An Axiom For New Media: Big Numbers are NOT the Same as Meaningful Numbers

It seems like everything we hear about the new media world is based on big numbers. Hundreds of millions of these and bazillions of those – all delivered with mega-pico-tetra zillions of impressions. Why do we keep falling for big numbers?

I have this theory that we all have an instinctive built-in “adjustment” we apply to sales or promotional numbers. It goes like this: “They say it will save me thousands of dollars. I bet they’re over-stating. But if it still saves me hundreds, I’m happy. So I’ll buy it.” Unfortunately, once the numbers are big enough, our instinctive adjustment isn’t enough – but we use it anyway.

The yell & sell infomercial guys figured this out long ago. In yell & sell, they often make the numbers so huge that even after we adjust the numbers, they’re still impressive. And the truth is, manipulation with these numbers sells a lot of product. (There’s probably an interesting dissertation for someone in figuring out the differences between categories where we adjust by 20% and others where we adjust by an order of magnitude as in my example.)

New media evangelists have picked up this yell & sell gamut and draped it with the credibility of being “measured ROI”, by having the numbers come from a research firm, or by having them “audited”.

Here’s a great Lady Gaga one I heard at a Google presentation: “Lady Gaga posted a music video and got 95 million views in a year. Just think about it, only 500,000 people are watching MTV at any point in time.” Read more of this post

Mid-term Status on Web Delivered TV – Chaos Only a Geek Could Love

My family upgraded to a beautiful new 55″ flatscreen, moved over our Comcast and TiVO, then added an AppleTV and upgraded our sound system. And, so, in one grand swoop, we became a modern TV family.

How is this new world? No longer needing to go to the video store for old movies is quite nice. But prepare yourself for four types of chaos.

Content Chaos

You’d think that a monthly Netflix subscription would deliver everything we need. But Netflix streaming has massive content holes. Even worse, there’s no way to predict whether the content you want will be available or not. Besides, Netflix only has old stuff. Old movies. Old reruns. And Disney isn’t on Netflix – at all.

So how about Hulu? The Blazer’s playoff game bumped 30 Rock. Of course, this season isn’t on Netflix. I find it on Hulu – the paid version (cha ching). We have a monthly now, but we really don’t need Hulu. Our cable/DVR combo is much better except for those few times there’s a problem with the cable feed.

Ah, but what about new movies? They are not available on Netflix. That means we have to either seek them at Redbox, TiVO them from the HBO feed, or pay through Comcast OnDemand or AppleTV. Hmmm, $4 a pop.

So we thought we’d figured a lot out. But then the Bin Laden raid pre-empted The Amazing Race. But who wants to miss that episode. So, we dashed off into Digital TV. Where to look? Netflix? Nope. AppleTV? Nope. Hulu? Nope. CBS’ website? Not on my iPad. Ah, its on the website if we choose to access it with my wife’s laptop. And as long as we wait some period of time after it was supposed to have aired.

Format Chaos

Before content chaos we confronted format chaos. These devices bombarded us with format options. HDMi or RGB? Svideo or RCA? 720p or 1070p? HD or SD? And each device (except AppleTV) has a huge range of input or output settings. Which one’s work well together? My former network manager wife shook her head as we tried to sort out the alphabet soup.

Remote Chaos

After basic setup, we entered “The Remote Zone”. Our TV is surrounded by 5 devices – each with it’s own unique remote. Then, I remembered a programmable universal remote I’d been given. About 3 days of tinkering later and one remote carried the whole system. Whew.

Reliability Chaos

So we get this all cobbled together… And then there’s an unreliable signal. With Netflix at least once or twice per movie or rerun we lose lip synch and have to restart. At other times Netflix stops in its tracks and pops us out. This didn’t happen wtih – what’s do you call that not so old way – cable?

Not Ready For Consumers

This world is far, far from a consumer quality world. Why?

Too complicated. You REALLY have to want to watch something to figure it out. (And, no, this won’t be fixed by making it 100’s of times more complicated with Google searching on the web.)

It is waaay too expensive. 10 monthly bucks here and there. Then little bits of $4 to get one movie at a time. So right now we are probably paying $30 to $40 per month over our cable bill. But Cable offers more and is easier to use.

With all this in place, we still mostly watch Cable using our DVR – a simple system that is cheaper and delivers the vast majority of what we want.

My kids watch the most on these digital gizmos. It seems to fit their developmental stage interest in watching the same basic program over and over.

And yet, have the digerati claimed about all this digital so-called freedom? That it’s simple and less expensive. NOT IN MY EXPERIENCE!!!

