A Reading Challenge for 2017

I made a simple resolution as we went into 2017: I would drink an extra small bottle of water everyday to improve my hydration. So far, that one is working.  Back in December I also decided that, on the last Sunday of every month, I would write something for this site.  It wasn’t really a resolution, rather an updated version of the Blog Every Wednesday in August task I set myself a few years ago: the idea was to write something here to make paying for the hosting worth it. This new commitment was given the title “Sermon Of the Last Sunday”.  As with all things these days, there’s a hashtag #SOLS. See if you can work out which came first: the series name or the hashtag.

Also at the end of last year I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read 12 books in 2017. This shouldn’t be the hardest commitment as it’s just one book a month but, if I succeed, I will end up reading more than I did last year.  There are plenty of people that inspired me to try this challenge (which you can follow on Goodreads) but, possibly, I made my decision after reading Bill Gates’ favourite books of 2016. He manages an eclectic list of recommendations. I hope to have as diverse a range of books on my ‘has read’ list by the end of the year.

More recently, Entertainment Weekly published a list of Every book Barack Obama recommended during his presidency. Another eclectic, and inspirational, list. Seriously, if he can be such an voracious reader and run America then I can read 12 books this year. As Bill Gates says,

Still, reading books is my favorite way to learn about a new topic. I’ve been reading about a book a week on average since I was a kid. Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading. [source]

So, when trying to come-up with the first SOLS entry I thought I’d review one of the books that ended last year. It was the book I was reading when I read Bill’s list; it was fascinating and a little hard-going at times but it took me out of my daily commute and made me think about something else.  Which, I think, is something a good book should do.  I have reviewed books here before, and I am not sure I will attempt to review all 12, but it’s such a well written book I’d recommend adding it to your own reading list.

I’m grateful to the staff of Waterstones in Chichester who persuaded me that this was a book worth reading as I was browsing their store at some point last year. I don’t often spend time just wandering book shops but there was an opportunity and I took it. I’m very glad I did.

Cover of SkyfaringSkyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot

For some people, a job takes you to the same place each day, surrounded by colleagues who you see daily and get to know over time. Not quite so for pilots, especially those flying long haul, where the variation in crew is almost as changeable as the constantly altering view from the cockpit.

Mark Vanhoenacker, a British Airways 747 long haul pilot, writes about flight through series of chapters documenting the experiences of moving from one part of the world to another with chapters such as Place, Wayfinding, Night and Return.

It’s not a biography of a pilot, a technical guide to flying nor a travelogue rather it’s a rhapsodic love affair with flight and all it involves and, so, it’s a little bit of all those things put together with some beautifully written, almost lyrical, prose. Don’t expect a chronological guide to flight but a collection of chapters that take their subject and describe the experience from the complex to the minutia; written from a vantage of someone obviously captivated by the charm of flight.

The style is vivid and descriptive, but the detail of the language can sometimes make reading it hard work. Don’t let that put you off because it’s worth a little perseverance to get close to understanding why the experience of flight it both magical and disorienting at the same time.


Skyfaing, A Journey with a Pilot, available at Amazon.

My 15 for 2015

It’s become something of a tradition for me to take a nostalgic look back at the year just gone based on some of the photographs I have taken. The earliest example that remains online is from 2004. You can read about some of the thoughts behind that on 2012 and 2013s summaries. Ten years later, 2014 was represented as a short video summary of Instagram photos which I’m not sure does that year justice. [Skip the words and jump to the pictures]

For 2015 I could have, once again, relied on the automatic curations from Facebook or the Best 9 on Instagram but, instead, I decided to go back and manually collect 15 photos which sum-up 2015 for me.

The first four of the pictures were taken on holiday in Vietnam, Cambodia and Hong Kong. The time spent on board a boat on Halong Bay (including an amazing Kayak experience) and the silent tea shop in Hội An were some of the most tranquil moment of the year; the Hindu/Buddhist temples in Cambodia were an awe inspiring sight that will stay with me for a long time.

Lord Hill’s Column, outside Shrewsbury’s Shirehall is, apparently, the tallest Doric column in England. When I lived in Shropshire the statue was, effectively, at the end of my street. On a visit earlier in the year it was a pleasant surprise to find it open for viewing as part of the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo (interesting to note that the last stone was laid on 18 June 1816, the first anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo). There are some fantatsic views of Shrewsbury from the top.

I had a business trip to New York in the first half of the year and got to view that city from on high too: the sunset from the top of The Empire State Building was pretty impressive.

Another highlight of the year was taking advantage of the hidden London tours and going in the opposite direction – underground – to the disused Jubilee Line station at Charing Cross. In November 1999 the Jubilee platforms at Charing Cross were closed to the public when the line’s extension to Waterloo was opened. However, the escalators and platforms still exist behind some blue hoardings; the lines maintained for operational reasons if not for commuting. The platforms are also used for film & television representations of the modern underground (Spooks and the Bond film Skyfall filmed there, for example). In June I went on a tour and it was really fascinating to see how the platforms looked and to peek behind the scenes of a working Tube station. Although I’ve not uploaded as many pictures to Flickr this year, there is a set of the pictures taken underground.

The summer also meant another pilgrimage to Silverstone for the British race of the 2015 Formula One season. Lewis winning both that race and the season. Jenson, featured in the picture, coming somewhat lower down the rankings.

In 2012 I didn’t volunteer as one of the Olympic Games Makers nor as one of Boris’ London Ambassadors. It’s something that looked like fun and subsequently I did volunteer at the Ride London event. However, 2015 was the first year that the Ambassadors scheme (branded Team London) finally sought new recruits. I signed up, went through the training, and had a really great time at Parliament Square. I’d swotted-up on a little of the history of the area but mainly got to point people in the direction of Churchill’s War Rooms. Thankfully, the bright blue Team London jacket came in helpful during the rain that seemed to accompany all of my shifts.

