Thanks Trump! Thanks Clinton! Now Social Is Screwed

4 Nov

Thanks for nothing

A version of this appeared in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily. Marketing on social media is a whole lot more difficult than it used to be, thanks to the presidential election. And, while the nation’s collective nightmare may end on election day, brands will be bearing this burden for a long time to come.

The corrosive effects of the past 18 months have fundamentally altered the social media landscape. As a result, people are becoming far less “social” and far less likely to engage in the behaviors marketers have come to rely upon.

Consider a couple of recent data points.

  • A recent study by Pew Research Center found that more than a third of users have changed their privacy settings on social media to restrict the number of friends whose posts they see. And 27 percent actually blocked someone out of annoyance.
  • Since 2009, the CMO Survey has projected brands will spend 20.9 percent of their marketing budgets on social media. As recently as February that projection was holding steady. But in October the survey found brands spending only 11.7 percent on social, well off the projected pace of 17.5 percent.

Underlying all of this data is a rapid shift in attitudes toward social media from the youth audience that has been critical to the explosive growth and whose behaviors have typically been bellwethers for older audiences.

It’s worth reflecting on what built social media in the first place. Initially it was the ability for people to stay in touch with friends and make acquaintances they otherwise wouldn’t make in the real world.

Then came the ability to share items of interest. Suddenly, social media enjoyed exponential expansion as people discovered that a mix of friends could be a powerful force for curating information and exposing us to new ideas, and even products or services.

Now, however, some of those same friends are pissing us off. They’re getting into strident arguments over political and social issues. Brands that venture into current events discussions are finding their digital audiences instantly polarized. Indeed, it seems like every issue has sides. “Safe” topics have effectively been reduced to amusing videos of animals and complaining about Mondays.

For the past five years, so much of the investment brands made in social was chasing that sharing behavior. Every piece of content was launched in hopes it would “go viral,” making a small investment payoff with disproportionately huge returns. No more.

Perhaps the only winners in the past 18 months have been the trolls. Younger users, 16- to 24-years-old, tell us that rather than expose themselves to trolls they have shifted their sharing to private channels, Snapchat or text messaging, where they know who they’re talking to and can safely predict the reception they’ll get. And it seems that their parents are following their lead.

It’s doubtful all this gets better any time soon just because the election is over. So what’s a marketer to do?

Get real. Quit thinking about social as something that’s best left to the youngest members of the team. Success is going to demand the skills of seasoned marketers.

Strategies will have to focus on pockets of opportunities. Time is the enemy.

Successful marketers, and their agencies, will continually analyze the digital environment, quantifying the opportunities. This will allow them to have reasoned assessments of the likelihood of success and the potential for damage to the brand.

From the client side, it will take a commitment to move fast, take risks and firmly understand where the brand can and cannot go.

Strategies that are tethered to nothing more than the flow of the moment will lead brands onto the rocks faster than ever before. You can thank our presidential election for that.

Kiss My Bill Verizon, I’m Outta Here

30 Aug

The_Shining-620x264$75. In the end I left Verizon Wireless after seven years over just $75. Well that and an abusive attitude towards its customers.

It was a long time coming, and no small step. Not only have I been with Verizon since 2008, but I had four phone lines and two tablets on their service. I even installed a device at my home to boost my signal using my home WiFi network.

We live in an age where few companies wield as much control over our lives as the cell phone carriers and cable/internet providers. They chip away at our wallet, progressively increasing their bills while unilaterally deciding how we connect to the world around us.  That’s why every so often it requires a little mental combat to re-balance the equation.

Every month I had cut a check for at least $240 to this company. And many, many months it was much more. Which, in the end, is what ultimately led to their downfall, at least in my case.

In July I got a text that we were about to break the 10GB limit on data for my account. After getting a hold time of 20 minutes when I called customer service, I logged on to their web site and upgraded to the 15GB plan. Unfortunately I didn’t click the right option and thus an eventual $75 overage.

