Published another quarterly newsletter, this one revolving research with comScore on the combined impact of user gen plus professional video to tell a complete story. The headline is that not only were the two videos almost exactly additive in impact on consumers, but the were additive only to consumers who were using competitive products. There was no increase in consumers willing to switch within the client’s own line to the featured product when using one video or both videos.
To me, the most interesting side finding of the research was the held attention span on the UGC video…it way outperformed 30 second spots…but also way outperformed the professional video. We didn’t cover that a lot in this webinar, but we’re commissioning a whole separate study around why people were so taken with the user content later this year. Stay tuned and sign up to get our next newsletter.
Today we launched the first third-party video product reviews on Amazon‘s product page. These videos were placed onto the product page of our P&G client, Gain detergent. As many of you may know, EXPO has a mission of placing our unbiased video reviews wherever consumers are shopping. I first wrote about our Retail Syndication efforts here.
Amazon’s participation in our video distribution network is a big win for many reasons:
1) Amazon does not have an auto-publishing for partner content. This implementation required resources from Amazon to execute. Therefore, the type, style and placement of content were all considered prior to publishing.
2) The videos are not shunted to the text review space, but rather were given tremendous exposure within the product description area of the page. Note that they are not presented as part of a ‘review platform’ but are selected to be highlighted as additional product content. Video is different.
3) EXPO was able to travel our recommended disclosures with the video. The viewers are given full information about the POV of the reviewer.
In one of our first major studies, we think comScore hit it out of the ballpark. Their major conclusions:
User-gen videos about products can contain elements that make them as or more persuasive than professionally produced TV commercials. That means that consumers, without any direction or experience, can create video content that naturally hits elements that have been found to persuade shoppers to buy products. These are elements that TV commercials strive to portray, and elements that brands spend millions of dollars to try to convey.
User-gen videos can contain persuasive elements usually not found in traditional TV commercials.The study was not meant to test for this, but the finding became obvious when we stacked up the strengths of our videos against the strengths of TV commercials (and also against other digital media content). What we found was that there was a very complementary nature of our strong attributes vs. TV commercials. One example of this would be our videos hit elements around product convenience and quality…two attributes that are found in less than 10% of TV commercials.
EXPO’s community and team put together some highlight videos to help kick off the conference by the Altimeter Group. The topic was Rise of Social Commerce, and is streaming live via uStream. We hope our videos help remind attendees that the “Social” part means people, not technologies. (The 10,000 watt speakers might have blown out some audio in the Four Seasons…sorry about that.) Until Matt Cheuvront gets off his duff and puts this up at the conference site, here are the videos in all their glory:
Overview of Social Commerce
Desire to share online
There were some questions about how we selected these folks, in order to give context about the demo reflected. Because these videos were meant to complement Altimeter’s framework, our reels were created quickly after the first draft of the research was completed by Lora Cecere. So, we didn’t balance the diversity for them as we usually would for client engagements. We put out a broad request to our members, and these were the folks who responded rapidly. Would love to delve further into what other demos think about social commerce as well…please contact me anytime!
(Thanks to my super sharp team: teresa & jess & matt mcclain. UPDATE: Matt C, we love you!)
Despite hipper marketing, IMHO, Google continues to favor an algorithm that surfaces Youtube pop-culture content over any other regardless of sitemap best practices. This is a huge problem since not all video searches are to find the funniest, most viral video available for your keywords. However, as the owners of Youtube and not as video producers themselves, I can imagine why Google would have developed that skewed point of view.
EXPO uploads full transcripts of our video, which we do not do when we upload to Youtube, and yet our Youtube videos will come up higher in visibility almost every time. Despite using specific keyword searches to try to find our sitemapped content, other less relevant content on Youtube will surface first on Google. Whether they go by recency, plays or other Youtube-dominant metrics, publishers are much more likely to get surfaced on Google if you upload to Youtube and simply fill out their limited metadata requirements.
This path is being exploited extremely well by Demand Media, where they continue to upload videos to Youtube at a Deepwater-Horizon-in-the-Gulf rate. With Youtube being the #2 search engine, and Google being #1, their lock on the video search market requires publishers to conform to Google’s version of a successful video…which includes being available on Youtube.