Later in the summer I donned overalls that might not be out of place behind the wheel of an F1 car to become part of Secret Cinema’s Empire Strikes Back experience (I think I was supposed to be some kind of rebel fighter). The imagination, thought and level of detail that went into the event was spectacular. There’s a great summary video on You Tube. I’m already booked for their 2016 show with no idea what the film will be.

Towards the end of the year the Rugby World Cup came to the UK. I saw New Zealand play twice: against Namibia at the Olympic Stadium (they won 58-14) and in a great final at Twickenham where they beat Australia 34-17. Fortunately, we were sat behind the goal where most of the points were scored. The Olympic Stadium also played host to The Race of Champions which, according to the event’s own site, “brings together some of the world’s best drivers for a unique head-to-head race in identical cars to see who really is the fastest of them all”. Sebastian Vettel was crowned champion.

I’m often asked what my favourite dining experience has been. I’ve written before about Duck and Waffle which was excellent but, for some reason, never about the Fat Duck. I thought I’d try and record the best of 2015: the very enjoyable Not Afternoon Tea at the Oxo Tower could have been the highlight had it not been for a visit to Restaurant Story. Here, on the site of a former public toilet, is an amazing restaurant where each course of the set menu comes with its own little story. An entire afternoon of food pleasure.

At the end of the year I visited Liverpool for an amazing Duran Duran concert and to sing karaoke at a family party. No videos of my performance will be allowed on the internet. Duran Duran was really an exceptional gig with just the right mix of classics and newer material. The office Christmas party also featured a live band; I was introduced to the music of Jungle which, in spite of the modern sounds, seemed to have 80s inspired synth roots and would site nicely next to Duran’s material.

Last Week In Digital Advertising #10

Is that something we should be considering for the future? Will the idea of advertising campaigns disappear? Perhaps our vision of the right message to the right person at the right time means that brands need to be constantly in-market. How else can the be assured of being at the right time?

Our spin doctor is still in the house so, lest somebody say something about this being a good day to bury news, let’s start with the biggest news. Google’s reported fourth-quarter profit surged 29% to $2.54 billion. Yikes, that’s a lot of money. Somewhat overshadowed by news late on Thursday evening that Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, is taking over the reins from long-time chief Eric Schmidt.  I wonder if there are more changes afoot?

So, that’s an opening totally fitting with last week’s four pillars of digital advertising news which bodes well for the rest of this week’s review, doesn’t it?  Having started with Spend Watch, why not continue in that mode. As they say in television, cue titles ..

Spend Watch

I’ve not done a Facebook revenue prediction this year. It seems like everybody has one on a reasonably regular basis so why not me? Thus, deep breath, Facebook is expected to make over £2.5 billion ($4 billion) from advertising in 2011, it has been estimated by eMarketer and reported on by the IAB. Compare that to the numbers reported in Advertising Age that the social network took in $1.86 billion in worldwide advertising revenue for 2010 (which was still a 151% increase over the company’s estimated 2009 advertising revenue). Pretty impressive numbers, although, of course, somebody had to find the flaw. Those numbers were “not as impressive as Google’s growth in its pre-IPO days” according to SFGate.

Elsewhere, ad-spending hit a record high in Malaysia; social gaming to top $1 billion in 2011 and advertising is expected to make up for 20% of game developers’ revenues next year, according to another eMarketer report (quoted by Coast Digital) and a Winterberry Group report at MarketingProfs says, “Within digital, social media ad spend is expected to increase more than 35%”. A healthy growth report from our spin doctor then.

The Bedford Report, er, reported that “ZenithOptimedia … expects China overtaking Germany as the world’s third-largest ad market behind the United States and Japan” and

China has achieved double digit internet growth rate since 2006 and currently housed 420 million Internet users. There are also 755 million mobile subscribers in China, making it the world’s largest mobile market.

Such a big market for advertisers. And, I don’t often quote data from an advertiser’s perspective but last week I saw that Cadbury’s had reported between £2 and £3 in sales for every £1 it spent on internet advertising – which seems like some more pretty decent numbers to me, spin doctor or not.


Crossing the line from Spend Watch to Video we read, via RapidTV, that in France, video advertising passed from €12 million to €30 million in turnover over one year. While back in the UK, the IAB released new 2011 best practice guidelines for video and called for a “mature” approach to video ads.  As the money flows into online video advertising we’re seeing the technology around the delivery gain traction. This week, for example, Rocket Fuel Inc. announced Video Booster which, apparently, allows “brands to engage audiences and reach campaign objectives with unparalleled precision and efficiency”. How long before bidding on video ads becomes mainstream?

Real Time

Kendall Allen at Advertising Age wrote this week that “Our industry is ecstatic over bidded media” and questioning if it’s quite as big as we think. I had believed that a lot of the real-time buzz was from the buy-side of the business but Kendall notes buyers are, “still waiting for this holy grail of audience intelligence at scale”. Perhaps helping us get a little nearer audiences at scale, Adobe announced the inquisitional of leading data management platform, Demdex.

The new world of real-time buying and selling of media was covered, last week, in a piece at Marketing Week entitled, “New era dawns for display advertising” which is worth of read.  Of particular interest to those in the digital display business is a comment from former American Express head of digital acquisition Matthew Turner,

“We’re now looking at digital display as an always on channel, rather than as [intermittent] campaign activity, explains Turner. We have historically run digital display on a campaign basis, but we’re now at a point where we’ve got such a level of high-quality inventory through exchanges that we’re able to think about display as a way of always building awareness or running direct response, similar to the way in which we treat search.”

Is that something we should be considering for the future? Will the idea of advertising campaigns disappear? Perhaps our vision of the right message to the right person at the right time means that brands need to be constantly in-market. How else can the be assured of being at the right time?


