Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas fellow new media enthusiasts! I always get a little nostalgic around the holidays, so here are a few classics from "old media" to get you in the spirit! Enjoy a safe and happy holiday season, wherever that may be.





Monday, December 22, 2008

SEO: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Search engine optimization is something that all companies consider – how to get to the spot on top of that first page. Part of what determines the ethics of an SEO technique is whether you are trying to gain a ranking that you deserve, and part of it is the tactics that you use. There are many many tactics out there – of varying shades of ethical violations. Beanstalk Inc. has offered up a list of best, worst, and shady SEO practices.

White hat: Internal linking, reciprocal linking, content creation, writing for others, and site optimization

This is a list of what are considered industry best practices. Typically, a Site must grow organically to an extent before it can reach the top of the list. This is how ethical competitors approach SEO. These are the best and most highly regarded methods of enhancing your Web Site ranking.

Gray hat: Cloaking, paid links, and duplicate content

Don’t do it. iProspect offers, “Just as participating in unethical sales, marketing and advertising practices offline can result in negative publicity, sanctions by trade organizations, or actions by government/law enforcement authorities — unethical online tactics (particularly search engine optimization) can significantly damage your online brand.”

Black hat: Keyword stuffing, hidden text, cloaking, doorway pages, redirects, duplicate sites, and interlinking

Absolutely no way. Utilizing any of these tactics will mean that you will be awarded with penalizations or a ban on your Site. If you encounter a competitor that uses these tactics, they should be reported. Furthermore, in the long run, any website that utilizes any of these techniques based on bogus content, will have a short life at the top.

Ethics of Using Advertorials

An advertorial is an ad disguised as an editorial. Many will argue that advertising that is not disclosed is deliberately deceptive. Advertorials are designed to deceive, from the layout to the language. That being said, there are worse tools tactics out there, and advertorials do have some benefits.

Why are advertorials designed to be deceptive? According to the Online Journalism Review, “In the world of online publication, where the nature of the medium is that both journalistic sites and their ads are fraught with slick graphics, clear labeling of articles and advertisements can be key to keeping potential readers aware of what they are reading. However, when an advertorial is not labeled as an advertisement but as an 'InfoSite,' or with other such euphemistic labels, it may serve to lure readers into ads.” Everything about the appearance of an advertorial is designed to make the user think it is informative content, rather than paid advertising. The content is written in such a way as the user will read it like a journalistic article. The central conflicting aspect of the editorial is that it creates the idea that users are reading objective editorial content.

What are the benefits of advertorials? Advertorials do offer a great deal of information about the product, service, and industry. They also offer the benefit of no-risk product demonstration. Often advertorials will have increased credibility (or perceived credibility) due to the length, amount, and complexity of content included. The content also is assumed to have value and relevance to the reader.

If utilizing the advertorial, it is necessary to properly disclose the nature of the information. Scott Angus, editor of the Janesville Gazette (WI) offers some pointers. They must be properly labeled as “paid advertisements.” A change in font and layout from the rest of the content will keep them distinct from the journalistic articles. Third party disclaimers, or labels from the media organization running the advertorial, will also increase the ethical nature of the advertorial.

To HTML With Love

As with all technological advancements, history will not likely repeat itself with Web Design, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the past. “Vintage” is not a compliment when referring to your Web Site. Beginning in the 60’s, the Internet was created as a means to transfer information from scientists to military personnel via telephone lines. The 1990’s brought mass usage of this thing called the Internet. It just took a few years for us to learn how to harness its power. Where art thou, Netscape?

At the start, Web design was basic HTML (hyper text markup language) coding because it allowed Sites to link up. It wasn’t fancy, but it had possibilities. These Web Sites, called first generation sites, contained limited graphics and linear layouts. Here is an example of a first generation Site. Slower modems could more easily transfer the information. Second generation Web Sites are probably what most of us think of when we reference 90’s style design. Here is an example of a second generation Site. It wasn’t until the third generation of Web design that Site had colorful backgrounds and animation. HTML was gradually becoming more and more complex when CSS (cascading style sheets) became available.

We have currently entered what is being called the fourth generation of Web design. Web Sites have every possibility to be a unique creation through tools such as XML, Java, and Flash. Designers can now add small programs with little effort to their Sites or add interactive elements such as videos, games, and other inclusions. There is software to create templates and designs. There are a wealth of products and information to create a professional and well-designed Web Site. Now, we are able to focus on content, readability, flow, and other aspects of Web design that make the user experience positive and informative.

So, HTML, thanks for everything you did in laying the foundation for our tools today.

