Talking to your customers
An interesting interview with Ben Edelman, a 25-year old Harvard student, who made it his business to analyse how spyware and adware programmes work and who makes his findings public.
The whole interview is worth a read but this is the most relevant bit, especially in the view of my previous posting about adware and marketing industry and the growth of both…
What was the most interesting thing you’ve discovered?
Edelman: There’s just a huge amount of money changing hands here. The biggest, richest American companies are buying advertising through spyware. The biggest, richest venture capital firms are investing in those who make this kind of unwanted software. That’s names like American Express, Sprint PCS, Disney, Expedia, Guy Kawasaki’s firm.
The reason I am going on about marketing and advertising in the same breath as adware and spyware is that the more the industry seems to be focusing on the internet, the more metrics obsessed they become. Finally, the nirvana of all ad pushers - the ability to measure every movement of our eyeballs to the last flick of eyelid. Ideally. There is a school of thought that believes that this is what it means to use new technology, to be ‘interactive’ and to market/advertise online.
You’re using the word ‘spyware.’ But you also mean the advertising-based networks with pop-up ads, right?
Edelman: Absolutely right. My claim is that each of the so-called adware networks has obtained installations and is still obtaining installations in ways that offer such poor notice and obtain such limited consent--sometimes none at all--that users can’t fairly be said to have consented. If they didn’t consent, and their activities are being monitored or transmitted, then that’s spying.
That’s it. The blogs have arrived now as a legitimate weapon for P&G against Unilever’s Axe, the fastest-growing deodorant brand in the US. The Axe brand was built around funny ads showing young men they can use body spray to attract women. Now, rival Procter & Gamble Co. is betting on body spray to attract girls to its Secret brand.
P&G is using Secret Sparkle Body Spray and its range of teeny-bopper-oriented scents to lure entry-level consumers for the segment-leading women’s deodorant. To do so, it’s using an unusual campaign that includes sampling and iPod giveaways via fast-growing tween fashion mecca Limited Too as well as animated TV ads and the brand’s first blog marketing.
The brand’s first blog marketing! Be still my beating heart! How on earth are they doing it? By getting hold of the hapless teenagers and spraying them into submission. Wait, I lie, they ‘target’ them during their ‘formative years’:
“Girls have started using deodorant younger and younger,” said Dave Knox, assistant brand manager at P&G overseeing the body-spray launch. “It used to be 12 or 13 was kind of the entry point, and that’s slowly ratcheted down each year. ... If you don’t target the consumer in her formative years, you’re not going to be relevant through the rest of her life.”
I mean, a brand’s gotta do, what a brand’s gotta do. Be relevant or die. But they are certainly novel and innovative using ‘non-traditional’ media:
P&G isn’t using the blatant sexual innuendos found in ads for Unilever’s Axe… Instead, it’s using tamer animated ads from Secret’s shop, Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett, Chicago (planning and buying by sibling Starcom Mediavest Group, New York), which broke earlier this month on cable and network programs targeted toward older teens, such as WB Network and MTV.
[/sarcasm]. Oh wait, but where are the blogs? This must be it:
The body sprays are also integrated into a popular tween online hangout, Neopets.com, as a reward for which girls can redeem the “Neopoints” they earn. P&G last week launched Secret’s first blog-marketing program at SparkleBody-Spray.com.
So, I tried SparkleBody-Spray.com but no luck. Searching in Google I get to here. Still I see no blogs…
It is a good article, well worth reading and hard to disagree with. I especially agree with the following points:
- Blogs won’t help brands regain control. Companies can influence the relationship but consumer will remain in control.
- Despite the allure, many companies simply aren’t blog-ready. Successful blogging speaks with passion, authority and sincerity, which most companies and brands just aren’t there yet.
- Blogs will challenge and erode agency margins. Consumer-generated media revolution puts the means of ad production in the hands of consumers.
