Soap operas


So Ted McConnell, P&G’s general manager for interactive marketing and innovation has just told a conference audience that he didn’t want to buy any more ads on Facebook (thanks to Dan W for the link).

He succinctly summarises his thinking:

“What in heaven’s name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?”

This might come as more of a shock if anyone were actually currently buying the endless inventory of Facebook. Despite the fact that you can theoretically target your audience by the colour of their pubic hair and their cat’s favourite cheese, most of the ads I see (and lets face facts, I barely even notice most of them) are for… Facebook ads:

Facebook ad for facebook ads on Facebook

I really hope someone can tell me that ad has been taregeted to me (twice).

The truth of course, is that the last place you can reach your customers before they search, is on Facebook itself – they’re way too busy finding out which of their friends is now in a ‘complicated’ relationship or is playing a new game of scramble.

McConnell hints at the very conceit in the constuction of the phrase ‘social media’ and ‘consumer generated media’. It may be both social and consumer generated but that does not mean it’s a place where people want to hear about low-fat yoghurt or taking part in medical trials.

Social media banner placements are so woeful they make traditional online media placements look good. But, we all know most banners are still ignored. In a social setting, they are completely invisible.

Of course, this is good and bad. Its good because hopefully it will reduce the amount I need to learn about teeth whitening, sanitary protection, mid-sized family vehicles and no-end of products which simply are not relevant to me.

It’s bad to the extent that virtually every good idea we hear about on the internet is supposed to be supported by advertising. And of course, now we’re in GRAVE FINANCIAL PANIC, it’s no longer fashionable to have no viable business plan. It’s like the dull old early noughties all over again, for heaven’s sake. Facebook, presumably, can go on for quite a while selling pieces of itself to MIcrosoft for eye watering sums. But what about the other poor souls. Who’s going to stump up for the Twitter SMS bill? Will you buy just one advertising campaign for this poor suffering Your £15,000 can pay for a branding exercize for a start-up today!

Economics, presumably, will do its thing. As more inventory arrives on more and more sites where the user will work harder and harder to assiduously ignore the ads, the price for impression will fall forever lower. What’s the lowest it can be bought now? 5 cents CPM? 3? Soon, will need to show 100,000 terrible, ineffective impressions to make $1.

At these sort of rates and responses, direct mail is starting to look pretty sexy again. As is prayer. And of course, all the while google get to charge upwards of $20 CPC for some of it’s best  keywords.

To get back to he point, the interesting question is where will P&G spend their money. Utopians might say ‘on the product’ or ‘on utility’ but the truth is that branding and brand promotion must still exist. And it must still exist because consumers use non-rational methods of making decisions (debate). And so, it still makes sense to try and add to the pure satisfactions of the product or service.

I think we’ll see lots more experimentation and some pretty bad mistakes. We’ll see lots more ads, and ignore almost all of them. And , at some time in this period of self-imposed adversity over the next 14 months, someone will find a way to more perfectly capture, understand and influence users’ intent and interest. This will keep Facebook’s over ambitious promise of capturing users before they acutally search and will make someone new a great deal of money (incuding P&G’s). Unless Google gets there first.

Abstraction and absurdity

Lolcat Identity picture

It’s a funny industry, the web industry.

What started out for many of us as a job creating digital expressions has fast become the job of watching the world change how it communicates with itself and then coming up with ways in which we, or our clients, might fit into it all.

Buoyed up by all of this excitement, we sometimes end up with some pretty absurd ideas and discussions.

In a speakers’ evening I went to a while ago, someone asked when social shopping had first been invented (as if this phenomonen didn’t pre-date the internet), and just the other day I heard about the dramatic effect that ‘social networking’ was having on society (as if society itself had been invented by a somewhat snotty Harvard student).

On Friday, I was lucky enough to be at dConstruct 2008 in Brighton. The packed conference included some original takes on how to describe and design for a ‘social’ web. i particularly recommend Jeremy Keith’s mesmerizing walk from Isaac Asimov through determinism nd kevin bacon to the structure of all things and the future of all communications (which will apparently be podcast shortly – the speech not the future).

In his segment on Microformats, Tantek Celik unlocked a hugely interesting topic: looking at how a unified mark-up of social and identity data could be far more important than any single project like OpenID, allowing users to create identities (including lists of contacts) which could then be subscribed to from other sites. This approach reduces the burden (and inaccuracy) of maintaining multiple sets of information, eases the transition between networks etc. Combining this approach with platforms like OpenID could then produce single click registrations, or even single click logins across multiple domains.

