Tag Archives: Business & Advertising

Tasteless Facebook Ad: Crosshairs on US Military Personnel

I was looking at an event one of my friends created for his birthday when one of the Facebook ads on the upper right caught my eye.  Normally, I don’t pay any attention to Facebook ads because they are usually for stupid things like dating sites, Facebook games and all sorts of services that I would never use, but this one was different.  I was pretty shocked by what I saw.

tasteless facebook ad

Most ads for arcade shooters have cartoony characters in them, but this was different.  The soldiers clearly look like US soldiers in desert camouflage, being viewed through a sniper scope.  They could be soldiers who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.  A quick Google search for American soldiers reveals plenty of photos that look very much like the one used in this advertisement.  Even if they are not American soldiers, I still think it is wrong.

The text in the ad really puts it over the top:

RAW Shooter. No story, no tactics, no costs.  Just aim and shoot.  Addicting.  Click here to PLAY!

I have no problem with shoot ‘em up games, but to use real soldiers being targeted via sniper rifle in an ad is in poor taste and offensive.  Many soldiers have died as a result of sniper attack in Iraq and Afghanistan and to make it into a game is really crossing the line.  Whether you agree with the war or not, these soldiers serve our country.  They do not deserve to be targeted in a Facebook ad to promote some dumb game.  This ad is disgusting.

I clicked on the ad and was taken to Gamevance.com, a site that allows you to play a whole bunch of arcade style games.  At first I thought that the ad was created by a freelance search marketing company that gets paid for driving traffic to the company, but could not find an affiliate program.  The site may use another type of affiliate marketing, but I could not find it easily.  There are three possible conclusions.  First, gamevance.com created this ad promote their shoot ‘em up game.  Second, a freelance marketer without a connection to gamevance.com created the ad.  Third, there is a chance the soldiers approved their images in this ad, but I highly doubt it.  Gamevance should make sure that this ad is not shown again.

Which brings me to my next question: how did this ad get approved by Facebook?  They usually take at least a day to approve ads when I have used them for different businesses and have some pretty stringent rules for companies to follow before ads are approved.  How did the Facebook Ad approval process allow an ad like this to get through?  Someone at Facebook has some explaining to do.

I also wonder how other Facebook advertisers feel about this ad.  When I saw the RAW Shooter ad, there was a large banner for Freshetta pizza below it.  I wonder how they like being featured on the same page as an ad targeting US military personnel through a sniper scope.  Facebook has advertisers like Freshetta, AT&T and many others.

What do you think?  Is this advertisement offensive?  How do you think it got past Facebook’s approval process?  Do you think other advertisers will be annoyed by this?

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Black Friday: Advertising Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I wrote about advertising, so seeing as it’s Black Friday and millions of Americans woke up early (or stayed up all night) to go shopping at ungodly hours, I thought I’d write a little about some of the current campaigns that motivated Americans to shop.  First, the bad.

AT&T has been in a battle with Verizon for mobile phone dominance for the past few years.  Verizon still has more subscribers and a bigger network, although AT&T has closed the gap and even taken the lead in some areas.  AT&T’s launch of the iPhone has been a huge boost for AT&T, but lately Verizon has been hitting back.  They launched a commercial that shows two maps of the US, one showing Verizon’s 3G coverage and the other showing AT&T’s 3G coverage.

ATT&T wrote an open letter trying to explain the situation, but they also created their own commercial to show that they too offer service in most of America.  It sounds like a good idea, but for me, the commercial fails.  It opens with Luke Wilson standing on a map of America saying that he got postcards from people all over the US who are able to use AT&T’s network.  Wilson reads off tons of cities and tosses the postcards where the cities are on the map.  Pretty soon, the entire map is covered in postcards.  It might be a cool idea, but they picked Luke Wilson.  As the viewer, I immediately think, “why couldn’t you get Owen Wilson?”  Is AT&T really the second most famous Wilson brother and Verizon is Owen, the big movie star?  It’s almost too perfect since AT&T is playing second fiddle to Verizon and had enough of an inferiority complex to respond to Verizon’s national 3G coverage map with an open letter to consumers.  At least they didn’t pick Andrew Wilson to be their spokespan.  Then people would think they were US Cellular.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjwBHqa6lZI

