Thursday, November 29, 2007



Interactive Audience Research & The Quest for Truth

These were the opening remarks I gave a few moments ago at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's first-ever Audience Measurement Leadership Forum. That even is taking place right now at the Marriott New York Hotel in midtown Manhattan.


I have spoken and written about growing up as the son of a market and media researcher. What I have never said publicly is that my life has been framed by market and media research. Today, for the first time, I will tell that story.

My father entered Temple University in Philadelphia in 1948, to pursue a degree in marketing – a brand new major at the school, and one that combined his interests in business, radio and that new invention, television.

It was a good choice for a Jewish boy from Northeast Philly, for media research was one of the few areas in white collar business that had been open to Jews. That was true even in the advertising agency business, which today we recall for its friendliness to minorities. Other than in research departments, that had not been the case: One historian who reviewed the 1931 edition of Who’s Who in Advertising found only 92 identifiably Jewish names among the 5,000 people listed.

My father’s first post-college job was at the Benson & Benson research company in Princeton, N.J., which had been founded by Larry Benson, previously the managing director of the Gallup Poll. At that time, Princeton was the Silicon Valley of research. Startup companies dotted Witherspoon and Nassau Streets, most of them, like Benson & Benson, founded by refugees from Gallup.Later, when I was fortunate enough to attend the university located in that town, my Dad, referring to his walk from the train station to his office, liked to say he had “passed through Princeton.” It was a not-so-subtle acknowledgement that in the 1950’s, there were precious few real opportunities for kids of his background to have passed through Princeton.

Of course, by that time, he’d moved from Philadelphia with his family to the New York area. He’d been hired by NBC in 1957 to do research on the public’s potential reaction to another forthcoming invention, color television. His wife – my mother – had started up a small company that trained interviewers to go out into the field and conduct survey research. Their eldest child – that would be me – had made pocket money during high school by conducting hundreds of these interviews. Among my more pungent memories is lugging a 20-pound contraption called a “tachistocope” around the richest and hilliest sections of Ridgewood, N.J., trying to find scotch drinkers over 50 willing to let me into their mansions to show split-second flash images of different actors trying out for the title role in the Ambassador Scotch print advertising campaign.

Asking Questions

I learned that I liked asking questions for a living. I also learned that there is nothing more difficult than trying to find in a six block radius in Denville, N.J. a woman over 50 who is willing to test a vaginal deodorant. So I became a newspaper reporter, instead. Grilling Presidential candidates, I can attest, is much easier than filling the last gaps in a quota sample.

I mention this background because for much of the past 100 years, media and market researchers have been the business world’s most rugged, unflagging, and unfailing pioneers. Whether refugees from Germany, kids from the inner city, or emigrants from Asia, through the decades they have been driven by one goal: the quest for truth. What happened? What made it happen? What did they see? When? How did they react? Can we prove it? Can we repeat it? How are opinions shaped? Where do our preferences come from? Did it make a difference?


It is no exaggeration to say that these have been some of the most important questions asked – and provisionally answered – in public life during the past seven decades. Phrases that now are part of the fabric of everyday conversation originated in the classrooms and offices of researchers: “Personal influence…” “Public opinion…” “Opinion leader…” “Pollster…” “Survey said…"

It is also no exaggeration to say that the men and women behind such concepts were among the giants of American business and public life. Paul Lazarsfeld, Frank Stanton, Herta Herzog, Leo Bogart, Hadley Cantril, Art Nielsen, George Gallup, Elihu Katz – these were the people who pioneered audience research, invented media metering, forged modern politics, and shaped news and entertainment broadcasting. They even helped integrate the U.S. Armed Forces. Remarkable as it may seem, they walked the earth in our lifetimes.

Some of these pioneers still do walk this earth. And some of them are in this room. The technologies may change, but one thing remains constant: the researcher’s quest for truth.

Today, the opportunity to find truth in business and public life is greater than it ever has been. Interactive technologies are allowing us deeper and deeper access to peoples’ ideas, behaviors, and consumption patterns. We are able to combine sample-based research and census-based research to create a richer portrait of peoples’ lives than research scientists ever thought possible.

Research Startups

Entrepreneurs are taking advantage of these new opportunities. The research startups dotting the marketing and media landscape make the Witherspoon and Nassau Streets of Princeton in the 50’s look fallow indeed. comScore, Quantcast, Hitwise, Compete, M:Metrics, Omniture and scores of others have joined venerable firms like Nielsen to alter our understanding of social life.

Thanks to interactive technologies, media companies, too, have access to troves of information about the preferences, desires, and needs of their viewers, readers, and subscribers. They can deploy this information to make their news, entertainment, and advertising offerings more engaging and relevant to segments and sub-segments of their audience than ever before. Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, Conde Nast, Meredith are joining “newcomers” to the media business like Microsoft, and contributing to this deeper, richer, and more valuable picture of the why’s and what’s of consumer behavior.


These media and research companies, together with advertising agency and marketer research departments, are transforming the way the marketing and media ecosystem operates. Thanks to them, our portrait of society – a rendering that used to be painted with broad brushes – is now a pointillist painting.

Of course, with new technologies and the opportunities they unleash come new complexities. Last March, the Interactive Advertising Bureau hosted a Summit Meeting on Audience Measurement. Executives from comScore and Nielsen joined representatives from major advertising agencies, marketers, media companies, and media-marketing-and-advertising trade associations to chart the journey forward.

It was a significant gathering, because we all realized that we seek the same thing: to use the new emerging interactive technologies to bring us closer and closer to the truth about consumer behaviors.

IAB's Role

This conference is a direct result of that gathering. The IAB agreed then to take on a vital role: To demystify the metrics of interactive marketing. To help educate the marketplace about what works, why, when, and under what circumstances. To showcase the advances in audience research made by research firms, media companies, ad agencies, and marketing departments. To make this pointillist painting of human behavior even more refined.


This is a new role for the IAB. We join venerable groups in the marketing world, like the Advertising Research Foundation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Magazine Publishers of America, and the Newspaper Association of America, in this activity – and happily so. Few matters in business today can be more important than shedding light on – and reaching agreement on – how we measure consumer behavior.


The people you will hear from today would make Frank Stanton and Paul Lazarsfeld proud. These contemporary research pioneers will describe for you the new ways they are looking at peoples’ media journeys. They will explain how they are bringing together methodologies to measure activities in different media. They will give you a sense of what’s coming next.

