A week ago, Avon found an inventive way to get its brand noticed in peak-hour traffic.
I could make this about how people don’t know how to drive these days, or about the media fascination with Asian drivers when the reality does not bear this out, but let’s make it all about Avonâsince they are the ones who have actually inspired a full blog post today. To think, it could have just been on my Instagram and Tumblr and I would have let it go, since the following video is over a week old.
To be fair, as well as posting on my own platforms, I thought it would only be fair to alert Avon about it on its Facebook. In this age of transparency, it’s not good to talk behind someone’s back. I would have used the website advertised on the side of this Mazda (avon.co.nz), but the below is all I get. (You can try it yourself here.) I told Avon about this, too. They need to know one of their people is a dangerous, inconsiderate, and selfish driver who is ignorant of basic New Zealand road rules, namely how a give-way sign works and how to change lanes. And if I were in their shoes, I’d want to know that the URL emblazoned in large letters on the side of my fleet of cars is wrong.
It was ignored for a while, now my post is deleted.
Immediately I had these five thoughts.
1. Its brand isn’t that great. When you’re starting from a poor position, the best thing to do is try to work harder. As a network marketer, Avon can’t afford to have an office that doesn’t deal with complaints. I might even be a customer. In any case, I’m part of the audienceâand these days, we can affect a brand as much as the official channels. For instance, this post.
2. In the 2000s and 2010s, social media are seen as channels through which we can communicate with organizations. Going against this affects your brand. (There’s a great piece in the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing, vol. 3, no. 1 that I penned. Avon would do well to read this and integrate social media marketing into its operations.)
3. If you’re an Avon rep and you know that the AustraliaâNew Zealand operation ignores people, then what support do you think you can count on? My post will have been seen by many people, and a follow-up one todayâinforming them it’s poor form to delete commentsâwill be seen by more. It discourages more than customersâits distributors surely will think twice. (I’m also looking at you, Kaspersky. Another firm to avoid.)
4. Advertising your website in large letters and have it not work is a major no-noâit contributes to the image I (and no doubt others) have on Avon as, well, a bit amateur.
5. This is a US firm. If you’re an exporter, isn’t now a really good time to show that you care about your overseas operations? Nation brands impact on corporate ones. Now I’m beginning to wonder if Avon might not be that interested in overseas sales any more. Their new president, with his stated views on free trade, has said in his inauguration speech that they need to ‘buy American’ and ‘hire American.’ Let’s delete stuff from foreigners!
The question I have now is: wouldn’t it have been easier to apologize for its representative’s inability to drive safely, and thank me for telling them their website is dead so they can get it fixed? The video contains the registration number, so Avon could have had a word to their rep.
This is all Marketing 101, yet Avon seems to have failed to grasp the basics. I guess the folks who flunked marketing at university found jobs after all.
As of today, Iâve sent off my evidence to the US Better Business Bureau so they can continue their investigation of Facebook. The DAA was too gutless to investigate but the BBB, by contrast, gives a damn.
Let me note here that I have nothing against Facebook making a buck. I just ask that it do so honestly, that it does what it says.
Facebook claims that you can opt out of targeted advertising, and that you can edit your preferences for that targeting, the same was what Google did in 2011. It was revealed then that Google lied, and the Network Advertising Initiative was able to follow up my findings and assured me it would work with them to sort their procedures out.
If you opt out of targeting, Facebook continues to gather information on you. The BBB noted to me in April that if I could show that Facebook was targeting based on personal information I did not provide (e.g. if you fed in a fake location as your home in Facebook and it serves you ads based on your real location), then it could be a violation of their principles. This is pretty easy to prove: just go to any ad in your feed, click on the arrow in the right-hand corner, and click âWhy was I shown this ad?â In most cases, your actual location will have something to do with it.
Secondly, there is a potential link between the preferences Facebook has stored on youâthe ones they say they would not useâand the ads you are shown. Facebook claims you can edit those preferences but as I showed last week, this is not true. Facebook will, in fact, repopulate all deleted preferences (and even add to them), but thanks to the company itself providing me with the smoking gun, I was able to connect those shown preferences with ads displayed between March and December 2016. It casts doubt on whether Facebook is actually targeting me based on freely given information, especially since, for example, I am being served ads for Oh Baby! when I donât have kids. (Oh Baby!, meanwhile, is one of the preferences in its settings.)
