listerine, Trident, Whataburger, the Whole Food Market, TGI Fridays, JCPenney, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Surf,  Rajnigandha, Shilajit Gold, Paddy Power  & even MLB (Major League Baseball) had a go. These are the ones I’ve found; I bet there were a hundred more. The only advertiser who didnt get involved were Suarez’s sponsor; Adidas who tweeted before the game that he was ‘A Weapon’.

I started thinking back to my time in the car on Sunday. Most real time marketing efforts are opportunistic and lack any real creativity. To understand whether they make any difference at all we’d need to see some ROI studies. I do know that Oreo couldn’t quantify the effect of the dunk in the dark tweet and stayed away from real time efforts in this year’s Super Bowl.

I do believe that quality real time marketing will cut through but only for a few brands who generate ads of a high quality. The real problem is that they only appear on a handful of social platforms and still don’t reach a truly mass global audience. To make a real difference it needs to be more deeply integrated in the overall marketing plan. When real time creative hits the TV we will see the game change.

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On Big Data


Media people love a trend and a buzzword & big data has been weathering the storm for quite a while; problem is everyone I meet says that there isn’t any out there. Some believe it’s all in America, others that it’s all with big companies who can’t make sense of it. If ‘big data’ is a buzzword there are infinite buzzexcuses to explain why we can’t get our hands on a meaningful amount.

Mary Meeker’s simple and brilliant internet trends report was released last week and it highlights just how much big data there is. Globally we generate 4 zetabytes of data a year which is double the amount we created in 2012.  The simple fact that the latest Microsoft Word software doesn’t recognise the word ‘zetabyte’ means I probably need to add some context. In a nutshell that means that last year we generated enough data to make up all the books ever written 65 million times over.

According to Meeker’s report; only a third of this data is of any use, 7% is actually tagged and on only 1% analysed.


How come my phone rings every 3 minutes with someone trying to sell ‘Big Data’ ad campaigns? Often people who were selling full colour DPS in magazines or ads on obscure satellite TV channels a couple of months back.

Agency folk have legions of middlemen (there aren’t many media owners any more) banging down the door peddling Big Data panacea. They hold the data to target people who shop in exact stores at an exact frequency; target mavens who use content sharing widgets or even target women who are pregnant before they know it.

There are various case studies to prove that big data targeting strategies bear fruit but they are few and far between & scale is elusive. Once you’ve been dazzled by amazing data targeting stories you quickly understand the net result is often a banner ad; increasingly a banner ad on a phone that’s so small it just might not be worth putting there in the first place.

A data driven banner strategy needs to be highly targeted in order to work. A retargeting campaign with dynamic creative advertising products to people who are already interested is great. I saw one yesterday that sequentially offered me 2 different discount codes because I didn’t bite first time. These campaigns don’t scale though.

There are some really interesting developments from Dunhumby, Acxiom and Datalogix that can tie ad views to actual sales and in the future I think they will be the winners.

The majority of ‘data driven campaigns’ however, take data from many sources; mix it all up & then throw so much money at the Internet every user is hit 19 times. In a situation like that does it matter if some people were targeted because they once took a pictorial quiz and liked photos of cats more than dogs or if they used a URL shortener in the last week? Individually and with laser precision each of these tactics may give an advertiser an edge but mix it all together and its nothing better than ‘run of internet’.

Sophisticated data driven campaign strategies linked to dynamic creative do and will give smart marketers the edge. Using context to determine a current mindset will be a key driver. I am in no doubt that in the future our industry will collectively look back at the snake oil salesmen of today and realise that many digital marketing tactics were employed simply because they were possible.

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Online Ads & the Attentive Goldfish


Over the years I’ve probably sat in a couple of hundred meetings while the where the creative agency suits talk clients through creative concepts. In almost all of them the storyboards for the digital ads are almost identical to the storyboards for TV.

Digital ad concepts are usually shown as a storyboarded MPU’s and are generally quite clever. We all sit there deliberating over choice of words and where logos should be on certain frames. Should the actor on frame 7 have the collar of his shirt buttoned or unbuttoned for different markets and was the overall tone right for the brand.

