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Disrupt This Ad

6 Dec

When he spoke in front of a room of media professionals at Code/Media earlier this year, Gabe Leydon of Machine Zone, the mobile gaming giant, spooked the room with his view that brand awareness, CPM-based digital campaigns will soon go the way of the dodo. There is such a fondness among Silicon Valley types for disruption, or at least the appearance of disruption, that this seemed newsworthy. A young Turk taking on the dinosaurs. But Leydon’s experience with digital media buying at Machine Zone is not representative of the myriad needs of different brands and publishers across the web. To think his experience is universal would be a mistake.

Leydon talked about his company’s revenue model of in-app purchases within a mobile game. For the very particular product that he is selling, heavy advertising on Facebook has proved very successful. Machine Zone pays Facebook a click per install rate, and the more people install the app, the more people get hooked and pay for in-app purchases, which is where the real money is made. Fine. But not all advertisers are Machine Zone; their objective isn’t installs or in-app purchases, but the purchase of flights to new airline routes, or a public awareness campaign to sign up for healthcare, or a sale on stylish sunglasses. The aforementioned examples are just some that I remember from my days running ad campaigns on display, mobile and video. Different advertisers have different goals. Installs are not the only metric that matters. Far from it.

In the talk, Leydon also indicated that publishers avoid quantifying their media, that they are all in on the racket.  That is simply not borne out by my experience. What I found when working with publishers is that they are often not as knowledgeable as they need to be about how to earn money online. Publishers are not the enemy; along with Leydon, I blame ad tech. There are always studies showing that bots make up a huge proportion of web traffic. Moat recently made the New York Times with its new product offering, a traffic verification tool. I worked at an ad network that sought to be transparent by using Moat’s technology. But in this age of programmatic buying, transparency and quality fall by the wayside. Digital advertising provides so many more opportunities for advertisers to glean insights into consumers, to create partnerships with publishers, to sell products effectively. I wholeheartedly support more transparency and efficiency in online advertising. Can a one-stop shop really handle the creation, placement and trafficking of online campaigns? Is Leydon’s insistence on disrupting online media buying prophetic or shortsighted? I am reminded of the saying “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” One company’s needs do not represent the trends of the rest of the industry.

 

 

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Prolonged Adolescence in Silicon Valley

9 May
Stats on Mexican Facebook users

Stats on Mexican Facebook users

Yesterday, through sheer luck and twist of fate, I ended up having lunch at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, followed by a quick tour of the ‘campus’. Strolling through the central plaza of the campus, where young people in cutoff shorts were eating ice cream cones, riding bikes, and eating at cafeterias stocked with a salad bar, pizza, and sandwiches, I was transported to my freshman year at UC Santa Cruz, which looked and felt eerily similar (even the music playing in the cafeteria, such as Incubus and Third Eye Blind, was right out of my freshman year). As a mere thirty three year old, I normally don’t feel old. I stride comfortably between the carefree abandon of the 20’s and the sweet responsibility of family and career that many experience in their thirties. And yet I was torn while walking the Facebook campus yesterday, between yearning to work in such a carefree place and being a bit put off by a such a place. A publicly traded company that does everything in its power to keep its twenty something employees in a state of prolonged adolescence?

I couldn’t help thinking of the broader connection to bro culture and the infamous Peter Pan syndrome of many San Francisco men. They are able to live a life of little responsibility, having fun all the time and never committing to a community, a home, a woman, a career. And again, I’m torn. I don’t deny that it’s an appealing lifestyle. But it’s essentially a prolonged adolescence, a state of arrested development. It ultimately bothers me because at some point in life, we must grow up. College is awesome, from ages 18 to 22, but do I really want to relive that lifestyle as a woman in her thirties? No. I am free from the responsibilities of family, as I am unmarried with no children, but I do feel a sense of responsibility to myself and my community. I realize there is more to life than having fun (though having fun and enjoying oneself is important). Serving others, being a good daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, using one’s talents for good. I think these things are the hallmark of maturity. And because I’ve wanted to be a grownup since I was about 5 years old, I look on at the extreme youth culture of Silicon Valley with some bemusement. I mostly think, grow up kids.

Having said all that, Facebook, if you ever want to hire me, give me a call!

Don’t Fear The Twitter

26 Apr

Recently,  a consultant came to speak at my company, giving a short and frankly run of the mill presentation about customer service, fulfilling one’s potential, etc. With his own iPhone in hand, he spoke at length about how the smartphone (and all modern technology) take up more and more of our time, sapping us of productivity and gross national happiness. Much of his presentation rang true to me, with the exception of the above peroration. I think it is simply a generational difference. For, although I have spoken previously about how social media changes our interactions with (and expectations of) others, I think that, rather than drag us down, it can lift us up. Social media, after all, is social, and is a simple reflection of the user. Technology will only bring you down if you let it!

