EXPLORING THE ONLINE DEPTHS
ONLINE MARKETING REPORT
“The customer is not a moron; she is your wife,” says the original Mr Ogilvy. Meaning, presumably, marketers do well to show a little respect towards a generation born and raised in the captivity of print and broadcast. But could he mean something entirely different for the digitally native generation, and their increasingly tech-happy forebears?
Professionals don’t deny the digital marketing space requires particular attentiveness. But does the online era fundamentally recast the marketer – consumer relationship?
On the one hand, so what, if “consumers totally control the information environment that fuels their lives”, as Universal McCann’s strategic planning director Phil Tiongson, suggests. Do they really need treating differently? When you think of it, consumers always did pick magazines and flick channels. Ultimately, consumers crave content; so perhaps it’s just a question of applying old tricks of to a new trade. Just follow the fun.
But then again, maybe not. If, in Ogilvy’s analogy, ‘your wife’ now prefers to make her own social arrangements, thank you very much; if she has discovered how to keep herself thoroughly entertained; if she prefers the company of strangers, whose advice – incidentally – she prefers to your own; and if she is only too happy to humiliate you in public, then maybe its time to take a walk in the park, feed the ducks and think the marriage through.
SINGAPORE ON-LINE TRENDS
If 2006 was the year online marketing took off in Singapore; 2007 will be the year it starts shooting some rivals out of the sky (‘online’ – as a term – is giving way to ‘digital’. It’s retained here, because ‘mobile’ falls outside the scope of this article). There are three reasons why. The first is that online is still in rapid climb. Government commitment to free WI-FI and subsidised computers will keep demand powering upwards. GroupM Interaction Asia Pacific COO Alice Manners observes, “people spend twice as long on broadband, as they get a much richer experience”.
Plus Singapore has some catching up to do. Manners points out, “as a percentage of total media billings in Singapore, it is estimated that online ad spend is at 2% (ratecard)”. This is considerably lower than other markets in Asia and Australia where the total internet advertising market is now greater than magazines, or outdoor or subscription TV revenue, and fast approaching radio.
Thirdly, online generally has some ground to make up if it is to close what Ogilvy VP for digital, Asia Pacific, Ken Mandel calls the ‘Marketing Confidence Gap’. “In most cases, at least 15% of marketers’ target market is online but only 3% of the budget is allocated online. That is real danger if your competitors figure this out before you do.”
All of which adds up to what Microsoft Southeast Asia Sales Director for Digital Advertising Solutions, Richard Huggins calls “an impressive shift in attitudes.” Hard data is jealously guarded, but he estimates that online marketing budgets are increasing yearly by between 23 to 40% in Asia. And since Microsoft will shortly become one of the world’s biggest media sellers, he should know.
THE BRAVE NEW MEDIA WORLD
A high altitude recce of the marketing terrain exposes a rapidly changing online landscape. Simple internet page banner adds made the initial running, and according to Mindshare, they still attract the bulk of online ad spend. But simplicity is no longer the hallmark. There are – roughly – three levels of sophistication: static banner ads, which usually contain a picture or text link; active ads, which contain rotating animation or video, and interactive banners, which react in any number of ways to what the user does to them. Universal McCann reckons 52% of Singaporeans between 15 and 40 click on a rich text ad at least once a week, which compares to 40% who will click through a text based sponsored search result.
It’s the sparkling uplands of instant messaging (IM), however, that are starting to dominate the horizon. Microsoft believes IM will become a driving force in online, though with 40% local market share, they would say that, wouldn’t they? But the stats are impressive. According to Interactive Hub, Singapore has 970,000 IM users per month (a quarter of the population) sending 44 million messages per day. That’s now more than text, which – let’s be frank – is a gawky format with an abused history.
Emerging from the mists is the mysterious land of ‘User Generated Content’ (UGC, also called Consumer Generated Content). Not much of this rugged terrain is really understood by marketing pioneers, except that it’s occupied by strange beasts who are very dangerous. There are, in the main, two regions: videoworld and blogosphere.
Video is becoming big because of the established shift from downloaded delivery to hosted (on, eg. YouTube, or MySpace) which makes video-snacking a much faster occupation. The link between amateur and professional content is the curve-ball on the cricket pitch. As Profero’s managing director Greg Wood points out, professionally produced video and UGC really occupy the same social networking space – and therefore media proposition – because the former inevitably lead consumers to the latter.
“It’s growing leaps and bounds,” Mandel says, “providing a much more engaging – if not richer – online experience. But marketers are struggling to incorporate them into campaigns; they need to give up some control which is very hard for most marketers to accept”. How can marketers advertise when they have zero influence over adjacency?
However, it’s blogs that have marketers really stumped. Bloggers are big game. Universal McCann reports that in this country, 38% of 15 to 40 year olds have had a blog, and that most Singaporeans visit blogs maintained by friends or acquaintances. But what on earth are marketers supposed to do with these creatures? Volvo have tried sponsoring special interest ones; Nike have hired sports ‘personalities’ to, erm, let’s say ‘host’ rather than ‘write’ them.
