Monday, March 16, 2009

SEO and ethics

To briefly expand on this week's conversation about SEO:

From firsthand experience, I've come across a few prospective clients who have heard what seem to be SEO horror stories, but no one can fully explain why they don't want to invest in it for their company's site. To me, suggesting SEO to a client is a sound way to increase the likelihood the site will be found, without paying a monthly fee for AdWords. That said, they will likely need "take the site back to the shop" for an update periodically, but there are certainly no ethical gray lines in optimizing a site to be easily found by all search engines, not just Google. 

Check this out! I even found an SEO programmer whose brand niche is that he's 'the ethical one.' So funny.


As for our discussion on AdWords and the clarity of the results as actual ads, I do think it's as clear as the "Special Advertising Sections" in magazines, designed to be characteristic of the magazine's typical layouts. Those even fool me sometimes. It's up to us as consumers--and web users--to be on our toes and to know what we're clicking. 

"Crippling" Design

In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of thoughtful copy and the amazing results than can happen when designers and copywriters work together to create their product. Another thought on design--also taken from A List Apart--is the crucial task of testing web designs, and the devastating effects that can occur in not doing so.

Nick Usborne provides a list of elements to test before publishing your site:
"Here are just a few of the design elements we have found can make a significant difference to the performance of a web page:
  • The position and color of the primary call to action
  • Position on the page of testimonials, if used
  • Whether linked elements are in text or as images
  • The amount of “white space” on a page, giving the content space to “breathe”
  • The position and prominence of the main heading
  • The number of columns used on the page
  • The number of visual elements competing for attention
  • The age, sex and appearance of someone in a photo"
Utilizing this list would certainly make a difference in ensuring you're developing site that speaks directly to your audience in the way your company intends. Research shows that within 1/20th of a second, web users make a judgement about a company according to the website image. The time it takes to test the design elements would certainly be worth the 1/20th of a second snap-judgement of a prospective customer in order to draw them in.

Words matter most. Well, almost.

During discussions about what we can find on  A List Apart, I was most drawn to articles emphasizing the importance of smart web copy. (Here's one: Calling All Designers, Learn to Write!"). During my time working at a small advertising agency, I was constantly researching the way that ad agencies presented themselves online. My particular agency, I thought, placed a huge amount of emphasis on graphic presentation and not enough on copy, both for digital and print purposes. From looking through sites on the best agencies, even those with extremely sophisticated web designs, the use of smart copy is evident. And often times, the shorter, more thought-provoking text was most effective. 

A few samples of well written text that is woven seamlessly into the site design:
The light, understated design elements are really reflected well in the way the text is presented as well as the actual message. In a few brief sentences, the company states its mission and when they can best help a prospective client.

This is funny. The very best of web writing, in my opinion, as it's hard to do. Shine Advertising (birthplace of the infamous GoDaddy spots), always has clever copy about how their why their no-frills site is either under construction (as in this case) or why they're too busy to put up a plethora of work samples. All stated in a way brilliantly in line with the irreverent brand they've build for themselves.

If you can't see the image, go ahead and click on the site. There's no way, using this page as an example, that a designer and copywriter couldn't work together to build a page with little text that still delivers the message the agency wants to convey about its team. Riggs is very, very good. 

Tricks are for kids!

(Xinhua/Reuters File Photo)

A report released March 14 from Consumers International apparently also made note of the way the websites of junk food companies (Kellogg's included) are using their websites to target children. The study on advertising to children and the food industry is called "New Media, Same Old Tricks," and it blames the parents as much as the companies for allowing their children to be exposed to the messages. Because so many sites (check out for their "healthy message") reinforce the behaviors for parents with assuring, "healthy" messages, children are actually exposed to the brands exponentially longer than they are during a 30-sec. TV spot. Despite recent discussions about the link of childhood obesity to TV and the food advertised to kids, those advertisers have chosen a new route, which is actually better for them, and worse for kids. 

Justin Macmullan, of Consumers International, emphasizes the reason that utilizing online advertising, instead of TV, to reach kids is a big step in the wrong direction: "In many countries kids already spend more time on the Internet than watching TV. That's why it's vital we have mandatory regulations that restrict junk food companies from using new media to perform the same old marketing tricks on our children." 

Kids in America

I've examined the use of online games by companies like Kellogg's to market their cereals (most of them sugary and unhealthy) to kids using these interactive tools. I found this article from CNET that looks further into how companies are subconsciously working their way into childrens' minds: virtual worlds, geared towards kids 7 to 14. 