I began to think about what this would mean for (for want of a better phrase) digital natives – the generation who were born after all this stuff became commonplace and see this level of technology as just normal.

Presumably the prize for sites now is it just registration but to be selected as the ‘single source of truth’ for these natives. If I were one, I’d use this blog (NB: note shiny new domain name). I guess others would use MySpace or Flickr.

Its interesting too that this syndication approach is the same as the approach architects of large scale data models are taking inside of orgnaisation. Perhaps, we are at last starting to close in on a global system of identity and social identity.

And that’s when I caught myself. Because, again I was attempting to think that all of this complexity could be reduced to its online ‘shaddow’. As if identity were a concept whose most important manifestation were online.

The changes in how we manage our online identities will no doubt be intense in the next few years but it remains a tiny proportion of the question about how we exist and exist online, and how we express ourselves in all of these new communities we have to explore.

So don’t let a computer try and capture your identity. Not just yet anyway.

No one to hear you scream

2012 Olympic celebrations in Trafalgar Square

An interesting comment on the last post came back to a topic which I seem to be asked, or ask myself, more and more often. If social media increasingly leads to closed groups, and tomorrow’s media consumers are increasingly avoiding the mass media, what will happen to mass-participation media events, and don’t we as a culture lose something if we lose common points of reference. What on earth will we talk about around the water cooler?

In particular, I’ve heard this as a strong initial response to Clay Shirky, who argues here that however ‘sad’ it is to play World of Warcraft, it’s a better use of the ‘cognitive surplus’ than watching a re-run of Gilligan’s Island for the 100th time. (Incidentally, what was the cognitive heatsink that we had as kids in the UK? Clearly Neighbours later on but before that? Rocketman?).

Of course, this is not a new idea. I remember years ago, a planner explained to me why you couldn’t advertise cars with direct mail – it wasn’t enough for me to know how cool my new Audi is, I need to be certain all my neighbors knew too.

Perhaps the point about ‘mass-participation media events’ isn’t that their power is diminishing (witness Apprentice this year), but rather that they are fewer and more extraordinary.

There also seems to be a point now that whole social groups can have ‘mass-participation’ events which they all know about but which are entirely closed to those outside of the group: that wierd feeling you get when everyone in a room’s been reading the same status’ and knows each others business without having ever discussed it.

It remains worth remembering a serious challenge that has been raised by commentators including Esther Dyson and Andrew Orlowski, about how these groups aren’t necessarily healthy, challenging or participatory. Often preferring to define very strict group rules and mores.

The final point, of course, is just what we mean by participation. By 2012, when the Olympic games is going on in London, what will the experience of watching it be like? If you’ve seen what NBC has planned for Beijing, the mind boggles about what it will be like in 4 1/2 years (three times the gestation period for a standard YouTube) but most certainly there will be opportunities to observe almost everything about the event, to turn the event into a private mass media event for your network, to ‘virtually’ compete and to compile, annotate and share your own coverage. 

With apologies for shoplifting to Hugh MacLeod, mass participation media events have always – of course -been social objects. So in the era of mass media, it’s not a surprise the objects themselves tended to have the same traits. Whilst we may still have global events to built frameworks around, surely local (and group) interpretation and meaning can be added to createsocial object which can be more intimately shared.

The reason, it seems to me, that nobody understands microblogging unless they do it themselves, is that they don’t understand how small social objects can be.

And, to revisit the negativity of small disconnected groups (and ever-decreasing differences of opinion in those groups), technology can take these objects and make them available to huge audiences. Anyone can write a blog, anyone can produce a LOLcat (as Shirky jokes), and by 2012, everyone will be able to participate in our global media event.

It is this access to open social objects which is at the heart of participation in all cases. It’s what got all the bloggers I know addicted, it’s what makes teenagers turn the telly off and Facebook on, and it’s what makes Amelia’s wired retired fall in love with Skype, so they can share the smallest of social objects – not  just their grandchildren’s first words or their first tooth, but their everyday stories about the day at school.

And do I really need to know how many people watched The Apprentice altogether if I know that my family, friends and colleagues watched it. Isn’t that enough?

