Hand in the Cookie Jar

Readers familiar with my blogs (how are you both?) will know just how much I dislike ‘digital advertising’. I know it works because advertisers continue to invest in it which must mean it has a ROI of a few percentage points. But that in turn implies that for the vast majority of us, most of the time it is nothing but an irritation. I pay for a few on-line subscriptions to papers and magazines – should I have to look at ads? No different to the physical publications you might say. The model has always been that content is delivered free or heavily subsidised because of ads. In the new model the content may be on-line and it might be the services of a search engine or social media platform but the deal is the same. Ad revenue keeps the cost of your on-line content down and in the case of google and facebook the ads pay for the whole thing. On that basis we should extend the model to include churches, museums, art galleries – why not hospitals? You can go to church for free as long as you are prepared to let someone sell you life insurance. By all means look at the Monet but right next to it, in your eye-line, is an ad for french cologne. While you are waiting for your test results who would object to looking at some ads for a betting company – hey, life’s a gamble. NO, there are just some places and some occasions when I don’t want to have to see ads. And I particularly don’t want to see ads put there because someone’s been sneakily following me around all day watching my every move. So in my case at church, or the museum or in the doctor’s waiting room I get an ad for a car just because I happened to mention to a friend that I liked it or paused to look in a showroom window. That is beyond irritating, it’s plain rude.

I reached a tipping point this week. As I was reading on-line I was being bombarded with ads for backgammon boards – and I mean bombarded. They were not just there, they were flashing and rotating and popping up in the middle of the articles. I knew why – I’d been on a couple of sites looking to buy a backgammon board. I’d done my research, made my choice and the board had been purchased. I wasn’t really in the market for another backgammon board, you really only need one, but yet here I was getting hit by ad after ad all over the sites I visit. I know why, it is because Criteo, the French Ad tech business use 3rd party cookies to track me and sell that information to advertisers and their agencies. They profit from this transaction but I don’t. Turns out it is actually possible to disable them, which I did and the pushy creepy ads disappeared . Some algorithms are doubtless still at work but there at least seems to be some randomness to the ads. If they happen to be for something that interests me I’ll click. I did that recently for ‘Forever Spin’. I have a childish fascination with spinning tops and often spin coins or rings to see how long I can get them to keep going. ‘Forever Spin’ tops go on for ages (but not forever) and actually I might buy one. However, before I switched off Criteo I was going off them as a company due to the incessant ads they were targeting at me. Do you, like me, walk out of a shop if a sales assistant just won’t leave you alone? Normally you can tell them that you’re just browsing and they will back off. I have been known to tell them that if they don’t back off I’m leaving. Hard to do with digital advertisers. Not so easy to tell them to fuck off and leave you alone as long as they have their hands in the cookie jar. And they will even if you manage to disable 3rd party cookies. All the times we accept that the web sites use cookies and give them our permission to download them onto our hard drives, we are saying it is OK to track our browsing history, analyse the data and make commercial use of it. We can’t see it happening, we get a very small share of the commercial benefit, if any, and we have to put up with digital ads that are mostly pointless and very rarely entertaining. The only solution, as I have outlined before, is to use block chain technology to allow us to transact our own data as individuals. Then they would have to fuck off and leave us alone.

The Point in Purpose

posted in: Business/Marketing | 0

I went into the twitter-sphere this week to question the claimed purpose of a very large Telcomms company. Let’s call them Megaphone. It was in response to a nauseating tweet from the head of their ad agency who was telling the world how proud he was of his client’s commitment to purpose. I’m a customer of Megaphone and it seems to me their only purpose is to make as much money as they can with as little regard for customers as possible. I’ve also had dealings with them in the past from the agency side and they were brutes. I suppose leopards can change their spots and maybe they’re trying. I’ve just visited their web site where sure enough you find their purpose front and centre and it reads very well. It talks about connectivity and the social good it can do and I admit, it struck a chord with me. Access to affordable mobile data can level the playing field for the poorest, it can enable people to start and grow their small businesses, it can promote inclusiveness. But do I believe that is the purpose of Megaphone? Do I think the ad agency CEO is really proud of them for this? No, I don’t. I think they’ve jumped on the purpose bandwagon and somebody has told them this is the kind of purpose that will sound great. It could well be someone in the ad agency and they’re licking their lips at the prospect of how much money Megaphone will spend telling people about their higher purpose. The CEO’s tweet was promoting a conference they were hosting about “Purpose” and I guess the CEO thinks the Megaphone case study will be a crowd puller and the ad agency will be seen as thought leaders in the purpose game. Because make no mistake, purpose is hot. It was hot before Covid, it’s even hotter now – hell, even I’ve jumped on the bandwagon (see my article on Neo-naked Economics, I’m all over it).

