H1 2010 – Half Year in Review!

Special thanks to my BFFs at iMedia Connection for publishing this there first!


What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago was a wholly different kettle of fish for most of us — a kettle that had been left out to fester in the sun. But the optimism is back, baby! We saw it in the packed conference and expo aisles at ad:tech San Francisco in April, and in the double-digit growth figures for ad revenue in the first quarter of the year. I think this pic sums up the spirit well:

The can-do mood has returned. Memories of 2009 have been thrown into the ash heap of history. The digibiz again smells as sweet as gardenias in springtime.

But let’s leave odor to the side for a bit. There’s been more to the first half of 2010 than just better business results. Here are some of the most important happenings this year:

Jobs well done

Not since Moses and the 10 Commandments have a man and a tablet so captured world attention.

Being a dyed-in-the-wool “PC,” I confess I didn’t expect the iPad to make an impact this quick. I figured iPad 2 or iPad 3 would be “the one.” But then I went to the April Ad Age Digital Conference. When I saw the audience bathed in the eerie blue glow of dozens of iPad screens during the less-scintillating sessions, it was clear that Apple had redefined human existence again.

It’s been said that the magazine and newspaper industries have the most to gain from iPad success. Whether or not it restores the luster to paginated content, I’m sure the bazillion Amazon Kindle print ads are providing a nice shot in the arm.

Alas, I am a PC. Before I can suckle at the device convergence teat, I will have to wait until a less attractive, crash-prone, heavier tablet is launched. But the little x to close a window will be on the right instead of the left, and that’s the main thing.

You are watching the DSP network

DSPs are certainly making an impact this year. People say it’s about getting a better price, but I am certain it’s more about value. Too many networks offer me-too technology, take too long to respond to requests, and aren’t bringing ideas to their clients. Those that focus on being partners instead of talking about being partners are doing just fine. I can’t imagine many people are sad to see a little consolidation; I mean, do we really need 11 iPhone app ad networks?

The shakeout might help some players wake up to the fact that that virtually all of them say exactly the same things:

•Reach of 100-and-fill-in-the-blank million
•18,972 high-quality sites (plus access to 380,000,000 more high-quality sites through the exchanges)
•Full transparency asterisk

In short, I think DSPs are going to force the good networks to be better, and the weak ones to toughen up or disappear.

The year of mobile

Is it just me, or is it starting to feel like this is the year? Real brands are spending real money and getting real reach. Yay! And that’s only part of the good news: We’ve also witnessed the arrival of a workaround to Apple’s App Approval Church Lady.

It’s Zip, the revolutionary advance in personal software that lets you unzip your iPhone’s virtual apparel. With Zip, the user uploads the reveal photo — sort of a “just add Satan” solution.

On a slightly more serious note, have you noticed that Apple has become exactly what it purported to shatter in 1984? The brand:

•Controls all the outlets
•Holds a virtual monopoly on music devices
•Defines what is and isn’t acceptable to buy
•Requires that everything be purchased through it
Will Apple soon declare iWar on Oceania in a glorious alliance with Eastasia? Oh, I make fun of the brand, but it is miles ahead of the competition when it comes to making cool stuff.

The best news for all of us is that after only — what was it? 100 years? — other companies are finally making smartphones that almost rival Apple’s iPhone. Android phone sales are taking off, which is good news whether or not you worship at the Apple altar. A horse race will make all the devices better over time.

I guess I’d buy it, if I had a coupon

Ah, the focus group attendee’s favorite adage. And boy oh Boyardee do Chris and Carol Consumer have lots of opportunities to get coupons these days.

Online distribution has exploded., the big papa of the printable coupon business, distributed more than $1 billion in savings in 2009. Holy Toledo! It’s now a top 50 web property, and it’s enough to make everyone really excited about savings.

Of course, it’s not just PC-delivered coupons that are rockin’. Mobile couponing trends are skyrocketing as well — with place-based mobile platforms poised to remake brick and mortar retailing.

Privacy, please

Everyone’s least-favorite topic has definitely come to the fore in the past several months.

The good news is that a group of trade associations that resembles alphabet soup (AAAA, IAB, BBB, DMA, ANA) has put forth a self-regulatory solution that appears to be right on.

The Power i is a notification system that lets consumers click an icon, read about the data collection, and choose whether or not to continue receiving BT messages. It’s time for real choices and real information sharing with consumers.

But not all is as sweet as fresh-cut hay in Privacyland. Consumer ire with Facebook, Google, and others is on the rise.

My introduction to the export of Facebook data to outside publishers came on The Huffington Post, when I suddenly started seeing my friends’ photos along with reports that they had read certain stories on the site.

It was momentarily intriguing. But then I got to thinking, “if I can see their reading choices, then they can see mine.”

Gentle reader, I take no issue with folks knowing I’ve read a thoughtful analysis of immigration policy. But my penchant for the HuffPost’s photo collections of celebrity cellulite, unintentionally pornographic toys, and botched Botox? That’s another matter entirely.

I don’t know whom to be angrier with, Mark Zuckerberg or Arianna Huffington. How dare they! Butt on to less weighty matters.

Good Lord, we as an industry have to be less ham-fisted about changes to privacy policies. Must every revision be followed by two weeks of apologies? And must every revision effectively jettison the entire concept of having a private life?

Out-of-home gets some love

Ah, digital out-of-home. I am often accused of giving short shrift to DOOH when I write on these pages. These accusations come in angry emails sent through iMedia’s People Connection. Let’s turn those OOH industry frowns upside down, shall we? And at the same time, take the opportunity to point out the rather impressive growth trends in the sector. A great white paper from the fine people at Adcentricity offers the following stats and projections for digital OOH:

A huge portion of this segment is in captive venues, making programs in the channel powerful inducements to purchase. In the first half of 2010, more and more retailers realized the revenue potential from allowing such media outlets in their stores.

There, OOH people. I expect all those who have ever attacked me to send me a lovely thank you note. And make sure you keep doing what you’re doing, because you seem to be making all the right moves.

No one on the corner got badges like us

Onward to social gaming. From Foursquare to FarmVille to Mafia Wars, the social gaming sphere has become one hot commodity.

Add buying virtual goods with real money, and you get a tremendously successful business. Great game design and virtual goods are turning into a tasty recipe for consumer obsession. Just look at this fawning rap video dedicated to Foursquare:

Best of all, there are virtual games to suit virtually any taste and interest. The research firm Inside Network is projecting more than $800 million in sales of virtual goods this year.

Smarter, savvier, better

So there it is, dear reader — a rundown of the first half of the year. Predictably deep, profoundly satisfying, gardenia scented.

This is a time of optimism, new devices, new technologies, and lots of discounts. As varied and fascinating as, well, every other six-month period in this magnificently crazy industry.

Each year I am struck by the intelligence and ingenuity of the people who populate digital marketing. They (you) are why I really do treasure working in this business. In all seriousness, I don’t think a more clever and creative and entertaining bunch of people has ever been assembled. Well, maybe in Renaissance Florence. But other than that, you are a really wonderful group of friends, coworkers, and competitors, and for each of you I feel truly grateful.

And it is this ragtag fugitive fleet of individuals who has made 2010 such a dynamic, exciting, occasionally hilarious epoch. Now take my advice and go found a Foursquare-based ad network. Might I suggest the name BenderBillionz? Just imagine the PowerPoint template: “Mayorz by the millionz, profitz by the billionz.”