On behalf of the 450 members of the IAB, I thank all these pioneers for joining with us in advancing the science of audience research. I want to thank the IAB’s Research Council for helping to plan such a rich and provocative day. I want to thank all of you for taking time during a busy holiday season to pursue this quest for truth.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Clompilers Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose Except Maybe Everything... or Vice Versa, Depending On How Good a Partner You Are (or Aren't)

Rob Norman -- CEO, Brit, renaissance marketeer... and now locutionist. At the IAB's Agency Summit last week, he loosed on the world a new, and in our world necessary, noun: clompiler.

Why necessary? Because there's nary a conversation in the marketing-media landscape these days that doesn't touch on the issue of co-opetition -- the increasing tendency in decentralizing industries for competitors in one arena to become collaborators in another. Yet there doesn't seem to be a good term for those that engage in co-opetition. "Co-opetitors" never did seem to cut it.

Enter Mr. Norman and his word: "clomplier." The Chief Executive of Group M Interaction defines it on his blog thusly: "A company which in its various guises is a client (cl), competitor (omp), and supplier (lier) to another company." For an example, I'd be remiss if I didn't refer you to Rob's site.

Mr. Norman describes himself as the only Brit capable of explaining the infield fly rule to his mother. I believe it.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Why Do-Not-Track Will Not Work

I love this Op-Ed piece in Business Week on the fatal flaws of the "do-not-track" proposal for interactive advertising and marketing. "Do-not-track" was proposed by a group self-styled "consumer advocates," and was much-discussed at the Federal Trade Commission's "Town Hall" on behavioral marketing two weeks ago. The proposal was riddled with ironies, not least of which was the group's recommendation that the Government start keeping lists of people -- by name -- who don't want anonymous surfing data utilized to improve the utility of online communications.

Christopher Wolf,
a litigation partner in the Washington office of the Proskauer Rose law firm and the chair of its Privacy & Data Security Practice Group, recognizes the irony -- and also the extremist nature of the proposal. Here's what he wrote in Business Week:

"This would take privacy law to a new level, where protection is given not only to private data (names, addresses, account numbers, etc.) but also to anonymous data (e.g., data collected through cookie technology), which would be legally regulated. The complexity and enforcement problems with a 'do not track' law are enormous. Advocates liken it to the 'do not call' rules that pertain to telemarketers, but only the names are similar. Compiling and applying a list of those who do not want tailored advertising will be a technological nightmare. Compliance, to the extent it can occur at all, will be costly. Ultimately, consumers will suffer through increased costs passed on to them, and opportunities for more useful consumer information will be diminished."

You have to hand it to the extremist groups. By co-opting the tenor and feel of the telemarketing "do not call" concept, they have made a complex, radical idea -- one that would dramatically curtail marketers' and media's current ability to engage in advertising, marketing research, and information and entertainment delivery -- seem simple and benign. Fortunately, the FTC seemed to recognize this at the Town Hall: Commissioners repeatedly queried the anti-consumerist advocates, "Where's the harm?," and were met not with current information, but hypotheses about the future.

The real harm, as Mr. Wolf shows, will be if access to information is shut down. Prices will rise, and consumer choice will diminish.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Facebook's Grandfathers (& Myspace's, Too)

I like this piece in The Economist on Facebook's audacious new advertising plan -- and not just because it quotes me. Rather, the writer took seriously one of my long "there's nothing new under the sun" disquisitions that most of my friends and colleagues ignore. In this case, it's that today's social-networking and -marketing phenomenon is not at all novel. Rather, it derives from research done by two of the 20th Century's leading media theorists: Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz.

Lazarsfeld (pictured at right) was a famed emigre sociologist from Germany and Katz his student at Columbia University when they did the work that led to their pioneering 1955 book, Personal Influence. The book challenged a reigning theory of media influence: that mass media "work" directly, by injecting ideas into the minds of relatively isolated people. That notion was -- and still is -- almost reflexively accepted by anyone who has worked in or around media, marketing, and advertising. "Our programs and ads," we believe, "forge peoples' opinions." It is a tenet deeply-held by copywriters and anchormen alike.

Lazarsfeld and Katz showed that this "Magic Bullet Theory" was inaccurate. An earlier Lazarsfeld study had shown that only some 5 percent of Presidential voters had their opinions shaped directly by media messages. Together, the two scholars showed that media work more indirectly, through social influence. They identified a "two-step flow," by which media messages reinforced what people heard from others in one or another of their communities. These social influencers are, in the Lazarsfeld and Katz formulation, "opinion leaders."

Many of the assumptions that still drive modern marketing mavens were overturned 50 years ago by the two professors. Receiving a message does not imply responding to it, they showed. Moreover, top-down influence generally is fairly benign. People belong to numerous communities, and are influenced in different things by different opinion leaders. But just try telling that to a high-priced creative with a killer reel. It seems the world rediscovers personal influence every few years or so -- in the form of "word of mouth marketing," "brand advocacy," "guerrilla marketing," and "brand zealotry" -- only to forget it the next time a fabulous, award-winning ad campaign or a depressing, mud-slinging political campaign comes slamming down the airwaves.

The Facebook notion of defining the world's "social graph" -- "the network of connections and relationships between people on the service," in Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's phrase -- and deploying it in the service of marketers is the latest marketing spin around the half-century-old work of Lazarsfeld and Katz. (That's Katz at left.) What's changed, of course, is that when Lazarsfeld and Katz were writing, the only scalable communications tools available were mass media, notably the new phenomenon of television. Today, social networking sites of enormous reach -- larger than television's, because they have instantaneous global scope -- allow opinion leaders to shape attitudes in communities far and wide... and near and narrow. That's the promise underlying Facebook's notion to "marry an ad message to a user-initiated endorsement of a product or service," as Ad Age put it.

But Lazarsfeld and Katz bear re-reading, and not just for Silicon Alley cocktail party one-upsmanship. The importance of personal mediation means that television, radio, and print communications have always been filtered in ways their creators could not necessarily predict. The old saw that "nothing will kill a bad product faster than a great ad" is an example of this, although few practitioners recognize it. Today, with the Internet allowing all manner of influencers to wield their opinions in any way they choose, the relationship between the constructed campaign and its eventual effects is even more unpredictable.

In fact, it will take a supremely clever ad agencies and consumer marketers with strong stomachs to test themselves against the backlashes that seem all but inevitable. For if there's anything that might unravel your personal social graph, it'll be too many personal ads and endorsements tearing through it. The results might look like a book written by Dale Carnegie's evil twin: How to Lose Friends and Not Influence People.

