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Technology and the Rebirth of Creativity in Advertising

May 14, 2012 Leave a comment

The headline in the LA Times on Dish Network providing its customers the option to skip commercials (something possible on Youtube most of the time), further emphasizes the speed at which technology is advancing is faster than the speed at which advertising agencies are able to react. Consumers are increasingly getting the tools to choose whether they believe an ad is worth their time. If every consumer was able to skip any advertisement which they deemed irrelevant, boring, or pointless, the measure of the success of a particular advertisement becomes very binary: watched or not watched, relevant or not relevant. Obviously, this type of measurement is most suitable for web, mobile, or internet-connected TV sets. However, measurement is increasingly possible in the offline world: how many people scanned a QR code on a print ad? How many consumers typed in a coupon code on a newspaper ad? How many users visited a Url on a billboard? How many Groupon customers came back a second time after their first discounted visit?

As technology becomes intertwined with consumer behavior, Lord Leverhulme’s well known saying “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted and the trouble is I don’t know which half.” will cease to be relevant. Every passing day increases our ability to measure advertising and decreases the uncertainty associated with it. This will be painful for some whose campaigns will be demolished by a lack of user response or engagement, but it will herald a golden age of creativity. It will challenge creative directors to not only create beautiful imagery, but to also understand the context, behavior, interests and reactions of consumers.

Technology is changing the nature and format of advertising. It will also change how advertising is judged and evaluated. The creatives who understand the impact of their work on the behavior and actions of the consumer stand to gain the most.

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What will the Television watching experience be like in 5 years?

April 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I posted an answer on Quora.com recently in response to the following question:

Q. What will the Television watching experience be like in 5 years?
I sit on my couch with my phone in my hand and remote in the other, but still watch tv in the same way I did 15 years ago. With smart TV’s and users on the couch having smart phones, I imagine there is a lot of disruption and changes that will take place in this market.

A. “The passive lean-back experience at the heart of television watching has resisted many attempts to change it. It will remain at the core of watching and will not be replaced by viewers selecting the next video file every five minutes in the next five years. Even as digital video rises in advanced markets, television viewing is rising alongside it. The most evident support for this is that web players like Youtube and Yahoo are changing themselves to organize content into “channels” (sounds familiar?).

These days five years is too far out in tech terms to predict! However, there are trends that are influencing the mainstream television watching.

1) TV will continue to extend to multiple platforms: Tablets, consoles, web and mobile. This will make TV a more personal and portable experience since it will increase individual viewing rather than family-unit viewing. In Western markets this is already the norm, but in developing markets this will be a stronger influence.

2) Rise of the second screen and social communities: Consumers continue to multi-task while watching TV, but increasingly they will be looking at additional info to support their TV viewing. This will build communities around content in a new way that extends beyond broadcaster borders. TV has always been social and the subject of conversation. However, technology now means that the scale and reach of the conversation changes (from a few friends/colleagues to global discussions) and the speed of the discussion accelerates (from next-day to immediate).

3) Time-shifted viewing will dominate and begin to influence the broadcaster scheduling model and advertising formats. DVRs/ Network playback/ catch-up viewing online will encourage advertisers to focus on integration of brands within content rather than relying only on spots (but those will still be there in five years time).

4) New younger talent: New talent (actors/ writers) will reach the TV screen through discovery on the web (e.g. Youtube etc). Barriers to entry into the TV business for individuals will be lower. Some programs will be “hits” at a TV scale before they reach the TV screen.

The barriers to massive change in television watching are not technological but commercial and social. The technologies to change our tv viewing experience are already available but the entrenched advertising and subscription business models in markets like the US will continue to be a large hurdle against revolutionary change. On the social level, viewers still want to have a predominantly passive viewing experience rather than on-demand viewing. This may change as younger generations grow up without the habit of watching broadcast channels but five years is too soon for it to become mainstream.

TV watching will drastically change when someone figures out the perfect recommendation engine to line up programs selected from sources all over the web and at the same time untangles the complicated rights and window-release systems currently in place to free-up content while still able to finance its creation. But that’s a separate discussion altogether!

In summary, the TV watching experience will be more social, more suited to the viewer’s time, more integrated with advertising, more personal, more portable and will feature more on-screen talent.”

