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This page is a selection of pieces I authored or co-authored for SAY Media's "The Week In Venn" newsletter over the last year.  If you are in marketing, you should subscribe to the newsletter and get a weekly hit of SAY's point of view on the intersection of marketing, technology, and culture.  You can subscribe here.

On the right rail is a widget that feeds my posts and articles from iMediaConnection.  I am an active participant in the industry conversation on where value can be found in digital marketing.


Why No One Is Watching Campaign Ads


This could be the first election that is lost because someone didn't leverage digital advertising.

-- Michael Beach, Targeted Victory

There may be no bloodshed, but politics is still war – especially when it comes to political ads. It's a battle for opinion, a struggle to define both one's self and one’s opponents' visions, and a clash of promises and images. As a crucial part of the mix, candidates try to communicate directly to voters. This has become much more difficult in the last dozen years. Thanks to bloggers, trackers, pundits, talking heads, and all manner of gonzo opinionators, there are very few ways for a politician to speak to voters without filters.

Which is why it's no surprise that the TV spot, with its 30 seconds of uninterrupted attention, remains the workhorse of paid campaign tactics. In the 2010 mid-term election cycle, politicians spent $2 billion on these ads. With fists already flying in the 2012 campaign, and spots already running in early primary states, the prediction is that campaigns will spend $3 billion on television before next November. Television has worked well for 50 years. From Lyndon Johnson’s Daisy to Reagan’s Morning in America, both of which replaced candidates' faces and promises with stirring emotional imagery, to spots that define positions and attack opponents, the investment in television has worked.

Last fall, SAY Media published a study of how television consumption is changing. We found that about a third of the online adult audience was watching much less of their TV live, moving instead to time-shifted sources like DVR, DVD, and streaming. This week, we released a follow-up study we did with two political media consultancies that specifically looks at how media consumption is changing among likely voters. We conducted our research using the same tool that campaigns rely on: telephone polling. In a national poll we found that 31 percent of likely voters hadn’t watched live TV in the previous week. That number rose to 38 percent in the key battleground state of Ohio. Almost 40 percent of likely voters have a DVR in the home and 88 percent of that group uses the DVR to skip at least three quarters of the ads (60 percent say they skip all the ads).

The implication is clear: a large slice of the voting population is not watching an ad when it's broadcast – and quite likely, not at all. Campaign messages are often highly perishable, with spin changing daily. Even if the time shifters do eventually watch the ad, getting the message past its shelf life does not help the candidate nearly as much as watching when it’s fresh.

Since 2008, candidates have been experimenting with digital communication. That has had some awkward moments, such as Hillary Clinton’s low authenticity scores for over-scripted web content or a certain congressman's overconfidence in his understanding of how Twitter works. And it has led to some successes, such as, which efficiently converted passion for the candidate into actions measurable in campaign terms: donations, door knocks, phone calls. President Obama currently has more than 23 million Facebook followers, to whom he communicates directly and daily.

The Obama 2008 campaign has set the template for budget and success in digital, but chances are someone will set a new standard in the next 14 months. That standard will no doubt include new ways of harnessing passion through both social channels and digital advertising, because, increasingly, that is the only way to forge the direct connection with the voters that makes or breaks a campaign.

By Matt Rosenberg, VP of Solutions for SAY Media


This Is Why You Work in Advertising


Don’t tell my mother I work in an advertising agency – she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.

Jacques Seguela

Every mother wants their child to grow up to change the world for the better. According to digital visionary Jaron Lanier, that dream can be realized with a career in advertising. But only by staying true to certain principals.

Jaron inspired us at the SAY: Create conference to think of advertising as an art that romanticizes human production, that encourages our appetites for the things we don’t have, and so is a driving evolutionary force for civilization.

Lanier is not the only one who believes in advertising’s noble purpose. Here’s Calvin Coolidge in 1926: "Advertising ministers to the spiritual side of trade. It is great power that has been entrusted to your keeping which charges you with the high responsibility of inspiring and ennobling the commercial world. It is all part of the greater work of the regeneration and redemption of mankind."

But there is advertising that is capable of moving our emotions and there is advertising that simply reduces the distance between commercial interests and people. Lanier puts it plainly: "Google's thing is not advertising because it's not a romanticizing operation. It doesn't involve expression. It's a link. What they're doing is selling access." Selling access rather than emotion is the way you drive revenue within earshot of Seguela’s piano.

Everyone says they hate advertising, but it’s more likely that they hate bad advertising. If all advertising were hated, advertising wouldn’t be so successful at moving people to take action. What makes us recoil are ads that prey on our fears, that yell at us about things that we don’t care about. We respond to ads that give us gifts, that provide access not to links but to hopes, dreams, entertainment, information. Cynics will say this is a bad thing; but how else can we be introduced to the next great addition to our lives.

