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That Awesome U2 iPad Commercial

I just finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. If you haven’t already done the same, get on it.

One of my favorite scenes is the description of Bono visiting Jobs at his Palo Alto home in 2004 to pitch him on including U2′s soon-to-release new single in the next iPod commercial.

Superstar musicians normally charge enormous fees to companies that want to associate a hit song with a product, if they’ll rent out their songs at all. Microsoft, for example, paid the Rolling Stones $10 million to use “Start Me Up” in commercials launching its new operating-system software, Windows 95. It’s kind of incredible, then, that a tech company’s brand had become stronger, cooler and more accessible than one of the best-selling rock bands of all time — so much so that the band licensed its single to Apple free of charge. It’s even more impressive that the band was U2, who, according to Rolling Stone, were especially reluctant to partner with corporate sponsors.

In their twenty-five-year history, U2 have never licensed their music for commercial use or even accepted tour sponsorship. With radio playlists strictly formatted and MTV showing more reality-TV shows than videos [however], many bands are looking for new ways to bring their music to the public. And so U2 launched the first single from their upcoming album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, with an iPod ad rather than a video.

Given that another iPod spot (in 2006) helped Bob Dylan debut his new album, Modern Times, in the #1 position on Billboard’s chart — something he hadn’t done in 30 years — you have to credit Bono with his prescience. Clearly he’s no marketing slouch either.

The Cost of Overpriced Rates for Newspaper Advertising


Chart from Comscore research published in June 2010.

I came across the above in a Clickz article on Mashable that argues the newspapers are killing themselves by charging unreasonably high ad rates. According to the Comscore data, newspapers charge three times the average CPM for online display banners. And print newspapers (at least back in 2008) charge three times the rate of broadcast TV ads running in primetime.

Lulled into complacency by decades (if not centuries) of dominating the advertising industry, they’ve failed to recognize that when it comes to advertiser value, they’ve long since fallen from the top spot. The advantages they once had based on geographic exclusivity, readership, and exclusive content have been eliminated by the rise of the web.

The article’s author, Sean Carton, also suggests that the quality of most newspapers has declined to the point that subscription paywalls feel like an insult. He liked reading the Baltimore Sun’s food blogs (ironically, the content that’s least expensive for the paper to create), especially the reader comments on those blogs (even more ironically, the content that costs the paper nothing), but after visiting for the 15th time this month, he was asked to pay for a subscription, so he went elsewhere.

Flipping through the Hartford Courant this morning at my mother-in-law’s, I was literally unable to find a single article of interest or general news-worthiness (except for a recap of UConn basketball game, which I can acknowledge is more interesting to most people than it is it me), so I ended up reading the back of the cereal box. As much as I love — in theory — local newspapers, it’s shocking that anyone is still paying for their print editions, let alone for the right to visit their websites.

Advertising as Curation

I’ve had a few conversations over the past 2 weeks with a collection of industry friends about the shittiness of online ads. They’re generally shitty in one of two ways.

The cool, custom units that please consumers because they’re well-integrated with the content experience are shitty for publishers and advertisers because they aren’t standardized, thus they cost too much to produce, and they aren’t easily reusable on other publishers’ sites or for other advertisers’ campaigns.

And the standard units — the IAB’s various display rectangles — are shitty for consumers because they’re designed to interrupt a reader’s content experience and convince him or her to click somewhere else. Reuters’ Felix Salmon says we’ve brought this variation of shittiness upon ourselves: “Because it’s so easy to measure things like impressions and click-through rates, the online ad industry has missed the real power that advertising can have…. It’s the measurement fallacy: people tend to think that what they can measure is what they want, just because they can measure it.”

Too often online ads are either pitching an impulse buy or they’re custom sponsorships cuddling up next to great content in hopes that “adjacency” will transfer some of the content’s goodness to the sponsor’s brand. Salmon points out, though, that advertising can succeed without either. If an ad becomes a self-contained media experience in itself, ad unit as mini media, then it doesn’t need as much help from the publisher to accomplish its goal.

Leaf through a glossy fashion magazine like Vogue, and you’ll find dozens of pages of ads at the front of the book, with basically zero editorial content to break them up. If advertisers thought that readers only looked at ads insofar as they were adjacent to editorial, then they would ask for placement opposite editorial. But that’s not what happens: the ads all cluster at the front, the editorial gets relegated to the back, and readers spend more time looking at ads than they do looking at editorial features. In fact, the most avid readers of the editorial shoots are the advertisers, who use them for ideas when they’re planning their next campaign.

