Certain Words Zap Gmail Ads

Quickly testing the discovery that certain trigger keywords that relate to disasters kill contextual text ads in Gmail (via @ivanovitch):

A simple email to self designed to trigger auto-related ads. Ads didn't disappoint.

Another email, same copy, added "suicide 9/11" in the same font. Ads go away.

The third email, same copy, but "suicide 9/11" is in smaller and lighter font -- me thinking maybe trigger words can be an invisible part of the signature (click on the image for a larger one). Nope, ads come back.

Open Tabs: Remote Barcodes, Phones That Learn, ATM Design

Powered LED tags as remotely-viewed barcodes: "Let's say you're standing in a library with 20 shelves in front of you and thousands of books. You could take a picture and you'd immediately know where the book you're looking for is." (BBC story; project website)

More nifty inventions: could this be the end of the power cord?

SoundSense: "A group at Dartmouth College has created software that uses the microphone on a cell phone to track and interpret a user's activity." (Tech Review).

This Is My Process: "Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can't really explain that part; it's like magic. Sometimes it even happens before you have a chance to tell me that much about your problem!"

Golden Age of Ads Flickr pool with old ads.

205 Facebook apps created by brands.

Product Displacement -- a collection of fictional and unbranded product placements.

A story about the redesign of Wells Fargo ATMs.

NYTimes on Polyvore, the fashion collage site (very useful for passive research, too): "Online retail started around digital cameras. Now, sites are using the same engines to sell shirts, but that’s not the way they should be sold".

Lots of good reading at Marketing NPV's knowledgebase (free reg).

Media Unbound is the company behind many product recommendation and personalization algorithms.

Too Much Targeting, or That Hot Single Could Be Your Wife

A dating site showed Facebook user named Peter a singles ad complete with a picture of a woman who Peter recognized as his wife, Cheryl Smith (MSNBC story).

Assuming it's not a PSA encouraging husbands to spend more time with their families, and assuming the dating company didn't just make the ad up but actually used the information available on Cheryl's and Peter's profiles, it's easy to see how too much information with only one link missing -- in this case, the marital status info linking Cheryl to Peter -- can create a legally perilous situation.

Birthday Advertising, Updated

Two years after the original post, I'm still wondering why so few companies that collect birth dates at sign-up send a simple note on their customers' birthdays.  Of everything I'm subscribed to with my personal and test email accounts, only Cirque du Soleil and OkCupid are doing something on this unique and, I bet,  high-open-rate day. I haven't seen any company with a page or an app on Facebook doing anything either.
Chad White of the Retail Email Blog that tracks over 100 retail email campaigns commented that "birthday emails are rare among retailers as well". Is there a cultural reason behind this that I am missing?

How PowerPoint Degrades Decision Making

"Unfortunately, as soon as they graduate, our people return to a world driven by a tool that is the antithesis of thinking: PowerPoint. Make no mistake, PowerPoint is not a neutral tool — it is actively hostile to thoughtful decision-making. It has fundamentally changed our culture by altering the expectations of who makes decisions, what decisions they make and how they make them."
-- Armed Forces Journal

Buy a Polaroid [ad]

$72 on Amazon, and you'll ooze awesomeness at the next agency party. I didn't realize you could still buy them new. Why is this one called Business Edition?

Related activities: pretending you have a Polaroid camera and saving the film by sending postcards to the right people.

Letters to the Editor - July 2009

Here are some of the most interesting letters that arrived in my inbox over the past couple of months.

-- Interview with Alex Bogusky by Jeremy Abelson about "long term economic impact of social on traditional media."

-- Reactive advertising is a concept based on "using data and dynamic content as a creative asset, and not only as input for targeting algorithms." Agency Asia runs an interview on the topic (- Richard). Also, a slideshow and an explanation.

-- A shout-out for Underln, a very nicely designed "digg for advertising, design and marketing", now with a toolbar. (- Eric)

-- Hype around real-time search: "TrendsSpotting plotted “investment interest” (i.e. VC/self funding , acquisitions) vs proxies for “consumer interest” (i.e. Google search trends for “twitter search“) to derive an expectation indicator for the hype." (- Apurba)

-- CAPTCHA advertising:  "I'm working for a company that is about to launch this kind of service." (- Roni)

-- Fluent, a report by Razorfish, "dispels some common myths about social media and influencers."

-- "Our agency clips great stats and charts on the marketing industry that might be useful research/supporting data for your posts."  (- Josh)

-- The Last Call was a 100 person, pan-European 24-hour silent-disco dance-off  to promote the splendid new Samsung Beat DJ music phone. (- Paul)

-- "Maybe you're interested to know that you're ranked at #7 on the Advertising blogs top 100 blogs in blogRank."  There's also another ranking of ad blogs at Media Blips ("Out of 500 Adverlab is ranked # 34, nice work!")

-- The best subject line of the month, from an email from the MadMimi newsletter management service:

If you sent me something but didn't hear back: I read every email, but unfortunately can only reply to so many, and I try to reply first to those who ask specific questions or are looking for help.

