Friday, November 11, 2016

selling the digital economy

Functional stupidity, or Fachidioten as the Germans wonderfully phrase it, tends to manifest itself in three main behaviours.

Not thinking about your assumptions
Not asking why you are doing something
Not considering the consequences or wider meaning of your actions.

There's a whole book on this stuff, I challenge you to read it and not weep with equal parts hilarity and despair.

We attended a business breakfast seminar this week hosted by two digital economy product/services.

Their principal aim, obviously, was to demonstrate the value of their platforms to the media community.

I'm not going to name them specifically - this piece is in no way an attack on those companies in particular - however events conspired to futher demonstrate some of the prevalent fachidioten style ideological dissonance among media types, these days.

The dominant themes of discussion revolved around millennials (natch), the benefits to advertisers of the platforms' capabilities in automation, algorithm curation, programmatic approaches, data-driven approaches, hyper personalisation and extreme targeting (by age, gender, location, mood, behaviour, real-time and every conceivable niche etc). 

Cue head-nodding across the floor.

(That data-driven targeting is increasingly, and unquestioningly, assumed and accepted as inherently good is fascinating, but a topic for another time).

Following the presentations, came the obligatory Q&A.

An non-millennial, woman at the back of the hall raised her hand with a question for the vendors.
In a quiet voice she graciously acknowledged the efforts our host were making to adapt there platforms to the technological, targeting efficiency and performance needs of modern marketers.

Then in the very same modest way she dropped the bomb.

'Could [the vendors] tell us a bit about what they were doing to grow their own user base, and grow their own brands?'

To which the digital economy companies representatives - without the slightest recognition of the irony that was to follow - happily chirped, 

'Were running TV ads, doing press and outdoor and partnering with large telco's on their advertising and partnering with the big supermarkets' 

'Thank you' she replied, with a very slight - but visible to me - half-smile.

Monday, October 31, 2016

no scrubs (or... is every girl crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man?)

In the famous study conducted by Townsend & Levy (1990) the two scientists wondered about the effects of status (as signified by clothing), AND attractiveness, on both male and female subjects willingness to engage in romantic relationships (on the Craig David scale.. eg going for a drink on Monday, and though until Wednesday...).

The big question for the chaps was whether high status was enough to compensate for less handsomness?

To test this, a selection of male targets were pre-rated for physical attractiveness and divided into two categories -  described as handsome, and 'homely'.

The targets were then assigned one of three outfits:

Outfit number one included sharp suit, shirt, tie and a Rolex watch. Targets wearing this garb were described as being doctors (high status).

The second outfit included a simple plain white shirt and trousers and its wearers were described as having medium status occupations.

The third outfit was the uniform of a Burger King employee. Obviously, low status.

In the results, and for the most part, the women subjects expressed a preference for high status males, regardless of good-looks than with medium or low status / handsome males

The clothes maketh the man, it would appear?
Or is it simply the status?

Of course, we wondered if this would replicate in advertising agencies, given that dress codes are somewhat reversed.

Here’s an experiment to try.

Get three groups of agency males  together of varying good-lookingness, and a panel of agency women.

Group 1 outfits. Ironic t-shirt, beards and tattoos. Described as being creatives (eg high status).

Group 2. Cardigans, brogues, glasses. Described as being planners (medium status – although we all know that they are the most important people in the agency).

Group 3. Expensive suit (slightly too small a la Norman Wisdom, no socks, slip-on shoes. Described as being Account handlers (low status).

We can compare data at a later point.

Friday, October 28, 2016

what we've got here is... failure to communicate

The announcement that Google has made small but significant adjustments the way it handles the personal data collected from Google product users and the 'behavioural' data via its ad network, DoubleClick came and went with surprisingly little commentary.

In case you missed it, he previous policy had been: “We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent”.

Now you have to opt-out.

The updated policy now states: “Depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and ads may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivers by Google”.

That this change happens at around about the same time as the release of Google’s new total surveillance machine (ooops... phone) 'Pixel' may be purely coincidence, although - to be fair - I expect many of us assumed that total surveillance had had been the case on all along.

Either way, the battle continues between - on the one side - the Googles, Facebooks and assorted nefarious 3rd party adtech doing all in their power to harvest and process all available data.

And us - the hapless users - on the other side, either lethargically capitulating or offering token resistance through the application of ad-blockers and anti-tracking.

(Indeed, as something of a public service, this blog had a piece of code added that would inform you if your browser is vulnerable to 3rd party tracking, the makers seem to have disabled it now, though)

This creates something of a dilemma if one appreciates the 'social contract' between advertising and the content we want to read or see.

But what if there were a way of neither breaking the rules nor playing by them?

Whilst reading The Age of Absurdity by Michael Foley we were struck by the following idea.

