13 Questions For 2013 In The World Of Online Advertising

questionsCross-posted at my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

For the past few years, I’ve offered predictions here and on The New Persuaders for what’s likely to come in the next year. I viewed them more as an agenda for what to watch for in the next 12 months than as firm predictions.

But it was too easy sometimes to state the obvious so they’d end up right by year-end. So this year, I’m going to shake it up and throw out a few questions instead. I think I know the answers to some of them, but if many won’t be answered definitively by year-end, they remain top of mind for me and probably for many others in online media and advertising.

So in this, the first full week of the new year, here are some questions to which I hope to start finding answers (and if you’ve got ‘em, sound off in the comments below!):

* Will image advertising finally take off online? I have to believe that as people spend more and more time online instead of reading print publications and watching TV, brand marketers will want and need to reach them there with ads that are aimed at creating consideration for later purchases, not just eliciting an immediate sale like Google’s search ads and too many banner ads. We’re already starting to see signs of such advertising with the early success of Facebook’s Sponsored StoriesTwitter’s Promoted Tweets, and YouTube’s TrueView ads–not to mention the explosion of tablets, which provide a lean-back experience more compatible with image advertising. This won’t be a sudden change, since brand marketers and agencies don’t move quickly, but you can’t tell me there aren’t going to be increasingly compelling ways for brands to influence people online.

* Will native ads reach broad scale? Well, perhaps they will on platforms such as Facebook and–well, Facebook–that already reach hundreds of millions of people. Sponsored Stories clearly have gotten some traction, even on mobile devices. But marketers and agencies won’t create multiple versions of campaigns to serve every new ad format that publishers claim work better than banner ads. Which brings up a related question:

* Will any standards emerge around the social gestures that most of these native ads embody? That’s really the only thing that will ensure that marketers can reach scale across many sites. That wouldn’t be in the interest of big companies such as Facebook and Google, which benefit from proprietary ad formats that can reach their huge audiences. But standards, whether it’s banners of a particular size or ad networks, create a more liquid market that helps hundreds of publishers survive as they provide marketers scalable opportunities to reach big audiences. So are there atomic units of social gestures that could carry brand messages across multiple native ad formats without destroying the appeal of native formats? Maybe there’s a technological fix for this, but it’s clear that a lot more needs to be done.

* Will the long-predicted shakeout in ad tech companies finally happen? It didn’t really occur last year despite a few middling-big acquisitions by Oracle, Salesforce.com, and Google. This year, perhaps new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will corral a few to try to recharge the company’s ad business. Google, Adobe, and IBM have built out “stacks” of ad tech, but no doubt they can each fill out their offerings. Then there’s Facebook, whose ad exchange is likely to need fleshing out. But even if they each write checks for a few three-letter acronym startups apiece, don’t call it a shakeout. Given the rapid evolution of advertising technologies, and the reality that using data to refine advertising is still in its infancy, it’s a good bet that more companies will still be created than disappear. That should keep the Lumascape as crowded as ever.

* Can advertisers and publishers make ads more personal without scaring people? That’s the $64 billion question, and it likely won’t get answered in full this year. It’s easy for headline-hungry politicians to make a big deal out of Facebook’s latest privacy gaffe or the Wall Street Journal’s or the New York Times’ latest scare story about an ad that followed somebody all over the Web. That’s especially so since Facebook really does push the privacy envelope too far at times, and too many advertisers idiotically chase one more sales conversion at the cost of scaring off hundreds of others or inviting onerous legislation. But making ads more useful to each individual person is not only crucial to online commerce, it’s potentially better for most consumers as well–seriously, I don’t need to see another ad for a fitness center or a new credit card, but that ad for Camper van Beethoven’s new CD had me in a split-second. The answer lies in these two words, everyone: transparency and choice.

* Will mobile advertising work? Well, some of it already does, to hear Google and Facebook tell it. And while those already devalued digital dimes so far turn to pennies when it comes to ads on smartphones and tablets, this still feels more like growing pains than a crisis in online advertising. Sure, the screens are small and people don’t like to be interrupted in their mobile cocoons. So a different kind of advertising is probably needed–clearly, banners don’t cut it on a four-inch screen. But the value to advertisers of knowing your location and maybe the apps you’re using, coupled with knowledge of what your friends like–all with permission, of course–is huge. That permission may be really tough to earn. But if advertisers can offer tangible value, perhaps in the form of useful services related to what you’re doing or looking for or shopping for–and isn’t that the ultimate native ad?–people may loosen their hold on that information.

