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Search vs. TV

Kevin M. Ryan
Search vs. TV Kevin M. Ryan

The Super Bowl is rapidly becoming a case study in how search and television can work together and simultaneously refuse to get along. Each year advertisers suffer for the consuming public with millions of dollars spent on 30-second spots designed to leave a solid impression with viewers. Then, Monday-morning quarterbacks in the advertising industry review and comment on the effectiveness of those spots.

A relatively new tradition in reviewing the impact of Super Bowl ads is measuring the impact of consumer interest by studying search behavior in the days that follow our annual Sunday event. We know that users flock to computers immediately following Super Sunday, yet many advertisers have yet to discover the connection between search and Super Bowl.

On the surface, the concept of extending the connection between idiot box and search box seems simple. Search offers a natural enhancement to the time-honored tradition of engaging emotion and experience with television. Why do many advertisers seem to be missing out while others embrace integration? Let's take a look at this year's activities to see if we can unravel the mystery.

Preparing for kick off

According the online intelligence service Hitwise, share of domestic searches for the term "super bowl ads" increased by 1416 percent in the four weeks prior to the Super Bowl in 2006 over the same period in 2005. Furthermore, "super bowl ads" was the most common search phrase containing the words "super bowl" in the month leading up to the big event.

Viewers look forward to the Super Bowl advertisements. They start researching up to a month in advance, and in this behavior rests another great opportunity many have yet to explore. Capitalizing on search behavior after the fact is one thing, but why not stretch out that five million dollar per minute spend with a fraction of that budget on building anticipation with a connected search and content experience?

Hitwise reported that Super Sunday visits to the video destination IFILM, increased by 49 percent versus the previous day, and placements of Super Bowl ads on Yahoo Video Search provided a big contribution to the increase. Yahoo Video Search accounted for nearly 30 percent of visits to IFILM on the big day.

Cashing in on the search action
Yahoo has good reason to watch search activity around the Super Bowl. With ad revenues soaring in other media, Yahoo and other search providers want a piece of the big cash in. With video search accounting for a big chunk of follow up traffic, Yahoo representatives were quick to celebrate the few who took advantage Super Bowl traffic and those who didn't.

While Yahoo reported that search activity prior to the Super Bowl increased about 800 percent prior to the Sunday event, a few big brands spent time preparing for Super Bowl search action.

According to a Yahoo spokesperson, Cadillac, Honda and Dove all bid on the search term "Super Bowl" and took advantage of the search traffic. Searches on Yahoo for Cadillac Escalade jumped over 75 percent after the Super Bowl. Cadillac was able to engage those users by making sure its official site for the new Escalade was listed at the top of the sponsored search results.

The number of advertisers that have ramped up post Super Bowl integrated search efforts still pales in comparison those that missed the boat. Reprise Media's annual Super Bowl scorecard (a report that evaluates the impact of search and television advertising activity) pointed out that many advertisers didn't even include site addresses in TV spots.

Missed opportunity… or not

It wasn't long ago that we noticed Coke's missed opportunity with the C2 launch in failing to purchase the "C2" term in sponsored results. For this year's Super Bowl, Yahoo representatives noted three key missed search integrated opportunities with Pepsi, ABC and Warner Brothers.

In the time frame immediately following the Super Bowl, searches for Pepsi increased 60 percent on Yahoo along with thousands of searches for the "Brown and Bubbly" site represented in Super Bowl ads. Searches for ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" increased roughly 400 percent in the same time frame. Warner Bros. "V for Vendetta" spot initiated a 400 percent increase in search share that was unanswered in sponsored results

Brand marketers have always struggled with purchasing their brand names in sponsored listings. In this process of evaluating a paid search presence, it is worth noting that many of these sites maintained high rankings in natural results. For example, a Yahoo search for "Brown and Bubbly" returned the Pepsi site as the number one search result, while sponsored listings were populated by anything with the word "bubble" or "brown" in it.

Without getting into the debate about the importance of sponsored search over natural listings, the issue of buying terms to match campaigns is not as simple as deciding to buy the word. Weighing sponsored costs, competing with unrelated advertisers and listing control with a natural search presence should be part of the consideration process.

Super Bowl every day

The integrated experience shouldn't be limited to our annual chest pounding, beer guzzling event. Case in point: GM's recent 30 second spot which included a call to "Google Pontiac." Why hope that consumers reach out to a search site when you can tell them exactly where to go? Of course, calling out Google instead of another search site sounds a bit more like a co-op ad placement, but you get the idea.

Search and television have an unusual relationship, but one cannot deny the benefits of an integrated cross media experience. We have come a long way by investing in site content that is consistent with traditional media, but the search connection seems lost a bit too often.

Additional resources:

What would you do with $2.5 Million instead of spend it on the Super Bowl?

iMedia Search Editor Kevin M. Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.
Kevin M. Ryan is Managing Partner at Kinetic Results

You're out of date

Few things sound better than the promise of set it and forget it. But while that phrase may be true for most aspects of your agency's website, it shouldn't describe your overall approach, because eventually if you set it and forget, your website will be out of date.