My Google investigation took three months; this took between eight and nine.
Weâll see if the BBB will take quite as longâthey might, because they say they tend to be inundated with complaints about Facebook, but find that most cases do not violate their principles. But Iâve shown them not only examples along the lines of what they suggested, but a few that go even further.
Above: The Holden Commodore SS-V, facing its last year of manufacture.
The current wisdom appears to be that when the Holden Commodore VF leaves production in 2017, itâll be replaced by the liftback version of the Opel Insignia B. After all, the only big sedan Ford Australiaâs offering in place of the now-defunct Falcon is the liftback version of the Mondeo, a car thatâs wider, taller, and with a longer wheelbase than the supposedly larger Falcon. I think the crystal ball-gazers are wrong.
I could say that the Australian and New Zealand big car buyer is very traditional and would balk at the idea of the big Holden being a hatch. But thatâs not the only reason. Thereâs a bigger one: China.
Above: GM currently makes the Opel Insignia A-based Buick Regal in China, after initially beginning with German production.
I had expected our car encyclopĂŠdia Autocade would reach 8,000,000 page views this month, just before its eighth anniversary. The difference was that this time, I was there last Monday GMT (the small hours of Tuesday in New Zealand) to witness the numbers tick overâalmost.
Usually, I find out about the milestones ex post facto, but happened to pop by the websiteâs statsâ page when it was within the last hundred before hitting 8,000,000âand took the below screen shot where the viewing numbers had reached 8,000,001 (I also saw 7,999,999; and no, these special admin pages are not counted, so my refreshing didnât contribute to the rise).
The site is on 3,344 individual entries (thereâs one image for each entry, if youâre going by the image excerpt), which is only 86 more than Autocade had when it reached 7,000,000 last October. The rate of viewing is a little greater than it was for the last million: while I’m recording it as five months below, it had only been March for just under two hours in New Zealand. Had Autocade been a venture from anywhere west of Aotearoa, we actually made the milestone on leap day, February 29.
Not bad for a website that has had very little promotion and relies largely on search-engine results. I only set up a Facebook page for it in 2014. Itâs been a labour of love more than anything else.
March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 page views (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 page views (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 page views (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 page views (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 page views (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 page views (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 page views (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 page views (five months for eighth million)
I started the site because I was fed up with Wikipedia and its endless errors on its car pagesâIâve written elsewhere about the sheer fictions there. Autocade would not have Wikiality, and everything is checked, where possible, with period sources, and not exclusively online ones. The concept itself came from a car guide written by the late Michael Sedgwick, though our content is all original, and subject to copyright; and thereâs a separate story to tell there, too.
I acknowledge there are still gaps on the site, but as we grow it, weâll plug them. At the same time, some very obscure models are there, and Autocade sometimes proves to be the only online source about them. A good part of the South African motor industry is covered with material not found elsewhere, and Autocade is sometimes one of the better-ranked English-language resources on Chinese cars.
Iâd love to see the viewing rate increase even further: itâd be great to reach 10,000,000 before the end of 2016. It might just happen if the viewing rate increases at present levels, and we get more pages up. Fellow motorheads, please keep popping by.
A few years ago, I discovered that Google was monitoring and gathering user preferences even after one had opted out. Google would initially put an opt-out cookie that went with your browser when you first opt out, which is exactly what every other ad network doesâbut, then, within 24 hours, it would replace it with its standard cookie and begin tracking you again. It counted on people not returning to their ad preferences page, and the ploy may have worked for some two years before I discovered it, and reported it to the Network Advertising Initiative, who confirmed the error.
The NAI says that Google has remedied that, and I trust that it has. It didnât stop Google from hacking Iphone users the following year, circumventing the âDo not trackâ feature on the Safari browser, till they got busted by the Murdoch Press.
