I confess that I was surprised to read Nick Bilton’s piece the other day, where he finally realized that Facebook’s EdgeRank is siphoning off his followers as part of an ‘advertising’ model that is more like a Mafia shakedown than advertising. Other tech writers (Anthony De Rosa, Felix Salmon) also seemed surprised. But EdgeRank is year-old news, and many have griped a long time ago:
Ryan Holiday, How Facebook Gets Away With Being Broken On Purpose
I don’t mean to pile on any of these well-meaning writers. (Some, like Zach Seward at Quartz, pretty much nailed it with his analysis of how Facebook tweaks “the black box that is EdgeRank,” in order to promote and incentivize features). They are right to be outraged and perplexed. Facebook’s pay-for-placement program is ridiculous. Except it’s been ridiculous for quite some time. And apparently part of the reason Facebook has been able to get away with it is that few media gatekeepers, who are supposed to follow this stuff for a living, know how the platform really works.
The common dismissal I’ve seen from far too many journalists–“how else should Facebook make money?”–implies that they or their sources just don’t understand the ad business. They aren’t able to see that Facebook’s sponsored story play is fundamentally different from most ad models.
Take Tumblr’s new ad platform Radar, on which I have done six-figures worth of buying for my client American Apparel. To create it, Tumblr designed entirely new advertising space on the platform that people have to pay to be a part of. In that case, buyers didn’t previously have access to it so if they want it, they have to pay for it. Tumblr’s interest is to make that space as attractive and valuable as possible to buyers, so they’ll pay for it. In this case, our interests are aligned–however long it took Tumblr to get here.
That’s very different from Facebook’s model, in which the worse Facebook posts ‘work’ for brands, the more brands will need to pay Facebook. That means that Facebook and I now have divergent interests. Intentionally or not, the less my posts show up, the more I need to spend to cover the difference, especially since brands have invested in and become dependent on Facebook over the years.
And all the more reason for all of us — including brands — to ditch Facebook, just like all the teenagers are.
bitshare published this response from Tumblr, after he contacted the company when noticing that he hadn’t seen any pinned posts since the new Tumblr UI went live.
David Carr stops short of saying that the American magazine business is headed for a dead cat bounce, but the recent numbers on newsstand sales are grim:
Like newspapers, magazines have been in a steady slide, but now, like newspapers, they seem to have reached the edge of the cliff. Last week, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that newsstand circulation in the first half of the year was down almost 10 percent. When 10 percent of your retail buyers depart over the course of a year, something fundamental is at work.
I talked to an executive at one of the big Manhattan publishers about the recent collapse at the newsstand and he said, “When the airplane suddenly drops 10,000 feet and it doesn’t crash, you still end up with your heart in your stomach. Those are very, very bad numbers.”
Historically, certain categories of magazine will encounter turbulence, but this time all categories were punished in the pileup. People was down 18.6 percent, and The New Yorker had a similar drop, declining by 17.4 percent. Vogue and Cosmopolitan were down in the midteens, and Time fell 31 percent. When Cat Fancy is down 23 percent at the newsstand, it seems that there’s little place to hide. Newsweek, it should be mentioned, was off only 9.7 percent at the newsstand, but that’s cold comfort.
It’s not just consumers who are playing hard to get: advertising is down 8.8 percent year to date over the same miserable period a year ago, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. With readership in such steep decline and advertising refusing to come back, magazines are in a downward spiral that not even their new digital initiatives can halt.
Carr closes with an anecdote about his recent recent doctor’s office visit, where a pile of magazines went unread, because all the patients were staring at their cell phones.
There will be something like magazines in the post-normal economy, once the internet has gobbled all media into its enormous maw and excretes it out as mobile. But the transformation will be so large scale that it’s hard to imagine the brands like Vogue, GQ, Newsweek or Cosmo with retain much value, if any.
OgilvyOne London: “As an ad agency, we’ll always be trying to lean forward” - Emma Gardner via Lean Back 2.0
Has OgilvyOne London seen any evidence of people “leaning back” when consuming ads or creative content on their iPad?
[OlgivyOne London Chief Executive Annette] KING: It’s interesting because we were having a debate between lean forward and lean back before we got on the call with you. There’s a time and a place for both. The Economist app is a good example of a ‘lean back and consume’ type of situation. As an ad agency, though, we’ll always be trying to lean forward. We’re always trying to get people to take part in the app and engage with the ad. By definition, it’s an immersive kind of approach.
We’re really interested in the dual screen experience right now. By dual screen, I mean sitting in front of the TV with a tablet. You might be watching one thing on the TV, but doing something else on your tablet. And we want to start connecting those two things. If Jamie Oliver is making a special truffle recipe on television, you can use your tablet to find out where truffles grow in the world, or how to make Jamie’s recipe. You can get people involved through the second screen.
