Look Out, Television: Google Goes For The Biggest Advertising Prize Of All

Google's BrandLab at YouTube headquarters

Google’s BrandLab at YouTube headquarters

From my Forbes magazine feature story:

IT’S MID-SEPTEMBER, and Volkswagen of America has a problem: It won’t have any new models coming out until the spring. Keeping VW front and center in consumers’ minds has drawn a group of marketing folks from the automaker and two of its ad agencies to Google’s BrandLab at its YouTube headquarters south of San Francisco. Dedicated to “evangelizing the art and science of brand-building,” the richly appointed meeting space is basically a man cave for ad creatives, complete with overstuffed couches, booze and the mother of all big screens, an assemblage of 32 flat-panel displays massed into 300 square feet of video overload.

In one corner of the BrandLab, Google’s Jeff Rozic goes to work running VW’s folks through a rapid-fire succession of video ad campaigns the BrandLab feels have worked. His earnest delivery is well-honed, courtesy of 100-plus similar “private workshops” held for potential advertisers from Coca-Cola to Toyota over the past year. VW has some catching up to do, a point Rozic makes intentionally or not by highlighting 13 travel vignettes produced by a rival, Nissan Mexico. His larger point: Don’t clutter a story with too blatant a call to action. “We shouldn’t apologize for trying to sell cars,” one VW exec protests. “Sure,” Rozic shoots back, “but you have to be careful to distinguish when you’re telling a story and when you’re selling.”

Fair point. Rozic is clearly selling–and it’s a product intended to change Google’s path. The king of the click is now lecturing one of the world’s most accomplished advertisers to forget those clicks and amp up the image ads. CEO Larry Page can go on as much as he wants about self-driving cars, wearable computers or any of the company’s other “moon shots.” But Google fundamentally remains the most disruptive advertising company of the past half-century. As its total advertising-revenue growth rate has halved in the past two years, from 29% to 15% (thanks in part to Facebook and Twitter), it’s now charging full-bore toward the biggest pot of advertising gold it doesn’t own: brand advertising, the image ads you see in glossy magazines and on television.

Most online ads–the banners that litter nearly every commercial website and, most notably, Google’s search ads–have failed to help marketers move the needle on classic advertising measures like brand awareness and intent to purchase. Instead, they mainly drive people to a product page to click the buy button. Direct marketing is lucrative: Search is still upwards of 60% of Google’s ad revenue, helping it earn an estimated 15.8% net margin in 2013–but image ads will come to dominate digital advertising in this decade.

Look at the numbers: Digital brand advertising is an $18 billion market this year, according to eMarketer. Its forecast implies that number will double by 2018, at which point it will have passed search and direct marketing, with plenty of room to grow. Television advertising, comprising almost entirely image ads, is currently a $200 billion global market. And it’s a vulnerable one, as the medium’s iron grip on the bulk of ad spending looks a little less firm as younger people scatter to YouTube and Netflix when they aren’t Snapchatting or Instagramming on iPhones or skipping ads entirely on their DVRs. Some 75% of respondents to an Interactive Advertising Bureau poll of 5,000 ad execs expect to see some spending move from TV to digital video in the next year.

This explains the man cave. YouTube remains one of the greatest acquisitions of the Internet era. Larry and Sergey paid $1.65 billion in 2006 for a business that today would conservatively be worth $20 billion as a stand-alone. So what’s another $400 million or so to build out a brand ad business? …

Read the rest of the story.

Why You Won’t Really Mind Facebook’s Coming Video Ads

From my Forbes blog:

Nobody outside a few advertising partners has even seen Facebook’s coming video ads, but already the sky is falling. Critics are labeling the social network a “super troll” (whatever that means) for its plan to “blast” the “intrusive” ads into news feeds and predicting that the ads will annoy users so much that they’ll be driven away.

That’s doubtful. Here’s why:

* There won’t be all that many of them. Despite complaints about the increasing ad load, you can still scroll through many screens before you encounter more than an ad or two. You can bet that Facebook will be very careful about letting advertisers run too many of these things. Anyway, relatively few advertisers will be allowed to run them or, at $2 million for a day, afford them.

