Walmart Takes Aim at Amazon, Facebook, and Google with Online Advertising

Walmart Takes Aim at Amazon, Facebook, and Google with Online Advertising

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When Walmart recently announced that it was joining Microsoft in a bid for TikTok, the news had many people scratching their heads. But the bid makes perfect sense in context of Walmart’s growing online advertising business, an aspect of the Walmart empire that is beginning to catch more attention among brands. Read on to learn more.

The Growth of Walmart Advertising

You might not know it, but Walmart operates its own digital advertising business under Walmart Media Group. Under CEO Doug McMillon, Walmart Media Group has been building an advertising business to compete with Amazon, Google, and Facebook (the Big Three of online advertising). As reported in The Wall Street Journal, “deep-pocketed companies with large amounts of data on their customers are in the best position to mount a challenge” to these competitors.

Walmart feels ready to play in that sandbox. The retail behemoth aims to tap into its own trove of shopper data (about purchases made both online and in brick-and-mortar stores), and sell advertising services to businesses with products in Walmart stores and across the entire digital world, on sites including Walmart.com. As Steve Bratspies, the chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., has noted, data can give advertisers a leg up by providing insight into what a consumer might really want and need.

For example, as noted in The Wall Street Journal, a customer might buy a bicycle in a Walmart store, then subsequently see ads for bike helmets on platforms like Facebook. The ads would direct the shopper back to Walmart.com to make the purchase. It’s a win/win, with consumer needs being anticipated and met, and brands making the connection to a motivated shopper.

Walmart’s Advertising Services

How does Walmart propose to make those connections? The retailer currently offers advertisers services such as:

  • Sponsored Products ads, which consumers encounter when they are browsing Walmart.com. These ads can take many forms:
    • A brand’s products can get premium placement on the first page of a shopper’s search results.
    • An advertiser’s logo might appear, along with a custom headline, at the top of relevant search results.
    • Products can appear as part of a product carousel of relevant alternate purchase options.
    • Items can be highlighted in a “Buy Box” as the most relevant alternate purchase option on a product detail page.

Walmart Sponsored Product Ad

  • Visually compelling display ads, which keep a brand in the forefront:
    • Across Walmart’s digital properties. Content and advertising can be seamlessly merged on Walmart.com, pickup and delivery, and Walmart apps.
    • Offsite, across the web and social channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. As noted earlier, relevant ads will re-engage customers and send them back to Walmart for products.

Walmart Display Ad

Where Does TikTok Fit into All This?

Walmart’s motivation for acquiring TikTok probably has much to do with digital ad dollars. As Mark Sullivan of Fast Company points out, TikTok is a prime space for digital advertising. And Walmart clearly recognizes that, sharing in a statement that TikTok might represent “an important way for us to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses.”

Sullivan elaborates:

TikTok is itself in the early stages of selling ads on its app, and it has data on people’s video content choices, but it lacks data on the things people buy. If Walmart owned TikTok it could use its ecommerce user data to help advertisers put ads in front of the right TikTok users. And Walmart could be the exclusive seller of targeted ad space on TikTok.

One advertising industry insider told me that a brand—say a car company—might use a cookie to capture data on a consumer that came to its site to look at cars, then use Walmart’s ad-tech to show an ad to that same consumer on TikTok.

If Walmart had an ownership stake in TikTok, Walmart could connect its advertisers with TikTok’s young demographic, too. And let’s face it — TikTok is hot. In early August 2020, the video-sharing social networking service reported about 100 million monthly active U.S. users, a figure that is up nearly 800 percent from January 2018. Walmart clearly sees the opportunities inherent in connecting its brands with that audience.

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It’s Amazon Advertising’s Year — So Far

It’s Amazon Advertising’s Year — So Far

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Good news for Amazon. Bad news for Google. According to a new report from eMarketer, Amazon’s share of online advertising continues an upward trend. Google, by contrast, continues to lose marketshare. Read on to learn more.

The What

Amazon’s share of online advertising, which has been rising every year, will reach 9.5 percent in 2020, eMarketer says. Google’s share will drop to 29.4 percent, as Google reports its first-ever decline in advertising revenue since eMarketer began tracking advertising revenue in 2008. Meanwhile, Facebook’s share of online advertising is predicted to rise to 23.4 percent (note, however, that eMarketer published its analysis before an advertising boycott of Facebook took hold—those numbers will likely be re-evaluated).

The Why

Why is Amazon Advertising increasing its share, while Google sees its marketshare drop?

