Companion ads?

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30, 2008 by southborough

IMAGINE YOURSELF AS A DIGITAL media planner for a Fortune 100 client (pick your favorite one – we don’t need to get that specific for this exercise to work). You have been asked to develop an online video plan for Q4 2008, with a significant budget to boot. Easy enough as there are several quality publishers and a couple of ad networks that are on your short-list for this client. So you send out your RFPs with the usual requirements: professional content only, frequency capping, clickable player, ability to place trackers, accommodate 15-second ads and companion ads, etc. You get your proposals back, and something’s not quite right: several of your potential partners can’t run companion ads with all or some of their video inventory. What do you do?

The above scenario, while imagined, is factually based. As publishers strive to add more video inventory to their pages, some of it is taking the form of placements outside the “video” sections of sites, such as on the homepage or as a supplement to an article. As long as certain quality controls are in place — user-initiated video and sound, mainly — this is still very valuable inventory. Arguably, it’s even more valuable from a targeting and relevancy perspective. For a good example of this, check out Walt Mossberg’s iPhone 3G review on Dow Jones Corporation’s AllThingsD. The video is largely the same content as the article, but seeing the product live and in action along with Walt’s commentary makes for a completely different, richer experience. However, due to the nature of the site, the video plays within the page and not in a dedicated video section or within a separate player. And thus, no companion ads.

Companion ads have been part of the pre-roll video package since the format emerged years ago. They make sense, as companions serve as a perfect way to encourage the user to further engage with the brand when they want to — be it before, during or after the video content plays. They are clickable and oftentimes passed along as added value by the seller. Therefore, companions have become mandatory for most online video buys. But should they be?

In the Mossberg example, I would assume that advertisers would be highly interested in running a video ad prior to the review, but if the plan insists on companions, this site wouldn’t qualify. And with more and more of this type of inventory emerging, does it make sense for it to be excluded because of the lack of an adjacent companion ad? Perhaps there is another solution, such as a follow-up ad on the next page. Or does there even need to be a companion or follow-up at all, with the higher brand recall and awareness that pre-roll delivers? Either way, it’s something that should be examined further as we continue on the path to the ideal video solution.


Most Agencies & Publishers Fail To Offer Real Ways To Embrace Social Media

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2008 by southborough

If there was one trend that came on strong during this year’s Advertising Week festivities, it was advertising agencies and media companies jumping on the social media bandwagon.On the agency side, you had an infinite line of digital, creative and planning agencies making social media the latest add-on to their legacy competencies and services menu. In very little time, they’ve become full-fledged “experts” with offerings galore. On the media side, you had a host of traditional and newer publishers with varying degrees of social components, scurrying to monetize by selling inventory in a traditional media-buy campaign framework.

To be sure, there are a lot of promising attempts on both the media and agency sides. But most are short-sided. In fact, most seem disingenuous or uninformed, as evidenced by the advertising community’s excessive and ambiguous use of words and phrases like “conversation,” “viral,” “engage with your customers” and “let the community do the work for you.”

The problem with so many in the advertising community is that the most important, strategic opportunities and liabilities around social media really have nothing to do with outward marketing communications, media or campaigns. Those are bottom-tier tactics.

So what are the real opportunities at this stage of the game? For 99% of companies –small, medium and large — the imperatives lie in deconstructing and rebuilding their cultures and attitudes toward customers and the marketplace. That’s a fundamentally different challenge — and one still sorely lacking viable solutions and services.

I’m now in my second run as a vice president of marketing since social media became so important and began transforming business. I lived through many of the issues and opportunities that keep my fellow marketers up at night. While these issues are often prompted or amplified by social media, social media is rarely the answer. The real solutions are rooted in education, organizational change, market outlook, self-truth and humility.

Here are some of the issues most frequently on my mind as our business scales:

Customer Experience – What is the quality of experience among our customers and prospects? As we’re frequently reminded, customer experience frequently manifests as media. We see customers try us out, then review us on their blogs, in infinite columns, and in semi-private groups and community forums. Customer experience is the new media department, the determinant of customer love or detraction. So we must shape experience accordingly.

Company Values – You can’t talk about customer experience without talking about values. While no product or company is perfect, the values of a company directly impact the good will our customers grant us. Do we set realistic promises and execute against them? Do we acknowledge imperfection, but compensate with relentless drive for improvement? Are we a culture focused on solutions, because that is what we want our customers to associate with us? Company values have wide-ranging consequences – among them, a huge impact on customer experience and your credibility with customers in social media venues.

Listening – Do we actively listen not only to what our customers say, but what they really mean?  The act of listening is one of the biggest ways to demonstrate that we care and engage with costumers. But no company should be exclusively concerned with listening to customers in social media venues, if it isn’t prepared to master customer listening overall.