So I called Verizon asking for some forbearance. Over the years I’d paid this company more than $20,000. Just this spring I paid a succession of $500 bills caused by limitations of their international data plans. All I wanted was for them to give me credit for a $60, the difference between what I choose and what I thought I’d selected.

An hour of discussion later they offered a partial credit. They would cover all of it if, but only if I would agree to extend the contract on one of my lines for another year. And that’s when it hit me. I was being abused.

It didn’t matter what I called Verizon about, every solution eventually included extending my contract. Like a very bad relationship, there was no love for the time I’d committed to them, only schemes to keep me around longer.

So I called it quits, in a public way:

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the best of big company customer support is typically assigned to online channels, like Twitter. Within 20 minutes I had a contact at T-Mobile, and another contact from Verizon. I spent an hour on the phone with Verizon, waiting for them to offer me anything because I’d been a loyal customer. It never happened.

So now I have taken all my business to T-Mobile, where my family gets four times the data for 15% less. They paid my termination fees with Verizon, but never asked me to sign a contract. Let me say that again: I did not have to sign for a single month of commitment.

True, T-Mobile doesn’t have the coverage that Verizon and AT&T have. But really, how often are you off the grid in the backwoods and in need of your cell phone? For me, not enough to make it worth staying. Better yet, T-Mobile offers WiFi calling, which lets my phones connect to any WiFi network when the cell signal is weak.

And that’s what I expect from my technology partners now, a commitment to innovation, transparency in pricing and no schemes to lock me in to a relationship. Well that, and maybe an occasional heartfelt thank you.

Banishing Wallflower Brands

6 Jul


A version of this appeared in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily. The last week of June marked an incredible turn of events in the United States, with the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and a massive surge of support for sweeping away the Confederate flag.

In all the celebration, and amidst all the noise, it was perhaps easy to overlook that American brands just entered a new chapter, one of full citizenship on social causes.

By the week’s end there was no longer any doubt that being a national or global brand means being ready to take an active role in the national discourse. Gone are the days of staying silent or taking milquetoast stances for fear of alienating a portion of the customer base.

The week of this transformation began with a debate few would have predicted. Five days after nine people were killed in a Charleston church by a racist gunman, Walmart announced the removal of Confederate-themed merchandise from its shelves. The retail giant said in a statement, “We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer.”, eBay, Sears and Etsy soon followed, pulling the imagery from their inventory. Simultaneously, a flurry of pronouncements came from state legislatures across the South that long-revered flags would come down.

“Walmart and Amazon are behemoths. When they make a move like this, it is going to affect the national conversation,” said Margaret Duffy, Chair of the Strategic Communication Program at University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. Their actions can be attributed, in part, to calculations of what the backlash would be if they were caught up in a controversy, she said.

“But the calculations are only part of what’s happening,” Duffy said. “If you’re in marketing you are radically in the culture business. If you’re going to be any good you have to understand that.”

[Click here to read the rest of this post]

Stop it! You’re Being Creepy

15 Apr

clown2Excuse me while I seethe. I just attended a conference where the head of a major media lab explained to the audience all the wonderful new ways technology will let marketers track audiences.

The pinnacle of this tracking was a chip in new Internet TV sets that not only tracks what people are watching, but logs every mobile device on their home network for subsequent re-targeting.

“This is huge. In fact, I’m happy to say that we’ll be announcing a partnership with this company in the coming days,” he rather gleefully told us. Several audience members didn’t share his enthusiasm, especially the part about having their TV keep track of their mobile devices.

“Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?” asked one guy.
“Well, you will agree to it when you set up the TV,” media guy explained.
“But what if I don’t want to agree?”
“Then you shouldn’t buy an Internet TV.”

But that wasn’t the only great innovation he wanted to share. Another company is placing WiFi sensors at major public venues that can track every phone that passes by, recording the unique ID, then reporting all the places other places that phone is spotted. “With just a little bit of effort we can even link this data with what people buy. Imagine what we can do with profiles like that,” he told the audience.