While I don’t dispute that Google’s video search algorithm may be unbiased in terms of their engineers’ ethics, I question whether their algorithm is anything near helpful when it comes to informational video search. What makes a great entertainment algorithm does not necessarily make a great informational algorithm. (And don’t get me started about what whether you can make a great entertainment algorithm in the first place.) If Google is learning to optimize video search based on what’s on Youtube, we’re doomed to never be able to find relevant, helpful, informational video. If you search for “Cancer” and click on “video” you will get:
I have no idea how “euronews.net” snuck in there, but you’ll notice the videos are dominated by youtube, and also dominated by pop culture, fresh off the press videos. You’d think “cancer” videos would rank Mayoclinic’s Youtube page highly. But, alas, I would guess the play count is much higher for “Cancer Prevention Pill.”
It’s not Google’s fault that people love entertainment video and especially love it on Youtube. But it is Google’s fault for not working to better understand that a good video search result is not always the latest viral video. The development of a great text search might have been a narrower band because it was almost always an informational search. But despite Google’s experience with Youtube, the best video is not always an entertainment result. We need to ensure that the vast needs that can be satisfied with video are captured in an algorithm that doesn’t just feed off a single destination’s experience, but accounts for the true breadth of a video search.
Unconstitutional. It’s such a cool word. As an American, it evokes the most powerful feeling of wrong. It doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s unconstitutional, you know it’s wrong.
Guess what the Harvard Law Review called unconstitutional. The FTC’s Endorsement and Testimonial Guides covering consumer generated media. The one that told bloggers that you had to disclose certain things if you wanted to write about it. The one that made you feel like some kind of slimy lowlife for being influential enough to be asked to test free products. The one that said newspapers didn’t have to disclose anything at all.
There are many parts of the Guidelines and the FTC’s actions that troubled me. First off, the thought that any group of people could smartly legislate something so nascent and developing like social media seemed like a non-starter. The brightest minds in the country don’t know where social media will take us…where is the value that will be pursued? what are the metrics that will be measured? what is the activity that will be developed? Sure, if there is obvious social malfeasance going on that is not readily fixing itself, then the government can say they are compelled to take an interest no matter what stage an industry is in. Especially if you’re just extending rules you have in place for, say, legacy media. But I really had to ask myself whether the need to identify those bloggers who partied with Ann Taylor required the government to set new rules for emerging media that differ than those for legacy media? And while I’d love to hear the FTC opinion because I’m sure they’ve studied it carefully, I think issuing Guides as opposed to encouraging discussion was irresponsibly, innovation-chillingly early.
The second point of trouble for me was the apparent limiting of free speech that I thought the guidelines promoted. Having helped develop one of the only open social platforms for consumer product discussion, I am especially sensitive to anyone telling me what my members can say, how they can say it, and pretty much any interference at all. Being brave enough to let total strangers benefit from your experiences is just one of the overwhelmingly powerful advances of the new social web. Therefore, what bothers me is the encroachment on my community’s free speech on a platform specifically built to let them speak in a safe, relevant and helpful environment. I work on it every day, and have for years. We are constantly debating what the exact right mix of moderation, disclosure, community mores, and content guidelines is best to make our our library of experiences valuable and helpful to other consumers. The market, our clients, the community, and the users of our content are still helping us determine what is helpful, what is irrelevant, what is valuable. If I had known the FTC had all the answers, it would have saved me a lot of entrepreneurial time.
Before stepping in and potentially chilling innovation or free speech, the government should always ensure that 1) there is a compelling state interest and 2) the limitations on speech they put in place are as tightly defined as possible. I don’t think either has been addressed in these Guides.
At the risk of being Googled by the FTC, and because I’m not a lawyer so I didn’t really have a cogent POV, I didn’t write much about it. See my very ‘factual’ blog post here. So, I was happy to read that while the Harvard Law Review wasn’t as morally outraged as I was, they were as legally peeved. I first found the HLR article through some bloggers, and even loved that the HLR cited a blog in their article. All this analysis (some more emotional than others) gave me the backbone to write about it now.
The Headline: Unconstitutional
Within the first paragraph, the HLR stated “the Guides should be ruled as unconstitutional as applied to unpaid bloggers.”
