Buying Advertising Like Luxury Products

When you buy an expensive watch that is priced hundreds of times more than a regular watch, it’s clear that your objective is not to know what time it is. Especially with digital watches, the cheapest digital watch, also on your phone, is more accurate than the best mechanical watch. But we still buy them. That doesn’t diminish their status as luxury products, in fact I think it increases their value as such.

Because people know that you don’t have that watch for timekeeping reasons, it is clear to everyone that it is purely a fashion statement, however you want to express that; quality, brand, story behind it, special edition, etc. It’s like owning a rare work of art that doesn’t have much practical utility but has enormous psychological value.

I have a problem when marketers buy advertising the same way we buy luxury products. When they book ads for the image it generates in the advertising community and to make a statement about the brand just to get them awards or case studies. Many times I hear extremely fluffy claims about how placing an ad in a certain placement is going to create a great effect. It’s usually how they think other marketers will perceive their ads, which is usually something completely different from how people view them. Testing some creatives across different placements can easily uncover many things that can be completely contrary to conventional wisdom.

Advertising has a function and it serves to leave an impression or send a message to the intended audience, eventually ending up in improving the sales of the business. It is not an art, although an artistic touch and creativity are needed to create messages that resonate with people and achieve the business objectives.

Why Creative Ad Executions are Not Necessarily Good Online

They are usually bad actually.

We still suffer from the thinking of offline advertising trying to force the limitations of print and outdoor on the flexibility and unboundedness of the online experience. They still think that the home page is the cover of the magazine, and waste a lot of money on that.

One of the main characteristics of online ads that offline people just don’t seem to understand is that the campaign doesn’t start and end with the ad itself like in the offline world.

In a magazine, on TV, or on a billboard, the ad is just a box or a full page that contains a message. It ends there. There is no such thing as a click. In the dark ages of offline advertising the only thing you tried to do is have a catchy message, something loud, and the main thing you could track was “message recall”. It’s ok if they don’t know what the brand was all about, because the model was so much sexier than the product, the important thing was that they recalled the brand and logo. Good job. Minus $100k. Now what?
Well, the most you can hope for, is that people would call if you have a number, or visit your store, if one is close by. Buying your product of course. Oh, and “branding”.

In the magical online world, we have something called the click. The person who is interested in knowing more about you, can click, and visit your site, your social media profile, view your videos, and spend endless hours researching you and interacting with you. Each person will choose the amount and type of interaction that suits them, and they can come back whenever they need you.

Your message doesn’t need to be loud, intrusive, and shocking to get people’s attention. If you target your message properly, and have something to say that resonates with that audience, enough people will click, and then you can give them a great experience on your site, after they have expressed interest in what you have to offer.

From a messaging perspective, it’s much more effective for them to see a fully branded page, with your domain, and trust-building elements, than it would be to run an intrusive takeover on a site where people are trying to do something else. When it is on your site, you can have an interactive page that does really interesting things and provide valuable information to your users, and you won’t have to be limited by the guidelines and limitations of whichever site you are running a takeover on. You have full control and freedom. Here is where you should be creative.

From a cost perspective, it is way more cost-effective to buy clicks to that creative page of yours, than it is to buy impressions with big limitations on what and how to deliver your message.

A good banner, video ad, or even a text ad are enough to get people to click, and once they have expressed interest in what you have to say, then and only then should you overwhelm them with your magic.

Branding vs. Performance Campaigns

There seems to be a consensus that there are generally two categories or types of campaigns online.
In the branding case you don’t expect much to happen other than making sure as many people know about you or link a certain image to your brand. In the case of performance, you mainly worry about getting people to do something after they have interacted with your ads.

While this might be an ok way to categories these activities, I don’t think it’s useful or meaningful because it misses out on a few points.

When you are running a campaign for branding or raising awareness, the ads you run will generate results; views, clicks, interactions, engagements. These should be measured, and you should take action based on the results. You should be testing different creatives and messages to see what resonates with the audience more, this also should be measured. During the campaign, the engagement rates might go down, up, or remain stable. Again you should react by either changing the approach, or stopping the ads where users have clearly indicated with the lower engagement rates that they are fed up with those messages.

Every branding campaign is a performance campaign.