Ecosystem 2.0

A day before the always-stimulating Google Zeitgeist conference at the search-engine giant's Mountain View campus a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating in a day devoted to advertising agencies and marketing inventiveness. My role was simple: I was to moderate to panel on innovation, featuring five pioneering interactive companies, all of them, in their own ways, direct or indirect competitors. The panelists were Tim Armstrong of Google, Randy Falco of AOL, Brian McAndrews of Microsoft, Mike Murphy of Facebook, and Michael Barrett of MySpace.

But as we prepared for our two-hour session, I was worried. As much as our hosts wanted to talk about innovation, there was, I knew, an elephant in the room: industry consolidation. Microsoft's acquisition of aQuantive (of which Mr. McAndrews had been the CEO), Google's pending purchase of DoubleClick, the rise of social networking, the mainstreaming of digital video, to name just a few trends, were generating apprehension across the marketing-media value chain. The concern was captured in the now-famous term the WPP Group's Chief Executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, applied to Google at the Zeitgeist conference just one year before: "frenemy."

“We must show a willingness to address consolidation, disintermediation, reintermediation, ‘frenemization,’ and all manner of these Latinate concerns,” I suggested to my fellow panelists, “else we'll be accused of ducking.” All readily agreed.

Came the panel. Finished with introductions, I turned to the table of 10 advertising-agency executives -- an assembly of the most accomplished men and women in the business, gathered from creative agencies, media agencies, diversified services agencies, regional agencies, and global agencies -- and put the matter to them. We will address everything that interests and concerns you, I said, but what would you rather take up first: innovation or consolidation?

The immediate reply: “Innovation.”

And no matter how many times I tried to bait the agency executives, no matter how many times I tried to get them to start a “frenemy” discussion, they just would not rise to it.

"You must understand," said one, "that we understand what's happening to the landscape, and while there are obvious concerns, we really need to know more about the opportunities. What we want to know most is how you can help us build value for our clients."

“Teach Me” Moment

We are in what I call a "teach-me moment." Everywhere I turn, the apprehensions of a year ago are, if not banished, significantly diminished. In their place, across the value chain, is a desire to learn, to improve, to acquire new capabilities, and to collaborate in unfamiliar ways to build customer relationships and new business opportunities.

I call this revised view of marketing-media coopetition “Ecosystem 2.0.” I suspect it will dominate our waking hours for the foreseeable future. And I know that we at the IAB will be paying close attention to it – for we intend to make it a centerpiece of our association’s 2008 strategy.

I’ve talked in previous posts about how and why the new complexities and opportunities of marketing require unfamiliar forms of collaboration across the value chain. It was clear the message resonated: IAB’s MIXX Conference & Expo, which was themed around the new collaborative landscape, sold out for the first time in its history.

But there’s increasing evidence that this evangelical message is winning converts, even in more orthodox precincts – including marketing departments. In “Marketing-Media Ecosystem 2010,” the study done by the global management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton for the IAB, the Association of National Advertisers, and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, one of the key findings was the degree to which marketing executives are seeking new types of relationships to buttress their own capabilities.

For example, more than half of the most digitally savvy marketers believe that having direct relationships with media companies – “publishers,” in the surprisingly jejune industry parlance – is more important than going through an agency. More than 40 percent of these digital leaders believe the marketer-media relationship will increasingly resemble the relationship between retail giants like Walmart and their main consumer-product suppliers – that is, major media companies are likely to have consultative teams embedded at marketing companies to aid with insights development, program creation, and cross-platform utilization. Indeed, almost three-fourths of digitally savvy marketers are adding positions to help them optimize publisher relationships.

Hence Booz Allen’s conclusion that in the transforming marketing-media ecosystem, “media is the new creative.”

Agencies Want Guidance

Agencies increasingly are aware that they have to rise to this challenge, and gain capabilities that will enhance their value to their clients. The AAAA has placed emphasis on the development of “consultative selling” capabilities at agencies. And more and more, I see agencies turning to interactive media companies for guidance, even capability-building help.

Publishers must learn how to respond. "We need you [interactive companies] to come to us in a different way,” one agency president said at the Google roundtable I moderated. “Instead of just sending your salespeople to talk to our media planners, we need you to send your savviest technology people to talk to our creatives. We need to get your analytics experts to talk to our account planners." His fellow agency executives agreed.

The agencies, though, need to match wishes with actions. As much as their leaders profess deep interest in learning more about applying interactive platforms, applications, brands and opportunities to their client work, their troops aren't necessarily following. Many IAB members say that when they try to set up broader meetings at agencies, the right people too often do not come to the table. At the media agencies, in particular, discussions still center predominately on price, not value.

Agencies need to bring senior team leaders into the room. They must strive to break down the walls that not only have kept publishers, too frequently, in their traditional place -- as “dumb” conduits for the agencies’ ads – but have kept agency functions siloed from each other. Cross-functional collaboration must begin at home, else it will never take root between and among companies.

Media companies are similarly challenged. For years, “branded publishers” have maintained a wary distance from “the portals.” They have worried that these eyeball-aggregators are using their “front door” status as well as search engines, free email and other services to legally tap into the publishers’ content to amass audiences and sell advertising that otherwise would go to the content sites. Now that the portals are evolving into platforms, the apprehension, in some quarters, is growing.

I believe it’s wiser – certainly, it’s more realistic – for publishers and agencies alike to determine how and where they can play with the platforms to enhance their own capabilities, and thus their value to clients.

The Platform Environment

Platform, admittedly, is a vague word – “a swirling vortex of confusion,” Netscape founder and Ning chief Marc Andreessen says. But Mr. Andreessen offers a simple explanation. “A ‘platform,’” he writes, “is a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers – users – and in that way adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform’s original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had the time to accommodate.”

To one degree or another, the major Internet giants appear to be following Mr. Andreessen’s definition. Several of them are evolving into platform companies that are building advertising exchanges -- stock-market-like mechanisms that connect advertising buyers and sellers, price available inventory, and clear it in real time -- and integrating them with their growing multi-site advertising networks. These platforms, in effect, marry a liquidity mechanism to a pool of inventory, a continuing flow of behavioral data, and analytics and optimization tools that can automate many of the expensive people-centric processes that have typified advertising for generations.

