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Party police raids, drug ‘stings’ & divas: The Drum's Cannes Lions 2018 gossip column

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Cannes Lions is over for another year, but as the rosé turns sticky on the floor of the Gutter Bar and you think of ways to explain the ROI on entertaining clients with €30 burrata every night to your finance manager, there’s one thing that’s sure to follow you home on that Jet2 flight – all the gossip.

What happens in Cannes famously doesn’t stay in Cannes. The Drum’s moles were on the ground, and our very own pub – The Drum Arms – which gave us plenty of access to the scandals happening behind the scenes.

Find out what went on away from the buzz of the Palais from noise complaints to entitled celebrities, The Drum's drummers causing chaos on the strip and the magnetic pull of Sir John Hegarty… ooh la la indeed.

Duty free

A French air traffic control strike the weekend before Cannes led to topsy-turvy, rerouted trips across Europe for hundreds of delegates on route to the Riviera; we heard of attendees flying via Cologne, Milan and even Luxembourg to make sure they didn’t miss that 9am breakfast meeting.

But which programmatic supremo was spotted making the most of his delayed flight in the airport bar? His penchant for Gatwick’s champagne led to an impulsive – and most likely expensive – Lacoste shopping spree.

Don’t call it a comeback

He may have lost the ‘most powerful man in advertising’ crown but yet again Sir Martin Sorrell managed to become the biggest story of the week. There were plenty of whispers about whether he'd show up to Cannes following the events of recent months – but oddly, we’ve rarely seen him look so relaxed. Some attendees even asked The Drum what we were really planning on doing, assuming the interview at the pub was really a publicity stunt (as if we would ever…!)

But from the moment he arrived at The Drum Arms for his first post-WPP interview (through the back door, naturally) it was clear that the outspoken bean counter was back with a vengeance.

After laying into the big six networks, the Financial Times’ reporting and WPP’s handling of his resignation, he slipped out faster than you can say ‘Q&A’.

Martin Sorrell on why he wants Mark Read and Andrew Scott to replace him as co-CEOs #thedrumcannes https://t.co/3lp8PKQpsd pic.twitter.com/slwCT3EK5s

— The Drum (@TheDrum) June 21, 2018

He recycled a handful of pre-prepared jokes when he spoke at the Palais on Friday, however the audience was less sympathetic to the freshly tanned millionaire: delegates booed as he filibustered his own session instead of answering questions from journalist Ken Auletta.

Do ad execs shit in the woods?

Which glamorous party had a distinct lack of toilets for the 500+ people it invited to its celeb-filled celebration? One desperate marketer charmingly told The Drum staff he was going to do a Bear Grylls and “poo in the woods”.

It’s not clear if he was joking or not but he did wander off into the night, which begs the question: if a client does a number two in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Diva on the docks

This East End pop star embraced her inner Mariah Carey this week. When arriving at the port for a night on the yachts she refused to leave her bejewelled high heels on the jetty, forcing staff to choose between a great PR opportunity and their boat hire deposit.

Later, when the same London diva was refused entry to an over-capacity agency party she loudly declared the shop’s comms director was a “jobsworth” in front of their colleagues. It must have been a damned good party! Brits abroad, eh?

A sticky situation

The Carlton’s unfathomable pricing strategy leaves many a suit feeling extorted when the bill arrives. But which creative director was stung big time by Cannes’ hustling drug dealers?

After requesting a wrap of unidentified white powder and paying out €200, his teenage vendor scarpered into the night. Only later did he realise he was actually the proud owner of a rolled-up wrap of sticky tape.

Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this

This year’s News UK party, once again hosted a atop a giant hill at the Château de Garibondy was an absolute hive of gossip. With a set from Kylie, Idris Elba and Fatboy Slim on the decks and a pool stocked with pink flamingos, the glitz and glamour was unrivaled elsewhere.

Aussie chef John Torode was even spotted cooking up a storm at the BBQ, but The Drum’s roving reporters couldn’t help but notice he looked grumpier than a unsuccessful Masterchef contestant.

