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subway-speedtest

At the uptown end of the 59th Street/Columbus Circle subway platform there hangs from the ceiling a box with three disks on fat stalks, connected by thick black cables that run to something unseen in the downtown direction. Knowing a few things about radio and how it works, I saw that and thought, Hmm… That has to be a cell. I wonder whose? So I looked at my phone and saw my T-Mobile connection had five dots (that’s iPhone for bars), and said LTE as well. So I ran @Ookla‘s Speedtest app and got the results above.

Pretty good, no?

Sure, you’re not going to binge-watch anything there, or upload piles of pictures to some cloud, but you can at tug on your e-tether to everywhere for a few minutes. Nice to have.

So I’m wondering, @TMobile… Are those speeds the max one should expect from LTE when your local cell is almost as close as your hat?

And how long before you put these along the rest of the A/B/C/D Train routes? (The only other one I know is at 72nd, a B/C stop.) Or the rest of the subway system? In Boston too? BART? (Gotta hit all my cities.)

Meanwhile, thanks for taking care of my Main Stop in midtown.

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He didn't say it, but let's look at why it's wrong anyway.

He didn’t say it, but let’s look at why it’s wrong anyway.

This is an improved edit of a post I made to a list I’m on. Rather than let it scroll off to oblivion, I decided to put it here as well. The other parties are in italics. I’m in plain text.

If you work in advertising or marketing, kill yourself – Bill Hicks

Brilliant bit. Watch it here. The dude was also deep.

…or, from The Economist in 2013, a wonderful article which draws attention to research which counters the common view about search engine advertising

(which says, among other things…)

…search ads appear to solve a puzzle that has preoccupied advertisers since John Wanamaker, the 19th-century founding father of marketing, reportedly declared: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Two problems with that oft-quoted one-liner. One is that Wanamaker didn’t say it. From The Intention Economy:

While this line is customarily attributed to John Wanamaker, he was neither the first nor the only source. In The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006), Ralph Keys writes, ‘In the United States this business truism is most often attributed to department store magnate John Wanamaker (1838–1922), in England to Lord Leverhulme (William H. Lever, founder of Lever Brothers, 1851–1925). The maxim has also been ascribed to chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, adman George Washington Hill, and adman David Ogilvy. In Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963), Ogilvy himself gave the nod to his fellow Englishman Lord Leverhulme (Lever Brothers was an Ogilvy client), adding that John Wanamaker later made the same observation. Since Wanamaker founded his first department store in 1861, when Lever was ten, this seems unlikely. Fortune magazine thought Wanamaker expressed the famous adage in 1885, but it gave no context. While researching John Wanamaker, King of Merchants (1993), biographer William Allen Zulker found the adage typed on a sheet of paper in Wanamaker’s archives, but without a name or source. Wanamaker usually wrote his own material longhand. Verdict: A maxim of obscure origins, put in famous mouths.’

The other is that it isn’t true. In terms of direct effects (what direct response marketing wants, and the Economist piece concerns itself with), 99.x% of advertising is wasted. In terms of indirect effects (which old fashioned brand advertising wants), 100% might be effective.

In “The Waste in Advertising is the Part That Works,” (Journal of Advertising Research, December, 2004, pp. 375-390.), Tim Ambler and E. Ann Hollier say brand advertising has the effect of making a company familiar, whether the audience likes it or not, and that this is a requirement for any large company selling to a large market. You may never buy a Ford F-150 truck, but you’re damn sure going to know about it if you watch football on TV (and don’t skip the ads). In other words, it doesn’t hurt to have everybody know who you are and what you sell.

In terms of signaling theory in economics (for which Michael Spence won a Nobel prize), “the firm signals the quality of its product to consumers by its willingness to spend money on advertising.” (N. Gregory Mankiw: Principles of Economics, p. 401.)

This was taken for granted in the advertising business for generations. But today it’s being forgotten because advertising is also now digital, and leading the digital craze is the four dimensional shell game called adtech, which is thick with fraud, malware and world-class rudeness — such as planting tracking beacons on your digital person to follow you around the Net and report your activities to parties unknown, all the better to plant crosshairs on your eyeballs as you go about your private business.

The biggest problem with advertising today is that something that wasn’t advertising in the first place — direct response marketing, which includes both junk mail and spam — is now called advertising, because it looks the part. You don’t know whether the GMC ad you see on Huffington Post is there for every reader or just for you (because some tracking-based targeting mechanism has put it there for you).

Lately individuals have been putting a stop to all forms of advertising, with ad and tracking blockers. According to PageFair and Adobe, the number of people blocking ads passed 200 million worldwide last June, with increase rates in the prior year of 41% worldwide, 48% in the U.S. and 82% in the U.K. If this be a boycott, it’s the biggest in human history.

Most of the whining about ad blocking has been from those directly affected: publishers and ad agencies, since ad blocking costs them exposure and therefore income. Approximately no whining is coming from actual advertisers. (Who don’t call themselves that, by the way. They call themselves retailers, car makers, brewers and bankers.) For them advertising is just a line item on the expense side of the balance sheet. They can cut it or re-deploy it in other ways. For example, they can spend on the kind of old-fashioned non-tracking-based advertising they did before direct response marketing (best known as junk mail) body-snatched Madison Avenue, making it “digital” at all costs, including the good will of advertising’s consumers, who now have a valve to shut it off. (Or just to shut off the tracking. The valves are getting better every day.)

Naturally this has caused a “war” to break out. (FWIW, I’ve been covering this for some time. Here’s a list of posts and articles. Three of the most recent are in HBR, MIT Technology Review and Linux Journal.)

This conflation of direct response marketing with old fashioned Madison Avenue brand advertising has too many of us judging the latter by the metrics of the former. Among those is the author of this Economist piece. Let’s continue…

But new research shows that the simple measures often used to assess the impact of search ads may be exaggerating their effectiveness.

Again, while search ads are called ads, but they’re really direct marketing. They are data-driven, want to get personal, and are looking for a direct response. Brand advertising is also data-driven, but the data is always in aggregate form, because the targets are populations, not individuals. Brand advertising doesn’t want to get personal. That would be too expensive, might creep people out, and isn’t the idea anyway, because brand advertising isn’t looking for a direct response. All it wants is to make an impression. Not a sale.

