Amazon displays how NOT to promote a new service

This morning, Amazon.com emailed me (and I assume a gazillion other participants in its affiliate program) a promotion to check out its “Your Video Widget” service that includes a feature like the new “annotation tool” on YouTube. But with Amazon, the creator of the video can annotate the video with links to products on Amazon. If the viewer clicks through and purchases the item, the video creator will receive a commission. While I’ve never had much luck with affiliate revenues (on other sites, not here), it sounds like a great idea for review-intensive content sites.

But here’s the problem. When I clicked through to learn about the new service, the “demo” version of the new feature would not allow me to see the featured products. In other words, the feature being demo’d didn’t work on the demo. All I got was a video with a message that looked like this:

Not a good way to launch a feature, Amazon.

Help for media watcher school-marms: Entertainment is not journalism

ABOVE: This morning, the New York Times devoted an entire page to a news article suggesting the possibility of Estee Lauder’s influence on editorial decisions at Harper’s Bazaar Magazine. The news article was preceded by Estee Lauder interstitial “pre-roll” advertising and two Estee Lauder ads appear adjacent to the article.

Today the New York Times Style section includes an article (sheepish clarification: it showed up on my RSS feed of “magazine-related” news) that, in a tone of righteous indignation, reported that Harper’s Bazzar was devoting 40 pages of an issue to glamorous fashion photos modeled by four super-models/actresses who regularly appear in and on the cover of the magazine. Except this time, they will be identified as the “stars” of a new fragrance from Estee Lauder instead of, say, the stars of a re-make of Charlie’s Angels.

In the San Francisco Chronicle today, a story appears about the possibility of the FCC tightening the “product placement” rules related to, say, a Coca-cola cup appearing on the table in front of the judges of American Idol.*

As I’ve written before — many, many time — I’m a advocate for transparency in the relationships marketers have with media. I think marketers and media companies should disclose the relationships they have with one another and let the audience decide what is, and is not, ethical. Indeed, I think they should be proud of the relationships.

That said, I must ask: Among the readers of Harper’s Bazaar, are there any who really care where the ads stop and the edit begins? Have you flipped through the September issue of any of fashion magazine? I think most readers would be shocked to learn there is anything in them other than advertising. More than any genre of magazines, fashion magazine advertising is the reason they are purchased.

As for reality programs like American Idol, is the “franchise” of American Idol not a product, itself? Do viewers care that watching the whole show is like watching a commercial for the brand American Idol and all of the performers appearing are also brands?:

When Ryan Seacrest tells viewers they should go download recordings of the evening’s performances on iTunes, are viewers really duped into thinking that was an editorial decision on the part of Ryan rather than a business relationship between the Fox Network and Apple? Do viewers think the Ford music video advertisement is something the contestants do to relax during the week? Do viewers think Coca-Cola is what’s in that cup in front of Paula Abdul?

Are readers and viewers that stupid?

Okay, some are. So perhaps they need some type of explanation or disclaimer below that NYTimes.com advertisement for the product being written about in article next to it. Perhaps they need a big box that includes a warning that, “this article about Estee Lauder’s Senuous is sponsored by Estee Lauder’s Senuous.”

Bottomline: When you attempt to apply the same journalistic and ethical guidelines to entertainment (i.e., fashion magazines and “commercially-sponsored” network reality shows) that you do to news journalism (general or business), you start heading down a slippery slope to school marm silliness that soon makes serious ethical issues seem trite.

*I wrote about American Idol’s creative product placement practices earlier this year.

It’s 2008. Why hasn’t Internet advertising surpassed magazine advertising?

Four years ago, an article in the Wall Street Journal suggested Internet advertising would match magazine advertising by 2007 and blow past it in 2008. What happened?

The very short version: During 2007, almost $60 billion was spent on advertising that appeared in print while $11.31 billion was spent on advertising that appeared on the Internet.

