The revolution will be televised. And supported by really cool online ads.

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All the data in the world can’t tell you if an ad campaign is responsible for increased sales. The success or failure of any sales effort involves so many factors. It would be impossible to credit or blame an advertising campaign on the data collected. In the fast-paced world of Internet marketing, it is possible to get far more analytic data than we once had to track the results of any online campaign effort. And clients and agencies alike seem to be relying more and more on the numbers and less and less on whether or not it is a good ad. Just because we have more data doesn’t mean we know any more than we did ten years ago. I once heard a creative director at a very large advertising agency tell a very large client that advertising doesn’t make people go out and buy products. The client was dismayed and asked why he was advertising with the agency then. He replied, “The only thing you can hope for is that someone will like you a little more because you just made them laugh or cry.” That’s it! I tend to agree. Any client who thinks a piece of communication is going to get people to remove their rotund arse from a warm comfortable seat and head over to a store with cash in hand is fooling themselves. So why do we have a confluence of analytic tools and measuring methods that are all tethered to sales results? In a recent Adage article, Hernan Lopez, president of Fox Networks and chief operating officer of Fox International Channels said, “the most important factor behind successful TV campaigns was the quality of the creative” .  You go Hernan! He goes on to say that “the industry’s obsession with click-through rates, despite evidence of their small correlation with total sales, results in messages that are rarely entertaining or amusing and are overly reliant on verbal hard sell.” Mr. Lopez believes the answer relies on a creative revolution. As a former creative, I couldn’t agree more. But don’t expect me to move my arse any time soon.

How much E-mail marketing can you stuff in your mailbox?

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According to a recent Adage article, email marketing is expected to more than double in the next five years. How is that possible? I’m already getting enough email to choke a digital horse. Advertisers are projected to spend 2 billion dollars in e-mail marketing by 2014. The reason for the increase is that marketers have figured out that doing an email campaign is cheap, can be easily tracked and will report whether the campaign is working or not in an instant. It took them a while, didn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great if your mailbox could hold a finite amount of marketing mail? Just like in the real world, your mailbox is only so big. In some European countries I’ve even seen neighborhoods that had two mailboxes for each household”“one for mail, and one for marketing materials and newspapers. If someone were smart, they’d figure out how to deploy the same kind of two-mailbox system on the Interwebs and offer it to “target markets” so they could sort their mail without having to click delete a thousand times. Maybe I should do it. But who’s got the time? I’m too busy reading emails.

I want my Wikipedia TV.

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A recent MIT Technology Review entry claims that Wikipedia will soon offer video clips. The importance of video on the web is ever increasing, and so is the attention put on companies to either offer video content or support it on their websites. Is it any wonder that Google threw down 1.6 billion dollars for YouTube? Having video content on Wikipedia seems like a natural progression. What got my attention was that Wikipedia also plans to, “offer ways for users to search the entire Web for importable videos, and plans to provide tools to edit, add to, and reorganize the clips within the Wikipedia website, just as is now done with text.” So now any regular Joe can become a Ken Burns while still in his/her underwear at home. Sounds like a really powerful tool. But, in my opinion, it points to the overall flaw of Wikipedia; the information is being provided by and maintained by regular Joes. I’d rather have the real Ken Burns.

When slow growth gives way to slow death.

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I’ve been privy to working with big brands that were making the transition from the brick and mortar world to e-commerce. In the B2B sector, clients were always very afraid of pissing off their sales channel, VARS (Value-Added Resellers) and third-party dealers who were pushing their products and services. The thinking was, if they upset those channels, their sales would take a hit and they might loose some valuable partnerships which means lower sales. But consider the speed at which change happens on the internet and you’ll soon realize a slow approach to supporting your online efforts could put your business in the slow lane, or worse, standing still in the emergency lane. When you consider a story about how Dell earned $3 million through their Twitter strategy in less than 24 months, (nobody had even heard of Twitter 24 months ago) you start to see just how fast results can happen. A recent Mediapost article states, “by easing towards online at a safe, incremental rate because you’re mitigating risk to your core business, you’re allowing your critical mass of customers to get in front of you. Whenever a mass of customers is underserviced, someone will fill that gap, and you can bet it will be a nimble, online pure play that’s moving at light speed compared to you.” I agree. Smart businesses are realizing the power and speed of implementing targeted strategies and aren’t afraid to allocate resources to solidify their leadership position online. More companies are brandcasting and migrating their budgets toward SEO and SEM campaigns. But most are not. If you haven’t seen a threat from a competitor who is putting more effort online, then either you’re just lucky, or you’re moving too slow to seem them whiz by.

Sweatshop blogging. Good for marketers, bad for writers.

