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Why Web Ads Don’t Work

A long time ago, pundits started declaring the death of the banner ad. By and large they were right–banner ads now get clickthroughs that peak at .1%, the cost per thousand is close to zero and Google and others have demonstrated that contextual text ads are far more effective.

Yet, these banner ads (in a variety of shapes and sizes) persist. What stuns me is not that they continue to hang around, but that they’re used so poorly, and (I’m hypothesizing here) so little testing is done.

Here’s an ad for the revived go.com:


Click on it (yes, some people do) and it takes you to:


I’m just amazed that this is the best they could come up with. Where’s the call to action? Why is this a better service? How does this answer the promise of the banner I clicked on? Have they tested different approaches?

The key to the process is simple: banners make a promise. Offer pages continue the promise and provide evidence that the solution is proven, legitimate and effective. If you test these steps, your yield has to go up. If it goes up, your costs go down.

Does the Web make you mean?

Looking over the last few posts, I worry that I’m falling into the cynical web trap. What if it’s contagious? What if it’s so easy to do stuff that’s critical that we forget how to do great stuff? Then you find something like the Acumen Fund”, which is changing the world (for the better) one person at a time, and it’s easy to remember that it’s worth the effort.

Helping Jack with web design

My friend Jack sent me a note about helping him redesign his site. He gave me a few choices about what I liked, and no surprise, I didn’t like any of the choices (multiple choice is not my forte). Here’s what I wrote back:

Here’s what I think about a web page:

You only have four paths:
1. get someone to buy something right now
2. get someone to give you their email address so you can build a relationship
3. get someone to tell a friend
4. get someone to go to another page on your site.

That’s it. Only four things worth doing.

So, what are you trying to accomplish? (Hint: picking one works better than picking two, and picking more than two is silly.)

I think we’ve learned that for most ecommerce sites, #2 and #3 are the ways to win. If you visit whowillbeatbush.com, you can see that the entire site is built around this sort of thinking.

So, my advice to you is to figure out what you want, then figure out what you can get, and obsessively focus on doing just that.

Some people still don’t get the permission thing

I was listening to WNYC radio yesterday, and they were talking about the California ban on spam (mostly a full-employment bill on behalf of lawyers, but every little bit helps.) What amazed me was that after all the hoopla and five years after Permission Marketing, a lot of people still don’t get the idea that you’re not in charge any more.

One person called in with this quandary, “I try to raise money for my companies, and I sometimes find myself sending fundraising proposals to venture capitalists by email. Most of the VCs are in California, so would I be breaking the law if I sent these–they’re unsolicited.”

Now, of course, it’s unlikely that someone at Kleiner Perkins is going to sue this guy for sending an unsolicited offering by email, but I think that’s beside the point. The real issue is this: What chance is there that someone at Kleiner is going to read an unsolicited investment proposal and then actually fund it?

The truth that so many people are missing is this: Just because you CAN get to someone by email doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Cold calling is a bad way to build a business. Cold calling in an electronic medium is even worse. Without the friction that comes from buying a stamp or printing some images or writing a letter worth reading, the recipient doesn’t value your ideas enough to do something of actual value.

What should this guy do? He should work the network. He should find someone sufficiently impressed with his idea (a friend or a colleague) that he gets connected with a legitimate introduction to someone who can help him. Or he should send a Fedex that’s enticing enough that it gets a response by email. Or he should use a socially acceptable interruption technique like advertising (gasp!).

Sorry to go on and on, but hearing this guy (and not being able to respond because they never book me on this show) was incredibly frustrating.

If someone doesn’t want to hear from you, then that’s the end of the discussion. You don’t win by barging through doors. You win by spreading ideaviruses that reach the people you need to reach.

The DMA steps in it again

While I’m ranting about smart (and bad) business decisions and telling the truth (my them for the day), the lawsuit yesterday about the Do Not Call list just made me sigh (okay, I laughed a little too).

The direct marketing industry sued the FTC to stop the Do Not Call list. You remember, this is the list that more than 50,000,000 of us signed up for. The one that says, “Hey, you’re bothering me, go away, don’t call.” The industry has decided that we don’t know what’s good for us, and even though we don’t want them to call, they should be entitled to take our attention just because they can make some money doing so.

First, does the industry really and truly believe that any politician on the planet would hesitate to support a list that already has 30% of the households in the country signed up for it? Who cares that it got overturned–Congress will amend the Constitution if they have to to make this thing legal. It just cost the industry money and made them look even worse.

But going a step further, why lie about it? Why do they have to claim it will cost our economy 2,000,000 jobs? That’s a lot of jobs. That’s all the soldiers in Iraq–times 15. Do they honestly believe that if people stop calling us at home during dinner that we’ll actually start buying less stuff?

More important, the Do Not Call list is the single best thing to happen to direct marketing since the invention of the catalog. Here’s a government-financed way of figuring out in advance who’s going to hang up on you. Even better, it changes the industry to a permission focus–figure out why people would WANT to have you call them, and start doing that. Permission-based industries make more money than spammers for a simple reason… it’s way more efficient.

Liars, cheats and fools

So, an astonishing (but not that surprising) string of news this week.