The last of our pillars this week is privacy. ClickZ reported on “Mixed Messages on Future of Privacy Law in 2011” for US citizens while The Wall Street Journal noted “EU’s Push on Internet Cookies Fizzles Out” which suggested that Europe was generally in favour of industry self-regulation and quoted the EU document saying

[it’s not necessary] to obtain consent for each individual operation of gaining access to or storing of information on a user’s terminal, if the initial information and consent covered such further use.

Elsewhere, Better Advertising (sorry, Evidon) are working with Collective (they call themselves “the leader in understanding and delivering audiences”) “to power ad notice for more than 28 premium publishers and advertising networks” using  Collective’s media management platform. More notice should be a good thing, right?

Friday saw my Twitter feed tell me that The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page comes out against US “Do Not Track” proposals. Of course they were the news organisation to highlight some of the issues around online ad tracking so it would be fascinating to read what they say in an opinion piece. It’s behind a pay-wall so if you have a subscription read it (http://on.wsj.com/fU6qbW) and let me know in the comments.

Now, away from my pillars what else did we learn last week? For starters, “Almost a quarter of Irish consumers are “strongly negative” towards online advertising” [Belfast Telegraph]; TGI’s James McCombe noted that,  from a marketing point of view, mobile Twitterers are an attractive target in their own right [MediaTel]; Bonnier announced that it was  developing next-generation ad formats for tablet magazines in a move said to “addresses a fundamental need in the industry: all-new advertising for all-new advertising platforms” [SFGate] and, back to where we started with news from Google, and Mashable’s exclusive report that the search giant is preparing to launch Google Offers – a Groupon-style daily deals offering. Interesting to me as I was going to add ‘Coupons’ or deals to our four digital advertising news pillars but wondered if they would/could  sustain the hype for a year.  Well, let’s see if they make any news next week when I’ll kick myself for not putting them up there.

Last Week In Digital Advertising #9

At the starting blocks of 2011 and I can already see the trends emerging for the topics that will be the mainstay of Last Week In Digital Advertising for the next twelve months. Should I just give up now? Regardless, here we go for the first view of the new year and, periodically, I’ll check-in with this list to see if we’re talking about other things.

At the starting blocks of 2011 and I can already see the trends emerging for the topics that will be the mainstay of Last Week In Digital Advertising for the next twelve months. Should I just give up now? Regardless, here we go for the first view of the new year and, periodically, I’ll check-in with this list to see if we’re talking about other things. And yes, I am well aware that this isn’t dissimilar in concept to my already published 2011 Digital Advertising Predictions but it is based on what the recent buzz has been and continues with my idea of a news review.


Clearly, one of the most significant things we’ll be talking about all year is privacy and, quite rightly too. Despite the fact that direct mail has been tracking our lifestyle choices and lifestages for years, doing it in real-time via a computer appears much more intrusive and, as an industry, we have to clearer about what we are doing. Spanfeller Media Group CEO Jim Spanfeller was asked by AdExchanger what he saw at the heart of the consumer debate about privacy:

I think the bigger issue is that people want control. They want control over their experiences. And so I agree. I think there are people, lots of people, who will give up data about themselves willingly in return for something.

And control seems to be a key theme of the privacy story this week. eMarketer quotes a survey by PreferenceCentral which found that “the more people know about behavioral targeting, the less willing they are to receive free content in exchange for relevant ads” but principal analyst David Hallerman wonders if, “people really view behavioral targeting as an invasion of privacy, or do they dislike it because they have no control over how marketers are using their personal data?” Publishers, unlike most marketers, have first party relationships with consumers and, Jonathan Mendez argues, there is an implicit understanding that this data is going to be used to make the user’s experience better. That’s a good position for publishers as long as the data is treated with care.

Kevin Lee at ClickZ writes under the headline “If Tracking Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Tracking” and suggests that ads should have more space devoted to explaining what data the ad used in the hope that consumers will “leave well enough alone and prefer targeted ads to untargeted ads”. Of course we have an embryonic system to show such information in the form of the Better Advertising initiatives who, this week, became Evidon. The name chosen to “evoke a connection with the word “evident,” which expresses our commitment to bringing clarity to the online community”. Their blog has more. Clear? Well, Mozilla’s aiming to making it all clearer with their alpha release of privacy icons which they are proposing are adopted to let users know how data is used. I like the idea.

Interesting to see The Wall Street Journal run a piece on how Google is trying to square using all their data with the privacy implications of that use. An interesting piece but amusing to see an article on privacy based on a leaked, internal, confidential document. Not sure I see the public interest value in raising privacy flags on a bunch of ideas that aren’t products but, nonetheless, interesting reading.


Video is at a crucial turning point, so says Jill Druschke in AdWeek and I suspect we’re right. It is one of the things to watch on my Horoscope for 2011. And, while I think cross-media comparison of ad-spend has some holes and should be read with caution, it is worth noting that online video represents only 7% of the entire ad market. Things are moving, though. New Media Age reported that “video ad network WebTV Enterprise saw ad revenues triple last year” with a 244% rise in video ad revenue in 2010 compared to the previous year and seems be a decent indicator for that sector of the ad business.

MediaTel noted that worldwide PVR sales are expected to hit the 50 million mark in 2014 but will, eventually, be overtaken by internet-enabled television sets. Around 350 million connected TVs are expected to be sold worldwide by 2015, according to Parks Associates (source: MediaTel). Adding a note of caution into the discussion, however, news that a new content distribution network built by BT will ensure greater bandwidth for users wanting to watch online video without disruption, even during peak online usage times (source: MediaTel). If such initiatives lead to a 2-tier web will consumers pay for it or head straight back to broadcast? An interesting one to watch.

Another note of caution was injected into the video discussion by Netimpreative, who note that “Online video rentals ‘failed to live up to hype’ in 2010” quoting Screen Digest’s figures that, in the US, network-delivered rentals and sales via the Internet and subscription TV systems accounted for $2.3 billion, representing 12.2% of the total market. At this stage, is 12% that bad?

