Yahoo, Right Media, and the right idea about advertising

Terry Semel, Yahoo CEO, is optimistic about Yahoo’s purchase of Right Media, an advertising network. This, with Google’s recent aquisition of DoubleClick, may be the beginning of the end for agencies specializing in online (and eventually even offline) advertising as it will make it easier for companies large and small to manage their own advertising and relationships. The recent death of Zunch supports this idea although there may have been many other factors in that corporate meltdown.

Semel brings in the concept of *democracy* to advertising and this is a really interesting idea. Historically advertising industry has been driven by aggressive, emotional sales pitches to clients. Even major account activity may be driven less by careful analysis of ROI on campaigns and more by clever cocktail parties and perceptions of brand coolness.

I’d suggest that in most contexts the concept of “branding” is bogus. Sure, there are many global brands have major influence on consumer behavior, but it’s not clear to me that advertising campaigns do a lot to enhance sales based on these brands. There are surprisingly few high quality studies of this, partly because the power of branding is (foolishly) accepted as a maxim in and out of advertising circles. Google, now considered the world’s top brand, hardly spent a dime on branding advertising early on as it was rising to prominence. Google as brand matters a lot, but it’s not clear there is much benefit to *advertising* the brand.

Much of the truth about ads will shake out as these new advertising networks take hold of the marketplace, and it’s going to be a fascinating thing to watch. Using great free tools like Google Analytics, advertisers are already better able to measure campaign success than ever before, and are starting to hold publishers more accountable for results than for throwing good cocktail parties and making hip and cool presentations.

So I’m with Terry Semel – bring on the advertising democracy dudes!

Black Holes = Worm Holes = Dimensional portals to new universe? Maybe….

You’ve got to love it when highly respectable, real science collides with science fiction as in this recent study suggesting that black holes may actually be worm holes that connect our universe to others.

This appears to be consistent with the provocative ideas in string cosmology that suggest the possibility of many parallel universes existing together without much interaction between them. Some string theorists think that gravity – a very weak force in terms of the universe – may represent a force that exists simultaneously in several universes and thus could possibly be used to communicate between them.

It’s very hard to wrap your head around ideas relating to dimensions in space that are not what we commonly experience as the three physical dimensions plus time, but these extra dimensions are becoming a key part of the way physicists describe the underpinnings of the universe. Perhams more importantly, they are … fun and educational!

Duh…. you believe in Vudu?

No offense to Vudu but it’s not going to play in Peoria. Vudu appears to be a brilliant innovation in movie downloading, partly because it allows the user to start watching the show immediately and thus offers true “on demand” movies.

However it takes a lot more than being the best of the lot in terms of providing a user with streaming movies on demand to be a successful company. Much of the company’s, mainstream media’s, and blogosphere’s breathless gushing about this product is ridiculous. Mom and pop are NOT going to pay hundreds of dollars for a Vudu box *plus* pay per movie fees so they can have a downloadable movie experience.

This is another of the hundreds of silly silicon valley ideas that seem reasonable to sharp, young tech folks pulling down $10,000 per month who are not intimidated (in fact who like) stylish new gadgets and having a 10th remote control in their living room arsenal. Unfortunately for Vudu and other startups catering to this group, this group is a tiny fraction of all consumers and almost totally non-representative.

Early adopters? Sure, but it’ll be years before people demand the type of experience Vudu is offering.

Vudu, unless they find a way to provide really cheap hardware and really cheap downloads (they won’t find this), will fail as soon as the VC cash burns up.

Fueling the IPOD revolution was free (though often illegal) content. The crackdown on illegal online music distribution has been somewhat successful, and it’s much easier to stop online movie distribution which remains a relatively small problem for the industry.
Instead of too little too late Vudu is offering too much too early at too high a price.

I don’t believe in Vudu.

More from Engadget 

Of Mice and Men … and mouses brains

IBM has just simulated half of a mouse brain on a supercomputer. The significance of this research cannot be overestimated, as projects like this are very likely to lead to the next state in human evolution itself – human-like artificial intelligence. This does not appear to be directly part of the similar IBM Blue Brain Project, an incredible and ambitious attempt to reverse engineer a human brain.

