Good news: your ads are getting lots of views. Bad news: robots are watching them

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports some interesting statistics on video ad viewership. And by “interesting” I mean “holy $#@t.”  Apparently companies will go to very great lengths to convince advertisers that their ads are being seen. But many of the views are on sites such as (and you can’t make this stuff up), a company that displays ads smaller than a needlepoint, hence invisible. That’s one of the better case scenarios. Another bit of data eye-candy comes from audience research firm ComScore, who found that 36% of online ad views are generated by nonhumans (i.e. bots, i.e. robots/machines/ i.e not your customers).

robby[1]So, in my post today, I’m going to break down the Wall Street Journal’s “Moving Targets” sample scenario of online fraud, and provide a content marketing alternative from Captains of Industry.


  1. Car brand X asks its ad agency to place an online video spot targeted to men aged 25-54 who are likely World Cup fans.
  2. The agency often goes to an ad network, which in turn sells ads across the web.
  3. If the network doesn’t think it can reach enough World Cup fans, it may turn to an ad exchange to find more ad space for the video campaigns.
  4. Fraudsters can exploit this system by setting up bogus sites who’s fake viewers look attractive to Car Brand X.


  1. Car brand X asks a content marketing agency to build engagement with men aged 25-54 who are likely World Cup fans.
  2. A good content agency will first look at what kind of meaningful, valuable, educational and entertaining web content will appeal to car buyers aged 25-54 who are likely World cup fans. What content would these people seek out, and then share?
  3. The agency develops a strategy for not only the kind of content to be used (i.e. video, podcasts, etc), but what the most effective platform should be for the content (new website, or existing social media platforms such as YouTube, for example)
  4. In tandem, the agency develops a distribution strategy for the content. This may include a publishing calendar, with different kinds of content deployed over time on different platforms and with different forms of social media outreach.
  5. The agency develops a creative concept from the strategy. If the research uncovers that male world cup soccer fans are hungry for information on a particular kind of car, and wary of superficial glitz, the agency might then create a series of entertaining but educational videos about the car, all hosted by a soccer celebrity.
  6. The web video series is then deployed on the kind of platform the strategy has determined will allow the video to be seen by the largest number of potential customers. Not videos that interrupt these people, mind you. These would be videos that the customer would seek out because THEY WANT TO SEE THEM. Because the videos are genuinely interesting, with a depth of information that helps the customer understand the features and benefits of this car – with the story tailored from a soccer fan’s perspective. The trunk space, for example, could be measured not in cubic feet, but by how many soccer balls and other gear it can hold.
  7. Social media is used to get the world out, including targeted outreach to soccer blogs frequented by men aged 25-54.
  8. Success is measured not just by views but by the number of people – actual people – who click through to request more information on the cars being showcased by our soccer star.

The result is that FEWER views may be recorded, but the quality of those interactions will be far greater, with actions and influence measured on a human scale. And here’s the kicker: If large advertisers took half the cost of the 36% of their media spend wasted on views by robots, they could fund a Captains content marketing campaign start to finish.

To quote the HAL 9000 computer from 2001 A Space Odyssey, “Dave, I really think we should talk about this.”

Redefining Instructional Design Through Typography

In today’s branding circles, there are the image geeks and the type geeks—the latter of whom frequently extol the virtuous presence of a perfectly crisp finial or manual kerning. For an increasingly visual reader demographic, typography can speak louder than the words it treats to convey the more elusive essentialities of a brand—personality, tone, age. But too often in this space, form trumps function; beauty rules purpose. It’s rare to see a typeface that is as lovely as it is legible—it’s even more rare to see a typeface that is lovely, legible, utilitarian, and on-brand. It’s this reality that makes the story of the Castledown font—created for students learning to read and write at the Castledown Primary School in East Sussex, England—all the more unusual.

Neil Small, a former teacher-turned-headmaster of Castledown Primary, was frustrated by a not-uncommon concern in our era of universal design: standard library fonts used in workbooks were dull and hard to read for students with dyslexia. When he first contacted Colophon Foundry, a London type studio, he had a clean typeface in mind— one shaped closely to young learners’ natural writing patterns. His request came with an extra layer of complexity and seeming impossibility: Small believed that the right font could be a learning tool in and of itself—a scaffold that would improve all students’ reading and writing practices.

Colophon designers Edd Harrington and Anthony Sheret spent a month with Castledown students, immersed in observing the minute details of their letter placement, pressure points, licks and type preferences as they traced out their letters and first words—contextualizing their findings against accessible design tenets. The namesake custom design they unveiled has now been in use at the primary school for a year. And beyond making it indeed easier for all students to trace, replicate, and read without issue, the Castledown typeface has become the school brand —its friendly curves and inclusive feel extended to a whole new audience of readers via the Castledown Primary website and print collateral.

Castledown School

While a month-long, audience deep dive isn’t always possible in type design, attention to the subtlety of real-life “typography” is and should be. The otherwise unnoticed oscillations of a pencil, or the intrinsic, human patterns of letter formation are precisely what make for designs that go beyond brand, legibility, and utility to refreshingly personal intimacy—the kind that translates across workbooks, mediums, and audiences. In this case, the story of one primary school’s pursuit of a deeper purpose through workbook type design provides an inspired lesson in visual communication—the kind that all true type geeks and branding experts can get behind.