Real Time

We’re moving to a more automated world, that’s for sure. How far we go is still to be seen but publishers everywhere are being encouraged to look at real-time trading systems. Eric Picard’s “Why publishers are afraid of real-time bidding” has some interesting things to say about data leakage and pricing while Jonathan Mendez suggests that real-time systems can make data pricing “more automated and more intelligent” (yes, second quote but it’s a good piece).

There is still some way to go. According to eMarketer, “Less a third of US publishers (31%) offered media buyers the possibility of real-time bidding on their ad inventory in 2010” but that will grow this year and it’s time for publishers to look at real-time systems in more detail. At ClickZ, Rob Beeler asks “What can a publisher – and more specifically, ad operations – do to ensure that RTB will help grow the business?”

Spend Watch

We can’t resist any little change in the revenue forecast numbers and I know I’ll be quoting lots of articles that predict even tiny changes in spend throughout the year. This last week or so we had a nice crop. New Media Age ran with “Display overtakes search in 2011 ad spend growth predictions” Advertising Age ran with “Local Advertisers Finally Join Ad Recovery” as in the third quarter of 2010, smaller US advertisers increased spending 8.1%, compared with a 9.1% hike in the top 1,000. The Economist told us that global spending on advertising will grow by 4.5% in 2011, led by online advertising which will increase by 16%.

In the land of mobile game advertising, Juniper Research discovered marketers spent $87 million worldwide advertising on mobile games in 2010. By 2015, the amount will be 10 times greater, at nearly $900 million (quoted at Miki Devic’s posterous blog). And talking mobile, I was surprised to see that only 12% of the UK population have mobile internet access, according to The British Population Survey and quoted by Netimperative.

Those will be four of the big news sectors I’ll be following in the coming weeks but what else did we learn this week? The Internet is now the main national and international news source for people ages 18 to 29 in the US says Pew Research (quoted at Mashable); SNL Kagan told us the number of location-based services users nearly tripled in 2010, reaching 33.2 million (via eMarketer); Internet Retailer reported that this Christmas shopping-related Google searches from mobile devices are up 230% and, of course, we heard again and again about the unstoppable rise of Facebook.

I’m already watching to see if any of these trends make next week’s news.

Elsewhere: An Insiders View Of Government

The diary format is easy to dip in to – and that had been my intention – but I found I was hooked and could spend many hours reading; it’s not a slimline book!

A just posted a review on Goodreads and Amazon of Chris Mullin’s account of life inside the Labour government.

A View from the FoothillsA View from the Foothills by Chris Mullin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an insiders view of life as a Labour MP and, at times, as a junior Minsiter (transport and environment/Africa) this is a compelling read. The diary format is easy to dip in to – and that had been my intention – but I found I was hooked and could spend many hours reading; it’s not a slimline book! The inner working of government are fascinating: Mullin has a particular dislike for the poorly written speeches he was expected to deliver; the excesses of Ministerial cars and the fact that, as a Junior Minister, it seems impossible to actually get anything done. It’s interesting to see that a relatively few number of MPs – mainly those nearest the Prime Minister – can actually do very much at all; the rest expected to tow the party line. Mullin was not that close to The Man but he certainly has a different view than most of us. Of most interest historically, of course, are the discussions that lead to the UK’s support of the Iraqi war but, if you’re interested in how much of government works, this is possibly better positioned than some of the bigger names.

View all my reviews

Last Week In Digital Advertising #6

It’s not surprising to have heard a number of suppliers at last week’s ad:tech conference bemoan the technical confusion arising from our industry: which technologies should be adopted and what can they do for their businesses? At least one mainstream publisher suggested there were simply too many technologies around and there wasn’t enough time to evaluate them all.

Ah, I know what you’re thinking. Somehow we missed each other last week. But I was on holiday in a place that was, blissfully, somewhat disconnected for me. Still, the last week was frantic. Back from a break and straight to Ad:tech at Olympia: it’s the trade show to connect the London digital advertising industry. It is, apparently, where ‘the online marketing and advertising community will gather together’ to reveal the latest trends and market figures, share best practices and address industry challenges. The main challenge I learnt: buy more comfortable shoes! And for those heading to this New York’s Advertising Week, remember your ‘phone charger.

As I didn’t do the paid-for conference I didn’t get to see the good folks from Twitter talk. There was much buzz about that but surprisingly light Twitter talk on the official #adtechuk hastag. I think it needed promoting a little better. But, of course, there was a social media buzz last week helped along nicely by Google telling us ‘Social recommendations can revolutionise online advertising‘. If you see my Twitter feed then you’ll know I am a big social media fan and I do think ‘social’ can change advertising but putting Twitter feeds into ads may not be the way (I know, it wasn’t the only thing they suggested).

eConsultancy is reporting some IAB research that tells us ‘Publishers get the short end of the stick with ad-supported content‘ and suggests publishers would do well to both look at their ad-revenues and cost structures. I don’t think any publisher needs telling this. It’s been true for many years that publishers are struggling with ways to properly monetise digital content. Nonetheless, I was surprised by the paragraph,

According to the IABUK’s study, “if those services that are currently provided for free were to be charged for (at a level that generates the same amount of revenue as ad-supported services), 40% of current users could stop using the internet.”

Really? Stop using the internet or just those services which have decided to charge? The devil, as always, is in the detail and that’s perhaps one to look at in more depth another week. Staying with the publisher business, in a tweet from the Ad Trading Summit, Improve Digital’s @janneke_improve reported “Large publishers will win unless niche publisher are able to monetise audience which makes a lot of sense to me.

Of course all publishers are looking at how their future digital advertising may play out. I would argue that putting a price on the right content may well work for some print publishers. There are lots of examples where it is working and scarcity will always be paid for. Didn’t Sky Sports show us the way?