Ins and outs – a redefinition of digital marketing

First ever banner

Remember the first website you built. I remember doing them at university a bit but they were really awful. And then I did one for the company I worked in. And then, rather suddenly I was running a company that made them. And in the start people would argue about everything. Should there be persistent navigation? were all-flash sites bad? how about skip-intros? What about those ticker things that used to flash across the page?

And how should you do the coding? Make sure all your fonts are fixed size, and be brilliant with tables. Remember: It’s all about the home page.

And then accessibility was a thing, and then standards. And then we started sneering at people that couldn’t build a website without using tables, or who used fixed fonts. And then it was all about buttons and big fonts. And for a while there, it all seemed to be about being ugly, and then simple, and should it even have a logo any more? And wasn’t persistent navigation a bit tired, and surely users are now clever enough to navigate more complex interfaces.

Every year we think we’ve codified one more chunk, got closer to having all the design patterns sorted out. And every year we get new and – it has to be said – interesting challenges to think about. Does save make sense any more? Do we even care about the home page any more? Is Google your most important user?

Well I think the next one’s going to be bigger, more conceptually difficult, require more complex teams to figure out, and be the beginning of the end of the period where you can work out what to do by just looking at your competitors. It will also be a bitter showdown between the big web agencies (who build where the user ends up) and the digital marketing agencies (who try to get them there), finally standing squarely on each others’ turf.

Because the next phase is where we let go of the concept of domain. It’s about thinking about the users’ lifecycle as needing managing before they even get to you. It’s a question about thinking about the opportunities to capture intent in more than search engine landing pages. And it’s going to be a question of becoming a lot more sophisticated in thinking about what content you will share, how you will consume and repurpose content, and how your users will see your brand.

Possibly my favorite factoid about the internet is that 50% of all searches on Yahoo! (and they must love this) are for the word ‘Google’. In a world where the average punter doesn’t know – or doesn’t care – to this extent, but they are willing to tell Google or all of their facebook friends that they’re looking for a new car or interested in a boob job, the way in which we concieve of capturing and converting intent just became a whole lot more interesting. And so did CRM (or rather the management of a users lifetime value), and so did sales and service.

Early approaches, especially behavioral targeting of advertising have looked like privacy invasions – or as google would have it, ‘increased relevance’. Privacy will be an issue, but skills and dexterity are the main problems and it will be fascinating to see who’s got the most of those. Not advertising agencies, of course, but quite possibly the media agencies, the digital marketing agencies who are a bit more interested in the detail, and of course, the marketing teams in large corporations; not to mention digital media owners like WordPress (scroll down for relevance targeted links!).

Third time lucky


Amelia’s amusing analysis of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 came coincidentally on the same day that I was at a conference thingy and had been having exactly that discussion: what was 2.0 and how much of it was pure marketing sentiment. I couldn’t disagree more. I think 2.0 is a radical shift in society. It is, as Amelia says the shift from an internet of geeks and possibility to an internet of the mass market and reality.

What, if anything, 3.0 means is another matter. Clearly there is a quasi-technical meaning being discussed (as on the Wikipedia page), but surely we should be concerning ourselves instead with the social impact of these changes.

  • Expectations about data integration will go through the roof. Just as information became ubiquitous in 2.0, the joining and manipulation of data will become so now. Brands will have to respond to this. Expect some powerful movements in traditionally data orientated services, particularly FS.
  • The ladder of involvement will continue, with a new rung being added above ‘blogger’ or ‘publisher’ for ‘providers of utility’
  • Concepts of enterprises and the borders of corporations will continue to be challenged

Amazon and Google (and to a certain extent, Microsoft) have clearly started their engines to take advantage of this next generation with app development, elastic computing, utility computing and so on the subject of much debate this week.

There’s a powerful version of inverted marketing too (where consumers are rewarded for hand-raising) which feels like the inevitable consequence of abstracting and linking data.

How will it impact your brand?

Does it really ad up?


Another fantastically cynical piece from Andrew Orlowski: I’m a walking billboard… bitch in response to the somewhat hyperbolic claims of Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg that he’s reinvented advertising for the next 100 years.

