Google’s new funding program for Academics: $ for studies on “Brand Development,” Click Generation” and “for moving traditional video spots from broadcast to broadband”

The advertising industry is engaged in a growing research effort to push the boundaries of marketing. It wishes, for example, to reach deeply into our unconscious mind in order to generate a range of behavioral responses. Marketers are exploring how the new tools of digital advertising can influence consumer emotions.

For example, Google is now engaged in consumer neuroscience research to make its YouTube ads more effective. But Google wants more academic help so it can improve its digital marketing prowess. So Google and global ad giant WPP have joined forces to create “a new research program to improve understanding and practices in online marketing, and to better understand the relationship between online and offline media.” The program will be run by a trio of scholars, including Google’s own Hal Varian, Professor John Quelch, senior associate dean of Harvard Business School (who is a a non-executive director of WPP), and Professor Glen Urban, former dean of the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Varian told DM News that “We want to encourage more research about how online and offline media work together to influence consumer choices. We think that such research will contribute to more effective and more measurable advertising performance.” DM News also reported that Mark Read, CEO of WPP Digital and WPP’s director of strategy explained that “[T]he industry, our clients and our companies will benefit from the application of some of the world’s finest academic research minds into how online media influences consumers.”

Don’t expect, by the way, any grants to be awarded that examine the ethical dimensions of interactive marketing; or new threats to personal privacy and autonomy; the implications of Google’s growing global control over online ad revenues on publishing; or the negative environmental and social consequences of promoting a digital marketing system which could lead to over-consumption.

Here are some of the research questions Google hopes will draw academics into its program:

    • How does a brand establish a framework for assessing how much should be spent online? How much advertising should be directed at brand development versus specific click generation?…
    • How do you set digital advertising budgets and tactics when in intensively competitive product categories?…
    • What are good guidelines for moving traditional video spots from broadcast to broadband?
    • What is the causal relationship between brand health and search success? And what is the link between search and sales? How does search contribute to word of mouth recommendation?
    • How can banner ads be more effective?
    • How do you model the consumer response to digital advertising in social networks or mobile media?
    • What do we know and what more do we need to know about on-line audiences?
    • How can advertisers be welcome in social networks?
    • Recipients will be invited to attend a conference in Fall 2009 (Sept/Oct) where they can share their preliminary findings.

Google Using Brain Research to Hone its Online Ads

Google has joined the stampede of advertisers who have embraced the tools of neuroscience to help them create the emerging generation of interactive ads. In the new model for marketing, the goal is to bypass our conscious, more rational, decision-making. They want to reach deeply into our emotional, unconscious, self. Hence, the gaggle of companies helping marketers with brain research. Google, by the way, is using the same company that recently tested how junk food ads affected consumer brains during the recent Olympic games. Neurofocus, the Berkeley-based company partnering with Google, won a major ad award for its help harnessing neuroscience to sell Frito-Lay chips. The growing role of neuroscience research for advertising (especially digital marketing) must be addressed by policymakers, health professionals, and other responsible parties. Here’s the Mediaweek excerpt:

“Google is so confident that its InVideo Ads product—those semi-transparent/animated overlay ads it launched on YouTube last year—are game changers that the company is turning to brain wave researchers to prove their effectiveness.

The search giant–in conjunction with MediaVest–has partnered with NeuroFocus, a researcher that specializes in biometrics, to gauge both how users respond to InVideo ads and how well those ads complement traditional banner ads. NeuroFocus specializes in measuring individuals’ brain response—by literally placing sensors on their heads—as well as other factors like pupil dilation and skin response.

“We were really interested in looking at what we think of as a pretty innovative ad unit,” explained Leah Spalding, advertising research manager, Google, who emphasized that since InVideo ads are designed to be non-intrusive, they warrant an evaluation that goes beyond traditional measures like click-through rates. “Standard metrics don’t tell the whole story…Specifically, after fielding a study among 40 participants last May, InVideo ads scored above average on a scale of one to 10 for measures like “attention” (8.5), “emotional engagement” (7.3) and “effectiveness” (6.6). According to officials, a 6.6 score is considered strong.

source: “Google, MediaVest Tap Biometrics for InVideo Ads Play.” Mike Shields. Mediaweek. October 23, 2008.

and more on the research via Mediapost: “…the NeuroFocus research conducted in May looked at the reactions of 40 people to YouTube InVideo overlay and companion banner ads from a cross-section of MediaVest advertising clients.

