I wonder if I’ll ever get tired of the tattoos as advertising story. I doubt it. Because it’s such a silly idea for everyone involved — the participants inevitably trade their fleshy (and permanent) billboards at too low a price, and the corporate sponsors tend to pay too much for a short-lived PR stunt — it always strikes me fresh and therefore interesting. When I say interesting, mind you, I mean interesting enough to post it to ChasNote and make it the top story on my Twitter feed for the next 20 minutes. Not interesting enough to find out more about Rapid Realty or its value proposition, or interesting enough to remember its name tomorrow, even though I’ve taken the time to write it on my site. From Ad Freak, where you can also see interviews with several inked employees.
Some 40 employees have already done so—either because they love the firm, need the money, or both. “I was like, Why am I throwing my money away when I could get myself from $25,000 to $40,000 for the same amount of work?” Stephanie Barry, who might not understand what 15 percent means, tells CBS News. “My wife was a little concerned but I said, you know what, it was the best commitment I could think of,” said another employee, who’s been on the job all of one month.
I sure hope he’s got a likeness of his wife tattooed on the other bicep!
Screenshot from Elliot Loh, who was reading Serious Eats on his phone when a McDonalds McChicken Deluxe ad served up at the bottom of an article about whether or not McDonalds hamburgers decompose over time. Who knows, maybe an article beating up on McDonalds hamburgers boosts sales by making McChicken Deluxes sound relatively more appetizing.
From the IAB’s report on US ad spending for 2012. Digital ad spending is up 15% over 2011, with retailers (20%) and financial services (13%) representing the biggest spending sectors.
It’s interesting, though, to imagine this chart (as I’ve hacked together, above) if you remove one company from it, Google. When you subtract out international revenue and the former Motorola business (see Marketing Land), and you multiply the difference by 96% (the share of Google’s revenues that come from advertising), Google’s US ad revenues for 2012 were nearly $19 billion. Pulling Google out of the mix, US advertisers spent less than $18 billion on internet advertising last year — somewhere between newspapers and radio.
A chart created by Alan D. Mutter that plots US newspaper ad revenues against Google’s revenues (almost all of which are advertising). Note: Google numbers are global, while the newspaper numbers are US only. Google’s US revenues are closer to $16 billion.
The speed with which billions of dollars in advertising revenue simply evaporated over the past decade is incredible: as [economics professor Mark Perry] notes, after adjusting the figures for inflation, total print ad spending last year of about $19 billion was below the level set in 1950. It took 50 years — a generation, in other words — for ad revenue to go from $20 billion to a peak of $65 billion in 2000, but it only took 12 years for that progress to be erased.
Last week the San Francicsco Chronicle launched a paid-subscription version its website behind a paywall ($12/month if you don’t already subscribe to the print edition), and the Washington Post plans to do the same later this year. In erecting paywalls, of course, neither qualifies as a trailblazer. Soon it will be hard to find a traditional newspaper that does not charge for access to some or all of its website. But in these early days, it’s also pretty hard to find an example of a newspaper (other than NYT) that’s experiencing gigantic success with its subscription digital product.
Eliza Kern, a 22-year-old reporter for GigaOM and PaidContent, argues that it will be an uphill battle for online publishers hoping to win subscription dollars, especially with respect to her generation of readers:
When I asked if anyone would pay for this content themselves if their parents stopped paying, hardly anyone said they would. The only media that most people said they would pay for was Netflix, and a few said they would subscribe to avoid paywalls on their local newspapers.
While she admits her survey isn’t statistically valid, she is surfacing the larger dilemma faced by nearly every digital publisher. CPMs — cost per thousand ad impressions — for digital advertising have always been lower, in most cases, than CPMs for print advertising. While industry-watchers predict rising CPMs across the Internet as a whole,
the bad news is that this CPM increase will be largely driven by adoption of the “viewable impression” standard, where advertisers pay only for for ads that are visible on the screen. For a lot of publishers this will mean fewer impressions, which could offset some of the CPM gains.
In other words, moderate improvement in CPMs coupled with a larger decline in valid ads per page will leave many publishers with less revenue per thousand pageviews (RPM). So it’s no surprise that the Chronicle and the Washington Post are launching paywalls; every digital publisher wants to bolster the income statement with paid subscriptions.
Nor should it be a surprise that while digital publishers want us to pay a subscription to read their unique, high-quality coverage, many are also chasing increased advertising revenues by churning out more, lower-quality content. On the surface anyway, the logic is simple: If revenues per pageview (the R in RPM) are going down, then increase the number of pageviews (the M) on which you can sell ads. The Huffington Post, for example, claims to publish between 1600 and 2000 articles a day, which works out to one new content nugget every minute. (Or there is the ad heavy / content light approach at Seattle PI.) It’s a great strategy for boosting pageviews — there’s something for everybody, there’s lots to share in social media, and there are headlines that will show up in search results for almost anything anyone could search for. But it’s also hard to maintain quality at a factory that pumps out widgets with that kind of velocity. What’s great for topline pageviews, I’d argue, isn’t likely to capture bottom-line reader immersion or a desire to pay attention with any kind of intensity — the kind of intensity that motivates us to pay for a publication because we can’t live without it.
