Cross the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman Bridge on any given morning and you may note the fluid system of expanding lanes spurred on by the movable divider. Based on the flow of traffic, the divider is shifted over in the mornings to provide four lanes into Philadelphia and three lanes towards New Jersey. During the evening, the process is reversed. This rather ingenious lane coordination is easily glazed over during the bleary-eyed stop-and-go jams of the work week, but it hints at the subtle battle cry of modern technology: user accessibility. Wherever people may wander, there will be, ideally, something readily available to satiate their needs – whether need be food, shelter, or convenient WiFi access.
It is interesting to note that as technological advancements changed the landscape of our culture the advertising industry has always been one of the first to adapt. The airplane brought about skywriting, radio programs were sponsored by Alka-Seltzer, and television quiz shows were brought to you by Geritol. Where there was an audience, there was an advertisement, and the same is still true today. Advertising is still an early adapter of new-fangled media gadgets and innovations, and this trend will certainly continue on into the indefinite future.
Now more than ever, society is experience major breakthroughs in relatively short time, and as such it becomes a Herculean effort to discern where, with so many options, people may go. From mobile phones to blogs to social networks, the playing field has grown so wide that it is often hard to locate the target audience. It now falls upon the advertiser to seek out the consumer amidst the new channels and speak to them in very medium-specific language. After all, placing a Volkswagen television commercial on a mobile phone may not be so effective, but beaming a real estate listing to a mobile phone when the user passes the property might make the difference between a mediocre and phenomenal sale.
Where Are the People Headed?
So the question becomes: if advertising is following the people, where are the people heading? A useful indicator of this could be advertising spending projections for the fiscal year, in which agencies declare their allegiances to specific new media. According to an April 2006 Forrester Research study on online marketing activity, combined online market activity shows that rich media email and search engine marketing (SEM) are still the reigning royalty, with 94% and 79% of marketers using or intent on using each respectively this year. While blogs, social networks and RSS were not used en masse by marketers in 2005, almost 40% of participants in the Forrester survey expect to test these channels this year. There was an overwhelming rejection of advergames and in-game advertising, with more than 70% saying that it’s just not a consideration.
With projections such as these, however, one must note that the speed at which interactive morphs and expands condenses normal changes that occur over a month in more traditional media to the span of mere days. Even as these past projections were integrated into this article, Google has just purchased YouTube for $1.6 billion, marking a major impact on social, viral, and search marketing alike – rendering many of the aforementioned Forrester projections somewhat moot. Such is the velocity of progress. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the pace of online marketing trends – a tad ironic as interactive boasts some of the most accurate metrics of any media. Today’s sure thing may be tomorrow’s faded fad. With that in mind, here is a snapshot of some of the current interactive channels and where they may (as of this date) be heading.
Search Engine Marketing
It is a clear and inescapable fact that the search engine is here to stay. It is the automatic transmission to the Internet’s luxury sedan, marking an ease of use not present at its inception. The reason SEM is such a viable option is two-fold. The first reason is that the arena itself is evolving at an unprecedented rate, with Yahoo! and Google integrating as much of other media as they can. Google, aside from the increased video capabilities of the highly publicized YouTube purchase, now provides the ability to search the full text of certain books; it is, indeed, the end goal of Google to provide search to not just web-based but all media, from websites to radio to print. Think of it as the line eventually evaporating between e-commerce shopping and regular shopping. Search, as it stands, may be the channel best positioned to directly affect all others.
Michael Stalbaum, CEO of the Philadelphia regional interactive agency UnREAL Marketing, has been a noticeable presence in the fields of search engine marketing and optimization since its beginnings in the late 1990s. He states that his belief in SEM stems from its reliance on the consumer, not the marketer.
“The focal point of interactive and SEM in particular is finding what consumers will respond to, not telling them what direction to head,” affirms Stalbaum, “This is the difference between push and pull advertising.”
The second reason for the viability of SEM is multitude of methods by which to integrate a website (or soon almost anything as stated previously) into search results. The traditional method is website optimization – the application of keywords to the text of a website in order to influence the site’s ranking on a search engine. Often search campaigns now integrate sponsored listings to influence consumer conversion via a double listing.
