Thursday, September 10, 2015

The 20th Birthday of the Ad Server!


My post on the Ad Server's 20th birthday was published in AdExchanger today. The focus was on the waves of change that have hit the digital advertising world since those early days. Believe it or not, it all began with a condom ad!
The first ad server is actually preserved in a shadow box in my home office (pic above). And there are a bunch of great sources available online to learn about that era:
  •  If you are interested in audio, there's an oral history of the early days of digital advertising and the first ad server put together by the Internet History Podcast when they did a live interview with me in 2014. Brian Mccullough did an excellent job with the interview, as he does with some many of his oral histories.
  • If you are interested in short, but more focused piece on the history of how the first ad server was developed, I wrote a blog post on the topic in 2009.
  • And, of course, Wikipedia has an article on the ad server that is pretty accurate.
Do you have recollections of those early days? How do you think digital advertising has changed since then? Leave me a comment to let me know.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Meet the Depressed?

As a long time viewer of Meet The Press, I've been watching closely the changes in the show since Chuck Todd took over in September. I'm not sure if the ratings have improved (the show had slid from 1st to 3rd under the previous host, David Gregory), but the show certainly has picked up its heart rate. Chuck's warmer personality and bubbling enthusiasm for politics are the biggest differences, but I also like the handheld camera, the quicker segments and the nerdscreen.

There is still work to be done, however. Somehow, there are still panel discussions that fall flat, as with a recent episode on comedy in politics. Even with Louis Black and other funny panelists, the topic came off as dry.
Subtly, but importantly, Chuck actually articulates the program's slogan at the close ("If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press") so viewers can hear it. I liked David Gregory, but honestly, he used to mumble the close EVERY TIME. By the time he got to "...Meet the Press" he was literally whispering. Chuck Todd also uses a variant on this phrase in the show open, which works well in bringing immediacy.
The show is better, and viewers will figure this out. My bet is that Meet The Press will claw back viewers quite successfully, only constrained by the weaknesses in NBC's lead in.
If you are interested in the inside baseball of the transition from David Gregory to Chuck Todd, btw, I recently read a great article on it:
http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/people/how-david-gregory-lost-his-job/

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Eye Tracking is Eye Popping

Infolinks just released a new eye tracking study to identify solutions to the challenges presented by banner blindness and declining engagement with digital ads. For those not familiar with the problem, online display ads have seen consistent and rapid declines in engagement since they were introduced back in the mid-90s. Click through rates, a common measure of engagement, have fallen from 2% on average in 1996 to .1% in 2012. Simply stunning! But the study takeaways provide some solutions:

1. Ads need to be placed in non-traditional locations on the page to break the cycle of banner blindness. The average US online user sees 50 ads a day, and most are irrelevant. So the industry has trained people 50 times a day to learn where the ads are traditionally placed and ignore them. A non-traditional location forces the user to take a look, rather than dismiss the ad without even looking at it. This opens the door to engagement.

2. Ads should be targeted to real-time intent, not previous interests. Real-time intent means showing advertising that is related to what people are doing at that moment, not what they showed interested in days or weeks before. If you are reading an article about maintaining balance in your investment portfolio, for example, an ad for Scottrade would be relevant to someone's real-time intent. If that person happened to visit Sprint's web site a week earlier, showing that person a Sprint ad on the investment site would be targeting previous intent. Perhaps the user would still be interested in Sprint's services, perhaps not, but the user is currently on a task related to their investments. Scottrade will have a much easier time engaging the user than Sprint. Real-time targeting also has the virtue of avoiding the need to build user profiles with big data and all the attendant privacy concerns.

Example of an eyetracking study heatmap
These insights were generated through the use of eye tracking technology, in partnership with a company called the EyeTrackShop. If you haven't seen it work before, you should. It's pretty cool. Eye tracking utilizes webcams to track the exact position of the eyes and where on a page they are focused. This resembles a lab environment more than a broad survey of users, but you get enough participants so you have statistically significant data. We asked each participant to review several web pages and recorded their eye movements. From this we were able to generate heatmaps showing where the eyes spent their time, as well as vital metrics for each region of the page studied. These metrics include: % seen, time to (how long it took for the participants to see the particular region of the page), and time on (how long the participant's eyes were focused on a particular region of the page).

The insights from the study should be used by publishers to improve the design of their sites and advertisers to select the best locations and targeting techniques for their ads, all in order to increase user engagement.

The release of the study generated some terrific industry press coverage. Here's a sampling:

Adotas: Display Ad Pioneer Looks to Resuscitate the Model He Helped Create
Pando Daily: Why Should You Click on This?
MediaPost: Search Ad Blindness Resembles Banner Blindness

Friday, July 26, 2013

Downtown Palo Alto Restaurant Grand Slam

Most recent update: April 25, 2014...

It's taken 20 years, but I did it. I finally completed the Downtown Palo Alto Restaurant Grand Slam! Ok, I just invented this distinction, but I might be the only person to have ever achieved it. To earn the DPARGS, you need to have eaten at every restaurant in the downtown Palo Alto area. I started getting serious about this quest in 2012, after many years of casually eating at places in downtown PA since I moved to the Bay Area in mid-90s. Last year, I joined a company based in the neighborhood, and since then I've been focused on the DPARGS.

As of right now, there are 89 restaurants in the area. How do I know this? I did a Yelp search for restaurants, and controlled their map function to zero in on only restaurants in the vicinity of University Ave between El Camino and Middlefield Rd. After visiting each one, I was able to eliminate places that had gone out of business and identify new ones that had recently sprung up. The 89 restaurants include the cafeteria in the basement of City Hall, the small food counter at the 3rd Door fitness center, and the Whole Foods Market, which has a variety of options and lots of indoor and outdoor seating. If an establishment serves a full meal, I'm counting it. What's not included? 7-Eleven, Starbucks and a few dessert places that don't serve "full meals" (I know, you 7-Eleven die hards will disagree. Well then call it 90 restaurants. Just don't make me eat there!).

When I tell people I completed this quest, the most common question I get is, "What's the best restaurant?" I usually don't like to answer this question because the true answer is, "It really depends." Do you want the finest dining experience, regardless of price? Do you want the best value for the money? Do you want the place I've eaten at the most because it has the most variety, or is the least expensive for daily consumption or the most healthy? There are lots of factors.

But given that I'm probably uniquely qualified to answer many of these questions, I'm going to share some recommendations. Ready? Let's go!
  • Finest dining experience: Evvia. This is actually a pretty easy call. The food is amazing and the service is easily the best available in the area. If I had one meal left to eat in downtown PA, I'd eat it here. Yelp agrees with me, ranking it #1. Tamarine is a strong runner up in this category.
  • Best Salad / Least Expensive / Healthiest: Whole Foods Market. This is the smallest Whole Foods I've seen, but they have excellent salad and hot food bars. For $9, I can get a small carton of hot food and a small salad, picking the exact ingredients and amounts. Organic produce and lots of healthy food options. They also a great deal of covered, outdoor seating. This combination is hard to beat, which is why it gets three awards. Honorable mention to Sprout, but being able to pick your own salad ingredients, combined with outdoor seating gives Whole Foods the decided edge.
  • Price per pound: Where do you go for lunch when you skipped breakfast and are ready to enhale a groaning platter? I'll give you three options. Cheesecake Factory (do I need to explain this one?), Crepevine (next to Cheesecake Factory, with similarly sized portions of savory crepes, sandwiches and salads) and Darbar (Indian buffet).


