All posts by Gerry Wilson

Bill Simmons, a prime example of the power of digital audio

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Bill Simmons, ESPN sports columnist, was suspended yesterday for calling NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, a liar.  He even dared someone (presumably ESPN) to call him and say he was in trouble.  Well, sure enough, Bill was suspended three weeks for his pre-birthday rant. (Happy Birthday Bill!)

Take a listen here:

This is not the first or second time Bill has been suspended.  And if he stays at ESPN, I’m pretty sure this will not be the last.  What does this have to do with digital audio and advertising?  ESPN has a $15B relationship with the NFL to protect.  As a publisher and broadcast juggernaut, ESPN is the destination for all things sports.  Essentially, ESPN is to sports what Google is to search.  Except, ESPN is not just online.

On the other hand, Bill’s BS Report is a podcast.  Yes, a podcast.  Some words saved as an audio file, uploaded to a server, and available 24/7 for anyone with an internet connection.  Simple, yet powerful.  Powerful enough to threaten ESPN.  Now, some may argue that Grantland is powered by ESPN so any reach associated with the blog should be attributed to ESPN.  Fair point.  But what about Tony Manfred?

Tony Manfred, an unknown sports writer for Business Insider, took a snippet of the infamous rant and posted it on Soundcloud.  In less than one day, Tony has over 200k+ listens.  Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.  This is a prime example of the power of digital audio.  Tony’s snippet (the audio above) is traveling around the “internets” and is referenced by anyone and everyone who wants to buy me a rose lyrics hear Bill.  Timely, relevant, and engaging.

A block text quote is great, but listening to the words is a completely different experience.

So what’s the point?

If I have to spell it out, you’re missing a golden opportunity.  Publishers, it’s gold mine ripe for the taking.  Advertisers, it’s a hidden gem.  Call us if you want to make it shine.


Yes, Bob Hoffman is full of sh*t!

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Bob Hoffman‘s keynote to the Radio Advertising Bureau was something special.  Profanity laced and full of contempt for online advertising, Bob played to a room full of terrestrial broadcasters asserting that “the advertising industry has become the web’s lapdog.”

As a person who prides himself on “breaking the rules” and cursing with conviction, I can sincerely relate to Bob.  With that said, he is either in denial or truly does not understand digital media or how programmatic advertising works.  Given his tenure (41 years in the agency business), agenda (selling books), and constituents (traditional media outlets), it is easy to see why his bullshit was met with thunderous applause.

To be fair, many of Bob’s arguments have some truth.  Traditional media (TV, radio, print) is not dead.  Brand building in the digital world is not the same as in traditional channels.  Fraud is a problem in the display advertising ecosystem.  However, it is these half-truths and misinformation that will continue to keep the radio industry in the 20th century.

Here’s where Bob’s message misses the boat.  Traditional radio can no longer use “reach” as its sole value proposition.  When is the last time you purchased a radio?  Do you even know where radios are sold?  The key differentiator for broadcasters is the power of audio.  This power can take the form of your favorite artist’s music, the radio host’s voice, or a brand’s distinct sound.  I challenge the industry to articulate the unique characteristics of radio that make it the best channel to share an audio message.  This brings me to my first point.

find Audio is a medium.

Musicians are no longer tied to radio in order to develop a brand.  Ask Justin Bieber what digital has to offer.  “Radio” personalities aka podcasters can now build a brand and audience by simply posting a link on SoundcloudAudioboom, or Hipcast to name a few.  Brands are also utilizing the audio medium to target specific audiences.  Ask Trulia where 50%+ of their leads originate.  Then ask, how do they target college-educated married women aged 25-44 accurately using traditional media.  This leads me to my next point.

Digital allows for real and relevant targeting.

I can anticipate the Hoffman zealots ready to play the Nielsen card.  It baffles me how we can send people to the moon or drive cars with batteries and still rely on statistical extrapolations and inferences to identify an audience.  If you’re in New York and you listen to 105.1, who is your real audience?  There are many marketers and agencies today who cannot operate without a Nielsen rating.  If I was a brand, I would be very concerned.  While digital is not the holy grail, it affords marketers with the capabilities to identify their audience, target their audience, and most importantly adjust their campaigns during the process.  Mr. Hoffman refers to the “scientific method” when referencing his distrust with advertising experts, but traditional channels do not allow for the level of specificity or control that true science requires.  Simply saying “this genre reaches this type of audience” and “yes, the spot ran” will not be a sufficient answer for the CMOs of the future.  This leads me to my third point.

Digital is accountable.