It seems these big Silicon Valley firms think they are a law unto themselves, as is evidenced by their approach to taxation, for instance, and it appears Facebook is now doing the same thing as Google when it comes to getting advertising preferences on you. In their world, user preferences are something to be spat on, not observed.
Facebook has often switched things on in its user preferences that you had switched off earlier, but I donât remember them having touched those settings for a few years. But a leopard doesnât change its spots. Recently, I discovered that Facebook had indeed turned on my advertising preference tracking, under âAds based on my use of websites and appsâ. I had it set to âNoâ; a month ago, I discovered this was set to âYesâ.
I promptly switched it off, but had discovered that Facebook had compiled quite the dossier on me on January 20. Had I agreed to it, this would have been fine; and I use Facebookâs targeting myself from time to time marketing to users that I believe have agreed to be tracked and marketed to.
Above: Facebook compiled a big dossier on my preferences for its ad targeting, though when you open it up, there are entries that bear no resemblance to what I like.
However, there are two worrying points here. The obvious one is Facebook disrespecting user preferences and collecting data on usâand there has been plenty of debate on just where those data go thanks to Mr Snowden. Secondly, for marketers, the data that Facebook has gathered are, to some degree, laughable.
As I reviewed and deleted I discovered things in there that I had no interest in whatsoever. In the time that Facebook had gathered data on me, it had supposedly built up a profile on me that was made up of over 1,000 points (above is the summary, though I have expanded this out to have a good read). I found, in my profile, that I was supposedly into search engine marketing, Westpac, dentistry, NASSCOM (not sure what this is), radar, cosmetology, unmanned aerial vehicles, ClickZ, Marabou (chocolate), miniskirts, high-heeled footwear (yes, I can understand that publishing a fashion magazine might have added these), National Basketball Association, the Houston Astres (who?), Leicester City FC, TNA Knockout, the Australia national rugby union team (fortunately, the All Blacks were accurately recorded), World Tag Team Championship (WWE), and the Authority (professional wrestling); I discovered that Facebook thinks Occupy Wall Street is a âReligious Centerâ. Now, some of these will have come from websites I may have browsed at, but that doesnât necessarily equate to my liking these things: what if you had browsed an article about the arrest of a child molester? Donât ask me where the Aussie rugby and wrestling come from, as I donât visit their sites or even news articles about either.
I spent considerable time deleting all of them, doing myself and Facebook a favour. Naturally, I switched off the tracking.
Above: My ad preference tracking is switched off. End of story? Unfortunately, not: Facebook doesn’t care what you’ve put in here.
I do think it is positive that Facebook reveals this, as it could have kept our preferences hidden, as it has done for years. It is only right that consumers are given a choice.
However, where are the ethics to continue doing it after a user has switched it off?
Because thatâs exactly what Facebook does, and, like Google, you canât pretend to me that these are all accidents. These are companies that believe they can do whatever they like, and intentionally have created systems to do so.
Interestingly, when I approached the US DMA about this data-gathering on January 22, I received no response, unlike the NAI, which got back to me after I furnished proof of Googleâs activities. At that point I had not told them who was doing it, I simply asked them what its position was, with its code of conduct, if a member were to gather data on a person even after that person had opted out.
Within two days, Facebook had built up a new profile about me, of just over 100 items. I checked with the DAA, which has a website where you can see if the opt-out cookies are present, and it confirmed that Facebookâs was. It seems, then, that Facebook does not honour its own opt-out cookie, exactly the same as Google. Whether it uses this data or not is immaterial: it shouldn’t be gathering them for the duration of the time I choose to be opted out. I havenât approached the DAA yet, but I will do after I get everything together.
The items, incidentally, were still laughable; even more so, because of the smaller number. By the 24th, I was apparently a fan of Bandcamp and the company Excite (remember them?), but to my recollection I had not visited any site about either. And the next day there were a few dozen data points, where apparently I liked B movies, Berlin (the band), the immune system, the MG ZR, Frank de Boer, Gracia Baur, sandals, Presbyterianism, the Mandarin language, and Trinidad and Tobago. Again, where this all came from, I have little clue.