(Source: Crowd Science.)
And it doesn’t capture the kind of reader attention that makes advertising work. The volume strategy drives more ad impressions and unique users, but the amount of time a reader might spend with each content piece will almost certainly decline — and with it, ad effectiveness. Click-through rates at Facebook, for example, are sliding as the site increases the number of ads per page. And if the pageview-chase increases ad impressions faster than ad dollars migrate online, publishers will face further downward pressure on rates.
I’m a fan of charging readers for great content, because I abhor the idea of a mediocre-content world. But before you ask readers for money, you first need an editorial formula that is so unique and so valuable that readers show signs of life-threatening addiction. That’s a tough aspiration if you’re banging out a story a minute, or if you’re fluffing your editorial output with wire stories that readers can find elsewhere. In my own experience, at publishers such as CNET and Digg, the let’s-pump-out-more-headlines approach inevitably leads to a corresponding dip in the engagement numbers — not exactly an equation for long-term business success if you count on renewals from advertisers and a growing audience of paid subscribers.
I wonder if it’s time for a more thoughtful approach to digital publishing. Figure out the stories you can own, the beats you can cover better than anyone else, and let the Internet’s content factories have the rest. You’ll lose out on a bunch of low-value ad impressions, but eventually advertisers will stop paying for low-value ad impressions anyway. In the meantime, you might just build a relationship with readers that opens their wallets.
(A version of this post originally appeared on Digiday under the title Modern Publishing’s Death Spiral.)
I was reading last week that The Huffington Post publishes between 1600 and 2000 articles a day, or one new content nugget every minute. This high-volume approach is working so well that they recommend brands do the same. No doubt it’s an approach that boosts pageviews — there’s something for everybody, there’s lots to share in social media, and there are headlines that will show up in search results for almost anything anyone could search for.
(Source: Crowd Science.)
But it’s also hard to maintain quality at a factory that pumps out widgets with that kind of velocity. What’s great for topline pageviews, I’d argue, isn’t likely to capture bottom-line reader immersion or a desire to pay attention with any kind of intensity — the kind of reader attention, ultimately, that makes advertising work. The volume strategy drives more ad impressions and unique users, but the amount of time a reader might spend with each content piece will almost certainly decline — and with it, ad effectiveness. In the meantime, pageviews across the web are growing faster than ad dollars, contributing to an erosion of ad rates.
On March 7, Facebook announced a major overhaul to its newsfeed, the scrolling page of friend-news where we spend the bulk of our Facebook time. The central change: Facebook is making room for bigger pictures.
It’s a logical move when you look at the data. In November 2011, one-fifth of posts uploaded to newsfeeds were photos. Today, every other status update is a photo. My math friends tell me it that it’s hard to meaningfully affect percentage gains when you start with a really big number. Even with my quantitative limitations, I have to believe Facebook qualifies. Last year it told investors (as part of its IPO roadshow) that users were uploading more than 300 million photos every single day, and from that very large starting point photo activity just jumped 150 percent in 15 months. So much for the law of large numbers.
If you’re a brand, though, it’s not the fact that photo-enabled devices will soon outnumber humans on the planet, or that we’re piping all those pictures into social media. The important trend is that consumers are looking at them. In other words, your art-directed fashion spreads have a lot more competition these days.
There was a time when professional photography had a monopoly on our attention. When mass media meant national magazines, TV networks and big-city newspapers, only deep-pocketed corporations could afford access to large audiences. Back then it made economic sense to build your story around professional-grade photography: A single print ad would reach millions of readers, so a few tens of thousands of dollars spent on art and photography chewed up only a negligible percentage of a campaign’s costs. And for a few generations, this approach worked great.
It turns out, though, that cost-to-produce and magnitude-of-consumer-delight don’t plot analogous curves in an Excel graph. In fact, it’s hard to find a direct correlation between the two. A photo that captures something important or interesting or timely wins our attention — regardless of who took it or how much it cost to make. It also turns out the spans of our attention are shrinking. Google economist Hal Varian observed as far back as 2010 — before SnapChat, and back when we uploaded a mere 30 million photos to Facebook every day — that we pay less attention to stuff when we consume it online. “The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes a day.”
So corporate storytellers need to master a new narrative technique. It’s as if they need to shed those florid sentences that played so well in Victorian novels and dial it down to the Hemingway-esque. The good news: This new approach to storytelling still employs a language in which brands are fluent: Photos. There are three ways that brands should modify their visual storytelling.
One, feeds move faster than print magazines, so you need to tell your story in a series of frequent episodes, anecdotes and updates — not the grand gestures of Ogilvy or Draper. Photos are the currency of social media, but it’s a currency doled out in nickels, not twenty-dollar bills.
Two, let photos do more of the talking for you. Humans process visual information much faster than we process text. And when we’re online (remember those stats from Hal Varian), we navigate more quickly from story to story. If you’re going to capture attention in a digital landscape, you have to do it fast. So steal a page from the playbooks used by Pinterest, Flipboard, USA Today’s new design or the NYT’s TimesCast: Use visual content instead of words to invite consumers into the story.
