Whose Canvas is it anyway?

(as appeared in Brand Equity on March 1st, 2016)

“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self” – Igor Stravinsky.

And as one of the most impactful creators ever, Stravinsky will know.

An area of relevance for this quote is the world of mobile advertising. The constraints of the platform have often challenged us to come up with creative solutions. There is a reason why many of us don’t remember great mobile ads, the way we do TV commercials or digital videos. How many water cooler conversations have we had about that brilliant banner? But unlike Stravinsky, we have not been able to free ourselves. Our efforts so far have been lacking in imagination.

Facebook has now attempted to solve this problem with ‘Canvas’ – a mobile ad format that is meant to empower marketers and unchain innovation. Is this the right solution though? A few things come to mind:
The story telling chasm:

In display advertising in general and mobile advertising in particular, this has rarely been crossed successfully. However with Canvas, marketers will probably have the best opportunity up until now to create a mobile experience that the user will remember. A great example of that is what brands like Wendy’s and ASUS have already been able to achieve on this.

However we need to remember that since Canvas is post-click, it is really a solution in the advertiser’s time and not the platform’s time. Shouldn’t brands be able to tell better stories to users before they engage with the ad (and in the process increase the probability of the same)?

The user side of the story:

All great mobile experiences have one starting point – putting the user at ease. With slow loading sites and the need to leave an app environment for a browser, the mobile ad experience on Facebook has remained choppy. By having the endpoints of these ads preloaded so they appear almost instantly when a user clicks on the ad link in the news feed, FB seems to have solved this problem. And by leveraging design elements that users are familiar with – like browsing photos, Canvas will probably be the most intuitive ad format on this platform yet.

However this comes at a cost to the brand – It will not be able to create a unified ad experience across platforms. The post click world will be so different on Facebook when compared to YouTube, for the same campaign. Why should a brand relinquish consistency? Also, is this Facebook’s problem to solve? Is it taking up a task that should ideally be done by an industry standard?

The status quo:

Canvas might not necessarily cost more for planners and more importantly, it can be created without much fuss on the self-serve tool. Brands can drag around images, videos and GIFs to ‘storify’ their message. In that sense, it seems like a win for all at the moment – Facebook wins because users are spending more time; marketers win because there is more engagement with the ad and most importantly, users win because advertising got a bit more interesting. But a closer scrutiny will reveal that Facebook probably wins much more than the others.

At the end of the day, Canvas mandates brands to relinquish more campaign control to Facebook. This is OK from a Facebook POV because it wants brands to think of their platform as a universe in itself. However, I am not sure brands are on the same page yet. What is in it for them? If you think about it, for years now brands have been spending monies endlessly in driving traffic to Facebook brand pages – a traffic that has largely remained within the confines of that platform.

How can Facebook change this perception? Data could be a starting point. Historically, Facebook has not been the most forthcoming when it comes to sharing data or insights (related to consumer behavior) with brand custodians. Could that change with Canvas? Could that be leverage for Facebook to get brands to travel with them further? Possibly. If not, we might probably fall short of a few brushes on this canvas.

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Ah well…

A few weeks back, I wrote this post about Indigo airlines. When I wrote it, I was not really expecting them to get back to me. May be it is because of what I have been seeing in this category on social media for many years – Indian airline brands are generally averse to sensitive conversations on this medium, perhaps for fear of making things bigger than what they already are. I was also not expecting them to get back to me because the damage was already done, in both instances.

So it was a pleasant surprise when a few days back, someone called me from their ‘in-house’ social media team and asked me for the name of the personnel, etc. I shared the details thanked them profusely for caring about my post. I promptly got a tweet from them asking for my contact details, which I shared. Even at this time, all I was expecting was just a mandatory closure of the loop or at best an apology of sorts. I had already moved on in any case.

But what happened next, did blow my mind! They sent me an email (below) on why they cannot refund my ticket. Wait. What??? I re-read the email again and it was true. They had indeed sent me an email on why they cannot refund my ticket!! Now I went and re-read my post. No, I have never asked for a refund anywhere. I have largely only talked about how impersonal and ‘PLASTIC’ their customer facing organization is becoming. And this email is…ah, well.