Sears has always had fairly tame advertisements around the holidays an this year isn’t any different.  Their ads are actually fairly good until the end, when they show their 2009 Christmas slogan.  Their slogan is “More Values, More Christmas.”  It hardly seems right to equate buying more things with more Christmas.  Wal-Mart does the same thing with their slogan “Christmas Costs Less at Wal-Mart.”  It seems wrong to me to equate being able to buy more things with “more Christmas.”  I’m not even going at this from religious perspective, simply a materialistic one.  Both stores are equating buying more things with being happier.  It’s a good message for the stores’ bottom line, but not for everyone else.

Finally, the last of the bad.  Kopps Custard, a local institution in the Milwaukee area used to have a billboard on I43 that showed the flavor of the day.  It let you know if you should take a right turn when you got off the highway or continue to your destination.  If it was a good flavor, you got off and got custard.  If it was bad, you continued on.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve stopped because the billboard showed Tiramisu, Chocolate Peanut Butter Chocolate or Grasshopper Fudge.  It was a great ad because it motivated people to change behavior and buy.  You can now follow Kopps on Twitter, but it’s just not the same.

Now, onto the good.  This year, Best Buy sent out their Black Friday circular in newspapers around the country, just like they did in other years.  The only difference was that in heavily Muslim areas, they included a bubble at the top that said “Happy Eid Al Ahda.” Eid Al Ahda is a holiday celebrated by Muslims that runs from Friday until Sunday.  Predictably, Best Buy’s decision has drawn criticism from some right wing Christians, including some who want to boycott the store.  I think this is yet another manufactured issue and commend Best Buy for using some innovative marketing to try to tap into an underrepresented market.  As an aside, I also laugh at companies that refuse to mention Christmas in their holiday ads.

Happy Thanksgiving and if you are shopping today, good luck finding those deals.  Remember, door busters don’t mean that you should literally bust the door down.

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Are you Missing the Unintended Consequences?

I attended a talk by Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, last night at the Kohl Center in Madison.  Pollan is one of my favorite writers and thinkers because he almost always has a new take on old problems that bring new and interesting points to the debate.  Pollan is most famous for In Defense of Food, an “eater’s manifesto” on how to eat well and forsake the “western diet” of processed foods and refined carbohydrates.  His book is interesting on many levels, but what struck me during the talk was how many of the problems that Americans have relating to their diet are unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies crafted by nutritionists, nutritional scientists, government bureaucrats and health-conscience consumers.

For example, Pollan talks about how throughout American history, there have been “blessed” and “evil” nutrients.  In the 1800s, protein was evil and John Harvey Kellogg led the charge against this scorage, leading many Americans to give up their traditional eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes for boxed cereal, with the blessed carbohydrates.  Later, it was fat, leading to the creation of margarine and transfat to replace real butter and animal fat.  The Atkins phenomenon brought protein back because carbs were supposedly bad.  There have been many other examples of this throughout American history, but these are the easiest ones to see.  Each of these movements were started by people with good intentions who wanted to make Americans healthier.  At best, they did not work.  At worst, they made things worse.

The margarine and other plant fats that scientists created ended up being worse than the fats that they were replacing.  Pollan claimed that this switch led to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from heart disease and other preventable diseases.  These deaths were an unintended consequence of food scientists and the government’s good intentions to help American live healthier lives.

Pollan’s talk led me to start thinking about other unintended consequences and how many people miss their impact in everyday life. I found some relating to our food, including some potential ones relating to Pollan’s “eater’s manifesto.”  Subsidizing the corn and soybean market after the USSR’s wheat crop failed in order to ensure that we never went hungry led to monocultures and a crash in farm prices, which led to fewer family farms.  It has led to America’s overproduction of cheap corn, which made high fructose corn syrup the cheapest and easiest sweetener to work with, leading to cheaper manufactured food and fatter, less healthy Americans.  Cheap subsidized corn and soybeans make it tough for farmers in Africa to compete and pull themselves out of poverty.  Now I don’t believe that each of these are straight cause and effect relationships, but its clear that these unintended consequences of trying to make sure that America’s food supply is secure have continued to ripple across the world since the 1970s.