Such articles do not cover the most important benefit of blogging - the need for engagement, the ability to join conversations that are happening about companies whether they like it or not, the end of ‘mass media’ and rise of (to me) a viable alternative. Anyone can tell their story and bypass the traditional media - not everyone succeeds but the level playing field is there. To me, that is revolutionary… and I have been observing what it’s doing to journalism, marketing and PR as they are the most affected industries. But such articles are usually written as a backlash against what they perceive as hyped phenomenon that may or may not be affecting their job. In this case, Peter Blackshaw responds to a recent very positive article on blogging in the MSM:
After reading the recent Business Week cover story, ”Blogs Will Change Your Business,” my internal cognitive dissonance radar began to detect a few blips on the screen.
The most important point, however, is what it brings to an individual and, by extension, to a group of individuals i.e. an organisation, a company etc. It gives them the unprecedented ability to communicate with the outside world, not just because blogs are an easy format to update by non-techies but because there is a network that they can join and use to diffuse their information. But you already know that, dear reader. To see it in action, look at Les Blogs conference in Paris where most bloggers knew each other… not because some media deign to write about them, but because of their blogs and other blogs linking to them. I consider that revolutionary as I can’t see how that would have been possible on such a scale before the blogosphere without some top-down umbrella organisation connecting all those people and getting them together…
Yes, blogs are certainly not the answer to every marketing question but my position is that marketing is often asking the wrong questions and it’s not blogs’ job to answer them and be judged by whether they answer it or not.
I give you two headlines from CNet news.com: Research: Spyware industry worth billions and Online advertising on upswing. In the first article I read:
Based on statistics published by the Internet Advertising Bureau, spyware could represent almost 25 percent of the entire online advertising industry. “We can hope that the advertising industry will provide some help in trying to root out the truly malicious forms of spyware, but as long as there is an attractive return on investment on this activity for some people, this isn’t going to stop anytime soon.”
In the second I learn:
Spending on online advertising is projected to reach $14.7 billion in 2005, as more marketers lose confidence in the effectiveness of traditional ads, according to new research. Nearly all of the marketers surveyed said they plan to cut spending in traditional channels such as print and direct mail to fund increases in online ads.
This means there will be clamour for more online marketing metrics, ROI and other fancy slicing and dicing, dividing by four, bringing in the sheep… and thinking it works. Groan.
As a marketer, I’m angry at the fact that I’ve learned to filter out 95% of the 3,000 ads I see each day.
As a consumer, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve learned to filter out 95% of the 3,000 ads I see each day. And ... I hope I am astute enough to discover when a BzzAgent “shill” is “shilling” me.
ericb in the comments to Lessig’s post on BzzAgent and CC.
CNet News.com has an interesting interview with Henry Jenkins, director of the Comparative Media Center at the MIT, who is perhaps the most prominent scholar in the country devoted to examining pastimes often deemed profoundly frivolous. News.com spoke to Jenkins about the evolving relationships between big media companies and their active online audiences, and focused particularly on the relationship between Lucas and his fans.
Hollywood has been deeply suspicious of amateur productions, has largely read it through the Napster lens of saying all this stuff is piracy. If we don’t control this it’s bad for us. There has been real resistance to the emergence of a public culture around movie content. Many of the studio executives have had a hard time distinguishing between downloading movies and making your own movies, for example.
It’s about control, which is threatened by creativity and participation. Mr Jenkins says a few things that sound familiar:
In my new book, “Convergence Culture,” I spend a lot of time tracing the history of Lucasfilms’ relationship to its fans, continually trying to incorporate them, but at the same time being nervous about them and ultimately regulating them to control what can and can’t be said.
So essentially what Lucas has ceded to fans are the things that Lucas could never have controlled to begin with. And what it’s asking for in compliance is that fans don’t do anything that enters into the gray area, where fans might argue that it’s critical commentary but Lucas is going to see it as encroaching on his rights.