A Call To Action: Fix It

It’s true – none of this was possible 6 years ago. But that’s not the point.

Right now Netflix is real, but Hulu and most of the other options are toys. For them to move beyond this stage, they must rise to mass consumer quality. Consumers won’t pay extra monthly fees without getting far more in a far easier format.

The way things are going I expect we are entering a period with 5 years of bankruptcies, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. Then, maybe someone will bring it together under one roof.

Who might that be? Love ’em or hate ’em, my guess is that it’s the cable providers (e.g. Comcast) who are going to create a unified system. And given their track record for making easy-to-use technology, that should probably concern us all.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Research Proves Netflix is the Internet Hawg. What Will the Angry Birds Do?

A recent report looks at all Internet bandwidth (upstream and downstream) and concludes that Netflix is now the single biggest consumer of bandwidth. (Report here.)

And so it begins.

What begins? That’s the big question. Fundamentally, the Internet universe we have come to know and love is threatened by the onslaught of movies online.

For example, in my neighborhood we can tell when our neighbors start watching movies – because our bandwidth slows down dramatically. And, talking with folks, it’s a pretty universal experience to lose Internet speed on Friday afternoon/evenings as well as weekend evenings.

Does this mean an apocalyptic Internet disaster? Probably not. But it looks like Netflix has stolen the internet eggs that we’d like to use for other things. And, from what I can see, the consumer, the movie business and the Internet business are all unprepared for the havoc Netflix is wreaking.

Netflix’s Loophole. I’m told that Netflix dominance is made possible in large part by a short term loophole. Right now, high speed Internet relies heavily on past investment in infrastructure that contributed to the dot com crash, then was bought for a song and expanded in the past decade. My guess is that this means that the current equation (you get all the movies you want to watch for under $10) isn’t likely to last.

So Netflix is using a type of bait and switch tactic: hook us with low prices and it sure looks like they’ll have to switch to high fees later. All this made possible because they don’t have to pay for the bandwidth they’re using today. The result will be that we end up paying more for Internet delivered entertainment than we ever have for cable.

There is an alternative outcome. Comcast (and other cable operators) seem to be the Timex watches of the entertainment business. Nothing exciting. Nothing particularly motivating. But they take a licking and keep on ticking. So in truth, Comcast may dominate and Netflix could be forced out of the picture.

I never believe companies who claim they have suspended fundamental economic truths. And Netflix’s statements about bandwidth lack economic truth. Fortunately we were reminded recently that economic laws can’t be broken when Blippy had to return to a sane business model.

So let’s hope that sanity comes back to the discussion of TV over Internet. Because right now it’s stuck in an imaginary economic universe where bandwidth performance is free.

And lets hope some of those angry birds get their eggs back so we don’t move back in time and end up with the neighborhood equivalent of dial-up because the Hawg stole the bandwidth.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

More Research Shows DVR’s (e.g. TiVO) Increase Advertising Impact!

Unless you’ve been isolated on a 15 year space mission, you know that the ad business has spend 15 years telling us that DVRs will destroy ad viewing.

But those who pay closest attention have long suspected this isn’t true. And there has been data showing that DVR’s haven’t decreased TV effectiveness. Now Nielsen’s detailed DVR tracking confirms what other studies have shown (click here for the MediaPost summary of the study). Read more of this post

What Happened To The Web’s Promised Land of Targeted Advertising?

In my introductory ad classes, students review two ad articles each quarter. And from the very first class I taught in January of 2001, an overwhelming number of reviews have extolled the glory of highly targeted advertising on the web.

These articles described a virtual eden – where advertising’s power is increased because ad dollars are spent only on communication with those who care. Just imagine, they say, targeting by interest, by their browsing history, by online purchase history, by selection of keywords in the past 10 years, and perhaps even by the genetic make-up of the consumer’s children

Ten years later, how is Eden?

The answer is decidedly “mixed”. First, response rates to web advertising are horrible. I was reading a book bemoaning how studies show that “only” 16% of TV viewers get the branding from a typical spot (although good creative makes it much higher).

Hmmm. So 1 out of every 6 people watching TV at that time both see the spot and remember the brand. That’s actually quite astonishing when compared with clickthrough rates. See, in CTR’s it’s considered good if you get one click for every 500 times the ad is presented (That’s a .2% rate).

Yikes. My agency creates TV campaigns that have gotten one out of every 200 viewers to PURCHASE from our direct response television ads! But it’s not just TV. Even today, direct mail typically gets one response for every 100 presentations (note that a response is much more significant than a throw-away click).

