Source: UpWord Search Marketing
A good friend to the SpeakerBox family shared a Wall Street Journal article on Facebook today that got me thinking – can readers tell when they are in fact reading the news?
The article, “When Ads Look Like Content,” takes aim at the blurred line between sponsored content and unpaid editorial content.
Sponsored content is one form of what we in the PR world call “pay-for-play.” It is when a vendor pays a media outlet to run a piece about them. In this case, sponsored content is an advertising piece that has been written to look like a news article but is actually paid for and run alongside unbiased editorial content.
Sponsored content is not a new phenomenon, but as ad revenue has slipped publishers at some of the top media outlets (Forbes, The Atlantic and soon The New York Times) have started to embrace the revenue sponsored content can bring in.
In March The Washington Post launched a new section on their website titled “BrandConnect.” The idea is that it “allows marketers to offer content to Washington Post users and feature it on The Post’s homepage and throughout the site.” You can find examples of BrandConnect content here: http://goo.gl/kJEJRK.
In theory I don’t have a problem with sponsored content like that which The Washington Post is running, and I’ve certainly worked with clients who embrace it. However, when sponsored content is not labeled as such, the whole practice becomes sketchy and deceptive.
See, the thing is, in an ideal world, when dealing with the media there is typically a divide between the editorial and publishing sides of the house (or at least there should be). In an attempt to keep advertising dollars from influencing editorial content, editors and publishers each run their own operation.
Sponsored content runs a very thin line between the two sides and, unfortunately, it appears that many readers are unable to tell the difference between content that was paid for and content that was earned. In fact, the line between the two is so thin and blurred the Federal Trade Commission is about to take up the issue this week.
So what do you think – is sponsored content deceptive or do you see the value in it?
Personally, I’m young enough to understand the benefits of sponsored content but old enough to want to believe in the integrity of the news media.
Using marketing to smash one gender stereotype at a time – just in time for the holidays. This is the time of year when children start to get out their markers to circle the latest Toys R Us catalog or write Santa letters of what they simply must have this season. Girls are dreaming of Barbie and boys of trucks. Oh wait, was that a gender stereotype?
Meet GoldieBlox, a construction-themed board game that combines a love for reading and characters with engineering creativity such as Legos. Creator, Debbie Sterling, a game developer whose Kickstarter project nearly doubled its goal as she set out to inspire girls’ love for engineering just as erector sets and the like have done for boys over the years.
The target demographic for the game is girls aged 5-9 years old. In her research, Sterling found that only 11% of engineers are women and girls start losing interest in science at 8 years old – and GoldieBlox wants to change that. The set comes with a storybook, figurines, and a construction set. Sterling isn’t a hardcore feminist where the toys can’t be pink or the characters can’t be beauty queens. Rather, she finds the balance of letting girls use their imagination and problem-solving skills to help the characters save the day.
The commercial went viral and has many talking about the impact it’s having on gender stereotype barriers. The two-minute video features three little girls dressed in hardhats and goggles playing with an elaborate chain-reaction apparatus to the tune of Beastie Boys’ “Girls”. If you remember the original lyrics, “Girls, to do the dishes, Girls, to clean up my room, Girls, to do the laundry, Girls, and in the bathroom.” Anything but promoting today’s modern girl. The commercial takes those lyrics to another level with: “It’s time to change/We deserve to see a range/’Cause all our toys look just the same/And we would like to use our brains.” Bravo GoldieBlox, bravo!
It would be great to get more gender-neutral toys out there for children so these stereotypes aren’t ingrained in their heads from a young age. This young San-Francisco based company is just getting their feet wet and already are in the running for one of four free 2014 Super Bowl ads paid for by Intuit for a small business competition.
Well it finally happened. I know you’re not surprised, but ads have finally hit Instagram.
If you didn’t know to look for it, you probably would have thought the first ad to appear on Instagram was just another post on your feed. Just a beautiful photo of a watch on a table set with tea and macarons with the caption, “Pampered in Paris #MK Timeless.”