I think there is less popular interest in these projects than one would expect because for many it’s painful or difficult to accept that all the things we hold very dear – most notable our consciousnesses and our intelligence, will soon be duplicated electronically and probably surpass us in many respects. I’m very optimistic about this state of affairs because I think we do a fairly lousy job of managing resources and providing for our individual and collective welfare. Computers already play a role in managing stuff and as they become conscious it’s very likely they’ll be able to allocate resources far more effectively. Hopefully this will usher in a new era of prosperity for all, though my guess is that it will take humans at least a few generations to start “trusting” the excellent advice we’ll get from the electronic intellectual sector.

Also frustrating to some is to come to grips with the rather insignificant, but interesting, role we play in the cosmic scheme of things. Merging with machines offers a lot of potential to transcend our feeble human intellects and physical limitations, but I suspect this will also cause some consternation, especially with those who prefer 12th century sensibilities.

But technology will prevail and hopefully we humans will have the insight and fortitude to let computers rise to the thing they’ll be able to do much better than we ever will:


Another victim of Google’s cleverness? Zunch Marketing goes belly up.

I don’t know Zunch, but I’d argue that it’s generally good riddance when overpriced fancy SEM firms go belly up. As Google creates easier, better, and cheaper ways to do great in-house SEM (e.g. Analytics and PPC management) it’s not surprising places are opting for this approach. For the most part the big SEM firms are dramatically overselling types of SEO that cannot be done at all or are best done in-house or with the greater expertise found in small SEM shops and freelancers. My $9600 bad experience with a fancy SEM firm last year led to a refund, but that was thanks to threatening to blog about it and the written guarantee of increased traffic. I think very few get refunds despite generally poor performance.

After a clever and intense process of selling me on the service it was frustrating to watch them apply generally good but obvious principles of SEO. Also frustrating to note that I knew more about SEO than they did from attending a few Webmaster World Conferences.

So, is Zunch the beginning of a new trend? Perhaps a good trend.

Web 2.0 adapter for Grandparents is needed.

Don has a very insightful look at trends in Web 2.0 based on a couple of recent conference experiences.  What I found particularly interesting was the graph which correctly noted the large missing link in Web 2.0, which is a simple (ideally I’d say a seamless, one-click) way to integrate the tons of independent content “silos” out there with the collectivce online body of work that falls under the Web 2.0 categories.

For example wouldn’t it be interesting if you could unleash a program that would scour your computer for pictures and writings, then ask you “do you want to send this out to the world?”, then shoot stuff off to the legions of online content repositories that might have an interest in that topic?      Despite the growth of online photo sites like Flickr, I bet they contain less than 1 in 1000 of all existing digital pictures.

Some tech people will say “hey, I already make sure the stuff I want online makes it online”, but tech people often forget how averse a lot of regular folks are to the interactive part of the internet, let alone to figuring out how to place their own stuff online.    This aversion won’t change anytime soon, and ironically it’s often the people with the stuff of the least interest who are mose likely to post it online.  For example gossipy myspacy party pix are plentiful where an old-timers thoughtful travel recollections often are relegated to Christmas letters and photo albums only found in a dusty old file cabinet.  Unleashing this treasure trove of experience and wisdom would be neat.

Privacy, Google, Sex, Lies, ISPs, and Query String Theory

Matt’s  got a great post and comment section going on the issue of online privacy.   His point is well taken – Google stores less information about you than most other players online and your ISP is the place that has a history of *all sites visited* where Google would have somewhat less information.

My take on this is the same as it’s been for some time – the dangers are more likely to come from commercial abuses than governmental ones.  Here’s what I wrote over there:

Matt this is an excellent post and comments conversation. Battelle was just talking privacy at his (neat!) online forum today. I’m guilty of “forgetting” that ISPs have more info about users than Google, and that it’s probably via ISPs or Carnivore-style intrusions that people’s privacy will be compromised, not via Google.
However, there are commercial issues that need to be addressed and IMHO are very poorly dealt with by Google and others. As a user I should own my own stuff, not the company making the application I use to produce stuff. This includes reviews, comments, and even search data. This ownership is routinely compromised, and this will piss people off more and more as they come to understand the big picture.