The obvious question is what form and substance would modern digital advertising be if it functioned in a way that "romanticized human production," as Lanier suggests it should.

You would certainly have to start with a far better canvas for romance: spacious, uncontested, clutter-free and frictionless. When you’ve cleared space to communicate, then the nature of the communication takes over. That is best done when the advertiser thinks about – cares about – their customer and understands realistically how they fit into the customer’s life. So when this poem shows up in this ad, it means a broader audience; more people who are moved. The ad then becomes the content people welcome, not the shouting that we try, with increasing success, to shut out of our lives.

If anything, modern advertising is less about the romance of a single product benefit and more about connecting the people, ideas and community behind a brand. This is a complex undertaking. It is content. It is social. It is useful and inspiring or it is worthless.

If you’ve read this far, it’s because you care about what we have to say. Perhaps you look forward to our weekly Venn, you know someone who works at SAY, or you’re a client. You’ve given us your attention because, we hope, we reward that attention with an interesting perspective, an insight you can develop, even just a quick chuckle at our diagrams. Make no mistake – we are advertising to you. But we’re doing it in the way that comes most naturally to us, by having a conversation with you. When advertising looks like (is) a conversation, it ceases to be manipulative and starts being human. When it pleases, the pleasure is real.

You care about advertising. Now go make the world a better place.

co-authored with TROY YOUNG, President of SAY Media


When Brands Act Like People


Your image is your brand, and your words are forever.

Seth Kaufman, 

With brands and people increasingly coexisting in social spaces, it's no wonder they're starting to act like each other.

This summer, on the heels of the Supreme Court recognizing free speech rights for companies, Mitt Romney reassured an audience that corporations are people. This has become the core tenet for Stephen Colbert's Super PAC. It's not a particularly recent concept - as far back as 1936, 7-Up was trying to make friends with it's consumers: "You Like It, It Likes You" - an early instance of a brand suggesting it is capable of a social relationship.  

More recently - call it since GeoCities - marketers tried to advertise into communities but found it hard to achieve scale and build authentic communication while tightly controlling the message. So they started trying to build their own communities. For example, Sprite (what is it about lemon-lime soft drinks?) invited young consumers to join a Sprite-specific social network called The Yard. They expected people to organize their friends around the shared love of a soft drink. The truth is that communities are owned not by the companies that build them but by the people that hang out in them. You can build something wonderful, but you can't control the conversation. You can't throw a party and tell your guests that they can only talk about how great you are.

The other challenge for companies trying to behave more like people is that friends tend to be peers, with similar lives and interests. "Your brand is not my friend," wrote Alan Wolk a few years ago. That's because the brand is richer, more famous, and, while it loves talking to lots of people, a company isn't as interested in their partners as in themselves. You can't be a friend if you can’t listen.

At the same time, people have started to think of themselves as brands. "How is my brand?" an old boss of mine asked me, trying to find out if he was respected on the floor. "Make your life one giant networking event," suggests JobMetrix, an employment service. And Dan Schawbel of Personal Branding Blog explains, "You are the chief marketing officer for the brand called you, but what others say about your brand is more impactful than what you say about yourself."

Language is powerful, so the more the equation of people = brand spreads, the more true it will be. It's not only language, though. Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube almost require that we think of ourselves in this way.

Human beings are adaptive and able to shape themselves around the situations and relationships they are in moment by moment.  I am not the same person at work as with my family, as with my friends. I keep certain thoughts unexpressed around my neighbor Dave because I know his politics, but I trumpet them with my like-minded friends. I brag about my son's athletic accomplishments more with my sporty friends than with my spazzy friends.

But our common social platforms blend all our chameleon-like micro-personas into one output. Sure, on Facebook it is possible create categories of people and manage who sees what - so no one in the work category sees my beach photos - but that ends when friends fit in more than one category and your lists aren't exactly reciprocal. It is impossible even to be conscious of all the variation in our interpersonal relationships; even many categories scrupulously managed can't mimic how we adjust in a conversation. So we censor ourselves and, like a brand, send one message to everyone.

Alternatively, we can do something that a company with a product to sell really can't: we can decide, like Popeye, I yam what I yam, prioritize relationships with people who like us at our most authentic, warts and all, be unconcerned about alienating those who don't, and let our "brand" be the sum of our natural behavior and thoughts. I am not for every taste, and I am fine with that, but I don't answer to shareholders. Or is that just my brand statement?

Consider my friend Mark Haskell Smith, a fiendishly witty novelist, whose Facebook status told this story: "Dude asked 'what are you doing to build brand identity through social media?' I said, 'Fuck you is what I'm doing.'" That he put this on Facebook suggests that he's both doing and eschewing. As are, perhaps, we all.

