Category Archives: Huh?

Make Yourself Uncomfortable

I’ve been thinking about writing this rant for a few weeks now. I’ve refrained, hoping that what’s prompting it will go away but it hasn’t so today, I rant.

I spent nearly my entire professional career in some sort of advertising-related business. I sold media. I was a media publisher. I’ve bought advertising on behalf of consulting clients and my own businesses. I’m pretty well-acquainted with how the business works. It’s rare, therefore, that something ad-related surprises me but this has. Lincoln is running an ad called “Sanctuary” for its Navigator vehicle. It features Sarah Vaughan’s recording of “Make Yourself Comfortable,” a song I like from an artist I like as well. At least I used to.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t watch a ton of non-news or sports programming via traditional TV. You can pretty much find me on a news channel or sports channel if it’s old-school TV or a streaming service otherwise. I bring this up because what I’m about to rant about isn’t caused by my rapacious consumption of TV.

I have seen the aforementioned ad at least once every half hour for the last month. In fact, I’ve seen it far more often than that, often once every few commercial pods. I am now at the point where when I hear the thunderclap that begins the ad I reach for the remote. I am sick of the song. I have so tuned out the ad that I didn’t even notice that it’s Serena Williams sitting in the car. I could see this happening if I was on a ton of channels in lots of different programming but I’m not.  I’m about 10 more impressions from setting fire to the next Lincoln I see.

Who do I blame? Let’s see. First, the media buying agency who apparently has never heard of frequency-capping. When your ad is running every 10-20 minutes FOR HOURS on the same channel you’re well into overkill. Second, I blame whoever sold this schedule. Maybe it’s a ROS deal (run of schedule/station) and they’re just filling pods with creative to run up the bill. You might be making a few bucks but you’re losing at least this loyal viewer. Third, I blame the client. Aren’t you looking at the reports? Aren’t you running research that tells you reach isn’t increasing while frequency is off the charts? For the love of all that is holy – make another commercial – you’re killing me.

OK, I feel better. But if you’re a marketer and you’re not asking your people about frequency distributions and commercial wear out, do yourself and your prospective customers a favor: ask ASAP. Deal?

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Intentional Mislabeling

Let’s start with a question this Foodie Friday. If I offered you two carrots, one of which was had a label that said “non-GMO” and the other didn’t, which carrot would you choose? “GMO” as I’m sure you know means that this food wasn’t made from genetically modified crops. Would that make a difference in your selection?

It’s a trick question, actually. There are no genetically modified carrots in the marketplace, at least not yet. Neither are there GMO strawberries. That won’t stop you from finding carrots or strawberries labeled as non-GMO though. You’ve also probably seen that many chickens are labeled as “raised without antibiotics” while others don’t bear that label. Does that influence your thinking? It shouldn’t: antibiotics have been banned on chicken farms for over a decade.

Some labels in food can be horribly misleading while others are not. “Organic”, for example, really does mean that the food was grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizer. It’s a legal term meaning that there are penalties for its misuse. You might think that non-GMO foods are organic and, therefore, better for you. Unless they also say they are organic, non-GMO foods are conventionally grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

Why I bring this up in a business blog is that the misuse of these and other terms in marketing is not due to confusion about them. It’s due to the willful deception of the consumer by an unscrupulous marketer who at best is just jumping on a bandwagon and at worst is looking to charge more for an inferior product. Your “cage-free” chicken still lives indoors in a jammed coop and those “free-range” chickens for which you pay a premium probably haven’t been outside either. It just means that they have access to go outside if they can find and get through one of the few doors in the henhouse.

I’m a fan of clear, enforceable labels in all products, not just food. What the hell does “skin organics? mean on a cosmetics label? Chemical-free sunscreen? Not possible, yet some brands are labeled just that way. The labels don’t write themselves and as marketing people, we need to hold our customers’ interests paramount. Their health too since it’s rather difficult to get a dead consumer to buy much of anything. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

No Strings

It’s Foodie Friday and it’s also the first day of Summer. Actually, it’s felt like July down here in the Carolinas since May, but I digress. In honor of the day, Dairy Queen is giving out coupons for a free soft serve ice cream cone. Yum! What better way to celebrate the new season?

Well, not to be the one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but of course, there are strings attached. You see, in order to get said free cone you need to purchase something else at DQ. Not that I’d generally mind doing so but that little bit of fine print sort of chills my enthusiasm (see what I did there?). Oh yeah, one other thing – in order to get the coupon you need to have installed the DQ app on your phone. I mean, who doesn’t want yet another app tracking you, sending data to who knows where, taking up room on your phone and hitting you up with “big announcements” every hour or so?