Pollan’s manifesto advocates that we eat food, not too much, mostly plants and move away from packaged, processed “food like substances.”  This is a good goal, but he also advocates moving away from monoculture and large industrial farms.  The thinking is that we we have healthier plants, animals and humans if we diversify our food supply and stop growing huge amounts of corn and soybeans for use in just about everything.  Pollan believes that these types of changes could help solve global warming, the healthcare crisis and  potentially the current economic crisis.  It is clearly a noble goal, but what about the unintended consequences?

If farmers move away from high yielding monocultures, might we be at a larger risk of famine in the future as populations rise?  Could we lose jobs in the current food industry?  Could lower yields lead to higher food costs, much like how increased demand for corn based ethanol raised food prices worldwide, with most of the increased hurting the world’s poor?  Are there some other unintended consequences that Pollan’s way of thinking might bring about, much like the other big changes to our food supply brought to America’s dinner tables?

Personally, I think it is worth experimenting with Pollan’s ideas because I’m not sure we can do much worse than we are doing now, but it would be foolish to simply accept them and begin to implement them immediately.  I don’t believe that Pollan is calling for this, but I have not seen much research into the potential unintended consequences of his ideas. It reminds me a story I just came across the other day about tuna fishing.

In the early 1990s, groups like Greenpeace were outraged that tuna fishing companies were killing hundreds of dolphins with each catch.  Here’s how tuna fishing works

The main way that tuna is caught is through purse seines in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Basically, after a large group of tuna is located, a miles-across purse seine net is closed around them via a group of small boats associated with a large factory ship.  It’s an effective way to catch large amounts of fish for not a lot of money.

This technique is pretty standard- the main variation lies in how the large group of tuna is located. There are basically three ways to do this.

1) Get lucky and happen to stumble across a large group of tuna visible from the surface in the middle of an enormous ocean. Obviously, this isn’t terribly practical.

2) Attract tuna using floating objects.  Stay tuned, we’ll come back to #2.

3) Follow dolphins, because dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific are often associated with large schools of tuna. Dolphins are easy to follow because, unlike tuna, they have to come up for air.

For a long time, #3 was the most common way of catching tuna. The problem with this method was that by definition, dolphins are right there- and they get caught in the net as well. Despite the honest effort of many sailors to free dolphins (there is a long maritime tradition of respecting dolphins), by some estimates, around 500,000 dolphins a year were killed as a result of bycatch.

Sounds terrible, right?  500,000 dolphins EACH YEAR were killed as a result of this tuna fishing.  Groups like Greenpeace and others marshaled public support and got the rules changed, making dolphin following illegal.  People could not fish for tuna by following dolphins to big groups of tuna.  So what happened?

Tuna fishing fleets rapidly switched over to method #2, attracting tuna using floating objects.  If you put a log in the middle of the ocean, within hours it will be surrounded by fish. It may have something to do with the fact that many open ocean fish can go their entire lives without encountering a hard surface.

The floating objects now used by tuna fishing fleets are quite high tech- they have sonar and video cameras that allow the flagship to detect how many fish are near that object. Once there are enough, the purse seine comes and scoops them all up- and the floating object is redeployed.

The big problem with this method is that floating objects don’t only attract tuna. EVERYTHING is attracted to floating objects, including sea turtles, sharks, seabirds, billfish, and, yes, dolphins!

Well-intentioned groups like Greenpeace and others tried to help the dolphins by making fishing for tuna by using dolphins illegal, but the unintended consequences of their actions have created “The Ecological Disaster that is Dolphin Safe Tuna.” Here are some stats comparing the bycatch of both methods of fishing.  First, the floating log method, then the old, dolphin method:

Ten thousand sets of purse seine nets around immature tuna swimming under logs and other debris will cause the deaths of 25 dolphins; 130 million small tunas; 513,870 mahi mahi; 139,580 sharks; 118,660 wahoo; 30,050 rainbow runners; 12,680 other small fish; 6540 billfish; 2980 yellowtail; 200 other large fish; 1020 sea turtles; and 50 triggerfish.

