Tag Archives: Brand

Gamer (and Brand Advertiser) Beware: Gamevance Pushes Gator-like Adware

I had only peripherally heard of Gamevance.com when someone asked my opinion of the company, so I took a took a closer look at the site. At first glance, it looked like a tournament-based skill gaming site, much like WorldWinner, but the first tell-tale sign that something was amiss was the “Uninstall Gamevance” link in the bottom of the page. The solely ad-supported site requires players to download Gamevance software that pummels you with advertising pop-ups.

The kicker for me – and the ultimate sign that the player needs to beware – was the fact that they actually sold ads within the text of their privacy policy:

If you’re selling ads in your Privacy Policy, heaven help those that download the actual Gamevance software. A quick scan on the net and you can clearly see complaints of malware and users trying to extricate the software from their systems.

Future Ads is the parent company that owns both Gamevance and ResultLinks, so you can understand the desire to cross-promote and use the ResultLinks technology on Gamevance.com. But you have to be wary of a management team that doesn’t understand the boundaries to which that technology should be used. It reminds me a lot of Gator (later renamed Claria to distance itself from its adware/spyware origins) all dressed up in games.

A lot of big brands are working with Future Ads, much like they did with Claria: American Express, EA, Blizzard, World of Warcraft, Pogo, Konami, Visa, ClubMom and GameFly. Regardless of the short-term results, association with the brand can only tarnish your brand in the long-run.

How Big Brands Dip Their Toe in the (Social Media) Water

Last week at Time Warner’s Conversations on the Circle panel, a consumer packaged goods company manager who was setting up the company’s use of social media tools bemoaned the fact that in the middle of the project, the company barred employees from using Facebook and Twitter, effectively killing their social media efforts.

Big brands continue to grapple with how to effectively use social media, but some trailblazers are tentatively experimenting with different aspects. Tuesday’s Social Communications Leadership Forum put on by the Business Development Institute shed a bit more light on the struggles of big brand marketers evangelizing social media and highlighted some of the processes to launching their efforts in risk-adverse companies:

  • When Internal Resistance Gets Tough, Bring in the Reinforcements: Linda Block, Marketing Director for HomeAgain Pet Recovering Service which is part of Schering-Plough Corporation, knew the typically conservative company in a deservedly risk-adverse industry. To help get the approvals to launch their private social network, she brought in external legal counsel to help the internal legal team get more comfortable with the project.
  • Go Slow, Build Support: Kimberly Miller, VP of Consumer Marketing and Head of Audience Development at People.com gave an example of the slow process of opening up user comments on articles. People.com didn’t want to risk the reputation it has and close relationships with some stars. So they started slowly, allowing comments on one article each day and set up filtering to show that it wasn’t going to be a problem. Likewise, Joshua Karpf, Manager of Digital Communications at PepsiCo, said they are experimenting and spending time evangelizing inside the organization about the value and metrics versus other media: employees that were part of their foray into blogging and video casting from South by Southwest are spending time sharing their experiences internally to build more awareness of how to use the medium creatively.
  • The Competitors Made Us Do It: Miller detailed that People.com doesn’t launch anything without a full-fledged strategy, branding and monetization plan – but they launched Twitter for their head editors on the site largely because their competitors were in the space and they couldn’t afford not to be there. That said, Miller noted that if Twitter can’t help move the brand forward by either driving positive sentiment or traffic, then they’d pull it down because it definitely takes resources to keep it running.
  • Have an Exit Strategy: Block also said another way she was able to allay the fears of legal teams was to work with their agency, Flightpath, to ensure that if there was an issue with FDA compliance or something else went wrong, they could quickly take down the site.

As an audience member noted, at some point companies are going reach a tipping point, where the risks of NOT engaging users through social media are greater than the risks of engaging. Kudos to these marketers sharing some of their tactics and blazing a trail many more companies will be following in the months ahead.

Ultimately “using” social media is not the goal, it’s a component of the overall marketing and communication strategy. Like all new initiatives, testing and roll out plans with measurable results help prove the effectiveness of the strategy. But in some cases management remains resistant. Does anyone else have strategies that have proven effective in turning around an initially resisting upper management?

