Hey Santa, here’s our 2016 ‘Marketing Naughty & Nice’ list

Here are our choices for those in marketing, ads and search who deserve a candy cane — or a lump of coal.


Even a Jewish guy like me knows that Santa — trying like everyone else to satisfy his customers — can barely keep up.

Like many of us, he’s awash in data — from social networks, web browsing trails and the particulars about that time when so-and-so helped the old lady cross the busy street or when such-and-such didn’t let the other car cut in front.

Sure, machine learning helps him pick out the most relevant data, and predictive analytics can forecast whether those were isolated incidents or typical behavior. But then the data needs to be turned into the right gifts or lack thereof — and, well, there are only so many elves in this world to help out.

So, once again, we decided to lighten Santa’s burden a bit by offering our take on who in marketing, advertising and search has been naughty, and who’s been nice. So he can concentrate on, you know, lists about boys and girls.

It’s the least we could do.

Who’s been nice

Go, Pokémon, Go

It feels like decades since we first starting hearing about how computer-generated content would be married with real-world content, in real time. There had been some hints and demos of how this might happen, but it all seemed too distant for any real marketing value.

Then Pokémon Go happened.

Immediately, augmented reality changed from a possibility into a real thing, as thousands of people around the US started hunting for Pokémon characters and objects by seeing them through their smartphones, superimposed on the world.

Now that many people have shown they are willing to find reality’s hidden layers, this year’s Pokémon Go stands as a breakthough event.

Standing up for facts

Major enabling platforms like Google and Facebook are taking more responsibility for weeding out harmful content. The last century’s media theorist, Marshall McLuhan, would have approved, since he was one of the first to point out that the technology filter is part of the experience of the content.

So, tentative congrats are in order to Google, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube for their efforts in fighting terrorist content online.

And, after an initial “who me?” response to the web-threatening onslaught of propaganda posing as news, Facebook now appears to be stepping up to the plate. Similarly, Google has taken steps to pull its support for fake news sites.

Plus, many others in the ad industry are standing up for facts. For instance, Kellogg’s has pulled its ads, and ad tech firm AppNexus its tools, from sites that promote hate, such as Breitbart News, and marketing consultant DoubleVerify and ad platform Sizmek have developed products to block fake news.

Facts are making a comeback, as these and other companies realize that facts are the best strategy for image-conscious brands.

Oh, Patagonia

If clothing company Patagonia were a person, it’d be the sort of person that always tries to do the right thing.

In 2011, it bought a full-page ad in The New York Times that was headlined: “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The ad pointed out the hidden environmental and other costs behind every product in our consumerist society, including a popular jacket it sold.

In 2014, it made clear it was giving its employees the entire day of Thanksgiving off, despite the trend by many stores to open on that holiday. It also gave its employees the day off for Election Day in the US this past November.

But all of that was topped this year when it announced that it was donating 100 percent of its “global retail and online Black Friday sales directly to the grassroots nonprofits working in the front lines to protect our air, water and soil for future generations.”

The gesture led to what the company described as a “record-breaking $10 million in sales,” when it expected only $2 million.

Consumer Review Fairness Act

Thanks to the recently passed Consumer Review Fairness Act, consumers can no longer be prevented by contracts or terms of service agreements from later posting negative reviews if the product or service didn’t meet expectations.

Some businesses had contractually prohibited negative posts on Yelp or elsewhere, when the customer signed up for said service or product. Which meant that authentic online reviews were missing a key ingredient: negative reactions from people who had actually used the product or service.

Appless beacons

The idea of getting information or a coupon on my phone that is directly related to the product in front of me is appealing, but not if I have to download, manage and navigate yet another app.

Which is why we salute Google’s Eddystone beacons, which need only a compatible browser to send you a URL.

Credit: BKON

Credit: BKON

TAG’s “Certified Against Fraud” seal

It’s clear that the complex and widespread problem of ad fraud is not going to be solved by any single magic bullet. After all, how do you find all the fraud and all the fraudsters?

A more effective way is to certify the good guys, so you isolate the bad guys. The Trust Accountability Group — created by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau — is stepping up to that task.

Earlier this month, it awarded its first “Certified Against Fraud” seal to 16 digital ad companies that met its anti-fraud standards, including Amobee, Dstillery, Google, Integral Ad Sciences, Interpublic Group and OpenX Technologies.

The FCC wins one for consumer consent

In October, the Federal Communications Commission went to bat for online consumer privacy.

It now requires opt-in consumer consent when ISPs want to employ or share information that is deemed sensitive, including your geolocation, health or financial information, Social Security numbers, web browsing or app usage history, or what your communications actually say.

In 2018, the GDPR policy takes hold in Europe, requiring consumer consent for all kinds of data use. The FCC’s decision may be the first step toward a similar approach in the US someday.

Winking photos, feeling ads

The best ads or marketing content are ones that draw you in, and two types in particular are built to do that.

One is the cinemagraph, a blend of a photo and a video that was invented by husband and wife fashion photographers Kevin Burk and Jamie Beck in 2011. It’s employed selectively by advertisers, which is fine because overuse would dim its freshness.

But encountering one can be magical, a moment like those in movies when the photo in the newspaper comes alive. Cinemagraphs seem to freeze the moment at the same time that they reveal its most essential component. Because of this, it’s easy to become mesmerized by this kind of subtle visual charm.


