@ Ad:Tech: Exploring The Tension Between Technology And Creativity


imageUpdated below with post-panel comments from Beth ComstockThe last Ad:Tech panel for the day had NYT advertising columnist Stuart Elliott looking into the impact of conversational marketing. One small piece of news: Ogilvy expects to acquire a mobile ad company sooner rather than later, co-CEO Carla Hendra told the group. Some of the highlights from the session:

Carla Hendra: co-CEO, Ogilvy North America: When there’s an ecosystem where a brand can be launched, grown or buried overnight, that leads to my new mantra: all bets are off.

Beth Comstock, president, Integrated Media, NBC U: We’re investing in how to distinguish viewers and find out what they want. We’re also approaching advertisers and seeing how to connect them with viewers who might be amenable to hearing their message.

Susan Whiting, EVP, The Nielsen Company/chairman, Nielsen Media Research: The social net/measurement tool Hey Nielsen is still an experiment. Stuart asks how do you keep it scientific? How do you keep fans of a show from flooding the site? Whiting: It’s got the science of marketing, but the art of conversation and it’s our job to weed those out. But also, if viewers are passionate, then certainly that counts as part of the science as well.

Comstock: All *Google* does is tell you that you bought a click. I worry we’re going to a world where people know the toothpaste and spaghetti they want for evermore. It takes out the aspirational part of marketing, and that is a huge part of what our business is about.

Hendra: Without the emotional attachment, there are no brands. If everything is a commodity, then we can all go home. While it’s necessary to enable marketing with technology, it’s all ultimately worthless without creativity.

Not just another buzzword: The panelists consider conversational marketing to be a real, concrete aspect of advertising and marketing. Comstock notes the advent of the direct consumer feedback forces companies to be more honest and then let them into the process.

Where it doesn’t work: Elliott mentioned the scandal where the BBC wasn’t getting votes on a show and so supplied faux user-generated content themselves. NBCU tried to get user-gen submissions for favorite bands. Comstock: “We bombarded it with content and didn’t leave room for the community. We learned it doesn’t have to be perfect and made sure that it gives users a place to takeover.” She also made a reference to the revamping of female-focused web portal iVillage. “We didn’t give people enough tools and so they didn’t know how to relate to it.”

The pay-off: In order to get users to give up their personal information, you have to make it worth their while, Comstock says, relating that she recently offered up her personal information to a site called RealAge, which Hearst recently bought. “The pay-off doesn’t have to be monetary, but rather in the experience you’re being offered. I was interested in what this site offered – it tells your body’s biological age – from a vanity standpoint, and so I didn’t mind providing some personal data.”

Next big thing: Ogilvy expects to acquire a mobile ad company sooner rather than later, Hendra says. Comstock restates worries about the emphasis on ad-support: “Nothing’s taken off, but I don’t think it’s realistic to say that everything’s going to be ad-supported.” Hendra adds, “With the notion of the long-tail, subscription methods for supporting online content could work.” Whiting notes that 25 percent of mobile phone users subscribe to a video service. “Late afternoon is the new primetime, when it comes to mobile phones.”

Update: At a number of other industry events recently, Comstock has expressed frustration that content sites are relying too much on ad-support versus other models, such as subscriptions. I spoke with her briefly after her panel appearance and asked her to elaborate: “I just feel that there are other models other than ad-support that have yet to evolve. To make an ad-supported model work, you have to aggregate an audience, and yes, you can hire Google (NSDQ: GOOG) or MSN to help you, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Having said that, I love advertising – it effectively gives consumers free content. So I’m not anti-advertising. But my point is that I don’t want companies to give up on other models, new models. And in order to get there, it involves really knowing your users and knowing them so well, that you can define an experience that they’ll be willing to pay for. Things have failed because they’ve charged too much money for the wrong user experience.”

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