FREE is becoming more expensive

October 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Internet users expect free services and content. News, email, games and social networks are among the most popular “free” services. Initially, web sites simply wanted your page views to fuel their advertising income. Then they asked you for your email to send you newsletters with ads in them. As advertising became targeted, sites demanded more information such as gender, date of birth, address and credit card number. Then social networks exploded and we willingly handed over our entire lives and relationships. With the current advertising formats being rolled out on Facebook and Twitter, our thoughts and opinions have become the latest data sets for marketeers. Mobile surfing means our locations are now on offer as well.

If we measure the cost of “free” services to a user in terms of the volume of personal data that he or she needs to reveal, it is clear that the cost of Free has a very high inflation rate. “Data is the new oil” is now a conference PowerPoint cliché and consumers are the oil reserves.

Will this change? Is there a time where people will demand compensation for revealing their personal information or for receiving customised marketing messages?

The obvious answer is No. Anyone who thinks the opposite will likely be old enough to remember life before the Internet. Privacy is on a one way trip to extinction.

Don’t waste your time mourning the loss of privacy. Instead, think about how your business can benefit from it to better understand customers, tailor services and exceed expectations.

When will the web video sales horse catch up with the technology cart?

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

At the medialive UAE conference yesterday, I listened with interest to a panel discussing how to generate revenues from the “new media ecosystem.” It quickly became apparent that several markets in the MENA region had reached the stage where the technology to generate revenues from web video was ready for prime time but was yet to make a significant impact because the business understanding and processes required were not yet mature. In other words, the “new media ecosystem” exists at a technology level but lacks a clear sales ecosystem to create value. There are now online video on-demand sites like istikana.com and online television channels like elgomhoreya.tv. YouTube reports rapidly growing MENA usage while regional variants like Ikbis have sprung up. Digital creative agencies like flip and nervora can help develop innovative advertising and engagement solutions.

Yet most advertisers who look at shifting marketing dollars to the web are presented with a now familiar list of top five sites with banner and CPM rates. If not that, then the now obligatory Facebook fan page for branding and interaction purposes is the default suggestion. Little effort is made to make use of the superior data that web campaigns can provide, which is surprising given the region’s lack of accurate advertising currencies and performance measurement.

Similarly content owners who make their content available online will find meager sums awaiting them. As a result, most seem to default to using the web as a branding and reach mechanism rather than a revenue generator.

The reasons for the business ecosystem lagging behind the technology are varied. Google’s representative on the new media ecosystem panel admitted they couldn’t generate revenues from YouTube in MENA because they did not yet have the right resources on the ground to do the selling. Clearly a global company will prioritise larger markets at the MENA region’s expense. For media buyers, even those with specialized digital units, the majority of their revenues is still tied to traditional media spend and traditional media economics. This in turn affects the number of staff and effort put into digital sales. For all its touted measurement capability, the MENA web does not have a standard audit body. Advertisers are sometimes more comfortable with the display-based advertising formats that more closely resemble what they are familiar with in print media. Broadband speeds are increasing by the day, but still vary wildly from one market to the other thereby limiting the reach of web video. Finally, even in mature markets, web video sites are struggling to equate the value of a web view of a video commercial with its more expensive television variant. When you consider that a consumer who does not click “skip” and chooses to watch a video advertisement is more engaged than a passive consumer watching television, it would seem the higher value attributed to TV viewing is partly influenced by the legacy of the industry’s development rather than statistics and data.

It is clear that web video advertising will continue to grow rapidly in the MENA region. To reach its full potential though,the sector needs changes in advertiser mindsets, media buyer economics and broadband infrastructure. That may sound like a tall order, but it is only a matter of time before the pieces click into place.

The Older Generation is Doing it Too

May 2, 2011 4 comments

Blinking 00:00s on VCRs used to be the embodiment of the gap in the technological prowess between parents and children. Children today might ask about the meaning of “VCR” and, in some countries, question the need to record anything. Whether it is YouTube videos of a two-year old mastering an iPad or the surveys citing a typical child’s 500 friends on Facebook, the digital world is now firmly part of a child’s view of life. In a stark example of this trend, a friend recounted how his three-year old stood next to a picture frame and tried to swipe sideways across its glass front to see other pictures. When nothing happened, he gave his mother a quizzical look as if to ask whether anything was wrong with the “device”. The child’s view of how an object like a picture frame should function is now influenced by what he learnt from using technology. Research always highlights the “digital natives” generation but seeing them in action makes the case for a vastly different technological future very clear.

