Monday, 30 November 2009

A gap in the fog

What to do with a marketing blog when you don't work in marketing any more? To be honest I'm not sure, so Wallpapering Fog is going to take a sabbatical for a bit while I decide what to do with it.

Friday will be my last day at Mindshare. After ten years in various marketing analyst jobs (ish - there's been some fun side projects along the way too) I'm leaving to work for EMI. There'll be things to do that are marketing and things that aren't and to tell the truth, I'm not sure exactly what it will be yet, which is why I'm excited. And it's been too long since work has got me properly excited.

So no more Wallpapering Fog for now. If it turns out to still be useful, I'll start posting again. I can't start a music related blog as I don't know enough about it (yet)!

This has been a brilliant place to put thoughts in order and have a rant and I'd highly recommend blogging to anyone who works in marketing. Just don't put Google Analytics on your site if you've got the kind of obsessive personality that will eagerly track visitor numbers. It's evil. And slightly depressing. Blog for yourself and if other people read it, then that's a bonus.

Cheerio & thanks for reading,


Tuesday, 24 November 2009


You manage a brand that is the oldest of its type in the world.

You hope to influence the life of every person in the UK.

And you run this as an advertising campaign. Pathetic.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The click path money pit

There's a problem with Holy Grails. In the end they're just trinkets, golden ornaments that shine but are not useful. In Arthurian legend huge, wasteful campaigns were mounted to recover them.

So it is with click path, the Holy Grail of web analytics.

On the web, give or take a blocked cookie or two, we can track an individual's viewing of ads across multiple websites and over time. Then we can see what they did on our own website - did they go on to buy?

Did they see a branded ad, then visit us and a few of our competitors' sites, then see a price offer for our product and then purchase? And if they did, wouldn't it be amazing to know exactly how that worked?

Projects like this have been tried off-line once or twice and resulted in a horrendously expensive waste of time.

But online it's easier, online all the data is at our fingertips...

Which makes it an easier decision to pour money into the pit.

The first 'surprise' of click path analysis is quite how much data it generates. I was talking to a planner the other day who'd requested the full history for a few thousand product purchases as an experiment to see what he could do with it. The nine million rows that came back were somewhat beyond Excel's capabilities to analyse. If you haven't got some serious SQL programmers on your team, forget it.

So now you've got yourself a major IT project - data collection, processing and analytics. Front ends and SQL databases. This is going to be expensive.

But the results will be worth it, no? The results will put us on the cutting edge.

Well actually, no. Not yet.

If you get to the big database without running out of budget or management patience (which is going to take a miracle) then you've got... not a lot. Now you need to analyse it.

There will be a few big wins. Some sites and ads will stick out as converting well and some general paths to sale will emerge. You could have found that out a lot more cheaply with well-designed surveys though and the rest of the database will just be noise. Lots and lots and lots of noise.

The only way to make use of the little bits of gain that exist in the noise is buying systems that can optimise tiny pieces of the schedule automatically - serving bespoke brand ads and price offers based on browser profiles and the ads they've already seen. Have you got one of those? No, me neither.

If you don't believe me, look at the long tail of a search campaign. You've generated clicks from thousands of words, sure, but 90% of your clicks came from the top twenty terms. The only reason it's worth having the long tail is because it's generated automatically.

Automatic click path analysis will get here, eventually, but the wins won't actually be that big. It's not the holy grail. If you're a media agency don't even try to build it, Google will get there, or a startup will get there, and it will be worth it for them because they can sell the solution to everyone. For most of us, it's a money pit and a reason to defer, prevaricate and delay doing the best that you can without it. In the words of Monty Python...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

How much free stuff are you worth?

Twitter's free, Facebook's free, Youtube's free and they're all trying to raise enough cash to be profitable by selling advertising space.

Time for a back of a fag packet analytics session. How much free content can advertising support?

So far, I've seen this question approached in terms of dwell time and attention. A site attracts ten thousand visitors a month, they spend an average of three minutes looking at it and so through some kind of TV spot equivalence, broadcast ad space has a value. Either that or it's click through rates, in which case each site has a different value to different advertisers, depending on how well targeted the site is, and it all gets complicated very quickly.