Establishing cause and effect in offline advertising is hard. Ads are difficult to target: space on billboards and in newspapers is seen by lots of shoppers. Some of these eyeballs are worth spending money on; others, either because they belong to existing customers or to people who never will be, are not.

But the whole point of billboards is to be “the waste that works.” If you’re McDonalds (the biggest outdoor advertiser in the U.S.), you want every driver to know they serve more kinds of coffee now. If you’re Geico, they want to maintain top-of-mind consideration for when people (and not just you) get around to buying insurance again.

And even when big ad campaigns are followed by strong conclusion—that rising sales are the result of good budgets often rise in good times so that spending and sales grow together, even if the advertisements are useless. The ads and the sales have a common cause—strong demand—but may have no causal link.

Right. And that is not necessarily a problem if you’re McDonalds or Geico.

Internet advertising seems to offer a solution to both these problems.

Again, for brand advertising, those aren’t necessarily problems.

First, internet search ads are targeted: the links that search engines show are based on a combination of the search term a user has typed in and his browsing history. Second, because firms can track whether visitors to their websites come from search-engine links they have paid for, they can work out whether ads convert into sales…

The most tendentious adtech assumption is that everybody is buying something all the time. Most of the time we are not. When I looked up the Bill Hicks videos above, I wasn’t buying anything. In fact when I look through my browsing history over the past week, I find only one shopping example, and that was the exercise in futility that led me to post my buying intentions on my blog. So far the response has been nil. Nobody wants to fix a ten-year-old subwoofer, least of all from a company that’s out of business.

Now here’s what matters about brand advertising, and why the waste in it is the part that works: when replace my busted subwoofer, I am far more likely to be attracted to brands I know than to be swayed by advertising targeted at me because robots that follow me suspect I’m looking for a subwoofer at this moment in time. (None do, by the way. I’m seeing no ads anywhere for subwoofers.)

Another false adtech assumption is that “big data” can “know us better than we know ourselves.” This is worse than wrong: it is delusional and an insult to our sovereign humanity. All of us are not only different from each other, but from how we were ten minutes ago. To be fully human is to learn and change constantly. “I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,” Whitman writes. “I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood… I was never measured, and never will be measured… The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me. He complains of my gab and my loitering. I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

No direct response advertising system, no big data algorithms, can begin to comprehend the wild, free, untamed and untranslatable spotted hawk in each of us. But brand ads can still make us aware that Geico will save you 15% in 15 minutes.

(The next paragraph refers back to an earlier one I snipped.)

To test this problem of “activity bias”, the authors recruited volunteers online and split them into two groups. The first group watched a video promoting Yahoo, and the other group watched a political broadcast. The first group used Yahoo around three times more after seeing the ad, giving the impression it was very influential. But the control group—those subjected to a bout of politics but no Yahoo promotion—also used Yahoo a lot more. Both groups happened to be in an active period of internet use. This is why they were recruited in the first place and why they used Yahoo sense of advertising impact…

Three years ago I was invited to a Yahoo offsite in the Caribbean to give a talk to their biggest advertisers, plus a bunch of celebrities who came along for the junket. I told them the future was one of liberated individuals who would only increase their agency (the power to act with full effect in the world), and that they should place their bets on the side of those individuals, rather than only on adtech, which was all the rage at the time (and still is, although now it’s looking more like a cancer). I also pointed at the rise in ad blocking and its inevitable effect on Yahoo’s business. There was a lot of agreement, but no action. My influence on Yahoo, paid though it was, came to naught.

Bosses should still take Wanamaker’s fear seriously: a rise in sales after an ad campaign does not automatically mean that the ads worked. But it also shows how the online world is getting closer to solving the conundrum he posed. Far from being an industry where cause and effect remain murky, online advertising may yet become one area where the dismal science can predict how to get costs down and profits up.

It would have helped this piece if the signaling corner of the dismal science were sourced as well. So I advise The Economist and others covering advertising to look for signaling in the jewel case that is Don Marti’s blog. On the subject of advertising, there’s none better.

onix subwooferSo I’ve got this Onix x-sub subwoofer that doesn’t work. It’s the bass side of a Sonos ZP-100 system driving a pair of Cambridge Soundworks Newton MC300 speakers in our living room. Together the system sounds great. (Consistent with Tom Andry‘s review, which influenced my purchase back in ’06.)

The little green light in the back went out, and the fuse is fine. So it’s… what? Bad switch? Whole power supply? Whatever it is, I’d rather get it fixed than replace it, because we (meaning my wife) like the way it looks.

Onix and the company I bought the speaker from, AV123, are out of business. I’ve made a bunch of calls to possible repair sources here in Santa Barbara. No help so far.

So consider this an intentcast for help. Any takers? Or advice?

[Two days later…] Nope. Guess I’ll just get a new one. Oh well.

While The Cluetrain Manifesto is best known for its 95 theses (especially its first, “Markets are conversations”), the clue that matters most is this one, which runs above the whole list:

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers.
we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

 

That was the first clue we wrote. And by “we” I mean Christopher Locke (aka RageBoy), who sent it to the other three authors in early 1999. At that time we were barely focused on what we wanted to do, other than to put something up on the Web.

But that ur-clue, addressed to marketers on behalf of markets, energized and focused everything we wrote on Cluetrain site, and then in the book.

But it failed. Are you hearing me, folks? It failed. For a decade and a half, Cluetrain succeeded as a book and as a meme, but it failed to make its founding clue true. Deal with this:

our reach did not exceed marketers’ grasp.
instead, marketers grasped more than ever, starting with our privacy.

 

As heedless of manners as a mosh pit on Ecstasy, the online advertising business went nuts with surveillance, planting cookies and beacons in people’s browsers and tracking them like animals, harvesting and shipping off personal data to who-knows-where, all for the dubious purpose of spamming them with advertising based on algorithmic guesswork about what people might want to buy. All this in spite of two simple facts:

  1. Nobody comes to a webstite for advertising. At most they just tolerate it.
  2. Most of the time people aren’t buying anything. That’s why people don’t click on ads at a rate that rounds to 100%.