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The rapidly shrinking ball park

(as appeared first in The India Digital Playbook)

The history of measurement by the human race dates back to the 4th and 3rd millennia during the Indus Valley civilization, where the first tools of measurements like the ‘yard stick’ were used. Interestingly, most of these tools were calibrated in line with some body part – forearm, hand, fingers, etc. Time was measured by the movements of the sun, stars and other heavenly bodies. In other words, the most visible or accessible things became units of measurement. It was just easier that way. In due course of course, measurements became more complex and its applications more critical.

Similarly during 2010-11, when Indian brands went through a watershed moment in social media adoption, the metrics that marketers chased were the most visible and accessible – the number of likes, mentions, followers, etc. A million suddenly moved from being a number to actually a unit of measurement – a Million this and million that. If you did not have an ‘M’ on the “number of likes” field on your brand’s Facebook page, you were doing something wrong. Something Terribly wrong.

Facebook measurement.jpg

The following years were more fruitful. As marketers, we understood that this was a medium that worked both ways – people were talking back and within these conversations lay the key to rewrite a brand’s future. You only needed to listen carefully, for the right marketing decisions to reveal themselves. And listen we did – ‘buzz volume’ and ‘sentiment analysis’ became terms that we used in everyday conversations in cubicles and board rooms.

This held us in good stead for a while. However, we are at the crossroads again and we have been forced to re-look at our scales. We might need to discard a few of them soon and acquire newer ones, if we want to move to the next level – a sentence that can also be worded as ‘if we want to survive the next few years’, in this industry. But before we go into that, what has changed? How did we get here so soon? Two reasons.

  1. Zuckerberg was right. The World has indeed become a more networked place. The average online user today is connected to more people and more brands than he was a few years back, last month, even yesterday!
  2. Online behavior and social media consumption behavior in particular has evolved:
    1. Web destinations have become strongly networked and accessible from social destinations.
    2. Content distribution channels have consolidated and the most efficient ones are today the most popular social platforms like Facebook and Twitter
    3. The user’s readiness to share something has increased and this in turn has dramatically increased the speed of content transmission. It is now a multi point injection.

In other words, content and information flow has moved from a complex map of rivers to a few, very steady streams with multiple feeders. and these streams are moving rapidly. So, your brand’s content, flowing across this stream, now has to fight more number of other pieces of content, so it can reach the intended user. The fact that networks like Facebook have altered algorithms to keep the stream more useful for the user, has further added to the challenge. But at the same time, in the positive side, the increased speed of the stream and the multi-point injection has also made good content more potent.

Whichever way we look at it, the stream has become key and the need to understand it, critical. The good news is that the stream can be monitored and is measurable – at least most of it. So we are ushering in an era where brands need to operate like a newsroom – conversations monitored, trends analyzed, content created on the fly and decisions made at the moment – Welcome to the ‘Now’ network. And in this network, measurement will evolve:

  • Buzz volume & sentiment will give way to consumer insight & brand health
  • Crisis management will morph into crisis avoidance
  • Search & social metrics will no more be silos but talk to each other
  • Brands will move from catching up with trends to trend-spotting and owning it.
  • Influencers will no longer be scouted to amplify campaigns. They will become campaigns.

And all this will lead to a rapid shrinking of the margin for error. Being “in the ball park” wont be enough. You will have to land it on the damn pitch!

the web is more fun since last night….for sometime atleast

While sifting through the name throwings for the next president and ‘opting outs’ of the ‘Somanth ji’s and ‘Atalji’s (who by the way is my personal favourite to succeed Dr. Kalam), I landed up on what seems to be the president’s blog! Now, I am an occassional nic.in visitor, but I am convinced this is a first…It does not seem amazingly interactive, but I can see a very detailed feedback page and all….it even has the powerpoint presentations that he made at different events…besides pictures of his herbal garden!!!

http://presidentofindia.nic.in

am just super excited bout this! so please bear with me if this is old news for anybody! It is not just the fact that the president has an ‘e’ existence….thats something you would expect today….but it is the care and effort that has gone into making it….the pics are not too heavy to download….the color scheme is not gawdy….the design is very tasteful….the content is staggering in volume and quality….many firsts there…;))

another reason why the web became more fun since last night is prem panicker’s blog….or portal, or whatever you wanna call it…..for those to whom the name does not ring a bell, prem is the face of cricket journalism on the internet, for many mortals like me…lately, he has become editor (or something like that) of India Abroad – Rediff’s NRI weekly and all that…..but there is nothing NRI about his writing….take a look even if my intro does not sound interesting…

http://www.prempanicker.com/index.php