Reading the newspaper

Are You a Blog?

In March, Margaret Gould Stewart, Facebook’s director of product design, gave a compelling TED Talk on the challenges inherent to designing for large-scale Internet. Gould Stewart opened by offering two guidelines for providing the best user experience–audacity and humility.

In the video (and come on, watch it! TED is stellar!), Gould Stewart cites audacity as the belief “that the thing that you’re making is something that the entire world wants and needs,” and humility as an understanding, “that as a designer, it’s not about you or your portfolio. It’s about the people that you’re designing for, and how your work just might help them live better lives.”

In consideration of recent changes to viewability metrics, Gould Stewart’s suggestions gain deeper resonance for our advertising industry. Those new metrics? According to AdAge, they’re making websites uglier. Yes, uglier. The “rush to find a metric” Ari Lewine writes, is forcing industry leaders to disregard “the way the internet looks and works.” And as Gould Stewart warns, these metrics sacrifice user experience on a massive scale. Although worsening user experience is an unexpected byproduct of new viewability metrics, it demonstrates a lack in both industry audacity and humility.

Facebook is not perfect (I’m thinking of its forced transition to Messenger app, and recent breaches in user trust and psychology), and the site’s success extends outside of viewability metrics. When it comes to design though, Gould Stewart’s simple philosophy is working; Facebook’s content reaches almost half of Internet users, or a sixth of the world’s population. When your content is being designed at that scale, as Gould Stewart notes, “there is no such thing as a small detail.” The slightest change can have colossal impact.

When done right, appealing viewability, at the Internet’s massive scale, can improve advertising engagements and profits exponentially. In what should surprise no one, MediaPost reported that a better looking Internet increases user engagement. It’s in everyone’s best interest to design and allow better digital experiences, and truthfully, audacity and humility are attributes that we could all use a little more, whether at work or not. As Gould Stewart voices, it’s time to strive for a better world, both digital and real.

 

I crawl into bed, and the queen-sized mattress is a full one. I take the left pillow, my laptop takes the right and my phone charges underneath the covers while its chords wind their way down the bed frame. The soft glow of a new message illuminates my sleep-stricken face, and I wonder to myself, who could be texting me at 3 A.M.? The question is a compelling one, but I leave it for the morning.

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

And now you might find yourself thinking, what a dream his life must be. It’s no dream though, and the reality of the situation is that I’m obsessively attached to technology. Obsessively.

The harsher reality? As to be expected, I’m not the only one who feels this way. According to a 2011 National Sleep Foundation study, “More than half of generation Z’ers (55%) and slightly less of generation Y’ers (47%) say they surf the Internet every night or almost every night within the hour before sleep.” The practice is so common that there are children’s books about it. The average smartphone user spends between 1-2 hours on their phone daily, and the attachment between users and devices is growing so strong that the desire to stay connected is “stimulat[ing] demand for bus and train travel.” Technology is changing what we do while awake and asleep.

With this upswing in dependency, MediaPost’s recent report on the limited 2014 gains for digital advertising comes as a shock. And it’s not that digital usage isn’t increasing. A ‘Digital Democracy Survey’ conducted by Deloitte found that “over one third (37 percent) of U.S. consumers are now digital omnivores,” omnivores referring to users who own multiple digital devices. As their infographic reflects, digital is increasing.

Image courtesy of Deloitte.com

And as digital usage is increasing, broadcast advertising is declining. The discrepancy here is confusing–if digital usage is increasing, why is advertising on its mediums not a larger market? Here are a couple of reasons we’ve gathered.

  • TV is 100% viewable: Viewability is one of the most prevalent topics within the advertising industry, but never is terms of television. That’s because TV is 100% viewable 100% of the time.
  • Digital usage is a generational phenomenon: Although many sources point to the importance of marketing for new generations, a shift toward the increasingly popular digital platforms still lurks behind advertisers’ preference for broadcast. The decision makers of advertising have not yet shifted their behavior toward digital to the extent than many younger consumers have.
  • Re-purposing ads doesn’t work: The unique needs of digital advertising–speed, aesthetic, relatability–cannot be met by ancestral broadcasting. Transforming TV ads to digital screens is like substituting applesauce for butter in a cake–it doesn’t taste right (and trust me I know, my mom tried it). Ads created for digital interfaces have to be specific to digital.
  • Bots don’t watch TV: Robots might be featured on some of television’s most popular shows and movies, but it’s strictly humans tuning in for new episodes. Fraudulent advertising on digital is a challenge that broadcast advertising has yet to encounter.

