We’re back, Baby! Some Of Us Never Left.
I remember the day I arrived at my first Ad:Tech. I was living in New York and online marketers were swirling about in a frenzy to make contacts while attempting to understand the new medium. It was a site to behold. Parties, sponsored by companies that no one gave a rodent’s posterior as to what services they offered carried on in a seemingly unending salvo. I blinked and it all disappeared, so I moved to California.
I also remember the day I arrived in Los Angeles for the event last year. The low attendance and Gloria Gayner (I will survive) attitude had me lamenting about days gone by. Someone actually quoted me as saying the experience was “Morbid and sad”. Ouch.
Ad:Tech 2003 San Francisco, on the other hand, had moxie with 2,000 people proclaiming, “We’re back, baby” and the corporeal energy of the sessions on the first day leading attendees to sing with rapture.
While it’s great to be first to report incidents such as the Google-sponsored breakfast on day two initiating famine due to unprecedented attendance, I prefer to provide analysis beyond the speed-to-read quotient, i.e. there was a lot more happening at the event.
In the grand tradition of earth-shattering Ad: Tech experiences for yours truly, I had the exclusive and most remarkable pleasure of exchanging perspective on the conference and the industry from a select few of the industry’s biggest names, immediately following the event.
Yes, the industry is doing better than it was last year. Yes, the attendance was three times what is was at last year’s LA show. Clearly, it didn’t appear that anyone was ready for the sell-out crowd, but attendance went from standing room only to tumbleweed city as the conference rolled on. The cause of this may have been a decidedly negative buzz about the barrage of sales pitches from presenters, but despite the arguably gratuitous promotional information there was some quite notable content in the event.
On with the Show, Day One
The opening sessions of the show included a panel on building your brand with the always on-target Susan Bratton. I was happy to hear that ubiquitous brands like Michelin and Kimberly Clark provided key insights as to how to use the Web as brand vehicle. There is an inherent credibility in companies that have been around since before you could purchase their goods on the Web, and whose people wear suits to meetings and don’t dye their hair purple (witnessed in the exhibit hall) for attention’s sake.
Late morning to early afternoon breakout sessions included heated debate on tools to get a bigger piece of the budgetary pie, optimization and analytics and an afternoon keynote addressing the all-too-critical search for best-of-breed Web marketing resources.
The afternoon included a marathon session on cross-media optimization, which was scheduled from 2:00 to 4:45. This was particularly helpful to those who may have missed the road show in every major city in America. Not surprisingly, the breakout sessions were packed and most notable was the Net it Out session, focusing on the guiding principles of integrated marketing as interpreted by industry greats Modem Media, Carat, Adidas, HP, Sprint and Hyundai.
Day Two; Commence Whining About Sales Pitches
Luckily you can’t swing a dead cat in San Francisco without hitting a Starbucks so I was not among the starving on Tuesday morning. Nonetheless, Google introduced its guided missile, publisher-driven enhancement to AdSense. This could be the smartest approach to contextual search marketing yet.
By far the most entertaining keynote of the show was delivered by Bob DeSena from Masterfoods,USA. That PowerPoint animated M&M character sure was funny. What was the keynote about? Oh yeah, you will soon be able to buy M&M’s in the colors of your favorite NFL team. The TV spots we saw really showed how to leverage the power of the online space and improve customer relationship skills.
Immediately following my trip to the hotel gift shop to purchase some M&M’s, there was a smartly moderated panel on the blazing topic of search marketing. Lanny Baker, from Solomon Smith Barney, referred to the panel as the “Mount Rushmore of Search” which included alphabet soup titles from MSN, Overture, Looksmart, and Google. While the panel created a healthy buzz on the floor, my experience there personified the dynamically volatile nature of search today as each panelist offered diametrically opposed viewpoints of the next evolution in search.
As for the rest of the day, top on the list was a wiz-bang panel on removing the smoke-and-mirror component from the latest and greatest in ad formats. Thank heaven for people willing to stand up and sort out the hype.
Day Three; Everyone Left Early
The in-your-face drop-off in attendance from Tuesday to Wednesday was like staring at before and after shots of Rosanne Barr’s cosmetic surgery. The morning keynote from industry legend Regus Mckenna was painfully long winded and the 20-something audience appeared to get lost as stories about family vacations and the grandkids were interlaced with excerpts from his book, Total Access.
