Possible Branding Dangers for Twitter’s new Promoted Trends Ads?

SCap_ 2010-06-17_14Twitter has started selling spots on its right sidebar “Trending Topics”, so-called Promoted Trends. Toy Story 3 is the first test candidate, as can be seen on the right:

When clicked, it takes you to the same Twitter Search (internal) view for that keyword phrase as any other Trending Topic would, only now the top tweet is the “Sponsored Tweet”, which presumably also comes up if you were to type in the search yourself.

So far, so good, as this set-up folds in the ad as unobtrusively as possible into the user experience, a feat that Mashable’s Pete Cashmore called ingenious in a CNN.com post he wrote about the new system.

I’d point out that while it may be necessary to do things this way, there is likely a reduction in response, i.e. the click-through on the actual ad, which represents the second click already. As a rule of thumb, assume 50% drop in response for any additional step in your Web efforts).

And Twitter will likely play things close to the vest as far as additional click results from the Retweets that can happen around the Sponsored Tweet, so we won’t know whether that alone can make the considerable cost of the promoted trends/sponsored tweets worthwhile.

But the real problem is this. Look at what can show up right below the promoted tweet, based on Twitter’s own Retweet-count-based popularity surfacing:

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Probably NOT the brand experience that Pixar was aiming for. The tweet by movie critic Roger Ebert might only cost some 3D revenue, but the 4th tweet is slightly reminiscent of the PR disaster (around larbor/fair trade) for Nestle on Facebook some weeks back.

As you can see, that tweet may very well have gone nearly as viral as the promoted one! Definitely food for thought as brands shift more and more advertising online and into social media.

One bonus oddity I recorded from Twitter yesterday: Due to the instability of the platform during the massive World Cup server and internal data center network loads, Twitter has shut down the Profile Cards, and Geo-Location pop-up functionality to lighten that load. As well as intermittently, the Trending Topics…so that only the “promoted trend” was left in the sidebar:

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Harmless for now, but user annoyance might grow if this were to continue. Either way, we can say that Twitter’s Status Blog has been busy again…

The Apple Tablet And Planned Insanity

Chances are that unless you have been living under an Internet-free rock, you have gotten a dose of the rumor mill surrounding Apple’s likely new product, the Apple Tablet computer (by whatever name it will eventually appear on Wednesday, unless it won’t, that is).

iPad/iSlate/iTablet/etc., heir to the iPhone, destroyer of lesser technology gadgets?!

The name is not the only thing that has been a closely, and purposefully guarded secret:

The blogosphere and assorted Old Media outlets have over the last few months progressively worked themselves into a tizzy over the key questions surrounding Steve Job’s next mysterious, almost Grail-like product.

Like, how big will it be? How much will it cost? How many men died during its construction?

Kidding on that last one, though not by much…

All of this is of course utterly predictable in light of Apple’s tightly constructed Archetype Branding strategy that I’ve been writing about since the iPhone wave. Secrecy is such that the Tablet so far as only appeared indirectly, as a quasi digital ghost.

Pairing Steve Job’s “Wizard of Oz” character (The Wizard archetype, coming out from behind the curtains – i.e. secrecy – with the newest technological marvel), with The Enigma archetype inherent in this elaborate charade, is creating a launch atmosphere unlike just about anything else in current business, or show business for that matter.

Of Wizards, Grails, And Zeigarnik Effects?!

Not only does mystery draw on this powerful archetype, but, just in case you prefer more scientific approaches, the so-called Zeigarnik Effect also explains the draw of an unresolved, “open” loop that has entered your consciousness. Somewhat dependent upon personality, you are likely to feel a strong urge of just having to know.

This explains why even many months ago, bloggers and journalists alike could seemingly not help themselves but to write about the mystical Tablet. And of course from the very beginning, that is just how Apple wanted it.

Even now, well after midnight in the U.S., there are thousands of tweets on Twitter every few minutes expounding one rumored aspect or the next:

Some have even argued that Apple will deliberately sprinkle out little bits of information mixed with misinformation to stoke the fire.

Whatever Jobs will be presenting on Wednesday, and by whatever name it will be called, all eyes will be simultaneously oriented toward “The Great Unveiling”. Compare this natural feeding frenzy to the rather humdrum affairs that Google or Microsoft had given us of late.

Google’s Nexus One Android smartphone launch a few weeks ago was hardly the stuff of legend with its persistent minimalism. And by the time Windows 7 was finally officially launched, so many public Alpha, Beta, and minor tech celebrity testers had already rummaged through every nook and cranny of the operating system AND written about their findings, that it was hardly news anymore.

