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Conversational Marketing's Battle Royale

A few months ago, the marketing crew at Toshiba and their agency, nFusion, showed us some of their print ads built around the word innovation

. The concept isn’t innovation as in “our batteries last 4% longer,” but rather innovation as aspiration, as a dream for the future.

How could that message play out as conversational marketing, they asked? How could we spark a genuine conversation among people who care deeply about technology — famous gadget bloggers and ordinary geek citizens — that would inspire Toshiba’s product development teams (and the rest of us) to think big? And when they asked those questions, they also told us something that made all the difference: We’re not joking; we want innovative thinking and we’re willing to take the necessary risks.

Tech Battle Royale So we invited the Ninja (of Ask A Ninja) to emcee a Tech Battle Royale — the site launched last week — among a handful of gadget gurus, industrial-design visionaries and do-it-yourselfers who like to build their own dream gadgets from spare parts. As part of Toshiba’s sponsorship, the Ninja throws down a new gauntlet each week — he poses a question in the post-roll sponsorship segment of his video program. The first two questions: “What technology from TV, movies or books would you most like to see become a reality?” and “How can we better use technology to preserve the environment?” A handful of FM authors submit answers on the Tech Battle Royale site, sponsored by Toshiba, where visitors can vote for their favorites or submit their own suggestions.

Simple but smart. Here’s why.

While Toshiba underwrites the conversation and its brand benefits from association with it, they leave the content of the conversation to outside thought leaders. They’re not trying to spark a conversation about the comfortable feel on your fingertips of Toshiba keyboards, but rather to create a place for gear lovers to share hopes and dreams about a better world through tech. By keeping it authentic and vendor-neutral, Toshiba attracts voices from well beyond the core authors — more than 200 visitors unaffiliated with the sponsorship program submitted entries in the first week, and more than 1000 weighed in with votes.

Second, since the conversation is built around content by participating authors — their own content with their names next to it — and visitors to the site can vote for their favorites, the competitive juices start to flow. Deane Barker at Gadetopia wants his readers to vote for his ideas, so he blogs about the contest with a tongue-in-cheek hard sell: “I’ll make it easy for you: my answer is always best. Go vote for me.” Not to be outdone, the team at UberGizmo links to the Tech Battle Royale contest at the top of their homepage. And surprise, surprise — UberGizmo won the first week’s battle.


To be clear, the terms of Toshiba’s sponsorship include banner ads and an agreement to answer questions the Ninja poses — Toshiba doesn’t attempt to buy influence over any editorial content or pay for links on any of the participating sites. With campaigns like this, FM recommends that authors disclose the sponsorship details to their readers for the sake of full transparency. The extra efforts by Gadgetopia, UberGizmo and others are added-value bonuses, done by participating authors because they are genuinely having fun with the concept. Fun that turns into web momentum.

One participating author, Eric Wilhelm of Instructables, asks his readers directly for help answering the questions. Here’s the question from week one, and here’s week two. Sixty-five Instructables readers contribute ideas to the first and 77 do for the second. And wait a second, is this cheating?! Instructables is posting in advance three more questions (here, here, and here) and already 89, 23 and 14 suggestions have been submitted, respectively. What does Toshiba get out of a conversation on Instructables they had a hand in starting? A core group of the Instructables community is spending serious time on a page that, per Eric’s disclosure at the top of the page, calls out Toshiba. Several comments then talk about the Tech Battle Royale site itself, which drives additional visitors to the contest, including a few who go back to Instructables to say they’ve voted for one of the ideas born of the Instructables conversation. In other words, Toshiba’s marketing conversation spreads onto the pages of Instructables. Meanwhile, Eric does something right by involving his readers — he’s riding high in 4th place!


Another participating author, perhaps to drive more votes to his or her entry, submits the contest to Digg, though the Digg link appears to benefit all contestants equally. In the process, Toshiba’s Tech Battelle Royale makes its way onto Digg organically. If instead Toshiba staffers tried to plug their own marketing campaign, they’d risk an unsavory backlash on the pages of Digg.

And, finally, the campaign makes its way into the online press. Robert Seidman picks it up on August 27:

“Sometimes I think my brain is so well trained to ignore marketing (it’s not perfect, I do have an iPhone) that my eyes don’t even notice it. There are definitely a couple of FM Campaigns that I’d put in the conversational marketing realm. One is very, very well done in terms of doing something new and that’s the FM: Tech Battle Royale (brought to you by Toshiba). It’s true three-way conversational marketing and I’d like to learn how the campaign fared someday.”

Robert, stay tuned!

(Note: The creative thinking by the FM team was led by Lester Lee.)

FM's Conversational Marketing Summit: Sold Out

Dang, can’t we get a bigger tent?!  But, alas, the word from Stacey Forman (FM’s conference director) is, we’re sold out for the Conversational Summit in September.

Boing Boing Launches Comments, Gadgets, New Look

For those of you who missed yesterday’s coverage by every site I can think of, here’s the official press release on Boing Boing’s redesign, including comments and a new gadgets site edited by Joel Johnson (former editor of Gizmodo).