The very long version: I don’t expect any readers of this weblog to remember a four-year-old rant I wrote (and here) about a Wall Street Journal article appearing in July, 2004. Screen grabbed on the left, the WSJ story carried the headline “Online Ad Dollars Set to Match, Then Go Ahead of Magazines (sub. required).” The article was based on a Jupiter Research report predicting that in 2007, Internet advertising spending would grow to $13.8 billion which, claimed the Wall Street Journal, “would match magazine advertising.”

My rant, which later became an article appearing in Folio: Magazine, was directed more at the Wall Street Journal reporter’s mis-interpretation of the research than it was at the Jupiter Research report. Their prediction was not really a comparison of Internet advertising to magazine advertising, merely their estimate of online advertising spending through 2007 and beyond. It was the Journal reporter who decided to mashup a comparison of future Internet advertising (based on Jupiter’s numbers) and its magazine number estimate.

However — and this was a major focus of my rant — the reporter (and Jupiter) failed to recognize that the Internet advertising prediction included all online advertising while the magazine advertising prediction excluded all business-to-business magazine advertising.

In my response to the article, I suggested that a better prediction of 2007 magazine ad spending would be the 2004 estimate by Veronis Suhler that $28.3 billion would be spent on magazine advertising (consumer and B-to-B) in 2007.

Fast-forward four years. Today, Advertising Age issued a report that included the actual ad spending (split by media) in 2007. As you can see in the Advertising Age pie chart below, $11.31 billion was spent on Internet advertising and $30.33 billion was spent on magazine advertising. Throw in the $28.22 billion spent on newspaper advertising and there was nearly $60 billion spent on print advertising last year.

Let’s break this down a bit. Let’s look at a comparison of the 2004 predictions vs. actual performance from Jupiter Research and Veronis Suhler regarding Internet and magazine advertising. As you can see on my comparison below, Jupiter over-shot their Internet advertising prediction while Veronis-Suhler undershot their magazine advertising prediction.

(Granted, Jupiter Research’s prediction during the most recent four-year span was dramatically better than their 1999-2003 prediction. In 1999, they predicted that online advertising in 2003 would total $11.5 billion compared to the $6.6 billion it actually hit.)

What does this mean? First, it means, (to quote a wonderful headline I saw this morning) “90% of all statistics can be made to say anything 50% of the time.” No doubt, the statistics in today’s report can be spun any way you want. I’ve spun them one way. Most bloggers would spin them in a way that suggests they are another nail in the coffin of the print medium. Frankly, the way headlines and intro paragraphs will be written can make most any statistics imply whatever you want — at least 50% of the time.

As for me, personally: I love Internet advertising. Without a doubt, it’s growing faster than any other form of advertising and I, personally, am benefiting from that. In 15 years, it has grown from zero to $11.3 billion, an amazing feat. However, my complaint is with the misuse of numbers by reporters and tech-oriented analysts — and, to be honest, just about everybody I know — to support a narrative that can be summed up in three words: Print is dead. As much as I love the Internet and all things digital, that narrative is probably not going to be true in the lifetime of anyone making that prediction.

Today’s narrative — as it was back in 2004 and 1999 and 1954 when TV was going to kill print and radio and movies — is that the Internet is going to bury all other forms of media one day. Today’s narrative is that Internet advertising is growing at a far larger percentage (which even a middle-schooler should understand is easier to do when you have a lower base on which to grow). Today’s narrative is that newspapers are going to be dead in, what, a year of so? Certainly, they won’t last for an entire decade, goes the narrative. According to Steve Ballmer, “…there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.” (He later said he could be off on the number of years, claiming, “…If it’s 14 or if it’s 8, it’s immaterial to my fundamental point . . . “

Of course, he also said the iPhone would flop.

Personally, I am doubtful about the longterm viability of the kind of print product the national chains of newspapers produce. Outside the sports section, I find little of value or interest to me in my hometown daily churned out by one of those national chains. And as I’ve said many times on this blog, I think many business-to-business print publications that focus merely on the transactions of their industries will be replaced by online properties that can provide a better, more timely flow of such information.

So, yes, I do think print will constrict while the Internet grows — over time. But die? Not likely.