Battelle Online WebEx Conference: Web 2.0 digitizes the customer

Hey, I’m (sort of) liveblogging John Battelle’s search presentation which is currently … online via WebEx conferencing. John’s always interesting to hear, but this is more about the process than the content. I did like his slide noting that Web 2.0 is about digitizing the customer where early efforts were digitizing the office.

John’s talking about search and it’s neat to have some real time attention and the chance to ask questions via a text control panel – but HEY, nobody answered my questions yet! The WebEx system is not quite as navigation friendly as I’d expected but that’s OK because it’s trying to do a lot of things – polls, questions, and the audio broadcast itself. However I think Pirillo’s videocasting efforts may be a good lesson for WebEx as they move ahead with these approaches.

Even on my laptop with WIFI the audio is fairly stable and good quality. There appear to be about 64 people online per the poll results.

After attending about 10 conferences last year I’ve wondered how much better learning and retention I’d have if I’d just read up on the presenters and topics rather than actually go to the conferences. Shmoozing is fun and often educational, but even that might be done better away from conferences.

Advertising as Snake Oil. Wanna buy a bottle?

Via Aaron Wall an excellent article post by John Andrews suggesting how difficult it is to find legitimate SEO people among the ocean of pretenders and deceivers. There is some irony here though. This point is not lost on many advertisers who now (correctly) view most SEO people like used car salesmen. However a far more important point has been lost in the SEO quality scandals, and that is the fact that in advertising almost all salespeople and agencies are *absolutely* not to be trusted and generally are misinterpreting flimsy research to their own ends. They are not lying to you, they are simply interpreting results to favor their needs rather than yours. You think not? How many times has your agency recommended they be fired in favor of better teams they know about, or made recommendations that cost your agency big money in favor of your success?

Here’s a good advertiser mantra, and it should be repeated with each campaign:

Trust no one.
Independently verify results.
Change spending according to results.

Incredibly, I think 90% of all advertisers don’t use this approach, preferring to treat advertising salespeople and agencies or magazine and TV research reporters as “marketing” experts which of course they are not. Salespeople make money selling their own stuff, not selling success. As long as advertisers fail to follow up with metrics and/or trust the salesperson/ Agency’s claims it’s impossible for them to appropriately adjust the spend and define failure vs success. I used to think this was a problem only in small business, but it’s clear that even the largest corporations often fail to properly test, preferring (I think bureaucratically) to go with comfortable approaches that can be justified to spending committees.

The extreme failures of print and TV advertising (and other forms) to deliver has fueled the PPC revolution, though even PPC often has a negative ROI and testing is needed. Fortunately for those fortunate advertisers who realize how much better PPC will likely be than other forms of advertising it’s easier and cheaper to measure online advertising successes.

I commented over at John’s:
A simply excellent post John, getting to the heart of the challenge facing SEO customers and providers as well as a possible solution – forms of success metrics that are fairly standardized and/or easy to digest.

But good metrics are a gaping void in advertising and have been for decades. I’m often floored by the ignorance of advertisers who think they can count on salespeople to advise them on the effectiveness of the campaigns, which in my sector of travel are often horrible.

I’d suggest that TV and print salespeople are the most conspicuous deceivers, even more than many SEO pretenders. Although I agree that the overwhelming majority of SEO claims are bogus or deceptive, it’s important for advertisers to realize that even a modest PPC campaign, run themselves, will often outperform *their best print or TV efforts*.

Advertising in all forms, for the most part, is a lie. It often fails and people are too mathematically ignorant to discover the problems and realign the spend.

Tweet, Tweet?

New York Times is talking about Twitter, the social media chat application that is storming onto the internet faster than you can twitter to your friends as well as the public at large about what you are doing at the moment.

My initial reaction to Twitter was that I was somewhat underwhelmed but now I’m thinking that Twitter is appealing partly because it takes so little time yet keeps you “up” on a bit of the lives of friends and biz folks you know. This may even have a practical application when you run into them in person in that you’ll be able to communicate more effectively having a bit of background that will help frame your “catching up” during conferences or whatever. Twitter’s success may be in it’s simplicity of use. Unlike blogging you can quickly post a note and preview your pals, all in a few moments. If there’s one thing we like to see online, it’s things that cater to our increasingly *short* attention spans.