AOL’s acquisition of Tacoda (and, just last week, Quigo) and the consolidation of it, Advertising.com, and other services and network businesses is demonstrably an effort to position AOL as a platform – hence the name of its new business, Platform A. Google’s development and acquisition of various open platforms and its pending purchase of Doubleclick (which is starting up an ad exchange) is another example of platforming. So is Microsoft’s acquisition and integration of aQuantive, the AdECN exchange, and other services. And so is Yahoo’s acquisition of the Right Media exchange and its services buildout.

Could platforms represent another threat to content sites – an effort to aggregate and monetize their audience without them? Sure. But it’s very telling that the intended transformation of the social networking site Facebook into a platform has been accompanied by enormous interest by major content developers. Every day, it seems, heralds a new Facebook application from The New York Times, the Washington Post, Conde Nast, or another premium publisher. They believe that open platforms can represent opportunity as much as threat. In a dramatic turnabout, they a chance to take the aggregator’s audience and enhance the publisher’s brand, reach, and stickiness.

Indeed, rather than positioning themselves to “own the world,” as branded publishers feared during the era of the “portals,” the new platforms seem to be wanting to develop scalable businesses that can add value to others’ businesses in the marketing-media value chain.

“Live by Openness”

At the Right Media Open last month, I had the privilege of conducting an on-stage interview with Yahoo’s co-founder and new CEO, Jerry Yang. He was explicit about his platform’s value proposition to others. He defined a platform as “a business that has a set of standards that allows a set of companies to participate and find benefit from it.” The key to success, he indicated, would be the platform’s availability to players across the value chain. “Yahoo will have to embrace openness,” Mr. Yang told me. “We must live by openness, leverage the data to be smarter and improve upon our partnerships with important companies like Comcast.”

I like Mr. Yang’s definition of platform more than Mr. Andreessen’s, if only because the latter, focused as it is on systems, seems more of an engineering construct than a social construct – and because, ultimately, the value-additive collaboration that Mr. Yang foresees will require tapping into real human needs, emotions, and satisfactions. I’d even go Mr. Yang one further: A platform is a collection of scaled or scalable services that help players up and down the value chain grow their customers’ businesses, and their own businesses in turn.

While there is reason for publishers and agencies to feel threatened by the evolution of the platforms, more and more of them seem to be perceiving them as opportunities, as Mr. Yang would have them do. Mike Walrath, the founder and CEO of Right Media, the exchange that was acquired earlier this year by Yahoo, spoke directly (albeit with background noise on the Flip camera) to the issue when I queried him specifically on the subject of advertising exchanges and commoditization at his conference.

Joe Fiveash, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Weather.com and a member of IAB’s Board of Directors, agreed that the opportunities presented by the platforms must be explored. While aware of the pitfalls of commoditization, he, too, saw more to embrace than to fear in the ad exchanges and the platforms.

Small players are arising to realize the advantages Mr. Fiveash foresees to grow the overall marketplace. As Yahoo’s Developer Network Director Matt McAllister blogged at the Right Media Open, there is “an interesting market of middlemen that I didn’t know existed. For example, I spoke with a guy from a company called exeLate that serves as a user behavior data provider between a publisher and an exchange. There were also ad services providers like Text Link Ads and publishers like Jim Mansfield’s PhoneZoo all discussing the tricky aspects of managing the mixture of inventory, rates and yield, relationships with ad networks, and the advantages of using exchanges.”

My point is a simple one: As Ecosystem 2.0 evolves, we’re likely to benefit from thinking more about symbiosis than about victory. If you’re looking for an image to carry you through a 2008 that will be at least as tumultuous as 2007, I’d recommend one from my scuba days: Not dolphins and sharks, but clownfish and anemones. It looks scary, but it’s mutually beneficial.

Thursday, November 01, 2007




The Contradictions of Anti-Advertising Advocacy


“Our every move is being tabulated, tracked and sold to the highest bidder,” Jeff Chester, the executive director of a Washington anti-advertising organization called the Center for Digital Democracy, said ominously at the opening of the FTC “town hall” on online behavioral targeting.

Yikes! Really?

As I sit through this FTC presentation, I’m reminded that American consumer culture – a backbone of U.S. economic growth from the beginnings of the nation – has long been paralleled by a smaller but quite vocal anti-consumerist tradition.

The first tendency is known to all of us, and has long been recognized. Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in the early 19th century, observed that “without exception, travelers to the United States found the most striking feature of the American character to be the obsession with business and wealth.” This obsession manifested itself in the acquisition of goods – “conspicuous consumption,” the sociologist Thorstein Veblen labeled it.

Desire to Acquire

This desire to advance, continually and publicly, has been a driver of U.S. economic growth. We acquire things because it shows off our personal growth, our success, our maturity. To acquire, we strive to make more money. To serve our desire to acquire, businesses innovate. And some of that innovation aims to make people feel richer than they are. “Among a democratic population all the intellectual faculties of the workman are directed to these two objects,” Tocqueville wrote. “He strives to invent methods that may enable him not only to work better, but more quickly and more cheaply; or if he cannot succeed in that, to diminish the intrinsic quality of the thing he makes, without rendering it wholly unfit for the use for which it is intended. When none but the wealthy had watches, they were almost all very good ones; few are now made that are worth much, but everybody has one in his pocket. Thus the democratic principle not only tends to direct the human mind to the useful arts, but it induces the artisan to produce with great rapidity many imperfect commodities, and the consumer to content himself with these commodities.”

But that consumerist impulse has made other Americans, a minority, to be sure, deeply unhappy.. “We are united by what we are being sold,” the writer Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and other books critical of consumerism and the latest darling of the anti-capitalists, has said, “There is no escape.” She follows an anti-consumerist line that stretches all the way back to Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian idealism, which stood in stark contrast to the rapacious mercantilism Jefferson perceived in John Adams’s Boston.

For some reason, and for several decades, such anti-growth reactionaries have aimed particular venom at advertising. Advertising is the public face of a capitalism they revile. Their arguments are, at times, contradictory. Advertising, in their formulation, is the generator of unnecessary mass wants and needs. Yet it also segments us in ways that subvert the American consensus.

The anti-consumerist tendency has been on display here at the FTC hearings on behavioral targeting -- and so have the contradictions. “Online marketers can eavesdrop on members of social networks,” Mr. Chester said. Yet he added that online advertising “has profound implications for the future of democracy, for whether or not we’re going to have a diverse array of voices.”

