Baskin the Truth

baskin Jonathan Salem Baskin, pictured at right, is a marketing consultant. Today, he voiced the system, ala Fred Taylor and Eric Schmidt, on Advertising Age:

Our snooping puts the National Security Agency to shame.

From the level of the internet service provider, through to social-media platforms and websites, and including apps, ads and clickable content (like videos), we collect a vast amount of information on consumers’ online behavior (and their geophysical location), then use it to tee-up search results, info and ads to millions of people millions of times every day … ideally to each one of them uniquely so. We don’t do it to keep anybody safe, however. We do it to sell stuff. It’s the mercenary make-money benefit we gain through all of that non-commercial friending and conversing we do with consumers.

We call it “improving user experience,” and not only are entire business monetization plans based on it (like Facebook), it’s the driver of our hopes for Big Data selling things to people who no longer want to be sold to. Yet the only time we talk about it is when we ask consumers to accept usage terms, and then only in the dense secret code of mouseprint that is to disclosure what James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is to clarity. We tell them little, hope they’ll understand even less, and then we have the audacity to claim that they’re OK with it when we ask them.

Our hope is that they’ll stay unaware of the information they give away or, at worst, maintain a belief that it’s worth doing so in exchange for ads and other content that’s somewhat pre-qualified to be interesting to them. But there’s a fine line between convenience and manipulation, and the foundational idea of “consumer choice” loses its meaning if that choice isn’t truly free.

That’s some serious honesty there, folks.

And, while he certainly doesn’t favor the proper answer — public ire and public enterprise — arriving, Baskin isn’t entirely foolish about the prospects, either:

If we didn’t think that blurring that line was a potential bomb, why are we so shy about discussing it, and almost congenitally incapable of making sure that consumers understand the breadth and depth (and outcomes) of our snooping?

Just like the NSA’s programs, it can’t stay secret forever. Imagine if a commercially-savvy whistle-blower emerged with detailed proof of how user data were collected, shared and then exploited by a variety of businesses and, somehow, connected it back to illustrate the ways consumer choices are limited, while unfairly promoting purchases. What if The Yes Men, AdBusters, or some other, new culture-busting group chose to attack data tools with publicity stunts and videos that got peoples’ attention?

Baskin’s proposal is, of course, to use marketing to market marketing:

We marketers don’t talk about this issue much, probably because it’s so complicated and thorny. But it haunts our best hopes for the future. And, while people may let Snowden’s tale end up a somewhat distant espionage adventure, the scarier story is what’s done to every consumer in the name of efficient commerce. Without a far more creative and strategic approach to telling it, I fear others (or other events) will tell it for brands.

That story doesn’t have a happy ending.

If all this is not a script for action, I don’t know what is…

How Marketers See Humans

eyeball Over at Advertising Age, Glenn Engler, CEO of Digital Influence Group, is discussing what’s wrong with the vanity-exploiting data scraper known as “Foursquare.” Foursquare is an app by which users “check in” at restaurants and other destinations. As they post their humble brags, of course, Foursquare’s proprietors and clients gain the ability to track these users’ movements, then correlate them with the continent of other marketing data in their possession.

In the course of his exegesis of how he would like to see Foursquare improve its value to the marketing class, Mr. Engler pens this line:

Retailers want a more targeted advertising base, but the customers are not immersed enough to be a highly valued “eyeball.”

Yes, “consumers,” that’s what you are to the overclass — an eyeball (or an eardrum) for the absorption of marketing stimuli. TCT is not making this stuff up. Merely reporting.

Howler of the Week

At right is Wendy Clark, “senior VP-integrated marketing communications and capabilities” at the Coca-Cola corporation. Ms. Clark has weighed in on behalf of her employer in the controversy over Microsoft’s plan to respect overwhelmingly clear public preferences and make “do not track” the default setting in its next version of Internet Explorer. Clark, according to Advertising Age,

said brands, including Microsoft, shouldn’t be assuming choices for consumers. “All we want is an opportunity for consumers to make their own choice rather than have the choice made for them.”