Imagine indeed. I am seeing the enormous public backlash that will erupt when this data is used by insurance companies to keep tabs on the habits of their customers. Or worse yet, when this stalker data falls into the wrong hands, like hackers. You think the NSA revelations were upsetting, then just wait.

It is companies like these, and marketers like this media guy, that are exactly what is wrong with our industry today. They are so hell-bent on proving what can be done that they never pause to think about if it should be done. And if we, as an industry, don’t put the brakes on these guys, and fast, then the resulting blast crater will wipe out the good with the bad.

Time and again these companies will claim one of several defenses. Either they claim the data will never be sold with personally identifiable information, or that they’re doing a service to the public by allowing more appropriate targeting of messages.

Bullshit. Anyone claiming the data will never leave their servers with the PII is whistling past the grave yard. Shall we review all the companies who have seen their customer data hacked? A service to consumers?! If this is so valuable to consumers, then why don’t companies ask for permission in big, clear term? Because you never ask when you know the answer will be no.

And it’s all so dumb given what we know about the coming generation of consumers, those who are most wired. How many articles have been published about Millennias and their need to trust the brands that earn their money?

Has your company talked about creating relationships with your customers? What kind of relationship can a brand have with its customers when it uses technology to stalk them like a jealous spouse?

When this tracking technology finally goes too far and triggers outcry by consumer advocates, congressional inquiries and stories on network news, do you want your brand in the discussion?

Won’t THAT be awesome?


Native Advertising? Yeah, We’re Screwed

14 Aug

native-advertisingA version of this piece ran on

Can we just stop hyping native advertising? It’s not new. It’s not the next big thing. It certainly is not the answer.

Native advertising is just the latest symptom of a system that has lost its way. Rather than honing the craft of building meaningful marketing campaigns, we have become enablers of a system that values short-term gain for minimal investment. And in the end it will come back to haunt us all.

For those who have been living under a rock, native advertising, or sponsored content, got its moment under the interrogation spotlight recently when John Oliver laid into it on his weekly HBO show. eMarketer projects marketers will spend nearly $2.3 billion on sponsored content this year, up more than 20% over last year.

But as Mr. Oliver noted, advertisers have been wrapping themselves in the credibility of editorial content for more than 60 years. The piece went on to lament the dissolution of editorial independence at institutions like Time Magazine and The New York Times.

It made for pithy and enlightening commentary, and highlighted that the general public is typically ill-equipped to draw the line between independent editorial content and ads masquerading at stories. But the point that the comedic piece missed was that native advertising is merely the latest shiny object offered by publishers eager to satisfy the demands of marketers and their agencies. It does nothing for the audience.

If marketing was a public square, then native advertising is nothing more than standing next to someone who knows what they’re talking about and hoping people think that makes you smart too. It may be slightly more effective than billboards, and less creepy than trying to butt into conversations. But ultimately you’re hoping to trade on the credibility others create. [Click here to read the rest of this post]

Take This Cable Bill and…

11 Jul

5816578607_b28148910cI have seen the future, and cable companies aren’t going to like it. Led by my kids, I have plunged head-first into a world of streaming video, on-demand entertainment, and options anywhere on any device.

For the first time in more than 40 years I am living without cable TV. Getting there hasn’t been easy, or cheap. But having invested the time to research and put the pieces together, I’ve got to say I am excited by the possibilities, and the savings.

CTCWhy would a middle-age guy (ok, a bit beyond true-middle age guy) plunge himself into this? Well let’s go through some background. For the last 10 years I have ping-ponged between Comcast, AT&T and DirecTV.

Of course the cable companies were all too happy to facilitate this with better and better intro packages. My most recent deal was AT&T’s U-verse cable and Internet. For which I was paying $136 a month. But that would eventually go up to $170ish after the deal ran out. Do some quick math, and I was paying $1600 now and that was going to jump to $2000 this October. [Click here to read the rest of this post]

Here We Go—Plunging Into a World Without Cable TV

26 Jun

aereo_scales-justice_content-2__largeOh  hell! Before I could even pull out the scissors, The United States Surpreme Court made my life a little harder by ruling Aereo is illegal. Damn, damn, damn!

