ad:tech – Content Gets Respect, But Users Rule

Whether the topic was social networking, user-generated videos, blogging or podcasting, publishers among the record-breaking 10,276 marketers attending November’s ad:tech conference heard renewed respect for content from the panelists reporting on the latest developments in online marketing.

Pam Horan, President of the Online Pubishers Association, kicked off her panel on “Publishing in the Digital Age” with a chart showing that consumers now spend almost half their time online with content, up 35% from four years ago (to see the accompanying graph, subscribe today). Horan credited much of the increase to the surge in popularity of social networking, which OPA includes in its content category.
Of course, users prefer their content free—and that isn’t always a bad thing for publishers. Vivian Schiller, SVP and GM of, reported that search referrals increased 133% after the Times abandoned TimesSelect, its paid subscription model in September. When Times management found that most of its monthly 13 million visitors were coming from search engines—and not getting access to what they sought—they calculated that advertising could deliver more than the $10 million they’ve been getting annually from their 227,000 paying subscribers.

What users want was the theme for almost every panel. “Marketing strategy is no longer about getting people to come to your site. It’s about configuring your content so that people can get it wherever they want,” was how Nada Stirratt, EVP, Digital Advertising at MTV Networks Digital, described the new paradigm. MTV now makes it easy for people to embed its content on Facebook pages, for instance.

“Data+behavioral+context will win” is how Larry Harris, President of Ansible Mobile, summarized what marketers need to know now. The personal data that Facebook users provide on their pages is its real value. As if to confirm this, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used ad:tech to announce its new ad program, a service designed to offer “targeted ads to Facebook users in a social context.” Beth Comstock, President of integrated media at NBC Universal Integrated Media offered, a site recently acquired by Hearst, as an example of how to inspire trust by delivering value for data: the site calculates your “real age” based on what you enter about your health and lifestyle.

But how can marketers use data to deliver the right book, CD or downloadable file to the right person at the right time? Mark Taylor, Chief Marketing Technology Officer at Wunderman, says you just need to be able to answer three things: Has a visitor been there before? How long ago and how often? And where did she come from? And, he claims, any Web analytics tool (like WebTrends) already has these answers. Publishers who use them should be able to change their content for every single visitor for every single click. And it pays off. Musician’s Friend saw a 28% increase in purchases when it took the first click a visitor made as an indication of interest and greeted that visitor with a landing page specific to that interest on her next visit. Lloyd’s TSB saw a 40% uplift when it tried something similar.

Behavioral targeting no longer stops at the end of one website either. Agencies like Tacoda and Revenue Science offer networks of websites of as many as 130 million users who can be targeted with behavioral ads based on what a user looks at on just one of the participating sites. Visit Victoria’s Secret and see if you don’t find lingerie ads following you around the Web.

Several panels tried to anatomize what makes viral marketing work. Entertainment? Emotion? Usefulness? Shock? They can all work, but, Josh Warner, President of Feed Company, an agency that specializes in creating viral videos, prefers going after the “how did they do that?” response. Feed’s “never hide” campaign for Ray-Ban generated 10,000 comments on YouTube. Viral panelists preferred the term “talkability” to viral. “You need to get the conversation started, and then include your message in it,” said Warner.

But click for dollar, search remains the most effective method of getting results. $7 billion was spent on search in 2006 and spending is projected to rise to $16 billion in 2011. Tim Mayer, VP of Product Management at Yahoo Search, recommended an easy (and free) way to improve your search results: publish your sitemap. Another tip: optimize the metatags on your images and video. Google rolled out its universal search interface in May and now delivers results that blend data from text, image and video tags. Given a choice between text-only or text-plus-image search results, a searcher is 10 times more likely to click on an image, according to Bill Macaitis, VP of SEM/SEO at Fox Interactive.

Two areas will soon move from fast growing to explosive over the next year: mobile and podcasting. “This is mobile’s moment,” said MTV’s Stirrat, who, with 35 channels of mobile content, is arguably the largest producer for this space. Michael Byle, GM for Global Mobile Monetization at Yahoo, agreed. “There are already 2x as many mobile phones as PCs worldwide. This will grow to 3x by 2010.” What do mobile users want? Communication, pornography, games, ringtones, instant answers, directions, directories, and coupons. Byle recommends treating this market as a direct response channel: keep your message simple (Starbucks emphasizes location, Subway menus) and make sure landing pages have multiple points of contact: call, email, locate, coupon. Watch to see whether Google’s just launched Android platform will dominate the mobile space.

Compared with mobile, podcast listeners are proving less fickle: they have longer attention spans and stronger loyalties. Larry Rosen, President of Edison Media Research quoted an Arbitron poll that found that podcast listeners are divided equally between men and women, tend to be better-educated and higher-income consumers—and they don’t skip ads. Podcasts work best as marketing tools when embedded in a blog. Specialized podcast directories proliferate, but iTunes continues to drive 90% of podcast traffic. NPR launched its first podcast in August, 2005 and it now has 235 NPR and partner podcasts and 11 million monthly downloads according to Bryan Moffett, Sponsorship Operations Manager. NPR has developed a sponsored advertising program that in its initial tests has increased sponsorship awareness from 2% to 65%.