Thursday, 29 January 2009

When does a creative wear out?

Media analysts get this question a lot. I certainly do. How long can you run a TV creative, before it 'wears out' and is no longer effective?
Still, I've never seen a reliable piece of modelling work that showed a creative had worn out and wasn't generating sales any more.

Us analysts don't like this sort of question. It's not answerable with a nice, billable, 6-8 week econometrics project. It's also generally asked in a way that implies there should be a general rule for this sort of thing. If somebody showed reliably that for a few advertisers the creative was definitely starting to wear out after 18months, that would be it. 18 months set in stone and wheeled out time and again in presentations.

If anyone reading is looking for a rule of thumb, I didn't just say it was 18 months!

Lets be honest, it depends on the creative and what you use it for. Pepsi's new Superbowl ad is going to get old quickly (ineffective? maybe, maybe not.)

This monstrosity from America is old almost instantly and can't sink any lower after that. Bet it still works though.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

IPA Social Media Report

Oh, yes it's another one. The world's gone all web 2.0 and it will change things forever.

At least the IPA have hedged their bets and said social media might change things for good, or might not, or things might change just a little bit.

I'm not saying that social media aren't important, or even that it's not a revolution, but if you're not bringing anything new to the conversation, then why the presentation with accompanying fanfare?

I do think there's a strong argument that people have always talked to each other about brands, it's just that now they're talking at a much higher volume and you can hear them doing it. 'Doing social media advertising' isn't all that different to 'doing good advertising' but that's a topic for another day.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

What's the best TV spot money can buy?

An enjoyable rant from Turner Broadcasting's research chief that starts off with Forrester and then turns on Nielsen.

Is the criticism of Nielsen justified though? It's not like producing data on TV viewers' programme loyalty and viewing habits would be that difficult if you had the Nielsen data. It must not exist because advertisers aren't demanding that data (even if Turner would like it.)

Advertisers don't want the data, because it's useless. What's the point in knowing that the X-Factor is the perfect programme to buy if you can't then go out and buy it? For as long as TV channels sell packages of airtime, where you don't get to pick individual spots, there's no point in investing in detailed TV audience research unless you're a broadcaster. Nielsen do their work, first and foremost, for advertisers.

If there was an auction for TV spots in the same way as there's an auction for Google search terms, we'd all be swimming in TV audience research by the end of next week.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Jacqui Smith needs to have a word with some Clubcard analysts

The UK government seems to be easily seduced by IT companies offering all encompassing database solutions to its problems. Contactpoint goes live today, holding the details of every child under 18 in the country and designed to prevent cases of child abuse slipping through the cracks chasms between different government agencies.

The NHS computerisation scheme is four years late after five years work and will cost £12.7bn if it's ever finished. That has very little to do with marketing, but you've got to really believe in a database to pay £12.7bn for it.

The government also aims to release the Interception Modernisation Programme by 2012. This is a big one, holding details of all electronic communications between individuals. Like having a huge itemised phone bill that includes emails, texts and telephone calls. Baroness Miller asked a question in the Lords concerning,

"three billion emails - that is 35,000 every second - 18 million internet connections and 57 billion text messages a year."

Disregarding the - frankly, vast - civil liberties implications of this database, would it be useful? Marketing analysts like big databases too, so what have we learned?

When a marketing analyst analyses a huge database, they're not looking for individuals. They're looking for patterns of behaviour among groups, that might be useful for targeting adverts.

The legendary nappies and beer example (diapers and beer if you're American) states that database analysts working for a major retailer noticed nappies and beer were often sold together. The story goes that young male parents often buy nappies on a Friday night and pick up a pack of beer too, so cross marketing these two products is extremely effective. Take your pick on which retailer - Wal-mart, Tesco, ASDA - it's not actually true.

The story works because it's an example of the sorts of things that marketing database analysts might look for. More realistically, analysts would profile different customer segments so that appropriate offers can be targeted towards them. What offers might appeal to a 25 year old mother of two who buys a lot of ready meals?

When you try to pick individuals out of the database, the whole thing falls apart. As well as being useless for marketing purposes, the 'outliers' (© Malcolm Gladwell) are, well, weird.