...It creates a double layer. There is the most visible layer, what’s going to be out there on the Web that people can find. And there’s stuff that is made but is hidden from view, that maybe gets shown at face-to-face gatherings but can’t be publicly distributed. It doesn’t mean the stuff isn’t made, but it means that certain stuff gets a lot of press, attention and visibility, and a lot of stuff is buried from view.
So, Star Wars fan base is vibrant, has created its own network and content but it is tightly controlled. I wonder whether without the continuinty from the past, which probably made the Star War fans get used to and accept the way they are treated, fans could be treated this way nowadays… Something tells me that those days are over.
To me, Lucas is interesting in embodying the contradictions of where modern companies are. Where it’s one franchise across media, and you’re a fan of the franchise, your level of engagement is regulated to different degrees depending on which section of Lucas is dealing with you. Because even though it’s an integrated company, in a way, these different parts of the company work with differing ideas and logics.
No one inside the media industry really knows how far they want to go with a participatory audience. They don’t know how much they want to trust consumers to be more actively involved in the creation of the content, more actively involved as evangelists for the content, bringing in new people, stimulating interest and so forth.
I guess they do not want to go too far - how can you control the message and measure the ROI on participation and interactive media if you do not know where things can go...? And in any case, evangelists are unstable, aren’t they? So it seems that the best the industry can do is to work itself up to generating ‘word of mouth’ and ‘buzz’. Oh and carefully controlled rewarded consumer feedback and behaviour.
Lucas is a fanboy filmmaker and likes to protect those types of fan participation that he grew up with, that he’s familiar with and comfortable with. But (he) has been surprisingly intolerant of some of the other modes of fan production.
Much of the above applies to many people in the media and related industries that are affected by the explosion of participation by their previously mute consumers/markets/audiences.
Jeff Jarvis blogs about Wilson Quarterly with its cover story on The Collapse of Big Media and calls it a description of a melting point. Tipping point is so late 1990s…
Collapse is not too strong a word to describe what has happened to America’s major news media. Stripped of their old economic and technological advantages, befuddled by the changing character of their audiences, and beset by new competitors, they are reeling from the blows recent scandals have dealt to their credibility and presige. Their old authority is one, and with it, perhaps their ability to define for Americans a shared realm of information, ideas and debate.
There are many scary stats bandied about, the old media types take note.
- Daily newspaper circ from 1990 to 2003: 62.3 to 55.2 million
- Number of daily U.S. papers from 1990 to 2003: 1,611 to 1,456
- By age group, percentage of Americans who read a paper yesterday: 18-29 - 23, 30-49 - 39, 50-64 - 52, 60+ - 60
- Time spent by 8-19 year olds on all media: 6 hours, 21 minutes; time spent on print media: 43 minutes
- Combined viewership of network evening news: 1980 - 52 million, 2004 - 28.8 million
- Median age of network news viewer: 60
- Percentage of people who believe all or most of what’s on: network news - 24, CNN - 32, FoxNews - 25, C-Span - 27, PBS NewsHour - 23
And more media meltdown stats here.
This post is full of link goodness as Jeff links to the indepth presentation by Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley on Age of Engagement. Very interesting…
David Beisel of Genuine VC has a great and balanced post about how the right product and good communication, not hype make a good online strategy:
I am surprised by the number of entrepreneurs that I meet with and talk to who don’t have a true online communications strategy, which I’ve blogged previously. Whether or not a company has a blog or some other form of incremental content, there is a conversation going on with or without them.
I share the sentiment. It is now easy to follow the conversations with many tools springing all over the net and the blogosphere. But somehow it seems that most companies have not made the leap from their reliance on the hot air PR-speak to joining the conversation that is going on whether they like it or not.
I think that the key with any online communications strategy is balance. There is a conversation going on, so join it. But hype is just that. A positive conversation will continue from your own lead – if you have a great product and solid business.
Indeed. Even a great conversation will not save a bad product or service. And you don’t even need a blogging VC to tell you that.