If I’m wrong then I apologise both to Megaphone (who you can probably figure out) and the CEO of their ad agency (which won’t be much harder). But here’s why I don’t think I am.

Purpose has to be 100% authentic, it really has to be the reason you do everything you do. It has to guide your every decision and action. If it does, you don’t need to tell anyone, it’s obvious. I was talking to the CEO of one of the world’s largest multi-nationals recently, a business with a very good record in sustainability and purpose, and he made the point that you have to be driven by this for years before you earn the right talk about it. I suspect you never brag about it unless of course you are into virtue-signalling.

Let me put it another way. Do you love your partner? Is this because you thought about it and decided you needed to love someone so you gave some further thought as to the kind of person that should be? Having made your choice have you communicated that to anyone? Have you pitched up at a meeting or a party and said to people, “You need to know I love my partner and here’s why”. Have you felt the need to attend a conference on Love to use your love of your partner as a case study? Does your partner believe you love them a) because you tell them and everyone you meet or b) because of the way you consistently treat them even when no-one is looking?

You have a purpose, you don’t get a purpose. And that purpose is the compass by which you navigate, it’s how you run the business, not the punchline in a communication strategy. It’s fine to have a purpose that is primarily about making superior shareholder returns but if it is, there’s no point in pretending otherwise.

Lock-down will prove behaviour shapes attitudes

In the eBook section of this site there is truly excellent contribution from the Herdmeister, Mark Earls on strategy and people. In it he reminds us that behaviour determines attitudes more often than attitudes drive behaviour. This is a crucial point and explains why a great deal of strategy, change management and marketing fails to deliver. Because most of us think that in order to get people to change what they do you have to appeal to their hearts and minds, you have to use persuasion. But however persuasive you are it is enormously difficult to get people to change what they do. The most reliable way is to make it impossible for them to do what they normally do. To replace one system with a new system. It took folks older than me a long time to use emails, it’s taken me a long time to convert to whatsapp. I’ve only done so because I was finding I just couldn’t get some people to respond if I didn’t. Now I love it (although I still love emails and even the occasional letter.) Let’s move it to the ‘workplace’. It was a revolution in Business Change Management when they ditched their old process:-

Communicate the need for change

Ask people to change what they do

Reinforce this with new processes and systems

100% the wrong way round. Introduce a new process or system so people have to change what they do. This changes their attitudes, then you explain why.

Now think about a whole bunch of things that some people knew all about, things they knew made sense, but even so were reluctant to convert. Unwilling to change their behaviour. “Oh, yes I know I should but….”

Video conference more and travel less

Cook more food, eat less processed food

Shop more on-line

Exercise more

This is a cliched list and I’m not arguing their merits nor denying that many people were way ahead of this before lockdown. But many will see the merits in some or all of these and will admit that prior to lock down they’d been luddites. Lock down forced the change, using the new platforms or systems reinforced the behaviour and has changed attitudes. Like Nike told us – we just did it.

If you have not read Mark Earls eBook do so, it might change what you think and do.

The seedy sleuths stealing YOUR data (and your money)

For most of us e-marketing/on-line/digital advertising, call it what you want, is irritating. Ads pop up and do their best to distract you from what you’re trying to read or do on-line. If you do a bit of research about something you might be thinking of buying, and most of us do, suddenly all those ads start to target what you were just thinking about. Helpful? No, spooky, pushy, like someone following you around a store and every time you look at something they get right in your face with the hard sell. Not a store you’d want to go back to, but on-line you don’t have a choice. You want the content, the social media platform, you accept the irritation.

