Home Marketing 2.0: Can Meebo Make it Real?

Marketing 2.0: Can Meebo Make it Real?

Cross network web IM service Meebo is announcing today the hire of CNet and Warner Music vet Carter Brokaw as the company’s new Chief Revenue Officer. Along with that announcement the company is starting to talk about its plans to monetize a platform that many have said will be impossible to profit from. The plan is very marketing 2.0. Is that what users want? Is the ad world ready?

Meebo’s spent six months studying focus groups gathered from their 30 million users per month to see what kind of advertising users will put up with. The response has been unsurprising – users say they don’t want impersonal sales messages broadcast at them. They want to be invited into useful or entertaining engagements with advertisers where they, the users, remain in control of the experience. They (we) want utility-based ad campaigns.

Martin Green, VP of Business at Meebo, says that just like the banner ads that used to appear on search results pages before contextual text ads made the thought of banner ads on those pages seem absurd – so too will a new era of invitations to engage with sponsors make banner ads look ridiculous on social media web pages.

Starting next month, Meebo will be rolling out ads in the IM service that invite users to access quizzes, polls, long-form video and other resources. Users will be able to opt-in to sponsored experiences that are targeted to them specifically, based on their demographics and behavior. Negative feedback on a particular ad will teach the ad server not to serve the same ad to a particular user and there will be a leader board on the site displaying the most popular ads according to user response.

Meebo says that in tests, they are experiencing 2 to 4% user engagement with these new types of ads, a far higher percentage than banner ads see. The company says its goal will be to never show users the ads they see on other sites – though they also say that advertisers needn’t worry: traditional “form factors” will still be usable here (“You’ve got Flash video? We show Flash video!”)

While behavior tracking has begun to face a growing backlash among web users, Meebo believes that we want the value that can be delivered based on such tracking – as long as information isn’t gathered in a “creepy” way.

I asked Green and Carter if they were familiar with APML, Attention Profile Markup Language, and neither said they were. (What blogs do these guys read?) They were interested in the idea, they said. Everyone says they are interested in whatever you are when they are doing press briefings. “If there’s some way to make this open and not proprietary,” new hire Carter said, “all the better.” Just ask Digg or Newsgator and they’ll tell you that there is. You can export your history in APML from Digg, for example, and get personalized watch-lists set up based on those interests inside Newsgator’s FeedDemon. That’s pretty cool.

Meebo needs to come up with some innovative way to monetize their huge traffic numbers, and this new ad model could be it. As things stand, the company is reported to be struggling to either sell itself at a huge valuation or raise more investor money. We’ve written that they’re worth a substantial valuation and that value may be what’s rolling out now.

Can Ad Agencies Make Ads That Don’t Suck?

Quality advertising is like live streaming video – not very many people can do it very well. General consensus among at least self-appointed marketing 2.0 thought-leaders (!) is that it’s all about offering clear value to would-be audiences. Not just the promise of value, in the event that a product is purchased, but immediate value just from engaging with the ad in the first place!

We wrote about Intel’s branded PopURLs site targeting the stuffy world of enterprise software last week. That’s a great example. The Snoop Dog Twitter transformation machine – that’s a strange example of the same sort of strategy. Burger King’s Subservient Chicken is the either the stupidest or one of the smartest examples of this strategy, depending on your perspective.

It’s hard to design ad experiences that don’t end up feeling shallow, vapid, overly commercialized and insulting. The safer bet is to try to be funny. Broadcasting funny at people has been working so far in some media.

Meebo is going to try to do something different, though. They’ll offer some amount of consulting and guidance to brands interested in advertising on their platform. They believe that the leading ad agencies are all being pushed to explore this new utility-based advertising model online.

We’ll see. If just a handful out of every hundred users are interested in doing more than just IM and watch user submitted videos together on Meebo – then the effort will be a big success. That will be easier said than done, though.

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