Category: Advertising


Cultural Difference

This is a display in a duty free shop in Guadalajara.


My guess is that the disclaimers are required by law and the multi-pack box cannot be otherwise offered. Still the size of the display and the choice of putting the boxes next to the sign with the sale information rather than just a sign is interesting. Maybe they had to do so or maybe folks are inured to the warnings. Either way it startled me and made me think this display is free market meets information.


How Far Should Safety Ads Go?


I was struck (pardon the pun) by these new safety ads by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’s (MWCOG) Street Smart program. In addition to the vivid ads (above), there’s also a radio spot that begins with the sound of a screaming pedestrian getting hit by a car. You can download the ads at the Street Smart website.

According to the Washington Post:

[O]n average more than 80 people die and 2,000 people are injured a year in pedestrian accidents in the Washington region. . . .

“The idea of the campaign is to get to the core of the issue. It’s a life-and-death situation,” said Jim McAndrew, vice president of Design House, the firm responsible for producing the ads.

D.C. Assistant Police Chief Patrick A. Burke said risks have increased in recent years because pedestrians and drivers are often distracted by cellphones and text-messaging. “We’ve got to get people’s attention back on the road and the street,” he said.

The ads are put up on bus and transit shelters. The poster at the top of this post is a version of the ad that goes on the side of buses. The purpose of the ad is to shock people into being more careful. Effective? Or too vivid?

Hat tip: DCist blog


And Now a Word From Our Sponsors…: The Ethics of Sponsored Courses and Maybe Chairs?

dollars2.jpgInside Higher Ed details that Hunter College offered a course that was sponsored by an industry group called International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (known as the IACC). The group represents major fashion industry companies. The class well that is where the fun begins. Apparently the

students would create a campaign against counterfeiting in which they would create a fake Web site to tell the story of a fictional student experiencing trauma because of fake consumer goods. One goal of the effort was to mislead students not in the course into thinking that they were reading about someone real.

The article raises some good questions: Why have students perform free labor for the fashion industry (and really pay for the privilege?)? What about the underlying lies? These issues remind me of the LonleyGirl issues (there a fake videoblog lured people into what appeared to be a true personal site but was a front for a group launching a film company. Eric Goldman has a set of quick links that highlight the problems of user-generated content, ads, and quality. In general the school’s willingness to offer a class that propagates a shall we say less than authentic Web site is an example of the marketer’s will. Not that this point should exonerate the school. (Note that apparently Iowa turned down money when it was unsure about naming a school after the donor).

Still according to the article “other colleges do work with IACC” including Ohio State University but at least Ohio State does not operate in the same way as Hunter allegedly did. Ohio State seems to set up the projects as out of class activities. Hunter’s class according to some was directed by the IACC such “that the professor was required to teach only one side of the issue, had to accept industry officials watching him teach, and had little clout to fight back since he didn’t (and still doesn’t) have tenure.”

So it goes. Schools need cash and corporations have it. Would a school bow to its donors? Are schools market immune? Of course they aspire to be but the reality is different. Further as public schools lose the endowment race, they will be more and more beholden to outside funding. I am not, repeat not, saying that schools should operate so that they bow to corporate requests. I am saying that the issue is alive and well and not so easy to combat. If the allegations are true, Hunter seems to be the easy case, don’t do it. The harder ones will be the subtle questions of hiring, curriculum, and building funds which can easily look like a decision based on lack of funds when perhaps other interests scuttled the project.

Hat Tip: Slashdot

Image: Manuel Dohmen WikiCommons

License: GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2


Persuading Surfers’ Eyeballs

800px-Ecclesia_romana_(particolare),_XII_sec._d.C.,_mosaico_policromo,_dalla_Basilica_di_San_Pietro.JPGIt’s a grim season for Americans who own homes (or, shopping malls). Luckily, casual blogging for mediocre stakes is quickly filling the gap as the ultimate backstop for the American economy. Well, sort of:

[W]ith the right mix of compelling content and exposure, a blog can draw a dedicated following, making advertising a low-hanging fruit.

“This is really a continuation of how the Web in general has enabled smaller businesses and individuals to compete if not at a level playing field, at least a more equitable level,” said David Hallerman, a senior analyst with the research group eMarketer.

