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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Role Reversal: brilliant break-ups, not-so-brilliant branding

My new pal Sean Howard pointed me to this new video...then my old pal Kris Hoet asked for my feedback on it. All I wanted to do was stay in my bliss over books. Alas, of all things, I'm talking Microsoft...well, actually, I'm talking Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions, which is too much of a mouthful for this mouthy marketer but more on that branding boo-boo in a bit.

First, here's the "Break Up" piece and my feedback follows (RSS readers, go here):

What I love: I love the creative and the message of this new video. And I really appreciate Geert, the manager who spearheaded this project and writer of the Bring the Love Back blog. I instantly like the guy because he is very open in saying "feel free to love it or flame it!" He truly wants feedback and is very responsive to his readers. And anyone who listens gets love back from CK.

What I don't love: But I still can't get my head around Microsoft being in the advertising business. Not! Geez, I already give Microsoft double the positioning love as they occupy "software" and "operating systems" in my very full head...my mind doesn't have room for a third area of advertising. Are they trying for a mental monopoly, too?

This will continue to be an uphill climb for them. The answer? A new brand devoted entirely to online advertising, not "Microsoft +Digital +Advertising +Solutions." It's too many spaces to try and occupy and way too long a brand name. Seriously, that's branding 101. Tsk. Tsk.

What I would love to see: Creatively, I think this would be KILLER if the "advertiser" were a ballsy female and the "consumer" a sensitive male. Stay with my thinking...if we're gonna reverse roles where the consumer is more in control...then let's go full-tilt and REALLY reverse roles. That's innovative. Perhaps an idea for another version? Hey, I'll even play the ballsy female ;-).

What is nagging me: But what I continue to grapple with is--what is Microsoft doing to aid this (advertiser) role reversal? I went to their website on this offering but nothing felt innovative to me...it seems there are online advertising offerings but I don't see ways for advertisers to empower and dialog with their customers. Am I missing something? Or is Microsoft missing the mark?

It seems the messaging is there (great piece, Geert & Co.!) but the pay-off is not. Net/net: As a marketer working to advance my clients into a mindset of "more listen/less talk" I'm focused on the actions after the ad. Maybe Sean can tell me as he writes-up some feedback he has from Geert right here.

Update (about 3 hours after original publishing): Geert commented straight away and I offered him time over a concall to review recommendations in which Sean Howard and Kris Hoet will be joining in. Net/net: As marketers we're all in this together, regardless of whom we work for or where we work out of. When we speak next week, Geert will be in Greece, Kris in Belgium, I'm in NY, Sean is in Canada. No matter, blogging brings us closer, it also allows us to connect off of our blogs. And when we help one another we improve the entire industry...I think that most definitely qualifies as bringing back the love, eh? (this medium rocks ;-).


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Hi CK, this is the kind of feedback I was hoping for. Glad to see the things you like. What you don't like is unfortunately out of my hands... except that I agree that our naming could be better ;-)
Love your idea about the sequel! And agree that we still have to work to proof what we claim... one step at a time and we'll get there...I hope.

Hi Geert! Yes, I am very encouraged by you (as said above). And I tell you what...I will happily give you a chunk of time to go over some recommendations--find who's hands it's in and I'll give my time over a concall.

In fact...I'll see if I can compile a group of marketers who don't mind taking an hour on a concall and giving the "powers-that-be" recommendations. After all, Microsoft wants to listen, right? And then you'll have ideas from the best minds in marketing (if they're game, I'll be pleased to chat for an hour). We all want to advance and we all want to bring back the love. Let me know :-).

A sequel featuring CK as the ballsy female. I really hope to see that one, one day :)

But in that sequel, we could have a ballsy consumer (a web 2.0 consumer!)

I like the ad, and the fact that it's a man as the advertiser is on target -- it's supposed to be portraying the traditional model.

Haven't had time to check out the website, but I would imagine that Miscrosoft is selling ways to use digital to connect with and interact with consumers, not be an ad agency that actually creates ads. I have no problem with MS in that role.

Hi CK - I think it would be great to set up such a discussion, that's what this was all about as Geert mentioned in his comment as well. Thanks.

