Q: What’s the number one thing people want their browser to do?

A: Block ads.

Sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves of the simple truths about online media and marketing.

Like the fact that, given the choice, a lot of people don’t want banner ads, pop-ups and other sundry promotional interruptions getting in the way of whatever they are dong.

I was reminded of this when Google kindly turned on the ability to add extensions for the Chrome browser on Macs today.

Number one on the list of things I could download to improve my browser was Ad-Block

And down there at the bottom you can see another version. Half a million unique users that don’t see a thing…

How advertising distorts brand marketing

“Only when television managed to emancipate itself from the economic construct of advertising was there a real emancipation of story.”

So said David Simon, creator of the greatest piece of art that has ever aired on television, The Wire – speaking at the Edinburgh TV festival last month (about in an interview with Charlie Brooker.

Similarly, brands – companies, organisations, whatever – need to free themselves from advertising as the core of how they communicate, how they practise marketing.

So do agencies (in fact many of them are already).

Advertising, to most people, *is* marketing. Since the 1950s at least, the TV ad has been the hub, the centrepiece of how marketing gets done. It’s where the money is, where a lot of talent goes.

Anyway, I was thinking about this last week prepping for a presentation at NMALive called “Influencing the Influencers”.

The title set me of on three trains of thought:

  • 1. How advertising as an “economic construct” distorts marketing and therefore business more widely.
  • 2. We need for models of communication that target both traditional influencers (media, celebrities, experts) and “accidental influencers“.
  • 3. Networks are inherently unpredictable (because they complex adaptive systems) – we need to avoid illusions of being able to predict and control behaviours and focus on “How to be lucky” as brands.

Here’s the presentation…

How to Be Lucky (Influencing the Influencers presentation from NMALive Sep 09)

Back to advertising vs. marketing. Advertising, TV advertising, distorts marketing in the digital age in lots of ways. The business models and the economic imperative still pulls in disproportionate amounts of budget, talent and attention from brand owners and marketers generally.

Just as The Wire was the result of TV being set free as a medium from advertising-only business models, organisations will benefit from being set free from the distorting influence of the advertising only model.

No top Facebook apps from brands either…

Just as you won’t see a “viral video” from a brand in the blockbuster list for this genre, you won’t find any apps from brands in the top Facebook apps list.

As Dirk at News from the Herd notes, it’s about certain kinds of useful when it comes to hitting the sweetspot with Facebook users:

1- Produce addictive but simple to use games that don’t force ad messaging down users throats

2 – Give them a way to organise their lives, and/ or:

3 – Provide them with mildly competitive ‘social comparison’ tools vs their friends.

As Inside Facebook noted, the recent redesign of Facebook shook up the developer leaderboard, bringing the likes of LivingSocial to the fore.

Interesting to see Causes in the top 5 apps out there on Facebook. Reminds me of the excellent Brita “Filter for Good” campaign in the US, to reduce the amount of bottled water being consumed. The Facebook app and the Facebook group for this were just a couple of the parts of the approach.


The brand benefit is direct in this case – but it is a brand behaving like a movement, and benefitting (in terms of awareness) from helping people acknowledge, pass on a call to action around an issue, without having to commit to a great deal of effort. If they want to talk about it more, get involved more they can and Brita will give them a little more data and tools to do so (if they’re smart, which they seem to be).

Dirk asks if brands can ever win in Facebook:

It will be interesting to see if brands manage to make much head-way here, or whether it really is a case of as P&G’s head of interactive said last year, you can’t monetise a space where someone is breaking up with his girlfriend.

It’s a nice, pithy, provocative question. But monetising, advertising, interupting, branding up these spaces are far from the only option for brands. I think that as more brands develop their social web literacy we’ll see them feel more at ease with spaces like Facebook, find their legitimate, useful places in them.

I’m not sure if they will ever be blockbuster app hits that make it to the Appdata leaderboard. I think that should probably not be an objective for a brand. That “big is best” attitude is another one of those hangovers from channel thinking.

: : You can keep an eye on who is winning on Facebook by apps and developers at AppData.

Q: What have the most popular “virals” of all time got in common?

A: None of them was an advert (if you don’t count movie trailers).

I’ve taken to bookmarking excellent viral videos when I see them. Reason being, whenever I’m asked which viral videos are my favourite (journalists, conference panel moderators and analysts seem to ask this most often) I can never seem to recall one.

Maybe my recall for “virals” is like jokes – I’ve basically got three slots in my long term memory and once they’re full, I’ve not got much to go on.

This obsession with “viral videos” is a legacy thing, a hangover from the channels model of media. People projecting their wish that the world were still simple eneough that a 30-second video (easy concept to understand, recall, make money out of) still sat at the centre of it all.

Bild’s Vado publishing eco-system and the promise of user generated advertising

Image: The Bild.de Vado from Creative
Image: The Bild.de Vado from Creative

This was an amazing week, that passed at a few hundred miles an hour, so sorry for the silence.

