Commentary

Browsing Too Deep

I am getting a chance to browse randomly on my small battery of phones this week, mainly because my daughter discovered "Mad Men." As the son of a 1960s advertising art director, I was in the tank for this series from the first episode. My childhood was awash in chain-smoking existential swaggerers who tried to impress others with their cool disregard for human decency. In this series I get to watch them explore their own souls (once they find them) and search for the hearts of others under the cultural regime of collective repression. Much like the ad men I grew up with, "Mad Men" is not as smart as it thinks it is, but it still is a lot smarter than most. 

But I can only take so many re-viewings of every episode. Don Draper's facile pronouncements ("You are the product") run thin the fifth time through. The ladies of my family are just catching up on the last season and the first segments of this run. Neither my daughter nor fiancée appreciate Don, who they decry as a cheat and a liar. I know better than to wade in on this one, so I just stay on the shore and hit the mobile data channel where some gems emerge. I like the cult of fictional ad agencies as much as the next guy. But to steal a phrase from the angst-ridden ad agency dramedy of the late ‘80s, "thirtysomething," it's really all about the work. 

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VCast Mobile: Verizon's WAP page dedicated to its own on-deck VCast mobile video programming is a smart attempt to promote the service and even reach into those larger mobile Web efforts. It replicates some of the same categories as the deck service: comedy, TV, sports, election, etc. But it has a smaller sampling of material, some podcasts tossed in, and persistent promotion for the VCast full service. While I would have preferred a more precise mirror of the VCast menu and material, it is a strong start and a hint at where Verizon may be headed. The site is already being monetized with banner ads, and no doubt it could turn into a kind of free, ad-based counterpart to the walled garden clipcasting product. It seems that Verizon is keeping a toe in the water of the mobile Web and may be ready to leverage all of those content deals it has been making outside the garden walls. Not that AOL is the best example of success in this respect, but what if the closed proprietary systems of the carriers evolved in much the same way AOL's did? What if it started migrating its content to an open mobile Web any carrier customer could access?

Google's Ad Campaign: For years Google was famous for not advertising to the consumer base, but the stakes may be higher on mobile, where the brand has lately been all over the place. The banner ads prompt you to find variously restaurants, movie times, etc. via Google Mobile, and the landing page gives you a numbered Tip for how to use the mobile Google engine to locate services nearby. A link pushes you over to the experience from there. I like this campaign because it is true to the brand (clean, direct, task-oriented) and it provides some basic mobile education. Finally, it funnels people into the experience itself. The final link pulls you into an actual Google mobile search result on your phone.

vSNAX Video Ads: Launching this week on Rhythm New Media's vSNAX video portal for the iPhone, are these video ads with overlays and interactivity. The full-screen clips I saw for Amp energy drinks and the Lincoln MKS have a small "I" button in a corner that overlays a prompt to call up the Web site. The landing page and all of its own multimedia goodies launch, but do so within a frame that lets you pop right back to the video player. I have called out the New York Times app also for keeping us within the context of the site even after clicking through on the ad, and it works very well with video. If the content provider can create a seamless way to experience ad messages without interrupting the flow of the content we came for, then it raises the possibility of the ad itself weaving in and out of content. What if a video ad led us into a collection of special sponsored videos, all within the vSNAX experience, but curated by or for the brand? This kind of system helps change the relationship between ad and content in a good way. It doesn't confuse the lines between the church and state as much as open up the possibilities for more creative interactions, maybe even sponsorships that mean something.     

Speaking of meaning something... .

"What did that mean?" my ladies scream as the credits flash over another cryptic ending to some past "Man Men" episode. I don't even know what they were watching, but I already know the answer. "Don isn't bad. He is conflicted."

"And that makes it OK? Dad, I can't keep track of all the women he has cheated with," my daughter barks. "Is that the kind of guy you would want me to marry?" I can't even describe the "You've got four-seconds-to-say-the-right-thing" look my fiancée shoots me.

"No. Don is a creep," I say. I think I just waded in up to my ankles and almost drowned. My spine isn't feeling all that firm, either.  

 

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