Monthly Archives: December 2011

When the Ball Drops, Do Event Driven Apps Make Sense?

Heading feverishly fast into the new year, this is the last entry until January 3rd.  If you’re like me, you may not have all your plans locked for the New Year’s Eve celebration – but a new App may help you be a part of the largest celebration no matter where you are.  The organizers of the Times Square NYE festivities have released the Times Square Ball App that has multiple features to enhance your celebration wherever you are in the world.  Users will be able to watch a live video feed of the 6 hour coverage provided by livestream or watch the fixed ball camera feed.  Other features include being able to share your NYE photos and find more information about the Times Square celebration and its history. The App seems to be quite rich for such an event, but it poses the question of whether it makes sense to create an App for a single event like this.

It seems that the creators of the App forged a strong partnership with Toshiba to enable some of the shared images through the App to appear on Toshiba’s screen directly below the ball.  Toshiba receives some strong promotional placement in both the App experience and its social sharing features.  But then what?Is the chance of having an image appear on the screen enough of an incentive to download the App?  That seems to be the main gist of their promotional video.  Will people care enough to have the App so that they can stream the video and be a virtual part of the Times Square celebration?  This is the piece that is the most interest to me personally, but I don’t know that it will be what drives me to download the App. They tease that there will be Times Square benefits throughout the year, but it is unclear what they are.

Toshiba has the opportunity to carry the product through the year if they leverage the user-generated assets that are uploaded.  If they find a way to really bridge from one year to the next – or at least into the 1st quarter of 2012 in a meaningful way, then it can end up being about more than just one night.  It is also not clear whether they plan to do so or not.

It all comes back to the concern about building Apps for singular events.  There was an influx of development for movie promotional Apps when the mobile Apps were the new, bright and shiny object.  Most of them were simple with limited use beyond the release.  A few were made with the title in mind, but provided enjoyment beyond and without the film it was promoting.  Other annual events have introduced Apps to help engage audiences or offer value adds.  Their true value to the advertiser or financer is whether it meets their needs or goals.  

I would question their value if it is all about driving awareness for an event or product release.  If the App is developed in the interest of increasing engagement and providing a longer interaction tail and perhaps stronger loyalty, it would be more worth it from the development perspective.  Then its all about development and building something that resonates with users and drives the downloads you can leverage into future growth – whatever your chosen parameter is.

In relation to the Times Square App, I don’t know that its more than a gimmick.  The live component seems valuable only for those on the East Coast and, even then, only if you are celebrating somewhere far from a TV and want to gather around your mobile.  With so many other ways to share your photos on social media platforms without the help of this App, I wonder how many people will care – especially if the chance of having your picture show on the big screen is limited at best.  (I would rather take my chance of having involvement with a big screen in Times Square be related to the Hyundai game that is currently running underneath the Toshiba screen.)

Perhaps they will figure out a way to grow the App depending on number of downloads and increase the value and benefit well beyond New Years Eve. Again, it all comes down to what their goals were for the App…

Here’s hoping you have (or had) a wonderful holiday season and phenomenal New Year’s Eve – and an even better 2012!  See you next year!

Finding the Open Model That Works for Tracking Items of Interest

Someone seems to finally understand that users want to know availability of movies regardless of platform and keep track across multiple devices.  A new product called Watch It is now in Beta. It allows you to add movies that you’re interested in to your queue and share it.  Regardless of whether it is coming to cinemas, Blu-ray and DVD, VOD or Digital Download, it will let you know when it is available in any format and provides a direct link to any one of those forms of distribution.  Another key is that they are not requiring users to go to any one App to access, the feature can supposedly be placed and supported on any App.

Of course, it remains to be seen how successful it is in transactions, but the fact that it is open to any placement and any platform is something to keep an eye on – perhaps even more than transactions.  With many retailers, publishers and CPG companies introducing programs and Apps that require a closed system to access their own specific content, I’m concerned those companies are headed in the wrong direction.  If users want to gain access to stuff, do they want to have to keep track of the many different Apps just to access it?  That’s one of the reasons iTunes has been so successful – from a digital download perspective, users know they can go to one place to access most everything and they only need to know one password to get it.