  • Best tacos: A controversial category to be sure. I have to give this to Tacolicious. While Sancho's has a better fish taco, Tacolicious has the best carnitas and braised beef tacos around. The fish taco there is also good. And they have a wide variety of rotating taco options to choose from, along with an impressive tequila menu.
  • Best Italian: This is a close call. I'd go with Osteria, and give Il Fornaio an honorable mention. Both have been around for a long time and both are quality dining experiences. Osteria has a neighborhood bistro feel, while Il Fornaio is more of a corporate hangout. Pizzeria Delfina is a newcomer, but only a limited menu beyond pizza keeps it from taking this award.
  • Best Sushi: None. The options are pathetic in downtown PA, especially when you consider that you could head 2 miles south to Jin Sho, a very reasonably priced Mecca for sushi fans in Palo Alto.
  • Best Pizza: Pizzeria Delfina, which opened in April 2014. It is easily my favorite pizza in the Bay Area. The crust has an epic chew and the flavors are original and memorable. The pastas and veggies are amazing as well. Finally, what makes this place a top choice in any category is the outdoor seating. It is the best outdoor dining experience in downtown Palo Alto.
  • Best Happy Hour: The Patio. Honestly, there is nothing special about this place other than the fact that they have a beer garden in the back. But sitting outside with co-workers or friends in late afternoon Palo Alto weather gets my vote over more elaborate food and drink options elsewhere.
  • Best Burger: Umami Burger. The Truffle burger is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The Ahi Tuna burger is amazing as well. I haven't tried a burger anywhere else in the neighborhood even close.
  • Best Breakfast: Il Fornaio wins hands down. Great breakfast, great freshly baked breads. Just don't forget to try their freshly squeezed green apple juice! 
  • Best Breakfast Sandwich: Peninsula Creamery Dairy Store (this is the store at the obscure location at 900 High St @ Channing, not the better known sister restaurant at Emerson and Hamilton). I know -- should this even be a category? Well, it is with me. There are few things more satisfying than a great breakfast sandwich. This place uses thick, crispy bacon, fried eggs and cheese. I ordered it on an English muffin and it was bliss.
  • Best Desserts: This is another controversial category, with everyone having a personal favorite. Downtown PA has many options, but if you are limiting them to restaurants (eliminating Fraiche, Prolific Oven, Monique's Chocolates, Cream, that French Macaroon shop, and all the other ice cream and yogurt options) then I'd have to give it to Paris Baguette. They offer a wide variety of treats, all served up cafeteria style so you can see the options for yourself. Honorable mention must go to Cheesecake Factory, of course.
  • My Favorite: This is the most common question I get, so I'm going to answer it. But it is extremely subjective. My approach is to combine two criteria: overall dining experience with value for the money. This makes the question a little less subjective. The clear answer is: Oren's Hummus! For a full service restaurant, it's the best value in Palo Alto. For less than $20, you can get a delicious, highly authentic Israeli meal. It is the only place in the Bay Area to get excellent Israeli food on par with what you would experience in Tel Aviv. And it will change your understanding of good hummus. Full disclosure: the founder of the restaurant is Chairman of the company I run, but I'm not alone in this assessment. Yelp has Oren's ranked #2 behind Evvia, which is easily 2X the price for lunch and 4X the price for dinner. If you haven't tried Oren's, give it a whirl. I'll even give you an order for two: one Hummus Mushroom, a side of falafel, chicken skewers and an Israeli salad. Yum!
  • Runner up: Pizzeria Delfina. As noted above, it offers great food and outdoor seating.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tesla Model S!

Back in January, my number came up and I finally got a Tesla Model S! I put a deposit down in early 2011, and I'm so glad I did. I've now driven the car 2,000 miles, long enough to give a review with some perspective. The car delivers a combination of capabilities that simply don't exist with any other automobile. It also provides a magical riding experience and the sheer joy of being in gadget Heaven. I honestly don't understand why anyone who is in a two-car family and willing to spend $60,000-100,000 on a car would buy anything but a Model S (ok -- that's still a niche, but many car companies target the luxury market, and Tesla's strategy has been to start at the high end and build less expensive models over time). My suspicion is that the wait to get a Model S will quickly become the main barrier to their growth, not market size.

Here is what I am loving about the car so far:
  • Lightening fast. From the instant you step on the accelerator, zoom. No gear shifting, no hesitation, incredible torque. And the handling is ridiculous, as the batteries are spread throughout the bottom of the car, keeping it super stable. I'm not race car driver, but the feel of this car on the road is incredible.
  • Whisper quiet ride. Remember, no engine, just an electric motor. What a feeling to experience rapid acceleration and no noise. It's exhilarating.
  • Two trunks. What? Two trucks, really? Yes. The hatch in back and the "frunk" in front. There's no engine, so the front of the car is available for storage. The electric motor is tucked in between the second row of seats and the hatch. And the second row folds down if you need SUV-like cargo room.
  • 7 seats in a sedan! The hatchback trunk has an optional third row facing the rear that folds down if you don't want to use it. It fits kids up to around 4' 10' or so, and my kids love sitting back there. It's an amazing feature for a luxury sedan.
  • Gadget Heaven. The first thing you notice inside is the iPad-like automobile interface. A massive touch screen panel that is the size of a large computer monitor in portrait mode. The experience of this interface gives you the same feeling you had when you first started using an iPhone -- "this is the future" and "why on earth would I ever go back?" The features are too numerous to mention, but it is not exaggerating to say that it inspires delight. The latest source of delight? Tesla just launched their smartphone app, which syncs with your car. Regardless of whether the car is on or off, you can see the temperature inside the car and change the climate, open/close the vent on the sunroof, and never lose your car again. You can beep the horn, flash the lights, and even locate your car on a map. Amazing!
  • Range. This is the source of the most questions and controversy. I have the medium-sized battery, reported to get 200 miles. With daily, overnight charging from a 240v plug in my garage (same plug you use for a laundry machine), I top it off to about 185 miles each day. Careful driving could get significantly more range, but 185 miles is pretty close to the real world experience I've had so far.
  • No gas. Many will feel that the inability to stop at a gas station in a pinch is their main worry, but after experiencing the car for a couple of months, I think people have got it wrong. In two months and 2000 miles, I've never stopped at a gas station. That's a benefit! And with the electric car rate plan from PG&E, the cost to power my car is something like $9 per month. In spite of the availability of charging stations all across California, this wouldn't be the car I would take on a road trip, but last week I drove from Saratoga to Los Gatos to Palo Alto to San Francisco and back to Saratoga in one day, and still had enough in the batteries to drive another 50-70 miles. This is more than enough range for all use cases other than a road trip or running a taxi service.
What are the problems? I've only got minor complaints, and they are worth mentioning for perspective:
  • Door handles get hot: When parking in direct sunlight, the handles of the doors get very hot. In the Summer, I'm going to be looking for a parking spot in the shade, or at least one where sun shines on the right side of the car.
  • OS is still a work in progress. Yes, the car has an operating system! The OS in the car is amazing, but it is not perfect. I've downloaded two OS upgrades so far (I'm now on v4.3, I think), and had one screen crash. It was handled simply by rebooting the system (you hold down two scroll wheels at the same time for a few seconds -- Tesla's version of CTRL-ALT-DEL). No bugs that interfered with driving, but little UI things have been quirky. A progress bar that tells you how far through a song you are disappeared for a couple of weeks.
Mark Rogowsky, a friend and Forbes contributor, wrote a series on how the Model S's one missing feature, access to gas stations, might actually be much less important to most luxury car drivers over time than its ability to offer an amazing driving experience, cargo room and ability to seat seven. His point: maybe your gas car is the niche automobile, not an electric car with 200+ mile range. People just don't perceive it this way yet. Something like the iPhone circa 2006...