Humanizing Voice & Confidence – With so many corporate barriers separating companies from their customers, it’s actually a very big deal for a company to find its voice (or voices). On one hand, it’s not always easy for company managers to stop speaking in corporate-speak, and, instead, communicate like real humans. On the other, it often takes a lot of work for controlling managers to let go and empower employees, and get used to the idea of more personal and highly exposed communications and interactions. It takes confidence, trust, patience and diligence. Social media venues are often where this tension comes to a head.

Organizational Silos – If social technologies have done anything, they’ve exposed outdated organizational silos. Social media represent open customer expression and interaction, and impact all sorts of different company departments. Consider customer service, product development, quality and testing, legal, HR, sales and marketing. Are disparate company operations coordinating and effectively managing social media interactions? Are they allocating line responsibilities and centralizing intelligence in CRM databases to optimize relationships — and then actually acting?

As you can see, the issues I’m thinking about have very little to do with advertising, media or campaigns. However, these are the real opportunities emanating from social media, and require a different type of solution. They’re important challenges and require big solutions, as well as openness to new ideas. At this stage, help exists not so much in agencies or media companies, but within – through personal experience, experimentation and support from marketing peers who are leading the heavy lifting themselves.

Who are the pioneers leading your organization as it adapts to a world transformed by social media?

Health A Hot Topic On The Internet

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2008 by southborough

comScore, Inc. recently released results of a study showing that the health information site category has grown 21 percent during the past year, more than four times the growth rate of the total U.S. Internet population. In June, more than 1.5 billion display ad views were seen by nearly 54 million people via sites in the health information category.WebMD Health topped the list of display ad publishers, delivering 290 million display ad views and reaching nearly 15 million people at an average frequency of 19.3 times per visitor during the month.

Three other health networks boosted the overall growth of the category, each attracting more than ten million visitors:

  • Everyday Health with 14.7 million (up 63%)
  • Revolution Health Network with 11.3 million visitors (up 182%)
  • AOL Health with 11.1 million (up 88%)

John Mangano, senior director, comScore Pharmaceutical Marketing Solutions, said. “… sites have become vibrant online communities… sharing experiences and advice, rather than simply being one-way information resources… Improved site functionality, increased content personalization, and consumer acceptance of the Internet… for health information… breathe new life into the health information category,”

While Everyday Health and Revolution Health Network both achieved significant organic growth on their core Web sites, their recent partnerships with several smaller health sites, as well as some strategic acquisitions, have also contributed to their respective gains.

Top 10 Health Information Sites (Unique Visitors July 2008 vs. July 2007 Total U.S. – Home/Work/University Locations)

Total Unique Visitors (000)

  Jul-2007 Jul-2008  % Change
Total Internet: Total Audience




Health – Information




WebMD Health




Everyday Health




Revolution Health Network




AOL Health*



88 Health




Yahoo! Health




MSN Health












Quality Health Network




Source: comScore Media Metrix      

* July 2007 AOL figures reported in the above chart are for AOL Body while the July 2008 figures are for AOL Health

 Though the number of unique visitors exposed to advertising at both Revolution Health Network and AOL Health were significantly lower than for WebMD Health, they were reached with a higher frequency. Also noteworthy is that despite Weight Watchers International delivering ads to just 2 million unique visitors, each ad-exposed visitor saw an average of 31 display ads during the month, the highest frequency among the top ten publisher sites in the category.

Top 10 Health Information Publishers (June 2008 Total U.S. Home/Work/University Locations)
Publisher Total Display Ad Views*(MM) Share of Display Ad Views Advertising Exposed Unique Visitors (000) Average Frequency 
Health – Information





WebMD Health





Revolution Health Network





AOL Health





Everyday Health





MSN Health




14.1 Health










Weight Watchers International





Yahoo! Health





AARP Sites





Source: comScore Ad Metrix, September 2008   * Excludes house ads and very small ads          

Social Networks not for Kids

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15, 2008 by southborough

The notion that social networks are only for the young is fading fast, according to new data from The NPD Group, a global provider of consumer and retail market research information.

The study, which surveyed 11,600 consumers online, found that 41 percent of American baby boomers have visited social networks. The study also found that 57 percent of all web users have visited social networks in the past three months, and that on average baby boomers visited those sites eight times during that 90-day period.

“Overall, these sites offer a great opportunity to marketers at many age levels, but the boomer visits are really a surprise,” said Russ Crupnick, NPD’s entertainment industry analyst. “These things may be targeted to a younger audience, but as we are seeing, there are more older people who enjoy these services.”

With audiences that are growing in both size and diversity, it will be up to MySpace and Facebook — both of which have been working feverishly to roll out new products — to sell advertisers on two ideas. First, that social networks are viable channels for reaching an audience with branded messages, and second that the audience isn’t solely comprised of young people.

