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Moving Pictures: Can Companies Create Engagement from the Exploding Imagesphere Online?

(Graphic by Shaw Nielsen, Adweek.)

Let’s officially call 2012 the Year of the Imagesphere. To review: Facebook says its users upload more than 300 million photos per day (up from 31 million in 2009). To support this massive interest in photo sharing, the company acquired Instagram in April for $1 billion.

Meanwhile, Pinterest leapt out of the shadows to become the third largest social network (valued at $1.5 billion by investors in May) because of its unique and popular spin on photo curation. Almost exactly a year ago, Twitter launched its own photo sharing, and earlier this month it rolled out photo filters in a bid to steal usage from Instagram. Within days, Instagram responded by disabling integration with Twitter cards and erecting a wall between the two networks that makes it harder for consumers to share Instagram photos via Twitter. And a few weeks ago, the original photo-sharing giant, Flickr, jumped back into the battle with its own sharing app.

The Internet titans are placing big bets on the future businesses that will be built on the 3 trillion (and growing) online images. The unanswered questions: How will publishers, image repositories (such as Flickr or Facebook) and brands capitalize on the imagesphere opportunity? How will content creators turn the act of flipping through galleries and photo feeds into deep engagement? How will advertisers adjust from a marketing rhythm where they produced one beautiful photo every 13 weeks for a print campaign to one where they need 13 photos a day to feed a Tumblr?

And what’s in all of this for consumers? After a decade and a half of presenting consumers with online photos that they can look at — kind of like we look at photo albums at our grandmother’s house — will the Internet finally bring some interactivity to image content and turn photos into a stepping-off point for a richer experience?
It’s clear that consumers are itching for more. They want more depth, interactivity and the opportunity to explore more images beyond those the editor picked to populate a particular gallery. Publishers who want their attention will need to upgrade the photo experience, and advertisers will need to figure out how to tell their stories inside these photo experiences. This means one thing for sure: Brands and publishers need to figure ouhow to extract precise, granular metadata from the Web’s 3 trillion pictures.

Only when publishers know what’s inside images in their archives can they serve readers with additional relevant content from inside each gallery. Every image, then, will launch dozens more galleries — more Angelina Jolie images here, more pictures of fabulous shoes there. They can also monetize photos with precisely targeted ads, just like they do around other content on their sites.

Without image metadata, photos are the dark matter of the ad-server galaxy. Unlock this metadata, and brands will step into the imagesphere as sponsors. Turn those rectangular clusters of pixels into keywords, and ad budgets will support photo content as enthusiastically as they support keywords found in text. Hiring agencies and art directors to produce hundreds of new photo assets each month would break the bank. But attaching a brand’s message to thousands of photos snapped by fans could deliver the same results at a fraction of the cost.

Clearly, this is an emerging trend that Facebook, in particular, is betting on. It ignited consumer hostility by changing Instagram’s terms of service, raising concerns that the new rules would allow the company to license member photos (your personal photos!) to brands or other corporate entities. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom responded on the company’s blog that it merely plans “to experiment with innovative advertising,” but will not license user photos to outside parties. It’s not our images Instagram wants — it’s the metadata.

The explosion in the image-based Web isn’t just an issue for brands. Publishers are experimenting with photocentric, responsive-design-oriented tablet sites. They’re also tinkering with images loaded with interactivity, whether as part of editorial or within ad units.

But it’s still early for applications and for ad products associated with images. The big headline in 2013 will be the evolution from photo creation and sharing to getting inside those images. Will you be camera-ready?

(Originally published as a guest column at Adweek.)

Advertising Week 2012: The Big, Unanswered Questions

To help industryfolk navigate this year’s Advertising Week, iconoclastic agency Colle+McVoy created the Advertising Week Question Generator, an app that delivers the hard-hitting, big questions you might not have known to ask. If you don’t like the question it suggests, just click the button again. And let me tell you, it is uncanny how the Question Generator’s algorithm identifies the big questions facing our industry.

Meanwhile a small band of twitter-based rabble-rousers — Mike Masnick, Shawn Sims and Jean Aw — challenged the team at ChasNote to answer a few of the biggest, toughest and most mystical. Here we go.

How are we going to get exclusive rights to the early nineties?

The key to this negotiation is anchoring. Make a strong offer for the eighties, demand first right of refusal, and before you know it you’ll have the nineties plus a ton of below-the-fold make-good impressions.

Enough about you, how do I hijack Gangnam Style?

Gingham has never really been out of style. (Um, Judy Garland?!) We say, hijack away.

How are we going to be athletic enough for bears?

Bring your alligator, and then take the fight to water.

Can you explain the need to multi-touch Banksy?