AdSense is an automated program that places targeted advertising on sites big and small. Other programs such as PayPerPost are just as user friendly; bloggers sign up and advertisers cherry pick where they want to place ads based on categories and the number of impressions a site captures.

Getting paid might even help validate what may otherwise seem like a silly or obscure obsession.

For Samuel Chi, started as a way to demystify the convoluted universe of college football rankings.

Chi, a former sports journalist with training in statistics, posts his calculations every Saturday night during the season before official results are released Sunday. From Saturday night to Monday, about 4,000 sports fans log on daily to check out the “guru’s” forecast.

This season, Chi made about $8,000 from the blog; ticket brokers contacted him directly after word about his site got out. AdSense brought in another couple hundred dollars for Chi, the owner of a bed-and-breakfast in Amelia Island, Fla.

A few things. First, it is very hard to imagine that $8,000 is going to validate what is, let’s be frank, a silly and obscure obsession with college football rankings. But putting that aside, it strikes me as odd that the article paid so little attention to the potentially pernicious consequences of running targeted ads on a niche website. With evidence growing that online advertising works, even when it isn’t clicked on, there are, I think, two sets of issues to think about.

First, privacy law. As a commentator to Dan’s earlier post noted, even Concurring Opinions, which has relatively few ads, runs lots of javascript hosted by third-parties. Obviously, sophisticated readers can opt out of this collection regime, but the percentage of readers with this level of know-how is small. I’m not in the group.

Second, total persuasion. As I argued here and more extensively here, we should be troubled by a world in which it is impossible to walk, or surf, “without feeling like a targeted consumer.” In a world where ads are generalized, like T.V., you can a) feel confident in your ordinary defenses to advertising – skepticism, caution, disbelief – will work; and therefore b) you will feel the freedom of being unpersuaded, and in making consumer choices that maximize your well-being, broadly defined. This is not true with targeted advertising. Thus, although it is nice that small blogs like ours can monetize themselves – indeed, I pushed and continue to support the decision to take on advertising – we should acknowledge the cost paid by our readers. Targeted advertising on a blog means that readers become consumers, subject to the most persuasive speech money can buy. Ultimately, I imagine that almost every blog with non-negligible traffic streams will take on advertising, if only to defray hosting fees. And folks can be persuaded from cradle to grave. Even during lunch!

(Image Source: Wikicommons.)


Lessons in Irony: AMC’s Mad Men and the Advertising World

MadMen2.JPGMany have noted that cable networks produce some of the better if not the best shows on television of late. The Sopranos arguably started this trend but other shows such as The Larry Sanders Show and Dream On opened the way for more creative shows. Recently Battlestar Galactica and The Wire (possibly the best show in the past 20 years although it and similar shows owe a small debt to Wiseguy, a network show, as a pioneer of the season-long story arc) have shown what can be done with good writing and a dedication to developing complex characters and story arcs. This past summer one show, Mad Men, joined the list of excellent television fare. (Irony hors d’oeuvre: Apparently the term, Mad Men, was coined by none other than the advertising world).

The series focuses on the world of Madison Avenue advertising in the late 50s. The set and costume details alone justify watching a few episodes, but what sets the show apart is the way it captures the highs of American corporate life after World War II and the seeds of the lows to come. The advertising masters drink, smoke, and screw as they manipulate words and images to sell cigarettes, alcohol, cosmetics, and vibrating weight loss devices that happen to have a sex-related side effect.

Irony first course: When the Mad Men must overcome the first wave of restrictions on cigarette advertising the main character who is more than lost and unsure about the changing world offers, “Advertising is based on one thing happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car, it’s freedom from fear, it’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing it’s O.K. You are O.K.” And one is not sure whether he believes he is O.K. or because needs that reassurance at all times he is a master at his game.

