About two weeks ago a new online service called “Bre.ad” was made publicly available. At first glance, Bre.ad seems like a run of the mill link shortener, but it goes quite a bit beyond that. The service enables users to upload graphics and ad some text to create what they call your “digital billboard”. When you shorten a link with Bre.ad, visitors are first presented with your graphic and written message for 5 seconds before being taken to whatever web address your link was meant to go to in the first place.

Essentially, this is a short pop-up ad that people see before being ported to whatever content you want them to see. It would be as if you saw Jason sharing his typical links on Twitter each day, clicked on one and got a 5-second advertisement for Exploring Social Media before the URL shortener took you to a post on Top Rank Blog or whatever piece of content Jason was sharing.

Pretty cool? Pretty spammy? We tend to lean toward the latter, not the former. Here’s why…

Trust

Trust is perhaps the most important currency on the social web. If getting others to click links you share is important to you then you might think twice before telling people one thing and then surprising them with another. When you share a link on Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere  it is always accompanied by some text eluding to the content behind the link. Bre.ad links are no different. Rather than finding the content they were eager to experience, though, visitors are first faced with a blurb of text and an image before being automatically forwarded on to the desired content.

This is good, old-fashioned, interruptive marketing translated to the social web.

How many times will someone do that before disregarding what you share all together? Some folks are getting tricky and re-shortening Bre.ad links with other URL shorting services like Bit.ly as to mask the http://bre.ad/ prefix (see images below). This is only marketing trickery and deception and will likely cost the perpetrators more in the way of trust than they’ll likely gain in ad views or clicks.

This Bit.ly link is redirects to a Bre.ad link and displays an ad (below) before moving on to the mentioned blog post

 

DoDo Case ad displayed for 5 seconds after clicking the above tweet link

Time & Attention

Almost equally as important as trust is attention. Attention is a finite currency that is often almost already spent before the day even starts. How do you honor your customers if you’re willing to waste their time? Do you like watching commercials, being hassled by pop up ads on web sites, etc? Consider the fact that Bre.ad only displays your graphic (read: ad) and written message for five seconds. This is a short amount of time, but just long enough to interrupt the user in their quest to check out some cool content. It’s also just short enough to be impossible to read or absorb what you’re trying to pitch. In most cases, your average web page on a broadband connection should take less than 5 seconds to fully load. Add a Bre.ad link to the mix and you have at least doubled the load time it takes for folks to experience the content you were trying to share. Some clever folks out there have already created browser add-ons to help people circumvent the annoying 5 second ad.

Alternatives

If you are looking to bring some extra attention to a cause, product, service or anything else there are plenty of ways to do it. If you run a blog you can simply insert your advert or any other message at the end of your post, just before the comments. This is how it’s done here on Social Media Explorer. If you are producing video content, on YouTube for instance, then consider designing a graphic to insert at the end of your video. The point is simple … get visitors to your content first, let them experience the goodness of said content, then toss in a subtle offer or call to action. Earn the trust before you try to cash it in. There are dozens of ways to do this effectively. We do not think Bre.ad is one of them.

The Wrap Up

We’re not just picking on Bre.ad here. Any marketing tool or strategy that includes interrupting a user’s experience, risking hard to earn trust and wasting the customer’s attention all for a few ad impressions faces far more challenges to be accepted than alternatives. For some more thoughts and some comments from the founder of Bre.ad, check out this article from the Toronto Star.

And, as Jason reminded me in his review of this post, we don’t think Brea.ad is 100 percent bad or wrong. For some brands, particularly those with advertising-conditioned audiences, the service may prove fruitful for you. If you are a big brand buying online media, you’re used to crappy click-thru rates and inconclusive metrics anyway, so Bre.ad experiments may just prove incrementally better than your 0.02 click-thru rates.

But because of the reasons above, we would have a hard time recommending Bre.ad to our clients.

Do you have a contrasting opinion to share? Maybe you can help add some alternative suggestions to the mix? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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About Adam Helweh

Adam Helweh

Adam is CEO of Secret Sushi Creative Inc, a strategic design, digital and social media marketing agency. He specializes in the convergence of design and technology to provide businesses with more intelligent and interactive ways to connect with customers and grow. His clients have included Edelman, Broadcom, Stanford Federal Credit Union, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Bunchball and others. He's also the co-host of the "SoLoMo Show", a weekly digital marketing podcast, and he has shared the stage with professionals from companies including Facebook, Virgin Airlines, Paypal, Dell and 24 Hour Fitness.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/jonrandy Jon Randy

    Oops, just saw you already linked it!! Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/jonrandy Jon Randy

    Oops, just saw you already linked it!! Thanks!

  • http://playphilo.com Mr.Chichester

    I’ve tried bre.ad and can see the value. As a blogger it gives me a way to remind others that they can find more information about the content I Tweet from my website which would be my “Toast” page. My Tweeps already trust me and value my content that is why they are clicking my links in the first place. Bre.ad helps my personal brand become part of the user experience for the moment. Also if services like Bre.ad get adopted and accepted by mainstream then having a “Toast” page pop up will become part of the user experience. I think bre.ad becomes sketchy based on how it is used. If your Toast page can add to the user experience by showing them something else that relates to the post then it is useful. But if you send some an article about healthy living and have a Toast page promoting Mc Donald’s then that is misleading.