As an aside, I wonder what Sky make of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, TalkTalk, BT, Arqiva, Channel 5 joint venture for on-demand television services being branded YouView. Personally, I think it’s a really smart name but I can imagine some trademark lawyers had much fun (and decent bonuses) clearing it. The partners in the venture were, no doubt, intrigued to read research from Dynamic Logic telling us that ‘TV commercials repurposed as online ads perform less well on many metrics than videos especially developed for the online space’. I wonder how many created-for-television ads are run by those companies on their sites versus copy created especially for an online audience? I’d wager there’s more research on this to come as the survey also suggested television copy performed better under some circumstances. How are creative and planning-shops to use this do you think?

In other news, is the EU really cracking down on targeted advertising or are they making some sensible privacy suggestions? As we have noted before, privacy is key and I’m sure we, as an industry, can achieve the right balance. Perhaps noises-off (from Brussels) will get the industry there a little more quickly. The EU is also reported as having suggested that the use of Flash cookies for some purposes as illegal under European law. Clarity on this matter is, surely, a good thing and I’d be interested in seeing a proper ruling, if anybody has one.

This week, privacy was cited as a reason some people are choosing not to opt-in to SMS/MMS advertising. Research from the Internet Advertising Bureau and the Direct Marketing Association found, ‘64% of those surveyed did not want to opt-in to SMS or MMS because they thought they may have to share personal details’. The research also noted that 75% of respondents said, ‘they would be happy to opt-in to such services, given the right incentive, such as attractive offers, money off vouchers or priority service from a brand’. I wonder how good the offers would have to be to get that many people opting-in to more than a minimum of brand communications this way? Surely, just a few become intrusive very quickly.

Now, we’ve talked about Borrell Associates research numbers many times over previous weeks, noting in particular their research suggesting a bumper cash bonanza ($16 billion in 2011) for local (digital) advertising. Well research firm BIA/Kelsey thinks that is a little conservative. They suggest that local online already has 15% of a $133 billion local market (predicted 2010 numbers). eMarketer reports, ‘By 2014, BIA/Kelsey expects nearly one in four local ad dollars to be spent on digital’ which is pretty impressive, don’t you think?

As with other editions of ‘Last Week In Digital Advertising‘, this week’s scan of the digital advertising news shows that the industry has come a long way but also has a long way to go. It’s not surprising to have heard a number of suppliers at last week’s ad:tech conference bemoan the technical confusion arising from our industry: which technologies should be adopted and what can they do for their businesses? At least one mainstream publisher suggested there were simply too many technologies around and there wasn’t enough time to evaluate them all. We did hear that a data-driven display market is inevitable (so, you’re sunk if you don’t have your privacy in order) and brand safety is paramount (to both advertisers and publishers, who don’t want the wrong advertisers compromising their content).

As with any other modern business, it seems transparency is the key.

Last Week In Digital Advertising #2

So, where did we leave off? Well, it really does seem like a the conversation was broken mid-stream as we find ourselves more-or-less at the same point we finished on. There remains considerable discussion around the Wall Street Journal’s ‘investigations’ into advertising tracking. ClickZ asked, perhaps a little hysterically, if this was the end of behavioural targeting and challenged everybody – including consumers – to be aware and modify behaviours where necessary. Sage advice.

One week in, and I’m already moving things around – but you don’t want to know about that, do you? It’s just to confuse you a little. I’m taking my cue from Inception: create something that everybody thinks they understand and then throw in the curve ball.  Suffice to say the ‘product’ guy in me was thinking that my little review of the week is best located somewhere that allowed me to do more than just write this weekly missive which is why it’s moved here.  I have no idea what the ‘do more’ bit actually is – so you’ll have to hang around (or, I imagine, you could ask Mystic Meg).

So, where did we leave off?  Well, it really does seem like a the conversation was broken mid-stream as we find ourselves more-or-less at the same point we finished on. There remains considerable discussion around the Wall Street Journal’s ‘investigations’ into advertising tracking. As @exchangewire asked, “When is this hysteria going to cease”? Here they are, asking it. ClickZ asked, perhaps a little hysterically (but only in a journalistic sense, you understand) if this was the end of behavioural targeting and challenged everybody – including consumers – to be aware and modify behaviours where necessary. Sage advice.

USA Today claimed in what,  sadly, will not be the last of the cookie puns, “these ‘cookies’ aren’t tasty; you’re left hungry for privacy” but at least published an opinion piece, in which Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the US Interactive Advertising Bureau, asked people not to fall for the “wild debate” about websites using “tracking tools” to “spy” on people. And he has a point. A quick hop across to a site called Web Design Resources and you’ll find a piece suggesting digital advertisers “invented advertising technology that would scour through the cookies on your personal machine”.  Such language is neither an accurate portrayal of what’s happening nor helpful in explaining exactly what is going on, so the challenge is to move on from this kind of language to better education.

The Wall Street Journal, of course, printed other opinions too. Jim Harper published an interesting counter-argument, reminding those who need such reminders that cookie debates have been running for, more-or-less, as long as the web has been a major route to media consumption and it was considered an advertising channel. He tried to put some of the extremes of the ‘the cookie monster is coming’ argument into perspective:

“Surreptitious” use of cookies is one of the weaker complaints. Cookies have been integral to Web browsing since the beginning, and their privacy consequences have been a subject of public discussion for over a decade. Cookies are a surreptitious threat to privacy the way smoking is a surreptitious threat to health. If you don’t know about it, you haven’t been paying attention.

He even ventured as far as to suggest that we need to consider the trade off: think about what you get back from allowing cookies to be set but I am not seeing much mainstream media pick up on this. Now, where is all this going? New Media Age, quoted a TNS survey which is may be helpful (although I suspect not) in suggesting 65% of people see targeted ads as an abuse of their privacy, even though 64% welcome more relevant ads. Go figure how we’ll make that work. It’s all in the asking, huh? Obviously, much more discussion – and a lot of work – to come.  And as Tech firms come out to be clear that their data is anonymous, non-personal information, perhaps Bizo Blog, quoted on an AdMosters forum, said it best, “there are no monsters hiding under the bed”.