That’s all well and good for TV where ads last a defined number of seconds and everyone is reasonably comfortable with the fact that not all viewers time shift and fast forward or make cups of tea while the ad is being shown.

There is no defined number of seconds for an online banner. People aren’t forced to watch them and they mainly live on websites within content. Online ads needs to capture attention pretty quickly. I’ve always had a theory that the vast majority of online ads are too long; by the time the buttoned down shirt on frame 7 appears users have scrolled past. By the time the brand reveal happens, users are on another website and the moment is lost. If half of online ads are never seen; how many of the viewed ones seen got their point across?

I read this intelligent post on native ads today and the author states that the average attention span at the end of 2013 was 8 seconds. This is total attention span in normal life; the attention span is defined as “…the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted”

There are other great stats such as 17% of pages views are under 4 seconds and the average viewing time of an internet video.

My point is quite obvious so I won’t go on. If you made it this far then you have a better attention span then average. I was most happy to learn that having the attention span of a goldfish at 9 seconds is better than the human average so I won’t be so hard on myself in meetings from now on.

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Facebook Organic Reach and the Futility of Like Farming


If you’ve spent 5 minutes with a marketer in the past 5 years you will have heard them talk about paid, owned & earned media and their increased focus on digital marketing.

Many of these marketers will have also been responsible for ad campaigns on Facebook with the sole objective to procure ‘Likes’.

Like farming was always done in the mistaken belief that you could forgo an expensive website for a Facebook page, build a huge community of fans and talk to them for free. This was a panacea to the paid, owned, earned and digital marketing task and many marketers left it there.

The real problem was that when you add many social media channels to the mix your need POE triangle became a square; the fourth pillar is rented.

I never bought into Facebook as an ad platform in the beginning; firstly because of the terrible ad positions on the right hand side but mainly because I didn’t see the point of paying to recruit an audience you then had to pay Facebook to talk to again. Admittedly in the early days you could talk to many of your fans for free but there was still a lot of wasted money. My fear of the rented community was always that if Facebook decided to become a slum landlord you really were screwed.

That has sort of happened. We’ve seen organic reach decline for a while now and most reports say that we are as close to zero as possible.

This has caused uproar amongst the like farmers but if they didn’t have the foresight to realise that Facebook was never going to allow them to speak to ‘fans’ for free forever they deserve all they get.

I now buy into Facebook strongly. Custom audiences are a fantastic CRM tool; retargeting in the newsfeed works far better than creepy banners following audiences around and when you use a quality PMD the ad optimisation is peerless. That’s before taking into account that FB is arguably the best way to cut through on a mobile device.

Tie ups with Nielsen to crack online GRPs and the inclusion of companies such as Datalogix only serve to strengthen the case.

Like Farming still persists and many marketers are yet to grasp that Facebook isn’t a place for brands to have inane conversations. Audiences are used to the advertising now; it’s our job to make it quality & relevant.

Someone just needs to tell David Cameron.

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5 things to get right in 2014

The start of a new year is traditionally a time when people look forward; problem is I can’t stop looking back.

Pretty much every website I bought a Christmas present from has retargeted me with sales messages to inform everything I bought is now C. 50% cheaper.

We all know the presents we buy will hit the sales but we never used to have our noses rubbed in it quite this much, & the store stalking me most is the one discounting most heavily. Despite the fact my Wife loved the gifts and the shopping experience was fine I now despise this company.

Surely with all this big data knocking around retailers would have more sophisticated targeting strategies. All the value can’t come from basic retargeting alone; can it?

Anyway, back to the subject. It’s a great time for lists and predictions and I thought I’d add some of my own. The problem is my predictions are the same as everyone else’s. Perhaps that’s a good thing; people making predictions all read the same source material, have similar experiences navigating the market and so draw the same conclusions. I have seen a couple that aren’t the same as the rest but they are just weird.

So rather than make really clever predictions I’m going to state the bloody obvious. Often we are so worried about the next thing we forget to focus on things that can make a difference now; ending up so far in front to be behind.