These points are nothing new, however, collectively they come to an interesting conclusion–it’s not really about what TV offers, but rather what digital has yet to offer. MediaPost jokes that, “Unless you’re a liquor or lifestyle brand that, oh, say, sells condoms, you’re going to be spending most of your dollars on broadcast or cable,” but outside of security and reliability, broadcasting advertising provides nothing new. Digital will, and already is–user engagement, personalized ads and branding, speed, massive reach. Companies like Acura have recognized this trend, with a third of the car company’s newest campaign dedicated to digital advertising.

It’s uncertain when this shift toward digital advertising l will be concrete, but for now I’ll continue to wake up to the warm embrace of my computer screen. I do begin to wonder, though–when will I, and many other mobile dependents  have to make room in the bed for advertisements? Pretty soon I’ll be sleeping on the floor.

 

As featured in MediaPost, there has been a rise in mobile content, with an “affinity between mobile devices and small whimsical moments.” The article, although excited by the creativity spurring on such content growth, questions the simple and childish nature of many popular apps. Author Steve Smith leaves readers with a complicated question–why is such meaningless content becoming popular?

Gif courtesy of Tumblr

The question in a valid one. Take the new Kim Kardashian: Hollywood app. The majority of what you users can do in the app’s virtual world is meaningless–shopping, photo shoots, lunches. Yet, Forbes recently reported that the app is worth $200 Million.

Image courtesy of Tumblr

Why is such seemingly pointless content amassing a huge mobile following? Smith looks for answers in the historical legacy of popular content. Early films signaled tendencies for “industrialization, the rise of psychology, [and] urbanization,” and the popularity of celebrity styled games could reveal current user preferences towards opulence and fame. However, such a hypothesis can only be proven with time, and rather than focusing on why such meaningless mobile content is gaining popularity, app developers and mobile advertisers would be prudent to instead explore how it’s happening.

The answer, simply put, is us. Users have given mobile content financial meaning, are more attached to their phones, and better mobile devices have made generating more entertaining content easier. With respect to mobile, apps and advertisements are a lot like words: without a medium and a context all lack real meaning. It’s a simple concept–without someone or something to express them, and an environment to express them in, words were just a jumble of oddly placed lines. The same can be said for mobile content. If there are no users to play these games, and no interfaces to play them on, these apps don’t matter.

The financial success of apps like Kim K: Hollywood demonstrate that, no matter how pointless, we as consumers have the purchasing power to give any type of mobile content meaning. Accepting the meaningless of current mobile content might be frustrating, but lingering on it for too long could distract app developers, advertisements, and the mobile industry at large, from generating more of it.

 

A recent article from MediaBistro asked the question, “Is Technology Advertising Ready for ‘Who Are You Wearing’?” Whether we are ready or not is irrelevant though, as companies have already started to discuss the transformation of clothes and accessories into walking advertisements.

As reported by TheHour, “Wearables… promise troves of unique data in areas related to health, activities and location, giving marketers new ways to put ads in front of consumers.” Wearable technology is already growing in popularity, with sales projected to reach 112 million units in 2018. Devices like Fitbit are breaking ground for smart accessories.

Picture courtesy of Fitbit

I think that the first watch I ever owned was plastic and from Disney World, and I think that I cried until my parents bought it for me. Looks like it’s time, well literally, for an upgrade. Atul Satija, Vice President at inMobi, a leading voice in technology advertising, agrees. As quoted by BusinessWeek, he prompts, “Any device with a screen allows for an interesting opportunity.” Interesting, indeed. Considering recent technological advancements, the prospect of putting a screen on any surface is not unrealistic. For advertisers, the question will now be which wearables to target.

