Some men want to see the world burn

I love Gmail because of the Exclamation Point button. This is an icon that I push a few times every day when some email marketer hounds me to “please point me to the person in your company who handles Account Based Marketing” or wants to find some time to talk about my “content management attribution challenges in the coming year.”

bestbuttonever

I know these emails have code embedded in them that tells the sender when I’ve opened them. I know that I will never respond to them. Never take their phone call. Have no guilt over ignoring them.

But the Exclamation Point — well it’s basically the email marketing equivalent of dumping the Alien Monster out of the airlock into the vacuum of space where no one can hear them scream. Not only does a quick click of the button block the sender from ever landing in my inbox again, it reports them to some unseen power as a spammer.

Aww.Poor email marketers with their “lovable marketing content.” Try it. It’s fun.

 

Put the Tits Above The Fold

Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, told a page one meeting shortly after the launch of the national newspaper that if the editors ran a photograph of a pretty girl on the front page to, well, make sure her chest was visible above the fold so it would be visible on a stack or inside a vending machine. Using T&A to sell stuff is Advertising 101. After years of wondering why pretty women want to be my friend, I’ve had enough.

LinkedIn is becoming a cesspool of strange spam, endorsements, clickbait and general vanity. I get three or four requests a day to add a stranger to my network, sometimes really, really weird crap like a upholstery service in Newport Beach, California (who I am as likely to do business with as a cement factory in Malaysia. But what really gets on my nerves is the use of “pretty girl” pictures and cleavage shots for fictitious individuals such as the cute “Sophie Middleton” in the hopes I will accept their invitation to join my “network.” Am I really that predictable? I guess I must be. I notice it enough to blog about it.

 

I remember reading Yachting magazine in the 70s and 80s and realizing every single motorboat ad had a babe-in-a-bikini in it, so many that I began to wonder if motorboats came equipped with scantily dressed women as standard equipment along with boat hooks and bilge pumps.

sophieBack to Ms. Middleton who is an “ambitious and driven individual who is passionate about Online Advertising solutions…” (who isn’t?)

This young lady was educated at the University of Manchester — where she earned a “1st” in Economics — hence her veddy British name. She works for ZingGaming, a London company, and she is looking for “Publishers CPI-CPL.” I don’t know what CPI means but I infer “CPL” is “cost per lead” or some other digital advertising acronym.

She is doing very well with her networking efforts and has over 500 connections. She is also already friends with a colleague and former colleague (both men) of mine.

Now she wants to join my network.

Ordinarily I trash these requests, but feeling grumpy this morning I grabbed her photograph and ran a reverse image search through Tineye.com.

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There I found twenty-one examples of the cute “Ms. Sophie.”  She can be found on a Walgreens Photo site, on “FunnyPix” on a page titled “You’ll Get Tongue-Tied Over These Spicy Pics Of Nickelodeon Girls” where she was given the caption: “Cute, Huh? Her Before/After Makeup Pics Will Make You Scream…

“Sophie” can be found on sites such as The Naughty.com, Polydore, Speed Date, WattPad, Cavemancircus, and so on and so forth. Sophie gets around….

I’m tempted to fill out the contact form on ZingGaming‘s website and ask to talk to Ms. Middleton. But, knowing full well the world of affiliate marketing, CPL scammers, and the rest of the sordid swamp known as the digital advertising world where content is just so much cheese in the rat trap, I rather hit delete and move on.

I know everyone gets a ton of this crap — this is like writing about spam — so what? But I am intrigued by the spammer mindset that use bogus accounts on social networks to weave a web of inbound links and followers around fictitious people (with cleavage) to improve the siterank and visibility of their services. I realize it is a well known phenomenon to steal a another person’s photos to create a bogus identity. The imaginary girlfriend of the football player a year or so ago is a classic example. And I know behavioral psychologists have quantified the attributes of the human face that people find attractive — the  facial characteristics and rations that make people ooh and ahh over cute puppies and babies.

I see this all the time on Soundcloud, Google+, and other networks … enough to the point where if the “will you be my friend” invitation shows any decolletage or winsome characteristics I ship it right to the spam folder. I wonder if beefcake photos of men are used to trick women into accepting friends requests, or is this just a male phenomenon as old and primal as cave paintings? There needs to be a name for these artificial humans, fake people with names and college degrees and jobs and pretty faces that belong to somebody else.

Anyway, just another digression into the seamy underside of digital marketing where manipulators know that a headline with an odd-number in it, the promise of some sex, and a pretty face will  deliver another click to their pile of pageviews and SEO.

Sophie, meet “David”

david

 

 

Blaming the blockers: What’s the future of online advertising? — Tech News and Analysis

GigaOm has published an opinion piece I wrote at the suggestion of Om Malik about the poor prospects for the present digital advertising model. I went off on a screed in my first draft against the protests of the Internet Advertising Bureau who have been attacking people like me who turn on ad-blocking software and turn off third-party tracking cookies.

http://gigaom.com/2013/08/18/blaming-the-blockers-whats-the-future-of-online-advertising/

I’ll let the column speak for itself.