If a spot runs on the air, did someone hear it? “Yes, didn’t you receive the affidavit?”  For all the talk of online fraud, even the holy grail of measurement is not the bastion of authentication.  When John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”, he was not talking about digital.  I will certainly acknowledge fraud in online advertising, but at least there are methods to detect it.  Saying traditional media does not have this issue reminds me of the line in The Unusual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”  And now for my final point and one not addressed during the keynote.

Audio is mobile and mobile is digital.

Mobile devices are everywhere and mobile advertising is growing faster than any other channel.  Some may even argue that mobile is not a channel.  At any rate, audio is a natural medium for mobile.  If we use the “evidence of our own eyes” (I love that quote, Bob), we can “see” the number of headphones plugged into mobile devices around us.  We can see Apple buy Beats.  We can see the next evolution of audio devices such as Pono and Nrml.  Marketers who fail to recognize the seismic shift in consumer behavior and the proliferation of new distribution platforms will not lose today or even tomorrow.  I’m not being apocalyptic.  However, marketers will find themselves battling a brand that “gets it” and they won’t even see it coming.

So Bob, thanks for ruffling feathers and being contrarian.  The industry needs people like you to help distinguish people like me, digital defenders and champions of innovation.  I think Edgar Bronfman Jr. may have some sound advice:

“We used to fool ourselves … We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won.”

It’s getting cold in here.

Audio Is Naturally Native

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“Native advertising has emerged both as an exciting new way for digital marketers to engage with the consumer, and as a new source of advertising revenue for publishers. ‘What is native advertising?’ is a question that the industry has, almost frantically, been looking to answer since the term was first coined. While countless definitions have been proposed by nearly every industry insider, company, and journalist, no universally agreed-upon one has surfaced. This is because, to a large extent, native is in the eye of the beholder, depending on where one sits in the ecosystem and the strategic and media objectives of the marketer.”

The preceding excerpt is from the IAB Native Advertising Playbook.  The IAB gathered a consortium of industry professionals to establish clarity and standardization around native advertising. It’s been a hot topic in the advertising industry and John Oliver recently took it mainstream with a semi-rant during his show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

Take a look:

In spite of all the discussion around native advertising, it really boils down to this:

Publishers create content. People consume content. In most cases, people do not pay for content. Publishers need to make money. They must pay writers, host websites, print magazines, etc. Advertisers need to reach consumers. Advertisers pay publishers to reach consumers. Advertisers and publishers have been doing this dance with traditional display advertising for decades.

Introducing a Problem:
People are no longer paying attention to these traditional ad units. (Some may question if they ever were.) Advertisers are displeased because they are spending money but are not connecting with engaged consumers in return.

Introducing a Solution:
Native advertising. Create ads that blend with the content in both look and subject matter. People click on the native ads and advertisers are happy.

Introducing Another Problem:
Many people do not recognize the difference between the publisher’s content and the native ad. According to a study by Professor David Franklyn at University of San Francisco School of Law, 50% of people viewing a native ad have no idea what the “sponsored” indicator means next to the ad. This is largely John Oliver’s concern. Does it impact publisher integrity to present advertisements in the same manner as they present actual content? It’s a slippery slope and will be an ongoing topic of debate.

Introducing Another Solution:
Publishers needing to make money is a constant. Advertisers needing to connect with engaged consumers is another. But what doesn’t have to be a constant is how they do so. Audio advertising is naturally native. The IAB Playbook outlines several questions to assess native and here’s how audio stacks up:

  • Form: Audio ads fit with the design and flow of the content and the audio is “in stream.”
  • Function: Audio ads function exactly like the content the listener is consuming. When working with a savvy audio agency, advertisers can even go so far as to match the subject matter of the audio ad to the audio content.
  • Integration: The behaviors of an audio ad match the audio content around it. Users listen to the content in the same manner they listen to the ad and once the ad is complete, they are reintroduced to the content.
  • Buying & Targeting: Audio ads can be targeted to a specific type of content, a specific user and can be purchased on a guaranteed basis like traditional direct sold advertising.
  • Measurement & Disclosure: The great thing about audio is that it can be measured in a number of ways – from the basics of whether the ad played, to specific calls to action. Disclosure is a non-factor because audio ads sound and are presented like advertisements.

While we continue to define native advertising, we should consider forms of advertising that lend themselves to a naturally native experience and are proven to drive consumer engagement – like audio.

Targeting Is Like Dating, Without Indigestion

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It’s Sunday evening, the time of week most statistically desirable for online dating. As you log into your imaginary profile on your imaginary site, created for the purpose of this story, you decide that you’re looking for a nice guy. That’s it. Someone to accompany you to the movies and not judge when you sneak in your own popcorn. Someone to go for a jog on Saturday mornings that eventually turns into a casual walk to the yogurt shop. Someone to attend your company’s holiday party, dress nicely, speak crisply and not drink too much. The initial asks are basic.

