Love ads

Love ads

: I really like this new online ad model that’s bubbling up from John Battelle, inspired by Ross Mayfield, who in turn quoted me (lately linked by Marc Canter and Doc Searls).

The idea, in sum, is that an advertiser makes ads available and publishers (read: bloggers) select the ads that work for their sites (that is, interest their readers and perform financially). Their readers (read: bloggers), in turn, can take an ad they like and put it on their sites (giving the first blogger a small cut of the action). Advertisers know where all these ads appear (and whether the sites meet their rules; presumably they can pull ads). Advertisers pay only on performance and can refill the ad pot whenever they want or let the ad die if it doesn’t perform or has met its goal.

As John says, what’s great about this model is that it puts the publisher back in control. But it’s more than that: It gives the advertiser, the publisher, and the reader all more control — taking control away from a blind network such as Google. Most important: It makes advertising relevant again.

The problem with Google AdSense et al is that both the publisher and the advertiser lose all control to Google and real relevance is a crapshoot (with good odds, but a crapshoot nonetheless): The advertiser picks the mere coincidence of a word across sites he can’t select; the publisher has essentially no control over the ads that appear and no control over the performance of the ad. In the end, advertiser, publisher, and reader are all less than optimally served. Google AdSense is working only because it’s the first. But it’s not the best.

The real power of this medium is that it is about relationships. As Doc said to me over lunch a few days ago, markets aren’t just conversations; they are relationships. What advertisers should be striving for — and what technology and network companies should strive to give them — is not a relationship with a word but a relationship with a consumer.

: There’s another wrinkle: When advertisers pay on performance (that is, clicks), the publisher is penalized if the advertiser’s creative sucks. This has been a problem since the start of advertising online.

So if you really want to be really ballsy, the way to extend the Battelle/Mayfield idea is this:

Let the consumers create the ads.

Oh, sure, that sounds dangerous: It may be off message, the agency will fret. It could make the wrong promises, the client could worry. It could be offensive, the lawyers will complain.

OK, so build in some control: Make a compact with your publisher/blogger (read: consumer) partners: If you want to create an ad for our product (rather than just take the ad we, the agency, created), then we, the agency, get to approve it before it goes up. We, the agency, promise to be open about this: We will kill ads only if they violate the law or a clear set of rules. Otherwise, sure, go ahead, sell our products. Who better to sell them than fellow consumers? As I’ve been saying lately, a key to this medium is that it tears down the authority of media (and marketers) and establishes the authority of the audience. So let it rip.

And here’s what makes this idea really work: First, the audience gets to see that an ad has been created by a fellow consumer and can go to that consumer’s site; it brings an element of accountability and thus credibility.

Second, the agency can take those ads created by those consumers and use them elsewhere — and pay the consumer who created them when they perform. Everybody wins. Well, almost everybody…

The only problem with that is that the creative department of the agency just went home early. But we can’t let that stand in the way of a brave new world. Clients won’t.

: Envision all this another way. Start with advertising nirvana:

A consumer who buys your product sells it for you to another consumer and you the marketer paid nothing to market it. OK, dream on.

Now step down the ladder one step from the bright light of marketing heaven: The consumer sells your product by creating an ad for you. Another consumer finds an audience for you by picking the ads that work well for his audience, for he knows his audience best. So you give them each a share of your incremental sales. And you have no risk. Still heavenly, eh?

Now take another step down the ladder: The consumers’ ads don’t work well or this is a new product they don’t understand or your product is dull (the classic online toilet paper example), so you create the ad but the targeting still comes not from the coincidence of words but from the wisdom of publisher/bloggers knowing their audience. Still good.

Now take one more step down: Nobody’s putting up your ad because it’s dull (“Squeezably Soft” just isn’t cutting it); relevance alone is not getting your ad out there; so you find yourself in an auction marketplace paying more to encourage placement of your ad (but, again, you have no risk because you pay

only on performance). Still beats the present models.

: All this operates under a simple law:

Put the consumer in control.

I’ve been screeching that in many a business meeting lately about many very different sorts of problems. But if you keep reminding yourself to put the consumer in control, you will win (if you deserve to; that is, if you’re not producing overpriced, useless crap). Whether it’s news or cars or cereal, consumers know what they want better than you, the marketers, do. And if you can’t talk directly to consumers, then talk through their friends (read: the bloggers they read). And if your message isn’t resonating with them, then let the consumers talk to fellow consumers. Put the consumer in control and you will win. The 2004 corrollary to that: Put a dumb computer network in control, and, in the longrun, you will lose.

: There’s just one issue in all of this: Nobody has a good name for these ads. And you always need a snappy name. I propose love ads: Consumer create ads for products they love. Publishers place ads they know their readers will love. And who can’t love that?

: UPDATE: Ross Mayfield adds up links in the discussion already.

  • sickles

    This is your blogging at its best! I’ve been making comments recently about what I see as some of your name calling, but this why I read you; you find some of the best new stuff happening.
    This one particularly struck home because the same thought had struck me, but not as an online ad. I was commenting the local paint store owner on the virtues of Purdy brushes and Benjamin Moore paint. I couldn’t say enough good about them:
    “Purdy brushes just keep the best line. Why bother with taping at all? The brushes are 2-3 times more but they actually save you money and I enjoy painting with them! And Benjamin Moore paints go on like butter!”
    I’d write ads for these people in a second. Aren’t they just like testimonials though? I wonder what a Jeff Jarvis “love ad” would sound like?
    “Jeff Jarvis is researching and finding a whole new way to understand media and its interactions…I read him daily and you should too!”
    Probably needs a little work.

