Battling the Online Tyranny of “More” at MIXX 2008

PT thanks New York–based marketing consultant Rich Kelley for his reporting.

“What we have today is the tyranny of more,” warned Mike Linton, CMO of eBay. “More choices, more technology, more competition, more alliances, more complexity, more risk.” “The Internet is run on love,” mused Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. “The motivation is social, not economic.” Marketers and Internet pundits exchanged insights on how people behave online—and how marketers are responding—at MIXX 2008, the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual two-day celebration of interactive marketing excellence.

“Don’t confuse an explosion of usage with an explosion of revenue,” Linton cautioned. “Rely on proven tools—the traditional ‘Ready, Aim, Fire’ methodology—to deliver dependable ROI…But sometimes you just have to go for it.” At that point “Ready, Fire, Aim” may be what’s called for. “Experience can sometimes be better than planning,” Linton advised, provided you can remain objective, “kill your own mistakes” and follow “the 70% rule—test if it’s within 70% of where it should be.”

Global Moms

What are moms doing on the Internet? OMD, Platform A, and Ipsos collaborated on a quantitative survey of some 2,300 mothers in 13 countries. One of their findings won’t surprise anyone: the average mom lives in “double-time,” accomplishing 27 hours of work in 16 waking hours—but she does spend 2.6 hours on the Internet every day. 70% of mothers in the U.S. are on the Internet (compared with only 9% in India)—and worldwide, 60% of mothers consider the Internet their “lifeline to the outside world” (this gets as high as 80% in Mexico, and as low as 24% in France). Most intriguing, 62% of moms worldwide co-use the Internet with their children at least once a week.

Is Search Overvalued?

Do you use search now for what you used to bookmark?  If so, you’re part of a trend. Young-Bean Song of Microsoft’s Atlas Institute shared results of a July 2008 study that found that 71% of search clicks are navigational—repeat visitors using search to find their way back to a site. Only 29% of search clickers were first-time visitors. Should search get all the credit for a sale just because it’s the last click? Would you attribute all the sales of Corona in a bar to the neon sign outside? If not, then why, asked Song, do we attribute sales online to the last link clicked? Atlas Institute has developed methodology they call “engagement mapping” that scores the other elements that are usually undercounted in generating a sale: recency and frequency of views of related display ads, ad sizes, ad formats, time of day viewed. He cited an ALLTEL case study in which 60% of revenue attributed to search was reassigned to display after an engagement mapping analysis. In a separate study, Atlas found that sponsored search clickers were 22% more likely to convert if they were also exposed to display ads from the same advertiser.

As if in response, Oliver Deighton, a Google rep, explained how advertisers deploying Google content campaigns in AdWords could now opt for a “Virtual CPA” model rather than the traditional CPM or CPC. You still pay on a CPC basis, but the cost of the campaign is organized around how many conversions occur at the targeted CPA.

Getting Engaged

Examples of engagement tools abounded at the conference. Adgregate showed an e-commerce widget that enables a visitor to complete a purchase transaction without ever leaving the page. Innovid showcased a clickable 3-D virtual item you can place inside a video. The virtual object is mapped to its surroundings so that when the camera angle changes so does the object—yet it can interact if clicked.

Ever wanted to be an M&M? Andrew Robertson, chairman and CEO of BBDO Worldwide, offered a sampling of BBDO’s award-winning M&M campaign: “Become an M&M.” Visitors to can personalize and even animate their own M&M in a SimCity-like environment.

Keen to create your own superhero? Kaltura showed a video tool that enables fans to create their own Heroes character—one of many technologies that enabled Tim Kringe, the creator/executive producer of the TV hit Heroes, to realize his vision of “transmedia.” From the start, Kringe conceived of Heroes as a cross-platform universe with intersecting storylines. Characters can originate in a graphic novel or online and then appear in the TV series. A fan must become immersed in multiple media in order to follow the complete storyline—and fans are encouraged to create and submit their own characters, some of whom have been adopted.

Looking for the ultimate online photobook? Andrew Blau, SVP and GM of Time Inc. Interactive, announced the relaunch of Life Magazine in an online collaboration with Getty Images. Starting in February 2009, visitors will be able to browse through some 6 million photos online—and the total is slated to rise to 15 million images from the Life archives, and only 3% of them ever appeared in print. Photobook makers will be able to create a life timeline that juxtaposes images from Life alongside their own photos.

Sharing photos represents what Shirky calls the first rung on the ladder of social activates made easier by today’s social tools. In “Inventing: The Spontaneous Organization,” one of the conference’s best-attended sessions, Shirky was grilled by Charlie Rose for 40 minutes. The ladder’s next rungs, collaboration (think Wikipedia) and collective action, require increasing levels of time and commitment but have already begun to reshape society in dramatic ways. “Wikipedia is not a product,” Shirky noted. “It’s a process. If people stopped tending to it, it would cease to exist within a week.” As an example of collective action, Shirky cited the walkout of 40,000 students in Los Angeles in 2006 to protest the school system’s anti-immigration policy—the entire protest had been “organized” in less than 48 hours through Facebook and SMS messages.

To market in this space marketers must understand that the social fabric is already there—people already have a way of doing things. Marketers need to listen. The number of peer to peer conversations is increasing but it has its downside. One popular teen forum had to be shut down because, in the words of one anonymous spokesperson, “we couldn’t get the anorexics to shut up.”  And no marketer wants to be viewed as sponsoring an unhealthy lifestyle.