For years we played nice, quietly purging cookies from our browsers’ innards, or just putting up with the abuse. For few years (2007-2012, specifically — see below), we put some hope in Do Not Track.

Then, when that failed (most dramatically in 2012), we started blocking ads, en masse:

adblocker-vs-dnt

More than 200 million of us are blocking ads now, and (in many or most cases) blocking tracking as well. This is great news for Cluetrain fans, because:::

blocking ads and tracking
are great ways to deal with marketers’ grasp.

 

Depending on marketers to stop bad acting on their own is putting responsibility in the wrong place. It’s our job to stop them. Besides, asking the online advertising business to reform is like asking Versailles to start the French Revolution. Writes Jessica Davies,

I was recently in front of about 400 advertisers talking to them about fraud, and they all nodded their heads and listened, but there was apathy. Behind the scenes I ask them what they’re doing about it and some of them shrug their shoulders…

The funniest conversation I’ve ever had with an agency was when I told them a campaign they had run was 90 percent fraudulent, and their reply was: ‘Oh, I know, but it really performed well. The click-through rates were phenomenal.’ I re-emphasized that those click-throughs were fraudulent; the ads weren’t seen by humans, and their response was ‘The client is happy. We’re renewing the contract.’

Here’s a fact about those clients: They don’t call themselves advertisers, and they don’t have to advertise. To them advertising is overhead. A discretionary expense. They can spend it other ways. I know this, because I was a partner in one of Silicon Valley’s top advertising agencies for the better part of two decades. And, because of that, I also know how well old-fashioned Madison Avenue advertising — the uncomplicated kind not based on tracking — can actually work, while sponsoring publishers and broadcasters of all kinds.

That kind of advertising, aka #SafeAds, is the best hope the online advertising industry and its dependents in publishing and broadcasting actually have — especially if future ad and tracking blockers permit those through while saying #NoAds to the rest.

Now let’s go back to dealing. What else, besides #SafeAds, can we get with leverage from blocking ads and tracking? Clue: it has to be good for both sides. That’s how business works at its best. Both sides win. We don’t need to reach for their privates just because they grasped our privacy.

How about this deal: better signaling between customers and companies than marketing alone can provide— especially when marketing today is mostly about grabbing for “net new” and flushing customers into “the pipeline” through “the funnel.”

We can help companies (and ourselves) a lot more if we have standard ways to connect with sales, service and product and service development functions — and they with us. Then “Markets are conversations” will finally mean what it’s failed to mean for the last sixteen years.

Bonus link: VRM development projects, many of which are already working on this.

 

I’ll be on a webinar this morning talking with folks about The Intention Economy and the Rise in Customer Power. That link goes to my recent post about it on the blog of Modria, the VRM company hosting the event.

It’s at 9:30am Pacific time. Read more about it and register to attend here. There it also says “As a bonus, all registered attendees will receive a free copy of Doc’s latest book, The Intention Economy: How Customers Are Taking Charge in either printed or Kindle format.”

See/hear you there/then.

 

 

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reader-publisher-advertiser-safeadsTake a look at any ad, for anything, online.

Do you know whether or not it’s meant for you personally — meaning that you’ve been tracked somehow, and that tracking has been used to aim the ad at you? Chances are you don’t, and that’s a problem.

Sometimes the tracking is obvious, especially with retargeted ads. (Those are the shoes or hats or fishing poles that follow you to sites B, C and D after you looked at something like them at site A.) But most of the time it’s not.

Being followed around the Web is not among the things most of us want when we visit a website. Nor is it what we expect from most advertising.

Yet much of today’s advertising online comes with privacy-invading tracking files that slows page loads, drives up data use on our mobile devices and sometimes carries a bonus payload of malware.

So we block ads — in droves so large that ad blocking now comprises the largest boycott of anything in human history.

Reduced to a hashtag, what we say with our ad blockers is #NoAds. But even AdBlock Plus (the top ad blocker and the most popular* add-on overall), whitelists what its community calls “acceptable ads” by default.

So there is some market acceptance, if not demand, for some advertising. Specifically, Adblock Plus’s Acceptable Ads Manifesto whitelists ads that:

  1. are not annoying.
  2. do not disrupt or distort the page content we’re trying to read.
  3. are transparent with us about being an ad.
  4. are effective without shouting at us.
  5. are appropriate to the site that we are on.

Those are all fine, but none of them yet draws a line between what you, or anybody, knows is safe, and what isn’t.

In Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff, I draw that line between ads aimed at populations and ads aimed at you (because you’re being tracked). Here’s one way of illustrating the difference:

wheat-chaff-division2

As Don Marti puts it in Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful, #SafeAds carry a signal that personally targeted ads do not. For one thing, they don’t carry the burden of requiring that every ad perform in some way, preferably with an action by you. He explains,

Richard E. Kihlstrom and Michael H. Riordan explained the signaling logic behind advertising in a 1984 paper.

When a firm signals by advertising, it demonstrates to consumers that its production costs and the demand for its product are such that advertising costs can be recovered. In order for advertising to be an effective signal, high-quality firms must be able to recover advertising costs while low-quality firms cannot.

Kevin Simler writes, in Ads Don’t Work that Way,

Knowing (or sensing) how much money a company has thrown down for an ad campaign helps consumers distinguish between big, stable companies and smaller, struggling ones, or between products with a lot of internal support (from their parent companies) and products without such support. And this, in turn, gives the consumer confidence that the product is likely to be around for a while and to be well-supported. This is critical for complex products like software, electronics, and cars, which require ongoing support and maintenance, as well as for anything that requires a big ecosystem (e.g. Xbox).

In my wheat & chaff post, I said,

Let’s fix the problem ourselves, by working with the browser and ad and tracking blockers to create simple means for labeling the wheat and restricting our advertising diet to it.

So this is my concrete suggestion: label every ad not aimed by tracking with the hashtag “#SafeAd.”

It shouldn’t be hard. The adtech industry has AdChoices, a complicated program that supposedly puts you “in control of your Internet experience with interest-based advertising—ads that are intended for you, based on what you do online.”

