You are currently browsing the archives for October, 2012.

Google’s Biggest Advertisers Q3 2012

Full infographic at Wordstream.

$2 Billion In Political Ads Hoping to Sway 800,000 Voters

There are an estimated 800,000 swing state voters who enter election season undecided, and the two presidential campaigns will spend $2 billion in TV advertising hoping to persuade them. But according to U Penn political scientist Diana Mutz, who spoke to NPR,

“There’s very little evidence that ads make much of a difference in a presidential campaign.”

For you optimists out there who had hoped the ginormous injection of corporate money into American politics made possible by Citizens United would improve our democracy, this is terrible news. However, if you believe that stimulus spending during a recession might create jobs, yet you’d rather avoid bloating federal spending further with another stimulus program, modern presidential elections might be just be the winning ticket. We should have one every year until the Koch brothers help get us all back to work — selling TV ads, if we must.

UPDATE 10/30/12: Turns out social-media excitement doesn’t have much real political effect either.

Look to the Side Without Looking to the Side

One of the award-winning Mercedes-Benz print ads that promotes a radar-sensor technology to help drivers see into their blind spots. I like them — fun, visually-arresting games with Photoshop that suggest what the product does. My kids absolutely love them — what crazy faces!!

More versions of the ad at Buzzfeed. And here’s the video that explains how it works.

(Thanks, Ben!)

Luminate’s Imagesphere Summit 2012

On Tuesday we gathered 60 friends from the publishing community — execs from Conde Nast, Viacom, Thompson Reuters, Wenner, NBC, American Media, Time Warner, Getty, Dow Jones, Gannett, the IAB and others — for an afternoon deep-dive into the rising role of image content as publishing moves to digital and mobile platforms. Our first “Imagesphere Summit.” (Official release here.)

Our CFO suspected it was just an excuse to order Luminate-logo’d pillows. But most people, I think, actually came to learn from industry peers how to hone their image strategies. Given that more than a third of the web’s pixels are image content, 70% of social media activity revolves around a photo, and many of these publishers are seeing upwards of 60% of their pageviews coming from photo galleries, there’s an eagerness across the industry to figure out the image opportunity.

Steve Rubel, EVP at Edelman, kicked off the programming. He identified a schism dividing the landscape of digital publishers. On one side the “Continental Content Divide” publishers focus on ‘spreadable media,’ using infographics, lists and slideshows — short, frequent and easy-to-share content nuggets — to fuel success among social-media consumers. On the other side of the divide are practitioners of ‘drillable media,’ where depth, context and rich visual experience are designed to pull readers deeper into the story. At the center of both approaches (represented by the Play Button in his Media Cloverleaf) is content that directly addresses the visual culture. (More at Steve’s site.)

Paul Asel, managing partner at Nokia Growth Partners (and a Luminate board member) shared a global perspective: How mobile and touch screens are accelerating growth of the Imagesphere. Half the photos ever taken by humankind, he told us, were taken in the past 2 years. He also shared a prediction about the future of digital photos: Today if you hand a non-touch screen device to a child, she’ll ask, Is it broken? Soon all of us will ask the same question if we find ourselves starting at a static image.

Bob Lisbonne, Luminate’s CEO, presented a deck entitled “Welcome to the Imagesphere.” He posited a theory of photo evolution, where the Kodak Era has given way to the Imagesphere — a new phase in which technology has streamlined our ability to take, share and interact with photos. Members of Facebook alone upload more than 300 million pictures a day, and our sprawling social graphs mean that we each (on average) have access to nearly 100,000 photos shared by friends. Imagesphere technologies have enabled digital and mobile publishers to use photos in 3 new ways — as repositories of hidden information that can be revealed with the swipe of a mouse; as drivers or richer experiences; and as a new paradigm for navigation. An effective image strategy creates publisher value via more inventory, higher user engagement, and new monetization.

