Monday, 23 April 2012

Why don't more people block web adverts?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post, which guesstimated that the proportion of internet users who run ad blocking software on their browser was somewhere around 5%.

It's grown a lot in relative terms over the past couple of years, but much of that growth is down to increased usage of the Chrome and Firefox browsers, which make it easy. In absolute terms, the number of people who block ads on the internet is still very low.

My question today is why? As a user, the internet is a much nicer place without adverts in it. Google search results are more useful, because advertisers can't pay to monopolise the top slots, web pages load faster and nothing's competing for your attention with the article that you came to a website to read.

I work in advertising and I block ads on my browser, unless I choose to see them for work. Why would people who don't work in advertising ever choose to see ads on the web? I can think of three reasons.

  • People like web ads and find them useful. On balance, they'd rather have an internet with ads, than one without. But if that's true, then why are click rates and engagement rates with online ads in general, so low?
  • People recognise that advertising is how a lot of internet content is funded and so they choose to play the game. This is the argument that it's immoral to read an online newspaper's content for free at the same time as blocking the ads that it's trying to serve you. Could be happening, but with 95% of people? I don't believe that, especially since music piracy rates seem to be much higher.

    There's also a trouble making moral counter argument that if you don't like ads and wouldn't click them anyway, then by stopping a website serving you ads, you're stopping that website charging an advertiser for an ineffective impression.
  • Most internet users don't know that they can block ads, don't believe it works, or can't be bothered to set it up.

I'd like to use Wallpapering Fog for a social experiment. Assuming you don't have an ad blocker on your browser yet,

here's the Chrome link

and here's the Firefox link.

Either will take you seconds to set up. Why would you not click them?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

We'll build the brand. As soon as we work out what it means.

My move away from London to work with smaller advertisers has seen me thinking a lot about the fundamentals of what we do in media agencies. When you work with smaller businesses, very often you deal with their owners rather than with marketing specialists. These are clever people, but they haven't been immersed in marketing-speak for the past ten years and jargon needs to be explained. It's plain English marketing and all the more refreshing for the fact that you can't get away with throwing buzzwords around and assuming everybody's with you all the way.

There are lots of examples to pick from. We take Search ads for granted in media land now and if you're a marketer who doesn't know how Google search auctions work then you should be ashamed of yourself. A retail business owner whose company has been around for 30 years however, needs the intricacies of search explained in a simple way. He doesn't just implicitly assume that search should be part of his media mix in the way a modern marketer probably would.

There's a word that has the potential to tie even the most sophisticated marketer in knots when asked to explain what it means. It's a word we use a lot. It's at the very heart of what we do.

Why do marketers struggle so badly to explain what brand means?

This goes to the heart of the modern malaise in marketing. Branding - brand building - is what we do. But we cant explain what it means.

It's like... well it's like wallpapering fog, which is how this blog got its name. Brand looks solid. It looks like a strong concept. Then you try to hang a definition on it and it isn't there.

Here's a dictionary definition:

"A type of product manufactured by a company under a particular name". That's definitely not what agencies mean when they say 'brand'. In fact, we often make a distinction between 'brand advertising' and 'product advertising'. 'Brand advertising' isn't intrinsically tied to the product, so what the hell is it? We're in real trouble now, because the dictionary definition, where a sensible non-marketer might look to understand what the hell his agency is banging on about, isn't what we mean.

"We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand. We get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product." @AdContrarian

Just throwing that one in there as a counterpoint to the idea that brand and product advertising are different. In all honesty, I agree with the statement above, but it's not what marketers usually mean when they say 'brand ad'. It's even from a guy who calls himself Contrarian.

So back to trying to explain what brand building means, if it doesn't mean just selling more product. I can see the finance director twitching...

It's not just making people 'like' you. (It's especially not just persuading them to click a button with 'like' written on it.)

It's not just making customers feel all warm and fuzzy about themselves, if that doesn't eventually lead to some increased sales. (It's not, right? We do need to sell stuff in the end.)

For me, brand means that through advertising, consumers get more value from a product than it has intrinsically. They show a preference for that product and are willing to pay more for it, for reasons that are not a part of the product's objective quality.

That's a bit of a mouthful. My Yorkshire retailer's bullshit alarm is flashing amber.

Let's try:

"Branding is persuading people to pay more for our product, without improving it."

As an economist, I'm happy with that. Not what you thought it meant? OK, but you need a one liner that concisely explains what branding means, or advertising agencies will continue to struggle to explain how they add value to a business.

Next, up on Wallpapering Fog: 'Engagement'.

This might well turn into a series of marketing buzzwords, defined one at a time for impatient Yorkshiremen with no time for bullshit. In the end, we will be able to explain in simple terms, what on earth it is that we do.

This is important. As a great man once said...

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself" Albert Einstein.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Google Currents: A new way to read your favourite marketing blog!

I've just been playing with Google Currents and have got to say, I'm well impressed. On a 7" HTC Flyer tablet, it's slick, easy to read and it looks great.

So good in fact, that you can now read Wallpapering Fog there!

After you've installed Currents, point your mobile browser here or at the button on the side-bar of this site and you can read Wallpapering Fog in all its tabloidy formatted glory. Apparently I need 200+ subscribers in Currents before I get indexed in the search, so that could be a while... the button's definitely your best bet.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

It really is rocket science

Just received this email from NASA regarding something I must have signed up for at some point and I have to share it. No idea what the service was, because... well because this. To be honest it could say aliens had invaded and I wouldn't be any the wiser.

