Auto-Tuning the News

Latest ‘Net rage: Auto-tuning.

It’s goofy stuff. But it shows how the age of mashups and sharing has enabled some small, random audio technique to explode into a pop culture sensation.

If you’re a marketer or advertiser, you should be asking yourself how you can leverage this temporary fad.

If you look at the embedded video, you’ll see that Progressive Insurance is placing a pre-roll ad (at least they were when I posted this).

I don’t know if the Progressive ad drives clicks and conversions to their website, but at least they were quick enough (and smart enough) to jump into this early. You don’t necessarily have to create the next Internet viral video (you would if you could), but sometimes you can just leverage the opportunity to tap into those eyeballs.

Bad News Travels Fast

Bad news. You wish it would go away. And before the Net, sure, you had a good chance of your bad news getting shuffled away with yesterday’s news.

Now, well, nothing goes away. For better or worse, bad news just lingers.

Right now, the designers who created a recent ad for Ralph Lauren are probably wishing that the Internet would just turn off. Or at least turn attention elsewhere. But for now, they are the bad news celebrities of the day.

An image that was Photoshopped to make a Ralph Lauren model look thinner seems to have gone a bit too far. This photo shows a woman with an impossibly thin waist. Is it a commentary on models? On our obsession with thinness? Well, according to initial reports…no. Apparently, it’s just someone who went too far with their image manipulation.

Now the bad news is everywhere. Ralph Lauren released a statement, but the Net is buzzing with conversation, including on the Photoshop Disasters Blog.

Today, a photo is worth a thousand blogs.

Top 5 Things I’ll Pay for on the Web

As the bad economy grinds on, there are massive shifts in all industries. Many good websites have been funded (in part) by advertising, venture capitalist funds, and subscription models.

But as these revenue channels evaporate (for some websites), we’re seeing a shift in the Net economy. Good services need to find a proper revenue stream. And…get ready, gang…some of these websites are going to eventually charge a fee.

Apple’s iTunes Store and Amazon’s Kindle 2 are slowly making it possible for certain sites to turn a profit on micro-payments. But those sites sell stuff. For other sites, we’ll see a greater emphasis on Freemium models.

It got me thinking about what I would be willing to pay for, so I compiled a list of:

Top 5 Things I’ll Pay for on the Web

1. Email.
Yes, I know email is free. But I would be willing right now to pay for GMail, if it promised greater security and features. They provide an awesome service, but we’re still computing in the cloud, which makes email particularly vulnerable. Think about how many emails you’re getting that could be giving tiny bits of financial, health, or security information away. I’d pay to upgrade to something that would offer a greater level of security and privacy.

2. Electronic Health Records.
The Obama administration has placed a strong emphasis on building up the infrastructure of our health system. With that is an even stronger focus on electronic medical records (EMR). Right now there are several companies offering free EMR tracking solutions, including Google, Microsoft, and some health insurers. They’re going to have to get paid from someone, and if they’re not charging YOU for YOUR information, where will they get their money? I’d pay for EMRs that hire good quality employees and conduct full background checks.

3. Reviews.
In the old days, professional journalists were hired to be product and movie review experts. There was an editorial system of checks and balances to ensure that newspapers and magazines were unbiased. Consumer Reports was famous for not accepting any advertising, so you had to pay for their reviews. Now, to be a reviewer, all you really need is an opinion and an email address. There are hundreds of sites hungry for content, so they accept submissions from reviewers with no experience. These reviews may be spot-on or they may be looking to build a personal network, reputation, or whatever. In my experience working in pop culture, I’ve found that SOME reviewers are frustrated creators, offering opinions on stuff they think they can do better. Not all, some. But it’s that minority voice…the one with an axe to grind…that can damage a creator’s career and reputation.  So I’d be willing to pay for reviews on a site where professional reviewers were (a) experienced, (b) unbiased, (c) well-rounded, (d) had editors, and (e) were paid for their professional opinions. Check out Johanna Draper Carlson’s article How to Review.

4. Cloud Computing & Software as a Service.
My trusty old G5 Mac is still running classic boxed software. But as the line begins to blur between the desktop and the web, we’re seeing better software options. Right now, Google, Microsoft, Zoho, OpenOffice, and a dozen other sites are sharpening their software solutions. Eventually, as things shake out, we’ll see some clear leaders. Personally, I enjoy having my Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. It works, even when my Internet connection doesn’t. Google Gears is already offering a similar solution, but it’s just not as robust as I’d like. Some people find the deep tools on Word and Excel to be overkill for their needs. Not me. I use power tools and look forward to the features that some people deride as bloatware. To me, these improvements are essential for solving editing, analyzing, and other business challenges. I would pay if Microsoft, Zoho, Google, or anyone could offer me (a Mac user) a full software solution with a reliable bridge between the desktop and the web.