As the keynote continued five minutes after the scheduled time limit, I made a hasty departure to the FindWhat press conference. Rising star paid search provider FindWhat.Com announced a merger with the European provider of a similar ilk, Espotting, thereby perpetuating incessant M&A activity in the search industry. I will revisit this in my column next week.
Speaking of plastic surgery, ever wonder how to reach seekers of trans-gender related information? The B2C Search Strategies panel wins the award for most sophomoric giggles from a trade show audience. Masha Geller, I salute you for maintaining your professional aplomb while moderating the panel as the plastic surgery search-marketing topic was explored in uncomfortable detail. IProspect and client, Aubuchon Hardware, supplied the most useful information on how to effectively administer organic search marketing. The moral of the story here is; never leave Ad:Tech early.
Exhibitor Business.Com won me over with comfortable couches to ease the aches and pains of floor warriors. Covering all of the exhibits in day two (exhibit hall opening day) was next to impossible unless you had wings to fly over the crowd. If only we had the LA, 2001 hall. In the category of trinkets and trash, anything that could conceivably take an eye out was a big hit.
You’d have to be a bovine, stupefied, fool not to notice the mother load of search providers in the hall anchored by, iProspect, Did-it.Com, Overture and Google. I counted nearly 20 search related exhibitors as I flew high above the floor. Oh, yeah one more, BlowSearch. The law of decency precludes my ability to comment here.
My companion for scouting the search marketing exhibit floor was none other than Chris Theodoros, Google’s Director of Worldwide Agency Relations, who had this assessment of the search tonnage. “It is the breadth and quality of choices offered in the search agency environment which finally gives confidence to Fortune 500 advertisers in embracing a complicated aspect of the medium.” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about that blow company.
Boogie, Oogie, Oogie
The show contained multiple evening, late evening, and in my case, early morning opportunities for networking. Each day’s events included packed, sponsored wind-down cocktail hours. High on my Tuesday night list was the very classy and industry talent filled Yahoo! party after receiving a personal invite and a thumb’s down from my sea-fearing stomach on the Google boat ride. Topping the night off was the Synergy6 club gig-- the law of gentlemanly conduct precludes my ability to comment on related activities.
Despite my skeptical nature, the hard working people responsible for delivering Ad:Tech; tasked with living up to the highest expectations, won my vote for making Ad:Tech one of the few industry events that you simply can not miss. I have alluded to life-changing events that for cosmic reason beyond my control always seem to occur around the event -- here and in my column. This year was no exception.
As attendees, speakers, and journalists raced back to their offices or to catch a plane, I found myself suffering from a phenomenon known as Post Great Conference Reality Let-Down Syndrome while choosing to stick around for still another dinner-slash-party invite.
Forbes.Com, the Rolls Royce of destination sites for reaching C-level executives and “Homepage for the world’s business leaders” hosted a post show private dinner for top advertisers and key industry personalities on Wednesday evening. Aside from the most urgent question of “How did I get invited?”, my initial thought was that the gathering and attendees simply oozed class and professional acumen of the highest order.
The precious few who privately dined together in an exclusive, elite culinary venue could have easily formed an A-list roundtable. They spoke of experiences in the early days with Billy (Bill Gates) and Mike (Mr. Dell) in developing technology that would change the face of marketing as they knew it (the Internet.) I was seated across from Jim Spanfeller, President and CEO, Forbes.com and I don’t mind telling you -- in the presence of these guys (non gender specific term), I was genuinely and uncharacteristically humbled.
As we proclaim, “We are back!,” and begin to celebrate our resurgence as a medium, I will attempt to encapsulate and paraphrase the advice and provocative thoughts offered from those who were there in the beginning, and never left.
Performance drives the medium, not the latest craze in format or delivery. Spare us the hype.
Satisfying your customers and constituent’s expectations will always be the wisest way to grow your e-business. Just make sure you’re profitable in the process.
You aren’t on top until every competitor has been buried or cremated. In the unlikely event this happens, find something else to do.
Thanks to all for a great week, and one more unforgettable experience.
Americans loves reality TV. So, it should come as no surprise that "American Idol" is the most popular show in America. But the reality genre has been around long before audiences witnessed hopeful contestants crumble beneath Simon Cowell's biting criticisms or supported by Paula Abdul's sympathetic, albeit erratic, personality. The key to "Idol's" success lies in what the show introduced to TV: audience interactivity. The show allows viewers to become part of the production, breaking the barrier between stars and audience members.
