Artificial intelligence is making its entry into our lives right now — and, as with so many other innovations, it isn’t coming in through the door everyone expected. Sure, eventually we’ll all ride in self-driving cars on our permanent vacations from our jobs that are being done by machine intelligences. But for now, the AIs in our lives are going to be very busy with far more mundane work: delivering — and blocking — ads.
You already know that the ads you see in your browser and on your phone are selected via the complex interaction of bidding algorithms working from targeting data. You may also already be running an ad blocker that tries to speed the loading time of pages you want to read by bypassing all of that advertising machinery.
If only racism, like tooth enamel, would just dissolve under the sweet balm of Pepsi-Cola! Then we’d solve all our problems. Alas, it is not to be — as everyone in the world pointed out to Pepsi after it unveiled, and then withdrew, a new ad in which a Kardashian-clan scion hitches a ride on the Black Lives Matter movement (Tracy Jan in The Washington Post).
Surely someone at Pepsi understood that drafting a white celebrity model like Kendall Jenner to play the part of peacemaker in a hostile confrontation between a diverse crowd of young protesters and police might not be a great idea — and would cause the world to cringe. The whole thing is a sugar-coated, white-washed, ludicrously tone-deaf trivialization of everything that is actually at stake in a divided America today. The firm and its ad agency either (1) failed to include anyone of color in its decision-making process; (2) did have such people in the room, but ignored them; or (3) didn’t really care as long as the world ended up talking about their spot.
In the early days of the web, it was widely understood that advertisers weren’t keen on putting their messages next to user-generated content — forum postings, random blog posts, uploaded videos. That was because they had no idea what their brands would end up sitting next to: Might be puppies; might be porn.
In the era of platforms, those concerns receded, as marketers accepted the reality that the public was spending its time reading user-generated content in the form of Facebook posts and tweets, and they’d better advertise where their customers were.
Let’s take a hard look at how he’s managed his brand in the past…
I recently asked a salesman at Nordstrom’s if dropping the Ivanka Trump brand had impacted business. “Nope,” he smiled. “A guy just came in and dropped $700 on shirts he’d planned to buy somewhere else.” Nordstrom’s stock price is up since the President went on a tweet warpath over their decision.
On the Trump-positive end of the spectrum, Ivanka’s perfume sales increased on Amazon, and after a group organized a boycott of Trump wine, retailers sold out. But politically-motivated purchases are an unsustainable long-term brand strategy.
How Marc Pritchard works with Google, Facebook, and Snapchat to help P&G transition to a new world order
If you’re a senior executive running a massive American consumer goods corporation, there’s plenty to keep you awake at night. Customer behaviors are shifting dramatically, and nimble startups, devoid of legacy business practices, are growing larger in your rear view mirror. Traditional mass market approaches to marketing and brand building, once centered around three networks and a strong creative brief — have fractured into an algorithmic tangle driven more by math and data than ideas and narrative.
And if the startups and the data aren’t enough, there’s the law of large numbers: Wall Street demands growth, and growth is hard when your revenue base exceeds hundreds of billions of dollars, and your core markets are flat to down.
When Facebook sneezes, the media catch pneumonia. For some time now the ad-supported online media business has been driven by some simple principles: Advertisers love video; video is hot on Facebook; if you make lots of videos and put them on Facebook, you will make money. But what if this whole equation was based on bad numbers? That seems to be the case, based on the news that Facebook “vastly overestimated” average viewing time for video ads over the past two years (The Wall Street Journal). Naturally, ad buyers are upset, but the rest of us should be, too. Each distortion of the media economy under the influence of Facebook’s dominance means that much less diversity and risk in our informational ecosystem. It’s bad enough that Facebook twiddles the dials on the news feed at will; now we can’t trust its reporting of data. Facebook says the error was innocent, only discovered a month ago, and didn’t affect billing of advertisers. But those now-known-to-be-inflated viewing times certainly cemented Facebook video’s “this is the place to be” appeal. That it took the company two years to come clean only adds to Facebook’s credibility problem.
Yahoo finally tells the world about its gigantic data breach. Speaking of taking two years to come clean: Yahoo’s data breach turns out to be more recent than originally reported — it happened two years ago, in 2014. It’s also way larger than expected: 500 million accounts had their information compromised — that’s as in half a billion (The New York Times). The disclosure has left Yahoo buyer Verizon, which only learned of the data breach two days ago, examining its options. And it has left Yahoo’s customers staring glumly at all their other accounts and wondering what to do about changing their passwords. Yahoo is blaming a “state-sponsored actor” for the hack. (And no, that doesn’t mean an NEA-funded thespian.) Whoever is responsible, the gap between the event and its disclosure does not inspire confidence in the company, its leadership, or its industry.