To: neilcharles

Users of Reverb and LP DAAC DAR Tool,

The ESDIS Project at NASA is preparing to migrate the user accounts of the ECHO (Earth Observing System Clearinghouse) Reverb client and the ASTER DAR Tool to the new Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) EOSDIS User Registration System (URS).  The URS is designed to improve use of the EOSDIS system by enhancing functionality and simplifying of user registration and profile management.  With the new URS, a web interface will be offered that allows you to update (reset password, retrieve/change account information) your account profile.  You may also continue to use existing tools (e.g. Reverb) to modify your account information, as changes will be persisted in the EOSDIS URS.

The EOSDIS URS enforces account uniqueness based on email address and user name.  If you have multiple ECHO user accounts, or an existing EOSDIS URS account, with a conflicting email address or user name, you will receive an emailed notification with further detailed instructions.  In order to ensure we have correct user information, all Reverb users will be asked to verify their account information during their first account login after the transition.

Other systems migrating to the EOSDIS URS in the near future include the Land Atmosphere Near Real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE) and the Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Doc Builder Tool.  Our plan is to enable all of our systems to use the same user registration system.

The URS transition is currently scheduled for Wednesday 4/25/2012.  Please contact if you have any specific questions regarding your account. For more information please visit the following website:

Thank You
The ECHO Team

Google's gone corporate and it spells disaster for Google+

If you've been on Wallpapering Fog before, you'll know I got quite excited about Google+. I liked it a lot when it came out and predicted big things. I still think it was a great starting point, but Google's overhaul today has me changing my mind. Yes it looks prettier, but dive deeper into what Google is doing and it spells disaster.

Fundamentally, social networks need to be about you and me. We don't go to them because they're Facebook, or Google+, we go to them to find things we like, from people we know.

Google+ has become all about Google, not about you.

On my nice big widescreen monitor at work, this is what Google+ looks like. The green bit is what I came here for and it's showing one story. One and a half if you're generous. That stream holds the things I've chosen to look at.

And now the red area; things Google would like me to look at. Corporate Google has obviously decided that hangouts and chat are a USP. Never mind that I've never used them, they're now huge. The top bar is punting multiple other Google services, including search. Yahoo do that. This is not a good thing. Come on Google, your own browser does tabs, I can have Google+ and Google Search open at the same time if I want.

This is the thinking that saw Microsoft take the chart below, and conclude that because nobody uses the menus in Windows Explorer, what they really need to do is make them bigger.

As I've written before, it takes a special kind of management interpretation to decide that people not using a product means that you should market it harder.

Why would you use Google+ now, when the bit of it that you control is such a small part of what it does? If you want a hangout, sure, but apart from the odd celebrity chat sponsored by Google, nobody's using those. Even circles, which were the whole point of Google+, are now filed under 'more' at the bottom of the sidebar (which is probably because they're broken.)

Google's gone awfully corporate recently and is starting to behave more and more like Microsoft as it makes a land-grab for your time and cross promotes all of its products. Maybe it was inevitable, but for a fledgling social network, it's not the way to win us over. Give the people more of what they want, not more of what you'd like them to want.

Edit: The top "hot on Google+" story today is from a guy who's flipped his monitor into portrait format to make Google+ readable. It's not a spoof. I rest my case.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Is Instagram a $1bn accounting trick?

Facebook announced yesterday that it is to buy Instagram for $1bn in cash and shares, which I'm sure you already knew. Forgive yet another post on the subject, but I haven't read this theory anywhere yet as to why the purchase might make sense.

As The Telegraph points out, you could buy The New York Times for the same price as Instagram. I'm going to stick my neck out with the radical statement that in terms of likely future revenues, Instagram is not worth $1bn. You can disagree, but you'll have to come up with a convincing reason why Instagram is more valuable than the NYT. Good luck with that.

Still, Facebook bought it anyway, so it must be worth a lot to Facebook. The question is why? Why is a photo sharing app and a set of sepia toning filters - used by around 30m people - worth so much to Facebook?

I can only think of one reason and it has nothing to do with cracking China or defending Facebook's own photo galleries from an upstart competitor. Instagram wasn't really a threat and surely if it was,  rather than removing an obstacle, buying a two year old startup with fourteen employees for $1bn makes Facebook less of a good investment. If a marketer who learned to code in his spare time can threaten Facebook, surely Zuckerberg can expect to have to shell out $1bn on a fairly regular basis.

Facebook will shortly go public via an IPO with a valuation reported to be around $100bn and to justify this valuation, Facebook needs to demonstrate growth. It is not worth that kind of money based on today's revenues.

I can't help thinking the $1bn for Instagram could be an accounting 'trick' to help show that growth. I'm not an accountant and I'm very much speculating, but hear me out.

Facebook hasn't spent $1bn cash. There was some cash, but we don't know how much and the rest of the purchase was in Facebook shares. Let's assume the bulk of it was Facebook shares, so Zuckerberg's bank balance hasn't dropped dramatically.

Once the purchase is completed, Facebook will own a company 'worth' $1bn, which has shown phenomenal growth over the past year. Can it project that growth (now multiplying by $1bn) as a source of future value? I think that there's a good chance it can.

Apart from a big attention grabbing stunt to boost the IPO, it's the only reason I can think of that makes the purchase price less than insane. It would mean the more Facebook paid (in shares, not real money don't forget,) the better. The more Instagram's worth now, the bigger the value Facebook can put into its future value projections.

Facebook needs properties that show the sort of phenomenal growth rates, which Facebook demonstrated a few years ago. It also needs those properties to have a big current valuation. Instagram has the growth rate. It also now has the big on-paper valuation.