Dishonest or Dumb?

ketchup_reagan It’s a timeless question about overlords both ancient and new.  Are they lying or do they actually believe their own ideology?

The issue popped up this past week in this howler enunciated by Mark Zuckerberg:

“We don’t build services in order to make money,” he wrote in a personal letter to shareholders included in [Facebook’s IPO-related SEC] filing. “We make money in order to build better services.”


One might ask if Facebook would be willing to appoint a majority of ordinary Facebook users to its corporate board, so as to assure itself of the authenticity of its supposed efforts at “better” services.  Should there be ads on Facebook?  Should Facebook accumulate the world’s biggest marketing database and make money for Mark Zuckerberg and other rich people by selling the scraped, uncompensated information to other corporate capitalists?  Who votes “No”?

Yeah, didn’t think so…

Tis the Season 2011

vampire_santa 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.

Visa’s Fools

smurf_mirror “Follow the flattery.” That is former Village Voice ad critic Leslie Savan’s sage counsel to would-be critics of advertising. As Savan knows, ego-stroking is one of the core tactics of big businesses’ efforts to manipulate our off-the-job behaviors.

Enter, on cue, Visa’s new Facebook “app,” the Visa Memory Mapper. The users of this scheme take vacations and, during or after, upload photos of their trips, add captions explaining the photos, and then select music and formats to turn the photos and captions into a “movie” about the vacation in question. All, purportedly, in the name of recording memories.

One might begin to sense the rat here when one reflects upon the true relationship between cameras, Facebooking, and experiences of uncommon or new locales. Which is likely to yield better memories — immersing oneself in a place with perhaps a few quick photos taken, or having a camera glued to one’s nose for a serious share of time in a spot? What possible place does Facebook have in the process?

The JWT Intelligence (yes, an arm of that JWT) blog clarifies the real logic:

Where travelers of old shared (and bragged about) their activities upon returning home, today’s hyper-connected and mobile-enabled vacationers enjoy the instant gratification of doing so on social networks in real time. These updates amplify the travel experience, providing the opportunity to broadcast how cool (or privileged, worldly, etc.) the traveler is, boosting the person’s social currency. Indeed, one-third of respondents in JWT’s U.K. and U.S. survey agreed that “Sharing my travel activities makes me stand out from everyone else’s activities in my social network.” Visa is smartly tapping into this new social currency by facilitating online boasting for its customers.

And, of course, the raison d’etre of this latest encouragement and exploitation of human vanity in our increasingly atomized (and therefore increasingly vain) society lies 100 percent in the realm of marketing research. Promo Magazine reports:

“What’s interesting about the social space is that you can measure the different elements of performance, not only from an impression, but also from paid media and now earned media, or the sharing of what people are doing with their friends,” Alex Craddock, head of North America Marketing for Visa Inc., said. “When you look at that as a success metric, you get a good sense of how the social space can be for you. There is so much data there, and with the triangulation of these findings you actually can be very well informed about how a campaign is forming in real time.”

Facebook’s Clients

wolfsheep After a proper stretch of pretending otherwise in order to attract the sheep into the fold, mega-creep Mark Zuckerberg has recently been admitting what Facebook really is: “Our business is advertising.”

Now that it has the mutton piled high, the disguise is increasingly off.

The latest edition of Advertising Age, for example, reports:

Facebook [is] forming a 12-member client council that will give the social network input on advertising and marketing, it announced today at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

An invitation-only group, the client council will consist of agency leaders as well as Facebook’s biggest global clients, said Facebook VP-Global Ad Sales Carolyn Everson during her Cannes keynote. The members will rotate yearly in order to give different companies a chance to participate and influence Facebook’s various ad offerings, such as the latest “comments” ad unit, which was created in its first collaboration with an advertising agency.

Two of the first 12 members of the inaugural council are Nick Brien, CEO of McCann Worldgroup, and Wendy Clark, Coca-Cola’s head of integrated marketing and communications. “The invites are going to go out next week and we’ll have it locked up in the next 14 days,” Ms. Everson said. The first meeting is planned for the Association of National Advertisers’ confab in October.

“What I’m really interested in is hearing the aggregated interests of other advertisers and see how we can move social-media advertising forward,” said Ms. Clark, who joined Coca-Cola in 2008 after a stint at AT&T. She also has something very particular in mind — reviewing social-media metrics in order to reach consensus on how success is measured in that space. “Comparing myself to myself is fine, but having the context of other advertisers would be great,” Ms. Clark said. “I’d like to see Facebook come out with an accepted benchmark.”

You could say Coca-Cola has earned its place on the council — a top advertiser on Facebook, the company has more than 31 million “likes” on its page.

Facebook wants to know what it can do to improve advertising on its platform by showing major clients its ad products as they are developed. “I would expect an actual dialogue where we bring our engineering team and our marketing team in and get feedback directly,” Ms. Everson said. “It’s important to get kickback from the market. I’m interested in having us solve our clients’ problems and how to help make their business more social at the core.”