What else did we learn last week? How about the – not so shocking – information that “Canadians spend more time on the Internet than they do watching TV, listening to the radio or reading newspapers” yet advertisers are not allocating budgets to reflect that? Still, digital ad revenues in Canada got to $1.82B in 2009. Which, if reporting is to believed, is only marginally ahead of predictions for Facebook’s advertising revenues this year (at $1.3B). And yes, I am well aware those two stories are – probably – quoting different versions of the dollar, but it’s a much nicer segue to leave it like that. Facebook is, according to unnamed sources quoted by Net Imperative (in turn, quoting unnamed sources in the New York Times – gee, I can see how these rumours start), planning a strategic alliance with AOL, whose revenue, from subscriptions and advertising, in 2009 was four-times that of the predicted Facebook revenue (at $4.2B) but heading full pace off the end of that pier.

The enormous rise of Facebook was, amongst others, a reason ClickZ posed the question “Social: The Next Frontier of Behavioral Targeting?”. Really, as I noted on Twitter, you do not need the question mark there. Yes, it won’t come as a shock to anybody.

In other snippets, I thought it worth noting BrightRoll’s launch a self-service ad exchange for trading video inventory, as an indicator that online video will need the same sophisticated optimisation, trading and data tools as more ‘traditional’ formats have today. And need them quickly. eMarketer reported that almost 59% of US adults had watched full length TV shows online, “reflecting a shift in the content mix from short user-generated clips to full-length professional content”.

Not much mention of mobile this week, although ClickZ (who must get an award for being my favourite source of news this week), reported that, as mobile advertising becomes something agencies use more and more,  “companies in the space are continuing to attract investment” and cited Apple’s iAd as giving a boost to the market. My little 3 tweets we learnt about iAd (1, 2, 3) was sourced for an LA Times article on the topic but I think those tweets said it all and don’t need repeating.

So, did we reach the end of the week more informed or more confused? I’d love to extend Scott Portugal’s “confused sea condition” metaphor and ramble on about lifeboats and the like. But I can’t extend it any more than I did in a tweet on Friday – so I, sort of, blew that. His article was about ad technologies and how to survive changing market conditions and is worth a read (no Mae West needed). One thing I did want to follow-up on was a report suggesting that “One cannot be confident whether the findings of most IAE [internet ad effectiveness] studies are right or wrong” which is, perhaps, something to think about.

Now, why not comment and follow all this week’s industry news at @curns or even send me your ideas for digital advertising news? Go on, you know you want to.

Last Week In Digital Advertising

The Wall Street Journal’s piece entitled “The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets” influenced much comment around the web throughout the week. There’s a great deal of validity to the piece but, as with many articles about digital privacy, I think, by grouping many of the different tracking stories together without the space for full explanation simply serves to scare more than inform.

Apologies for the uninspiring title of this first entry. What can I say, inspiration has left me and run off into the night. Still, it’s probably going to be the only post with images so look at the pretty pictures and ignore the banality of the title. Unless the title becomes a regular feature, in which case I should note, somewhere, that last week began on 2nd August 2010 (Yes, my week starts on a Monday. Hey, I’m nothing but a traditionalist in that sense).

The aim behind this space is to allow a little more commentary on links that I posted via Twitter. 140 characters is great at making you think of ways not to use ‘text speak’ but not a great amount of space to say why you think something is important. And that’s the point of this place – to try to add some context around why I considered last week’s work-related tweets important. Fortunately, I decided not to attempt to justify the personal ones in my tweet feed and, as this week didn’t have a Grand Prix, of the Formula One variety, I don’t have to justify my opinions on that either.

I started the week by moving into a new office (hence the pictures) and being the subject of a press release. I’m only linking to the version without a picture (misplaced vanity?) but I’m incredibly excited to be at aiMatch, I think what’s coming will appeal to many of the biggest digital publishers. However, that’s not the purpose of writing here but, if you’re interested, check us out. And, for clarity, anything I comment herein is my view, I don’t pretend to be representing the views of any of my colleagues (who I know are capable of talking for themselves).

Oh, and the drawing of the rabbit in the hat: there’s a little more information on that on the original Flickr picture (although I am very impressed, I don’t own stock in the company so the review is true!).

But onto the main business of the day. What stories did I link to that need a little explanation about why I considered them important. Well, although I didn’t mention it directly, The Wall Street Journal’s piece entitled “The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets” influenced much comment around the web throughout the week. There’s a great deal of validity to the piece but, as with many articles about digital privacy, I think, by grouping many of the different tracking stories together without the space for full explanation simply serves to scare more than inform. On Friday, I did link to George Simpson’s amusing rebuttal on MediaPost which attempted to point out the WSJ’s apparent hypocrisy as they, according to George, happily say they’ll link the personal data they store to online data they collect along with their “64 third party partners”.  Privacy is something that this industry does take very seriously and I’m all for a more informed discussion because, as I have pointed out before, data is going to be increasingly important in the digital advertising ecosystem to get relevant advertising in front of people. Finally, on this topic, I linked to a video interview the very same WSJ did with Sir Martin Sorrell where he addressed this issue and it was good to hear that, he too, believes hidden tracking to be a problem and that transparency is a good thing.

If reports are to be believed then, according to netimperative, audience targeting – which is what most of the data is used for –  is now the “cornerstone of most online ad campaigns, helping to boost revenue for both branding and direct response” so I handily linked (thank me later) to their 4 steps to avoid behavioural targeting pitfalls. The quoted survey (as @exchangewire pointed out) was based on US figures but, to me, the useful nugget was the confirmation of the higher publisher returns for properly managed audience targeting.