Vogue is a prime example of the power of advertising: if, as an advertiser, you know how to give people something they want, then you don’t need to rely on second-best stratagems like adjacency. And no one ever clicked on an ad in Vogue. Which is one reason why Gawker’s former ad chief Chris Batty once proposed that all ads on Gawker Media should be images only, and not clickable at all — it would force advertisers to create something good, instead of chasing after clicks from idiots.

We’ve spent the past 15 years arguing over the size and shapes of banner ads and the click-through rates they generate, and this has distracted us from the hard work of filling the space with good story-telling, good entertainment, good content that happens to be published by a brand. Many advertisers have given this approach a whirl. Noah Brier at Percolate calls out a few brands — Amex with their OPEN Forum, and Redbull — that have emerged as persistent, credible web publishers in their own right. But it’s a big investment and has mostly ended in failure: “Microsites were probably the best example of [the wrong way to do it]: Buy a bunch of advertising, drive people to a new .com, stop advertising, stop getting traffic, tear the site down, repeat.”

Brier and Salmon (the former is a Percolate founder and the latter one of its partners) recommend a new approach: Advertising as curation. The argument is, if your customers are using the web to find interesting, relevant content, brands should use the media they buy to serve up links to content those customers might care about. In other words, banners and Facebook Pages that drive customers to other people’s websites — and the brand benefits because consumers associate a sense of gratitude with its name and logo. “Thanks, Coke, for delivering me to this awesome skateboarding video I wouldn’t have found on my own.”

If we’re talking about a brand’s Twitter feed or Facebook Page, where it has already won (or, through advertising, paid for) the right to re-engage with a subset of their customers, I love this approach; it’s easy to send a customer off to that skateboarding video because you can insert your brand into their newsfeed again tomorrow.

It’s a tougher argument to make to content publishers who are still trying to make a living from banner ads of one type or another. Hey, Coke, I want you to pay for some real-estate on my site to drive people off to skateboarding videos, and tomorrow I’ll sell you more space to do it again. We still also need find an approach to online advertising that offers the self-contained goodness of a Vogue print ad or a Superbowl spot — advertising that’s so good we don’t mind a little interruption.

Yahoo’s San Francisco Billboard Coming Down

According to SF Egotist:

It’s been a San Francisco icon for more than a decade. It’s graced our skyline through the dot.com boom and bust. And it’s one of the most recognizable pieces of advertising the city has seen in a long time. But the San Francisco Egotist has learned that in two weeks, the Yahoo! billboard will be no longer. Jon Charles, Vice President and General Sales Manager for Clear Channel Outdoor in San Francisco confirmed, “Yes, the Yahoo! board will be available starting in December 2011.”

Porn and Activism: Signs Your Platform Is Working

From Ethan Zuckerman’s post on his Etech talk The Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism:

We [at the website hosting service Tripod] sincerely believed that the purpose of the web was to give college graduates helpful information about renting apartments, applying for jobs and investing their money. Our users rapidly told us that what the web was really about was publishing their own information… which left us with the difficult challenge of figuring out how to make money off of people’s collections of cat pictures.

User-generated content, on average, is a lot less interesting than professional content. But there are a lot more people creating their own content for fun than those doing so for a living, and in aggregate, that content is at least as interesting.

Among all the cat videos and porn, it turns out, there’s lots of quality content out there. Build a useful platform, let the pornographers road-test it, and soon you’ve enabled a community to do something valuable.

Luminate’s Toby Bodner on the Power of Pictures

From The Makegood’s interview with my colleague Toby Bodner on why she joined Luminate:

Everyone at Luminate is working in tandem towards a common goal of changing the way we view images online. By simply mousing over any image, a “Luminate-enabled” image becomes a canvas to shop, share, comment, examine, curate, search and socialize. This is a massive opportunity considering there are 3 trillion images online — and I wanted to be a part of it.

She points to three factors explaining the strong performance of recent advertising campaigns on Luminate-enabled images (including one for Revlon): “The focus of the unit (advertising delivered to the focal point of the web — images), user-initiated engagement (active impressions only), and relevance.”

Go, Toby!

Snickers Brand Peanuts?

