Viral is great — but does the infection last?

Advertising Age magazine has a great story about the recent Dove “Evolution” marketing campaign, which included a video uploaded to YouTube of a fashion model before and after the makeup and Photoshop artists get to work on her. At the beginning, she is an average looking woman with blemishes and stringy hair, and after some makeup and digital effects, she is on a billboard.

Dove’s campaign is aimed at showing young women how unreal the fashion industry is, and according to the Ad Age piece it has been more successful than a Super Bowl ad: In less than a month, the ad (created by a Toronto ad shop) got more than 1.7 million views on YouTube, was mentioned on “Ellen” and “The View” and caused a huge traffic spike to Dove’s CampaignForRealBeauty.com site.

dove campaign

Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests isn’t all that impressed — with good reason. He points out that the Ad Age article doesn’t mention anything about whether all of that traffic and views turned into more donations for the Dove fund, or caused any appreciable gain in any other metric. He also notes that traffic spikes from things such as Digg and Slashdot are notorious for overloading a site’s servers without resulting in many clicks or other tangible impact.

To be fair, it may be a little early to see that kind of effect from a campaign such as Dove’s — and there’s no question that the kind of reach it has gotten will eventually pay off in some form or another, even just in increased awareness. Another thing that occurred to me: just how successful are those Super Bowl ads anyway? I bet they aren’t that much better at turning a hot ad into real revenue than Dove’s web ad, and they’re orders of magnitude more expensive.

Reddit gets to Digg-ify Conde Nast

More acquisition news: Reddit, the Digg-style social bookmarking or social-news site, has been acquired by Conde Nast, the magazine publisher behind Wired, The New Yorker, Vogue, GQ and a bunch of other magazines. The announcement from the Reddit team — which includes just four people — is here. No word so far on whether the rumoured price of $65-million has any relationship to reality (I would be suprised if it was anything close to that).

Reddit is to become part of Wired media, and its voting-style service is expected to be incorporated into or Digg-ify some of Conde Nast’s other sites. As more than one observer has commented, it seems likely that the magazine empire got to know the guys at Reddit — including Alexis Ohanian, who I did a short email interview with last year — when they put together lipstick.com, a celebrity news site. They also did a similar kind of private label thing for Slate.

reddit

Maybe it’s just because I work for an old-fashioned media entity, but I happen to think that the kind of thing Digg and Reddit and Netscape.com are doing makes a lot of sense as part of a media property of some kind. The interesting thing to watch will be whether the magazine sites that Conde Nast tries to Digg-ify will be restricted to content from those magazines, or whether they will open them up.

In any case, congrats to Alexis and his team (who got their start working in someone’s apartment as part of Paul Graham’s Y Combinator, a kind of summer camp for startups). I hope the deal works out for them. Matt Sparkes has an email interview with Alexis here.

Hey Thumbstacks — you’re next in line

So Google now has a wiki service to add to its online document, spreadsheet, calendar and email suite. JotSpot, the wiki-maker founded several years ago by Excite co-founder Joe Kraus, has been absorbed by the Borg and is now part of the Googleplex (incidentally, I think it makes much more sense for the Borg to be all about free candy and scooters and video games rather than the creepy robots in S&M outfits — but hey, that’s just me).

googleplex

To me, it makes perfect sense for Google to offer a wiki engine for anyone wanting a Web Office suite — I think a good wiki (put to good use) is potentially a bigger game-changer for a corporation than just about anything else, especially online spreadsheets or email, or even instant messaging. And I think JotSpot is pretty good, although I’m a big fan of both Socialtext and Wetpaint.com. Ross Mayfield of Socialtext has posted his reaction here.

Now all Google is missing is a presentation engine. You ready to get the call up to the big leagues, Thumbstacks? Or maybe Google wants something that is more along the Web conference line — in which case, I would recommend Vyew.com. Steve Newson has a pretty good roundup of the other contenders here.