News flash: Data visualization shows climate change denier’s million dollar estate under water

On Wednesday the Obama administration announced a new website created with data visualization tools to make it easier for Americans to see the effects of climate change on their communities ( ). True to a government made website, is very clugey to use, but after a bit of tinkering I was able to find an interesting mapping tool that showed the likely impact of sea level rise on coastal communities. But why pick just ANY coastal community to visualize? I zeroed in on the location for billionaire Bill Koch’s sixteen million dollar waterfront compound estate on the toney island of Oyster Harbors in Cape Cod. Koch, who made his money in the fossil fuel industry, thinks climate change is a liberal fiction, and will do whatever he can to stall the adoption of clean energy in America.

Well, I have bad news for you, Bill. According to the latest projections, sea level rise is happening even faster than scientists previously thought. Along the Massachusetts coastline projections show between a 3 and 6 foot rise between now and the end of this century. Using the data visualization tool, your estate is in serious jeopardy of being under water. I’m not talking about a mortgage being underwater – the kind of problem that hits regular folks. I’m saying your whole estate will very likely be under the Atlantic ocean, a kind of billionaire Atlantis.  I make this point not only because I strongly disagree with Mr. Koch’s climate change-denying beliefs, but also because the Climate.Data website needs to make it much easier for people to see how the un-checked changes hitting our atmosphere will affect us personally. Our houses, not just our regions or towns.  It would work like just enter your address and see if you’re property will be under water. An interactive map of this nature would be relatively easy to make, and would go a long way towards making climate change a real and urgent issue for more Americans. Maybe even Mr. Koch – although I doubt he’ll believe in climate change even with the waves are lapping at his leather armchair.

Check out what sea level rise could do to the Koch estate:

Mean Sea-level Rise | Boston, MA


sea level rise projected large_tcm3-27683


Projected Sea-level Rise | Boston, MA

Projected sea level rise by year 440_tcm3-27687

Go Big or Go Home in the Two-Way Conversation

Even in the age of real-time customer service, where crucial contacts and tips are shelled out—en masse and by the second—across Facebook, Twitter, and 24/7 chat lines to resolve issues, it’s always a bit dazzling when the head honcho of a major brand reaches out to address a singular customer (and arguably, more so when the interaction prompts a discernible pivot in brand strategy). Those are the moments in which it seems that the two-way conversation goes analog—as though to remind us all that no company is faceless and every solution is borne of two (or more) living, breathing people just hashing it out.

Today, we have another proof point for the content marketing binder, c/o of Jenni Avins for New York Magazine. Last summer, Avins, a freelance journalist, authored an impassioned open letter in The Cut to Jenna Lyons, President of J. Crew, requesting a re-release of her favorite J. Crew scoop back swimsuit from the 1990s. Influential channel and J. Crew’s reputation for great customer interaction aside, an email response from Prez Lyons came two days later. Paraphrased, Lyons suggested in her prompt and personal missive that Avins’ letter was the request that tipped the scale on the re-release of the suit.
A year later, the scoop-back that millennial dreams are made of has been reissued for sale, with print advertisements featuring a handwritten note from Lyons to Avins. Nice brand play for J. Crew, but an even better lesson for all content creators out there.
A customer request—distributed via the right channels and touching on a canny audience pain point—can move brand strategy, define new markets, re-launch a product and even make for a personalized response or two from a president (or THE President). Today, we all have voices. Make sure yours is heard loud and clear above the fracas, and your wish can very well become a brand’s command.

250-Word Stories Digestible in 15 Seconds? Believe It

Bored by reading the newspaper because it just takes too long? Don’t have enough time to finish the latest Malcolm Gladwell novel, let alone stuff a sandwich down? Dying to boast to your friends that you read as deftly as a college professor? There’s an app for that. Rather, there is soon to be, courtesy of a co-opted launch between Samsung wearables and Boston developer Spritz.

After three years flying below the radar, Spritz is ready to unveil their techie solution to address two barriers to widespread, mobile readership—the time it takes to read (largely due to excessive eye tracking of words on a surface) and the space lots of words take up (on 640 x 1136 px or smaller mobile screens). Their innovation is a compressed visual frame that streams one word at a time in 13 characters of space.


It’s easy to judge this app by its small, simple cover—until you try it yourself. Taking saccades out of the equation by applying a new method of word alignment (science!) really does mean something big. A beta test on their website offers an enticing glimpse into the promise that readers will be able to clock up to 1000 wpm—in the ballpark of what seasoned speed readers record. Even if you’re resolutely in the middle of the Spritzing pack, you’ll still be able to read at roughly the clip of a high-level executive.

But far more than just another novelty app promising to make us fitter, happier, and more productive (readers), Spritz could be revolutionary for brands and content creators—tomorrow’s delivery mechanism for eloquent, immersive, mobile storytelling within the span of a quarter minute.­

We decide within 15 seconds whether to read, listen, or view on—whether a new journey is evocative enough to compel us to subvert our primal and indolent desires. So find the right narrative for your story and filter it through Spritz. The space of 250 game changing, ice-breaking words is your new brand conversation.