Some analyst friends working on a customer loyalty database, used to run a routine that looked for fraudulent activity. It picked out the people who were earning unfeasibly large numbers of rewards and flagged them for investigation.
As well as a few charlatans, it found a chap who was quite legitimately routing all his utility bills through the loyalty scheme and was quite probably their perfect customer, a member of the Saudi royal family with an unfeasbily large shopping bill and a football supporters' club where all the members were earning rewards together for fundraising.

What the goverment will find out if they ever get this thing off the ground, is that there are a lot of people in the UK with perfectly good reasons to send all sorts of suspicious looking emails. When the price of being flagged is a police interview (for starters) it really would be worth talking to the people who've been doing this stuff for ages - have a word with the analysts at Tesco Clubcard.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Obama! Live! With Facts!

I watched Obama's inauguration on CNN yesterday. He didn't turn water into wine, but otherwise it was pretty good, if a little lower key than a lot of people expected.

CNN, being a news channel, had the obligatory logos and tickers plastered all over the screen.
UK news channels like these too, because usually what the newsreaders are saying isn't that interesting - you've heard it at least three times already today - so they give you four bits of information at once that aren't interesting and hope to hold your attention.

CNN kept putting facts at the bottom of the screen. Which is good. They are a news channel.

What's not so good is that they felt the need to label them 'FACT'. As opposed to what? The stuff they were making up 24 hours earlier? I was half expecting the ticker at some point to change to 'Fiction - Obama once beat Hulk Hogan in a thumb war'

Just for fun...

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

SAS in trouble?

I'm going to stick my neck out here about the piece of software that drives a lot of marketing analysts' work.

SAS is the industry standard software for analysing big databases and, in all honesty, it should be much better.

The fundamental structure for SAS was put together in 1966 - 1968, with SAS Institute being incorporated in 1976 and the problem today is that it feels like a piece of software that has been built up over time. It also feels like the core of SAS was never designed with all it does today in mind, so new features have been bolted onto older features as the need for them arose.

It's horrible to code for SAS. There's no inline error checking, no auto suggest and the way that SAS Macros work is counterintuitive if you've got any other programming experience. To cap it all off, features added at different times over the life of SAS have subtly different programming syntaxes, so you have to learn individually how every procedure works - it's not enough to learn the basic structure of the language.

Apart from being the industry standard, I say SAS should be much better because it costs £4,300 per seat, per year (ignoring multiple licence discounts.) That's a hell of a lot of money for a piece of analytical software - almost the same as ten copies of Office 2007 Professional. And once you buy Office, you own it for life.

SAS could shortly be in a lot of trouble. Data analysis is a perfect market for Open Source software, because so many people will have a genuine interest in creating it. There's a large pool of analysts and programmers (including a lot of academic researchers) who will be happy to add the features that they need and then make them generally available to everyone else.

R is an odd name for a piece of software that, over the last 6 months, has been mentioned to me by analysts and by clients as a potential SAS replacement. Download it. It's free and it's very, very good.

It won't replace SAS for everybody yet. Banks for example, have loads of legacy built up in SAS and need the backup and support of a multinational software company. For many others though, R is being looked at as a genuine SAS replacement.

This NY Times article is a really good read and has an interesting quote from SAS, regarding R.

“I think it addresses a niche market for high-end data analysts that want free, readily available code," said Anne H. Milley, director of technology product marketing at SAS. She adds, “We have customers who build engines for aircraft. I am happy they are not using freeware when I get on a jet.”

The thing is, most data analysts don't build jets. They do day-to-day tasks like financial reporting and creating customer segmentations.
When Google and Pfizer publicly admit to using R, I think it's time for SAS to worry. R has also gained a strong hold among academic researchers, which means the next generation of graduates joining the industry will know how to use it rather than (or as well as) SAS.

If SAS doesn't get its act together and produce some software that is £4,300 better than R, they're going to lose a lot of customers. And you know what? Most of those customers won't be sorry to see it go.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Never mind significance tests, what did you find out?

When building a statistical model, different analysts place different amounts of emphasis on whether their findings are 'significant'. In other words, whether a set of statistical tests say that they've found a real relationship - like advertising causes an increase in sales - or a potentially spurious one.

