A New Take on In-Game Advertising

Ad Biz, Media, Toyota Tacoma Viral Video YouTube, Viral

Did you see me lay down the law?

Absolutely brilliant strategy. The mid-size truck always gets a bad rap. Everyone is familiar with the mullet-and-gun machismo that is a full-size pickup spot, but how often do you look at an ad for a mid-size truck and feel cool? Tundra has some competition from the likes of Ford, Chevy, and GMC, but Tacoma is playing in a league of its own.


LBS Notes: Part 1

Ad Biz, AKQA, Digital Media, iPhone, LBS, LOC AID, Location Based Services, Media, mobile, Web 2.0

Voice and data services have become commodities for telecommunications companies.  The result is an industry hungry for innovation to increase customer base and profit margins.

According to TeleMapics, location-based service (LBS), utilizing wireless communications and global position technologies, is poised to be that innovation.

LBS is an old term largely dismissed by industry insiders as it was uveiled almost a decade ago with huge amounts of hype and zero follow-through.  However, today is another story.  LBS could very well be the defining technology of 2008, as I have posted before.

AT&T and the iPhone are the kings of LBS at the moment, but Sprint just announced they are teaming up with Microsoft.  Verizon is not far behind.

If this is the case, marketers have some work in front of them in figuring out how to leverage LBS for their respective clients.

Here is what I/we know so far:

1. Utility Beats Entertainment…For Now 

For all the hoopla we’ve seen about being about being able to watch YouTube videos on iPhones, it turns out people are not as interested in surfing as they are searching.  Adrian from Zeus Jones writes today about an interesting finding from Google.  It turns out Google Maps usage has “increased sharply” since the release of the iPhone and “hasn’t stopped rising.”  Meanwhile, YouTube availability on the iPhone has not effected usage at all. 

Adrian analyzes this, stating “There’s no denying that entertainment is a legitimate way to engage, however this [information] does prove that the barrier to entry for a good entertainment experience is substantially higher than it is for a useful service.”

What does this mean for marketers?  Well, in a nutshell, focus on building mobile utility for your customers if you hope to get the greatest return.  Table the mobile entertainment unless you have some creativity worth a pencil – this may break through the barrier Adrian mentions above.  Or, optimally, pair the two together…just don’t forget the utility.

2. The Battle for Ad Turf

The mobile advertising space is basically virgin territory, but already people are working to carve out space and build standards for mobile marketing.  The “people” are search engines, carriers, and new platforms.

Search Engines: Google AdSense for Mobile enables online publishers to target location-based advertising to anyone using their browser from a mobile phone.  The opportunities here are endless from a marketing perspective, but they are limited at the moment.  Currently, Google only offers AdSense for Mobile on basic text ads. 

Carriers: Another player vying for space is Australian telco Telstra.  Per ITWire, Telstra has “launched a trial of location based coupons from major retailers such as KFC and Pizza Hut. In the trial, users can request a coupon to be sent to their mobile phone from banner ads on a variety of websites.

By clicking on the banner advertisements, consumers are provided with information on the promotional offer and the ability to enter their mobile number to receive a coupon via SMS. For Telstra mobile customers, information on their mobile also includes a map of their local area and the location of the nearest stores plotted on the map.”

New Platforms: ProximityMedia has built out a system that can push out relative content to Bluetooth phones.  Their demo is tacky but interesting:

3. LBS = SMS + MMS + WAP

Wonky?  Yes.  Let me explain.

SMS – A.K.A., Short Message Service – A.K.A., text messaging – can easily be sponsored by corporations.  Envision an ad on top of your text message.  In turn, you can text for free.  Lots of marketers like this idea because it seems so darned simple.

Well, LogicaCMGrecently did a study of consumer reactions to sponsored SMS (or SMS Advertising) and discovered that Northern Europe and the U.S. would be “extremely unlikely” to use the product.  The conclusion here is free SMS isn’t that important in America – after all, unsponsored SMS is only five bucks a month.

However, SMS advertising has shown success when it is paired with multimedia messaging service (MMS) and wireless application protocol (WAP).  For all you non-wonks (a group that includes me), a good example of MMS is any mobile message that includes images, videos or music, and WAP is basically a phone that can connect to the Internet.  Put all three together, and you get yourself a promo.

For instance, a radio station in Boca Raton, FL, recently teamed up with LOC-AID (a LBS technology provider) to build out a scavenger hunt called Dash for Cash.  In it, people got SMS, MMS, and had to use WAP to find clues that would lead to $10k in booty. Supposedly the thing was a hit.  You can see more here:

4. LBS doesn’t have to sit on your phone

We have all seen the LBS billboards in Minority Report.  Tom Cruise walks by a board that customizes to his presence.

Well, we aren’t there yet, but AKQA recently got us closer.  This time last year, they built out a billboard campaign for Yell.com that was placed on the sides of London buses.  The billboards were linked to GPS that enabled them to be customized as they were on route.  Interactive, local maps were also put in at bus shelters.  Killer.  And they didn’t even use a phone.


