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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Tweet the Power

If you are the type of person to read this you will love Twitter as much as I do. It’s more than a website, social network or channel. It is a medium in its own right; an invention I believe will be seen as important as the telephone by future generations.

Google and Facebook overwhelmingly dominate Search and Social Networking for most of the world but if you think really really hard, you may see a slim possibility that either could be replaced. I don’t know who by but there’s a chance.

If I try the same exercise with Twitter I draw a blank.

Visualise Google Search and I see the search box. With Facebook it’s a mobile app fast becoming an endless photo album of other people’s kids. Trying to visualise Twitter is more difficult. It’s like a raging river formed of innumerable tributaries; thousands of people standing at the various shores scratching a living like cyber-fishermen (I said it was difficult). Point is; Twitter is important and I love it.

So imagine my joy last Sunday when Chuck D began following me. I’m sure you all know who Chuck D is but on the off chance you don’t; he is the frontman of the greatest rap group of all time: Public Enemy. I grew up listening to PE religiously and still know the words to ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’ by heart. I don’t often tweet famous people but I’ve tweeted Chuck a number of times and when I received his follow notification I was ecstatic. I wanted to tell the world about it but my wife assured me that tweeting about how cool it was that Chuck D was following me was decidedly not cool. The great man may even unfollow me because of it; so I kept my calm.

I texted my mate Leo who is the only other person I know who would really care and he text me back the reply: Amazing! How many people is he following?

In work the next day I casually mentioned it to someone; first question: ‘How many people is he following then?’

OK I admit it; at the time he was following 17k people (he is now up to 18k). That’s a reasonable sized pool but I still felt closer to Chuck D. He has seen my picture, read my name & something I wrote then took an action. If I divide the 18k universe of people he follows into the population of the entire world I am in in the top 0.00026% of people he is interacting with. If the world is too wide a net I’ll take the active Twitter universe and that bumps me to the top 0.00779%. That means he isn’t following 99.99221% of people on Twitter.

Twitter often talk about the service being what connects you to what you love most whatever it may be and I think this proves it. I am definitely closer to Chuck than I was this time last week.

This all reminded me why I loved Twitter in the first place. Before we all had smartphones & the internet in our pockets. When I joined in late 2006; you had to send Tweets either via the website or on a dumb phone as an SMS to a short code. When you received a tweet it came as a text message from the tweeter. There weren’t too many people to follow in 2006 and to be honest I didn’t understand it at first. My first ever tweet is so embarrassing I’ll only admit it to you in person and when drunk.

One of the first people I followed was a guy called Larry Hryb or @MajorNelson. He works for Xbox in Redmond and is a true social media pioneer. He started tweeting codes for free Xbox games or discounts and would tweet while having meetings with famous games developers to provide followers with the inside track. He added value to his community and Xbox gamers were much closer to the brand than had ever been possible before.  By no means was he the first and only; he just was the first who made Twitter make sense to me.

In some way; receiving tweets as text messages made you feel even closer to the tweeter than you do now. It was true 1-1 marketing in a world where SMS was the most intrusive message you could receive. It’s strange how it seems all so archaic now in Twitter terms.

Last week Twitter announced a stripped down version of the service that doesn’t rely on the internet & will connect even more people; primarily in the emerging world. I’m sure the technology is very different to how Twitter did it in 2006 but the result will be the same.  Soon there will be millions more people with access to the medium for the first time. I bet you that Chuck D won’t follow many of them though.

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John Lewis, Content Marketing & the TV

This won’t be a shock but this year’s John Lewis TV ad is branding at its finest. It has the best elements of old school TV advertising and is an impeccable example of content marketing. These two elements combined make it inherently digital.

People often ask me what advertising works in digital. In their heads I think they are taking cue from Minority Report and conjuring fusions of data with mobile apps that do everything but make the tea. It’s probably a lot simpler than any of that; perhaps you need to do what John Lewis did. Perhaps you need to start with a bloody good idea.

Firstly; they did something so glaringly obvious it’s something that many people in the media industry have seem to have forgotten: They made a high quality TV ad that people would want to watch. Or looking at it through another lens; they created a high quality piece of content and distributed it via TV.

This is not a new thing. It’s like many of the ads of yesteryear. On the surface it doesn’t try to be digital, it just tells a very nice story, a story that you don’t have to go online to continue. John Lewis is confident enough in the quality of the content and understands TV audiences are intelligent enough to know it’s going to be on YouTube if they want to watch it again anyway; just like everything else is.

John Lewis is not alone. Another recent TV ad getting rave reviews in digital channels is the US Van Damme Volvo ad. It’s another great piece of content that people can find and share via digital channels. Both ads are good examples of buzzwords we all hear a lot at the moment: ‘Content Marketing’ and ‘Earned Media’.

Neither ad overtly pushes product, but both engage consumers through choice content and have earned significant digital media exposure through the brilliance of the execution. Lots of media folk talk about earned media but the thing many fail to realise is that you have to earn it. Brilliant content is one way to do that.

Many TV ads from the inception of commercial TV were borne from content marketing strategies. Let’s not forget that Soap Operas are named so because the first ones were underwritten by companies such as P&G or Unilever. I grew up in the 80s and so much TV advertising felt like content then. My Granddad often joked that he only watched TV for the ads. This was a time when a Pepsi ad was really a Robert Palmer or Michael Jackson music video, switch the channel and Paula Abdul and Elton John were duetting for Coke. The Gold Blend ads took the form of the aforementioned soap opera with a couple of flirty neighbours. Newspapers would even write opinion pieces on these ads earning quite a bit of media in the process.

People now flock to YouTube to actively watch ads; I guess the 80’s equivalent was the ‘Clive James on TV’ show when people would happily tune in to ITV on a Sunday night to happily watch half an hour of amusing ads.

The John Lewis ad is currently 2nd on the UK Viral Video chart for the past 30 days.

There is so much noise nowadays many marketers are running around trying to use data or clever tactics to cut through. Perhaps they need to start with a good idea. Granted; not every brand has high production budget and Christmas only comes once a year but you just need to take a look at the Airbnb ad made entirely with Vines to understand that you don’t need a Lilly Allen song and massive TV budget to make the grade.

In the 80’s it was enough to run a great piece of content and let word of mouth and broader media help spread the word. That’s exactly what happens now but digital channels and social media make the spread instant and the earned media more explosive and measurable.

John Lewis didn’t stop there though. Anyone watching the ad online and clicking through to the site to continue the story will find an interactive e book that can be viewed on mobile devices, a Christmas card making app and a link to the Lilly Allen Song. They have even made the whole thing tangible by informing of the Bear and Hare cave installation in store where kids can have their photos taken. That’s without taking into account the Bear and Hare merchandise which sold out in no time.

It’s a gross oversimplification to say that making a great piece of content is enough to cut through in the modern era but it’s a pretty good starting point.

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