Marketing in the Moments, to Reach Customers Online


From my New York Times story:

Moments are having a moment in advertising. Or at least a micromoment.

As people flit from app to app online, they have little patience for any interruption, especially a banner ad or, heaven forbid, a 30-second commercial. Moments, whether they come during a 10-second Snapchat video or Twitter’s new collection of real-time news bites — called, fittingly enough, Moments — increasingly are all companies have to market against.

Companies that buy and sell online advertising are taking aim at these fleeting instances. They are hoping that targeting people based on what they are doing on their mobile devices at a particular time might make them more receptive to the message.

Last fall, for instance, the spirits company Campari America targeted liquor consumers aged 21 to 34 while they were in neighborhoods with lots of bars and restaurants. Using Kiip, a San Francisco firm that places ads in mobile apps, Campari offered consumers $5 off from the ride-sharing service Lyft when, say, they checked a score on an app while at a sports bar. More than 20 percent redeemed the offer, a high rate for digital ads.

“The attention span of consumers today is, what, eight seconds?” said Umberto Luchini, Campari America’s vice president for marketing. “You get one shot.”

And an ever more brief one at that. …

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


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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‘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


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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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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