The Clock that Had No Hands – Herbert Kaufman

Hot takes.

Listicles.

Transformative Ted Talks.

Marketers today have thousands of options when it comes to inspirational advice on how to sell their brands. So the opening lines of Herbert Kaufman’s “The Clock That Had No Hands,” published in 1912, should sound eerily familiar to modern marketers.
“In these days of intense and vigilant commercial contest, a dealer who does not advertise is like a clock with no hands. He has no way of recording his movements, or letting the public know of his business.”

Herbert Kaufman lays out the case for turn-of-the-century newspaper advertising in “The Clock That Had No Hands,” through a collection of 19 essays. Though a bit floral in the wording, Kaufman’s century-old advice stands shoulder to shoulder with the latest Ted Talk.

Kaufman covers topics in 1912 that are still perplexing businesses over a hundred years later. Let’s take a look at a few essays that highlight Kaufman’s prescient advice.

The Canon that Modernized Japan

The Samurai culture of late-1800 Japan thought it was invincible and no one could compete with their weaponry and bravery. Until Western cannons blasted them to pieces. Once that happened, the Samurai realized the world was bigger than their realm and competition was well-armed and fierce.

Never mind the subtle colonialism

Kaufman believes businesses that don’t advertise are like the Samurai, living in an insular world, unprepared for a stronger adversary to come along and blast them to bits. Advertising is the cannon.

There is a lesson in this essay about our modern problem of disruption. Across every industry, staid and trusted brands are being supplanted for newer, cheaper alternatives. The business that fails to hear the cannonballs approaching won’t last.

The Man Who Retreats Before Defeats

Advertising isn’t magic – it requires patience and honesty to be effective.

Advertising promises that won’t be kept is a recipe for failure. All advertising does is draw people in to investigate the claims you’ve made. “If you promise the Earth and deliver the moon, advertising will not pay you”

Another way to fail, is expecting more out of advertisements, than there is in it. “Advertising is a seed which a merchant plants in the confidence of the community” Ads must be given time to grow like trees and babies. If you don’t see results in a week, don’t be shocked. Stay the course and don’t retreat before you’re defeated.

The modern correlation to the above can easily be seen in click-bait headlines, fake news sites powered by ad fraud, and marketers chasing the latest tech solutions. We are far too eager to switch up creative and copy on ads, swap this audience out for that one, and change directions and messaging to follow trends.

The Perambulating Showcase

The newspaper is a huge shop window, carried about the city and available in every home. Ads in the paper are a perambulating showcase. BUT, this showcase displays ‘descriptions’ NOT ‘things.’ Enticing window trimmings and decorations are obvious when you see them. So it is with copywriting.


“An advertiser must know that he gets his results in accordance with the skill exercised in preparing his verbal displays. The copy has to stand out.”

“He must not only make a show of things that are attractive to the eye, but to the needs as well.”

“Just like the window trimmer realizes the showiest stocks aren’t always the best-selling, the advertiser must not make the mistake fo thinking the showiest words are the most clinching.”

And more. . .

There are so many gems in this book, lemme just provide a few quick hits before closing up – – –
“Regularity is JUST as important in advertising as copy. Persistence is the foundation of advertising success.”

TAKEAWAY = Hit them over the head with it. We are so leery of bothering people online that we give up on ad campaigns too fast.

“The simpler the language in an ad, the better. The skilled advertiser uses the smallest words possible. Newton’s Theory of Gravity is six pages long – “What goes up, must come down.” <- six words.”

TAKEAWAY = Simplifying language will always be in vogue, and is perennially solid advice. To me, the language in advertising today suffers more from being banal and bland. Filled with industry standard buzzwords and guided by “best practices,” most ads are beige, non-offensive, and appeal to the most general and wide-spread concerns. 100 years ago ad copy had to stand out, why is today different?

“Ad placement is massively important. It isn’t the number of copies printed, but the number of copies that reach the hands of buyers. It isn’t the number of readers but the number of readers with money to spend.”

TAKEAWAY = The main goal of ads are to get the word out about your brand. So most people go for big numbers – get in front of as many people as possible. This is PARTIALLY a great idea. We may reach 100,000 people, but if not a single person takes an action on behalf of our brand, we’re wasting our time. Such was the case over 100 years ago – and with digital advertising, the risks are exponentially tripled.