More later from me.  Anyone else have a best practice/insight for using effectively using LBS in marketing/advertising?

More UGA Restraint

Ad Biz, Media, User Generated Content, Web 2.0

Maybe it’s just what I’ve been reading, but it seems that there are emerging signs of a refinement in the ways companies request user-generated advertising.

In a postI wrote last week I noted how Visa is taking a more deliberate approach with UGA in their next campaign.  Rather than ask for submissions from everyone, they are teaming up with an existing film competition thus asking for submissions from people who at least have some skillset beyond a personal camera and thirst for stardom.  I like the idea in that it shows a balance of openness to consumer generation and a belief that open requests are fiscally irresponsible (and most are).

Today, I came across a new startup out of the Philadelphia exurb of Conshohocken, PA: XLNTads.  This startup has the belief that big companies will allow them to manage all future, user-generated advertising campaigns.  Dan Kaplan of VentureBeat had this to recently say about their endeavors:

For $75,000, a company gets a three month “subscription,” during which XLNTads will solicit submissions, filter out the noise, and come back with 10 selections it thinks are worthy. If the company then chooses to air one of these on TV or the net, it pays the ad’s creator $20,000.

XLNTads hopes to build a network of semi-professional talent that it can call on at any time, in an effort to break away from the contest model. It says that this network will set it apart from its competitors, but, in our view, it will also create a low-rent, virtual ad agency that creates the appearance of user-generated ads, but almost defeats their point.


I couldn’t agree more.  I can’t understand the purpose of having this type of middle-man. It is almost as if their mission is to play against all odds: Their competition includes professional advertising agencies, established talent agencies, and established video-sharing sites.  Hell, they’re even competing against film schools for talent.  Too much.  Too much.

Thinking back to Visa, I am now resolute in my support for their tie-in with an established film competition.   Yes, this tie-in is a bit of grey area (is it UGC when it is solicited by a small pool of users?), but the point is that they have chosen to reduce the number of submissions by finding talent in a place that already exists.  That is much easier than paying a company like XLNTads to reinvent the wheel.

Put Me in a Commercial

Ad Biz, Digital Media, Media, Second Life, Traditional Media 2.0, Web 2.0

I wrote a post earlier in the week about Taco Bell’s entry into consumer-generated advertising.  They have coined the term Avatarsment for a new promotion they have using a software developed by Gizmoz. 

As of Monday the press release was out but the website wasn’t live (whoops), but today I went online and uploaded my headshot.  They “skinned” me with a new hairstyle and clothes.  I was also able to upload my own voice for my virtual “audition”.  If enough people vote for me I will make it onto a commercial that will be broadcast on the MTV Music Awards this September 9th.  I will also receive acting fees and a year’s worth of Taco Bell, um, food.

Check it:


Vote for me here:

Learn more about Taco Bell’s entry into CGA here:

Learn more about Gizmoz here:

I think this is an interesting idea – and I really want to get into the commercial at least as an extra – but I have a few comments:

  • Gizmoz isn’t ready.  Even using my uber-fast office connection wasn’t enough to make this process go quickly.  Uploading my photo, digitizing it, adding the audio, and then finally having it published took almost 15 minutes. If I wasn’t for part vanity and part curiosity I would have quit the process much earlier. 
  • Taco Bell is using a walled garden.  My entry (audition) wasn’t posted for hours after it was submitted.  TB notified me that it was tied up in “jury” (a.k.a., profanity filters) to determine if I was was a bad boy.  Some have argued that the costs associated with building a walled garden such as this outweigh the buzz generated by the campaign itself.
  • Rating auditions requires me to log in.  Nobody wants to log in to vote for their friend.  My mom won’t log in.  My buddies won’t log in.  If I send this link out to friends asking them to vote for me about 90% will turn away when they see the words “log in”.
  • On the upside, the softward makes it easy for me to install my new avatar onto MySpace with the click of a button.  They also offer me code so that I can post it on my website. Very good ideas for getting viral buzz going.

Radio Resuscitation

Deep Narratives & Commentary, Entrepreneurialism & Innovation, Media


I had to go pick up a replacement part for a breast pump on my lunch break today.  This is what my world has been reduced to in the matter of six weeks.  On the upside, I got to drive one of the best roads in Austin, North Lamar, while listening to the radio.

You’re probably asking yourself, “The radio?”  Yes, the radio.  I drive a ’94 Camry with a busted tape player, so my only option is the radio (I tried one of those iTunes adapters that transfers the music via radio frequency but they are terrible).

Fortunately, Austin has some of the best radio stations in the country, one of my favorites being 107.1 KGSR.  Their format is what some call Adult Album Alternative, but alternative in Austin means something entirely different than what most people think.  The DJs are calm and articulate, the owners support local/Texas musicians like no other, and the producers are not afraid of pulling out the most obscure songs and give them air time.  More Decemberists and less Modest Mouse.  More Andrew Bird and less White Stripes.

