Service-Oriented Advertising Gets Attention

A couple of weeks ago, Google announced the expansion of its Print Ads initiative. As the name suggests, the program offers advertisers and agencies the ability to purchase print ads in more than 225 newspapers nationwide, including The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and the Washington Post.

The growth of Google Print Ads, which was first launched this past November, is indicative of the ever-increasing integration of our online and offline worlds. Faced with consumers who can choose exactly what they look at, when, and through what medium, advertisers have to follow their targets around, ready to serve up promotional content at a moment's notice.

It's not enough to stalk consumers, though. Recently on Mobile Insider, Steve Smith made a wise observation: "How do you move from being noticed by consumers to being of use to them?"

I say that this is a wise observation because the extraordinary discretion users now have in what they choose to look at is forcing advertisers to rethink their role. It's no longer enough to focus on delivering the client's message. You have to provide the user with a reason to care; otherwise they'll close the pop-up box, put a skin over the ad bar, or TiVo the program and skip the commercials.

Product placement was the first approach to ensuring a brand actually makes it to the eyes of the consumer, and it's been working since Seinfeld first hung a Klein bike in his living room. Last year, Microsoft confirmed the value of the concept, paying $200 million to buy Massive and its in-video-game ad network.

At the time of the purchase, Joanne Bradford, Microsoft's corporate vice president of global sales and marketing and chief media revenue officer, said, "Advertisers are having a tough time connecting with the elusive 18- to 34-year-old male demographic because this group continues to spend less time watching TV and more time playing video games."

In other words, it's the advertisers' responsibility to adapt to the consumers, not the other way around.

While product placement is effective, it doesn't supply the full range of messaging offered by traditional advertising. By definition, it's tangential to the context in which it's delivered. Advertisers frequently need to deliver more robust information, but the trick is getting users to read it, watch it or listen to it.

Back to Steve Smith. If we take it as a given that users have infinite choice and zero obligation to absorb our advertising messages, then we have to change the way we think about the messages we provide. As Steve says, we have to focus on being of use to the consumers.

If advertisers deliver value through the ads, then consumers have a motivation to pay attention. The trick is to make sure the giveaway is intricately linked to the product or service.

What does this involve? It means thinking of ads as a service to the consumer rather than a message from the advertiser. In that same piece, Steve uses as an example a Cover Girl campaign that offers an "interactive skin color chart that lets users find the right cosmetic color."

Allowing the user to participate in the sales process this way means that she's more invested in the relationship and she can feel confident that Cover Girl cosmetics will look good on her. She's gotten value - the value that helps build brand loyalty.

We hear a lot about the customer service mentality. In a buyers' world, that mentality has to start with the ad.