01 November 2014

Automatic Advertising: We Take Spotomate for a Test Drive

Software can make your 30-second TV commercial.

You knew this would happen.  Not just because technology makes the software possible, but because newly-available media makes it necessary.

There's the first screen (TV), second screen (computer), third screen (mobile), fourth screen (digital signage) and all of them are hungry for content -- and advertising.

Technology has been busy democratizing the science of advertising.  Small business is able to do SEO, SEM and Social Media without an agency, as did my friend the garage door expert.  So why not video advertising creative?

Along comes Spotomate, which via its partner Shakr, offers a service allowing small- and medium-sized businesses to make "your own agency-quality video advertising spots".  They're targeting operators of digital signage networks (see industry coverage here and here), but I decided to experiment with it myself during a free trial open until Thursday.

VoilĂ … Ad Majorem's First Ads

How it works:  You pick one of their pre-set templates, it runs you through the places where you must write copy or provide a visual asset, and automatically sequences these with graphics and a music bed.  So here were two attempts using our masthead copy and experimenting with different visuals.

Here's What I Thought About Spotomate

Agencies, for the most part, shouldn't worry.  True, I did once have a colleague who believed in "campaign construction", i.e., every 30-second TV commercial for a brand had to have the same sequence of scenes, but most big advertisers want customized treatment.

Small- and Medium-sized businesses will love Spotomate, though.  In fact the templates may help inexperienced advertisers to organize their thoughts and force decisions as to what should or shouldn't go in the ad.

In other words, one still needs a smart brief, and I'm not sure that will ever be automatic.

What do you think of Spotomate?  What did you think of my, uh, "ads"?  Go ahead, hit me with your best shot in the comments section below.

07 October 2014

Mobile Devices Are a Way for Consumers to Reach Brands -- Not for Brands to Reach Consumers

Here's something advertisers and agencies seem slow to understand:  Mobile devices are not a way for brands to reach consumers; they're a way for consumers to reach brands.

Consider that the mobile device — the smartphone especially — is a very private zone in a person's life.  They don't necessarily want ads of any kind invading that personal space.

But the smartphone is wonderful tool for consumers to invade your space as a marketer.  Via Internet searches, shopping apps, social media and conversations with friends, they do it whether you invite them or not.

So why not invite them?

Use Mobile to Invite Customers and Prospects

Customers and prospects can contact you via certain smartphone apps.  The most-maligned is QR codes.  In the picture below is a QR code I saw this past weekend on the back of a service vehicle in Chicago.  I can't think of any better example of consumer-UNfriendly QR codes than this photo from WTF QR Codes which also sums up why I avoid them.

Not much of
an invitation
At the other end of the customer convenience spectrum is Messaging — SMS, MMS, P2P and other emerging tools.  Most of these are built in to a smartphone and very familiar, but there are also newer apps like Kik that would be handy reaching a younger audience (like Ad Majorem's teenage children).

There's also social media, of course, but only invite people to "Follow Us On Twitter!" if there's a darn good reason.

If you are extending an invitation to consumers at retail, it may be time to look again at NFC.  Could it be coming back thanks to the iPhone 6?  I've been bullish on NFC ever since my first project back in 2012 but it's been traveling a stubbornly slow adoption curve.

Ask for an R.S.V.P.

Sorry to torture the "invitation" metaphor a bit, but using "R.S.V.P." as an abbreviation, here are some principles to keep in mind:
  • Response is the goal.  You're not going to rack up millions of "impressions" via Mobile (you might) but you may invite millions of customer interactions.  In other words, the quality of your audience, not the quantity, is what matters.  Think app dowloads, not ads served.
  • Start with your consumer.  When and where might they be looking for something useful, informative or entertaining?  That's your chance to engage.  This Forrester video describes how American Airlines designed their mobile app around their customers' travel experience.
  • Voice must be …inviting.  This past year during a radio interview, a local political candidate invited people to text him for more information — which I did, only to get an auto-reply asking for donations.  Since when do you invite people over and then ask them to pay?

01 October 2014

Tablets Are Not "Mobile". They're "Portable"

This has been bugging me for a while.

Tablets — be it the iPad, the Kindle, the Galaxy or anything with a capacitive touchscreen larger than a Pop Tart — should not be considered mobile devices, like smartphones.