However, the nature of the generational technology divide today is not as black and white as it once was. Recently, my father received a fax of a printout of an internet article. When he mentioned that the text was grainy and not very legible, I googled the article on his iPad, at which point the long-winded route of receiving the article became clear to him. But let’s look at this example from a different perspective: the article was faxed by a friend of his from the same generation, yet it was from an internet website, and one that did not belong to a newspaper. My father owns a fax machine because technology moves at varying speeds in different markets. A fax machine is still important for his business as several of his clients and suppliers in the region still use them to communicate. However, most of his business’ communication is now by email. Whereas the normal generational technology divide would have previously had my father stuck in the world of fax machines and unable to comprehend the tools of digital communication, he owns several emails, laptops, smart phones, iPods, and an iPad. He bought my mother an iPad because he wanted her to stop borrowing his. He had previously bought her a laptop because she played Farmville so often that he couldn’t use his laptop anymore.

Is is interesting to note what he now perceives as complicated. You won’t see him syncing on iTunes or using his laptop much anymore. With the advent of the iPad, even a Macbook now seems cumbersome and complicated to him. Similarly, data bundle pricing from telcos may as well be in Mandarin. He doesn’t want to know the difference between GPRS, EDGE and 3G. He doesn’t want to have to decide whether 1 Gb is enough for him in a month. He just wants his emails on his mobile phone. Although devices are becoming simpler (thanks Apple), the services around them are not moving towards simplicity at the same rate and this needs to change. The good news is that the shift of software and services to a cloud-based model should enforce a simpler and easier interface.

There is broad consensus that the younger generations will use technology in a much more intense and persistent way than their parents. However, the ubiquity and accessibility of technology today is also affecting how all generations embrace technology in their lives. In MENA where broadband penetration is generally low but rising rapidly, the mass appeal of technology can only help create a larger audience for digital services and products.

UAE’s Blackberry Ban – The World is Ending, or Is it?

August 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Today “UAE” appeared on twitter’s global trends list. Normally, this would be a good thing; a sign that the region is featuring in the global consciousness. However, in this case it was for a negative reason: the ban on Blackberries announced by the TRA.

Countless people have weighed in on the decision itself, so there is no need to do so again. However, there are some lessons to learn and conclusions to be drawn.

The first is that news can now travel faster than any PR effort can, and with less context the further from the source. Twitter’s 140 characters are the extreme of this: a complex argument reduced to a few words retweeted endlessly out of context with no explanation for the helpless souls who read them halfway around the world.

The second is that people have forgotten (or perhaps they are so young they never remembered in the first place) that the stone age man was not equipped with a blackberry. To read the reactions, which are usually preceeded by expressions of horror (OMGs were in great abundance), you would think the world will end on October 11th. Yes, technology is a great enabler and tools like the Blackberry make our life easier in many ways. But we can live without them if we have to, and we can substitute them with other technologies. We underestimate our ability to adapt and change at times and have become too attached to our comfort zones. A shake and jolt every now and then can only do some good.

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The Premier League and the Joy of Statistics

August 2, 2010 2 comments

A strange thing is happening at ADTV. For the first time, we are able to actually count the number of our customers. We recently launched our Premier League pay-tv offering and can now, in real time, all sorts of data: the number of subscribers, their location, the number of decoders in each market, the number of calls to the call centre, the average call answer times etc. We can react instantly and alter allocations of resources and manpower as the situation changes on the ground. This is so refreshing.

To most people in developed markets, remarking about this may seem trivial. As broadcasters, we have been numbed by years of late viewership data (6 weeks late, at times), incompatible research methodologies and limited market information. We routinely make assumptions that drive million dollar investments and set sales targets based on a loose mix of statistics and black magic. The internet changes that a little, but until broadband penetration reaches saturation levels, the internet will not provide the answer.

I can see why it would frighten some people. Waking up every day to a precise sheet of data that lets you know if your programming or media allocation decisions from the night before were right would be a scary thing. But it would be challenging and it would most certainly lead to a better product and a better marketing plan.