I think MDAS has quite a few cases to show that they're going on educating advertisers on how to have qualitative online communication -and not merely messenger advertising.
The recent presentations I saw (from Mickael Steckler http://www.rollingtalks.com/2007/04/social_networks.html and Kris Hoet http://www.iab-belgium.be/Media/pdf022007/07nc02kh.pdf) all went in that direction. So it's probably a good time to be a bit buzzy about it and add link to them from the blog?

CK - You never cease to amaze me with your willingness to get your hands dirty for the good of the industry and the community. :)

Wait a sec. CK playing a ballsy female...? It's the word "playing" that's throwing me off... (lol!)

Do I like the ad? Yes. Do I get a message? Yes. Businesses should listen to their customers. And authenticity is key. Okay.

I know lots of Ad executives and I don't think many of them will relate to the advertising character. The guy is such a dork (and way too much of a stereotype mostly thought of as New York advertising guy as seen on TV) that most advertising executives will not resonate with the male character and accept that they are anything like him. The authenticity of his character is missing. My emotional response is that I would never hire or employ anyone like this guy, let alone think the way he does. And, at the end of the day, advertising is all about emotional responses.

Wouldn't you agree that we need to create characters wherein the audience can see themselves and accept that maybe they are like those characters. As a male, I resonate with the consumer. She is authentic, believable (and ballsy enough for me, CK). As a Marketer, I can't begin to imagine that I would behave anything like the advertiser character in the video. Therefore, I'm ignoring him and his part of the message. That can't be good.

Finally, releasing an advertising campaign without real changes behind it is a problem. CK nailed it.

Really great creative. Will the message stick? I don't think so. Not with the executives I know. It is obvious that there is exceptional talent behind the creative. But I think some work needs to be done on reshaping the content to better reflect the audience's belief systems and their emotional responses to seeing themselves.

P.S. After reading the About This Blog at Geert's place, I made an assumption that the target audience is advertising and Marketing executives. Am I wrong?

Hi Folks...

@Philippe: Love your idea of a ballsy Web 2.0 consumer...I think YOU should play that part.

@Hoet: Can't wait to chat it up next week--and finally get to 'meet' you after all this typing back and forth ;-).

@Reich: Hear your points and agree with some but...in your mind, MS is positioned as ad solutions provider? Really? If I had asked you yesterday what role MS provided would you answer 'ad solutions provider'? Keep in mind (if MS is in your mind in this position) that MS has been offering these solutions for YEARS.

I can see MS being an advisor/vendor to these advertisers--technology is what they do. But 2 things...we need to see how they're doing it (the action after Geert's excellent ad) and it needs a new brand that stands for just that and that only. Could they do it under their existing brand? Unlikely. The brand is too strong as 'software' and 'operating systems'. If they did go for an 'advertising' play it would be to the detriment of their other biz units. The role needs a strong and unique brand; it deserves as much.

@RollingTalks: Few things: First, thanks for chiming-in and reading and for pointing me to some case studies. I couldn't find anything but ad offerings that I already knew about. But I LOVE that you said "be a bit buzzy"...that lingo rocks (and is too cute, I shall use that gem in the future and mentally credit you!). Yes, they need to get those case studies out there--should be readily available since they're already available.

@Cam: Hey, if I don't get my hands dirty then I'm just all talk. I love to talk but what I love more is action (especially when it improves the industry).

@Ann: Call me ballsy but just don't call me bossy. OK, in the spirit of transparency I'm that, too ;-).

@Lewis: You know...I hadn't thought of it from the 'advertiser' stereotype becuz I'm so NOT 'that guy'. Very good points on how you relate. No, you're not wrong on who the audience is for this piece. And yes, what is out of Geert's hands is what needs the true work...what is MS, sorry, what is MDAS doing to solve the problem besides their existing offerings? Those offerings don't solve the problem that are presented in this great piece.

So I saw my Microsoft+Digital+Advertising+Solutions rep today. He hadn't seen - or heard anything about - this video (which is LITERALLY all over the marketing blogosphere by this point). When I explained the premise of the video and asked him if this meant that MSN would no longer be selling intrusive homepage takeovers and expandable flash units, in favor of more dialogue/community oriented tactics, he looked at me like I was out of my mind. :-)

@Greg: Ah, my frank-but-fair voice of reason is back. My blog missed you (I even missed you a bit, too ;-) Thanks for being the messenger to Microsoft+Digital+Advertising+Solutions. I do hope they appreciate Geert's good work...and then take a BIG clue from him (and us)and work to fix the issues.