  • http://playphilo.com Mr.Chichester

    I’ve tried bre.ad and can see the value. As a blogger it gives me a way to remind others that they can find more information about the content I Tweet from my website which would be my “Toast” page. My Tweeps already trust me and value my content that is why they are clicking my links in the first place. Bre.ad helps my personal brand become part of the user experience for the moment. Also if services like Bre.ad get adopted and accepted by mainstream then having a “Toast” page pop up will become part of the user experience. I think bre.ad becomes sketchy based on how it is used. If your Toast page can add to the user experience by showing them something else that relates to the post then it is useful. But if you send some an article about healthy living and have a Toast page promoting Mc Donald’s then that is misleading.

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      I agree that there are various ways which Bre.ad can be used. Even in the most ideal of situations I think it doesn’t add value to the overall experience for marketers. Maybe a future iteration of Bre.ad will change that.

      Regarding your statement about your tweeps already trusting you. That is my point. They trusted you before using a service like Bre.ad. Will they feel so inclined to click after you continue to use it? Thanks for the thoughtful comment Mr. Chichester.

  • http://twitter.com/annekejong anneke jong

    As many Twitter users know, most Twitter clients (like TweetDeck, CoTweet, etc.) automatically shorten links by converting them with an external link shortener. Twitter itself even automatically shortens to its custom domain (t.co). Bre.ad hasn’t released its API, so users who tweet from Twitter clients may default to shorten any link they share (including bre.ad links) with another shortener. To imply that users are “masking” their bre.ad links seems to ignore the realities Twitter usage.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good point, Anneke, but we did use an example of a company using Bit.ly to mask the link, so we’re not implying. We’re reporting.

      • http://twitter.com/annekejong anneke jong

        Thanks for the follow up, guys. I’ve definitely had the Twitter client on my iPhone automatically convert the bre.ad links for me, so even Twitter will do it sometimes against my will. I just think it’s inaccurate to imply that Twitter users are maliciously “masking” their bre.ad links when it may very well be unintentional. Reporting that it’s happening is one thing, but assigning intent (i.e., calling it “marketing trickery and deception”) isn’t good journalism.

        • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

          Understood Anneke. That sentence was actually a general statement and not meant to be taken only in context to the masking of links. I will look into clarifying that point in the post.

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Anneke,
      I may be wrong, but I did a few tests. For instance, Twitter does not re-shorten Bre.ad links. In order to convert a link using Bit.ly you need to paste the already shortened Bre.ad link into Bit.ly to change it. Many Twitter clients also use Bit.ly as well and I can’t test every one of them to see if they behave the same way, but it definitely seemed like a couple of folks out there had hidden Bre.ad URLs behind other shorteners. May or may not be intentional.

    • http://twitter.com/jonrandy Jon Randy

      Whilst they may not be masking the bre.ad links per se, they bre.ad links ARE masking the fact that the user will be sent to an unexpected billboard.

      ‘Masking’ the bre.ad links by having them shortened by other link shorteners may actually be beneficial for bre.ad as users are more likely to click if they don’t know it is a bre.ad link with an intrusive ad.

  • http://twitter.com/annekejong anneke jong

    As many Twitter users know, most Twitter clients (like TweetDeck, CoTweet, etc.) automatically shorten links by converting them with an external link shortener. Twitter itself even automatically shortens to its custom domain (t.co). Bre.ad hasn’t released its API, so users who tweet from Twitter clients may default to shorten any link they share (including bre.ad links) with another shortener. To imply that users are “masking” their bre.ad links seems to ignore the realities Twitter usage.

  • http://twitter.com/annekejong anneke jong

    As many Twitter users know, most Twitter clients (like TweetDeck, CoTweet, etc.) automatically shorten links by converting them with an external link shortener. Twitter itself even automatically shortens to its custom domain (t.co). Bre.ad hasn’t released its API, so users who tweet from Twitter clients may default to shorten any link they share (including bre.ad links) with another shortener. To imply that users are “masking” their bre.ad links seems to ignore the realities Twitter usage.

  • http://www.stephanieschwab.com Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

    Adam, I had a terrible user experience with Bre.ad when I signed up for the beta – they sent me and a couple hundred others an email with all of our email addresses exposed in the CC field! And no unsub link, of course. I immediately emailed them, suggesting that they learn about CAN-SPAM laws and email service providers, and they were very apologetic…but it sure turned me off as I felt they were starting off in amateur hour. 

    I don’t generally pick on companies just because I don’t like their model (and I don’t like bre.ad’s), but I do pick on companies which violate my privacy.  And when an internet company doesn’t understand how to use email marketing….big red flag for me.

    • http://twitter.com/itsAlanChan Alan Chan

      Hi Stephanie,

      We apologized for our intern’s mistake.  I’m sure several of you have hired kids out of college before and had them make mistakes.  