“The price of the gun never hits the bull
and the bang seldom rattles the bells
it’s the hand on the trigger that cuts the real figger
the aims what amounts – that’s what records count
are you hitting or just wasting shells? “

TAKEAWAY = Kaufman is speaking here about hiring the best people to write the language of your ads. The man who writes your copy, aims your policy. Are you investing in copywriting?

In Summary

For those marketing and advertising professionals who are looking for time-tested advice, Kaufman’s collection of essays are like finding a box of old WW1 love notes in an attic. The business concerns of our great-great grandparent’s are still our concerns – nothing has changed. And so, it’s refreshing and disheartening that the advice on advertising in a book over 100 years old can seem so relevant.

Every single human alive today has access to all of the best advice. Advice that guarantees us the best lives possible, successful businesses, great relationships, healthy bodies and minds. AND YET – people fall apart, businesses collapse, relationships crumble – why?

We are just as overwhelmed with good advice, lists, blogs, hot takes, as we’ve ever been. But the pace at which information inundates us individually, has increased to a dangerous degree. One theory, as to why we don’t take good advice, is that our core values are being smothered by the firehose of data we subject our brains to everyday.

Our core values shape what we want from the world on a foundational level, what we think is important, what we want for ourselves. Core values are like broccoli, a nutrient-rich food group, and the constant stream of advice and memes are more like sugar. When sugar is all we see, we shouldn’t be surprised that we skip over more foundational content for the quick hits. But after subsisting off of advice for a while, we lose the ability to connect and find nourishment for our core values, and just become a loose collection of positive vibes, memes, and quotes.

It seems to me that the advertising industry itself has become a clock with no hands. Advertising trends change so often, and with it, every advertiser. With every Google update we change our sites, with every new shiny platform we chase the audience, with every new viral craze we chase clicks and views.

With increasing digital ad fraud, fake influencers, surveillance capitalism in full swing, and the slow-cooked death of effective, traditional, mass-media advertising concepts, Kaufman’s work may have been more prescient than planned. Businesses that advertise today are like Kaufman’s clock with no hands – because they switch marketing strategies so often and forego defining their foundational core values, they have no way of recording their movements, and they make the same mistakes that have been happening for HUNDREDS of years. And with no hands on the clock of your business, the customer moves on, unable to spare the time.

GET THE BOOK –> https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004TPZRW8/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

The Choice Factory – Richard Shotton

Marketing and advertising professionals need to stop what they are doing and read this book.

I’m not kidding.

9 out of 10 of the top minds in the field of advertising and marketing have already read Richard Shotton’s “The Choice Factory,” and are now using the insights to catapult their brands from obscurity into revenue-saturated popularity. Do you want to be the one that misses out on this opportunity?

Cognitive Bias and Choice

In the age of infobesity, content shock, and choice paralysis – getting solid advice on any subject can be extremely difficult. Marketers today are obsessed with brand purpose, shiny-automated-dashboards, Big Data & artificial intelligence. Each business hoping to differentiate, to be the first to discover and use “the next big thing in marketing.”

Marketers and advertisers, like everyone picking out their next “self-help” book, are AWASH with options. But, if we reduce the complexity of choice down to a single element – cognitive bias – we can start to appreciate the genius behind Shotton’s book.

The author is careful to point out that there is not a GRAND THEORY of advertising and marketing. People make decisions for a variety of reasons – so why not focus in on that moment of decision; what forces compel us to CHOOSE one thing over another?

Shotton boils consumer behavior down to a collection of 25 cognitive biases that, for this book, makeup the bulk of decision making. Cognitive biases effect the way we make choices, the products we choose to buy, and more importantly, biases are the foundation for our beliefs about the world.

By incorporating real studies from the fields of psychology and sociology, and case studies of brands that have used these biases, or failed to use them, “The Choice Factory” is a useful, inspirational, well-crafted book that every self-respecting marketer and advertiser needs to read.

I’ll briefly share my favorite biases here – but if you want to a piece of this action, GO BUY THE BOOK.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Attributing actions to “fundamental” characteristics, rather than context.