I don’t think that iBeacons, The Internet of Things or Google Glass will change the world in 2014. 50% of big brand websites are still unfit to render on mobile devices

There are five things brands and agencies need to get right in the digital space and unsurprisingly they are all connected to each other.

  • Mobile ads
  • Content strategy
  • Using social networks as advertising platforms
  • Attribution
  • Programmatic ad delivery 

Mobile ads
Mobile is an expansive term. Many believe it to be a behaviour rather than a platform and while that sounds like a wanky sound bite it does makes sense.

Thinking about mobile ads specifically; 2014 will be the year when mobile page views outstrip desktop page views globally. Mobile is fast becoming the first screen and we all need to put ads on them which make a difference to the bottom line. In the long run I think phones will be more important than tablets because we are more likely to have a phone on us at all times. The 20 year old banner is not the best way to advertise in the mobile space but more about that in a minute.

Outside of Google killing it with Mobile search the two companies poised to make the biggest advancements in mobile advertising are Facebook and Twitter. Both utilise native ad formats which work on mobiles and both have fantastic acquisitions in Instagram and Vine that rely on great content and will advance further this year.

The smart brands will think about mobile first. From the way their site renders on a mobile device to the type of advertising that resonates best. 

Content strategies
There are a many well documented reasons why content is such a hot topic, many of us have employed successful content strategies for years but not necessarily for these two basic reasons:

Native ads works best on mobile phones and good content makes for good native ads. That’s pretty simple but if mobile is the future and studies suggest that native ads work better on phones then we all need to invest in good content strategies. Perhaps very simple ads akin to the Twitter Card or Facebook Newsfeed post are the immediate future of mobile advertising. They are more visible than the tiny banners in apps and more elegant than expanding ads which obscure the very content you want to read and eat into your data plan at the same time.

The second reason is Google’s new algorithm called hummingbird. It’s the biggest overhaul the company has ever made quietly making Google a semantic search engine. This means people will start asking google questions rather than just typing single words. Quality content will more valuable than ever for brands for this reason alone. The semantic web was top of most prediction lists in 2007 and has only really been realised now and without fanfare. 

Social networks as advertising platforms
This headline may sound silly but many brands focus only on CRM or community management and forget that social networks can be used for good old fashioned advertising and measured as such.

Facebook today is as big as the Internet was in 2004. If it has a problem increasing ad revenue it’s because many brands view it as a place to have cringe worthy conversations. The Corporate Condescending Brand Page captures them best.

In 2014, brands and agencies will wake up to the fact that a site with 32m UK users who check it multiple time throughout the day is a good place to put an overt marketing message rather than an inane post about how many sleeps it is until the weekend. Facebook sales guys don’t talk about talk about likes or shares any more. They focus on custom audiences and targeted reach.

Facebook has the reach, data and arguably the best mobile ad position available in the targeted reach block. By the end of 2014 brands cannot continue buying likes or trying to build their pages’ fan base. This article explains why.

Twitter has fantastic targeting capabilities and while brand conversations / CRM feels more at home in the medium the synergies with TV make it a place for overt marketing messages. 

We are moving away from the last click wins model; not fast enough but things will accelerate in 2014. This will ring true for all digital advertising but content marketing will force the agenda. As content becomes more important so will ways to measure how that content performs. Attributing the value evergreen content strategies add to the marketing mix will be crucial. We all need to understand what content works, how it works and what benchmarks to set ourselves. UM has been doing some great work with BuzzFeed for some time now to really understand this. 

RTB takes up all the column inches but programmatic isn’t just about that; it’s a new way of doing business. Agency Programmatic media buying initially focussed on replacing ad networks. CPMS were low and remnant inventory was traded with some data appended, most of it was retargeting. In 2014 we will start to see all commodity banners bought programmatically. It’s a more efficient way to trade across the board; buying, delivery, reporting and optimisation all benefit.

All agencies will introduce central programmatic buying points across all digital media (Display, Search, Video & Social posts) and across all screens. Retargeting a user with a relevant content based ad in their mobile newsfeed because they raised their hand in in another digital channel is extremely powerful. When all companies begin to employ sophisticated retargeting strategies like this I’ll be able to buy my Christmas presents without fear.

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