Most critically, the advertising industry must avoid a ‘Hunger Games’ approach to campaigning, where every surface becomes a breeding ground for opulent branding. This is not District One, and advertisers must respect the boundaries between fashion and excessive marketing. While clothing covered in ads is a far away trend, Katniss, we don’t like that look very much either.

Photo courtesy of BlogSpot

Advertisers should also be considerate of the fact that there is no universal consumer. Some may find the combination of fashion and advertising exciting, and choose to explore the blend’s opportunities for massive scaling and accessibility. Other could find wearable advertisements offensive, rejecting the growth of ads as a breach of personal choice and privacy. We don’t know how consumers will react just yet, but what we do know is that not all reactions will be the same. In preparation for this wide spectrum, brands venturing into this new sphere of advertising must allow their campaigns, as well as the surfaces that their campaigns are featured on, to be flexible.

The technologies we wear, and how we carry ourselves as consumers, could soon factor into the personal choices we make. The advent of wearable advertisements represents a unique opportunity for progress in the relationship between advertisers and consumers. Advertisers will soon be able to reach a larger, more diverse market; consumers will have a greater voice in which brands receive attention and who they choose to show advertisements to.

As with any new form of advertising, success will come with making ads interesting and useful to consumers. Some ads are clever, some make us think, and others leave us in tears–we don’t hate advertisements, we hate bad advertisements. Good Super Bowl commercials can get millions of YouTube hits even after the game has aired. What will be the equivalent for wearable advertisements?

 

Being a millennial can be a frustrating experience. Baby boomers, awesome–you garnered the strength to survive global warfare and are named after your phenomenal sex lives. Silent generation, damn impressive–economic depression warranted you unquestionable grit and perseverance. But millennials? All we did was have the good fortune of being born at the turn of the century. Yes, I am a millennial.

We’re often toted as lazy and egotistical, and it’s not impossible to imagine us wasting away in basements, smoking and playing board games. Board games are vintage, and vintage is in. Even the word ‘millennial’ feels like it could have been created during a particularly angst game of Balderdash (It’s a noun. It’s our generation, mass-texts the quiet boy sporting the unisex American Apparel leotard, maintaining his observed vow of cyber-silence…).

When it comes to consumerism though, we are changing how advertising works. “By 2018 [millennials] will have more spending power than any in history,” MediaPost reports, and companies such as Rosetta Stone are already generating campaigns to target the particular sensibilities of our generation. In accordance with our growing social mindedness, companies will have to offer more than just a product.

Successful millennial advertising will be about not only what a brand can offer, but also how they choose to offer it. According to a study conducted by social media agency Laundry Service, Instagram-styled images received almost 6% more click through rates than traditional photos. As a generation dependent upon technology, the ever-increasing influx of information available to our keyboard savvy fingertips has to be utilized by advertisers. And following the success of user-generated campaigns by companies like Coke, it seems that we want to not only see ads in a familiar format, but to be featured in them as well (insert crack about our self-centeredness here).

As MediaPost notes, my generation’s “taste for images and videos that feel more “real” is beginning to change the way that all advertising might look in the future.” Here though, ‘real’ has to extend past product satisfaction. Real must mean experience. Real must mean feeling like an individual, while also guaranteeing peer approval within a generational whole. It’s like the images below–blending old standards of quality with new advertising models will spell success for many 21st century companies.

Images courtesy of Tumblr

 

 

Are computers becoming more human? If this week’s press is any indication, the answer would seem to be yes.

As reported by NPR, for the first time ever a computer has successfully passed the Turing Test, an industry’s benchmark for accrediting intellectual thought to machines. Although the bot, named Eugene Goostman, was only able to persuade a third of the judges of its humanness, and valid scrutiny surrounds Goostman’s true capabilities, the achievement nonetheless demonstrates advancements for computer intelligence.

And bots aren’t only pretending to be humans, they are beginning to perform human jobs as well. The Associated Press (AP) announced that it will use story-writing software to produce the tedious corporate earnings reports for non-high-interest companies, and bots are also being used to keep World Cup venues safe. The question remains, though: are computers actually becoming more human, or just getting really really good at pretending?