Video Advertising

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12, 2008 by southborough

How Many TV Ad Dollars Can Online Video Advertising Grab?

SEPTEMBER 12, 2008

Focusing closely on spending.

The frequently asked questions swirling around US Internet video advertising can be funneled into two main streams: One, why has online video ad spending not grown as swiftly as predicted? And two, when will it take off?

To answer the second question first, this year’s 55.9% increase in online video ad spending is a key indication that the channel is at least gaining speed—accompanied by parallel growth in the kind of trusted video content, such as sports, to support it.

“By 2012—when both traditional and alternative media companies will be distributing far more professional-quality video content online, and when the national elections and the summer Olympics will contribute far more to video ad spending than they will in 2008—annual growth will peak at 78.9%,” says David Hallerman, senior analyst at eMarketer and author of the new report, Video Advertising Online: Spending and Pricing.

NBC’s results for the Beijing Olympics underscored video’s increasingly central place on the Internet and the still-problematic position of video advertising.

“With record traffic to, the online portion of the games looked to be a major success. At the same time, eMarketer estimates that the site collected approximately $5.75 million in video ad revenues, or about 1.1% of this year’s $505 million total video ad spending,” says Mr. Hallerman. “That revenue—both substantial for one site in only 17 days and insufficient for an event of Olympian magnitude—illustrates the market’s growing pains.”

Even amid worrisome trends in the overall economy—and a traditional advertising slowdown—long-term spending growth for online video advertising looks strong.

“Next year, there will be slightly slower growth, due to the still-struggling economy and the fact that advertisers are working out the best ways to do online video ads,” says Mr. Hallerman.

But the hurdles will be overcome because both marketers and publishers crave video.

“Marketers want video advertising for its far-greater branding power than other online formats,” says Mr. Hallerman. “Publishers want video advertising for its far-greater revenues—or at least higher CPMs—than other online ad formats.”

Video is an evolving ad format, with equally evolving content models and audience usage patterns to sustain the advertising.

As Mr. Hallerman concludes, “The mixed traffic and revenue results experienced by NBC this summer are a natural outcome, and an accurate reflection, of today’s online video market.”


What is an online publisher?

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12, 2008 by southborough

On a recent flight from Phoenix to attend Ad:Tech Chicago, I was sitting near a young boy and his father. As we accelerated down the runway, the boy beamed with anticipation for the moment we would leave the ground. As we lifted off and began our rapid ascent, he gazed out the window and proclaimed to his father, “Look dad, the earth is tilting.” From his perspective, it seemed perfectly logical to conclude that the earth must be tilting since he was still sitting in his seat and the horizon was no longer flat. While my perspective in that airplane led me to a different assessment of our situation, I understood the alternate view from the four-year-old boy sitting across the aisle from me.

Individual perspective can cause two people who observe the exact same thing to interpret it differently. Such was the case in a recent Online Publishing Insider column I wrote about Facebook. In that column I referred to Facebook as a publisher. From my perspective, working for an ad network, there are two very broad categories for companies that conduct business on the Internet: advertisers and publishers. From that vantage point, Facebook falls into the publisher bucket. That perspective, however, was not shared by one of the column’s readers. In his comment posted to the Online Publishing Insider blog, he wrote, “They [Facebook] are a content aggregator or a repository of their user’s content,” inferring that they were not a publisher. I apparently lost all credibility in his eyes when referring to Facebook as a publisher since the company clearly doesn’t publish any of its own content.

Unsure of the validity of my perspective, I went to Ad:Tech seeking out some additional opinions. In one of the sessions I attended, Liz Ross, CEO and Global Chief Marketing Officer at Tribal DDB, made a comment that caught my attention. She said that one of her agency’s clients, Pepsi, produces so much online content that it would consider itself an online publisher. While that may be a stretch, even for me, it was clear that the traditional definition of an online publisher might need to be expanded.

While at the conference I also had the opportunity to speak with Shiv Singh, vice president of social media & global strategic initiatives for Avenue A | Razorfish. I asked him for his definition of a publisher, and his response was sufficiently broad as well. Singh said that a publisher is, “Anyone who has an audience and accepts advertising.” He added that he believes that more traditional publishers are going to start looking like the Facebooks and MySpaces of the online world as they integrate social network features that will create blurring from both directions (social networks and traditional publishers).

If you agree with his definition, then an individual blogger could potentially be a publisher as well. With advertising widgets like lemonade and blog-centric ad networks, bloggers that can attract an audience can also monetize their content.

Is the earth tilting or is the plane ascending? Is a publisher defined as a media site that produces and publishes its own content, or could a publisher be just an individual blogger? It all depends on your perspective. What’s yours?

Great site and usability

Posted in Uncategorized on September 8, 2008 by southborough