Now this is targeted advertising: I was looking at Platial — the site that lets you push pins into Google Maps — for something I’m writing and I found an ad there for the Sony GPS add-on to cameras, which lets you record your location with your photo, a cool device I saw in action at the Guardian. It’s perfect targeting — and, I’m sure, not expensive marketing — and it struck me that no Google algorithm would have made that placement. In fact, Platial would know best what plays with its audience. This reminds me of the discussion of sell-side advertising, the idea of the publisher picking the ads because it’s the publisher who best understands the audience and the context, and the advertiser pays on performance. It still makes sense; we just need the infrastructure to enable it.
Now why the hell would anyone with half a life go to a site from a cookie company telling her how to make friends? Why, once there, would such a person tolerate such drivel as this:
10 tips for connecting…. 3 Practice random acts of connecting. Make an acquaintance more of a friend by inviting someone you want to know better for tea and cookies… 4 Make a friendship file. Just as you might for travel or shopping, clip and save items that remind you of a friend or activity ideas for future friend dates, and then refer to it when plan time comes…. 7 Have a laugh. After an ear and a shoulder to cry on, the gift of comic relief is one of the best you can give a friend in need. If humor’s not your forte, just commit one silly joke to memory to break out on these occasions. (Here’s one: Question: What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back to you? Answer: A stick.)
Oh, beat me with it.
But the ad agency made a fortune convincing the advertiser that they needed to get social. And the advertiser spent a fortune — $2-3 million, says Elliott — licensing this claptrap content and making this stupid site and advertising their advertising. And their PR company made a fortune writing press releases about it. And Elliott made, if not a fortune, then probably too much money yesterday rewriting that press release.
But it only shows the absurdity of such social brand advertising. Of course, this goes back to advertisers saying that they want their brands to be associated with certain attributes (cookies=connections) and so they advertise next to certain content; that is the brand advertising that makes the magazine and TV businesses churn. God bless it. Then advertisers wanted more control over content and so God the devil created advertorials. Then came the internet, where advertisers believed they could avoid all that damned media and expense by creating their own content: cookie sites and alleged underwear humor and chicken soupGoldfish for the soul, all linked today in Elliott’s story. And then came social: another buzzword, another revenue stream. Says Elliott:
Ad spending on Web sites like Bebo, Buzznet, Facebook and MySpace — by companies like Blockbuster, Circuit City, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Sony — is expected to total $1.2 billion this year, according to eMarketer, a research company, and climb to $1.9 billion in 2008.
But think about it: You’re on one of those social sites, already being social with your friends, and so why are you going to follow a link and click to a cookie site to tell you how to be social? You’re not. And so the cookie company is, I predict, going to flop at its cookie site (once today’s rush of Times traffic subsides) and then it will declare that social doesn’t work and isn’t worth anything and it will return to buying upfront TV.
But, of course, they are doing this the wrong way — trying to make us come to them, and for a stupid reason — and they’re measuring the wrong thing — the act of coming to them: the clickthrough. Yes, that’s how all advertisers measure their the performance, the return on investment, the value of their marketing (whether or not they pay on clicks, they measure the value on clicks).
But now we move past the internet-as-a-bunch-of-sites to the internet as a place where people connect. Sorry, cookie company, but the people do this just fine without you and your silly advice. In fact, the internet always has been a place where people connect, only we — and I include me — in media and marketing were to egotistical to see that. So rather than trying to make people come to you and rather than trying to make them go to media sites where your brand is associated with the content there, you now need to go to where your customers are and not to irritate them with advertising but to help them with service, not to barge in but to be invited in. That’s what makes Facebook’s new recommendation advertising engine so intriguing: once you see your friends like something, what better advertising than that? Why click through; that’s already ad nirvana, right?
So the story about the cookie connection site is not that another clever advertiser has discovered social. The story about the cookie connection site is that it is the last absurd gasp of a dying media model, the idea that you can create advertising so compelling that people will want to click to come to you. Come now.
As the media become more dependent on advertising, so advertising becomes less dependent on the media. With the recent death of the New York Times’ pay service, TimesSelect, and the rumoured razing of the Wall Street Journal’s pay wall, any final hopes of readers paying for content are fading. We prophets of free content are being proven right – whether we like it or not. Advertising is all we’ll have to support content and media. . . .
