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GE Continues Its Native Advertising Offensive

GE was an early brand to tell its story through an Instagram profile — with retro-filtered photos of airplane engines, locomotives, radiopharmaceuticals and cool pics from the labs at which it tests the quality of light emitting from concept light bulbs. It posted the images to a Tumblr and the comments suggest they struck a chord. Boring old GE had a social-media hit with the hipsters.

And even before Instagram, GE curated a channel of healthy-lifestyle stories (mostly stories written by publishers with no connection to GE) on Digg, following the healthy-living influencers among the Digg community and building a following of its own.

So it’s hardly a surprise that they’re at it again. Building on the popularity of nostalgia on BuzzFeed, GE is sponsoring “The BuzzFeed Time Machine” — lists that might have made the rounds had Buzzfeed been online in the days before the Internet. In an interview with Ad Age, BuzzFeed president Jon Sterinberg says:

BuzzFeed is focused on nostalgia because it’s one of the most popular types of content that people love to share. It’s some of the most shareable stuff because you send to your friends stuff that reminds you of being together in the nineties.”

Smart: Find out why your customers love BuzzFeed and give them more of the same, this time wrapped in your brand. And not only is GE underwriting the creation of BuzzFeed-y content — lists of retro silliness that you can’t help pushing to your high school friends via Facebook — the brand is dusting off its retro print ads to use as creative.

I’m not currently on the market for a dishwasher, but if I were I’d almost certainly consider the Potscrubber II. Keep it up, GE.

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!

Facebook, GM and the State of Social Advertising

I sat down with Digiday’s Brian Morrissey on Tuesday to talk about social advertising, native creative formats, the GM-Facebook dustup, and the future of advertising around images. Excerpts below. Full story here.

Brian: GM is pulling its Facebook ad budget because it says advertising there doesn’t work. What do you think?

Chas: That’s a preposterous claim. I can’t imagine the first year that GM was buying TV commercials it was able to ascertain what was working and what wasn’t. It’s taken a generation to perfect and understand how to measure success in TV. For it to do that after three years seems premature to say it works or doesn’t work as a global statement. Facebook as a consumer experience and an advertising platform are both relatively new.

Brian: Why do you think images need a native format?

Chas: Right now… everyone is getting hip to images in a bigger way. Publishers are coming clean and saying 60 percent of their page views are image galleries. We’re seeing that in the growth of Pinterest and the acquisition of Instagram. It’s giving everyone permission to say images matter. There are a variety of companies saying images are yet another piece of real estate we can slap ads on…. There’s no content, just ads. We [at Luminate] are trying to do something different. If we can create applications that augment the image experience with content and services, then publishers and users will like the experience, and then we can think of the ad experience that’s native to that experience.

Adblock Plus No Longer Blocking Good Ads

Last month Adblock Plus changed its default settings. The browser extension will still block most online ads, but it will now present its 10 million users with “acceptable ads” when it finds them — banners that aren’t blinking, offensive or generally annoying. Full story at the New York Times.

From a PR perspective, the timing of this development is unfortunate, given that the organizer of the Adblocker open source community, Wladimir Palant (and his partner Till Faida), took outside investment and turned the project into a business called Eyeo last summer. Despite promises that they’re not “selling out,” they do admit that this new approach is part of an emerging business model:

Mr. Faida has left open the possibility that some big Web sites will pay his start-up as part of the new service; small sites will never be charged, he said. In an e-mail [to the New York Times], he wrote: “In the long term, we of course have to think about how to make our movement sustainable — including larger Web sites that will increase their revenues by partnering with us in the costs of maintaining the project seems to be a way that will work.”

I’ve never been a fan of Adblock Plus. We all love the free-ness of the web’s content, which means advertising is generally the sole source of income for the content creators. Consuming the content without the commercials feels, to me, kinda like stealing. Don’t get me wrong, I dislike advertising that’s annoying, deceptive or poorly crafted as much as anyone else. But indiscriminate ad-blocking punishes the good alongside the bad.

Adblock’s new system gives advertisers a path to redemption. Make better ads, they say, and we won’t turn you off. It’s an approach — like Google’s Adwords algorithm or Digg’s DiggAds product, both of which get more expensive for advertisers that are less popular with users — that reinforces what our brains (to some degree) do anyway, block out the bad ads. Why build technology that will bankrupt free media, when instead you can give users tools to ignore, and/or direct their hostility at, only the lame advertisers? With the latter scheme you may end up with better ads and better-funded free content at the same time.