In the case of Watch It, they still have that one location specifically for movies in any form and acts as a solid aggregator of that information with the proper links.  It probably won’t be as easy as one password for all, but that’s something they should be working toward.  They are also primed to be able to work closely with all the studios to ensure the provision of an anchor for viewers to follow their product through all phases of distribution.  Once they get enough users, this element could prove to be one of their larger revenue points.

There are other products that are available that could probably add the overlying feature, but it could take too long or be outside of what they are meant to be. So, while it could be cool, we are still far away from seeing if it amounts to anything.  Worst case scenario is that we track how it does as a possible model for future open applications.

The Power Of A Facebook Like and the Blurring Line Between User Content and Advertising Blurs Further

Have you ever had a party where you invite a new friend who doesn’t know any of your friends and a few weeks later, this new friend is spending a lot of time with your friends? Facebook’s Sponsored Stories are about to become many of those new friends that insert themselves in your friend’s lives – perhaps more than you want to.  Sponsored Stories was launched a short while ago as a persistent piece of advertising inventory on Facebook.  They show up on the right column next to your news feed so that you can see it at any time.  Advertisers like it because it does not require a user or their friends to be viewing at all hours to see a comment about a product.  In 2012, that line is going to blur further as Facebook will be introducing the sponsored stories into users actual news feed automatically – sometimes based only on your having liked a product or brand.

Courtesy MediaPost

 The Inside Facebook blog explains how the new integration will work – with the items being shown in the same size and form as your regular news feed items with the only difference being a small “sponsored” callout in the lower corner of the item.  The items in the feed will supposedly not only consist of things you are connected to, but also your friend’s activities – forcing us to evaluate how much we want that active poster to be our friend…

While the word is that the change will come in gradually and users will only have one sponsored news feed item per day.  There is no clarity about how long that one per day will last.  The initial advantage for advertisers of the sponsored stories was that they could gain static placement on the page of users and their friends rather than hoping that enough friends see an organic post prior to it moving down the line.  Does this new iteration just add more clutter to the feed and diminish the sincerity and power of user feeds as a whole?

Facebook likens this new feed to what Twitter does with its Promoted Tweets, but it remains to be seen whether the actual presentation will feel the same. While there is a legal case related to this type of endorsement concern going on, I think the bigger issue will be the dilution of genuine communications within Facebook.  This could have longer-term ramifications for the company.  What happens when the one per day limit is removed and then people stop updating as frequently? Does that mean the ratio of sponsored updates will be greater than organic ones?  Will Facebook follow the short-term dollar signs of advertisers rather than the long-term health of the product?

It could end up having the effect that users don’t Like anything at all or participate in promotions that place endorsements into their feed.  The implications across the board could be huge.

A Swift Removal of Eyelash Insanity

Say it ain’t so!

Yes.  Advertising has been known to be over the top and, sometimes, untrue. Whether it was the Volvo ads from a few decades ago that induced a lawsuit because they claimed elephants could walk on their (reinforced for the commercial) cars without crushing them or airbrushing bodies to make beautiful people even, umm… more so, the limits have been pushed to “prove” a point or grab attention.  So, it’s a little silly that the first US ad to be pulled due to pressure from the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division is all about Taylor Swift’s eyelashes.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think that all advertising should not tell lies, but sometimes you’ve got to fake it to make it real.  Why else would there be so many Los Angeles streets that are wet during car commercials when it hardly rains in LA? Why is it a known tool of the trade to add corn starch to liquid foods in commercials to make them look creamier for the camera? Why else do actors and opera singers wear such exaggerated make-up features on stage?  You’ve got to be able to convey the product in a way that can be seen and noticed in an instant. 

Courtesy Procter & Gamble

In the case of P&G’s Cover Girl mascara ad featuring Taylor Swift, there’s no way to have the lashes read without doing something.  Perhaps the faux pas was their admittance that photoshopping had something to do with it by placing “Lashes enhanced in post-production” in small print.  They should be able to present their product in a natural way, but will anyone be able to read it?  Additionally, it is questionable that  anyone who believes that by using any beauty product they will look like the model in the ad is grounded in reality.  P&G’s placement of the line in small print seemed like an honest attempt to present what they were doing honestly.  Might it have been better for them to place in small print “You may never look this great” in the ad?