First thing that has grabbed me this morning as I peruse my feeds is this story from Jeff Jarvis about how the German magazine Bild, took the concept of the Flip‘s small, simple video camera, made it its own and sold 21,000 to readers in five weeks for just 69 EUROs each.

Result: thousands of “reader reporter” videos being submitted. Soon, the magazine says it will be using this growing installed based of video camera’d readers to launch a concept called “user geenrated advertising” in four weeks.


Here’s Jeff talking to Kai Dieckmann, editor of Bild about the story of the Vado so far…

The magazine worked with electronics company Creative to make the camera which sells cheaper than the already reasonable Flip. Even at the poor Sterling / Euro rate we’re looking at a Flip-like camera for about £50.

The uploading of video via USB to your computer defaults to Bild’s website… which encourages people to post their videos there, naturally.

The model reminds me of iPod+iTunes, only in reverse – it’s about creating content rather than just comnsuming it. In this case it is camera+platform+media company to go and promote that platform…

Really looking forward to seeing what this highly innovative media company does with “user generated advertising”. I’ll be asking my colleagues at iCrossing Germany to keep a close eye on how this thing evolves…

Useful advertising: Atheist bus ads

Image: An atheist bus advert (credit: Lorissa)
Image: An atheist bus advert (credit: Lorissa)

You’ll doubtless have heard the story of the journalist and comedian, Ariane Sherine, who was irritated by a Christian ad campaign on buses declaring that non-believers  “will be condemned to everlasting separation from God and then you spend all eternity in torment in hell … Jesus spoke about this as a lake of fire prepared for the devil”.

Writing a series of articles on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, she suggested that atheists club together to pay for a some ads with a more reassuring atheist messsage (“There’s probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life”) the campaign gathered momentum and raised far more money than was needed. It also became a meme that spread around the world.

Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the ad. The ads, or the process of getting them there, became a social object.

The effect of the advertising itself is almost peripheral to the effect of the debate, the bringing together of atheists – a group usually less adept at organising itself than anarchists – with the focus of getting these ads made and the space on the buses bought.

So, some online debate plus a donation website (with a fund that is still growing) and there you have it… a potent piece of activism.

: : Finally, as a riposte to the inevitable complaints to the ASA, Richard Dawkins, a devise proponent of atheism gives a choice quote in this video:  “They have to take offence – it’s the only weapon they’ve got.” Got to remember that one, right?

B-b-b-b-b-word crisis: is advertising spam?


Image: Adriana's B-word T-shirt
Image: Adriana's b-word t-shirt

I am sticking to my don’t-mention-the-b-word in January resolution, inspired by Mark Earls for the moment. B-b-b-b-b-but it’s very hard when Tom Hopkins et al start talking about the b-word crisis#mce_temp_url# and I want to blog about it.  It’s even harder when I contemplate recording an audio version of the B-Words in Networks e-book myself and the iCrossing team put out at the end of next year…

It’s even harder when I remember I have to record an audio version of the B-words in Networks e-book I published with iCrossing toward the end of last year… As I a wise man said, d’oh!


Image: Advertising or art?
Image: Advertising or art?


Anyhow, we’ll soldier on, quoting Tom and resorting to Watergate transcripts expletive deleted techniques where necessary… 

Today’s crisis in [expletive deleted] feels somewhat more intractable, although the response has been the same. The onslaught this time, of course, is coming from consumers retaking control over their media environment.

Clay Shirky today took an interesting viewpoint on twitter: “when someone asks ‘how does this social media stuff really scale?’ they really mean ‘how do I become a spammer?’.

Was mass meida advertising SPAM? I think Russell Davies’ analysis is the clearest discussion of this I’ve read: advertising is tolerated when it is part of a value exchange; everything else is SPAM.

Russell Davies’ analysis is, unsurprisingly, spot on. And Clay Shirky’s Twittist reductionism is sweet, sweet truth… 

Russell thinks about the ad-spam issue outside of just web display ads too, looking at the proliferation of logos and ads slapped on to anything and everything. As digital media merges with the physical world, this will become an even greater issue. 

Ooh, ooh, there's a bit of building without an ad on it!

Celebrated in the marketing press often, these “guerilla”, “ambient” tactics are celebrated in the marketing and media blogs and publications, but as Russell puts it “one person’s fun is another’s spam”. He continues: 

And this matters for a couple of reasons. (Probably also obvious) Firstly, because living in Bladerunner brought to you by Cillit Bang would be horrible, just as a person. Secondly, because I think it actually makes for counter-productive marketing. Annoying your potential customers in more and more places is not a useful strategy for businesses.

Or one day we may go a guerilla digital ad too far and get regulated into the ground, like Sao Paolo? And then someone can make an ad about the ad-lessness… Ah, what an industry…