Most people either don’t know or don’t want to think about how this actually works, what’s really going on. If they did they would be really angry and not enough people are which tells me it’s not been properly exposed. What’s happening is a bunch of companies like Equifax or Experian are literally stalking you on-line. Without your knowledge and in reality without your permission (unless you think hitting the ‘I agree’ button equates to cognizant, informed permission) they watch where you go, where you linger, what you click and like some low-rent private investigator they package up your personal information and sell it to someone who intends to flog you something or to some credit agency who will sit in judgement on you.  You don’t know what they know about you, you don’t know who they’ve sold your data to or when or how it’s used. They make a lot of money doing this, Equifax have a market cap of $21 billion, and they keep it all to themselves. You get nothing, just ads.

And if you looked at the Cambridge Analytica scandal, you’d realise it’s gone beyond irritation, beyond just greed, your data is being used to undermine your most fundamental freedoms, the freedom of thought. The thousands upon thousands of bits of data about you are manipulated using algorithms and AI to influence not just what you buy but how you vote. They’re used to manipulate what you think.

It’s bad now and it will only get worse – you’re generating more and more data about yourself and the technology is getting better and better at using it.

But we – if enough of us acted – could not just stop this if we wanted to, we could earn an estimated $7,600 per year on average. The higher nett worth could earn a lot more, the lower income less but probably enough to make a real difference. If the technology and the platform existed to enable us to transact our data direct to the organizations willing to pay for it (with restrictions on how they use and safeguard it) we could put the equifax and Experian’s of this world out of business. We could force the social media platforms to find a different business model other than digital snitching. We would take away a lot of the ad agency revenue and force them to get back to ‘truth well told’ based on ideas.

Well guess what, the technology does exist. It’s Block Chain. And there is one platform, Datawallet, using it to give people the chance to make money from their own data. There are limitations, issues to be resolved as this excellent article in Investopedia outlines. Please read it.

This is what I was writing about in my eBook ‘What’s wrong with marketing(?)’. People owning their personal data with the power to transact it will transform marketing and improve society. It will get rid of the greedy, seedy sleuths (pimps) in the digital shadows.

Value Signalling

In my article ‘Neo-Naked Economics’ (under EBooks) I set out a new economic model based on social purpose from which would come a new kind of marketing I define as purposeful value creation. (In the 30 years since I co-founded a marketing agency called ‘The Added Value Company’ it would appear that I’ve progressed from seeing marketing as adding value to creating value, subtle difference). In the article I had to skate over some big topics and I intend to use the blogs to expand on some of them. The core of the new value-based economics/marketing would be to let people ascribe all the value a product/service/business offers, not just intrinsic value, not just extrinsic value to the buyer but social value. And businesses would be required to carry their full costs, not just variable, not just fixed but social costs as well.

So how can you ascribe social value? It might sound hard but it really isn’t. It’s done all the time. There is the Kitemark, started in the UK but now operating in 193 counties. It uses a range of things to assess the safety of a product. Michelin Stars are awarded to restaurants according to how they measure up to a wide range of things not just how tasty the food is (you can lose a star if the wine cellar is too limited or if your loos aren’t up to scratch). In South Africa they calculate BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) scores based on a complex list of criteria, and the score has consequences for how you do business. Above a certain size a poor score will exclude you from doing business with government and a good score can give you an advantage in winning private sector business. We measure complex things and ascribe aggregate scores all the time.

There are only two challenges. Firstly, what do you measure? In the article I set out 5 social purposes for economics, just my point of view but I think the list would be well received by most people who care about society. For a business you could take that list to look at their performance against some desired outcomes that benefit society – diversity, equality of opportunity, conservation etc. The second challenge is the tough one – who makes the adjudication? For the Kitemark it’s the BSI (British Standards Institution), for the Michelin Stars it is a group of inspectors whose identity is kept secret, for BEE in South Africa it is a government department. Who would ascribe social value? It could be a government department, an independent global institution, it could include a people’s panel or board of governors.

Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock Investment believes “society is demanding that companies, both private and public, serve a social purpose” something he put in a letter to all the CEO’s of the companies in which BlackRock have an investment. He thinks this can be measured and intends to do so.

How easy would it be for people to just look for the social stars when purchasing? It could have one star or five stars. And people wishing to make a difference could try wherever possible to buy from companies with the most stars, all other things being nearly equal. I say nearly because some people would trade some part of intrinsic/extrinsic value for more social value.

There is a lot of virtue signalling going on – why not value signalling?