It was not long after the work presentation by Matt Foley that I read a piece by Dr. Peggy Drexler in Huffpost about, what elese, the pros and cons of Twitter. I see the same hand-wringing in her list of cons that I heard from our visiting consultant. She mentions that one of the drawbacks of Twitter is the potential harm to one’s professional reputation if Twitter is used irresponsibly: “many employers reject potential employees whose Twitter profiles include provocative photos, evidence of drug use or drinking, negative posts about previous employers or co-workers, or comments that might be interpreted as racist, sexist, or ageist”. Now, is this a drawback to Twitter? No! It is a reflection of the user. If you’re a positive person who likes to follow the local news (like me for example), your tweets will reflect that. If you have a toxic worldview, that will be reflected too. Don’t blame the tool for exposing a few tools in society.

Drexler does go on, however, to point out what I think is the best pro to Twitter, and that is the fact that, while it is good for self-promotion, it is even better for promoting others. Just like being retweeted is a great feeling (wow, someone I don’t know likes what I said!), it is a good feeling to retweet someone else. The immediacy of Twitter can lead to instant recommentations, interactions, joking, cajoling, flirting, connecting. And yes, if you’re a jerk it can probably also lead to instant trolling. But like attracts like, as I often like to say. If you like smart, funny people in real life, you will be drawn to those people wherever you go, in real life or in the Twitterverse. So stop fretting about technology’s hold on our lives and allow yourself to control it. Like almost anything in life, it is what you make it.

Through a Google Glass Darkly

26 Feb
Protesting a Google bus

Protesting a Google bus

Well, now tensions between the tech haves and the non-tech have-nots in San Francisco have really come to a head. A young woman walked into a punk bar in the Lower Haight wearing Google Glass and was promptly mugged. Or at least that is what the enterprising young woman has told the local press, who have used the non-story to fuel their hot narrative about the two San Franciscos (presumably, those who wear Google Glass and those who don’t). Although I usually empathize with crime victims (as a slightly built single woman, I always feel that I am one wrong turn down Eddy Street away from becoming the next one), I have to admit that in this case, I stand with the bold patrons of Molotov’s. I’ve never seen Google Glass in real life, but boy would I love to smack them off a user’s face.

Why? Because it is a computer that you wear on your face. Iphones are commonly stolen items because, as police officers like to remind us, they are the equivalent of walking around with a computer worth several hundred dollars in our pockets. They are the most valuable thing most of us own. If you keep it in your purse or pocket you’ll be safe. But advanced technology that you wear on your face? That allows the user to surreptitiously identify passersby, take their picture and record them? It has douchebag written all over it.

My own Luddite tendencies aside, the incident illustrates the culture clash that is taking place here in Baghdad by the Bay. There is nothing so bourgeois as wanting to take a brief walk on the wild side only to retreat afterwards to one’s comfortable home. I’m sure the girl with the Google Glass thought it would be great fun to take a peek inside Molotov’s, a very divey bar indeed. I’ve never been inside, but have often walked past and noted the surly, sullen patrons and all of their leather and tattoos.  I’m sure the people who stole her pricey device are annoyed at the influx of young, wealthy types and their inane conversations. I am far from the average patron at Molotov’s, and I know I am. So I couldn’t help but feel a slight thrill at hearing of this “crime”. They tossed the device off of her head? Good for them!

Have fun with your gadgets, sure, but learn to let your hair down a little. Put the phone down and take the glass off when you’re out on a Saturday night. You might actually, I don’t know, meet some cool Lower Haight residents.

El Amor en la Era de Facebook

17 Oct

En qué momento de una nueva relación se agrega a la otra persona en Facebook? A la medida que nuestras vidas se viven en línea, conocemos a gente en línea, y vamos conociéndonos mejor en línea también. A veces, tras conocer a alguien, uno (el otro) quiere agregarnos como amiga en Facebook. Para mí, se puede caer en esta trampa fácilmente. Es la trampa de creer que le conoces- porque puedes ver que le gustan los 49er’s, que asistió a UCLA, que le gusta ver The Walking Dead, que hace poco fue a Yosemite. Pero quiero saber esas cosas porque surgieron en el transcurso de una conversación, y no porque los vi en su Facebook.