EXAMPLE – Guy cuts you off in traffic, that guy is FOREVER a huge asshole, through and through. His mom was an asshole. I hope his family dies for the sake of the planet.

REALITY – He’s headed to the hospital from a job he just was fired from for excessive absences; his wife is sick with cancer and has hours to live.

This bias is HUGE and behind such hits as road rage, xenophobia, domestic abuse, racism – but also impacts the work being done in advertising meetings around the world.

How can marketing and advertising folk take advantage of this bias?

Consider the context in which someone will see your ad – don’t just focus on the content. Can they see the tiny copy on your billboard as they speed past? Does your display ad campaign take advantage of sites or pages with high dwell time?

Target the context your audience is in – not just the audience.

Distinctiveness

Most brands want to differentiate, they want to be unique – but, these same brands are obsessed with “best practices.” Best Practices is when you look at what everyone else is doing in your vertical, and then act accordingly.

Brands don’t want to take a chance, they want to review the case studies of someone who took a chance – they want to form a design committee – they want it to feel sure in the boardroom; but something that’s safe in the boardroom, is DEAD in the real world.

When it comes to the cognitive bias of “distinction,” Shotton reminds us that there is no “safety-in-numbers” in advertising. To stand out, you really do have to take chances.

SOLUTION – Find the rules, find the best practices and subvert them! –> When the world zigs, zag.

Claimed Data

Claimed data refers to info that has been collected from a survey – it’s what people claim is going on inside their heads. Problem is, most folks are completely unaware of what effects their decisions (hence the book) –

The rational mind thinks it’s the Oval Office, when in reality, it’s Office Depot. When we are asked a question, we answer it like we’re being interviewed for Heaven. We pad our history, forget our shortcomings, and see nothing but sunshine ahead of us.

EXAMPLE –
Don’t ask a guy, “Do you wash your hands before you leave the bathroom?”
Instead, ask – “What percentage of men your age wash their hands before they leave the bathroom?”

SOLUTION – When asking people a question, ask them how they think OTHERS in their own demographic would answer the question. This leads to a stronger truth. When answering a survey question personally, the participant’s reputation is on the line. So they’ll give you the answer society and biases have nudged them towards.

Primacy Effect

The order in which we receive information, effects how we interpret it.

EXAMPLE – People were given a brief description of someone they had never met, and then asked to provide their thoughts about this person, after the description. They were split into two groups, each given the same description, but the order of adjectives was reversed in one group.

Group A – This person is intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, envious.
Group B – This person is envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious, intelligent.

Group A described the person in much more glowing terms than Group B, even though the description given to both groups had been essentially the same.

LESSON –
Pay attention to ad rotation. Be the first ad they see during commercial break.
Pay attention to first impressions and copywriting – start strong!

Wishful Seeing

We see what we want to see.

The hungrier we are, the more everything looks like food.

I like Transformers, so EVERYONE likes Transformers!

People love a zero-carbon, environmentally-conscious, locally sourced brand connected to a strong brand purpose – – –

But in reality – things are much different.

EXAMPLE – After reviewing a list of Forbes Top 50 companies, it may be easy to attribute success for a brand to any number of factors. In his book “Grow,” Jim Stengel attributed brand success to strong brand purpose. However, the data does not support the hypothesis.

Of the 50 brands chosen fro Stengel’s 2011 book, only 9 had stock evaluations that held up over time.

Brand purpose is really just a description – success can never be guaranteed by holding fast to some internal behavior or brand ideal.

Have a look at the definition for three of the brands:

  • Moët & Chandon ‘exists to transform occasions into celebrations’.
  • Mercedes-Benz ‘exists to epitomise a life of achievement’.
  • BlackBerry ‘exists to connect people with one another and the content that is most important in their lives, anytime, anywhere’.

If you switched the brand names above with any competitor, you would be hard pressed to tell which is the “best” –

Why are marketers so keen to adopt a brand purpose? Because it makes us feel better. Shotton believes that helping a company sell products may not be as rewarding – so we say our product saves dolphins and makes tomorrow’s rainbows, today. Feels better, right?