Top: Within two days, Facebook had a number of points about me, despite my having chosen to have its advertising-preference tracking switched off. It’s Google all over again. Above: The DAA confirms that Facebook’s opt-out cookie is present, although as I’ve discovered, it makes no difference.
And so on. Every few days Iâd go in there, have a peek, and have a laugh, and noted that my tracking preference was still set to âOffâ.
I have accused Facebook of arrogance and this is yet another example. Iâve also accused them of incompetence.
Youâll have got to this point wondering why I still use it if I dislike the tracking. For a start, I shouldnât have to put up with user preferences being ignored, if the setting has been provided, and if Facebook itself has been notified (I have contacted them). And as long as I have an account, which, unfortunately I need to administer business pages and groups, the tracking will continue, even if I do not use any features for my personal Timeline. (In fact, I hardly do any more; to the point where Facebook always has, in my feed, a top post showing me what I did x years ago when I log in; reminding me, âGosh, didnât we have it good together?â liked a jilted lover.) By my own choice, I use Facebookâs messaging a lot (but not its app) and some very close friends contact me exclusively through that, and Iâm going to have to continue there, too, because there is some utility. I also realize the irony of having a “like” button on this blog.
In other words, Iâve minimized my activity with the site where I realistically can, and right now I donât care if I can no longer like, post, share or comment, which was becoming a very, very regular bug with Facebook anyway. (Itâs now getting more commonplace, as other friends begin getting the same symptoms with increasing frequency; it seems I hit the point before they did.)
Like with Google, whose privacy gaffes saw me minimize my contact with them, Iâve de-Facebooked where I can; and I accept I can go further (e.g. regular logging out and cookie-blocking). Iâll see where things go after I contact the DAA.
Some interesting bugs out there on Facebook that my friends are telling me about. One has been removed from all her groups, including one that I run (we never touched her account), another cannot comment any more (an increasingly common bug now), while Felicity Frockaccino, well known on the drag scene locally and in Sydney, saw her account deleted. Unlike LaQuisha St Redfern’s earlier this year, Felicity’s has been out for weeks, and it’s affected her livelihood since her bookings were in there. Facebook has done nothing so far, yet I’ve since uncovered another bot net which they have decided to leave (have a look at this hacked account and the bots that have been added; a lot of dormant accounts in Japan and Korea have suffered this fate, and Facebook has deleted most), despite its members being very obviously fake. Delete the humans, keep the bots.
Felicity didn’t ask but I decided to write to these people again, to see if it would help. There was a missing word, unfortunately, but it doesn’t change the sentiment:
Guys, last year you apologized to drag kings and queens for deleting their accounts. But this year, you have been deleting their accounts. This is the second one that I know of, and I donât know that many drag queens, which suggests to me that you [still] have it in for the drag community.
Felicity Frockaccino is an international drag performer, and youâve affected her livelihood as her bookings were all in that account. This is the second time you deleted her, despite your public apology and a private one that you sent her directly. What is going on, Facebook? You retain bots and bot nets that I report, but you go around deleting genuine human users who rely on you to make their living. Unlike LaQuisha Redfernâs account, which you restored within days, this has been weeks now.
That’s right, she even received a personal apology after her account was deleted the first time. I had hoped that Facebook would have seen sense, since Felicity has plenty of fans. The first-world lesson is the same here as it is for Blogger: do not ever rely on Facebook for anything, and know that at any moment (either due to the intentional deletion on their end or the increasing number of database-write issues), your account can vanish.
Meanwhile, my 2012 academic piece, now titled âThe impact of digital and social media on brandingâ, is in vol. 3, no. 1, the latest issue of the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing. This is available via Ingenta Connect (subscription only). JDSMM is relatively new, but all works are double-blind, peer-reviewed, and it’s from the same publisher as The Journal of Brand Management, to which I have contributed before. It was more cutting-edge in 2012 when I wrote it, and in 2013 when it was accepted for publication and JDSMM promoted its inclusion in vol. 1, no. 1, but I believe it continues to have a lot of merit for practitioners today. An unfortunate, unintentional administrative error saw to its omission, but when they were alerted to it, the publisher and editors went above and beyond to remedy things while I was in the UK and it’s out now.