Here's an easy way.

Average UK household income is £30,000 after tax.

Assume that on average, they will spend all of it (some will save and some will borrow, which is too much maths to fit on the back of a box of Marlboro Lights.)

Companies spend, on average, around 3% of their total turnover on advertising. (American data, from 2007. Stop moaning, it's a fag packet analysis.)

This would mean that in the UK, each household is generating about £900 per year of advertising. That's £17.31 per week.

With a few exceptions (traditional Outdoor advertising being one) all advertising piggy backs on content. ITV programmes, subsidised newspaper prices, websites, whatever. You permit companies to advertise to you in return for free stuff.

So we've got £17.31 per household per week to spend on content - all of it, from TV programmes to Twitter. Straight away you can see why a lot of web business models have got a problem. A Napster subscription is £10 a month, so free music would take about £2.50 off your weekly budget to start with. A Sky HD subscription is £55.75 a month all in*, which would take nearly £14 of your weekly budget.

As a rule of thumb, with a little bit left over, I think it makes sense to say that advertising could support content up to the value of a free Sky HD subscription, plus free on-tap music for everybody in the country. And no more. That's quite a lot of free stuff, but how many websites, TV channels, newspapers, magazines, sports matches and others have we got bidding for a piece of the pie?

* Yes I know Sky has a large element of ad funding too. It's a back of a... you know the rest.

Friday, 13 November 2009

This is how you do it

Clean, simple, loads quickly, the navigation is obvious and it's fun. The best agency website design I've seen.

These are some web design principles I've been using recently, but once committees get involved, they're a lot easier to come up with in the first place than to stick to...

- If it needs instructions or training, then it’s too complicated

- If something’s not being used, change it or get rid of it

- White space is better than a feature that isn’t clicked

- One page serves one purpose and a page fits on a screen

- Lots of text is a Bad Thing

- Cultural, not corporate

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The video game hype cycle

Brace yourself, there's very nearly proper analysis in this post. Nearly.

This week's release of Modern Warfare 2 is set to become the fastest selling video game ever.
The hype around a big release builds over a long period, so if it was me, where would I put the marketing money? Start really, really early and try to build critical mass? Release it and then spend the cash? Or something in between.

Sounds like a job for Google Insights.

Lets have a look at what people do on Google before, during and after a game launch. This list gives us the top ten fastest sellers ever, so we know what we're working with.
  1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2, Rockstar)
  2. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2, Rockstar)
  3. Gran Turismo 4 (PS2, Sony)
  4. Halo 2 (Xbox, Microsoft)
  5. Pro Evolution Soccer 5 (PS2, Konami)
  6. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (PS2, Konami)
  7. FIFA '07 (PS2, EA)
  8. FIFA '06 (PS2, EA)
  9. The Getaway (PS2, Sony)
  10. Pro Evolution Soccer 4 (PS2, Konami)
Google's good for this because it shows when people are actually interested. You might be throwing in advertising money, but are people in the mood to respond?

Line up the search data so that all the titles launch on the same week (and drop the older versions of games that are in there twice) and let's have a look.

Well, that was fun. First thing that strikes me is how similar they all are. Modern Warfare is definitely big, but that's not completely fair because quite a few of the others have got common abbreviations of their names that would give them more searches (Pro Evo 6 or GTA for Grand Theft Auto.) The shapes are very similar though, building together to a spike at launch. Halo and Grand theft auto both had a little rally post launch in about week 8, but overall, pretty close.

Enough coloured lines, lets normalise the whole lot to give them equal weight and then average all the releases.

Now that the clutter's out of the way, it's striking how fast the searches drop off. You're not flavour of the month, it's more like flavour of a few weeks at most. The little bump around week 8 is Halo and GTA again.