Color Theory in Web Design

Users form instant opinions upon visiting a Web Site. First impressions are generated visually, before they ever read a word of the content that you have worked so hard on/paid a professional many dollars for. The first thing visitors notice is color. The use of colors in your Web Site conveys subconscious feelings and emotions to a visitor. Businesses spend a lot of time and money getting the colors just right for their marketing and promotions. The McDonalds arch is not yellow and red by chance. Just as it is necessary to get color right for logos, promotions, and other materials, it is essential that a Web Site is created with the proper color scheme.

WebDesign.org offers a short list of colors and emotions that they are commonly associated with:

RED - Love, strength, sense of power, energy, excitement, danger, leadership
ORANGE - Comfort, friendliness, confidence, courage, steadfastness, playfulness, cheerfulness
YELLOW - Curiosity, intelligence, brightness, amusement, caution, joy, organization
GREEN - Harmony, nature, healing, life, food, health, money
BLUE - Patience, love, peace, tranquility, trustworthiness, stability, acceptance
PURPLE - Wisdom, independence, nobility, ambition, dignity, luxury, royalty
BROWN - Earthiness, nature, durability, tribal, comfort, reliability, primitive
BLACK - Elegance, sophistication, health, dramatic, power, formality, style
WHITE - Goodness, easy, simplicity, cleanliness, purity, fresh, innocence

Deciding on a color scheme for a Web Site can be a frustrating ordeal for many designers, and it often is harder than it sounds. There are even entire programs dedicated to color scheming. One rule of thumb when choosing a color scheme is to select harmonious colors. Some people will get all mavericky and decide that rules were made to be broken, but you will find that most of the time non-harmonious colors clash in a way that isn’t pleasing from the user’s point of view. Bad color schemes aren’t exactly a signal to immediately leave a Web Site, but it means that you as the designer will have to work harder to keep the consumer’s interest.

The bottom line is that color schemes can affect your bottom line. With commercial web sites, it is important to conform to an image that is consistent with the brand and what it offers the consumer. Color, font, tone, graphics – all of these send a message to the consumer about the brand. When deciding on a color scheme, know your target market and know your brand. If the colors fit, wear them.

Marketing to the Young and the Young at Heart: 3D Virtual Worlds

The consensus is still out on this one, but it sounds promising once marketers learn how to effectively utilize this medium. We market on social networks and we market in video games. Now combine the two with product placements embedded in 3D Virtual Worlds such as “Secondlife,” “Gaia,” and “Entropia.” In these networks, users communicate via avatars, or online virtual character, that they create for themselves. These virtual worlds transport the user into fantastical places that vary as much as the imagination will allow. Who wouldn’t want to teleport on over to the Louvre while sitting at home in your pajamas? The lines between fantasy and reality often become blurred – even with the exchange of real-life dollars. Enter marketing innovators.

Once again, marketing in the future appears to be all about combining entertainment and information. Bill Nissim of iBranz breaks down the real value of advertising in this new virtual world:

1. Consumers have the ability to experience things not currently possible in the real world
2. Product trials in virtual worlds provide a low-risk environment for testing features and benefits
3. You can hire avatars as product ambassadors and experts
4. You can demonstrate your product or service in use through live video or JPEGs

A 2006 study on marketing in virtual worlds did not display positive results, however. 72% of 200 respondents were disappointed with real world marketing in their virtual worlds, and only 7% claimed that the presence of companies could have a positive impact on them. A ray of hope: users stated that they would like to interact more with the brands represented. A Secondlife expert Wagner James Au calls it a failure of the imagination: “To play in Second Life, corporations must first come to a humbling realization: in the context of the fantastic, their brands as they exist in the real world are boring, banal, and unimaginative.” Basically, as with any other type of new media, marketers must adapt to the medium in order to be successful. It can be done. His three tips for successfully marketing in the virtual world are:

1. Leverage the user-generated aspect of the culture – in other worlds, brands that will be successful in marketing to the virtual world will have products that are useful to users in the creation of their world
2. Utilize activities that take place outside the virtual world itself such as message boards and forums, blogs, and conferencing systems
3. Serve the online community’s needs – offer assistance, advice, and information that is of value to them within their virtual world ie tips on how to use the interface

Some companies have been successful either in marketing within existing virtual worlds or through the creation of their own. Secondlife users have “grabbed” over a million copies of a Toyota Scion, and IMAX has introduced sales boosting promotions for movies such as Harry Potter. Coca Cola jumped on the bandwagon with their own Coke Studios where users create music mixes and share them throughout the community. Wells Fargo took the middle ground and created Stagecoach Island through Secondlife to educate users on financial literacy (while simultaneously sending brand message after brand message to a new generation of users).