But this Michael Kors photo was different. This was the first sponsored post on the popular photo-sharing network Instagram, which arrived two weeks ago and wasn’t met with a welcoming audience.
Brands all across the board have been avid users of the popular photo-sharing platform since its inception, but until recently their accounts have been the same as yours or mine. The difference now, is that companies are able to pay to insert content into targeted newsfeeds.
According to Instagram, the addition of ads will be slow, painless, and customizable. In a recent #instagramnews blog post the company said, “We’ll focus on delivering a small number of beautiful, high-quality photos and videos from a handful of brands that are already great members of the Instagram community.”
The most prevalent complaint in the ad’s hundreds of comments was that Michael Kors as a brand was irrelevant to feeds where it appeared, but Instagram has taken that into account too. If an ad shows up on your feed that you don’t want to see again, you will be able to hide it and provide feedback about what you didn’t like.
Based on the new model of incorporating ads, anyone who was already following Michael Kors saw the photo come up as a normal post and others saw it featuring the label “sponsored."
The Instagram PR team seems to be handling the introduction of ads with elegant transparency by creating a forum for public opinion sharing and explaining their thought processes as they go. However, the introduction of sponsored posts leads to a few questions about the future of Instagram and where the platform is headed. Will we all get use to seeing sponsored content? Will we even notice? Is Instagram going to follow in Facebook’s footsteps with almost as many ads as personal content?
The fact is, Instagram ads are here to stay. After a glace at the metrics following the Michael Kors ad, brands will be jumping at the chance to advertise on Instagram. According to a study by Nitrogram, the inaugural ad received 218k likes in the first 18 hours, translating to a 370% bump in engagement as opposed to their non-sponsored content.
User comments have dictated that Instagram will have to keep ads classy and targeted at the right demographics to keep users from feeling like their feeds are being polluted. Still to come are ads from Adidas, Ben & Jerry's, Burberry, General Electric, Levi's, Lexus, Macy's, PayPal and Starwood.
So what are your thoughts? Do you think ads on Instagram will affect the user experience? Should we even care? Let us know!
"Our crappy medicine is unworthy of your glorious mouth."
I was watching CNN on Sunday. I'm not proud of it. Often you can tell something about a network's demographics by the ads they run. CNN was running -- and I'm not making this up -- ads for canes.
The Situation Room: #1 with octogenarians, the blind, and Busby Berkeley-style chorus dancers
Anyway, while pondering my cane options, I noticed something else: the ads were getting a little... self-denigrating.
And not in a fun Rodney Dangerfield kind of way, but in a borderline-creepy, we're unworthy of breathing the same oxygen as you kind of way.
Here, for instance, is Tylenol's new pay-off line: "For everything we do, we know you do so much more."
What the heck kind of a value proposition is that?
It's such forced, patronizing false-humility. And worst of all, it's only pretending to be personalized. This is an ad delivered to millions of viewers. (Wait, it's CNN.) This is an ad delivered to thousands of viewers, indiscriminately. And yet they're contending they know something about me, the individual?
The idea of tailoring products to specific customers only works if you make some kind of meaningful segmentation. You can't just say, Go Humans Go!
Yes, this was an actual campaign.
These absurd messages are everywhere now. Things like:
WristPro: the watch built for you.
If I were the CMO at WristPro, I would insist my marketing messages make sense, so I'd change that to:
WristPro: the watch built for you -- Betty Kincaid -- who lives at 437 Haverford Rd. -- and you can go suck an egg Brian Flannigan who lives next door, because we could literally not care less about what you may think of our cheap, generic watches.
Here's what I think is going on: We marketers don't often learn lessons. But when we do learn a lesson, we almost always take it too far in the opposite direction.
So, when we learned to stop talking about features and start talking about benefits, everyone went: Oh, yeah, right, that makes sense!
But then we quickly perverted that into: Stop talking about your product at all, and only talk about your customers (which is how we got to the whole "we're not selling anymore, we're engaging with people" thing).
But we couldn't even stop there, could we Tylenol? We had to take it a step further. Not just "you are important," but now, "you are important, and we're crap."
