Al Gore: Advertising Visionary or Greenhouse Gasbag?

Ex-Vice President Al Gore delivered the keynote address at Digitas’ Digital Content Newfront this past Wednesday in a speech Adweek characterized as ‘putting agency creatives on notice.’  Speaking as one of the co-founders of Current Media, Mr. Gore used the theme of sustainability to outline how he sees the media landscape changing radically and a new form of advertising emerging, powered by user generated content.

As An Ad Pundit, He Makes A Strong Ex-Politician

As An Ad Pundit, He Makes A Fine Ex-Legislator

The crux of his thinking boils down to this quote: “In the 20th century, the advertising model was based on the same principles that the Industrial Revolution was based on: scale.  It was big, it was blunt, very expensive, and very intrusive, and audiences have now begun to resist that old advertising model even as the environment in which it is presented changes a great deal. The new model is very different because the media landscape is completely different.”  Few advertising professionals would bother arguing that thinking.  The arguments begin with Mr. Gore’s assumptions that ‘a new model’ even exists.

Advertising’s ‘new models’–and there are plenty of them–are all in beta.  And will probably remain there for the rest of my career.  The rate of technological change is just waaaay too fast for anyone to declare they’ve solved it and put their pencils–or cell phones–down.

Mr. Gore cites Current Media’s reliance on “VCAMs” (Viewer-Created Ad Messages) that users generate for brands that advertise on the network.  Everything is spec, the advertiser compensates the ad creators directly, and the payment increases dramatically if they choose to use the ad somewhere else.  This is a decidedly cost-effective solution; video crowdsourcing if you will.  Those inclined to think positively of this notion will compare it to the Threadless model, which it clearly resembles.

But as a ‘new ad model’ it fails on the very ‘sustainability’ issue Mr. Gore thumps so relentlessly.  Is such a model sustainable for a less sexy packaged good?  Is it sustainable when the novelty wears off and users catch on to the strong economic bias for Current’s self-interest over their own?  And how can this model’s basic assumption that “strategy is meaningless, prevalence is everything” make sense with video, when the assumption of some sort of ubiquity advantage has been proven so blatantly wrong for internet banner advertising?

He did make valid points and Mr. Gore’s adoption of a new model is laudable.  The fact is that his ‘new model’ will be far from the last one he–or any of us–adopts.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

EEK-Commerce! Or How The New Push for Personalized Display Ads Reveals Digital’s Hamhanded Direct Advertising Roots in the Most Totally Creepy Way…

I get it.  These days, everyone gets it.  Any time I’m on an e-commerce site, some unseen recommendation engine works to insure that I see listings that reflect my own tastes and interests, like say alternative music as opposed to polka classics.  And I appreciate that, in much the same way I appreciate when a salesman understands my taste in clothes or shoes or pinky rings.  Data enables remarkable things…

But a senior vice president of advertising for  a company called ChoiceStream recently outlined a disturbing vision for what she sees as the next frontier for her business: expanding personalization from onsite user experience out into the currently impersonal realm of offsite banner advertising.  In this piece from Behavioral InsiderCheryl Kellong sees this as logical progress and considering her title, I guess that’s her job.

“Most retailers by now have at least begun personalizing particular product recommendations and brand attributes for consumers who are on their site.  The problem is that that level of personalization is not followed through when it comes to delivering advertising messages to consumers once they’ve left the site.”

Eww.  The whole notion of customized creative and messaging feels way too Orwellian.  Can she really believe that personalized display ads will build any sort of real relationships between advertisers and consumers?  Seriously?  Because I certainly don’t. Back in the 80’s, we would placate regional beer markets through a more primitive version of this kind of personalization that we called ‘localization.’   This resulted in classic gems like “Hey Chicago, make it a Bud Light!”

Seriously, Do I Know You?

Seriously, Do I Know You?

Now a tree frog could tell you this exercise was meaningless and ultimately, these messages meant more to the local wholesalers than the consumers of the greater Chicagoland/Northwest Indiana market. Because they’re facile. And false.  I don’t doubt that gigabytes of sophisticated web data would allow a ChoiceStream powered banner ad to create a far more intimate overture to me, but the net result is the same–it’s not authentic. I know it. And resent it.

The fact that technology allows you to do something does not make it a good idea.  Frankly, I bristle when people I don’t really know approach me and adopt an attitude of false intimacy or bonhomie; why would I feel differently if your brand behaved that way?

The promise of the web remains the deeply intimate level of one to one communication it makes possible.  But just as in real life, you need to be invited in first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

comScore’s 12 Month Study: Display Ads Significantly Lift Online Search Activity

It's Not Quite This Simple...       

Sorry: It’s Not Quite This Simple…

So banner ads work.  Specifically, consumers exposed to banner ads are more likely to search for brand terms than those who aren’t. Display ads boost both paid and organic searches and clicks.

According to an article on MediaPost, the post-campaign lift numbers ran like this:

Automotive   144%    CPG   22%    Health   260%
News & Media   144%    Personal Finance   206%
Retail   69%    Travel & Tourism   274%
Source: comScore Ad Effectiveness Data, December 2008

So basically, these people spent twelve months and god knows how much money to learn… ADVERTISING WORKS!

Why is this news?  Does anyone in our business read this story and think “well, that’s a bit of a shocker”?

Sadly, experience says that too many do: too many marketing people lack faith in our business.  To me, that says they have either gotten too far away from the core of the advertising business…or they should get away now.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79