There are all sorts of tests for all sorts of modelling situations. Academic statisticians can spend ages with them; commercial analysts usually less time, because they have a tight deadline. We tend to satisfy ourselves that the model is as good as it needs to be and then move on.

A new piece of work by Decipher and Viacom got me thinking about this recently, because it had a sample size of just 15 households. A big, long-term, focus group.

In case you don't what to look at the link, Decipher fitted out 15 homes with as much digital entertainment kit as they could possibly want and then left them to it for 6 months to see what would happen.

Great idea. What does happen to TV viewing in a truly digital home? If you've got the internet, Sky+, a collection of DVDs and music stored on the main TV in your lounge, how much broadcast TV do you end up watching? It turns out, quite a bit.

The number that grabbed me most, was that over 6 months about 1/3 of the people in the test (not the households - the people) tried the BBC iplayer. About 1/3 of those that tried it, used it a lot.

This is in a home that has been deliberately set up to put the web on the main TV in the house.

Why all the preamble about significance testing? Well because despite being a survey of only 15 homes, 1/3 sounds about right to me. Unless iplayer or 4oD are so well integrated into the TV that the user can't tell the difference between broadcast and streaming, I'm going with around 1/3 of people will try streaming. And about 10% of the total population will be very regular users.

It's a stat that passes the common sense test and - sometimes - that's good enough.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Congratulations, you're a press photographer

An aeroplane landed in the Hudson river this morning. Or more accurately crashed, seeing as a large flock of birds passing through the engines meant that it didn't have much choice in the matter.

Lots of news outlets are reporting that a twitter photo has been beamed around the world, appearing in newspapers and online and giving the taker his 15 minutes of fame.

What I'm wondering is, how much has he been paid? Newspapers traditionally pay photographers for content and the picture was viewed over 7,000 times before twitter's servers crashed.

In the UK, the Press Complaints Commission is investigating the publication by newspapers of pictures and other material obtained through social networking sites.

Newscorp bought the owner of for $580m with Rupert Muroch saying that the site would drive traffic to Newscorp's Fox TV sites.


What it definitely did is gave Fox TV access to the next David Beckham's drunken teenage party pictures. How much is that worth?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Google taking its eye off the long-term

Everybody knows that Google isn't evil. Well at least that they definitely say they're not.

They do seem to be bowing to the demands of capitalism recently though and have ruffled a few feathers in the process.

For anyone who missed it, Google has been playing about with its adwords mechanism.

Automatic matching now means that you bid against keywords that you didn't actually mean to buy (if you don't turn it off after Google turn it on.) That might be a good thing for your ROI and it might not, but would you be happy if you bought a spot in Coronation Street and ITV ran one in Emmerdale too because it has the same audience, then billed you for both? Thought not.

Adgooroo are also reporting that Google upped the number of ads per search by 57% in the last quarter of last year. Turning on the taps = more revenue for Google, but it's a very different strategy to Larry Page's statement that:

"we'd be better off showing just one ad [per page] - the perfect ad."

All of this, on its own, probably won't do any harm. It's not like I'm foretelling the downfall of Google but it could be likened to the brand manager who runs 'one more promotion' to boost sales before the year ends. Do it enough times and you start to devalue your brand.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Now that's how you generate buzz online

My favourite campaign of the year by far and it's only January.

The British Humanist Association are running bus ads in London with the slogan:

"There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life"

Tiny campaign. Big impact.

In fact, this Nielsen BlogPulse run for the term 'probably no God' shows that even suggesting they would spend the money generated as much hype online as actually spending it.

And a Thought for the Day from The Guardian (TftD is incidentally going to broadcast its first non-religious message as a result of the campaign.)

"The ASA has received 141 complaints about the Atheist Bus Campaign which launched earlier this week on buses throughout England, Scotland and Wales, as well as the London underground. However, 39 of the complaints are regarding newspaper and online articles about the campaign, which the ASA has no power to deal with."

Friday, 9 January 2009

Advertising in a recession

Ads on Edge
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: branding recession)

Well done to The Economist. Not for the content - when share of voice is all you've got, then you haven't got very much - but definitely one of the prettiest and easiest to follow presentations I've seen in a while.