Not to make light of it, but the organization that called them out on the ad has somewhat of a scary name.  The National Advertising Division is an internal watchdog – effectively keeping things clean from the inside.  The name itself elicits comparisons to nefarious organizations both real and fictional.  When you look at their site, it is filled with recommendations about advertising across the spectrum.  Many of the claims seem to be solid from a technical standpoint – like Coppertone’s claim that a product protects consumers from 100% of UV rays. But, most everything relates to contextual claims, not imagery used in the advertising.

Which comes back to the original concern.  If digitally altering an image is grounds for it to be removed or presenting products in staged situations makes it false advertising, we’re in trouble.  I understand that making claims about what beauty and health products can do is dangerous and not good.  But, isn’t it understood that the nature of that advertising in itself is unreal?  Who’s going to have the lighting that’s in the pictures?

Advertising is essentially a form of storytelling and entertainment. As such, there is a necessity to accentuate elements in unreal ways.  The product’s features need to be true, but they’ve got to be treated in such a way to get a point across.  If there is going to be a backlash on ads like this, then perhaps having celebrities in those ads don’t make sense either.  Either way, their effectiveness will be diminished. 

Perhaps the small print needs to be more on point like I partially joked about above – sort of like all the horrible side effects that some drug ads warn us about. It’s debatable whether P&G handled this properly, but I’ve got to give them credit for even including the small print in the first place.

I’m a guy and I’ve got nice, long eyelashes, but there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to look like Taylor Swift and I don’t need an oversight division to protect me on that point.

What You Want and What You Get In Digital Video Advertising

Lately, the analytics about digital video ad challenges and projections have become hot with both Casale Media and Break Media releasing their research on the subject.  Break Media just released their report based on the growth projections for video ads and video ad networks in general, while Casale Media released theirs a couple months ago from the planning angle and challenges as a whole.  Both completed their surveys in partnership with Advertiser Perceptions, but each end product was tailored to their standing as a publisher/network (Break) and Agency (Casale.)  ROI was also the intense concern discussed in both. What the findings pointed to was a disconnect between what video ads are most capable of and what is expected.  What you want and what you get in digital video advertising is not always clear.

Here’s the disconnect:  Advertisers responded in Casale’s report that the overwhelmingly most important function of digital video advertising is to increase or build awareness of brands, products/services and provide more detail about the same. They then responded in Break’s report that the highest measurements for video success were click-through rate, product sales and visits to the brand website.  Brand awareness was fourth – just above video completion.

So, before going into any specifics, the most important reasons for the video ads was the fourth-highest barometer of successful attributes.  Of course there’s going to be a challenge in measuring ROI or reaching the ROI milestones when you’re not even measuring the effectiveness based on the strength of video ads in the first place.

Courtesy of Casale Media

Some of those faults in logic – which lead to the confusion are:

  • Break’s report specifies that the overwhelming preference is for Pre-Roll placements – meaning that the video must be viewed in its entirety before the user can view the video they actually selected. If your key measurable is video completion, then this is good for you.  If you want a click-through, this placement doesn’t fit.  When was the last time you clicked out of something prior to getting to your chosen destination (video) due to an ad – no matter how good it is?  I can’t remember one occasion, personally.
  • There is no mention of run-time for those video ads.  The product and its goals would weigh heavily as a determining factor whether you go for a 15 or a 30.  Some networks won’t even let advertisers run 30s, so that pre-planning is crucial.
  • There is a discussion point related to success as driving sales with no mention of those markers or what the call to action might be.  With media providers increasing their technological options, the opportunity to test stronger calls to action or incentives differs this form of media from all others. If an exact correlation to driving sales is needed, those incentives are required – or the media mix needs to leave out other sales drivers so that you can judge your ROI.  The problem is that you might not end up with the strongest campaign possible.
  •  One of the challenges was the lack of consistent pricing model options other than CPM (Cost Per Thousands) and CPC (Cost Per Click) or even CPV (Cost Per View) across the board.  Of course, the one that advertisers wish they had the most was CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) while that was offered the least of the models presented.  I understand that CPA would be great because it would provide a direct correlation to sales, but if the overall thinking is that video ads are for brand awareness, this is off base.  And, even if you can get a publisher or network to serve your video on a CPA basis, it would effectively over-saturate the market with your ads to generate the revenue it would need – thus possibly making your brand or product a disliked one.