Bob also proposed that we borrow a concept from fighter jets, “heads-up display,” to imagine a richer experience for digital photos. Heads-up displays allow fighter pilots to watch their gauges without looking down at the instrument panel — relevant data appears as an overlay to visual content outside the windscreen. When an image has “stopping power” and sparks reader demand for more information, don’t force them to look down, look elsewhere on the page, or (god forbid) click off your site to get answers elsewhere. Interactive images can mimic the “heads-up display,” providing your readers answers right inside the image experience.

Rafat Ali, founder and former editor-in-chief of PaidContent (now doing the same at Skift), interviewed Steve Carpi, the global director of production Fantasy Interactive. They discussed FI’s partnership with Gannett around the recent re-design of USAToday.com. Touch screens are training media consumers to navigate by way of photos instead of headlines, Steve said, and websites that steal from tablet design will be better positioned for the next wave of mobile and desktop user experience. It’s an approach he called ‘tactile design.’ Rafat provoked an interesting discussion around two questions: One, now that every story is an image, are image galleries dead? Two, with images moving into such a central role in publishing, will important stories will be lost if they don’t have a compelling picture to pull in readers? (An audience member from Getty volunteered to help!)

Advice from Liz Coughlin, former head of the entertainment sites at Yahoo (now at Young Hollywood): You can either attempt to push your readers to content types that you know how to monetize (eg, articles with large IAB units) or you can figure out how to monetize the content they love, which tends to be your photos.

Brandon Whightsel, design director for WSJ Digital, started with a shot of the newspaper in 1889, the year it began publishing. Beyond turning a five-column format into six columns and the introduction of those iconic woodcut images, though, the paper’s look and feel evolved only gradually until 2003 when it introduced color photos. WSJ Digital, however, has evolved at a radically faster pace. A large photo element across the top of the website — the “Assassination Module,” he called it — was once reserved only for very, very big stories. The importance of images on the tablet experience, however, has changed the design rules. Large photos now anchor many digital and tablet stories, assassination no longer required. Whightsel tipped his hat to Rupert Murdoch as an outspoken advocate for the migration to a more visual approach to publishing.

Offir Gutelzon, business development VP at Getty, talked about the potential unleashed by image metadata. Once a publisher knows what’s inside each image, it can automatically deliver photos relevant to every story and can attach ads targeted by image context.

Luminate CTO James Everingham wrapped up the afternoon with a sneak peek at some products Luminate will launch later this fall — support for new content types, upgraded social features, new controls for publishers and users, and some snazzy functionality for tablet users.

Throughout the day there were more questions than the speakers had time to answer. I guess we’ll just have to do another one of these soon.

Does Mickey Mouse Know About iPhones?

I took this picture at the photo wall outside Disneyland California Adventure’s California Screamin’ roller coaster: A woman elbowed her way to the front so she could snap an iPhone picture of the one she’s featured in, the one she wouldn’t be buying from Disneyland. And she wasn’t alone. Almost every member of the throng of people exiting Space Mountain or limping off Tower of Terror was doing the same.

Maybe some were snapping shots as a way to remember the code number in the upper left corner, so they could later pay $16.95 for the commemorative version — but I doubt it. It’s not like the official version, blurred by the speed of the roller coaster, is especially high quality. Most of us are just happy to have survived the ride and a want a photographic memory of the fear-contorted look on our face.

Given how rarely the forces behind Disneyland pass up an opportunity to maximize revenue ($35 t-shirts, $25 per kid for PB&J pizza breakfast at Goofy’s Diner, $6 for a cardboard tube in which to carry your caricature portraits, etc) — and given that Steve Jobs himself was once a board member and the company’s largest shareholder — it surprises me that omnipresent digital photography is getting the better of them. They’ll find a way to get an extra 17 bucks from me next time, I’m sure, but for now I’ll put this one on the refrigerator and enjoy its free-ness.