Matt Rosenberg is Vice President of Solutions, SAY Media




No idea is simple when you need to plant it in somebody else's mind.

Dom Cobb, Inception

It's the time for parents everywhere to intercept their kids' letters to Santa and satisfy the desires of our youngest consumers. My 8-year-old had one item on his list, a bullet-voting strategy meant to give Santa no room to disappoint. That item was an iPad. "Why do you want an iPad?" I asked. "I want to watch Phineas and Ferb on it." Analyst Gene Munster, of Piper Jaffray, projects 13.5 million iPads will be sold in the fourth quarter of 2011. In all over 40 million units will have found homes this year. Many of them will be put to the same use my son dreams of - watching video away from the television. Like him, whole generations are growing up without a dependency on the box for entertainment.

If it were only the 8-year-olds shifting platforms, advertisers wouldn't have to change much for years to come. But it isn't. Studies SAY has conducted into "Off The Grid" behavior with both comScore and SEA Polling/Public Opinion Strategies in the last year confirm that roughly a third of the population is shifting away from watching live television, instead time shifting or platform shifting. The majority of 18 to 45 year-olds describe something other than television as their primary source of video.

You're doing it too, aren't you? At the very least, you're time shifting through a DVR and you're skipping most of the commercials. You're watching your favorite shows (other than sports) at least 12 minutes after they start so you can watch the hour in 48 minutes by eliminating the commercials. I also bet that you work in advertising or a marketing-related business. Look at us: a bunch of marketers enjoying the benefits of outwitting marketers. We're trained not to think the rest of the population is like us, that we can't use our own experiences to develop communications for the masses because we are more urban (or at least more urbane).

But in this respect, at least, we are just like them.

We know that this third will eventually grow to two-fifths and then three-sevenths and then a half. We don't know how long it will take, but it's coming. We've already crossed the line when a dependency on television inherently excludes a vast swath of our target audience. Can we afford not to communicate with them?

SAY has spent the last several months working with web data provider Quantcast to try to bring that third of the audience back into our reach. We leveraged our learnings over the two "Off The Grid" studies and surveyed thousands of people in our network to find markers of live television avoidance, creating a detailed profile of this audience's Web behavior. We then identified others in the network whose behavior mirrors this profile. This week we announced the availability of our proprietary Off-The-Grid targeting, which will help advertisers efficiently communicate with the segment of the audience that television just isn't reaching anymore.

That includes all those platform-shifting DVR-users, iPad owners, cord cutters, Netflix streamers, Bit Torrenters… and you. Welcome back to advertising.

Matt Rosenberg is VP of Solutions, SAY Media.




Oh Elders, fleet and strong and wise, appear before my seeking eyes!

Billy Batson, The Magic of Shazam!

The Super Bowl is coming and with it the annual fleeting popularity of TV commercials. Many of the truths about television advertising stop operating on this sacred day. We look forward to the ads, rather than treating them like nuisances. We talk about them, we blog about themWe watch our favorites again on YouTube. Advertisers, understanding that they are making content and not banging messages into our heads, make a different sort of commercial: a narrative, a comedy, a storyline. They buy minutes and half minutes – and sometimes many minutes scattered through the game. 

Since advertisers know that their next move is to cut these premium commercials into bits (that people will skip them for the rest of the year), they try to deepen and extend these first experiences. For the last 10+ years we've seen URLs and short codes promising more info and deals - and in recent years, promises of more content (or at least a bit more of Danica Patrick's skin).

That's why last year’s innovative experiment, the Shazamercial, will be all over a third or more of the ads in this year's Big Game. Hold up your Shazam-enabled mobile device during a commercial and the app will recognize the unique audio signature of the ad and bring you more content (or, for the less clever advertisers, more ad). This is sound as QR code, and, if you’re prepared for it, much easier to use. Look around at the bar or party as you watch the game – if people are holding up their phones during the breaks and capturing ad material to watch later, you’re not just witnessing a fun fad (remember the 3D ads of the last couple of years?), you’re watching a medium develop.

Shazam has always been a great utility. What the heck is the name of that song? Depending on the ambient noise when you ask that question, the app will tell you. But this more expansive way of thinking of sound signatures as links to content is very powerful. Imagine areas of a museum with an ambient soundtrack – say, whale song or the bubbling of a Yosemite paint pot – and using your Shazam app can bring you more information. Or soft, unobtrusive, but unique tones in areas of a department store, the Shazaming of which will give you information on designers, prices, or similar merchandise.

These things may happen whether or not hands go up at the Super Bowl. Asking someone to want more advertising is, of course, different than a museum goer wanting more info on humpbacks or a shopper wanting a different color shirt. But it does bring one more dimension to the delivery of content through a sense that our devices are only just getting good at using.

Matt Rosenberg is VP of Solutions for SAY Media.