Yo estoy totalmente a favor de no ser amigos inmediatamente. Quizás estoy viviendo en el pasado, pero lo veo como un atajo, una solución fácil de entrar en los vericuetos en la vida de uno. Si sé qué hiciste el fin de semana pasado, pues quiero saberlo porque me lo dijiste, no porque lo vi en tu perfil; las mismas fotos que vieron tu tía en Filadelfia y tus amigos del cole. Sin embargo, he encontrado en mi experiencia personal que a los hombres les gusta ser amigos virtuales inmediatamente. Les gustan los atajos, porque así se evitan momentos torpes. Conocer a los amigos de él? Ya es más fácil que nunca. Pero Facebook es un foro público. Lo que se publica se publica para todos los que se componen nuestra red personal- familia, colegas, maestros, ex novios, amigos de toda la vida y nuevos amigos, mientras que iniciar una relación se trata de conocerse de modo mas íntimo.

Cuando digo íntimo no hablo de sexo. Hablo de intimidad emocional, lo que viene de tiempo pasado juntos, y no de los personajes ideales que mostramos a los demás. Sí, en las primeras citas es así, presetamos nuestros lados preferidos, pero para profundizar la relación hay que empezar de cero. Empezando como amigos en Facebook, tomamos un atajo. Hay que ir mas lentamente.

11 Reasons Internet Listicles Are Easy Click Bait

8 Oct
Click Here

Click Here

I’m gonna come out and say something I should be ashamed of: I read the HuffingtonPost. Wow, admitting it feels good. Yes, the site is one of the most visited in America, so someone’s visiting Arianna’s big old blog aggregator, but who really admits it? I mean the site doesn’t have a distinct personality, really, it is all things to all people. But if there is one thing that the HuffPost excels at, and that gets me clicking like crazy, it is listicles.

Here’s an experiment. Let’s list the articles on the homepage with numbered lists in the title: 5 Things Rich People Do! 25 Things Every Woman Must Know! 9 Things People Over 50 Never Want to Hear! 7 Ways to Eat Good on a Hood Budget! 10 Ways Science is Suffering Under Government Shutdown! Now admit, the number in the title of each of these articles reassures you and tells you hey, I won’t take much of your time. You won’t be scrolling endlessly to read me. You’ll get some info and you’ll be on your way.

Let’s face it, listicles are the fast food of content consumption. They leave you feeling briefly satisfied afterwards, but mostly wanting something more nourishing later. For true nourishment, I suggest The New Yorker or a good novel. And in ode to listicles and the marketers who love them, here is a totally random, tongue-in-cheek list I made for your immediate satisfaction. 11 reasons listicles are total click bait:

  • Google has a special algorithm that reads bullet points alone.
  • Numbered lists should ideally be a prime number. Bonus points for odd numbers.
  • Each bullet point should be short and sweet. Ideally two sentences made up of around 8 words.
  • You should count the number of words in each bullet point. This adds unnecessary bullet points.
  • You should also use a bullet point to link back to a previous post. See how I did that?
  • Go ahead and link to random outside content. Links links links!
  • Be topical. Yes, it will lose value in the long-term, but in the short term, being super topical makes you now and of the moment. So, Miley Cyrus government shutdown Oktoberfest!
  • Some of your points will be really useful and/or insightful, but let’s face it, you have space to fill. You need some filler. So go ahead and just fill a bullet point with bla bla bla.
  • Lastly, end on a positive note. Your reader should have learned a little teeny tiny bit about something- say, that rich people don’t buy without first comparison shopping!- and then let them go on their merry way.

The Apple Hype Machine!

10 Sep
Apple Hype

Apple Hype

Well, in case you missed it, Apple announced a new model of the iPhone today. There will be a cheap version and a not so cheap version. One will be made of plastic and the other will be made of gold, if you so desire. But what struck me about today’s announcement is the inordinate amount of hype that went into it. A co-worker who is ordinarily far from a techie was breathlessly reading out updates as they came in on Twitter. Apple is one of those few brands that inspires such devotion among its customers. I know that I have single-handedly helped keep them in business with my MacBook, iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, and my loyalty comes from knowing the pain and heartache of having dealt with a PC, and all of its attendant security updates and viruses. Apple is smooth, it’s simple, it’s pretty, and always has been. But will it continue to be in the future?

I worry that without the visionary leadership of Steve Jobs, Apple is sacrificing innovation for incremental boosts in stock prices and nearly non-existent improvements in product. The iPhone 4S has a killer app: Siri, voice activated help for virtually any situation. No one else has a Siri-like app on the market. But ever since Siri, we’ve gotten the iPhone 5, which offers nothing more than a thinner model and a longer screen, and the new 5C and 5S, which offer affordability and increased battery power. Nevertheless, if reports of fingerprint recognition are to be believed, Apple has made a huge step forward in security (keep your hands off my phone, iPhone thieves!). But there are no great leaps forward, no vision. I wonder if Apple is keeping up with the rumors of Amazon, the ultimate disrupter, producing a contract-free phone, and if so, if they are ready to not just make modest adjustments year in and year out, but to lead the pack as before. In any case, they’ll always have the fanboys and the hype machine at their disposal.