Good cop – bad cop: why only Facebook is evil

In a lot of our discussion about the future we tend to bunch Facebook and Google together.  After all they are two Goliaths that rely on advertising.  Unlike Microsoft that has spread its income sources, or Amazon who is in a different arena all together.  Grouping them together however is unfair, misleading and dangerous.

“….the great organ of social life, the prime element of civilization, the channel through which native talent, native genius, and native power may bubble up daily…”  The quote is not from a recent Zuckerberg motivational speech but from James Gordon Bennett, who published the Morning Herald in 1835, one of the first newspapers which tried to sell an audience to advertisers.

Facebook has a simple and similar target.  To get us to spend more time on their platform.  Wasting time?  Sure.  With fake news?  Of course.  It is the newspaper of our time and it is a tabloid newspaper for sure.  Facebook will do anything to get you to stay.  It will interrupt you and make sure you get no work done.   It will buy out other platforms like Instagram only to gradually turn them into…Facebook.  It will copy features from Snapchat with no shame if Snapchat or any future smaller company isn’t willing to be bought by Facebook.  Facebook has no purpose by definition.  Mark Zuckerberg has excelled since his college days in dreaming up new ways for people to waste time.  There is no purpose.   He simply thrives on studying your time wasting habits per se, whether it is flicking up and down a timeline, looking at photos of friends or creating controversy.  (Which his systems always reward in one way or another.)

The opportunistic approach is best illustrated in the erratic way it deals with its customers.  Advertising on Facebook is not a science.  It can’t be.  Because they are always changing it in order to make whatever worked yesterday not work tomorrow unless you pay more.  The scandals about false video impression numbers and all the other scams Facebook has got caught for so far are just the tip of the iceberg.  The elephant in the room is that Facebook ads simply do not work as well as they want you to think they work.  Why?  Because people shop much less when they are simply wasting time.   Nobody will tell you because digital marketers are too busy taking the money you are no longer spending on “old media” and giving you fancy stats that impress you.

Contrast that with Google.  You know, that place you go when you actually want to get things done.  When you research a product purchase.  Where you find out useful stuff about your world.  Google has a much tougher job.  They have to give you services like Google Maps which are simply so useful and so much better than any other option and then find ways to monetize them without losing the title.   Advertisers that understand the difference are much more effective for their customers.  Lazy advertisers simply give in to the marketing director who only understands Facebook ads because that is what they use every day.  A Facebook ad “impression” is in no way similar to a Google Ads “impression”.  Facebook reminds me of Nazi Germany radio wardens, people that walked the streets to corral citizens all together and force them to listen to Adolf Hitler speak on the radio.  We need shared experiences and Zuckerberg is going to give you the ones he can sell.  While Google figures out machine learning, automatic translation and organizing the world’s knowledge for everyone Facebook adds smiley faces, dislike buttons and the amazing new way to say something with a colored background.

The way Facebook treats fake news is a wonderful illustration of its hypocrisy.  Much like the first tabloid newspapers almost two hundred years ago, it seeks out and promotes anything lurid and boisterous.  In the old days newspapers based on advertising for revenue had people in courts looking for scandal or even reported on the slave trade for effect.  Facebook today pretends to be politically correct but makes sure similar content reaches you.  And plenty of it.  It is a bit like newspapers pretending not to control the classifieds section or not carrying blame for readers’ letter in “opinion” pieces.

In the mid 19th century, the first “trolls” were in fact journalists working for cheap newspapers in a constant effort to increase circulation so that they could sell advertising.  Some things never change…

Mastercard hits rock bottom in advertising

The poster in the Athens metro featured a young man next to a swimming pool at Santorini.

“Waking up in the sky: Priceless 
With your MasterCard you are welcome all
in resorts, hotels, villas and spas.”

Oh really?  Welcome are you?  Whoever wrote that hasn’t travelled much in Greece, have they?  Sure, major hotels and fancy spas in major tourist locations might accept Mastercard. But that is the tip of the iceberg of course.  Most rooms to let don’t have any way to accept a Mastercard.  At best they might take you down to the tourist shop, charge the card and get cash from their friend there.  (I have done this!)  But wait, another ad:

“With your Mastercard you are welcome all over Greece, in supermarkets, fruit markets and grocery stores.”