I wonder about ‘always trying to lean forward’: isn’t there a place for ambient advertising? Ambient awareness of other people (through Twitter or other social tools) is a back of the mind sort of attention scheme: you know what people are up to based on their updates moving by while you are doing other things.
I conjecture that ambient advertising could be very effective on the second screen. Imagine that as I am watching a cooking show, and I’ve enabled a second screen gear applet on my tablet. As the chef’s use various kitchen tools, the gear applet streams pictures and descriptions of the gear: this knife, this sauce pan, this stove. You might think that this is a lean-forward set up — that I am dedicating foreground attention to the gear streaming by — and I might do that the first few times I use the app. However, as I habituate to the app, I will begin to treat it as a lean-back stream of information, so my perception of the products being featured is more additive or cumulative. It’s just as much about brand building as a call to action.
Yes, there will still be times when I want to buy that particular knife, right now. But in general I think it will lead to a collection of brand associations built over time, so that when I get to the point when I want to buy a new knife, a few brands are in my head, and I choose between them at the store, or online.
If there is one thing that advertisers can do, though, to make lean-forward intimacy with products more likely on the second screen, it would be to make it easy to share product information and images with other people: wire it deeply into the social dimension of TV.
(For more on Social TV and The Second Screen, download the free Work Talk special report on that subject, here.)
Purportedly leaked documents make it seem that Facebook is planning to depart from conventional advertising, where brands can muster ‘stories’ from your friends to make the case for their products rather than advertising content:
E.B. Boyd via Fast Company
"When people hear about you from friends, they listen," the Facebook materials say. "We’ll expand your ad with stories from friends who have already connected." ("Stories" is Facebook’s shorthand for a wide varitey of interactions on the site. In the case of ads, it seems to refer to the fact that the ads will display which of a viewer’s friends have Liked the brand.)
Reminds me of BzzAgent, the company that enlists people to talk up products with their friends. Sketchy.
In the case of Facebook’s plans, we’ll have to see if the materials are real. But if they are, this social spam marketing gives people another good reason to leave Facebook.
Jonah Lehrer vividly remembers drinking coke from a glass bottle at a high school football game, vividly. However, the school prohibited glass from the stadium, so it couldn’t have happened. But Coke works hard to make you act as if it did.
Jonah Lehrer, Ads Implant False Memories
A new study, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, helps explain both the success of this marketing strategy and my flawed nostalgia for Coke. It turns out that vivid commercials are incredibly good at tricking the hippocampus (a center of long-term memory in the brain) into believing that the scene we just watched on television actually happened. And it happened to us.
The experiment went like this: 100 undergraduates were introduced to a new popcorn product called “Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Fresh Microwave Popcorn.” (No such product exists, but that’s the point.) Then, the students were randomly assigned to various advertisement conditions. Some subjects viewed low-imagery text ads, which described the delicious taste of this new snack food. Others watched a high-imagery commercial, in which they watched all sorts of happy people enjoying this popcorn in their living room. After viewing the ads, the students were then assigned to one of two rooms. In one room, they were given an unrelated survey. In the other room, however, they were given a sample of this fictional new popcorn to taste. (A different Orville Redenbacher popcorn was actually used.)
One week later, all the subjects were quizzed about their memory of the product. Here’s where things get disturbing: While students who saw the low-imagery ad were extremely unlikely to report having tried the popcorn, those who watched the slick commercial were just as likely to have said they tried the popcorn as those who actually did. Furthermore, their ratings of the product were as favorable as those who sampled the salty, buttery treat. Most troubling, perhaps, is that these subjects were extremely confident in these made-up memories. The delusion felt true. They didn’t like the popcorn because they’d seen a good ad. They liked the popcorn because it was delicious.
The scientists refer to this as the “false experience effect,” since the ads are slyly weaving fictional experiences into our very real lives. “Viewing the vivid advertisement created a false memory of eating the popcorn, despite the fact that eating the non-existent product would have been impossible,” write Priyali Rajagopal and Nicole Montgomery, the lead authors on the paper. “As a result, consumers need to be vigilant while processing high-imagery advertisements.”
At first glance, this experimental observation seems incongruous. How could a stupid commercial trick me into believing that I loved a product I’d never actually tasted? Or that I drank Coke out of glass bottles?
The answer returns us to a troubling recent theory known as memory reconsolidation. In essence, reconsolidation is rooted in the fact that every time we recall a memory we also remake it, subtly tweaking the neuronal details. Although we like to think of our memories as being immutable impressions, somehow separate from the act of remembering them, they aren’t. A memory is only as real as the last time you remembered it. What’s disturbing, of course, is that we can’t help but borrow many of our memories from elsewhere, so that the ad we watched on television becomes our own, part of that personal narrative we repeat and retell.
