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.