Monday, August 15, 2011

If You Are Advertising, There Must Be Something Wrong With You

Have you ever watched a "featured" or "promoted" video on Youtube? I haven't watched them very often, because from my experience, they usually suck. Why else would someone need to pay to get his or her video high up in the listings? Really good videos gain popularity organically. Ironically, at least for me, seeing that a video on Youtube is "featured" is the kiss of death, and guarantees that I will not watch it. "Featured Video" is the mark of a bad video that is probably trying to sell something. A video's mark of quality can only come from a large number of "thumbs up" ratings. This is a democratization of the whole marketing environment. You can see it everywhere on the web, not just on Youtube. Star and thumbs up systems provide a collective intelligence that can communicate to everyone which products and services are truly worthwhile. These collective rating systems are one reason that advertising is becoming less relevant in today's wired world. Though today there are more and better opportunities to reach your customers through advertising than ever before, advertising itself is taking a backseat to organically-spread word of mouth. Word of mouth rules, and now that there are automated ways to instantly and globally spread word of mouth, advertising has taken a new, secondary place. For example, if advertising misleads, word of mouth, or rather, word of type or click, can correct things eventually. If a company promises amazing results from a product, a consumer must only check user reviews on one of many websites to get the real scoop from people who have actually used it (though maybe also a scattering of fake reviews marketing people at the company have thrown in there). So this leads me to what I think is a new law of marketing in our viral world: if you are advertising there must be something wrong with you. I am being slightly facetious. This is an exaggeration. No matter how easily word of mouth can spread, companies will need to advertise. Some industries need advertising more than others. And even the best companies will need to advertise, at the very least to get the viral marketing snowball going in the first place. But if you take a look at who is doing the most advertising nowadays, you're going to see a lot of predatory lenders, shady herbal supplement companies and expensive trade schools, not so much reputable and well regarded companies. Many of the best companies may have found that they can thrive from the free advertising of web-based word of mouth. Perhaps our collective intelligence on the web will lead to a world where companies, (gasp!) must actually make a decent product to survive.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Web Advertising Bubble?

The Ugly Side of Web 2.0 Marketing: A Facebook Toilet Paper Poll
Recently I've been listening to Jeff Jarvis's "What Would Google Do?" on audiobook. I haven't finished it yet, so I will suspend my final judgment, I am enjoying the book so far, though sometimes the effusive Google worship gets kind of tiresome (not a fan of the phrase "Google Juice", barf). Don't get me wrong, I love Google too. I am writing this blog article on a Google platform, use their search constantly, Google Earth is amazing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. However, in all my years of using Google, I could count on one hand the number of times I have clicked on a Google ad. And every time my clicks have arisen through simple curiosity, not a real desire to buy something. Though I don't have the figures, I know Google reels in an imponderable number of people to its ads, but I'm sure there are also countless others out there just like me, taking full advantage of Google's favors, but never repaying by clicking on an ad. But it's worse than that. For web advertising to fully pay off for Google, not only must there be a click, but an actual exchange of money, or else, in the long run, companies will not find it worthwhile to advertise with Google. If anyone out there is actually reading this article, I'm curious, and please let me know in the comments: how often do you click on Google advertisements? I really would like to know. With Google ads, for all they try to zero in on me with laser precision, with ads that I would find useful, often what is being sold just seems like crap, or a scam to me. Which leads me to what I shall call, pretentiously, "The Great Contradiction of Web Monetization". The great contradiction is as follows. Jeff Jarvis and people like him would be the first to tell you that the old model of marketing is dead. Thanks to the web, word of mouth can spread like wildfire or a virus. But, you cannot engineer virality. Viral word of mouth will only help sell a product that is truly valuable. So in our brave new world of viral phenomena, truly great products don't need advertising like they used to. Maybe they need a spark to get the wildfire going, but that is all. So, companies with truly great products will only end up handing Google a little bit of money, but after that, Yelp and Amazon reviews will take care of the rest. Because it is the real users of a product or service that truly spread word of mouth, not people who have only seen an advertisement, in a viral world, advertising becomes less relevant, not more. So what does that leave us with in the Google ad bar? Usually crap and scams, like I said. This does not bode well for a company whose revenue stream comes almost entirely from advertising. So what would happen if people everywhere just stopped clicking? I imagine Google would be in trouble. I am not forecasting Google's collapse, that's just ridiculous. They are too good at what they do, which is very many things. However, though Google's domination is widespread, their success is not inevitable. If in the distant future through some freaky combination of a collapse of values in the web advertising market and bad management, Google were to fail, I think a government bailout would be in order. This company has poured out its heart and soul to give consumers so many amazing free tools, that we have all felt the benefits of. They would deserve a bailout much more than the bankers.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hydrolyze This

For a free market system to function properly, government must at the very least step in to enforce laws against false advertising. This is why I have been so disappointed to repeatedly see a blatantly false TV commercial for "Hydrolyze", a wrinkle cream for the under eye region. I can't vouch for the usefulness of the product. For all I know the product does everything they say it does, but the tactics used to sell this product are definitely dishonest. This commercial airs each time with a voice-over saying that "the first 100 callers" get it free or something, and then proceeds to show a counter in the bottom left corner, supposedly counting how many people have called in already. As the commercial runs, the number increases by seemingly random increments, thus attempting to provoke a sense of urgency among viewers. This high pressure sales tactic is, to use the proper economics term, a bunch of crap. Obviously it would be damn near impossible, or at least prohibitively costly for the Hydrolyze call centers to relay a count of the number of calls occurring after every airing of the commercial to each television station so that, in real time, the counter shown on the commercial could be updated while airing. I hope nobody falls for this. How stupid do the think we are? To quote comedian Lewis Black, "It's as if they believe that we fell asleep on a nuclear reactor, and our brains had melted, and we are now nothing more than meat with eyes."