This idea, simple as it seems, requires us to completely re-imagine our assumptions about memory. It reveals memory as a ceaseless process, not a repository of inert information. The recall is altered in the absence of the original stimulus, becoming less about what we actually remember and more about what we’d like to remember. It’s the difference between a “Save” and the “Save As” function. Our memories are a “Save As”: They are files that get rewritten every time we remember them, which is why the more we remember something, the less accurate the memory becomes. And so that pretty picture of popcorn becomes a taste we definitely remember, and that alluring soda commercial becomes a scene from my own life. We steal our stories from everywhere. Marketers, it turns out, are just really good at giving us stories we want to steal.
So, Phillip K Dick was right. Again.
Tom Coates begins a presentation on social media by saying that he doesn’t know what the heck it is — is it social software, a subset of social software, or what? — but he then turns around, and does a pretty good job chasing it down:
[from What do we do with ‘social media’? (plasticbag.org) by Tom Coates]
It was the popular arrival of the web that started the shift towards thinking of the internet as a publishing medium, and it was propelled in part by large companies using their enormous resources to put huge swathes of content online. Interestingly, this move was the thing that pushed the internet over the tipping point - publishing is something that people understand and can engage with. So the popularisation of the internet is probably directly related to this one particular and relatively constrained subsection of what it’s most useful for.
The age of social media then is probably about a fusing of these two ways of thinking - the communicative and the publishing/creative parts of the internet - into something new and powerful. It’s an environment in which every user is potentially a creator, a publisher and a collaborator with (and to) all of the other creative people on the internet.
It seems to me that the other main feature of social media is that they’re looking at how each individual contribution can become part of something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and to feed that back to the individuals using the service so that - fundamentally - everyone gets back more than they’re putting in.
These new services are about creating frameworks and spaces, containers and supports that help users create and publish and use all kinds of data from the smallest comment to the best produced video clip which in aggregate create something of fascinating utility to all.
So social media then hasn’t really arrived as much as it’s always been there, waiting for the right set of circumstances to make it really blossom. These circumstances probably include boring things like web penetration, the new generation of users who have grown up with the internet, the widespread take-up of always-on broadband, standards-compliant browsers, a better understanding of addressability and links and search and more sophisticated approaches to handling media and interactions with the server.
And they’ve probably also been waiting for business models, which brings us back to the panel in question which is supposed to be about social media on the one hand and business models on the other. As I’ve said, social media is about helping individuals creating value for all.
And of course social media generates an enormous amount of content, and content is content and can act as a platform for advertising. Traditionally media organisations are suspicious about placing ads around what can often be ‘bad’ user-generated content, but then the question is surely just how you can help surface the good stuff - and the best way you can do that is to work with your community. On Flickr, great pictures are seen by enormously more people than small personal or bad pictures - they have a concept of interestingness that surfaces pictures every day that are of extraordinary quality. Blog posts on average are pretty terrible, but the best blog posts are as good or better than anything you’ll find in the mainstream press.
Tom clearly states the challenge for media organizations today confronted with the social media explosion, and the migration of people away from traditional media to this strange, brave new world. How to find the good stuff? How to integrate something like traditional advertising — which advertisers and all the other media intermediaries understand — into this swirling, amorphous hive of activity in the blogosphere?
When the formerly centralized publishing is exploded by the combination of new tech and disgruntled fringe lunatics, and publishing moves to the edge, isn’t the corresponding explosion of advertising soon to follow? Well, sorta.
The new central figures in this world are Google and the twenty or so other media monsters, at least at this juncture, because it is too hard for individual advertisers to pick the 100 best blogs to advertise their wares. In essence, Google ads serve as a simplification of the complex dynamics really going on.
But some new appreciation of great writing is already happening: blog networks and the emergence of stars — like Tom Coates — demonstrate the natural rhythms of social mediation are still at work. And even when the traditional bastions of journalism are firing people right and left, and the advertising industry seems intent on tearing itself apart instead of getting on with the transition that people out at the edge know is inevitable, people are picking good things to read, even when so much of what is written is junk.
That’s the joy of social media, and the threat to the establishment. It’s not in the hands of the media outlets, it’s an active process going on out here, at the grassroots. People write, other people read, comment, add their bit, link, people learn about the good stuff from others, and presto. New voices are heard, in a sort of a chorus, outside the control of the establishment. And now, new models of business are arising that will likely invalidate at least some of the key elements of the current advertising model.