But a click is a throw-away thing – cheap and easy for a browsing consumer to give. Marketing fundamentals would suggest that if web advertising carried any value to consumers, response rates would be much, much higher – probably 10% or 15% instead of .2%. Clearly, something is broken.

And so, Adam and Eve fall prey to the serpent of “discounting”. Before anyone complains, I’m quite aware that the end cost is quite important and web clicks are very cheap so maybe it all evens out. (Maybe.)

Problem is that a strong industry typically doesn’t work this way. The more highly targeted the media, the more you should be able to charge for the media access. With the web, it’s almost the opposite.

And it all gets worse in social media. (I wrote recently about how average Facebook advertising CTR is 1 click for every 2000 presentations.)

So what? Clearly, the web’s targeted perfection doesn’t correspond with better effectiveness. But I don’t have the full answers for what this means – and nobody else does either. Let’s just walk through what we know about this issue:

– Once more, the hype used to foist the web onto advertisers isn’t supported by reality.
– Not only does it not jive with reality, but it falls very far short of what we should have expected.
– Web media outlets have dropped prices into the bargain basement and they can afford to because their sub-structure is pretty cheap.

This leads me to two important questions for future consideration. First, can web’s micro-audiences really be used to substitute for mass advertising? And secondly, why isn’t anyone talking about this as a problem?

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All rights Reserved

Do Superbowl Ratings Identify Flaws in Online TV Theory?

Overnight ratings for the Superbowl are in – and they’re outstanding. (Click Here.)

Of course, this suggests that when internet TV enthusiasts tell us about huge groups of people “cutting the cable” they’re really trying to cash in their venture investments. Because there are apparently enough cables still connected that the 2011 Superbowl had more viewers than any TV show in history (111 million of them) AND appears to have had a 71% share – watched by over 2/3rds of all televisions turned on at the time.

Let’s use this as a starting point to think a bit more about what Connected TV theorists are claiming right now – namely that we can throw out existing TV with its cable pipeline. (NOTE: A comment from Peter reminded me that this Superbowl was available without cable on Fox network affiliate broadcast feeds. Correction appreciated. And I don’t think this fundamentally changes much. Those feeds are a by product (today) of the strong cable distribution in the US. Change that cable distribution and the economic support for sports broadcasting changes.)

Mass Market or Fragmentation?

As I noted in a recent post, the internet is a tremendous tool to reach tiny shards of audiences. Because online, people scatter to the ends of the web.

But the Superbowl showcases TV’s ability to reach the masses quickly. In fact, TV drives mass communication – the web doesn’t. The web’s inherent strength is fragmented communication.

Note that for all the claims that Facebook and Twitter drove awareness of the recent Egyptian demonstrators, it took 24 hour coverage on the TV networks as well as newspaper front pages to generate broad awareness. (Note that TV coverage of Egyptian demonstrations has given CNN it’s highest ratings in years.)

If All TV Arrived Via Internet, Would There Be a Performance Issue?

These Superbowl numbers also make me wonder if scattering on the web isn’t critical to good web performance. We know the web breaks down under high use. For example, yesterday I attempted to look up some information from Fergie’s online bio’s during the halftime performance. What % of the TV audience was I competing with? .05%? But EVERY site had crawled to a stop.

Would there be a performance issue trying to broadcast the Superbowl ONLY over the web? I’m not a tech guru enough to know. But, here’s the problem: When 50 million US households want the same HDTV programming at the same time, the cable pipe seems to be a much more convenient distribution mechanism than the internet.

There are clever staging, cacheing, and other network load management things that can be done for a predictable event to attempt to maintain performance for something predictable like a Superbowl. Maybe they’re enough. But what about when an unexpected event like 9/11 happens (god forbid it happens again)? Would we be able to get good coverage? News sites already slow down when a gas main explodes in New York.

Sports Are Critical to Americans

Sports are a good place to consider this issue because technologies can be made to live by offering new sports options (DirecTV). Or they will die without it (we’ve forgotten the names of all those interactive TV efforts that were meaningless).

American’s won’t put up with a Superbowl where the action looks and feels like a satellite report from Afghanistan. Sure hope someone’s got this figured out before VC money pays to mount the effort to destroy cable TV.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

Does HD Help TV Advertising? Not really.

Wayne Friedman noted in a recent article in MediaPost that advertisers have been slow to embrace HD for their TV ads. And that got me thinking.

I love HD programming – gorgeous, beautiful, watchable. And, good for many sports because they tend to operate horizontally.

But there’s nothing about HD that makes messages more powerful for advertising. I’m sure that aficionado’s would argue with me – claim that pixel densities deliver more information, etc, etc.