Mark Cuban tells a nice story, but…

Inside the chest of Megaphone Mark Cuban beats the heart of a frustrated journalist, I think. After all, not only has he started Sharesleuth.com, which does investigative journalism of a sort (which Mark gets to trade on before it is released to the public) but his latest post on the shadowy details of the Google-YouTube negotiations suggests that he knows a good story when he sees one — and is more than happy to pass it on regardless of whether it passes the smell test or not.

Okay, that isn’t really journalism, but it’s pretty close to what passes for the real thing in a lot of circles — including some newspapers I could name. And why not run with it? After all, Mark specifically said (without punctuation, for some unknown reason): “I cant say this has been fact checked. It hasnt. I cant say its 100 pct accurate, I dont know. But it rings true, and as I said, I trust the source.” Hey, if it’s good enough for Mark it should be good enough for us, right?

gootube

The only problem is that much of it doesn’t ring true. As it happens, I read the same description on the Pho list, and while some of it sounded perfectly plausible — the six-month grace period given to Google, the structuring of the deal with the music labels as equity so that they could avoid having to pay artists, and so on — I would have to agree with Don Dodge (who used to work at Napster) that the part about getting the labels to sue Bolt and Grouper to somehow take the heat off doesn’t make any sense at all.

Someone else on the Pho list had a similar response to the “industry insider’s” description of what happened: “I would say the bit about piling on lawsuits against competitors to YouTube is wildly unlikely as an agreed-upon strategy,” this knowledgeable person said. “If true, it is certainly unlawful and potentially criminal… and there are just too many good, smart lawyers at UMG, YouTube’s backers and at Google to permit that kind of arrogant lame-ass conduct to occur.”

Not only that, but this person pointed out that such lawsuits could easily wind up setting an unfortunate precedent for Google, which makes it even more unlikely they would support such a strategy. Still, aren’t conspiracy theories fun?

TV 2.0 — slouching towards Bethlehem

Two announcements that indicate the process of evolution in the TV 2.0 business is really picking up a head of steam: Brightcove — which until recently was like the wizard behind the curtains, powering online TV ventures such as the recently announced music video deal with Warner Music — remakes itself with a consumer-facing site and service that plans to compensate users for video content, and Metacafe announces its “producer awards” feature, which pays video uploaders $5 for every 1,000 views their video gets above the 20,000 mark.

Plenty of people wondering what this means for GooTube, of course, now that Google has paid $1.6-billion out of petty cash for the thing — but it’s also worth wondering how the folks over at Revver are feeling, since they more or less pioneered the whole “pay the users” video thing. Thanks to Revver, the guys at Eepybird.com who made the Diet Coke-Mentos video got $30,000 or so for all the views that their clip got (Revver pays creators 50 per cent of the ad revenue they get, and you can also get paid based on how many places the video is embedded).

headroom

As Matt Marshall explains over at VentureBeat, Metacafe not only pays producers of video, it also tries to filter out the chaff by submitting videos to a group of reviewers who give it the thumbs up or down before it hits the site, adding a kind of Digg-style (or American Idol-style) voting aspect to it. And then there’s Brightcove, which will give content owners 50 per cent of the revenue from ads, or the ability to offer paid downloads of their content, for which they get 70 per cent.

In a sense, YouTube and its ilk are coming at the market from the opposite end of things as Brightcove: they started with videos of kittens and skateboarders hurting themselves and so on, and are now trying to become more mainstream and legitimate, while Brightcove started as the corporate stooge who works with the networks and now wants to layer some popular, viral video on top of all that. Who will win? The betting window is now open.

Update:

Marshall at TechCrunch notes that Google also tweaked its video service today, by adding a “sponsored” video category aimed at major TV production outfits (those with at least 1,000 hours of video). The new feature launched with a Coke video with none other than the Eepybird Mentos guys.