  • Amazon’s advertising unit, known as Amazon Advertising, is probably benefitting from people shifting their purchasing online during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020. As we have blogged, Amazon without question became an especially attractive place to make purchases as shelter-in-place mandates took hold. And Amazon was prepared to help advertisers build their visibility during this surge, with a tool kit including products such as Sponsored Ads and Display Ads.
  • Meanwhile, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, Nicole Perrin, explains that “Google’s net US ad revenues will decline this year primarily because of a sharp pullback in travel advertiser spending, which in the past has been heavily concentrated on Google’s search ad products. Travel has been the hardest-hit industry during the pandemic, with the most extreme spending declines of any industry.”

What the News Means

The news creates some nice press for Amazon Advertising, but as we have blogged, Google’s ad business remains healthy and solid. And as eMarketer points out, Google is being hit by the economic downturn in travel. There is nothing inherently wrong with Google’s ad products, however.

In fact, Google continues to make its ad products better. We have blogged about some of its innovations lately:

Facebook likely has more to worry about than Google. An advertising boycott is gaining traction with big brands such as Unilever and Starbucks pulling their ad business because they believe Facebook is not doing enough to police hate speech, among other grievances. As reported by cnbc.com, the big names already responding to the #StopHateForProfit campaign have the potential to influence more companies to join the boycott.

Our Recommendations

We suggest that regardless of your platform of choice, businesses continue advertising online. Despite the turbulence among the big online ad players, we know that businesses that continue to have an online ad presence are best positioned for success.

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Why Super Bowl 2020 Ads Humanized Voice Assistants

Why Super Bowl 2020 Ads Humanized Voice Assistants

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Last month on this blog I predicted that in 2020 we’d see companies such as Amazon and Google inject more personality in the way people interact with voice assistants. During the Super Bowl LIV advertising derby, I definitely saw some personality shining through with ads for Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Assistant. As businesses embrace voice-first approaches in their advertising and organic content, they can learn lessons from Amazon and Google. People crave a human touch with voice technology.

Amazon: “Before Alexa” 

Amazon relied on humor to make Alexa seem funnier and cuddlier, a tactic that Amazon has been using in recent Super Bowl ads. During Amazon’s Super Bowl 2020 ad, Ellen DeGeneres asked, ““What do you think people did before Alexa?” which triggered a bunch of vignettes of people throughout history asking other people to answer everyday questions, resulting in hilarious outcomes. We saw the Queen of England demand that a hapless jester named Alexi tell her a joke. A man in Dickinsonian England asked a newsboy named Alex, “What’s today’s news?” to which the kid replied, “Doesn’t matter. It’s all fake.” The ad circled back with Ellen DeGeneres asking Alexa to play her favorite song.

With this ad, Amazon wanted to remind us that talking with a machine is as natural as, well, two washerwomen in Medieval days passing the time. We’re just having a conversation, as natural as can be.

Google: “Loretta”

 

Google won over the internet with a touching ad in which an elderly widower asked Google Assistant to call up photos and memories of his late wife, Loretta. Through the man’s gentle instructions, we learned of his life with Loretta, including the favorite movie they shared (Casablanca) and a memorable trip they took to Alaska. At the end of the ad, the man said, “I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

This ad was emotionally powerful without being sentimental, and it turns out that it was based on the experiences of the grandfather of a Google employee; and the grandfather actually narrated the ad. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s going to be hard to find an ad in 2020 that tops this one for making voice assistants approachable and human. Here, Google Assistant acted as a friendly utility, helping a man remember a loved one.

Voice Assistants Get Personality

As I wrote last month, although voice assistants are growing in popularity, we’re not quite at a place where people are willingly using voice to manage the really important tasks such as making purchases and getting directions to the hospital. We need to trust voice assistants completely in order for voice to make that kind of breakthrough. Journalist Judith Shulevitz wrote in a recent Atlantic article, “Is Alexa Dangerous?”:

Within our lifetimes, these devices will likely become much more adroit conversationalists. By the time they do, they will have fully insinuated themselves into our lives. With their perfect cloud-based memories, they will be omniscient; with their occupation of our most intimate spaces, they’ll be omnipresent. And with their eerie ability to elicit confessions, they could acquire a remarkable power over our emotional lives. What will that be like?

But during Super Bowl LIV, Amazon and Google showed us that we have nothing to fear from voice assistants. They are as natural and human as we are.

The takeaway for businesses: as voice-based advertising and customer experiences take hold, showing personality and humanity in your content (paid and organic) will resonate.

