Tag Archives: media

Smoke And Mirrors

I wrote last week about magic and distractions. Another magically-themed post today about the smoke and mirrors magicians use in their acts. That expression has come to mean something that’s deceptive or fraudulent, and a couple of pieces about the marketing business got me thinking about that term today. Even if you’re not a marketer (but who isn’t!), there’s something to take away.

One piece on Digiday dealt with ad-buying technology. You’re probably aware that the majority of digital ad buying (which will soon cover TV as well!) is done programmatically. No humans are involved other than to create the platforms on the vending end and choosing the ones to use on the buying end. The Digiday piece contains the following statements from an ad tech software developer:

I can say from first-hand experience that a lot of it is taped together stuff and nowhere near the sophistication that’s talked about…It is really easy to put up a website and mention “algorithms,” “machine learning” and a bunch of buzzwords. Nobody knows how that works. You can’t actually look into it, it is all just black boxes. But underneath, there is no real special sauce for a lot of these companies.

In other words, smoke and mirrors. Billions of dollars are spent this way and marketers are (finally) demanding to know how their money is really being spent. They’re turning on the lights and blowing away the smoke. Which leads to the second piece from MediaPost. It mentions “the terrible murky waters of rebates and contracts” and the same lack of transparency to which the other piece alludes. P&G is demanding more transparency, insisting that media agencies show that they are using providers that apply industry standards in measuring viewability and fraud. Ogilvy and Mather is reorganizing under a single P&L accounting structures for clients and thereby boosting transparency. Both of these moves are sending the magicians home.

We all need to ask ourselves about smoke and mirrors in our businesses. We need to challenge sources behind reports and assure ourselves that what we’re reading or hearing is rooted in fact and not someone’s fiction. A good practice outside of business too, don’t you think?

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Filed under Huh?, What's Going On

Why Can’t You Yell Fire?

I think we all know that you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. It will cause a panic and someone will get hurt. At a minimum, the odds are that someone will also call in a false alarm that distracts the fire department. That is a common-sense limit to free speech. Almost 100 years ago the Supreme Court said that the First Amendment, though it protects freedom of expression, does not protect dangerous speech.

I thought of that the other day when Google and Facebook announced that they would take what I think is a great first step in purging themselves of fake news by cutting off the access those sites have to revenue-generating or promotional ads. As Reuters reported:

Google said it is working on a policy change to prevent websites that misrepresent content from using its AdSense advertising network, while Facebook updated its advertising policies to spell out that its ban on deceptive and misleading content applies to fake news.

As someone who is devoted to the First Amendment, you might wonder why I’m OK with what seem to be limits on free speech. Fake news – or outright lies – are a big source of the divisive atmosphere most of us recognize exists in our country. They’re not hate speech, which I’m actually OK with because it’s so obviously slanted. They’re worse because they wrap themselves in a cloak of truth. As we’ve discussed here many times before, many people – both in business and out – don’t bother to do the research to find out if what’s being presented to them in factual. The presence of these sites and their fabricated BS makes a very difficult search even more so. No, the Pope didn’t endorse Donald Trump and yet 100,000 people shared that story as if His Holiness did.

By removing the financial incentive to create and promulgate this crap, Facebook and Google are taking a positive step in helping those of us who want to make decisions based on factual material. It’s not censorship; it’s arresting the idiot who’s yelling “fire” for a profit. Hopefully, the next step is some method to annotate and fact check the sites that remain. I also see that Twitter is suspending the accounts of some alt-right leaders.:

In a statement, Twitter said: “The Twitter Rules prohibit targeted abuse and harassment, and we will suspend accounts that violate this policy.”

There is no question that Twitter has become a bit of a cesspool and they certainly need to take some actions that clean up the rampant trolling and harassment that goes on. This, however, doesn’t sit as well with me since it starts down the slippery slope of censorship. The difference is my mind is that the fake news folks are making stuff up for profit while the hate groups are expressing (in theory) their own beliefs, however misguided.

Interesting times, aren’t they?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Bad Headline, Good Reminder

I missed the end of the Sprint Cup race yesterday. Not a big deal, I thought, you can read the results in the paper or online. I still have some of my old school media habits and reading the paper with breakfast is one of them, so I was little surprised to see the headline you see pictured below. After all, the only NASCAR driver named Hamilton that I know of was Bobby Hamilton, who passed away in 2007. Had F1’s Lewis Hamilton somehow entered the race and how did I not know that? And why was he driving the 11, which has a regular driver?

None of the above. As it turned out the race winner was Denny Hamlin, who competes every week in the 11 car. The headline was completely wrong. This isn’t a website either, so millions of papers aren’t going to be corrected with the press of a button. Putting aside what must be some editor’s massive embarrassment, there is something any of us in business can learn from this.

Newspapers are supposed to be trusted sources of information. While there is no doubt that the public’s trust in media generally as unbiased factual reporting sources has declined, most mainstream outlets still hold themselves to a higher standard. When mistakes happen – and they do daily – most reputable outlets correct them and call attention to the fact that they have done so, recognizing that they erred in the first place. That’s applicable to any business, as is attention to detail. Someone screwed up badly here. Knowing that it’s generally the editors who write (and certainly approve) the headlines, my money is that the fault lies there. Messing up the big things is usually obvious but it’s the lack of attention to the little things that I think irk consumers even more.

This bad headline is a good reminder. Any business loses trust when they mess up. If we’ve done a good job filling up our karmic bank accounts with our customers, we’ll be fine making these withdrawals for mistakes. Do so on a regular basis, however, and that account becomes overdrawn. That’s when our customers move on. Does that headline make sense?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Hi. What Do You Need?

I bet each of us has someone in our life from whom we never hear unless and until they need something. You know the type. When you’re in touch with them everything is great and you’re BFF’s. The problem is that the only times you’re in touch come when they are having a problem. When you reach out just to say hi, it’s crickets.

Many of us conduct our customer activities in exactly that mindset. They never hear from us unless we need something (generally we need them to buy something). A recent  Salesforce survey of nearly 4,000 marketers highlighted the fact that many marketers are increasingly focused on customer satisfaction and customer engagement as their top measures for success, and the way to spur those measures is through an ongoing presence that is customer focused. In addition, high-performing marketers are creating journeys for customers, with 65% saying they’ve adopted a customer journey strategy and 88% saying it’s critical to their marketing success.

This is what the CEO of Salesforce had to say about the results:

The rise of the connected customer is forcing marketing to evolve from delivering outbound campaigns to managing personalized experiences that engage the customer from day one and guide them through a seamless journey with the brand. The results of our research show that high-performing marketers that change their mindsets, tactics and technology to embrace a customer journey strategy will reap the benefits.

In other words, we can’t just show up when we need something. Think about something as simple as the Amazon Dash button. If you’re not familiar, Amazon describes it a Wi-Fi connected device that reorders your favorite product with the press of a button. If you run out of Red Bull, push the button and Red Bull shows up. It’s always there, ready when you need it. Is that walking the customer through a journey? I think it is, in a very simplistic manner.

When the phone rings and it’s this particular guy, I know I’m going to be asked for something. How do customers feel when your email arrives? Any differently?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

An Hour More And Less

More and less? A typo right off the bat? Nope, not a chance. That’s a statement about time, which as I think we all know is a zero-sum game. Even if you don’t sleep there are still only 24 hours in a day. Why this is of note today is a report from the Nielsen folks and the implications the findings hold for you.

The results come from Nielsen’s Q1 2016 Total Audience Report, which you can read here. There is also an excellent summary on Adweek’s site. As the latter states: 

The total media consumption across all devices and platforms jumped one hour from the first quarter of 2015, to 10 hours, 39 minutes. (A year earlier, there had only been a seven-minute year-over-year jump in daily media consumption.) That’s mostly due to smartphone use, which has soared 37 minutes, and tablet use, which has increased 12 minutes. Internet on PC jumped 10 minutes, while multimedia devices, including Apple TV and Roku, were up four minutes. Video game consoles and DVR use was flat, while DVD use dipped one minute and live TV dropped three minutes year over year. Nielsen’s data indicates that consumers aren’t pulling away from linear TV, but instead are making additional time for these new devices.

An hour more each day with media sounds wonderful if you’re in the media business. The real question this raises with me is from where are consumers getting that extra hour? Do you think they’re sleeping less? Leaving work early? Maybe they’re watching on the job (so much for productivity). No, I suspect they’re just not doing something else. Shopping, dining out as much, going to other recreational activities. All this means is that as selective as consumers were in allocating their time to your non-media business they’re going to be even more so. That reinforces the need for all of us to provide value every time we have a consumer interaction or we won’t be having as many down the road.

As an aside, I’ll remind us that most of us, even if we make package goods, are now in the media business. Social sites, home base (your website!), and content we provide to others are all media, so it’s not a lost cause. Obviously, it’s fiercely competitive out there, and the hour more each day that consumers are spending in the space doesn’t mean they’re any less frugal with the time they spend. The job for each of us is to make up for the hour less they’re outside of media where we live and capture their attention within the extra hour they’re spending inside. We can do that through great content, content which is focused on providing value and solving their problems.  Make sense?

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Filed under digital media

Killing It At The Source

Suppose you sit down at a restaurant and look over the menu.  Seeing a few things which seemed appealing, you place your order.  How would you feel if you found out that while the main course was cooked in-house, the starters and desserts were all made across the street and brought it?  I’d feel kind of cheated.  My expectation is that when I order off a place’s menu that they’re making what I’m served. They’re certainly taking credit for it.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what’s happening in the online publishing world and I think it’s suicidal. It’s called “sourced traffic” and this is an excellent definition:

The practice of sourcing traffic is essentially any means by which digital media publishers or vendors acquire audience (visitors) through third parties.  So, this is audience being sold by the vendor which is not occurring in the traditional advertising model (by which a publisher puts out content which attracts an audience and then sells ads to reach that audience).  In other words, sourced traffic is by definition not organic traffic to the publisher’s site.

In other words, publishers are selling audiences they don’t have just to add some audience to their delivery stats. The first issue I have is much the same as I might have with the aforementioned restaurant – taking credit for something that’s not yours. My guess is that most publishers – like most buyers – are very much focused on the numbers and not at all focused on the quality of what’s being delivered. I would be quite upset if I paid for a prix fixe meal and the quality of the parts not made in-house were substantially lower.

The bigger issue brings us right back to our old friend, fraud. A White Ops and ANA study of non-human traffic from 2014 found that while a direct audience is mostly human, sourced traffic is almost 90% attributable to bots. eMarketer reported this the other day about an ANA study:

According to the data, 34% of respondents—also ANA members—said they were not at all familiar with sourced traffic. Meanwhile, 19% said they were very or extremely familiar. But perhaps more interestingly, the majority (54%) of those surveyed, said weren’t sure if any of their digital media buys included some form of traffic sourcing.

And we wonder why digital doesn’t receive as much weight in media buying as the audiences warrant?  All players – publishers, buyers, and clients – need to step up their game here and fix the sourced traffic problem.  Otherwise, who is going to want to eat in this restaurant?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

This Is Disturbing

A little over a year or ago, Jon Mandel, who is a widely respected media maven, made a statement in front of an ad convention that kickbacks were rampant in the media and agency businesses. He alleged that agencies were receiving funds back from various media sources and these payments were never reported to the clients. It was such a widespread issue that he left a position as head of one of the biggest ad agencies in the US in part over it.

I worked with Jon in my past life and I’d certainly not cite him as one who is prone to rash groundless statements. Apparently, neither would the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the trade group that represents marketers. They commissioned a security firm to conduct an investigation of the allegations and the report came out last Friday. It’s not pretty.

You can read the report here but some topline results found non-transparent business practices employed by agencies, some of which may or may not have been contract-compliant, included the following:

  • Cash rebates from media companies were provided to agencies with payments based on the amount spent on media. Advertisers interviewed in the K2 Intelligence study indicated they did not receive rebates or were unaware of any rebates being returned.
  • Rebates in the form of free media inventory credits.
  • Rebates structured as “service agreements” in which media suppliers paid agencies for non-media services such as low-value research or consulting initiatives that were often tied to the volume of agency spend. Sources told K2 Intelligence that these services “were being used to obscure what was essentially a rebate.”
  • Markups on media sold through principal transactions ranged from approximately 30 percent to 90 percent, and media buyers were sometimes pressured or incentivized by their agency holding companies to direct client spend to this media, regardless of whether such purchases were in the clients’ best interests.
  • Dual rate cards in which agencies and holding companies negotiated separate rates with media suppliers when acting as principals and as agents.
  • Non-transparent business practices in the U.S. market resulting from agencies holding equity stakes in media suppliers.

The response by the agency community?  Because the study did not name names, many of the big players seem to be denying there is a problem.  The 4A’s, which is the agency trade group said:

Without an opportunity for agencies to assess and address the veracity of information provided to K2, sweeping allegations will continue to drive attention-grabbing headlines; this does nothing to foster a productive conversation or to move our industry forward and could cause substantial economic damage to all media agencies.

It seems to me that the “productive conversation” needs to have happened quite a while ago.  When some media buying companies realized that they couldn’t make any profit executing buys, rather than have a heart to heart with the people paying their bills they chose, in essence, to cheat. Is it painting with too widespread a brush?  Probably, but one can imagine the lawsuits that would follow the publication of a list of the offenders.

It’s a good lesson for any of us in business.  Just as our clients’ problems become our problems, a healthy business relationship should foster open exchanges of the issues we face as well.  Labelling this problem as “unsubstantiated claims” and denying there is a problem doesn’t solve anything – ask the climate change deniers if ignoring the problem is making it go away. Transparency and good communication are high on any list of best business practices.  Are they on yours?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?