I was very interested to see this graphic on the Geely Instagram account today:
Spot the issue? I commented (and I wonder if they will delete it): ‘I would be a bit worried if the Geely GC7 found 71Â·5 mph its “flat out” speed. That would make it only as fast as a CitroĂ«n 2CV!’
That reference to the French 2CV (which I note the Germans called the Ente or, even more humorously, the DĂ¶schwo), is intentional. Not only is 71Â·5 mph the top speed of a CitroĂ«n 2CV, but here’s an advertisement from over 30 years ago (found here):
The Geely King Kong Hatchback, one of the new entries on the Autocade website.
Not that I blogged it at the time, but Geelyâs multi-brand strategy in 2009 felt doomed. Earlier this year, the company retreated, and brought everything from Englon, Gleagle and Emgrand back under its parent brand again.
It wasnât unlike Mazdaâs attempt to do the same in the early 1990s, when it began selling cars under marques such as Efini, Autozam and Eunos, as well as its own brand. The bursting of Japanâs bubble economy didnât help things, but the problems went deeper than that. Those who were used to buying a Mazda Capella from a certain outlet were surprised to find that it had become one of these new channels, and there was no Capella or equivalent to be seen. In fact, for those years, there was no Capellaâa nameplate Japanese buyers had become accustomed to for decadesâas Mazda decided to offer cars such as the Cronos, which went over the 1,700 mm width that landed it in a higher tax bracket.
We never noticed much of these issues outside Japan, as these cars were simply sold as Mazda 626, and there were fewer signs of the companyâs ambitious plans that landed it in such trouble then-shareholder Ford installed a Scot in charge. It was the first time a Caucasian wound up running a car maker there. Mazda felt embarrassed it wasn’t one of their own.
Geely might not have had the Chinese economy collapse on it, and it may have been buoyed through the 2000s as it went from being a manufacturer of recycled Daihatsus to a major Chinese automotive force, but there was the obvious problem of increasing its marketing costs dramatically. Could it also develop lines for four marques all of a sudden? Remember, too, it would swallow Volvo around this time, giving it a fifth marque.
The answer was no: Geely wound up shifting various models to different marques, badge-engineering others, and generally confusing the state of affairs for Chinese consumers. Thereâs a solid argument to be made for Geely at the time though: the automotive market was clearly segmenting, and there was a need to have budget and luxury brands. But it didnât seem organic, but dramatically forced. I take my hat off to Geely for carrying it out, nevertheless, even if some of the models were lacking: the Emgrand EC7, for instance, had rear torsion beam suspension, and it was supposedly a premium product for the well-to-do upper-middle-class Chinese buyer.
It all came crashing down earlier this year, when Geely realized that it lost economies of scale in marketing, and the most important player in all of thisâthe consumerâreally couldnât follow what was what. To top it off, these new brands had no goodwill, just as Mazdaâs didnât 20 years before. Unless youâre willing to push these brands like crazy, itâs a hard battle to win, especially in the most competitive market on earth. China, too, has had a downturn in car sales this year, and the heady days of thinking one can adopt multi-brand strategies without the numbers to support them are over.
Why has it come up? Today, Autocade has successfully recorded the entire current line of Geelys, and there are quite a few historical models in there, too. It was incredibly confusing, too, tracking the new identities of a lot of the modelsâdid the Englon SC5 get renamed? Which lines were dropped because there was a badge-engineered equivalent? And, as is particularly common among Chinese models we put on Autocade, how on earth shall we translate some of these model names? (The practice is to use the Chinese companyâs own translations, where available, and not succumb to using the export names to index them.)
While some pages had the new Geely names appended to the old Englon, Emgrand and Gleagle model pages, there were new entries for the Geely New Emgrand, the old King Kong line along with the Englon SC5-based King Kong hatchback, the two generations of GeelyVision, and the historical Geely Haoqing (an old car based around a 1980s Daihatsu Charade: to think, at the turn of the century, this described pretty much every car in the Geely range) as well as the new flagship SUV that now bears the name.