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Making of a Video


I attended Ad:tech NY this week.  As part of the re-launch of Infolinks, our company sponsored a session in which I presented, we arranged for a meeting room (which got a ton of use by the five folks from Infolinks who attended the show), and we had a full page ad in the conference handbook.  But the most challenging thing I did was participate in a web video interview.

Video set up before they started filming
I was interviewed by AllVoices at the conference, and the process they used was interesting.  AllVoices does video interviews with experts in their field.  They have freelancers who conduct the interviews and capture the video.  In the video, a question is shown as white text on a black background and then the interviewee is filmed answering the question.  This allows almost anyone who knows how to capture quality videos to do the job.  Luckily, the free lancer working on this video was very prepared with smart questions.  The biggest challenge for me was to explain Infolinks and banner blindness in a way that would translate to the audience for AllVoices, since it is broader than the online advertising industry.  Let me know how well I succeeded (or failed).  It's already received 10K views, so hopefully it worked!  Here's the finished product -- all four minutes of it:


Monday, October 15, 2012

Infolinks Launches


Today is a big day for Infolinks.  We are announcing In3, our new platform, three new ad units, a new logo and a new web site!  Our aim is to address some of the biggest challenges in display advertising: banner blindness and declining engagement rates.  Unfortunately, these are self-inflicted wounds.  Our industry has become so effective at creating and monetizing ad space. We have scaled to the point where users have gotten used to seeing irrelevant ads by the truckload.  Thousands of times a month, users see ads that don't speak to what they are doing at that moment, and each ad reinforces a tragic message: ignore me.  As a result, users now don't even see the ads.  Their eyes wander down a page and instinctively ignore the traditional places where ads appear.  That's why click through rates have plummeted over the past 12 years from 2% to .1%.

Well, we're going to change that.  In3 analyzes one trillion words per month in real time, across 100,000 active sites in 128 countries.  We determine intent at a keyword level, and then render ads in non-traditional locations on the page in order to increase relevance and decrease banner blindness.  

Here are some links to learn more. Our new site is at Infolinks.com, of course, so check it out.  You can also read our press release.  I wrote two blog posts: one on banner blindness for iMedia Connection and one on saving the ad supported Web at MediaPost.  Additionally, AdExchanger published a very long Q&A with me.  Here's more coverage of our announcement from WebSite Magazine, Biz Report and Advertisement Journal.  Laurie Sullivan from MediaPost also mentioned Infolinks in the top news article in Online Media Daily, which was centered around the new Facebook Exchange.

Since the initial launch, we've been speaking at conferences across the country.  Digiday published a link to a tech talk I gave at their Publishing Summit in Palm Beach on Oct 22.  Topic: A Cure for What Ails Display.  If you are in the industry and want to hear a 5 min summary of the biggest challenge facing online display advertising, give it a click.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Patently Ridiculous!

I'm a proud papa and need to share that the United States Patent and Trademark Office just issued Patent # 8,234,166.  Thanks go to Bob Filice, my co-inventor, who in point of fact did most of the work to file this patent, and to Yahoo!, for believing in this enough to invest the legal cycles necessary to get this across the finish line.  For their efforts, they now own the patent for "Automated user segment selection for delivery of online advertisements"!

You don't need to know what that means, unless you are involved in buying digital advertising based on the predicted value of the user seeing the ad.  If you are, beware.  Yahoo! has not historically been aggressive at defending their patent portfolio, but competitors stepping on their IP should read carefully!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Tesla Model S: Dreamy in many dimensions

Thanks to a friend, I got a chance to ride in the third Telsa Model S to roll off the production line last month.  It happened to be in the Signature Red, which is only available to the first 1,000 cars sold.  It was a stunning beauty, but more than that, it was a heart-stopping machine that raises the bar for sedans worldwide.


Telsa Model S in Signature Red, as seen in downtown Palo Alto.

I'm not exaggerating.  The acceleration alone is worth the price of admission, but the simple utility of this amazing car staggers the mind.  You can fit five adults and two kids comfortably, in a sedan.  No joke.  In addition to a full-sized trunk, there is a bonus trunk in the front of the car (the "frunk").  The 17" touchscreen dashboard does for a car what the the iPhone did for phones.  No matter how fast you accelerate, and you can seemingly accelerate faster than any production car on the planet, the cabin remains blissfully quiet.  And you never need to go to the gas station again, ever.

I don't mind saying that I'm on the list to get one of these, and am anxiously awaiting my delivery date later this year.  It could be the car that changes the automobile business forever.  And I forgot to mention that it is built right here in the Bay Area.  Wow.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Online ad targeting run aground

The targeting of online ads is alternatively accused of being so exact that people fear for their privacy and so untargeted that people claim to ignore ads completely due to irrelevance.  As with most things, the truth is in the grey middle.  Online ad companies make huge efforts to increase the relevance of ads, but most of the ads served to people fall short simply because of frequency.  Internet users see over 2000 ads per month!

Once in a while, however, the veil is pierced and users can not only see the targeting working, but see it not working.  Today, it was not working to hysterical effect.  Below is a story on Yahoo! about the cruise ship that ran aground.  It was a spectacular sight and had life and death ramifications.  You can't help think of the Titanic when reading this story.  Yet, as you scroll down, on the right rail there sits a 300 pixel wide, 250 pixel high advertisement for Holland America cruises.  I'd bet my next balcony suite that the Holland America campaign was targeting content related to cruises!  As Homer would say, "Doh!"  This is a clear failure of the advertiser, their agency and the targeting companies involved to avoid content with the words "sink", "capsize" or "aground".  But it's great material for Jay Leno...


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Just Don't Tell Me It's Completely New

John Ebbert asked me to contribute to a feature in AdExchanger about 2012 predictions for online advertising.  My post takes a somewhat skeptical eye to these annual predictions pieces by challenging the premise.  It was fun to write and I hope you enjoy it.
--

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Meeting Gil Amelio, the Apple CEO before Steve Jobs Returned

I saw a very funny article about what Steve Jobs thought of Gil Amelio, who was CEO at Apple when Jobs returned.  The article quotes from the upcoming biography written by Walter Isaacson. Jobs had an extremely low opinion of Amelio and there was a funny exchange between Larry Ellison and Jobs about Amelio in the book.

I had a brief encounter with Gil Amelio while working for the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1995.  Amelio came to speak to a small gathering, and while he spoke, he sweated through his shirt, and repeatedly scratched his chest, almost as if he had a nervous tick.  It was difficult to watch, and gave off the impression that he simply didn't have the command you'd expect from someone in the role he had.