Consumer behavior proves it

All Mobile is Portable but
Not All Portable is Mobile
Sure, tablets and smartphones both run on the same "mobile" operating systems like iOS or Android, but people use them differently.  For example, people report accessing the Internet in their living rooms on both tablets (72%) and smartphones (67%), but in out of home situations, the numbers are quite different.  On the daily commute, for example, 49% use their smartphones and only 9% use their tablets.  In Stores, 75% use their smartphones and very few use their tablets.  (All of this research comes from a 2013 Forrester study; see a nice summary here.)

Why does this matter?  Follow the Money

Likewise, not all mobile ad spending is created equal.  When you hear things like "Mobile advertising spend will be about $18 Billion globally in 2014" you need to think beyond tiny, unreadable banner ads on a smartphone.  Those big numbers also include banner ads and video pre-roll that are better seen on a tablet.  That $18 Billion also includes a lot of Paid Search, which is a natural ad medium on the tablet, and a lot of Messaging, which is a natural ad medium on the smartphone.

Google Agrees:  Tablets Are Not "Mobile"  

In an SEC filing last January, Google admitted that as tablets became more ubiquitous, "their usage had much more in common with desktops than with handsets".  Going further, they said "the meaning of 'mobile' at Google has shifted dramatically to 'handset' from 'tablet + handset'."  Why tell the SEC?  Because it affects how they report their very considerable ad revenue.  It also affects how they might collect revenue in the future:  This was the same SEC filing that grabbed headlines like "Google Will Advertise on Thermostats".  So the definition of "Mobile" also matters to Google, but it goes way beyond tablets to the so-called Internet of Things, or in Google's case, the Internet of Things That Collect Ad Revenue.

God bless them.  As long as they start referring to tablets as "portable" devices.

16 September 2014

Why Signage Is a Modern Medium

Advertising may or may not be the second-oldest profession, but signage is surely its first-oldest form.  It all started with signage.

The History of Signage

It all continued with signage, too — literally for centuries.  Sure, the production of signs evolved from stone cutting to wood cutting to paint to ink and paper and eventually electric signs, but it was all the same thing:  a one-way message from advertiser to consumer.  Even if you check Wikipedia's definition of signs, that's about as far as it goes.

Signage Suddenly Evolved

Suddenly, in the past decade or so, signage evolved.  Screen technology made signage digitized, scalable and interactive.  After centuries of signs that featured only one-way messages, suddenly signs were really screens that offer two-way communications:  advertiser to consumer and vice versa.  As these technologies developed, signage became a way for consumers to reach advertisers.

Back to the Future

Blade Runner and Minority Report both had futuristic signage technology, but Blade Runner was made in 1982 when advertising still had a (mostly) one-way mentality (advertiser-to-audience), while Minority Report, made in 2004, featured interactive ads, probably because the advertising business had already started becoming interactive.  Similarly, this past year at Cannes there was a Grand Lion for Innovation awarded to an interactive billboard at Sochi.  Passers-by could take photos with their smartphones and project them as a 3-D image on the billboard.

Why Signage is a Modern Medium

Signage is not only ubiquitous, it's been modernized.  Here are some tips to make the most of it:
  • Elicit an immediate response.  In many cases it's sufficient to remind people to drink Diet Coke or tune in to tonight's reality TV show. But why stop at awareness?  If your message is compelling enough, the audience will respond to you via SMS, toll-free call, mobile Web, social media or an app download.  But you have to offer something useful, informative or entertaining.
  • Make it relevant.  Screens give signage the ability to increase relevance to the consumer.  The most basic example would be to rotate messages according to the time of day (a QSR client advertises breakfast until 9 a.m., switching to lunch messages after that), which isn't possible with ink and paper.  You can also place messages according to where the screen is located, e.g., in an elevator or a doctor's office waiting room.
  • Plan ahead.  Screens make signage flexible, but paradoxically that requires advance planning, not the least of which might be convincing a client to try something new and taking the time to develop creative that's relevant and elicits an immediate response.  Once you have a game plan, you're much more prepared to make adjustments.

02 May 2014

Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
By Ed Catmull
Random House, 340 pages

I hate business books because they are usually very long memos that could have been written in 14 pages.  You suspect they started as memos or even power point slides.

