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Pioneer Woman Moves Beyond Endemic Marketers, Formula Still Works

The Pioneer Woman has proven itself a dynamo to marketers like HP’s Imaging and Printing unit, Target Black Robe dvd , the American Dairy Council and others. In each case, the marketer’s message — cooking, sharing recipes or holiday entertaining — lined up pretty neatly with the editorial content on the site.

Pioneer Woman masthead

I was a little nervous, however, when we helped team up the Pioneer Woman with Microsoft Office 07 for a Microsoft Office 07 give-away back in December. It didn’t seem to have that obvious “endemic” fit. The Pioneer Woman’s audience put me at ease fast, though, when 7451 of them entered the contest in a week. (Here are the winners.)

I was reminded of something I wrote

a few years ago — inspired by something Battelle wrote — that certain brands can create an “endemic relationship” with readers of a publication even if they aren’t “endemic advertisers,” those who’s products match up exactly with the content covered by a publication.

Conversation with Sam Whitmore on Blog Advertising, Endemic Creative & Editorial Decision-Making

From Sam Whitmore’s Media Survey:

Leading bloggers need help selling ads, negotiating deals with bandwidth providers, and the list goes on. From a business standpoint, there’s a ton to do and no time to do it.

For a piece of the action, Federated Media Publishing (FM for short) is more than happy to ease bloggers’ pain. FM vice-president Chas Edwards, a sales veteran of TechTV and CNET Networks, explains. His words help clarify just how quickly “tech blogging” has become “tech publishing.”

Hear Chas in his own words on the SWMS Tech Media This Week (13:29) podcast, which is now posted.

Click here to listen to the conversation: Tech Media This Week podcast.

Tapping the “Endemic Relationship”

When I read last week’s news that AdSense will allow marketers to buy specific sites and deliver graphical ad units rather than just anonymous text-based CPC programs across Google’s wide web of affiliates (News.com), I said: Uh oh, here comes Google. Paid search is moving beyond its roots in direct-response marketing to create massive advertising networks, a scary prospect for AOL’s Advertising.com and Claria, for sure, but should Yahoo and CNET Networks worry too?

Why not — a little paranoia keeps the innovative juices flowing. But upon further consideration, Google’s latest move signals a recognition that context matters, in fact, more now than ever before. John Battelle (Wired, Industry Standard and now FM Publishing) saw this trend coming at least a year ago. In his 5/25/04 post he discussed the “endemic relationship” among three mutually-dependent constituencies: content publishers, advertisers and the audience they both need to connect with.

His point of view isn’t completely new: industry publishers since Gutenberg have built businesses around “endemic advertisers”

. But in talking about the “endemic relationship” among community members (including the advertisers), Battelle is talking about something richer and at the same time less limiting. The magic of niche publications, online or off, is that “readers enjoyed the ads nearly as much as the editorial, because the ads served them, seemed to understand who they were in relation to the community the publication created.” What we at CNET Networks refer to as the “authentic brand experience.” Behavioral targeting, paid search and sprawling ad networks all sever the meaningful relationship between marketers and the prospective customers they want to reach: “Advertisers in these networks are not intentionally supporting the publication, and by extension they are not supporting the community the publication has created. In essence, they are not being good citizens of the community where their advertising is being displayed.” This logic also explains why non-category advertisers on tech sites, say General Electric underwriting (NPR-style) an Esther Dyson video series on innovations and business, can succeed within new contexts: By understanding and participating in the endemic relationship — “the special sauce that keeps the audience coming back” — advertisers can leverage the rabid publisher-audience affinity of niche environments.

The challenge marketers face has only grown tougher. The proverbial thirty-two flavors of Crest — “segmentation vertigo,” according to Kerrie Jacobs at MetropolisMag — means exploding consumer choice. Ad saturation combined with media fragmentation (500 channels, 9+ million blogs and 40,000 news ones each day) means that it’s harder than ever for a marketer to make an impression, let alone build a relationship with a consumer. This dilemma pushed many marketers toward the safety of paid search and direct response metrics. But this solution came at the expense of building partnerships with publishers — ”tapping into the endemic relationship” — that might have given them a shot at some audience bonding.