Yeah right!  Outside of major cities and big supermarkets, if you try showing a credit card in a “fruit market” everyone will laugh at you of course.   And any small “grocery store” on an island is more likely to accept your jewellery as payment than a Mastercard!

I tried hard to think what else Mastercard might want to achieve.  Maybe they want to pressure store owners to install credit card machines.   So advertising in the summer when everyone involved in tourism isn’t in Athens to see their campaign makes loads of sense….not!   Maybe they will just run it for a couple of weeks, take pictures and then tell everybody that they did it, see if that impresses them!

Coming face-to-face with
your schoolbook pictures: Priceless®
With your MasterCard, you are welcome all over Greece,
in museums and galleries

This one cracked me up.  If I had a pen with me I would have added “if the museum is not on strike, or the keeper hasn’t left early that day, or it isn’t some weird holiday you have never heard of, or it isn’t one of those little museums with just one guard and no electricity or internet connection which doesn’t accept credit cards….”   The picture of a statue was also really weird, some angle which felt distinctly uncomfortable.  Surely not an image any one found in “schoolbook pictures”!

But the fourth advert of the series in the metro was probably the best:

Forgetting to update your status: Priceless
With your MasterCard you are welcome all over Greece
in bars, night clubs and discos

This whole campaign is some sort of weird fiction.  As if some exec in the US dreamed up a campaign in ten minutes projecting a long term goal from one of his powerpoint presentations.   It is in many ways like holding up a “everything that is wrong with Greek tourism” summary in four advertisements.   In an upside down world maybe you can go to a noisy bar and pull out a Mastercard to pay for your drink.   But surely not in Greece!

Oh, and it is impossible not to “update your status” because all the Greeks do at the club is play with their cell phones…

 

 

Pimms, NewMediaAgencies and the Catch 22 in the world of advertising

There are two kinds of companies:   the ones that do multiple long meetings and the ones that don’t.   Advertising companies always specialized in the former.   The inspired me to start writing a book entitled “The ‘who gives a s**t?’ management analysis manual.”   I need a catchier title and the book is still at chapter 3.

As a consultant, you either meet the decision maker or not.   In media, the difference is enormous.  Two hours with a junior marketing person just to get the concept through.  Then, if you’re lucky and they aren’t too scared, you get another meeting with their superior.   Now you have to convince them that they will look good if they play along.   If all goes well, ie your idea is fantastic, they will organize yet another meeting where “the head of marketing might drop in”.   The Head of Marketing, didn’t get that title (or whatever different title they use to describe the job, depending on country and company) by being easy.    They pretend to be tough as nails, no matter how much they like the idea.   They make sure they take the idea, you have no guarantees and they do with it as they wish.    Whenever they feel is convenient for their current carreer path.

You get the idea.   And yes, it can get even more complicated.   The point is that the organization is wasting time, my time and theirs, and we often don’t get anywhere.   Because if there is a person on the top floor who gives a s**t, none of this usually gets as far as the top floor.

Enter the advertising agency.   They do useless meetings all the time with these same people.   They stay up late together pretending to work late when they need to.   They did the XYZ success story 1,2 or 5 years ago for this customer.  I can go on bashing advertising agencies ad nauseum.  Because they deserve it and because it is fun.   But it isn’t getting us anywhere.

New Media Digital Agencies are meant to be the answer.  They are leaner.  Faster.  More responsive.   Basically, they are cheaper.   Are they better?   Well, some of them understand Social Media a bit better than some big old ad agencies.   Some have bright ideas occasionally.   Some of them might have a more clear focus originally, usually from one of their founders.   And what do they do?   They act like the old agencies!   They try and do everything.   And they sit through those same old boring and pointless meetings.   Essentially, they are turning themselves into the big agencies they make fun of.   Catch 22.