Ads Create Diversity

That latter comment was made without irony. Mr. Chester and other critics seem not to see that the diversity of voices links inexorably to the availability of online advertising. I noted in my first Clog posting from the FTC that the promise of online advertising has contributed to greater communications diversity and accessibility than ever in our history: 12 million Americans blogging; 1.3 million Americans supplementing their income by selling on eBay; 41 million resumes posted for free on Monster.com; 500 million free email accounts from Yahoo!, Google, and MSN alone.

While several of the anti-consumer advocates here today expressed admiration for the European Union’s stricter rules regarding online data use and privacy, those come at a significant cost they did not acknowledge – until Tacoda founder (and IAB board member) Dave Morgan noted it. “There’s dramatically less free content and services available to European consumers,” he said. “It’s not for lack of technology infrastructure. Rather, it’s they are being offered on a paid subscription basis.” Thus is the digital divide larger in Europe than in the U.S. “Online advertising and the capital investments companies are making to get it is a $20 billion, $30 billion subsidy paying for free content and free services,” Mr. Morgan said.

None of this is meant to imply that there are not serious issues relative to data retention and use. One FTC panelist, Kathryn C. Montgomery, a communications professor at the American University, has done important work helping to assure that advertising to children adheres to appropriate strictures. Yet even Prof. Montgomery revealed herself less as an opponent of bad actors, but as an opponent of online advertising generally. “Digital technologies enable companies to track every move, online and off, compiling elaborate personal profiles, and aggregating that data across different media,” she fretted.

But many of the concerns about behavioral targeting lie somewhere between diseconomic and mythical. Responding to Prof. Montgomery, Dave Morgan said here today, “I don’t know any companies that are behaviorally targeting ads at children. That’s the third rail, as we’d say in New York.”

"My Mother" Rules

“I use ‘my mother’ rules,” Mr. Morgan added. “If my mother would be uncomfortable with it, we shouldn’t do it.”

Equally important, of what concern is it, if the data collected are anonymous and aggregated and used to create more relevant – and thus more user-friendly – advertising? Another panelist here, Larry Ponemon, chairman of a research think tank, unveiled research indicating that more than half of Americans believe that an online ad that targets individuals’ preferences or interests improves or greatly improves their online experience. Fully 86 percent said they would prefer to accept relevant advertising, rather than pay for content. “There is an opportunity,” Dr. Ponemon said, “to educate people about internet economics.”

That is very true – and it’s moved beyond major opportunity to a must-do for our industry. We really have to continue to work,” said Ralph Terkowitz, a general partner at ABS Capital Partners, and a former CEO of the Washington Post’s electronic publishing subsidiary, “to drive transparency, to drive education, and to create policies to deal with those actors who are not interested in transparency, education and ease of use.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Interactive Advertising, Innovation, and the American Dream

Today and tomorrow, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is hosting a Town Hall entitled “Ehavioral Advertising: Tracking, Targeting, and Technology.” The FTC describes the event bringing together "consumer advocates, industry representatives, technology experts, and academics to address consumer protection issues raised by the practice of tracking consumers’ activities online to target advertising - or 'behavioral advertising.'" The Interactive Advertising Bureau sought and received permission to present our point-of-view about the centrality of interactive advertising to American competitiveness and to the diversity of voices available on the Web. The IAB will live blog from the hearings today and tomorrow at www.iab.net and www.randallrothenberg.com. What follows is the testimony I just delivered.

Good morning. On behalf of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the trade association for advertising-supported interactive media in the United States, I thank the commission and its staff for the opportunity to participate in this important Town Hall discussion regarding online-behavioral advertising.

The IAB’s 350 member companies represent the present and the future of marketing and media in the United States. Among our members are the burgeoning new media brands that have entered American consciousness during the past decade, companies such as Google, Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and CNET. There are the major media companies that have made two-way communications a significant component of their offerings, from The New York Times to NBC Universal to Condé Nast to CNN. There are smaller, successful information companies serving market niches, such as Cars.com and WebMD. And there are platform specialists in areas such as digital video, online games, and social networking, with names like Brightcove, Wild Tangent, and Facebook.

Historians undoubtedly will look back on this period as the most dynamic and innovative in the history of American business. Central to this dynamism has been the promise of advertising support. A question before all of us today is: What is the best policy framework to maximize such innovation and competition, in order to produce the best products, services, and diversity for consumers?

Prudence and Self-Regulation

There is a clear answer, supported by copious evidence dating back at least to October 1994 – the date the Netscape Navigator Web browser was released, initiating the Interactive Era: The unprecedented proliferation of goods, services, and information diversity that characterize the Internet has been generated within a framework of industry self-regulation and market forces. It is incumbent on the business community to ensure that Interactive advertising, marketing, and data-use practices are responsible. At the same time, Government must be prudent in ensuring that no regulation is drawn that would curtail interactive advertising’s potential to continue to support this extraordinary pattern of innovation and consumer benefit.

Advertising is the economic foundation underlying the dynamism of the Interactive Era. With interactive media, it’s become a commonplace that marketing spend – one of the last redoubts of imprecision in American business – is becoming more accountable and more productive. This is possible because of the availability of mathematical and technological tools that enable the analysis of non-personally-identifiable data to detect patterns in peoples’ interests and consumption habits, and to allow the matching of advertisements to their needs. Other analytics tools allow for predictive modeling based on the responses to these well-targeted ads, enabling the development of even better-targeted ads. All of these advancements ultimately work to the benefit of consumers. They not only receive advertisements more relevant to and productive for them; they receive more and better free content and services online.

Because these advertising processes are largely automated, they are taking costs out of and improving the results from advertising. In addition, because the Internet allows the seamless aggregation of thousands of Web sites into online advertising networks, marketers can reach consumers in volumes that rival, even surpass, the audiences of broadcast television. Yet they can do this with a precision that no previous medium can match.

In such ways are interactive media contributing to the productivity revolution that is driving American competitiveness in the 21st Century. For such reasons, interactive advertising spend in the U.S. this year likely will reach $20 billion, according to research by the IAB and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That is nearly one-third the amount marketers spend on television – and a sum reached a mere 13 years after this medium’s invention.

