Content Marketing: What’s the Big Idea?

bulbrite-g30-main-white-lgThe beginning of content marketing is content strategy, a governance structure that addresses why content is being created, what goals it addresses, and how, tactically, that content will be created, produced and disseminated.

Content strategy is essential. It strips away tactics and bright shiny objects (“We need a Facebook page/Instagram/Tumblr/Vine account! All the cool kids have one!”) and addresses the essential questions: Why and How?

Yet there’s an additional and very essential element of content strategy that’s much less discussed, albeit no less important that well crafted and well reasoned goals. The very best, most successful and essentially most sustainable content strategies all center around a Big Idea.

What’s the Big Idea?

Take IBM.  IBM is a ginormous, multifaceted, global conglomerate offering a broad palette of products and services. What Big Idea could possibly unify their diverse offering? Simple (but smart): Smarter Planet. If you look at the initiative’s home page, you’ll immediately see the Smarter Planet idea easily encompasses every industry vertical, global territory, channel and capability that IBM offers – or serves.

As diversified and complex as IBM may be, the company seems almost one-track when compared to a conglomerate like GE. From transformers to light bulbs, media to microwaves, commercial lending and power grid infrastructure – how can all this possibly be united under the governing principle of a Big Idea?

It can: Ecomagination.  The concept works for B2B, B2C, home appliances and municipal water supplies. Ecomagination is the concept that GE content ladders up to, and is accountable to. It’s no abstraction.  Ecomagination is clearly defined by the company as, “Ecomagination is GE’s commitment to build innovative solutions for today’s environmental challenges while driving economic growth.”

The beginning of content marketing is content strategy, a governance structure that addresses why content is being created, what goals it addresses, and how, tactically, that content will be created, produced and disseminated.

Content strategy is essential. It strips away tactics and bright shiny objects (“We need a Facebook page/Instagram/Tumblr/Vine account! All the cool kids have one!”) and addresses the essential questions: Why and How?

Yet there’s an additional and very essential element of content strategy that’s much less discussed, albeit no less important that well crafted and well reasoned goals. The very best, most successful and essentially most sustainable content strategies all center around a Big Idea.

Arriving at the Big Idea

The Big Idea is way, way too big to belong to the content team alone, or the social media group, or communications. The Big Idea is (yet another) Big Reason – particularly in an era of  converged media - for smashing silos. Every marketing message must incorporate, address and answer to the Big Idea. It’s therefore the responsibility of every marketing division to arrive at what the Big Idea is, and to effectively communicate it to all internal and external stakeholders.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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What to Measure: ROI or KPIs?

Digital marketing is constantly evolving and rapidly changing. It’s full of new technologies, new tactics, and new innovations. Yet there’s one constant: accountability. There’s an expectation that no matter how new, how cutting edge, how experimental or untested, it will all be perfectly measurable.

The reality is all digital marketing is and always will be measurable — but not always along traditional lines. And you can’t always measure what you most want to measure.

Analytics can reveal lots of insight, but there’s a staunch unwillingness to accept (in some quarters) that the exact knowledge desired might well be akin to reading tea leaves rather than spreadsheets and dashboards. This leads to a world of unrealistic expectations and flat-out delusions. As I wrote earlier this year:

“Everything is measurable, but not necessarily right out of the box. That’s why publisher metrics are applied to native advertising campaigns (though goals are widely divergent), and way too much stuff is measured in terms of “engagement,” which means something different to everyone who utters the term. A trend I’d really like to see in 2014, in addition to all kinds of good metrics such as the ability to attribute ROI and measure accountably while aligning with goals, is a readiness to admit that it’s just too early to apply hard-and-fast, unalterable metrics to brand new stuff we’re all still trying to figure out.”

Otherwise put, and very wisely so by Mashable’s CMO Stacy Martinet in a talk last week, “There’s a right metric for every campaign. But you have to figure out what it is, and you have to explain why to the boss.”

The right metric isn’t always ROI, but too often, ROI is the default, go-to metric to which marketers are being held accountable. Software manufacturers are under the same pressure. “How can we build ROI accountability into our dashboards?” is a question you hear over and over again in product meetings.

