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.