Being the eternal optimistic, I stored this memory away in the "if he can be CEO, then there's hope for me" file.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

My Encounter with Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs' passing reminds me of an encounter I had with the man back in business school circa 1994. I was a member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business High Tech Club, and Steve Jurvetson was President of the club.  He had Jobs come to his house in Los Altos Hills to give a talk to students.  I covered the talk for the Reporter, the GSB's student newspaper.  Jobs had not yet rejoined Apple at this point, and Jurvey brought in a contemporary Mac keyboard for Jobs to autograph with a Sharpie.  Jobs looked at the keyboard with disdain, as it had a whole row of function keys, much like a PC keyboard.  Without hesitating, Jobs said to Jurvey, "Do you use these keys? Really, do they serve any purpose at all?" Jobs didn't wait for an answer.  He said to Jurvey, "I'll sign this keyboard if I can have these keys." We were all stunned, unsure what he really meant.  Jobs proceeded to take out his car keys and began popping out the function keys one at a time.  While doing so, he said to anyone that was listening, "Changing the world, one keyboard at a time."

This story is true, word for word.  It is indelible my brain.  That man was an original and a visionary. And he never stopped believing in his vision.

Update: Don't believe the story?  Here's Steve Jurvetson's version with a picture of the keyboard, posted seven years ago!  He also posts a link to a book that recounts the same story.  Just go to this link and search for "Jurvetson" to find it.

Another update: Steve Jurvetson just had an article printed in BusinessWeek regarding his experiences with Steve Jobs, including this anecdote.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Joining Inadco

Today, Inadco announced that I joined the company as Chief Operating Officer. I couldn't be more excited and energized by the opportunity. The company is building a platform to enable Cost-Per-Lead advertising on Display inventory. It has the potential for changing the Display advertising world at the same time that it transforms the traditional lead generation business and delivers a much better experience for consumers. What a trifecta!

Here is the press release. TechCrunch wrote a very good piece on Inadco, only miscategorizing us as a network along the lines of an "AdSense for Leads". We're a platform company, so we see the world a bit differently. AdExchanger also just pushed a pretty comprehensive interview.

One of the things I love about Inadco's business prospects is the depth of innovation this market opportunity affords. Once you start digging into what it really takes to merge CPL and Display, and I have already done a lot of this digging, you realize that there is a vast, untapped landscape upon which to stake a claim. There are so many things that CPL on Display can do that have never been done before, and Inadco is the only company focused on doing those things. When there's lots of room to innovate through technology, it is a great sign for the value of the business opportunity.

We're already off to a great start, driving leads for advertisers in 15 different categories or verticals, including many finance, home improvement and legal services categories, in addition to group buying, online education and many others. How many companies that claim they do CPL can support 15 different categories? Answer: none. And we're heading for literally hundreds of categories.

The company is backed by Chris Moore from Redpoint, who may be the most knowledgeable VC when it comes to ad technologies, having been the original VC in RightMedia, and currently on the boards of companies like Efficient Frontier and BlueKai. Angels in the deal include Mike Walrath, the founder of RightMedia, and Matt Coffin, founder of Lower My Bills. Talk about innovators in Display and Lead Gen! The board includes Chris, Mike, James Walker (Founder and CEO) and myself, which couldn't be a smarter, more insightful and effective board for Inadco.

Thanks to everyone for their best wishes and notes of support! We'll make you proud!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why Can't Search and Display Get in Tune?

I presented on this topic at the Search Insider Summit on Friday. I also blogged a short summary of my remarks on Mediapost the same day. There was some good press coverage, and also a couple of third party blog reviews on Mediapost written here and here. Additionally, there was a lot of positive feedback on Twitter (not sure for how long this link will yield relevant results), but one of the funniest tweets was from Chris Copeland:

Breaking: Yahoo keynote fails to drop F bomb, Bartz outraged

I'm so disappointed that I didn't live up to the high bar that Carol has set... :-)

Update: Streaming video of the presentation is available here!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Do-Not-Do Do-Not-Track

Do-Not-Track sounds great, doesn't it? Just like Do-Not-Call, imagine a world where marketers and tech companies can't track your activities online, where you can remain truly anonymous and do as you please with no prying eyes. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, this view is uninformed, confused and short-sighted:

It's uninformed, because the vast majority of the tracking that happens online is, for all practical purposes, anonymous. It is based on cookies, which are temporary text files that identify a specific browser program, not a person. Cookie-based tracking of users is FAR more anonymous then the tracking people put up with every day when they swipe a credit card and that purchase is permanently and inexorably linked to their name and postal address.

It's confused because the need for Do-Not-Call is based on the desire to avoid interruptions in the home by marketing calls. Joining a Do-Not-Call list removes these interruptions. The effect of Do-Not-Track will NOT be to stop online advertising. It will stop RELEVANT advertising.

Most importantly, it's short sighted because the reduction in advertising relevance will lead DIRECTLY to series of negative consequences for consumers:

==> It will kill off a class of companies whose sole purpose is to make advertising more relevant to consumers by offering better targeting (do we care about the innovation economy?).

==> It will lead DIRECTLY to lower ad spend by advertisers, who see online become a less effective channel to reach consumers. I've worked in online advertising for most of the last 15 years and I say with certainty that online ad spend is tied directly to performance. Reduce performance, and you will reduce spend.

==> Sadly, and ironically, it will result in MORE advertising online, not less. Publishers will be forced to introduce more advertising on their pages and applications to make up for the diminished performance of the existing ad inventory. This is akin to joining a Do-Not-Call list and having the marketing calls you get actually go UP!

==> It will result in LESS free content, not more. Those publishers that exist on the margins of profitability will see their revenues diminished as advertisers pull back. How in the world is this good for consumers?

==> Advertisers will slow their migration of ad spend to online channels, instead relying on more traditional media options, enhancing the support system for print (read: killing more trees), or for direct mail (read: killing trees AND using an advertising medium that really does track you right into your home). Talk about the law of unintended consequences!

So what do we do about all the worries around online tracking? First, government should feel to legislate away truly bad behavior, like spyware, malware, anything preying on children, etc, etc.

Second, there is a really simple solution for tracking that supports mainstream online advertising, but one that lacks the false veneer and high gloss that politicians typically look for: require universal adoption of industry self-regulation. What's wrong with requiring any company that does tracking of consumers online to join an industry self-regulatory body like the NAI? The NAI offers a simple opt-out mechanism for all its members, but doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. And well over 95% of all ads served in the US are already delivered by companies who are members of NAI. All the big boys are there -- Google, Yahoo, Fox, AOL. The only problem has been that lots of smaller players haven't joined yet. If the government requires tracking companies to join a self-regulatory regime of this type or else face onerous government regulation, you'd have the universal adoption sought by privacy advocates.

I may be Don Quixote in this particular story, but I'd like to believe that our government can understand the issues well enough to avoid all the unintended consequences.

Update: A USA Today editorial agrees with me.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Yahoo! Network Plus Achieves Triple Crown

Today, Yahoo! announced a new name for the display ad network: Yahoo! Network Plus, or Net+. We did the rebranding to highlight the achievements of the network. Most stunningly, in the three years since BlueLithium and Right Media were acquired by Yahoo!, the network has completed the Triple Crown of display ad networks. Net+ is now the U.S. leader in reach, impressions served and media spend. These are the most meaningful measures for ad networks, and Net+ is the leader in all of them! You can read more on the Yahoo! advertising blog.

