Bunchball’s Peter Daboll Talks Ad Industry’s Future

PeterDaboll.jpgWhen your official job title is “chief of insights,” you’d better be good at spouting words of wisdom.

Peter Daboll, an Internet advertising veteran who just left a position at Yahoo where he actually held that imposing title, lives up to that expectation. He might not be a Socrates or even a Mr. Miyagi, but Daboll is adept at deep thoughts when discussing online advertising.

“Consumers are less responsive to ads these days,” said Daboll in explaining why he left Yahoo to become CEO of Bunchball, a company that enhances user engagement with Web sites. “They’ve become advertising-avoidant. They’ve found ways around advertising. At the same time, we have consumers with this amplified voice of their own. They’re blogging and talking about other things in their lives, brands excluded.”

Having once served as president and CEO of comScore Media Metrix and as president and COO of MediaPlan, Daboll has years of experience to back up his assertion. He’s excited about the way Bunchball, by using gaming techniques and other engagement strategies, helps advertisers grab the attention of Web users in ways that traditional ads, such as banners, cannot.

He wasn’t about to badmouth Yahoo, but Daboll said his former employer lacks the agility of a small company such as Bunchball. “Yahoo’s a great company, but it’s also a very large company,” he said. “And as is the case with any big company…everyone is a little cautious about making big changes to things without thoroughly testing and understanding them.”

He conceded that, while small companies can more quickly innovate they also live a “riskier” life. Nevertheless, Daboll said his years of working to understand consumer behavior has convinced him there are “fundamental shifts going on in consumers’ heads,” making them less responsive to standard forms of advertising.

“Game behavior and mechanics have really hit the mainstream,” said Daboll. He said taking the helm at Bunchball will let him focus on building brand awareness, engagement and loyalty by leveraging that trend.

“I’m not saying all advertising doesn’t work,” stressed Daboll. “I’m saying it’s less effective than it ever has been… I think good creative is still very important and the right relevant message is still important.” However, he is convinced that merely pushing ads in front of people is no longer enough.

A better approach entails “participating with consumers on their terms,” suggested Daboll. As an example, he said a yogurt company might want to connect with people by focusing on health and wellness. It could make donations to breast cancer prevention organizations and set up online forums about women’s health.

“Then, the brand becomes integral to that consumer conversation,” said Daboll. “You sell a lot more yogurt and you also connect to them in a more meaningful way.”

Daboll is skeptical about the industry’s reliance on measuring ad performance. While the Internet provides many forms of metrics, Daboll questions the real value of some, such as counting clicks.

“Are we really measuring the right thing?” he asked. “In the online world, you have this false sense that you can really measure everything. We think we have this great ability to tap into things but the reality is we’ve oversimplified things…A lot of the ways we measure things on the Web are precisely wrong.”

Daboll asserted many metrics ignore ad quality and level of consumer connection. A more meaningful measurement of engagement might entail taking count of the number of posts to a product-related forum or user uploads to a brand-sponsored site.

He cited the way many Bunchball-designed efforts provide site visitors with a points system that rewards users for participation. As in a video game, those who participate more climb to higher levels. “You have this immediate gratification of doing something and getting rewarded for it,” said Daboll.

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