* Can Larry Page keep Google relevant in the social media age? So far, the no-longer-new CEO has at least kept Google’s mainstream ad business humming. Page has outlasted a year or so of missteps, missed opportunities, antitrust investigations, and bum vocal chords, and arguably emerged with a company that’s leaner, more focused, and more potent than ever. Not only does the recent antitrust victory appear to leave it free to compete unimpeded, but Android is doing better than ever even vs. a very strong Apple ecosystem and Google is about to emerge as a powerhouse in the other half of online advertising: display ads, whether on the desktop or on mobile devices. Page’s big challenge looms as big as ever, though: Can Google play in the social Web vs. Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and more? I don’t know, but this may be the year Page has to provide a more definitive answer.

* Will TV and Web video ads finally come together on Connected TVs, tablets, or other devices? Sure, at some point. Video is video no matter where it runs, and while personal computer users bristle at pre-roll video ads, I’m betting viewers are more amenable to various kinds of ads when they view video on Internet-connected TVs or tablets. And even on PCs, YouTube’s TrueView ads, which you can skip after a few seconds, have proven successful to the tune of several billion dollars last year. Traditional TV advertising will continue to thrive thanks to unassailable economics of the cable-content cabal. But given extensive work by Nielsen, comScore, and others to provide metrics that can extend across TV and the Web, the latter may finally get some serious coin from brand marketers–if not this year, pretty soon thereafter. Especially if Apple works its magic on the television.

* Will Facebook really tick us off with a new feature or privacy “improvement”? Is Mark Zuckerberg CEO of Facebook? Nonetheless, Facebook’s well-worn playbook of pushing beyond social comfort levels, then pulling back just a bit, means we’ll probably see privacy norms get stretched once again.

* Will Apple ever make a real splash in advertising? Don’t bet your iPad on it. I think even the post-Steve Jobs Apple still views ads the way a lot of Silicon Valley still does (mostly in error): ineffective, inelegant, and crass. Apple itself can make great ads, but selling them is an entirely different matter.

* Will Amazon make a real splash in advertising? Oh yeah. All the pieces are in place, from a huge shopping-focused audience to a nearly bulletproof technology infrastructure. Again, it won’t set the world on fire this year, but we’re likely to see the smoke.

* Will Marissa Mayer turn around Yahoo? Not this year. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see signs of a real turn for the first time in about five CEOs. But the real turnaround will take years–if Yahoo’s board has the patience. That’s still an iffy bet worth about as much as a share of Yahoo stock.

* Will I ever figure out the appeal of Reddit and BuzzFeed? Gosh, I hope so. I get that these guys attract massive traffic, but neither site does much for me. Reddit, in particular, seems so random that I guess it must be the channel-surfing of today’s generation, only with somewhat more worthwhile nuggets. But for pete’s sake, there’s so much noise for the signal you get, and even the most popular noise can be many hours, days, or even months old. Go ahead, call me a geezer who doesn’t get it. You wouldn’t be the first, and maybe you’re right. So I will continue to click over to them until I see the light, my brain explodes, or the next phenom looks more worth wasting my remaining years on.

I have a lot more questions, but I’ve got to stop before too much of 2013 is gone.

About these ads

How Did I Do On My 2012 Predictions?

2012: The Year Ahead

Photo: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

It’s that time of year: time to reflect on the past year, time to get wasted and watch a glass ball smash into the ground, time for people like me who foolishly offered predictions for the past year to face the music. So here’s how I did on my 2012 predictions:

* Facebook goes public, but won’t start an IPO landslide: Bingo! Indeed, Facebook’s ill-received IPO led to a months-long drought in IPOs as investors realized they were not a sure route to riches. The situation may be improving, but mostly for enterprise more than consumer companies.