5. Content.
Right now, nearly everything I consume online is free. News, videos, professional development…all free. Pretty amazing, considering how much it costs to create good quality content. Eventually, this model will change. Maybe ads will pay for everything, which would be like the broadcast TV model. Or it will move premium, like the cable TV model. Either way, someone has to pay for the content I want to consume. For example, I go to CNet nearly every day for tech news. CNet is an essential part of my need to stay on top of tech trends, so I have a professional motivation for keeping up with their content. And given the choice of seeing my favorite sites go out of business or paying a small subscription fee…I’ll pay the subscription.

Of course, all of this excludes services and content I already pay for, including music on the iTunes store and books for my Kindle 2.

If the Internet moved to a pay for service model, what would you pay for?

Oh, and one more thing. I tried to come up with a Top 10 list. The most I could come up with was my Top 5. Tells ya something, right?

Interesting links…not necessarily endorsements:
Five tips on charging for content from Alan Murray of WSJ.com

How can newspapers help Google?

It’s the Content, People.

Newspapers Want Consumers To Pay For Online Content

Laptop Lauren is an Actress

Yesterday I blogged about Microsoft’s new Laptop Hunter ad campaign. It features (supposedly) real people who are given $1,500 and told to buy a laptop that matches their own specs. In the ad, they discover that their limited budget will really only get them a PC…coincidentally loaded with Microsoft Windows Vista.

It’s cool. I get it. The commercials do a good job showcasing the (initial) affordability of a low-budget PC laptop. Certain blogs, including The Apple Blog, contend that the Apple laptop is actually a better value. Whatever. I still thought it was a good ad, since it engaged me and made me think.

The Important Update
In an everyone-is-a-detective-thanks-to-Google update, someone has managed to track down Lauren, the young woman who appears in the ads. And to everyone (and no one’s) surprise…Lauren is an actress.

She even has her own website at http://laurendelong.com/. Good for her.

Now that doesn’t mean that the campaign isn’t effective and compelling. It still is. But…

But…it was SUPPOSED to be real people. And while certain companies can get away with a little bit of winky truth bending, it doesn’t usually include Microsoft.

Microsoft faced controversy a few years back when they released “Ms. Dewey” a search librarian. This campaign featured an attractive actress who would be the sexy face of search. But Microsoft got more than they bargained for when it was discovered that the actress Janina Gavankar was actually in an adult film. So, yeah, that ad campaign generated some negative publicity for Microsoft.

If you’re a marketer reading this, take note. If you plan an advertising campaign that’s based on the testimony of real people, make sure they’re really real people and not “real people who are also professional actors.”

There is a difference.

Interesting Links…Not Necessarily an Endorsement

Microsoft Viral Videos on YouTube

As a Mac user, I quite like the “I’m a Mac…” commercials. They effectively shed doubt upon the Microsoft Windows operating system, which makes it hard to want to buy a PC.

But Microsoft didn’t get to be 90% of the PC market by being non competitive. So it’s no surprise to see them coming on strong with a viral video campaign. Microsoft has always had videos and commercials, but it’s really kind of cool to see them tapping the power of YouTube.

I really like this one featuring “Lauren” who goes to the store to pick out an HP Pavilion with Windows Vista. It’s a slick, well-produced video campaign that positions Microsoft as a value in a tough economy. (As well as HP and Best Buy, also featured in the video. Nice product placements there.)

As of today, Microsoft’s “Lauren” viral video has over 303,000 views. That’s pretty impressive for an ad that Microsoft isn’t paying anyone to view. Zero advertising spend.

Right now, the Microsoft WindowsVideo channel on YouTube, they have 71 videos. The stats show hundreds of thousands of views for some of these clips.

Not too shabby. Even this Mac guy is impressed.

I Want to Hear Your Ads…Please

Each week, I listen to approximately four to ten individual podcasts per week. If you’re not familiar with the term, a podcast is a mash up of the words “iPods” and “broadcast.”

In a previous post, I blogged about Podcasting Your Brand Message. Check it out. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Basically, podcasts are highly specialized radio shows that people subscribe to on their computers. You can listen to podcasts on an iPod, burn it to a CD for the car, or just listen on the computer. Many podcasts are highly specialized, serving a niche audience. Check out the massive variety of shows at Podcast Alley.