OK, so where does the ad money go? People actually searched continuously for Modern Warfare 2 from December 2008 all the way to launch this week so there's definitely a groundswell. They've got to be seriously motivated to be looking for you back then though and will snap up even the littlest news... Not worth a lot of effort for me, but teasing on some gamers forums once in a while would keep them keen for free.

Interest starts to ramp up ten weeks pre-launch. Now I'm going to put the budget in, building the campaign at about the same speed as the chart builds interest, so whatever is going in nine or ten weeks pre-launch, we're at more than double that level two weeks before. And then you hit it hard for the three weeks around the launch. Don't ask me what's the right overall budget, I'm doing this for fun. For money I'll get some more data from somewhere and have a go...

That's not quite the end. Overall searches can be all sorts of things without being purchases. Is it worth carrying on much post launch? The charts so far suggest not really and it all happens in a short, big hit. I'd like to see some data for terms like 'Buy Grand Theft Auto' but unfortunately if you try it, Insights defaults to monthly because it thinks there's not enough data. Please stop it Google, it's annoying. If the data's unstable, I'll behave with it, promise.

I'll leave you with one more interesting snippet. Only one of the games on the top-ten fastest selling list is in the twenty biggest console games ever: Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (they'e all console games.)

Biggest selling is dominated by Nintendo, making games where the graphics matter less and the gameplay matters more, so they can sell them for less and over a much longer period.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A fun game

Google's new auto suggest feature is a fun (if slightly disturbing) way to see what the world is thinking. Courtesy of cnet, who typed:

"Why would a..."

and Google auto completed

"... little girl in Yorkshire think Jesus was born in an egg?"

You can't buy thinking like that. Asking about marketing and advertising yielded the gems.

"Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department",

"Advertising is what you do when your product is no good"

and my personal favourite

"Advertising is the price companies pay for being unoriginal"

Too late to be popular

The Royal Mail ran ads in a series of national newspapers yesterday calling on its workers not to strike. I hope they work. I don't think they will, but I hope they do.

This dispute is going to come down to a popularity contest between the CWU, and Royal Mail. Both sides know it, hence the ads. The CWU is on a PR binge, with statements like this, from Dave Ward:

"Earlier today we tabled a proposal as part of the process that reflected the progress made in negotiations over the last few days. "Had that proposal been agreed this would have enabled a period of calm and allowed further talks through ACAS with the intention of concluding a full and final agreement.

At this point of time, we have not had confirmation as to whether our proposal is acceptable and therefore the strikes previously announced for the next few days will take place. "

And I thought new media advocates talked in riddles. It turns out they're amateurs, union representatives have been at it for far longer with a different set of buzzwords.

Trouble is, it's far too late now for the CWU to try to get a lot of people on-side. Little Village Post Offices are charming and essential, but they're not most people's experience. Town Centre Post Offices are what most people know and they're hellish. And it's the CWU's fault.

When the UK Fire Service went out on strike in 2002, they largely had public support and they got their pay deal. The Fire Service had a lot of public goodwill to call on when the strike started but Post Office workers have almost none left.

Experience of a city centre post office is of a business that is deliberately obstructive. People who only want to post a letter have to queue with people whose passport application has been rejected and little old ladies who want to discuss their savings account. Why? In any other business, you'd have a quick drop desk for ready to go parcels and letters. Come to that you'd have a few weighing scale machines with a credit card swipe attached that printed out the correct postage. Why don't we have those? The CWU. They'd strike if the Royal Mail tried to introduce them.

In Charing Cross Post Office, there's a Philatelic Items window, with a staff member behind it permanently doing nothing. Officially he sells commemorative stamps. He won't take a parcel even when he's doing absolutely nothing and there's a half hour queue. Seriously, try it (then buy £1.50 worth of commemorative stamps for your parcel - it's fun and it winds him up.) Anybody think Adam Crozier wants him there, instead of mailing parcels? Or would that be the CWU again?

Royal Mail have already lost the Amazon account, among others. They're going slowly bankrupt and this strike is accelerating the inevitable. In a popularity contest, I don't need the Royal Mail's new ads - the management already win every time.