The article, "Are kids ready for ads in virtual worlds?" raises that very questions, an important one, many of us want to raise our kids to decipher what is advertising. Olsen points out the ease of building brand affinity with children in these environments because they consider their online activity as "playing," naturally associating included brands or products with good feelings. For example, avatars users create on can test drive Toyota Scions.

With respect to the sugary cereal commercials almost exclusively targeting children, these types of engaging methods could certainly build stronger brand relationships as kids grow up. If I'm a 9-year-old driving my Toyota Scion via my Whyville avatar, maybe when I'm 15 that will be the first car that enters my mind as I get my permit. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Yahoo tries something new. Again.

In an earlier post, I mentioned sites Hulu and Joost, which offer web users a legal way to download/stream their favorite shows or movies (including network programs). This article by Brian Stetler of the NY Times draws attention to Yahoo's attempt to generate original video programming via its site...and what went wrong the first time. He cites the company's extremely expensive attempts to draw television viewers to the website with original talk shows and sitcoms and calls them all "disasters." 

Sibyl Goldman, Yahoo's head of entertainment, cites the problem being one that has been discussed throughout the entire IMC program, targeting the right audience and identifying a need. Their latest attempt will create the programming in reverse: target their largest audience and build programs around what they want to see. 

This could have been groundbreaking had it not been done already by Sprint and Suave, with the "In The Motherhood" series. These original short "webisodes" are genuinely funny and were written from real moms sending in hilarious moments from their everyday lives. Check out the first one, filmed in 2007:

Interestingly enough, Yahoo's first series is called "From Spotlight to Nightlight" and targets moms, with topics such as zany celebrity baby names. Nowhere in the article did Stetzer reference the success of "In the Motherhood" as an original web series or its success crossing over to a series for ABC this spring. This is a great example of web-originated video crossing over into mainstream media. 

FANS of mobile marketing?

In our Emerging Media class discussions on mobile marketing, we've touched on the direct connections marketers can have with their audiences when communications via rich text message, directly to their pockets. Well, one of my high school friends who is studying Sports Industry Management at Georgetown showed me another way it can work to gain information from fans seated within a stadium or arena. He's on staff with the Washington Capitals, and posted this photo from a recent game*:

In case the text isn't clear, it's a simple question for fans: "What are you doing celebrate St. Patrick's Day?" Fans have three options to text back. This is a great way, while being entertaining for fans during a lull in the game, for Caps marketing staff to build a database of hockey fans at the arena using quick mobile technology. My friend manages the jumbotron promos for each game and says these survey questions are part of a partnership with Verizon. The "Verizon Insta Poll" collects the data from fans and sends two bounce-back messages: one from Verizon promoting a new phone or calling plan, and the second is from the Caps about purchasing season tickets for the upcoming season. 

Should the marketing staff choose to use the numbers (if they can gain access to them through Verizon), they can/should always add the option of texting back 'STOP' at the end and subsequent messages from the Caps. I'd bet that many of the Capitals fans choose to stay in and receive team updates if there were also promotional codes offering chances to save $ on tickets. Smart move to get extremely valuable information from one silly St. Patty's survey!

* He posted the photo because he snuck in a photo of his pug, Tank, as option #3. What a cutie. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Speaking of digital video

Has anyone heard of Hulu? I hadn't until I received an article from Ad Adge's "MediaWorks" e-newsletter debating the future plans of the brand, which seem to be, as of right now, vague after the next two years.

When I researched further, I found that Hulu is actually just a safe (legal) place to watch and/or download approved TV shows and movies. A similar program exists called Joost, however, Hulu is predicted to gain an edge on Joost because it doesn't require users to download any of the content. It's simply a place where they can stream the videos. 

Ad Age's article brings up the question: how will these online TV spots affect the value of advertising on traditional television. My question is this: how will we as marketers integrate this into our marketing plan and/or budget? Or when, for that matter? As we learn--especially with respect to emerging media--the best way to integrate a variety of effective media into our campaigns, new networks like Hulu will make our jobs increasingly complicated. To me, though, this just amplifies the importance of knowing our target audience and studying their psychographic profiles. Are these people that prefer to watch their favorite programs online? Or are these people looking forward to kicking back at the end of a long day in front of their 50" plasma? Because we are all so different, I don't think that sites like Hulu or Joost are going to necessarily detract from the value of TV advertising. They'll just make our job more exciting. 

No Doubt gets buzzed from viral videos

Perez Hilton played a part in the circulation of viral videos aiming to build buzz for the upcoming reunion tour of No Doubt--their first collaboration since 2003. 