Foley advocates for ‘detachment’ from the various absurdities of contemporary life.

Though not explicitly noted, the self-commoditisation practiced by individuals in the digital age would be included.

Detachment means ‘if you can't change the world, at least don't let it change you’.

And a paradoxical form of detachment is, what Foley calls, manic engagement'

To illustrate this Foley points to a scene in the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman in the lead role as charismatic petty criminal - now prison inmate - Luke.

Luke and his fellow chain-gang convicts are spreading gravel on a dirt road and, as usual, working as slowly as possible.

Suddenly, Luke strangely starts to go at the gravel spreading work with a manic over-enthusiasm.

The others in the gang look on with puzzled bemusement, but then - one by one - begin to copy and, likewise, start shovelling with disproportionate gusto.

This winds-up the guards no end. What are they playing at? Do we stop them?

The gang shift the entire mountain of gravel like men possessed, eventually running out of road to cover then collapse, laughing hysterically while the enraged and bewildered guards look on.

Perhaps one way to foil the aforementioned nefarious adtech 3rd party trackers is by practicing a form of manic engagement in our internet activities.

Achieving detachment by manic engagement.

Can detachment be achieved via Adblocking? After all, who really knows what the adblockers are doing with our data?.

Consider, however, a strategy of manic engagement.

A mass detachment by millions of internet users who disguise their regular behaviour by manically clicking on every link and ad served, performing multiple random searches for tractor parts, Mongolian compost toilets, Elton John memorabilia, indeed any other bizzare term that comes to mind (the more bizzare the better), then following up on every retargeting attempt with more clicks and searches.

Creating incommensurately more noise than signal.

Pumping the data hosepipe full of confusion, misinformation and obfuscation creating a ridiculously false 'profile' and disguising real intentions.

A bit labour intensive, agreed, but surely there's a personal ad-fraud bot-net out there somewhere...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

i was seriously thinking about hidin' the receiver

In 1894 the president of the Royal Society - the UK's national academy of science - Lord Kelvin, confidently predicted that radio had 'no future'.

The first radio factory was opened 5 years later, and within 8 years a radio set sat in over 50% of US homes.

The time taken to reach 50% of homes is generally accepted as a reasonable way to measure this kind of impact.

Then the transistor was invented in 1947, and ushered in the era of much smaller portable radios.

American electronics companies showed little interest in developing this nascent idea of portable music so in stepped a Japanese start-up called Sony.

Sony launched the first transistor radio in 1954 – it’s possibly no coincidence that rock’n’roll and teenage culture blew up very shortly after.

The aforementioned Lord Kelvin was no stranger to grand - but spectacularly wrong - predictions.

He was also certain that nothing heavier-than-air would ever fly and that X-rays were simply an elaborate hoax.

These innovations of the early 20th century – including electricity, electric light, telephony, TV, radio, central heating, cars, aircraft – all had far greater impact on society than digital technologies have had - up to this point.

To use our previous measure, both radio and television were adopted much faster – under 10 years to reach 50% of households - than personal computers or mobile phones; circa 15-17 years respectively.

Other much hyped technologies – smart watches, connected homes, 3D printers, wearable tech – are being adopted even more slowly.

Regardless, it's important to note that the technology itself is not becoming more disruptive – the majority of the poster children of digital disruption have been services built upon the existing web infrastructure – and because of this we confuse diversification with acceleration.

Yes, the impact of digital technology is expanding on just about every front - and will continue to do so slowly - but the occasional reality check is in order.

Digital technology is actually not changing society like never before, nor is the speed of technological change accelerating like never before.

Which is all a shame really, given we are facing a not too distant future of 10billion of us crammed onto a tiny planet without enough food or water.

Meaningful disruption – of the same scale and impact as electricity or the radio in past times – will have to be about infrastructure, hygiene, food production, environment and healthcare. Not Snapchat glasses or smart clothes pegs.

And, if we are honest, that's not happening quickly enough.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

who’s watching?, apparently

What can you do if you need to convince someone of something, but you don’t have proper evidence?

One simple way is to demonstrate something else to be true and then just pretend it’s the same thing.

In statistics this method is referred to as a ‘semi-attached figure’.

Simply pick a couple of things that sound kind of the same – though they aren’t (this is the important point) – and make a comparison between them to validate your conclusion.

An everyday example would be the number of reports that contrast hours spent TV viewing with internet use - and represent the numbers as though it was the same thing. This fallacy is further compounded by the fact that these activities increasingly occur simultaneously.

Among other examples of this particular ‘bait-and-switch'- now you know it you'll see them everywhere - this one from a Hall & Partners report for the on-demand offer of Aussie TV channel SBS particularly caught our eye.

As Zoe - in our strategy team - duly noted ‘Who’s watching?...No-one, apparently’.

