musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life, by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services.
For more info, call us at (212) 573-6000, email to david@reichcommunications or text to 914-325-9997.
We are located at 228 East 45th Street, Suite 11-South, New York City 10017
So-called native advertising is ad content designed to look like the editorial content it's surrounded by. We used to call it "advertorial" long before "native" became the current buzzword.
By its very nature, native advertising is deceptive, since it is intended to make the viewer think it's real news, coming from the media outlet's reporters or writers. As such, it tries to pick up the implied credibility that would come with a legitimately reported news or feature story.
Not so. Native ads are, after all, ads paid for and written by an advertiser. You shouldn't expect native ads to be fair, balanced or even, unfortunately, totally accurate.
For years, advertorials in newspapers and magazines usually were labeled as ads or paid content, although often in small lettering that could easily be missed.
Then, as media went digital, the lines became blurred or disappeared altogether. Online media, including widely-read blogs, went for the money, posting paid content without disclosing it was sponsored.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a ruling that all paid content had to be clearly identified. I'm not sure if anyone has been fined or prosecuted for breaking that rule, but most legitimate media seem to have become more careful.
Despite this and perhaps proving that more noticeable identification as an ad is needed, a new study by a university in Georgia shows the vast majority of us don't recognize native advertising as a paid ad. The study, reported in the Journal of Advertising, found that only eight percent of people surveyed identified native advertising as paid marketing messages. So 92 percent were fooled into thinking what they had seen in print or online was real news or information.
No wonder native advertising has become the hot thing.
Consumers really shouldn't believe advertising, said Suzanne Vranica, longtime advertising and marketing reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
She made the comment during an interview this morning on CBS This Morning, talking about news that artisnal chocolate maker Mast admitted it had used melted-down chocolate from other brands in its early days as a high-end chocolatier.
It's possible Suzanne may have intended to say something like you can't always believe everything in ads, or consumers should be careful and try to do their own research into claims made in ads. Live TV can do that -- catch you in a sentence that doesn't come out exactly right.
But if many people -- including one of the leading national journalists who covers the ad industry -- are skeptical of what they see and hear in ads, then maybe marketers need to look at other methods of getting the word out about their products and services. Word-of-mouth often comes up as the most trusted source of information, and it is often fueled by Public Relations.
The idea behind it is PR seeks to get exposure through media, which have an obligation to do their own vetting of claims made by marketers. So if a story in a trusted newspaper, magazine or broadcast or online outlet talks about a product in a positive way, consumers give it more credibility than a straightforward ad. Advertising, with its repetitive nature, creates awareness. Stories in the media via PR, which are tougher to gain, generally have more credibility.
That, in a longer explanation, may be what Suzanne Vranica was trying to say in a quick interview soundbite.
The age-old question of "who sees my ad" continues to plague advertisers.
Digital advertising now allows advertisers to get a better read on who looks at their ads and how long they spend looking, as well as lots of other information about us that we'd probably rather they not have. Ever wonder why, after you go to a site to look for information on travel to, say, Mexico, you all of a sudden start getting pop-ups and emails advertising destinations in Mexico? It's called behavioral tracking.
But as ads appear everywhere, we consumers look for ways to avoid them. It's almost like a game of cat & mouse.
With radio, simply hit the button to go to another station. Now, we have ad-free satellite radio or subscription services online like Pandora.
Back before DVRs or home video recorders, the only recourse we had to avoid ads on TV was either switch the channel (which pre-remote meant getting up to turn the dial) or leave the room to raid the refrigerator or take a quick bathroom break. Now, we simply click and the ads that marketers spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to put in front of us quickly zip by.
As our TV viewing habits are changing, advertisers are trying other ways to force us to watch their messages. Video on demand (VOD) from the networks usually disable the fast-forward feature on your clicker, so you have to watch TV the old-fashioned way -- ads included.
