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The United Brands of America

Brands by State

A map of America with each state represented by its most famous brand. I don’t know who counted the votes here, and I’m surprised by a few picks: Caterpillar over McDonalds in Illinois, Wendy’s over Tide in Ohio, and Verizon in the #1 spot for New York. Meanwhile I’m wondering how the folks at Tropicana are feeling about Florida.

Let’s Not Blame It All on Programmatic Buying

New York Times Building

In an interview this week with PaidContent, NY Times’ VP of advertising Todd Haskell gave a tour the media company’s Idea Lab, the special-ops team tasked with inventing better digital advertising. They are creating awesome executions (here). But they still aren’t selling enough of these high impact, high CPM units to offset declining digital ad revenues at the Times because, according to Haskell:

the company has been unable to pre-sell all its inventory, and attributes the overall ad challenges to two factors — “an explosion of inventory from social channels” (read Facebook) and the rise of automated or “programmatic” buying which lets advertisers purchase digital ads on real time exchanges.

In other words, Facebook and Google’s AdX are ruining the party. No doubt. But I have to wonder if part of the injury is self-inflicted.

When I read that the Idea Lab “is perched on the 16th floor of the Times’ building and commands an impressive view of the Hudson river,” I asked myself, What floor are the ad sales people on?

When you sequester a product think-tank like the Idea Lab from the core flow of the day-to-day business, it’s tough to make it work. I’m guessing the rank-and-file ad sellers, with their less impressive view of the Hudson River, are spending most of their time selling banners and boxes and longing for the old days when robots didn’t also sell banners and boxes for less. When advertising innovation is an afterthought, something that gets tacked on later to the editorial assets, you usually end up with an unremarkable ad banner plunked inside an otherwise awesome content experience.

728x90 Ad Banner in Snow Fall

Take Snow Fall, the groundbreaking, multimedia journalistic wonder the Times published last December. If you haven’t seen at least 25 gushing (and well-deserved) references to its magnificence, plug yourself back into the Internet. Meanwhile, take a look at the 728×90 banner they slapped inside a bellyband of wasted grey pixels. Yesterday I got Virgin America, today it’s Panda Express.

Internet Advertising Is Peaking

eMarketer predicts that spending on desktop ad banners will peak in 2014 at $39.35 billion, and then will slide south in subsequent years as digital ad dollars move to mobile. By 2017 ad spending on non-mobile banner ads will be down around 2012 levels.

Digital Ad Spend by Channel 2011-2017

A major reason for the shift toward mobile is simple: With more than half of US mobile users now on smartphones, and time spent with mobile devices increasing each year, many digital publishers are looking to shift ad revenues to mobile. Smartphones and tablet devices also account for a growing portion of US retail ecommerce sales, further contributing to advertisers’ desire to shift dollars away from desktop.

Logical enough.

But I have to wonder if there’s something else. Since the beginning, the banner-industrial complex* has been measuring its success by clicks, even though we’ve all seen the data telling us a single-digit percentage (8% back in 2009) of Internet users are responsible for that vast majority (85% in 2009) of all clicks on banners. Those heavy clickers, meanwhile, tend not to come from the demos that most advertisers intend to reach.

And it gets worse. The latest numbers from Comscore show that 46% of desktop banners are never seen by human eyes. On ad exchanges like Google’s AdX, according to Piper Jaffrey, that number might be as high as 80 to 90%.

Were it not for the industry’s own bad behavior, I expect that eMarketer chart would have a longer up-and-to-the-right curve to it. Let’s not blame it all Apple and Samsung for making such cool mobile gadgets.

(*I think Brian Morrissey came up with that phrase.)

Ads Made To Be Censored

If you believe the latest commercial from Philips Norelco, better grooming will make you want to get busy with yourself, in that way a carnal bunny rabbit would. In order to get media outlets to run the spot, though, Philips Norelco can’t actually use the word fuck. (I’m not even sure I can use that word here on ChasNote.) Or they can, but they need to bleep it out themselves before anyone will broadcast it.

According to public radio’s Marketplace:

We’re hearing a lot of bleeping in ads these days by mortgage refinancing services, mattress stores, and even Frank’s RedHot sauce. One ad by Frank’s RedHot has a little old lunchlady who explains to kids why her sloppy joe’s are so good: “Frank’s RedHot. I put that s— on everything.” But even when bleeped, profanity can be jarring.

I give Philips Norelco an A-plus for the above spot. It’s not especially surprising (I’ll give a prize to anyone who can find me a male groomer ad that doesn’t make a crotch joke, some sexual innuendo, a reference to kiwis* or mowing lawns), but it’s funny and squarely on brand. The bleep technique, though, is a gimmick that’s probably already lost its effectiveness. Unexpected sounds are only unexpected the first time you hear them. Now that everyone’s bleeping, we’ll go back to ignoring all the commercials but the good ones.

Philips Norelco Kiwis