Google, of all people, knows the CPC love-fest won’t last forever. Marketers need more out of their media partners than clicks. My prediction is that CPC/PPC — ”the currency built around diverting customers from edit environments to marketing environments” — will give way to a model where marketers join forces with publishers to create content environments that include edit and marketing content in peaceful cohabitation. Marketers will spend less time creating executions that convince consumers to click on links, and more time porting aspects of their brand experience to high-engagement contexts. TrendMicro’s CEO, Eva Chen, for example, recently posted her blog to ZDNet (Eva’s blog), inserting herself right into the fracas that gives ZDNet credibility with its audience.

Doubleclick Goes to Google; Media Titans Call It Anti-Trust

Rafat Ali at PaidContent rounds up this weekend’s coverage of Google’s acquisition of Doubleclick:

“Competitors like Yahoo, Time Warner and Microsoft, all of whom did bid for DCLK, are talking about anti-competitive nature of the deal. The deal will be subject to a review by either the Department of Justice or Federal Trade Commission.”

This is the first time Microsoft has called an anti-trust foul on someone else, according to the Financial Times!

I can’t imagine the Justice Dept will stop the deal, but Google, very obviously, is hot to move up-market in the online ad world, and Big Media is terrified. Google currently dominates the bottom, CPC direct response advertising, and in some cases (sites that stick to vertical content categories that are well supported with endemic ad dollars, say enterprise technology or auto-buying news) they perform better than the ad networks that are supposedly a notch above them in the food chain. In other cases (sites with high-quality readers, but broad content coverage) the ad-network model makes more sense and more money for publishers. As Google continues to struggle to get into the high-end brand marketing game, they recognize an easy new market to conquer is the ad-network world.

Doubleclick allows them to take their existing publisher network and plug in graphical ad units, served based on criteria beyond key-word context matching. Presto, they just put every ad network out of business.

This still doesn’t get them into the premium brand-ads business. But it’s the platform they’ll need when they do get there.

In the meantime — call it their “brand advertising market research phase” — they get to see what every advertiser pays for site-specific graphical ad programs. This gives them leverage in negotiating with existing publisher partners. “Hey, NY Times, let’s be honest. You sell 26% of your inventory at an average net CPM of $17. Let us have it, and we’ll do 100% at $6, and everybody wins.”

It’s also good market intelligence they can use to steal advertisers from the direct sales efforts of those publisher partners: “Hey advertiser, I’ll get you on this particular site, dayparted, geo-targeted and context matched…. and I’ll do it for a nickel less than the publishers themselves are offering.”
Scary situation for the media titans. When the anti-trust suits don’t pan out, I’m betting the Google-Doubleclick deal will drive an active year for digital media M&A.

Everyone's a Copywriter with Modem's “Rant” Banner

A year ago in a letter to the editor at the NY Times (link, reg req), I argued that agencies would never support a TV ad model that required them to create hundreds of discrete creative units — one for each micro-target — for every campaign:

“Sure, the concept of targeting ads to tiny clusters of TV viewers, 300 households at a time, holds a certain appeal to marketers and consumers (Jon Gertner, April 10). But here’s the rub: This kind of ad targeting requires dozens if not hundreds of 30-second commercials for every single advertising campaign, each spot racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in video-production costs. In other words, creative costs could quickly outpace the media costs to place those spots on the air.”

Two months ago, working with a few blog authors, Microsoft’s agency (IPG’s McCann SF) figured out one way to do it efficiently, online anyway. They pointed these authors to the product’s brochure site and let them each develop ad messages for their own readers (ChasNote 3/8/06). Art directors stealing a page from Silicon Valley’s “distributed computing” playbooks! Or perhaps a Napsterization of ad creative, where content and server power is a shared effort. One blogger-copy ad drove a 60% improvement in click-through rates over the standard agency banner.

This past week, Stanford-based Modem Media (part of Digitas) took distributed creative a step further: Rant banners. These are ad units that create a conversation not just between a brand and individual customers, but among a community of customers all sharing with each other their experiences related to a particular brand, product or service. The banners feature a rolling thread of reader posts, like a group IM chat.

