Native Ad That Even The Sponsor Didn’t See Coming

Among my favorite email publications (ever) is Dave Pell’s NextDraft. Pando Daily calls it “perhaps the world’s best email newsletter,” and who am I to argue? I even like how Dave does integrated advertising. Yesterday, among his list of the ten most fascinating news stories of the day, he gave over the Number Nine spot to a thank-you note aimed at the newsletter’s sponsor, Automattic, maker of WordPress and other software products.

Native Advertising on NextDraft

It’s pretty cool that Automattic supports Dave’s newsletter with sponsorship dollars and doesn’t ask for anything in return, like say banner ads or harvested logs of session cookies. Maybe they think the mere existence of great websites and newsletters might inspire more people to launch their own, perhaps becoming Automattic customers in the process. Who knows. Some companies just go further than others to take care of business partners, and maybe Automattic is one of them. I bet they aren’t regretting that practice today.

Storytelling, Consumer Attention and Making Money on Media

Earlier this month, at Stanford University’s Future of Media Conference, I was asked to share some thoughts about this moment in media and what’s ahead. Since I’m at least as bad as anyone else at divining the future, I focused on something more obvious and fundamental: paying attention.

Media doesn’t work if no one is paying attention. Forget about paywalls and CPMs, meters and bundles. The foundation underneath anything and everything we do in media is consumer attention. On the business side of media, it’s attention, really, that we’re selling. If our stuff is worth enough of the consumer’s attention, she might buy a subscription, make a donation, or buy a ticket. Advertisers, of course, are buying access to that same attention.

Before we get too far into this, I want to talk about one possible unit by which attention might be measured: Kardashians. Media scholar Ethan Zuckerman, who teaches at MIT’s Media Lab, has proposed (partly in jest) that we use this new metric to quantify the attention we pay to media. One Kardashian is “the amount of global attention Kim Kardashian commands across all media over the space of a day.”

Kardashians

What I especially like about Zuckerman’s Kardashian system is that it’s a measure of SURPLUS attention. It measures the kind of thing you can look at without really paying much attention.

The attention I’m talking about is a different kind — one that’s harder to measure in Kardashians. I’m talking about the way we pay attention when we travel on vacation — when everything is so vivid, and we still think about it a year later. Or when we’re watching an amazing movie, or we get caught up in book, and the whole world just falls away for a little while. We’re transported. We’re not checking email, and we’re not even thinking about checking email. These moments of attention aren’t actually work. They’re a gift. The minutes when we’re paying attention to something more absorbing and gratifying than a Kardashian. When I refer to time spent in minutes, it’s those kind of minutes. The really, actually paying attention kind.

Jeff Zucker

Jeff Zucker, the former CEO of NBC, is famous for his pithy comments about the erosion of advertising rates as an audience moves online. “We are trading analog dollars for digital dimes,” he said. (He later upgraded dimes to quarters.) In other words, CPMs for digital advertising are much lower than CPMs for TV or print.

It’s the same premium content and the same upscale audience. Why, then, won’t advertisers pay the same rate to advertise to them? It’s just not fair, is it?

Hal Varian

Well, maybe it is. Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google, has studied the role of format and context in the news business. Zucker wasn’t talking about news specifically, but Varian’s stats regarding consumer attention are relevant to the current issues facing the entire media business — news outlets, magazines and television alike.

On the one hand, digital has been great for news media. More people read news now than ever before, and 40% of Internet users look at news every day. But if you measure attention in minutes spent reading, laptops — it seems — have been very very bad for news publishers. Newspaper readers who get the print edition spend 25 minutes per day reading the news; those who consume it online spend only 70 seconds.

Let’s face it: If the digital version of a media product gets a fraction of the attention captured by its analog counterpart, the digital ad space is just less valuable.

Yikes. Consumers are fast moving from analog to digital media. If that means they will soon lose their ability to pay attention to media in general, then it also means ad rates for media in general won’t support premium journalism and storytelling. And consumers aren’t likely to pick up the slack if they aren’t drawn deeply into the digital media experience either. First we pay attention, and only then — maybe — will we pay for a ticket, a membership or a subscription.

But hold on a nanoKardashian.