Top 10 Digital Advertising Trends of 2010

Todd Wasserman assembles the top 10 digital ad developments that defined 2010. On his list (published at Mashable): iAds; location-based advertising by Foursquare, Facebook and others; Promoted Tweets; group buying alerts offered by Groupon and others; and Isaiah Mustafa’s personalize videos distributed by Twitter @Replies.

Burger King Error Message Advertising

His list also includes two forms of advertising that have fun with internet pages that are otherwise annoying: CAPTCHA prove-you’re-a-human pages and error pages that result from typo entry into a search box, like Burger King did with Digg.

Congrats to Rob Shore, Chris Kobran, Dan Contento, Eric Hoppe, Veronica Tegen, Courtney Guertin and the rest of the crew at Digg that put that together!

Changes on the Work Front

In a few weeks, I’ll be joining the team at Pixazza as Chief Revenue Officer and Head of Publisher Development.

Which means I’m changing my role at Digg. While I’m handing off daily management responsibilities, I’ll stay on as a strategic advisor to Digg. In that capacity, I’ll be helping with Digg’s ad platform strategy.

Helping online content-creators make money lights a fire in me. Almost 6 years ago, John Battelle came to me with an idea that became Federated Media. We created a company that enables blog publishers to fund important stories and break news from outside the Big Media club.

Digg Logo

One of FM’s first major sites was Digg. As Digg’s Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer in 2009 and 2010, I worked on a platform that is now poised to enable news sites to better monetize original stories.

Pixazza Infocard

When I started talking to Bob Lisbonne and Jim Everingham at Pixazza, I heard something that reminded me of my favorite parts of FM and Digg — evidence of an innovative model to sustain great digital content. Hundreds of thousands of websites are attracting audiences to photographs. But it’s hard for contextual ad-serving technologies to identify what’s inside an image. So advertisers haven’t spent big dollars against image content, and photo-heavy publishers, like bloggers in 2004 and 2005, struggle as a result. Pixazza’s got technology that takes on that problem. In my new role at Pixazza, my ultimate goal is to serve audiences by unlocking photo content as a revenue-driver, which helps both advertisers and publishers move their businesses forward.

Diggable 300×250 Ads on Digg

Diggable 300x250 unit

Today Digg launched new functionality that gives readers the ability to share their favorite banner ads with friends across the Digg community — as well as bury the ones they don’t like. From the Digg blog:

“We launched ‘Digg Ads’ over a year ago — these advertisements are content-based and allow the Digg community to Digg or hide (buries will be back very soon) the advertisement just as they would any other story item on the site.

“One change we’re making is that we’re going to try out Digg and hide buttons on some of the display ads across the site. Usually you’ll see these display ads in the upper right corner of the site.

“When you Digg any ad (display or story-format), the story attached converts to a regular Digg story. That news story is just like any other — you can Digg, hide, or write a comment.”

NY Times Weighs In on Digg v4

Keval and Chas in NY Times

My mother was so proud to see me in the New York Times. My grandmother, though, thinks I’m looking a bit too skinny.

Full story here.

Googling and Facebooking to a Job: Marketplace Radio Story

A ChasNote post from June (Advertising Your Way Out of Tough Job Market) has made its way to radio. Listen to today’s Marketplace story produced by Oakland’s Youth Radio.

From the piece:

“On the other side of the country, two 20-somethings used social media to apply to the social news site Digg.com. Digg publisher and chief revenue officer Chas Edwards says the company receives hundreds of resumes each month from hopeful employees. But instead of the typical route, these two applicants took out Facebook ads about themselves, targeting people who work at Digg.”

(Disclosure: My wife works in the newsroom at Youth Radio and I make her read my blog.)

Making Ad Targeting Less Creepy

Great suggestions by Battelle (Searchblog) on improving online ad targeting — both for those who feel stalked and for the stalkers.

“As I’ve said a million times, marketing is a conversation. And retargeted ads are part of that conversation. I’d like to suggest that retargeted ads acknowledge, with a simple graphic in a consistent place, that they are in fact a retargeted ad, and offer the consumer a chance to tell the advertiser ‘Thanks, but for now I’m not interested.’ Then the ad goes away, and a new one would show up.

Facebook already does something similar, as Battelle points out. So do the story-list ads on Digg (“DiggAds“).

Hide Button on DiggAds

“And when a consumer says ‘no thanks,’ as any good salesperson knows, that’s an opportunity to learn. No rarely means no forever. Marketing is a conversation, one with more than one exchange. Just because the first one isn’t a sale, doesn’t mean the next one (or the one after that) can’t be. Especially if you have the good graces to know when to pull back into the wings for a while.”

Amen.