Three — need I say it? — let them interact with your story, let them re-mix your assets and choose their own adventures. Let them steal your photos so they can more easily share them with friends. Let them explore inside your images to find links to products, deals and related links. And let them contribute their own. If the Web conversation is going visual, encourage them to talk to you in the local dialect — images snapped on their phones looking for a place to be uploaded.
(This post was originally published at All Things D.)
If you’re in Austin for SxSW this coming Saturday (March 9), come cheer me on at 5pm. Below are the slides I’ll be working from. One friend told me I’m playing with fire by talking about digital photos without any mention of cats, so if you have any cute pet pics — or any other ideas on how I might hold audience attention — please send em my way.
Sources for the stats used in the presentation:
–Ten percent of photos taken by humankind were taken in the past 12 months, from 1000 Memories.
–Two-and-a-half billion photo-enabled devices worldwide, according to Tomi Ahonen in Communities Dominate Brands.
–Research by Harvard Business School in 2009 determined that 70% of all activities inside social media involve a photo.
–Google chief economist Hal Varian observed (in 2010) “The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds a day, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes per day.”
–Flipboard claims its 20 million users conduct 3 billion “flips” per and spend 86 minutes inside the app each month.
–From PostRocket, a blog on Facebook marketing (citing Track Social data), photos attract greater engagement than other types of posts inside Facebook.
–In November 2011, 20% of posts to Facebook’s newsfeed were photos; now (March 2013) that percentage has risen to 50%, from Business Insider’s coverage of Facebook’s announced changes to the newsfeed.
–Sixty-three percent of shoppers value the image more than the product description, according to National Retail Federation data cited in an infographic from MDG Advertising.
–According to Luminate usage data from 2012, neon jeans and jewelry experienced twice the click-through rate as similar products in more muted colors.
–Ad Age coverage of Garnier’s visually-targeted ad campaign across Luminate partner sites, in which it experienced a 116% life in brand preference.
A street crew on the prowl at #SxSWi.
It was shocking news to some members of the over-25 crowd to learn that users of SnapChat, the self-destructing photo-sharing app, enjoy the app for purposes other than sexting.
Shocking it may be, but the evidence is mounting. It appears that many SnapChatters often use the service just to send silly pictures to friends without fear that they will be added to the sender’s permanent digital records. Makes perfect sense to me — mullets were practically part of the uniform for my suburban New Jersey high school soccer team in 1987, and I’m sure glad photos from that era aren’t littering my Facebook Timeline.
(From Survata blog.)
But that’s not really what interests me most about SnapChat. Faithful readers: You know I have a one-track mind, and SnapChat has me thinking about online advertising — specifically the sorry state of online ad rates.
In 2008 Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC at the time, made famous a line about “broadcast dollars” becoming “digital pennies,” a quip that captures the phenomenon by which advertisers pay a fraction of traditional-media CPMs for the website version of the same content. A few years later Google chief economist Hal Varian wrote a post that touched on similar issues and their relationship to the newspaper business. In 2010, when he wrote it, he observed that while the Internet has been a boon to news consumption — more people read news, and more of us do so everyday — there’s one aspect of our news-reading that’s gone very much in the wrong direction: The amount of attention we pay to news when we read it online. We spend only 70 seconds per day reading news online; back when we got our news in a paper format, it was 25 minutes per day.
If we’re only fractionally engaged with online content, then, it’s logical that advertisers value online ads at pennies on the dollar.
Part of the explanation for our digital distractedness is the wealth — overabundance?! — of content choices online. But the more significant explanation, I think, is that digital content is inevitably archived and easily searchable. We graze and skim through content now because we know we can go back later, when we will have more time to actually pay attention. Tag it #longreads, push it to Instapaper, or leave open another tab in your browser. Then you can go back later and give it a really thorough read.
I don’t know about you, but I was always much better at pushing stories to Instapaper than I was at actually reading them later. And then I stopped using it altogether.
SnapChat doesn’t have this problem. According to Yale computer scientist (and former FourSquare software engineer) Sean Haufler:
Snapchat’s time limits make snaps more engaging…. since every message has a time limit, users are present when opening snaps. Snapchat attracts its users’ full attention since they have only a few seconds to capture the details of each message. This engagement makes the experience more satisfying — it feels like a real conversation.
Kind of like live sports or other major TV events, or a magazine story that everyone’s talking about right now. (Or a feature in a live magazine.) What’s the point in watching on your DVR when you know who wins or that
Matthew Crawford has already met his untimely death something really big happened last week on Downton Abbey? If you care about that game or that show or the cultural conversation that references them, you need to watch it live and pay attention when you do. That’s programming that demands our engagement, and thus it’s highly valued by advertisers.
Advertisers certainly aren’t going to pay more because your private exchange is more programmatic than your competitor’s. But they almost certainly will if you can find a way — through rich, unique and timely content — to capture reader attention for more than a few seconds every time the engage with your digital product.