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To succeed with online advertising in 2020, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

Why the Popularity of Amazon Alexa at CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Why the Popularity of Amazon Alexa at CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

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The Amazon Alexa voice assistant cast a big shadow over CES 2020, the premier annual event for showcasing new consumer technology. Amazon demonstrated a number of product integrations with Alexa. They matter because they point to a possible way that Amazon could lead online advertising.

The Battle for a Voice-First Future

Amazon is fighting a fierce battle with Apple and Google to lead the uptake of voice-based products among consumers and businesses (with Microsoft and Samsung also stepping up their own efforts). More than one quarter of Americans own voice-activated smart speakers, according to Voicebot.ai and Voicify. Amazon’s Echo leads the pack, but Google is catching up, as reported in The Motley Fool.

To win the war for voice, Amazon, Apple, and Google need to collaborate with product manufacturers to incorporate their voice assistants into product design (or through aftermarket upgrades).  And CES is where those integrations are demonstrated. For example, Bosch, the maker of smart home appliances such as dishwashers, announced an integration with the Apple Siri voice assistant. And a number of manufacturers ranging from Belk to GE announced integrations with Google Assistant, Google’s voice assistant.

But Amazon outflanked everyone. A wide variety of manufacturers ranging from bed maker Dux to helmet maker Jarvis demonstrated how they’re relying on Alexa to make it possible to use their products with our voices.  But it wasn’t just the sheer number of integrations with manufacturers that mattered – what really caught my eye was how Amazon is making it easier for people to actually purchase things.

Making Purchases Is the Holy Grail of Voice

As I wrote in a recent blog post, people still use voice to do more mundane tasks such as checking the weather. Making purchases, though, is the Holy Grail of voice. Voice commerce is a far more complicated undertaking. And at CES 2020, Amazon showed that it is up for the challenge. Amazon announced that in 2020, automobile drivers will be able to use Alexa to purchase gasoline. As Amazon said, “Later this year, customers will be able to say, “Alexa, pay for gas” to easily purchase fuel at all 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations. The transactions for this new Alexa feature are made through Amazon Pay and powered by Fiserv, a global financial services technology provider.

The ability to pull off voice-activated purchases requires Amazon to work closely with ExxonMobil – an example of the collaboration required to make voice a reality. If Amazon and ExxonMobil can make the purchase of gasoline as easy as making a voice command, then manufacturers and retailers will be encouraged to adopt voice for purchases, too. (Think of appliance makers turning the Amazon Dash device for order replenishment into a consistently reliable voice-first experience.)

Why CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Why do these announcements matter to businesses that advertise online? Well, here is a telling statistic: even though Amazon leads voice, Google pretty much owns online advertising. Google commands 37 percent of digital ad spend. The next largest competitor, Facebook, has 22 percent of the market. Amazon lags behind with 8.8 percent. But – Amazon is still very new to online advertising. It did not start dipping its toes into online advertising until 2008. Within 10 years, Amazon had become one of the big three of online advertising.

Amazon is rapidly threatening Google’s and Facebook’s leadership by offering new tools that help businesses advertise on Amazon – and off Amazon. We’ve written about some of those tools, such as my colleague Samantha Coconato’s posts on Amazon Video Ads, Amazon Display Ads, and Amazon Sponsored Ads. Those ad services capitalize on the reality that Amazon has become an increasingly popular way for people to search for products – even more popular than Google.

But Amazon knows the world is changing from text-based to voice-based search. Voice search is not “taking over.” But voice is becoming more common. Per a Microsoft study in 2019, 72 percent of people surveyed had used voice search the previous month. Amazon is preparing for the time when voice will reach a tipping point, and businesses will have no choice but to employ voice-based advertising and search engine optimization tactics into their game plans.

And that’s why the product integrations matter. By making Alexa the de facto voice assistant in everyday products, Amazon wants people to be more comfortable using their voices to use and buy things. Encouraging the uptake of voice among consumers helps Amazon position itself as the premier advertising partner for businesses.

Whether Amazon succeeds remains to be seen. But as Google and Apple compete with Amazon to integrate voice, it’s clear that advertisers need to be ready to adapt.

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Amazon and Samuel L. Jackson: The Future of TTS Technology?

Amazon and Samuel L. Jackson: The Future of TTS Technology?