Once you log in however, and see the myriad of selections, the asks grow. Now Mr. Nice needs to be 6’4″, have the muscular structure of a clay figurine, Samson’s hair and a Master’s degree. Before you know it, you’ve asked to produce a fantasy or Jason Mamoa, also known as a living fantasy. Needless to say, search results are slim and while it’s every gal’s dream to have Roman Reigns within a 25 mile radius of her apartment, it just doesn’t work that way.

That’s the beauty and curse of targeting. It allows you to specify exactly what you want and where you want it, but once you finish specifying, is there is anything left?

In advertising, targeting is a valuable tool that helps advertisers not waste their dollars. It is inherently designed to help them connect with their desired audience quickly and efficiently. Without it, advertisers would spend countless amounts reaching everyone with the hope of resonating with a few. However, too much targeting, like online dating, can lead to narrow and fruitless results.

A more fruitful exercise is to determine the bare minimum of what’s required. Is your product strictly for women? Fine. Are stores located in the NYC Metro area only? Fine. Does your product marketing research demonstrate that it works best for women 18 to 35? Fine. These targeting parameters all make sense and are easily accomplished in most mediums, including audio. But what often happens next is a series of assumptions that narrow the scope of the campaign and limit your prospective customer pool.

For example, a company sells yoga pants in wildly colored prints in a style that clearly appeals to younger women. They have several stores in NYC so targeting women, 18 to 35 in the NYC area makes perfect sense. What about going a step further and targeting a specific streaming radio station? A specific time of day? Is that necessary? I say no, not until that audience proves itself to convert at a high rate. A far better tool for determining the right audience is what I will dub “Target Lite + Optimization.” What this means is we start with the basics of targeting – the fundamentals we addressed (e.g. age, gender, location). From there, we run several campaigns in a number of venues and closely monitor performance to determine which channels are working well. Does a particular podcast have a crowd who loves yoga pants and flocks to your stores? Are pure-play music listeners converting between 5PM and 9PM (gym time)? Great! It’s time to invest more money there. But we have to start broad and then narrow. This is especially important when advertising in a new medium.

In order to do this – Target Lite + Optimization – advertisers need to work with companies who don’t just drop their ad dollars in a channel and wait for the campaign to end, but rather monitor spend closely, making fine-tuned adjustments based on the campaign, messaging and call to action. There are a lot of nuances to this process and it’s best done by professionals. Good thing we’re here to help.

What is Verto Media and why do we matter?

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Verto Media is a digital audio advertising firm focused on helping brands tell their stories through the power of highly targeted audio messages, while helping publishers monetize their content with quality, relevant ads for their listeners.

That is our official business statement.  But, who are we really and why do we matter?

We are people who love audio.  We love the sound of music, spoken word and our own voices.  We raise our drinks when we hear a song we love because it triggers memories of that special school dance.  We can sing commercial jingles because we grew up with them.  Speeches and sermons have brought us to tears and we immediately recognize the voices of the people who influence us – whether we know them personally or not.

We know sound has power.  It ignites emotional queues, resonates with people on a deep level and creates memories.  We are working diligently to help brands and publishers alike utilize that power effectively.

We focus specifically on digital audio because it truly provides the best of both worlds.  Audio messaging is highly effective and far more cost efficient to produce relative to other forms of media.  Digital affords us the ability to target intelligently and deliver individualized, 1:1 messaging to listeners.  We deliver digital audio ads in a variety of environments – streaming radio, pure-play music publishers, podcasts and any other means of audio consumption.

Digital audio is growing.  According to the Edison Research and Triton Digital 2014 Infinite Dial Study, 75% of 12 – 24 year olds have consumed digital audio in the last month while 50% of 25 – 54 year olds have done the same.  The average listening time per week is 13 hours.  These numbers continue to grow year over year.  We can all see evidence of it when our co-workers are plugged into their favorite stations, when more people on the train are wearing headphones than not and when you try to get the attention of your teen but he/she can’t hear you because they are connected.

In spite of the growth, a significant number of advertisers are not leveraging this medium to tell their story and pitch listeners on their products and services.  The reasons for this are varied, including everything from lack of understanding about digital audio, lack of targeting and reporting via current buying channels and operational inefficiencies in buying.  We address each of these in our comprehensive, innovative approach.  We educate advertisers, implement fresh targeting and reporting strategies and remove all of the operational headache in buying.  We are a full-service solution from end to end.

We are passionate about audio and excited about the future of this channel.  We look forward to you joining us on the journey!

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