By trying to help dolphins, groups like Greenpeace caused one of the worst marine ecological disasters of all time. Few other fisheries are as bad for groups like sharks and sea turtles as the purse seine fishery, and none are as large in scale.

“Ten thousand sets of purse seine nets around mature yellowfin swimming in association with dolphins, will cause the deaths of 4000 dolphins (0.04 percent of a population that replenishes itself at the rate of two to six percent per year); 70,000 small tunas; 100 mahi mahi; 3 other small fish; 520 billfish; 30 other large fish; and 100 sea turtles. No sharks, no wahoo, no rainbow runners, no yellowtail, and no triggerfish and dramatic reductions in all other species but dolphins.”

In other words… the only species that “dolphin safe” tuna is good for is dolphins!  The bycatch rate for EVERY OTHER species is lower when fishing dolphin-associated tuna vs. floating object associated tuna! The reason for this is obvious- floating objects attract everything nearby, while dolphins following tuna doesn’t attract any other species.

If you work out the math on this, you find that 1 dolphin saved costs 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks, and almost 1,200 small fish.

“Dolphin Safe Tuna” is one of the most egregious examples of unintended consequences that I have heard about in a long time.  I wonder if we may repeat similar mistakes with global warming (now called climate change), health care, taxes, the bank bailouts and our monsterous national debt.  We should at least try to look at the potential downsides and unintended consequences of our larger decision in all aspects of our lives – political, business and personal – so that we do not make another mistake like margarine or dolphin safe tuna.

Facebook Must Be In Trouble

I recently blogged about the Facebook ads called “Get Your Obama Check.”  Those appear to be gone already, but they have been replaced by new ones with a similar message.  These ads are called “Ball out of control at 23″  ”I make more than my dad” “Make $169 between classes” and a bunch of others.  They all feature really nice cars or just wads of cash.  Here are a few of the captions from the ads:

Make insane amounts of cash during class. Stop being broke.
I know its not fair.  Hes been working his whole life.  Its easy.
You can afford this car.  Its easy.
Stop being lazy.  Google makes you $5000 per month.
Again, they all link to the same “blog” complete with fake replies.  They all claim they only want $1 for delivery of their “info packet.”

Facebook must be really, really, really desperate for revenue if they are accepting this type of ad.  Facebook must not be able to get any reputable company to pay for CPM ads because, by now, everyone knows about their abysmal click through rates and the CPCs are pretty high for most college campuses.  That’s another tipoff that these sites must be scams or promise more than they deliver.  If they can afford to the CPC necessary to get play on the University of Wisconsin network, they must be paying at a bare minimum $.10 CPC.  Most likely its higher, closer to $.50, as that’s what I have paid in the past.

I understand that revenue is revenue, no matter the source, but Facebook should not be known for sending its customers to shady, get rich quick schemes.  Even if they are legal, I would not want to be known as a company to be dealing with these types of companies.  I wouldn’t want to direct my customers to these sites.
It will be interesting to see if these ads will generate a backlash eventually.  I’m thinking it will, as these types of ads bring Facebook into the MySpace realm, a move that Facebook has been trying to fight since its beginnings.

“Get Your Obama Check”

When I logged into Facebook today, one of the ads on the right hand side (the ones that don’t get blocked by adblock), grabbed my attention.  Normally all of the ads are pictures of girls with the caption “Am I Your Wife” or “Meet Hot Girls” or MLM pyramid schemes.

