Quick Takes – Marketing and Media News for 3/20/18

It’s hard to top a story like that involving Cambridge Analytics and Facebook. There are all sorts of things going on here, but these seem to be the key points:

Cambridge had a contract with a Russian oil company (many of which are controlled to some extent by government officials) that seemed oddly interested in how to target U.S. voters. Those conversations were happening at the same time CA was working to cultivate largely Republican candidates in the lead up to the 2016 election cycle.

The response by Facebook over the weekend as this was developing was all over the place and almost universally terrible from a crisis comms point of view and was at least in part to blame for how the company’s stock price plummeted Monday morning. Even up to the time of this writing, the company has pointed the finger everywhere – including threatening media outlets – but at itself while Zuckerberg and other leadership have been kept out of public view, which is exactly the wrong move to make.

  • While it was quick to suspend CA, it also understated the problem by just focusing on those who had downloaded the firm’s app, not the 10s of millions of people who had their data mined as a result of that usage. The onus is also put on the user, not the company, which continues a long streak of avoiding anything approaching accountability.
  • Facebook suspended the account of a former employee that revealed some of the information CA collected, which kind of seems like they’re blaming the messenger for their bad actions.
  • It initially positioned this as a “leak” of information to Cambridge Analytica but that’s not strictly accurate. It’s at best (from FB’s point of view) an inappropriate use of data that was collected and at worst a totally appropriate use of data that was collected since audience demographic targeting is 100% what it (Facebook) does.
  • There’s also evidence it either knew CA still had the data it had claimed to delete or simply didn’t follow up or ask for proof it had done so. So either it’s complicit or irresponsible and I’m not sure which is more trouble. It will be auditing Cambridge to see if there’s any data still lying around, but at this point that seems unlikely.
  • Cambridge, meanwhile, is squirming, at one point Tweeting that “advertising is not coercive” which is rich coming from a firm that claims to be able to create targeted messaging to change behavior/attitudes. Also, that’s the entire premise of advertising, so…yeah, you’re not being honest there. If that’s their position they owe a lot of clients their money back.
  • The various “this just happened the one time” excuses don’t really mesh with new evidence it was testing messaging that wound up being suspiciously similar to Trump campaign themes two years before he announced his candidacy. Or with the fact that Facebok and CA were sharing Trump campaign office space a year after the “breach” occurred.
  • All this has lead to actual and threatened investigations by governments on both sides of the Atlantic as Facebook will testify before a House committee, the FTC wants to take a look and more.

Media

Jesus, where to start with the bloodbath last week. Just as the dust was settling on iHeartMedia’s bankruptcy, the Chicago Tribune laid off even more reporters and editors as it continues talking about pivoting into curated something and I don’t even know what because I’m not convinced the whole tronc thing isn’t a ponzi scheme of some sort. And as completely expected, Meredith has begun cutting hundreds of sales and editorial positions now that the ink on its acquisition of Time, Inc. is dry. And it’s looking to sell a bunch of high-profile titles as well, though I’m not clear who the market might be.

Don’t worry about the tronc team, though. They’re just fine, having received massive raises and bonuses *after* the layoffs mentioned above. And chairman Michael Ferro has left the building, a move that suspiciously came just hours before a report on his sexual misconduct involving multiple women was published.

On the brighter side of Chicago media, The Tribe reached its fundraising goal to provide more local journalism.

Oh but hey, Google Ventures has $12m to throw at TheSkimm.

Decent piece here on the logical and rhetorical knots you have to twist yourself into just to do something as seemingly simple as cover the President of the United States.

The AT&T/Time Warner merger is about to enter the court system and things are about to get interesting. I’m not sure measuring it against other conglomerates and making sure the parties can compete is a factor to consider. Right now we’re in the corporate consolidation phase of the media industry but I’m really looking forward to when we start breaking up these massive companies because they’re bad for everyone and everything. While I agree marketplace realities need to be part of the thinking,

Publishers find people are willing to part with some personal data in exchange for access and so are putting registration walls in place because they’re more attractive than paywalls.

Business streaming news service Cheddar has a new round of funding and may have some expansion plans it will put that money toward.

Marketing / Advertising

The death of advertising, now in its 15th year.

[extreme WOPR voice] Would you like to play an advertisement?

Twitter has suspended another batch of Tweet-stealing accounts, this time going after bigger game, including some Verified users, albeit in some cases only after they were asked by the press why they were still around.

Ads for cryptocurrencies could also be banned by Twitter if reports of plans that company has prove to be true.

More data on how consumers are increasingly expecting brands to share their societal values and are willing to spend more to have that connection. Young consumers – who are driven more by ideology than pragmatic needs that come later in life – are more willing to abandon a brand after a scandal or because of a rift in belief systems.

Both Facebook and Pinterest have debuted new ad products aimed at retailers.

It’s good news that Google and Facebook will capture less of the online ad market next year, diminishing the power of the duopoly they’ve created, but the fall isn’t that great and I’m not sure Amazon taking some of the difference is a step in the right direction.

Macy’s is planning to weaponize its workforce, turning them all into social media fashion influencers via an internal program.

Social Media

Anchor has expanded the tools it offers to create shareable videos based on the podcasts published to the app/site.

You’ll excuse me if I don’t agree that anyone but industry pundits and professional hand-wringers think anyone is dealing with the “reckoning” of social media not living up to its utopian promise. Most daily users are, I think, doing just fine, Clark and aren’t bothered by all this to any great extent.

One of the (many) things that’s become clear in the last year or so is that Facebook Groups have been used by extremist groups and organizations to spread their hate and radicalize new members. Keeping that kind of activity out is a full time job for even the best well-intentioned admins and not everyone is well-intentioned. They quickly become the worst kind of forum as new members and those belonging to any kind of minority are harassed into leaving. So it’s worth remembering that in the wake of various News Feed changes Facebook was emphasizing Groups as an alternative for publishers looking for engagement as recently as January.

So let’s all have a good laugh at how amidst all this Facebook is still trying to attract influential creators with a subscription support model that’s akin to what Patreon offers. It’s hard to imagine, though, who’s going to sign up for this given what a toxic and inhospitable place the site has suddenly become.

Technology

Reading about the expansion of Google Lens I can’t help but think the reason something like Jelly failed is because we were all waiting for tech like this to emerge. The idea is the same, in that it wants to help people figure out what an object they’re looking at is. But the approach is very different, with actual people powering Jelly.

There are about three dozen states across the country which are working on some form of net neutrality law at the state level. My biggest concern is that Republican lawmakers and regulators – usually strict Federalists who hold states’ rights up as the highest ideal – will move to squash these efforts as they’re enacted, likely citing interstate commerce as the rationalization.

A new shopping product from Google would have partner retailers place products directly within search results and allow Google to share a cut of the revenue. This seems wrongheaded in all kinds of ways. Why, given all the concern over how Google is partly responsible for damaging the media industry, would you want to replicate that model for the retail industry? As usual, Google is positioning this as making search results more useful for people but the inherent conflict of interest in this – it makes money from some purchases and not others – brings any search results returned suspect. Who is it artificially promoting and who is it artificially suppressing? Very problematic.

Important to note how male-centric WeWork’s environment and mindset is and that there are other groups that need coworking spaces as well.

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.