But the hot area these days for ads is online. We're close to the point where advertisers will be spending more money for online ads than for ads in traditional media. But even as this is happening, we consumers are finding ways to avoid the ads aimed at us on our computers, tablets and smart phones.
Banner ads have been shown to have limited impact on consumers. They're on our screens, but we tend to ignore them. Advertisers now use pop-ups that dominate the screen and override the content you're trying to view. Those pop-ups often have a box or circle with an "x" which you can click to have the ad go away. But advertisers are making those boxes smaller and harder to click on, especially if you're seeing them on a tablet or phone.
As a story in The New York Times recently said, it's becoming like the wack-a-mole game... trying to find the little "x."
This silly game becomes frustrating for consumers, and it hardly endears them to whatever product or service is being advertised.
One possible solution is to take a cue from pre-roll ads that pop up on some You Tube videos. There's a message, easy to see, that indicates that you can close the ad after 5 or 15 seconds ... and you see the time counting down. The viewer knows there will be an option and that he or she will just have to endure 5, 15, or 30 seconds before getting to the desired content. It's not as annoying as other pop-ups, and if the advertiser has created a compelling ad that catches you in those first 5 or 15 seconds, the consumer may opt to watch the entire ad, which could be 30 or 60 seconds, or even a lot longer.
It takes creativity. You can't simply use a regular TV ad and put it online. But if it works, it's win-win for both the advertisers and the consumer. It's a lot better than playing cat and mouse to try to avoid an ad.
I was a bit surprised when I saw an item Monday on CBS This Morning about the supposed controversy brewing over Starbucks' plans to have a simple red cup this Christmas season, replacing cups decorated with snowflakes and reindeer from years past. Some Starbucks fans evidently voiced their displeasure on social media and the media picked up on it. Even the New York Times had a story about it in Monday's editions.
The Times even quoted one wacko from his Facebook page... “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” Joshua Feuerstein, who described himself as an evangelist, Internet and social media personality, wrote."
Sure, Starbucks hates Jesus. Oh Jesus, c'mon!
The Times went on to wonder.. "Perhaps it was part of the company’s intent to generate a little buzz, however negative and extreme some of the instant reviews sounded." Ya' think?
And the media fell for it.
Sure, such a silly story is a nice break from all the heavy news we're dealing with these days. But still... is this really news? I guess because it's on social media, the real media think it's real news.
Or, maybe it's just been a slow news day. Somehow, though, I don't think that's the case.
Television is still, by far, the dominant mass medium in the U.S. But it's light years away from what it was 30 – 40 years ago, before cable took hold and before everyone was hooked up online.
It’s a different world, for sure. With literally hundreds of channels to choose from, plus on-demand and streaming programming, there's a dizzying array of program content. Some programming on cable and, lately, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon rivals feature films in terms on content quality and production value. In response, the broadcast networks have finally stepped up their game with some quality shows. Yes, broadcast still has plenty of lowest-common-denominator drivel led by mindless comedies and "reality" shows, but many are now calling this the new Golden Age for TV, based on content quality.
Nielsen says the hard-to-reach Millennials (18-34), highly coveted by advertisers, are spending 17 percent less time watching TV than a year ago, but it still averages nearly 22 hours a week. Across all age groups, adults spend an average of 36 hours a week in front of the tube. Boomers (ages 50+) watch much more TV -- 47 and a half hours weekly.
Probably the biggest change – and the biggest challenge for advertisers -- is how we watch TV. Even Boomers are now frequent DVR users, watching programs at their own convenience. But Millennials in particular are getting their TV across a spectrum of platforms, and traditional TV is quickly losing out as the primary way they watch TV. Increasingly, they watch TV on laptops, tablets and smartphones, usually with an absolute minimum of ads.
Radio, which doesn't get much attention in media circles, comes in a strong second. Across all age groups, we spend just under 13 hours a week listening to radio. Millennials listen less at 11 hours.
Smartphones account for 7-1/4 hours a week across all age groups. Millennials use their smartphones a lot more -- nearly 10 hours/week. Tablets account for 3-1/2 hours across all age groups and 3-3/4 hours for Millennials.
