Welcome to the Stream

Web 2.0 is dead, eclipsed by data-driven content and 'live' feeds. Can media and marketers adapt to the Net's next phase?

What’s more startling is to hear advertisers adopt their own news-oriented language and approach to their task. Pepsi made a small splash last year when its Gatorade division launched a “Social Media Mission Control Center” that attempts to bring real-time reactions to the advertising messages for their products. In a setup that looks very much like an editor’s slot at a newspaper—or a TV news division—employees sit before a bank of monitors. Some have live TV feeds, others views of posts using brand-related hashtags, others analytics of traffic on the company’s various Web presences. In one example, when a Gatorade TV ad featuring a rap song started trending on social media, the Gatorade Mission Control team ordered up a longer version of the ad to try to capitalize on it, a Gatorade marketing director told Mashable last year.

Jeff Bernstein, who runs the San Francisco office of Universal McCann, has set up something similar for a select group of the agency’s clients.

“We started to notice in our research that the advertising was becoming less and less effective, not only online but on TV and everywhere, especially for people under 35,” Bernstein says. With TV often functioning as merely background noise for the younger crowd while they were on their Net-connected PCs (and, increasingly, tablets), Bernstein says the agency needs to find new ways to make its advertising “pop” with the audience.

“Different things have become media that weren’t media before,” he adds. “Where they used to be flipping through a magazine for five minutes, they’re looking at Twitter or playing Angry Birds. News and entertainment are becoming very mobile, and people are filling in gaps in the day that never used to be media time.”

In response, UM has put in place processes to make live changes in display ads on a day-to-day and even hour-to-hour basis. For one client, the agency is changing copy on the fly while leaving the art the same. For another, a financial services client, Bernstein says UM reacts to daily market action. “We have different copy and creative ready, depending on whether the market’s up or down. It’s scenario planning around conditions,” he says.

It’s important to note that this is different from the audience targeting and automated buying of inventory that have been introduced into the digital marketplace in recent years. “We can leverage real-time buying,” Bernstein says, “but there’s another level beyond that. We’ve taken the leap from buying audiences or buying behavior to buying trends.”

“If you think about e-commerce,” says Will Price, CEO of ad tech firm Flite, “the architecture has been developed by category—shoes vs. books vs. TVs, with different filters put on the content.” Those vertical silos have had mostly static pages designed to be easily crawled by Google and its search competitors. But how, Price asks, do advertisers target “recommendations and other dynamic filters?”

Flite’s answer is a technology platform for agencies (including UM) and their clients that lets them better manage the process of changing Web advertising on the fly. “You can’t be running brand creative that’s based on a plan that’s six months old,” Price says, dismissing the traditional way of building a campaign as too risky. “It’s like saying we’re going to come up with the next hit movie, or the next iPhone. If the systems are really good, you don’t have to put as much pressure on yourself to be a hit maker.”

In the real-time world, he suggests, there’s a reason display ads are doing such a poor job of delivering brand messages—they haven’t yet adapted to being part of the customer’s ever-changing stream. Being active and agile, he says, is more likely to produce work that makes a brand resonate.

When Price starts to explain how one large consumer goods client and its multiple agencies plan to use Flite’s software to coordinate their efforts on this new frontier, he too starts to sound like a content guy.  “The constant curation has an editorial voice, a temporal voice, and, of course, the audience’s voice,” he says.

But do advertising agencies, let alone clients, have the sort of talent to be able to do this sort of curation and real-time rewriting of brand messages? Bernstein admits that the process is far from mature at UM’s end, and finding people who can both understand the analytics (all that material cropping up on the multiple monitors in the Gatorade Mission Control) and then execute on it is a challenge.

“We’ve identified people within our San Francisco office who have those proclivities. There’s a definite skill set that’s emerging,” he says.

Now if we could only agree on a label for what they’re applying that skill set to. Web 4.0, anyone?