Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Vacation for Brains

I'm going to take a break until the New Year, and then either start all over again, or maybe start a new format (still focused on interactive advertising/marketing). Happy Holidays!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Gray Matters #3: Jekyllism

Bringing a close to the Web Ailments series is a multiple personality disorder that could possibly be the father of both the Atlas Syndrome and Sectionitis. Jekyllism is a war between the rational and the emotional, and it’s older than the web.

Jekyllism affects all advertising creative, from TV to Web. It’s a war where one side wants every bit of information about the product in a commercial, and the other wants to infuse an emotional connection to make the spot memorable. The battlefield is the limitations of the medium, whether it’s 60 seconds, or the size of a piece of paper. More often than we’d like, the advertising produced is merely the outcome of the war. It takes intelligence, patience and sometimes a strong ego to hold Jekyllism in check.

You would imagine that if you took away the 60 second limitation, or the dimensional restraint of a printed page, then we could reach a blissful dream land where anything is possible. The website,with it’s potential for a hundred million doorways, and cubby holes, and the ability to offer doorways within doorways…could very well be the promised land.

But it’s not. Because the disorder that has affected traditional advertising for so long has it’s hands all over our websites. There is no better or more obvious place to see this then the homepage of most sites.

Jekyllism is trained to fight in a finite space, so it’s dug trenches in the one crucial page to any website. It’s made a website finite by deciding that everything that is needed to be said, should be said on the homepage. and “Above The Fold”. For those who aren’t familiar with the Fold, it’s the area that a visitor views before they need to scroll down.

We’ve taken a multi-dimensional space and built a box.

On homepages you’ll see Mastheads with multiple messages, accompanied by Promo-Boxes with multiple messages, with Text boxes of multiple messages, you’ll see Navigations drop down with multiple ways to get to every page on the site, your head will spin with all the options, pictures and words. All crammed together, fighting for your attention.

If you want to see a great example of this – visit godaddy. Or visit a site with products that have a lot of features.

In mediums with finite space, Jekyllism will continue to be a problem. Online media with it’s little boxes will be subjected to the battle. But when it comes to your website, the figurative drive needs to be reformatted.

Peace can be achieved for Jekyllism because there is space enough for both sides on your website. The website is not a store, it’s not physically limited, and it doesn’t have just one doorway. In fact, your visitors will enter from all sides at any time. The answer will not be to put as much content as possible on every page, but to take a step back and let both sides of Jekyllism decide the best possible way to achieve their goals..across the entire site.

That ends the Website Ailments series. While Jekyllism, Sectionitis, and the Atlas Syndrome are all still found on the commercial web, I find that it gives me great hope. These are ailments either inherited from old think, or a result of just trying to figure this web thing out. Which means, to me, that the truly great stuff is still to come.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Grey Matters #2 : Sectionitis

The second ailment in commercial web today is Sectionitis. From About Us, to Photo Gallery, the Section has been the de-facto way to organize a site. While the Section itself has been a solid solution for organizing content, the side-effect, Sectionitis, has led to the dilution of great ideas and a thought process that demands you create content for the sections, instead of ideas that makes sense for your goals.

Sectionitis says, we have these 4 sections, how does your idea fit into one of these sections? If your idea doesn’t fit neatly into one of these sections, you must either mold it to fit, or create a new section. If your idea is bigger than a section, then the only answer is to make it a completely different site.

What if you have four great ideas? Sectionitis would lead you to creating four sections for your site, one for each idea. Organized, yes. But now you’ve split your budget four ways, and the result is four ideas quarter-baked.

I’m going to provide an example for this one. Mountain Dew has a “Green Label Art” initiative going on where they have independent artists create bottle labels. The website has 8 sections total, ranging from Artists to Events to Gear. And of course a landing page that binds them all.

One section of the site is a Draw Your Own label. Very cool idea. Not ground-breaking, but perfect for what they are doing. It allows a visitor to “paint” their own label design. However, the interface and functionality is lacking. It feels rushed, and an after-thought. The signs of Sectionitis.

Instead of creating a section-based site, why not make this idea the site. Spend your efforts in creating an environment that encourages the visitor to express themselves while learning about the other artists participating. Allow the visitor the ability to change the canvas to other Artists renderings, while giving them the ability to draw on it as well? Is “Events” a section that needed any part of the budget beyond a easy-to use and post RSS feed?

Sectionitis makes every section equally important, so that no section is important.

If you are in the business of conveying pure information, then neatly packed boxes is possibly the best solution for you. But if you’re in the experience/emotional business as well, then it might serve you better to keep in mind that it is more likely that a structure for site will be the by-product of great idea, rather than the other way around.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Grey Matters #1: The Atlas Syndrome

The backbone of business online, the Website, has fallen into the shadows with the rise of Social Media. While it doesn’t get the attention its more popular sister gets, Clients still invest millions of dollars a year for website oriented Interactive Advertising, whether it’s a 3D video experience, an online game, or User-generated send-a-longs.