Millennial/Net-Gen Focus Group of Two

Sitting on the deck the other evening with my 24 year-old daughter and her boyfriend, a San Francisco entrepreneur working on a real estate/apartment finder app —  while I grilled dinner I also grilled them on social media trends within their social and professional circles. Both are digitally driven individuals who have known a world that always had an Internet. He’s on a divided platform of MacAir and Android phone, she’s a follower of the Apple Holy Trinity of MacAir, iPhone5 and iPad2.

  1. Both are Gmail users. She left Yahoo. And despite the Apple hardware, does not use Apple cloud services or email.
  2. Both use Snapchat
  3. Dropbox
  4. Are not fans of iTunes
  5. Both dispute the popular myth of twenty-somethings fleeing Facebook as it gets infested by their parents. “Can’t survive without it, though everyone disses it and says they are going to cancel their accounts,” said he.
  6. Twitter is not a big thing for them personally, but he’s respectful of its marketing power
  7. He is a content marketing practitioner and showed me an infographic developed with his PR firm to support his app launch
  8. Both admit to being overwhelmed by the proliferation of social apps, networks, etc.
  9. I didn’t ask about Google + usage.
  10. Laptop and tablet use was pretty low during their ten day vacation. Phones were consulted constantly with few phone calls observed.

Interesting points I took away from this survey sample of two are:

  • Both are very concerned about personal information security, hence the quick adoption of Snapchat which makes an image expire and notifies the sender if a recipient takes a screen shot.
  • Facebook is tired, but central to their sharing and personal network maintenance. I  thought they would long gone from there.
  • Both said they are tired of keeping up with all the options and new technology available to them

Corporate Journalism Revisited

Bob Page emailed me a link to this Harvard Business Review blog post about how advertisers need to act more like newsrooms.

Written by Newsweek/Daily Beast CEO Baba Shetty and Wharton Professor Jerry Wind, the post cites some marketing trends where companies are:

  • Advertising in real time by tweeting or pushing out content in response to events or public feedback. Examples would include Old Spice’s successful YouTube “Smell Like a Man, Man” project where 200 short videos were shot in response to social media interaction; and brand’s tweeting opportunistic messages during the Super Bowl blackout
  • Creating advertorial media and content factories on their own or  in partnership with media brands: they cite Intel and Vice’s Creator’s Project and the Redbull Media House
  • Becoming more agile. Instead of planning advertising campaigns around 30-second television and meticulously planned media buys, the modern marketer is more reactive and opportunistic.

Nice sentiments, but in my experience, the reality of putting such sentiments into action is a lot more frustrating. Getting big organizations to be faster and more open is always going to be an exercise in frustration and patience. Bob wrote: “This “marketers as newsrooms” stuff from Intel, Red Bull, Liberty Mutual looks an awful lot like the kind of team you got started at Lenovo.”

I’ll take the compliment for trying to push the company to be more agile on its communications and media, but the frustrations occurred when two traditional conservative corporate communications edicts were invoked: risk and quality.

Risk is what a corporate communications department is designed to minimize. They plan the message, craft it, practice it, push it across the organization and limit the points where the media can engage. Rank and file employees can’t, and shouldn’t, talk to the press or randomly respond to social media. Even the CEO is given a speech written for him, carefully crafted down to every ad hoc joke and quip. External PR agencies and internal staff work together across product introductions, corporate messaging and investor relations, focused on cutting down the risk of leaks, illegal financial disclosure and embarrassing moments.

Risk aversion in corporate communications means slowing things down, stone walling, taking time to consider responses and reactions before blurting out something that isn’t signed off. This doesn’t work when a lynch party is forming over Christmas shipping delays and the CEO’s home phone number is being shared along with form letters for submission to the Better Business Bureau. The realities of modern crisis communications is that minutes, not hours, are crucial, and when a customer service team needs to wait 24 hours for corporate communications to reply with a sanitized, bland statement opportunities are lost and tempers inflamed.

Quality is what gets invoked when a digital marketing team tries to get a video onto the company’s YouTube channel.  Suddenly the brand team and the advertising creative people turn into critics, and cry foul when a cell-phone video of an engineer explaining how he revved up boot times for a new PC is put out there on the same day of a product announcement claiming the new laptops are faster to start up than the competitions. The official announcement may make the claim, but the customers want to know how and why, so pointing a video camera at the engineer and putting up a 60 second answer suddenly makes the purists invoke HD quality standards.

Here’s a video I challenged the team to shoot and post in a single day when I felt a product announcement lacked any substance or answers. This bummed some people out because of its low quality, but 80,000 views later, I’d declare it a success. It simply Kevin Beck interview Howard Locker on what he did to rev up boot times.

I maintain that if you’re in a complex business and have opened the doors to questions through corporate blogs, customer service forums, Facebook pages, etc.. you better be prepared to get something up in a matter of hours, not days.

