Today my company Federated Media announced a new ad format for a group of our publishing partners. We call this beta program “Ad Stamp”, and those of you who’ve been watching the space closely, and reading my thoughts on marketing here, won’t be too surprised by what you see.
However, with Ad Stamp there is more than meets the eye, and I wanted to think out loud a bit about why I believe this format works, and how it might reflect some of the trends I’ve been watching and commenting upon in this space for years.
First and foremost, what is most striking about Ad Stamp is how much space is dedicated to the marketer’s message (see image at left – the temporary and one time pushdown at the top is pushed back up in this mock up). Ad Stamp coordinates three large units across roughly 50% of the total space available on a site – an “ad edit ratio” not unlike most premium magazines. An initial visceral response might be “That’s too much!”, but I don’t think that’s how audiences are going to react.
Why? Because in the main, I think the rise of ad networks and the relegation of marketing impressions to increasingly competing “third rails” on the sides and tops of sites has created a “Nascar effect” where more than five – if not 15 – messages blink numbly and disparately at their subjects. This is not a quality environment for readers or brand marketers, and it’s a premium publisher’s job to create a quality environment for both. (For a longer treatise on this see my post “The Rise of Independent Media Brands Online“).
It’s our belief that delivering 100% of the real estate reserved for marketers to *one marketer at a time* could be part of a strong solution to this concern. Ad Stamp, while still an early test program (and one we hope to roll out to all our sites) does just that. The authors of sites involved in our initial test – sites like Serious Eats, Mashable, Apartment Therapy, Business Insider, Dooce, and Boing Boing – all responded positively to early mockups of Ad Stamp, and all for the same simple reason: It makes the site look better.
Looking good is just one part of the thinking behind Ad Stamp. Other premium publishers are doing similar, larger executions (see the OPA news for more), but FM takes a decidedly social twist, as you might expect. To that end, an equally, if not more significant part of Ad Stamp is a new unit we call “the Conversationalist.”
The Conversationalist unit (an early execution is shown below) takes some of the best work FM has done over the years (content-driven, conversational ad units), and brings it full circle into the realm of high quality brand marketing. The thesis is this: When a reader comes to the page, he or she initially sees the uncluttered, focused brand message via the coordinated pushdown and tower on the side. (Both of these units are now quite standard across the premium publishing web, but are not often coordinated from a creative and messaging standpoint.) Given that FM sites are A/ a branded environment; B/ a conversational media environment; and C/ that brands are conversations; the next step is pretty logical for an enlightened marketer: Provide the reader with a space where he or she can converse with the brand.
That’s where the Conversationalist comes in. Developed in part through work FM did with American Express, Microsoft, and many others, the unit can pull in and curate nearly any conversation deemed relevant by the marketer. Nearly every brand on the web now has Twitter, Facebook, and blog presences, for example. Some have an extremely sophisticated approach to social media (witness American Express Open’s Open Forum or Asus and Intel’s WePC, for example). In short, brands are becoming social media publishers, and they have a lot to say, and they are increasingly ready to begin a dialog with their customers. The Conversationalist is where they can do just that.
Consider the scenario of a movie campaign, for example, or a mobile phone launch. Both types of campaigns are driven by awareness – the marketer wants to announce the presence of something new and timely. Ad Stamp provides a large canvas for just that. But both campaigns also create a ton of conversation across the Web. The Conversationalist provides a place to curate and add to that dialog – via Twitter and Facebook feeds, blog search, and more.
We’ve noticed that ads which offer up a chance to join a dialog or engage with contextually relevant content perform one to four times better than ads without these features. It’s my belief that combining a clean, clutter free environment with the opportunity to converse is a strong alternative to the Nascar-network blight that seems to be creeping into high quality conversational sites.
For now, Ad Stamp is limited to about 20 sites in the FM family, in two distinct categories – tech/biz (around 11 million uniques) and Home (about 10 million). Should this new format prove successful, we’ll roll it across all of FM, and it’s my hope the rest of the industry will adopt similar formats. We’re all in this together.
In summary, Ad Stamp is a response to what I wrote in a previous post about all of this more than a year ago:
Brands are, in essence, defined by the conversations your consumers have about your products or services (and yes, I am indebted to Cluetrain and Ogilvy and any number of other great thinkers, even Hopkins, who might justifiably be the bridge between direct response and brand advertising).
Brand advertising in traditional media has been about getting in between the ears of a target consumer in some way and “building brand equity” through media executions. In essence, brand advertising has been, up till now, an attempt to influence the conversation that potential consumers will have after experiencing the advertising.
With conversational media and marketing, that concept is time shifting. Now brand advertising can *join* and even *initiate and convene* those brand conversations. And that requires a different skill set, one media folks are just starting to explore. To date, we’ve just begun to figure out how to execute marketing in this new form of media in ways that work for all parties concerned – the content producer, the marketer, and the consumer. But that doesn’t mean we won’t. It just means we have very interesting work ahead of us.
I am thrilled that by working with the amazing folks at FM and our extremely thoughtful publisher and marketing partners, we’re taking what has been a lot of theory on this site (OK, call it bloviating if you wish) and turning it into very real advances that are becoming reality in the field. I feel very, very fortunate. And as always, let me know what you think, as your input over the years is what has always led my thinking.