Banking on this notion, TV discovery app startup Peel recently launched the "Idol Interactive Experience," which provides all users the opportunity to air their judgments.
As the images above suggest, when contestants perform, their photo is featured above a bar that records audience sentiment -- negative (Boooo!) or positive (Cheer!). During the performance, viewers can continually tap each button to affect the overall registered sentiment. The same rules apply for the judges. As they critique the contestants, viewers are given the ingenious opportunity to evaluate each judge's performance, giving the audience at home the chance to turn the loud, reactive "Boooos!" issued from the show's live audience into personal, yet publicized, sentiments of disgust. After the voting is done, a leaderboard displays the final results with the contestants stacked up against one another.
Though the "Interactive Idol Experience" is only one of Peel's TV services, which include gathering personal preferences and viewing recommendations based on past behavior, Peel's focus on a show that many can't live without, is one step toward providing a service viewers find indispensable. Though the app is rather simple, it encourages audience participation -- the reason why "American Idol" is so popular to begin with.
As Peel's VP of marketing Scott Ellis told Mashable, "We think we're still just in the first inning here as far as what social TV is capable of." And taking it slow is a smart move, as social TV apps should not overwhelm viewers but engage consumers without distracting them from the TV. In the early stages of social TV, a complicated app will fail. People watch TV to watch TV, and they do not want to work.
GetGlueI love "Mad Men," and for 17 months I waited patiently. So, as I sat perched in front of the tube, anxiously awaiting this season's premiere, all I could think was, "This better be worth the wait."
It was, and the magic of "Mad Men," with its nostalgia-inducing portrayal of the 60s while simultaneously depicting the timeless ups and downs of personal relationships and professional experiences, reaffirmed my commitment. And GetGlue, an app developer that provides users the opportunity to check-in and share entertainment, chat with friends and other fans, and unlock stickers and other rewards, made "Mad Men" the second most social TV show of 2012 by providing the platform for die-hard fans, like me, to express their anticipation.
Here's a video detailing GetGlue's app:
Like the characters that ramble around "Mad Men's" Sterling Cooper advertising agency, GetGlue is extremely hot right now. After closing a $12 million round of new financing and reaching two million users (who have checked-in more than 300 million times), GetGlue completed a major overhaul of their iPhone app. The new update gives those checked-in the opportunity to enter into multiple conversations with those watching the same shows and offers new TV viewing guides based upon personal tastes, friend activity, and community trends.
GetGlue has created a digital go-to world for TV viewers to easily connect with others and express ideas. As GetGlue's CEO Alex Iskold told The Guardian, "The challenge is to keep it simple on the surface, but make it engaging enough for people to use every day." Clearly, success in this new arena calls for gentle user introductions, specifically considering that the app is complimentary to the TV, and must remain so for repeat use.
And large broadcasters are taking notice, as GetGlue has struck deals with 75 networks, including Fox, NBC, ABC, CNN, HBO, and Showtime. What's most interesting is GetGlue's success with user check-ins. For those in the industry who believe check-ins are outdated or ineffective, Iskold offers a confident response: "People talk about going beyond the check-in, but that's often because they couldn't get it to work. 300 million check-ins on GetGlue tells me that they have always worked for us." Just because a feature does not work for some, doesn't mean that is does not work for all. In a new, bourgeoning industry, companies should be careful not to disregard something simply because others have.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the music identification app Shazam. It's why you no longer get into heated debates at bars over song titles and artists. It is one of the most widely-used, mystifying applications -- imagine my difficulty explaining the use of acoustic fingerprint technology to recognize songs "out of thin air" to my grandmother. And, with 175 million users worldwide, it was only time before Shazam directed its large following toward TV. If you weren't aware, TV content is slowly becoming "Shazamable," as the company applies its audio recognition technology to the TV. But Shazam is not the only company seeking to confuse my grandmother by venturing into TV audio fingerprinting, nor does it provide the best application. That designation should be given to Yahoo's IntoNow.
When Yahoo acquired IntoNow for a reported $20 million in April of 2011, industry experts questioned Yahoo's decision to obtain a TV check-in service amidst a growing sea of them. IntoNow's smartphone app, launched in the beginning of 2011, only allowed users to check-in. However, as 2011 came to a close, IntoNow launched an innovative smartphone and iPad app that easily justifies Yahoo's purchase.
Using audio recognition technology, IntoNow's app identifies the program and, as the company's Adam Cahan told Forbes, produces "highly relevant content. That could be content related to the show on TV, social information of what friends are watching, or loyalty rewards for watching certain programs." What's really impressive, if linked to a scripted program, IntoNow supplies the user with relevant tweets about the show, even tweets issued by the show's actors. In addition, if you're watching the big game on Sunday, the app provides stats for both teams and players. The following is Yahoo's IntoNow promotion:
As Cahan tells Wired, "We're moving away from text and text input." So, IntoNow's mission is to provide relevant interactive content with a small amount of input required from the user, which is a common theme emerging among successful social TV apps -- engagement sold beneath a guise of not having to be tasked with engaging.
Living in America can create a feeling of isolation, as if our shores are enclosed by cling wrap. But one only needs to cut through this invisible barrier and venture across the pond to discover an app creating a big splash in Britain.
Zeebox is an iOS app that launched in October of last year, with plans of arriving in American in April of this year. By January 2012, it had acquired 250,000 users, which quickly grabbed the attention of Britain's largest subscription TV service, BSkyB. With BSkyB's £10 million investment, Zeebox launched a TV ad campaign that greatly increased downloads of the app, which managed to shock the startup's CEO Ernesto Schmitt, who tweeted:
Here is one of Zeebox's commercials that aired, managing to spark an onslaught of new users:
As with other social TV services, this app allows users to interact with friends and congregates show-relevant Twitter and Facebook commentaries. However, what's truly catching the consumer's eye is its "click-to-buy" function. As an ad appears on the TV screen, a click-to-buy button pops up on Zeebox's real-time screen. Clicking this button takes the viewer to a web retailer that sells the item or directly to the brand's website. Although making TV ads interactive in the past has failed, Zeebox's CEO Anthony Rose offers a compelling argument: "By moving this functionality to your smartphone or tablet, and delivering an experience that is synchronized to the show you're watching on TV, we think that Zeebox finally delivers on that magical click-to-buy promise."
In addition, brands can purchase targetable ads to be shown within the app as their brand's commercial airs on TV. And lastly, Zeebox permits broadcasters to build and feature their own interactive, custom branding to appear within the app when specific shows air, making the typically more generic show pages offered by the app more relevant to the consumer. According to paidContent.org, for shows that have utilized this feature, "an impressive 93 percent of users stay using the app features until their show ends."
To more fully understand this app, the following video offers an in-depth look into Zeebox:
I know what you are thinking: Twitter is not a "social TV app" per se, so why is it being featured? The truth is, Twitter still dominates the social TV landscape, with solid help from their app, and to ignore this platform within the article would be to overlook the elephant in the room. Although it hasn't launched an app specific for "social TV," it seems that only in time will Twitter direct its massive following to a new social TV app. One that uses acoustic fingerprint technology to allow users to check-in to programs, presents show-relevant information and stats, or provides TV-viewing guides based upon past behavior, all while offering up its standard recipe for success: 140-character nuggets of expression (in this case, specifically about TV shows).
To reiterate Twitter's power, on March 21, Mashable reported that the season two finale of ABC'S "Pretty Little Liars" created the most social noise of any scheduled series in TV history, all thanks to Twitter. According to SocialGuide's report, "Fans sent a whopping 645,000 tweets during the first broadcast, hitting the 32,000 tweets per minute mark. Over the course of the day (a catch-up marathon was playing), 1.6 million tweets were sent by 667,000 users."
Twitter's success should not be ignored, and the company's dominion brings up some valuable questions for those invested in the social TV ecosystem: Would it be in Twitter's best interest to launch a "social TV" app? If Twitter were to do so, what would be the effect on the startups featured above? Or, is a smarter move for Twitter to stay out of the game and increase consumer use by being employed within the social TV apps already launched? Does having a critical mass of followers ensure app success?
The social TV landscape is extremely volatile, and many apps have proven unsuccessful in this new environment. But, as with any accelerating field, the speeding winds will blow away the chaff, and large monetization opportunities await the companies whose apps provide the most value to the consumer. As Jack Myers predicted at the Social TV Summit in Los Angeles, "Social TV will be an $8 to $12 billion business in 2020." There is no doubt that the blending of social interaction and TV will greatly impact the future, and the apps that best assist the consumer across the shrinking bridge between the two will be the most successful.
Kyle Montero is an editorial intern for iMedia Connection.
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