Irony Main Course: Unlike shows on HBO or Showtime, Mad Men is on an advertising supported network. So after a scene where characters develop ad copy designed to hide smoking’s harms, one watches the modern advertising created by the characters’ descendants. Of course with DVRs the ads would be missed but even here the show and AMC have a solution. As one clicks–one, two, three–to zoom past the commercials, a frame in the show’s opening credits’ look and feel appears. One stops thinking the show is back. But no, instead the interruption offers trivia about the advertisement and/or the company behind the advertisement about to air. Brilliant.

The person who watches the show in part because of the historical aspect of seeing how the advertising world grew now stops to learn more about advertising and specifically the advertising of the advertiser supporting the show. The move also captures the popup video and factoid culture of the nineties. Perhaps the strategy is perverse, but one can admire the irony of watching a show about how advertising manipulates an audience and then being manipulated into watching the advertising. Of course one could ignore or avoid the trick but then again if the advertiser gains just a few more eyeballs or manages to have the product stick just a little longer the advertisement has done its job. Besides did you know that Jack Daniels never revelaed the meaning of Old No. 7? “The first Friday’s Restaurant was in New York City”? “L’Oreal has designed and patented over 120 molecules” “Heineken was first sold in the US in: the 1880’s”? Well stop and watch and you will learn that and much more.

There are many other ways to commend this show, but I would have to indulge in spoilers to do so.

cross-posted at Madisonian


Roberson for the Social Networking Generation?

Picture (Flour of the Family).JPGThe New York Times has reported on an interesting case involving the alteration of a photograph for advertising purposes. According to the article, a girl was photographed by a friend at a church car wash, who uploaded the photograph onto photo-sharing site Flickr. The photo was then downloaded and altered by an Australian mobile phone company, and used for billboard advertising. The girl was portrayed in the ads as an example of the kind of “loser” pen pal that cell phone subscribers could finally “dump.” The girl has sought legal action against the Australian company under a number of theories.

This is a complex case involving a number of legal issues, including creative commons licenses and copyright law, and the application of U.S. law overseas, but I’m most interested in it as a privacy case, because the facts are strikingly similar to the seminal case of Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., 64 N.E. 442 (NY 1902). In Roberson, a company used the photograph of another young woman to advertise its flour under the terrible slogan “flour of the family.” Although the New York Court of Appeals rejected the young woman’s claim that her right to privacy had been violated, the controversy that the case created resulted in the New York legislature creating a statutory right to privacy shortly thereafter. The privacy tort advocated by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in their influential 1890 Harvard Law Review article “The Right to Privacy” was adopted in a variety of related contexts, but this dimension of privacy — the appropriation of likeness for commercial purposes — has been the most numerous and the least controversial. Dan Solove and I talk more about these cases (including Roberson) here, in an article that is about to go to press.

Assuming that some version of the appropriation tort is applicable to the Australian company (and that’s a fairly big assumption, I think), this case looks to be a straightforward application of the appropriation tort. The basic theory of the tort is that it is unreasonable to allow businesses to use photographs of unwilling subjects for advertising or other commercial purposes. The injury remedied is an emotional one – the hurt feelings stemming from the unwanted exposure of one’s likeness to the public, especially where (as here) it is an unflattering likeness. There are two points worth noting, though.

First, the theory of the appropriation tort contains a good helping of gendered notions of separate spheres. I think it’s no coincidence that most of the early successful privacy litigants were female, as courts recognized the cause of action to preserve Victorian and Edwardian notions of women as delicate beings whose sensibilities could be hurt by too much publicity. I think that even if we put archaic notions of separate gender spheres to one side, the appropriation tort is justifiable, but under a theory about what sorts of commercial activities are reasonable and unreasonable.

The second point is the lurking spectre of the First Amendment in all of this. Courts in 1902 (indeed for most of the twentieth century) rejected any idea that there was a First Amendment interest in commercial activity or even advertising. But with the rise of commercial speech doctrine since the 1970s (ironically first as an offshoot from the constitutional right of privacy to protect abortion services advertising), the commercial world of advertising has become enmeshed with the First Amendment. Although there are First Amendment issues raised by the other privacy torts, the appropriation tort in its core case does not threaten First Amendment values. The right of commercial advertising is founded not on notions of individual expression but on the need of consumers to receive potentially valuable information about new products. Misappropriation of pictures does not threaten that interest at all. If we take First Amendment arguments seriously in this context, it will become difficult to see how there is not a First Amendment right to engage in other kinds of commerce – we will have created (as I argued here) a kind of First Amendment Lochner.