Friends, it doesn’t get more Orwellian than that.

A Remarkable Letter

omerta Microsoft, undoubtedly trying to exploit overwhelmingly clear public preferences to boost its market share, is apparently planning to release the next version of its web browser with “do not track” as the default setting.

In response, the Association of National Advertisers has sent Microsoft an open letter of omerta protest. It is well worth your study, as it speaks volumes about the true nature of the relationship between corporate marketers and so-called “consumers.”

Notice, first of all, that the ANA and the Fortune 500 signatories accuse Microsoft of “Making the Wrong Choice For Consumers.” Go back to the right choice for consumers, is the message. Making choices for consumers is (of course) just fine, so long as they are the correct ones. And by correct, we mean the choices that the signatories know are best for “consumer interests” and “society as a whole.” Never mind that, even with zero political leadership on the topic, 86 percent of “consumers” expressly disagree with what the corporate overseers dictate.

Also contemplate the spectacle of these overclass warriors daring to speak of the concealment of choices about how the nation’s media run! Why is it that virtually all mass media operations in the United States are dependent on corporate advertising sponsors for their budgets? Is it due to robust public debate and preference? Or is that outcome also a “choice” that has not been, and cannot be, left to the “consumers”? The sponsors of ALEC’s efforts to kill public internet service want us to pretend it’s the former, rather than the latter. Cats everywhere are laughing up their lunch…

Finally, dig the pure Don Corleone closing to this rather amazing letter:

ANA’s Board is prepared to engage in direct conversation with Microsoft. Representing thousands of brand owners that are responsibly pursuing productive pathways to consumer engagement, we believe in a far different course of action. We respectfully suggest an immediate dialogue with key Microsoft executives prior to the anticipated release of Internet Explorer 10. We look forward to your response to our invitation.

Paired with the fact that this thing was broadly released to the marketing trade media, the only conclusion you can draw is that this precedent is a dire threat to the system, so the threat to Microsoft must be proportional to the danger of its planned policy.

Meanwhile, from the citizen’s —not “consumer’s” — perspective, it’s immensely sad how such a fragile, inch-deep power structure remains so thoroughly safe from public ire. As we work and wait for some adequate penetration of its prevailing national hologram, we can at least keep ourselves up-to-date on its true nature. This letter is a keeper in that regard.

A Peek at Food Styling

For some reason, after somebody complained about the fact that fast food in real life is much uglier than in advertisements, McDonald’s Canada decided to take us behind the scenes and show us the intricate, “several hours”-long process behind every product photograph they issue.

The tour guide is Hope Bagozzi, head of McD’s marketing in Canada.

Hope’s hope (always wanted to type that) is undoubtedly that her matter-of-fact tone will prevent the audience from actually pondering the remarkable waste and dishonesty of the process she depicts.

Bagozzi really tips her hand near the end, however, when she attempts to claim that the reason the patty in the ads looks so much bigger and prettier than the allegedly non-primped one she buys from the allegedly unaware (yet somehow giggling and supremely compliant) counter workers is the “steam effect” from the box containing the real-world burger! ROFL. Compare that shameless howler to the footage of the “food stylist” lightly browning but distinctly not cooking the advertising patty at the 1:30 mark of the video below. (Why brown the edges if you’re about to cook the burger, as the video, after a strategic cut-away, attempts to suggest has happened?)

The real reason for the huge difference between ad and real burger patties is fat content, which, of course, shrinks and leaves a greasy, gnarly result upon actual frying. McD’s clearly avoids this process in preparing its marketing imagery. So, now we know: Hamburger patties are actually raw in food advertisement close-ups!

In any event, this is a very rare little video. Marketers are loath to lift the veil, even with careful misdirection such as Bagozzi attempts here. Definitely worth a look.