Video advertising has many other nuances, but it definitely cannot be considered in a vaccuum in most cases.  Break’s report focuses briefly on where the video ad dollars will be taken from and the best worthwhile number was 38% representing ad budget growth.  The highest number was actually 45% for online display, but that’s essentially irrelevant unless you’re relating it to mobile spending as video ad executions are not mutually excluded from traditional online display formats.

If video ads are best utilized as awareness generators – which I think they are in 9 cases out of 10 – they need to be thought about and planned for in the context of the rest of the media mix.  Its ROI should also be derived more similarly to existing media platforms like television, out-of-home and print (and social media to an extent) since they all play a part in bring the consumer to the purchase or product relationship.

I think much of the confusion and barriers to use (or justification of ROI) stem from the inherent knowledge that digital can physically enable users to interact in ways they can’t with other media, but doesn’t reflect human nature and whether users actually respond in those ways.  Take into account that we are still talking about linear video experiences that are placed in between content that people are navigating to and from.  Just like people watch television commercials in order to get to the other side to see their program continue, the same goes for people who are navigating the internet or their mobile devices. There might be some great content that will drive further engagement or make the video their actual destination (and, hopefully derive the click or transaction) but advertisers and their planners are setting themselves up for disappointment if they are relying entirely on videos and their limited measurements as the key to success.

These issues are not limited to digital video ads.  They are prevalent across the board in digital media and will be so until there is a paradigm shift in how we address ROI and its relation to all other forms of paid and earned media.  Until then, we will continue to respond to the exciting headlines about numbers and penetration with no real meat while some smart marketers build an atmosphere within their companies that takes all of the variables into account to provide what you want –  a measurable and meaningful ROI.

A Terribly Great Exemplification of Viral

Just in time for the holidays, we are seeing proof that many factors are needed to create a “Viral” video – and when they hit, they are good.  As if viral videos were as easy to achieve as a full and healthy breakfast, the request for them is often and frequent.  Before YouTube and other video sites became huge, there was a demand for viral online features, but now videos should be so simple, shouldn’t they?  Most would say good viral just needs to be strong content, but that’s not really the case.  It is a mixture of content, placement, timing and promotion.  The hot video from Jimmy Kimmel’s show exemplifies the complexities perfectly. Providing a phenomenal tool for parents to ensure their kids will like each and every present they receive for real, he ran this segment on his show and then followed it up with a posting on YouTube – which has already garnered more than 4 million views in just two days.

You’ve probably already seen this video and while you probably laughed a lot and thought for a second about what you would give your child, relative or friend to ensure they absolutely love your actual gift.  But you also might figure that this might not be a big deal from a viral perspective because Jimmy Kimmel Live has such a built-in audience. That’s where it becomes a good study what ingredients are needed in order for a video to become viral.

Jimmy Kimmel Live has its own YouTube channel where they post a heap of videos as a marketing platform for the show.  They have tune-in information and also use the available space to list who the guests will be on upcoming shows. Of the many videos that they have posted exclusively, nineteen have garnered more than a million views.  When checking out a sampling of those, most of them rely on star power with Justin Bieber, Brittney Spears and a Barak Obama Auto-tune exemplifying the type of star power.  Anything else really just relies on the quality of the content. So, you could deduce that you just need star-power to push your video from nice to viral.  But that’s not the case when you look at all the star power that garnered less than 200,000 views.  I know that those numbers are not anything to disregard, but in the non-scientific study here, a million is the barometer of success. It’s also the figure to prove a point that just because of a national television platform, it doesn’t mean that just any video is assured of truly becoming viral due to launching on such a platform.  Many more videos on the channel are lucky to just get a few hundred views.

The timeliness of the video could not be any better.  This isn’t just because of the upcoming holidays just being a couple of weeks away – it taps into the general mood as we prepare for those holidays in the midst of a crappy economy.  The content narrative plays right into the atmosphere of concern and injects some laughter into it.  Again, not being scientific here, but I don’t know if the piece would have even been done if everything was rosy and there wasn’t a bit of worry that kids might not appreciate the presents we can actually afford to buy them.

