Stand for Something

You’ve probably read about how your company should ‘bring meaning’ or ‘have a greater purpose’ but often it’s difficult to see how you relate that to your own market or product.

The family-owned Bernard brewery in Humpolec Czech Republic doesn’t seem to have a problem articulating themselves in their issue-based advertising campaigns.

They pick their battles and take aim at issues in their market that trouble them and their customers – people who like good beer.

In the first ad they’re campaigning against beer being sold in PET (plastic) bottles. Whether it truly affects the taste or not is a matter for debate but Bernard’s signature bottle style contrasts with the plastic bottle, implying quality.

In the second the brewery’s mascot, Bernard is dressed as a border guard, protecting the country from the invasion of ‘Eurobeer’ – a poke at the effects of foreign management of Czech breweries by multinational brewery groups.

It’s worth noting that Bernard have built a solid fan base and a reputation for being independently run and outspoken. If your brand doesn’t have that kind of history then your work will be tougher!

Genius juxtaposition or just dumb luck?

In a commercial break on a Czech Music TV channel I saw these two ads (KFC ad is the original Czech one, Centrum ad is a similar US version).

Did the cholesterol pills ad buyer just get lucky? Does the ad controller at the station have a sense of humour? I guess we’ll never know.

The takeaway (no pun intended) here is that our ads and messaging don’t exist in a vacuum. It can complement, riff off of, parody or rub up against any other messaging. Bear that in mind when you’re placing ads.

Interesting times for QR codes?

QR codes (2D barcodes) have been front of mind for me recently, partly for the wrong reasons:

Malicious QR Codes, QR Codes that might unleash some malware on your phone, parroted by many outlets, including this piece by TechCrunch while EConsultancy wonders whether the link with malware could damage perceptions of QR Codes amongst consumers, pointing out that two thirds of consumers don’t know what they are anyway.

For balance here’s QR code booster Eismann O’Reilly’s reality check on the panic.

Then there was this opinion piece from Sean X Cummings, with more in the ‘why QR Codes Must Die’ vein (Google the phrase, plenty to read!). The best point from it being:

“People will not adopt a technical solution that serves to replace a manual task, if that solution is less efficient than the manual task it replaces.”

I’ve kvetched before on this blog about dumb QR codes that only take you to a site’s homepage too.

On the other hand, I saw an in-the-flesh example of QR codes done right. Here’s an ad (there are several ‘shelves’ on other walls too) from a metro station in Prague. Metro QR Codes are going after the drugstore category (a departure from their usual consumer durables focus) with this take on drugstore shelves. Scan the code, go to the product page on a mobile optimised site (helps that there’s at least 2G signal down at platform level of the metro). They’re offering free next day delivery too, to remove that obstacle. Of course a short URL would probably work just as well as the QR code.

For more on some of the latest retail developments, including a few using QR codes in the UK, read this from Neville Hobson.

Are price comparison sites still relevant?

Whilst researching the relative costs and market share of UK price comparison websites for a client I used Google Trends for Websites (log in to your Google account to get actual numbers on the Y axis) to compare some of the big players.

The graph below tells a sorry tale. Even before March’s first Panda update, squarely aimed at aggregators, scrapers and middlemen, Google clearly had the long knives out for price comparison sites, demoting them in the search results, ousting them in place of their own Google Products/Shopping results.

Price Comparison Sites Google Trends Chart

If these numbers are to be believed, then the traffic to price comparison sites has dropped off a cliff. Whether price comparison websites are relevant or not depends on how much you’re paying per click (the usual way you’re charged for traffic from such site) and what your conversion rate is. If you’re still making money and it’s worth the effort of setting up and managing product feeds, paying the invoices and monitoring whether the traffic you do get is worth it, then yes. If you were looking at being listed on a price comparison site as a way to buy a boatload of traffic, then you may need to look elsewhere. And it’s no surprise that the elsewhere in question is Google’s own Adwords program.

Dear Facebook…

Facebook ConferenceQuit messing with the user experience and go after Google already!

Seriously, is this the best you’ve got?

You hold your annual conference, just a day or so after Google throws open the doors on Google+, aimed square at you, and all you fire back with are some changes to the news feed, a Twitter inspired subscribe feature, music sharing stuff, convincing some media sites to allow more of their content to appear within your walls, and a gaming platform update?

Man up and pick a real fight

In Q1 of 2011 Google generated $2.43 billion of revenue from their Adsense program, from which they paid $1.7 billion to Adsense publishers. Annualised, their profit on their Adsense business is nearly $3 billion. Facebook’s estimated ad revenue for the whole of 2011 is $3.8 billion. Getting a piece of that content-partner action could make a big difference to those numbers.