Yet another challenge for advertisers, of course, is how much their ads, regardless of the medium, are actually viewed.
We keep hearing how Print in dying. Newspapers are struggling, that's for sure. And many magazines are not having an easy time.
But tell that to the publishers of 60 new magazines that launched during the first half of 2015, as reported by MediaFinder. That number is down about a third from the 93 new titles during the same period last year, but people are still trying to make a go of new titles.
Of the new launches, five were business-to-business magazines, down from 15 new B2B books a year ago.
The number of magazines that shut down during the first half of the year was 23, which is ten less than a year ago. So there's been a net gain of 37 new magazines so far this year.
Why do people keep trying with new magazines in print? They're costly to print and distribute -- much more so than digital publications with no printing cost and very little distribution expenses.
It probably comes down to advertising. Ads in print generally command much higher rates than their digital counterparts, even when digital can reach many more readers. Many advertisers still prefer the glossy printed page for their ads, especially for products that rely on strong visuals -- food, fashion & beauty, travel, cars. Print still gets a higher ad readership, while research shows most of us totally ignore ads that run in digital media.
Digital does offer some benefits that print doesn't -- mainly, the ability for readers to click through for more info, sales pitches and even place an order and make a purchase. Print can offer that via QR codes, but the process isn't seamless since it requires extra steps and a smartphone.
Launches this year have been mainly specialty titles rather than general-interest books. Most, I'd bet, also have online components. Maybe once they've established themselves in print -- and as the gap between print and online ad readership and rates narrows -- they'll try to convert to digital only. But until that gap is much smaller, there will still be a place for print magazines.
That's good news for newsstands, printing companies and the Post Office.
Many of us New Yorkers can be a bit sensitive when someone criticizes our city. One frequent -- although really unfair -- criticism is that we New Yorkers are rude. I've come across plenty of rude and selfish people in other cities, large and small. It's not a trait we here in New York own.
So I have to admit, I was pleased to see a story in The Chicago Tribune by transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch. I've dealt with Jon. He's not at all rude. But evidently many of his fellow Chicagoans are, which has caused the Chicago Transit Authority to launch a new campaign calling for courtesy on the trains and buses serving the windy city.
According to Hilkevitch's story, thirteen humorous messages addressing rude behavior began appearing this week on trains and buses and in stations. The ads address things like blaring loud music, littering and spreading out to take two seats. (New York's MTA has a campaign that addresses that same issue, which they call "manspreading.")
So it's good to see that rudeness is rampant in other places. It makes me feel that much better about this great place that I call home.
A new report from Nielsen, the TV ratings people, shows not only what we're watching, but how we're watching it.
It used to be very simple. A program was on at a certain time and either you watched it when it aired or you didn't see it at all. No DVRs or video on demand. Not even home recording on VHS or Beta.
But today, viewers have so many choices -- not only what to watch from among hundreds of channels and tens of thousands of shows and movies on demand and Netflix and Hulu. The choice now is also about how to watch -- live or delayed on your giant flat screen or on a variety of other smaller screens from computers to laptops to tablets and phones.
The report says Americans watched "traditional" TV 141 hours a month in the 3rd quarter of 2014. But live viewing dropped a little more than 4 percent, or 12 minutes a day, to 4 hours and 32 minutes on average. Instead, we spent an hour more per month watching time-shifted programs via the internet, which includes streaming services like Netflix.
For advertisers, the obvious challenge is getting their ads seen despite fast-forwarding. Many on-demand outlets now disable the fast-forward function so we can't zip through the ads. So instead, it may end up working the way it did in the "old days," when commercials breaks meant a run to the bathroom, refrigerator or a fast click around the dial to see what else is on. Or with today's technology, we might be checking texts and emails.
In a few weeks, longtime ad columnist Stuart Elliott will pen his last column for The Times. He announced on his Facebook page this morning that he will be taking "the very generous buyout" the paper's been offering to longtime reporters and editors, as it tries to reduce its newsroom headcount by 100.