The trouble is that ‘blogethics’ seem designed to fence the marketer out. McCann’s survey revealed a truly irritating level of integrity: 77% Singaporeans believe they have a duty of honest care towards readers (which is why, incidentally blog-brand references are powerful endorsements): the corollary is a huge scepticism towards any hint of corporate-creep, 65% saying they are less likely to trust sponsored blogs. The beast can be tamed: the inimitable Mr Brown spent last August plugging the Nokia N73. But then he really is inimitable: who else has the credibility to carry that off?
Two other emerging territories yield fertile soil for the intrepid advertiser. Community sites are best thought of as interactive-online magazines, but the marketers who are wading in find they are obliged to adopt partnership roles: part sponsors; part advertisers. GroupM’s Alice Manners reckon it’s all about give and take: the “innovative and engaging opportunities via rich media” are to be found by embedding content-based marketing material in publishers’ websites.
There are good examples around. Singapore’s ‘trevvy.com’ has carved a neat little niche for Asia’s metrosexual males. Aggregating blogs, chat, newsletters, and city guides, trevvy.com is a marketer’s net dream of trendsetters of impeccable taste. They get 250,000 sticky visits per month: according to Nelson//Netratings, trevvy.com is among the highest ranked portals in terms of average time spent per user session. But advertising needs intimate empathy. Trevvy’s marcom manager, Jamyang Tashi affirms Manners’ point, “advertising content needs to be built around a community of users”.
Finally, online gaming, which McCann reckons to be growing faster than the gaming sector as a whole. It’s a very mixed landscape, from casual snack-gaming (a largely female preserve, incidentally) to the wild and virtual realm of MMPORGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). “Dolls for grown ups”, they may be, but advertisers like avatars.
Last October, Intel brought MMPORG ‘Second Life’ celebrity Versu Richelieu (alias Kess Quinn) blinking into the daylight of Datavision’s real Manhattan office, and got her to recreate her real shop-front office in her unreal online property complete with perfectly recreated passers-by gawking at the spectacle.
A classic advertising stunt, but MMPORGs can cater to the full range of marketers’ strategic duties. Of E. Jerome McCarthy’s classic “four ‘Ps’ for marketers”, The W Hotel’s Second Life model of a new concept loft hotel hit three: as a trial for a product, as a test for price (in Linden dollars), and as an efficient promotion.
Awesome, but at the same time, infuriating. Because, as Profero’s Wood points out, MMPORGs also demonstrate that online amalgamates as well as delineates. In online entertainment, “international borders do not exist, and marketers can’t target, or deliberately restrict their message”. How do you target global cosmopolitan netizens?
THE SINGAPORE STORY SO FAR
The power and potential of Singapore’s online marketers became clear at last year’s Hall of Fame Awards. Singapore Institute of Management’s (SIM) runner-up ‘Build your own future’ campaign provided an object lesson in how to do online marketing (see case study).
When its target market shifted down the demographic, SIM’s hyperactive marketing head Judy Wong commissioned a media consumption survey amongst their own more youthful intake. Asking “where do you prefer to get recommendations from” yielded ‘from friends’; and asking “where do you spend media time?” yielded ‘MSN’. Add in a presumption of attention-deficit, and a penchant for challenge, and Wong plus M&C Saatchi came up with a dynamic messenger game that rapidly got passed across precisely the target group they were after.
The first full week of ‘hookie’ broke MSN records where it was hosted, generating 29,700 click-throughs to its cheeky, SIM – City lookalike microsite. Sure enough, by mid-August, SIM had superseded the applications volumes for the preceding year. Was it complex? From the conception of the survey to the launching of the microsite took SIM and M&C Saatchi a mere seven weeks.
Accolades also accrued to award winner StarHub for its ‘Fat Green Pipe’ campaign. The objective was to persuade the online public that shared cable connections were not inherently slower than dedicated lines; a complex sell which spawned a simple metaphor.
Two creative stories were animated around aquatic protagonists ‘Flash and Olaf’who thrashed about in variously constrained pipes demonstrating exactly how the final domestic loop was less than half the connectivity story. StarHub’s corporate communications manager, Michael Chong, says, “both stories were told in viral videos, and hosted on a Fat Green Pipe microsite”. Then StarHub went fishing for attention with half banner ads on Messenger and some leveraged MSN webcam showcasing, pushing unaided recall up from 52% to 60%.
SO WHAT’S NEW ?
What these two campaigns had in common was a painstakingly aimed executable leading users to a dedicated campaign microsite. This route to consumer is gaining online orthodoxy. But the issue is this: are such tactics a transposition of old marketing ploys, or are they conforming to a new dynamic between marketer and the marketed? Messenger and microsites, blogs and video-clips are strange creatures wandering about in a brave new world; can they be tamed in the traditional manner?
That answer partly depends on whether the current media chaos is just a provisional state of affairs. As Wood puts it, “Now, you can put a Mac in the hands of a 10 year old, they get hold of a garage band, iMovie, iWeb and they do what they want.” In economics terminology, they “crowd-out” the media-space.