Yesterday I attended a conference Marketing in a Digital World organised by i20events. I was asked to talk about the ‘empowered consumer’ and the embracing thereof.
I really liked the venue, in London’s Natural History Museum and its scheduling - the event was later in the afternoon (4pm). This is good as one’s attention does not have to be abused sustained all day for a number of interminable sessions. The audience consisted of people in the UK “new media marketplace” and the panel had speakers respected in the industry.
Faith Carthey, MD, i-level
Rob Horler, MD, Diffiniti
Janet Winslade, Managing Partner, M-One
Glen Drury, MD, Kelkoo UK
Dan Clays, MD, Quantum
James Hamlin, Media Director, Match.com
Anthony Rhind, SVP of Strategy, Media Contacts
The moderator was none other than the entrepreneur and blogger, Andrew Carton, of Treonauts.com. Predictably, I talked about blogs, while trying to explain that they are the tip of the iceberg, a symptom of broader trends that are emerging from the online world and have so far largly passed under the traditional radars.
There were a few points that made it clear to me just what a different world it is. For example, someone complained that there is too much information online these days and one does not know where to start. Now to me, this sounds like the surreal dialogue from Amadeus:
EMPEROR: My dear, young man, don’t take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. Cut a few and it will be perfect.
MOZART: Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?
There is indeed a glut of information and I speak as a blogger with about 200+ feeds in my aggregator… But that is a good thing as it drives home the point that you can no longer control the message or its distribution. As for knowing where to start, there are so many ways to monitor the blogosphere or the internet and find out what’s happening as new tools appear almost weekly (or so it seems).
Another thing that struck me was that the overriding attitude towards online and the ‘empowered consumer’ was one of caution, fear of ‘fat lawsuits arriving’ as ‘big corporations are going to fight back’ and recognition that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE ABOUT IT (the ‘empowered consumer’ not the law suits). I did not get any sense of what that something is other than continuation of slicing and dicing, counting the legs and dividing by four, bringing in the sheep to use the Cluetrain vernacular.
Kudos to the organisers for letting me speak about the online ‘underworld’ and the impact it will have (and already is having) on the marketing industry. I highly recommend reading and listening to Bob Garfield’s Chaos Scenario for a fuller picture of what people like us and their friends have been banging on about in the UK.
Are you a fake blog character, brand or logo that has been pilloried for the part you’ve played in turning the business blogosphere into a joke?
Do you wile away the days behind closed curtains terrified that someone may shout obscenities at you in the street?
Depressed? Lonely? Scared?
Dr. Quack understands your pain and will remove your shame because you aren’t the one to blame.
Tony Perkins of AlwaysOn, the blogazine of innovation writes in the hard copy (not available online) about Bill Gates’ comments on blogging during a private dinner at Gates home on Lake Washington:
Blogging makes it very easy to communicate. It gets away from drawbacks of email and the drawbacks of a website. Eventually, most businesses will use blogs to communicate with customers, suppliers and employees, because it’s two-way and more satisfying.
That’s a simple statement, true and coming from a ‘businessman’ such as Bill Gates ought to appeal to the more traditional suits.
Perkins adds his own thought:
Gates knows that the referral power of the blogosphere is also exploding and marketing and PR executives must embrace this reality or risk losing control of their messages.
Lose control of their messages? Marketing and PR executives, Step. Away. From. The Message. You cannot control it anymore, the best you can do is to shape it, while respecting your audience and the medium you use to engage them.
via The Red Couch
One evening last month, he channeled one of those off-duty opinions into a satiric bit of artwork - an appropriation of a “loose lips sink ships” World War II-era propaganda poster altered to provide a harsh comment on the growing fears among corporations over the blogging activities of their employees. He then posted it on his personal Web log.
But in a paradoxical turn, Mr. Kennedy’s employer, having received some complaints about the artwork, stepped in and asked him to reconsider the posting and Mr. Kennedy complied, taking the image down.