We do pay attention to lots of digital media. We bought 457 million eBooks in 2012. We binge-watch TV shows when Netflix posts the entire season all at once. And we’re starting to read really really long articles on our phones.

So there’s something wrong with the argument that we can’t pay attention to media if it’s digital. It can’t be a platform problem. There’s nothing magical about paper, nor is there an ideal screen size that will save the media business. Instead, capturing attention comes down to three things.

Storyteller and Children

1) Tell a story

There are different ways to unveil a piece of content, and they are all good in their own ways. The narrative structure, however, affects how readers will read it.

News reporting, for example, starts with the most important part of the story, the “news lede,” to make sure we get the bulletin right up top just in case we don’t have time to read the whole article. The goal of the news publisher is to deliver the news, not hold our attention and delight us with narrative surprises.

Many digital media outlets have another goal: To drive social sharing, to create viral goodness. And, like news, they’re not optimizing for attention. In this line of publishing, there’s no reward for driving readers to a story, sucking them in, getting them to volunteer a half hour of their time. The goal here is retweets, Facebook Likes and racking up large numbers of unique visitors to a website — regardless of how long they stay or how deeply they lose themselves in the stories.

Great television shows, movies and magazines take a different approach. They make different decisions on how much of the story and when to reveal it, and how to create delight as those pieces of the story are revealed — delight in exchange for some attention. (A great example is Caitlin Flanagan’s recent feature for The Atlantic, The Dark Power of Fraternities. Read the first two paragraphs and see if you can put the story down.)

We rely on different types of media for different styles of content and levels of commitment. But if you create compelling stories that reward the reader for offering his or her attention, you have a better chance of winning it, no matter the platform.

House of Cards Season 2

2) Tap into tribal urgency

I don’t mean FOMO, fear of missing out. It’s more like FOMSA — fear of missing something awesome. That’s a fear that grabs our attention. Especially if it’s a media event that is important to your inner circle, your posse of most-respected friends, your “tribe.” Big global mass media event like the Super Bowl may not matter to your inner circle, in which case they are miss-able media events. But if your crew all watches House of Cards, you better start binging.

When you make media more like a live event, audiences are reluctant to miss out, and they make an appointment to be there.

Leisure Time Readers

3) Reach them in leisure time, not work time

After work, before work, and over the weekend we don’t have to divide our attention among meetings, IM, the boss, and the project we’re being paid to work on.

Hal Varian makes this point in his study of the news business: It’s actually not about format, it’s about context. Reading the newspaper on your laptop at work is the context in which we only spend 70 seconds doing something that used to capture 25 minutes of our daily attention. People who read newspaper apps on their tablets spend roughly the same amount of time with the news as the print newspaper readers of old.

His diagnosis? When we read things at work, we aren’t able to pay much attention. When we read outside of work — on the couch, in bed, at the beach or (in the case of news) at the breakfast table — we spend much more time doing it.

(A version of this post originally appeared at Ad Age.)

The Original Mobile Advertising

Matchbook Ads
(Image from Flickr.)

Stan Adler takes a look back at the origins of mobile advertising. From Digiday:

Recently, I bought a collection of vintage matchbooks at an estate sale. After arranging a few on my desktop, I realized that a marketing tactic, every bit as ubiquitous as what we now call mobile ad tech, was commonplace in the first half of the last century: rich content — 70 to 80 words per book — complete with illustrations, coupons, and call-to-action copy that could convert.

It was easy to imagine how these incendiary little devices held the potential — with some fusty fingering — to ignite ideas, maintain marketing superiority and set commercial benchmarks with advertising that were universally affordable.

I’m sure those matchbook ads worked great. But I have no idea how people back then got by without WhatsApp.

Storytelling Trumps Sex, Celebrities and Humor in TV Commercials

A study of 108 Super Bowl ads from the past two years concludes that the most popular and effective commercials are the ones that make the best use of good storytelling. Plot development and narrative structure, apparently, trump celebrity spokesmodels, computer generated animals, fart jokes, and David Beckham in his underwear.

Freytag's Pyramid
(Jason Seiden’s version of Freytag’s Pyramid.)