To be fair, it’s probably not much fun grilling brisket in the blistering heat while drunken ad execs guzzle elderflower gin and tonics around you. It looked like he cheered up a bit later though, when he and his wife Lisa Faulkner got a snap with the Spinning Around singer.

Great night with @JohnTorode1 & @lisafaulkner1 in charge of the #bbq tonight at #newschateau!! & a M&G with @kylieminogue what a party pic.twitter.com/QRD0hh8Yqs — Sean Fitzpatrick (@MySeanySean) June 21, 2018

The crowd went absolutely wild for Kylie, with one chief marketing officer dancing non-stop for the whole session and another top creative giving it his all during Can't Get You Out of My Head.

Praise you like I should

Fatboy Slim, meanwhile, wins the Gold Lion for nicest celebrity of the festival. We heard he spent an hour before his set hanging out with fans and taking pictures. Eat, sleep, network, repeat, right?

Post-party chaos

It's a shame then, that the plug was literally pulled on Fatboy Slim's set. Organisers were believed to have been sticking to strict timings to avoid catching the attention of the French police; a plan which ultimately failed.

The Drum understands News UK was issued fines of €60 and then €1,000. Hearsay on the ground said this was due to noise complaints, but as more officers showed up just as the party was ending, rumours swirled that it was because a rowdy group of underage teenagers wanted to rave to Fatboy.

The police presence then stopped planned pick-up cars from driving up to collect worse-for-wear guests from the château. This resulted in dozens of high-heeled delegates winding their way down a steep, tree-lined hill in the pitch black to hitch a ride back to their hotels – lions, and tigers and swears, oh my!

Heartthrob Hegarty

In case you were wondering, Sir John Hegarty has still got it. After he spoke at a press conference, the scenes of female fans flocking for some facetime with the BBH founder were akin to Channing Tatum’s media lounge appearance in 2016. One journalist even invited him to spend a holiday with her in Colombia – whenever, wherever!

Sacré bleu!

Which restaurant along Le Croisette doesn’t believe in ‘going dutch’ – or, indeed #TimesUp? During one dinner, we were told waiting staff handed out gender-specific menus where the women don’t see the prices.

Staff from one media firm were shocked to discover this when they noticed that only the sole male of the group could see the cost on the menu he was handed. Lucky fella.

No cameras please

This US star came to the speaker's corner of the press lounge to talk business, but was left frustrated after the reporting media failed to ask any her questions at all about the announcement she made.

She rolled her eyes when a bunch of journalists instead swarmed around her for videos and selfies once she was done.

On the ball

Speaking of celebs, did we mention that we interviewed former England manager Sam Allardyce?

In conversation before the England v Tunisia game at the TalkSport bar, he predicted the right score and told us over a Guinness that he doesn’t think Stevie G, Frank Lampard or Joey Barton will still be in a job come next summer.

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Here he is with The Drum's video producer Jamie McMurray and editor Stephen Lepitak.

Jambon ou fromage?

A journalist’s diet at Cannes usually consists of aspirin, coffee and rosé, accompanied by agency dinners if you're lucky or McDonald’s if you're not. But this year it all changed with the introduction of the press room buffet – a revelation that appeared around 3pm every day.

On the Monday there was cheese and bread. On the Tuesday there was ham and bread. Rumours spread that the much-anticipated French coupling of cheese AND ham would arrive on the Wednesday. But alas – never the two did meet.

Band on the run

We were so enamored with The Drum’s new branding that we flew a band of drummers from London to France for the week. Their job was to disrupt the industry – literally – with the harmonious sounds of banging and hollering. Unfortunately, not everyone was a fan.

The police and event security asked the troop to “allons-y!” on several occasions, and Campaign sent them packing from outside their 50th birthday celebrations.

The biggest reaction came when the band surprised our friends at Ad Age – and were subsequently manhandled out of the area.

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The Drum's editor-in-chief and founder Gordon Young even got involved in the action earlier on in the week. Here he is leading the merry band in front of a refined audience at the Gutter Bar.