Credit where due: at least it shows that advertisers are willing to label their ads. A #SafeAd hashtag (and/or some simple code that speaks to ad and tracking blockers) would do the same thing, with less overhead, with a nice clear signal that users can appreciate.

#SafeAds is the only trail I know beyond the pure-prophylaxis #NoAds signal that ad blocking sends to publishers and advertisers today. So let’s blaze it.

* That’s for Firefox. I can’t find an equivalent list for other browsers. Help with that is welcome.

no-ads-trackingHere is a list of pieces I’ve written on what has come to be known as the “adblock wars.” That term applies most to #22 (written August of ’15) those that follow. But the whole series works as a coherent whole that might make a good book if a publisher is interested.

  1. Why online advertising sucks, and is a bubble (31 October 2008)
  2. After the advertising bubble bursts (23 March 2009)
  3. The Data Bubble (31 July 2010)
  4. The Data Bubble II (30 October 2010)
  5. A sense of bewronging (2 April 2011)
  6. For personal data, use value beats sale value (13 February 2012)
  7. Stop making cows. Quit being calves. (21 February 2012)
  8. An olive branch to advertising (12 September 2012, on the ProjectVRM blog)
  9. What could/should advertising look like in 2020, and what do we need to do now for this future? (Wharton’s Future of Advertising project, 13 November 2012)
  10. Bringing manners to marketing (12 January 2013 in Customer Commons)
  11. Thoughts on Privacy (31 August 2013)
  12. What the ad biz needs is to evict direct marketing (6 October 2013)
  13. We are not fish and advertising is not food (23 January 2014 in Customer Commons)
  14. Earth to Mozilla: Come back home (12 April 2014)
  15. Why to avoid advertising as a business model (25 June 2014, re-running Open Letter to Meg Whitman, which ran on 15 October 2000 in my old blog)
  16. Time for digital emancipation (27 July 2014)
  17. Privacy is personal (2 July 2014 in Linux Journal)
  18. On marketing’s terminal addiction to data fracking and bad guesswork (10 January 2015)
  19. Thoughts on tracking based advertising (18 February 2015)
  20. Because freedom matters (26 March 2015)
  21. On taking personalized ads personally (27 March 2015)
  22. Captivity rules (29 March 2015)
  23. Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff (12 August 2015)
  24. Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech (26 August 2015)
  25. Will content blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business? (29 August 2015)
  26. If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them (8 September 2015)
  27. Debugging adtext assumptions (18 September 2015)
  28. How adtech, not ad blocking, breaks the social contract (23 September 2015)
  29. A way to peace in the adblock war (21 September 2015, on the ProjectVRM blog)
  30. Beyond ad blocking — the biggest boycott in human history (28 Septemper 2015)
  31. Dealing with Boundary Issues (1 October 2015 in Linux Journal)
  32. Helping publishers and advertisers move past the ad blockade (11 October on the ProjectVRM blog)
  33. How #adblocking matures from #NoAds to #SafeAds (22 October 2015)
  34. How Will the Big Data Craze Play Out (1 November 2015 in Linux Journal)
  35. Ad Blockers and the Next Chapter of the Internet (5 November in Harvard Business Review)
  36. At last, Cluetrain’s time has come (5 December 2015)
  37. The End of Internet Advertising as We’ve Known It (11 December 2015 in MIT Technology Review)
  38. More thoughts on privacy (13 December 2015)
  39. Why ad blocking is good (17 December 2015 talk at the U. of Michigan)
  40. What we can do with ad blocking’s leverage (1 January 2016 in Linux Journal)
  41. Rethinking John Wanamaker (18 January 2016)

There are others, but those will do for now.

ripping up a contractLet’s reset our thinking to what a user’s expectations are, when operating a browser and interacting with pages and sites.

In my browser, when I visit a page, I am requesting that page. I am not requesting stuff other than that page itself. This is what the hypertext protocol (http) provides.

(Protocols are ritualized manners, like handshakes, bows and smiles. They also scaffold the social contract.)

Likewise, when I visit a site (such as a seller) with a service on the Web, I am not requesting stuff other than what that site presents to me in text and graphics.

So, for example, when I go to some-publisher.com, I expect the browser to display that page and its links, and nothing more. And when I go to seller.com, I expect the browser to display the index page of the site — and, if I have some kind of relationship with that site, recognition that I’m a returning visitor or customer.

In neither of those cases do I expect tracking files, other than those required to remember state, which was the original purpose of Lou Montouli’s magic cookie, way back in ’94. Now known as just “the cookie,” it is in ubiquitous use today. In  Lou’s detailed history of that creation he writes, “The goal was to create a session identifier and general ‘memory’ mechanism for websites that didn’t allow for cross site tracking.”

Now let’s look at how we read a newspaper or a magazine here in the physical world. This time I’ll use my sister as an example of a typical reader. She’s a retired Commander in the U.S. Navy, and organized in the way she interacts with what we generally call “content.”

When a newspaper arrives, she “field strips” it. If it’s the Sunday paper, she pulls out all the advertising inserts and either throws them away or sets them aside, depending on whether or not they contain coupons that might interest her. Then she strips out sections that don’t interest her. The Travel section might go on one Sunday, the Sports section on another.

Then, when she reads the paper, she ignores most of the ads. One exception might be the magazine section, which tends to contain full-page brand ads by companies like Apple and Toyota. Those she might notice and like at some level. It all depends

My point is that she consciously blocks some ads and allows some others, some of which she pays attention to, but most of which she does not.

This kind of interaction is what the user expects the hypertext protocol (http) and good manners on the part of websites and services will provide. Websites that spy on users outside of their own domains (or use third parties to do the same) break the social contract when they do that. It’s that simple.

Yes, cases can be made for innocent forms of tracking, such as anonymized data gathering for analytics that improve what websites do. But they should be opt-in for users, not opt-out. Alas, that kind of tracking is a baby in the blocking bathwater. (The EFF’s Privacy Badger blocks many of these by default, and provides sliders for degrees of opting in or out of them.)

