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How to Pay the Bills Without Annoying Your Customers

In my mind, building web products that help people do stuff easier is a noble goal. However, noble goals often sit around on the couch drinking your Natty Lite while you're out busting your hump to pay the bills.

When building web products at a media company, one of the major challenges is figuring out how to make your advertisers happy (i.e., pay the bills) without compromising the user experience. I just wanted to share with you a clever solution to an instance of this problem we had at ESPN recently.

In our Fantasy Games, our advertisers like to know the team and sport affinities of the audience they are reaching. To figure this out, my colleagues Jason and Chris implemented this slick solution in our 2005 NCAA Tournament game:

default preferences

Jason and Chris know ESPN's audience well enough to realize that most people's favorite team, school, and sport are not the Hartford Wolfpack, Pomona, and Figure Skating, respectively. So, they made these options the defaults during the tournament game's team creation process.

The results? Nearly 200% more people changed the defaults this year than last. So, our advertisers are happy, and the customer experience is still good.

The design is a brilliant bit of psychology that plays upon peoples' desire that if they are to be formally identified as members of a community, it's going to be one of their choosing.

The takehome lesson for me? The elegant solution is often staring me in the face, if I can look past the way things have always been done.

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Comments (Post | Latest)

1. Ben said on Mar 22 2005:

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I wonder if there is that one oddball fan out there who went to fill out the survey and freaked out when ESPN already knew about their love for Wolfpack hockey, Pomona and figure skating.

2. J Jones said on Mar 23 2005:

Haha, great stuff. I bet ESPN was suprised when I left Figure Skating as my favorite sport. While no where near the top of my list, I did do my brackets during the World Championships and decided to give FS its due...

3. Mike D. said on Mar 23 2005:

Wow. Really, really smart. I noticed that right away when I was filling out my bracket but chalked it up to negligence. Stupid me. I remember even bringing up how badly the stats would be skewed because of this... but hell, now all you have to do is eliminate those results from the dataset and you're set.

Really really great.

4. JD said on Mar 24 2005:

Wow! This is definitely slicker than 'Click here to change' default text! I shall keep this technique in mind! :)


5. Dane said on Mar 27 2005:

Heh. Clever, man! Looks like ya'll have been busy since that conference in San Francisco last November.

There's definitely an undertone of 37signals' simplicity of design philosophy in here. If your solution is too complex, you haven't found the right solution yet.

Speaking of, where can I find an afro like that? I've been thinking of going to the gym more often and totally buffin' out so I can get more chicks... but I think gettin' a giant fro would have the same effect, minus all the unnecessary sweat and toil.

6. kareem said on Mar 27 2005:

Hey Dane, yep, Jason is definitely appplying stuff of the good stuff from the 37 Signals seminar in SF. The stuff makes so much sense and there people here are so open-minded that the simplicity of design philosophy is gaining momentum in places throughout the site.

The afro is a result of years of hard work ;) As Seth Godin says, there are no shortcuts.

7. Cupo said on Mar 31 2005:

That is a very slick, impressive, and elegant method to coerce your audience into filling out marketing material. I am sure 200% over last year is making someone happy.

When I registered my bracket, I was compelled to change your defaults. The entries were so wrong I wanted to change them. Bravo.

Now, since I helped you can you change my picks? j/k

8. Fernando said on Apr 1 2005:

it worked on me. :)

9. PJ said on Apr 10 2005:

I just want an option ESPN remembers for "do not start ESPN motion automatically". And another for "do not start ESPN motion at startup".

If you look at how TSN works, ESPN's video offerings come off very poorly.

10. kareem said on Apr 12 2005:

PJ, do you mean or

I'm of the opinion that, generally speaking, anything that takes over the browser without a user requesting it provides for a suboptimal user experience.

That being said, there are a lot of smart people at ESPN thinking hard about how to keep both our customers and our advertisers happy.

In the meantime, if Motion continues to bother you, you can always uninstall Flash. ;) I find that the browsing experience sans Flash allows me to do what I want much more quickly.


Hi, I'm Kareem Mayan. I co-founded eduFire, an online video tutoring company.

I've done time at ESPN and FIM.

I advise WorldBlu, helping them build democratic companies.

I moderated a council for Creative Good.

And, I helped bring Barcamp, a technology un-conference, to LA, which is where I live. I am now living and working in cool cities around the world.

More about me.

Opinions stated here are mine alone.

Contact: blog -at- reemer


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