With so-called performance campaigns, people usually only focus on the results; clicks, conversions, conversion rates, etc. But just because you called it a performance campaign, doesn’t mean there isn’t a by-product of communication happening. More than 90% of people don’t click on your ads, but they still see them. More than 90% of people who click don’t convert, but they still see your site, logo, tone of voice, and general differentiation points. Even the most specific and intellectual ad, the text ad, has your domain name / brand name, and has a claim or two about why people should do business with you; great quality, free delivery, best-in-class service, etc.

Every performance campaign is a branding campaign.

So how do we classify campaign types and where do we draw the line between the different types?
We simply don’t. It’s not important what you call the campaign, as long as you have actionable, clear goals, and you set the expectations regarding what you can get out of them. There are always unintended consequences and side effects to any campaign and these should be measured, taken into consideration, and made use of.

Raising Brand Awareness

I find it strange when marketing and advertising people talk about raising awareness as one activity that has one outcome, which can be done simply by running ads for a period of time. Typically, a heavy initial campaign is recommended.

I believe there are levels or degrees of awareness, each of which has a different impact, and therefore, a different value.

Knowing the brand can be considered the first (entry) level of awareness, where people simply know about your existence. It’s generally good, and it’s the easiest awareness to generate and can be simply achieved by running the traditional heavy campaign.

The value of this level of awareness is not so high however. For awareness to be valuable, you need people to know more about your products, prices, how they work, what they taste like, and so on.

Recognizing your logo and brand name can be considered a higher level of awareness, where people can link that logo to your product and know vaguely what it is about. Still, we did not reach the awareness levels that result from interacting with your brand.

Visiting your site or your physical store is where people start to know more about the details of what you offer, and what exactly you stand for.

Sampling your product is when people start to know you experientially and not just on an intellectual level. Going to an electronics store and playing with a certain gadget, sampling small bites of the new sandwich you are offering, or signing up for a free trial of a software that you provide are examples of that.

Familiarity is the next level, which can only be achieved by people buying the product and living with it for a few months. This is when people start to know the details of your product or level of service. This is when the get surprises (the good and the bad). This is the most important level of awareness which allows people who tried it to become the promoters of your brand (or not).
People who bought a product of yours and tried it are going to be the authority in their circle of friends on whether or not your product is good. The reviews these people can give are detailed with specifics, and will make a huge difference on how many more people will give your product a try.

Basically, sales is the most important method of generating awareness, the kind of awareness that comes with customers’ commitment with their money, taking a chance on you and actually spending time living with your product.

Beyond familiarity, ultimately, there is addiction to your brand. This level of awareness comes with people having memorized the interface of your phone, starting to do things automatically on your website, getting personally familiar with the employees of your gym, knowing the waiter by name, etc. At this level, the loyalty grows new reasons, beyond the quality of your service and your cute logo. At this level, you are something that they are used to, a place where they feel at home, and you definitely want to build as much of this kind of awareness as you possibly can.

Based on this, getting one person to a certain level of awareness is worth getting tens of people to the previous lower level of awareness. Selling ten phones is much more important that having fifty people play with that phone for ten minutes each. Ideally, I think spending advertising money should be prioritized based on the deepest level of awareness, getting as many people there, then with extra money you go to the lower levels one by one.

Why You Should Not Advertise on Home Pages

It all stems from offline thinking. Many people think that the home page is just like the cover of a magazine, and therefore it gets the most "exposure", and therefore you achieve "reach".

One of the worst places to place your ads on is the home page, especially if it's a portal.

Here's why:

  1. Targeting: Since the home page is usually the most general page on a website, you have no idea what kind of user is visiting it. Let's take an example of one big portal, MSN. Currently the navigation bar includes the following links: news, entertainment, sports, money, lifestyle, locals, autos. The purpose of that page is to route users to other pages. Even if they don't know it, there is nothing to do or read on the home page but links and very short teasers of articles, so the user will quickly end up going to another page to continue whatever task they came to do.
    A full discussion of the categorization of the different types of pages can be found on Semphonic's Functionalism, and in a more specific white paper.
  2. Mental State: Since this is a spring board kind of page, and the user in a browsing mode, their hand is still on the mouse, and their eyes are moving quickly, scanning, and evaluating the different options. They are trying to find something interesting, and as mentioned in point 1, you cannot know what that content is, because it varies from cars to sports, and from entertainment to money. If you take a look at the submenus, you will easily realize that this page can be interesting to anyone on Earth!

Since the user is not identified to be interested in anything in particular, and since they are in a scanning state of mind, the home page is not where they would be most receptive.