NPR seems to believe the later, and we agree. As the publication writes, “it’s one thing to be able to express emotions and another to really feel them.” While computers may now be able to feign a range of human emotions and accomplish a variety of previously human tasks, do they really feel anything in the process? Can a computer experience the frustration that prompted AP to push monotonous tasks like earning reports to bots in the first place? Can a computer celebrate a win at the World Cup while sweeping for suspicious packages? Probably not.

This fascination with computer-human relationships is a hot topic across many fields. As NPR notes, we’re dedicating entire movie plots to it. 2013’s Her best explores this complicated advancement.

Photo courtesy of ThinkProgress

While Theodore might just be an overly paranoid man (I mean, look at that brooding), and Samantha an exceptionally perceptive bot, the disconnect between the two demonstrates real world implications about the future of computer and human interactions.

As NPR duly notes, “what makes a computer seem human isn’t how we perceive its intellect but its affect.” Scarlett Johansson (Samantha) might portray a damn good human, but as with bot writers and bot police officers, computers may not be be able to interact with us in truly genuine ways. Theodore’s frustrations were felt by many who saw limitations in Eugene Goostman’s passing of the Turing Test. “Computers don’t even go about making small talk the same way we [humans] do,” but genuine believability is a highly subjective experience.

Turing himself brings up an interesting point about determining genuineness: “how can you tell? After all, how can we know for sure that anybody else is really conscious, except by a leap of faith?” At Are You a Human we’ve chosen to put our faith in humans first. Although we are constantly allotting this benefit of doubt to each other, we aren’t reading to extend that courtesy to computers just yet.

 

Right now, the issues of viewability and ad fraud are being treated like a bad rash that just won’t clear from the face of digital advertisements. They’re annoying, they’re ugly, and rather than preventing them we often find ourselves scrambling for solutions after they’ve already spread. While the Media Rating Council has been working to improve low industry standards, a recent blog from MediaPost offers three ideas of its own to fix these blemishes.

Image courtesy of RojerThat

  1. Impose Real Penalties: “Advertisers and agencies should implement zero-tolerance policies and shut off services and networks completely for all future business opportunities when they have experienced fraud…Demand full refunds on campaigns, not just for the fraudulent portions. Recover fees from agencies.”
  2. Remove Artificial Incentives: “One of the biggest drivers and ‘enabling conditions’ of robotic traffic fraud is media buyers’ desire to push overall costs-per-thousand down. As easy way to cut CPMs in half is to use robots to double a site’s or network’s traffic. We need to focus more on cost-per-business-objective, not just on cheapening intermediate metrics.
  3. Remove Automated Site Sign-Ups: “Interact with real people, always. networks and exchanges make it easy and automated for almost anyone to sign up and get ad tags… How about insuring that there are real people behind sites.”

As Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, notes in the MediaPost blog, “clearly, there are a lot of folks focused on solutions.” And solutions like these are good, but penalties and removals lack some of the forward thinking necessary to sustain long term industry improvements. We need to be more proactive about targeting the sources of ad fraud as well as their effects, all the while ensuring that every ad is really reaching a real human. Proactive Acne Treatment is called proactive for a reason, and it’s time for the ad industry to adopt some of that dermatological urgency.

 

“We all know CPM stands for ‘cost per thousand,’” alleged MediaPost, but if some of my friends are any indication, that claim is far from the truth. When asked what CPM stood for, albeit at 9A.M. and before a solid cup of coffee, real people responded–

  • Certified something
  • Crunchy Peanut Butter Muffin
  • A protein used in lab
  • Cost Per Monkey

Photo Courtesy of ButtonPushingMonkey.Wordpress

With ‘Cost Per Monkey’ probably being the best answer I got, things aren’t looking good for advertisers who depend upon CPMs to make profit. And I know that the acronym has something to do with Latin, but thousand doesn’t even start with an ‘M’…

It’s abundantly clear that CPMs are not easily understood by everyone. And if the term itself is not well known, how can we be expect people to further understand its purpose? Although impressions and viewability are hot topics in the advertising industry, this general lack of understanding poses a major threat to the generation of authentic interactions between users and brands. It’s not even an issue of transparency. The information is available, but advertisers and consumers just don’t understand it.