I’ve spent the last nine months exploring websites in key industries, looking at the inspiring (or sometimes dull) ways we are promoting our products online. One hundred websites in twenty-five industries later, I’ve found three common maladies affecting Interactive Advertising today. In this series of posts I’ll share the problems, and offer my thoughts on cures. A link to all my findings is down below.

Ailment #1: The Atlas Syndrome

The most common cause of Atlas Syndrome are attitudes like “If we build it, they will come” and “That’s a cool idea, throw it in there.”. The former believes that by the simple act of creating a forum, for example, then hundreds of people will flock to your site and a community will be born. The latter believes that the simple essence of an idea is suitable for web consumption – you need not add water, love, or budget. Both leave it up to the website to magically make itself profitable.

The results are typically low traffic, and even lower ROI. The cure is simple, not all websites must carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Let’s look closer at “If we build it, they will come.”. One example of this is the User-generated promotion. Site A wants you to upload a video of yourself doing Fun Thing B. Site C wants you to write a story about your experience with Product C.

In theory, these always sound like a great way to involve your customers.

In reality, there are two very real insights that, if having been realized, would have saved someone the embarrasing 2 video submission result down the road.

Insight 1: Only a small percentage of the total traffic to your site will actually participate in your promotion. If your site gets 100,000-150,000 people a month, don’t expect 100,000-150,000 video submissions. Hope for 50. And really hope that 10 of those are somewhat decent.

Insight 2: People love to share…to an audience. This is why User-generated became so popular. We’re igniting the inner narcissist. Call it social or sharing, the Internet is built on it . So we put up these User-generated promotions and sit back waiting for the floods. But wait…your website, out in the middle of nowhere, isn’t exactly Madison Square Gardens. Not many people like giving private dances.

The answer is to step outside of the website box you’ve created. The web now flows in channels. Large pipelines of people that perfectly fit your content desires. Channels that can provide both the traffic and the audience. Do you want people to upload great pics? Use Facebook, or Flickr, or go rogue and find an up-and-comer social site. Do you want people to upload videos? Start a Youtube Channel, or partner with a large portal.

Before you embark on a large initiative online, look around, there’s a really good chance there’s a better, smarter outlet to help you with your goals. Use your own website to help enhance the project. Look for ways to connect the incoming traffic to your site with your promotion within the channel. Design your website to be the best possible pay-off to the promotion, rather than the source. Don’t let it crumble beneath the weight of your great ideas.

Now let's take a look at “That’s a cool idea, throw it in there.” This attitude is based on the assumption that your website will be improved if it contains as many different ideas as possible. Your website will be a hit if it’s a one-stop shop for information, entertainment, and social connectivity.

If you have the budget of say, Yahoo, and the focus of your site is to be everything to everyone, then this doesn’t pertain to you. Otherwise, your website need not carry the weight of the world on it’s shoulders.

The primary cure to this attitude is focus. It’s easy to catch this attitude with the lack of boundaries the Internet provides, and the multitude of glittery ideas available.

Let’s take Games, for example. Specifically Flash games. I was surprised to find all the sites that had a Flash game. As I was exploring the sites of different industries it became a subgoal of mine to find as many games as possible. In 25 industries, I found a game in at least one site each. This includes deodorants and dog food!

Games are great interactivity, and in theory, will keep a person on your site longer. But in practice your game is competing with literally millions of other free entertainment sources online and the person shopping your brand is most likely shopping.

The money you spent on the game, and the time, could have been used to strengthen the focus of your site.

If you think a game, or game-like attributes, perfectly fit your brand and the goal of the website, I can suggest a couple of things. One, there are quite a few great communities for game creators out there. Why not commission an actual game-crafter, or even better, sponsor one of the thousands games already made on a site with steady traffic. Two, add game-like attributes to the core focus of the site. If you want people to learn about the benefits on your washing machine, build a game around the features. This will combine the two solutions you’re looking for: informing about your product, and keeping someone on your site to hear everything you have to say about the product.

To wrap up The Atlas Syndrome, it’s best to keep in mind that a focused website with strong supporting ties to other content channels will be more robust, will last longer, and achieve a higher and more consistent ROI. A gas station next to an arcade on a major highway will be more profitable than one on a side road with a Pac-man machine.

Grey Matters

I'm a Digital ACD in Advertising land. I have been in love with the internet for over 10 years now. And I have a Red Bull problem. There I said it.

I travel around different industries every week or so and look for interesting and tasty interactive bits. I hope to make this a place for ad folk to keep up to date. And I just enjoy the spelunk.

Brain Pieces from Me

"There is a creative solution for everything."

"Sometimes, to be successful with Social Media, don't start a conversation. Start an argument."

"This is no longer the Age of Information, it's the Age of Opinion."

"The work that comes out of an Agency is the result of not going crazy while doing it."

People Who Probably Read My Blog