A January 18, 2006 post by Brian Clark on copyblogger.com, however, points out that traditional search engine optimization techniques are dead in the water for their lack of user relevance. “Stuffing your body text with keywords makes for bad copy, and it doesn’t help with search engines,” Clark declares, “Traditional copywriting is the new SEO copywriting.”
Click-to-call options are also coming into play in which a user is invited to enter his/her phone number on a listed Google search result. Google calls the user number provided. Once the user picks up, he/she hears ringing on the other end as Google connects to the other party. When they answer, the call takes place as if the user had made a normal call. The advertiser's number even appears on the caller ID when Google connects the call, that way the user can store the correct phone number for later use.
Volumes can be spoken on the advances of search engines and their increasing relevance to advertisers, and recent headlines and a steady stream of blogged industry punditry will safely affirm that. For the sake of this article however, the trends of SEM will be stated as expanding towards complete integration for consumer, advertiser, and, indeed, media alike.
What can be said about social marketing that hasn’t already been articulated by the constant barrage of interactive bloggers and marketing pundits? The social networks of MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube (more a site fueled by user video, but a network site nonetheless) have all made major headlines this year gracing the pages of business and trade publications alike. MySpace, of course, was purchased by NewsCorp and entered into an agreement with Google in regards to search functionality. YouTube, as mention before, had its own billion dollar dealing with Google, and as of early October there is talk of Yahoo! potentially buying Facebook. In only a scant few years, social networks have already had a significant impact on the way interactive media is viewed, but it is this kind of high-pace fluidity that keeps advertisers concerned about the viability of specific social networks. Will MySpace still be the pack leader as the advertising becomes more pervasive? Will direct deals with film studios and television networks cheapen the user experience of YouTube triggering a diaspora to other video networks? The question of medium expiring before the campaign is a fear that keeps many wide-awake at night.
Fear of user movement aside, what advertiser wouldn’t want an audience in which the demographics have opted to provide a wealth of personal interest and psychographic data? This is essentially why advertisers are talking a blue streak about social networks – the new trend of public personal exposure. It is suddenly hip to have your life story available to the planet as privacy falls to the wayside. One might find that this era in online lifestyles may offer us more vital and descriptive demographic information then ever available before. More shall be said of this later in discussing user-generated media.
For now, the issue of the social network demographic must be addressed. Many advertisers have passed on MySpace so far because of the perception of appeal to teenagers and young adults. Obviously a web-savvy high school student will have little to no interest in mortgage refinancing or term life insurance. The image of MySpace as a haven for the Xbox generation might be a little off, as suggested by ComScore Networks.
In October, the research company released a demographic analysis of MySpace users in August 2006. It illustrated that the portion MySpace users age 35 or older has grown to 51.6% age 35 or older. Factor in visitors age 25 or older and that number increases to 68.3%. In contrast, children and teens from 12 to 17 years old accounted for only 11.9% of all visitors, compared with 24.7% the same month a year ago. ComScore analyst Andrew Lipsman suggested that the shift in demographics is the result of a “mainstreaming effect,” as site awareness continues to grow and new users are funneled in from other web locations. The ComScore analysis found that MySpace demonstrated the broadest appeal across all age groups, while Facebook has, as expected, reached a niche state among college students. Facebook, to its merit, has recently broadened its services to all users, doing away with its university affiliation requirement; this may mark a shift in user-base for Facebook as well. Clearly the reach of social network is significantly larger than we perceive it to be.
“People want a voice, and these sites give it to them,” observes Brian Moore, creative director at Ripple Effects Interactive, “I think people are tired of traditional news outlets because they don’t necessarily trust them anymore.”
While the sites themselves may wane in popularity it appears the social network medium is here to stay. Advertisers, however, must take care to participate in the users’ landscape rather than infiltrate. Today’s web-centric adults, baby boomers included, can smell the snake-oiled schilling tactics a mile away.
(Watch for Part II)
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