New ads for news in new media
Wednesday, October 25th, 2006
I’d like to highlight a couple of cool ads we’ve had in recent days. They represent a nice step forward for the blogosphere AND for Blogads.com.
First, there was this ad for Chevron.
Running in the actual column of the blog post, the ad is an understated and respectful effort to join the conversation, using the blogger idiom. A subtle and bold step for Chevron.
And, starting yesterday, you can see this blockbuster ad from NBC, bought through November 8 across political blogs, along with a two day introductory leaderboard takeover on key blogs. NBC has been, since its big buy last December, a key innovator when it comes to buying and designing blogads. NBC hit another home run this time.
In the past some of NBC’s ads have gotten great clicks by being provocative. This time around, NBC’s ad taps into the blogosphere’s news addiction, with pithy images and teaser text to hook readers. Though I can’t divulge details, the ad is getting far better than average clickthrus.
The NBC ad is also important because it’s the first interesting experimentation we’ve seen in the “hi-rise” units (150X600 plus 300 characters of text) we launched in September.
You won’t find these units on any IAB page — its hard to think outside the box when you are buying boxes shaped like everyone else’s, right? Both the Chevron and the NBC ad are an outgrowth of Blogads 3.0, which is the programming extension of a dream that began in late 2001.
Blogads 3.0 has been a long and perilous journey, so I’d like to pause a moment to look back.
Perusing blogs in early 2001, I had noticed that people, free to publish on their own devices, were writing with a fiery frequency unprecedented in the annals of publishing. That was just the beginning of the story. All these conversations were interbreeding… we were on a huge new trajectory. The volume and intensity of the conversation was breaching all the dikes erected by traditional media. The old media moguls, lords of their proprietary bathtubs, were suddenly adrift in a raging ocean of ideas, facts and opinions… conversations. Obsessed with “the online conversation,” I became one of those cocktail-party-bores who kills conversations by blathering about how some unpronouncable gadget is going to change the world.
I thought and thought about the impending exponential multiplication of online conversations. (Four years later, this chain reaction is now known by the ugly monikers of “consumer generated content” and “social media.” And almost everyone in our industry is fretting or chortling about the implications for new and old media.) My description then still holds today, I think:
Sure, opinion pages, online diaries, Christmas newsletters, commonplace books and blogs are old news. What is new is the blogosphere, the endless and (physically) effortless networking of conversations. This is the exponential leap. We’ve had the leaves; now we have the twigs, branches and trees that can connect us all together into a real-time forest of minds. The blogosphere is a social fractal, a network that scales up and down with equal facility.
As an information processor, the blogosphere superfluizes old media’s expensive and carefully constructed infrastructures and franchises.
Suddenly, Vivendi, AOL-Time Warner, EMAP and Newscorp are factories whose economies of scale are swamped by infinity, networks that have come unplugged, refrigerator salesmen trudging into the next ice age.
So, figuring revolutions need a wallet, we bought the Blogads.com URL and started programming. We aimed to create an advertising infrastructure and user culture that might help underwrite this new world of exponential conversations. At the same time, we dreamed of creating an idiom and technology that would somehow transcend the old “top-down/read only” advertising culture, giving advertisers some access to the wattage of networked conversations.
Fearing competition, we rushed Blogads.com live in August of ’02. The joke was on us. The boom we anticipated was a mirage and we sold a handful of ads in ’02. We tinkered with the code and gradually rewrote it into mishmash of hacks and fixes we called, internally at least, 2.0.
The code served well enough, with lots of hand-holding and manual intervention. But the 2.0 fun ran out in late 2004 when we realized that the code was beyond the limits of its ability to scale in any direction… other than down.
In our election post-mortem, my programming colleagues argued that we needed a complete, foundation-to-weather-vane rewrite. I fought hard against the greenfielding idea, having read the brilliant Joel Spolsky declare that “the single worst strategic mistake that any software company can make… [is to decide to] rewrite the code from scratch.” (IBM coding godfather Fred Brooks’ made much the same argument against came to be known as the often-fatal ” second-system effect.”)
But my colleagues knew that our code was basically a souped up prototype, a shack that had been appended into an apartment building. In that code, there were no blogger identities, only individual adstrips. All payments were inextricably bound to unique payments. And though we could serve ads from multiple servers, the admin functions couldn’t be moved off a single server.
I could grumble, but I couldn’t argue with their expertise. So we spent the spring of 05 blueprinting and then began coding in earnest in summer ’05. While we paused to tweak 2.0 a couple of times in ’05 — adding mininetworks for example — we essentially let that 2.0 code coast.
As Spolsky predicted, it was hell. Many of the lessons learned implicitly and undocumented in the first code are lost and hard to reconstruct. And we started trying to do fancy things we’d forgotten to the first time around, then got lost in the tangle of logic.
But. A year later than originally projected. Now we are done. Yay! Gulp. Despite Joel’s prediction, we’re not dead. In fact, in October and November, our total sales will outpace all of 2004’s rake.
More importantly, we understand better the whats and whys of business. Our sales staff has grown from one to seven. And now we’re ready to start innovating again. Most imporantly, our partners — bloggers and advertisers — have grown. The conversation we designed Blogads to fund and engender is livelier than ever thanks to advertisers like NBC and Chevron.
While I’m talking about interesting ads, check out these two, one for Al Franken’s new movie, the other for Sam Harris’s book “Letter to a Christian Nation.”