LESSON – Hit the pause button before you go all in on brand purpose. It’s not the secret sauce everyone thinks it is.

I could go on and on about the awesome book – but then I’d be rewriting the book YOU SHOULD BE BUYING RIGHT NOW –>

Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! – Luke Sullivan

Anyone living during the late 60’s to early 80’s will be familiar with commercial superstar, Mr. Whipple – the famed store owner who would advise customers “Don’t Squeeze The Charmin,” and then grab a furtive squeeze after he had run them off. Cheeky bastard!

Mr. Whipple is not a groundbreaking advertising concept.

There is nothing award winning here.

However, Charmin sales SKYROCKETED thanks to this ad campaign, which ran for over 21 years. At the height of the commercials popularity, Mr. Whipple was found to be the most recognizable face in America – beating out President Jimmy Carter.

Award winning copywriter and advertising giant Luke Sullivan’s “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This!” is a deep dive into advertising; What it is, how to create it, what makes it effective, lasting, and how traditional advertising concepts can be applied to the modern/digital age.

In the beginning of the book, Sullivan locks in on the Whipple ad – Is the key to advertising annoying folks into buying things? Find something horrible, grating to put in an ad, capture the attention, and then sell them stuff? For this, we have to go back to the beginning of modern marketing.

Modern Marketing

Sullivan takes us back to post WW2 – the advertising landscape is not cluttered because there are only a few networks. Once TV networks starts to proliferate, brands start pushing out more products to compete – so modern marketing is born.

The goals of modern marketing are product differentiation and unique selling propositions. There are three other choices available to the consumer other than your product. So advertising becomes a chance to claim that top spot. Your ad has to defeat “The Wall” of ads that face consumers. An effective ad slides through the perceptual filter that blocks every other advertisement.

In advertisement, you’re not writing a novel – you’re creating something most people AVOID. Nobody wants to see it. People are indifferent or enraged at advertising. So how do you break through?

Bill Bernbach states the essential nature of creativity in advertisements very succinctly here

  • “The truth isn’t the truth till people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you are saying if they don’t listen, they won’t listen unless you’re interesting, and you won’t be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.”

The brain behind many wildly successful and creative campaigns in the 60s, Bernbach’s classic style is undoubtedly the hero of the book. Sullivan suggests that great ads like Bernbach’s, challenge the audience, assumes they have a brain, and let’s them in on the joke.

His work with VW and Avis are legendary. Bernbach’s insistence on creating ads that stand out, that embrace the rough edges, that are frank, simple, honest, and impactful, are on display in these ads. It’s not just creativity for it’s own sake, it’s creativity in service of the brand – a fine line that advertising still walks today.

Nuts and Bolts – How To Create Advertisements

The majority of the book is a step-by-step framework on how to conceive and execute and deliver advertising concepts. The first step to creating an ad for a brand, is to DEEPLY understand and research the brand. Tour the factory, interview customers and staff, look at the numbers – when you really get to know a product or service from the tail to the snout, you can create a more impactful ad based on acquired knowledge, not just impressions or preconceptions.

On-Brand?

The balance between what a client wants for an advertisement, and what an advertiser thinks will work, is always shifting. The brand wants safety, security, and sales – the ad agency wants attention, awareness, and acquisition. Bernbach again, says it best; “Dullness won’t sell your product, but neither will irrelevant brilliance.” This balance is the life and death of ads. Mostly the death.

Brand Adjective 

Most brands have ONE word that can focus the ad – Jeep is “tough” – Volvo is “safe” – It’s up to good copywriters to identify that adjective for their brand, and let that inspire the ad. Find your adjective!

Simple = Good

Brevity is the only solution to cut through the clutter of ads. How Draconian and stark can the copy be? One goal – don’t make an ad that adds to the clutter. Good advertising is density of content and elegance of form.  

What’s In It For Me?

No matter how creative your ad is, it still has to answer the one question on everyone’s mind, all the time – “what’s in it for me?” Understanding the context and lives of your target audience can help you make an ad that breaks through the clutter.

