March 2009


Anyone who read the previous post in this subcategory understands that I’m a big fan of a rather open market – including the online variety. Limiting a business’ means of making money stifles development and innovation. And in most cases, the advent of new regulations on revenue-generating arms simply drains tax dollars with no real benefits. The cost of violating some regulations is nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

 

With that being said, search engines are beginning to run into some troubles with their current business model – selling sponsored links on key word searches to the highest bidder. Misleading and some times flat out fraudulent services are snapping up sponsored link status and passing themselves off as legitimate. This disturbing trend is particularly troublesome in the technology sector, where so few (myself included) have a solid understanding as to what we are agreeing to as we download and install material from the Web.

 

Watch this video of a 12-yeard-old English lad discloses some of the dangers of pointing and clicking without CAREFULLY examining what is being presented. The screen is a bit out of focus and he gets a little flustered here and there, but his points are valid and he shows more Web savvy than a hefty number of far more mature Web surfers.

 

 

So how can we continue to utilize search engines, but do so safely?

 

Step #1 – Look before you leap

Check the url of a site to see its origin. If it doesn’t match the product on offer in some way or appears to originate from a country know for lax laws on spammers, skip it.

 

Step #2 – Think before you type

Ask yourself what you are really seeking. Formulate that concept into a short (three or four words) phrase. If you are looking for the most effective spyware removal tool, don’t search for the generic term “spyware.” Try “spyware reviews.”

 

Step #3 – Use what is given

There are plenty of resources available to the discriminating consumer. Seek them out and use them for all they are worth. Here’s one for searches …

http://www.noodletools.com/debbie/literacies/information/5locate/adviceengine.html

 

More tips can be found at …

http://www.searchenginewatch.com/facts/

 

Final bark

Regulation isn’t the answer to safer and more relevant Web searching, an educated consumer is.  

 

Advertisements

Here’s a shocker – Search engines are businesses that require profits to continue operating.

 

To anyone more than a year out of college, that’s not much of a surprise. Those of us who have been working in the business world for a while understand the basic tenet of survival – to keep the doors open, a business must make more money than it spends. But some academics – you know, those folks who peered out into the real world for a week or two and then retreated behind the relative safety of the ivy – have been casting stones at search engines, demanding an explanation for this heinous behavior. So sayeth these sage media researchers, how dare Google and the rest poison the perfection of the World Wide Web with consumerism!

 

Simple reply: If they don’t, Google go bye-bye.

 

Google and other search engines initially started out with a business model that leaned heavily on banner advertisements. While the Web experts were busy cataloguing and ranking the world’s trillions of Web sites, the money side was trying to sell skyscrapers and banners to businesses interested in reaching the exploding variety and depth of demographics rushing to the Web to find everything from stock tips to celebrity gossip. Unfortunately, no one was buying. Then communications experts discovered Web surfers rarely click past the first page of search results. Businesses quickly realized there is a very real economic advantage to being listed first; simultaneously, search engines realized there was money to be made in guaranteeing top billing. Google, MSN, Alta Vista and the rest began selling businesses the chance to be listed first for a particular key word search.

 

Critics moaned the public was being duped into thinking the top search results were “organic,” techno-jargon for unpaid, when in fact the top listings had been purchased. Google and others bent a little and agreed to mark the paid listings as “sponsored.” 

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rlz=1T4DGUS_enUS311US311&q=Flowers

 

Now some are crying foul again, claiming the current system unfairly excludes small businesses and limits online competition. NEWS FLASH – the largest and wealthiest companies have always and will always maintain a clear edge in reaching out to consumers through existing and emerging media. The hippie-esque notion that the Web would be any different died the minute mainstream consumers started logging on.

 

Final Bark

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Get over it!

Parents beware! It’s not just a game — it’s finely tuned brand integration system designed to generate more frequent and more piercing purchase requests in grocery store aisles.

Advergaming — online games that feature brand elements, like slogans, colors, packaging and characters — are the latest tactic in a decades long campaign to attract kids, some of the most vocal and insistent influencers in the market place. From Skittles to Fruit Loops, new media marketers are urging children to score points, guide characters through mazes and solves mysteries –­ all while surrounded by brand touch points.