One of the things I love about this accomplishment is that it was done with a true team effort. You can't be the market leader in all these measures without fantastic performance by sales, marketing, optimization, targeting, and platform products, all working together. Every one of these things need to come together to out-execute every other network in the market. Honestly, I couldn't be more proud, especially since when I joined BlueLithium, we were a mere mouse dancing with elephants. Now we're a race horse, and we just won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont!

The coverage of the announcement is also already showing pick up against our key messages. Read my interview with John Ebbert from AdExchanger for more detail.


Sunday, August 01, 2010

What’s Wordnik Worth?

Words. In an era of real time social engagement and streaming video, the notion that words form the fundamental building blocks for the Internet seems quaint. But it’s never been truer. Never before have words been used in such volumes to create, connect and counsel. For many lifetime students of advertising, it’s still shocking that in a world of sight, sound and motion, words alone are also the basis for the fastest growing and most profitable advertising medium yet devised, search marketing.

One company trying to become the earth’s data store for words is Wordnik. They claim supremacy over Dictionary.com, Webster and the like with what appear to be more comprehensive descriptions.

I tried Wordnik last week while preparing for a panel presentation alongside Josh Jacobs, SVP at Glam Media, at the RightMedia Open last week. I got curious about what “Glam” really meant. I knew it had something to do with a fashion movement from the 70s, but nothing more. So I turned to Wordnik, which not only gave me several definitions, it also supplied me with the raw material for a serious slam down if Josh had gotten cantankerous on the panel.

My slam would have been along these lines (with tongue firmly planted in cheek):

“I’ve always wondered what ‘Glam’ meant and how they came to pick that name. So I looked up the definition on Wordnik. It turns out there were few:

1. Loud talking; a noise; a cry; a shout; a call.

2. The clump or otter-shell, Lutraria elliptica, a bivalve mollusk.

3. A clamp used in the old method of castrating horses.

“I was wondering which one most closely fit when I found another definition on Urban Dictionary:

· A movement that which erupted in the 1970s promoting vanity, copiousness, surreality, narcissism, campness and hauteur.

“And I knew I wouldn’t find a more apt description for the people of Glam…”

I didn’t get to use the slam, but hopefully a future co-panelist of Josh’s will read this and find an opportunity to leverage it!

It turns out that I’ve always been interested in words. Words were at the heart of my work as founder and Editor of Politica, a monthly political journal at Tufts, as Co-Editor of The Reporter, the student newspaper of record for Stanford Business School (at The Reporter, we also published the first web site for a b-school newspaper, btw), and as VP Marketing & Product Management for Banter, an NLP company. I’ve just never thought of words as the currency by which these entities conducted business. Until I ran across Wordnik, that is.

My inner venture capitalist wonders whether Wordnik can find a business model for words as compelling as the role it could play in human discourse. In a consumer context, will Wordnik become the Google for search, improving the search experience just enough to create a franchise of historic value, or the equivalent of the britannica.com for research, a pinnacle of edited content covering what was once considered a wide variety of subjects, only to be displaced in importance by Wikipedia because consumers valued breadth and volunteerism over a perceived gap in professionalism? I can’t wait to find out.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Who's the #1 ad network?

For the last six years, comScore has been producing their ad network report, and the #1 player in reach has been Ad.com/Platform-A/AOL. Month in, month out, regardless of season or change in business fortune, they have been atop the rankings. And for nearly all of those six years, I’ve been working for an ad network and looking up at Ad.com in the reach rankings, scheming up ways to catch them. First at BlueLithium, and now Yahoo!

Lo and behold, look what happened in comScore's May 2010 report, which just came out yesterday? The Y! Network is number 1! This is an incredibly rewarding result, especially because it "took a village" to get there. The network reach can be influenced on the margins by smart media acquisition to increase overall network reach, but reach is overwhelmingly influenced by network size. Adding demand leads to adding supply, which leads to greater reach. It's a simple equation, but it takes an army of people working on product, marketing, sales, account management, optimization, analysis, targeting, data utilization, etc, etc to grow a network. This is especially true when you are trying to become the #1 ad network in the land. So it is very gratifying to see a team execute in an effective cross-functional way well enough to achieve this milestone.

There are also so many people I've worked with along the way who moved on from BlueLithium and Yahoo, for whom this is still a big deal. I've definitely got those people in my thoughts, and hope they take a little pride in the accomplishment as well.

I'm not myopic enough to believe that getting to the Summit is the same as staying there. I'm sure there will be a competitive response from Ad.com, once they pick themselves off the canvas, and the rankings have a lot of movement each month. The reality is, however, that all the movement and competitive pressure had never knocked Ad.com from that perch, until now!

"The King is Dead. Long Live the King!"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Patent trolls

Boy, do I hate patent trolls. These are companies that produce nothing, but make money by suing companies that do produce things, over patent rights that probably should never have been issued in the first place. To be clear, there's nothing wrong with filing for or holding patents. In this litigious landscape, the best defense is to sit on a large and deep patent portfolio. But mutual assured destruction doesn't work if the litigious patent holder has nothing to be destroyed.

This week I got a call from an attorney who represents a patent troll that is suing Google over some ridiculous patent based on click tracking. Apparently Google is claiming Focalink, a company I co-founded, as prior art. Now I'm no fan of Google's market dominance in search, and in my current role wouldn't mind seeing them face a patent challenge from an upstart in the industry, but patent trolls occupy a much lower ring of distain than budding monopolists. I probably was a little rude in explaining to this attorney that I wouldn't answer his questions or help his client, but I did offer up my opinion that his client's patent was absurd and would be invalidated so they ought to drop the suit or settle. Something tells me they won't heed my advice.

Friday, April 30, 2010

"How do you like your iPad?"

If I had a dime for every time someone asked me that in the past few weeks, I could buy another iPad!

In the month or so since I got the machine, my most visceral observation is that it has one capability that was not listed in Steve Jobs' launch presentation or any of the marketing materials or advertising. It is the ability for people who see someone with an iPad to ignore all social norms and interrupt the user with the same freaking question, "How do you like your iPad?" or the corollary, "Do you love your iPad?", or the metro version of same, "Love it or hate it?"

Let's get something straight. It's an awesome machine. But I don't know you, I'm busy, and buying this machine did not come with an "interrupt me when I'm busy" sign attached to it.

Now that I've gotten this rant out of the way, let's get down to the particulars. The iPad is revolutionary device for two key reasons:

1. Emotional connection. It provides a much more intimate and emotional connection to digital content. Even with an email program that is much weaker than Outlook and a keyboard that is almost impossible to touch type with speed, I prefer interacting with this machine than my laptop. Sure, when I've got serious email processing to do, I will chose the laptop, but for the quick scan, the quick read or the quick reply, the iPad wins hands down. Same with tweets, web, newspaper or magazine content.

2. Instant access. From thought to access is very quick. Just like the iPhone, if you think of something you want, from a Wikipedia entry to a box score to a weather forecast to a recipe, the iPad is so quick to use. And the screen size is large enough that you don't pine for the greater fidelity of a computer monitor. This is PC quality access, available instantly.

Example: I'm a lifelong subscriber to the print version of the NY Times. Since moving to California, I've just gotten it on Sundays (and pay $30 / month for it, so you know I'm committed), and I'm THIS CLOSE to cancelling my print subscription in favor of the iPad app. As soon as they release an app that provides more complete access to the paper's content, I will finally pull the plug. The iPad passed the bathroom test with flying colors and the app appears to download nearly all the content when it initially runs, so I can read later, even without an Internet connection.