What I’ve found first hand is that’s meaningless. There’s some value in layering more things on-screen — as a DRTV practitioner we can use more type more to emphasize points so details are clear. But our results weren’t suffering before and the measurable impact of these advantages is negligible – probably so small it’s not detectable.

So HD doesn’t help us make messages clearer. There is, of course, an “anti-positive”. If a high tech company (for example) chose NOT to create their ads in HD, it would speak negative volumes about them. But that’s not the same as being able to use HD to enhance messages.

The 16:9 Aspect Ratio Isn’t Great for All Products. We work with tools (hammers, wrenches, drills, …). Some are long horizontally. But many require vertical action and to be displayed vertically. When we’re dealing vertically, the 4:3 window was preferable. So the impact of HD is it forces us to dress and treat a huge chunk of screen that’s immaterial to the communication.

Probably 1/2 of products work best vertically and 1/2 work best horizontally. Almost 100% look best when you mix up a combination of framings. But, some products can do okay forced into a 16:9 window. Net out, 25% to 35% of all products are hurt by HD.

These considerations are important because HD has made advertising production much more difficult.

About 60% of the TV’s where any ad is seen are still SD. So, we have to produce for a dual format – it must look great in SD and in HD. (Easy to say, complexity to do.) Merely editing in HD slows things down. Systems had become pretty much “render wait” free. But, now HD adds back into edit days a series of 20 to 40 minute blocks of time waiting for HD renders.

Once the ad’s done, we have to deal with trafficking tapes. HD dubs and distribution are massively expensive compared with SD (about 4X to 6X the cost). And, there’s not an HD standard. Each station/network has different requirements & different equipment – especially in local markets where equipment chaos and standards are a massive headache.

So why HD? HD is absolutely gorgeous when it works – which pleases the aesthete in us all. All the best camera’s today are HD (so we never shoot anything else). Advertisers SHOULD be doing more HD. And, we don’t really have a choice – consumers are buying new TV’s, we need to make use of them.

But back to Wayne’s point, it’s understandable that advertisers are slow to adopt the format. Our reality is that HD adds chaos without adding a corresponding benefit.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

Is Coupon Clipping Social Media’s Primary Value to Advertisers?

Ad agencies seem unable to resist the idea that there’s a “killer media” out there to fulfill their every dream. And that creates a tremendously dysfunctional business – which dashes off for a night of new media partying only to end up hungover and broke when reality hits in the morning.

Right now, morning light has begun to appear for social media. Social attracted huge hype and some big corporate ad dollars with the crowd theory. This theory suggests that with so many consumers using social media it MUST be a worthwhile place to advertise.

That’s jumping a bit far, a bit fast and the crowd theory is rife with problems. Consider: If the crowd wants to talk with each other, why would they want to engage in any commercial conversation with you? Most consumer’s don’t want to be your friend.

Show Them the Money. Now we learn that consumers primarily engage with companies to get a good deal (research reported in this article from the Media Research Institute confirms other behavioral data). Note:

– Nearly 1/2 of women are primarily looking for deals through social media.
– Nearly 1/3 of men are primarily looking for deals through social media.

Uh, oh. Just as marketer’s were beginning to look forward to long soulful conversations with their consumers we find out they really only want deep discounts from us. Sigh.

The Web: Discounter’s Paradise. This isn’t bad or good. But coupon clipping with Facebook is far from the virulent & virally driven social media engagement conversations that the digerati tell us will drive the entire future of marketing (note that they can’t explain how these conversations are supposed to osmose into profit).

Social isn’t alone with coupon clipping. I just came from a Google presentation. Guess what common theme kept coming up? Using online coupons and discounts through Google, YouTube and its other properties.

All this suggests the web’s biggest advertising strength (I’m not talking about storefronts) may be the modern equivalent of Green Stamps. (History Check: In the 50’s, 60’s, & 70’s women like my mom collected Green Stamps that were awarded based on purchase behavior. Pasted into coupon books, the stamps could be redeemed for “free gifts”. There’s nothing really new under the sun – just digital ways to do it.)

New Media Hype Has Little Connection with Reality. I’ve written elsewhere about how the DVR, instead of killing TV advertising, now appears to have made it more effective. But the gap between ad biz/digerati hype and reality is a common theme in new media.

In the early 2000’s, article after article extolled the virtues of video advertising at the gas pump. We were told that Coke, Pepsi and a wealth of other traditional advertisers would thrive by capturing that lonely moment while the consumer pumps gas.

Fast forward to 2008. I live in Oregon where, by law, we can’t pump our own gas. So I experienced this advertising first-hand on a trip to LA. What did I find? Not a big brand in sight. Instead, the pump featured a brassy, loud, and continuous run of cheesy ads dominated by Phoenix University and low-ball direct response advertisers.