In a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a staggering 97 percent of the 500 advergames analyzed included at least one brand element on every screen of the game. Two-thirds of the games were described as “inundated” with brand identifiers, prompting the study’s author to note a child who plays the game to the terminus is essentially immersed in a sea of brand and product stimuli.

The impact of this extended interaction remains a hotly contested topic. While proponents dote on the relative innocuous nature of the games and underscore the lack of a direct sales pitch, family and consumer advocate groups maintain the depth and length of the connection forged during game play could unfairly leverage a child’s lack of a sophisticated message filtration system.

 Few, if any, of the advergaming sites included in the Kaiser study forwarded a blatant sales appeal. As suggested earlier, these games are about forging a lasting brand relationship with the targeted segment. Attention is the commodity on the block with these games, not actual sales, according to Samantha Skey, spokesperson for Alloy Media, a company that specializes in marketing to children. Skey added television affords about 30 seconds for a company to initiate and solidify a relationship with the viewer; advergames can be as long as 30 minutes, giving a company 60 times the opportunity to forge such relationships.

Companies that seek to leverage a child’s role as purchase decision influencer tread perilously close to taking advantage of the segment’s underdeveloped message filtration system. The real problem is no two parents or two marketing professionals are likely to agree on the break of that line. However, extremists on both ends of the spectrum should be shunted closer to the middle.

Marketing professionals who espouse an open-ended approach to youth marketing are ignoring the obvious disadvantages of their target audience. Children are not equipped to screen exaggerated benefits claims nor have they defined themselves enough to dismiss wild aspiration appeals. In short, they are kids and take messages and appeals at face value. Failing to acknowledge this fact and act accordingly is irresponsible marketing.
Equally irresponsible are advocate groups who propose an “ad-free” childhood. Marketing messages are part of life, ignoring them leaves the child woefully unprepared to handle the deluge that follows after the blinders are removed.


Final Bark
As marketing professionals flesh out new, more personal and more interactive means of addressing difficult to reach audiences like children, the peril of fielding these tactics lies not in the ultimate success or failure of the measure ­ this can be easily gauged in testing, but rather with the parents and child advocacy groups. In short, reaching the children may prove to be the easiest part of this equation, sidestepping a public backlash from frustrated parents and irate advocates will be the highest hurdle to clear. The influence of existing and potential backlash can already be found in the modern advergaming atmosphere.

Not long ago I climbed atop my soapbox and railed on the utter senselessness of Twitter, a social networking service that essentially asks participants to continuously update their response to one simple question … What are you doing now? I decried the narcissism that permeates from the notion that others would find your daily routines of interest and shook my head in disbelief as armies of people lined up to find out where their friend was shopping or who they just bumped into at the gas station.

But a colleague who read that post whispered an interesting response …

People aren’t just watching friends and family any more — today’s Twitter is all about the global personalities.”

 

The instant and real-time capabilities of Twitter represent the latest and most personal effort in our ever-evolving quest to nuzzle up with the rich and famous. Where we once scanned the society page of the newspaper, tuned into gossip radio shows or glued our eyes to such hard-hitting journalism as “Access Hollywood,” we now check our Blackberrys to find out what our favorite star or athlete is up to.

 

Name brands like Lance Armstrong, Shaq and Brittany Spears offer up personal revelations, inspirational snippets and other daily tidbits — of course, all of this deeply “personal” information is interspersed with commercial messages. Spears might tweet about heading to the studio; that update would be followed by a message about the pop princess’ latest release, including a link to a purchase destination. Shaq might bemoan the officiating at the game last night while telling folks tickets are still available for tonight’s match-up with the Utah Jazz.

 

 

The political sphere has taken notice of the public’s interest. Congressmen and women are stepping up their interaction with their constituents through the service. I say interaction, but it’s really a one-way conversation. The politicos aren’t getting any feedback, just dispersing talking points and rebuttals. It’s unlikely Nancy Pelosi is concerned that Joe Schmoe of Redding, Calif., is “still stuck in traffic.”

Final Bark
I suspect more and more of America’s glamour clique will discover the relationship-building power of Twitter and saturate the service with a mixture of pseudo-personal and marketing messages. The fad will burn itself out and the Tweet bubble will burst, sifting back down to small tribes of families and friends exchanging disconnected missives about their daily lives. Eventually, we’ll move to another more tedious form of mutual observation – I can hardly wait.