Which brings me to describe what the iPad is NOT:

1. A replacement for the TV. No way. I downloaded the Netflix app on the day the iPad launched, but I have yet to watch more than five minutes of streaming content through it. Who would want to hold a device to watch long form video? This is not a light device either. It's heavier than it looks and you don't want to hold it upright for more than 30 minutes.

2. A better book reader than the Kindle. Viewing content outside is challenging. The heaviness of the device is also very limiting. If you want to curl up with a book for a couple of hours, you'll end up with carpel tunnel. The page turn is cute, but doesn't make up for these consequential shortcomings.

3. A carry everywhere device. It's too big for any pocket or small purse. Also, that outside viewing thing is a drag. Even with 3G, I think the iPad should be rooted to place. Right now, I'm using it at home, taking it to work during the day, and occasionally bringing it with me in specific instances where I'm going to be inside and forced to occupy myself for longer stretches (i.e. waiting at the DMV).

What people by and large don't understand yet is that this is a new form of digital device that will someday be common and viewed as necessary for living the digital lifestyle. As more of our lives are accessible online, we will need more than an all purpose computer to serve our needs. I want the deniers to read and heed. You will have a multi-touch tablet in your home and consider it essential.

Friday, March 26, 2010

OMMA Global SF - What makes a panel work?

OMMA Global was in SF last week. I was on two panels about display advertising, and one of them is available through a webcast link. Just click on the video entitled "Will Online Advertising Ever Live Up to the Promise of Precision?" It was one of the best panels on which I have participated, with a lively conversation across a range of topics.

There were a few things that came together to make the panel successful. First, we had a great moderator who focused the conversation. Second, the panel venue was during a private networking lunch where people were able to eat and listen. Eating became the secondary multi-tasking activity, instead of answering email on a smartphone or laptop, so the audience was more engaged. Third, the panelists were sitting in soft chairs without a table separating us from the audience. This created more intimacy and direct interaction with the audience. Finally, the panel was limited to a moderator and three panelists. Whenever you have too many panelists, and I've been on panels with five or six participants, then the audience doesn't get to hear enough from each member and commentary gets repetitive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I was in DC on Nov 12 to present at an FDA public hearing on the "Promotion of FDA-Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools". Many companies and interested parties presented, and I represented Yahoo!

My main message was that the Internet is a very different medium from traditional broadcast television and print, and the guidelines for pharmaceutical advertising should reflect these differences. For example, paid search placements that show up on Yahoo's search results pages each contain a very limited number of text characters. There's no way to including important safety information (ISI) in a space that tight. Unlike traditional media, People understand that when you search for something online, you need to click through on a paid search listing to get more information. But because of the existing FDA guidelines, drug makers don't believe that they can list their brand and the "indication" (i.e. for what condition the drug is taken for) in the paid search listing on the search results page without the ISI being present. So what they do instead is to run a generic placement that doesn't mention the brand. This results in less transparency for the consumer because people don't know where they are going when they click on a generic site link (i.e. people see "getmoresleep.com" instead of "ambien.com"). Yahoo's recommendation is that the brand and indication can be listed in a search placement, but the complete ISI needs to be available one click away.

You can see more examples of how pharma ad guidelines should change by watching my complete remarks here. Just click on "Day 1 of 2", then click on "Afternoon Session - Part 1". Then scroll to 4 hours and 43 minutes into the stream to see my presentation, which runs 15 minutes.

The public hearing and Yahoo's participation in it was widely covered in the press, although the quality of the coverage was certainly mixed. Probably the most insightful article was published in MediaPost, which is an online advertising industry trade publication. There was also coverage in the print version of the Wall Street Journal, a wire story in dozens of AP newspapers, and a report in the LA Times. As is typical, the online coverage was far more voluminous. A friend even heard a mention of Yahoo's participation in the hearing on NPR. Perhaps the most bizzare media outlet to cover the hearing was a website called Visit Bulgaria. Hard to explain that one.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Pop-tart advertising

Pete Kim was kind enough to credit me with inspiring a post he just made on dynamic advertising powered by real-time data. I love the idea of utilizing data that is available, yet under-leveraged, to enhance the effectiveness of online advertising and improve a marketer's business. Finding untapped opportunities is like digging for gold and hitting a rich vein.

I'm not sure I like the name "pop-tart advertising", but I love the concept. Perhaps we should call it "one-to-one logistics"?

Either way, "Eureka!"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Business Insider Blog Commentary

I just finished reading an article in Business Insider about the departure of Josh Jacobs from Yahoo! Josh is a friend, a great guy and a very competent exec. This is definitely a loss for the Big Y, but much of the user comments below the piece are simply uninformed, and typically for Business Insider, uncaring.

The reality of the situation is that Yahoo's strength is its people, not one person. There is a sizeable organization that support display advertising activities at the company. Many of the people are exceptionally talented, bright, thoughtful leaders. There's no one person who, if the company failed to retain, would result in the display advertising business coming off the rails. The law of large numbers makes this a certainty.

The law of large numbers also makes it certain, however, that some people will always be departing a big organization. But there is also new talent being brought in on a consistent basis. Unfortunately for Yahoo!, there's a massive amount of bias in the coverage that feeds an availability heuristic. We all know this, but I'd like to believe that bloggers would aspire to bring a more informed viewpoint. Silly me.
I just ran across a very cool real time app. The more you look at it, the more you appreciate how much the world has changed. Wow.

My blog hoster cuts off the full view of the app, but you can see the full view here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The First Ad Server

Over the years, I've been asked when the first ad server was built many times. Sometimes the question comes from people in the industry, curious about history. Sometimes it comes from lawyers looking to respond to a patent holder. Back in the Nineties, this was a fun story to tell, but honestly, I've told it so many times that I've decided to write it down. If people ask, I'll just send them a perm URL.

So here goes: Back in the Fall of 1994, Jason Strober and I were second year students at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. We both disliked our summer jobs and loved the Web. We met regularly on the weekends to brainstorm businesses we could start online. We considered and rejected many of the most lucrative opportunities (i.e. selling books, auctions, etc.) because we couldn't convince ourselves that people would change behavior fast enough to start buying things online. What we were convinced of, however, was that people would surf the Web in large numbers and for a variety of purposes, both predictable and unpredictable. The early signs were there to support this belief, if you were paying attention. We also concluded that where the eyeballs go, advertising will follow. So our focus turned to web advertising.

The other insight that propelled us was when we realized that an image source URL could point to a remote server. We realized that we could host ads on a server and deliver them across sites. This seems so obvious today to anyone who knows HTML, but at the time the idea of an ad server was novel, let alone central ad serving.

We began iterating on business ideas to leverage this technology. We came close to building a marketplace, much like today's ad exchanges, but concluded that it was a bridge too far for advertisers in 1995. Instead, we focused on building a hosted infrastructure for serving ads for advertisers.