 

One thing will never change and that is that corporate content is ultimately advertorial and as such, inferior to independently/  objectively produced journalism.

I’m going to take credit for coining the term “corporate journalism” back in 2000 when I was at McKinsey working on the  firm’s knowledge management system. My friend and colleague Rob O’Regan and I realized our purpose in life was to leverage our experience as business and technology reporters in prying out of taciturn consultants conditioned to maintain client confidentiality some meaningful insights that could be developed into “content” for the benefit of other consultants and their clients.

The act of interviewing — not media training where a PR person coaches a senior executive on how to spin a story — but actually probing an expert in the reporter’s equivalent of the Socratic method, produced some strong results: it forced the experts to clarify their jargon, realize when their points were obtuse, and understand what they considered interesting or important wasn’t necessarily so. But the public result of this process — a story in the McKinsey Quarterly, or a video series for client development — is still content with an inherent proprietary bias.

Yes, brands need to be more agile, corporate communications needs to be faster and more authentic, and old strictures of spinning messages and planning ad campaigns deserve to die.  But beware of flaks bearing the next new thing, it usually turns out to be unbearably bogus and contrived and designed to serve the best interests of the organization and its shareholders, not the public and its customers.

Suckers are born every decade but I’m out of here

I wanted to keep this to myself –if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all — but here is my contribution to the pile of B.S. spreading today on the occasion of Facebook going public.

Facebook is over, about to topple over under the weight of a spectacular overvaluation, mass indifference to financial fundamentals, and most importantly my sense of the growing indifference of the generation it was supposed to serve — college students.  Facebook was famously founded as a digital replacement to the printed freshman directories of the Ivy League but has become obese with the inane status updates and vacation bragging of those same students’ parents. My generation. The one’s who pored over the original class directories in the 1970s and “posted updates” on whiteboards glued to our dorm room doors.

Wall Street is selling scale today when the trigger is pulled on Facebook at 11 AM EST — that’s dot.com hyperbole for “lots of traffic” — and while your local investment club may be all atwitter with the prospect of buying some shares, and it’s fun to count the herd of new Facebook gazillionaires now shopping for new Colnagos and bespoke skinny jeans — the smart money has been cashing out for a long time in the private market and will continue cashing out quickly at the top.  This is not Microsoft in 1984 nor Amazon in 1996. This is not a long term bet on a significant new way of doing business or even communicating. This is an investment in the 2012 edition of CompuServe and MySpace: yet another walled garden ripe to get creatively destroyed by the next big technical thing lurking over that hill known as the future.

Future performance of Facebook’s stock depends on the company delivering profitable revenue and like Google, Facebook gets all of its money from advertising. Google builds semi-useful stuff and search is everything. Facebook advertising does not work. I managed Facebook campaigns for a Fortune Global 100 company and have first hand experience that … Facebook …. Advertising …. Does….. Not ….. Work.

General Motors figured this out, and picking the week of the IPO to announce Facebook ads aren’t working was simply perfect. Of course the counter argument from the social media douche bags is that “Facebook is all about authentic relationships and transparent conversations between brands and customers.” Consider the source, given that the SMDB’s make their bones selling their Facebook Unique Customer Karma and Emerging Digital services (you can figure out the forced acronym) to breathless CMOs who want audience, damn it, and the bigger the better.  And consider that the public relations/digital agency world is always first on any shiny object bandwagon (can you say SecondLife) and their current solemn obsession is reporting “Social ROI” as the rest of the faddish get obsessed with big data and analytics. (If you want to watch some fun navel gazing, play pissed-off CEO and ask a Digital PR person “How much is a Facebook Fan worth?”)

Companies, aka “brands,” obsess and fret about how many fans and likes they have; spend money on third-party tools like BuddyMedia to manage their presence, and set aside a slice of their digital advertising budget to buy good old display ads to run alongside the torrent of notifications and shared links that make up Facebook’s river of content. As I read elsewhere this morning, quoting Seth Godin (whom I never quote), “The Internet wasn’t invented for advertisers.”

Neither was Facebook.

Yet, in lieu of subscriptions or some twist on Warren Buffett’s theory of a toll booth on the only bridge over the river, where is Facebook’s money going to come from to sustain a valuation in the thin, thin air of $100+ billion ? If you know, then buy some stock. Me, I’m deactivating my Facebook account in honor of the TimeWarner-AOL/Prodigy/CompuServe/Groupon/Pets.com/WebVan of 2012.

Two weeks ago I began dinging every over-sharer on my timeline or wall or whatever the Zuckerborg called it this month. Goodbye pictures of glasses of beer, notifications that Ed was at LAX, weird R-rated bikini videos from people in Turkey and India I have never met and will never meet. Goodbye SocialCam. Goodbye Tweets. Goodbye to All That. Now …..

Goodbye Facebook and hello to less noise in my life.