Now, a sheer endless parade of blog posts and articles has already been written about the Apple Tablet. But those have all been speculation, rumor, and innuendo! (“Will it be a Kindle killer?” “Will it be a Play Station Portable (PSP) killer?” etc. etc.)

The open loop was NEVER closed!

As if any more titillation were necessary, the issue of Jobs’ ongoing illness/recovery and speculation that this may well be his last new product launch as Master of Ceremonies… I mean CEO. And that he therefore will have brought all of his human and, some would speculate, super-human powers of invention, design obsession, and stage craft to bear in this his final Magnum Opus.

Even now we hear whispers: Did he really say that this Tablet “will Be The Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Done.” Did he? Would he? Can the poor computer thing possibly live up to this level of hype?

Robert Scoble indeed asks if the event can even still be covered in ways that news media, journalists, and bloggers have become accustomed to over the years. Or if we need an entirely new, “curated”, meta-experience to fully appreciate the unfolding of this new reality.

And therein lies the only drawback and potential danger of such a tightly choreographed affair:

All of the pieces have to be in place (when Jobs got sick and was absent from one of these launches, the magic was clearly lacking). And when they are, a deep connection and expectation is formed in people’s psyches that may prove difficult, if not impossible, to live up to.

Beware the pitfalls of this form of powerful Archetype Branding!

Recent Ads Betray The Secret To Microsoft’s Branding Confusion

After the first two salvos in a $300 Million ad campaign, launched to soften and redefine Microsoft’s image, failed to connect despite making use of comedian Jerry Seinfeld and former Microsoft CEO and world’s richest geek Bill Gates, Microsoft has been pushing a slew of new ads in recent months. And arguably, not one of them has hit the mark.

I wrote a while ago that the attempt at humor had fallen flat precisely because Microsoft’s “The Powerbroker” archetype had been so deeply entrenched, almost literally burned into the mind of the consumer for decades. Did things get any easier from there?

The next salvo a few months ago featured the “I’m a PC” ads which cast Microsoft (by way of its supposed users) as a strange mixture of proud/aggressive and defiant/sulking. It was pointed out then that “Microsoft as Victim” just doesn’t really work. And again, the archetype branding explains why: You cannot be “The Powerbroker” and still garner much sympathy for supposedly having been wronged.

This same theme was picked up once more recently with the “not cool enough for a Mac” ad featuring a girl named Lauren, which really was meant to focus on price as an angle to attack the notoriously premium-priced “Mac” products. In theory the idea of highlighting one of your competitor’s weaknesses (price) is workable, especially during a severe recession. But you cannot do it while violating your core archetypes.

If Microsoft had said something like, “we are the largest software company on the planet, and because of that we can create economies of scale in the production of PCs and their loading with software that much smaller competitors like Apple just cannot match, thus saving you money”, it would have made some sense.

But not with this passive-aggressive jabbing built in. It confuses people. Instinctively, no one takes it seriously when the 800 pound gorilla complains about having “unfairly” been called “not cool enough”.

And then Microsoft recently launched another ad in the series that went all wrong yet again. Silicon Alley Insider explains why:

Jackson [the kid] mentions offhand he wants “a good gaming computer.” This is a fantastic line of attack for Microsoft: The Mac has a tiny library of professionally produced games compared to what’s on PCs […] But Microsoft fumbles the ball, and doesn’t follow through with what’s arguably their best anti-Mac selling point after “PCs are cheaper.”

Instead, Jackson’s mom makes an incredibly off-target anti-Apple smear: Checking out the Macs, she says “they’re kind of popular with this age.” Umm, no. Kids can’t afford Mac prices or appreciate Mac build quality. Far better for Microsoft to stick with […] Macs are kind of popular with hip adults, but expensive.

So the theme of hurt feelings clouding Microsoft’s positioning and marketing continues. In truth, as the incumbent and still near monopolist (85-90% share despite Apple’s recent inroads) in the personal computer market, Microsoft would do better not to mention “Mac” at all.

“The Powerbroker” archetype by definition can choose to ignore the much smaller competitor. Reacting to any perceived slight only makes people wonder what is going on.

But the branding confusion gets even more pronounced with the recent launch of a new series of Microsoft ads featuring a strange mixture of low key scrap-booking and CEO interview voice-overs, punctuated by a slogan of “Microsoft – The People Ready Business”:

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