Avoid Inauthenticity 

Avoid these things – Puffery, Vanity, Authority, Insincerity, Gimmickry – to create an ad that has rapport. Maybe find a weakness, admit it, share it – this can lend believability to things you say afterward. “Hertz is 2nd best” “It’s ugly, but it’ll get you there” “Tastes horrible; works” 

Brand Context 

Great advertising finds the truth about a brand. Not what the brand thinks about itself, but what the CUSTOMERS think of the brand, how the brand fits into their lives.

The above headline could have easily been brand focused –
“We’re proud of our various floral arrangements – there’s one for every budget!”

But this ad is about the customer, and how the brand fits into their lives.

Go for an absolute

When writing an ad, don’t go for half measures. If you want to say “quicker, faster, and quieter” – SAY – “quickest, fastest, and quietest” – all claims in the middle are forgettable.

Wit Invites Participation

An idea that happens in the mind, stays in the mind. When ads use metaphors or jokes or “wink-wink” moments,  the connection happens inside the target’s head. Once that click happens, a smile in the mind occurs. Can you craft an ad that leaves room for the audience to finalize the connection? This will be effective!

“When baiting a trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse.”

BUY THIS BOOK

There is so much more to this book, but you should go out and buy it – Sullivan goes on to discuss ways digital advertising is different than traditional, why focus groups are crap, how to work with visuals. Anyone interested in marketing, advertisng, or consumer behavior will love this book. It’s like your uncle is sitting you down and rapping about advertising before you go off for a summer internship.

Advertising can be powerful and can shape communities and societies – for those that want to do good work in the field of advertising, this book is essential.

I’ll close with this inspirational quote – “Instead of coming up with advertising ideas, come up with ideas worth advertising.”

BUY THIS BOOK –> https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AVKWLCS/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

GET THE BOOK –> Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads

Is Hyper-Personalized Marketing Killing Social Culture?

Imagine living and interacting with technology and advertisements, in a world where EVERYTHING is personalized – it’s all about YOU!

Books, billboards, search engines, display ads, your thermostat, your home computer – all of them are constantly speaking about you, talking to you specifically – everything is about you, your choices, your purchases, your habits – it’s all about YOU!!

Now, imagine living in a world where technology and advertising is impersonal, a world where everything is NOT ABOUT YOU!

All of the content and advertisements you interact with are static – the messages and delivery of marketed communications happen to everyone around you equally at the same time. There is a general absorption level of content across a wide social spectrum. Society interacts with mass media, and that symbiotic relationship inspires both to change and evolve together.

Now – envision the psychological differences between citizens living in the first society, versus citizens living in the second society. . . 

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Two Schools of Advertising

Of course I am being reductionist here, but I think advertising can be segmented into two schools of thought –

1) –  Hyper-personalized ads – powered by Big Data amassed from customer surveillance –  Ads are able to follow customers wherever they go; on their fridge, in their phones, in their car, on their desktops, on their kid’s faces, on all the billboards they pass.

2) – Mass media – powered by impressions, communicating through shared values on larger scales, interacting with and inspiring popular culture on a societal level. Advertising aims to get groups of people talking to one another about a common, shared experience. The public square – the big billboard – the SuperBowl Commercial – the water cooler.

Modern marketers use a mixture of both of these approaches when it comes to advertising, but more and more our culture and society is embracing the first school – hyper personalized experiences, big data science, surveillance.

Could hyper-personalization and heavy curation of advertising environments to the individual level, endanger our society, our culture, our idealogical mobility?

What happens to the individuals living in a society that depends economically on its citizens living in a hyper-personalized world? Does this reinforce our echo-chambers, our egos, our narcissism?

What are the psychological ramifications of living a commercial existence that is shaped and tailored to fit your every need, understand your desires, predict your behaviors?

As marketers, do we question what kind of society we are creating when we adopt the latest technology, advertising philosophies, or market research capabilities?

Do we recognize the important and powerful effect advertising has on shaping people, on shaping culture? What will we lose when we abandon thinking about advertising, marketing and business development on a social level?

What kind of consumers are we creating?

What world do you want to live in?

Is there a socially responsible way to market products and services, develop sound business strategies, and create valuable, meaningful advertisements – without having to monitor and collect everyone’s search engine history, credit card purchases, FitBit analytics, social media posts/reactions/shares, private messages, emails, voting records, chats, thermostat usage, medical history, media consumption, driving habits and bathroom usage?