We also had a peek this year at another kind of marketing content that can draw you in. The Hawai’i Tourism Authority and Expedia launched such an experiment where each participating user gave permission for the computer’s webcam to send their reactions to a two-minute video about the islands.

Facial analysis software by digital agency Realise measured multiple points on each face and determined the viewer’s emotional state. The emotional assessment was used to determine which travel package would best suit your mood, and that content was shown.

It all seems a bit funky for now. But, if not overused, mood-driven marketing, ads and content could hit the spot, like someone behind the counter suggesting you try the fresh-squeezed orange juice because you look like you need it.

An image from the two-minute video at "Discover Your Aloha," with a smile indicator.

An image from the two-minute video at “Discover Your Aloha,” with a smile indicator

Who’s been naughty

Nice website you got there

First, Adblock Plus, the leading ad-blocking browser extension, stops ads on publishers’ sites from being displayed on the screens of its millions of users.

Then, Adblock Plus partnered in May with content-funding tool Flattr.

Flattr, another browser extension, automatically pays for web content visited by the user from a deposit the user has made. But the decision to pay is made by the user, and the amount is determined by Flattr/Adblock Plus.

In other words, block the publishers’ ads, and then pay websites that sign up, according to your own formula.

Nice work if you can get it.

When tweets turn mean

Twitter is making some effort to deal with its problem of trolls, but it remains a huge problem for the platform.

The harassment has metastasized into a kind of mob rule, like the racist abuse that swamped actress Leslie Jones and forced her off the social platform. It was only one example of many that have turned Twitter into a harassment platform par excellence.

At least two companies — Disney and Salesforce — reportedly dropped their bids to buy Twitter in part because of this kind of baggage.

List bombs

Last summer, spam fighter Spamhaus blocked some well-known email service providers (ESP) from the email systems of its clients.

The reason: the ESPs’ IP addresses were used by lists on those services to repeatedly send emails asking the user to click a link for confirmation, or to send email newsletters to recipients who hadn’t signed up.

Reportedly, some email recipients were receiving hundreds of emails per minute from unwanted lists. They couldn’t unsubscribe fast enough, creating a kind of denial-of-service attack.

Those naughty email lists didn’t utilize two common best practices: including a CAPTCHA to prevent bots from automatically adding email addresses, and only sending one email — maybe two — when asking the user to confirm the signup by clicking a link.

Facebook measurement errors

“It’s getting harder to trust Facebook’s math,” our social media reporter Tim Peterson wrote earlier this month, “even as the social network fine-tunes its calculations.”

And it’s getting harder to keep track of the measurement errors that the company reported this past year, some of which have apparently been fixed while others are still open issues.

Some of the errors don’t impact rates brands are charged, but they do impact strategy. And this stream of errors, on top of the huge fake news wave that swept over the social platform, directly strikes at Facebook’s credibility as a source of facts and data.

The opposite of transparency

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is on its toes, catching several instances of deceptive digital marketing practices this past year — although those are probably only the iceberg’s tip.

Last March, fashion retailer Lord & Taylor got spanked by the FTC for not disclosing paid placements among fashion bloggers. In the same month, the federal agency announced its final consent order with Machinima, because the gaming network failed to disclose payments to YouTube influencers for an Xbox promotion.

In June, mobile ad platform InMobi caught a FTC fine of nearly $1 million for capturing location info from users who had not consented. In July, Warner Bros. was shamed for not disclosing that influencer content promoting its “Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor” game was sponsored.

And, this week, the FTC settled with Turn over charges that the mobile marketing firm tracked users even after they had opted out or tried to avoid tracking.

The FTC is doing its job, which is making sure that marketers are transparent about how they do theirs.


Treating movie theaters like website inventory

As someone who once made a living running a film showcase (CENTER SCREEN in Cambridge, Mass.), I still enjoy leaving our high-def TV screen in the living room and venturing out to join others in watching a new feature film at a theater.

Movie theaters are palaces for well-told stories. But that pleasure is threatened these days by the pending evolution of movie theaters — many of which are now showing high-def video, not actual film — into another outpost of programmatic advertising.

Essentially, this means that TV theaters are becoming large-display and remote versions of websites, where transmitted high-def video ads can be programmatically targeted and instantly delivered. This comes on top of trends where beacons are added to theaters to create hot spots for ads and coupons targeted at moviegoers.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the ads’ software had been designed to enhance the movie experience, not make me feel like a junk food addict. In other words, relevance.

To me, ads in movie theaters should be previews of other movies, not paeans to Coke or Expedia. It’s great to go into a good bookstore and see posters or other promotions for books. Because it would change the experience if you went into a bookstore and saw ads for Coke.

Treating theaters like captive audiences for the kind of non-related, advertising over-saturation that many websites and some theaters already display is a fundamental misunderstanding of why the movie theater experience can be special.

After all, with TV screens growing bigger and cheaper while they display phenomenally high resolution, it’s getting to the point where the only way I can enjoy a big screen movie without an assault by irrelevant ads is at home.

Movie theater

Many thanks to the following for their “Naughty & Nice” nominations, some of which were selected: Sean Zinsmeister at Infer, Matt McGee and Claire Schoen here at Third Door Media, Nikeisha Maddox at Hotwire PR, Larry Kim at WordStream, Jen Lopez at Welocalize, Alex Dorer at Goldin Solutions, Sara Ajemian at DiGennaro USA, and Nikki Neumann at Dotted Line Communications.


[Article on MarTech Today.]


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