The best place to be on is what some people call "deep pages", which are pages of articles, videos, or any content where the user sits back, releases their mouse and start reading. A quick correction, there is no such thing as a deep page. The web is a flat place, and since most traffic starts from a search engine or social media, you are usually sent directly to that article page or video page to immediately view and many times you continue on a journey in the website without even seeing the home page.

I previously wrote about the power of contextual targeting to inform us about the user reading the content, and following that logic, the home page is not effective at all.

Going back to our offline magazine advertising friend, I would argue that even in magazines, advertising on the cover would not be as effective as advertising a product next to articles related to that industry. The cover will definitely give you more reach, but at a much higher cost. Most of that reach is irrelevant audience, because everyone reading the magazine will have to start at the cover. The reduction in price, appearing next to your article, and using the remaining budget to advertise on more publications with a more focused reach would get you much better results, because you are reaching people who are in the market for your product vs. reaching the masses. Of course there is no way to prove it offline, but when done online and the cost-per-acquisition is calculated it is clear that the targeted option performs much better.

When might being on the home page work? Very rare cases where your brand is highly known, used by almost everyone, and depends on impulse. Carbonated drinks for example want to just remind you how thirsty you are, how hot it is, and how much you need that extra coke. Most brands are not like that, and you usually have a limited budget and you are much better off spending it based on performance.

Facebook's Headaches for Google: Part II

I've previously wrote about how Facebook is competing with Google, and it doesn't seem to be stopping. This time from a different angle.

The way this is being accentuated is by the two different types of advertising offered by Facebook; "marketplace ads" and "premium ads".

Marketplace Ads are basically the ads that anyone can run on Facebook, simply by going to the advertising section, posting some ads, and entering payment information. The great thing about this is that it is, similar to Google, catering for the long tail of advertisers. Global companies with huge budgets, compete with mom-and-pop advertisers running campaigns of $10 / month. This is similar to Google's philosophy of creating a democratic utopia in advertising. Everyone should be given the same tools, and access to the same information, which improves the efficiency of, and increases the number of advertisers willing to compete in the largest ad auction on the web.

Premium Ads is where things become different. These ads are run by Facebook, through agencies (a segment in the market Google never had in its equation when they created AdWords). Google treats its platform as an open system where users or agencies are free to use it in any way they want. This has really disrupted the traditional business model of media agencies who struggle to find a viable way of making money out of a system that doesn't give them commissions, is completely transparent, and needs daily monitoring and updating.

Facebook is giving these premium spots only to agencies and to campaigns that run a minimum of $10,000 / month (or at least in my region). These ads are run in the traditional way (IO, booking order, etc..) and are managed by Facebook employees.

Guaranteed placement: part of this offering is that these ads don't go into an auction, and appear on the home page of Facebook, which is the first page a user sees when they log in. The agency books a certain number of impressions, and they get these impressions.

Commissions: to make things worse, these campaigns include a commission for media agencies, which immediately makes advertising on Facebook a sweet option for agencies, who get to talk the language they are used to; premium placement, large audience, the big boys get better treatment, etc...

Demographics: another aspect of Facebook that make it very easy for agencies to deal with. Keywords and interest-based targeting, although much more effective, are still not that easy to grasp due to the extreme fragmentation they create, and necessitating campaigns to become more geared to results and reponse, as opposed to branding, whatever that may be.

Facebook is now the hot thing, they give agencies commissions and premium guaranteed placement, and provide the most accurate demographics any media has ever dreamed of having. This will cause a bigger headache for Google clearly.

From an ecosystem perspective, what this does, is that it widens the gap between agencies and regular advertisers, and gives them an unfair advantage. If they would have kept the same model, without favoring the agencies, they would have made the whole online advertising ecosystem a much more efficient and effective place to advertise on. They decided to go for the business objective. Time will tell which model will win.