And yet, I am amazed at how few podcasts include any advertising. Believe it or not, I want to hear ads for products that are relevant and important to me. I actually want to know more about…

New Technology Podcast
My favorite tech podcast is CNet’s Buzz Out Loud. Although the “podcast of indeterminate length” runs a little long, it is always interesting, always educational, and…always about new technology. The people who are listening to a one hour plus podcast about cutting-edge tech are probably receptive to…I dunno…an ad for a website that sells new technology at a great price.

Screenwriting Podcast
The absolute best podcast on screenwriting is called “On the Page.” Each week, Pilar Alessandra offers smart, actionable advice to aspiring screenwriters. As a writer, I am also an avid reader, so I would like to know if an interesting new writing book becomes available. Yes, it would be very smart to advertise a the right book on a targeted podcast, especially if the show discusses topics relevant to writers.

These are just two examples of podcasts perfect for highly targeted advertising. It’s a lot like speciality magazine advertising.

That is, when I subscribe to Popular Photography magazine, I expect to see ads for photo equipment, services, and other cool photo stuff. I spend as much time drooling at the ads as I do on the reviews. Sometimes more.

Podcasts offer you an opportunity to connect your product with people who are passionate about the category.

With tough times ahead, advertisers want unique opportunities to connect with their customers. Many niche podcasts have a small staff, but a large, dedicated following.

This means a podcaster probably doesn’t have a sales force to come and woo your ad dollars. The Internet is reversing that model, and now you are going to have to find them.

The payoff could be huge for your brand. Instead of an apathetic audience, you could be tapping into passionate, motivated audience eager to buy your product or service.

In the meantime, I’ll just be listening to ad-free podcasts…and hearing nothing about your brand.

Freemium – A Net Business Model

Free is great, isn’t it? The Net is packed with free stuff.

Need a free dictionary? Use Dictionary.com. Need some free music? Listen to Pandora. Want some free news? Try CNN.com. Free classifieds? Try craigslist.com. Free phone calls? Dial Skype. It’s all free. I should know, I use all of these sites and services.

And, insanely enough, many applications are free. Years ago, you had to pay for word processing, spreadsheets, and databases. Now, you can get pretty powerful software, all for free.

As I noted in an earlier blog, free isn’t really free. Someone is paying for it in the hopes of earning money. While most of these applications and resources will remain free, there are a few that are starting to turn a profit on the “freemium” model.

That is, it’s free, but to unlock powerful premium features, you gotta pay. Hence, the techronym freemium.

Freemium in My Life

Here are some examples of free and freemium services that I use:

Google Docs - Google ApsGoogle Docs:
Free productivity software. Good stuff. I use it a lot. All free, until I want to roll it out enterprise wide to my coworkers or employees.

And if you use GMail, you may eventually run out of space. Yup, look at the bottom of the GMail window, and you will see a little “% used” message. After you exceed your GMail limit, you may be prompted to upgrade to a paid Gmail account.

Zoho PremiumZoho Docs:
Similar to Google Docs, Zoho is a productivity software suite. Actually much broader and more powerful than Google docs, but not as well known.

Similarly, you can do a lot with Zoho, but if you want more features and space, you pay a Freemium price. I’ve been impressed with Zoho’s software suite and may tap into a few of their premium features.

Flickr PremiumFlickr:
A photo sharing social network. I keep all my photos here. And now, with a pro account, I have greater control over my photo sets and I can upload videos.

Someone gave me a freemium Pro Account for my birthday and now I am addicted to it.

Evernote PremiumEvernote:
A free to use idea-and-stuff capture system. (It’s hard to explain. Check it out.)

A freemium account unlocks more space and flexibility in Evernote and some cool digital camera features.

WordPress PremiumWordPress Premium:
This very blog is based on free WordPress software. The free version allows me to blog on their platform or even install it on my own web server.

But a premium version unlocks some extra features and hosting options.

Will Freemium Work?

Will the freemium business model work? Will people pay for stuff that they are used to getting for free?

Let’s hope that the added features are an incentive to get people to shell out a few bucks. Because eventually, some of these programmers and content creators are going to want to get paid…they have to pay the rent and utilities too.

For now, most everything on the Net is free and freemium features may help to keep it that way.

In the future, freemium features are going to matter a lot. This will be the way that many sites capture revenue…and the way they attract advertisers and partners. (For example, “how many people are registered for the free service vs the freemium services?”)

For more on freemiums, check out:

And, as always, a visit to my personal website at buddyscalera.com is still free

Brand-You Case Study: Bob Parsons of GoDaddy

Even if you’ve never heard of Bob Parsons, you’ve probably seen one of his ads. Or, at very least, surfed a website that he’s registered.