In the Spring of 1995, during our final quarter at Stanford, we completed our business plan, began seeking VC funding, and even pitched Netscape to build an ad server for them (we didn't get the business, but we did influence Netscape to adopt the CPM model for selling ad space online). Our business plan was completed on June 18, 1995 (if memory serves), and our first ad server went live that same month. Here's a picture of the internet's first ad server (or what's still left of it) hanging on the wall in my office:



Mango was commissioned in June 1995, marking the first time an ad server was placed into production, and de-commissioned five years later. If you click on the image, you can even read the vintage of the processor (a Pentium 66) dating from way back when 66 MHz processor was state of the art!

In July, 1995, we officially launched Focalink Media Services with this press release:



While the launch got covered by a trade magazine, which had an early web site, the web coverage has been lost in the mists of time (if anyone can find coverage of this event available online, please comment on this post with a link -- you can read the date and text if you click on the image). The launch did enough to help us get our first customers: Saturn, Prudential and Microsoft. Not too shabby.

Eventually, we hired a larger team, brought on professional marketing help, and relaunched our service in early 1996. There's just so little of the coverage of the early days left online, but there are a few articles still available (1), (2). By this point, we were off to the races. By the end of 1997, we had merged with ClickOver and changed the company name to AdKnowledge. In late 1999, we sold the company to Engage, a CMGI company.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Who's better: Derek Jeter or Scribd?

At the beginning of this major league baseball season, I got curious about Derek Jeter's chances to surpass Pete Rose's all time hits record. I was curious mostly because I'm a huge Yankee fan, but also because it would be great for baseball to have the class act of the league finally relegate Pete Rose to second standing.

I posted a file called "Derek Jeter Lifetime Hits Projection" on Scribd in February of this year. Check it out. It is mildly interesting to note that Jeter is tracking as I projected. Only nine more years and he's there -- no problem! :-)

The more interesting thing to note is how effective Scribd is at organic search ranking. The document I posted was not designed with SEO in mind, and actually doesn't have very many words associated with it. Still, it has been, and continues to be, the top ranked result in Yahoo and Google when you search on "Derek Jeter Lifetime Hits Projection", "Jeter Lifetime Hits Projection", "Lifetime Hits Projection", "Jeter Hits Projection", and other variants.

Recommendation: if you've got something that you want people to find, give Scribd a try.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Next $25 Billion

I delivered a keynote presentation at the Online Media Marketing and Advertising (OMMA) show in San Francisco yesterday. The topic was "The Next $25 Billion", or how the online advertising industry will double revenue from $25 Billion to $50 Billion. Here's a decent summary. Jarvis Coffin, an online ad old timer, commented on the content in his blog and on the Huffington Post. Thanks for the shout out, Jarvis.

There were also a bunch of tweets on the subject. Here are some that I was able to capture:


I got a lot of positive feedback on the presentation, but the reality is that I had a lot of help and input. As is often the case with keynotes, it isn't the right forum to recognize all those people, so I'll do so here. First, I've got to mention Mitch Spolan, from whose presentation a key section of slides was lifted. If there's a more passionate and clear presenter in online advertising, I haven't met him/her. I also want to thank Jennifer Young for helping prepare much of the material and work with the design team. I also got input from Bill Wise and David Kopp, both of whom always have provocative insights. Last, but not least, my wife gave me some really valuable feedback when I was fine tuning the delivery. Thanks to everyone.

Late addition: there's video! OMMA posted the video of the presentation, which you can watch. The video got glossed by Zach on the Triggit blog, and then picked up by AdExchanger.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tesla!








I just had a glimpse at the future and had to share it. Thanks to a great friend, I was able to get behind the wheel of only the second production Tesla on the road. The other went to the company's CEO. My friend just took delivery on Friday and I took it for a spin on Sunday.

What a fantastic ride! The experience was marked by two contradictory experiences:
1. Accelerating at breakneck speed
2. The eerie quiet of an electric car

Now, I own a Prius, so I'm used to how quiet a car running on an electric motor can be. But on the Prius, the electric only powers the car when you aren't rapidly accelerating. The Tesla is electric only, so it's quiet during those times when you don't expect a car to be quiet -- when you are flooring it. You can hear the road, the wind, and even the pops and cracks of the car jiggling as it moves down the road. The only accompanying motor sound is a low whine.

As I was zipping up a hill and around twisty turns, this feeling came over me that I was experiencing the future. Here's a car that provides an amazing driving experience, without the gas and the pollution. Afterwards, I got a little irritated. What's taking the big automakers so long to produce compelling electric alternatives? I know -- I've read the articles, seen the movie, but we should all be frustrated that it took Elon Musk and a bunch of entrepreneurial folks in California to create Tesla and make this exhilarating experience a reality. Here's to hoping that this match lights a gigantic fire and sets the entire car market ablaze.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hillary for Veep

Last night marked the unofficial end to the primary season. Obama's the man now, and the next big topic is VP. I'm honestly not sure why there's a legitimate debate on this subject, because the choice is so obvious: Hillary Clinton. Here's a quick rundown on the main reasons that there isn't much of a choice:

1. Who is best prepared, in the minds of the VOTERS, to be a heartbeat away? This is not even a close call. Sure, Bill Richardson has a great resume. Sure, Chris Dodd has served a long time in the Senate. But let's get real here. Hillary trounced them in the primaries. One thing that isn't debatable is that Hillary would be "ready on day one" in the minds of the voters. And this is the single most important qualification for the role. If you were a fresh, new face running for President, wouldn't you want your first public decision to reassure voters that you knew what you were doing? Also, if your whole campaign is predicated upon an argument for change and rejecting the politics of the past, shouldn't you use your first big, public decision to show that you will pick the most qualified person?

2. Who brings the most votes to your ticket? This is probably the easiest question to answer. Hillary got nearly 18 million votes in the primaries. Regardless of how you count Michigan, Florida and all the caucuses, Hillary is singularly unique among primary runner ups. No one has EVER come anywhere near the vote totals that Hillary amassed and not been the nominee. I don't have the figures, but I'd be shocked if a runner up ever got half the votes she won. And this year, no one in the party (except for maybe Al Gore) can hold a candle to the voting power she would bring to the ticket.

3. Who moves a swing state into your column? This one also is not a close call. Hillary doesn't help with just one state. She brings votes in probably a dozen swing states, including Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada, West Virginia, New Hampshire. Even the biggest Hillary hater wouldn't attempt to argue that she makes Obama stronger in those states. And the Democrats need to carry the vast majority of those states to win.

4. Who best pads the bank account? Again, this is an easy call. Hillary wildly exceeded every historical fundraising benchmark, save for the amazing numbers posted by Obama. She would bring incredible dollars to the ticket, all of which would be incremental to Obama's network of contributors.

5. Who agrees with you the most on the issues? This is a more difficult call. Obama and Clinton didn't have much policy daylight between them, and this would be true for many of the leading contenders for Veep. You'd have to call this one a draw.

6. Who's got skeletons in the closet? Yes, people can worry about what Bill might do, but the reality is that Hillary is the most vetted candidate of our lifetime. No other choice has been scrutinized with anywhere near the tenacity that the Clintons have endured. The risk of something completely new popping up at this point would be much higher for any other candidate. Alright, I'll give you that Al Gore would again be in the conversation here, but all indications are that he's not interested in more years as VP.