My point is a broader one that just beating up on Dairy Queen. I’ve always had an issue with seemingly benevolent marketing or charitable offers that are really self-serving. You know what I mean. How many offers have you seen for “buy this and we’ll make a donation to this worthy cause”? If the cause is so great, why don’t you just make the donation? Then there are those “free” offers that cost you in other ways. Opera, the browser company, offered “free” VPN a couple of years ago. Of course, you had to agree to let them track your usage and share the data with third parties.  Sure, it’s supposedly completely anonymized but if it includes a device identifier of any sort or location data, it’s not hard to merge it with other data.

Gift horses may, in fact, be Trojan Horses too. There are way too many “free” offers that are really scams. We’ve all seen the “free” product that involved paying shipping and handling charges that are detailed in tiny print and quite costly. Then there are the “free” products that require you to hand over a credit card, ostensibly so that if you make any “optional” purchases it’s a seamless transaction or maybe they’ve enrolled you in something that will charge you monthly once your “free” period is up. Illegal? Actually no, if it’s disclosed (you read all the mouse-type every time, don’t you). Shady as hell? You bet.

If you’re going to make free offers or do something nice for your customer, do so without strings. A gift involves altruism. If there is an ulterior motive lying within, it’s not a gift, right?

 

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Misaligned Interests

Did you happen to hear about (or read!) the NY Times article on how a young man got “sucked into the vortex” of radical videos on YouTube? It’s an interesting and scary read. It’s about how a person goes to YouTube to watch a video on one thing and ends up multiple videos later watching something completely different and often dangerous.

As the article says:

YouTube has been a godsend for hyper-partisans on all sides. It has allowed them to bypass traditional gatekeepers and broadcast their views to mainstream audiences and has helped once-obscure commentators build lucrative media businesses.

As usual, we’re not here to rant about the politics of these videos. It’s just as easy for the videos to be dangerous and non-political and even though YouTube specifically bans harmful or dangerous content, they can’t catch everything.

The real issue here is YouTube’s – and many other platforms’ – business model. They make money by keeping you engaged and the way that they do that is often via a recommendation engine. That engine uses an algorithm that rewards videos that have lengthy watch times by promoting them more often. Of course, the more engaged you are, the more ads you’ll see and that’s really the problem. Most of the popular platforms follow that business model and their interests don’t necessarily align with yours. They all have some sort of algorithm which on YouTube, as the article says, is

the software that determines which videos appear on users’ home pages and inside the “Up Next” sidebar next to a video that is playing. The algorithm is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site.

Of course, you can turn off the recommendations. You can also delete your search history, pausing it going forward, and your watch history which will prevent the algorithm from determining what you usually watch. If you haven’t hidden the video suggestions (it’s in your settings) at least you’ll see lots of pretty neutral offerings. More importantly, you’ll take back control and realign their interests with yours.

It would be easy for YouTube and others to prevent a host of problems by killing off the recommendation engine but they never will because it’s the thing that drives their business model. In a perfect world, every business’ interests would align perfectly with those of their customers. Maybe it’s because the big platforms are out of alignment with us that there is so much anger directed toward them?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

We’ve Been Robbed

An important, thought-provoking piece today from Roger McNamee in the NY Times. It’s entitled A Brief History of How Your Privacy Was Stolen and it raises some disturbing issues which concern – or should concern – us all. Mr. McNamee is a long-time tech investor and author. “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe” is his book and I think the title gives you a sense about his concerns, especially since he was an early investor in and advisor to Facebook.

This is the gist of his position:

Why it is legal for service providers to comb our messages and documents for economically valuable data? Why is it legal for third parties to trade in our most private information, including credit card transactions, location and health data, and browsing history? Why is it legal to gather any data at all about minors? Why is it legal to trade predictions of our behavior?

Good questions, and if you’re not concerned by the answers or the implications of the questions themselves, here are a few things to consider. First, go to Facebook, click under “settings” and look at the “Ads” tab. Scroll down a bit and open up the line that says “advertisers and businesses.” There you will see a list of all the companies that uploaded your email or phone onto Facebook so they could serve you ads. The companies listed have run ads in the last 7 days containing your information. Scroll down and keep opening the “see more” rows. I quit when I got over 500 companies. Most were companies – car dealers and realtors – with which I’d had no dealings. Why do they have my information? Of course, I’m aware of list brokers but why would a car dealer in Arizona pay for my information? That’s their issue; mine is that they have it.

I’m willing to bet that you’ve given Facebook and others way more information than I have. I use the DuckDuckGo search engine so my search history is private. I’ve locked down my browser so the “bugs” from Facebook, Twitter, and others don’t follow me. You can start by disabling the “ad settings” on the Facebook “ad” tab you’re on. That’s only a small part of the issue.

