Microsoft to move almost all ads online over next three years. It’s about … time!

I’ve been wondering how long it would take for the big players to shift the big money online, and it looks like Microsoft is heading powerfully in that direction based on this story from Media Daily News.

I’m not sure Microsoft is really a bellweather for corporate ads as MS is a technology company that does a huge amount of business online and has a huge online customer base, but whenever close to a  billion dollars is shifted from conventional media to online it’s a significant development in the advertising landscape and probably an indicator of things to come from other major advertisers.Since I did several conversion studies many years ago in the travel sector it’s been clear to me where things were headed as these strongly indicated that online advertising is far more effective than print ads.   As an online marketing guy for Oregon travel projects we ran full page Sunset ads featuring huge displays of separate domain names that I assigned specifically to each campaign.    This made tracking easy and also kept users from having to type in long, cumbersome URL strings.  Despite this we saw very modest traffic increases from major print exposure.    A 20,000 full page print ad would only yield a few thousand extra website visits over the next month.   Initially this came as a shock to me but after dozens of experiments in many magazines, and an examination of other print advertising campaigns, it became clear that it’s foolish to try to drive web traffic using print.   Although we did not run any signifiant TV or Radio campaigns I examined some data from Texas’ Travel web efforts and concluded that TV was also a prohibitively expensive way to drive web traffic.    Online methods generally outperformed offline by a factor of perhaps 10x, and this advantage does not seem much less today.

Yet there is a type of momentum that comes from human stubborness that keeps TV, print, and radio advertising over-funded even as conversion studies are now abundant indicating the superiority of online advertising.   Recently I think it was Ford that decided to increase the online spend considerably, though I think this news from Microsoft is the first time a major advertiser has chosen to move most of their spend to online venues.

Eventually online costs may catch up to conventional media in terms of ROI, but I think this is not the case yet.    That’s not to say that positive ROI in online ad campaigns is a simple process – it is not and many millions are squandered in bad online campaigns.  But this pales in comparison to the *billions* that are squandered every month on ineffective offline media campaigns.   The offline advertising Emperor has very few clothes, but few will notice until people start doing quality mathematical analyses of advertising campaigns and stop listening to self-serving research.    I’m not holding my breath for that.

Mobile Muppet Laboratory at Disneyland’s California Adventure

The Mobile Muppet Laboratory is roaming Disney’s California Adventure this spring.  I’m glad our family is heading down their in a few weeks for spring break.   We’ll be able to see how this advanced animatronics display is interacting with people all over the park.

Engadget and the LA Times  seem to approach this using the “will this put Mickey Mouse out of work” angle which is unfortunate because the big story on robotics is 1) Robots are here to stay and as AI improves they’ll be taking over more and more jobs, allowing humans to blossom in creative rather than mundane physical tasks.   2) Robots have been helping us for decades – they’ve just been in “boring” jobs like car assembly.  3) Robots are cool.

China’s Mega Dam – Three Gorges Dam Project

Don’t miss the Discovery Channel’s fascinating inside look into the history and construction of the Three Gorges Dam project on China’s Yangze River.     This massive project is the largest public works project in human history.   It will create a 400 mile long reservoir so massive that it may actually affect (very slightly but measurably) the rotation of the earth.    Three Gorges Dam is displacing over a million Chinese who live upriver from the Dam, though it appears that in many cases they’ll be relocated to better housing at higher ground.   36,000 square miles will be inundated as the river above the dam slowly rises.    Although some measures are being taken to preserve historical monuments an incalculable degree of historical and human emotional treasure will be lost from this dam.

The Mega Dam special gives some incredible insider looks into the control rooms of the power generation and shipping lock facilities as well as a brief look at some of the computer controls, which appear to have  very intuitive graphic interfaces.

A critic quoted in the film suggested that the benefits of the dam are effectively shipped off to big cities and larger farmers at the expense of the million plus Chinese who are getting displaced.     However other aspects of the story do not seem to support this vision because it appears that the relocated cities are generally of higher quality than those they are replacing.  One advocate suggested that this would be hard on the old relocated folks, but for the children the relocation would bring better health, education, and opportunity.

Discovery Channel Mega Dam Web page

Social networks = people, not technologies

The New York Times reports that Cisco has acquired Tribe Networks in what appears to be an effort to become a player in the social networking space.     The article quotes Marc Andreeson of NING, another social network facilitator, suggesting that the social networking biz is harder than it looks and Cisco will have problems.    I agree Cisco will probably fail to do much with this but not for the same reason, but for the opposite.   As with most internet stuff the technology difficulties are much less of a challenge than the social barriers to success.

Even Yahoo and Google – now brilliant masterpieces of technological sophistication – did not start out that way.     Rather they began as fairly modest “websites” with a handful of programming routines  that grew in usefulness, traffic, and complexity to become the internet behemoths they are today.   Sure there’s a lot of amazing technology behind these companies, but I still think there is a sort of “techno bias” that remains pervasive both inside and outside the industy that is both fooling and manipulating people into thinking that success is mostly a function of your technology when it should be clear to all that it’s a function of the way your online environments relate to people, and that in turn is art not science.    Is expensive, complex technology required to create a hugely popular, high traffic website?   Of course NOT.   Myspace and Facebook now use slick stuff, but they didn’t start out that way., a hugely popular dating site, still uses a *single* server and very basic technology despite the fact that it competes with big players working on platforms that probably cost 100x that of PlentyofFish’s.

I think the future will be like the past – successful sites will cater to the needs of people and bend the technologies as needed.   Cisco, Ning, and other social networking technology platforms are great but they won’t define things.   People will do that.   People are, after all, what social networking is all about.