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Smile, People Like Your Pictures More Than Your Words (All Things D Version)

On March 7, Facebook announced a major overhaul to its newsfeed, the scrolling page of friend-news where we spend the bulk of our Facebook time. The central change: Facebook is making room for bigger pictures.

It’s a logical move when you look at the data. In November 2011, one-fifth of posts uploaded to newsfeeds were photos. Today, every other status update is a photo. My math friends tell me it that it’s hard to meaningfully affect percentage gains when you start with a really big number. Even with my quantitative limitations, I have to believe Facebook qualifies. Last year it told investors (as part of its IPO roadshow) that users were uploading more than 300 million photos every single day, and from that very large starting point photo activity just jumped 150 percent in 15 months. So much for the law of large numbers.

If you’re a brand, though, it’s not the fact that photo-enabled devices will soon outnumber humans on the planet, or that we’re piping all those pictures into social media. The important trend is that consumers are looking at them. In other words, your art-directed fashion spreads have a lot more competition these days.

There was a time when professional photography had a monopoly on our attention. When mass media meant national magazines, TV networks and big-city newspapers, only deep-pocketed corporations could afford access to large audiences. Back then it made economic sense to build your story around professional-grade photography: A single print ad would reach millions of readers, so a few tens of thousands of dollars spent on art and photography chewed up only a negligible percentage of a campaign’s costs. And for a few generations, this approach worked great.

It turns out, though, that cost-to-produce and magnitude-of-consumer-delight don’t plot analogous curves in an Excel graph. In fact, it’s hard to find a direct correlation between the two. A photo that captures something important or interesting or timely wins our attention — regardless of who took it or how much it cost to make. It also turns out the spans of our attention are shrinking. Google economist Hal Varian observed as far back as 2010 — before SnapChat, and back when we uploaded a mere 30 million photos to Facebook every day — that we pay less attention to stuff when we consume it online. “The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes a day.”

So corporate storytellers need to master a new narrative technique. It’s as if they need to shed those florid sentences that played so well in Victorian novels and dial it down to the Hemingway-esque. The good news: This new approach to storytelling still employs a language in which brands are fluent: Photos. There are three ways that brands should modify their visual storytelling.

One, feeds move faster than print magazines, so you need to tell your story in a series of frequent episodes, anecdotes and updates — not the grand gestures of Ogilvy or Draper. Photos are the currency of social media, but it’s a currency doled out in nickels, not twenty-dollar bills.

Two, let photos do more of the talking for you. Humans process visual information much faster than we process text. And when we’re online (remember those stats from Hal Varian), we navigate more quickly from story to story. If you’re going to capture attention in a digital landscape, you have to do it fast. So steal a page from the playbooks used by Pinterest, Flipboard, USA Today’s new design or the NYT’s TimesCast: Use visual content instead of words to invite consumers into the story.

Three — need I say it? — let them interact with your story, let them re-mix your assets and choose their own adventures. Let them steal your photos so they can more easily share them with friends. Let them explore inside your images to find links to products, deals and related links. And let them contribute their own. If the Web conversation is going visual, encourage them to talk to you in the local dialect — images snapped on their phones looking for a place to be uploaded.

(This post was originally published at All Things D.)

One-third of Online Display Banners Don’t Have a Chance of Being Seen

Comscore set out to count the percentage of online display ads that never get the chance of being seen by human eyes — ads that are below the fold or are visible for less than a second before the viewer moves to another page. Turns out, 31% of banners fall into this unfortunate bucket. From Ad Age:

The company said at an event this morning that it tested out the software over the last two months on campaigns for 12 big brands, including Kraft Foods, Ford, and Sprint. One of the key findings: 31% of the 1.7 billion ad impressions were never in view. The number is probably not a shock to many in the space, and is the main reason why so-called remnant inventory sells for a fraction of the space above the fold.

In this on-demand world, television ads aren’t faring much better. Perhaps worse. In 2010 the UK’s Guardian published researching suggesting that 86% of DVR users always skip through commercials. More recent research conducted by TV Guide and PaidContent found that people are watching more TV than ever, but they’re migrating viewership to online and DVRs — and among people watching on a DVR-enabled TV 96% now say they are fast-forwarding commercials.