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All stood up

Which social figure left The Drum reporters waiting 90 minutes for an interview? After an hour and a half of waiting (with only frantic texts from her PR to give us hope) we gave up – only to land an interview with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, aka Game of Thrones' Jaime Lannister, a few boats down. Both his hands were fully operational.

ForgetfulLAD

Which well-known industry PR was said to have his laptop at the Lad Bible villa, only to realise it was missing on is way to the airport. His cab had to turn around so he could return to collect the computer.

It's not clear whether he left it during the social publisher's party on the Tuesday night, which looked a bit like a session at the Love Island villa.

Live From The @ladbible Villa Pool Party #Cannes pic.twitter.com/70fuAdvm7n — DJ Luck & MC Neat (@LucknNeat) June 19, 2018

There's no doubt the Lad Bible crew were partying hard the rest of the week, since the group's 'Trash Isles' campaign scooped a number of Lions.

Too brave?

The Marketing Society's well-intentioned 'brave'-themed lunch proved a bit too bold for some attendees, with one unadventurous guest suggesting that even Heston Blumenthal might have snubbed some of the concoctions on offer.

Can't fight the moonlight

One Australian agency got a bit excitable in the car on its way to one of the many events. As the poor driver weaved his way through the rolling Riviera hills, too much pre-8pm rosé (we heard them say they paid €350 for a bottle) had gone to the execs' heads.

Unprompted, one of the group put LeAnn Rimes' 90s classic Can't Fight the Moonlight on full blast in the backseat, loudly singing along and trying to get our reporters to dance. We preferred the original.

You can follow all The Drum's Cannes Lions coverage here, with more exclusives and one-on-one interviews to follow next week.

All copyrights for this article are reserved to their respective authors.

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That Lot’s David Levin: things I’ve learned from 18 years of working my arse off in London

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Last week, my business partners and I sold our little social media agency to a massive shiny global agency to help take it, as Dane Bowers might say, to another level. Our excitement levels are bordering on Game of Thrones season finale and I’ve mostly been drunk ever since.

But in a moment of self-indulgent reflection last night, during an ad break in Love Island, I asked myself: “How did I get here? And what have I learned?”, to which my internal monologue replied: “You should write a bloody blog about it, mate.” So here we are.

Let’s start with where I’m from. Before reading the rest of this paragraph, please watch the below to get you in the vibe.

Yes, that’s right, I grew up in a reet simple part of the country called Leeds where folk work down’t pit and everybody sounds like Mel B. Rush hour is tolerable, people speak to each other on public transport and in most pubs you can get a round of drinks for a tenner.

Naturally, when given the opportunity to escape to dog-eat-dog London to do an internship at MTV for 8p a month, I put down me Yorkshire pudding, kissed me mammy and me daddy and set off down the cobbled streets shouting: “I’m off to London! I’m off to London!” at me neighbours as I skipped passed them on’t street like a less graceful Billy Elliot. But none of them responded because they’d never heard of London.

Anyway, despite plummeting me into debt and forcing me to live in a hoover cupboard in Cricklewood, the internship was the best thing I’ve ever done. It kickstarted my career, absolutely changed my life and allowed me to hang out with some of the most important artists of our generation such as Kerry Katona, Shaggy and The Vengaboys. I’ll forever be grateful for it. So, there’s my first tip: internships are great.

david Levin
Levin with maestros Shaggy, Atomic Kitten and The Venga Boys

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Having talked my way into a junior news writer position during my internship, I spent the next few years at MTV learning what it actually means to have a job, discovering essentials of professional life such as brainstorms, email etiquette and Jägerbombs.

I also learned that most of the people at the top of their game had something in common: they weren’t dicks. The industry is full of dicks who treat junior staff like crap and give it the full Lord Sugar in meetings, but most of those guys end up working in Chicken Cottage eventually. It’s worth remembering that, in an industry like the media (even more so in social media), the intern you were just a dick to will probably be the global marketing director at Facebook in a few months. So, tip two: don’t be a dick.