But the real threat to the advertising gravy train comes not from any change in media, but from a fundamental shift in the relationship between companies and customers that has been made possible by the internet. This hit me like a fist in the face when I went to Texas to interview Michael Dell for Business Week magazine, and to write the coda to my very public blog battle with the company. . . .
Dell’s executives say their new problem is managing and spreading all this knowledge from customers. Its chief marketer said his new opportunity is to rely on customer-advocates to sell computers. And Michael Dell predicted a future of “co-creation of products and services” with customers.
There it is: the fist. Dell and its customers are collaborating on the creation of content, media and marketing – without content, media or marketing companies. Advertising is no one’s first choice as the basis of a relationship. For marketers, it’s expensive and inefficient. For customers, it’s invasive and annoying. And targeted advertising is only slightly more efficient and slightly less annoying. Clearly, the direct relationship between a customer and a company is preferable. But that direct connection cuts out the middlemen – that is the media.
So when someone came along who actually managed to compete with and even frighten Google — namely, Facebook — how is Google competing? By going open. There’s a lesson in that for the rest of us.
I keep saying that media companies should ask WWGD — what would Google do — in formulating their digital strategies. Well, in Google’s Open Social, we see that the best competition against a growing monopoly is openness.
So how should we compete with Google or at least challenge its monopoly? Openness. I’ve argued for sometime that we need an open-source ad infrastructure. If the rest of the world other than Google — that is, those who have the other half of advertising Google doesn’t yet have — can gather together and create standards, then Google would be faced with the same decision Facebook is now faced with: whether to use those standards. What organized Facebook’s foes? Ironically, it was Google. Who could organize the nonGoogle ad universe? I see no one on the horizon. That’s why Google keeps growing. We’re letting them.
Bob Garfield goes properly ballistic against Comcast. We all have our horrible stories of waiting for the cable guy but this is a classic and Bob does a good and anally retentive job of chronicling the horror, the horror. The only thing that would have made it better is if he had recorded it — Bob is, after all, a Big Media Guy — and turned it into YouTube hilarity.
Call me an optimist, but I believe that every company — every industry — that makes its money by screwing its customers is doomed. We, the customers, can now coalesce and gang up on them and show them who’s boss. Yes, I’m thinking Dell Hell and its apparent turnaround. But this works only if the companies live in fear of losing us — that is, if they have competition. And this, of course, is why cable companies, phone companies, insurance companies, power companies, and other monopolies and duopolies — not to mention government — keep thinking they have us by the balls, out of which they can squeeze their money. But I think their day will come. New technologies could kill or at least bring competition into telecommunications. The insurance mess is finally going to get so bad that government will have to step in to fix it. Politicians themselves will have to learn that we can use these new tools to defeat them. The question is how we can speed this process up.
Well, Bob Garfield is an expert in media — as the cohost of On the Media — and also in advertising — as the critic at Ad Age. So I’ll throw the challenge back to you, Bob: How can we set the agenda on our dear communications ball-squeezers? How can we make their lives a living hell, like they make ours? How can we put pressure on those in power to take the power away from these horrible companies? How can we show their would-be competitors that there’s a great opportunity to come in and displace these fat and venal fools?
Let’s invent antiadvertising. Or maybe it’s unadvertising. Or customertising. If they can use media and messaging, so can we.
So, Bob, why don’t you make a commercial — not just a blog post, but a cool and slick ad — telling people why Comcast must die (your words). If it’s good — which, if you make it, it must be — and if it says something people want to hear and say themselves — and we know everyone shares this sentiment — then they will pass it around. Thank you, Google and YouTube. Maybe we can make a contest of it: make commercials against your least favorite companies. Free creative. Free media.
What if customertising takes over and beats advertising? Then we’d all go seek out customerisements and the ones with the fewest screeds out there must be OK.
I hate to be so negative about this. But as you can see in Bob’s screedlog, as we all know, the anger and frustration just build up until you have to scream.
Well, from now on, instead of screaming, expose the fools. Record your entire encounter with the cable company — every phone call, every visit — and use their failures against them. Our day has come. Or is coming.
: LATER: I missed the obvious name — customercials.