Other Tidbits from the Social Communications Leadership Forum

  • Stumbleupon is consistently a top five referral site for People Pets; they pay for clicks with a paltry budget of $500 per month but it becomes even more cost effective as they benefit from the viral effect of getting exposed to those users friends.
  • PeoplePets has over 54,000 Twitter followers in two weeks, only 14,000 registered community members after six months (which exceeded plans). Within the community, there are 7-8 key influencers with which they keep close contact. They are looking at external vendors to look at influencers outside the community.
  • Metrics for PeoplePets include unique visitors and engagement stats (return visitors, time spent and pages consumed). In addition, they look at actions within the community, including number of hugs given (200,000 to date), ribbons won in contests about their pets photos, friends made, photos uploaded and number of wall posts.
  • HomeAgain has used its micro-chip embedded product plus relationships with shelters and 300,000 volunteer “Pet Rescuers” to help find over 500,000 lost pets – pretty interesting business and pretty low cost for only $14.99 annually.
  • My favorite quote about the art form of Twitter was a Flightpath Director who quoted Mark Twain, “If I had more time I would be briefer.”

Kellogg Panel on the Future of Marketing Misses Impact of Social Media

Last night I went to a panel discussion on “Perspectives: The Future of Marketing” hosted by Kellogg Graduate School of Management as part of their centennial celebration. Alumni from MTV, AMEX, The New York Times and Google, the kind of media/advertising/finance panel you’d expect in New York, gave their insight on the big trends:

  • Stephanie Ruyle, VP of National Accounts at MTV talked about how the DVR has pushed them to focus on “integrated marketing” (getting placement and sponsorships during the actual programming because users are fast forwarding through the commercials).
  • ”Mobile,” was the one-word trend of the future offered by Bill Sickels, Head of Healthcare at Google. He pointed to the proliferation of smart phones and massive increase in traffic from these devices in the last year, as well as the fact there were three times more mobile devices than PCs and laptops combined as things that will fundamentally shift how marketers communicate.
  • Also insightful was Deborah Curtis, VP Advertising from AMEX, noting today’s marketing execs grew up in a “TV generation” that responds to visual cues whereas the “digital generation” consumes so much more data, and respond in a very different way, which will force marketing execs to re-train how they communicate with consumers.

What really struck me, though, is that none of the panel really discussed at length how social media was going to change things for marketers. Yes there was the discussion of the dual challenges of hyper segmentation and monetization; the need to learn a new lexicon and modify your brand voice; and social media as a huge focus group. But to me social media means a much more fundamental change is coming to marketing.

For example, fellow alumni Erica, Jeff and I were surprised no one talked about how marketers are losing more and more control of their brand and product because today consumers expect to have input. To borrow a bit from social monitoring company Radian6, a company’s brand is no longer something controlled and disseminated by PR and the marketing executive team. Your brand is the “sum of all the conversations” about your brand. That’s a huge fundamental shift for traditional marketers.

Consumers are not shy about giving their opinions about your brand and social media like Twitter and Facebook make it that much easier to make your voice heard and find others that share your frustration or opinions. AMEX noted they learned more this year by really listening to their user base. MTV does really cutting-edge guerilla research to get to know their users (like asking users if they can video tape their closet or putting users in a “MTV deprivation” house for 30 days to see how they respond) but they said they continue to “follow” their demographic where they are going, while it struck me they should be having a conversation about where they are going together.

What is true for the brand marketer is also true for product marketing: including users in the design phase and getting their buy-in early-on in the process is critical. Even social media giants who by their nature should know better somehow forget to include their customers in the product development process (see Facebook changes in their terms and conditions forcing them to let users vote and the recent user “#fixreplies” backlash by Twitter users after the company made changes in reply functions).

Integrating customer input into the product development cycle is potentially easier in the web environment where development cycles are weeks and months (versus traditional products which can take one to three years). While at Power Soccer, giving our core users access to the beta of a new version of the game really helped us hone in on issues and things we needed to get right for our users. Once the new version of the game went live, we were able to listen to our users in our forums and on our Facebook Fan Page to understand where other issues were cropping up, huddle with the product team to come up with a series of fixes, and diffuse issues by communicating to users a clear roadmap of new changes we would make to address their concerns. But even some of these late fixes could have been avoided with better input from end-users in the design phase. There is always room to optimize and improve.

I think the exciting yet challenging thing in the “future” for marketers is that there is a new groundswell of user conversations happening that we need to get our arms around – how we tap into it, shape it, and leverage it to make better products and enhance our brands. Wednesday’s panel discussion only made it more clear to me that many traditional marketers are only beginning to grasp that the future is now.

Other Tidbits

  • The New York Times notes in research on influencers that it was interesting how similar demographically the users are, even across different cultures and countries. They are all curious, tell others what they think, well educated, optimistic, heavy news and information consumers and influence about 5-10 people
  • Google shared that there were 15 hours of content being uploaded every minute on YouTube
  • On CMO turn-over, the concensus was that marketing was still proving itself to be C-worthy in the eyes of a lot of organizations and that success relied heavily on an organizational culturally valuing marketing