Fabric of Communities

This revolution is reaching deep into the fabric of communities across the nation. Today, all of us, quite literally, own a press – and much, much more. The Internet has torn down barriers to entry in both content creation and distribution. It is now possible for an individual to publish a national “magazine,” even program a global television network, with the applications that come built into his or her laptop computer. Never has speech been more open, available and varied. As of July 2006, some 12 million American adults – about 8% of the American population – were publishing their own blogs, which were being read by 57 million others, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

If any of the commissioners or commission staff want a tutorial on how to create your own national media outlet, the IAB would be glad to provide it – if you’ll promise in return to join the IAB once you begin to sell advertising!

For you most assuredly can use advertising, and build a business on the Web based on little more than your brain, passion, and energy. According to Pew, 32 million American adults have used online classified ads for selling or buying, and 35 million American adults have participated in an online auction. eBay, the best known auction site, says more than 768,000 small businesses across the U.S. use this online marketplace as their primary or secondary marketing channel. More than 1.3 million people supplement their income by selling materials on eBay.

Millions of other people are making their livings creating and operating media venues that house well-targeted advertisements. The 24/7 Real Media online advertising network partners with 950+ websites in six countries. Tacoda numbers more than 4,000 websites in its online ad network, which reach 122 million unique visitors per month. Advertising.com, another online ad network composed of thousands of small sites, has more than 150 million unique visitors in the U.S. each month.

These sites are the Mom & Pop grocery stores of the World Wide Web: Just as the local retailer anchors a geographic community, so these sites anchor communities of interest that span towns, cities, states, even nations. They do this with their content – and they finance their content through advertising.

Tim Carter's Story

Let me give you one example of just how small and just how successful these businesses can be: Tim Carter, the proprietor of Askthebuilder.com. Tim is a 55-year-old man with a wife and three children who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Askthebuilder.com lives on the computer screens of anyone anywhere who is interested in building a house, renovating a kitchen, or re-doing a bathroom.

Tim’s Web site is deep and rich – unsurprising, because, until about 15 years ago, he’d spent his life as a contractor, actually doing the work he writes about. He was darn good at it, too: In 1993, Remodeling magazine named him one of the top 50 remodelers in the nation.

Then disaster struck, in the form of three clients from hell. He’d battled the scourge of lowball contractors, the wear and tear on his body, only to be stiffed by his customers. He told his wife, Kathy, that he’d reached his limit, and wanted out. She suggested he take a book idea he’d had about home repair and renovation, and turn it into a newspaper column.

Tim is an energetic fellow. In short order, he’d persuaded the Cincinnati Enquirer to run a column by him. Within nine months, he self-syndicated his column to 30 other newspapers around the country. He quickly discovered that writing wouldn’t make him rich – his average take was $8.00 per thousand-word column.

But even though there was a Christmas or two when they didn’t exchange gifts, and evenings when dinner was Japanese ramen-in-a-cup, Tim Carter didn’t give up. “I was convinced that long term, it would work,” he told me a few weeks ago. He knew he was touching people: Certain topics – on deck sealing, for example – would draw as many as 1,000 letters in a week.

In 1995, Tim saw the Internet for the first time. “Instantly,” he said, “I knew I was going to be a publisher.” He taught himself rudimentary HTML programming. No longer constrained by newspaper schedules, he began writing like the Dickens – Charles Dickens, to be exact. He started hanging out at a local computer users forum, and an entrepreneurs forum, seeking to become better as a Web publisher.

In 2004, a member of his entrepreneurs group told him about Google’s Adsense Network. Like the ad networks run by Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, and many other companies, Adsense is a collection of websites on which Google places well-targeted advertising – like the ads that run on the right side of the Google search-results page, but in this case, placed contextually on sites themselves. As Google describes it, “Google AdSense matches ads to your site's content, and you earn money whenever your visitors click on them.”

The colleague who told Tim Carter about Adsense strongly suggested that Tim log onto Google and sign up. “With your content,” this fellow entrepreneur told him, “you could easily make $500 a day.” This certainly piqued Tim’s interest: In his best year as a builder, he’d earned $80,000.

But the fellow was wrong -- by half. When I met Tim Carter in late 2005, Askthebuilder.com was finishing its first year as part of an online advertising network. Tim was to make $350,000 that year.

Here’s how large Tim Carter’s editorial staff is: One person, himself. With that staff of one, Askthebuilder.com draws more than 31,000 unique visitors a day. Here’s how large Tim’s sales staff is: Zero. Managing that nonexistent sales staff is Tim’s chief financial officer: his wife, Kathy. Now that online video advertising is evolving from promise to reality, he has a video editor working for him a few hours a week. As his online advertising tools have progressed, the benefits have similarly accrued to the visitors on Tim’s site, as they now enjoy richer, more educational content.

Tim Carter is the American dream. But he is not alone. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of others, are supporting themselves and their families – and, in turn, aiding a burgeoning entrepreneurial economy in the United States – using interactive advertising. They are creating niche media on which well-targeted advertisements serve as bridges between niche marketers and niche audiences.

The revenues from these ads, in turn, support benefits to American consumers that are without parallel in number, quality, and availability. According to numbers released by the companies themselves, Google, Yahoo, and MSN together provide 500 million email accountsfor free. The research firm comScore reports that more than 200 million Americans age 15 or older conduct search-engine searches each month – for free. Also each month, some 20 million people search the top three online job-listings sites – Monster, Hotjobs, and CareerBuilderfor free. Just one of those sites, Monster.com, has 41 million resumes posted on it by job-seekers – for free.

Yet, as we all know, these services aren’t really free. Most of them are premised on the ability of the digital publisher, giant incumbent media companies and individual entrepreneurs alike, to sell advertising – to link marketers and consumers in a relationship of mutual interest, mutual advantage, and mutual satisfaction.

For those who want to understand the future of the media, I have one piece of advice: Go to Askthebuilder.com and see what Tim Carter did with his brain, energy, and passion – and with a global marketplace and a set of automated advertising tools. This is not the interactive future. This is the interactive present.

Monday, October 22, 2007

New York Time Misses Real News: Measurement Discrepancies Will Be Resolved

As a former newspaperman, I’m sensitive to complaints that “you missed the story.” But today’s New York Times article on audience measurement discrepancies in interactive advertising did skirt by some of the more important developments in our industry during the past year.

The most significant development: The major audience measurement companies are now working with the IAB to get to the bottom of discrepancies, and we are committed to working together to identify, implement, and educate the marketing and media industries on best and emerging practices in audience measurement.

I’m not a Polyanna – these matters can be very complex, and (let’s face it) disputes between media companies and audience measurement firms are as old as audience measurement itself. But I am confident that, as an industry, we are on our way to reducing measurement discrepancies as an issue.