6. Who augments the central themes of your campaign? At face value, Hillary is not the best fit here, and this is the most common argument invoked when someone doesn't want her chosen (see: Ted Kennedy). The argument goes something like this: Obama stands for change and a new direction. Hillary represents the politics of the past and the politics of division rather than conciliation and collaboration. Also, picking Hillary would highlight that Obama isn't strong enough to face down Hillary and proves he's not strong enough to lead the country. This point is debatable, but it is genuinely felt among some Obama supporters. I would counter, however, by pointing out that you can't unite the country if you can't unite your own party. If you can't work closely with the second most powerful person in your party, how can you hope to work those across the aisle? Wouldn't a true break from the past be to pick your strongest rival, your fiercest opponent? Wouldn't it show true strength to chose such a strong willed person for your running mate? Also, what better way to brand yourself the change candidate than to pick a woman as your running mate? Who could argue that you represent historic and unprecedented change with Hillary as your running mate?

Lastly, there is one argument invoked for not picking Hillary that needs to be addressed. It has been said that Hillary and her husband would not play ball and would work to undermine the President when it suited them. Well, maybe the people making this argument should look at the two presidents after whom Obama most closely fashions himself: Kennedy and Lincoln. Kennedy picked LBJ, the most Machiavellian politician of any era (who also said "better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in"). And as for Lincoln, did anyone read "Team of Rivals"? Obama did, and he quoted it on the campaign trail in response to a question about choosing a running mate.

And, at the end of the day, if Obama can't trust her and can't connect with her on a personal level in private then all these other arguments don't amount to anything. I'm betting, however, that both of these individuals are big enough to swallow their past disagreements, look each other in the eye, and see their common destiny.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A-Rod Contract -- More Evidence

So Brian Cashman, GM of the Yankees, came out and said the obvious:

"How can we? We lose all our money from Texas..." Here's the full article.

Why this wasn't obvious to all the sports reporters, I don't know. But it demonstrates part of the point I was making in the previous post. A-Rod is not going to opt out unless he can't reach a deal with the Yanks and gets a better offer elsewhere. Otherwise he loses the Yankees as a bidder and stalking horse.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A-Rod Opt Out

I realize that baseball does not fit in with the themes of this blog, but I feel compelled to comment on baseball in this case. I'm a Yankee fan -- a huge Yankee fan, and the sports reporters continue to miss the point about Alex Rodriguez's plans for opting out of his contract.

The prevailing wisdom is that A-Rod will opt out of his contract to get more money in a new contract. But this thinking misses a fundamental point about his contract situation. A-Rod will never exercise the opt out before negotiating a new deal. He has until Nov 10 to opt out. Once he exercises his opt out, he is basically kissing off the Yankees as a bidder for his services. Why would the Yankees pay him as much or more money AFTER they lose the subsidy from the Texas Rangers? Clearly, their bid will be higher before A-Rod opts out, because they can just pile money on top of the Rangers’ subsidy. So if he opts out, he’s kissing off $30MM in Ranger money that the Yanks can pay him.

Additionally, why would A-Rod's agent, Scott Boras, kiss off the $30MM subsidy when it could even be used by another ballclub. Here’s how: let’s say A-Rod gets deal terms with the Angels and Boras tells the Yanks to trade A-Rod to Angels for $15MM and some minor leaguers. Then Angels sign extension with A-Rod and the Rangers keep paying the subsidy. Everybody wins, except the Rangers (which have no negotiating leverage in this context).

Finally, if A-Rod opts out, he signals to other clubs that the Yanks are no longer a viable stalking horse. Why would the Angels pay top dollar if they know the Yankees aren’t bidding for his services as well? The Angels may be the only other club that would offer as rich a deal.

As a result, I can imagine A-Rod waiting until the end of the season, NOT opting out, but negotiating with all comers, then deciding whether he can get traded to preserve the subsidy or opting out if he doesn’t get the best deal from the Yanks. In fact, since the trade then sign scenario is probably unlikely, the most likely outcome is that A-Rod stays a Yankee because the Yanks are the only team that will have $30MM extra (of Texas Ranger money) with which to bid.

So please, sports reporters, for the love of Pete, please stop talking about A-Rod and his opt-out like you have a clue. You clearly don't.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Westly Takes Control

The die is cast. No need to read the tea leaves anymore. The Field Poll has Westly pulling away:

Field Poll story

And the thing of it is, he's a better general election candidate than a Democratic Primary candidate.

Also, the Westly site has quite a bit about the campaign and the blog is quite active. Check it out at:

RallyCA.com

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Next Governor Indeed

Don't look now, but we may have reached the tipping point in the Governor's race. Interesting post from
Bill Bradley from the LA Weekly, confirming early signs that Westly's campaign is beginning to turn the electorate and having an effect on his opponent. When the perceived early leader does an about-face and agrees to a debate he's been dodging, you know something big is going on.

It's also becoming clearer that Westly is the man Arnold doesn't want to face. Check out this post on the California Insider in the Sacramento Bee. Daniel Weintraub is a Sacramento Bee Columnist and a very sharp observer of State politics. He's basically outing the understanding of insiders: Westly is the better general election candidate.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Next Governor?

Marketing a politician is more difficult than marketing a product. The shelf life for knowledge and experience is short, and the episodic nature of campaigns means that what you learned last time around may have little bearing on the coming election. Also, your competition is hyper-aggressive about highlighting your negatives to the market. Even though business competitors are committed, they often don't end up running ads focused on the negative attributes of the competition.

So it is always with great interest that I follow election cycles. Right here in California, my backyard, we have one of the most exciting and expensive elections of 2006: the race for California Governor. Everyone knows who the current Governor is, and most are aware that his hold on the job is tenuous at best. Approval ratings in the crapper, a legislature emboldened and polarized.

But what most people don't yet know is that we've got an extremely competitive race for the role of challenger. The Democratic primary pits Steve Westly, the California Controller, against Phil Angelides, the Treasurer of the State.

If you live in CA and have a TV without a Tivo, you've probably seen recent commercials from Westly and perhaps Angelides. They are spending millions and it's only March (the primary is in June). What's got me interested is the advertising strategy.

Angelides is positioning himself as the chosen candidate of traditional Democrat power bases, with an on air endorsement by Boxer and support of the CA teachers union. Westly is positioning himself as an innovator and a "different kind of Governor", referencing his experience in building eBay and his remarkable success with a tax amnesty program as Controller where billions of additional tax dollars were collected. He's also spent a lot of time in the commercials sharing biographical information.

Angelides is positioning his candidacy as the favorite of Democratic primary voters and Westly is trying to be an innovative outsider. Which vision will win over the voters? My sense is that Westly will emerge victorious. Voters are sick of Arnold, but they don't want to go back to a traditional pol like Grey Davis either. The hackneyed "I should get your vote because Barbara Boxer thinks so" doesn't fly as well as an approach that educates the population on who you are as a person and what you believe in.

Additionally, Democrats are most concerned with removing the current Governor. Choosing between Westly and Angelides is less important to Democrats. As a result, the primary voters are open to picking the candidate with the best chance of winning in the general election. That candidate is clearly Westly, since he's more of a centrist and less of a liberal nut.

Another big factor: money, the mother's milk of politics. Westly and Angelides are both wealthy and successful fundraisers, but Westly has the cash to keep his ads running straight through to the primary. Angelides has already had to pull back. This spells serious trouble, especially in a primary race that is expected to go negative. Responding to negative ads will be expensive.

So here's my primary prediction: Westly by 4 points. What do you think?