Advertising in the New New Media, Part 1

While perusing the ClickZ News Blog, I came across a post about the Virtual Worlds Conference. Virtual world fanatics defend the marketing efficacy of their properties, effectiveness that’s been quite…err…effectively challenged. Just look at the lemming-like behavior of Second Life boosters.

This hype brings to mind the old dot-com days when people tossed around lines like: “Well, we’re on the cutting edge and you have to expect a lot of failures.” Reading about the Virtual Worlds Conference and thinking about the utter confusion on the faces of many clients these days, it’s time to determine the leading-edge approaches worth pursuing and what’s pure hype.

With the rapid pace of change in the online ad world, it’s tougher than ever to determine where to spend hard-won advertising dollars. Should you put it all in search marketing? Is the banner truly dead? Are you insane if you don’t insist on pay-for-performance ad models? What about online video? Blog networks? Podcasts? Or one of the many virtual worlds? Is advergaming the wave of the future? Are widgets the future of engagement marketing? And what about social networking? Certainly, it’s popular among people, but should you be advertising there?

Anyone who develops a comprehensive online media strategy must address these questions. Where should you begin?

Use common sense and an iconoclastic-enough bent to challenge the hype. Understand the options so you know what to look for when evaluating ad effectiveness. Here are questions you should ask to evaluate the new new media. This time, we’ll look at virtual worlds and podcasting; next time, we’ll look social networks and online video.

Virtual Worlds

The 3-D social spaces promise to enable brands to engage customers by providing a place to hang out, to hold online product demonstrations, even to try out virtual products. Sounds cool, right? Yeah, in theory. An ongoing presence in a 24/7 virtual world, such as Second Life, requires time, money, and human resources. Plus, many folks don’t take kindly to commercial invaders. And some may object to unsavory content. Finally, these sites tend to have a high churn rate, with a relatively small number of users making up the majority of the visits.

Before going virtual, ask:

  • Can we afford the time, expense, and staff to keep something running 24/7?

  • Can our brand stand being associated with somewhat questionable content?
  • What are the churn rate and the daily number of visitors? The number of registered users is irrelevant if most never come back.
  • How can our exposure be measured? Can use of our corner of the virtual world be tracked?

Podcasts

No doubt, podcasts can be an effective way to get your message out. In fact, many commercial podcasts do very well. But just because you record it doesn’t mean people will listen. A podcast must be promoted, created on a regular basis, and have a relatively high production value if it’s going to represent your company.

Is podcasting right for your company? What about advertising on others’ podcasts? Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Understand the difference between downloads and actual listeners. Just because people download a podcast doesn’t mean they’ll listen to it. There are services that measure podcast listeners. Check into them.

  • Do you have good voice talent and a budget to write and produce a podcast regularly? Yes, it can be done on the desktop, but it’s not just a question of “press record and start talking.” Make sure you can make the commitment.
  • What are you trying to accomplish? Podcasting is more about brand building than being a direct-response vehicle. As such, you’ll need to adjust your metrics and expectations or adjust those of your clients.
  • How are you going to promote it? Viral content’s tougher to share than most people think, so plan on promoting your podcast.

Next time: tips for advertising on a social network and online video.

Sean is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

Meet Sean at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.