Happy spotting.

Friday, October 07, 2016

car jamming

The latest OzTAM Multi-Screen Report for Q2 of 2016 indicates that television’s reach overall is dropping year on year – Q2 2015 reporting reach at 88.3%, and the current report at 88.1%.

Yes, a whole 0.2%.

More interestingly, Mumbrella’s coverage of the report takes some care to point out that TV viewing among younger audiences is experiencing continuous decline.

Indeed, the ‘hardest hit’ demographic is the ‘advertiser friendly’ 25-39 bracket, which PLUMMETS from 84.2% reach last year to 81.8% this year.

Reporting of this nature like brings to mind the classic ‘Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction’ psychology study by Loftus and Palmer (1974) on response-bias and adds some further credence to the suggestion by some commentators – notably Professor Mark Ritson – that there appears to be a media imbalance towards ‘reporting’ the ‘decline’ of so-called ‘traditional’ media in favour of ‘digital’ despite lack of proper evidence.

Loftus and Palmer’s experiment involved showing groups of participants some films of traffic accidents.

After watching the film they were asked to describe what had happened as if they were eyewitnesses.

Among the questions asked – and the key point of the experiment – was one specific question framed in different ways. Participants were asked to estimate how fast the cars were going when they either 'smashed', 'collided', 'bumped', 'hit' or 'contacted' each other.

In almost every case the participants’ estimation of speed was affected by the verb used.

Participants who were asked the ‘SMASHED’ question thought the cars were going FASTER.

The ‘CONTACTED’ condition reported the lowest speed estimate with the other conditions somewhere in-between.

In short, simply the verb used can influence the answer a person gives (a 'response-bias').

With this in mind one notices a type of response-bias priming all over the aforementioned news piece.

The ‘advertiser friendly’ prefix is curious - and something of an argumentum ad populum - given that it is fairly well established that the over 50’s account for close to half of all consumer spending, though I’m resisting the temptation to go all Bob Hoffman on this one.

(At least the m-word* was absent from the piece, so there’s some progress, I suppose.)

More worthy of some scrutiny is the curious use of the ‘plummeted’ verb to describe a relatively minor blip of less than 2.4%.

Because, in the very next breath, tablet and smartphone penetration are described as remaining ‘stable’ year-on-year, growing at 2% to 49% and 81% respectively.

So a 2.4% decline in TV penetration among under 40’s is plummeting, while 2% growth in smartphone/tablet penetration is ‘stable’.

Nicely done, response bias priming.

*snake people

Saturday, May 28, 2016

never mind the bull elks, here's the ex publishers

Bull Elks face, what economists call, a collective action problem.

Over time the genes for bigger antlers have prevailed because larger antlers make an individual bull more likely to win in a fight with a rival bull.

Bulls that win more fights have greater status in the herd, and access to more lady elk action etc, so there’s significant benefit on an individual level.

However, large antlers force on their bearers some less than optimal compromises.

Getting about in the elks natural habitat - dense wooded areas – is hampered by giant antler-age, and therefore increases the risk killed and eaten by predators such as wolves.

As a group, elks would be much better off if each bull's antlers were much smaller, bulls with smaller antlers would be better able to escape predators.

But as long as there are some bulls with the big antlers the less well endowed will always come off worse in battles, and therefore less likely to pass the genes for those smaller antlers into the next generation.

The individual payoff on larger antlers is thus substantially larger than the collective payoff.

The collective action problem (on behalf of bull elk genes) is that even though it would be better for all bull elk if everyone’s antlers were smaller, it’s not in any individual bull's interest.

Any trait that emerges because it helps individuals compete in battles against members of the same species runs the risk of resulting in a handicap for the species as a whole.

Online advertising.

While publishers at one point may have shared common interests with advertisers - reaching readers -each also had conflicting interests, principally around how each made a buck.

Enter the ad networks with the promise of identifying and tracking prospective customers on behalf of advertisers, thus devolving the publisher from their part of the conundrum.

This created a wedge - ad networks are not interested in the needs of readers, publishers become distanced from the needs of advertisers - and before you know it we’re in the whole mess of fraud and goodness knows what else.

Meanwhile, the advertisers who really only want to efficiently reach punters, start scratching their heads and looking for better online advertising options.

Enter stage left, Facebook, Google, Apple et al and it's out with the adtech layer and integrate all the quality publishers into their platforms where the ad-blockers don’t reach.

Both Google and Facebook have for a long time been media owners - both made good money from advertising - but now they are starting to look like the whole game and a somewhat simpler one for online advertisers to navigate.

Facebook to build the brand, Google to get it in their hands.

For a time, the individual payoff for online publishers on adtech antlers was large, now the collective payoff is more like being stuck in the woods with a wolf.

Never mind the bull elks, here's the ex publishers.