The reaction in the blogosphere to the FTC’s announcement of the rules was unsurprisingly negative. Bloggers expressed particular concern that the rules were overbroad, exceedingly vague, and expressly did not apply to legacy media. Bloggers are right to be upset; the Guides violate the First Amendment. The Guides treat blogger endorsements as advertisements and attempt to regulate them as such. Unlike other speech, advertising is considered commercial speech and thus receives reduced First Amendment protection. However, under current Supreme Court doctrine, unpaid blogger endorsements should be classified and be given the same protection as noncommercial speech, just like product reviews found in traditional sources. Courts should therefore apply strict scrutiny to the Guides and hold them unconstitutional as applied to unpaid bloggers. The burden the Guides impose, as well as the unfairness of holding bloggers to a higher standard than legacy media, supports this result. (HLR)
There is a high bar to defining speech as commercial speech
The big revelation in the HLR article that is never addressed in the FTC Guidelines, but I think should be, is why they have determined blogger writings are “commercial speech”, and therefore subject to FTC legislation. Non-commercial speech, as you can imagine, is well protected by the First Amendment. So when does speech that you say, write or video cross the chasm from non-commercial to and turn into commercial speech? There’s actually a test that has been developed through the courts. It’s called the Bolger test, and it is very tightly defined since the threat to infringing on non-commercial speech is very serious business to the law. There are three pieces of the Bolger Test, and if all three are positive, then there is ‘strong support’ that the speech is commercial:
The speech refers to a specific product
The speech is conceded to be some sort of advertising
The speaker “has an economic motivation”
The last one…the speaker’s economic motivation needs to be “where the speaker’s main goal is either to sell his own products or to get paid by the product’s manufacturer.” (HLR) Clear cut cases of commercial speech include where the blogger was employed by the manufacturer to blog about their products in a positive light. A direct economic relationship seems to be nothing short of: “I pay you directly in exchange for stating these positive things about my product.” Anything short of that should fail the Bolger test and be seen as noncommercial speech. Free product that is not directly tied to your agreement to write a positive review in return is not a black and white case to be legislated. The HLR states, “Even where a blogger’s positive endorsement might yield a benefit in the form of free products in the future, the blogger’s speech is not fundamentally premised on a direct economic relationship between the company and the promoter.”
Assuming the FTC considered the Bolger test in order to decide it had the right to legislate your language, it seems to be concluding that the economic benefit of receiving free products in many cases is the main reason you wrote favorably about the product. It overrides the possibility (probability?) that sharing your expertise and experience with others was actually the main reason you wrote about the product, and getting the product for free was the way you could accomplish that. The possibility (probability?) that you thought you had some kind of expertise that would be worth sharing with others regarding the evaluation of the product, as opposed to the need to get someone to send you a freebie. No, by broadly sweeping free products within their authority, the FTC is stating that the main reason you wrote positively about that product was simply because you wanted to get that free product, or more of it. It’s a demeaning and dangerous overreaching.
Why should the FTC’s disclosures bother me as a blogger?
Make no mistake that by requiring disclosure, the FTC is saying that your opinion is commercial and you wrote your content in order to receive a freebie. Your content is seen by the FTC as no less biased than if you were sent a paycheck by a manufacturer and your staff title was “Positive Blog Poster About Our Products”. By requiring you disclose your bias, the government is saying that your speech is equivalent to an advertisement, and not free speech. The government believes they need to protect people from your point of view, and seek to diminish the impact of your opinion with a disclosure.
A blogger who does not wish to disclose receipt of free products may seem an unsympathetic case, but there are nonetheless important free speech principles at stake. The Guides require disclosure of the mere fact that the product was provided for free, whether or not an endorsement was written in exchange for free products. This required disclosure directly interferes with the content of the speaker’s expressive message. Disclaimers have an “inherently pejorative connotation” that reduces the effectiveness of the message, even if the speaker is acting in good faith. In addition, restricting a blogger’s receipt of free products makes it more difficult for the blogger to write any product reviews at all. Thus, in the name of protecting consumers, the Guides would deprive consumers of information. (HLR)
The HLR then even showed a better guideline that the FTC should have employed if it were going to opine about disclosure in order to not be found unconstitutional. The HLR suggested that FTC should have narrowed its recommendation that any actual quid pro quo between the endorser and the advertiser be disclosed (i.e., “If you do this, I will do this.”), or if there was actual intent to deceive the public. The HLR is saying, yes, the FTC might have been okay if they ruled that employees of manufacturers with the job “Positive Blog Poster About Our Products” should disclose that. But by lumping in all recipients of free product and not utilizing the tests for commercial speech clearly defined in court precedence, the FTC’s Guides were overbroadly infringing upon a basic right of free speech.