Amid one of the most important presidential addresses in the last 30 years, Congressmen and women on both sides the aisle were busy updating their Twitter messages. For those not wired into the ever-evolving world of mobile media, Twitter (http://twitter.com/) is a free social networking site through which participants answer one simple question – “What are you doing right now?” — in a myriad of agonizingly boring ways in small missives known as “tweets.”

But politicians aren’t alone in holding the misconception that people care to know what they are doing all day every day. Millions of Americans join the service each day — so many, the New York Times deemed it the most important Internet application of the last 5 years. That’s a strong statement considering the developments over that time frame.

Aside from knowing when your BBF (digital shorthand for “best friend forever”) is shopping at Wal-Mart, Twitter does have some practical uses for the masses. The Associated Press reported some newspapers are using the service to offer real time updates on widely watched trials. At least in Kansas, state judges offered no complaints and one federal judge has OK’d the service at that level.
 
Despite the relative popularity of the service — or because of it! — Twitter has spawned as much new media hate material as the big box chains. Check out this video …

 

… And the comments tagged with the videos are not much more flattering to the service or its users.

“Who are these narcissists who think we care what they are doing all day? Who are these morons who spend their lives keeping track of everyone else?”

“I don’t give a tweet about you … Why would you give a tweet about me?”

Final Bark
What do you think? Will people be tweeting long into the next year or is this just a fad destined for the same technical scrap heap as chat rooms?

The world is getting smaller — perhaps not physically, but certainly in terms of commerce and communication. Instead of the months, hours or even minutes that were once required to connect with clients, consumers and partners, we now possess the ability to exchange ideas, marketing messages and proposals instantly.

 

This shrinkage has also worked to soften — and some cases – completely obscure the arbitrary borders that have served to separate culture, race and religion. No where is that fact more apparent than in the U.S., where the distance between the traditional majority — whites of European descent — and minorities — African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and others – is swiftly closing. In short, the country is moving toward the melting pot we have long held ourselves as.

The relative melding of the American society hasn’t gone unnoticed by those professionals charged with reaching and engaging audiences with marketing messages. And for good reason — Hispanic consumers spent more than $700 billion last year and millions began adopting new and emerging media; African Americans dropped $860 billion into the national economy and while the segment remains slower to adopt new technologies, there are signs more and more black Americans are online and going mobile; and Asian Americans — the most wired and mobile of all minority segments — is driving to become one of the most affluent and thereby influential elements of the “new” American market.

So all of these very broad segments are opening their wallets and embracing new channels of communication — what elements of Web 2.0 have marketers leverage to engender relationships with these fast-growing segments?

To date, very few! Most firms and their marketing arms have been content to paint with broad strokes.

Hispanic consumers have been lumped together under a common language with Web sites simply translated from English to Spanish. While effective in communicating messages to new arrivals, studies show second and third generation Hispanics prefer to communicate in English. But even more importantly, the strategy fails to build on some key differences inherent in the Hispanic culture. Hispanics tend to value personal contact, are very spiritual and spend more time and money decorating their homes. Incorporating these kinds of widely held touchstones into marketing messages would help make the information far more relevant to the segment than simply translating English into Spanish. [For more information on Hispanic culture, visit http://hispanic-research.com/home/]

Marketers appear to have resigned themselves to one of two approaches in reaching out to Asian and African Americans — either sprinkling diverse models and actors into presentations or perpetuating stereotypes. While reflecting the diversity of the country through inclusive representation is commendable, it fails to reflect the subtle and not-so-subtle differences that exist between ethnic segments. On the other hand, blindly reaching out with grossly misinformed stereotypes — like all African Americans place a high value on sneakers and Asian Americans are obsessed with finance – is irresponsible and ineffective.

Final bark

Merely translating tactics originally aimed at one segment into a new language or augmenting imagery with diverse models is not minority marketing. Additional research is needed to pinpoint cultural touchstones specific to a wide variety of ethnic segments. Marketers must use this information to fine tune messages for these groups. The sun has set on the days of shotgun blasting a broad and rather irrelevant message through mass media channels. Individualization is the wave of the future.