How did we get from the online world Lou Montouli sought to improve in ’94 and the one we have today? Check the metaphors for what we had and what we’ve lost.

Back in the mid-’90s we called the browser our car on the “information superhighway.” Cars, like clothing and shelter, are privacy technologies. They give us ways of operating in the world that conceal our most private spaces — ones where others are not welcome, except by invititation.

But, thanks to Zuboff’s Laws, our browsers became infected with spyware. Here is what those laws say:

  1. Everything that can be automated will be automated.
  2. Everything that can be informated will be informated.
  3. Every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control.

Sure, some of adtech’s surveillance is meant to give us a “better advertising experience” or whatever. Buy that’s beside the main point: it breaks the social contract in both the letter and the spirit of hypertext protocol. It gives us what none of us asked for and what most of us don’t want.

A few years ago, we tried to send a message to publishers and advertisers with Do Not Track, but it was fought, mocked and ignored by those to whom it spoke.

Fortunately, browsers support add-ons and extensions, so we took actions that can’t be ignored, by installing ad and tracking blockers. In doing so we acted as free and independent agents, just as we do in the everyday world with our clothing, our shelter and our cars.

What we need next are ways for us to engage constructively with publishers, in alignment with well-understood social contracts long established in the everyday world, and embodied in the hypertext protocol.

Engagement will also give us scale. As I explain in A Way to Peace in the Adblock War,

Some on the advertising side want to engage, and not to fight. In Dear Adblocking community, we need to talk, Chris Pedigo of Digital Content Next recognizes the legitimacy of ad blocking in response to bad acting by his industry, and outlines some good stuff they can do.

But they also need to see that it’s no longer up to just them. It’s up to us: the individual targets of advertising.

The only way engagement will work is through tools that are ours, and we control: tools that give us scale — like a handshake gives us scale. What engages us with the Washington Post should also engage us with Verge and Huffpo. What engages us with Mercedes should also engage us with a Ford dealer or a shoe store.

If we leave fixing things up to publishers and the adtech industry, all of us will be given different prosthetic hands, each of which will interact in different ways that are not of our choosing and give us no scale. In fact that is what we already get with the DAA’s Ad Choices and Ghostery’s massive opt-out list. We see how well that worked.

The road to personal independence and engagement scale is a long one.

In The Cluetrain Manifesto, we said,

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

Except in 1999, when we wrote that, we didn’t yet have the reach. We just knew we would, sooner or later, as a native entitlement of the Net.

In The Data Bubble, I said,

The tide turned today. Mark it: 31 July 2010.

That’s when The Wall Street Journal published The Web’s Gold Mine: Your Secrets, subtitled A Journal investigation finds that one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet is the business of spying on consumers. First in a series. It has ten links to other sections of today’s report.

In fact it the tide didn’t turn, because we didn’t yet have the tools to turn it. The Journal’s series, titled “What They Know,” is still at http://wsj.com/wtk. The last entry is in 2013. They should fire it up again.

Because now, in late 2015, we have the first of those tools, with ad and tracking blockers.

But we have to do better. And by “we” I mean us human beings — and the developers working on our side for the good of everybody.

Note: This is the sixth post in a series covering online advertising, starting on 12 August. Here are the first five:

  1. Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff
  2. Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech
  3. Will content blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business?
  4. If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them
  5. Debugging adtext assumptions

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This is the fifth installment in The Adblock War Series. Here are the first four:

  1. Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff
  2. Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech
  3. Will content blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business?
  4. If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them

(As of 12 October, the number is up to ten.)

In this post I respond in detail to assertions made in a pair of pro-adtech pieces: Advertiser’s Mandate In The Age Of Ad Blocking: Blend In, by Pat LaPointe in MediaPost; and Welcome to hell: Apple vs Google vs Facebook and the slow death of the web, by Nilay Patel in The Verge.

First, Pat LaPointe—

Consumers are increasingly constructing their own digital “content cocoons.”

“Cocoon” is a vivid metaphor, and makes sense from the adtech point of view. It also doesn’t position self-protecting people and their tech as enemies that need to be fought, which is good. But it’s not what people think they are doing when they control their lives, online or off. So let’s be clear here. People only want two things when they block ads and tracking:

  1. Freedom from annoyance, and
  2. Privacy.

In the physical world they get those from the technologies we call clothing and shelter. There are no equivalents yet online. But ad and tracking blocking point in a civilized direction. More about this under the next item.

From their Facebook network to apps for their favorite stores, consumers exert more control over the content and messages they are exposed to than any time in history.

First, we aren’t just “consumers,” which Jerry Michalski calls “gullets with wallets and eyeballs.” Nearly everything that makes us human is not reducible to an appetite for “content.” And our gullets (which yes, we do have) are gagging on advertising we already hated and are being forced by adtech to hate even more.

Second, people don’t exert control over content and messages with their “Facebook network” (whatever that is) or their “favorite stores” (which, even if they have them, are little more than one app among many on their phones). They exert control with technologies that are theirs, even if they only rent them — and that control is indeed increasing. Here’s how:

In the physical world we exert control our ourselves and our interactions with others through many technologies for both selective disclosure (clothing, shelter) and engagement (wallets, purses, cars).

In the online world the equivalent to these are browsers, email clients, computers, mobile devices and the apps that run on them. The fact that all those things are infected with spyware and controlled to a high degree by giant companies (notably Apple and Google) does not mean they are not under personal control. It means they are compromised. This is why people want to cure the infections in their mobile devices and increase their control.

What we want most as free and independent human beings is agency: the ability to act with full effect. We know what this feels like in the physical world, and we are learning what this feels like in the virtual one, starting with ad and tracking blocking, which adds a higher degree of privacy to our browsers . (Apple is also on this case as well, by the way. Read more here.)

Now consumers are curating their advertising experiences, as well with ad blocking.

“Curating” is a strange word for what ad blocking does, which is actually prophylaxis.

As a result, there is a battle between advertisers that try desperately to get their message in front of the right consumers, and the consumers who work hard to not be exposed to things they’re not interested in.

That’s half-right. The battle is definitely going on, but what people are mostly not interested in — and hate at this point — are advertising and spying.

