Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Adaptive Ad Model (Just-In-Time Advertising)

Steve Rubel, Edelman's guru strategist, wrote an article in AdAge a year or so ago talking about 3 digital ad models that would become the staple for brand marketers around the globe; the first was advertiser-supported advertising (we all know what that is), the second was advertiser subsidized devices, and the third was what he coined as "Just-In-Time Advertising". In looking at the current landscape (the one as of right now, not yesterday ;), I thought the latter two have taken on some new meaning as of late, especially as a hybrid concept.

Think of Dell's Ideastorm, essentially a dynamic repository for ideas coming from "superusers" to collaborate with Dell employees on developing new product, as a great example - and potential "supercandidate" - for this. I realize I've chosen a pretty popular and much debated example, but, in all fairness, Dell has done a lot of things right, and they seem primed to capitalize even further on the Rubel-inspired concept. So let's dig in, and call it "The Adaptive Ad Model".

Ideastorm, wisely, has a pretty robust presence on microblogs like Twitter. Their blog content - when you run a search on blog and brand monitoring tools - has a healthy presence across syndicated forums and bookmarking sites. Their assimilation into desired categories such as Healthcare and Life Sciences seems to be fairly seamless, and generating a considerable amount of participation and "spread". It seems that the real issue with its porting of information is that there is too much of it, and ironically, it may even be too democratic in the way it is developed and shared. 

Here's where things can take an interesting turn with the "adaptive" approach. If we use the advertising medium - in this case, your standard IAB banners - and were to create units that would only port relevant headline information, precisely targeted and dynamically updated in the environments where users or superusers sought information specifically relevant to that category, we may have an experience that takes on new life. 

Here's a theoretical user case.

You run a search on healthcare reform. You scan several results either on a Google page or Google-indexed portal landing page (an affiliate), and choose one, a medical portal. The page is customized to only run relevant text to your search parameters (keywords). This means that you only see exactly what you've requested - no text links, snapshots or preview panels - and you have the option of finding out more (link). You choose this option. The leaderboard unit dynamically populates the Ideastorm Twitter feed of relevant conversations, and suggests 3-4 topics to read, which may or may not reside on the Ideastorm portal itself. Without having to leave the page, you choose one or all of those options and can find the exact information you want, or, search for more. Any new keywords repopulate the page and the content within ad unit. If you decide to click on the unit, great, if not, the brand's utility is has left a positive effect on your experience and you will likely visit the Ideastorm site again to run other searches.

Now comes the part about devices. Ideastorm takes Kindle, or a like app, and bundles its relevant information for the user, and more importantly, adds a feature in which that user's posts and other contributions are indexed in real-time. Co-promotion, affiliate marketing, whatever you want to call it, the brands support and enable the user experience to new heights. A superuser might even have the opportunity to get paid for content that is repopulated and retargeted in units that are deployed in relevant environments, sort of an AdSense model in reverse. 

These are rather crude examples, but you can see where this is going: use the ad as a directory with "pull" potential, as opposed to a piece of real estate pushing messages at you. And this doesn't require anything flashy, just a little strategic foresight to optimize pages and pull relevant communities together.

In my humble opinion, with search indices as flooded as they are, it would behoove category experts and respective communities to band together to optimize consumer experiences. The idea here is that if you expand the marketplace, everybody's share of the pie is that much bigger.

It will be very interesting to see what comes of the new Twitter-enabled ad model; we know that TwitAd and the much scorned MagPie have already taken their lumps. But if we can think of advertising as a savior in all of this, as opposed to a culprit, we may really be onto something. Just as Mr. Rubel had predicted.

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