* Facebook’s ad business booms–but not at Google’s expense: Bingo! While Facebook’s revenues slowed even before its IPO as it continued to experiment with new ad formats and scrambled to provide mobile ad units, ad revenues have since accelerated, up 36% in the third quarter over last year. At the same time, while Google’s revenue growth disappointed investors in the third quarter, it was mostly thanks to the impact of its Motorola acquisition, not a shortfall in its core ad business.

* Image ads finally find a home on the Web: Half-right. YouTube proved there’s a real market for TV-like video ads if you give viewers the choice to view them or not, as its revenues were expected to hit $3.6 billion in 2012, according to Citibank. But Facebook’s struggles to attract brand advertising despite a TV-scale audience, while partially successful, show that no one has yet come up with brand ad formats that work consistently and at large scale online. Or at least brands, which still spend most of their money on TV ads, don’t believe it yet. And they write the checks.

Continue reading

Going Native: Disqus Says Promoted Discovery Ads Getting Traction

disqusadFrom my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Any blogger or media site knows there can be a lot of garbage in the comments on their posts and stories. Now, there’s a little gold in them, too.

A couple of months after quietly rolling out an ad system to select advertisers and publishers, commenting service Disqus is revealing a bit about the initial results. The ads build upon an article discovery feature Disqus introduced over the summer, a box below the comments that provides links to related articles either on the site or elsewhere on the Web. Disqus, which claims 75% market share among independent commenting systems such as those from Facebook and Livefyre, says 900 million unique visitors a month view 6 billion pages monthly on 2 million websites.

Promoted Discovery units are a way for publishers and advertisers (which also may be other publishers) to buy links that will send traffic their way. They barely look like ads, but that’s the point of so-called native monetization, also employed in Facebook’s Sponsored Stories and Twitter’s Promoted Tweets: They seek to avoid disrupting the flow of what people are doing, especially in a social setting–or, if you’re a cynic, they seek to conceal the fact that they’re ads. Either way, though, they often get more clicks and other engagement. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

 

Sorry, Retailers–Cyber Monday’s Days Are Numbered

Two cliches in one ad!

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Not long after Cyber Monday was invented in 2005 as an online alternative to Black Friday, I called it a “marketing myth” because it was actually not even close to a top holiday shopping day.

Then a funny thing happened–Cyber Monday, created by the National Retail Foundation’s Shop.org online unit, became a self-fulfilling prophecy as retailers jumped on the term and began offering special sales that day after the Thanksgiving holiday. By the following year, it had turned into a real phenomenon, at least for many retailers, and last year it became the heaviest shopping day ever to date. It might even happen again this year.

But now, even as many retailers have made Cyber Monday sales a stock part of their holiday strategy, I’m betting its days are numbered. Why?

* Early sales. Smart retailers noticed that before Cyber Monday, at least (and perhaps still), the period leading up to the big day actually were even more active shopping days. And in their never-ending attempt to get a step ahead of rivals, many retailers ran not just pre-Cyber Monday sales, but pre-Black Friday sales as early as the evening before Thanksgiving. Apparently they worked. They almost certainly will cannibalize Cyber Monday sales. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

No Brand Shakedown, Says Facebook–Here’s How Page Posts Reach Fans (Or Don’t)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

A lot of businesses with Facebook pages are up in arms about their posts showing up in their fans’ news feeds way less often lately. They and their ad agencies think Facebook did it deliberately to force them to buy ads to promote those posts, and they’re not shy about telling the world about it.

Facebook says it did change its EdgeRank algorithm, which decides based on various criteria which posts individual Facebook users see in their news feeds, in September, chiefly to help reduce spam messages. But the No. 1 social network, which has been intensifying its efforts to boost ad sales following a disappointing IPO last May and a swoon in its share price, categorically denies that it’s essentially blackmailing brands into buying ads by reducing their reach with fans. In fact, it says posts are showing up overall at about the same 16% they’ve been for awhile now.

Indeed, it has just opened up a new news feed option that runs only posts from pages you’ve “liked.” The move won the approval of Mark Cuban, whose anger in one tweet catapulted the issue into the public eye. But lots of questions remain.

Today, the company is trying to get the word out about how its system works with a “whiteboard lunch” for the press, with the aim of explaining how page posts find their way into news feeds. I’ll cover the highlights here starting about noon Pacific time, so refresh until about 1:15 p.m. for the latest. It’s pretty casual, not a formal presentation, so most of this will be a little scattered, but potentially useful to marketers.