Apple will offer an ad blocker in its newest OS.

Actually, it’s called Content Blocking, and it’s only for supporting developments of apps that add selective forms of blocking to the Safari browser on iOS 9. Still, it’s one form of chemo for the cancer of adtech. (Bonus link on 18 September. Evidence of what I said here.)

Ad blocking will hardly kill advertising; it’s what drives the Internet.

Two errors here:

First, ad blocking doesn’t kill advertising. It does for advertising what bug repellent does for bugs.

Second, nothing “drives” the Net, which is an agreement among network operators about how data gets passed between end points. True, at this moment in time there are a lot of ad-supported sites on the Web, but those are neither the Net nor any more permanent than a mobile home park.

Yet, it is a growing threat to the way marketers have traditionally approached marketing – to push mass messages out through standard channels and hope that the right audience is exposed to enough to drive revenue.

Correct.

The rise in ad blocking is a sign that advertisers need to re-engineer their dialogue with consumers to be a relevant part of consumers’ “content cocoons.”

Almost none of the dialogue between companies and customers is conducted within advertising, which has been engineered from the start as a one-way thing. Even direct response marketing, the direct ancestor of adtech, was never about “dialogue.” That job belonged to other corporate functions, especially sales and service.

Consumers Assume You Know What They Want.

No they don’t. They assume you know shit, want to spy on them, and tospam them with ads that are unwanted 100% of the time, irrelevant 99.x% of the time, and creepy the .x% of the time they’re on target.

Consumers have been leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs online for years — from searches and shopping info to social media comments to survey responses.

True. But that is not an invitation to spy on them, or to intrude into their lives with presumptuous and unwelcome messages.

I also suspect that much of what adtech sees as a crumb trail is really what they harvest by surveillance tech.

Many marketers have collected the information, but have done a less-than-stellar job of putting the picture together.

“Collected” makes it sound like marketers just follow people around the digital world, collecting leftover debris (which they do), rather than spying on them constantly with tracking files, beacons and other invasive tech that no person asked for and few welcome.

As for “less than stellar,” yeah.

With the rise of content cocoons, it is vital that marketers work to assemble better pictures of their consumers…

Do customers want marketers to have “better pictures” of them? Really? Most customers want the companies that serve them to have the information necessary for that service, but not much if anything more.

(An aside: most marketers are not involved in adtech and have a respectful regard for people and what they want out of relationships with the companies that serve them. I’m debating here with the breed of marketers whose main interest is tracking people and personalizing advertising for them, whether they like it or not.)

…or risk losing consumer contact completely.

This is delusional marketing vanity.

There are a zillion ways for a company to connect with customers, starting with sales and service people and systems. If marketing loses “contact” based on spying, it’s little if any loss (and mostly a relief) for the individuals being spied on, and possibly no loss at all for the company doing the marketing, given better ways to actually connect with customers.

As consumers exert more control over their digital experiences, they actually expect relevance, particularly on mobile.

No they don’t. At least not from advertising, which is irrelevant or off-base most of the time.

We also got along fine without advertising on phones from 1876 to 2008, and as we get more control over our mobile devices, expect advertising to be the first thing we’ll wipe off them.

This means doing more than simply retargeting shopping or search behaviors. As consumers continue to wield more control over their experiences, the imperative to meet their expectations rises considerably.

It is insane (meaning disconnected from reality) to assume that more than a small minority of people will want ads of any kind of their phones, much less more relevant ones.

Even Google Maps’ ads in the results of a search for “coffee shops” are rarely more helpful than the tiny red dots that mean “look at this one too.”

Consumers expect that marketers are up to date. (e.g. don’t market that shirt to me, I just bought it!)

No they don’t. They expect to see retargeted ads for what they just bought, up to months or years after they bought it. Unless they use an ad or tracking blocker.

Consumers expect that marketers know why they are behaving in a certain way. (e.g. I bought a Honda because it is reliable, not because it’s cool.)

No, they expect marketers to know nothing other than how to push crap at them constantly, based on scant, inaccurate, irrelevant and abundant data that’s harvested by unwelcome surveillance.

Consumers expect that marketers know who they are intrinsically. (e.g. I am interested in innovative and unique electronics, not deals on last-years’ models.

No, they expect marketers to want to know all kinds of crap about people, by every means possible, regardless of the manners (or even the legality) involved, and to assume what Nixon’s team of creeps (way back when) called “plausible deniability” when asked if they know a person’s actual identity.

How can marketers meet these demands?

Demands? Please.

By understanding what drives a consumer to create their content cocoon…

It’s simple. They want you to go away. Please. Go away.

…and blending in.

You mean camouflage? When hiding already isn’t working?

First, marketers need to take a more deliberate targeted approach.

Or maybe a less targeted one. See Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.

Ad blocking happens both because of irrelevant generic messages but also because of creepy or badly targeted messages.

No, it happens because millions of people don’t like being tracked and targeted — or any advertising at all.

Marketers that go the extra mile will find a few distinct audiences more likely to find the message relevant, and may decide to leave one or more groups out rather than risk alienating them.

Maybe. Good luck with that.

For this shift to happen, the metrics of success have to change from generating “impressions” to building “engagement” in the form of access, sharing, or exploration.

Actually, generated impressions have built brands from the beginning. Heard of Coke? McDonalds? Kodak? (Well, at least the branding worked.) The thing is, those impressions did not carry the burden of “engagement,” and that was their charm. They just impressed viewers, listeners and readers. Simple, and effective.

You want engagement? Try doing brand ads that are so good they go viral and the market talks to itself about them without additional help from marketing dweebs. Example: Volkswagen of America’s TV ads with the old ladies.

Marketers can look at how much consumers opt in, use apps, read email, shop, or how they search for key topics.

This is the sound of marketing smoking its own exhaust.

People don’t want to be looked at, unless they have a damn good reason to trust who or what is looking.

Next, marketers need to match their tempo to a consumer’s activity levels.

This tells me something is for sale. Being a curious type, I see Pat LaPointe is the Chief Growth Officer for Resonate, which “makes marketing more relevant by uncovering why people do what they do.” I’d rather stay covered, thank you. So would everybody else who would like to block whatever it is Resonate does to uncover them.