ROI is a wonderful thing. But it’s not always possible to track every single effort down to a dollars-and-cents return. Often, it’s not possible — or even the most desirable outcome. It’s also perfectly valid to have a goal of, say, message amplification in terms of social shares. If your YouTube video was shared 1.4 million times, that metric tells the right story.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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Is There Really a Content Glut?

credit: "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life"

credit: “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life”

You are just beginning to wrap your mind around the fact that content marketing is the new “it” thing in digital marketing when you hear it’s over. Too much noise, not enough signal. Too much content. Too much bad content. No one will ever find your content due to the glut of other content incessantly pouring into digital channels at an accelerating, unceasing rate.

You may as well hang it up and go home. Better yet, if you haven’t already, don’t even start doing this whole content marketing thing.

This argument, surfacing recently in a spate of blogs and articles, is as pointless as it is predictable. You may as well argue that you shouldn’t market via email because of spam. Or (as was suggested in a recent interview), claim it’s time to trash your website because all websites “look alike” and are “boring.”

These are kneejerk reactions to disruption, more indicative of human nature than they are of the efficacy of new marketing strategies and techniques. Here’s what’s really going on:

  • It’s cool to be the first to the party.
  • It’s even cooler to declare the party’s over before anyone else does.

Only with content, you can’t do that because content is a constant. As I’ve said before in this column, content is the atomic particle of all marketing. No content = no website. No content = no email. No content = no social media, advertising, “creative,” DM, you name it. All those tactics and formats are, in effect, content envelopes.

Has a surge in the popularity of content marketing foisted more bad content upon us? You bet it has. So what else is new? Bad content, boring content, superfluous content — the world’s always been full of it and will continue to be full of it.

Even bastions of impeccably produced content, The New York Times, for example, can be tarred with this brush. For more decades than I’m willing to admit, as a print edition subscriber, my first act of the day was to bend over, pick up the paper, and chuck the sports section. That (to me, at least) is boring, superfluous, irrelevant content (though I can appreciate that you may be of an entirely different opinion). This did not, however, impel me to “turn off” my New York Times subscription.

If there’s a content glut, it’s because we’ve reached that very predictable stage in the disruption curve when a trend becomes a bandwagon. This results in spray and pray tactics, irrational exuberances, content “gurus” emerging from every quarter (most of them were social media gurus yesterday, and search gurus a couple of years back).

I won’t dispute for an instant that bad content is being created at a healthy clip. But I do disagree that all this noise drowns out the genuine signals.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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Q&A With New York Times Meredith Kopit Levien on Native Advertising Launch

Meredith_Kopit_Levien_NYTimes

All prognostications for 2014 (including my own) point to native advertising as A Big Thing to watch this year – and it is. The FTC’s December workshop thrust native into the spotlight, but nothing has amplified the fact that native advertising has arrived more than the New York Times launch of Paid Posts, its native product that launched this week with Dell as the first advertiser.

Late as the Grey Lady may be to the party (virtually all other members of the Online Publishers Association already have some form of native advertising on offer), the Times is the Times; a standard bearer in media, publishing and journalistic best practices.

Native advertising has been both delayed and controversial at the newspaper of record. Executive Editor Jill Abramson has expressed strong reservations. Publisher and Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. very recently distributed a native advertising “manifesto” to staff.

So with the new product finally launched, I caught up with the Times’ EVP Advertising Meredith Kopit Levien to pose some questions about native advertising at the Times. Most are based around the best practice recommendations in my recent research on the topic of native advertising (download available here).

Q: Native advertising is highly labor intensive and requires “feeding the beast” with content. Your first advertiser, Dell, is led by Managing Editor Stephanie Losee, who has  a very strong editorial background. Will the Times have difficulties finding other clients up to this challenge?

Levien: We see a lot of clients who have developed their own newsrooms or who have always-on content strategies. Social media gave everybody the opportunity to be a publisher. The amount of maturity in the marketing is growing. There are a whole lot of marketers who have an always-on content strategy. Using that in conjunction with the Times’ content division is how we’ll produce content. Intel [another enterprise with a very mature content organization] and a handful of others will launch this quarter.

Q: What formal policies does the TImes have in places around church/state divisions? 

Levien: We’ll establish more over time. The brightest, clearest, most important is the newsroom is the newsroom. It does not touch [Paid Posts]. That will not change. That’s an important separation to keep. The others fall out from that. Also, Paid Posts carry a label and full disclosure.

Q: The Times is hiring freelancers to write Paid Post content. Can these same freelancers also write for the editorial sections of the paper?

Levien: That’s an evolving discussion.

 Q: Dell’s commitment is three months. What about other advertisers’ commitments? And given this is a premium product, will you limit how many advertisers can run Paid Posts at any given time?