Visual Storytelling for Brands in the Facebook, Pinterest, Insta-gallery Era

In November 1995 I had a job selling ad space for tech magazines. One afternoon the office fax machine scrolled out 12 pages worth of insertion orders from a software company I’d been pitching for two months, and I did a happy-dance in my cubicle. With those orders, the company had committed to running a full-page ad in every issue the magazine would publish in all of 1996. I called the client to confirm the mailing address for our traffic coordinator and the creative instructions — right-reading film, emulsion-side-down — and got the further good news that the ad creative was already on its way in a FedEx pouch. The ad creative. A single photo with ad copy that would serve as the campaign’s creative all year.

I don’t miss the inky mess I’d make of my hands when I had to change the cartridge on that fax machine. But they sure were simpler times in the world of advertising and publishing.

Back then the brands on the other end of those fax machines could afford to sink significant time and resources into the production of each creative unit. Hiring a renowned photographer, a model, a team of set designers, makeup artists, art directors and post-production editors might set them back $25,000 for a single photo for a single print ad. But given the enormous role played by that one photograph — it would likely anchor a $15-million national ad campaign across many magazines for months — the time and dollars invested in getting it exactly right could fairly be called a rounding error. Twenty-five thousand dollars in creative development divided by 15 million in media spend is less than two-tenths of a percentage point.

While the math still works for brands advertising in glossy fashion magazines, there is trouble in paradise. Or rather, paradise has moved to the Internet. If brands want to engage with consumers online (which, more and more, is where their consumers spend time) they need to compete with publishers and social media sites that refresh their bins of eye-candy every few minutes. By the time they’ve art directed, developed and shipped a piece of right-reading, emulsion-side-down film to a publisher, Gangnam Style has been replaced with parody videos of Gangnam Style.

The digital landscape changes fast, and pictures are a main catalyst. Netscape released the first commercially-available web browser in 1994 and fewer than 15 years later Flickr housed more than 6 billion photos — more than 450 times the number of photos held by the Library of Congress. In 2009 more than 2.5 billion camera-enabled devices were in the hands of would-be photogs and in the course of a year would go on to take ten percent of all photos ever taken by humans. Instagram, the photo-sharing apps for smartphones that Facebook bought earlier this year for $1 billion, measures its customer engagement in uploads-per-second; 60 uploads per second, back in the quaint old days of December 2011, pre-acquisition, and before comScore released data showing Instagram’s daily usage is now greater than Twitter’s. By early 2012 Facebook members were uploading to the site more than 300 million photos every single day.

This slurry of data signals “the end of the Kodak Era, where we took photos birthdays and vacations, and shared them only with a small group of friends,” says Bob Lisbonne, CEO of Luminate (my boss) and former SVP for Netscape’s browser group in 1990s. “We’ve now entered a phase in which visual communication is supplanting the written word — what some are calling the dawn of the Imagesphere.”


(Source: 1000 Memories Blog.)

But it’s not taking or uploading pictures that should worry marketers. It’s the fact that there are consumers on the other end of these photos — viewing them, engaging with them, and generally spending more time with images they see on Facebook, Tumblr or Pinterest than they used to spend reading glossy magazines that arrived on the newsstand once a month. comScore’s Mobile Metrix 2.0 survey says Facebook users are spending more than seven hours per month visiting the site by way of mobile phones alone. Om Malik, founder and editor in chief of GigaOM, asserts that photos are the fuel driving the mass migration to social media:

Malik writes, “Photos are the reason many of us continue to engage with Facebook. Facebook has tried many verbs to increase and maintain our engagement with the service — read, listen, watch. But in the end, it’s the photos that work wonders for the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social-networking giant.”

Research from a team at Harvard Business School supports Malik’s claim. A 2009 study finds that 70% of all activity inside social networks revolves around photos. Keep in mind, that was in 2009 — when Facebookers were uploading a mere 31 million photos a day, and My Space was still relevant enough to be included in a study of social-media sites.