What do you think?

POSMarketing Myth – The Democratization of Advertising

When I hear that advertising is being “democratized” by Facebook and Google, I cringe. Marketing and advertising thought leaders talk about it incessantly – Examples of this are here, here, and here.

However, what seems to be a “democracy” of advertising, is in realty a monopolization of advertising, and paired along with it, possibly, the destruction of actual democracy.

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Social media has been around for a while now, and a lot of industries, companies and even countries – have felt the power of social, both negative and positive.

From the revolutions in Egypt to the collapse of the newspaper industry, social media has been purported to be a tool of “democratization,” where the will and voice of the people are being heard. People are now in charge!

The local mom and pop shop can take control of their advertising on Instagram, do their own Google AdWords, and finally have access to their customers through the genius of Facebook. These new found abilities are what is being referred to as the “democratization” of advertising.

Last year, digital advertising raked in around $72 billion – 89% of that revenue went into just TWO companies – Google and Facebook.

So what was originally seen as a boon to the local advertiser, a means to connect them with their valuable customer, should really be seen as the continued support of just TWO companies. And these two companies have a goal to dominate every transaction on the Internet. So is this democracy in action?

What does the well-meaning marketer have to say to the recent reports that Facebook collected well over $100k in ad revenue from a Russian troll farm, which spewed out profile-targeted disinformation during the 2016 US Presidential Election? They denied this for months – and now, it turns out that they did profit off the propaganda. Not only that, Facebook also assisted the Russian efforts with their always expanding suite of top-shelf marketing technology.

Facebook provides advertising access to any user that creates an advert account. Doesn’t matter who you are, or what your intentions are, as long as the Credit Card runs. They’ve also collected a MASSIVE amount of user generated data, that can be parsed to identify psychographic profiles, which can be used in turn by advertisers, or other nefarious parties, to slowly adjust behaviors and even influence voting outcomes.

This “opinion manipulation” technology was harnessed to subvert campaign finance laws by Cambridge Analytica in such recent hits as Brexit, Trump in US, Marie Le Pen in France, and recently overturned elections in Kenya.

 

With evidence popping up that shows FB promises an advertising reach to many times more people on the planet than Census data shows exists, are the marketing gurus right to call this the “democratization” effect?

Tools like Google and Twitter actually increase our political divisions, because these sites run on hidden algorithms that select what should be shown to who, and when, and why. And no one knows how the algorithms work. Doesn’t sound democratic.

And lastly – Technology is Not A Great Equalizer!!

Access to all of the tools associated with the “democratization of advertising” are still dependent on economic and technological advantages that are unattainable by a large portion of the Earth’s population. The person/company with the most money, the fastest connectivity to broadband, and the most talented manipulation of big data sets (the lifeblood of social) will win the advertising game on social, every time. For people with no access to the internet, and a throttled utility-based market economy around telecom industry, the big money that lives on FB and Google is out of reach completely for a vast majority of us. This, to me, is the final nail in the coffin for the myth of democratized advertising.

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Marketers need to really start engaging on a tactile level with this issue, start discussing the ramifications of these metastasizing monopolies, and stop throwing around the word democracy. The expanding economic in-equality and rise of nationalism and political subterfuge across the world is directly tied to our love of these behemoth companies, and our blind belief that their inherent structures are supported by good causes and people. We need to open our eyes.

To blithely think that the “people” are in charge, as we pad the walled gardens of FB and Google with our advertising money, is stupid. The long-term survivability of civilization is at hand, and while marketers hail the new revolution of people-powered advertising networks – the entire fabric of trust and democracy is being ripped apart, boiled and bleached, and turned into money for two giant companies.

Isn’t it a great time to be a marketer!?!