Levien: We are establishing minimums. We don’t want to do this as a one-off. We also require that all content be original, not repurposed for the Times.  We’re not in any danger of the consumer thinking there’s too much of this on the site.

Q: If advertisers can’t bring their own content in, can they get your content to-go, so to say?

Levien: Once we co-produce the piece, the marketer can do with that what they want – the marketer has ownership. That’s the to-go model: using our content for their purposes.

Q: What metrics is the New York Times tracking to gauge the success of this program?

Levien: We are using an incredible vendor named SimpleReach. They have built a custom metrics dashboard. They give a marketer the same metrics the newsroom uses: pages, views, etc., also social referrals. How much traction is the content getting compared to editorial content? Secondly, is it trending on the social web, and if it is, what can we do to amplify it?

Q: Many publishers offering native advertising solutions, like Hearst and Buzzfeed, are offering training and educational programs to advertisers and agencies. Will the New York Times follow suit?

Levien:  Certainly in the early months we’re going to do collaborative education with the partners we bring on. It’s not out of the question we wouldn’t turn that into a program.  We have a  lot of knowledge about how content moves through our platform.

Q: There’s a great deal of role confusion when it comes to native advertising. Brands, their advertising agencies, PR agencies – everyone is jostling for position in this space. Who do you anticipate you going to work with?

Levien: There is  much more transition that will happen between paid owned and earned media. We’re mostly working with the brands, but there’s a huge role for the ad agencies and the PR agencies. Lots of brands have agencies who are helping to add to their content capabilities. We’ve tried to organize in a way that’s friendly to an agency buying.

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Nine Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2014

crystal-ballLongtime readers know not to expect a list of annual “predictions” so prevalent in trade publications this time of year. After all, I’m an industry analyst. Un-endowed with the psychic abilities that would enable me to read crystal balls or entrails, I must instead rely on my innate powers of observation and analysis.

That’s not said casually. Observation and analysis of digital marketing and media is what I do.  Based on industry movement, technology developments, and industry trends, these are the areas I’ll be watching most closely in the new year.

  1. Enterprises Organize for Content  The hue and cry up to a year or so ago from content marketing evangelists was “hire a chief content officer!” The sentiment behind this exhortation was and remains correct: content strategy is the foundation of content marketing. To create, maintain and enforce strategy, guidelines, processes, governance and guardrails are entirely necessary. However not every board is disposed to create a new C-level position. That’s why companies are taking seriously the need to organize for content marketing.  Last spring we identified six real-world models. Expect to see companies begin to adopt these with some alacrity in 2014.
  2. Native Advertising Will Surge Brands, publishers, agencies, technology vendors – virtually the entire digital advertising ecosystem has a stake in the ground when it comes to native advertising. The IAB and the FTC have chimed in with the beginnings of defining the space and the rules of engagement. Virtually all the members of the Online Publishers Association now offer some form of native advertising, and major brands are allocating budget for serious experiments. You’re going to hear a lot more about this form of converged media (paid + owned) in the coming months.
  3. Real-Time Marketing Another form of converged media is real-time marketing,  the strategy and practice of reacting with immediacy in digital channels.  As more channels and media operate in real-time, and as real-time events such as television converge with digital channel on mobile and social media platforms, virtually all marketers will be challenged this year to define a real-time marketing strategy, and indeed to determine what real-time means for their organization and marketing efforts.
  4. Content Marketing ‘Stacks’ Emerge It’s already happening. Adobe has formally announced what we’ve long known they would: their Marketing and Creative Clouds will merge. Oracle bought Compendium and Eloqua (expect Salesforce to do something very, very similar quite soon – ExactTarget isn’t quite in the content bucket).  This trend indicates 2014 will usher in an important new chapter in content marketing maturity: end-to-end, cloud-based technology solutions similar to ad stacks, rather than the boutique array of much more limited solutions that are currently available. This matters not just as a technology play, but as something that will make content a safer and more integrated enterprise investment.
  5. Media Continue to Converge Paid, earned and owned media continue to collapse into blended forms of marketing. This trend is only accelerating with consumer trends such as cord-cutting, that make platforms such as television even more digital than they formerly were. Concurrently, OOH signage and other forms of media are more digital, too, allowing owned content and forms of shared media such as tweets to circulate freely through media ecosystem.
  6. Breaking Down Silos If number 6 comes as a surprise, you clearly haven’t read the first five trends. Media converging, a greater emphasis on content marketing, native advertising, real-time marketing and other blended forms of marketing means teams must collaborate more than every before. Goal alignment, resource sharing, and content portability – none of this happens internally, much less with vendor and agency partners, unless barriers and divisions are smashed.  There’s no more time to wait. Silos must be abolished now.
  7.  Interoperability Much more than a byproduct of convergence, apps, gadgets, devices are becoming interoperable – seamlessly interoperable. AS a for instance, my personal fitness monitor smoothly syncs with my Android phone, laptop computer, iPad, Walgreen’s loyalty card, stand-alone weight and food trackers, and (if I wanted, which I don’t) with all my social media accounts. All this at the flick of preference radio buttons. The days or “either/or” “Mac/Windows” customer experience are over. Customers expect – and demand – seamlessness from their digital life.
  8. More Mobile Yeah, we hear this every year, but mobile really has come to the fore. More smartphones and tablets are flying off the shelves than PCs and laptops, and mobile finally commands more consumer time than the boob-tube.  This means new experiences, media strategies and (looping back to the top of the list) more content, real-time and native in marketing plans.  “Mobile first” is no longer a hollow mantra. It’s really, actually true.
  9. Measuring What’s Undefined  Is this really a genuine trend? I hope it will be. There’s this unrealistic expectation in digital that everything’s measurable. It is, but not necessarily right out of the box. That’s why publisher metrics are applied to native advertising campaigns (though goals are widely divergent), and way too much stuff is measured in terms of “engagement,” which means something different to everyone who utters the term. A trend I’d really LIKE to see in 2014 is, in additional to all kinds of good metrics such as the ability to attribute ROI and measure accountably and aligned with goals, is a readiness to admit that it’s just too early to apply hard-and-fast, unalterable metrics to brand new stuff we’re all still trying to figure out. Square pegs, round holes.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Six Business Cases for Real-Time Marketing

