Uh-Oh–Survey Says Most People Find Facebook And Twitter Ads Misleading

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

To hear Silicon Valley and nouveau ad-tech types tell it, traditional advertising sucks. The best way to attract people’s attention and engage them more fully is to create ad formats that more closely resemble the activities people are already doing on a site–in other words, to make ads look less like ads.

That’s the idea behind so-called “native” ads such as Facebook’s Sponsored Stories and Twitter’s Promoted Tweets. Although various studies seem to indicate these ads are indeed more effective than standard banner ads–a low bar, it must be said–a new survey released today indicates that a lot of consumers don’t trust native ads. According to the survey by app advertising firm MediaBrix and Harris Interactive:

* 45% found Twitter promoted tweets misleading.

* 57%  found Facebook sponsored stories misleading.

* 86% found sponsored video ads that appear to be content misleading.

The survey also found that a large majority of people who have seen Twitter Promoted Tweets in the past 12 months said they hurt or had no impact on their perception of the brand advertised. Some 72% said the same thing about Facebook’s Sponsored Stories. And 85% found sponsored video ads didn’t leave them with warm feelings. “While anyone pushing the native ad agenda or otherwise would agree that we need to provide user experiences that are not jarring or disruptive, we also need to ensure that we are direct and honest with our consumers about when they are being marketed to,” MediaBrix CEO Ari Brandt said. “Some formats achieve this better than others.”

Mind some caveats about this research. For one, it doesn’t compare native ads to banner ads, so there’s no telling whether trust in banner ads is any better than these native ads. Also, what people say they feel about ads and brands may have little to do with the ads’ effectiveness. And MediaBrix has a dog in this hunt, since it offers its own kinds of ad formats for social and mobile apps.

Still, it’s a splash of cold water on a trend that some very high-profile companies are counting on to become the next Google. And it’s a lesson that marketers apparently constantly need to be reminded about: Don’t try to fool your customers, because it can destroy trust in your brand.

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7 Great Places Online To Track Hurricane Sandy

Google Crisis Map of Hurricane SandyFrom my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Assuming you’ve got power or even a cell phone signal by now, media and tech companies and tweeters galore are providing instant insight into where Hurricane Sandy is heading. Here are a few that go well beyond the reporter-in-the-rain TV coverage:

* Weather Channel livestream: The cable channel that no doubt will be seeing ratings skyrocket is running a livestream on YouTube of the latest news and frequent warnings about what to do (stay home!).

* New York Times live updates: The newspaper is posting live updates mostly on official news, along with an interactive map of evacuation zones.

* Wall Street Journal liveblog: The paper’s continuously updated blog has a wealth of information, including on-the-scene reporting of how folks are coping with the storm.

* Twitter: The hashtag #sandy brings up a (forgive me) flood of tweets related to the storm. Oddly enough, it’s not a trending topic, though “East Coast” and “FEMA” are. And not surprisingly, some people are finding ways to make a joke out of potential tragedy. A tweeter named @HurricaneSandy tweeted: YOU THINK I’M BAD? SEE WHAT HAPPENS IF MITT ROMNEY GETS ELECTED. Still, as in many crises, Twitter remains the place to get the latest, on-the-scene, unvarnished news. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Google: Here’s How Well Mobile Ads Can Work

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

The big rap on mobile advertising from marketers is that all they get is a tiny piece of a tiny screen to tell their stories–nothing like TV spots, print ads, or even Web banner ads. That’s one reason spending on mobile ads remains so small that it’s worrying investors in every online company from Google to Facebook to the New York Times, all of whose audiences are using their services more and more via mobile phones and tablets.

The other reason the year of the mobile ad always seems to get pushed out to next year? Marketers aren’t sure how to measure their impact. Measure only clicks on the buy button, without tracking how mobile ads lead customers to physical stores as they surely do, and it doesn’t look like many mobile ads pencil out as well as Web ads. It’s no wonder that a new survey out this morning by the Chief Marketing Officer Council shows only 14% of CMOs are satisfied with their mobile efforts, and 43% definitely aren’t.

Google, for one, is pushing hard to change this situation, especially since both these concerns have emerged front and center among marketers in the six months since Google launched its Mobile Playbook intended to help brands do more effective mobile marketing. With a new update to its own mobile marketing vehicle announced this morning, Google is aiming to answer those concerns using a raft of real-world examples.