Yes, we've corrected the problem of talking over our customers. But the needle's swung too far the other way -- straight to vacuous, sycophantic drivel (which is probably why they've got it airing during Blitzer).
What do others think about this? When you see an ad that says, "We built this car with you in mind," how do you react? Do you do what I do -- pop an Advil and hurl your cane at the TV?
And lest you think Tylenol holds the monopoly on bad marketing, just wait until you enter the terrifying world of B2B websites:
As you sit unsuspectingly drinking your latte and reading the paper at your local coffee shop, a woman nearby begins levitating and destroying items with her eyes alone. You must be watching a horror movie, right?
While this might sound like something you would never see outside of the silver screen, it actually is part of the latest trend in advertising – prankvertising. As you watch the freak out of the coffee shop woman take place, you are being secretly taped for your reaction – which is likely to be extreme given the situation that is unfolding.
Prankvertising is the latest trend amongst advertisers and companies have been scrambling to out-do each other with elaborate scenarios designed to shock the viewers and go viral. The latest attempt at the tactic was sponsored by Sony to promote the movie Carrie, where an actress at a coffee shop simulated a Carrie-like meltdown, hurling patrons around the room using telekinesis.
The result was a YouTube video broadcasting the terror felt by coffee shop customers while they thought a horror movie was unfolding right before their eyes. Today, that video has over 38 million views and numerous articles written about it.
With brands finding it increasingly difficult to advertise effectively via traditional channels, techniques such as prankvertising are gaining traction among major brands. While the Carrie stunt was one of the first in the U.S., LG created a similar prank in Chile a few months back. LG placed one of their 84-inch HD TV in an office where the window should be and wired the office with hidden cameras. When unsuspecting job applicants sat in the office for an interview, a catastrophic meteor shower took place outside the “window,” complete with lights going out in the office. The interviewees, of course, freaked out, creating an amusing and very popular video – while also demonstrating the clear and lifelike picture of the TV.
Given the success of both of these campaigns, it seems as though prankvertising might continue to gain steam. And while the technique is sure to gain some laughs, it has the potential to backfire in a major way. Given the extreme nature of some of the stunts, a heart attack by an observer isn’t out of the question. So advertisers will have to weigh if the risk is worth the reward.
Until a prank does backfire, I’ll look forward to watching more pranks unfold, at least until this technique goes the way of the flash mob – eventually annoying the masses and dying out for the next big thing.
Changes are coming to everyone’s favorite virtual pinboard site. On September 19, Pinterest announced that after four years of being a free site, it will begin experimenting with promoting pins from select businesses.
For those of you starting to panic that you will now be bombarded with images of someone else’s dream closet – fear not; Pinterest has promised to make the promoted pins as non-invasive as possible.
According to Pinterest, the promoted pins will be:
- Tasteful. No flashy banners or pop-up ads.
- Transparent. We’ll always let you know if someone paid for what you see, or where you see it.
- Relevant. These pins should be about stuff you’re actually interested in, like a delicious recipe, or a jacket that’s your style.
- Improved based on your feedback. Keep letting us know what you think, and we’ll keep working to make things better.
As they begin to test, the site will promote a few pins in search results and category feeds. When I use Pinterest for searching I generally want a wide range of options and ideas, so I don’t think the promoted pins will bother me – if I even notice them at all. So long as they are relevant to what I am searching, the promoted pins might even help if they clearly identify where I can buy the product, what the recipe is, etc.
So far no companies are paying to the service yet as Pinterest first wants to test the waters to see how things go and hear what users think before they involve paying brands. Considering that many brands with visually appealing products get a lot of exposure on Pinterest without having to pay, I’ll be curious to see which brands sign on to the advertising opportunity in the coming months.
In addition to promoted pins, Pinterest also announced last week that the site will be rolling out a new look for articles. According to Pinterest, its users are not just using the site for images – but words too, as more than 5 million articles are pinned to the site everyday. Aimed at making the site a better place for people to save and organize articles, the new look will feature a format that includes the headline, author, story description and link to the source on the pin.