A few years later, I heard about this thing called ‘freelancing’ where you can work whatever hours you want for whoever you want and you can work at home in your pants. It sounded great. What nobody told me was it requires some effort to get work and, in order to get paid, you need to spend about seven hours a day chasing these things called invoices.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I made approximately £17 in my first year and ate a lot of soup. But like Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich, I soon got the hang of it. I realised how great freelance life can be. Being your own boss in charge of your own time is a wonderful thing. If you can get your day-rate to a decent level, you can earn what you need without having to work a full week. Or you can work a full week and have a bit of extra cash to save (or to climb out of your overdraft). And being freelance makes you better at what you do because you constantly have to adapt your skills to different clients. That’s tip three: freelancing is good.

After MTV, I made the obvious career move for someone that wants to be a successful freelance writer: I joined a band. We got signed and went on tour and lived like we were on Magaluf Uncovered. I felt like Bono (if Bono ever travels in a transit van). When I ran out money, I started freelancing again. And I was better at it. Because I had a fresh perspective, a renewed hunger and a leather jacket. Tip four: take a break from the thing you do, then go back to it. Particularly you, Bono.

band

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A few years later, I set up a Twitter account for a pub. It was just an excuse to make jokes about east London and 1990s R&B artists, but it got pretty popular and I started getting asked to tweet for brands, famous people and TV shows. Loads of them. I whored myself round dozens of agencies, brands and broadcasters and worked until I passed out.

What this taught me was the importance of a specialism. The Evening Standard called me ‘the UK’s first professional tweeter’. Shortly after I doubled my day-rate (thank you, Evening Standard). A lot of people use the phrase ‘fail fast, fail often’ and I’m sure there’s something clever about that. But I prefer: ‘find something you’re good at, do loads of it fast and often, and keep doing it brilliantly for ages while you get more brilliant at it’. I appreciate, as slogans go, mine is less catchy. But anyway, tip five: find your niche.

In my capacity as the Tweet Writer About Town (maybe I should turn that into an acronym) I found myself speaking at events about my unusual job. If you’ve never done public speaking, it’s terrifying at first but becomes less awful if you stick with it, like Love Island.

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After speaking at one of Twitter UK’s events, I met David Schneider. We went to the pub, I spent two hours reciting my favourite lines from Alan Partridge [Schneider played Tony Hayers in the show], yet somehow he didn’t run away. We decided to start a social media agency with a third Dave (Beresford) who seemed to understand numbers and was also dead good at Photoshop. We all got on brilliantly, we made each other laugh and we were very honest with each other about what we wanted.

And that’s never changed. We’re a team. The three Davemigos (needs work). We took risks, including bringing in someone who wasn’t called Dave: pinching Laura Tannenbaum from Bauer Media who came in and built our accounts team and revolutionised our entire agency. Tip six: if you start a company, do it with the right people (shared first name optional).

As our agency grew, we started pitching for clients and hiring new talent. And in the process of both, something became clear: the advertising/marketing industry is disproportionally white. Not, like, Donald Trump rally white, but as a mixed-race person who tends to be confused for an Egyptian or a Mexican, it’s not uncommon that I’m the only person in a meeting that’s not the same colour as all the other people. When we recruit for a job, we get very few non-white applicants.

But herein lies an opportunity. Many brands and agencies (including ours) want and need to be a lot more diverse. So, tip seven: if any talented BAME folks are reading, and you want to work in social media, get in touch. And if you ever find you’re the only non-white person in the room, use that as a strength. I find a good way to get everyone to shut up and listen to you is to say: “As the only non-white person in this meeting, can I give you a different perspective?” That, or wear a Bob Marley t-shirt.

Building an agency is like building a Bavarian Shortbread Clock Tower Cake on the Great British Bake Off. There’s no point trying unless you have the perfect ingredients. That’s why we’ve hired the most supremely talented and specialised writers, designers, videographers, account managers, strategists, Instagrammers, Facebookers, Tweeters, Snapchatters etc that we could find. Which seems to have worked. Our team is a Bavarian Shortbread Clock Tower Cake made out of humans. Tip eight: hire people who are better than you. And not just at baking.