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As Samuel L. Jackson character Ray Arnold said in Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts,” because the iconic actor’s voice is coming to Alexa. Later this year you can enable Jackson’s voice to respond in different capacities: fill you in on the weather or play your favorite music, for example. And given the colorful, expressive style of some of Jackson’s characters—FBI Agent Neville Flynn in Snakes on a Plane comes to mind—you’ll have a choice of either an “explicit” or “clean” version. (Note that Alexa won’t suddenly start speaking to you as Samuel L. Jackson across the board: he can’t help you with skills such as shopping or lists.) The new skill, which Amazon will offer at an introductory price of 99 cents (regular price will be $4.99), is an example of neural text-to-speech technology (TTS) in action. And it’s instructive for businesses examining how voice might play a role in their advertising going forward.

What Is TTS?

TTS, sometimes referred to as “read-aloud technology” or text to speech, essentially converts a digital text string to spoken word. Early on, TTS applications lacked nuance: the resulting speech, while accurate, sounded robotic. But with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), it’s becoming possible to render voices that sound more human, with all the cadences we associate with how real people speak. As a result, businesses are exploring TTS as a viable way to inject personality into voice-based interfaces such as bots, or content that requires voice-over narration. Parameters can be established, too: as noted, you can’t make Alexa talk like Samuel L. Jackson all the time. The skill is limited to whatever it’s been programmed to do as Jackson.

“Fill It With Gravy”

Common applications for TTS include educational ones, in which a tablet or computer reads words on a screen out loud to a student who might have difficulties reading or seeing. Sometimes they border on the wondrous, as when sound engineers from Scottish company CereProc made it possible for listeners to finally hear the 21-minute speech President John F. Kennedy never got to deliver on November 22, 1963: in his voice.

And there are the fun applications, as witnessed by Alexa’s sanctioned use of Samuel L. Jackson’s recognizable voice. Of course, Amazon is not the only business using TTS to make their brand more familiar and fun. In 2015, KFC teamed up with the navigation app Waze to give motorists a fresh voice option for their audio directions: Colonel Harland Sanders. Users who opted in to be directed by The Colonel got clear directions as well as humorous Colonel-isms such as, “Pothole on the road ahead. I’d fill it with gravy.” More recently, KFC celebrated National Fried Chicken Day by using speech recognition, AI, and TTS to playfully make drive-through operators sound like The Colonel, too.

Sonic Branding

TTS is in a position to create even greater impact as the technology continues to grow. Businesses are wise to recognize that potential, and to pursue voice personality as a way to differentiate themselves. Forrester Analyst Dipanjan Chatterjee notes:

Forrester predicts that 50% of US households will have smart speakers by 2022, accounting for 68% of all smart home devices. Voice will be much more than assistants and speakers. It will fundamentally alter how consumers and brands interact . . . If you don’t have a voice strategy in the making today, it’s time to move now or risk falling behind.

The big picture Chatterjee alludes to is the phenomenon of “sonic branding”—that is, anything that uses voice, music, or sound to express a brand. In some ways, sonic branding has been going on for years: think about the brands that have hired an actor for voiceover advertising, or jingles that long after the fact still resonate. TTS is just the latest example of how sonic branding can be used effectively.

What You Should Do

As Chatterjee points out, sonic branding—specifically, voice strategy—is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. Assess the role of voice in your marketing and advertising. No, you don’t need to worry about one-upping Amazon and hiring a famous movie star to narrate your online and voice bots. But consider how you can inject personality, and even humor, wherever people encounter the “voice of your brand.”

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Three Ways to Capitalize on Amazon Search

Three Ways to Capitalize on Amazon Search

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We already know that Amazon is the Number One website for people to do product searches: according to a 2018 Jumpshot report, from 2015 to 2018, Amazon overtook Google in this area, with Amazon growing to claim 54 percent of product searches while Google declined from 54 percent to 46 percent. Now we know something more. According to Marketplace Pulse, a majority of Amazon searches—78 percent, in fact—are nonbranded. Instead of pinpointing a specific company like lululemon, say, many customers are making broad searches such as “yoga pants for women” and seeing what comes up.

This data demonstrates the opportunity that exists — indeed, just how wide open the playing field on Amazon is for businesses that sell products there. People are searching with intent on Amazon: they want to buy something. But they haven’t yet decided on what to buy. And here’s where the savvy marketer can make inroads.

Amazon Is Growing as an Ad Platform

The data also underscores just how big Amazon has become as an advertising platform. As we recently blogged, Amazon continues to grow, and is biting into other companies’ share of the spoils. eMarketer’s report that Amazon is projected to capture 8.8 percent of U.S. digital ad spending in 2019 is telling. So was the GeekWire article from January 2019, which discussed record 2018 profits for Amazon, and gave props to advertising for contributing to that success. According to GeekWire, “Fueling its bottom line is Amazon’s growing advertising arm that generates revenue by charging companies to promote their products on Amazon properties.”

