‘Unboxing’ Videos A Gift To Marketers

From my New York Times story:

One day last year, Jessica Nelson was surprised to find her toddler, Aiden, watching videos online in which people opened box after box of new toys, from Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs with trinkets inside to all manner of Disney merchandise.

“The next day we saw him watching more and more and more of them,” said Ms. Nelson, who lives in Toledo, Ohio. “He was pretty obsessed.”

She and her son, who turned 3 on Monday, had entered the world of “unboxing” videos, an extremely popular genre on YouTube where enthusiasts take products out of their packaging and examine them in obsessive detail. This year, according to YouTube, people have watched videos unveiling items like toys, sneakers and iPhones more than 1.1 billion times, for a total of 60 million hours.

The videos’ ability to captivate children has led toy makers, retailers and other companies to provide sponsorships and free toys to some of the most popular unboxing practitioners, who in turn can make a lucrative living. Hasbro and Clorox have ads that YouTube places on the videos.

Now, marketers are becoming even more involved. …

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Webrooming: How Mobile Ads Are Driving Shoppers To Stores

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Famous Footwear stores highlight highly searched products.

From my Forbes blog:

Showrooming, the practice of shopping in stores and then buying cheaper online, has long vexed physical retailers that fear they’re losing sales. No doubt they are, but a countervailing trend has been building for awhile now: webrooming, which is shopping online and then buying in the physical store.

That’s potentially a much larger opportunity because the vast majority of purchases still happen in physical stores. The holiday season that just began presents a particular opportunity for retailers that will grow as Christmas approaches and the time to order online before the big day grows short. But the benefits of getting people into stores, not just tapping online buy buttons, is more important regardless of the season, said eMarketer analyst Yoram Wurmser. “People are visiting fewer stores, so they buy more with each visit,” he said.

If getting people into stores to shop is an opportunity for retailers, it’s nothing less than a mandate for companies making coin from online ads. In particular, mobile ads, revenues from which are expected to surpass those of ads shown on desktop computers this year, are key as people increasingly use their phones to find products when and where they want–meaning here and now. “Smartphones have completely changed how we do holiday shopping,” Jason Spero, Google’s vice president of performance media, explained in an interview. “It’s now quick bites and micro-moments.”

No company stands to benefit more from proving its mobile ads work–or to suffer as much if it can’t–than Google, the world’s largest seller of ads. …

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Brands Look Far and Wide for a Niche in Virtual Reality

 

From my story in The New York Times:

Even in virtual reality, it seems, there will be no escape from advertising.

The Oculus Rift, which is owned by Facebook, won’t be available until early next year, but many of the two billion consumers worldwide who own smartphones can already try out virtual reality on the cheap with Cardboard, a device from Google that folds into a viewer with a slot for a smartphone. As more devices come to market with the aim of making virtual reality more commonplace, advertisers and agencies hope virtual reality will be the next great medium for persuading consumers to buy stuff.

For now, marketers are producing mostly eye candy in their own apps and on YouTube’s #360Video channel. But with virtual reality movies, shows and stories coming soon, the question is what kind of ads, if any, will work on the platform.

Companies including Coca-Cola, Volvo and HBO are struggling to figure that out. So are publishers like Facebook, which introduced 360-degree ads on Thursday, including video ads from AT&T, Nestlé and other brands.The first obstacle is that it is not yet clear what kind of programming besides games will catch on in virtual reality to provide a place for that advertising.

“There’s lots of spectacle, but I can’t name one great story in VR,” said Ben Miller, director of content development at WEVR, a virtual reality entertainment and technology firm in Venice, Calif. And without a clear consensus on what sort of content will succeed in virtual reality, it’s difficult to predict what form the advertising will ultimately take. Success in the new medium will depend on finding the equivalent of the 30-second TV spot or the digital search ad. …

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SF App Startup Cola Creates ‘Slack For The Rest Of Us’

 

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From my Forbes blog:

There’s no end of messaging apps that let you exchange texts, photos and videos with friends–Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and so on. There are also a lot of business-oriented apps such as Slack, HipChat, and Yammer.