The use of IMC in building online buzz for their tour has been extremely relevant to one of their missions for the show: to bypass Ticketmaster and get tickets to fans via their website at an affordable price. According to standard Ticketmaster procedures, the band receives 10% of the available tickets, and No Doubt took the very best 10%. The only way for fans to get the tickets was directly through their website, so the use of viral videos made sense to keep the campaign digital. According to Perez's report:
"No Doubt were granted 10% of the tickets for each show and sold them directly through their website, completely bypassing Ticketmaster's outrageous service charges.

"The impetus is to have people who want to be in the building to be the people buying the tickets — not speculators," Jim Guerinot, No Doubt's manager, tells reporters. "We've done it before and it works."

Fan club members were required to pay a $15 dollar fee, but with the charge came access to the band's entire digital audio catalog as well as stickers, magnets, and iron-ons promoting the new tour!"

For fans that take advantage of the ticket promotion via the website , they will also be given no Doubt's entire digital background, which according to to a statement from the band, they thought would be "a cool way to get people to listen to our music and stoke them with a great deal at the same time." 

In studying IMC, we've primarily focused our attention on consumer packaged goods--at least I have throughout my own projects. Even though No Doubt's music can be considered a consumer-targeted product, this is a cool way to use digital media to market the tour directly to their biggest fans. The ones on their website, waiting for the latest info on the tour. Smart stuff.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Does everything happen first in Europe?

From firsthand experience while living overseas, I can attest that the mobile marketing phenomenon took off much more rapidly and successfully in Europe than it has stateside. It's interesting that by the end of 2004, 77 percent of European mobile users had subscribed to some sort of corporate mobile messaging alert! The European Proctor & Gamble division actually developed one of the first mobile "advergames"  (a GrandPrix-style game promoting Head & Shoulders shampoo), which was extremely successful in experimenting with "rich" mobile media. 

Why is it that the technology (which I think is extremely convenient, as I receive new concert alerts from local venues straight to my phone) received such a chilly reception in the States? Are Europeans more tolerant of advertising?

To be honest, during my two and a half years overseas, the frequent (Italian) messages (that I couldn't read until I was about to move home) didn't bother me as much as I thought they would. Perhaps Americans are more bothered by the concept of another route for marketers to reach them, but once they try it out, they might actually like it. 

The worst thing to happen to productivity.

Prof. Post suggested this Business Week article that discusses the viral effect of social networking via mobile phone, predicting a large percentage of Americans will use their cell phones as their primary social networking tool by 2012. This is largely unscientific, of course, but I, for one, think the 2012 date for that advancement is a little off. Quite possibly the worst thing that could have happened to my attention span occurred when I downloaded the Facebook app onto my Blackberry. 

Instantly, at my fingertips I have access to over 500 friends' status updates and newsfeeds, and I can respond immediately when someone sends a message my way. This has absolutely affected my concentration level but has done wonders for staying in-the-know about what my friends are having for lunch and where there next business trip may be. 

Case in point (posted by a girlfriend of mine who just joined Facebook):

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I'm so proud of you Mother$#*%ers!"

Last summer, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) named the best commercials of the year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Many of us expected the year's most talked about commercials, like the Whopper Freakout, to be honored, and they were. There was, however, a very special honoree. The following Bud Light gem that many of us (all of us in Gens X and Y at least) received from friends via e-mail.

The Bud Light Swear Jar commercial was made specifically for, with no hopes of approval from the FCC. I, for one, have never logged on to, but probably received the spot in my inbox or on a MySpace comment at least three or four times. The fact that a commercial that was never aired on television was so effective in reaching its target audience and was honored by such a prestigious organization really speaks volumes about just how well new media can be utilized as a creative advertising option. This is a great example of viral marketing and of the success a corporation can experience using a non-traditional medium while being a little edgy.

According to Robert Lachkey, executive vice president for global industry and creative development for Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, as of April 9, 2008, over 12 million viral views were tracked of the commercial, and over 2.7 million were viewed on YouTube (Elliot, 2008).

Stuart Elliot expands on the tracking ability of advertisers in another NYTimes article, about the ability of new media to keep such close track on consumers, down to the websites they visit. This has opened up an entirely new appreciation for behavioral marketing--a practice that can be executed well using the web and consumers digital footprints.

I'm not sure that viral videos like the Swear Jar commercial (and the Whopper Freakout, for that matter) increase sales, necessarily. However, they do play a a huge role in brand building and positioning the brand name at the top of consumers minds while the videos are circulating.

Anyone else receive the Swear Jar commercial in your email? What did you think?