According to a Wall Street Journal report on the latest Commerce Department statistics, the system is functioning normally:
U.S. corporate profits hit new highs last year, driven by the tight lid firms have kept on hiring and spending almost five years into the economic recovery.
A closely watched measure of after-tax corporate profits rose to $1.9 trillion in the final three months of the year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Corporate profits stood at 11.1% of gross domestic product, up a bit from the prior quarter.
The latest uptick underscored a factor that has dogged the economy since it emerged from recession: Many companies are guarding their cash rather than putting it back into the economy in the form of new hiring.
The normalcy extends in all the usual directions, too. According to Advertising Age, big business marketing also grows apace:
Why would major U.S. corporations keep a tight rein on almost all costs last year — except advertising?
By continuing their firm grip on hiring and spending, U.S. corporate profits reached new highs for 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Advertising expenses, at least for the top 1,000 companies, was the exception. According to Kantar Media, the biggest marketers boosted spending 3.3%, while smaller advertisers cut ad budgets 6.6%.
What’s going on?
Maybe companies figured it was cheaper to spend money on advertising than to invest in research and development to try to stay one step ahead of the competition.
But that meant advertising’s job [even more] often was to divert attention from the product itself and toward emotional and purpose-driven benefits.
What’s going on? As one of the fake product differentiators says in its ads, it’s not complicated: Corporate capitalism is succeeding at serving its one and only purpose.
In the spirit of C. Everett Koop, Joycelyn Elders, and Diane Ravitch, it appears we have our latest hereticalhonestpublic servant mistakenly-appointed high government agency administrator. This time, it’s Julie Brill, pictured at left, head of the Federal Trade Commission. Per Advertising Age:
Big data brokers are “taking advantage of us without our permission.” Those were the words of Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill this morning at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference in Washington.
The commissioner, often vocal on data-privacy issues, called on Congress to legislate what she calls a “Reclaim Your Name” program, one that would establish technical controls allowing people to access the information data collectors have stored about them, control how it is shared and correct it when necessary.
As always, the reaction was immediate:
The Direct Marketing Association was caught off guard by Commissioner Brill’s announcement. “DMA has been in discussion with Commissioner Brill regarding ways to increase transparency in the ‘data broker’ industry, but was surprised to see her announcement of this new initiative,” said Rachel Thomas, VP of government affairs at DMA. “The FTC’s Section 6B inquiry into ‘data brokers’ is still ongoing, and the Commission has yet to articulate a specific problem that would justify a call for congressional action in this area,” she continued in an emailed statement.
The fun continued, too, as Brill dared tell the obvious truth about another aspect of corporate marketing-spying:
Ms. Brill indicated that the FTC believes mobile device IDs are personally-identifiable…. “Information linked to specific devices is, for all intents and purposes, linked to individuals,” she said.
The FTC is calling on data companies and users of consumer data “to commit to a robust program to de-identify their information,” she said, arguing that predictive analytics have rendered much of the consumer information collected as forever linked to individuals, no matter industry’s claims that the information often is anonymized or aggregated.
Companies should “take both technical and behavioral steps to make sure information used in advertising is truly and completely de-identified.” Ms. Brill didn’t make distinctions between data collected and used by first-parties and third-parties.
Countless retailers and consulting firms that provide data services to them — such as Acxiom, Merkle and many others — handle terabytes of personally-identifiable consumer data on a regular basis.
Ms. Brill’s comments come amid revelations that the National Security Administration has gleaned consumer phone call and Internet data from corporations including Verizon, Google and Facebook. Indeed, corporate data-harvesting practices for logistics and marketing purposes have facilitated the controversial NSA data grab.
Companies collecting or employing data should make a public commitment not to re-identify information, and should contractually require their partners to make the same commitments, continued the commissioner.
How can you tell when you have the overclass dead-to-rights? That’s when they have nothing left to say but plain denial. According to Ad Age:
Many of the companies using device IDs to track in-store shopping behavior and other location-based interactions hold that they are not.
My digging around in the Fortune 500 data — part of the slow progress toward the Courting Carmageddon book — shows that the annual revenues of the biggest 100 U.S.-based corporations is now (2011) equal to 50% of U.S. GDP. This is achieved with a number of employees equal to 8.7% of the U.S. labor force.
In 1954, by the way, the Top 100 took in revenues equal to 24% of GDP with employees numbering 7% of the national labor force. Thus, the revenue share has grown four times faster than the employment share, despite the rapid rise of the supposedly labor-intensive service sector of the corporate economy.