Favoring one type of media over another: A warning sign that you’re doing something wrong
The HLR took specific attack on the FTC for segregating speech in legacy media (ie newspapers) as being exempt from the bias that they put onto bloggers.
The FTC asserts that knowing whether a blogger received a product in exchange for consideration “might affect the weight consumers give to his review,” whereas knowing whether a newspaper paid for an item would not. But this distinction is unfounded. The material relationship between an endorser and a manufacturer includes not only the value of the free product, but also any other transactions in which they engage, like the purchase of advertising space in a newspaper. Paid advertising is a far more serious conflict of interest, both because its value is likely to be far more than the value of a free product, and because legacy media, unlike blogs, depend on it for their very survival. (HLR)
After centuries of scrutiny, imagine how high the bar needs to be for the Government to be able to interfere with the speech contained in the newspaper you read. The FTC has given our individual speech, now recently given greater exposure through the advancements in the web, less consideration. The HLR summarizes better than I could:
The Court has already ruled that the government may not legally prescribe editorial standards for newspapers; to do so would violate the First Amendment by interfering with newspapers’ “exercise of editorial control and judgment.” Yet the principle underlying the Guides is that the FTC may distinguish between blogs and newspapers based on its perceptions of “editorial responsibility.” Even if bloggers are, on average, less “editorially responsible” than print media, allowing the government to favor certain media forms would allow it to manipulate the “marketplace of ideas” just as direct interference with editorial content would. Worse, favoritism may encourage favored media to moderate their criticism of the government. As consumer-generated media gain an increasingly important role in our society, they should receive the same robust speech protections enjoyed by legacy media. (HLR)
Obviously, there is more to come on this subject, and more shoes to drop other than a few blog posts. I look for challenges to whether or not the Guides were necessary to achieve a compelling state interest, and to watch the FTC try to demonstrate that the legislation is narrowly tailored to achieve the intended result. Short of this, the policy should be radically reigned in.
FTC overstepped their authority by stepping on the Constitution’s right to free speech
The FTC needs to narrow WAY BACK to the strict definition of commercial speech: where you agreed to write something specifically positive in return for direct compensation. Samples for trial is not direct compensation. It’s…for….trial.
This post is the essence of TL;DR. But man, the SEO value!
Can anyone see any similarities? If you said, “This seems like the launch of an EXPO eCommerce Network, or the XEN,” then you’re right!
What you notice with these past three releases is that we are announcing further and further distribution extensions of our video catalog. These extensions are very targeted…
ALICE.com is the hottest new CPG distribution concept in a while
The eStore is the groundbreaking etailer exclusively dealing with P&G products
SellPoint is a vendor relationship that can distribute rich media content to the product pages of hundreds of retailers on a turn-key basis
These extensions are on top of distribution to leading commerce engines shopping.com and smarter.com.
EXPO has a mission of putting our video “wherever people need product information”. As we watch that number of ‘wherevers’ fragment further and further, EXPO has created a turn-key solution to reach far flung destinations. With 300,000 digital video assets and a flexible media management system, EXPO can power relevant video instantly across targeted, ROI-driven retail partners. More announcements will be made in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
In-home video research used to cost an astonishing amount of money. Think about it…how much would it cost to hire a camera crew to follow someone around? You had to screen and qualify applicants (you might not even know what they look like or sound like), you had to hire a camera crew for no less than a full day (even if you were interested in just one sliver of the participant’s life). Nothing could be done quickly — you had to coordinate schedules of applicants and crews, and make sure everyone knew what was supposed to happen. Imagine the costs if you wanted to follow the participant to measure their reaction over time!
And even after all that, what are the chances you could get an authentic, sincere response from the participant, with a bunch of strangers and equipment invading their home?
Marrying the skillset of user-gen content, and the comfort of social media, EXPO has been able to harness the power and knowledge of our community to tap into video ethnography for a fraction of the cost. We can hyper-target a demo, or screen by qualifying questions, and then provide very detailed assignments to our community. This level of care results in a broad video ‘picture’ to accompany research findings. We’re calling it “Kitchen Table Conversations“, to evoke the sense that people are really inviting you into their homes, where they’ve always been most comfortable sharing their lives with you.
In times when social media has made putting personal videos and pictures on public display passe, it’s hard to imagine trying to make a research point without showing real faces in their real words. We recently did a video ethnography for AdAge in conjunction with JWT, on the “Rise of the Real Mom”. We think that EXPO helped AdAge capture the triumphs and tribulations of the unsung heroes that have helped this nation get through the financial crisis…moms!