Jimmy Fallon’s genius – make sure every piece of content has something “highlight worthy”

I’ve been watching Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight show since it started airing (which is great, by the way) and three weeks in, there’s an interesting trend emerging. He rarely has a guest on without doing something “highlight reel worthy” with them. Last night, for instance, Billy Joel’s on. On other shows (Leno, Letterman, etc.), they’d do an interview, then after the break he’d perform. Jimmy Fallon does both of these things too, but then he took out his iPad, fired up an app, and he and Billy Joel record a 4 part harmony doo-wop version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on the spot. It was awesome – and I’m sure I’ll google it when I get to the office and share it with the rest of the Captains. (type in jimmy fallon billy joel and see what happens.) So why is that so special? Because Jimmy Fallon nearly always does something with the guest that is worth saving, and more important, sharing. Why just do another interview when you can dig deeper, get creative, and make something highlight worthy?

I would ask the same question every time you make a piece of content. What is going into this that is “highlight worthy”, that will be saved, shared, remembered? Too often, content marketers that wouldn’t be caught dead making a sign for the local dry cleaner’s window are creating content that is just about as creatively inspired and memorable. It doesn’t matter if it’s a video with high production values or a white paper for industry insiders, dig deeper. Make sure it’s highlight worthy for your audience, whoever it is. If you don’t, it’s just noise. And will be about as memorable as just another couch interview with some actor on some late night show that no one will remember next week.

The Big Brand Error That Adweek Didn’t Cover

In recent weeks, the biggest brand error didn’t come from JCPenney, in a #tweetingwithmittens redux, or from Jimmy Kimmel, with another dog-in-wolf’s-clothing publicity stunt. It came from energy giant Chevron—the brand that will go into the books as having proffered pizzas as apologies to residents of Bobtown, Pennsylvania for a fatal fracking explosion and 5-day fire that tore through their rural southwestern Pennsylvania community.

After a February 11th well explosion shook Chevron’s Lanco 7H site in Bobtown, it took a week for emergency crews to control the fire that seared across the gas pad, combusting a nearby propane truck in the process. On the 16th, 100 of the residents closest to the well site received consolation letters from Chevron with a coupon for—wait for it—one free pizza and a 2-liter of soda from the local Bobtown Pizza (limited time offer, expires May 1, 2014).

Today, two weeks later, a broken well continues to leech gas and Bobtown mourns the loss of a local site worker and worries about the safety of the air they breathe.

Even before Deepwater Horizon, big energy companies had been on rebrand pushes with nods to their investments in “human energy” (Chevron’s tagline), “people power”, “safety” and “responsibility”. And yet, as BP knows too well—a brand is truly defined in its moments of crisis; when it is called to answer for its mistakes. When its response is 100 $12 gift certificates to a grieving, endangered community, that’s a lot more than a brand error. A resident of Bobtown said it best: it’s a “slap in the face”. Delivered with a sting to those who have a lot to lose—and have already lost—to the corporate machine.

Content Marketing Academy

Check out this infographic from our friends at the Content Marketing Academy Linkedin group, and be sure to pay them a visit or join an ongoing discussion.


UX is king

Much is being made in the digital media world about the shift from product design to user experience design. This article from Fast Company does a great job of laying out some of the most essential ideas behind quality user experience design, including ideas like designing with a long-term vision in mind, and being focused on the customer (but not necessarily being driven by the customer).

But these ideas go beyond designing products and digital applications, they apply to any work we as content marketers do for our clients. Whether you’re creating a new look and feel for a brand, or writing a set of e-books, or even something as simple as renaming a company, you should always be thinking of how the work will be experienced by the end-user. How does a certain color palette make the viewer feelWhere and how will the reader consume an e-book? What does a name look like when someone says it to someone else?

These aren’t revolutionary ideas, but you’d be surprised how often we stray from thinking about experience, and focus too much on creating polished products that are pleasing from a design or strategic perspective. One of the best examples of this idea of experience is Uber. They crafted a company with the intention of changing an experience, not changing a product or service.

YouTube as Ambassador: How a blond from Boston wowed the Arab World

If there were any question about whether or not YouTube and social media were helping bridge divisions between cultures, I’d say the verdict is in. Jennifer Grout, a rather white woman from one of the whitest and most WASPish corners of America, came within the width of a blond hair to winning Arabs Got Talent, losing out only at the last minute to a Syrian dance troop.

The other performers in the finalists all performed songs and dances with Western influences, but Jennifer happens to love traditional Arabic songs, so that’s what she sang. Many Arabs criticized the contest for allowing Jennifer to perform at all. But a far larger audience, people from throughout the Arab world, praised her for crossing cultural lines and celebrating Arab traditions, demonstrating again the universality of music and the power of today’s media.

It was only a few years ago in the span of human civilization when the only gesture one country could make towards another was through some stiff diplomat (no offense, John Kerry). Now the gestures can be made with the lilting melody of an Arabic love song, sung by a Bostonian, and experienced by everyone, everywhere.