Advertising/Marketing Industries Have Civic Responsibility To Fight Fake News

When Interactive Advertising Bureau President & CEO Randall Rothenberg called for an industry-wide commitment to fight “Fake News” at an Annual Leadership Meeting in Hollywood, Florida in January of this year, the response from the audience was mixed.

randall rothenberg marketing blog ad-fraud googleRandall Rothenberg went on in his truly inspiring speech, to elaborate the important role advertisers and marketers now find themselves playing. He outlined the myriad ways algorithms, big-data, and the eco-systems that prop up digital advertising, are ruining the exchange relationships of information online. And he suggests to his audience, CMOS and ad agencies representing some of the top companies in the world, that they need to help bring the change, or suffer the consequences of an eroding trust in the digital landscape.

Looking back now, Rothenberg’s speech takes on a Nostradamic hue of prophecy.

Marketers and advertisers have unwittingly taken public discourse and the connected community of the Internet into a navel-gazing, filter-bubble filled, truth-destroying, civilization-shaking, death spiral. And to pull out of it, we have to realize our place in the cockpit, and understand how we got here.

Entertain me – what’s the worst that could happen?

A group of our marketing and advertising colleagues working with the Data and Marketing Association literally stood up and cheered as they were on hand to witness Congress, then the Senate, then the President, peel back Obama-era protections/regulations, allowing ISPs to access and distribute consumer data, browsing history, in-app messages, and emails, to third-party companies for profit, all without consumer consent?

Getty Images marketing social media

The interested parties have struck a deal – people love relevant ads!

When the vote passed the Senate, on March 23, 2017, we heard this from Emmett O’Keefe, SVP of Advocacy at the Data and Marketing Association:

“Today’s vote in the Senate and expected approval in the House signal that our nation’s top policymakers recognize that our current system of responsible data use works.”

The trust was apparently so overflowing, and the data of the marketplace was handled so responsibly, that the same day, these US companies followed the lead of brands in the UK, and pulled entirely out of Google & Youtube digital display advertising agreements, resulting in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for the digital ad giant….

  • AT&T
  • Beam Suntory Inc.
  • Dish Network
  • Enterprise
  • FX Networks
  • General Motors
  • GSK
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Nestle
  • PepisCo
  • Starbucks
  • Verizon
  • Walmart

These companies, “unknowingly,” were buying programmatic ad-placements that were being paired up with hateful content on Google & YouTube – a Snickers pop-up under an ISIS beheading, or Nazi propaganda brought to you by Mercedes. Truth be told, digital ads have always been placed wherever they can be, and who cares where they go cos they are cheap as dirt! You got the impressions/clicks/views – digital advertising, accomplished. So we spend a few bucks on digital display ads – What’s the worst that could happen?


One of the Managing Directors at Edelman PR, Gavin Coombes, has a quote that sets us up perfectly for the next slippery slope we need to slide down – – –

“As Internet-based communication has become used more often and by more people, we have found ourselves in the paradoxical circumstance of more information arguably leading to less understanding. The “echo chamber” – identified in the latest Edelman Trust Barometer as a major factor in feeding fear and distrust of institutions – is a phenomenon that reached a tipping point in 2016 and with potentially epochal implications. And, seemingly, without warning.”

Edelman Trust Barometer marketing blog, content marketing, advertising, digital marketing, social media marketing

Coombes goes on to explain that social media operates more like tabloid media, vs traditional mass media – using content that entertains or connects emotionally, rather than content that empirically informs. Users prefer, and come to rely on, a steady diet of things that are happy, sad, funny or violent. This diet is typically filled with people like them and based on info they provide freely. So your social media stream is hand-selected by algorithms owned and operated by the social media ecosystems – always designed to keep the most engaging content in front of you, forever regenerating, endlessly attached to advertising revenue, open to marketers of all stripes.

In 2014, it was revealed that Facebook was able to manipulate users emotions depending on what posts a tailored algorithm allowed onto their “Wall.” Positive posts on a user’s wall were shown to illicit more positive posts in return, conversely, exposure to negativity promoted the sharing of negative material . Facebook performed it’s experiment without any user consent, and since the Terms and Conditions covered the unfettered access to user data, it was all above-the-board. Google and Yahoo both follow this same protocol – provide a seemingly “free” product, observe usage, get as much data as possible, get advertising content, and tweak the delivery to get the “relevant” info in front of the right people. 