Typically, visitors can see that your website is out of date when they check your work portfolio or your news section. When people see that your agency's most current work or news is more than a year old, it makes it look as though your agency has either stalled out on the client front or simply forgotten to stay current. Obviously, neither one of those messages is a good one. If your agency has a blog section on its website, the need to look fresh is even more pressing, because while we can all understand that months often go by without new work to show or news to report, that same amount of time feels like an eternity on a blog.

To stay current, it's a good idea to set quarterly reviews of your website. You may not always be able to share the latest news (client approvals can often put a damper on information like that), but you should be able to find a way to update. And remember, you don't have to show the world that you're updating daily, you just need to demonstrate that your website and your business are alive and kicking with fresh work. Although if you do have a blog and your quarterly review reveals that it has gone dormant, it's a good time to either task resources to keep the content fresh, or kill it.

You need to get reel

Throw a rock at an ad tech conference and you have a better than 50/50 shot of hitting someone who can quote a stat about the growing importance of video. While many of those numbers are useful (especially if you're in PowerPoint mode), you really don't need much proof to know that people like video. A static picture may be worth a thousand words, but video tells a story. Or at least, it makes it easier for you to tell a story. And yet, for all the power of video and all the time marketers spend talking about that power, it's common to find an agency websites without reels. That's a shame, because even if your agency doesn't do television spots and online video, an agency reel is still one of the best ways to put forward a quick and compelling showcase that tells viewers what your agency is about and what you guys can do.

As for making that video, if you don't have the in-house skills to produce a professional video, you can always try and work out a trade with a video agency or look for talented freelance filmmakers in your city. Remember, you're not making a Hollywood blockbuster, but with a little bit of money, time, and effort you can give your agency's work a cinematic polish that can help open conversations with potential clients.

Social is your website

I get it. You're a social media agency. Everyone on your team is either a ninja or a guru. Or both. You guys eat, sleep, and breathe social. That's all great news! And while you definitely should practice what you preach by maintaining an active presence on the social media platforms that are relevant to your clients, you shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that you can use a Facebook page in lieu of a website.

Yes, you can put all the information you'd put on a website on your agency's Facebook page, but consider the customer. The brand manager who's looking for a new social agency might not want to interface with your agency on Facebook because they might not use the social network for business. At the same time, while it's nice to demonstrate your social skills, social platforms aren't necessarily the best mediums for disseminating sticky information like your portfolio, press clippings, contact information, and team biographies -- all of which probably live best on a website. Finally, choosing not to have a website doesn't enhance your social media bona fides (that's what a social media presence is for), but it does make us question whether you know and embrace the fundamentals of digital.

Please use the contact form

Have you ever filled out a contact form and had a good feeling about reaching an actual human? Maybe the better question is: how often have you decided not to reach out after seeing that the only way to get in touch is via the contact form?

While I understand the reason for contact forms, they tend to be problematic for a couple of reasons. First, they simply feel impersonal. I give you all of my information, you collect that data (usually without telling me what you plan to do with it), and maybe I get a response. Second, even in the best scenarios a contact form obviously has greater friction than a hyperlink to an email account or -- gasp! -- an old-fashioned telephone number. And that begs the question: why would you want to make it harder for a potential client to reach you?

My advice: kill the contact form, put up a direct email address, and invest some time into setting up a solid spam filter.

So where do I click?

It's great to push the boundaries of design. It's amazing that your agency is committed to pushing the user experience envelope. And it's wonderful that you see your agency website as a work of art. These are the important values that push ad tech forward. But it's also easy to overdo it on the design front when it comes to your website, because there's actually a fine line between slick and stupid.

Where is that line? It's impossible to say. But as a rule of thumb, you want your website's navigation to be intuitive and easy to use. Sometimes, you can reinvent the wheel and come up with gold, but often agencies become so fixated on showing off all of their design skills that they forget the value of utility. Usually, when those skills are in service of a client, you get a healthy dose of feedback and user data to balance out your wildest creative ambitions. But when an agency is its own client, there's nobody to give feedback and usually there isn't enough website traffic to make strong, data-driven judgments about where you might have gone off course. One possible solution is to solicit objective peer feedback. Another option is to stick to tried and true designs and innovate around one or two distinct objectives that are easily measured. While that may not yield the most original design, it's important to remember that the best web experiences blend the familiar with the novel.

Cookie cutter

If it's a sin to push the creative envelope past the point of utility when designing your agency's website, it's equally sinful to embrace a cookie cutter design that's used by scores of other agencies. That's not to say that you shouldn't start with a template; templates can be a great place to start because they bake in a lot of the utility fundamentals that make websites work. But a template should be your starting point, not the end of your creativity. Otherwise, what's the point of hiring your agency?

Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.

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