Mike gets all medieval on PayPerPost

In case you hadn’t heard already, the blog-vertising startup called PayPerPost is “officially absurd” — according to Mike Arrington at TechCrunch anyway. In a recent post, he describes how the company (which compensates bloggers who write about PayPerPost clients), has set up a site called DisclosurePolicy.org, and is encouraging bloggers to adopt a disclosure policy for their blogs by either choosing one from the site or crafting their own.

The idea is to disclose as openly as possible the conflicts of interest or compensation that one might receive for blogging, whether it’s free products or ads or whatever. One of the knocks against PayPerPost has been that it doesn’t require bloggers to disclose that they are being paid, something I have been critical of in the past (although not quite as critical as Jason Calacanis, who calls it “stupid and evil”). Other startups doing similar things, such as ReviewMe, do require that bloggers disclose their compensation.

payperpost

In his post, Mike argues that the setting up of DisclosurePolicy.org is effectively a distraction tactic, a way of throwing a bone to critics while still maintaining PayPerPost’s evil agenda. He also says that DisclosurePolicy deliberately blurs the line between the kind of paid blogging PayPerPost engages in and other, more subtle forms of compensation such as free products, personal relationships with blogging subjects, etc. (something that many critics have accused Mike himself of not disclosing properly).

For what it’s worth, I think Mike is letting his hatred of PayPerPost get the better of him. I actually think something like the DisclosurePolicy website is a pretty good idea, regardless of whether there’s a bit of PR prestidigitation (i.e., sleight of hand) going on. As Dave Taylor points out, one of the difficulties with blogging is that there aren’t really any rules. Things like DisclosurePolicy and the Blog Honor code could theoretically help make things a little more “transparent,” to use an overused term.

TDavid points out that all of Mike’s bluster, ironically, is really just free advertising for PayPerPost — and includes a video commentary from Loren of 1938 Media on Jason Calacanis which I think is hilarious. Drumsnwhistles is similarly unimpressed with Mike, and Minic has more on the issue over at The Blogging Times.

Yes, blogging can be a business

I’d love to know which journalist Jason Calacanis of Netscape was emailing with recently when he decided to post a big chunk of the interview and his responses on his blog (something Megaphone Mark Cuban has been known to do from time to time). Was he frustrated by the dumb questions about whether blogging can be a business or not, or was he just trying to share his thoughts with the blogosphere? Hard to say with Jason. In any case, his comments about the blogging business are pretty much to the point, and worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:

We are an eight figure a year business today. In terms of profitability the blogging business is better than the magazine or newspaper business in two main ways: 1. there is no distribution cost to blogging (i.e. printing, shipping, and postage), and 2. we don’t have the large management cost structure because our bloggers are not edited.

Jason goes on to say that blogging is “the most profitable media business today” and describes a good blog as being almost as hard as working at CNN, because the pressure to produce never stops. And then he tells the journalist this:

I think so far you’re looking at blogs are one big thing, and they are not one thing — they are many things. There are blogs done by companies to promote their products. There are blogs done by friends and family to keep in touch with each other. There are “faux blogs” created by unscrupulous marketers to abuse the public. There are blogs that are run as publications in order to make a profit.

And Jason adds that blogs have become “a vital part of the media ecosystem,” in that bloggers are interacting with journalists and “helping them build their stories.” He says the media business has moved from a handful of people speaking on their pedestals, to dozens of folks at hundreds of tables having conversations about an issue. Not a bad description. More chaotic? Definitely. Far from perfect? Absolutely. But in my opinion, still an improvement.