The reaction to Facebook’s experiment from the marketing and advertising community was shock and hidden joy. Here they had proof of a proper approach to gaming Facebook – emotions spread, and targeted, relevant emotions triggered at the right time can cause action. Proof that information, if properly placed at the right time, could affect change. Facebook’s algorithms keep it’s growing 1.7 billion user base glued to the platform – showing them whatever keeps them engaged, and not too pissed off – and all the while, user data is shared with anyone willing to pay for it.

So what? Marketers and advertisers get to sell soap to people they know like soap. We might use emotional triggers to get people to take action, but it’s with babies and puppies. It’s all good – What could possibly go wrong?

For those unfamiliar with the rising prominence of the newest and least experienced player to step on the field of international diplomacy on behalf of the United States, Jared Kushner – or how the former real-estate mogul turned dad-in-law-Trump’s campaign around by scaling existing marketing technology and “expertly” manipulated the filter-bubbles and emotional triggers of social and search….

For those unfamiliar with the technology he purchased through Cambridge Analytica, and how that company can provide it’s clients, through their OCEAN targeting, info on users political affiliation, race, gender, neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness and other psychological/emotional triggers……

For those unfamiliar with Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Group, which, since 1993, has made its name providing “psychological operations” for political campaigns around the world, marketing its services to militaries and state security agencies, providing impeccable, highly- targeted, and politically-weaponized disinformation campaigns to such countries as Pakistan, and Great Britain….

For those unaware of the role of mega-hedge-fund-lord Robert Mercer in funding Breitbart, Brexit, his huge investment in Cambridge Analytica both in the UK and US, his not-so-shadow-funding of pro-Trump media blitzes through the new non-profit media company “Making America Great Again,” and his insane amount of influence in the de-globalizing, anti-intellectual, climate-denying, xenophobic, media-exploding, war-mongering shit show we are currently living through…….

You should look into this stuff. What’s the worst that could happen?

This quote from Professor Jonathan Rust, director at Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre, can help fit the final piece of our puzzle –

“The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.”

So what should/can marketers and advertisers do about this?

Looking at the above information, the marketer and the advertiser can see several opportunities. Opportunities for more user-generated data, enhanced abilities to track and deliver personalized ads on behalf of brands, nuanced insight into consumer behavior, ways to sneak our messages through emotional pathways, unlimited access to centralized audiences, and access to an ever-expanding marketplace.

Or are the opportunities aligned with a larger civic duty, not just towards our profit margins, but to our society, our fellow humans?

  • Could advertising, done the right way, save the world?
  • Can we open the conversation with our digital marketing companies about ways we can fight ad-fraud together?
  • Can we hold our marketing and advertising associations accountable for their Code of Ethics, and be active, ethical allies for conscientious consumers?
  • Can we work to protect the marketplaces and technology that enable ethically and mutually agreed-upon exchange relationships from “bad actors” or manipulative entities?
  • Can we not sell everyone’s private data up the damned river, just so we can send them “better ads?”

Whatever your stance on ethics and morality and marketplace logic and free-will, we have to realize that while we’ve been engineering the latest and greatest ways to sell stuff in our marketplaces, we’ve also greased the tracks for a whole host of nefarious players to enter into these spaces, use our marketing technology of demand-engineering, targeted behavior modification, and etc., and these sinister forces are inflicting serious harm to the information eco-systems so necessary to our livelihoods and the continuation of modern civilization.

I’ll leave you with a final quote from Rothenberg, and it’s a perfect ending for this rant of an article, because it’s how he ended his speech, mic drop style.

“. . . now I am asking you to reach higher, and deeper into your own better nature. The values we hold dear – diversity, freedom of speech and religion, freedom of enterprise – are under assault, and digital marketing, advertising, media, and technology companies bear some measure of responsibility. The route from self-interested “standards” to fraudulent ads to blind-eyed negligence to the financing of criminal activities to support for hatred is clear, and it is direct.

What we say here – and what we do here – makes a difference. Please leave this conference with this understanding: You have the power to move fast and fix things. You have the ability to repair our credibility. You have the power to rebuild the trust. Thank you.”

So are you a marketer that is willing to stand up and make the world a better, more trusting place? If you rise to the occasion and exhibit the best of what humanity has to offer, at least in a marketer, what’s the worst that could happen?