These millions of new photos — or at least those shared by friends and organizations we choose to follow — are pushed to us each day in an unending, ever-updating stream of visual storytelling. We watch our friends’ kids grow up, in near real-time, and news stories unfold throughout the day as fresh photos replace those from hours or minutes before. Publishers, too, are responding to their readers’ growing appetite for image content with larger, high-res photography and the gallery-ification of stories as disparate as celebrity news, travel destinations and business analysis.

Roughly one-third of pixel real estate on the web is image content, according to the Wall Street Journal, and those images get old fast. In its first three days on the Internet, the average photo has attracted half the total views it will ever attract. If you look at content shared via social media platforms rather than the entire web, the half-life for content is measured in hours not days.


(Source: Bitly Blog.)

And there lies the rub for brands. The changing dynamic of media consumption has changed the rules of marketing in three fundamental respects.

One: “Professional grade” doesn’t get the mileage it once did.

Sure, the list of most-viewed clips on YouTube includes Justin Beiber music videos, but it also includes quirky independent interviews of people waiting in line for iPhones and home-movie sensations such as ‘Charlie Bit My Finger… Again.’ The same goes for photos. Consumer interest no longer tracks with traditional definitions of “photo quality.”

There was a time when all media was professional media, created and distributed by large publishing companies. It only made sense, then, for advertisers to polish their creative units to a professional, high-production-value shine. Good advertising should always seek to imitate the editorial content around it; ‘native advertising’ has been around long before the Internet. There’s mounting evidence, however, that recall rates for TV spots and display ads in magazines are declining, despite the professional expertise that goes into their creation. Nowadays relevance trumps production value.

Now that amateur photographers have gained access to distribution — Google might lead you to an independent photoblog, Instagram might introduce you to some great photos from an excellent hobbyist — consumers are dividing the world of photos into ‘interesting’ and ‘not interesting,’ not ‘professional’ and ‘amateur.’ Interesting no longer requires the talents of a professional.

Two: Attention Deficit Disorder has become a lifestyle choice.

A trend that’s probably as old as the publishing industry has achieved fever pitch: Content miniaturization. Articles get shorter and shorter, and readers still can’t get to the end of them. I mean, who has time to read the entire tweet anymore? Audience ratings seem to suggest that frequency and freshness of content are trumping quality and depth. In a world where tapping our thumbs on the Instagram icon on our iPhones unleashes an endless stream of photos taken in the last four hours, looking again at last month’s print ad for Prada strikes many modern consumers as boring.

Three: Consumption is giving way to interaction.

There’s something that’s even more popular than posting pictures: Liking them and commenting on them. It’s a sign that we define ourselves not only through our own pictures, but also through association with the pictures of others. It’s this instinct that explains the growth of Pinterest, the social network that rocketed to 10 million users faster than any social network before it. It’s not built on photo-sharing in the sense that Instagram or Facebook are (“Hey, check out my pictures”); it’s about photo-assembling (“I’ve collected these pictures so you understand who I am and what I care about”). Forty-one percent of us, says new research from Pew, find photos and videos online and re-post them on sites designed for sharing with others. It’s one of the most popular things we do on the Internet.

In order for brands to embrace these new platforms for photo mixing and mashing, they need to get comfortable with their images being separated from the carefully assembled context of yesterday’s print ad or the Spring catalog, and being extracted from the traditional models that protect ownership rights and pay out talent royalties. Your customers want to befriend you and play with you, but that game is going to be on their terms.

So what’s a brand to do?