Boing Boing

Some of that coverage: CNET, CrunchGear, FM’s Andre Torrez, Mashable, SF Chron…..

Thanks, HP for sponsoring the new comments feature, and Jawbone for sponsoring the launch of the gadgets site!

Viacom Splits Ad Revs with South Park

At breakfast with a Viacom exec a year ago, he gave me a look like I was a madman when I told him FM is a publishing company — like his — not an ad network. “But you guys give away more than half your ad revenue to the content creators! A true media company would never do that, it would kill margins,” he told me. I argued that it may just be a more rational approach to running a media business, where the folks who create the content that attracts the audience get their fair share of the revenues made off those audiences. It looks like Viacom is coming around to our point of view! From NY Times:

“In a joint venture that involves millions in up-front cash and a 50-50 split of ad revenues, the network and the two creative partners have agreed to create a hub to spread ‘South Park’-related material across the Net, mobile platforms, and video games.”

AllBusiness on GigaOM's Success

At AllBusiness, Om says:

“The focus here is 80 percent original reporting and 20 percent opinions…. People want real information. They get tired of opinions quickly. You use that kind of opinion-style blogging as backfill for information, like what traditional news services do. What we are doing is analysis and original reporting, which means we actually go out and talk to people.”

SoCo Night Life Institute's New Curriculum

Brown-Forman’s Southern Comfort brand is getting into the education business. ;) From their press release:

“The SoCo Night Institute is igniting a conversation among peers by providing an avenue for self-expression to reach each night’s potential,” said Ken Rose, SoCo National Brand Director. “We want people to share their nightlife skills with the same fun they have within their group of friends. I’m hoping to showcase my legendary late-night snack recipe for fries with curry sauce, which I usually whip up for my friends while we recap the night’s adventures.”

Media announcing the new curriculum has rolled out on Maxim sites, Fark, Boing Boing, Drink of the Week and Diggnation, among others. In the case of Diggnation, hosts Alex Albrecht and Kevin Rose start off Episode 111 with a thank-you toast to their sponsor, drinks in hand!

Google Moves Toward CPA?

According to CNET:

“Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search product and user experience, gave her keynote presentation…. [and said] Google is making moves towards cost-per-action as a more ideal auction-based pricing model, but she also pointed out that it’s a long way away.”

That’s bad news for two major constituencies. One, websites that are part of Google’s publisher network. The current pay-per-click structure already short-changes the value of their audiences and traffic; cost-per-action / -transaction goes a step further in reducing revenues per thousand pageviews. Two, brand advertisers, who look to the leading internet media firm to help make the web a better platform for building awareness and creating demand. This news seems to indicate Google remains more comfortable in the transactional arena of direct response.

Facebook To Target Ads Based on Profile Data

From Times Online UK:

“Facebook is preparing an advertising model that would allow advertisers to target its users based on information that they reveal about themselves on the social networking website…. Facebook’s attempt to boost advertising revenues by extending information about its members to advertisers echoes moves by Google to target ads based on the browsing activity of its users.”

From WSJ:

“Facebook hopes allowing advertisers to buy customized ads online will be a less labor-intensive way to take advantage of the personal data people reveal on the site. A key part of this new plan is that Facebook would use an automated system to process transactions instead of requiring advertisers to work with a Facebook representative, people familiar with the plan say…..

“But Facebook’s new plan faces hurdles. It could upset Microsoft, which is itself trying to build technology to make it easier for advertisers to place targeted ads on Facebook. A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment on this issue.

“While Facebook plans to protect its users’ privacy and possibly give them an option to keep certain information completely private, some Facebook users might rebel against the use of their personal information for the company’s gain.”

Linus Torvalds Loves Boing Boing

Well, he reads it anyway. This is how he put it in an interview with Australia’s APC:

“And yes, a browser is mostly open in the background. There’s a few technical discussion forums I’m active on when I have nothing better to do (or when I do have better things to do but get frustrated with them ;) , and then the normal “random” sites (boing boing etc).”

That sounds like love, right?

Lenovo's Churbuck: Banner Ads Improve Search Performance

From David Churbuck’s blog. Churbuck is VP Global Web Marketing for Lenovo.

“Ugh. Can you tell I don’t like banners?

“Okay, but my mind changed last summer when Milner came out of a metrics review with the weird correlation that when we ran banner ads our search campaigns performed better and when we didn’t run banners our search yields declined. Hmm. Then our agency told us the same thing — run banners with search and both get an uplift. Okay. Lesson learned — reserve some component of every campaign to run in parallel with search. Not exactly rocket science, nor cause to proclaim the renaissance of display ads. But …

“Search is pretty saturated. Get into a bid war over a non-brand term like ‘digital camera’ and the cost per click gets ugly fast. It’s also dangerous to get into a ‘search death spiral’ where you see search outperform other tactics so you starve them and allocate more to search but meanwhile that elusive thing called ‘Awareness’ declines and the pipeline dries up.”