Y’see, Bob Parsons is the owner of GoDaddy.com, which is one of the places where people go to register their website names. They are known among web developers for having good prices and services.

Most of the world, however, if familiar with GoDaddy because of their racy, sometimes controversial, television commercials. GoDaddy spends a fortune advertising a very, very niche service to one of the largest annual television audiences in the country.

Why advertise a niche service to people who would never even be in the market to buy your services? It’s hard to say why Parsons would want to reach so many people who have never (and never will) buy a website URL.

One thing’s for sure….Parsons likes to promote himself and GoDaddy. And, as a marketer, he’s done a very good job. Not everyone likes Parsons’ outgoing, ex-Marine public persona. He’s an in-your-face businessman who wears his personality on his BobParsons.me website and the web properties that he owns.

On his site, Parsons tirelessly blogs and vlogs his opinions. No doubt his “Straight Talk” blog has raised the ire of some people. It would be an understatement to say that Parsons has an opinion about his competitors. It’s rare to see someone comment on competitors’ tactics so directly.

Love him or hate him, Parsons has made himself an Internet celebrity. And he’s not just a celebrity for being famous, he’s actually a successful entrepreneur. He’s been selling website registrations since around 1997.

Check out this video of Bob Parsons, as he makes direct comments about the competition, the advantages of using GoDaddy, and even mistakes he’s personally made over the year. Even if you don’t like him, you have to admit, he’s working hard to build the Bob Parson Brand.

Video: Bob Parson’s 1st Annual Ding Dong Awards (2008)

Also, check out the very funny GoDaddy video that was spread on the Internet when the SuperBowl supposedly (who knows if it’s really true) rejected the GoDaddy commercial. It shows an entertaining fictionalization of GoDaddy spokesmodel Nikki Capelli (actress Candice Michelle…link not for work) giving testimony at the Broadcast Censorship Hearings. It’s well written, shot, and acted and has been watched hundreds of thousands of times.

(It’s okay to watch this video at work.)

I’m a Mac…he’s a Bill

You know, it’s not really fair. Those “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads are great and all…but so few people take the time to talk about those ads with Jerry and Bill.

Remember those ads? No? Hmm. Maybe it’s because they were good…they just failed to sell us on why we should buy Microsoft.

I mean, with the “Im a…” ads, you could see that they are definitely trying to get you to buy a Mac. And, quite frankly, the ads are very effective.

At one time, Mac had about 3% of the total market share in desktop computers. By some estimates, that’s up to about 21%.  Of course, much of that has been attributed to a halo effect around the iPod, but maybe some of it has to do with those ads.

Anyway, not to belabor the point, but the Microsoft ads dont really “sell” Microsoft, and maybe they dont have to. You get a few minutes in the adventures of Jerry and Bill. And tonight, that’s good enough for me.

Free Isn’t Really Free

Lots of people, including me, use free applications. This blog is on the free version of WordPress.

But free really isn’t free. There’s always a price.

As Google grows, more people register to use their free tools, including GMail, Google Documents, YouTube, and this little tool called “Search.” Yes, and it’s all free. We love free, right?

Google is a for-profit company that has a responsibility to it’s shareholders and employees. The smart engineers who write the code for these free applications…well, they need to get paid. Everyone needs to get paid.

So how does Google make money? Well, right now, they leverage the immense amount of data that they capture every time we do a search. Or they monetize the content of our emails. Or our social networks. Or our video viewing habits.

And it’s all legal and completely above board. It’s right there in their privacy policy, if you choose to read it. It’s really not Google’s fault if you dont read the fine print. Google is an exceptional company, creates a lot of great of amazing products and does a lot of wonderful socially responsible things. But all this is made possible because they also run a hell of a business.

Google, Yahoo, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, WordPress and others offer free services with the hopes of getting a LOT of people to register. Then, they monetize it by selling profiling data about how we use their free services. (Note: Broadcast television and radio work in similar ways. Newspapers charge a fraction of what it costs to print and deliver the paper. It’s all fueled by advertising.)

Many people are thrilled that there’s a free alternative to Microsoft’s Office suite. But when you buy their software, you get a certain amount of protected anonymity. Microsoft isnt data mining information from your private Excel spreadsheets, but free services like Google Documents and Zoho can. The front end of these services are free, but they need to find a way to earn a profit. And currently that’s done by aggregating user behavior and selling it to advertisers.

There’s really no such thing as free. And with Internet applications, free is a temporary concept. Eventually, we will all have to pay.