  • Brilliant. Ditto what sickles said – this is why your site is a must-read.
    Tom Peters talks of consumers and says that they do not want to just buy brands, but join them. Your approach here is very much part of that. Community. Control with de-centralization. Belief in the “rest of us.”
    I have a question: where else can this model enjoy application? Outside of advertising… what happens if you take this model laterally?
    You’ve got me thinking!

  • Brett: Great question.
    Well, in a sense, Dean tried to do it in politics. His community effort was not, as I’ve said before, about substance (that pretty much has to come from the top). It was, instead, about organization: about getting voters to get voters to vote for you.
    I think it can work in product design, as well: Challenge Treo users to design the next Treo. Who cares if they’re not engineers? They’re customers and they’ll have ideas rooted in their experience and needs.
    I do believe it will work in media beyond just blogs: The first true reality show won’t be controlled like the ones we see now; it will be the best of what the former audience produces on its own.
    Can it work in education? I’m not sure. We didn’t send our kids to Montessori school and I hated having graduate assistants at Northwestern.
    What else?

  • Regarding product design, that’s a splendid example. Let me take a step back from this to paint a bigger picture.
    Society was once local and conversational. But then, front porches and driveway chit chats became back decks and fenced-in yards. We knew less about and spoke less with our neighbor. Entertainment grew to become inside the house rather than outside the house, and instead of staring out through the window at the world outside, we stare through Windows at the world outside.
    With the advent of the Internet, we learn that we can once again have conversation with one another. We can say things we might not have otherwise said to anyone else because not only are we touching each other again (through forums and such), but we’re severely honest – because the greater the distance, the less the accountability. Nothing is more remote than the anonymous forum poster. Flame away.
    In the 80’s, business grew at a huge scale into new industries and new methods and new mergers, and there was no accountability because it was hard to see what was happening. Corporations enjoyed great distance and little accountability as a result. But then comes Yahoo and Google and we can now begin to “see” under the skirt of these corporations. Hence: busted.
    The downside is that we see with increasing accuracy the dirty laundry of one another’s lives. These is no hiding. It’s not like we’re using binoculars to stare into the windows of our neighbor to see what they’re doing in the bedroom; it’s more like we’ve planted X10 cameras through the house.
    The upside is that we can talk like never before. We’ve missed the relationships and we’re making up for lost time.
    What’s happening is transparency in communication and relationships – whether we like it or not.
    So if that’s the movement, those that capitalize on it will benefit. Joe Trippi’s usage of this behind-the-scenes relationship-building trusts that those of similar beliefs will find each other – and do! Your advertising model trusts the zeal of those who join the brand – and everybody wins!
    Central control of the message is over – because people will fact-check and people will talk and people will find each other and people will feed off each other and buzz begins. Truth will get air that might not otherwise have been reported and “gotchas” will get exaggerated air. No centralized control of the message.
    So in this model, it is individual control, quality, and transparency that win – because the truth and the gotchas will both find life. People don’t want centralized manipulation. We can become too smart to be handled. Therefore, linked, true word of mouth is the best model. It allows me to decide.
    To see where there will be seismic shifts in industries lateral to your advertising model, look for the industries where either quality or transparency are highly suspect. And so to join hands with another thread on your site, let’s look at health care, which seems to be the least likely industry to exploit this model.
    Where is there a lack of transparency? In pricing, in doctor quality, in the role of insurance companies on policies/pricing, in the actual cost to us. We don’t realize the actual cost of health care because it is spread among Medicare withdrawal from our paycheck, co-payments, reduced salary in the form of employer contribution to insurance, our paycheck contribution to insurance, out-of-pocket expenses for over-the-counter meds, etc. (If you want a lot of money from people, nickel and dime them by several seemingly disconnected methods.)
    But if the health care industry used your advertising model, what would it look like? I would say to look at some of the suggestions given by the smart folks in that thread. Transparent pricing, transparent doctor quality, individual control and choice of care… eventually, the web site will be built (if it isn’t already) that allows people to buzz locally about doctors and nurses and hospitals, just as is happening now with reporters who write stories. The doctors and the AMA may then take actions that look like the RIAA, but – there is no centralized control of the message.
    One person commenting said that self-payers pay more than insured folk for a given item of care. I told that to a friend of mine who knows doctor/hospital pricing who said that on the surface, that’s true, but underneath, the insured person’s bill will spread the cost among two separate items, where the self-payer might only get one. (She had a specific example of that which blew my mind.) We, the public, don’t know this stuff. But we want to know. And the truth will get out.
    The market will eventually noodle this through. Some provider will move in this direction and be the revolutionary health care provider just as Joe Trippi was the revolutionary campaign manager. Its transparency will sidestep managed care and emphasize individual choice of care. Which means that it’s irrelevant what the government does today in moving toward single-payer. I don’t think it will last. It’s the opposite of the model.
    You mentioned education. I think the homeschool movement is exactly this. They are a very under-the-radar and linked-arms threat to public education and the movement grows bigger each day. The performance of the homeschooled exceeds the public system frequently enough to cause the administrators to disparage the homeschoolers, but their centralized control of message isn’t working.
    I think the hallmark of this model is that some amateurs frequently look better than the professionals. Whenever you see this, that’s how you know that the model is at work. Some of the amateur ad developers will outclass the pros at the ad agency.

  • Excellent post Jeff!!
    I am working to spread the word: