Sunday, May 29, 2016

“Native Advertising” 1: Dissembling for Dollars

You may or may not know by now that you're being subjected to something called "native advertising" when you read something on line. Here's the industry definition: 

                    "Native advertising is the process of using content to build 
                     trust and engagement with new prospects through paid 
                     channels. The difference between native advertising and 
                     traditional display advertising is that native ads will sit 
                     within the natural 'flow' of content on a social media 
                     platform or online publication."

And bank robbing is a form of engagement with bank tellers and Ponzi scheme promoters are really good at building trust. Except for being dead and in prison, respectively, Willie Sutton and Bernie Madoff could be the new Thought Leaders for native advertising. The typographic emphasis above is mine, but the words are industry canon. 

C’mon, folks; stripped of the pious wording, it’s a way of camouflaging sales pitches to look like objective information. Deception is inherent. Baked in. A feature, not a bug. ”Non-deceptive native ad” would be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. A non-deceptive native ad becomes a conventional display ad, and display advertising is still available most places. Why are marketers not just using that? Maybe because they want to deceive readers about the origin of a story praising their product? You think?  

Publications used to go to some trouble to avoid letting promotional material be confused with editorial. The vehicle for doing that was the advertorial, labeled and formatted to make it unmistakably advertising. The name alone alerted you: ADVERtorial. It would also further be distinguished from the host publication’s editorial matter by being formatted in a different  typeface. But that’s changed.   Paid promotional material today “sits within the natural flow" of the content.  

There are some rules, with which the FTC attempts the patently contradictory and probably impossible task of making native advertising not deceptive, and which will be evaded, ingeniously or blatantly, as marketing people test the limits. That brings up the case of the Lord & Taylor campaign, to be discussed in the next post here.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


As I said in a previous post, I wouldn’t try to compare myself to the late Bernard Baruch in any other way, but he was known for conducting business from a park bench, and I’ve found that to be a really good way to do that.
My bench -- I’ve come to think of it as my “writing bench” -- is in a park-like area of the senior community I live in. It has figured in another post or two on this blog. I keep coming back to it not so much to look at the scene, although that’s really soothing, but to listen to the quiet. Most days the breeze is off the ocean and there’s no sound; you don’t hear anything. True, airliners go over periodically at a few hundred feet on the flight path to the airport eight miles to the west, but that’s less an annoyance than a reassuring reminder that you’re still part of the world outside your little community. You don’t want to become completely disconnected from the world, wars, and famines.
There are squirrels that live here with us, and I used to feed them at this bench (the final piece of the picture of the Senior Citizen) but since coyotes discovered easy pickings on the campus I can’t do that any more. It’s considered fattening the squirrels for the coyotes, who became amazingly bold at one point, inviting an eradication program to be put in place. Now if a squirrel looks like it’s coming toward the bench I get up and leave. One day I had to watch as one actually hopped on to the bench to see if I’d left anything for him, and of course I hadn’t. I’ve stopped carrying peanuts.
Between stiffing the squirrels and knowing the coyotes are being euthanized it’s a bad time for an animal lover here.  Last hope is the rabbits, whose babies start to appear about this time of the year. They’re prey animals, of course, but they’ll have to carry the ball; the rest of us are sidelined.    

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Benches and Why I Like Them

Park benches seem to be good places for epiphanies. I had one, and it was about park benches.
When I was a kid, in good weather, when most of my friends were playing baseball, I was sitting on a bench overlooking the Harlem River, in New York, and reading. Probably the reason I never made it to the majors. The epiphany today was that all these many years later I’m sitting on a bench and writing. There’s a kind of symmetry to that that I find satisfying.
At some point in its course northward, for some reason probably now forgotten, the East River becomes the Harlem River. Nothing about it changes but the name.         At the point where I knew it it divides Manhattan from The Bronx. It’s quite narrow at that spot; you can throw a rock across it easily.
Give you a time marker: had you thrown one while I was reading, you’d have hit a Hooverville on the bank on the Bronx side. The corrugated tin and cardboard shacks were there through the Depression years, until World War II restored the country to prosperity and the occupants found work at Iwo Jima, Anzio, and the Ardennes. I’d seen the West Pointers of a decade or two earlier described as “the class the stars fell on”; they were the generals. Those guys across the river were the generation the sky fell in on. I knew a man who went straight from riding the rods to fighting his way across Saipan. He was only five years older than I was.
But I digress.
Bernard Baruch, who is cited variously in other posts here, used a park bench to meet with people while advising the government. I don’t know if he holds the record, but he advised six presidents in office through two World Wars. Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman; think about that. I doubt the presidents themselves left the White House for his bench (but then I don’t know that they didn’t, either.)   
Were he alive today, Baruch would be an Internet “Influencer” and “Thought Leader.” I don’t know that he was ever a CEO, so he might not have  been eligible for that ultimate validation. I also don’t know if (but I like to think that) he fed squirrels from his bench, as I like to do. In no other way would I try to equate myself with Bernard Baruch, but squirrels are democratic. On the end of a peanut, Barney and I would be the same to them.   

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Three Things I Would Advise LinkedIn To Do

No one asked me, but wotthehell -- other people aren't bashful about putting their opinions forward, and I'm as opinionated as anyone you'll meet, so why not?            I hereby give myself permission to opine publicly. There's the additional advantage that the subject allows me an excuse to use a "number" headline, like the other 300 million people posting on LinkedIn do. 

There are three things that have bothered me for a long time.

- I would eliminate the title "Influencer" bestowed on some people found on line. 

If someone is an expert in some subject, call him or her an expert in his or her field of expertise. If he or she isn't an expert in something, or anything, maybe he or she shouldn't be pontificating. 

If, on the other hand, it's purely a numbers game and about being connected to more people than anyone else, coin a new word. I submit "gregariist." But a generic "influencer" makes no sense. Yeah, grammatically it's similar to the generic "player," but it doesn't have the heft. 

- I would return "content," as found on marketing sites on the internet, to its component parts, calling the written stuff news or entertainment or opinion and the graphic part illustration or photography or video or whichever element an item is. "Content" is a commoditization that keeps prices low on these things for buyers.   Or is that the idea? See earlier posts to this blog for some opinion on that.

- I would end the pretense that "content marketing" and "inbound marketing" is/are something new and wonderful. People have been using these techniques under different labels since forever. And what the "content" people like to derogate as "push" advertising and dismiss as useless, or worse, has sold a lot of product over the years. Narrow it down to business-to-business, where I live, and it's even harder to make a case for difference. Each generation is different in some ways, but today's bright young entrepreneurs are still going to do the things that maximize profit, and the old appeals are still going to work. 

I would also be careful about encouraging "thought leaders." One of the most successful in history led the world into an unpleasant period, 1932-1945.

Wait, that's four things. Sorry.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Strugglin’ with Some Barbecue

If you’re an aficianado of the sport, I’d like to suggest you consider the proposition that one man’s barbecue can be another man’s odiferous burnt offering.
It was brought home to me, not for the first time, while sitting on my writing bench. There’s a steady westerly breeze at my back there most days, and this particular day someone to the west of me decided to sacrifice a steak. From downwind, that’s nothing but the smell of fat frying, and it ain’t appetizing.
When I lived in a third-floor apartment in Los Angeles, a couple downstairs (but upwind) from us used to barbecue on the tiny balcony each apartment had attached. The smoke inevitably wafted upward and eastward to ours. I used to post an article at the central apartment house mailbox area citing medical evidence that barbecued food was carcinogenic.  The article kept disappearing, but I had taken the precaution of photocopying it and so could post it again each time it was taken down. Eventually we moved, and the debate was a draw.
But it’s a contest I don’t expect to win. The custom might have reasonably died with the Cro-Magnons, but then Lamb had to write his “Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” and glorify the idea. No, barbecuing  is here to stay, even if not as the rustic wood-  or charcoal-burning thing it used to be. Bad enough when it was a sack of chips and some accelerant your neighborhood arsonist would have admired. Now people are given to gas-fired kitchens-on-wheels lacking only radio and heater to make them completely self-contained.

I guess it’s fun for some people; just seems odd after all the trouble generations of our ancestors went through to bring cooking in out of the weather. I look forward now to a nostalgic return to outdoor plumbing.