As digital channels operate increasingly in the ‘now,’ all marketing organizations must consider to what degree they will function in real-time, and even define what real-time is relative to their operations and marketing organization.

The payoff? That digital marketing ideal: the right message to the right person at the right time. The right instant, even.

Real-time marketing (RTM) can add tremendous value to customer interactions; making brands appear relevant, with-it, informed, dynamic and buzzworthy. The movement toward RTM is also driven by consumer expectations as immediacy, relevance and access increase with technology.

Our new research report, Real-Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage ‘Now,’ identifies six business use cases for real-time marketing that fall into a quadrant of planned/unplanned and reactive vs. proactive interactions. In numerous interviews with agency and brand-side practitioners, we found all successful RTM requires enormous strategic and tactical preparation, beginning with a strong , clear and well-defined content strategy.

real-time marketing use case quadrant

RTM Use Case #1: Brand Events
Brand events include product launches, conferences, media and customer-facing events where content strategy, pre-approvals, media plans, hashtags, creative, editorial calendars, etc. can be prepared in advance. During events, staff are available to push out content and react to posts in social media.

RTM Use Case #2. Anticipated Event
A growing number of organizations are preparing for real-time events that are anticipated in advance. Business goals, strategies, teams, and approvals are ready, content is locked and loaded.

RTM Use Case #3: Location/object-based
A small but promising use case of RTM taps into location and object-based triggers. Hand-crafted examples of this type of RTM include local food trucks publicizing specials and current locations. Increasingly sophisticated technology, such as iBeacon, target a consumer’s location down to the store-shelf level and push a promotion to that person’s phone in the moment. That’s literally targeting the right person at the right time and the right place.

RTM Use Case #4. Predictive Analytics-based
Another relatively small but growing area of triggered RTM is based on predictive analytics. Amazon has long used predictive data to display recommendations to customers based on browsing and purchase history. This trend will gain momentum as data solutions become more accessible and simpler to implement.

RTM Use Case #5. Customer Interaction
Customer interactions take many forms: CRM, customer service, handling complaints, and community interactions being primary examples. While many organizations handle such interactions to customer service, the very public, visible and occasionally even viral nature of these interactions in social channels means they are increasingly becoming a marketing function. This holds particularly true now that customers have come to expect brands to respond to their digital queries and complaints in near-real time.

RTM Use Case #6. Breaking News
The most reactive form of RTM is responding in a legitimate, relevant manner to unanticipated breaking news. This can also be the riskiest, most spontaneous, and difficult type of RTM. Advance preparation is all but impossible. Breaking news isn’t always good news, so an acute degree of sensitivity is called for. Often, this also requires following a story as it unfolds. The opportunity is hitting it over the fence by appropriately leveraging the event in a way that is relevant, both to the event and to the brand.