Sorry about that. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with my determination to stick it to the man. And by the man I mean AT&T and Comcast. After a surprisingly high level of introspection I’ve decided to cut the cord and join the legions of people living without cable TV. Like many people I have, for years and years, sent of a monthly payment to one cable company or another, grimacing and asking for the privileged of being raked over the coals for yet another month.

CTCEvery month I grumbled about how much I was paying for the diminishing value I receive. True, the cable companies pump hundreds of channels into the lineup. But the reality is that I was paying for tons of channels I will never use. A few weeks of scrutinizing what I was actually watching made it clear to me that I really only used fewer than a dozen channels. It was an eye-opening exercise. So I was paying for the Lexus and driving a Toyota. [Click here to read the rest of this post]

Social Gives Brands Balls

27 Mar

BoycottCokeA version of this also appeared on MediaPost.

There’s a new calculus happening in conference rooms across the country as CMOs work with their teams to hone the brand message are asking, “Can we afford to offend portions of the country’s conservatives?”

More and more, the answer is yes. Indeed brands, emboldened by their digital connection with consumers, are committing to not just appeal to consumer’s lifestyle in order to sell products. Instead, they are placing bold bets as an active player in shaping a culture that aligns with their products.

And with that comes risks. The evidence is abundant: Sam Adams pulling its sponsorship of the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade over LGBT issues; Chevrolet’s inclusion of gay families in several spots, or Coke’s 60-, and then 90-second, “America Is Beautiful” in all its multi-lingual splendor.

“Advertising reflects the mores of society but it does not influence them,” David Ogilvy famously once said. Apparently, that wasn’t the guidance for Coke’s multi-lingual version of “America The Beautiful.” [Click here to read the rest of this post]

Protests? What Protests? This Is NBC, Where Russia = Happy

23 Feb

Is there no end to NBC Sports’ determination to keep a happy face on the Olympics? As the games concluded today, it is abundantly clear that producers are willing to ignore just about anything.

Hotels and facilities not ready for prime time? What are you talking about? Protesters whipped by Cossacks? La la la la.  Russian-backed troops in Kiev killing revolting citizens? Did you say something?

BugThat NBC wanted to treat its evening broadcast as a made-for-TV movie, rather than a real sporting event, was a given. NBC Sports execs said as much before the games started. If you want the messy, unpredictable coverage, they expected you to find real-time feeds on cable channels or online.

When you pay $775 million for the exclusive US right to broadcast the games, some creative license comes with it. But when you are the only broadcast pipeline for 313 million Americans, there is an obvious obligation to put the public’s needs ahead of your profits. [Click here to read the rest of this post] Intentionally Bad So You’ll Watch TV?

19 Feb

nbc olympics streamingIt all seemed so promising, NBC announcing it would stream every event live online from Sochi, complete with announcers, more than 1,500 hours in all.

But if you’ve been to, you know  that the potential and reality are miles apart. In fact, trying to find any specific event on the site should be an Olympic sport all its own.

BugDaily on Twitter and Facebook, people are asking for links to help them find a specific live stream or highlights. Don’t even think about looking for videos embedded on those or any other site. NBC took a step five years backwards with its videos, preventing users from enjoying them anywhere but on their own site.

So we’re essentially trapped. Geofencing prevents anyone in the US from watching highlights or live streams from any other broadcaster. And NBC’s greed means you have no choice but to navigate their site.

But just how bad is it, really? For an informed answer I asked my JWT colleague and usability expert Adrienne Sangastiano to dig into the site. The fact that she immediately started comparing the site to the hotel room trashed by US bobsledder Johnny Quinn should have been my first hint about her perspective. [Click here to read the rest of this post]