I love books that tell good stories.  Creativity, Inc., by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, tells a good story and in the process teaches us a lot about how to tell a good story.

Not Just a Story about Toys

Ed Catmull was a kid with a dream, to produce animated movies using computer technology.  He wanted to work at Walt Disney.  They turned him down at first, but he kept on following his passions. 

Catmull’s path led through some interesting places and people.  He studied computer technology at University of Utah, one of the four original institutions on ARPANET, the precursor to what we now know as the Internet.  His early, groundbreaking computer animation work led to a job offer from George Lucas.  While at Lucasfilm, Catmull hired Pixar’s other co-founder, the animator John Lasseter, and what they built was spun off to Steve Jobs in 1985.  The new company’s main business was selling the Pixar Image Computer.  They were in the hardware business. 

As we all know, they eventually joined forces with Disney and became the animation studio that produced Toy Story and many hit films since.  Like those films, the book tells compelling stories.  Inner-circle, name-dropping – jaw dropping – stories of how these hit films made it through the creative process and the business process. 

And as this story unfolds, you see Catmull evolve from a technologist to the head of one of the most creative organizations ever built.  Every chapter illustrates a Pixar mantra, “Story Is King.”

Trust the Process.  Not!

Pixar had another mantra, “Trust the Process”, which meant Pixar’s process, very different from the corporate one at most Hollywood studios:  “Pixar was a place that gave artists running room, that gave directors control, that trusted its people to solve problems.”  To me, this sounded more like “Trust the Culture”, not “Trust the Process”, but it seemed to work for Pixar.

Indeed, it served them well making Toy Story, but not so well when simultaneously working on A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2.  They had grown.  Suddenly more people were involved and Catmull and Lasseter were pulled in different directions.  The mantra lost meaning; it “morphed into ‘Assume that the Process Will Fix Things for Us’.”  Unfortunately, Toy Story 2 lost meaning, too, and they realized they had to rewrite it just nine months before theatrical release.

What did they learn from that experience?  The process only works if the people are working well together, and while that was Pixar’s biggest superpower, they weren’t using it at this critical, early stage of their maturation as a company.  They got back on track by establishing a “Braintrust” that regularly reviewed how a story – a film – was coming together.  They didn’t go back to Process so much as they went back to Culture.

They also learned that words can be empty.  “People glom onto words and stories that are often just stand-ins for real action and meaning,” he writes.  Tellingly, he uses this occasion to criticize our industry:  “Advertisers look for words that imply a product’s value and use that as a substitute for value itself.”  Ouch.

So is process good or bad?  When we think of “process” in Ad Land, it’s often a linear, stage-driven timeline, which isn’t how creativity really works.  You need a process, of course, because the alternative is chaos, but how to let it roll?  The Toy Story 2 experience taught them how to strike a balance by returning to their natural strength in collaboration.  It makes sense to “trust people to solve problems” when they’re doing it in a group, not in separate silos.

Three Lessons Advertising, Inc. Can Learn from Creativity, Inc.

Although this book can teach a few things to any creative enterprise, here are three lessons for Ad Land.
  • Story trumps Technology.  Catmull’s childhood dream wasn’t to bring new technology to animation; it was to make animated movies using technology.  Everything he invented was in service of telling the story.  His biggest satisfaction in the success of Toy Story was how audiences and critics loved the story so much they barely mentioned the use of computers to tell it. 
  • Feedback diagnoses, not prescribes.  You’ll appreciate the many vignettes of Pixar’s “Braintrust” meetings to discuss films in development.  They built such a strong culture of mutual respect and focus on the work that every session was about what to address – not how to address it.  (In the last chapter, “Notes Day”, we see how this culture improved the company as a whole.)  In contrast, they discovered that Disney’s Michael Eisner didn’t even discuss; he just issued lists of “mandatory notes”.
  • People create Ideas.  This sounds obvious but Catmull points out that many leaders confuse the need for Great Ideas with the need for Great People.  He concludes:  “Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.”  (This reminded me of the only business book I ever liked, Good to Great, which made exactly the same point in its first chapter.)

Which brings us to Steve Jobs, the deus ex machina in this story.  Jobs was smart enough not to push his way into scripts, storyboards and edits, though he certainly had that right.  He invested heavily in Pixar – and he believed in it and he stayed loyal to it.  Catmull mentions Steve when he’s relevant to the story, and that was often enough that I planned to mention it in this review.  Then I got to the end of the book, and saw Afterword: The Steve We Knew.  It’s a beautiful tribute to Jobs and an appraisal of his impact on Pixar.

