slingbox on a train

The smug guy sitting next to me on the 7 pm Acela to Providence, yakking into his iPhone and reading my screen is now a little confused because I started flipping through my Tivo and watched a Russian movie on IFC before channel surfing to the episode of South Park where Cartman learns how to eat with his butt.

I love Wireless WAN (especially when someone else pays for it) and Slingbox.

It’s magic! There’s no wires! How does he do it? Why is he now writing about me?

I wish the Boeing Connexion internet service still was offered on airplanes, I’d try to watch my tube on the way to Beijing at the end of the month.

Disconnected interactive

This week’s meetings in New York City gave me a gradual glimpse into the evolution of online media and its total separation from browser/web delivery to one that includes video screens in the back seats of taxis to the massive digital billboards that crane over the approach into the Midtown tunnel.

This new media is unique in that there is no action that can be taken by the audience other than a pure impression. The billboards cycle relentlessly through four to six-second spots, doubtlessly trafficked intelligently to show the right message at the right time to the thousands of cars flowing underneath them, but there is no clickthrough action that can verify the connection between message and audience, no way their effectiveness can be measured other than a count of the number of cars that pass underneath it and some wild-ass demographic guess about the income of the people in those cars.

In today’s taxis, in those back seats that Travis Bickle cleaned out every night, are video screens, blaring away celebrity news, movie reviews, weather, Zagat’s. The cabbies don’t like them – not for the content, but because they carry GPSs and enable credit cards which means their tips are taxable. But focus on those screens (the first thing I do it hit the mute button and wonder how many microbes I’ve just picked up) long enough and you realize that they are just a dumb browser, there’s no way to click through and buy, to sign up for the newsletter or sub to the RSS, but the messages are there, pounding away at a captive audience as relentlessly as the screens in some elevators … all trafficked, all timed with a mysterious backstage logic that could be saying: “Passenger climbed into taxi at corner of 49th and 8th and now is moving downtown. Logic says passenger could be heading to Port Authority or Penn Station, logic says direction and time of day could indicate commuter, look in ad pool and serve ad for Panasonic Toughbook out of “portability” pool.”

Even if it doesn’t happen, it could, and as a semi-obsessive compulsive optimizer who believes in stuff like behavioral targeting, day parting, re-targeting, campaign stacking, path analysis and the such, I think it’s pretty cool and leading us back into a world where there is no accountability expected from media (of course there will be those Quixotes who will try, the old hand grenade marketing gang that measures crap like “pass-alongs” and cars per hour under the old six-panel billboard). The old world of half-my-advertising-works-but-I-don’t-know-which-half, a world of media where messages get blared out there but there’s never any explicit attribution or tieback to the tactic. It’s coming back

We just ran a very interesting experiment with classic television advertising. The ads were bought and trafficked online, and while they ran there were some interesting and measurable effects that we could measure with our web analytic tools – all positive, but not as explicitly and precisely trackable as an AdSense campaign where a bid on a search term went out, was won, served a text link which got clicked, and which resulted in an order for a $1395 laptop at 3 am on Tuesday from customer in Duluth. The TV worked, we know it because there was little other media out there to clutter the controlled aspect of the experiment, but we detected its effects through web tools, e.g. show television commercials about a tablet computer and suddenly the “tablet PC” keywords starts to perform. I think we’re entering a renaissance of advertising for advertising’s sake where some digital media gets cut some major slack for not being attributable but for just being there.

“Smart” digital marketing is about reaching a state of metric bliss where every penny is squeezed until it shrieks. “Dumb” digital marketing is throwing a message out into the ether, aiming at the side of the barn and hoping it sticks. Unaccountable media could be coming back.

Good news? In some ways the mental pollution of brand messages, buy now, logos, and other insidious messages are probably contributing the overall decline in modern IQ and mental health, but … as an academic exercise in some sort of weird statistical driven sociology … it’s a lot of fun to play with.

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