Today’s Costco delivery included something I hadn’t seen before — Kudos chocolate-covered granola bars, a co-production with Snickers. Sounds delicious. But what struck me as odd is that the contribution from Snickers appears to be their peanuts. When did distinctive peanuts become the ingredient that makes us love a Snickers bar??

Bonobos Campaign Hides Its Models Behind Content Tiles on NOTCOT

The campaign hides Easter Eggs, or rather miniature images of Bonobos models in their signature pants, behind the editorial features — those pinned-up tiles of content — on NOTCOT.org and NotCouture. Click on models and you might get a discount voucher for your next Bonobos purchase. From the announcement of the campaign on NOTCOT:

As for Bonobos, they are the online menswear store named after the endangered promiscuous great ape species that is a close relation of the chimpanzee… the one’s that started off a few years ago with the goal of giving men a pant option (the secret is in the curved waistline) that vowed to put an end to the saggy rear end that one-cut-fits-all options provide.

I often like Easter Egg campaigns — they make advertising more playful for those of us on the other side of it. But there’s a little something extra fun about this one. Whether this was intended or not, the campaign got me thinking about the backsides of NOTCOT images, their butts if you will. And then, voila, out pops a guy in Bonobos pants, pitching a unique styling which takes the sag out of the butts of the guys who wear them. Nice.

Will Facebook Win Over Big Brand Advertisers?

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has a problem on its hands:

Facebook’s estimated market value, now in the neighborhood of $70 billion, is founded on the belief that companies will spend big to advertise on the site. Facebook’s revenues, which come largely from ads, were $1.6 billion in the first half of this year, up $800 million from a year earlier.

But most of its ads were for small advertisers, such as local businesses and small-scale websites, according to comScore Inc. Facebook is under pressure to grow its advertising on a grand scale, and to snag the sort of big brand names who now drive billions of dollars to TV, radio and print campaigns.

Some of advertising’s biggest spenders aren’t yet writing Facebook checks that are in proportion to Facebook’s audience size, share of time spent by its users on the site, or its generally dominant position in the online ecosystem.

U.S. consumers spent 15% of their online time at Facebook in September, according to comScore. But Facebook is expected to capture just 6.4% of total online ad spending this year, according to estimates by research firm eMarketer Inc.

Just 6.4% of total online ad spending?! Eight years ago Facebook didn’t exist, and now it has 800 million members and captures more of our online attention than any other site. That all happened kind of fast, and large advertisers tend to migrate their dollars more slowly than consumers change their media habits.

Consider cable TV. Somewhere in the 1990s total viewership for cable TV channels began to match that of the big broadcast networks. By the summer of 2007, viewership of primetime cable TV shows was twice that of primetime shows on the broadcast networks. Yet only this year for the first time — more than four years after consumers spent more than TWICE their time watching cable — will cable TV ad spending exceed the ad investment in broadcast TV.

There’s no doubt that big advertisers will follow their customers to Facebook; they always follow consumers eventually. And the fact that much of Facebook’s revenues currently come from small businesses — who tend to be more demanding than large brands that ad investments quickly convert into sales — isn’t a liability. It’s a strong sign that Facebook’s ad products are delivering the goods.

Liberals and Muslims Need Not Apply?

Crockett Keller runs a general store in Texas and is a state-certified handgun instructor. His recent radio commercial (below) ends with a request that socialists, liberals, Obama-voters, Muslims and non-Christian Arabs need not apply — “I will not teach you the class.” From NY Times:

“Why would I teach people who have sworn the annihilation of the United States and who can lie, cheat, steal and murder Americans in order to further Islam?” Mr. Keller said. “Why would I arm someone like that? Why would I enable them to carry a weapon legally? I don’t want to be a part of that. I’m sorry those flight instructors didn’t have the same hindsight to know that these guys were up to no good, and they shouldn’t be teaching them, and they should have refused.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which manages the certification process for handgun instructors, is investigating and has issued the following statement: “Conduct by an instructor that denied service to individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion would place that instructor’s certification by the department at risk of suspension or revocation.”

I wish the New York Times had named the radio station that took money for running the ad. (AP says the ad cost $175 and ran on a rural country music station, but doesn’t identify the outlet either.) If parts of the ad are considered hate speech, wouldn’t that violate the law and therefore put the station’s license to broadcast at risk? At the very least, identifying it by name would make it easier for offended listeners to spin their dial to another station.

UPDATE: One reader offered a correction, pointing out that hate speech is NOT illegal in the United States; the Constitution guarantees free speech, including ugly forms of it.