The Do's and Don'ts of Marketing to Minorities

We target senior citizens, we target teenagers, we target women. As marketing becomes increasingly targeted, how should industry professionals approach minority groups? I think it would be a gross oversight not to acknowledge minority groups as we would any other demographic or psychographic. We focus our attention on any other aspect that could connect a consumer to a brand. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population is the fastest growing minority group in the United States. The United States even has a larger Hispanic population than Spain. In the ever-present journey of staying relevant to the consumer, companies will be missing out by not appropriating attention and resources to minority groups. There are many ethical considerations when marketing to minority groups. Here are some best practice ideas and some embarrassing examples of ethically violating minority groups.

DOs: The US Small Business Association offers these tips for effectively involving a minority group

1. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all minorities are alike.
2. Learn as much as you can about your potential customer’s traditions and beliefs.
3. Be careful when translating English, especially slogans, into foreign languages.
4. Use the native language media of the group you want to attract –particularly in print media.
5. Have staff members who speak the language of the ethnic group or groups you are targeting, and make sure signs and fliers printed in the appropriate languages are displayed prominently in your establishment.
6. Reject stereotypes and cliches.
7. In the same vein, sharpen your sensitivity to cultural slurs or taboos.
8. If you can afford to hire a specialty advertising agency or marketing consultant, the money will be well spent.
9. Be prepared to “educate” your audience.
10. Finally, get involved with the minority community.

DON’Ts: Marketing to minorities gone bad

In 1989, the RJ Reynolds company introduced Uptown cigarettes as a menthol cigarette that would appeal “most strongly” to blacks. The American Cancer Society called them out as exploiting the black community, and Mary L. Clarke, a representative of the NAACP stated, “With the poor health among black folks today, we do not need anything else to cause even more health problems. R. J. Reynolds's targeting of blacks is unethical.”

Powermaster Malt Liquor is another dark spot in the history of ethical marketing campaigns. It was targeted to young African American men with G. Heileman Brewing Co. pushing it in predominantly black neighborhoods. The government ordered this one off the market, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms declaring that the use of the word “power” violated a law for brand names that promote strength. This reasoning makes me ask the question as to why Magnum and Colt 45 are acceptable brand names, but that is a blog for another day.

Subprime loans are made without regard for the borrow’s ability to repay the terms of the loan made to them. This type of predatory lending practice has been widely criticized for its targets in minority groups. In light of the historical claims of discrimination against minorities in the lending market, lenders have marketed loans to minorities under sub-prime programs. African Americans and Hispanics are reported to hold a disproportionate amount of these toxic loans – up to 3 times as many as Caucasians with comparable incomes. As if we needed another reason to feel disdain for the financial sector.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Marketing with Short Films

Here is another form of marketing that big industries are trying out: the short film. Product placement in reverse – don’t pay Hollywood to put your products in their films, make your own films surrounding your products! This is big in the luxury market with brands such as BMW, Chanel, Ritz Carlton, and Mercedes giving it a go.

The short film is one aspect of new media that is becoming increasingly popular to get the audience's attention. NY Times' Nat Ives sums it up well: "The motivation to entertain consumers, rather than persuade them through traditional advertising, stems from a changing media landscape in which consumers increasingly avoid, tune out or fast-forward through marketing messages.” The short film can take on many forms for a brand, and in some cases become very popular with audiences, as in the case of BMW's “The Hire” starring Clive Owen as “Driver”, a series of eight short films that debuted at the Cannes film festival and have won several awards.

BMW’s films have been very successful for the brand. In 2001 and 2002, they were a pioneering effort. It was a natural progression for BMW into this type of marketing, as their automobiles are frequently featured in film, and it provides a great outlet to show off style, class, and quality better than the 30 second spot. In the four months following the debut, the films were viewed over 11 million times.

Other brands have since tried their hand at creating short films. One of the most well-known examples of this is Chanel No. 5’s film starring Nicole Kidman as the most famous woman in the world. This film actually served dual purpose for the brand, as it was shortened into a 30 second television spot.

Short films as a marketing tool are still relatively new. They have proven to be useful in the right market for an established brand. They provide entertainment value to the audience in exchange for brand messages, but they can be expensive to make. They seem to work best for the big spenders, but other brands are beginning to branch out into documentary style or low budget short films. What do you see for future implications of the short film as a branding medium – a natural extension from product placement or high cost projects that will fizzle out?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bluetooth or Bluespam?

One of the more interesting types of marketing to emerge in recent years is Bluetooth proximity marketing. Customers will receive messages when they enter a geographic zone. While it may not be the greatest medium to receive random brand messages, it could work under the right circumstances. I think that Bluetooth technology is changing everyday and that eventually we may start to see it utilized in places other than our cell phones more. Many people hate this type of marketing, though, renaming it “bluespamming.”