At the start of the week I also linked to the Financial Times’ opinion of digital advertising tracking and note that their editorial acknowledges the advantages of targeted advertising,

There is nothing wrong in principle with advertisers using data about people based on their browsing habits. Such information enables them to place more relevant adverts – ones that are more likely to be of interest – on the sites that people visit. If executed correctly, that can benefit not only publishers but their customers (link)

Sadly, most of the FT’s piece is behind their paywall so I didn’t get to the meat. I hope the extract reflects the content. In the aforementioned WSJ interview, Sir Martin also discussed paywalls, something many digital publishers are paying close attention to, and stated a belief that the ability for advertising to finance media, as has been done in the past, is going away because of industry fragmentation. Nothing new there but timely as Rupert Murdoch was reported to have said that the paywall model was going well (“encouraging” was the word he used, as reported in New Media Age on Friday).

There has been much encouraging news of late about increased ad spend. This week it was the turn of the Irish to announce that in 2009 online advertising in Ireland approached the €100m threshold. To shamelessly steal the other headlines from the IAB’s piece, the online ad sector achieved 10% of Irish ad spend 2009 and 75% of study participants predict growth or strong growth for 2010. There’s much more than those headlines in the original article. I like good industry news, so enjoyed quoting Businessweek’s interview with Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, that, on Facebook, “some advertisers have increased spending by as much as 20-fold or more”. Pretty impressive numbers, huh?

It won’t come as a revelation to hear that much ad spend, for the sake of an easy link I’m guessing in Ireland and on Facebook  as everywhere else, is shifting to mobile.Commsdealer reported that ad agencies are increasingly going mobile with TV losing ground quickly and telecoms.com noted “that competition in the mobile advertising space is getting heated, with Amobee on Wednesday announcing a major European deal with publishing house Gruner and Jahr”. As an industry we have been saying for the last ten years that ‘this is the year of mobile advertising’ but we may be at a tipping point, partly thanks to the popularity of the iPhone. Friday saw the news that UK iPhone users would total 6.4m this year or, to see it another way, the number of iPhones in UK will grow 200% during 2010. One Friday tweet said that I thought Dave Morgan was bold to suggest that mobile’s personal nature, scale, ease of use and great person-to-person-to-place connectivity would lead to location based services devastating local media. I have a feeling his prediction that 25% of their revenue base will be lost by 2014 may not be far wrong. As another of my tweets said this week, “4Sq may (or may not) be a fad right now but localisation & geo-awareness isn’t”. Still, to add some balance The Wall Street Journal (very popular this week, I’ll admit), suggested that some advertisers were still a little skittish about using cellphones for advertising and so were turning more and more to “immersive—and possibly intrusive—mobile ads”.  More at Newest Cellphone Ads Crave Entire Screen.

Now, why not follow all this week’s industry news at @curns or even send me your ideas for digital advertising news.

Jack: Straight From The Gut

If you don’t like Jack Welch’s approach I believe there are interesting lessons about the capabilities of people and what they can bring to business for anybody regardless of the size of company or position you hold within it.

Jack Welch was Chairman and CEO of General Electric for twenty years and this is a book about his time from joining to leaving the company that became his life. Apparently Jack was seen as the ‘toughest boss in America’ and I suspect the book is trying to soften the historical edges a little. What comes across clearly is a commitment to a company and a desire to grow it. Many businesses could do better with a firmer management and a realistic look at the way things are done. Jack Welch doesn’t seem to be the kind of CEO to run scared of the change no matter how painful that be. Throughout the book he stresses the importance that good people be allowed to excel and that poor performers are probably better elsewhere. It seems a ruthless approach but it appears to have worked for GE and, I think Jack would argue, it worked better for the people involved. Don’t expect a management handbook as ‘Straight From The Gut’ is too human (and full of golf stories) to be seen as a Director’s guide but it is an extremely readable insight into big business. If you don’t like his approach I believe there are interesting lessons about the capabilities of people and what they can bring to business for anybody regardless of the size of company or position you hold within it.

Garden State

Certainly not the best film ever but it was a promising work for Braff and I’ll be looking our for more.

Film poster for Garden StateI had heard and read almost nothing about Garden State until I saw it tonight. It’s written and stars Zach Braff who is, apparently, a big hit in Scrubs (but I don’t watch it) and was in one of my favorite movies, The Broken Hearts Club (but I’d forgotten him).

The background to the plot is that Andrew Largeman (Braff) is a twenty-something actor from New Jersey who now lives in Los Angeles (which supposedly mirrors Braff’s own life). Largeman returns home for his mother’s funeral after not having been back for a decade. He has almost no relationship with his father, a bunch of slacker friends and a lot of history.

So. it’s another middle class slacker movie but it’s quite well done. It’s got elements of humour (both in dialogue and the visuals) and is well shot. Despite the slow pace of some of the film, I found myself remarkably engaged. Usually I that find films where nothing happens are hard work regardless of the abilities of the actors and directors. It simply wasn’t the case here: the opening scences of Largeman motionless in an all white bedroom listening to his father’s messgae grabbed me and I was hooked.

There are two aspects of this film that I think stand out. The first is the soundtrack. I feel a good soundtrack is usually unobtrusive and you tend not to notice it. This is one film where you have an exception to that rule. I noticed how great the soundtrack was but it didn’t take anything away from the experiennce. The imdb entry for ths film notes, “When Braff sent the script to people, he would also send them a copy of the songs which would eventually be the soundtrack (which he handpicked). That is why on the actual soundtrack album, all of the songs are in the order that they appear in the movie” [source].

The other aspect I really liked about this film is the way the depths of the Largeman character are only revealled gradually as we go through the film. Obviosuly, it’s a very common trick of any story but – sometimes – movies reveal too much too soon in a bid to hook the audience. In Garden State, that’s not the case and it works beautifully.

Certainly not the best film ever but it was a promising work for Braff and I’ll be looking our for more, particularly, if he continues blogging about his work.