In fact, there are three things that Facebook is doing:

  1. Letting brands have pages. Fair enough, we’ve seen this work well enough on MySpace and at least it’s all above board and we’re not going go get loads of made-up identities (‘flogs’). The reasoning is that users can then tell the world about their favorite bands, brands and celebrities. Nice idea but not quite sure how the marketers of engine oil and socks join that party. And let us not forget the sad fate of Burberry. Do brands really want everyone’s endorsement!? Plus, as Orlwoski points out, a lot of the early conversations are between a brands’ most enthusiastic (read: mentally ill or paid) customers and the brands’ corporate lawyers. For example, take a look at Coca-cola’s 500 fans(!!) who’ve signed up for this nonsense (graphic at top of post). 90% fake, 100% uninteresting. I’ll bet you my rotten teeth that that page doesn’t last till Christmas.
  2. Social ads: this is targeting. And the scenario is simple. Let’s say I want to sell 10,000 copies of Nik Kershaw’s Greatest Hits. Now I can target my ads to just those people who say they like Nik Kershaw, or those who’ve joined a related group, or those that grew up in the 80s, or those who wet the bed etc.
    Apparently, ‘Facebook Social Ads allow your businesses to become part of people’s daily conversations’, perhaps as in ‘I wish Blockbuster would stop putting these f*cking ads in my Facebook newsfeed’.
  3. A new thing called ‘beacons’. This is interesting stuff and something a lot of us have been talking about for a while. It allows actions outside of FB get into the news feed there. For Facebook it’s more content, for its users, it’s even more news (and intermittent variable reinforcement!), for brands it’s a chance to make non-social actions social. ‘Tom has just bought a dodgy Nik Kershaw album’, ‘John has just signed up to Amazon prime’. It’ll be interesting to see how this one gets used.

At the moment, predicting the next three years of advertising seems hard enough. Certainly an element of it will be like this. But not all of it will be. A lot of these sorts of initiatives seem to overlook the fundamental changes brand owners must learn to live with, rather than just how they get their message out.

Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and have a conversation with  my favorite snack foods on Facebook.

Outside in

we need to reinvent our $40bn company. Quick, let’s start a blog’ 

(Slightly adapted notes from my role as chair of this morning’s Oracle and Conchango Enterprise 2.0 event which didn’t end up getting used because of the late start caused by tube suspensions).

So first of all, thank you all very much indeed for joining us for our discussion today of Enterprise 2.0.

We’re delighted to have you.

It’s a packed half day so I won’t ramble on for too long, but I thought it was worth just airing a couple of thoughts about this whole subject of ‘Enterprise 2.0’.

It’s easy to forget that, for many people, the first experience of computers was at work. It’s where they learned how to use type with more than two fingers, where they learned to operate productivity programmes like Word and Excel. It’s where they first became with intra-office communications tools, and then with the beast that was about to assault all of our lives, email.

And the machines themselves became smaller, and cheaper, and cuter boxes, and at some point we started to think ‘these things aren’t all that bad, I could do with one in my house’. ‘I like spreadsheets so much I might get some for the kitchen’.

And then of course there was the web, and – before we knew it the 2.0 web, whatever that is… and all of a sudden everyone is online and our expectations have gone through the roof.

And really now, what we expect as consumers is quite unbelievable. Products and services that were totally unimaginable even five years ago become common place – our grandparents are using Skype, blogging and downloading Gorillazs songs from bit torrent.

You almost start to wonder: Is it denying someone’s fundamental human rights to block their access to Facebook?

And somewhere in the middle of that, Google made the old job title ‘knowledge manager’ seem pretty bizarre.

I don’t suppose I need to talk about web 2.0 here but suffice’ to say, all of a sudden, many of our companies now feel like the car parked on the hard shoulder while their staff (and customers) go whizzing past.

And let’s face facts, a lot of the systems inside businesses are pretty unambitious undertakings. Often turning into vast filing systems for exactly the sort of information that no one wanted, like organisational charts or Joyce from accounts, who’s thinking about selling a black and white television.

On the outside of our firewalls, in three short years, customers have taken the raw building blocks of the web (anything that was close to fit for purpose) and built an internet which works the way they want.

And now our employees must do the same inside our organizations. Indeed, as we’ll hear later – heaven help any of us that try and stop them

And this is not something to be frightened of. The opportunities are incredible.

Whether it is that job of knowledge management from the old days, or collaboration amongst your team or simply increasing efficiencies into all those broken old business practices, it can all be done online.

And we will continue to surprise ourselves with the idea that the staff are often much better at designing these systems than the boardrooms full of boardroom type people.