* You’re already seeing video ads on Facebook anyway. Marketers have been creating video posts on their Facebook page and then running those posts as ads. So it’s not as if these new video ads are all that new. The new part is that they will play automatically. “We’d note that we’ve personally been seeing autoplay video in our newsfeed on desktop recently, and been pleasantly surprised that it actually improves the user experience, in our view,” Macquarie Securities analyst Benjamin Schachter said in a note to clients today. “The auto-play feature is relatively unobtrusive and calls our attention to the video without expanding over other content or playing audio. We can see how it could increase video views on Facebook meaningfully.” …

Read the rest of the post.

YouTube’s Prankster Engineer Keeps Google’s Video Site Humming

YouTube's Billy Biggs

YouTube’s Billy Biggs

From Forbes magazine’s annual innovators list:

You probably don’t know his name, but Billy Biggs is one of the people who has helped keep Google on Forbes’ list of the world’s most innovative companies.

In the third annual version of the list out today, Forbes highlights nearly a dozen next-generation innovators who are expected to create the products and services these companies will be counting on to remain innovation machines.

Biggs, a software engineer at YouTube since Google bought the video site in 2006, has had a hand in most of the major projects there already. But at just 35, he will be called upon to create many more. Overall, he says, his work is about “making sure the systems are built for the future and we’re able to build cool things”–even if he doesn’t yet know what they will be. Here’s a closer look at his work:

Billy Biggs likes to say pranks are his full-time job at YouTube, Google’s video service. For April Fool’s Day 2010, for instance, he and a few other software engineers created a new video display format called TEXTp. Ostensibly aimed at cutting network bandwidth costs, it turned YouTube videos into colorful streams of text characters.

Don’t let those hijinks fool you. Labeled a “hidden gem” by a former YouTube executive, Biggs has had a hand in nearly every major technical project there since Google bought it in 2006. His work as principal architect for YouTube’s computer systems and software and its website is credited with helping YouTube reach an industry-leading 6 billion hours of video a month viewed by more than a billion people.

That massive audience has put the site in a position to challenge television for consumer attention and marketer budgets–just as TV faces many new challenges to its reign as the world’s most popular entertainment medium. …

Read the rest of the story.

Why Are TV Makers Pushing Cadillacs When We Really Want Ferraris?

US-IT-CES-ELECTRONICS

Samsung shows off huge new TV (Photo: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

Are TV makers going the way of Detroit in the 1960s? In what many, including those who didn’t bother to attend, are calling a boring Consumer Electronics Show, the star attractions seem to be leviathans such as Samsung’s and Sony’s new 84-inch TV sets. Even they apparently is not amazing enough, because Samsung is promising a 110-inch model later this year.

Size isn’t the only way they’re big, either. Those 84-inchers, which one Sony executive had the audacity to call “Ferraris,” costs $25,000, more than I will ever pay for a car, let alone a TV. And they have more pixels than my never-acute eyesight can ever process–even if there were content created for them, which there isn’t.

Seriously, guys, I’m not buying another TV for a very long time. The screen I’ve got is as big as I can fit in my living room, and that’s not going to change. Even if I did have a bigger living room, a big-ass 84-inch TV would feel faintly embarrassing, like tractor tires on a little pickup.

What’s more, not a single Smart TV feature, no matter how cool, is going to sway me to pony upwards of a thousand dollars for a new set to replace a perfectly fine screen. I’ve got TiVo, I’ve got Apple TV, I’ve got Roku, I’ve got Google TV, and probably there’s some other add-on device I can’t even remember. All of them offer more features and apps than I will ever use.

All of this makes me think of those road hogs of the late 1950s and early 1960s that Detroit insisted on manufacturing shortly before those cheap little imports ate their lunch. The fact is that more and more TV watching is occurring on much smaller screens, especially tablets. The sofa spuds of today don’t drive Cadillacs. We want Ferraris, or even Priuses. …

Read the rest of the post at The New Persuaders.

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. 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:

* 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.

* 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.

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

Check out more questions at the full post.

