You are currently browsing the archives for July, 2012.

The New Currency of Visual Storytelling


(Photo credit: Betharie)

“Visual storytelling is in renaissance — but with a twist. Photography, rather than video, is fast becoming the lingua franca of a more global, mobile and social society…. Businesses that bank on visual storytelling with images will win,” says Steve Rubel in his recent column for Ad Age.

When you observe consumers using mobile devices, social networks or the web, you see a strong preference for photos over other media formats. Facebookers upload 300 million photos a day, and Harvard Business School study concludes that 70% of all activity inside social networks involves a photo. iPhone users can choose from over 10,000 photo-related apps in Apple’s App Store. All told there are more than 3 trillion images online. Rubel attributes the popularity of photos to three factors: images are global (they transcend language and cultural divides), they’re distributable (small files are easy to share across digital pipes, even skinny pipes), and they’re digestible (full of content that humans can process more quickly than text or video).

Meanwhile big marketers, who credit moving pictures (not still ones) with building their brands, show a different preference — a desire that digital, social and mobile media platforms create space for TV-like ads. They seek out inventory into which they can insert those very same (if slightly reformatted) television spots, and when that runs out they create animated banners they hope will deliver similar results.

Results are bound to be disappointing, however, when consumers gravitate to one type of content (photos) and advertisers try to foist another type (animated banners) upon them. A recent study by some folks at Moat, Accordant Media and the Advertising Research Foundation provides one startling data point. In their experiment, blank rectangles — IAB units with white space in them — performed twice as well as the industry average for animated banners created by brands and their agencies. In other words, the absence of advertising is working better than the average online ad.

Taking Rubel’s advice — telling your brand’s story through pictures — can hardly be worse than what you’re doing today. With a little practice, maybe you can outperform empty rectangles!

Instagram Enables Those Darn Amateurs to Muck Up Another Cozy Guild of Paid Professionals

A lot of people are celebrating the 2nd anniversary of Instagram’s first posted photo by bashing the service.

As Matthew Ingram points out at GigaOM, this kind of criticism has become a predictable rant: members of a professional community are never pleased when the amateurs get a chance to compete.

“This isn’t really that surprising: it’s the same kind of criticism that has been made about blogging, citizen journalism and Twitter, among other things — and in each case the critics have been somewhat right, but mostly wrong…. Running through many of these criticisms is a kind of anti-amateur argument: real photography should be left to professional photographers, real journalism should be left to professional journalists, and so on.”

Traditional publishers in the 1920s expressed similar distain for an upstart weekly magazine that summarized news for the on-the-go professional: Henry Luce’s Time Magazine.

No doubt it’s a bummer when an amateur fill-in-the-blank gains access to professional tools and produces — for free, just because he or she cares — good content that competes with stuff that erstwhile could only be created by a paid professional. (I know, these amateurs produce crap too; and so do the pros — turn on you TV and click upward from Channel 2 to 200 and see if it’s all ready for prime time.)

In the case of media, there are two kinds of tools that were once too expensive for the average Joe: the tools of production (a printing press, an Arri video camera, an Avid editing suite, etc) and the tools for distribution (delivery trucks, some rented spectrum on a broadcast satellite, an expensive pay-to-play deal with a cable operator, etc). New digital technologies have broken down many of these barriers to entry. You can shoot HD videos on your iPhone, publish your magazine on WordPress, your photo-journal on Tumblr or Instagram, and the work once done by delivery trucks has been supplanted by search engines and social sharing.

Most of the time greater competition creates higher quality stuff at lower costs. Sure, it stinks for the railroad baron to watch Henry Ford mass-producing cars or for the big record labels to acknowledge the rise of digital music. You end up with two choices. Mock, threaten and sue the new competition; or embrace innovation. History (and Clay Christensen) is pretty clear on which is the wiser choice.

And come on, people, look at the numbers. There are a lot more eyeballs looking at the 300 million “amateur” photos that are uploaded to Facebook everyday than will look at Vanity Fair’s photos in a month. The photos and videos that gave us access to the Arab Spring weren’t taken by photogs from CNN or NY Times. And if neat iPhone apps make pictures more appealing to your audience, then stop calling them cheap amateur cheats and start using them (like Sports Illustrated is doing). It’s time to change the question from “was this picture taken by paid, professional photographer?” to “does this picture deserve my attention?”

(This post first appeared on Ad Age under the headline Don’t Hate Instagram Because It’s Disrupting Another Profession.)

Manchester United Is Most Valuable Sports Franchise

Reading a Forbes article on Manchester United’s upcoming IPO, I caught a bit of news I missed last summer: Brands are so eager to associate with the club that one of them, DHL, paid $62 million for a four-year deal to put its logo on Man U’s practice jerseys.

I’m sure it is a great investment and all, but type “wayne rooney practice jersey,” “manchester united jersey,” or “wayne rooney manchester united” into Google’s Image Search, and get back to me if you can find him in the DHL practice kit. I’m seeing pages and pages of Rooney with AIG and AON logos on his chest, and even one where he’s wearing a Coke t-shirt, but no DHL.

Here’s one, but I only found it because I knew about the sponsorship and went looking for it directly: My search query was “manchester united DHL.”