Keith Quesenberry and Michael Coolsen at Johns Hopkins predicted that Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” would win the popularity contest among viewers of this year’s Super Bowl, and, according to USA Today’s Ad Meter and Hulu’s AdZone, it was.

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From HBR:

They found that, regardless of the content of the ad, the structure of that content predicted its success. “People are attracted to stories,” Quesenberry tells me, “because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people. Especially in the Super Bowl, those 30-second ads are almost like mini movies,” he says. Quesenberry found that the ads that told a more complete story using Freytag’s Pyramid — a dramatic structure that can be traced back to Aristotle — were the most popular.

Child Abuse PSA Presents Secret Message for Kids

Or at least a secret message to short people, who in many cases will be kids.

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From Boing Boing.

The Anar Foundation and Grey Spain created a lenticular street-poster about child abuse that shows a “secret” message to people who view it from a kid’s eye-height…. Wait until the grocery stores get hold of it and start loading the pester-power ads at kids’ eye-height.

Very cool. (Except for that last part.)

Ellen Degeneres Goes Native for Samsung

Ellen DeGeneres Oscars Selfie
(Image credit: US Weekly.)

According to the Wall Street Journal, that seeming impromptu photo opp — Ellen’s selfie with friends at the Oscars — was more likely part of Samsung’s $20 million sponsorship package around the awards show. The photo was retweeted three million times in 24 hours.

While the stunt felt spontaneous, it wasn’t entirely unplanned. As part of its sponsorship and ad pact for the Oscars with ABC, the TV network airing the show, Samsung and its media buying firm Starcom MediaVest negotiated to have its Galaxy smartphone integrated into the show, according to two people familiar with the matter. ABC is a unit of Walt Disney Co.

Samsung gave ABC smartphones to use during the broadcast and was promised its devices would get airtime, these people said. At least one of the product plugs was planned: during the “red carpet” preshow, ABC ran a clip of six aspiring young filmmakers touring Disney Studios. The group were seen in the video using Samsung devices.

According to Kontera, which tracked social chatter around the event, only eight percent of comments related to the product placement were negative, including some tweets pointing out that Ellen was also tweeting from her iPhone.

I’m with the 92 percent. Ellen integrated a sponsor in a way that made the show more entertaining. No complaints here.

Stanford’s Future of Media 2014: Stats and Sources

Earlier today I did a talk at Stanford’s Future of Media conference. The infographic notes version looks like this, courtesy of Nick deWild:

Inforgraphic notes by Nick deWild

Here are links to sources for the stats and quotes I cited:

MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman proposes that we measure media attention in units called Kardashians.

NBC’s Jeff Zucker says “we are trading analog dollars for digital dimes.” (More recently he’s upgraded dimes to quarters.)

Google’s Hal Varian on news readership habits by platform is published here and here.

We bought 457 million eBooks in 2012.

Barack Obama is a binge-watcher.

Buzzfeed readers who read that 6000-word article on Detroit real-estate on their phones spent, on average, 25 minutes doing so.

You can read the rest of Caitlin Flanagan’s feature, The Dark Power of Fraternities, here. And Amy Chua’s story, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, here.

Estimates that House of Cards has between two and five million viewers come from here.

People who read the Sunday paper spend, on average, 57 minutes.

Which Format Is Best for Premium Publishing?

I gave a very short presentation today at sfBIG‘s The Big Minute on the topic of reading habits across devices and settings. (If it takes you longer than 80 seconds to read this post, you read slower than I talk!)

The California Sunday Magazine

1 minute
Time we spend reading a newspaper’s website, which we tend to do at work on a laptop.

5 minutes
Time we spend, on average, reading a Buzzfeed list, which we also do mostly at work.

25 minutes
Time spent reading that 6000-word Buzzfeed story about Detroit, if we were among the people who read the story on a phone.

27 minutes
Time we spend reading the newspaper, if we get the print version and read it over breakfast.

57 minutes
Time we spend reading the Sunday print newspaper, since — presumably — breakfast on Sunday lasts longer.

115 minutes
Time we spent tuned-in to the last live issue of Pop-Up Magazine, an evening of “performance journalism” that takes place periodically at Davies Symphony Hall on a week-night after work.