Market research firm Yankelovich estimates that someone living in a city 5 years ago was exposed to 5,000 ad messages a day, up from 2,000 per day 30 years earlier (NY Times). That’s a scary number until you consider that we skip the ones on TV, don’t see a big percentage of the ones on websites, and tune out much of the rest of them. As supply of ad inventory approaches the infinite — on billions of websites, across more and more TV channels, and on every other stretch of public space from urinals to eggshells — it’s easy to find cheap media. As the cost of entry goes down, the percentage of crappy ads is going up, and with it consumers’ motivation to use technology and their brains to ignore more of them.

(Art credit: David Shannon.)

College Kids Three Times More Likely to Watch TV Online vs Basic Cable

Full report at eMarketer.

Nearly 100% of DVR Users Skip Commercials

According to a recent survey of 5,800 mainstream US TV viewers, 93% of people are watching more TV than they were last year. A lot of that growth, however, is coming from TV-watching on the Internet (more than half are viewing some TV online, 15% are watching more than 6 hours per week online) and time-shifted viewership by way of DVRs, which increased for 71% of survey respondents. Among those using DVRs, 96% are skipping the commercials. Ninety-six percent!

The topic of commercial-skipping gave birth to one of my all-time favorite headlines, from Outside the Beltway last year: “86% Skip Commercials (14% Can’t Find Remote).” The good news is, I guess, that 10% of people have cleaned up their living rooms, gotten themselves organized, and now they can locate their remote controls.

Some Social Games Beating Prime Time TV Ratings

Weekly Audience of Top Games and Prime Time TV Shows

From Mashable:

“Advertising in social games might not be solely about eyeballs, but there are definitely a critical mass of people who are playing them. About about 30 million players per day play the most popular social game, FarmVille. The most popular prime time television show last week, Dancing With the Stars, had about 24 million viewers.”

Celebrity Endorsement in Ads Mostly Ineffective

According to an Ace Metrix study of all nationally televised ads in the first 11 months of 2010 (summarized here in Ad Age), commercials featuring celebrity pitchmen and pitchwomen generally perform worse than non-celebrity commercials. While the average TV ad contributed to an 8% lift for the brand, celebrity spots (on average) hurt brands — affecting a negative lift of 1.4%.

Ad Age data on celebrity ads

What’s going on? Ace Metrix CEO Peter Daboll speculates that relevance and social recommendations have become more important than associations with fame.

“Today’s consumer is more likely to be influenced by someone in their social network than a weak celebrity connection. Today’s consumer is informed, time-compressed, and difficult to impress, and they are only influenced by ads that are relevant and provide information. They don’t want to have products pushed at them, even from a celebrity. In fact, the data show that relevance and information attributes were key missing ingredients from most celebrity ads.”

I wonder, too, if celebrity endorsements make it easier for agencies get lazy — so confident that the famous face will sell the product that they forget to make a brilliant commercial.

Related: Back in November ChasNote asked Would you want Snooki and Rod Blagojavich endorsing your brand? For those of you fence-sitters, here’s some data to help you decide. While Tiger Woods (-30% for Nike), Martha Stewart (-21% for Macy’s), Andie MacDowell (-21% for L’Oreal) and two dozen other celebrities fared worse for their sponsors than did Snooki and Blago, both hurt the Wonderful Pistachios brand. Snooki delivered negative lift of 15% and Blago brought it down by 12%. Go, Snooki!

Creepy Toy Commercials from 1970s

More where that came from at Boing Boing.

Very Odd Commercial for Euro Wind Power Company

Is this for real?!

(Thanks for sending this over, Nippy!)

Why TV Networks Are Blocking Google TV

Google TV

From Ad Age:

“The networks aren’t blocking Google TV because it’s Google. They are blocking Google TV because it is putting a web TV show, with web TV show economics, on a TV, which would be incredibly disruptive to their business. The reason the networks are blocking Google TV and Boxee (and Hulu is still PC-only) is about ad revenue: they don’t get enough of it from the web. And letting you watch ‘Glee’ on your TV, but via the web and Google TV, means substituting high broadcast revenue for lower digital revenue.”

Colt 45 TV Commercial From 1960s

If he went topless and pushed out few personalized spots over Twitter, Colt 45 Man might give Old Spice Man a run for his money. Or not.

What I enjoyed, though, was a reminder that TV commercials in the first decade of TV advertising were primitive. Maybe there’s hope for online banner ads.

(Thanks, Sam Whitmore, for sharing this in Facebook.)