The Mythical iTV: Steve Jobs’ Marketing Magic Is Still Alive And Well At Apple

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Another day, another rumor that an Apple television may be coming.

Another recycled rumor, in fact. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that China’s Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, is helping Apple test some prototypes for a large-screen television set. That follows similar (OK, identical) rumors a couple of days ago, last August, last May, and last December saying that Apple was enlisting Chinese suppliers to create an Apple TV set.

No surprise here, given that Apple CEO Tim Cook managed to stoke the fires of speculation last week by saying the company has “intense interest” in television. Of course, Cook himself said the very same thing last May, too.

So don’t hold your breath for an Apple TV that goes beyond the current Apple TV hockey puck. Even longtime Apple television forecaster Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray now says it won’t come before next November. And even then, it’s debatable how important a product it will be, since it’s widely assumed that Apple can’t add much to the current TV experience without deals to get access to live TV shows, or at least win the right to revamp the TV user interface to encompass the full range of pay-TV and Internet content available today. And those deals are nowhere in sight just yet.

But the new flurries of interest in the mythical machine point up something that should reassure Apple investors, at least: Apple cofounder Steve Jobs’ famous marketing magic is still at work at the company more than a year after his death.

Some investors have been worried about whether Cook, by all accounts an ace operations guy but not a showman like Jobs (as no one else really is, honestly), can keep Apple’s brand as blindingly shiny as it has been for so many years now. It’s time to give Cook credit for faithfully following Jobs’ playbook: Let fans wax on about how desirable a new Apple product will be, building demand to a fever pitch so that whatever comes out is guaranteed to get unparalleled attention. Indeed, a recent survey says they’re already willing to pay considerably more for an Apple TV–whatever it turns out to be.

No, Cook doesn’t yet deserve to be considered a master marketer like Jobs. But he’s off to a pretty good start.

Google Shuts Off TV Ads Business

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After five years of trying to sell ads on television using the automated buying system that works so well for its signature search ads, Google has finally given up. In a blog post this afternoon from Shishir Mehrotra, VP of YouTube and video, the ad giant said it will shunt the group’s staff to other projects:

Video is increasingly going digital and users are now watching across numerous devices. So we’ve made the hard decision to close our TV Ads product over the next few months and move the team to other areas at Google. We’ll be doubling down on video solutions for our clients (like YouTube, AdWords for Video, and ad serving tools for web video publishers). We also see opportunities to help users access web content on their TV screens, through products like Google TV.

The shutdown is clearly a disappointment for Google, yet another sign that its math-driven advertising systems don’t readily translate to traditional advertising. Back in 2009, the company shut down radio and print ad efforts for lack of interest.

Mehrotra’s not being entirely disingenuous when he says that Google’s efforts are better spent on online video advertising. After all, more and more TVs get connected to the Internet and more and more people watch TV shows on their laptops, smartphones, and tablets. With its Google TV project and its fast-growing YouTube video service, Google remains in a prime position to vacuum up ad revenues as big advertisers start to follow their audience onto the Web.

Indeed, YouTube especially has shown considerable traction in attracting new ad spending–$3.6 billion this year, by the reckoning of Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney. As I wrote in a recent story, YouTube is where Google is placing its television-scale bets:

Now Mehrotra’s goal is to try to grab a big chunk of the $60 billion U.S. television business. But to do that, and fend off TV-content-oriented online rivals such as Hulu, YouTube has to become a bit more like conventional TV. To that end, it organized itself last year into TV-like channels, investing $100 million in cable-quality launches from Ashton Kutcher, Madonna, the Wall Street Journal, and dozens of others. More and more TV advertisers are being won over, says David Cohen, chief media officer at the media buying agency Universal McCann. “They’re getting marketers to think about YouTube as a viable outlet,” he says. 

Mehrotra, who last year became ­YouTube’s vice president of product, envisions millions of online channels disrupting TV, just as cable’s 400 channels disrupted the four broadcast networks. “We want to be the host of that next generation of channels,” he says.

In other words, Google’s strategy is to attack the TV ad business from where it’s strong instead of from where it’s not.