Perhaps the most obvious thing I’ve learnt from these 18 years of working my arse off in London is: do what you love. If you can get paid to do something that you’d still be doing if you won the Lottery, you’re very lucky (as I pointed out in a thing for Cannes Lion that had the most awkward logo placement of all time).

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For it to be worth putting as much time and energy into your work as most people I know do every single day, it’s got to be something you’re passionate about or part of your well-curated five/10/18/65-year masterplan. Otherwise what’s the point?

Tip nine: don’t do work for fun, girl (or boy). Let it be the one, girl. Love work for a reason, and let the reason be love.

Well done for reaching the end of this romp through the past 18 years of my work-life.

Shoutouts of course to everyone who’s hired me, taught me and helped me over the years; to our unbelievable team at That Lot (now ‘That Lot, a Weber Shandwick agency’), to my family and friends who I only tend to see when nothing major is trending on Twitter and to my fiancée who I haven’t had a proper date night with since the arrival of Instagram Stories.

I now intend to put some of my energy into life outside of work too, starting with a return to those cobbled streets to tell me mam, me dad and everyone in the Yorkshire pudding factory that things have worked out okay in that faraway place they’ve never heard of.

David Levin is creative director of That Lot, which was acquired by Weber Shandwick last week. This article was first published on LinkedIn.

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The Art of Storytelling: why dirty hands are better than beautiful words

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Sixty hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. How can branded messaging avoid getting lost in a sea of noise? Seth Godin’s book ‘All marketers are liars’ claims the answer lies in stories: “Truth is elusive. What we do know is our story. Marketing is storytelling”.

Since then, brands have relied on storytelling to win the attention battle. Countless articles share the secret to telling a great story: understand your customers; engage them in a timely manner; be relevant; be entertaining; create emotional connections. Except storytelling isn’t a magic recipe for turning branded content into entertaining content.

To begin with, what most brands talk about are not proper stories: can Budweiser’s “Whassup”, Old Spice’s “Smell like a man, man” or Cadbury’s drumming gorilla seriously be called stories? Those who think so must never have read War and Peace.

Brands simply don’t need to tell a story to be compelling.

That’s even more true in the social media era where responsiveness is key. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and their ilk have perverted the concept of ‘story’ by attaching it to everything. But in reality, those ‘stories’ are more collections of independent pictures rather than narratives with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Even brands that do tell stories well struggle for credibility. Only 23% of consumers in the U.S. and just 7% in Western Europe believe that “brands are open and honest”.

No matter how great your story is, it’s likely to fall on deaf ears. Hiring social media influencers to tell your brand story for you won’t do the trick either: people have learnt that where there is money, there is no authenticity.

So how can brands thrive in a non-storytelling world? By taking action. Focus on producing useful, beautiful or bold content – and let people judge for themselves whether they buy in or not.

Adopting a ‘show don’t tell’ approach is one way to take action. Rather than telling your audience something they’ll ignore – or at best question – engage in showmanship. Elon Musk could well be the greatest showman on earth right now: who needs advertising after shooting a car into space carrying a mannequin wearing a SpaceX space suit with the radio blaring David Bowie’s Space Oddity?

Such grandiose events might not be attainable for most brands. Red Bull manages to build a more accessible type of show – from sporting events to festivals.

What makes the brand so powerful is the fact that it doesn’t use these events to tell a story about itself. It entertains people and lets them associate the brand with the feelings they get from these events.

But showmanship isn’t a good fit for all brands. Taking a bold stand can sometimes be enough – as long as it is reflected in your offer. Patagonia’s ‘Worn Wear’ programme, which makes it easy for customers to repair or recycle their garment is a case in point: people don’t need extraordinary events where they can see unwavering commitment.

Going back to the entertainment industry, Childish Gambino’s video “This is America” shows again that powerful images and arresting lines can be more memorable than well-constructed narratives. What is striking is that this bold stand against racism has inspired such frenzied analysis; it reminds us that the quality of creative content, no matter which form it takes, can only be judged by how people receive and internalise it.

The moral of the story here is this: rather than crafting beautiful stories about your brand, get your hands dirty. Do something different. Do something spectacular. Or do something meaningful. And if it resonates with people, they’ll do the storytelling for you.

