Home as Marketing Platform

The Consumer Trap has several core theses. One is that corporate capitalism, through its constituent firms’ relentless expansion and refinement of marketing operations and campaigns, is every bit as totalitarian a social order as ever there was or will be. Another is that, thanks to its peculiar nature (it works in part by doling out pleasures and conveniences) and superior deniability (it is competitively and privately, not centrally and publicly, developed), market totalitarianism is far more successful and secure than state totalitarianism ever was or will be.

Consider then, the nature and logic of News Corp.’s “Home of the Future.” In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Big Brother’s police agencies enjoyed only telescreens in the homes of certain persons of interest. In Leonard Cohen’s 1998 “Tower of Song” lament, the complaint was about our system, but only that “The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.”

consumer house Quite so, but now corporate marketers are turning their attentions to how to deploy artificial intelligence technologies to make the entire house a marketing platform.

“Home is the next and most powerful marketing canvas,” said [marketing researcher Simon] Gosling. “The rules are changing … we are stepping towards a new ecosystem of machines, screens and devices, where brands can share stories with consumers in their homes.”

This is the explanation, per Advertising Age, of

“a 2,000 square foot ‘Home of the Future,’ created by News Corp. and ad tech company Unruly in partnership with marketers including Amazon Launchpad, PepsiCo, Heineken, eBay, Unilever, HTC, Nokia Health, and Tesco. The installation opening today in London has been created to give marketers and agencies a first-hand experience of the connected home, and a chance to think about how they might use it to engage consumers.

“Artificial Intelligence is hardest at work in the kitchen, which is stocked with brands from Unilever and supermarket chain Tesco. In this room you can give your AI system a budget and a license to search for deals from different brands and supermarkets. And cooking becomes simple, as your fridge talks you through every step of a recipe and then alerts the family when dinner’s ready. You might find a new item in your shopping basket that’s been placed there as a free sample, based on your preferences, and then let the AI assistant know whether you like it and if you would recommend it to friends.

“Much of the technology is voice-activated. ‘By January, Amazon had sold 11 million Alexa devices, and by 2020 Alexa is expected to have added $11 billion of revenue,’ Gosling said, as evidence that voice control will play a key role in interactions of the future. ‘This is about helping brands to understand new technology,’ Gosling said. ‘Normally there’s a lag where brands get into a space after the consumer, but we have identified where consumers will be in 2020 so we can get there before them. We are being disruptive in our own business.’ Asked if the future home will be for the wealthy, Gosling said, ‘Everyone’s got a phone. Everyone’s got a TV. And millions of people have got an Alexa.’

“News Corp. bought video advertising company Unruly for $176 million in 2015. News Corp. brands, including Dow Jones (which has created a hologram to bring the stock market to life), publisher HarperCollins, and foodie site Taste.com.au, are evident throughout the Future Home. So why is a video advertising company launching a home of the future? An Unruly statement said, ‘Unruly get brands’ videos seen, shared and loved. We do this on mobile and desktop… and we’ll continue to do so in the next era of advertising, which is the connected home… We’ve built Home to study the development of this new platform, enabling us to guide our clients in this exciting new frontier.'”

Capital Never Rests

Decent piece in today’s NYT about the march of automation. Among the facts disclosed:

The [cotton thread] mill [in Virginia] produces 2.5 million pounds of yarn a week with about 140 workers. In 1980, that production level would have required more than 2,000 people.

140 is one fourteenth of 2,000, for you math jockeys. So, 100% of the output with 7% of the workforce.

Made in America - Bayard Winthrop of American Giant

The Automation of Advertising

As I explained in The Consumer Trap book, modern Big Business Marketing is a logical and historical extension of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s principles of scientific management.  What Taylor grew famous for teaching early corporate barons to do to the paid-labor process, latter-day corporate planners do to the off-the-job experiences of their prospective customers.

So, it is only natural that all the same extensions that have swept modern capitalist labor-process design will eventually also occur within the competitively expanding BBM process.

Lo and behold, from today’s New York Times:

ONLINE advertisers are not lacking in choices: They can display their ads in any color, on any site, with any message, to any audience, with any image.

Now, a new breed of companies is trying to tackle all of those options and determine what ad works for a specific audience. They are creating hundreds of versions of clients’ online ads, changing elements like color, type font, message, and image to see what combination draws clicks on a particular site or from a specific audience.

It is technology that could cause a shift in the advertising world. The creators and designers of ads have long believed that a clever idea or emotional resonance drives an ad’s success. But that argument may be difficult to make when analysis suggests that it is not an ad’s brilliant tagline but its pale-yellow background and sans serif font that attracts customers.

The question is, “how do we combine creative energy, which is a manual and sort of qualitative exercise, with the raw processing power of computing, which is all about quantitative data?” said Tim Hanlon, executive vice president of VivaKi Ventures, the investment unit of Publicis Groupe.

The push to automate the creative elements of ad units is coming from two companies in California, not Madison Avenue.

Adisn, based in Long Beach, and Tumri, based in Mountain View, are working both sides of the ad equation. On one, they are trying to figure out who is looking at a page by using a mix of behavioral targeting and analysis of the page’s content. On the other side, they are assembling an ad on the fly that is meant to appeal to that person.

Both companies assume there is no perfect version of an ad, and instead assemble hundreds of different versions that are displayed on Web sites where their clients have bought ad space, showing versions of an ad to actual consumers as they browse the Web.

That might lead to finding that an ad for a baby supply store is more popular with young mothers when it features a bottle instead of diapers.

(Adisn and Tumri both measure the ad’s effectiveness based on parameters the advertiser sets, like how many people clicked on the ad or how many people actually bought something after clicking on it. They compare those with standard ads they run as part of a control group.)

Adisn’s approach has been to build a database of related words so it can assess the content of a Web site or blog based on the words on its pages.

Based on that analysis, Adisn’s system pulls different components — actors, fonts, background images — to make an ad. For example, it might show an ad with a blue background, an image of a beach, and a text about tickets to Hawaii. “Once we’ve built this huge database of hundreds of millions of relationships” between words, said Andy Moeck, the chief executive of Adisn, the system can “make a very good real-time decision as to what is the most relevant or appropriate campaign we could show.”