In raising chaos, they also raise the bar for advertisers. It’s not as simple as saying “entertain or die”; the need is for instant engagement. And that appears to require a new media form. The quality of a good internet video clip for online consumption appears to be subtly, but indefinably different. It is, for example, obvious amongst professionals that unless your TVC is exceptionally engaging, it simply won’t fly online.
Take Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ ad: a one-minute clip, produced
specifically for internet consumption and designed to go viral showing how the fashion industry can transform a slightly ropey and haggardly drab female into a ravishing beauty. It’s entertainment; is it supposed to be inspirational? It’s clever; is it supposed to be informative? Good video clips are a new art form that will take advertisers time to master, but at a time when the risks of getting the message wrong have increased exponentially.
The problem is what might be called ‘free media speech’. Producers have lost the technical monopoly on producing and distributing content, so any advertising message is wide open to being refuted, parodied, derided, pilloried, undermined, copied, sabotaged or just plain ignored. One online specialist put it like this: “it’s like stand-up comedy; you need the nerve to get up and tell jokes, otherwise you won’t get heard, but you just have to expect to have bottles of p*** to be thrown at you.”
The ubiquity of online tracking, however, means these online bun-fights are not decided by luck, genius, or money. They are increasingly being determined by responsiveness.
Online advertising campaigns resemble military campaigns. Success lies in good surveillance and developing sufficient command and control to enable advertisers to react to consumer responses: exploiting advantages and closing down exposed flanks whilst maintaining focus on an overall strategic objective. It lies in the spadework of knowing exactly what the target consumer’s state of mind is at precise points in his or her digital day, and observing how they respond to your messages. If media chaos continues to reign, the fittest, the most agile marketers are the ones that will survive.
ONLINE: THE UNNATURAL HABITAT FOR BRAND
Finally, the power of online is shifting. As Hitwise’s chief marketing officer, Tessa Court has observed, “whilst traditionally, marketers viewed online as a direct marketing response tool, more and more we’re seeing it used as a branding tool.” Manners agrees, “advertisers are finding that they are investing in brand online, because otherwise direct marketing doesn’t work”.
But what online has done – more or less – is to privatise those brands. They’ve become publicly tradable. According to McCann’s Tiongson, “brands are no longer just managed by marketing and brand managers. The brand landscape that we are dealing with is characterised by complexities driven by numerous choices and alternatives, ‘open’ information, and connected audiences.” Court goes further, “no longer are marketers owners of brands, rather they ‘enable’ their brands to be consumed, created, and formed by consumers”.
Online has changed brands’ rules of engagement and reduced the field of battle into quagmire. Brands no longer control themselves.
Where will this end? Like any relationship that experiences a power-shift, with increased accountability. Brands that stray won’t be rolling their eyes at a bout of whingeing and nagging from disgruntled consumers; they will just get knee-capped. Which means advertising agencies are going to feel pressured to be a lot less creative and lot more honest, especially with their clients.
“We need to be accountable in our innovations” Tiongson says, “It is no longer about getting attention and surprising customers through non-conventional executions.” Too true. If online fundamentally changes anything in marketing, it will be forcing branding to become a high stakes exercise in truth. And that’s a revolution that gets many professional marketers excited.
The Big Shift: All-out Online.
The ground-space for on-line advertising is expanding all the time. But it is about to expand in a whole new direction. Currently, we spend most computer time using desktop applications which sit on our hard-drives. Over the next few years, many of those application will become available on-line, opening a rich new vista for advertising.
Naturally, Microsoft is leading the charge. According to regional sales director, Southeast Asia, Richard Huggins, ‘Office Online’ has already launched in Taiwan and Australia, and will be rolled out across much of the rest of Asia in the “imminent to medium term.” Clearly, the audience will primarily be business users. But online advertising will dazzle in its ability to hone ‘state-of-mind’ targeting. Online ‘Office’ applications will offer marketers breezy access to a particular and lucrative mind-set wherever – whenever - they think it will be most receptive.
The other terrain shift will materialise in the form of portalisation. “We have a strategy for transitioning Hotmail customers onto online portals,” says Huggins. Windows ‘Live’ aggregates messaging, email and search on a personalised site. Other ‘search’ providers are anxiously trying to portalise their service sites too.
The advertising upside is that portals allow site owners to profile users, generating a bonanza for media sellers. Even simple passport details (age, gender, nationality) can radically focus advertising. But do users want to bear all to portal providers? “People are willing to share that information, as their on-line time is better,” contends Mr Huggins. And it’s a point worth contemplating.
As we spend more time in our own on-line worlds, we are going to be advertised to anyway. Would you prefer to be fed advertising that really, intelligently targets you? How much trust is really involved? If the lure to portal-commitment – or efidelity - were a search engine that knows you so well, it can routinely predict what you want, then what, exactly, would be the downside?
On-line advertising has been all about breadth. It will soon become all about depth.