As Mark Galley, Modem’s VP / Creative Director, describes the first batch of rant banners for IT-jobs site Dice.com, the ad units are “a place where IT folks can vent to the world about how much their job ‘sucks’ (to use their language). Beyond that, it’s just flat-out entertaining to not only post as many comments as desired, but to read the endless amount of rants from other techies in similar situations. All that adds up to a ton of time being spent with the brand.”

You can’t beat that for engagement marketing. And it’s highly endemic: The particular conversation at a site, since it’s literally written by that site’s readers in their own voices, takes on the tone and personality of that community. There’s a safety valve, too. When someone posts a new comment, he or she sees the comment appear immediately in the banner, but in fact this instant-gratification process is a local one. I see my own “rant” right away, but I’m looking at a version of the banner cached locally in my browser. Before my comment shows up in the conversation that is viewed by other readers across the web touched by the campaign, my comment is vetted by Modem’s content filter to strip out inappropriate language or reference to company names.

Three days into the Dice campaign, the performance data is still being compiled. But the early signs are promising. Most people who have posted rants so far are posting multiple times, so time-spent will be the metric to watch. And personalized posts such as “Katie, are you there? Are you seeing this?” suggest that Modem and Dice have built an ad experience that their customers want to share with their friends. That’s more than cool.

Jeff Jarvis: More on the Open Ad Marketplace

Here is Jeff’s reply to my note (thanks, Jeff!):

Chas,

I may be expressing this badly… and I certainly may be naive… but I do believe that such a system could instead improve the value and revenue for highly targeted and high-quality blogs and other media.

I think you are right when it comes to plain CPM and CPC advertising that can appear anywhere: Advertisers like Pay My Bills and Vonage, for example, tend to buy tonnage and judge those purchases soley on performance, right?

Up the food chain from that are branding advertisers who do want to appear on quality sites that are relevant. But I’ve heard from agencies that they find it difficult — impossible, actually — to put together a critical mass of audience that makes it worthwhile to make the buy in our medium as opposed to other media. The open system I’m proposing would make it easier for them to both find the right sites and get the apples-to-apples measurement they require.

At the top of the pyramid are highly targeted sites and here I believe the marketplace adds the greatest value because it allows advertisers to find the “perfect” sites for them and pay for them. They will pay for perfect and, at the same time, will find more efficiency because they found the ideal environments.

How does this affect networks? Well, again, I may be naive and you can tell me far better but I think that this allows networks to be more flexible and to provide one-stop-shopping to agencies: When you sell an advertiser on a specific flight and need to get more “perfect” inventory, you can do so — but not be responsible for those added sites all the time. On the other end of things, if you have excess inventory (God forbid!), you can put it out in the marketplace.

This is not entirely a frictionless, rational, performance-based system — though it is, that, too. Instead, this is an infranstructure for advertisers for higher value advertising and for advertisers to find the critical mass and metrics they demand in trusted, quality, endemic, targeted, and sometimes ad hoc networks of sites.

Or so I hope.

My original post.

Advertisers: Let Publishers Pick You!

Flatiron Partners VC Fred Wilson talks about a new sell-side advertising marketplace for blog advertising (Fred’s blog). Advertisers post their ads at Word of Blog, and blog publishers pull down (and place on their sites) ads that are appropriate to their audiences. “And there is no fancy contextual targeting engine [eg, AdSense] working at Word of Blog” — just good old fashioned human publishers who know their readers and seek advertisers who will fit into the dialog (see my post on the endemic relationship). What a wonderful new use of the term “opt-in marketing.”

Comments:

Bill Fritter said… The model Fred is proposing isn’t it Commission Junction?

Chas Edwards said… Is CJ a platform for CPM advertising? Although Fred talks about effective CPC, it sounds to me like Word of Blog is attempting to create an exchange whereby advertisers are willing to pay for exposure in front of an audience they haven’t put through the standard paces of media planning. Instead, publishers pick the advertisers they predict will appeal to their own audiences. What’s interesting to me is that the currency of Word of Blog’s sell-side transaction is impressions rather than relatively low-risk clicks to an advertiser’s site.