Others who will be leaving by year-end include bylines we've been reading for some time, like Bill Carter on the TV industry.
But Stuart's departure will leave a real gap in The Times business section. He's written beautifully over the years about new campaigns, agency mergers and buyouts, marketing and advertising trends and, often after long holiday weekends, the 10 or 20 humorous questions he raises, always capped with the self-deprecating final statement "for a guy from Brooklyn, you ask a lot of questions."
I've always looked forward to reading Stuart's columns, in the paper and also online. And I'm pleased to say, while we're not close friends, I've had a cordial professional relationship with him. I've always tried to respect him by only pitching him story ideas that I honestly felt were on target, often telling a client "sorry, that's just not for Stuart." And he's treated me with respect, always repsonding to my calls or emails, even if, sometimes, to patiently explain why an idea just isn't for him.
He's been the longest-running ad columnist at The Times, going back to 1991. In terms of longevity, he beat out legendary ad columnist Phil Dougherty, who preceded him, by a year.
Actually, I go back with Stuart to 1990, when he was the ad writer at USA Today. I had just started my own PR business, and an early client was agency Geer DuBois -- a name, like so many others, now just a memory for us oldtimers. He did a nice piece on a new campaign by Geer client YooHoo chocolate drink.
I recall meetings with him and clients like media guru Gene DeWitt in the cafeteria at the old Times building on West 43rd, or more recently at his breakfast haunt at the Royalton on West 44th St.
I'm sorry to see him go, but I know there are many opportunities waiting for him, if he chooses. Or who knows... maybe there's a book in the offing.
Whatever he chooses to do, I know I'm among many who wish him the best and thank him for his good work over the years.
Joe Mandese, writing in today's MediaPost Real-Time Daily, recalls a 1975 study that estimated the typical American was exposed to about 500 brand impressions a day. Now, he says, Nielsen estimates we're bombarded with more than 5,000/day.
Ad messaging is no longer confined to the more obvious places of 40 years ago, such as TV and radio, magazines and newspapers, billboards and signs. Think about it -- every time you check your email, an ad banner opens on top, and often along the borders on both sides. Even when I opened the email with Joe's article, a pop-up ad came up and obscured some of his words until I clicked to close it. And when I got to the bottom of his article, there was another banner ad across the bottom of the message area.
Joe mentioned these numbers because his MediaPost group is launching a system that will track consumers' attitudes toward advertising as well as the media carrying the ads. It's being called the Ad Sentiment Index (ASI) and it should help marketers get a better idea of how ads impact consumers' attitude toward various brands.
Joe's article appeared just below another piece by George Simpson, who takes a lighthearted look at how we try to block some of those thousands of ads and messages that marketers aim at us every day. He talks about the annoying telemarketing calls and how he deals with them -- he doesn't; he just lets the phone ring unanswered.
Even though my home number is listed as a "Do Not Call" household, we still get several of those calls every day -- usually at dinnertime or during the evening when we're relaxing watching TV or reading. I often check the caller ID and if it's a number I don't recognize, I just let it ring. Or I'll pick up the phone and then just hang up. But sometimes, when I'm in a foul mood, I'll answer and as the caller begins talking I'll say something like "Oh, that sounds interesting. Can you hold on a second?" And I put the phone down and leave the caller hanging until they finally give up and disconnect.
Simpson writes about other things he does to avoid ads, like taking out all the blow-in cards in magazines and peeling off the ad sticker that often adorns the front page of the newspaper.
I agree with Simpson's parting advice to marketers. He writes, "None of it (the 5,000 ad exposures a day) matters unless you are selling a good quality product backed by flawless customer service. That's where loyalty and word of mouth come in, which is inventory you can't buy."
He's mostly right about that, except that with PR, properly done, you sometimes can buy (or maybe build is a better word to use) word of mouth and loyalty.