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Monday, April 23, 2007

It's the utility, stupid!

A friend of mine launched a website,, last week.

Take a look at the image above. Compare it to Temperature. Humidity. Five day forecast. That's all there is. No doppler radar animation. No video highlights. No topical, weather related articles. No sexy flash animations. No AJAX webdings.

Web two point oh? No.

Now, there must be a hundred weather related websites out there, so what's to learn from the most pedestrian of weather portals? Let's ask the users - the 150 thousand of them that were visiting the humble little weather site 3 days after launch:

Just for comparison's sake, I've plotted their traffic against

Advertising is Disruptive
You've heard the expression, "It's the customer, stupid!" Problem is, there's a history of trying to court the customer with a lot of glitter and no substance. In a broadcast, passive consumer model, this is probably the right strategy. Your potential customer is sitting there watching a television program. You have 30 seconds to catch her attention and offer something that's so visually engaging that she doesn't get up to fetch a bag of chips.

When this thinking is applied online, the outcome is big-production, flash-heavy microsites, "viral" videos, and roll-out animated banner advertisements. Let's make something so visually stunning, so culturally shocking, or so amazing and never-been-done-before that people will have to stop what they are doing and consume our advertisement for a little while.

Empowered Consumers Avoid Disruptions
So in an environment where people can block popups, time-shift and commercial-skip television... Hell, in an environment where someone can spend a weekend recreating anything that you have created, and do it better and without advertisement, and share it with the world... in this environment, do you really want your brand to be an interruption?

Aside from banner placement--and even then, only by interrupting the user's experience--we don't have the luxury of throwing ads at people anymore and forcing them to watch. If your advertisement doesn't provide value to the user, if there is no utility, it will be rejected and avoided.

Value, Utility, and Participation in Brand - That's King
The argument that I'm making is that if we're to be successful brand ambassadors in the online space, we need to recognize that our ads are now a consumable product too. All the same rules of markets and capitalism apply to our work. For online advertisement to win, it needs to provide enough value and utility to the user, such that it's able to offset the cost of a person's time. If something is to be successfully viral, the payoff needs to exceed the investment a user has to make in helping to spread the message.

How do we do this?

We need to work with our clients to help them find ways for their customers to be active, engaged brand participants. This means being a destination for the customer experience, not an interruption. This means allowing customers to truly own, modify, and customize your product. It means letting customers make experience destinations of their own.

Sometimes it means letting customers make better advertisements than we're capable of.

In the End, Customers are Smarter
There are a lot more consumers out there than there are advertisers, and many of them are smarter than us. Lucky for us, consumers want to own solid products and identify with great brands. We just need to let them.

Take a look again at that screenshot above. See the bottom, where it says "data provided by" This is the best advertisement I've seen for the Weather Channel brand, and guess what? They are getting 150k (and growing) ad impressions a day by making their product freely available... to their competitors.

1 comment:

justinph said...

That site is pretty nice. They even made it easy to use by letting me simply put my zip as the page...