In any event, the Flickr photo case shows that there seem to be legs in the old appropriation tort yet, and it will be interesting to watch this case as it develops.


Why Advertise Here?

cocacolla.jpgSo we’ve decided to take some advertising. Now that we’ve disclosed what we’re going to do with the ginormous revenue stream, no doubt other ads are on the way.

Now in my view, you should absolutely click through to our advertisers’ webpages. It will help make this site better, and it doesn’t cost you much time. But I have the nagging suspicion that click-through rates for most blogs are quite low. So, why would rational businesses spend their marketing budgets here?

There is some literature on this problem. The answer seems to be something called the “exposure effect.” As John Timmer explains:

There is a long history of experiments that show that repeated exposure to a stimulus that’s barely perceptible can enhance a person’s feelings towards what’s otherwise a neutral object. These feelings can include a liking or more subjective things such as “fame, truth, duration, loudness, stimulus brightness and darkness.”

Timmer is summarizing the findings from Xiang Fanget al.’s An Examination of Different Explanations for the Mere Exposure Effect, in which the authors noted that banner ads are a great candidate for increasing brand strength. They tested the hypothesis, and found that

“repeated incidental exposures to banner ads resulted in increased perceptual fluency without increasing recognition. Consistent with past research, we found increased perceptual fluency to be accompanied with more positive evaluations of the ad but not with negative evaluations, suggestive of a positive affect.”

Thus, the article tartly notes that a “practical implication of this research is that online advertisers might be placing excessive emphasis on the click-through rates—the primary metric for measuring the effectiveness of online ads. Our results suggest that even when there is no overt sign of effectiveness, such as recognition or click through, the banner ads may still impact ad liking.” Even more interesting, from the perspective of some who might be worried about overkill, “consumers tend to have a relatively high level of tolerance for repeated exposure to banner ads—the wear-out effects of banner ads did not kick in even after 20 exposures in this experiment.”

I’ve got to say that I find this research both fascinating and frightening. On the one hand, it hooks into my total persuasion hypothesis. On another, it suggests an inefficiency in the market for online advertising dollars, which allocates money based on click through rates. Perhaps as this research is replicated, that inefficiency will dissipate. What metric for online advertising’s efficacy is on the horizon? Change in Q-Scores?

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons).

The Marketized Epistemology of Not-so-Random Ads

Via Brian Leiter: Scholars including Michael Fischl and Angie Littwin are disturbed by the Google-served ads that appear next to their papers on SSRN. Littwin states:

I would strongly prefer not to have ads for credit cards running next to my paper arguing for major changes in the credit-card market. And that subject-matter mismatch will often be the case.

The ads raise a number of interesting issues addressed by both Leiter and Lipshaw commenters. On the one hand, I agree with Hal Varian’s point that marketing in general can create a great deal of value by connecting people to products in unexpected ways.

On the other hand, I think it’s important to realize who is permitting these “potential rebuttals” and who is not. Many have called for a “norm of trackback” on newspaper editorial pages that would give some small platform to critics of their contents. But it’s not really catching on. By and large, the people who will have to give a “right of reply” to critics (via served ads) are people that can’t afford to run their site without such funds.

So though we’ve gotten a bit beyond Liebling’s old bromide “freedom of the press belongs to one who owns one,” inequalities of influence persist in unexpected ways. The credit card companies can easily afford to saturate served ads with their content by, for example, bidding up the price of adwords like “loan” or “luxury splurge.” I very much doubt Prof. Littwin could buy her way onto the MBNA site….though ISP-inserted advertising might provide a way around that.


Hillary Taps Into Soprano America

Hillary Clinton’s featured in a new video playing off the Sopranos closer. It’s fun to see Bill and Hil acting, and there’s a nice guest appearance to boot. Remember Bill playing his sax on Arsenio Hall? These guys understand that you need to position yourself in the true American heartland – TV – if you want to connect with voters.

Watch it here. (You’ll have to pass through a fund-raising machine to get there.)