The firm used biometric measures such as brainwave activity, eye-tracking and skin response to gauge the impact of ads. Based on criteria including attention level, emotional engagement and memory retention, it then comes up with an overall “effectiveness” score for ads.”

“Google: This is your brain on advertising.” Mark Walsh. Mediapost. Oct. 23, 2008

PS: Google has been holding research discussions on such topics as “The Neuroscience of Emotions [Sept. 16, 2008]. Here’s the link to a presentation via YouTube.

Here’s another on computational neuroscience by a researcher who works on online advertising.

The Financial Crisis, Debt, Consumer Society, Digital Advertising & a new Consumer Protection Policy Agenda

Reading a review by John Cassidy on the insightful new book by George Soros [New York Review of Books], it’s evident that we must also address our overall consumer culture. Too easy credit, deregulation, and the promotion of a `boom,’ never gloom’ ethos has contributed to the global economic mess. It’s clearly time we shift our priorities, so that spending and consumption are placed in a healthier balance. That’s why the emerging generation of interactive advertising and marketing technologies should be on a new proactive consumer protection policy agenda.

Our communications system around the world is in the midst of a crucial transition. Digital media–broadband video, social networks, mobile content–are ushering in a new set of content services. Most of new media is fueled by the forces of interactive advertising. The messages will be flowing non-stop to promote products and services. But such a new “media and marketing ecosystem,” as advertisers have termed it, must have reasonable regulatory safeguards. Digital advertising requires online privacy and other relevant consumer protection policies. We should not permit highly targeted and more precise marketing messages to permeate our lives, unless consumers/citizens are firmly in control.

Digital marketing communications promoting behaviors of consuming need to be transparent, understandable by the average person, and created in an above-board way (so the brands working on neuromarketing and even behavioral engagement strategies better take notice). The ad industry bears some responsibility here for what has happened economically. We all do–for either doing too little or not enough. But this is an important time for serious reflection to help put our lives–and the planet–in healthier balance. That’s why action is required by the next Congress and states. Here’s an excerpt from the review of the new George Soros book:

“As described by Soros, the “super-bubble” developed over the past quarter-century and is the result of three underlying trends: globalization, credit expansion, and deregulation. By globalization, he means not just expansion of trade in goods and services, and the rise of China and India, but the US’s emergence as the world’s biggest debtor. In the past couple of years, he reminds us, the United States has been running a current account deficit of more than 6 percent of GDP—a level usually associated with a developing country about to suffer a foreign exchange crisis…In 1980, the total amount of credit market debt outstanding in the United States was roughly the same as the GDP: by 2007, it had risen to about 350 percent of GDP. The bundling of residential mortgages into widely traded securities—”securitization”—played a significant role in this transformation, but so did increased federal lending resulting from large-scale budget deficits, the securitization of credit card debt and auto loans, and an expansion in corporate debt issuance.”

Embedding Brands in Videogames

The growth of in-game marketing should be on the public policy radar. It’s something we have been following with food and beverage marketing targeting children and adolescents. Read this excerpt from a Double Fusion ad for a regional sales manager. Then ask yourself: does this business model raise consumer protection and public welfare concerns.

excerpt: “Want to place brands in games? Double Fusion’s Core Games Group is looking for a passionate gamer with the desire to sell marketers on the sexy allure of the gaming console as a means to reach the increasingly allusive 18-34 Male demographic. The Regional Sales Manager, Core Games Group will be responsible for using Double Fusion’s multi-platform approach (static in-game advertising, dynamic in-game advertising, gaming tournaments, downloadable content, co-marketing partnerships, etc) to in-game advertising to meet marketers’ campaign objectives in the most engaging ways imaginable.