This article originally appeared in The Drum Network Entertainment special

Jeanne Charbit-Dunoyer, consultant, The Clearing

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Brainwashing your wife to want sex? Here is adtech at its worst

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If you need to use targeted adtech to convince your wife to want sex, you are a wanker. In both senses of the word.

This is 2018, so we all know today how marketers and tech companies use online tracking to deliver direct response and sell personal data. For better or worse, most consumers seem to accept it. But there is a new – alleged – platform that embodies the worst of where surveillance marketing can lead.

The Spinner purports to let individuals influence the behaviour of others through tracking that displays tailored news articles on websites that the targets visit. The primary example that the company highlights is that husbands can subliminally convince their wives to initiate sex more often.

Based on the company’s website, the basic idea is that a husband pays $29 and then receives a shortened URL with a tracking code that is linked to a cookie. He then sends the URL in a text message to his wife (with, presumably, some cover story).

When the wife clicks on the link, a cookie is downloaded to the her phone. Then, whenever the wife browses news websites, she will see articles supplied by The Spinner such as “3 Reasons Why You Should Initiate Sex With Your Husband.”

A "news report" in a video on the company’s homepage summarises the process with this graphic.

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The reaction to The Spinner

Maya Kosoff, a tech writer for Vanity Fair and The Hive, tweeted on 9 July that an "Elliott" – see below – pitched her on the company. She wrote: “This is by far the creepiest and worst pitch I've ever gotten. What about the stories I write or who I am as a human being would make you think I wanna write about this?”

“We should all be thanking the Valley Bros that made The Spinner – it might just be what it takes for folks to sit up and take note of (a) how this crap works (b) what it is designed to do (c) how fucked up it all is,” Aral Balkan, a self-described cyborg rights activist, added. “The Spinner is surveillance capitalism in its purest… The Spinner is surveillance capitalism’s Martin Shkreli moment.”

Doc Searls, an adtech critic and the editor of Linux Journal, condemned the idea on Twitter. So did David Carroll, the American media professor who helped to break the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal this year in the UK. The Spinner, he wrote, is “essentially using a spearfishing attack on friends and loved ones to entrap them in a microtargeting/retargeting peer-to-peer digital psyop”.

The Sun in the UK, not surprisingly, published a sensationalist article last week about the platform without bothering to verify anything.

Let’s look at the marketing

The Spinner itself is evil – that goes without saying. If any husband would use the platform on his wife, I am sure she would kick his ass to the curb and force him to listen to Nickelback albums on repeat until his head explodes.

I do not even understand how a cookie could control which articles appear on major, third-party news outlets. But this is a marketing column, so let’s have a look at the communications.

There is a website that looks like it was created by a child in junior high school and includes a home page stock photo of a woman, for some reason, brushing her teeth. There is a call to action that would interest only a lecher such as Donald Trump: “Launch your ‘initiate sex’ campaign today!” The “user reviews” are anonymous and so generic that they must be fake.

The main advertisement is a video consisting of a fake news anchor and a fake reporter saying a fake script. There is this unsupported statistic: “The global number of married men who want their wife to increase the number of initiated sexual advances towards them is estimated to be around 1 billion.”

What my investigation found

This might not be a surprise, but The Spinner may not be entirely on the up and up. I did some digging.

I emailed the address listed on the website. Someone named “Elliot Shefler” replied and said he was a co-founder and the spokesperson. I asked if he could create a dummy account so I could see how the whole thing works for a column for The Drum.

His curt reply? “You can afford $29 for this story.” (If any marketing professors want to show students how not to do media relations, this story is a good example.)

Later, Shefler sent me this text, which he said was what people receive after their paid registration.

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I said that I still needed to verify everything myself and again asked if he could create an account. His reply? He simply wrote “ok good luck” and added the paid sign-up link. I said that I needed to get some basic information for my research, so I asked for the names, backgrounds, and work histories of the co-founders. I received no response.

Several days later, Elliot sent me this curt message: “So did you write about it?” Again, I said that I needed to verify more information. His reply: “This is the info i can give you at this point. Sorry.”