Apparently, bloggers like Mr. Kennedy are starting to realise that corporations:
… are under no particular obligation to tolerate threats, real or perceived, from the activities of people who become identified with those brands, even if it is on their personal Web sites.
Interesting, I am not sure what it means to ‘tolerate threats, real or perceived, from the activities of people who become identified with those brands’. Obviously, there is confidential information and privacy issues but as far as the ‘brand’ is concerned, if an employee is making fun of it, well, it should be a useful signal to the ‘brand’ creators that something is not right.
Strange that years after the Cluetrain, the blogging world can put up with an argument based around the assumption that brands belong to the corporations, which spend millions of dollars protecting their brands.
… this isn’t about us and them. It’s about us. Them don’t exist. Not really. Corporations are legal fictions, willing suspensions of disbelief. Pry the roof off any company and what do you find inside? The Cracker Jack prize is ourselves, just ordinary people. We come in all flavors: funny, cantankerous, neurotic, compassionate, avaricious, generous, scheming, lackadaisical, brilliant, and a million other things. It’s true that the higher up the food chain you go, the more likely you are to encounter the arrogant and self-deluded, but even top management types are mostly harmless when you get to know them. Given lots of love, some even make good pets.
The point is not to condone doing something stupid as an employee, just because he or she has done it via a blog and blogs are groovy, doncha know, so that must be OK… It is about the idea that there must be just one approved voice coming from the mothership. Such ‘voice’ has always been a fantasy perpetuated by ‘brand strategists’ and blogs have made it clearer that while such a voice has never been credible, it can no longer be imposed.
The [ad] industry’s key currency is basically reach, frequency, exposure and cost per thousand. And where the currency out to be is about outcomes, engagement and effectiveness. Because right now all I’m doing is I’m measuring how cheaply or how expensively I’m buying the pig. I’m not figuring out whether or not the hot dog tastes good.
Rishad Tobaccowala, president of Starcom IP quoted in Bob Garfield’s Chaos Scenario article.
Finally we get to hear what Kryptonite, the unofficial poster child for companies burned by the blogosphere, has to say about it. The interview with the General Manager of the company is interesting, mainly because he still does not seem to understand what caused the PR disaster for Kryptonite.
Community Guy says it all:
He clearly misses the point all together - if you had a better relationship with the world outside of the company walls, you wouldn’t have to “be ready”. You’d already be having the discussion.
Perry and I have returned from our month-long sojourn to Los Angeles, and are frantically getting caught up on London business - hence the unusual silence here. Even with our indispensible internal blog, which saves us untold amounts of time and energy in keeping up-to-speed and helping us to collaborate from even 6000 miles away, there is much to do.
Some things are more enjoyable to share face to face, though. You don’t really get the satisfaction of seeing a look of horror on a person’s face when they absorb some bit of information that you’ve posted to the internal blog. For me, the expression of disgust and revulsion on Adriana’s face when Perry and I told her of the widespread fake blogging that we heard of firsthand, from people who are actively executing fake blogs for companies, was priceless.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t making it up when I recounted to her how one PR flack we met in LA boasted of how his firm lies to big corporations and promises them good coverage on their “big traffic,” fake blog. The blog itself has been set up by the PR company for the express purpose of scamming companies into paying out substantial amounts of cash for positive postings on it. Looking at the blog, it seems to be authored by an anonymous nobody...who just so happens to pepper his commentary with glowing mentions of the PR company’s clients, and negative remarks about their competition.
The really sad thing? A quick Technorati search on the blog’s URL shows that it has only been linked to by one other blog - whose author just happens to be a friend of the PR flack. The companies - household names of the highest order - that pony up for coverage on this “big traffic” blog could easily check its credentials. Instead, they continue to pay lip service to taking part in a “conversation” with customers...and pay PR companies that claim to “get blogging” for utterly worthless “services”. Niall Cook’s prediction for 2005 is as spot-on as ever.