Discrepancies Matter

I don’t want to dump on The Times story – if you think it’s so easy to summarize a history of the world in 750 words, try it someday. (Then try it five days a week, as some of us had to do in our youth.) But today’s piece did read like a rehash of the complaints and counter-complaints we’ve been hearing and voicing for years: The counts offered by comScore and Nielsen//Netratings differ from publishers’ counts by 30-40-50%... The comScore and Nielsen counts differ from each other… Cogent explanations for the differences can’t be easily had… People at work are undersampled… High-income Web users are undersampled

For my taste, there was too much emphasis in the piece on at-work populations, and not enough notice of other populations that are chronically undersampled in audience research, notably ethnic and racial minorities and young men. And there was no notice of one of the ways current audience measurement techniques subvert a primary promise of the Web: the ability to match niche buyers and niche sellers through the perfect media vehicle. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of small media sites – the Mom & Pop grocery stores of the Web – likely don’t show up in samples because of their audience size or traffic patterns, thereby robbing advertisers and agencies of potentially valuable matchmaking knowledge (but building a business case for the ad networks and search engines which do deliver ads to and eyeballs from such sites).

IAB’s Historic Summit

These complaints had been festering in the interactive industry for years, but they had resisted resolution. Why? My guess is that publishers, measurement firms, and interactive agencies were too busy inventing a new civilization to take the time to perfect that civilization’s culture. When you’re spending all your time building mud huts and foraging for food, it’s a bit hard to worry about table manners.

But as the funds flow into interactive media began to increase strikingly, the impact of these discrepancies on publishers’ sales, pricing, and competitiveness was taking an ever-larger toll. The IAB’s management and board determined it was time to act, and to act aggressively. Last April, we issued an open letter to comScore and Nielsen//Netratings. We sought two things: a “summit meeting” at which we could agree together on a process by which we could resolve discrepancies; and agreement by these vitally important companies to undergo third-party audits and accreditation of their processes.

That story has been well-covered elsewhere (although alas, not by The Times) so I won’t repeat it. (For a full history and continued updates, go here on the IAB Web site.) What never got covered were the opening remarks I made in kicking of that historic summit in May. To the assembled comScore and Nielsen executives, I said, “Your companies are among the heroes of the interactive marketing and media ecosystem. Starting years ago, and continuing through some very dark days, you took risks based on strong beliefs about where our industries are heading. Because you took those risks, you have built vital, important companies. You are important because you are excellent. You are excellent because you practice superior science, lead superior operations, and deliver superior service. And your strength is our strength. We thank you for the work you’ve done to build interactive media.”

But, noting the persistence of the measurement discrepancies amid the transformation of interactive media into major components in marketing plans, I added, “This transformation requires us to find new ways to collaborate. Yes, there will always be tensions among buyers, seller, and intermediaries. And yes, let us be fierce competitors within our individual industries for revenues and share. But let us also do what our various industries have long done, to greater or lesser degrees: work together to serve our customers and delight our consumers at the same time.”

Audits Are Happening

The important points are these: comScore and Nielsen DID join the summit meeting, along with representatives of the AAAA, ANA, MPA, OPA, ARF, and executives from numerous agencies, publishers, and marketers. And the two companies DID agree to undergo audits and accreditation supervised by the Media Rating Council. And the two companies ARE now undergoing these audits – indeed, they will increasingly compete against each other on the basis of the quality of their numbers, and of the insights that can be derived from these numbers.

The audience measurement companies, in turn, had their requests of the IAB. They need agreed-upon standards against which they can measure, particularly definitions of unique visitors, page views and time spent. We agreed to intensify our Audience Measurement Committees’ efforts to derive those standards. We also agreed that we would work to understand more concretely the impact of cookie deletion, international traffic, spiders and bots and other potential factors in audience-size discrepancies.

(By the way, one of our summit meeting conclusions appears to have gotten lost in the shuffle. While IAB and the measurement firms disagree on the significance of cookie deletion as a systematic factor in measurement discrepancies, we all agreed that more rapid and frequent reporting on site traffic would certainly minimize whatever significance it has. Thus we concluded that a system of “overnight” ratings, similar to television’s overnights, would buttress the current system that emphasizes average monthly visitors – a somewhat jejune construct, anyway, in the interactive space. I still would like to see movement in this direction.)

We also agreed that IAB would lead a market-education campaign on the frontiers of audience research. I’m happy to report that our launch is only a month away. On November 29, IAB inaugurates its Audience Measurement Leadership Forum. comScore and Nielsen will be presenting – as will Quantcast, M:Metrics, Visible Measures, Millward Brown, CNET, Conde Nast, CNN, and many other thought leaders and practice leaders from the research, media, and marketing industries. (Might I suggest booking soon? There are fewer than 300 spaces, and as you might expect, it’s been filling up fast.)

Quest for Insights

Without minimizing the painful financial impact measurement discrepancies have today on many interactive publishers, in a very real sense audience measurement is a side show. The main tent is called Insights, and in it are three rings: Transparency, Accountability, and Predictability -- what’s happening, what did happen, and what will happen. Our goal must be – as we said in our May summit meeting – to achieve “convergent validity.”

“Convergent validity” is a phrase coined by Peter Daboll, Yahoo!’s chief of insights and head of global market research, and a former president of comScore’s Media Metrix division. It emphasizes finding the best data sources for different ends, and bringing them together to create a mosaic of the audience, its needs and desires, and its consumption patterns that is richer and more useful than the thousand snapshots we currently assay separately.

Put another way, server logs and panel-based measurement are far more valuable together than they are apart. Server logs – a census counting technique – may be exact, and they should help agency media planners assemble a crank, but they cannot provide us and our advertisers crucial information we need about audience composition. Panels may never, by definition, be exact, but they can provide textural detail of immense value. Bringing these and other techniques together will get us closer to the real insights our customers want.

This is the path we’re now on. I wish The Times had that story. But who needs The Times when you’ve got the Clog?

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Al Gore: Saving Television (and the Earth)

He might not win another Nobel Peace Prize for it and it doesn’t rank with protecting the earth from global warming, but Al Gore may go down in history as the man who saved television advertising.

In fact, as various cultural and technological phenomena come together – social networking, user-generated content, the convergence of Internet and television devices, and marketers’ need to reach audiences in the face of fragmentation – the former Vice President may be remembered as the man who saved television itself.