MySpace — so popular no one goes there

Is MySpace losing its edge? A piece in the Washington Post entitled “In Teens’ Web World, MySpace is So Last Year” seems to suggest that it is. Teens say the social networking site is old news, and they are moving on to other things. Ironically, some of them seem to be moving to Facebook now that the formerly restricted site has opened itself up — something that critics said might lead to a loss of users (for what it’s worth, my 17-year-old daughter and all her friends have signed up with Facebook, and so have I).

uncool

This question of whether MySpace might fade in popularity has been going around for some time now. My friend Scott Karp wrote about it back in May, and coincidentally enough I wrote about it back then too, including a column in the Globe and Mail in which I compared social networks for teens to nightclubs, in the sense that there’s always a new one coming along (Cynthia Brumfield chooses a different metaphor that is just as apt: the TV show). Here’s what I wrote then, which is now behind a pay wall:

In the end, [Friendster] may simply have been a victim of the shifting enthusiasms of its young audience, who grew up and moved on. In many ways, social networking sites are like hot nightclubs — they become popular and then flame out as the hip crowd moves on, and they are very difficult to manufacture.

My friend Rob Hyndman has also written about MySpace and the social networking phenomenon, and wonders whether it isn’t time to question the received wisdom about how smart Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of MySpace was. Maybe MySpace just isn’t cool because so many mainstream media outlets and unhip dads like myself are writing about it, or because it’s so popular. As Yogi Berra said about one of his favourite restaurants: “It’s so crowded no one goes there any more.”

Mommy bloggers marketing pile-on

We all know that marketers are targeting bloggers, hoping to get some word-of-mouth going. And it seems they are going after mommy bloggers in particular, no doubt influenced by recent stats that say most moms prefer receiving advice about products from other moms. Here’s an anecdote that appeared in Saturday’s National Post from the recent Motherlode conference in Toronto, where Jen Lawrence of MUBAR (Mothered Up Beyond All Recognition) spoke.

When she wrote a wry post about the idiocy of Tom Cruise, her blog hit the mainstream and she was deluged: “Would I be interested in sampling a baby blanket worth several hundred dollars? Would I be interested in offering my readers access to exclusive [advertising] content? Would I like two tickets to the sold-out show of my daughter’s favourite TV character?

marketing dork

According to the story, Ms. Lawrence — a former banker turned blogger — says “the extent to which these blogs are becoming commercial ventures should give pause to the mothers who turn to them for sage counsel”:

“It is an open and honest medium with such great potential for community-building and I just hate the idea that marketers are actively trying to infiltrate our conversations.”

Throughout the blogosphere, the same conundrum keeps cropping up. Blogs are a direct conduit to people who care about a particular subject, and the fact that they are open and honest also makes them tremendously appealing to marketers, who naturally want to hitch a ride on all that openness. But then marketing — particularly if done badly (see the Edelman-Wal Mart controversy) inevitably detracts from the very things that make blogs powerful in the first place. It’s a Catch-22. Of course, Rob Hyndman says that blogs aren’t always as honest as we might want to think they are.

Is Google flirting with the e-word?

So here’s the scenario: You’re surfing the web, and you come across a webpage that includes an ad for Volvo. When you hit the page, it drops a “cookie” on your machine, and then for the next few weeks (or months) the traffic-tracking firm comScore Media Metrix follows you around the Internet to see whether you search for the word “Volvo,” whether you visit the Volvo website, how long you stay there, and so on. And who is helping comScore put this little package together? Why, your friend Google, according to the Washington Post.

Does that seem just a little bit evil? It does to me, although I can’t really say what I don’t like about it. I know that lots of sites use cookies, and I know that comScore tracks people all the time — and I know that Google keeps all kinds of information about my search history. Heck, I volunteered to let them do that, because I thought it would help their search technology get better.

eye

So why does the Volvo thing bother me? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s that comScore’s tracking software is pretty close to spyware, as this post describes, even though the company says that those who download it are fully informed.

I know that Google has to find ways of making its ads more relevant for advertisers. Not only is AdSense click fraud a potential cancer eating away at the heart of the massive Google profit machine, but the company obviously wants to expand into new markets, and so it has to find ways to convince advertisers that its advertising works. I just wish it didn’t have to look over my shoulder and watch what I’m doing — and then give it all to an advertiser — without telling me.