The record industry sued a “little old lady” named Sarah Ward. She’s not that old, but she’s little and she’s not a pirate. She’s never even downloaded the software you need to download the music. The RIAA has dropped the suit, but Amy Weiss, their spokesman, says, “We have chosen to give her the benefit of the doubt and are continuing to look into the facts… This is the only case of its kind.”

Now, regardless of how you feel about litigation as a business strategy, refusing to apologize is just a bad idea. This is clearly NOT the only case of its kind. Instead of stonewalling, why doesn’t the RIAA say, “This is terrific! She’s an honest citizen and we’re proud of her. We made a mistake and we apologize. We’re sending Ms. Ward a hundred CDs to apologize for bothering her. If there are any other cases like this one, we’ll drop them immediately.”

Moving on, the Wall Street Journal today has a tiny item about Clorox. It seems they ran an ad featuring slimy water mains and pipes, encouraging New Yorkers to use a Brita water filter. New York complained, calling it “a blatant mischaracterization of the world’s safest, purest water supply.”

Mary O’Connell, our next waffling spokesman, speaking on behalf of Clorox said, “The ad was never intending (sic) to be critical of the (sic) New York City’s water system. It was more about the pipes that carry the water in apartment buildings.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if these foiks are intending to be caricatures, or if it just turns out that way. OF COURSE the ad was criticizing the water system… if it wasn’t, why would I need a Brita water filter? Why don’t they just tell the truth?

Moving on to one of my favorite organizations, the Motion Picture Association of America (yay Jack Valenti!) has a two-pronged approach to fighting the future piracy of movies. The first is a low-budget ad campaign designed to teach us that, “Movies, they’re worth it”. According to the Times, it profiles, “among others, a set painter, stuntman and make up artist.”

The second prong? A lesson plan (including crossword puzzles featuring phrases like ‘digital theft’ and ‘Movielink’) created in conjunction with Junior Achievement. The plan is designed to indoctrinate teenagers with the ‘downloading is bad’ mantra.

Well, other than the huge success rate that advertising campaigns have had in reducing things like tobacco use [intentional use of sarcasm], do they really think that this is the answer? And when did Junior Achievement start acting as a spokesperson for maintaining entrenched industries? (Movielink is a business run by the studios.)

The reason that the ads feature the relatively low-paid craftspeople is that, of course, people don’t really care if Arnold or J. Lo. make another few bucks. The problem, of course, is that ads like this never work, and even if they did, the idea that you should pay $30 to go out to the movies to support a make-up artist you’ve never met is an awfully hard sell.

No, I don’t think downloading movies is right or legal or even convenient. I do believe, however, that it’s going to happen more and more, and people in the industry ought to tell the truth–to each other and to us. The only thing that will save the existing infrastructure is an out-of-house experience that really and truly IS worth paying for. That, and an in-house experience that is super-easy and very cheap. The music industry could have killed Napster with a $10 a month all you can eat plan (which would have easily tripled their profits) and Hollywood could do the same. But they won’t.

Candidate Camera

While we’re discussing politics, I really like the way Gateway took advantage of the media moment they call the California Governor’s Recall. It’s remarkable and viral and poignant, all at the same time.

Candidate Camera

A fascinating experiment

…in ideaviruses, permission marketing and cows.

Worth a look, regardless of your politics: whowillbeatbush.com

Everything You Need to Know About Being Selfish

Educational piece in today’s NY Times about telemarketing.

Here are my favorite bits:

Bank One has 2,500 people making 12,000,000 calls a year, all so they can sell 250,000 new accounts a year. Once the ‘do not call’ list hits, it may very well turn the economics of the entire project negative.

Keystone Auto Glass calls people every 90 days and asks, “Do you have a crack or a chip?” If the answer is no, they hang up and call em back in three more months. However, when the do not call thing kicks in, “Instead of calling every three months, we may call every month.” says Ron Selfe (his real name). This means that people not smart enough to get off the list get three times as many calls, but even better, it means that, as far as Ron is concerned, the population owes him this business, and if he has to bother us three times as much to make a living, well, hey.

I loved the story of Tina Nagel, who sells “identity theft protection”, which is an overpriced ($120/yr.) service that sends you your credit report every month. She says, “What I’m doing is a valuable service. I’m telling people what their options are in life.” Tina points out that she was once the victim of identity theft. She also points out that she hasn’t bought the service.

There are about 280 million people in this country, and telemarketers, according to the article, place 104 million calls a day.

Always concerned about our best interests, the industry has filed suit in Denver, claiming that the FTC laws restricting telemarketers “restrict free speech rights and fail to consider economic consequences.”

Most of my readers aren’t telemarketers, but most of us ARE marketers. And the lesson here is awfully simple: selfish doesn’t work any more.

You can’t demand attention. In fact, it’s sort of hard to even ask for it nicely. Attention comes to you when you offer something remarkable. I hope that Tina Nagel figures that out when she’s looking for her next gig.


Every once in a while, I stumble upon a website that just feels fresh. And different. And worth reading. Boxes and Arrows: Because we can is one of those sites. I disagree with a bunch (we don’t need no stinkin site maps!) but the whole thing made me sit up and notice it.