“Our clients,” of course, are corporate capitalists. Facebook users? They’re the raw material.

The good news? People might be tiring of the whole banal trick.

Progress of the Corporate Spies

corps Here are a few recent items on the most predictable of all human events, the growth of big business marketing.

An ex-Yahoo spy gone “independent” reports this in Ad Age:

Well, thanks to the rise of data and audience buying, there’s a relatively new offering now available to marketers called search retargeting. Search retargeting is the ability to target display ads based on user search history. This allows marketers to show advertisements to the right “in market” consumers and entice users who are already looking to buy a specific product or use a service. This combination of search and display results in the acquisition of new customers and drives targeted awareness across all sites.

With this in mind, other “news” is rather easy to reckon:

For Facebook users, the free ride is over.

For years, the privately held company founded by Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm room put little effort into ad sales, focusing instead on making its service irresistible to users. It worked. Today more than 600 million people have Facebook accounts. The average user spends seven hours a month posting photos, chatting with friends, swapping news links and sending birthday greetings to classmates.

Now the Palo Alto company is looking to cash in on this mother lode of personal information by helping advertisers pinpoint exactly whom they want to reach. This is no idle boast. Facebook doesn’t have to guess who its users are or what they like. Facebook knows, because members volunteer this information freely — and frequently — in their profiles, status updates, wall posts, messages and “likes.”

It’s now tracking this activity, shooting online ads to users based on their demographics, interests, even what they say to friends on the site — sometimes within minutes of them typing a key word or phrase.

Facebook’s ability to pinpoint paying customers has dazzled some small-business owners, including Chris Meyer. Over the last 18 months, the Minneapolis wedding photographer had Facebook aim his ads specifically at female users who divulged the following information about themselves on the social networking site: college graduates, aged 24 to 30, who had just gotten engaged and lived within a 50-mile radius of Minneapolis.

Meyer says his $1,700 ad buy generated $110,000 in sales.

“I could not have built my business without Facebook,” he said.

And, as always, the whole enterprise rests on exploited emotions and false promises:

[A] new study, led by Thomas V. Pollet of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, examined 117 people age 18 to 63. They filled out an extensive questionnaire about the time they spend on instant messaging and social network sites, the number of relationships they had overall and the closeness of those relationships.

The researchers found that spending a lot of time online was not linked to having a larger number of “offline” friends. Moreover, the relationships of people who socialized online weren’t any closer or stronger than people who didn’t socialize online.

And on this:

The social media giant Facebook, for example, has nine third-party data centers in the US, with plans to build a tenth in Oregon. Current estimates are that Facebook uses 60,000 servers to help its more than 500 million members reconnect with people they didn’t even like in high school.

The company’s data centers range from from 10,000 square feet to more than 35,000 square feet, and their energy use is enormous. The average leased data center uses between 2.25 megawatts of power and 6 megawatts of power. This could provide electricity for one month to somewhere between 1,730 and 4,615 homes.

Google is thought to have 36 data centers.


frogs While vacationing this week, I had the displeasure of sitting through much of The Social Network. Before I saw it, I was virtually certain that it would do for Facebook what its screenwriter Aaron Sorkin did for the U.S. Presidency, namely execute a clever but thorough whitewash. I was right. A rock should fall on all the pampered, egocentric ciphers behind Facebook. But, by exploiting the old “They just wanted to watch the money” principle, Sorkin manages to flip the inklings of that sentiment and make all the vacant psychos involved seem somehow cool and aspirational. Indeed, the last line in the film is about how Mark Zuckerberg is “the world’s youngest billionaire.”

Sorkin’s film is, of course, silent on the ulterior purpose of Facebook, which is to deploy what appears to be just a new way to stay in touch with friends but is actually a huge, screamingly invasive and profitable engine for marketing research, a.k.a. corporate spying.

Here is a snip from today’s Advertising Age on Facebook’s latest advance:

This month — and for the first time — Facebook started to mine real-time conversations to target ads. The delivery model is being tested by only 1% of Facebook users worldwide. On Facebook, that’s a focus group 6 million people strong.

The closest Facebook has come to real-time advertising has been with its most recent ad offering, known as sponsored stories, which repost users’ brand interactions as an ad on the side bar. But for the 6 million users involved in this test, any utterance will become fodder for real-time targeted ads.

For example: Users who update their status with “Mmm, I could go for some pizza tonight,” could get an ad or a coupon from Domino’s, Papa John’s or Pizza Hut.

The real story of Facebook is that, as “social networking” software, it was a moderately clever idea and minor technological breakthrough. The government, if it were ever allowed to compete with private enterprises, could sponsor or directly develop an excellent substitute for that in a month, and make it non-commercial and secure. But that wouldn’t serve the corporate overclass, would it? They are looking — and paying — for exactly what Zuckerberg and his buddies are providing: new ways of gathering free information about the details of people’s off-the-job activities.

None of that makes it into Sorkin’s sly, product-placing paean to privileged whoredom.