Pinterest is hoping that the change will encourage more users to pin and share articles they find interesting. The new updates could also encourage more media outlets to utilize Pinterest as a tool to promote content. Given that a number of media publishers using its “Pin It” button are finding Pinterest to be a top referrer of traffic – it looks like it makes sense for publications to add Pinterest to the list of sites they push out their content.
What do you think? Would you push out articles about your company through Pinterest?
It's hard to please all of the people, all of the time. Especially in advertising.
Just ask JC Penny after its ill-conceived attempt to hock Hitler-shaped teapots on the 405.
In the right light, from the right angle, I can totally see it.
Or you could ask the makers of that terrible Harris IT ad I ripped last month (while others defended it).
See, that's my point: it's all a very subjective business.
But just as it's my duty to point out which ads I find horrendous, I must also -- from time to time -- emphasize the good creative work being done in our industry. And in that spirit, I saw an excellent tech ad from AT&T this morning at the Federal Triangle metro.
Here's what it looked like:
Elegance and restraint in a tech ad? What's going on here?
Well... here's what's working:
1. Clear, focused message ("We worry about BYOD device security so you don't have to").
2. Clever copy.
3. Subtle branding.
4. No puff statements or fluff.
5. Clean, unobtrusive design.
Look, it's not Rembrandt. But it's about as close as you're going to get in the tech world. And for that, I give it 3 out of a possible 4 Belichicks.
Seen another tech ad that's worthy of praise or mockery? Or maybe you've found a grapefruit that looks remarkably like Henry Kissinger? Hit me up for some blog love.
Or, if you're curious to see how much worse it gets on the Web, check out our white paper:
"Shoot, I kinda liked this thing before that last round of edits."
Advertising is a subjective business. Certainly, we’ve seen our fair share of juvenile, misguided, and downright offensive advertisements in 2013. (For example, this genius Berlusconi ad from Ford’s agency in India).
That said, my position—and I realize this contradicts the common wisdom—is that an offensive ad can never be truly terrible. Because it's doing something. It's driving the conversation somewhere.
The question I ask when evaluating an offensive ad is whether or not the ad is so offensive that I would never again consider buying from the company, no matter how tempting their products and offers.
And that’s a pretty high bar. After all, Gap is still around, and those clothes are made by child slaves in Asia. So clearly, we have a great talent as Americans for ignoring the outrageously horrible.
Speaking of outrageous, remember that GoDaddy.com Super Bowl ad with supermodel Bar Rafaeli and that nerdy tech guy making out? Fantastic ad, I thought—got people talking by grossing them out.
(Quick sidebar: What does it say about our society that we're made uncomfortable watching an attractive person kissing an unattractive person? I'm not grandstanding here and saying I'm better than that; I squirmed just as much as anyone. I'm just a little worried about what that says about our culture...)
Anyway, after the Super Bowl, almost everyone I talked to officially "hated" the ad. And yet they were talking about it, endlessly, everywhere. Mindshare, people, mindshare!
So, following my previously stated offensiveness criterion: Is anyone going to see the ad and affirmatively boycott GoDaddy.com? Probably not. Remember this is a fairly commoditized Web domain and services business we’re talking about. They don't really care what you think about their values; they just want you price shopping on their website, and to get you there, they need to stay top-of-mind.
Now, does this mean that I’m saying all one needs for a winning SuperBowl ad is close-up footage of a man passing a kidney stone, followed by a BP logo?
Yes! That’s precisely what I’m saying.
But enough about great ads. Let’s get on to the real point of this blog, which is the worst ad I've ever seen. As regular readers know, I often write about why B2B and B2G marketing is so much poorer than the B2C variety. But today, let's focus instead on a much easier question: How precisely do we achieve such drivel?
Typically, it begins as B2B and B2G professional services companies devise their unique selling proposition, which invariably turns out to be: "We do good stuff."
(Naturally, if you needed good stuff done, you'd turn to these guys—owning to all the good stuff that they're clearly doing.)
"We do good stuff" is sometimes supplemented by two powerful companion messages: 1. "We exist,” and 2. "We have money for advertising."
