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Advertising Pitfalls

There are many advertising pitfalls, but few are worse than advertising in a venue that is getting a great deal of negative attention. After all, how well would your ad be received if it appears on a site that really ticks people off? It wouldn’t be pretty, that’s for sure, and it isn’t pretty for the advertisers who paid a lot of money to be seen on NBC’s online Olympic coverage website,

Now, let’s be fair. NBC has the exclusive coverage rights and that is worth enough for them to want to defend it. Unfortunately, they have made some bonehead decisions that have led to a whole raft of resentment and a cottage industry in getting around NBC to be able to enjoy Olympic coverage online. 

Pushing TV Coverage

Let’s begin with the fact that NBC’s website is the only place on the Web where you can legally watch the big show. However, since NBC is also televising the Olympics, the clips are not posted to the website until after they appear on TV. Not only are they not shown in real time, but they appear well after the results are in. That being the case, why visit the site at all? Checking it out at lunch will only give you what you saw the night before or on the morning news, so unless you are interesting in something that did not make the primetime coverage, what is the point? 

If you have to ask that question about an advertising medium, then you will need to rethink placing your ad there. 

Pushing Microsoft Technology

Pushing the TV coverage at the expense of the website is silly enough, but NBC’s choice of player for the coverage, Microsoft’s Silverlight 2.0, is a slap in the face. It brings you back to the deal Microsoft made to supply Windows for all computers with Intel chips—whether consumers wanted it or not. That is not to say that Silverlight 2.0 is a bad viewer, but it is a browser plug-in that no one has ever heard of, which raises the specter of malware. What’s more, older Mac and Linux users are completely cut out since the plug-in is not backwards compatible. Also, since you have to download the plug in before you can see anything, that cuts out anyone who would like to log into the site from work. Most businesses have stiff regulations regarding what you may or may not download to their computers. Added up, you can see how NBC’s policies are chasing away huge segments of their audience. 

Pushing the Ads

It is one thing to have a single ad play before the video you select, but more than that is a problem. Let’s face it, when the TV commercial comes on, it is time to hit the bathroom, or go make a sandwich or something similar. To my knowledge, the only people who watch TV commercials are people who, for some ungodly reason, study TV commercials, or who are watching the Superbowl. The rest of us hate them and curse the person who makes the decision to cut away from the movie in the middle of a line just so some joker in a beard and a blue shirt can try to sell us glue putty and cheap health insurance with a really loud voice and meaningful hand gestures. That being a fairly general truth, what in the world made NBC think that stringing ads together before a selected clip of desired content was actually a good idea? On Greg Sterling’s Screenwerk Blog, he writes: 

My daughter has been watching lots of the Olympics coverage online and the volume of pre-roll advertising that NBC is pumping into the video is totally obnoxious. In every single instance we mute the ads. 

Of course he does! Sitting through minutes of mute ads before watching what you came to see is annoying to say the least. Still, it is all part of the experience. So is having to wait a day after the events you are interested in seeing and then, to see them, being forced to download and install software you don’t necessarily want or otherwise need. 

The Bottom Line

It is the experience that reflects the real problems here and serves as an object lesson for anyone thinking of advertising on a website. What kind of user experience does that site offer? Are people flocking to the site or are they finding ways around it, as is the case with the NBC site? Millions of people are getting the same coverage from other sites in spite of the IOC’s campaign of cease and desist letters. The magnitude of the problem—for NBC and its online advertisers—is immense. The company’s ham-handed attempt to engineer an “experience” has backfired terribly for everyone involved in this online debacle. NBC and Microsoft resorted to the kind of corporate-think that puts the company before the consumer, and the consumer in this case is savvy enough to get around them. Today’s generation wants what it wants when it wants it, not after downloading something no one has heard of, not after waiting for the TV coverage they don’t want to watch and not after a string of ads, either. They forgot these little truths and now their advertisers are paying the price.