Amazon killed its Video Widget this morning. Sunsetting fully-working affiliate tools simply due to low usage cannot be a high priority for Amazon at this flush time. I would guess that it was closed down due to reasons other than low participant uptake. Sometimes, low-level tools are shut down because the number of complaints aren’t worth the fixes. When I wrote about the Video Widget in the Spring, a concern was the conflict between uploading a ‘review’ video and then making affiliate fees off it. It would have been possible to trash competitive products to promote your own. Alternatively, possibly people were taking advantage of a free hosting platform and uploading personal videos. Since you have to associate one product to each video, perhaps manufacturers objected to having their products associated with unscreened, irrelevant videos. Here’s one by me:
Another reason to sunset a working product would be if an improved, or conflicting product is due for launch. This might be the case since they’re allowing you to leave up your old Video Widgets. If I find other discussions about the closure, I’ll update this post.
I see Google’s new filter, Search Options, as a very specific attempt by Google to own consumer word of mouth — that untethered sea of millions of voices speaking about products, experiences, brands. The Search Options that Google launched: Video, Forums, Review…are all currently the strongest forms of consumer expression. In evidence of their interest in commerce, the example in theirvideo demonstration of Google Search Options is a product search: “Powershot SD 750”.Based on the selection of filters available in “Show Options”, Google isobviously hoping to capture a larger share of product researchers by optimizing their search results. Let’s break down the first few critical Search Options that Google chose to launch.
Video: Well, there’s expotv.com, the largest and only video site dedicated to word of mouth video for consumers. Great content to surface in Search Options! And then there’s youtube, which could be characterized as the largest video platform dedicated to word of mouth video for anything. Unfortunately for users, youtube’s page rank of 9 will render this Search Option less helpful. Youtube’s product-tagged video will surface often, but the results will have a number of weaknesses for consumers looking for helpful product information. The two that we often point out are:
(i)the horrifically uneven quality, type and quantity of information that is presented from video to video
(ii)the inability to search effectively no matter how specific your search terms due to poor tagging by great videos, and great tagging by poor videos
However, if you’re Google and you own Youtube, then helping youtube surface even potentially relevant consumer video is a great way to monetize the content.
Forums: Why search forums? Aren’t they the sources that you most avoid when doing a search? Sorting through a bunch of moms talking about swine flu is not going to give you much serious information about the disease. But if the search is on products – forums become an authentic source of consumer enthusiast information. Unlike on Web 1.0, corporate poseursare now often outed immediately on forums. Hard-core enthusiasts take legendary status on forums as moderators, contributors, and consumer experts. The information on the best and biggest forums offer sincere,personal and authentic discussion by enthusiasts. Go to a Disney boardif you want to know the best rooms on the Disney Cruise ship, not Disney.com.
Reviews: I assume I don’t have to cover how reviews are relevant if Google wants to own word of mouth consumer search. The proliferation of text reviews (and even the proliferation of tools that allow sites to implement text reviews) make Google’s search of the resulting vast expanse of content invaluable. Amazon does a great job of sorting through its user reviews in order to spur conversion to sale. Why shouldn’t Google apply that same logic to ALL user reviews.
From Expo’s point of view, Google’s optimization of consumer word of mouth is a boon for content sites like ours. Expo will benefit from the care and attention Google is putting to format, content, and source of user generated product information. We think product researchers will undoubtedly benefit as well.
What’s next for Google Commerce:
Google’s already reached perfection taking both irrelevant and relevant content and attaching a commerce component via Google Adsense. What’s left? Price comparison is dominated by the engines like shopping.com and now it’s commoditized with APIs. Product selection search is dominated by Amazon and its vast marketplace of products. Google then tried inter-Amazon search through its “site search box“. While a smart move by Google, it’s a terrible user experience since Amazon does a much better job of searching its own site and tailoring it for the non-anonymous user.
My bet is on Local Commerce. Local commerce is one area that has yet to unlocked by online tools. My bet is Google will win that game against the brilliant start-ups out there trying to attack local dollars. Local cannot be attacked on a national scale (thus the different names), but GPS is allowing hyper targeting to become relevant to geo-targeting. By vectoring GPS, maps, and local search, Google has the winning combination of national services to synthesize local advertising. Remember, they don’t need to create the local content, just find the right person to deliver it to.