What are the right circumstances? Sales promotions and other messages that have proven to be successful mobile marketing communications to start off are messages that could be well-received while consumers are in “shopping mode”. Nothing complex, naturally – the messages should be limited to something that the receiver can easily comprehend in a short amount of time without too much trouble (more on that later). Finally, I think the best implementation of proximity marketing is in a situation where message receivers can be targeted in some way. For example, at an athletic event or concert where those in the area share a common interest or trait would be a way to use Bluetooth devices as a marketing tool. The Beijing Olympics provided this type of a setting for a Coca Cola message to be well-received by attendees.

What are the wrong circumstances? Most of them probably aren’t conducive to these messages. A situation where the message cannot be targeted at all and is sent out randomly and clumsily to unsuspecting consumers does not benefit the company, marketer, or consumer. In many cases, it is just too much work for the consumer to receive the message. In other cases, it strongly resembles spam and other junk messages consumers receive all too often. There is no tailoring of the message, personalization, or benefit to the consumer at all.

One of the biggest advantages with it is that Bluetooth proximity marketing is highly measurable. It allows the service providers to make a buck as well (although I personally hardly consider adding to the marketing cost with this “middleman” type situation an advantage). The biggest problem with Bluetooth proximity marketing is that, essentially, the headsets were not designed to work this way. In order to view a video or visual message, the user must pair it with the device – kind of defeats the purpose of a headset, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Advergaming and In-Game Branding

Advergaming is a fast-growing area for marketers. Most target children, although brands from Oreos to Jack Daniels have tried their hand at advergaming. Nabiscoworld.com is a wealth of free games for their thirty or so brands integrated with classic games such as Mahjong and Chess. The interactive nature makes them highly effective. They bring about repeat visits and viral expansion with competitive children. In a survey, Nabiscoworld recently asked its visitors what they did after school. The responses were: 44% for "Starving! Got to eat!"; 12% for "out with friends"; 12% for "Sports! Time for practice" and 32% for "Get online.”

The messages are delivered in a cost-effective manner. There is no cost to put up an advergame on an already existing brand Web Site. Visitors play free of charge, but walk away with dozens of brand messages in their head. A typical 30 second television spot can cost advertisers $7-30 per thousand versus an estimated $2 per thousand for an advergame audience.

In-game branding is the use of computer and video games as a medium for advertising messages. As consumers’ attention is increasingly harder to get, marketers are looking to a variety of places to bring their messages. “Everyone recognizes that audiences are fragmented and consumer mindshare is limited given interaction with multiple forms of media at the same time,” says iMedia contributor Julie Shumaker.

Some in-game advertising is subtle, such as billboards in the background of the game scene. Some are less subtle, such as in 2005 when Sony introduced Everquest II. Players can order a Pizza Hut pizza without ever leaving their game. One thing is for sure, and that is that video game based advertising is growing at a rapid pace. There are firms that specialize in this type of marketing. Google (of course) has developed its own technology for in-game advertising.

Many people have issues with the ethics of advergaming and in-game branding with some referring to the former as “junk food games”. Researchers claim that children under the age of eight cannot differentiate between advertisement (persuasive content) and information. Some claim that this is only going to make the fight against childhood obesity worse. Brand representatives maintain that the key to fighting obesity is leading an active, healthy life – not the elimination of advertisement. Valid argument? You decide.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Keep Out!!! Consumer Privacy

We’ve been over the fact that e-mail marketing is still huge – by most accounts the largest source of electronic marketing messages. One of the major obstacles facing e-mail marketing is consumer privacy. Who likes Spam, afterall?

Consumers are protecting their electronic privacy now more than ever. Some ways that consumers are making their online habits more opaque include having multiple e-mail accounts, rejecting cookies, filtering spam, utilizing anonymizer or other similar technology, and activating fraud detectors. An October 2007 study by Habeas and Ipsos revealed:

· 73%: Survey participants use e-mail daily
· 62%: Concerned about becoming victims of fraud or cybercrime
· 60%: Say spam is becoming worse
· 83%: Say their e-mail client's user interface has a spam button
· 23%: Say their e-mail service has fraud detection
· 64%: Say permission/personal e-mail regularly get routed to the spam folder or blocked

These numbers are concrete proof that consumers want to keep out the unwanted messages. According to the Consumer Privacy Guide, “Currently there is no national law to protect the privacy of the information you share online, federal law and state law do offer some protection to various kinds of personal information collected about you … information maintained about you in the health care system, your education records, the record of your video rentals, to name a few.”

Since there is not a strict legal outline for marketers to follow, it is important to adhere to best practices to maintain a level of credibility. Sometimes, by acting in a questionable manner, e-mail marketers can do more damage than a lawsuit can carry such as damage to brand credibility, loss of trust, poor response rates, and waves of unsubscribe requests. The key here, is the opt-in involving proper notice and consent. By acting in an ethical manner, marketers ensure that their messages will be received in the best possible light by consumers.