The creative departments at traditional agencies simply can’t adapt to this new world, says John Battelle, founder of Federated Media (disclosure: I was his co-founder there) and the first managing editor of Wired Magazine. The old rhythm of branded storytelling — devise the Big Idea, take a month to convert it into an art piece of advertising, and then enlist the media department to implant it deep into the skulls of consumers through mass media — is losing its efficacy. Agencies will continue to find success producing professional-grade assets and distributing them around tent-pole events, but they’re ill-equipped for the in-between times, the 363 days a year that don’t feature the Super Bowl or the Oscars. The beefy muscles built up over years of pumping out thirty-second TV spots and full-page print ads aren’t well suited for the marathon running required by lasting social-media conversations. “Brands need to catch up to media,” he says, and they’re going to need some help.

“Most creative agencies don’t see themselves as ongoing, real time publishers — that’s the business of, well, publishers,” Battelle continued. “I predict the two will merge over time — agencies must become more like publishers, and publishers are going to have to learn how to service brands like agencies do.”

Federated Media says the solution is a distributed, crowdsourced model for branded content creation. It invites advertisers to tap the talents of “the world’s largest creative department,” the 30 million some-odd bloggers affiliated with FM, from the vast army of small WordPress publishers to large-reach sites such as Boing Boing or Notcot.


(Source: Tom Ryabo, featured on Intel’s My Life Scoop.)

Three years ago, David Veneski, Intel’s director of US media, took FM up on the offer for a program called My Life Scoop. While the site features periodic updates on products like Intel-powered Ultrabooks, the bulk of the content is created by a broad array of independent content producers who speak the native language of Intel’s customers — those young, affluent people who seek out cutting-edge tech gadgets to enhance their lives. The imagery that accompanies the site’s content is not highly produced. Instead the emphasis is on fit, tone and relevance — photos and videos collected, curated and presented to My Life Scoop readers at a fraction of the cost associated with a professional shoots. The content is on-message (‘Sponsors of Tomorrow’ and ‘Ultrabook’), it’s frequently refreshed and it’s inviting social amplification. Nearly 50,000 Twitterers are following the My Life Scoop feed, and 100,000 Facebook members have Liked it.

“It’s important to us that we provide an authentic and compelling brand story for our target audience,” says Veneski. “We find that visuals and imagery, both photos and video, alongside written content, offers a way of telling a story that is more interesting to the people we want to reach.”


(Source: GE’s Tumblr.)

General Electric has taken an even more stripped-down approach. On Tumblr they’ve created (with help from the Barbarian Group) a corporate site that is nothing but photos. You’ll only find text only where it’s used to caption or hashtag a photo. What’s initially surprising is that airplane engines, smart LED bulb testing facilities, and gardens decked out with PulseArc Multi-Vapor metal halide lamps are quite photogenic, especially when they’ve been dolled up with an Instagram filter. Without set designers, models or professional photographers, GE is telling its story with frequent, low-cost iPhone pictures. More importantly, GE fans are spreading this story to their networks, with comments and hashtags included.

And the ‘interactivity’ isn’t just something that occurs after the brand unleashes the content — GE uses Twitter to invite its social-media followers to pick the locations of future photos.


(Source: GE’s Twitter Account.)

Without breaking the bank or getting reckless with its brand, GE found a path to social-media relevance. The brand is leaning into the consumer acceptance of spontaneous, inexpensive photo storytelling, which isn’t just reducing production costs either. It’s giving GE a stream of highly sharable content nuggets to satisfy the short-attention-span types and the sharers.

In other words, they’re speaking our language — the one in which every missive is worth a thousand words.

(This article first appeared on iMediaConnection under the title Why Visual Storytelling is the Future of Digital.)

That Ben Affleck Movie

Yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times ran an ad for the new Ben Affleck movie about the zany 1979 CIA plot that rescued six American State Department workers hiding out at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran after escaping the hostage-taking attack on the American Embassy. If the pull-quotes in the ad are to be trusted, it looks terrific!

Unfortunately for the agency people who placed the ad in the Times, it neglects to mention the name of the movie. I can only imagine their Saturday morning brunch plans were marred by some pretty unhappy phone calls.

