Archive for July 2012


The fall of Facebook advertising and the rise of something else

14.07.2012

I remember when Michael Wolff was very bullish about the internet in the 1990s, so when he starts sounding warning bells, we had better take heed.
   The way Michael paints Facebook—and a belief that its advertising model will eventually collapse for being so limited—is not unfamiliar to anyone who ever wondered, during the dot-com boom, just why those companies were worth that much.
   If AltaVista, the world’s biggest website, could fall once someone (Google) figured out a better search model, then Facebook, with what Michael thinks is an ill-defined purpose, could suffer a similar fate.
   Doc Searls picked out this bit from Michael’s article:

At the heart of the Internet business is one of the great business fallacies of our time: that the Web, with all its targeting abilities, can be a more efficient, and hence more profitable, advertising medium than traditional media. Facebook, with its 900 million users, valuation of around $100 billion, and the bulk of its business in traditional display advertising, is now at the heart of the heart of the fallacy.
   The daily and stubborn reality for everybody building businesses on the strength of Web advertising is that the value of digital ads decreases every quarter, a consequence of their simultaneous ineffectiveness and efficiency. The nature of people’s behavior on the Web and of how they interact with advertising, as well as the character of those ads themselves and their inability to command real attention, has meant a marked decline in advertising’s impact.

Consequently, Facebook will face ever-decreasing advertising prices as it plateaus, and it will need to either reinvent itself or define itself more properly; or, possibly, even define itself more narrowly.
   Doc makes some further points in his piece, saying that advertising that is so personal might actually be unwanted. And he’s right.
   It all points to how brands need to engage, and that the shape of advertising, just as with branding, has changed markedly in the last 30 years. Whereas brands were top–down, they are now informed more by audiences, and strategies adjusted to match. Advertising is the same: personalization can’t work because it’s still a top–down process that disengages audiences. Facebookers have already taken exception to their own faces being used on advertisements within the social network, so personalization based on friends’ uptakes of a brand isn’t welcome by all, either, for the same reason: there was no engagement. An inhuman algorithm drove that, and one that didn’t necessarily have the consent of the parties involved. And even if advertising were still top–down, for people who advertise using the service, how many truly know what their target audiences are, to that professional degree?
   Based on this, Facebook’s contribution to advertising is providing the platform for engagement, and letting advertisers discover who their target audiences are, to set the stage for greater understanding. It’s letting go of the idea of the hard sell, one that doesn’t really build brand equity anyway. Fan pages have been helpful, based on the ones I have run, but Facebook erred earlier this year by putting member comments into a box, whereas they should have equal prominence with official company updates. Minimizing the audience’s importance in favour of top–down pronouncements goes against the way branding and marketing have developed, and the way advertising is evolving.
   If Facebook sees itself as a means of creating top–down marketing because of its sheer scale, then it is a step behind the game—and it’s a means to nowhere.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


It’s Miller time on the Sherlock bandwagon

08.07.2012

Elementary is an modern-day, American TV version of Sherlock Holmes. It’s not an American remake of the Steven Moffat–Mark Gatiss update, which I love, and some might say it has taken too many liberties with the original. Watson is now female.

   I’ll leave you to comment, but I don’t make my thoughts of remakes a huge secret on this blog. And, I know, this is technically not a remake, but the timing is a tad suspicious.
   However, there is nothing new under the sun. It’s not the first time CBS has attempted a contemporary Sherlock Holmes series, nor is it the first time it has made Watson female. In the mid-1980s, there was The Return of Sherlock Holmes, where Dr Watson’s great-granddaughter (Margaret Colin) awakens a cryogenically frozen Sherlock Holmes (Michael Pennington). It was actually filmed in the UK, with London standing in for various American locales. Of course, this meant that Canadian actor Shane Rimmer (whom Lewis Gilbert dubbed ‘the standard American actor’) had to have a part, as did Connie Booth.

   If Elementary came before Sherlock, I might have given it a shot, but it reeks of metooism. And, of course, Elementary would never have existed if it were not for copyright expiry and the idea of public domain—something which I find ironic given how the US entertainment lobby behaves sometimes.
   I know, I’m dissing a show I have never seen, and this is coming from a guy who watched all 17 episodes of the Life on Mars remake. Maybe I’m older now and don’t have the same time to waste.

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The social web is not divided by race

06.07.2012


Above: A snapshot of my Tweetdeck: people of different walks of life, avatars where race is barely determinable, and logos which are not racial at all. Does the BBC expect us to take it seriously when it says we cluster by race on social networks?

I came across this piece via Twitter, which instantly struck me as cobblers: that people in social networks congregated with their own racial groups online.
   There’s not much to the article and I risk republishing all the words, but a video goes with it if you want the full story. The write-up reads, in most part:

Micro-blogging website Twitter has seen an upsurge in traffic from Hispanic and African-American audiences. These groups now claim about 30% of the site’s user base, according to third-party statistics website Quantcast.com.
   Meanwhile, white users claim 90% of US traffic on Pinterest.com, while Tumblr.com has seen an over-representation of Asian Americans as of late.
   Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd says though experts once thought the internet would help destroy racial barriers, “all of the divisions that exist in every day life, including those by race and class, actually re-emerge online”.