My 5 cents on this debate ;-) First of all we wanted to make a claim = MDAS has solutions that can help advertisers to reconnect with their consumers (and I agree with Greg that a homepage takeover is not always the best solution, of course) and that's what the movie is about. This is also only the first step. Next, we have the proof and that is in the trade tactics and is different for every country but those tactics should be the proof... if that is not the case, we failed ;-)

Expandable Flash units only offend me if they expand without a clear user request (a click) to do so. Most of them require a rollover and can occur when users don't expect it.

Geert: Your team will come out of this the hero to MS because you actually went into the market and asked us. Bravo. Taking this information back to the PTB (Powers that Be)at MS--unbiased feedback from marketers who buy their services, no less--is something they can't refute. If MS doesn't see what you've done and generated as valuable then they are "that guy" up there. But your team is well-respected by many for sharing and listening. Just know that, k?

And tell MS they just got a focus group across the blogosphere that would have cost 'em millions. Oh, and it was unbiased--so tell 'em the cost value is immeasurable since you can't avoid bias in focus groups. Or I'll happily tell 'em.

Cam: But do your markets get offended? Not you, the ones that they are served to? The feedback I hear...even when they don't expand...is "ugh, another friggin' ad". Many times they use expletives.

Quite honestly, the vast majority of the time the ads get ignored. A 2% clickthrough rate is considered pretty good, generally. We always shoot higher (and we've gotten some good results), but the problem is so bad it's even been named... "Banner blindness." Even if it's not a banner.

Interestingly, though, a creative ad appearing in conjunction with a contextual ad makes the contextual ad 250% more effective.

Go figure.

Microsoft is trying to be Google.

I smell trouble...

Cam: I disagree about banner blindness. CTR doesn't really matter unless the marketing objective was to have visitors on a website. Marketing objectives can/should be much more than that and they can't be measured only by CTRs

Ryan: It's a little more complicated than that :)

CK: OK for the acting. I'll follow the actor studio method to impersonate a ballsy person ;)

Philippe - The metrics one uses to measure the success of the ad depends completely on the business objectives. CTR is just one metric we measure, and (right or wrong) 2% is considered acceptable, generally (although, again, it depends on the context).

I'm not sure what part of banner blindness you disagree with. At your request, I would gladly point you to published eye tracking and usability studies that demonstrate just that. I have also experienced the same phenomenon in usability studies I've conducted myself. Most people simply ignore ads.

I've gotta get Cam's back on the banner blindness point (no offense Philippe) - I've seen the studies; the issue of clicks aside people really do screen out the ad spaces on web pages.

And hi CK - it's good to be back, but I am trying to less fair (albeit more frank.) :-)

Greg: I agree but we also can measure through impact studies that ads influence people who don't click. To take an example: a banner announcing a Big Mac (yuck) at 1$ doesn't require a click. The message is clear enough and the behaviour that is expected from the consumer is going to McDonald. The success of this action will be measured through sales volumes.

Philippe - You are absolutely correct. This is why I initially pointed out that the effectiveness of contextual ads increases dramatically when they appears somewhere in conjunction with related creative ads (even though either, independently, don't produce the same result). This phenomenon underscores the limits of measuring success of an ad through CTR.

I think we're on the same page. My point in answering the question was to expose the data learned from the eye tracking and usability studies. Bringing up CTR probably just muddied the waters. I only did so because the bar for one measure of "success" is set so incredibly low, I thought it strengthened the point.

Cam: You're spot on. I believe that you summarized the next big battle of online advertising: replace the CTR metric by a more relevant efficiency metric.

Thanks CK to welcome me and to appreciate my Frenglish :-)Must be improved though: i did not point you to case studies but to presentations done before the video and which clearly show MDAS' will to be a genuine partner to both their targets and audience. The first action (taken with these presentations) being to educated their targets (advertisers&marketers)on their audience.
I did suggest that MDAS should use the Bring back the love blog to share their existing cases studies and even more, to open it to advertisers and customers. Exactly how? I'm sure you' come with great ideas during that call with pals Kris and Geert ;)

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