I’m going to see the movie anyway. According to the review in the New Yorker, “Affleck’s beard and hair style suggest someone who moonlighted from the intelligence services to pose for ‘The Joy of Sex,’ and as you study the fashions of the era, you have to ask whether the Ayatollah’s fury was provoked by US support for the Shah or, more simply, by the width of Western shirt collars.” Sounds like a provocative film.


(A closer look at the ad, with special filters to approximate the spy-glasses experience.)

UPDATE: Wait! Someone in Twitter — someone with better spy glasses than mine — pointed out that the photos at the bottom of the ad, if you close one eye and angle the paper to the light, spell out Argo. So that’s the name of the movie! Once again the editors of ChasNote have been duped by excessive cleverness.

Those brunch-time phone calls probably went more like this: “Ad looks AWESOME! By the way, did you guys ever figure out a cost-effective way to distribute the special glasses that make it more obvious that the movie’s called Argo?”

Times of India Succeeds with Readers by Getting Out of the News Business and Into the Advertsing Business

On a trip to India 3 years ago, I was shocked to see how far The Times of India was willing to go to earn a buck from its advertisers. The front page of the paper on day in late December 2009 was an ad for Yahoo. I don’t mean they sold Yahoo an ad on the front page, like the NY Times and other American papers started doing a few years ago; I mean an ad for Yahoo displaced all the news articles that normally comprise the front page of a newspaper.

It’s no surprise that the company that owns the Times is killing it on the revenue front. Bennett, Coleman & Company (BCCL) operates 13 newspapers in India, which capture half of all English-language print ad revenues and profits between 25 and 30%. US newspaper publishers, by comparison, are fighting to hold onto 5% profits.

It’s a little more surprising that circulation and readership are up too. Granted publishers in India have some tailwinds. Each year an additional 20 million citizens enter the ranks of the literate, and only 10% of the country’s population has access to the Internet. Like Rupert Murdock’s tabloids, BCCL discounts the newsstand price (and, in the case of BCCL, offers free home delivery). But still. The SF Examiner lands on my stoop a few times each week, free of charge, and you couldn’t pay me to read it.

Meanwhile there are 80,000 newspapers published in India, so this fast-growing army of readers isn’t suffering a lack of choice. And, according to Ken Auletta’s essay in the New Yorker, the papers that compete with The Times aren’t quite as adventurous with their ad products, or as amphibious between their editorial and advertising habitats. Yet despite an approach that puts advertisers ahead of journalism, The Times remains the largest English-language newspaper in the world.

Vineet Jain, the #2 and the younger brother of the company’s owner, says they made a decision back in the 1980s to get out of the news business and into the advertising business. That, says the executive in charge of ad sales, Bhaskar Das, has forced the paper to focus more intently, not less, on pleasing their readers. “When the advertiser becomes successful, we are successful. The advertiser wants us to facilitate consumption.” In other words, the advertisers demand that The Times keeps its readers happy.

There’s a downside, of course. The Times of India, unlike say the New York Times or Washington Post, doesn’t feel the need to feed its readers a well-balanced meal. They go light on the leafy greens of investigative journalism, and heavy on sweets like celebrity news, sports coverage and political scandals. This crass approach to news spits in the eye of my own (American) view on the role of journalism as the Fourth Estate that preserves and ensures an honest(ish) democracy, the parental voice tells me what I’m supposed to care about (credit default swaps), not what I want to care about (the Kardashians). Let’s be honest: if American papers did that, Nixon would still be president.

But if you stop thinking about The Times as a newspaper for second, and instead view it as an “ad-supported media product,” it becomes a more interesting case study. In conference rooms across Silicon Valley, every day of the week, there’s an argument in which one person says, “we need more ads in order to keep the lights on” and another fights back with, “advertising will corrupt the product and destroy the user experience.” Among the newspapers of India, however, snuggling up with advertisers is forcing publishers to work harder at use satisfaction.