      Once again, our sincerest apologies.  It won’t happen again.

      Alan Chan
      Chief Baker

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Hi Stephanie
      I have seen even some of the biggest of companies screw up when it comes to exposing folks on an email list. I would give Bre.ad a pass on that.

      If an internet company doesn’t know how to use email marketing…. I will give them a moment to learn. Most start ups are engineer driven, not run by marketers. When one doesn’t understand privacy, therein lies the bigger issue. I don’t believe the team at Bre.ad would violate anyone’s privacy on purpose. I am sure that first slip up made them double check everything from then on.

  • http://twitter.com/itsAlanChan Alan Chan

    Adam and Jason,

    Thanks for your candid coverage of the Bre.ad beta.  

    I want to challenge you to think bigger picture.  

    Display advertising on the internet is broken.  Those ads you have on the right hand side of your website haven’t changed in 10 years (figuratively) and they just aren’t effective anymore.

    We are giving bloggers like you an entirely new real estate to cross promote with your partners in an actually effective way.

    We’ve designed Bre.ad to be the ultimate promotional tool because it’s a social endorsement from a trusted source.  You as the publisher choose 100% of what goes onto your Bre.ad billboard.

    Anyone with a brand knows that customer word-of-mouth is the holy grail.

    I can’t wait to show you the next version of Bre.ad when we release it in the fall.

    Alan 
    Chief Baker

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Alan. I get what you’re getting at, but I think you’re assuming an
      idyllic world where the publisher who uses Bre.ad always delivers relevant
      promotional material the audience will gladly accept and that has some
      direct connection to the expectation they have when they click a link. If
      everyone used display advertising (as it exists) to deliver relevant
      messages to relevant audiences and relevant times, we wouldn’t think of it
      as broken.

      Putting the onus back on the publisher to use Bre.ad appropriately only
      extends the problem of old display advertising into your new
      model/opportunity.

      The core principle your tool runs on is interruption. I clicked a link that
      said, “Read this article, it’s cool.” And I’m instead taken to an ad for a
      few seconds? Even if the ad is about the intended subject, it’s not what I
      clicked on. It’s not what I expected. It’s not what I wanted. It’s an
      interruption.

      And that, as it stands, is what you have. I’m excited you’re not done and
      that we’ve got more to see from Bre.ad. I’m confident what you’re working on
      will add another layer of niftiness to the discussion. But an interruption
      is an interruption and giving that ability to publishers everywhere isn’t
      likely to solve any display advertising model issues, in my opinion.

      • http://thefuturebuzz.com AdamSinger

        What Jason said :)

    • Margaret Francis

      Alan: While display advertising might be “broken” and the time ripe for exploration of new ad models at the intersection of social capital and promotion, Bre.ad is not the answer because it is a bad user experience.  I’ve clicked a Bre.ad link and I won’t be doing it again. If you have data to the contrary- that my “readers” actually like getting interrupted with Bre.ad content and won’t unfollow me because I user Bre.ad, knowingly or unknowingly- that would be interesting to know. 

    • http://twitter.com/jonrandy Jon Randy

      Many people also choose to avoid as many ads on the internet as possible by using ad-blockers. I rarely see any ads on any sites I use, and haven’t done for years. For people who don’t use ad-blockers, normal banner ads on a page are relatively easy to ignore, you can choose to look at them or choose not to – they don’t jump out and block your way, demanding attention. Thrusting the ad right in someone’s face in the manner that bre.ad does is FAR more intrusive than normal ads, and it also disrupts the expected flow of clicking on a link that is described as being about something then being taken directly to that content. An en-route pause to look at an ad is certainly NOT expected

      You say that ads are not effective any more – that may be and probably is the case, but intrusive billboards reached in this somewhat deceitful way do not seem to be a new way to engage an audience – they seem like a throwback to popup ads that may serve the advertiser but do nothing but irritate and possibly confuse the user

      • http://twitter.com/annekejong anneke jong

        One of the main reasons that traditional ads are annoying is that they’re impersonal and can be totally irrelevant. The benefit of the Bre.ad billboard is that its content is 100% chosen by the person who created it to promote something they care about. If you follow someone on Twitter or Facebook, she is a friend or trusted source, and her interests and passions are highly relevant to you. Also, you can always skip the billboard by clicking “Continue.”

  • http://twitter.com/itsAlanChan Alan Chan

    Adam and Jason,

    Thanks for your candid coverage of the Bre.ad beta.  

    I want to challenge you to think bigger picture.  

    Display advertising on the internet is broken.  Those ads you have on the right hand side of your website haven’t changed in 10 years (figuratively) and they just aren’t effective anymore.

    We are giving bloggers like you an entirely new real estate to cross promote with your partners in an actually effective way.

    We’ve designed Bre.ad to be the ultimate promotional tool because it’s a social endorsement from a trusted source.  You as the publisher choose 100% of what goes onto your Bre.ad billboard.

    Anyone with a brand knows that customer word-of-mouth is the holy grail.

    I can’t wait to show you the next version of Bre.ad when we release it in the fall.

    Alan 
    Chief Baker

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