Banksy doesn’t really exist. We know they made a movie about him, but we’re not buying it. Eventually it will be revealed that he’s a guerrilla marketing stunt carried out by a rogue intern at the social-media agency for UK retailer Tesco.

Can I get mommy bloggers to reverse engineer daddy bloggers?

You bet.

Before bed do you capture dongles?

We don’t understand the question — we are pretty sure “dongle” suggests it’s already in a captured state.

How did you manage to rethink low hanging fruit?

Rethinking is what we do here at ChasNote. Next question!

Five Worst Super Bowl Ads, Brought to You by Groupon

Groupon is having a bad week. As if the full-throated (and well-deserved) Twitter backlash to its “Tibet” commercial in yesterday’s Super Bowl weren’t enough. Now the Meebo bar is delivering Groupon ads underneath Adweek’s list of the 5 worst Super Bowl ads of the year, a list that features Groupon. It’s good they have, like, a billion dollars.

Adweek Worst Super Bowl Ads Sponsored by Groupon

Online Ad Spending Up 11%, 2010 vs 2009

eMarketer 2010 Online Ad Spending

Double-digit growth has returned to global online ad spending. Full coverage at Adweek.

Microsoft Underwrites 'Boing Boing TV World'

As Brian Morrissey at AdWeek puts it, “Brands Grab Web Video’s Long Tail.” In this case the brand is Microsoft (the charity-based I’M Initiative) and the long-tail video is Boing Boing TV.

BBtv World

“Xeni Jardin isn’t exactly a household name, but she has a sizable following. As one of the creators of the popular blog Boing Boing, Jardin’s a bona fide Web celebrity.

“Now, Microsoft is hoping she can lend some small-wattage star power to its ‘I’m Initiative,’ which promotes Microsoft instant-messaging and e-mail by tying them to social causes. Through a deal brokered by Federated Media, Microsoft is underwriting episodes of a new Jardin-produced Web series, ‘Boing Boing TV World,’ which gives snapshots of international cultures.”

Adweek: Not All Ads On Facebook Perform Poorly

From Adweek’s coverage of a panel at Ogilvy’s Verge conference. Outgoing Facebook chief revenue officer Owen Van Natta defended the company’s Beacon advertising concept, while Gawker’s Nick Denton slapped back:

“Gawker media publisher Nick Denton said he believes the ‘innovation’ in social media ad models is mostly a result of their failure as media properties. Even MySpace gets higher click rates than Facebook display units, he noted.”

FM’s Battelle disagreed:

“Not all ads on Facebook perform poorly, though. John Battelle, founder of Federated Media, said Facebook applications like Graffiti Wall are running ad campaigns for companies like Dell that are performing well by all metrics. ‘There’s no engagement in ad networks,’ he said. ‘We haven’t yet figured that out yet, and I think social media will.’”

TV Deal Isn't Tempting to Ask A Ninja

For many creators of digital video programming, argues Ellie Parpis in AdWEEK, the lure of a TV deal is still powerful: “Although the Web is becoming as important a distribution vehicle for entertainment as traditional TV, the goal for many is still to end up on the good old boob tube.”

Not so for the gang at Ask A Ninja:

“Kent Nichols, improvisational comedian and co-creator of, an online comedy series featuring a ninja who answers user e-mails, says there’s no incentive for him and his partner, co-creator Douglas Sarine, to consider taking it to TV. ‘We met with all the major studios about Ask a Ninja. It doesn’t make sense in terms of money,’ he says. ‘We gross about $100,000 a month in revenue. These were early offers, but they were a fraction of what we could make in a year.’”

Ninja Logo

While FM manages advertising and sponsorships for Ask A Ninja, we still don’t know who’s behind the mask.

Blogs Are The New Trade Press

That’s the headline for Greg Jarboe’s column today at Search Engine Watch. I worked with Greg at Ziff-Davis in the mid 1990s and was at CMP before that, so it’s sad to see the group tombstone for the trade magazines that have gone under in recent years.

Trade Press Tombstone

The good news is that the readers

of those magazines did not suffer the same plight. They’ve just gone online and, in most cases, filled their informational needs with leading business blogs for their industry.

“According to Compete, 382,749 people visited Search Engine Watch in November 2007; 342,970 visited Search Engine Land; 278,014 visited WebProNews; 139,914 visited Marketing Pilgrim; 77,085 visited Search Engine Roundtable; and 32,398 visited Search Newz.

“This puts them in the same ballpark as the circulation of print publications: 440,000 for InformationWeek; 400,100 for eWeek; 58,979 for Advertising Age; and 23,152 for AdWeek.

“More to the point, the number of visitors to the online publications and group blogs covering the search industry is in the same ballpark as the number of visitors to the websites of trade publications in the technology or advertising industries.

“According to Compete, 424,773 people visited in November 2007; 331,060 visited; 213,900 visited; and 101,140 visited”