Banner’s birthday, social’s future?

Everyone say Happy Birthday to our favorite ad medium, the banner ad! Yes, on October 27th, the banner ad turned 15. It’s hard to believe, but in 1994, when the web was still only just graphical and DSL was unknown and downloads were at 24.4kbs (remember that?) the very first banner ads were launched. On Hotwired magazine, one of the first online magazines.

The advertisers? MCI (who employed Vinton Cerf), Volvo, Club Med, and 1800 collect. The click through rate of those ads? 78 percent (!!!). What would we do now for a 78% CTR?

Is this the future of social media? In 1994 the web was new and fresh and everyone from advertisers to agencies to consumers to publishers were excited at this (latest) new thing that was going to revolutionize the advertising and marketing world.

And people clicked like mad! For a while. Then…not so much. When was the last time you clicked on a banner ad?

Not that a company shouldn’t do online advertising, but in terms of actually creating new sales, banner ads have gone the way of the 30 second spot; something you need to do as part of the mix, but not something that you are going to necessarily be able to tie directly to sales (lots of technology and metrics not withstanding).

So, is this the future of social media? To go from a high-excitement, world-altering, new technology to something that just needs to be part of the mix? Honestly, I don’t have the definitive answer. But (come on, you knew there was a “but” coming, eh?), my experience tells me that it is really hard for anything to live up to the hype that SM is getting these days.

Is it cool? Sure. Exciting? You betcha. A innovative way to have B2C interactions? Yup.

And yes, businesses/brands will have to alter how they reach out to consumers and groups of consumers. Especially, brands will have to significantly change how they manage and accept risk, because as the conversation that is a brand moves more to a bidirectional dialog, the business side of the equation has to accept an increased level of chaos and lack of control.

Ultimately, however, people are still people and how they act is, at a fundamental level, probably not going to change dramatically due to SM. Brands will learn to use SM, just as they did banner ads, and it will become a known part of the landscape–familiar and comfortable as viewing a web page.

And not clicking on the banner ad.

QR Codes and Exchanging Digital Information

Ever wonder what those funky square patterns that show up on an e-ticket are? They’re called QR codes— short for Quick Response—and they come to us from Japan where they are frequently used to transfer digital information.

Usually, we see these codes read by scanners pointed at our e-tickets, but it is becoming more common to use mobile phones as well. Not only is the average consumer able to read the codes with an app, but create them too. One online service that allows you to do this is Kaywa (

After giving it a try, I only found a few disadvantages. The first step is to choose what you want to encode in the QR (URL, text, telephone number, or SMS). Next, enter the content and select what size you would like the code graphic to be. After that, hit ‘generate’. The code will appear in the preview pane and from there you can right-click to download the graphic (a URL for the code will also be available in case you need to download it again). Here are the QR codes I generated using the URL and text option.


QR code with URL

So, what next? How does your mobile phone read the code? Kaywa provides a reader you can download to your phone from their site, but it only supports certain phones ( I lucked out on my Android, but thankfully a developer has picked up on the demand and has provided an alternative called Barcode Scanner. I opened the app, held the camera up to the code, and a second later the information appeared on my screen along with options to open the URL, share via email, or send by SMS.


QR codes are gaining in popularity and are becoming a quick and easy way to connect to a consumer. You can find them in magazine advertisements, on websites, and even on t-shirts. For more information on QR codes, visit the Wiki page or read this article posted on Search Engine Land

Cloudy with Chance of Symbols

Recently I had the chance to attend the Churchill Club dinner at which Larry Ellison was interviewed by Ed Zander.

Always an interesting interview, Larry was in good form that night and talked on topics ranging from his commitment to win next year’s America’s Cup (if the Swiss don’t cheat) to the future of Oracle to cloud computing.

Larry’s main point on cloud computing seemed to be summed up in the statement, “What the hell do you mean by this? It’s still a computer and software!”

Far be it from me to argue with such an august personality of the tech arena, but Mr. Ellison’s rant and the continued questions about it through the evening did get me started thinking about the etymology of the term, “cloud computing.”

Does anyone now remember where this term started? It started with clip art and PowerPoint; presentations in which the internet was represented by a clip art cloud. Now, how’s THAT for the power of symbology?

A cheesy little piece of clip art (OK, many cheesy little pieces of clip art) took hold of the cultural psyche and so embedded itself there that now you see the term used on the front of widely published journals and used by (technoweeny) pundits everywhere.

I am the only one who finds this amazing? This is where the power of symbols can be seen in action. And this is where, as marketers, we need to be aware of the cultural iconology and utilize these social icons. This is where stories get their power and why stories have such power, because they are a shortcut to the swirling pool of meaning just there below our consciousness.

This is how a little piece of clip art became such an icon that luminaries like Larry Ellison end up on stage in front of a thousand people pontificating about it.

As marketers, as writers, as communicators, as SEOs, as storytellers, we have this awesome power at our disposal. The great marketers know this, know how to employ it, how not to break it’s rules, how to use it with integrity, and how to integrate multi-faceted communications so that they all add to the effect.

Famous advertisers and marketers like David Ogilvy knew this implicitly. And it’s when modern day marketers remember this that things take off. How a tweet circles the world. How a little piece of clip art becomes part of our culture and language. How our messages take on lives of their own.