Anyone who is paying attention to China has seen the rise of a totalitarian “Big Brother” state built around constant surveillance. In 2015, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security announced it was looking to implement an “omnipresent, completely connected, always on and fully controllable” network using facial recognition systems and CCTV hardware. It’s largely in place. What does this have to do with you?

Google, Facebook, and others know pretty much everything about you. Where you’ve been, your friends, your shopping habits, etc. McNamee’s point that “Platforms are under no obligation to protect user privacy. They are free to directly monetize the information they gather by selling it to the highest bidder” underscores the problem. What happens when the highest bidder has nefarious intent? What if it’s the government? What if your insurance company wants to raise your rate because you’re buying fast-food and cookies?

I make it a point to do unpredictable things every so often to mess with whatever algorithm is paying attention. That can be as simple as shopping for products in which I have no interest or “liking” something that I really don’t. Sometimes I wish that we could put the tech genie back in the bottle, even if it’s a bottle I had a hand in opening in some small way.

Read the McNamee piece and tell me what you think, ok?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks

Another FIFA Fail

I read a mind-blowing story over the weekend about how not to treat a customer. Actually, how not to treat THOUSANDS of customers. Then again, considering the organization that was doing the “treating”, in retrospect I shouldn’t have been so shocked as they hit a new low. But still…

The Women’s World Cup begins in a few weeks. FIFA, which many in the world of sports consider to be just a big criminal conspiracy (too many cases to list here) began distributing tickets to customers around the world. The rest would be comical is it wasn’t so sad:

With the tournament in France due to start on 7 June, Fifa announced on Monday that tickets were now available to print at home. This led in some instances to complaints from people who, having assumed they had bought tickets together, discovered this was not the case.

“Dear fans. We have noted some of your comments, re: your tickets,” read a message on the tournament’s official Twitter account. “When you placed your order, a message indicating not all seats would be located next to each other did appear, before confirmation of your purchase. Unfortunately we will not be able to modify your order.

So if you spent years saving up to take your daughter to see the best women in the world play, you might have to let her experience that joy whilst seated several sections away from you and from your wife who may be in a different part of the stadium completely. FIFA’s response: we don’t really care.

A few things. First, this would NEVER happen for a Men’s World Cup. FIFA has a history of telling the women to piss off while paying lip service to their game. They made the women play a World Cup on artificial turf and who can forget the head of FIFA’s suggestion that women boost the game by playing in tighter shorts and makeup. Second, even if they weren’t such sexist pigs, ticket sales make up a smallish percentage of FIFA’s World Cup revenues. TV and sponsorship are the big tickets here and unless and until the broadcasters and sponsors speak up, the dismissive attitude to the real fans won’t change.

FIFA has a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and they’ve done it again. We’ve been through this many times in this space but no business can afford to tell customers, no matter how small a part of the revenue picture that customer may be, that they don’t matter. People traveling to these games are among FIFA’s best customers. Do you still think they’ll continue to spend money with FIFA after this? Most of us can distinguish between supporting the game via our attention and supporting the people who run it with our cash. Fortunately for them, FIFA has no real competition. Can you say the same?

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Filed under Huh?, sports business

1,2,3

I’m back! I didn’t post anything last week because I went on my annual golf outing with my Board Of Advisors. All is well except my golf game.

I don’t know if you saw anything about a survey that was released last week. I did and I made a note to make it my first post upon my return because it makes a number of points that I think any of us could find useful in business. The survey was run by Civic Science which has been conducting online polling since 2008. It was a very simple question and the responses were astonishing, at least to me.

Should schools in America teach Arabic Numerals as part of their curriculum?

That’s the question. They surveyed over 3,600 people and over 2,000 of the respondents said “no.” That came out to 56% of respondents saying we shouldn’t teach the numerals we all use every day. Yep – those are Arabic numerals. Interesting, right? Kind of scary too because it reveals what happens when you allow yourself to answer a question based on your inherent feelings (or prejudices) without having a full understanding of the question being asked.

It wasn’t just a test of prejudice against the word “Arabic.” They also asked about teaching a Catholic priest’s theory on the origin of the universe. While obviously, it’s a much more obscure fact (the Big Bang theory was his idea), it shows once again that people will answer something without enough (or any) information based on inherent biases (53% said “no” to this, which is taught every day).

How often does that happen in your business setting? Someone starts to say something in response to a question in a meeting and suddenly it’s quite obvious that they have no idea about what they’ve been asked. It’s not just people answering the wrong question either. It’s quite possible to have an understanding of the question but no grasp of the facts required to answer it.

So here are three words (3 in Arabic numerals) to keep in mind: I don’t know. They can be hard to say, especially when you have a knee-jerk response to a question. But ask yourself if that response is based on fact or on your existing bias. You might be surprised what you’ll learn along the way as well as prevent your team from making a bad decision. Make sense?

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