“In reality, when you talk about ‘impression”;in the CPM sense, you are actually getting a potential impression,” MediaPost writes, however “an impression should mean an engaged consumer.” An engaged consumer is more likely to remember a product, and hopefully buy it, too. But engagement comes from understanding, and as one particularly confused friends wrote, CPMs leave many of us feeling distinctly “OMG what?” OMG, or perhaps Confused, Pissed Off and Moronic, indeed.

 

We know that not all online advertisements are watched by users (advertisers themselves probably don’t even watch them). But did you know that some ads are still not even viewable? As reported by MediaPost, despite viewability gains being made by the advertising industry, the issue has not gone away. Its a lot like plucking off the head off of a dandelion, or in our case ad fraud. When we forget to pull up the weeds/hackers as well, the problem is just going to grow back in a more creative, and likely problematic way.

Photo courtesy of WoollyGreen

According to Kevin Lenane, ad viewability is plagued by a number of issues–multiple videos appearing per page, video partial appearance, inconsistencies with video autoplay and audibility. Engaging with online ads is already a limited sensory experience, and by eliminating sight and sound, users are left abandoned by advertisements. It’s not like we can taste an ad, even though that would be awesome.

The larger problem though, is that most often neither advertisers nor users know that any of this is happening. As MediaPost prompts, it’s time for the industry to try something new–knowledge. We need to know the issues of viewability “BEFORE the campaign runs at the media plan stage, DURING the campaign as a blacklisting/whitelisting opportunity, and AFTER the campaign as an analytics and optimization check.” It’s time to pull some weeds.

 

In 2014 we’ve experienced an upsurge of socially minded advertising, with a wide range of campaigns to address topics such as hunger, the environment, access to housing, body image and self esteem, gender, and sexuality. Despite this variety of topics, these campaigns all have one thing in common—a susceptibility to preference profits over people.

Photo courtesy of AddictingInfo

Advertising with a positive social message appears tactful, inclusive, and proactive. And fundamentally it is, however, while advertisers are doing a better job of evaluating the demographics of widespread consumerism, the social issues featured in their campaigns need to feel valuable and authentic. As demonstrated by some of the same campaigns linked above, successful advertisements are prey to a number of criticisms.

  • Generalizations and Stereotypes: Gay advertisements can often appear patronizing. “Maybe the issue is that because homosexuality — unlike race, say — is invisible, advertisers feel they must state as loudly as possible that the characters in their ads are gay,” Salon offers, but that is no excuse for generalization. Similarly, ads can unknowingly perpetuate the exact stereotypes that they are looking to debunk. Inserting into popular culture, for example, the notion that young girls can in fact grow up to be professionally scientific, can unintentionally draw unwanted attention to the historical precedent of girls finding challenges doing just that.
  • False Promises: Greenwashing, or when a company “spends more time and money claiming to be green through advertising than actually minimizing its negative environmental impact,” can cloud advertising judgment and present a false sense of environmental conservation.
  • Exploitation: The ‘social experiment’ nature used in many body image campaigns is manipulative, takes advantage of consumer trust, and preys on human psychology. Comedy troupe Above Average spoofed the set-up quality that many of these ads rely on.

The success of socially invested campaigns cannot rely on traditional industry metrics for measurement–CPMs lack the ability to truly track the impact of real time social change through branding. As advertisers increase the presence of socially minded campaigns, they have to recognize their social responsibility to create equitable advertisements as well. Success will now have to mean something much larger–a balance between profits and people, and an ethical approach to storytelling where personal struggle, whether it be socioeconomic, gendered, sexual, or something else entirely, is never commodified for business growth.

Such criticisms are not to suggest that advertisements cannot have positive social messages. The combination is one that advertisers should actually be mindful of. Their abnormal access to widespread social media presents a unique opportunity for mass activism, awareness, and passionate cause marketing, both consumer and brand driven. However, advertisers must be equally as vigilant. The importance of increasing profits will always call into question the motivations behind socially progressive advertisements. That doesn’t mean that advertisements can’t benefit the companies they profit and the people they promote, but the wellbeing both must be considered. In 2014, we can have the best of both worlds.