So then, I asked, which publishing form-factor is best if the goal is to maximize reading minutes? Is it the Web, smartphones, printed magazines, or maybe live events performed onstage? How about stone tablets??

Actually: Format doesn’t really matter. The relevant factor, it turns out, is where we do our reading. You’ll get the best results, as a publisher, if you reach a reader outside of work — away from the distractions of email, IM, meetings and, well, work. People engage much more deeply with media when they’re at the breakfast table before work, or at night or during the weekend. If you can reach a person during those windows of leisure time, he or she will give you a whole lot more attention.

(Sources: 1, 27 and 57 come from here; 5 and 25 from here; and 115 from the official time-keeper at Pop-Up Magazine.)

Workplace Attention Spans vs Leisure-Time Reading

New York Times 2013

In The Rise of Curiosity Journalism Ian Bogost explores the odd news that the most-viewed story published online by The New York Times in 2013 wasn’t a story at all; it was an interactive widget that quizzed and then mapped American regional dialects. “It’s certainly startling. But is it really surprising? Perhaps not, once we consider the dominant patterns of online attention.”

Those dominant patterns include the fact that so many of us fill our media diets by following links shared by our friends on Facebook and Twitter, the more “curious” the better. What’s most interesting to me, though, is the story’s timing — it published in the work-free window between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and still landed in the Number One spot among popular NY Times stories for the whole year:

On the one hand, the week of Christmas and New Year’s seems like a terrible time to publish anything; readers are often traveling or visiting with family. But on the other hand, this downtime also offers a great opportunity to play with distractions like a dialect quiz.

Maybe downtime — if that’s the opposite of work time — isn’t just the best time to publish regional-dialect curiosities and listicles. Perhaps all media longer than a Vine requires a the kind of attention we reserve for leisure time.

Take news, for instance. People who still get newspapers tend to read them over breakfast before work, and that kind of news reader spends 27 minutes with the paper. When we read news on our laptops — a context where news is competing with work activities like email, instant messaging, and the meeting we’re late for — we spend, on average, only one minute per day with a newspaper website. On Sunday, the most downtime day of the week, readers of print newspapers spend 57 minutes, more than twice the time they carve out for the weekday paper. (Stats and further insights at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism’s site.)

Hal Varian News Consumption Graph

There’s nothing magical about paper as a format, either. People who read digital news on tablets (instead of on phones or laptops) spend print-like chunks of time with their newspapers. According to Google chief economist Hal Varian (from his September 2013 speech at the E Giornalismo awards ceremony in Italy):

If you look at the time-of-day pattern of online news readership across devices you see that searches for news are concentrated during the working day. On mobile phones, news reading is spread out across the day. Tablet use, on the other hand. peaks in the morning and evening hours. This is because tablets, unlike phones and computers, are primary used for leisure-time reading.

And phone reading isn’t just for short-form workday snacking anymore either. A recent viral hit at Buzzfeed, a 6000-word piece called Why I Bought a House in Detriot for $500, got phone readers to spend more than 25 minutes reading it, which was twice the time spent reading by its tablet readers.

Maybe the crisis of modern publishing isn’t that we just can’t pay attention any more (although some sources say our attention spans have shrunk by fifty percent in the past decade), or that bits are inherently less monetize-able than atoms. Maybe it’s simply that we push our wonderful, engaging media out to consumers in the wrong context, when bosses and workplace distractions prevent them from giving us the time of day.

Bedtime Branded Content

Branded Content Cartoon

From Tom Fishburne at Marketoonist. He posted the cartoon back in September as commentary on Advertising Week, but I just spotted it now. (Thanks, Glasgow!) From his post:

It’s true that content marketing holds great promise, as marketers start to create communication that is genuinely worth sharing. Yet, in creating content, we should remember that consumers don’t necessarily want “content.” They want stories. “Branded content” and “content marketing” is insider terminology used by marketers. It’s up to marketers to make the content into something more meaningful.

In the branded content bandwagon, there is too often an emphasis on quantity over quality. Content is treated like a commodity. Consumers can see many forms of “branded content” a mile a way, and it’s only a matter of time before they learn to tune it out as readily as other forms of advertising.

What could I possibly add to that?!