Will Cathcart, product manager for news feed, comes on first to tell how Facebook thinks about the news feed. On an actual whiteboard! He says Facebook tries to figure out how interested you will be (Yoda, in his example) in each page post. If he comments on or shares or likes (or “hides”), say, posts from the Rebel Alliance, those will show up more often. But if he reacts in a significant way to a post by, say, Vader, that will inform future visibility of Vader’s posts. If he often complains that posts from, say, the Empire, those posts may drop out of his news feed entirely. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Can’t Get Enough of Gangnam Style? Check Out AdTech Style

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Geeks love to insert themselves into the zeitgeist as much as anyone, and tech-inflected parodies of popular songs have become a staple of Silicon Valley folks who–let’s face it–struggle to live normal lives while working around the clock.

No surprise that they’re particularly popular in the arcane world of advertising technology firms, which have the additional problem that nobody knows what the heck they do. So today, we have a parody video of–what else?–Gangnam Style.

This time, ad tech leader BlueKai did up a pretty good marketing ploy parody based on South Korean singer PSY’s runaway YouTube hit. Most of it still appears to be in Korean, so I can’t vouch for whether the PSY stand-in is mouthing the words that appear in English subtitles. But the signature opening line clearly subs in “Oppan ad tech style,” and from there you have to depend on the subtitles to get the very inside jokes.

Amid shots of people dancing in server farms and bland Silicon Valley offices, plus cameos by ad tech figures such as Luma Partners’ Terry Kawaja, the video pokes fun at the industry’s infamous acronym epidemic. “Activate… with the DMP! … Optimize, verify, and inform those buys! … HEEEEEY, Sexy data!”

Like I said, it’s inside stuff, so half of you might be amused and the other half won’t know what on Earth they’re talking about. But it’s ad tech, so what else is new? And who thinks Gangnam Style‘s popularity was based on humdrum things like words?

Actually, this isn’t even the first Gangnam Style parody from Silicon Valley. A couple of months ago, there was a startup-oriented one starring a bunch of Valley entrepreneurial luminaries. Watch that one, and you don’t need to watch any more of Bravo’s lamentable Start-Ups: Silicon Valley reality show.

Did The Bubble In Facebook Ad Startups Just Pop?

A little crowded, perhaps? (Source: LUMA Partners)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

For much of this year, hundreds of little and not-so-little startups that help businesses run advertisements on Facebook have been playing the M&A game, buying rivals or related companies, getting acquired by bigger firms, or both. But the acquisitions were sometimes for big bucks, fueling a sense that the opportunities were huge for social marketing startups.

It’s not hard to find social marketing firms still thriving, but suddenly it’s looking a little more like a game of musical chairs. And while it would be easy (and wrong) to say the music has stopped, it’s becoming clear that a chunk of those firms will find themselves without a seat as the social media biz starts to mature and its growth chart no longer looks like a straight line up and to the right.

The recent struggles of Facebook and other social media firms such as Zynga aren’t new, of course. They prompted some folks to wonder if the social media bubble had popped a couple of months ago. But it appears now that advertiser uncertainty about social media is starting to hit the still-crowded ecosystem of social media marketing and ad firms.

Today, Salesforce.com laid off about 100 people from two social-media acquisitions, Radian6 and Buddy Media. Although it may not be surprising given likely job overlaps–and the fact that Buddy was losing big bucks before the sale–the layoff suggests that the market for social ads isn’t big enough to accommodate all the players that have sprung up in recent years, or at least all the employees working for them.

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Facebook: Yes, Our Ads Work, Chapter 16

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook has spent much of the past year furiously trying to persuade skeptical brand marketers that ads on its service work. In particular, it wants brands with large fan bases on Facebook not to assume that–like General Motors apparently did when it pulled its Facebook ads just before the No. 1 social network’s May IPO–they can simply post stuff to their Facebook pages and call it a day.

Its latest salvo: A new report conducted with market researcher comScore that tries to quantify the impact of paid ads vs. “organic” brand page content.

