A few weeks ago, I was speaking at the iMedia Brand Summit. My topic was adware and its nefarious cousin, spyware. As we all know, adware has been the subject of great controversy for what seems like forever. Consumers are frustrated and scared by the specter of ominous pieces of spyware wreaking havoc on their desktops. Legislators are up in arms over issues of ID theft and their connection to spyware. And there are some in the online industry who are categorically opposed to working with an adware partner.
For many consumers, legislators and industry professionals, the differences between adware and spyware are negligible. Many even use the terms interchangeably.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, several adware firms are taking great steps to position themselves as NOT spyware. Similarly, there are other firms that place software onto consumer desktops that are seeking to position themselves as NOT adware. Some say they are not adware because they don’t use pop-up ads. Others say they are not adware because they don’t engage in any form of online profiling. And there are a few research firms that claim their desktop marketing research tools should not be considered adware. All of these organizations make very legitimate arguments. We’re going to continue to see firms lobby the industry to accept their definitions while the technological landscape changes at light speed. If nothing else, it’s going to be interesting to watch. The firm(s) that win the battle of perception will undoubtedly have a tremendous leg up over the rest of the field.
Despite all the controversy, adware is a viable option for some advertisers, many of which support large, well-respected brands. But the adware firms realize that until they get out from under the privacy issue, they won’t be able to reach or maximize their revenue potential. Why? Because too many big advertisers will remain reluctant to use adware if doing so poses an unacceptable risk to their brand.
Undoubtedly, some adware companies have a few ghosts in their past that they are trying to exorcise. But I don’t believe that adware as a medium is inherently risky -- if you go in with your eyes open, that is.
If you’re not vigilant these days, then you’re at risk of injuring your business. And that goes for adware, as well as many other nascent advertising vehicles. The trick is to find an adware partner that is exercising best practices. With that in mind, I thought I’d share part of my framework for making this type of evaluation. Here’s the Chapell view on how to select an adware partner.
What do they say they do?
First, you want to get a sense of the outward representations that an adware company makes. For example, take a look at their privacy policies and end user license agreement (EULA). Does the EULA provide clear notice to consumers downloading their software? Is there a clearly defined process for uninstalling the software if the user decides to remove it? It may even make sense to have your legal resource take a look at those documents.
Understand what they do
This is critical. And it surprises me that more professionals who are evaluating adware have not taken this step. Find a spare desktop in your office and download one of the adware clients. Get a sense of how many ads are delivered over the course of a day. Observe whether or not all the ads you receive from the adware firm’s ad client are branded. What type of software supports their ad client? What type of other advertisers are they working with? You can understand a lot about an organization by taking a look at the company they keep.
How do they distribute the adware?
Many adware companies have third parties who help them distribute their software. And similar to the email list rental and co-reg world of a few years ago, there are good distribution partners, and there are very, very shady ones. Therefore, it is important to understand the steps your adware partner takes to vet their distribution partners. For example, does the adware firm require that their distribution partners adhere to industry best practices? Is there a process in place to ensure that the distribution partners are doing the right thing? The answers to these types of questions will provide you with a framework for mitigating your risk.
The bottom line
And that’s really the point. Maybe adware is the right option for your organization. And maybe it isn’t. But you need as much objective information as possible in order to reach that decision.
Think of it this way. If you’re trying to decide which sites to add to your media plan, there is objective research to help you with that decision. If you’re trying to figure out which email marketing service provider is best for your needs, there are all kinds of excellent resources at your disposal to assist your evaluation.
Those types of resources, as they pertain to adware, are just starting to develop. For example, adware companies are beginning to look to third party seals as a way to separate out the responsible players. But for now, if you want to move into the adware space, your best bet is to conduct some independent research of your own.
Alan Chapell is a consultant focusing on Privacy-Marketing -- helping companies understand privacy and incorporate consumer perception into product development. He has been in the interactive space for more than seven years with firms such as Jupiter Research, DoubleClick and Cheetahmail. Mr. Chapell is the New York Chapter Chairman of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, and he publishes a daily blog on issues of consumer privacy.