…Double Fusion connects brands with audiences through the immersive medium of games…our integrated marketing solutions continue to inspire Fortune 500 companies to get in the game with groundbreaking advertising campaigns…Chance to make media history in a “rising star” category – interactive entertainment is one of the fastest growing categories across female audiences and advertisers are just beginning to realize this huge market potential…Our unique media capabilities across 2D and 3D games allow advertisers to benefit from a level of interaction that’s simply not possible with traditional advertising. In fact, research from Nielsen has shown the superior recall and purchase preference results that 3D programs deliver. The best of both worlds – we’re well-funded with financial backing from top-tier venture capital firms plus media giants such as Time Warner and Hearst…”

Behavioral Targeters Use Our Online Data to Track Our Actions and, They Say, to “Automate Serendipity.” Attention: FTC, Congress, EU, State AG’s, and Everyone Else Who Cares About Consumer Welfare (let alone issues related to public health and ethics!)

NPR’s On the Media co-host and Ad Age columnist Bob Garfield provides policymakers and advocates with an arsenal of new material that support the passage of digital age consumer protection laws. In his Ad Age essay [“Your Data With Destiny.” sub required], Garfield has this incredibly revealing–and disturbing–quote from behavioral targeting industry leader Dave Morgan (Tacoda) [our emphasis]:

“Now we have the ability to automate serendipity,” says Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda, the behavioral-marketing firm sold to AOL in 2007 for a reported $275 million. “Consumers may know things they think they want, but they don’t know for sure what they might want.”

Garfield writes that “In 2006 Tacoda did a project for Panasonic in which it scrutinized the online behavior of millions of internet users — not a sample of 1,200 subjects to project a result against the whole population within a statistical margin of error; this was actual millions. Then it broke down that population’s surfing behavior according to 400-some criteria: media choices, last site visited, search terms, etc. It then ranked all of those behaviors according to correlation with flat-screen-TV purchase…“We no longer have to rely on old cultural prophecies as to who is the right consumer for the right message,” Morgan says. “It no longer has to be microsample-based [à la Nielsen or Simmons]. We now have [total-population] data, and that changes everything. With [those] data, you can know essentially everything. You can find out all the things that are nonintuitive or counterintuitive that are excellent predictors. … There’s a lot of power in that.”

There’s more in the piece, including what eBay is doing. As the annual Advertising Week fest begins in New York, we hope the leaders of the ad industry will take time to reflect on what they are creating. You cannot have a largely invisible system which tracks and analyzes our online and interactive behaviors and relationships, and then engages in all manner of stealth efforts to get individuals (including adolescents and kids) to act, think or feel in some desired way. Such a system requires rules which make the transaction entirely transparent and controlled by the individual. The ad industry must show some responsibility here.

The IAB (US) “mobilizes” to Fight Against Consumer Protections for Online Media

Watch this online video of Randall Rothenberg speaking before a June Federated Media Publishing event. In Mr. Rothenberg’s worldview, demon critics of advertising (such as myself) are deliberately trying to undermine democratic digital media. This would be absurd, if it wasn’t so sad. Mr. Rothenberg is using scare tactics to whip up his members into a frenzy-all so they can fight off laws and regulations designed to provide consumers real control over their data and information. Luckily, Mr. Rothenberg will be on the losing side of this battle to protect consumers in the digital era. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic understand how the digital marketing ecosystem raises serious concerns about privacy and consumer welfare. We have to say we are disappointed in John Battelle, the CEO of Federated (who wrote a very good book entitled The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture). Mr. Battelle should know that the online marketing system requires a series of safeguards which protects citizens and consumers. There is a balance to be struck here. Online advertisers have unleashed some of the most powerful tools designed to track, analyze, and target individuals–whether on social networks, or watching broadband video, or using mobile devices. We have never said there shouldn’t be advertising. We understand the important role it must play, including for the underwriting of online content. But the online ad system should not be designed and controlled solely by ad networks, online publishers, trade groups and online ad lobbying groups. It must be structured in a way which promotes as much freedom for individuals.

Ad industry continues its focus on brain research, inc. meeting at Harvard U

[we have covered this topic in our book and on this blog. Here’s a story from the April 2008 issue of Media Magazine–excerpt]

The meeting, held in a lecture room of the Harvard Business School, was hosted by four leading research organizations that are trying to figure out how to apply the fledgling field of neuroscience to media and marketing research, and to find out whether biometric technologies that map the brain’s responses to media stimuli can be used the way Madison Avenue has used conventional forms of audience research like Nielsen’s TV ratings.