Read this book, people.  At minimum it’s a good story you won’t want to put down.  But it also teaches us a lot about how advertising people can work together and tell a good story.

30 April 2014

Greetings from Startup Land

Which one delivers results?

This past month on Ad Majorem I've described in a series of posts how I went from Ad Land to Startup Land.  My hope is that you found it interesting or helpful or both.

There are a lot of differences between the two worlds.  I'd argue that one big thing Startup Land can teach Ad Land is how Technology and Marketing can work together.

One big similarity?  I've seen that whether you're in Ad Land or Startup Land, the only way to create real value is to focus on delivering results.

Here's an index to the whole series.  Thanks for reading.

How I Went from Ad Land to Startup Land

Startup Land Has No Boundaries

Startup Land, Where Technology and Marketing Work Together

In Startup Land, Management Really Is Nimble

Results Also Matter in Startup Land

Book Review:  Quick and Nimble

28 April 2014

Book Review: Quick and Nimble

Quick and Nimble:  Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation
By Adam Bryant
Henry Holt & Co., 264 pages

While writing the series Greetings from Startup Land, I noticed this new book by Adam Bryant, the Corner Office columnist at the New York Times, titled Quick and Nimble.  So, as a bonus extra to the Startup Land series, here’s a nimble version of the Ad Majorem Book Review.  (Slightly less nimble book reviews here, here and here.)

Bryant starts on the premise that big companies can learn from startups how to be quick and nimble.  A competing theme is that companies in general can learn from so-called innovative companies how to be more innovative.  The book doesn’t really deliver on either of these promises.  Instead, it’s a collection of Things Big Company CEOs Have Learned.  Which probably makes sense, because the source material is Bryant’s weekly profiles of Big Company CEOs Who Have Learned Things.

In fairness, much of what emerges from these interviews is a response to the generally bureaucratic nature of big companies in an era when technology has made interpersonal communication much more instantaneous.  In other words, communication has been democratized and corporations are still catching up.

So if you are currently in a leadership position, or wish to be, this book requires two hours for a speed-read, or four to six hours for more careful consideration.  Either way, you’ll probably take away a couple of techniques worth emulating.  But it won’t make your company more nimble.

23 April 2014

Results Also Matter in Startup Land

Decades ago the Ad Land pioneer Rosser Reeves asked, “What do you want from me?  Fine writing?  Or do you want to see the sales curve start moving up?”  We may argue, half a century later, as to how widely Ad Land holds that sentiment.  Startup Land depends on it – or at least depends on the sales curve rising fast enough to beat the burn rate.  

Or does it?

Years ago, Eric Schmidt described Google's business strategy as “URL” -- Ubiquity first, Revenue Later.  That worked for Google, but many venture capitalists who invest in technology seem to take it literally.  There is a lot of money poured into companies that may still be in the red for years, like Amazon, Pinterest and many others.

Dollars and Cents

Sadly, most people in Ad Land are insulated from business results until the moment when agency layoffs are unavoidable.  Agencies have been slow to embrace results and accountability.  One pundit says clients are complicit.

Last of a series
Because Startup Land is for the most part small and nimble, it’s impossible to be insulated from business results.  Everything is very out in the open.  If your company hasn’t gone public, you’re still accountable to your investors, whose money you’re spending to grow the business.  Our investors hold us accountable, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

Traveling in these circles, however, I am struck by how few investors really do their homework on the day-to-day operations of the companies they invest in.  Some are far more interested in financial instruments – credit facilities, warrants and the like – than in what makes the sales curve go up.  Many investors love seeing stock prices rise on the possibility of future results.  (Today's news suggests that caution is order.)

Kiss a Lot of Frogs

There’s an old saying, repeated often in Startup Land, that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before getting to the prince.  It applies both to raising capital (which we recently did) and raising the sales curve (which we are always doing).  As I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this series, it’s easy to get impatient.

Impatience may be a virtue, but don’t lose focus.  Whether you’re in Ad Land or Startup Land, focus on delivering results, not just the promise of them.  It's the only way to create real value.