It Gets Worse for Social. All this helps place in context an article this morning about the current #3 Facebook advertiser. This article claims that the third largest Facebook advertiser is a scam designed to change your default search engine to Bing so that this third party gets a payment every time you search. You can read details at the above link.

Is this Facebook’s equivalent of the noisy and invasive advertising that now dominates banners online or my Los Angeles gas pump?

Let’s All Embrace the Light of Day. New media can bring important value. But it’s not found in these wild, unthinking dashes. Cooler heads must prevail and search for both the strengths and the weaknesses of each new media. Only when this happens will we finally learn how to leverage a balance of traditional and new media advertising to increase market power for our clients.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

DVR’s Do Not Hurt Ad Effectiveness – And May Help It

Media Post reports yet one more study (link here) that shows that time shifting doesn’t hurt TV ad effectiveness. So after a decade of the ad business seeming to “wish” for the end of TV advertising, it clearly hasn’t happened. Even more interesting, the Advertising Research Foundation discovered a year ago that ad effectiveness may even have increased after the introduction of the DVR.

My own experience at home confirms this. When there’s an ad that matters to someone in my family, we can now rewind to make sure we know what it says (movie release date, specifics about a product, details about the upcoming news, etc…).

And it’s beneficial to advertisers to know that they can reach, for example, Daily Show demographic that can’t watch at the typical broadcast time. That just adds to the target audience.

And so, TV remains, for the forseeable future, the fastest and strongest way to introduce new products to a large market.

For more on this topic, read this article (link here) I wrote for Response magazine summarizing the ARF research’s TV findings.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

How Segmentation Becomes Fragmentation: Online Advertising’s Incredible Blind Spot

In the late 1990’s, the tech industry hype machine went into over-drive telling us that the web would replace retail and become the biggest sales channel for every product on earth.

Of course, it didn’t happen. Today, brick & mortar retail dominates purchases – and does so while using the web as one of many communication options and as a small, but important, sales channel.

What’s the hype machine telling us about advertising? The same hype machine has re-emerged and is leaping at social media, viral campaigns, and online video as the magic that will rescue the web from a minority role in advertising. (This would, of course, bring all those juicy advertising dollars to the company’s and their VC’s who are behind the hype machine.)

Once again, these broad claims are bunk. And, with beautiful irony, the theory of web dominance in advertising breaks down because of what the hype machine also tells us is the web’s biggest strength: nearly infinite segmentation.

Web users sign on, search through a small number of search engines, then scatter around the web faster than particles pushed outward from a supernova.

Web advocates have rightly noted that this makes the web ideal for targeting – claiming that online promotions can have laser-like accuracy. (This accuracy requiring, of course, various forms of passive and invasive tracking of your every online action.)

Segmentation and fragmentation are two sides of the same coin.

If all we expect of the web is a highly targeted minority role in our marketing mix, then the web has segmentation. Or if you are selling a niche B2B product to a technical audience (like IT), then the web offers segmentation – and highly valuable segmentation.

But segmentation becomes fragmentation when we consider the idea of replacing advertising’s biggest gun: television. When compared with TV, web audiences are not merely fragmented but shattered into billions and billions of tiny shards. TV’s opportunity to move millions of consumers to action simply doesn’t exist on the web.

Consider it this way. If on it’s best days TV creates a power of 100, on its best days the web creates a power of 1 to 5. As a minority share of an integrated marketing plan, this “1” is important. But no matter how hard you try, the web’s 1 can never replace TV’s 100. (Or print’s 75; or direct mail’s 30 or radio’s 60 or outdoor’s 40 or…)

Sadly, if web advertising is all you’ve ever known, crawling around to gather enough shards to create micro-segments from nano-segments might make you think you are doing something big. (After all, it’s a lot of work and mere busy-ness can easily mask ineffectiveness.)

But if you have travelled the much wider world of traditional advertising, you’ll realize it’s impossible to use online shards in mass advertising to create anything more than a very nice minority role. (And here I should note that Apple is just one example of a savvy advertiser who knows this and relies heavily on TV while using internet advertising in a limited role.)

But heck, many web investors don’t want to hear this. And, just so, they’ll fire back. With what? Probably a Forrester research report showing an astronomical 20 year growth curve for the NEXT web invention – perhaps location based search engine optimization delivered via socially viral online video with a twitter core hosted on a cloud. Yup. That’s the ticket.

It’s time for the ad biz to grow up and confront the tech machine’s hype with advertising reality.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett