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Branding the Donkey

Russell Shaw
Branding the Donkey Russell Shaw

Political and commercial product marketing have lots in common. There are slogans to be tested, advertising to be purchased, demographics to be analyzed, credibility to be established, alliances to be sought, maintained and occasionally restored, communities to be built, brand loyalties to be strengthened or shifted.

With the Democratic National Convention taking place in Boston this week, you can -- no matter what your political affiliation is -- learn a lot about interactive marketing and image-making from clicking on the mostly partisan Web logs of the more than 30 mostly partisan bloggers accredited to cover the event (here's the list). The  DNC also has an official blog, Kicking Ass.

As we will do just prior to the Republican national Convention next month, we spent time visiting the Democratic-leaning blogs -- not to analyze the rhetoric and political arguments, but to analyze the bloggers' efforts to capitalize on the perceived demographics of the Kerry-Edwards ticket. The most creative approaches combine overt or between-the-lines marketing for their favored Presidential ticket, while taking demographics to heart and using this data as a business model for their own Web logs.

Let us, then, examine how some bloggers accredited to cover the DNC are going about this work:

Blogs such as The Command Post are turning sloganeering into revenue-generators. They do this by selling branded t-shirts and coffee mugs via an affiliate relationship with create-your-own apparel and housewares distributor CafePress.com. Linked from The Command Post home page, the branded Command Post PX (a sly commentary on the Iraq war, perhaps?) area on CafePress.com offers t-shirts with a depiction of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as a courtroom witness of marginal credibility. There's also a branded travel mug.

A number of blogs feature advertising from magazines that have a subscriber base with a perceived affinity for the Democratic message. Taegan Goddard's Political Wire (politicalwire.com) carries this strategy a step farther. When clicked, a New Yorker ad lands the Web surfer on a subscription page with a tracking URL for each unique user. The order page is hosted by direct response online marketer and real-time report tracker ParadyszMatera.

Political Wire also carries advertising for books many critics have deemed critical of President Bush's policies. The first such ad is for "We the Media," a book that heaps scorn on the media consolidation favored by many conservatives. For what seems to be a fleeting second, the ad for author Dan Gillmor's "grassroots" entreaty to thwart what he sees as a conservative media monopoly clicks to Blog advertising agency Blogads.com. As soon as that Web address appears, it quickly redirects to an order page on the Web site of Gillmor's publisher, O'Reilly Media, Inc.

Blogads.com shows its ubiquitous presence on several other blogs as well. Rich media is even part of the game. On blogs such as pundit Jerome Armstrong's My DD, an ad for the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" follows the same click-path as the Gillmor book -- from an ad, to Blogads.com, and then to the politically-themed, newly released film's Web site. The site has a trailer for the movie, which retells the story that obviously is of interest to the political junkies who might follow links from blogs such as Armstrong's.

Amazon.com, arguably the king of online book affiliate relationships, appears on several blogs as well. On Matthew Gross', eponymous offering, there are Amazon order page click-thrus available for such works as Thomas Frank's "What's The Matter with Kansas?" and Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies." Frank's work criticizes socially conservative voters for not voting their economic interest, and former National Security advisor Clarke's book -- embraced by many Democrats -- criticized the current Administration's response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Enhancing brand loyalty is important, too

Interactive marketers, of course, do lots of proselytizing to current customers, seeking to enhance already-existing brand loyalty. This is also true in political blogs.

Not surprisingly, then, ideological causes deemed in sync with key Democratic voting blocs also achieve significant click-thru exposure on several DNC-accredited blogs. On her TalkLeft, self-avowed liberal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt of television legal analyst fame, carries an ad for Bush v. Choice. The initiative, from NARAL Pro-Choice America, seeks to convince voters that the current President is the "most anti-choice President in history."

The click-through path goes from the ad on Merritt's Blog, to the Bush v. Choice ad page, and then to a secure donation form powered by online communication tools developer GetActive Software, Inc.

Just as with consumer marketing, taglines, slogans and brand identity statements are also common sights on political blogs. One of the best examples is Pacific Views. The site's home page features the slogan, "Send Bush back to Crawford (whether they want him or not.)!" Above the tag is a quote from the late French writer Anatole France: "The law, in its infinite majesty, prohibits rich and poor alike from stealing bread and sleeping under bridges." A crack at the Republican opposition's alleged softness on white-collar crime, perhaps?

Another memorable tag line sure to energize the base and incentivize more page views, from LiberalOasis: "where the Left is right and the Right is wrong."

Some use affiliate marketing

Some blogs cast a wider net than links and affiliate relationships with compatible causes, products and publications. Bound for the DNC in Boston, Kerry-friendly Afro-Netizen offers a link to Mobile Wirefly, an online cell phone equipment and subscription purchase portal.

Clicking the Mobile Wirefly ad leads to a branded Afro-Netizen ad on the Mobile Wirefly site. Yet depending on whether you left- or right-click, the URL in the address bar will be different. Left-click shows the ad with the Afro-Netizen URL. Only if you right-click the ad do you see the true click-path: from the ad on Afro-Netizen to a quick stop at affiliate marketer LinkShare's site, and then, in the blink of an eye, to Mobile Wirefly's parent site, InPhonic.

Proximity information is a key tool of interactive marketers. This data often comes in the form of store-locators, where products ordered online can be picked up. In the Blogosphere, the rough parallel might be event-locator search utilities. On such DNC-accredited blogs as former Presidential candidate Howard Dean's America Coming Together blog, a Find Events search engine (immediately to the right of a post lauding controversial filmmaker Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911") lets site visitors look for America Coming Together-sponsored events in their area.

It's all about the image

Notice then, the parallels between the image-science of politics and the image-science of brand marketing? This brings to mind a quote from the late Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who in 1971 wrote: "Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be."

Next: How will the message and marketing Republican-leaning bloggers differ from those who will be convening in Boston? The Republican National Convention begins in New York on August 30. Check with us a few days before then, and we'll tell you.

Embrace video content on all devices

This adjustment in behavior to mobile is a multiscreen shift. The Mobile Generation, especially the younger part, is increasingly likely to be viewing video on mobile devices. Advertisers who are accustomed to video being TV must learn that there is not only TV, but also smartphones, PCs, tablets, and even connected televisions. That means video advertising has to respond to portability and the reality that people won't always be sitting in front of a television, or even a computer. IAB and Nielsen just released a study that proved shifting just 15 percent of a TV ad spend to online builds more effective reach at a lower cost.

Brands should now be comfortably moving their video content online and onto devices. According to Ooyala, tablet video viewing grew 110 percent in 2012. And it will only continue to rise. Reaching these audiences includes everything from pre-roll to video content sponsorships to online TV spots.

But before you just drop your existing TV spots into mobile, stop and consider the medium and give your TV spots something extra. People behind a computer or a mobile device are accustomed to interaction, so make sure your video content is relevant to the medium -- put in place calls to action, hotspots, and interactive content. And be prepared to measure success by these metrics. Unlike television, in the digital and mobile space, ascribing success is about engagement rather than reach. So use those interaction points, like clicks, viewing time, and shares, to evaluate performance based on the value of the experience to the viewer. 

Be hyper-focused

Being relevant in mobile is often translated into being local. We often hear about hyper-focus as it relates to in-store messaging and offers using geo-fencing, such as Apple Passbook. Yet there are equally sophisticated ways to hyper-focus your message that are less bleeding edge. In fact, the most immediate methods employ years of common digital advertising best practices.

Mobile ad placements can use the same localization points that digital does. This means brands can -- and should -- focus their ad placement based on time of year, time of day, location, and more, serving up ads that react to a person's environment. The Mobile Generation is sensitive to the messages that are placed there, and they expect ads to be cognizant of where they are. As a simple example, if you're Bob Evans and it's morning time, you should serve ads that feature your breakfast menu. It's these subtle nods to location that make advertising smart without crossing the line into creepy.

Be shopper-friendly

Mobile devices are also shopping tools -- we all know that. We all do it. And in fact, our mobile phones are used with considerably more urgency than any other digital medium. Seventy percent of searches on a mobile device result in action within one hour, compared to 70 percent of searches on a desktop that result in action within one month.

Now this is certainly not a shocking development, but the right message at the right time can generate real action. To reach the Mobile Generation shopping mode, brands simply need to close the gap between best practices in mobile and the experimental approaches they've been applying to mobile -- which often neglect the best and most optimized methods.

Advertisers can help speed up their customers' decision journey by capitalizing on shopper-friendly approaches. And this doesn't just mean a mobile-optimized website (please do that) -- it also means paid search programs that are optimized for mobile and click-to-call in banner creative so a transaction can be made right then. And if your goal is to get people to download an app for online ordering or loyalty, make sure the call-to-action is clear and that it drives the user directly to the app download (do not pass go; do not collect 200 dollars). Make the process easy so they don't fall off. 

There is great opportunity among the Mobile Generation. To be successful, brands should remember that advertising is not an age game. Rather, it is behavior around mobile -- be respectful of the medium and deliver right and relevant experiences.

Melissa Hodgdon is vice president, media director at Engauge.

On Twitter? Follow Melissa at @mhodgdon. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Cell with broken glass" image via Shutterstock.


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