 

It’s time to give a s**t.   It’s time for general managers to get directly involved in communication more.  And it’s about time I wrote that book.   Maybe I will do it the next time I cancel  a large account that is asking for yet another meeting…

 

PS  Pimms is in the title because a rather bad social media effort in one of it’s campaigns is what started this particular train of thought today.

Facebook ads don’t add up: how I proved they are cheating

“So why don’t you cheat?”  It took me a while to recover.   My father has always been my moral compass.   He has stood through many decades of doing business with absolute integrity refusing to bribe anyone in a country where this is unheard of.   He didn’t fall for the trap of taking funding from the European Union or going to the stock market when all other tech companies where making a quick buck.   He is almost a saint in the way he helps everyone and anyone he meets, often without them even knowing about it.

We were discussing a recent client of mine, a difficult case.   It is still in the early phases and I haven’t quite figured out how to work my social engineering magic in order to bring them clients. What my father was really asking is “how will they know that it is real customers clicking on their website and not some click farm?”   The man is a born business person and goes straight to the heart of a problem even though he has never used Facebook or any social media.

The answer is simple.   Anyone with a slight knowledge of how to use web site analytics will see right through it.   And – more importantly – it just won’t make any business sense medium term as they will not be getting new customers and new business.   Which is what I promise them.   But this is not what Mark Zuckerberg promises my customer when he entices them with Facebook advertising.   He is simply selling clicks to ignorant business people.

Most of my customers have already used Facebook ads before I start with them.   They are all perplexed. “I saw a big spike in traffic but then…nothing.” It isn’t just that the traffic disappears the day you stop paying for FB ads, it is that all that traffic seems to amount to …nothing.    Are you paying $50 a day?   Funny how you get a completely stable amount of hits during those days.

This bothered me on a methodological level initially.   “What if my customers’ budgets are all spent on ‘early morning’ type people?” I worried.   So I begun to set up experiments. I split the day into particular time segments that seemed to make sense to me based on experience with status updates, Likes and such.   I am the Greek Dan Zarella after all.     Women checking Facebook between 6.30 and 8.30 are quite a specific bunch.   Organized!   Men online between 11 and 12.30 another.   Lazy!   I have even discovered a niche of females that do a “facebook lunch break”.   So all I had to do was set up the same advertisement and shoot it out to different demographics.   And then monitor it every hour to see what is happening.   (Yes, you need big monitors to handle the big spreadsheets without getting dizzy!)

It was amazing.   “Boy, these guys at Facebook must have some really clever algorithms” I mused.   They somehow seemed to be spreading the clicks around the day.   It made no sense.   Humans are highly unlikely to be so consistent.   As the day closed the clicks trickled and everytime by midnight Facebook had managed to get the campaign to the exact daily target.   “Wow, hiring all those geeks from Google must have paid off” I thought.    “They have build something that even Google AdWords can’t do.”

And then, somewhere near midnight, in between stats, being more online on Facebook than I think is healthy because of this project, it appeared.   Right there, in front of me, on top of the other adverts was one of my test ads.   I left the tab open and scrambled to the summary to triple check.   Yes, this one was clearly targeted to men aged 45-64.   I double check my profile.   Yes, Facebook knows very well that I am male but only 41.  So what is it doing?

It is bending the rules! If “The social network” showed the whole world something is that someone who cheats and lies once, will probably do it again, given the chance.    The people at Facebook know that it is extremely unlikely that anyone would discover this trick.   After all most people only have one profile.   Unless you specifically set out to prove them wrong, your website analytics will be hard to monitor for such small variance in age of visitors.   And all too many advertisers on Facebook are only using it to funnel people into their Facebook page where the analytics are even worse.

I have criticized Facebook advertising on many levels, ranging from the pathetic demographic information they provide (outside the US it is much worse) to the kind of clicking you usually get from it.   But this is different.   They are wasting what can soon become a powerful tool by rushing to capitalize on it by cheating.   Judging from their rate of improvement in search they have the brainpower to do a proper job.   They have the network to make something more powerful than GoogleAds.   They should just focus on what is unique about this new advertising medium rather than trying to bolster up the numbers to impress investors.