Cool Projection Systems: Spotless Light, Gesturetek's Cube, Catchyoo

After the post about Reactrix going out of business, a couple of companies got in touch to tell about their own projection systems:

The Cube by Gesturetek is "is interactive floor projection system that's turnkey, plug and play and portable."

Spotless Light is "a patented technology that senses reflective surfaces and focuses the projection beam on just those surfaces."

And Catchyoo by LM3Labs seems similar to Reactrix in that it also operates as an outdoor network.

How Memories Prevent Consumption

"One study of how memories influence consumption explored the phenomenon whereby people who have truly enjoyed an experience, such as a special evening out, sometimes prefer not to repeat it. We might expect that they would want to experience the physical consumption of such an evening again; but by forgoing repeat visits, they are preserving their ability to consume the pure memory – the concept – of that evening forever, without the risk of polluting it with a less-special evening."

-- Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational) and Michael I. Norton:, MIT Tech Review, via

P.S. And then I go to Amazon for the link to Arieli's book, and see it right there on the home page. Spooky.

Museum Makes Suggestions Around Your Facebook Profile

MoMA's site apparently creates a list of the most interesting exhibitions for you based on the info in your Facebook profile, but I wish it were a bit more transparent about how it arrives at its conclusions. Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans is spot on, but the Sculpture Garden? Interesting idea, though, and nice design.

Shadow Art from Garbage Piles

Tim Noble and Sue Webster make art from "piles rubbish, with light projected against them to create a shadow image entirely different to that seen when looking directly at the deliberately disguised pile."
-- Environmental Graffiti via underln; img source

Brand Names as CAPTCHA Words

CAPTCHA advertsing (almost) in action: this Wordpress plug-in installed on some blog just served me a brand name. Do you see a business potential here? Have a CAPTCHA service that sells word placement to businesses, tracks actual usage, and splits revenue with publishers.

Google Slaps Banners on Blogger Dashboard

In a somehwat ungoogly fashion, Google's Blogger dashboard where this blog is managed now sports shiny irrelevant 300x250s.  I see a perfect t-shirt: "We wanted to monetize Blogger but all we got was this lousy banner."  Why the ad isn't remotely related to the blog's content I don't know;  I'd be happy to see the ads that come up on AdLab but that I myself can't click without violating AdSense's TOS.

Hope it wasn't a CPM buy.

Disposable Advertising, or Don't Kill the Microsite

The Subservient Chicken site attracts 10-20K unique visits each month.

The debate about their increasing irrelevance aside, if we are going through all that trouble to build campaign microsites, why are we always in such a rush to pull the plug on them when the campaign is over?

I've heard two kinds of arguments: (ir)relevance and cost. I can rarely agree with either.

Unless the information on a microsite is so super time-sensitive that it becomes misleading as soon as the clock strikes twelve, I don't see how an old microsite -- retired and cut off from ad budgets, perhaps, but still breathing -- can hurt anyone. Coke's brand equity hardly suffers when I buy a poster on eBay that sports "A Pause That Refreshes" tagline instead of the current "Coke Side of Life". Have Burger King's Whopperetes become so off-brand that the microsite, launched for the 2006 Superbowl, is no longer live?

And I'm not picking on Burger King; the company is better than many others in preserving its own digital ad history. Many of BK's campaign sites are no longer around -- Whopperettes, Power Sitting (blog post) that made fun of Atkins in 2005, the fictional rock band CoqRoq (blogpost, also 2005) -- but the ones still alive show that they can pull in traffic long after their best-by date. Subservient Chicken, launched in 2004, still gets a healthy 10-20K monthly uniques (the graph above) who can't be all advertising types. SimpsonizeMe, developed two years ago, attracted 30K visits last month.

Which brings us to the argument about cost. For the sites that don't need daily babysitting and are not based on a third-party technology that requires ongoing license fees, the recurring costs are domain registration, hosting and bandwidth. Here, the reasoning should be fairly straightforward: does the site generate enough traffic at a certain benchmark CPM to pay for itself in impressions? In other words, if your benchmark is $10CPM and your hosting/traffic tier costs $100 a month, the site needs 10,000 pageviews to break even. (The actual formula I use also includes time spent on site). This kind of planning for the microsite's afterlife could be done before the project even launches; it can then guide designers to include features intented specifically to generate postmortem impressions.

For decades, we've been working with media that because of their nature made advertising transient and, like paper plates, sometimes useful but ultimately disposable. With the web, we can create ads that accumulate viewership over time in a way that pre-YouTube TV spots never could, and yet we are squandering the opportunity. Thinking of microsites as an investment that pays off over time instead of an expense line in a three-months campaign budget could be the first step.

- GSI is the hosting service for Subservient Chicken and Simpsonize Me.
- When visiting SubservientChicken.com, enter "Crispin"

Is Auto-Refreshing Cool?