From the messaging stage we move to the ad creative. Now here, the logo is going to do most of the heavy lifting, because our greatness is self-evident. We're not trying to convince people of anything, only to gently remind them of their unquestioned affinity for our superior brand of military-grade industrial lubricant.
So that’s the process. And here’s the result: a DC Metro ad that undoubtedly garnered high-fives and “nailed it” whispers from every person in Harris upper management:
Let’s just count the ways in which this ad is terrible, using the Internet’s most valuable currency—snark.
Oh, you’re IT experts, are you? You specialize in the thing that everyone else in this area specializes in? That's just super. Way to differentiate yourself, Harris. You just need two more words added to the beginning of that headline: “Trust Us.”
Not so much sentences as a series of ambiguous verbs. We also get a sub-head that’s basically just a second, unrelated headline. It’s as if they couldn’t decide which headline they liked best, so they just used both. Great job in not backing up an incredibly vague headline with any type of actual message or argument.
What am I even looking at here? It's a computer and a man in the shape of an X? What could this possibly tell me about Harris? Oh wait, I remember now from the headline... they do IT. Obviously, this image reinforces the fact that they deal with computers, as opposed to burgers. Super helpful.
4. QR code
OK, these are just terrible—always. It’s a scientific fact that no one in the history of the universe has ever actually activated a QR code. And yet they keep popping up—probably because marketers think they're trendy and forward-thinking. Never mind the complete absence of utility.
So there you have it—the most innocuous, forgettable, milquetoast ad that's ever been produced. It will offend no one, but it will impact no one.
And therefore, it’s an exercise in futility—the worst kind of marketing malpractice. Like they say in my University of Phoenix philosophy class: If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody cares, do you still get to bill for the chainsaw?
Not satisfied? Need still more examples of B2B marketing shadenfreude? Then check out this white paper below. I promise, things only get worse on the Web...
Over the past week, I’ve sat back and listened to all the buzz and commentary about this year’s Super Bowl commercials. So, I’m finally taking the time to weigh in on whether or not companies really took advantage of their $4 million, 30-second opportunity to make Americans love their brands. And first, I’d like to personally thank those companies who kept their ads a secret until the big day, companies like Chrysler, Oreo, and Tide. Although, those who revealed their ads early may have been taking advantage of the chance for additional viewings (Last year, Super Bowl ads released early were watched 600 percent more times -- with 9.1 million average views -- than ones released after the game, according to YouTube.com), to me, it killed the excitement. It’s like “Black Friday” which is now actually the entire month of November. Nothing is exclusive anymore – but that’s an entirely different post.
I will say, that I was really hoping this year’s commercials would impress me more than last year’s, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Just like last year, there were a few standouts that were memorable advertisements, but nothing amazing. Or again, maybe some fell flat for me because I had seen them splashed all over social media for voting (Doritos’ crash the Super Bowl campaign). So, without further ado, here are my favorites:
- Of course, the Budweiser Clydesdale Ad: Not only was it my favorite, but it also was USA Today’s official winner according to their 25-year anniversary Ad Meter. However, based on an unofficial study of no more than 15 people that I randomly talked to throughout the last week, this one seemed to be more popular with the ladies. But, how couldn’t it be? It was like a one-minute episode of the veterinarian version of Grey’s Anatomy. In my book, and obviously many others’, this was a job well done, Anheuser-Busch. Kudos.
- Geico: "Happier Than Dikembe Mutombo": Lets all be honest, there’s just something really funny about people swatting at things. I think this commercial was way under-rated by the media. OK, so maybe the “super young generation” didn’t know who Dikembe Mutombo was at first viewing, but they should all be able to look him up on their iPads before the commercial was even over. Either way, I thought this was hilarious.
- Dodge Ram “God Made a Farmer”: So, maybe I was a sucker for the sentimental ads this year, but it was mostly because the “funny” ads just weren’t really that funny. That said, this was the perfect ad to play during the Super Bowl, in my opinion. What goes better with All-American football than the All-American farmer? And, those were some powerful images with a moving script.
