John Battelle wanted to make a general statement when specific ones can easily be made. Most of these vertical ad networks and vertical ad plays stink. They aren’t good (or any better than anything else). They aren’t special for the user, the publisher, nor the marketer.
They aren’t based on behavior. Most of the targeting and site rollups are based on the terrible panel based demographics and some lame content classifications. The ad implementations, as John clearly points out, are based on IAB standards – i.e. not behavior. Unfortunately for John’s argument his company, Federated Media, has the same non-behavior “targeting/verticalization”. He’s got all the tech sites. That’s not different than Glam.
Recalling the heyday of magazines and cable is hardly a step in the right direction either. Why? None of those mediums could deal directly with behavior. Sure, they influence behavior, but they are mediums that cannot be conditioned in return. The mags and cable (broadcast in general) depend on a shotgun blast approach. They have to get in front of you at every newstand, every tv, every checkout lane. They have to blast you with house promos, drop cards, and numbing outdoor campaigns. All the ways they had/have to attract you to the content (and ads) is non-responsive, non-personalized. Luckily these mediums can spend a ton of cash to blast you into readership, viewership and mass appeal. It’s tried and true, but very expensive.
In short, those experiences aren’t the internet.
The ad rates weren’t based on the performance of the 2 page ad spread nor any other verifiable metric. Brand Perception and marketed readership/viewership and sales connections sell those ad rates. Powerful facets then, powerful now.
Guess what? The internet doesn’t have mega-brands and most sites ad rates are based on hard to juice metrics (so many ways to verify actual traffic and interaction.).
I do believe high CPM rates are possible. Integrated experiences built around schedules of reinforcement (conditioning, rewarding, reinforcing) the user and in return other users, editors, the site and so on are worth the money. These experiences are usually not standard across sites – how can they be? They need to specific to the service!
Alternate reality, iphone apps, immersive game worlds, user to user games, recommendation ads, mystery games, scavenger hunts, interactive novels…
Note: The only mass market / standard ad that is loosely based on behavior is search ads due to Google’s massive optimization and bidding engine. The system (prices, creative, number of ads, etc.) morphs constantly to what’s going on and the ads are nearly ubiquitous so they follow the user (reinforce them) regularly (schedules!).
So what’s the next mass market behavioral advertising option?
The next behavior based ad ecosystem is the social network. Some don’t think its there yet. I disagree. The social networking apis and the resultant applications are the behavior based ads. Facebook/MySpace/Hi5/BeBo don’t make money from them yet, but plenty of publishers do. These “apps” are far more interesting and robust than the ads most agencies, media buyers and marketers stage. It’s too bad that more brands, companies and products that depend on massive marketing don’t take advantage of these more. If some of the big companies spent more of their considerable resources on building interesting apps and services, they’d get so much more out of it than the easy to do but usually worthless online ad campaigns and these tired vertical ad networks.
What’s the hold up?
There are a whole set of contingencies preventing online marketers from doing more and running campaigns behaviorally. Knowledge of behavior, solid analytical approaches, technical skill, time, bucking the system… and more.
There’s simply not enough knowledgeable, creative, competent talent to go around. And, now, it’s no longer all aggregated at the big five agencies and the big five consumer product companies.
In the heydey of print and broadcast, there weren’t as many variables to pay attention to, not as many options on how, where, when to spend your ad dollars. There wasn’t even as big an ad market.
Ad budgets are growing, certainly, but not enough to give a growing amount to every publisher, every broadcaster, every newspaper. TNS predicts a 4.2% US ad spend increase from 07 to 08. That’s about $340mil extra to split among the cable, network tv, radio, newspaper, magazines and internet options. Let’s say only 340 new ad outlets become available in 2008 (new websites, cable channels, new magazines, etc. etc.). That means the only $1 mil for each one of these, assuming existing options don’t grow. Exactly… ad dollars per publisher, on average, is going to go down over time.
With each publisher getting a smaller slice of the ad pie, they have less money to help marketers try interesting things. Smaller budgets don’t reinforce greater effort. Less effort doesn’t encourage repeat business. The free third party metrics sites erase the advantage of heavy hitting sales people. The rapid trading of talent gives everyone access to the same ideas, same approaches… and so on.
All of this normalizes the options.
Rarely do standard approach turn into a runaway success. On average, standard approach get standard results.
Vertical sites and vertical networks – most are standard fare. The High CPMs aren’t going to go to standard fare. The people who can afford high CPMs typically value non-standard options. Publishers who want high cpms need to put in the effort to develop behavior based experiences. Users habituate quickly to standard approaches – pattern interrupts are key to engagement. As such, there’s no advantage to advertising in a vertical ad network. The vertical ad networks exist for the benefit of the publishers, not the users. Many publishers don’t want to sell their own ads so they let someone else do it. Turning to a vertical ad network main help run out a budget, but no one has published any data to suggest the performance of vertical networks does any better than advertising on Google. (why? well, one of the main factors – most of the vertical sites targeted get 40-80% of their traffic from Google via SEO or SEM. 🙂 )
No, really, now what?
Argh, so much to write about….not enough time!
I’m going to pull out some killer ad campaigns/integrated media as a showcase. Do you know of any behavior based/game changing ad executions?