You know why Google are launching things left and right in a bid to create their own mass-adopted social network? It’s because they’re scared of Facebook, scared of the time people spend there, scared of how much Facebook knows about their users. They would LOVE to know everyone’s age and hometown and marital status. You know why they’d love to know it? So they can advertise to them. Google knows this is coming and that’s why we have Google+.

Instead of futzing around with the user experience, Facebook should go head to head with Google’s Adsense programme and show ads on partner sites, splitting revenue 70/30 (as it appears Google does, in general) with publishers. You can leave the fundamental Facebook experience alone for a while and nobody would complain – it’s only when you change things that people are up in arms about it. The one thing Facebook do surprisingly well is the advertising interface – it’s clean, straightforward and easy enough for small businesses to use self-serve to create ads. Just add a ‘content partners’ checkbox (but do make it opt-in, don’t want to appear ‘evil’ and opt people in without their consent – I’m looking at you, big G). Later you can add some refinements allowing advertisers to pick and choose the site their ads appear on but right now it’s not important.

People realise that Facebook know what websites they’re on – we’ve all seen the Like buttons that tell us how many of our friends like something, or the recent items liked and shared on Mashable or TechCrunch by our friends. At this point will anyone really care that the ads seem uncannily well targeted? Hey, Google are going for this exact thing with their behavioural targeting in Adwords.

Go all in

Don’t go at this half-assed like you did with Facebook Places and Deals, a nightmare to administer as a business owner, especially with multiple locations. Go for this with all your might. This is where you get to take Google down a peg or two, by taking the fight to them.

Maybe you will

Ben Parr of Mashable ‘has seen the future’ and apparently it changes everything. Maybe Facebook will step into Google’s territory or maybe it’s all going to be ’emotional’. Here’s hoping there’s more to it than that because right now everything Facebook has put out is weak sauce compared to the rocks Google has been slinging.


Image credit: Thos003 via Creative Commons on Flickr

Selling a Burning Platform

Mr T. I pity the fool...In February Nokia’s CEO sent out the infamous burning platform memo.

In that he states the fact that Nokia’s current offerings, based on Meego and Symbian are not good enough when compared to Apple’s iPhone or the various iterations of Android phones on the market. The biggest point he makes is that the competitors have ecosystems, made up of app stores, accessory manufacturers, app developers and entire media outlets dedicated to them. A few days later Nokia set out their strategy to compete going forward – from 2012 their smartphones would run Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system.

Imagine the job you’d have, as a marketer for Nokia right now, pushing phones that are so unloved that their obsolescence is planned before they’re even released. The situation many Android phone owners find themselves in of hoping their carrier or the phone’s manufacturer will let them upgrade to the latest version of Android, weighing up whether to just crack the phone and do it themselves, sounds absolutely fine in comparison because if you buy one of these phones now you’re wasting your money on a technological dead-end. Who is going to release apps for a platform that’s not long for this world?

Nokia ads on lockersSomeone with full knowledge of all of this would have come up with the brief for these executions of a campaign (pictured left), focusing on the phone’s selection of apps and games. Sure, a job’s a job, but selling something you know has no long term future and doing so by highlighting some of the very things that it clearly loses out on has got to be a thankless task.

Mt T. photo courtesy of Flickr user roadkillbuddha, used under a Creative Commons license.

Negative Keywords for your PPC ads

Ad Placement FailNegative keywords can be used to prevent your ads displaying when those keywords are contained in the user’s search query (or contained in the content, if your ads are showing on the content network).

Why would you want to do this?

  1. Avoid useless traffic
  2. Avoid embarrassment
  3. Improve your click-thru ratio and conversion rate

You can apply negative keyword at campaign or account level. Most of the keywords you’d enter will probably be best at account level.

For example, if you’re a travel company specialising in the world’s more ‘interesting’ locations, unless you’ve got some really good reasons you might want to start with a few words that you never want showing in conjunction with your destinations: war, unrest, insurgency, coup

Airlines would do well to avoid words like: delay, crash, drunk pilot, scandal, strike.

These are extreme examples but many brands and businesses have the potential to be dragged into situations that aren’t ideal, and advertising your product against a negative newspaper story or blog post is a good way to avoid the ridicule often poured upon such ‘ad placement fails‘.

The bottom line

The most common reason for using negative keywords however is to improve your click-through ratio and conversion rate, giving you a higher quality score and thus reducing the cost of customer acquisition through PPC.

Think Guerilla

Last weekend, with beautiful blue skies overhead, I went to the Prague Food Festival held in the gardens below the castle.

It seems I mistimed my visit however. The Festival’s version of crowd control was to close the gates for up to 2 hours at a time. They’d used this tactic before, last year, too. Imagine what an opportunity 200 hungry foodies standing in a line represents to build good-will (or even earn money) for an enterprising restaurant with some spare capacity.

Whenever there’s an event taking place on your turf, don’t just think you’re limited to playing by the organiser’s rules and spending money on buying a stand, stall or what have you. Some of the most memorable advertising around world sporting events has been by non-sponsors – freed from paying out vast sums to the event organisers, more budget can be directed to the creative and the media buy. We’ll be seeing the same again for the World Cup in South Africa. So-called ambush marketing is the big brands’ advertising version of guerilla marketing. If you’re a small business marketer, try thinking guerilla.

Who bought all the ads?

If you’ve noticed recently that the vast majority of the ads you’re seeing on sites that use Google’s Adsense programme for their advertising slots are for the same company? You’re probably being ‘retargeted‘ (remarketed in Google’s parlance) to.

What is retargeting?

Say you go to a website, in my case, You look around, but don’t buy anything on that visit (I was just checking my account). Shortly thereafter you’re browsing the web and you start to notice banner ads for that website. Everywhere. You’ve been retargeted. How this works, technically, is the advertiser ( for example) has a bit of javascript code on their website that tells Google Adwords that they’d like to retarget you – putting you onto a list that forms a target-able audience in the Adwords interface. Subsequently whenever you’re on a Google ‘content network’ site (site with AdSense) you might see these ads.

Why am I seeing these same ads so often?

Simple – content network bids are often notoriously low, whereas a the retargeting advertiser figures that as a relatively warm prospect, you’re worth a fair bit to them if they can get you back and close the sale.

So what’s the problem?

I’m not that bothered about the behavioural tracking aspect of this particular instance, after all I did go to the website but say a jewellery store was doing this: you’re shopping around for an engagement ring to surprise your girlfriend, then suddenly almost everywhere you go on the web is plastered with jewellery ads. I’m pretty sure there are more acute examples too.

As a user, how do I make it stop?

You don’t (well you can, you can delete the relevant cookie, if you can find it, that is your retargeting identifier, or use your browser’s private browsing feature when going to websites you don’t ever want to see ads from). The little ‘i’ image that appears on the ad to tell you more is really just pitching Google’s Adwords and Adsense services to you. You can complain about a specific ad, but even that isn’t made easy, the feedback form doesn’t carry through the details of the ad or publisher site that you have an issue with.

As an advertiser should I get into retargeting?

I haven’t tried this for a client yet, and it’s a new Adwords feature just out of beta (late March 2010). My guess is that you can fairly cheaply reacquire visitors who may have forgotten to bookmark your site. Whether you can then get them to take the action you wanted is another matter. In the case of, I’m already a customer, I’ll go back them if I need. Maybe the problem is it isn’t easy for an advertiser to take people off a retargeting list once they get on there, or for a user to get themselves off that list.

Want to know more?

If you’re curious to learn more Google have some reasonably detailed information in their Adwords Help center.

iLike Ads

I like ads. Always have done. Good ones that is. As a teenager my walls were decorated with framed mini-proofs of poster campaigns that my dad worked on. There are some very effective TV and cinema campaigns that I enjoy watching, where each ad is part of a serial and I look forward to the next execution.

Are there any web ads I’d place in the same category? Web ads I’d mention to a friend ‘hey have you seen the latest Acme Widgets banner?’ Um, nope. Mostly they annoy the hell out of me, they make noises or enlarge, unbidden when I mouse over them, (hey. Wired, I’m looking at you) and worst of all are designed to hijack my attention and take me away from the content I want to read.

But the iAds that are demoed in this Stevenote (skip to 45 mins in unless you want to learn about the new features in iPhone OS 4.0), now they looked like the kind of advertising I wouldn’t mind on my phone.

Essentially they’re small ads when when clicked open in a layer over the app you were in. Then what you have could be described as a mini-app within the app, or a micro-site (depends on what paradigm you’re familiar with). Except unlike a standard micro-site there appears to be the ability to interact with the iPhone on a relatively meaningful level – like setting the wallpaper on your iPhone. I can only guess at the other possibilities.

The demo ads that Apple created for this presentation (for Pixar, Nike and Target) really showed the potential of the platform. In fact I’d say there’s a shortcut button missing alongside the little ‘x’ to close the ad – a ‘save & share’ that puts the ad into a Favorite iAds app on the iPhone, or sends a link to a friend.

It’s not all roses however as this Marketing Vox piece takes great pains to point out though some of the criticisms levelled there are somewhat churlish: ‘iAds will be hard to build’. Yeah? Hard like a TV ad? Hard like a micro-site for the desktop web? Yes it’s harder than a crappy text ad that you could create in seconds with Google Adwords or Yahoo Search Ads. Good, because I don’t like those ads, you want other reasons why they’re lowest-common-denominator bad? Check out the demographics of who’s clicking on those ads. If iAd raises the bar on ad quality, I’ll be happy, because it’s pretty low right now.