But what about a messaging app that lets you address the space in between entertainment and work, which is to say coordinating and planning activities with a few friends or coworkers? That’s what Cola aims to do.

Today the San Francisco-based startup is launching a limited, private beta test of an app that uses messaging as the basis for a wide variety of common things people want to get done, from figuring out where and when to meet with friends and creating joint to-do lists to tracking expenses at work and even engaging in multi-player games. The idea, says cofounder and CEO David Temkin, is that messaging has emerged as the most important function of a smartphone and even the foundation of many apps on the smartphone, from Uber to DoorDash to Venmo. “We are entering an era when messaging is the central app, like the browser was for the Web,” says Temkin.

Indeed, Temkin hopes to make Cola the first “messaging OS,” a platform on which activities that need to be coordinated among a small number of people can get done using messaging as the essential delivery mechanism. …

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Pandora Eyes Offline Mode For Its Music Service

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From my Forbes blog:

Despite the widespread and growing popularity of the streaming music service Pandora, it faces one big obstacle: If you’re offline, you’re out of luck.

But it’s clear that Pandora wants to fix that situation, especially since rivals such as Spotify and Apple Music have ways you can listen offline. Today at the M1 Summit mobile conference in San Francisco, a Pandora executive’s comments suggested that Pandora is seriously considering an offline mode.

The comments came in response to a question posed to several mobile companies on a panel, including Pandora and the mobile sports ticket service Gametime. “It’s something we’re looking at,” said Lisa Sullivan-Cross, vice president of growth marketing at Pandora. “It’s on our minds.”

Asked after the panel for more details, Sullivan-Cross declined to add much. “We know our customers want it,” she told Forbes. “I don’t know if or when.”

The company needs a boost. Competition from the likes of Apple Music and even Alphabet, the holding company for Google, is taking a toll on Pandora. …

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Turkeys + Dinner Plates = Thanksgiving: Google Tries to Make Machine Learning a Little More Human

From my story in MIT Technology Review:

Google CEO Sundar Pichai told investors last month that advances in machine-learning technology would soon have an impact every product or service the company works on. “We are rethinking everything we are doing,” he said.

Part of that push to make its services smarter involves rethinking the way it’s employing machine learning, which enables computers to learn on their own from data. In short, Google is working to teach those systems to be a little more human.

Google discussed some of those efforts at a briefing Tuesday at its headquarters in Mountain View, California. “We’re at the Commander Data stage,” staff research engineer Pete Warden said in a reference to the emotionless android in the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation. “But we’re trying to get a bit more Counselor Troi into the system”—the starship Enterprise’s empathetic counselor. …

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This Number In Facebook’s Q3 Earnings Should Scare TV Networks

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From my Forbes blog:

Eight billion.

That’s how many videos people watch on Facebook every day, according to company comments after it reported third-quarter earnings today–and it’s double the number just seven months ago. More than anything–Facebook’s 45% ad revenue growth notwithstanding–that’s why companies that make their money on television advertising should be worried.

Granted, it’s easy to put too much stock into even a figure as eye-popping as 8 billion a day. Facebook counts any videos watched for as little as three seconds. And nearly all those videos are nothing like television shows or movies. Instead, they’re short videos of your child’s first steps along with trailers for actual shows and movies. So this is not yet prime time advertising as brand marketers think of it.

But what the 8 billion daily video views shows is that Facebook has arrived as a place where people are happy to watch videos of almost any kind–some 500 million people daily, in fact. Not only that, they’re doing so on the mobile devices where advertisers know they need to reach people–especially the younger people with disposable income–who have begun drifting away from linear television. …

What that means is that people on Facebook will now view video ads, the most lucrative kind of ad online or off, as a natural if not universally loved complement to the videos they’re already watching. At some point, ad spending on television–still the largest single place for marketers’ budgets–seems bound to shift at least in part to video ads. …

It’s clear that Facebook is now a force to be reckoned with in video advertising, something that seemed unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

Read the complete analysis.