10/3/2011 Just discovered an even worse thing Facebook is doing.   There are charging above the set limit!  (Article and screen grabs in Greek here.)

How to really beat Facebook or Twitter either as a competitor or as a legislator

The whole privacy debate around Facebook is a joke. I mean literally, Zuckenberg must be laughing privately about it. While it avoids the real issue, he rests assured that legislators have no idea what Facebook is really about: lulling you into a false sense of security so that you will unwittingly give away private information in the wrong context. If that sounds too devious to you then you probably don’t use Facebook a lot. Or you use it and don’t think. Which is exactly what it wants you to be like.

Www.Personaldna.com was a great idea and it offers an intelligent, possibly automated solution to this privacy problem. I used it at work to build teams’ awareness of the different characters, strengths and weaknesses and team dynamics. It is a shame it hasn’t developed at all but this is probably because the people that made it have been hired by Google. Which is the only company that understands what this article is about. Personal DNA built a psychographic profile of you based on multiple questions. It is accurate and, better still, you can invite someone to take the test and see what he or she think you are like. This is also very accurate and offers valuable insights. And it is a million times more useful than trying to clump your friends into categories like Facebook pretends to suggest we should do.

When you post a status update, you can select that “Everyone” sees it. Or “Friends” or some category of friends. Only the first two make any sense. If you select “everyone” or you have forgotten status update in “everyone mode” Google and various tools we social engineers use be able to easily see what you are up to in real time privately. If you select “friends only” Facebook has fooled you. Because what sort of homogenous bunch of friends is the correct forum for this message you are about to deliver? That picture of you in a swimsuit on the beach. You want your uncle to see it? Might your ex boyfriend take it the wrong way? And what about that ex co worker who now works at a company you are hoping to get a job but is a bit conservative? Think before you post it.

“No, don’t think.” Facebook’s interface is like the little cartoon devil that sits on your shoulder to make you forget all these complicating factors. Privacy is either on or off. “Don’t think” it echoes like a ghostly voice. “We want the world to be more open” says Mark as if privacy is like piracy. “Information wants to be free” and other mindless, out of context slogans are catchy.

Privacy, the ability to choose which contact see which information is in fact the basis of all human interaction, probably the reason our brains are as big as they are in our social state of being homo sapiens. And this is how I, a bunch of psychologists, sociologists, programmers and enough funding, can beat Facebook within two years.

All it takes is a few Facebook apps that we will sneak past them. One will monitor everything you post and make a double check for you by throwing random people in front of you as a pop up window. “Before you post that status are you sure Mary Johnson is someone you want to see this?” followed by a few possible reasons. Based on this information it will build the intelligence of PersonalDna over time. PersonalDna actually exists on Facebook as an app but it is way to much like hard work to spend half an hour filling it in.

We would have to invent smarter interface tweaks to keep you interested while getting useful psychographic information off you. I won’t give them all away here. But every time you do something on Facebook, every “like”, every comment, every YouTube video you post, we will be intentionally collecting data about you. Facebook can’t stop me doing this because if worse comes to worse, I can do this as a virtual friend. You will befriend my personal psychologist and I will send you my advice.

The whole thing will hinge on the presentation of the information to you and I will borrow know how from the astrology industry. We will tell you how likely you are to score with that boy or girl you are poking, before you actually poke. We will tell you who in your network to try and impress to get a job. Other applications will tell you which groups to join or leave to improve how your profile looks to specific friends. We will make it all fun, free and cheerful. And accurate.

If it is too accurate it will be scary. That is the whole point of Facebook’s deception in it’s current design. So we will make it accurate enough and fun enough at the initial level of contact. If you want to go to the next level you will have to read a lot and think a lot, so you probably won’t go there unless you are serious.

Of course this platform I will build is much, much better than either Facebook or Google at serving advertising content. Because I will not just know what your are interested in. I will know how you like content served. And which of your friends are likely to buy the product or service too. With much much greater degrees of accuracy.

The accuracy of a self respecting homo sapiens in 2010 and true human development.