Apple's Discount Byte

apple discount ad

Perfect simplicity and clarity! Everybody knows Apple's logo, with one bite taken from it.
This ad very cleverly shows "another" bite, showing the discount.
This is an example where the communication is very comfortable for the reader to get. It is as simple as possible, "but not simpler" as Einstein says.
More important than merely being cute, the ad is descriptive, and sticky. You already have the logo embedded in your mind, and this is a temporary alteration to it. This is the essence of the message; that there are temporary price cuts.
No clutter whatsoever, and the mutated logo raises the readers' curiosity to understand what's going on.

via: Ads of the World

Google Buys Doubleclick

Another whopping announcement by the (search?/advertising?) giant. They are firing toward more and more enriching partnerships and innovations in newer fields of advertising.
They are now beta-testing their radio advertising, which is supposed to be powered by better reporting capabilities for advertisers. At the same time, they are also testing their cost-per-action advertising model.
Now, they are partnering with Doubleclick, which has on of the most extensive databases of online advertisers, and very powerful targeting and reporting tools and metrics. They were even pressured after partnering with Abacus Direct for fears of abusing their combined data.
The main theme in Google's announcement, was the integration of search and display advertising. Doubleclick seems to be the master of banners and the more visual ads, and as we know Google mastered what they pioneered, which is mainly search, and eventually contextual advertising.
This move is supposed to prove useful for advertisers who will have access to better performance measures, and improved tools to manage their campaigns. Publishers will probably have more variety and relevance in the advertising options available for them.
A fast webcast was made today where the top executives of both companies summarized their decisions, and answered some questions.
Although the deal was signed, the total integration and finalization is supposed to take place by the end of this year. Partly, due to some regulatory reasons, and making sure they comply with all antitrust laws and regulations, which is not yet final by the way.
Google was not the only bidder for this company, and some other giants were also bidding, actually the giants, according to Slashdot. Yahoo! and Microsoft were the main players, but Google seems to be the coming undisputed giant of all forms of advertising, since these two lag way behind Google in their search and advertising programs.
Asked why this was the timing for the deal, and not before, Eric Schmidt CEO of Google said that they simply underestimated the size of the display ad business, and realized the great opportunities it promised.
By the way, this is the highest amount that Google paid for a company, and they paid in cold hard cash, $3.1 Billion!

How to Translate an Ad

Many times I see meaningless ads formatted and written in a tone that does not touch any aspect of our lives. Often times, these are poorly translated ads, that were translated by the dictionary, not by culturally-aware human beings.
Not only do these ads fail at conveying the right message, they sometimes backfire in certain societies.
Here are some tips to take into consideration while translating an ad or any other form of copy, written, audio, or visual:

  1. Don't translate!: yes, you read it right. The first thing you DON'T want to do, is take a dictionary, and go word-for-word, or sentence-for-sentence. While this might work well with normal prose, it is quite dangerous with ads. What makes this process more delicate, is the limited space usually provided for advertisements. You usually don't have enough space to go around idioms and phrases, and you have to create something that fits. Don't translate, transcreate. Here is an article that sites different instances of successful transcreation in literature and art.
  2. Think culturally: Thinking about the cultural implications while you write the new copy is necessary to make sure you get your message to the people. There is a website that talks about similar stuff, but the name of the website is the key for this tip: Don't make me think! This site talks about the Internet users' experience and how it must be improved by being simple, to the point, and easy to understand. When you write a transcreated ad, don't make your audience think.
  3. Find the corresponding idiom: Many times, smart ads make us of certain idioms or puns on certain words. This is where you are really transcreating. The pun cannot be translated, and the idiom might and might not have a counterpart in the target language. In this case, you should find the idioms that are used in the target language and find ways in which they can click with the audience.
  4. Test: You should always ask regular non professionals to see the ad and check their reaction. This is also a tip for writing regular ads for your own audience also. Many of us get swayed with the greatness or beauty of a certain pun, or fall in love with a certain idea, that we forget that we are writing to certain people, and even forget that they need to understand! This is an example by Olay.
  5. Check the positioning: An American diapers brand had a commercial showing how easy it is to use their diapers, and how much it saved time. The same ad was adapted for the Far East, and it backfired, as those mothers came through as uncaring. "Why would a mother want to spend less time caring for her babies?" If you don't take this into consideration, you will do the opposite of what you actually want.
  6. Let the people decide: Another safe (and free) method of doing this, is by passing the concept to your target audience and seeing how they deal with it. Post a thread on a forum, and discuss your brand or message. Observe what words people use to describe certain concepts. You will be surprised at how differently people use words for concepts. Try to check if they are using any cultural references or similarities. This is the language they are most comfortable using. Use it in your ads.

The main idea is that you should take the concept, and work with it. Giving it a fresh and local touch, and making sure your audience understand and like it at a glance.

As advertisers globalize, they will need to focus on local partners who understand the culture, instead of just copying and pasting their offices to new locations.