The First Issue of Ad Age

The first issue of Advertising Age, which hit the newsstands in January 1930, via Ad Age’s Instagram feed. Click on the Wikipedia W icon at the bottom of the image (Luminate’s Wikipedia app) to see a more current version of the magazine.

Remembering Digg

I worked at Digg in 2009 and 2010, so it wasn’t much fun reading some of the headlines this week about the company’s final chapters, with Betaworks buying the brand and website for a rumored $500,000. (Combining the Betaworks deal with others which sold patents to LinkedIn and the engineering team to the Washington Post, Digg sold itself for something closer to $16 million).

But among the coverage, a story I did like is the one by Brian Morrissey at Digiday. Not only did Digg pioneer the idea of socially-curated news, Morrissey says, it also broke new ground in the arena of digital advertising.

Digg was an innovator in one important way: It showed the way with an innovative ad system that was truly native to the experience. For all of Digg’s mistakes, it got the ad part mostly correct. Rather than splash the site with IAB units, Digg chose to make its own ads in 2009, determining that the ads themselves should be promoted content from the site. Advertisers were challenged to adapt to Digg’s community, contributing content that they could then pay to have surfaced more prominently. Users could comment on advertiser posts, promote them and bury them. The more an advertisement was Dugg, the less the advertiser had to pay, rewarding those with good content.

Sound familiar? It’s pretty much the blueprint Twitter is following now, along with Tumblr. Social platforms three years on are still struggling with how to adopt advertising. Tumblr appears to be agonizing about how to introduce ads and not lose its indie cred. Facebook’s Beacon foray was a disaster. Its most promising ad format is Sponsored Stories, which are like some Digg Ads in which brands would promote stories others had Dugg.

Thanks, Brian!

SMB Marketing: The Image Opportunity

Back in the day, the primary vehicle for small businesses marketing was the yellow pages. It made perfect sense: yellow pages directories were the primary tools for consumers looking for a plumber or a local sporting goods store, and they drove business leads efficiently.

And then consumers found a better tool: the Internet and its magic-performing search engines. Type in the product or service you need — in other words, help Google understand your needs, give its algorithms a little context — and relevant business listings appear in less than a second. According to eMarketer younger people are now five times more likely to use a search engine than the old, thick print directory. Marketers have had no choice by to follow their customers online.

Of course those potential customers are using the Internet for more than just hunting down a phone number with the help of a search engine. Is there an opportunity, then, to meet likely customers even when they’re not searching?

One of the most frequent things they’re doing online is looking at pictures. By some estimates the 3 trillion-plus online images make up 40% of the pixels on the Internet. Everyday Facebook users alone add 300 million more, and Pinterest, the third most popular social network (and fastest site ever to go from zero to 10 million users), is built solely on images. Yet more evidence to support the research that says 70% of everything we do inside social media involves a photo. Big media sites report a similar trend, with some of the largest online publishers logging 60% of their total page views inside photo galleries.

The next trick for marketers is to bring the magic of SEM — an acute understanding of context — to the imagesphere, so that businesses can pluck from the trillions of images the handful that are attracting the attention of potential customers.

At Luminate, my employer, our mission is to make those 3 trillion images interactive, to enable a user to just mouse into an image and be presented with apps that deliver content and services relevant to that particular image. In order to make those apps work — say sports stats on athlete photos, apparel information on red carpet photos, or Wikipedia profiles on the people or places inside almost any photo — we need first to unpack the context of each image. That context, it turns out, is very interesting to certain marketers. The two side-by-side images above show how a retailer like Macy’s runs ads on Luminate apps when an image contains at least two apparel items that look like similar to products in its catalog. The app (and advertising) isn’t presented unless a user rolls over the invitation to “Get the Look,” so the opportunity combines visual context with a level of user intent.

Businesses of all sizes are focused on mobile strategies and social strategies — as they should be. But given the enormous consumer interest in photo content, an image strategy has become equally important. Forget about those often-talked-about thousand words, a picture may be worth much more to a business that learns how to connect its brand with the context inside it.

(This piece was originally published as a guest post on Shawn Graham’s site, which is dedicated to “marketing and strategy for badass small businesses.”)

Tattoo Advertising at London Olympics

Olympic runner Nick Symmonds auctioned off a temporary tattoo on his shoulder to Milwaukee-based design and creative agency Hanson Dodge, whose winning bid was $11,100.

Because of sponsorship and endorsement rules imposed by USA Track and Field, Symmonds must obscure the tattoo while he’s actually participating in a race (he uncovers it before and after races). But still, an Olympian signing up to endorse a brand and paint its logo on his body for eleven thousand bucks?! Even if Hanson Dodge did throw in some free web design services, it seems like a ridiculously below-market give-away. Back in 2005 a guy named Andrew Fischer collected $37,375 from sleep-remedy maker SnorStop for a temporary tattoo on his regular non-Olypian forehead.

More at NY Times.

Duck Tape Prom Dress Contest

Tape maker Duck Tape is giving away prizes to the high schoolers who make the best duct-tape prom dresses. Brooke Wallace and Mark Aylward from Solomon, Kansas, (above) are finalists.

Full story at Brand Channel.