As with all Altimeter Group research, Real-Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage ‘Now’ is available at no cost under Creative Commons.  Help yourself!  And please let us know your reactions, as well as how your organization is functioning in real-time.

[slideshare id=29152561&doc=reportreal-timemarketing-theagilitytoleveragenowrebeccaliebjessicagroopman-131212115620-phpapp02&type=d]

Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog

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How Dell Is Innovating In Native Advertising

We’ve talked a good deal in this space about converged media, the blending of paid, owned, and earned in digital channels. Now it appears a sound barrier of sorts has been shattered with the selection of a native ad that Dell created for Forbes.com for publication in an actual book.

This month, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published “The Best American Infographics 2013,” which includes an illustration that Dell published on its Forbes BrandVoice page in April 2012. The credit reads “Dell Inc. on Forbes.com.”

Dell Managing Editor Stephanie Losee regards this as a watershed moment for content marketing. “In other words, one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the world just called Dell a publisher, and they did it because of what we posted on our DellVoice page. Native advertising, meet traditional publishing.”

“As far as I know,” Losee told me, “This is the first time a traditional publisher has affirmed sponsored content as editorial, particularly as prestigious a publishing house as Houghton Mifflin. They were fully aware of the source. They knew it was native advertising, yet still selected the graphic and gave us credit.”

Read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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Four Epic Native Advertising Fails

As a research analyst, I just completed a study of native advertising. The report, based on months of research and dozens of interviews, contains eight critical recommendations for successful native advertising campaigns.

We help our clients incorporate these recommendations in their native advertising strategies. What happens when best practices and tried-and-true practices are disregarded or ignored? That’s what iMedia’s editors asked me to share in this article. Not for the sake of schadenfreude really, but as a set of object lessons. So let’s take a look at a handful of native advertising fails and also map them to the whys of their shortcomings.

Best practices matter in native advertising a lot, and soon they’ll matter even more. Recently, 73 percent of Online Publishers Association members said they offer some form of digital advertising, a number that is swelling daily. Spending in the sector is expected to swell to $4.57 billion by 2017, though that’s a figure that bears some scrutiny, given “native advertising” does not yet bear the distinction of a formal, much less universally-agreed upon, definition.

Nonetheless, if we can agree that native advertising is a form of converged media (regardless of whether it appears on a publisher site or a social platform) that combines paid media (i.e., an ad) with owned media (i.e., content that isn’t “advertising-y” in nature), best practices and success elements do begin to emerge.

Trust and transparency

The Atlantic-Scientology debacle is the poster child of native advertising gone horribly — no, hideously — wrong. Under a small-ish “Sponsor Content” box, the site published a sunny and upbeat piece about the extremely controversial leader of the Church of Scientology: “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year.” An uproar ensued, causing the piece to be taken down in short order, and an apology was issued. In short order The Onion followed up with “SPONSORED: The Taliban Is A Vibrant And Thriving Political Movement.”

In a further apology issued the following day, The Atlantic stated, “We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way.”

What’s a best practice in this area? Disclosure, transparency, and trust are non-negotiable. Period. And come on, we’ve danced this dance more than once: With search engine advertising, paid blogging, and word-of-mouth marketing. Do we really even need to have this conversation? Disclose to readers that it’s a paid placement. Link to the relevant editorial policy. Create a channel for inquiry.

There. That wasn’t so bad now, was it?

Strange bedfellows

The Economist teamed up with Buzzfeed to create a promotional listicle entitled “Dare2GoDeep,” the stories behind the venerable publications’ serious hard news and policy coverage. The piece, and indeed, the pairing, was widely mocked as “inane” and “cringeworthy.” It is kind of hard to draw the line between one of the world’s most respected news magazines and a website known for its lists of all things LOL and feline.

Sales-y

At the heart of native advertising is content marketing, which is soft, not hard, sell. Last holiday season, “A Gift Guide for Surviving Your Family at Home This Holiday” on Gawker Media read more shill than article. The body copy doesn’t really deliver on the headline’s promise, which feels bait-and-switch.