First, several examples of mobile campaigns illustrate that the main problem isn’t lack of screen space, but lack of imagination by marketers. “Mobile is a great canvas for brand-building,” says Jason Spero, Google’s head of global mobile sales and strategy. “It’s going to produce some of the greatest campaigns in digital. But it’s shocking how far behind the [consumer] consensus the broad base of companies are.”

But some are managing to use the distinctive features of mobile devices to vault ahead of that laggard pack. Google points to several award-winning mobile campaigns from this year’s Cannes Lions Festival that showcases creative advertising. They look nothing like standard banner ads and, for better or worse, nothing like the “native” ads that are nearly hidden inside the news feeds of Facebook and Twitter.

That General Motors ad at the top, for instance, was a Game Time app that blatantly hijacked people’s attention from the game itself and, as the video says, “distracted them from watching our competitors’ ads.” Other mobile ads by Korean retailer eMart, Brazilian financial services firm Bradesco, Toyota, and others used smartphones’ cameras, touchscreens, GPS location data, and accelerometers to provide experiences not possible on the desktop, from back-seat driving games to QR codes that provide deals only at noon local time to attract lunchtime shoppers.

Second, Google’s calling out examples of how to measure the impact of mobile campaigns beyond the click, which may have even less meaning on mobile phones than on the Web. Adidas, for instance, with its agency partner iProspect, determined that including the real value of a click on a store locator button, which it had identified from store data, proved that mobile ads were paying off in in-store sales. “Mobile is driving behavior in the real world,” says Spero, and cases such as Adidas’ are starting to prove it.

Congrats, Facebook, You’ve Hit 1 Billion Users. Now What?

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

So 1 billion people now visit Facebook at least once a month, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who celebrated with that weird new ad. That’s an amazing milestone for a company only eight years old, fully justifying the glut of press coverage this morning. But is it getting too big for its own good?

I’m not just talking about the usual stuff a company faces as it grows very large–antitrust concerns, privacy worries, hiring quality, and the like. Google, Microsoft, IBM, and many others have faced and still face these issues. But such challenges haven’t taken any of them down. And even as they start (or continue) to be concerns for Facebook, they likely won’t sink it either.

The biggest concern I have is whether Facebook could–as a direct result of getting what seems likely to be just about everyone online to use it eventually–lose what’s special about it. After all, is it enough simply to be the biggest social network? Does being the biggest, as Zuckerberg and many others inside and outside the company implicitly assume, automatically make it the best?

I’m not so sure. And that’s without even falling back on the old look-what-happened-to-MySpace argument. The fact is that Facebook doesn’t do a lot of the social activities people participate in online as well as others. Twitter is way better in many ways for disseminating news. LinkedIn still does professional networking far better. No one has made video sharing easier than YouTube (yes, it’s a social service too). Pinterest, Reddit, and others are seeing massive growth thanks to a pretty clear focus on doing one thing well.

And Facebook? As well as it facilitates connections with friends, its overriding appeal is not any particular features. (OK, except for sharing photos–but even there, it felt the need to spend a billion bucks to buy Instagram.) Facebook’s key advantage now is largely that all your friends are on Facebook too.

Of course, that’s a huge technical and business feat for Facebook–nothing to be minimized, as evidenced by the fact that no one else accomplished it. But is that enough to catapult it to the next level?

Maybe. But as its growth slows, I wonder if essentially becoming a social utility that Zuckerberg long said Facebook should be is distinctive enough a mission to maintain its momentum. One random item that gave me pause today came in passing on a BusinessInsider post on Facebook’s recent move to allow advertisers to “retarget” its users with ads:

The most valuable inventory for re-targeting until now has been Yahoo Mail, because:

  • It has huge scale.
  • It’s engaging enough that you’d only want to click on an ad to leave if you really wanted to leave.
  • The people who use it tend to leave it open as a tab in their browser all day.

In all three ways, Facebook.com is very similar to Yahoo Mail.

Yikes. Facebook is now like a boring email service? Now, it’s probably unfair to extrapolate this comparison in a particular realm of advertising to Facebook overall. But it reflects the reality that Facebook’s ubiquity is inexorably steering it toward becoming something like the new television. Another mass medium, even if it’s a uniquely interactive mass medium.

I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact there’s a lot right with it, for Facebook’s business. I just can’t shake a nagging feeling that achieving this ubiquity–as Zuckerberg put it today, to “connect the rest of the world”–isn’t enough of a raison d’etre.