(The first two rules of media relations: any communication with a journalist is on the record unless there is mutual agreement beforehand. And always know the reporters with whom you are speaking. I am obviously the complete opposite of an adtech cheerleader.)

All I know is that Elliot Sheffler's emails were not written in native English, his email headers were in Hebrew and Google found nothing specific on anyone with that name.

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The domain is anonymously registered with Amazon Web Services – which, to be fair, is not that uncommon. But the London address listed on the website is a French bakery. Mon Dieu.

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To quote the immortal words of Elaine Benes, I think this company might be "fake, fake, fake, fake".

As someone who is half-Israeli, lives in Tel Aviv, and speaks Hebrew, I take personal offense to this sketchy operation. It gives credence to the negative stereotypes of Israelis. And even if it is not a scam, The Spinner would still be the worst tech product with the worst marketing in the history of humanity. And I saw Juicero.

The real significance

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps my cynical, journalistic spidey sense is awry when it says this is probably a scam to lead humanity into what would be truly the darkest timeline. Maybe it is nothing like this purported scam discovered by Lukas Stefanko, a malware researcher at security company ESET.

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The Spinner could be a new startup that is seeking so-called “traction” by any means necessary. It could be yet another way to collect and sell personal data. It could be a meta-joke on the adtech industry. As a YouTube commenter on the aforementioned video said, it could even be guerilla marketing for an upcoming season of Black Mirror.

Still, my real concern is not that this alleged company exists. My issue is with how people in the marketing world believe it without a second thought. It reveals the ever-decreasing expectations that marketers have for adtech specifically and the high-tech startup world in general.

If The Spinner were spun in 1998, people would not believe that such technology could be possible and would be aghast at the immorality. But after 20 years of providing personal data in exchange for free services, people today shrug their shoulders at the collection and use of such information.

Today, we just accept that invasive platforms will exist in a world that is increasingly dominated by technology that erodes privacy and targets individuals – in marketing as well as every other part of our daily lives. We just accept that tech companies will do bad things from time to time and shrug our shoulders yet again.

We are only beginning to understand

In response to such occurrences, two American artists whose material looks at the intersection of society and technology, Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne, have created New Organs to study how Internet companies track and monitor people online and offline. (The independent project is commissioned by Mozilla.)

As we are seeing, our over-reliance on technology comes with risks. See these two recent reports from Positive Technologies: researchers obtained full control of the infrastructure of every single corporate network that they tested as well as found that every single Internet platform has at least one security vulnerability.

Just as some unscrupulous businesses accept that their products will result in occasional personal injuries and lawsuits as costs of doing business, so has the world accepted the negative consequences of technology as costs of having high-tech platforms. We are falling down the slippery slope of getting used to more and more invasions of our privacy.

Nothing is safe. But by all means, let’s keep insisting that we should be digital-first in our marketing. Adtech is becoming not only a technology to sell products and services but also a Pandora’s Box that may harm the world irreparably.

Thankfully, both the marketing industry and the world in general are beginning to wake up. Brazil may soon enact its own version of the EU’s GDPR regulation. And as I discussed in a keynote address at the Synergy Digital Summit in Moscow in May, the adtech industry as a whole operates on a set of marketing assumptions that are actually entirely false.

What real relationships need

Thankfully, there is no need to resort to the totalitarian vulgarity of adtech to talk with one’s partner.

Any healthy relationship should have real, constant communication. If you need to use some passive-aggressive advertising platform to discuss your needs, you have bigger problems than a lack of sex. (In response to a query for this column, Rachel Stomel, a women’s rights activist here in Israel, tweeted a meme saying that “it's impossible to love someone and control them at the same time.”)

And if such technology is the only way that you can sell your product, you have bigger problems than a lack of conversions. You wanker.

The Promotion Fix is an exclusive biweekly column for The Drum contributed by global marketing and technology keynote speaker Samuel Scott, a former journalist, consultant and director of marketing in the high-tech industry. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Scott is based out of Tel Aviv, Israel.

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