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A recent post by content guru Christina Gleason uncovers the dark underbelly of what Google considers good practices for creating link bait. For any of you who don’t know, link bait is simply the act of spreading content on the web (in this case, just like fertilizer) in the hopes that you’ll get people to link to your site. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, is an advocate of creating fresh and interesting content as a way to increase rankings. In a recent video , he seems to contradict himself. In the video Mr. Cutts is suggesting using a service called Amazon Mechanical Turk, which many writers feel is akin to a sweatshop that employs writers. Mechanical Turk is dirt cheap, and in my opinion, exploitative. Getting something for nothing because a new technology allows one to do so is not a new idea. Remember when “desktop publishing” took the world by storm? With the proliferation of computers that could handle graphics-based software, anyone with a Mac or PC was suddenly calling themselves designers, even though they had no formal knowledge of color, typography, design, etc. These self-proclaimed designers also knew nothing about how to price the market and often undercut professional designers, thus turning the design world on it’s ass for a bit. In the short term, it was bad for everyone because these “designers” were churning out terrible logos, websites with animated flames and hard to read content by the bushel load. But as design became more and more of a commodity, clients quickly saw the need to stand out. They realized the adage that “just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s good” and came to their senses, going back to professionals who could tell the difference between a serif, slab and sans-serif typeface and who charged accordingly for their services. I believe we are in the same situation here for the written word. While it may take some time, at least we don’t have to put up with over-animated flames.

Journalism ain’t dead. At least that’s the slant.

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Walt Mossberg, personal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal reports on a new kind of online venture that attempts to blend journalism, advertising, entrepreneurship and social networking all into one big ball of digital wax. The company is called True/Slant and is being helmed by Lewis DVorkin, who previously held the senior VP of programming title at AOL. True slant is home to over 100 contributors, or “Knowledge Experts” who are given a plot of digital real estate where they can plant their best reportings, posts and opinions. But that”™s not all. Each “Knowledge Expert” has the authority to manage and promote their own page and are even expected to interact with and manage their own readers and advertisers alike, hopefully forging bonds with a large crowds of hungry fans which will in turn attract advertisers who are willing to shell out the dough for ad space on the site. These “Knowledge Experts” become in effect mini-publishers who have a real stake in shaping their online property. The contributors get paid to write stories, but also share in ad revenues generated on their page and if they”™re good enough, may even get equity shares. Not a bad business model.  But is it a good idea to mix advertising and journalism? Some think it raises ethical questions. I think it pushes the envelope and may give newspapers some ideas on how to actually get paid for what they do. It”™s a fresh and new approach to journalism, and what better time to try something that”™s never been done before.

When analytics take over.

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I’m all for capturing data and analyzing it six ways till Sunday. But just because you have the tools doesn’t mean you should use them at the expense of everything else. I remember getting my first lesson on the golden ratio in design school. For the next three years after that, every project I created was guided by the golden ratio so much so that you could almost see Pythagoras himself peering back at you. My work started looking as stiff as the square root of five. Eventually, I laid off the math formulas a bit and allowed myself to think and create without a T-square and calculator at my side and, what do you know; my work began to take on a fresh new life. Till this day I carry around the knowledge of the golden ratio in the back of my mind when designing, but by no means do I rely exclusively on it to guide my process. But is this what’s happening in the online world? Are we relying too heavily on the fact that we can track clicks and behaviors online to guide us in crafting marketing messaging? In a recent Mediapost article I read that some companies who are experts in the neuro-marketing research field actually use CAT scans to collect data on reactions to ad campaigns. Yes, the same CAT scans you find in hospitals and neurology labs. Do we really need input on eye-tracking or facial recognition technology just to make an ad? Or how about a blog? By the way, if you are reading this far, I’m watching your every move.

Belts tighten – just not online.

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As Americans curb their spending in the brick and mortar world, on the Internet they’re opening up their wallets like it’s 1980 again.  O.K., maybe not like the 80’s, but the online marketplace is where more and more greenbacks are finding their way. In an article in Internet Retailer, 22% more consumers say they plan to buy more on the Internet. Reasons for this are many: ease of locating items, better discounts, time savings and convenience just to name a few. That’s good news for retailers who plan to support their online presence in 2009. According to a survey conducted by The E-Tailing Group 70% of U.S. retailers plan to invest the same or somewhat more in e-commerce than they did last year because it is the fastest-growing part of their business.

But that doesn’t mean online retailers are willing to increase spending on big-ticket items like platform upgrades or new up-and-coming technologies. Those kinds of changes take big investments and often involve some kind of risk. According to Lauren Freedman, president of the E-tailing Group, 2009 will be remembered for refinement of navigation, site search and site tweaks. Tight economies beget a sharper focus on ROI and being accountable for how money is being spent. In better times, companies were willing to dedicate more dollars for untried strategies in hopes of one or two of those strategies hitting the mark to increase web traffic. But in an economic environment where companies are burning the furniture just to keep warm, there’s no room for risk. According to Ravi Belani, associate at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a renown venture capital firm in Menlo Park, California, there is a movement among advertisers away from cross-site media buys towards adoption of targeting and performance-based advertising as key to the trend driving recent investments in the sector.

Evidence of this trend can be seen in recent investments in ad networks and ad tech firms including Collective Media, Glam Media, Rubicon, Pubmatic, and ScanScout (which have all received tens of millions of dollars in investment funding in recent weeks). There may be a recession going on in the real world, but online, you almost feel like it’s the 80’s all over again. Minus the feathered mullets, of course.

Enzo F. Cesario