you will not back up an inch ever; that’s why you will not survive

I did not intend two posts in a row on this marketing kick, but HEY.

Via eyelid on LJ, a marketing win – how advertisers have adapted to Hulu:

Watching Hulu, I was struck by their ad setup. It’s very clever, IMO.

Instead of having 5 or so ads crammed into a commercial break, just begging the watcher to tune out and walk away for awhile, Hulu puts only one ad in, every so often. And the ads are really short – 30 seconds or less, and it’s often only 15 seconds.

Hulu also puts a little line in the corner of the screen during ads letting you know exactly how short the commercial break will be (“your program will resume in 20 seconds” – and it counts down!). You know you’re going to be able to resume watching in 20 seconds, so why not just wait? I mean, 20 seconds. Come on.

And inevitably, in those 20 seconds while you are sitting and waiting, you watch the ad.

20 seconds (or at the most, 30) is really all the time an ad should need.

An excellent example of a company changing its strategy when faced with a new technology, rather than trying to cripple the new technology to fit the old paradigm. One 20-second ad every commercial break. A neat little solution.

Could there be a better solution? Sure. I haven’t come up with it yet. But I imagine some enterprising marketing guru will within the next 18 months.

To leaven the sweetness with some bitterness, a marketing failure from Google – billboards touting Google apps:

commuters whizzing or crawling to work on the Massachusetts Turnpike will see a billboard advertising Google Apps, an Internet-based alternative to Microsoft’s popular Office suite of computer programs.

And to make sure drivers pay attention, Google will post a different message on the billboard every weekday this month. The messages will recount the saga of a corporate computer manager who turns to Google Apps to cut costs and improve worker productivity.

“It’s sort of an internal monologue,’’ said Google product marketing manager Vivian Leung. “We hope that they’ll follow this story through the month.’’

Similar billboards will be displayed near major highways in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

google_billboardI would not have expected the company that revolutionized search engine advertising to fumble so egregiously in a major ad blitz. But fail they did.


  1. Google is trying to edge Microsoft Office out of the corporate environment.
  2. Who determines what office software a company uses? IT managers.
  3. IT managers make up an incredibly small fraction of the commuters on any given stretch of American highway. Except perhaps in San Francisco.
  4. And yet billboards are still really expensive.
  5. On top of that, Google will apparently change the message on each billboard twenty-one times in the month of August.
  6. That’s really, really expensive. This billboard rate card from Lamar Advertising doesn’t cover anything east of Worcester, but it’s the best benchmark I can get for Boston rates without calling up Clear Channel. So I’m going to ballpark this at $40,000 – one and a half times what a 14 x 48 with a 25 GRP* and a 4-week cycle would run you in the Worcester market.
  7. “Forty thousand bucks for a billboard? Doesn’t sound bad at all.” True, but keep in mind (A) that’s a conservative, back-of-the-ass estimate, (B) they’re paying this in New York, Chicago and San Francisco as well, and (C) Google is changing this billboard every day, which doubtless costs extra. I’ll surmise that this entire billboard campaign costs them at least $200,000, and I wouldn’t be surprised were it double that.
  8. Google can afford to spend two hundred thousand dollars. But how many IT managers are they going to reach with this? Sure, the buy itself made the news. Once. After this week, every IT manager who takes public transportation, or surface roads to work, or works in an office park outside the city, will forget it. Those who do drive past the billboard every day probably won’t slow down long enough to read all that text every weekday, just to see what’s changed. Black characters on a white background? The eye glosses right over it at 50 MPH.
  9. “But they don’t need to get a concrete message out, Professor,” you might say. “This is just an awareness campaign.” Fair enough. Online display ads – like banner ads on a prominent website – are great for awareness. They establish a presence and attract buyers early in the sales cycle. You could probably run a display campaign that got millions of targeted impressions for $200,000. In fact, I’ll bet Google could get a pretty sweet deal on a little one-sentence blurb on the most prominent search engine in the history of cognizant life on this planet.

I’m sure, of course, that Google is running display ads and banner ads and probably putting something beneath their search box in addition to these billboards. But the billboards aren’t smart money. They’re scattershot instead of targeted. They’re big and flashy, instead of customized and unobtrusive. And they belie a particular kind of old-media thinking – which is just weird, coming from a company that’s pioneered so much new media.

I could be wrong, of course. Google usually knows what they’re doing. But billboards strike me as this century’s sandwich-board men – an artifact of the old times, a slow and unreliable way of spreading a message. Google’s going retro, and I don’t think they’re being ironic.

* GRP = Gross Rating Points, the billboard equivalent of market share. 25 GRP means that an estimated 25% of the area’s population would see the billboard once per day.


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