   So, how many social media users have logged in to a particular platform because others of their race are there and drawn them in? No, that’s unfair. Let me reframe that: how many social media sites are used to reflect the divisions we have in life?
   I just don’t think we create these divisions. We have cultural divisions, maybe: we like having our own world-view reinforced. But that’s seldom down to the colour of your skin.
   Let’s dismiss the easiest one first: Pinterest. It’s the newest, so our recollection of its growth is probably the clearest.
   A casual stroll around Pinterest sees dresses and cakes, if my friends are anything to go by. The boom group of Pinterest users appears to be female, and usually mothers, who used the online “pin board” for its intended purpose: to put up images of their favourite things.
   This group caught on to it probably because it was one that no other network had targeted. Busy mothers probably found it easier to pin, rather than Tumblog or blog. And as Pinterest grew via invitation, it wasn’t surprising that they reached out to others who were of a similar mindset. The fact that most happened to be Caucasian is probably more a consequence of where it has grown: in countries with white majorities.
   My friend and colleague William Shepherd dug up these stats about Pinterest. As 83 per cent of the audience is female (70 per cent in the Quantcast video, so it is already heading south), might we conclude that the world is sexist, too? Yes, I realize there are sexism and glass ceilings—but just how much of this is the users’ fault, based on some innate desire to “be with their own” on a social network? It’s simply more to do with a female audience being catered to, with content being largely female for anyone who first logs in to Pinterest. Your typical male user might think, ‘There’s nothing for me here,’ leave, and the female content continues to grow.
   Twitter’s growth among US Hispanics and blacks could be down to numerous other factors, very possibly the availability of reliable apps for Twitter which appeal to these groups’ use of cellphones and smart phones for accessing the site. Given that one’s race is not something readily identified on Twitter—a look through my Tweetstream sees logos as well as unclear—and often racially indeterminable—avatars, it’s highly unlikely race is the factor that has driven blacks and Hispanics to go on to the service. Think to yourself: have you ever followed someone back because they had the same ethnicity as yourself?
   Which brings us on to Tumblr. Could its growth among Asian–Americans simply be down to its growth in Asia itself? My experience on Tumblr—and I have been there since the beginning—is that it had plenty of interest from Asia, particularly Japan. These users are posting things that appeal to the diaspora—a cultural reason, not a racial one.
   The internet has destroyed racial barriers, and continues to do so. I see people interact, engage and exchange regardless of race every day on social networks. It’s like those newspapers that always paint websites as centres of evil, where pædophiles, rioters and terrorists congregate—it appeals to a certain bias, but it might not be real. And maybe my idealism is founded on a personal bias, too, but I just can’t see, in 2012, how the best invention for bridging divides is actually used to reflect them. What I see every day is multiculturalism and a sharing across cultures, and that the internet, including the social networks, has been the best leveller that humankind has yet conceived.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, technology, TV, UK, USA | 2 Comments »


Global experience trumps education—Anna Tavis, Brown Brothers Harriman

05.07.2012

Every now and then, the Harvard Business Review comes up with some gems. This video, from Anna Tavis, head of talent and development at Brown Brothers Harriman, says that global experience is more important than education if you wish to be successful in business.
   She also hints at the importance of differentiation, which I often apply to brands. Since many of us have created personal brands to some degree or another, in a world where MBAs are a dime a dozen, what extra attribute do you offer? What is your differentiating factor?
   Leadership, too, comes from having that international edge: if you have an understanding across cultures, you are more open to best practices from all sources, rather than relying on insular thinking. Too many organizations slip on this front: they see their main competitor as the next biggest city in their own country, for instance, when there’s not much excuse, in an interconnected world, to not set (or exceed) a benchmark with the best in the world.

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Google Chrome blocked us over a GIF

04.07.2012

Thank goodness for mates. Decent people out there prepared to tell me when I screw up—you know who you are—and when Google screws up.
   One friend had the decency to tell me yesterday that he could not access Lucire’s online edition. This is what he saw:

   It’s not the first time Google has blocked a site of ours through no fault of our own. Something very similar happened about a year and a half ago with this blog. But I had been wondering why our traffic stats had been down for over a week and why the search queries started looking more niche than usual. I originally just blamed the summertime malaise (in the northern hemisphere) though the overall traffic was a lot lower than the same period in June 2011.
   It turns out that a single GIF on the page from Blogarama, a site Google identified as spreading malicious software, made Chrome go all panicky.
   I’m not saying it’s wrong of Chrome to be cautious, nor do I suggest Google contact everyone who has content from a reported site on their page. But I wonder if it was overcautious in this case and whether its technique is the right one.
   I don’t use Chrome, for very good reasons. However, on Firefox, with the McAfee plug-in, the content to dangerous sites is blocked, not the whole page. It gives a warning at the top of the browser, saying that potentially malicious content has been blocked. That seems to work all right and it would at least allow people to get to the content they want safely.
   I will give Google credit on one thing, however: once the Blogarama GIF was removed, it lifted the block within hours.

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Posted in internet, publishing, technology | No Comments »