Collaboration and earned media

I hate to single out Buzzfeed again (the publication does so much native advertising so very well), but last August the site was involved in an imbroglio that should have been nipped in the bud rather than allowed to spiral into scandal. A conservative anti-abortion group published its own listicle bashing Planned Parenthood in Buzzfeed’s then-new community section. The post violated Buzzfeed’s community guidelines, yet it wasn’t immediately taken down, causing a media, as well as social media, fallout. The Guardian followed up: “BuzzFeed is taking trolling to a new level by pandering to right-wing nuts.”

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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A Big Deal for Content Marketing: Oracle Buys Compendium

oracleToday Oracle announced that it’s buying Compendium, a company that offers cloud-based content marketing workflow solutions.  Compendium will be integrated into the Oracle Eloqua Marketing Cloud.
     At Altimeter Group, I’m just now embarking on a research project to map the content vendor landscape (slated for publication in Q1 of 2014). There are literally dozens and dozens of companies on the scene, all offering solutions that address small niches of the very broad content workflow requirements. The first and most immediately apparent finding is that there will be many such mergers and acquisitions in the sector.
     Oracle’s acquisition of Compendium is indeed a watershed moment for content. It’s acknowledgement that content is the foundational element of marketing. Without content (and all that it necessitates: governance, workflow and strategy being paramount), there is no advertising, there is no social media, PR, or other forms of marketing. All are fed and nurtured by content,  the demands for which are increasing exponentially.
     There’s also a need to integrate the existing tools on the market that facilitate content marketing: workflow, process, measurement, production, distribution, aggregation and curation, etc. Expect not only more acquisitions by enterprise players, but also M&A activity among the smaller companies as content “stacks” begin to form that address marketers’ end-to-end content requirements.

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AOL’s “Programmatic Upfront”: Still an Oxymoron

aol-logo-3-300x260Programmatic upfront? AOL’s much-ballyhooed event at New York’s Advertising Week was positioned to provoke. Upfronts are ginormous, splashy, boozy, star-studded, A-list, steak, lobster and caviar TV blowouts for advertisers, not digital media buyers. It’s where broadcasters preview the next season’s programming (and, as a Starcomm executive mentioned before AOL’s event kicked off, “We’ve always had an opportunity to see AOL’s premium inventory in advance.”)

Programmatic buying – real-time, automated bidding for ad inventory, is the opposite of carefully negotiated premium display advertising.

So what’s a programmatic upfront? It’s still an oxymoron, and a lot of people left the AOL event scratching their heads.

What AOL really announced at an “upfront” that featured precisely one live celebrity (Nate Silver), a velvet rope and mini-skirted, high-heeled models checking agency and client-side guests into a midtown Manhattan venue was a sort of VIP buyers’ club. Beginning next year, the company will make reserved premium inventory (e.g. the Huffington Post, TechCrunch and StyleList home pages) available via its automated real-time buying system, the AdLearn Open Platform, to buyers who have committed multi-million dollar investments upfront (upfront) – said to be in the $10M range, per Advertising Age.

So far, two brands and five agencies have signed on: Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, LG Home Appliances, Accuen, Amnet, Havas Media, Horizon Media and MagnaGlobal.  DigitasLBi, Razorfish and VivaKi are thinking about it, according to AOL Networks CEO Bob Lord.

AOL is clearly trying to decouple associations such as “remnant inventory” from “programmatic buying.” It’s looking for deeper and longer-term commitments for brand campaigns, and is emphasizing the amount of planning that’s required for such initiatives, programmatic or otherwise.

Effectively, what AOL is offering is not an upfront, but rather a private, reserved marketplace where a group of high rollers get right of first refusal on premium inventory.

Substantial advance monetary commitments to premium ad inventory – not to mention the technology that powers it – is clearly advantageous to AOL.  Simplifying the process of buying, placing, targeting, optimizing and re-targeting messaging across platforms and formats including desktop, web, mobile, apps, smartphones, tablet and rich media clearly has advantages as well.

What’s less clear is if AOL didn’t almost completely obfuscate this message in its buzz-building insistence to provocatively brand its event a “programmatic upfront.” Exit polls, and post-event email exchanges, indicated that there was little more understanding what the term meant after the event then before it, “And we talked about it for days beforehand at the office,” said one strategist from Universal-McCann.

AOL claims to be streamlining online ad buying, to be simplifying the process. “What would you do with more time?” asked banners, signs and projections at the New York event, implying that AOL’s promise is to deliver something newer, more streamlined and simpler.

We’ll take it! But please, call it something different. Because the morning after the event, people who had been there were still asking, “What the heck is a programmatic upfront?” In that one very important sense, AOL still can’t get out of its own way.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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