 

This captcha has gone viral, receiving mass attention on Twitter and Tumblr.

Image Courtesy of Twitter

The phrase is a bit silly, but it accurately captures the feelings of frustration that often come with trying to solve a captcha. It’s a lot like this–

Gif courtesy of Teendotcom.Tumblr

And it’s not just white girls who are having issues with captchas. According to a study conducted by Stanford Theory Group, a section of Stanford University, this ability to ‘even’ is a problem experienced by all types of Internet users. The study found that across a variety of users, image captchas had “an average solving time of 9.8 seconds and three-person agreement of 71.0%, and audio captchas being much harder, with an average solving time of 28.4 seconds, and three-person agreement of 31.2%.” And those statistics are from 2010, when captchas were as easy as this–

Image courtesy of Developers.Google

In 2014, as bots have gotten smarter, the captchas we encounter are much harder. It’s no surprise that four years later many Internet users still can’t even.

 

Driving to work this morning, I tuned the radio to one of my favorite stations. I was hoping to catch that new Taylor Swift song, but instead my commute was subjected to yet another inane radio game–Battle of the Sexes. Men were asked questions that the station had decided favored female knowledge (whatever that meant). The first was about citronella, because mosquitoes are so gendered.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the parking structure, grabbed my phone from the cup-holder and swiped mindlessly through some emails. The first two headlines were The 1-2-3’s of Mom Engagement and The Golden Age of Dadvertising. What was going on?

“Gender-centric advertising for everyday products is commonplace,” reports The Drum, although the marketing trend has recently gotten flack over being unnecessarily pointed or sexist (think his-and-her pens or women eating salads). Yet, there I was, reading about “dad stuff” and the “powerful ‘word of mom’.” My friends and I might have gone as SNL’s ‘Mom Jeans’ for Halloween last year (I was a young Tina Fey), but as The Drum continues, “narrow targeting limits business potential with the possibility of alienating other prospective buyers with the product positioning and advertising.” I might not be a mom, but man, those pants were comfortable. Gender-centric advertising is commonplace, but commonplace is not synonymous with good.

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

Emma Sexton of She Says, a global creative network for women, agrees. She offers that value-based advertising, which considers a broader hetero culture, is the best option for advertisers. Is a system of “taking gender out, and putting values in,” brands would target individualized values–family, adventure, kindness–that stretch across gender, racial, sexual, etc. divides. And it’s a good start. The California Milk Processor Board has adopted the strategy, launching a new campaign that unites through the values of a California family, along with the emotional connection between humans and milk. In moving away from traditional marketing topics of language or ethnicity, the Board hopes to find customers based upon similarities, not differences.

There’s a problem, though. While targeting values is smart, like gender-based advertisements, the technique has the potential to be based upon outdated stereotypes. Even Sexton herself proposes taking “the best of feminine, and the best of male values.” What is valuable to men and women, who is prescribing these values and how they are being prescribed? A mom may no longer be just a mom, but the values Sexton attributes to her maintain a historical femininity–”utopian, collaborative, connective.” Perhaps this calls into question my own gendering of values, but when assumptions like these are preserved, brands limit their market audience. We’re back to wondering exactly what ‘dad stuff’ is, and just why and where mom’s voice is powerful.

Apple seems to have found a solution. While its newest video for the iPad Air has the ethereal music and breathtaking shots that the tech brand is known for, all accompanied by the charming, and now indelible voice of Robin Williams, the ad is solely about the product’s independent capabilities–art, science, exploration, discovery. Life.

In highlighting the values of product, Apple circumvents the unpredictability of ever-changing human identities and values. The brand also keys in on generational moments, finding product qualities that speak to a time rather than a sex. In this 21st century of ours, no person is one single thing–that’s what makes being a human so special. Our identities as human beings are evolving to become ever more intersectional, nuanced and progressive. Advertisements should constantly be working to reflect that. A mom is not just a mom, nor a dad a dad, and we have more important things to be battling about than our sexes.

 
← Older Posts