"Young people are particularly ripe for viral campaigns because part of looking for boundaries is finding and connecting with other people," Carrabis says. "That's part of the appeal of MySpace and other social media; it's immediate in terms of connecting with others and pushing boundaries, even if it's not terribly informative."
Carrabis pointed to a recent Ray-Ban campaign that drew the attention of Greg Verdino, VP of Emerging Channels at Digitas. While Verdino blogged that viral marketers should "fail their way to success" by continuing to launch campaigns into the social media stream, Carrabis cautioned that infecting youth with a viral campaign requires a targeted approach.
"If you use viral, you need to think about the right infection points," Carrabis says.
But not all viral campaigns are created equally, according to Carrabis. The Cartoon Network's campaign for "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" that led to fears of a terrorist attack in Boston was a message understood by those under 25, but was missed by the general population.
According to MacKenzie, one campaign all marketers should watch is the 2008 election.
"Currently at the forefront of media attention is a particularly innovative campaign: The 2008 Presidential election," MacKenzie says. "Candidates have wisely utilized social networking sites to reach out to the millennial generation, connecting with them in previously uncharted territory."
Next: Beyond viral
According to a recent Frank N. Magid Associates' study on millennials, the internet is quickly rivaling TV for the attention of young people in an increasingly cluttered media world.
"Putting all of your money in TV is a huge mistake, if you want to reach the recent college grad," explains Samantha Skey of Alloy Media + Marketing. "But at the same time, you can't ignore it. Young people watch a ton of TV, but it has become an ambient form of media for them, so it competes with a lot of other stuff.
Calling recent college grads a demographic group is a mistake, according to Brian Mathena, media director for Carat Fusion.
"They're more of a life-stage group," Mathena says. "For that reason they're difficult to target."
Mathena recommends finding recent grads where they're most likely to look, but cautioned that he prefers to segment them by age and other demographic indicators.
"You have to think like a recent college graduate," Skey says. "This is an operative transition period in a person's life; it's when decisions will be made in terms of ongoing loyalties."
According to Skey, an array of industries can and should target recent college grads, from employment search firms, to automotive, insurance, technology and food and beverage brands.
But Skey cautioned that the targeting begins early in the college career (or sooner). "If you reach them when they're seniors, it's too late," she says.
Skey explained that some products like wireless lend themselves to targeting as early as freshman year because kids tend to use the same plan as their parents, whereas advertising for products like job search are better aimed at juniors.
Next: Crafting your message
According to Mathena, the worst thing you can do with recent college graduates (or any young people, for that matter) is to talk down to them.
"You don't want to underestimate them," he says. "Even if you think of them as a demographic, you have to understand that they know they're being marketed to, and that they're looking for something that is both relevant to them and authentic."
That means a humor-driven campaign, according to Skey. But Skey says that isn't a surprise. What's different is the quest for socially responsible brands.
"It may be that young people are simply saying they want socially conscious brands, or it may be that they really want it," she says. "But brands need to be aware that this generation isn't jaded or insincere like Generation X."
Skey cited a 2006 Alloy Media + Marketing and Harris Interactive study that listed Ben & Jerry's, Newman's Own and Burt's Bees as a few examples of brands that recent grads perceive to be socially responsible.
While humor may be a universal, males tend to respond better to sex, while females are more receptive to campaigns that push the friendship button.
"It's the difference between a Budweiser ad and a Yoplait campaign," Skey explains.
According to Carrabis, few campaigns will resonate with both genders.
But one trend does cross the gender divide, according to MacKenzie, and it's not all good news.
"Millennials outpace other generations with their dissatisfaction over internet advertising," MacKenzie says. "The good news is the internet is showing strength as a favorite for entertainment and is the most used medium for entertainment. With a majority of attention being given to internet content, and less than 10 percent being given to advertising, internet advertising consequently suffers from a pitfall. In targeting adult millennials, it is important to create ads that are seen as content rather than distractions."