The reason for being a bit obsessive over the Geelys, as well as some other models (we added nearly all the current Cadillacs and a few more Changâans), is that with the demise of Auto Katalog, I believe more will go online. If we can present a credible new-car siteâalthough we have a long way to go before we get every current model line upâwe may go some way to filling the void with Autocade.
Iâve blogged several times about the bot problem that Facebook has, and this is an issue that runs alongside the click farms that operate on the website.
One of my groups has over 12,000 members, and itâs a magnet for click farm participants, who target these bigger ones. And when you look through the Facebook users weâve blocked, they are predominantly based in Morocco, with a smaller number in Algeria and Tunisia.
Theyâre very obvious, and their purpose is either to spam (one that accidentally got through proceeded to do just that) or to legitimize themselves for when they are asked to like a page for a client. This all makes engagement worse, and it helps the bottom line for Facebook and the click farm companies paying these people a pittance.
When I look through the blocked list, it almost looks like weâve been racial profiling, although my moderators and I will look through each name to check. Of course we want more membersâbut we want legitimate ones.
The sad thing is the number of groups, other ones with membership in the tens of thousands, who accept these click farm contractors. They obviously arenât as strict, but in accepting them, they become accomplices to their deception. Theyâre nearly as bad as those who accept friend requests from botsâI found one yesterday who had accepted requests from over a dozen bots. You really have to ask: why would you accept people whom you donât know?
All this is getting to the point where Facebook is just another tiresome site, and if it werenât for the management of groups, the promotion of some businesses, and keeping in touch with a number of friends, I wouldnât log on. Over the past week Iâve only irregularly updated my statusâI compare this to the heavy use I had on Facebook when Timeline came out. I equated status updates to getting instant gratification, that someone out there cared. You can update all you like these days, but you might hear nowt.
Which is no bad thing as we head into summer. The action, as some predicted long ago, is shifting. Instagram is where that gratification now takes place, at least for me, despite having a third of the numbers following me. Facebook was perhaps wise to acquire it, and while bots are a problem on Instagram, too, presently I encounter fewer of them each day than on Facebook (it wasnât always this way). Of course some enterprising companies are trying to sell fake likes there, too, but Instagram hasnât attracted corporate accounts to quite the same degree, yet. Those fake likers arenât yet hurting engagement, and it certainly wouldnât surprise me if the site continues to grow.
Social media continue to fragment as we head into 2015. Whatsapp, Snapchat, Wechat and Viber allow for more intimate conversations; Instagram allows one to interact with a newer community. Facebook looks very dull indeed at this point, with its bots and click farms plaguing the entire system, no doubt adding to the companyâs less and less credible claim of how many users it has.
Last month, I Tweeted Facebook, asking them to raise the reporting limit for bots. Right now, you can report around 40 bot accounts before a warning box comes up asking you to slow down. If you do another 10, you are barred from reporting any more for 24 hoursâeven though you are trying to help Facebook clean up its act.
I said that the rate of increase in bot accounts was exponential, and that raising the limit to 200 immediately might be useful.
Tonight, the 200 barrier has been broken. In other words, in one evening, not counting click farms (which are also hitting our groups like crazy, with a growing number from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia daily), I came across 277 bot accounts on Facebook. All because I have a few groups and I was checking to see who was joining.
And here I was, thinking that over the last few weeks, when I was seeing a maximum of six daily, that Facebook had this problem under control.
Obviously, the bot nets found a way through whatever defences Facebook had.
I won’t republish the list of 277 here. There might be slightly fewer as there could be doubling-up in my listâyou can lose your place at night copying and pasting. If you do want to have a peek at what bot accounts look like, the second part of the list at my Tumblr blog will give you an idea. And if you’d like to report them, you’re most welcome toâthough since it’s neither your job nor mine, I wonder why we should bother. Facebook loves to brag about its numbers of how many people it has using the site. If in order to fool advertisers it shows a quarter-on-quarter increase by counting the bots, then maybe we should let it be, and eventually let the site fall over (and let’s face it, the frequency of that happening has increased, too).
All of which point to a website that is becoming less and less useful as a marketing toolâno wonder the likes of Ello saw an increase in usage in the last few weeks.