Mobile Diary: successful online ads and other imaginary creatures

If you’re looking for an enjoyable read, I recommend The Ad Contrarian, a blog about all things advertising from ad industry veteran Bob Hoffman. This is a great place to read contrarian opinions about online and mobile advertising, and the tendency of advertisers and other marketing types to focus on “youth” markets instead of other demographics (who may have more money to spend).

Here’s a recent post about the lack of real data about any aspect of online advertising. I thought about this after checking out a new feature in Facebook that claims to allow you to opt out of some targeted ads on that service. FB links you to a service (still in beta) that lets you see which companies use behavioral techniques to target ads to you, and opt out of those services.

The fun part for me, especially in the context of the above article (and the related Slate piece it quotes) was visiting the web sites of a bunch of behavioral advertising companies, and seeing how they spin their services and technologies. There seem to be an awful lot of smart (or at least well-educated) people out there applying all sorts of sophisticated computer models to delivering the right ad to you at the right time, all in hopes of increasing click-through rates from negligible to almost-negligible (as I remember, one company trumpeted its success in increasing CTR to 0.42%).

I suppose that as an advertiser, you have to spend your budget on something, but it’s amazing to see how little benefit seems to come from all that analysis.

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Mobile Diary: Who’s failing whom?

The word from the ad biz: Facebook is not your friend. Forrester reports that “Facebook is still failing marketers“, referring to a piece on Digiday that interviews disgruntled ad agency execs about the “failure” of Facebook to give them the reach and results they want.

One quote seemed odd, from James Del, head of Gawker’s content studio:

“Facebook may be pulling off one of the most lucrative grifts of all time; first, they convinced brands they needed to purchase all their fans and likes — even though everyone knows you can’t buy love; then, Facebook continues to charge those same brands money to speak to the fans they just bought.”

Hold on: if “everyone knows” you can’t buy love, why did a bunch of brands buy fans and likes in the first place? Sure, Facebook wanted them to do that, but why would experienced marketing and advertising professionals believe a bunch of kids from northern California?

Mobile in the mall

I was at a mall in metro Boston recently, and was amazed by the amount of mobile and social outreach from the mall developers.

In addition to offering you a chance to make friends with your mall on Facebook, this mall has also engaged with the Shopkick app to offer even more fun and diversion while you browse the stores. I couldn’t resist, and downloaded Shopkick to see what the poster promised.

Shopkick looks to be another application of “gamification,” a terrible-sounding word which means using game-like techniques and concepts in a non-game context. In the Shopkick case, you earn points and badges for walking around the mall and into stores, which presumably increase your incentive to do more of that. From a technical perspective, Shopkick is interesting because they came up with a way to use audio signals, instead of GPS, to enable local positioning inside a building.

Back to the app. I started it up, and discovered that I had earned a “badge” for just walking into the mall:

OK, I know I’m probably the wrong demographic for this app, but really? Do shoppers really need this simplistic level of reinforcement to encourage them to go to the mall?  I thought shopping was supposed to be enjoyable on its own, and enough of a draw to get customers to the mall, without having to add additional layers of liking, following, friending, and badging.

Of course, there’s much more to gamification than this example, and many sources of more serious discussion of the subject.

I’m curious to hear from people in the mobile marketing biz about this. Am I missing some important value here?

Mobile Monday DC: post-game wrapup

We had another informative Mobile Monday DC meeting on Feb. 6, this time a session titled “Touchscreens and Touchdowns,” covering the intersection of sports and mobile technology and marketing. Thanks to our sponsors, IMRE Sports and the Georgetown U department of Sports Industry Management, we were able to use a beautiful room at Georgetown, and welcomed a good-sized crowd of GU students studying sports business.

For me, the key insight of the night was the panel’s take on the convergence of mobile, PC, and TV. I’ve always thought of convergence primarily as the availability of the same services on any screen: TV on your phone, email on your TV, etc. As panel moderator Marty Conway from IMRE described it, however, the real meaning of convergence in practice is people using multiple devices at the same time. He quoted data showing that 70% of Americans watch TV and browse the Internet at the same time (I’m certainly in that group). In the sports context, IMRE calls this converged consumer a “spectweeter,”  a fan watching the game while sharing the experience on her phone or tablet.

Joe Dupriest from the Washington Capitals described how the “spectweeter” is coming to live sports events as well, as major teams roll out WiFi networks in their arena and deliver new apps and services to fans’ mobile devices when they’re at the game.

From a mobile strategy and mobile marketing perspective, I think this presents yet another challenge to developers and marketeers when designing mobile apps and services. Not only do you need to design for limited screen space, but also for limited attention spans. That suggests a need for simpler, faster interfaces, even on devices like tablets where screen size is less of an issue.

For advertisers and those who want to monetize through advertising, “spectweeters” seem to be a very challenging customer base, who may not want to take the time to click through your ad or other attraction to see your message.

Following on what we learned this week, this is yet another thing for Mr. Zuckerberg and his pals to think about as they figure out Facebook’s mobile revenue strategy.

[Note: I’m working on a more in-depth analysis of the impact of screen size and attention time on mobile solution design. Watch this space for more info.]

photo by Monica’s Dad from flickr

Pretty accurate, except for the rabbits

An article in Slate pointed me to a site where Google reports the conclusions it has made about your age, gender, and ad categories that interest you. In my case, Google got it mostly right; it thinks I’m younger than I really am, but I can’t object to that.

The categories are mostly accurate as well (“Internet & Telecom – Mobile & Wireless – Mobile Phones – Smart Phones” of course!), but for some reason Google thinks that I’m also interested in “Pets & Animals – Pets – Rabbits & Rodents”. We had cats when I was a kid, but…

Photo by Robobobobo from flickr

Everybody talks about the weather…

…but the National Weather Service (NWS) won’t write apps for it. This from Information Week Government, which reports that the NWS has “put a hold on the use of internal resources to develop device-specific mobile application for iPhones, Androids, or iPads.” The deputy director who made the decision reasons that there are already thousands of successful weather apps on the market that use NWS data, so there’s no need for the Service itself to write apps itself. The NWS employee union does not agree with this decision, calling it “demoralizing” and a step towards privatization of the National Weather Service.

To me, what the NWS seems to be doing is what we in the private sector call “adopting a platform strategy.” They’re focusing on the app and service infrastructure (the platform and APIs), leaving client side development to other parties. This is an excellent way of increasing adoption of your information and services. Just look at Twitter and Facebook, not to mention all of the companies using the Mashery, for examples of organizations that have used platforms to enable countless uses of their services in apps and web sites.

Perhaps the deputy director could have avoided at least some of this conflict by stressing the positive innovation potential of the platform as opposed to the negative of stopping app development.