In fact, the field is so promising that Nielsen itself is jumping into it. The media research giant recently acquired NeuroFocus, a Cambridge, Mass.-based firm that is beginning to apply neuroscience to advertising research…What social research was to advertising and media 50 years ago, neurological research promises to be for the next half century…By mapping and understanding how the brain responds to advertising and media stimuli, he [Gerald Zaltman] suggested, researchers would have empirical knowledge about what kinds of advertising and media content were most engaging to consumers. Because the brain – and how it remembers things – is malleable, Zaltman says, it’s not possible to use a map of someone’s thought processes to create rules of thumb. Rather, researchers must use the information to understand how people “coauthor” messages. In other words, people don’t just passively absorb and process information, but react to it, append it and make the content their own. And depending on when and where they are exposed to it, the content could be processed very differently.”

source: Going Mental. Joe Mandese. Media Magazine. April 2008

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Will Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection and its $300m ad budget address the role of advertising and the climate crisis?

We think there’s something ironic about the $300 million ad “We” campaign just launched by Al Gore and several environmental groups to address climate change. We agree that threats to the environment are grave, and require immediate action. But unless Gore’s ads also critique the growing challenge to the environment coming from the advertising industry itself, we doubt whether there will be meaningful change. Marketers are unleashing the most powerful techniques to encourage greater and greater personal consumption. Madison Avenue is expanding the boundaries of what marketing can do by creating what it calls its “Marketing and Media Ecosystem.” From behavioral targeting based on the collection and tracking of our online activities, to “immersive” branded virtual content, to “viral” campaigns using broadband videos, the ad industry has embarked on a full-court press to get the public to eat more junk food, buy more cars, charge more on credit cards and take out new loans, etc.

The campaign, according to press reports, is hoping to encourage “influentials” to press for laws and policies. It’s a noble effort, although is using the same techniques marketers have embraced to target teens and other opinion makers to get friends to buy or like brands and products (called “brand ambassadors” by some). The Gore campaign should include a serious call for the public to be concerned about the consequences from the global and digitally-driven interactive marketing machine. Among the policies it should ask its influentials to support, are safeguards protecting consumer privacy and ensuring that marketing in the digital “ecosystem” is done in a way that truly supports an earth in balance.

PS: Before any of the $300 million is given to buy time via broadcasters, cable companies, ad agencies, and online marketers, the Alliance for Climate Protection should first be required to conduct an environmental impact analysis of how these media each contribute to the climate change threat–and what they should do about it.

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The emerging online health field requires meaningful privacy and interactive marketing safeguards to prevent the exploitation of American consumers. Google, Microsoft and many others see digital gold from the online targeting of medical-related products & services. There will be a flood of personalized pitches from the Big Pharma brands, health remedies, and over-the counter remedies. Yesterday, CDT sent out an email saying that “[N]ext week the Center for Democracy & Technology will announce a major health privacy initiative that will emerge as the major player in this converging field, poised to stand in the gap, bringing providers, industry and consumers to the table to build workable solutions and impact policy makers.” The CDT missive explained that “[A]ddressing these issues requires a strong, credible voice, that combines privacy and technology expertise with a deep understanding of the health care system and the goals for information technology; a voice with privacy policy experience and an understanding of how technology can be used to improve health care.”

The health of the American public in the digital era will be directly connected to the policies we enact governing medical micro-targeting, data collection, and online marketing. Groups have to stand up for what is right for consumers. The new CDT effort–along with the online health data and marketing initiatives–will require close scrutiny. Protecting health-related privacy and ensuring safeguards for digital medical advertising are essential if we are going to engage in prevention.

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Time Warner’s `Platform A’ Data Collection System: 3 billion online ads a day bolstered by $1 B in online ad company acquisitions

Time Warner has been buying up online ad properties to bolster its AOL and subsidiaries. AOL exec Randy Falco, as reported in Advertising Age [Feb. 26, 2008, sub. required likely] told interactive marketers that “[W]e have Platform A, the largest ad network in the world.” Falco said that 3 billion ad impressions were being delivered daily by the AOL networks. He also said that “[W]e spent with the help of Time Warner about a billion dollars to acquire [Quigo, Tacoda, Third Screen Media and AdTech] over the past year.”