Are online media people who buy impressions generally aware of and cool with auto-refresh policies on websites? I got refreshed on Techcrunch (it is set to, what, 20 minutes?), and I know Drudge does it a lot, but then I started poking around and found a collection of auto-refresh stats for major US newspaper sites, so it doesn't seem very isolated.

Branded Shadows on Moon's Surface

Moon Publicity says it has invented a rover that will plough the Moon's surface to create shadows that form logos of the company's paying customers (starting at $46K) visible from the Earth. Sort of like branded crop circles, only in reverse and without a crop. Or sandvertising. Good timing on that press release, too, with the Apollo's landing anniversary this week.

- via Gizmodo

Calculate the True Cost of Meetings

Number of participants in a 20-people brainstorm x average hourly rate x meeting duration = the cost of a meeting. A simple and long overdue tool; should be an iPhone app, too.
- via dabitch

Create and Sell Your Own Board Games

Creating branded board games -- one other flavor of in-game advertising -- has become much easier. The GameCrafter is like Cafepress for your very own board games: upload the designs, add play money and pawns, and they will print and package everything for you and put it up for sale on their marketplace.
-- via Raph Coster

New Monopoly Edition Comes with Branded Tokens

Binge Meets Nudge

This presentation by a group of Johnson & Wales University ad students showcases some of the smartest thinking I've ever seen coming from persuasion pros of any age and caliber. It was presented at the AAF's student ad competition, whose topic this year was combating student binge drinking.

Their plan is based on a simple insight: just like you cannot scare smokers into quitting, you can't nag students into not drinking, which is the path much of the existing communication has taken. Instead, the group focuses on creating the right choice architecture that prevents unsafe drinking, the approach popularized by the recently published book Nudge: "There are subtle but effective ways to nudge the two critical elements that cause binge drinking -- how much and how fast students drink -- providing students with choices that result in safer behavior."

This presentation was the best in New England but didn't do as well in the national finals -- I am guessing because it's not exactly advertising. If for you "creative" means just this kind of thinking, then here are the names of the students on the team; many of them are still on the job market:

Juan Alvarado (who worked with us as a spring intern at the agency and who introduced me to the project and the book), Abigail Agress, Foluso Akinkuotu, Sierra Barter, Andrew Childers, Ginelle DeAntonis, Victoria Deetz, Evan Dunn, Yousef Khory, Audrey Kushner, Bruce Millard, Joseph Russomano, Jonathan Vega, Nicholas Verrochi (advisors: Oscar Chilabato, Tom Monahan, Christine Ure).

- A video of the JWU presentation can be viewed here. (Thanks, Tom)
- A competing book from University of Minnesota is here (Thanks, Erin)

DesignBay: White Label Crowdsourcing [ad]

"DesignBay is a marketplace for graphic design and creative services that uses a new innovative business model called crowdsourcing. We give creative people opportunities and help businesses get risk-free creativity.

Ad agencies, marketing firms and branding agencies can use DesignBay as a tool to expand their service offering to win new clients, to cut costs or to increase their capacity when they're busy. DesignBay offers a white-labeling service that lets ad agencies leverage our product as their own, behind the scenes.

  • An advertising agency that specializes in print and TV ad production could use DesignBay to help a client create a logo / identity for a new product it is launching. They could charge the client their typical fee, provide them with strategy and direction, present logo concepts as being developed in-house but outsource to DesignBay privately and make significant margin.

  • A web design firm may use DesignBay to get 20+ creative Photoshop (PSD) web design layouts while focusing on collecting requirements, functional design, coding and implementation.

  • A brand consultant may help create a strategy and positioning for a client and then use DesignBay to offer execution of that strategy to their client.

    How we are better than other crowdsourcing sites:
  • Designers are better protected at Designbay.
  • We have a higher caliber of designers.
  • You do not need waste time assessing quotes.
  • Designers compete based on the merit of their ideas."

    (This post is a paid announcement.)
  • Propaganda Through Infographics

    A chart (pdf) creating by the House Republicans to show the complexity of the Obama healthcare plan.

    Is this PowerPoint?

    Future: Print Posters in 3D

    The best part about the FujiFilm's FinePix Real 3D System (in Time magazine this week, but announced last year) is the printing technology that will produce 3D images, "which are made with a clear plastic overlay that acts as a kind of 3-D lens," and which are viewable without special glasses. "Fujifilm plans to launch an online service that will make 3-D prints for consumers."  Postcards, posters and billboards in 3D, coming soon.

    TV Ads Most Helpful

    "Over one-third of Americans (37%) say that television ads are most helpful in making their purchase decision while 17% say newspaper ads are most helpful and 14% say the same about Internet search engine ads. Radio ads (3%) and Internet banner ads (1%) are not considered helpful by many people. Over one-quarter of Americans (28%), however, say that none of these types of advertisements are helpful to them in the purchase decision making process."

    On the bright side, 9% say they don't ignore ads.

    -- Harris Interactive, July 1, 2009 (pdf)