Consumers don’t care if email, advertising or mobile coupons came from three different divisions of a company, they see it as one brand conversation.

Wrong. If people have a real relationship with a company, they want it to be with sales or service. That’s it.

For example, I have a great relationship with the service department of East Coast Volkswagen in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. I’m on a first-name basis with the guys there, who know their shit and have earned my trust and affection by treating us honestly and well. I’ve also seen and received the dealership’s marketing materials, and couldn’t care less about them. What matters is who I get on the phone when I need them, and how I’m treated. That’s it, for approximately everybody who owns a car.

If companies took half of what they’re wasting on adtech and put it into service improvements, they would have better (and more real) conversations with customers, and earn genuine loyalty, rather than the coercive kind that comprises every “loyalty program.” (If you need a program to obtain loyalty, you’re not eligible for the real thing.)

Finally, marketers must treat each message as if it’s part of a consumer’s own curated online persona.

More smoked exhaust.

Who wants any company’s message to be part of their “curated online persona,” whatever that is?”

Marketers must improve their ability to interpret the breadcrumbs that consumers leave online to build the right picture of each consumer because the consequences of alienation are so much higher than before.

What’s causing that alienation? Hmm?

And how about giving us back the “crumbs” you’ve collected from us? Betcha we can do more with it than you can. (We did with computing, networking, and much else.)

Every layer of the cocoon makes it harder and more expensive for marketers to break-thru to engage the consumer.

It’s not a cocoon. It’s my house. Stay out of it.

Now Nilay Patel

So let’s talk about ad blocking.

Yes, let’s.

You might think the conversation about ad blocking is about the user experience of news, but what we’re really talking about is money and power in Silicon Valley. And titanic battles between large companies with lots of money and power tend to have a lot of collateral damage.

Pure misdirection. He’s saying, “Don’t look at what people are doing to control their experience of the Web. Look over here at what the big bad companies are doing. That’s what ad blocking is all about.”

And yeah, what big companies do is always interesting when one of them is starting a fight. (Which Apple in particular is doing.) But ad blocking is what a large and growing percentage of individual human beings are doing to repel intrusive files and a Niagara of ads. That’s a serious topic, and needs to be talked about. Which now we’re not.

Unfortunately, the ads pay for all that content…

A lot, but not all. There are plenty of publishers and broadcasters that get along fine without advertising. HBO, Netflix, Consumer Reports and this blog, for example.

…an uneasy compromise between the real cost of media production and the prices consumers are willing to pay…

Stop. The commercial Internet is just 20 years old (dating from the end of NSFNet, the last holdout against commercial traffic within the Internet). We’ve hardly begun to experiment with all the different ways things can be funded, and ways people can signal their willingness to pay. And as long as only the sell side can do the signaling, the best we’ll get from the buy side is crude means of saying “Nyah,” such as ad blocking.

…that has existed since the first human scratched the first antelope on a wall somewhere.

Hyperbole. Advertising by that name has only been around since the 19th Century. The term “brand” has only been around since the ’30s, when Madison Avenue first became advertising’s metonym. Direct response marketing, of which tracking-based adtech is a breed, is much younger, and descended from direct mail, first called “junk mail” in 1954.

Alas, direct response marketing, which is entirely data driven and wants to get personal at nearly all times, has body-snatched Madison Avenue and the rest of advertising, so distinctions between the creepy kind based on tracking and the non-creepy kind (which just wants to be seen or heard) is all but lost. (I expand on the difference in Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff.) Thus adblocking kills both rather than just the most objectionable kind.

Media has always compromised user experience for advertising…

If we had to stick with “always,” we wouldn’t have the Net. Why do things only the old way?

And speaking of the Net, here we have the first medium where individuals have serious power and control. And they are exerting it, finally, with ad and tracking blockers, which send a clear signal — one that media like The Verge should heed.

… that’s why magazine stories are abruptly continued on page 96, and why 30-minute sitcoms are really just 22 minutes long.

Those ads were (and still are) real ads, not adtech. Readers and viewers knew where they came from and what they were doing there. They also weren’t personal, or based on surveillance. On pubs such as The Verge, it’s not clear with any ad whether or not it’s based on tracking the reader. Or why, exactly, any ad is where it is, or what mechanisms placed it there. (In fact, it’s a good bet most ads on The Verge are based on surveillance, as we’ll see below.)

It’s essential to remember the differences between advertising online and off. Ari Rosenberg does a good job of that in Why Does Randall Rothenberg Still Have a Job?. A sample:

Ad blocking is not a universal media problem — it’s an online advertising problem. TV viewers give television ads a shot — just ask Geico, IBM and Direct TV. Moviegoers don’t sit outside a theater when ads are playing. Magazine readers don’t turn away from ads when they turn the page. Even radio ads get a listen. Ad blocking is an online advertising problem we created — and one we deserve.

A successful publishing formula has a pecking order. Consumer needs are paramount to those of the advertiser. When this relationship is constructed that way, consumers accept advertising as part of this arranged marriage. Instead, the IAB has promoted and supported ad policies that put advertisers on a pedestal and the needs of consumers in the servants’ quarters. Blocking ads is the consumer’s way of asking for a divorce.

Those are points @AdContrarian and @DMarti have been making for years. Good to see it coming from the inside of adtech. (I just wish Ari hadn’t wrapped his points inside a slam on IAB chief Randall Rothenberg. Randall has been in at least some degree of sympathy with what I’ve been saying here, for years, which is why he invited and paid me, twice, to give talks to IAB conferences. I didn’t pull any punches at either of them, but I also made no difference. Adtech is a mania, and you can’t talk a mania down. You just have to let it fail.)

Media companies put advertising in the path of your attention, and those interruptions are a valuable product.

To them. Not to us, except on rare occasions when we actually do click on them (which runs at fractions of 1% of the time).

Your attention is a valuable product.

Yes, to us. That’s why we care how we spend it. Clearly a lot of us would rather not spend it watching pages slowly load behind tracking files and ads based on that tracking.