A smart mechanic of this is the crowd-sourcing element.  Kimmel asked the viewers to create the videos and post them to YouTube. The show was then able to piece them together to create this video.  It was a model they had executed successfully just after this past Halloween. The video asked parents to record their kids responses to finding out their Halloween candy had been eaten.  It was posted on November 2nd and has had 24 million views since. To crowd-source in such a way that asks people to create their own content and post it so that it may be incorporated into a larger piece has been successful in a number of instances.  The byproduct is more buzz around the type of video with the only negative being the reduced ability to find the final video you were hoping to build from all the smaller ones.  In Kimmel’s case, this execution was much more controlled than others in the past – like the Longest Moonwalk that came out a year or so ago.

The piece has been picked up by outlets near and far with most lauding how funny it is.  They also point to the more risqué or controversial elements – all of which lead to more views and much more virality.

In the end, they did this piece because its good content for their show.  They know from past experiences that good content will also help extend the brand online, but treat that as a byproduct.  They did not set out to do something viral, just entertaining.  The viral can happen, but to think you can set out to create a viral piece is foolish.  It simplifies the proposition if you just set out to create something good rather than viral.  Being good is part of the solution – providing the platform and buzz is the rest.  Even with a good platform, it won’t do anything if it is not entertaining or engaging.

So, if you’ve learned nothing else, don’t put out crap because it will make kids cry and that’s not funny – or, actually, sometimes it is.  In the least, it will make people appreciate when something is great.

Sometimes Free Is Like a Hock of Ham

With the budding sphere of cloud or online data locker’s taking shape, a number of players are engaging land grab initiatives in the hopes of locking down market share.  While it is a good idea to offer free movies to enable consumer sampling of the product, the varied executions illustrate the core problem with the initiative. That core issue is both the lack of a standard and the inherent requirement to download different platforms depending on the distributor. So, even with a couple of free movies ready for download, there’s still a barrier to complete the transaction due to its varied steps.

Approaching this from the consumer’s perspective and looking at just two options – Best Buy’s CinemaNow and UltraViolet through Flixster – the execution is frustrating.  We’ve already discussed how one of the barriers to adoption of UltraViolet is that there are different distribution profiles for each of the studios.  In this UltraViolet case, the distribution is through Flixster.  The free offering provides the opportunity to select from a select number of titles, but it limits users to only being able to view through their Flixster Collections App.  Regardless of whether you already have iTunes installed, the user must download the App.

For CinemaNow, users are required to download the program, Roxio Now, to download the movies.  You can’t use iTunes if you have it and the only option provided on a Mac is to “watch now” through streaming as their product is powered by Roxio and they don’t seem to have an iOS version to offer.

After (or if) the user becomes comfortable with the different distribution points, there’s still confusion as they can only view their films through disparate players on their computer. I would have to search the different players to find the movie I’m looking for rather than just going to my usual one on that computer (i.e. iTunes or Windows Media Player.)

As users are becoming more weary of downloading Apps and Programs to their computers due to privacy, asking them to download yet another one is certainly a challenge.  People have been burned enough on PCs by unleashing viruses and malware over the years that they are not as likely to just download a bunch of software every time they are asked – like they used to.

I absolutely understand the business objectives of getting people to sample the experience and are beholden to technology partners and others to make it a reality. But, in the rush for getting a piece of the market, is that type of execution limiting or exclusionary?  One of the reasons iTunes has been so succesful is not only the availability of huge amounts of product, but consistency of consumption. The film industry should have taken that into consideration when launching UltraViolet or any other data locker.  It is  obvious that Best Buy or any other retailer would want to manage their own distribution and platform – if only there was an option that was more seamless. The powers that be are working behind the scenes are attempting to bring some seamless to reality, but its a challenge.

In the end, these free offerings lead to the same conundrum as the free lunch – when a kosher person being offered a plate of ham. There is a definite need for companies to move quickly to establish market share, but it might be more advantageous for groups to really work together – and look to leverage strong existing solutions – to ensure having a piece of something rather that a whole lot of nothing.