More Producing

I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment.

Following up on my previous review of The Producers, I’ve had a little more time to think about it and earlier I posted this to Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK at Yahoo!

Having read the positive reader comments on the BBC’s story about The Producers I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment. I hadn’t read many reviews but I did know about the reception it had received in the US and the praise heaped on Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

I haven’t seen the film which, judging by the number of people sitting around me who had, means I was possibly one of only a small number of people in the audience who hadn’t. I wonder if that made a difference?

I saw it a week or so ago and it was good but not as good as all the raving would imply. While Nathan Lane’s talent, comic timing and performance cannot be faulted I did find weaknesses in the show. I thought some of the musical numbers in the middle were slow and the Ulla character was not engaging at all – in fact she was positively irritating. James Dreyfuss was camp (which, I guess, is the intention) but in that 1970s OTT cringe worthy way. Humour is, of course, personal and subjective, but I found it only amusing and not
laugh-out-loud funny as many of the reviews suggest.

Still, I would take issue with the review of Lee Evans’ performance which says ‘he just about holds his own’. I would argue that he did far more than that. He too was excellent, believable & humorous and while I’ve never been a big fan of his stage antics he worked well in the role. In fact, for me, he worked so well I can’t imagine Broderick in the role.

I will, however, recommend the show because it stands out from much of the rest of the West End right now – it is good. It’s has some wonderful comedy and delightful musical moments. But the sum of those individual moments does not, in my opinion, add up to a great whole. I
even bought the soundtrack in the hope that familiarity with the songs will make me warm to more of them.

Maybe it’s just me.

The Whispering Years

It’s not dull or bland in anyway but, perhaps because there’s a little of the 60s hippy left in Bob Harris, you feel the measured approach is entirely appropriate.

You really do get to appreciate ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris’ love of music through his autobiography, ‘The Whispering Years‘. You’ll read in the blurb that he’s been married three times; has had to re-start his career from scratch several times and almost lost his record collection to a fellow Radio 1 disc jockey. What you may not get from reviews is a feeling of the genuine passion he has for the music and how big a role some of the greatest musicians of the last thirty years have played in his life. You feel as uneasy as Bob appeared to over the fame that The Old Grey Whistle Test brought him and you will feel somewhat betrayed when Radio One remove him (I’d forgotten he was the voice launched round-the-clock Radio One in August 1990). Throughout his career he stuck to his passion – the music – and shunned the computer generated radio that dominates the airwaves today. His interview technique was considered ‘less than penetrating’ in the past but that gentle approach serves him well in book form. It’s not dull or bland in anyway but, perhaps because there’s a little of the 60s hippy left in Bob Harris, you feel the measured approach is entirely appropriate. If you love music (and not just progressive rock) or enjoy his radio programmes then The Whispering Years will be engaging, fascinating and inspiring.

The Producers

The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

I went to see a preview of the London version of The Producers today and was, like last night, a little taken by surprise. This time, however, it’s with disappointment and not pleasure. I’ve been talking to PY and trying to explain my disappointment but he doesn’t get it: he loved the show. I did not know the plot nor had I seen the film so I wasn’t let down by the story but I had read that Nathan Lane had taken Broadway by storm.

You can’t fault Nathan Lane: he’s superb and his comic timing is excellent. Lee Evans seems born for his role as the sidekick Leo Bloom and some of the songs are great. Others, however, seem weak and parts of the story are just not engaging. James Dreyfus camps it up John Inman style while Ulla, the Swedish blond bombshell, is so lost in the stereotype that any humour is lost.

Don’t get me wong, it is a good show. I can’t imagine Richard Dreyfuss in it and I imagine it will be hard to replace Nathan Lane in January. If you’re going to see it I would suggest trying to get tickets now because without Lane’s superb performance I am not sure where this show will go. The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

Sadly, The Producers disappointed.

UPDATE: Well, the reviews are out and I may be a lone voice expressing disappointment. I wrote an updated review for the Yahoo Group: Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK (which you can read here if you’re not a member of the group).

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum

You feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves.

a funny thing happened on the way to the forum
a funny thing happened on the way to the forum

I went to see A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum tonight and it took me a little by surprise. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I was thoroughly entertained. From the opening, A Comedy Tonight, you feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s a high camp farce set in Roman times featuring double entendres and mistaken identity by the bucket load (you almost expect a vicar to appear from a cupboard) but it’s joyful and not at all cringe-worthy as many farces are. Sondheim’s music isn’t the best you will ever hear (in fact, much of it isn’t memorable) but during the performance it’s entertaining. Such a shame it is coming to the end of it’s run. I discovered a US version of the soundtrack featuring Nathan Lane which ties in nicely with tomorrow – more then.

Lucky Man: A Memoir

An absorbing and very well-written book that proves that people in the public eye and just like the rest of us.

Michael J Fox
Michael J Fox

Lucky Man is not a typical Hollywood star autobiography. While it is peppered with references to the television shows and movies Michael J Fox has made it is – most definately – not a name-dropping ‘look at me’ celebrity obsessed biography. Yes, it’s an insight – although not too revealing – into the inner sanctum of Hollywood stars but it’s very much grounded in the real world. It deals with the highs and lows of a film career and the pleasures and pressures that brings. When reading the book you really do feel as if Michael J Fox has been able to take a step back and look upon his own career from outside. He’s able to analyse the fame, the money and identify both the good and the problematic that his career has brought him. However, from the beginning of the book, his upbringing and his rise to (and through) fame are placed in context by the Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis. That diagnosis has allowed Fox to asses what’s important to him and write a book that shows him as a genuine, warm and open individual. There’s no sentimentality about the book and he does detail how the disease effects him but, at no point, do you feel like an intruder into his private life. Despite the difficult nature of the Parkinson’s Disease descriptions, Lucky Man is an absorbing and very well-written book that proves that people in the public eye and just like the rest of us.