Talk about something that’s simply unsustainable! Alas, such utterly basic facts have zero chance of ever being reported in the marketing platform known as the mainstream corporate media…
McDonald’s, by the way, is not in the 2011 Top 100! It is #107…
Turns out our friends who are “in the advertising business” are major tax evaders. The Guardian recently ran a story reporting:
Filings for Facebook Ireland, through which all of the social network’s profits outside the US are channelled, show it paid the Irish tax authority €3.2m (£2.9m) last year.
Facebook is structured so that companies buying advertisements on the website in the UK, or anywhere outside of the US, have to pay Facebook Ireland. This allowed Facebook Ireland to make gross 2011 profits of £840m – or £3.1m per each of its 287 staff. Despite the high gross profit, Facebook Ireland was able to cut its tax bill to just €3.2m by using an accounting technique called the “Double Irish”.
The manoeuvre allows multinationals to move large amounts of money to other subsidiaries in the form of royalty payments. Facebook moved nearly £750m to the Cayman Islands and its Californian parent in licensing and royalty payments. After the transfers, Facebook Ireland reported a £15m annual loss, despite it accounting for 44% of the social network’s $3.15bn (£1.95bn) revenues.
Like Apple and Google, Facebook uses its Irish subsidiary to reduce its liabilities to HM Revenue & Customs and other European tax regimes. Amazon and Starbucks also cut their British tax bills by using the same technique via other European countries.
Business Insidernotes that this represents an effective tax rate of 0.3%.
All perfectly legal, of course, in our continuing epoch of [Black] Reaganism.
If you’ve recovered from the ecstasy or agony of your nation-state winning or not winning “medals” (what a grown-up culture we have!) for beach volleyball, mountain biking, rhythmic gymnastics, or 10-meter air rifle shooting, here is some other news of national achievement you might find refreshing. In Australia, the Supreme Court has upheld a new law that strips tobacco corporations of the right to sell their products in containers they fully control. Hence, instead of the being able to use their packages as the last step in their larger marketing effort, cigarette pushers now must put their product in boxes designed by the public:
The response by corporate forces is also quite funny. Lacking any straightforward point to make, they are sounding alarms about the new law’s encouragement of black market cigarette-selling.
It’ll be interesting to see if this change makes a dent in Australian nicotine addiction rates.
This stuff pretty much speaks for itself. In a piece titled “What Brand Marketers Want From Facebook: A Holiday Wish List,” Laura O’Shaughnessey, CEO of SocialCode, a social agency that works with Fortune 100 brands and top agencies, has posted a true gem of humanity over on Advertising Age. Here you go:
Facebook is notorious for constantly evolving its platform, both for users and advertisers.
It is about that time of year and the signs are all around: stores are filled with festive decorations in hopes of enticing early shoppers, every commercial announces the perfect gift for him or her, and the Starbucks red cups have finally made their annual appearance. Yes, it is time to pull together our holiday wish lists. But it’s is not just you and me making lists; top brand and agency marketers are dreaming of what Facebook might give them this holiday season.
Among dear Laura’s wishes:
Third-party tracking within social ads.
Agency and brand marketers are also accustomed to including their own tracking urls within display advertising. While this is possible within certain Facebook marketplace ads, whenever a brand wants to use an ad with ‘social context’ (e.g. embedded like/share/read/listen button or sponsored story ad), they forego the ability to include third party tracking.
Obviously there are great benefits to running the ads with social context. They tend to be a highly efficient way of garnering ‘likes’ or desired actions since the user can engage directly within the ad unit. These ad units are also more relevant to users since they incorporate behaviors of users’ friends and provide a positive word of mouth experience.
On the flip side, the inability to include third party tracking makes it more difficult for brands to track downstream actions of these users. Perhaps Facebook will consider allowing a hybrid that serves the dual purpose of keeping users within the Facebook platform, but allowing brands to track their other activities on the brand page.
As heart-rending as Tiny Tim, isn’t it? Who among us hasn’t shed tears over corporate capitalists’ still-limited ability to track people’s downstream actions?
Not to worry, though, friends. Facebook, Ms. O’Shaughnessey reminds us, is certainly no Scrooge to its own true constituency:
Facebook is the world’s most pervasive social network and has a constantly improving advertising platform. Although the metrics and analytics are not totally comprehensive, and not an exact replica of display advertising, the power of social ads, the incredible targeting and the reach of the platform means that marketing on Facebook should be a crucial part of every brand manager’s marketing mix. As Facebook continues to innovate, marketers will certainly get some of the capabilities they long for and will continue to get new functionality that ties into the social graph [sic + wtf? + predictable explanation] and enables the most powerful advertising online.