Speaking of which, check out Les Orchard‘s The Verge’s web sucks. He begins,

So, I’ve been a big fan of The Verge, almost since day one. It’s a gorgeous site and the content is great.

They’ve done some amazing things with longform articles like “What’s the deal with translating Seinfeld” and “Max Headroom: the definitive history of the 1980s digital icon“, and the daily news output is high quality.

But, I have to say, reading Nilay Patel‘s “The Mobile Web Sucks” felt like getting pelted by rocks thrown from a bright, shiny glass house.

And then he uses dev tools to look into what The Verge loads into your browser every time you visit. Simply put, it’s a mountain of spyware. More about that below.

taking money and attention away from the web means that the pace of web innovation will slow to a crawl. Innovation tends to follow the money, after all!

Not always. The Net, the Web, email, Linux, Wikipedia and countless open source code bases (on which we all depend) have come to the world from geeks working for needs other than money.

The rest of Nilay’s piece does a good job of laying out the current and coming battles between Google, Apple, Facebook and others. But if he really wants to talk about ad blocking (as he says at the top of his piece), how about looking at reasons The Verge gives users for using them? For example, here is what Ghostery says loads along with Nilay’s story:

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 5.26.41 PM

Ghostery provides some means for throttling some of those trackers. So do other tools, such as the EFF‘s Privacy Badger. Here’s what happens to the same page on Firefox when I activate Privacy Badger:

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 5.15.26 PM

While Privacy Badger provides ways for me to valve the trackers sent to my browser by The Verge, it would take way more time than I have to figure out what trackers do what, and then play with the sliders until The Verge and I come to some kind of compromise.

Now here’s the main thing.

When we go to a Web page, we expect to see that page. That’s what the http protocol is for: a way to ask for a page. What we get from commercial sites like The Verge, however, is a bunch of other crap we didn’t ask for. Some of it is welcome, some of it isn’t and it’s damn hard to tell the difference.

The conversation we need to have is about what’s okay and what’s not okay. Ad and tracking blockers are giving us — the users (and in paying cases, the customers) — a crude and primitive way to say “Enough! That’s not okay!” And to start asserting some small degree of agency in a world where surveillance rules, and the individual has little control, other than to just walk away.

In Be the friction – Our Response to the New Lords of the Ring, Shoshana Zuboff gives us —

Zuboff’s three laws: First, that everything that can be automated will be automated. Second, that everything that can be informated will be informated. And most important to us now, the third law: In the absence of countervailing restrictions and sanctions, every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control, irrespective of its originating intention.

Ad and tracking blocking are countervailing restrictions and sanctions — a friction supplied by the marketplace.

Marketers and publishers can learn from what we’re saying with these tools. Or they can continue to misdirect our attention to what the Big Boys are doing while lecturing us about how we’re “killing the Web” or whatever.

The problem isn’t ad blocking. It’s surveillance. That’s what the real fight is about.

Meanwhile, it’s a shame to see the Chinese wall between editorial and advertising in publications turn into a trench. That’s what we see here.

(Parts of this post appeared in my Liveblog, on Fri, Sep 11, 2015.)

What follows is my comment (the first one!) under Confusion Reigns as Apple Puts the Spotlight on Mobile Ad Blocking, in AdAge. I’ve added some links.


Bury_your_head_in_the_sandMarketers should be looking at what the market wants, and why.

The market is customers, and they are speaking to marketers today by making ad blockers the most popular browser extensions, and by telling survey after survey that they dislike having their privacy invaded by unwanted tracking (TRUSTe, Pew, Customer Commons) and that they are resigned to a status quo they don’t like (Wharton).

In other words, the “key link between brands and customers” that customers sever with ad blocking isn’t a link at all. It’s a pain in the customer’s ass, or they wouldn’t be severing it.

Apple knows ads and tracking are pains in the customers’ ass, because Apple is a B2C company that speaks every day to customers, on phones and on the floors of its stores. Apple sees there is a clear and obvious demand for Content Blocking, and want to be first to market with it. Serving that demand doesn’t hurt Apple outside of iAd, which accounts for a whopping 0.01% of Apple’s sales. (And what will Content Blocking add to Apple’s device sales? You can bet that Apple is running those numbers.)

Meanwhile marketing doesn’t speak to customers, because marketing lives in a B2B echo chamber where the voice of the customer (hello!) is inaudible or ignored. [Later: Iain Henderson has some excellent push-back on this characterization, plus some helpful guidance, in his comment here.]

Sure, marketers *think* they know what customers want, because they have Big Data and Big Analytics telling them, up to the second, what a customer might want to buy. Three problems with that: 1) there is no direct and conscious two-way interaction with customers; 2) most of the time customers aren’t buying a damn thing; and 3) guesswork based on all that data and analytics is wrong 99.x% of the time, thanks to #1 and #2.

Denying and fighting what customers want is doing huge damage to marketing and advertising, and it will only get worse as long as it continues.

Look at the damage already done to plain old impersonal brand advertising, which customers could appreciate because it wasn’t creepy and obviously helped pay for the magazines, newspapers, radio and TV shows they liked. (And none of which they thought of as “content,” by the way.)

Today we live in a dysfunctional marketing world where advertisers have been taught to want every ad to perform — while customers want every ad, and the tracking that aimed it, blocked. (AdAge should do a research piece on how direct marketing body-snatched advertising from Madison Avenue. If you don’t, your body has been snatched too.)

The only way to fix this is from the customers’ side.

What kind of ads would a customer opt in for? (No, don’t kid yourselves about “Ad Choices.” It’s just another ludicrous conceit that only makes sense in the echo chamber.)

Would customers accept ads that obviously aren’t personal (based on tracking), and clearly pay for the online goods they want and appreciate? Is there still hope for that baby?

Only if we can snatch it from the bathwater that customers’ ad blockers are throwing out.

Can we create standards-based ways for customers to express their friendly intentions regarding tracking, advertising, subscriptions and the rest of it, to marketing systems that can actually listen?

In fact there are developers working on those ways. Here’s one. (Check him out. He’s non-trivial.)

If you’re interested I can show you some more.

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