Chris Dobson to ‘leave’ Microsoft

August 27, 2008

So ‘Dobbo’ has finally been pushed out.

I know Chris Dobson quite well, and know the trouble he faced working with the faceless American corporation which never really grasped the idea of brand.

He survived the ‘dropping’ of MSN as a brand, and various attempts to reinvent Microsoft’s online business;

First, when MSN was to become a software services company, selling subscription products and advertising revenue was to be the icing on the subscription cake.  Meanwhile, Chris plodded away, building an incredibly well regarded and profitable brand advertising business.  The subscription business died quickly.

Next up, Microsoft were to get all their revenue from search.  The brand business was kicked, suffering from the loss of a huge revenue stream when they were forced to drop a very lucrative deal with Overture and adopt the new Microsoft AdCenter instead.  The Overture deal had been signed before the Yahoo purchase and would have been valuable to Microsoft but unprofitable for Yahoo, but Microsoft were happy to let Yahoo off the hook, and take a huge hit themselves.  Despite this, Chris continued to run a tight ship and make increasingly unrealistic targets.

So he’s rumoured to be going to BBC Worldwide, where his old MSN chum Tom Bowman went a year ago.  It’ll be interesting to see what position he takes up there.  The US’s loss is the UK’s gain.


Blame the Networks!

August 25, 2008

Shock!  Horror!  Blind networks include impressions on sites which may be a very bad fit with your company’s brand.

IASH suspends 24/7 Real Media

It’s ironic that the advertisers cited as appearing on inappropriate sites recently, including Orange and Virgin Media, have been vocal in expressing concern and outrage about the damage this has done to their brands. The press too have joined in, clearly pointing the finger at the irresponsible networks.  As a result, IASH, the network trade body, have hurriedly issued statements, expelled members and put together an industry code of conduct.

Here’s a funny thing, advertisers; you paid pennies for a blind network campaign.  You could have paid a small premium for a campaign where you were able to select which sites you want your ads to appear on.  You can blame the networks all you like, but the reality is that blind means blind; you saved money and in order to do so, you surrendered control.  Blind networks might appear to be good value, but they’re simply not suitable for a campaign where brand is sensitive.  Whether through impossibly tight budgets or incompetence, your marketing teams selected an inappropriate medium for your brand sensitive campaigns.  You have no-one to blame but yourselves.

Behavioural Targeting Misunderstood

August 25, 2008

What is behavioural targeting?

Ask one sales team at a large publisher: It means we can sell more inventory in our sold-out categories; effectively it’s an extension to our most popular channels.

Ask another: It’s not really something we need, but we offer it in order to be seen to offer a complete range of products.

And: We offer it, I think, but we never sell it.  Sales don’t really know how to price it or describe it.  Agencies ask for it only occasionally, and when they do, they don’t really know what they’re asking for.

So, behavioural targeting is either a simple (but often unnecessary) way to increase inventory, or it’s so complicated it’s unsellable.  Which is it?  Both and… um… neither…

It can be configured as an extension to traditional channelised inventory, it’s true, but that misses the real value.  It’s real value is that it can be used to descibe website users as advertisers do.  Advertisers don’t want people who use a channel – they just don’t think in channels.

Advertising marketeers create personas; e.g. “Jasmine is a young, single professional who uses the Internet to communicate with her wide social circle, to read celebrity gossip and to buy beauty products.”  Behavioural targeting offers the opportunity to bypass the rigid structure of channels and step directly into this way of thinking – a ‘Jasmine’ profile can be created for this advertiser.

Publishers need to step out of the ‘standard ad product’ mentality.  Behavioural targeting allows products to be created specifically for an advertisers needs – to be effective, it has to be that way.

Is it harder to sell this way?  Possibly, because publishers and agencies have developed a way of thinking which is different, but the irony is that, once understood, it is the easiest sale there is, because it is exactly what is being asked for.

Publisher’s Tools – Emperor’s Clothes

August 23, 2008

I’ve often thought that one of the telling signs that our industry is still young is the complete lack of standards. The IAB for their part have established some basics, but when it comes to media owner workflow, there are as many ways of getting ads up as there are companies doing it.

Interestingly, there have been a handful of companies who’ve attempted to sell software to automate the trafficking process, but the lack of consistency means that these solutions have been notoriously difficult to implement, and hugely expensive as a result. One large UK media owner spent 18 months and more than £250,000 attempting to implement a solution. The result was a lot of double entry and a system that added no value for anyone. Last year, it was scrapped for a competitor product. Whether the replacement will be any more successful remains to be seen.

The solutions currently available all share similar characteristics; they’re hugely expensive and require long, difficult integrations, as they’re tweaked to fit with the publishers current workflow. This creates a dichotomy – only the biggest publishers can afford these solutions, but they are the least able to make the changes necessary to make the systems effective.

Perhaps, though, the the industry is now ready to move to the next level. I’ve recently spoken to two companies who are, independently, readying to launch solutions into the UK which change the current paradigm. Both are very similar – cheap (or even free) solutions which, targeted at small and medium media owners, rely on the publisher to adapt to fit the workflow, rather than have a system that needs to be adapted to the publishers needs. Both cited as a model they’re looking to emulate.

We’ll see whether the market is ready for these products, but I really hope it is, as these products will only work if the industry begins to standardise, and indeed, they’ll help drive greater standardisation if enough publishers choose to implement them.