Last week, the Huffington Post reached a new apex. Viewed from France, where ads are localized, its home page carried a remarkably tasteful ad: a farting application for the iPhone (see below). As prudery still rules in American media, you’ll notice that the farter’s exhaust aperture has been blurred. Fine.
A quick précis: France is a country of 65m people, with a modern tech infrastructure. Internet to the home is faster than in the United States and way cheaper than in Australia. The cellular networks work even better than the AT&T’s, and the three carriers use a single worldwide standard, GSM. Its internet population numbers 45m, a fast growing proportion of which speaks serviceable English, good enough to read the parts of the Huffington Post that are not written in Shakespearian English.
With this in mind, let’s focus on two interesting aspects of the HuffPo advertising mishap.
First, it shows how advertising is sold: by the bulk. The HuffPo sales people’s intellectual horizon doesn’t extend very far. This is what I call the Burundi Syndrome, one where American companies see the ROW (Rest of the World) as an aggregation of second class people. Consider Apple’s geographical definition for instance: its London-based EMEA division encompasses Europe, Middle-East, Africa. A vast zone ranging from Burkina-Faso to Sweden — where the average student is way more educated than its American counterpart and where the per capita GDP is just 20% lower than in the US (OK, Burkina Faso — I’ve been there too — has a long way to go).
Coming back to the Huffington Post, the choice of a below grade ad served on a ROW market demonstrates a tragic inability to understand the true power of the internet, i.e, making contents globally accessible to a solvent population.
That’s the first distinction between great media brands and cheap ones. Neither the New York Times, nor The Sydney Morning Herald nor the Guardian would delegate the sale of their non-domestic ads without some sort of guarantee covering the advertisers’ relevance.
Second, and more importantly. By allowing such a degradation in its premium advertising space (a home page is supposed to be just that), the HuffPo acknowledges that its content is, in fact, cheap. It therefore admits that volume, rather than targeting or relevance, drives the value of its content.
And volumes the Huffington Post delivers. A lot. According to ComScore (which is blessed with the rigor of a Greek public accountant), the Huff Post cruises at 26m unique visitors per month. Other sources agree on more than 20m UV, which is above the New York Times (19m UV/ Nielsen), and twice as much as the Washington Post.
How do I dare question such an audience success? Simply because, in my not-so-humble-opinion, The Huffington Post is not, per se, a news organization. Its content relies upon on a mixed bag of high profile bloggers, drawn from Arianna Huffington’s vast personal network; these individuals deliver thoughts of varying depth, ranging from fun stuff to leftovers quickly produced by an obscure assistant. More