Of course, there were also the ads I just didn’t get at all. Here they are and here’s why:
- Go Daddy “Perfect Match”: I really did not enjoy watching this commercial. It grossed me out. I haven’t even been able to watch it a second time because I remember exactly how uncomfortable I felt the first time I watched it. That said, in the same, super unofficial survey I took of my random friends and co-workers, the men seemed to not be as turned off by this ad. I have my own speculation for why that may be, but I’m not sure this is the best outlet for my theory. Despite the fact that I will never, ever watch this commercial again voluntarily, everyone is talking about it…still. So, in this case, I’ll agree with a recent Huffington Post article, which stated “When it comes to Super Bowl ads, it may be better to offend than to merely flop.”
- Bud Light “Lucky Chair”: “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work,” is right. And, this just didn’t work, which made it weird. But, at least Anheuser-Busch had a hit with the Clydesdale Ad to make up for it.
- Beck’s Sapphire “No Diggity”: Really? You spent millions and this was the best you could come up with? I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get the fish or the song or the fish singing the song. And, I definitely didn’t feel enticed to try the product or really even think about it further, other than for the sake of this post. Epic fail.
I’m sure everyone had different opinions and surely may not agree with mine regarding this year’s Super Bowl commercials, but I’d love to hear them. Feel free to agree, disagree or simply let me know what your favorites were and why. Here’s to hoping next year’s ads really “wow” us!
"Silly rabbit, tricks are for Internet publishing moguls."
In January, I stumbled upon the secret to Google search advertising:
"Google Adwords,” I wrote, “are successful because of a trick; most people don't realize they're just ads designed to look like real Google search results. Google wants display advertising (much more suited to mobile platforms) to take off and find similar success. But there's no way to trick users into thinking that display ads are anything other than ads."
Admittedly, that’s a fairly cynical theory. But I stand by it: Adwords is a scam, and display advertising is on the verge of extinction.
What I was clearly wrong about, however, is Google’s monopoly on advertising trickery; there isn’t one.
A few weeks ago, the Atlantic joined the likes of BuzzFeed (there's your first red flag) in an ominous new scheme to replace display advertising as mobile content's primary revenue source.
Here's how it works: Instead of paying money to Internet publishers to run your company's own ad creative, you'll pay for time with the publisher's editorial staff -- who will then design your "native ad" for you, in the style of the magazine's own journalism.
As usual, the Onion nails it.
Now, how is this different from the classic "advertorial" in Cosmo, you ask.
Well, the principle is the same. But, per usual, interactive media has enabled a creepy new twist.
You see, when the Atlantic sold editorial space to the Church of Scientology (always a great choice for no-fuss, under-the-radar ad engagements), it gave its buyer administrative control over the comments section, as well.
Hence, while every other page of the online magazine had an open comments section, Scientology had an (undisclosed) filter that siphoned out negative commentary, while promoting the illusion of a free dialogue.
So, instead of 400,000 comments about the characteristics of cultish behavior, there were 40-some comments about the relative merits of Jack Reacher.
And that's a win, albeit a grossly dishonest one.
Long-term, however, I'm not quite so sanguine as Joe Coleman, content marketer Contently's co-founder and CEO, who blogged that "[the Atlantic's] misstep was an opportunity to examine the “bright line” that separates quality branded content from sketchy advertorial."
“Branded content is incredibly transparent; readers know exactly who is backing a piece of content, so self-serving content is immediately recognizable. Ignoring this rule is insulting to readers and can seriously damage a brand.”
Sorry, but my eyes aren't nearly muscular enough to produce the kind of extended rolling action that these comments warrant.
Of course content marketing is deceptive! That's not to say it can't also have utility for the reader. But let's not pretend we're out picking rosebuds for sickly orphans.
P.T. Barnum was one of the biggest tricksters in the business, and also one of the most successful marketers in history. Better than most, he understood the contours of our social compact: Advertisers will trick, they will twist, they will stretch and outright deceive.
And, if they're entertaining and innovative enough, we'll forgive them.