Here is what I was listening to on my way back from the maternity store:



Man, if there is one thing lacking as a result of my new job as child rearer it is my music.  I can’t search like I used to.  I haven’t read Pitchfork in weeks, and I haven’t been over to Waterloo Records to sample what’s new on the shelves since early May.  I need to find a resource for music, and searching iTunes at night after the kid is down just doesn’t cut it.

That’s why I propose that iTunes and the music labels let their guard down and allow radio stations to construct “mix tapes”.  If I were able to go to the iTunes store, put in a quick search for KGSR, and then get their current playlist as a bundled package for $39.99, buddy, you know I would be buying more music. 

Right now, iTunes is offering such mix tapes, but their own staff is designing the mixes and choosing what gets in and is left out.  iTunes needs to open up, and opening up to radio stations (as opposed to the general public) would be profitable for all parties.  iTunes, the labels and the artists could garner huge profits, and the radio stations could remain relevant long after I buy a new car with an iTunes dock.

The UGA Balancing Act

Ad Biz, Design & Creativity, Digital Media, Media, Traditional Media 2.0, Web 2.0

User Generated Advertising (UGA) is getting a lot of press lately.  A couple of examples show the diverse range of thoughts companies have on this subject.

VISA – Pulling Back the Reigns

Today, Adweek announced that Visa will not include traditional UGA – where anybody can create and submit an idea/ad – in their next “Life Takes Visa” branding strategy.  From the article:

Visa says its research shows the best way to reach the goals of the current effort is to assign consumers a secondary role—at most.The company says its learned consumer content has its limits when marketing has specific tasks to perform.

The next campaign will include “users” acting within a walled garden of sorts.  Visa has decided to sponsor 48-Hour Film Project, an international film competition where amateur filmmakers create 7-minute videos over the course of a designated weekend.  Visa has chosen to sponsor 30 teams who will compete in 48-Hour, and they have requested that these teams film 7-minute videos that are in line with the “Life Takes” campaign.  Winners get Visa gift cards, of course.

Kevin Burke, SVB Advertising, Visa, said “We want people who are skilled in storytelling and have a diverse and fresh point of view.”  That’s a nice way of saying that Visa doesn’t want the schlock that comes with a traditional UGA campaign.

It seems the pendulum is swinging a bit for Visa:


I can’t argue with Visa’s decision.  As I wrote in this post, I don’t think there are many examples where unbridled user-generated advertising is effective.  It is too easy for clients to misinterpret the idea of “crowd wisdom” and end up with 100,000 homogenous and imitative submissions that somebody, billing a whole lot of hours, has to sift through only to discover the AOR’s creative team could have done better work.  Best to involve a customer base through other means…after all, “user-generated” means a lot of things.  It’s a shame how most advertising agencies seem to be stuck in the UGA field instead of looking to incorporate user generation elsewhere.  But I digress…

Visa shows us is a new UGA hybrid is taking center stage.  And I love it.  In my opinion, we are beginning to understand that control needs to be shared in the world of Web 2.0.  If companies and their ad agencies hoard control – as we have done since the dawn of time – we risk alienating our customers.  Oppositely, if we give customers complete control we risk watering down everything.  A balanced hybrid (the middle of the pendulum) may be the best place for our work to ultimately rest.

Taco Bell – Avatarsment

Taco Bell announced today that they are going to be making a big splash in the world of UGA come September.  The press release reads:

Taco Bell has partnered with Gizmoz and MTV in search of three virtual consumer actors to star as animated talking characters in a 30-second Taco Bell television commercial. The ad for Fourthmeal the late night meal between dinner and breakfast will debut worldwide during the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) on September 9, 2007.



Let’s break this down. 

First off, Taco Bell has already made the ad – or at least the script – so this is not UGA in the traditional sense where the customer has complete control.  Taco Bell is merely looking for actors.  Virtual actors.

Secondly, TB is partnering with Gizmoz, an Israeli startup that has developed a new technology enabling users to create their own animated, talking avatars and then plug them into social networking profiles, blogs, emails, personal websites, and eventually virtual worlds like Second Life.  In other words, using Gizmoz technology I’ll be able to upload my face onto an avatar and surf the Web as my virtual self.  Dig 555dwain’s Avatar below.  He obviously needs to stay away from kitchen knives:


Taco Bell came up with a new term for this type of UGA – Avatarsment.  Badum dum. 

But seriously, this is a great idea and great incorporation of digital technology into a UGA campaign.  Taco Bell maintains control and integrity over the creative output while inviting customers into the process with a new, fun carrot on a stick: Gizmoz avatars.

The customer has control.

The company has control.

Balance is achieved.

I can’t wait for the MTV Awards.

Well, not really.  I hate MTV.

But I can’t wait to see this campaign’s final product.