A day after the Nobel committee announced its selection of Mr. Gore as co-recipient of this year’s peace prize, the former Democratic politician appeared as a central presenter at the Association of National Advertisers annual “Masters of Marketing” conference at the Arizona Biltmore near Phoenix. Mr. Gore has been a ubiquitous presence on the media and marketing conference circuit during the past several years. Most of the time, he has used the platforms to promote to these influential audiences his research and views on the dangers of climate change – the subject of his Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Indeed, just two days before his ANA appearance, he took the stage at the Google Zeitgeist conference in Mountain View, CA, to continue his campaign to influence the influencers on environmental degradation.

But at ANA, his subject was, fittingly, advertising – and how to advance it. “The fact is,” he told an audience of some 1,200 marketing, media, and agency executives, “the old format of television advertising is being questioned. A citizenry empowered with TiVo and remote controls and Internet access has called into question how long the traditional television model will deliver the service you marketers want it to perform for you.”

He made a pitch for his own cable TV network, Current TV, and the interactive properties built around. But unlike many sales pitches at this and other conferences, his resonated with a large chunk of the crowd. “We believe our model allows you, your companies, and your brands to become a part of their conversation,” Mr. Gore said.

Spots Still Prevail

The ex-Veep couldn’t have picked a better moment to address that audience. For the entire previous day, the marketers had heard speaker after speaker talk about the importance of inviting their consumers to co-create their brands with them. They heard marketing chiefs from across industries declare yet again that the era of one-way communication is dead, that advertising is now a conversation, that they had no choice but to harness interactive social media to their companies’ causes, that they had to stand for something to stand out in the cacophony of cultural conversations taking place through the Web.

For the many who had come to Phoenix from the Google conference, it was déjà vu all over again. For those who had attended IAB’s MIXX Conference in September, it was as if Jiminy Cricket was riding their shoulders whispering the same message repeatedly in their ears.

Yet in each of the ANA case study presentations, the dominant format – the overwhelmingly dominant format – deployed to illustrate the “new rules” of advertising was the 30-second television spot. The audience cooed at the emotional commercials and chuckled at the funny ones. But it was difficult to spot the breakthrough format advances in anything other than the conversation.

It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the marketers were merely talking the talk, or, worse, acting pathologically – doing the same thing over and over again in the insane belief that it would somehow yield a different outcome.

The persistence of the one-way, 30-second spot format isn’t really surprising. A $65 billion industry, employing hundreds of thousands of people, has been built around it in the U.S.. It’s not only what so many of us know how to do; it’s what we know how to react to. At the conference, I ran into Andrew Susman, CEO of Studio One Networks, the creator and syndicator of online and off-line multimedia content, and asked him how he explained the dissonance between the calls for change and the dearth of examples. Since I was carrying a new “Flip Camera,” a lightweight, palm-sized device that can record an hour of video on its flash drive, I captured his answer.

Marketers and agencies aren’t ignoring the disjunction between desire and action. During Google’s Zeitgeist conference and the ANA meeting, I heard no message more insistent from the agency and marketing execs than “help us change.” Hundreds of people packed the auditorium and a subsequent luncheon discussion of the joint IAB-AAAA-ANA-Booz Allen “Marketing-Media Ecosystem 2010” study, which is all about driving change across the value chain. And several signed up on the spot for the IAB’s “Interactive Boot Camp for Senior Marketers,” which we announced at the ANA meeting.

The Veep’s V-CAM

But among presenters, Al Gore was one of the few who offered an actual innovative path to try change in real-time – “a way of relating the Internet to television,” he said, that is more than “television sliced and diced and spit out onto the Internet,” which is how he characterized the current state of online video advertising.

Current TV is entirely premised on user-generated content, some of it socially uplifting, as befits its political provenance, and some of it purely entertaining. It’s a video aggregation site whose secret weapon is active editing and collaborative filtering.

And that’s the innovation behind its V-CAM’s – the Viewer Created Ad Messages. Yes, they are user-generated advertisements, just like those lured in (to great incumbent media attention) by Dorito’s and dozens of other brands over the past two years. But Current TV doesn’t program its V-CAM’s as high-profile one-offs. Rather, they’re built into the fabric of its Web site and its cable network, as much a part of the contextual dynamic as the user-generated documentaries. Moreover, they are constructed according to briefs drawn up by the marketers and, in many cases, their agencies. Current even provides graphic and bumper material to assure the spots are brand-compliant.

And its V-CAM’s are “socially filtered,” as Mr. Gore put it, “by real live human beings,” before being put online for judging by the community of viewers. This assures their marketer friendliness. Although the former Veep says the network has yet to receive a negative ad for any of V-CAM advertisers (a roster that includes Toyota, L’Oreal, Mountain Dew, and several others), he made a cogent case that marketers harm themselves more by that fearfulness than they ever would be by their openness. “It’s not as if it’s completely safe to continue with the cluttered model we currently have, with all the consumer resistance built into it,” he told ANA President and CEO Bob Liodice during the question-and-answer period.

For much of the past two years, I’ve been seeing increasing evidence that active editing and programming are meeting social media in a new blend, one that provides protection for nervous advertisers while still allowing the power of conversational media to cut through the clutter of the Web and the interactive television “dial.” Current TV seems one more bit of support. Mr. Gore says his company’s research shows that viewers prefer V-CAM ads to traditional spots by a 9 to 1 margin.

Audience Laughter

The ANA audience seemed to provide additional support. They cooed and oohed at the lovely, animated Toyota Prius V-CAM, and erupted in laughter over a clever T-Mobile V-CAM. A L’Oreal for Men V-CAM even received the kind of spontaneous applause usually reserved for Crispin Porter Bogusky television spots. True, agencies could look at the V-CAM approach as yet another threat to their existing business models. But from the professionalism of some of the work, it seems more like a recruiting tool for the next generation of creative talent.

ANA President Liodice asked Mr. Gore what he saw as the best practices coming to light for consumer generated media. The Nobel Prize-winning former pol replied:

“When I was in college, Marshall McLuhan was a touchstone. In his book Understanding Media, he wrote a story of a swimmer caught in a whirlpool, swimming against it, getting exhausted, and drowning. Going with the current is the right model to get out of the whirlpool.

“The digital universe is in a swirl. Simply swimming against the flow can be exhausting. We offer you a way to swim with the current, not with all your inventory, but with enough that you can learn from your audience what they want from you.”