Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why Banner Advertising should go down the gurgler

There is a monumental swirling mass of waterborne toxic plastic and debris called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It offers me a visual metaphor for the Internet, though of course the Internet is bigger.  We’ve developed an infinite ability to create crap and find a place to leave it so that we can conveniently ignore it, or selectively see what we want from amidst the mess.
Take advertising. It’s been elevated to an art form in many media; advertising is sometimes enjoyed more than the content it pays for. But online promotional activity is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch of the advertising business. Banners, buttons and ‘skyscrapers’ pollute content sites with their insistent flickering.

One of the problems with this form of advertising is that clicking a banner or button links you to another place on the web, and not always to a useful or nice place. So I stick with the content I sought out and ignore the siren calls of neurotic touts. Like many consumers I have developed banner blindness. I don’t even see the messages.

Not only does banner blindness lead to pathetically low click-through rates, but it does nothing to enhance the reputation of digital advertising or the brands that use it. The artistry in the best television or print advertising cannot be supported in the junk market. Why assign a creative budget to a throw-away? What self-respecting creative talent wants to produce clutter that simply swirls around in the sinkhole of the web?

Maybe Apple’s entry into the advertising fray with iAd will change things a little in the mobile arena. Their product cleverly addresses the fundamental flaw of banner advertising on the web by allowing the user to remain within the application they are using. This interstitial form of advertising is similar to an ad break on television (though with the added function of allowing the ad to be closed) and, like television advertising, the ads can be used to fund free content and applications because Apple will share 60 percent of the value of the ad with the developers who embed the code into their apps. On the other side of the ledger, Apple also offers a creation service where, for US$50,000 or more, it will produce an interactive experience for your brand that will suit the format—to Apple’s high aesthetic standard.

Attracting attention with flashing, flickering doodads on the web is the lowest form of advertising (matched only in the real world by ugly, intrusive billboards that appear without invitation or any relevance). It’s little wonder they are ignored, but still they hover and lurk ineffectually: visual spam.

Maybe the rise of search as a marketing tool will bring about the demise of junk banner advertising. Directing visitors to online experiences that are specific and relevant makes much more sense than cheap, random, in-your-face intrusion. Creating brand experiences delivered online that people will talk about and share on Facebook and Twitter will also be more and more significant. Human curation and recommendation will trump a nasty hawker’s pitch every time.  

This column first appeared in the current issue of Idealog magazine. Happy to report the magazine (which I co-founded) has just won the Magazine Publishers Association (MPA) Business Magazine of the Year…which it has done every year since we started publishing. A great credit the talnted team who make every issue come alive with stories about creative New Zealand businesses. Subscribe here…it's worth it.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Don't you take me to 'Funky Town'

Nestle in Australia have launched a promotion called Take Time Back with the Kit Kat Desk Jockey - who is working like a machine so you don't have to.

The concept is based on the idea of having a virtual assistant (I suppose to save you time - a tenuous connection to the long running position of 'Have a break, have a Kit Kat').

Visitors to the site request the assistant to perform tasks on their behalf. It's obviously not serious. The tasks include celebrating something Mexican style to which the assistant attacks a Pinata (in Kit Kat colours) with a rubber chicken - while wearing a sombrero - in Kit Kat colours.

The 'show' is live cast for four hours a day, with a highlight reel and interstitial promotion run the rest of the day. Viewer requests are shown in a stream below the video window. The requests are a little haphazard such as 'Could you get me a Wii' or 'Could I have a family pass to Taronga Zoo'. There is also a twitter feed and Facebook fan page and the concept is supported with a national television campaign.

Aside from all of the fun, there is a sales activation promotion where people who buy Kit Kats earn rewards which increase in value depending on the number of chocolate bars consumed (from digital downloads to time saving home services)

What is interesting to me are Nestle's comments on their media selection for the campaign, reported in AdNews magazine. They express the view that television is still the medium to reach the mass audience needed for a product like Kit Kat but that the way forward is to engage on a far more personal level with consumers. Being the hard-nosed marketers they are Nestle also ensure that their is a mechanism for producing a tangible return on their investment. The budget to produce the Desk Jockey campaign was taken from the pots that would otherwise have been spent on print and outdoor advertising.

Putting aside any value judgment about the creative execution (which is cringe worthy to me but probably hilarious for some) the strategy seems to be the perfect approach for FMCG marketers to deploy social media and branded content campaigns. Combine the power of TV with interactive web content and a sales promotion to extend it beyond a 'feel good' experience for the brand.

In New Zealand we have seen campaigns for Yellow directories that have taken a similar approach to content on TV and the Web - but the missing ingredient has been the integration of a component to activate sales. It could be argued that the intention of the Yellow campaigns has been to increase awareness of the brand (or some other nonsensical non-metric), but Yellow doesn't need awareness. Everybody is aware of the brand. Indeed the process of creating a Yellow chocolate bar probably only confused many Yellow customers who spend all of their marketing money every year on a simple listing. For them the campaign probably incited confusion and anger - serving only to remind how costly the listing is and how profligate the company. Ironically the Yellow business is in dire straits while the ad campaign has been picking up accolades.

The risks in embarking on campaigns that have significant online components:

Assuming 'if you build it they will come'.
It pays to remember how big the web is. The chances of randomly stumbling across any content are about the same as finding a needle in in a nebula. SEO, Facebook and Twitter will all help bring traffic to your content (assuming it is worth talking about), but television is still the killer app in media if your goal is mass reach. Why have kick-ass content that no-one sees?

Failing to leverage the investment or assign real goals 
In the second half of the 20th Century, the hay-day of modern advertising, brands were in the ascendant - in many cases the brand's positioning was the only thing that separated one product from another. Advertising that centred on the notion 'love my ad, love my product' prevailed. Today the choice of brands is all but infinite. You need to give people a reason to buy your product. Branded content is all well and good, but it should be placed in the context of sales activation. The best engagement with a consumer is for them to trial/use your product or service. Who cares how many friends and followers you have if they don't buy what you are selling?

Being led down the garden path to 'Funkytown'
Because digital and interactive is relatively new and requires a skill-set that is sometimes arcane it is easy to assume that only kids in pork-pie hats and pointy shoes can plan and implement a campaign or that they understand what the online audience wants.
What is true is that sound understanding of your audience transcends fashionable execution and development of quirky doodads.
Don't be sucked down into a rabbit hole. Keep a firm hand on the tiller and expect that any bell or whistle proposed is going to serve some purposeful utility. Online audiences are less forgiving of irrelevant things than in legacy media because of their active engagement - pulling the content towards them.

Link: Take Time Back - Kit Kat Desk Jockey