Three Ways to Capitalize on Amazon Searches

How can a business take advantage of these developments? That is, what sort of strategy should businesses embrace in order to capitalize on the possibilities Amazon affords?

1 Advertise on Amazon

First of all, make sure you advertise on Amazon and that you know how to do so. Familiarize yourself with the complete listing of Amazon Advertising offerings.

And check out our blog. We’ve published numerous posts to help businesses understand Amazon’s many advertising options, including:

  • Sponsored ads, the pay-per-click (PPC) advertising approach that takes a shopper directly to a product page or brand site within Amazon. Sponsored ads are available to sellers, venders, book venders, and Kindle Direct Publishing.
  • Video ads, which complement display ads by expanding beyond a single image to tell a compelling story. Video ads can be used to target a certain audience on Amazon as well as Amazon-owned and third-party sites (e.g., Twitch) and devices.
  • Display ads, which, like video ads, can be employed to reach people in a specific target audience.

Additionally, be aware that Amazon is constantly refining and improving its advertising offerings and creating new ones. Stay abreast of the changes.

2 Make Sure You Have Good Reviews on Amazon

Reviews carry a lot of weight and can help you. According to an oft-cited 2012 Nielsen release, 70 percent of respondents had some or complete confidence in online reviews of products, whether they knew the reviewer or not. Online reviews also tap into basic human psychology. In a description of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, the Influence at Work website describes consensus as the phenomenon where “people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own . . . especially when they are uncertain.” Note that in the case of consensus, at least online, more is more. Five hundred positive reviews will impress consumers more than three will, no matter how glowing those three reviews happen to be. Ask customers to review you.

3 Be Aware That Advertising on Amazon Is Not a Slam-Dunk

Amazon has flooded its site with its own private label products. Understand Amazon’s generic product strategy — it’s huge —especially if you are a commodity brand such as a seller of batteries, vents, or paper towels. You’ll have to work hard.

There’s a lot of money to be made on Amazon. If you already have products there, know how to capitalize on Amazon’s tools to attract customers. If you don’t, think about making that happen.

Contact True Interactive

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Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

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On May 31, Amazon said it will acquire assets from Sizmek, an advertising technology firm. The announcement consisted of three paragraphs with little detail. But the deal is valuable for Amazon as the company builds a stronger advertising platform to compete with Facebook and Google.

Amazon Advertising Gains Market Share

Amazon’s advertising business is slowly taking market share from Facebook and Google. According to eMarketer, Amazon will capture 8.8 percent of U.S. digital ad spending in 2019. This amount trails far behind Google (with 37.2 percent market share) and Facebook (22.1 percent). But Amazon is building its advertising operation from scratch, and in a short time it has emerged as a threat primarily to Google, as consumers shift their product searches away from Google and toward Amazon.

How Sizmek’s Assets Will Help Amazon

Amazon purchased Sizmek’s ad server and dynamic creative optimization tools, the latter of which helps personalize ads using data. Sizmek’s tools will bolster Amazon’s already strong warehouse of customer data with even more data from ad serving. Doing so will give Amazon more targeted ways to advertise to the millions of people who search for products on Amazon and willingly share their personal information with the company. The deal isn’t making Amazon bigger, but it will make Amazon smarter.

What Advertisers Should Do

At True Interactive, we help businesses capitalize on Amazon as an advertising platform as part of our broader digital advertising offerings. We’ve been actively blogging about the many features Amazon Advertising is developing, such as video ads on Amazon’s mobile app. Based on our own experience, we suggest advertisers:

  • Examine how partnering with Amazon Advertising will help you attract and acquire customers, even if you don’t sell products on Amazon. As The New York Times reported recently, Amazon is tapping into its rich vein of customer data to help companies create more targeted ads across the digital world – an “insanely powerful” capability, according to the article.
  • Watch as Amazon’s competitors evolve their platforms to compete with the Amazon threat. For instance, Google recently announced new features intended to make it a stronger mobile advertising platform (which we discussed here). And, don’t forget Microsoft. Its own advertising business, while small, gives businesses an alternative to the Big Three of Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

Online advertising is changing rapidly as the major players make acquisitions and develop their products organically. Advertisers will benefit so long as you remain vigilant and capitalize on these improvements. True Interactive can help you. As an outside party, we constantly evaluate new tools and ensure that our clients benefit from them with effective digital advertising campaigns. Contact us. We’d love to make your online advertising more powerful.