So the question now is what Facebook will do with that ubiquity. Maybe simply facilitating those connections is enough. But at this milestone moment the company itself chose to highlight, it’s worth posing some existential questions to go along with that existential ad:

Why is Facebook here?

Is sheer ubiquity sufficient for Facebook to achieve Zuckerberg’s lofty goals?

As Facebook becomes a service for everyone, does it become special to no one?

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.

Facebook Live: Charlie Rose Interviews COO Sheryl Sandberg, VC Marc Andreessen

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 28JAN11 - Sheryl Sandberg, ...

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (Photo: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

For better or worse, you know a company is serious about putting forward a clear image of itself when it submits to an interview with Charlie Rose.

And so on Oct. 2, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and board member and uber-VC Marc Andreessen talked with the PBS journalist at the annual ad confab Advertising Week in New York, clearly in hopes of persuading brand marketers to invest much more on the No. 1 social network. Here’s a live account of what they had to say, paraphrased at times (especially when it comes to fast-talking Andreessen):

Rose asks Andreessen where advertising is heading in the Internet age.

Andreessen: People love the Internet and there’s such a powerful global phenomenon putting the world in people’s hands. We have the fundamental challenge in advertising and media: Most of the money is trapped on the wrong side. We still don’t have most of the money and advertisers moved over to online. We now can see that transition happen, particularly with mobile.

Sandberg: You went from radio to TV and print and then to online. We think Facebook represents the next stage of online and we’re still in the very beginning. Ads online today are onetime and one-way, no ongoing relationship. We’re at the very beginning of changing that. Businesses have an opportunity to change their relationships. They can establish an ongoing relationship. And members have 130 friends they can pass messages along to.

Rose: What are the challenges of mobile for Facebook?

Sandberg: Mobile is a huge opportunity for Facebook. There soon will be 5 billion phones. The engagement opportunities for us are obviously much, much higher. Our mobile users are much more engaged, and that forms the basis for monetization.

Also, the marketing messages can be put into the newsfeeds.

Rose: But does it in any way make the user unhappy?

Sandberg: We’re looking very carefully at this. We’ve been very pleased with the results. We’ve also seen a real improvement for marketers.

Rose: Has the monetization been slower than you expected?

Sandberg: Marketers understand they can’t just do the same campaigns. Then we have early adopters, and we’re working to help them understand. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Google Research: No Mobile Site = Lost Customers

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Google has increasingly pushed its advertising customers to create special mobile websites because, as we know all too well, most conventional websites look awful on a smartphone. Now, Google’s providing more research to back up its advice.

The search ad giant is hoping, of course, that the better mobile experience people have, the more they will use Google search to find sites and products. A poor mobile experience reflects badly not only on the sites but on Google searches that sent them there. That’s especially worrisome today as Facebook, to name one rival, and Twitter, to name another, double down on mobile advertising. And it happens that Google has some relatively new mobile ads to hawk as well.

So in a survey of about 1,100 U.S. adult smartphone users (not tablets, in this study) conducted by  market research firms Sterling Research and SmithGeiger and released this morning, Google offers advertising folks ammunition to get their laggard information-technology and marketing chiefs moving. A few of the highlights (or, in some cases, low points):

* Two-thirds of smartphone users say a mobile-friendly site makes them more likely to buy a company’s product or service, and 74% say they’re more likely to return to the site later. “Mobile is creating massive opportunity,” says Jason Spero, head of Google’s global mobile sales and strategy.

* 61% says that if they don’t find what they’re looking for (probably within about five seconds), they’ll click away to another site. Half say that even if they like a business, they’ll use its site less often if it doesn’t work well on their smartphone. “This is a wakeup call,” says Spero. “You will lose customers at the moments that matter” without a site specifically made for mobile devices.

* 72% of users say a mobile-friendly site is important to them, but a nearly unanimous 96% have visited sites that aren’t. “When you offer users a desktop experience on mobile,” Spero notes, “it’s kind of crap.”

Google’s advice: Create a fast mobile site with big buttons and text, keep steps to complete tasks to a minimum, and–you knew this was coming–promote the site with Google mobile ads for the two-thirds of people who use search to find a site. That last may be self-serving–though one Google mobile advertiser, online discount perfume merchant FragranceNet.com, told me that the ads were a significant factor in a 48% jump in mobile sales following its creation of a mobile site. But it’s hard to argue with the rest.

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