Picture This: Marketers Let Emojis Do the Talking

couple holding hands

An illustration from Taco Bell’s Taco Emoji Engine

From my New York Times article:

The condom brand Durex has used World AIDS Day as a marketing hook for years, but for the most recent edition it tried something different: a condom emoji.

Durex said there was no icon that communicated a desire for safe sex, so it started a campaign to provide one on smartphone keyboards. The consortium that sets standards for characters and emojis has yet to approve it, but the mere fact that Durex started the campaign prompted 210 million mentions on Twitter and, by Durex’s estimates, drew 2.6 billion media impressions worldwide.

Such is the power of emojis. And more companies are taking notice.

“There’s a lot of brand demand for emojis,” said Ross Hoffman, senior director of global brand strategy at Twitter, which recently started offering custom emojis for companies to use in advertising. That is because some 92 percent of the online population now uses emojis, according to a study by Emogi, a start-up that uses them to let people indicate how they feel about particular ads. Swyft Media, which creates alternate phone keyboards featuring multiple emojis, says people send six billion of them a day.

Brands like emojis for several other reasons. For one, they reach ad-averse millennials, sailing past ad-blocking software. They are visual, which makes them a natural fit for popular messaging apps such as Snapchat and Instagram and also appeals to international audiences. And because they are meant to be shared, the brand images are distributed widely, free.

“All of a sudden, the brand is in this very personal conversation between friends and family,” said Evan Wray, the chief executive of Swyft Media.

Now, emojis are everywhere in marketing. …

Read the rest.

Facebook’s Monster Mobile Ad Machine

 

fbq4-2015-evanstweetFrom my Forbes blog:

If there’s one number that stands out in Facebook’s by-all-accounts stellar fourth-quarter earnings report today, it’s the amount of advertising revenues from mobile devices: 80 percent.

Nobody should be surprised that mobile dominates Facebook’s revenues, which rose 52 percent in the quarter (66% on a constant currency basis), to $5.84 billion, from the previous year. A year ago, mobile ad sales were already 69 percent of the total.

But 80 percent is not only a nice round number, but one that says Facebook is inarguably and irrevocably a mobile company. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said during the earnings call that mobile ad revenues rocketed 81 percent, to $4.5 billion. It’s such a commanding number that those ads on the right side of the desktop home page, let alone in the desktop news feed, almost feel like holdovers from a bygone era.

Like 2012. That’s when Facebook’s initial public offering of shares stumbled largely because the social network had essentially zero revenues from mobile. Zero! …

Read the rest of the analysis.

Why Google Is Doubling Down On VR (Hint: It’s Not Oculus)

gcardboard

From my Forbes blog:

More than a year and a half after Google introduced what still looks more like a mockup of a virtual-reality device than a real virtual-reality device, it’s finally getting real on VR. But not for the reason most people seem to think.

Today, Google confirmed that it has created a new virtual-reality group headed by Clay Bavor, a vice president for product management who has headed apps such as Gmail, Docs, and Drive–and Cardboard, the cheapo device that turns a smartphone into a crude but surprisingly effective VR headset.

The assumption by many observers is that Google is playing catch-up to Facebook’s Oculus, which just released its high-end Rift device, and other VR headsets such as the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR introduced last fall.

But the search giant is playing a rather different game than Facebook, in particular, and other makers of VR devices. …

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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. …

Read the rest of the story.

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

 

message thread 1

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. …

Read the rest of the story.

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

fbq32015

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.

Behind The Would-Be Siri Killer Facebook M, A Battle Over AI’s Future

Facebook M

Facebook M

From my Forbes blog:

Facebook’s test release today of a digital assistant inside its Messenger app is a shot across the bow of the Internet’s biggest companies: Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.com. It’s also the latest salvo in a high-stakes battle over the ways artificial intelligence should transform the way we live and work.

Facebook M is intended to allow users of Facebook Messenger to pose any query or service request in natural language and get a personalized answer immediately. The key wrinkle that sets it apart from Apple’s Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft Cortana is that there’s a team of human “trainers” who will step in when the machines aren’t quite up to the challenge.

So far, it’s only available to a few hundred people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and its timing and scope are unclear. But judging from a brief post by VP of Messaging Products David Marcus, Facebook M is clearly a major bid in a quickening battle to be the virtual assistant of choice, taking on not only Siri, Google Now, and Cortana, but also a raft of upstarts such as Luka, Magic, and Operator.

And in the mobile age, virtual assistants could prove to be the key product that will define which companies dominate the next decade of online services, just as search was for the past decade. “Whoever creates the intelligent assistant will be the first place people go to find things, buy things, and everything else,” former AI researcher Tim Tuttle, CEO of the voice interface firm Expect Labs, said last week.

But what’s even more interesting in the bigger picture is how Facebook M plays into a longstanding, fundamental battle over how artificial intelligence should be employed–one that has recently come into sharper focus. … The upshot: Until and unless AI gets so good that machines can anticipate what we want, people will remain a key component of truly intelligent online services.

Read the entire post.