Some highlights from the report, which includes case studies of Samsung Mobile and two unnamed “major” brands, a retailer and a financial services firm:

• Leading brands on Facebook can use paid media to extend their total brand reach beyond the reach they achieve using organic media alone. Among a selection of 100 top brand pages on Facebook, those using paid media reach an audience that is on average 5.3 times larger than organic audience alone, and 5.4 times greater than the total audience of top brand pages using no paid media with a similarly sized fan base. …

Read all the details at The New Persuaders.

How Steve Jobs’ Laughable Early Apple Ads Evolved Into Today’s Marketing Marvels

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

To look at Apple’s classic advertisements, from the stark, bold “Think Different” campaign to the playful “Get a Mac” series to those minimalist silhouetted iPod ads, you’d never guess that early Apple ads were so–not to put too fine a point on it–awful.

On the one-year anniversary of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs’ untimely death, we scrounged up a baker’s dozen of early Apple ads in the accompanying photo gallery for your amusement and edification. They’re print ads in particular, since it was pretty early days to be advertising computers on television. Still, most them wouldn’t be recognizable as Apple ads if not for the name and early logos.

They weren’t especially worse than other computer ads at the time. Maybe they were even marginally better. But they were anything but special, let alone cool.

What’s interesting is not just that Apple’s early ads look so depressingly conventional. It’s that a few of them revealed flashes of Jobs’ future marvels of marketing. Once Jobs got past the initial “speeds and feeds” marketing imperative during a time when Apple was really just one, albeit prominent, competitor in a sea of pre-Windows, pre-Mac personal computer makers, he began to develop an eye for brand marketing that few companies in technology or any other industry have since surpassed.

Take a close look at these early ads, and you can see that Apple’s evolution to the pinnacle of brand marketing happened not in a straight line, but in a sort of punctuated equilibrium that parallels the gradual maturing of computing itself. At first, PCs were for hobbyists interested in performance and features, and the ads reflected that. But as the machines began to sell into the millions, Apple’s ads began to emphasize how they were “the computer for the rest of us,” as the first Macintosh ads called them.

That first one for the Apple-1 in 1976, rivetingly entitled “A Balance of Features,” was appallingly amateurish. The ad, released only a few months after Jobs and Steve Wozniak showed the prototype at the Homebrew Computer Club in SiliconValley and incorporated their company, was stuffed full of technical features in a way that’s unimaginable today. For instance, the ad touted the ability to attach a keyboard and monitor to allow “the efficient entry and examination of programs in hexidecimal notation.” Who knew?

There was even a misspelling in the first line, a sign that Jobs’ famous perfectionism hadn’t quite kicked in yet. …

Read the complete post, including a photo gallery of the ads, at The New Persuaders.

Twitter Offers Advertisers In-Stream Surveys To Measure Brand Impact

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Companies that make their money from online ads know that brand marketers currently advertising mostly on television are where the really big bucks are. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other major online ad operators are all scrambling to prove to these big spenders that their ads can move the needle on classic metrics such as brand recognition and intent to purchase.

Today, Twitter offered up another carrot to brand advertisers: surveys that they can run inside a Twitter user’s timeline. A tweet will ask if they want to do the survey, then if they click on it, it will appear within the timeline so users aren’t taken away from Twitter.

The surveys will allow marketers to ask a few questions that will help them determine the impact of Twitter ads on respondents’ awareness of a company or product brand and whether they’re likely to buy the product. Twitter is working with Nielsen to offer analysis of the results, allowing for more direct comparison to campaigns on other sites as well as on TV. The feature will be offered free for now to a select group of large Twitter advertisers, with plans to roll it out more widely early next year.

Surveys may sound rather pedestrian as a feature, but it’s critical for brands looking to extend campaigns across multiple media. Twitter says the response rate on early tests is comparable to the 1% to 3% that Twitter’s signature Promoted Tweets ads get. That’s also quite good compared with the fractional response that traditional banner ads get. And so far, at least, Twitter users seem comfortable with brands on the service.

More interesting to consider, there’s no reason this kind of feature need be limited to surveys. With the capability to offer a more interactive experience right inside the current Twitter service, Twitter eventually could offer brands more creative tools beyond surveys, such as rich media, video, commercial message sharing with followers or others on Twitter, or even the ability to buy products without leaving Twitter.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 81 other followers