This ad said “Get your Obama Check” with an obviously photoshopped picture of Obama holding a government check over the bottom half of his face.  The caption said “The government is giving away billions of dollars to stimulate the economy.  Find out how I got $12,000.”
I clicked on the link because I was curious to see if this was in any way, shape or form associated with Obama.  I thought it wasn’t, but since the Obama campaign was the most tech savvy and used social networks the most in the history of politics, I thought there could be a possibility it was a new Obama program to reach Facebook users.
The first link led me to a “blog” by a guy who claimed to be from Chicago, named Tom.  It is one of the fakest looking blogs of all time.  He claims that he got 12k from the government, allowing him to pay off his 10k credit card debt, take a 1k vacation and save 1k.  All this occurred within 30 days of him asking to government for money.  He says:

My name is Tom and I am from Chicago, IL.  After hearing all the news on the Government Bailout of the banks and the possibility of an Auto industry bailout, I decided there had to be a way for me to get some money like that from the government. Because if anyone needs a bailout, it is hard working Americans like myself, who have a hard time keeping their head above water.  After Doing some research I found that the US government has all kinds of free grants available to the public, for all sorts of reasons, that often go unclaimed. And these grants are not loans, they are checks you never have to pay back, funded by different government agencies. And if they don’t give what they were budgeted, they actually get less money the following year. So these government employee processors are just approving application after application, especially if no one is applying for these financial aid programs. So after researching on Yahoo Answers, I found a program that helps guide you through the process and I signed up for Goverment Funded Grants.

But most importantly I want to help other people get the money they are entitled to and not stand by while all these fat cats from large companies get rich off government bailouts. We all deserve to live debt free, so I am glad I signed up.

At the end of the “blog” you can click on a link that takes you to a page that prominently features Obama.  It asks you to sign up to receive info on how to get your free cash.

Beyond the obvious idiocy of these claims, its amazing that the Obama administration allows these people to use his image so prominently.  First it was drug dealers, now its people trying to capitalize on the recession and America’s laziness and desire for get rich quick solutions.  It will be interesting to see if Facebook continues to run these ads or if anyone protests their inclusion of Obama’s face.  You would think that at least one of President Obama’s zealous college student supporters would have reported this by now.
EDIT: Forrest commented below saying that the site uses IP locations to change where “Tom” is from based on where you are browsing from.  Shady.  I still see these ads on Facebook and the “get your obama check” websites are still up.  Secret Service, what’s up?

Sprint, Fox and 24: A Rant

Sprint must be the dumbest cell phone company around right now.  First, they have those black and white ads with Dan Hesse, their CEO, walking down the street.  Who is going to buy a cool phone because the CEO tells you about the company?  I can answer that.  Nobody.  They also have that annoying classical music playing throughout the commercials.  You can see it here:

I decided to watch 24 on Fox’s website since I missed last week’s episode because I was working.  This is a great idea and a great service, especially for a series like 24, where it is essential to see every episode in the correct order so that the show makes sense.  The only problem is that Fox has to put commercials into the middle of the show.
I understand completely why they need to do it and it makes perfect sense, but the execution is curious at best, moronic at worst, which brings me back to Sprint.
There are 7 commercial spots during a 43 minute episode of 24.  For whatever reason, Sprint and Fox decided the best way to advertise would be for the same company to put the same ad in all 7 spots.  This is a horrible idea in the first place, but its even worse when the 7 commercials are all Sprint’s horrible commercials.  Not only are the commercials bad, but they are also ironic.  The phone they are advertising is called the Rant.  Whoever named that phone must have had this commercial in mind because that’s what it inspires: Rants.
By the 3rd commercial break, I vowed I would write a Rant in my blog.  By the 5th, I decided that I would never buy a sprint product and would look to watch 24 any other way possible, including the myriad of pirated broadcasts.  By the 6th, I was about to break my computer and by the 7th, I was thinking to myself that I wouldn’t complain if Mr. Bauer had to use some of his tricks of the trade to get some info out of Mr. Hesse.  Luckily for Mr. Hesse, my computer and me, there wasn’t an 8th commercial break.
I do not know what both Sprint and Fox were thinking, but whatever it was, they failed miserably.  Not only do I now hate Sprint, but the repetitive commercials are going to drive me away from Fox’s service, onto a different website that does not make Fox any money.  If companies want to continue to make online content like this a viable ancillary revenue stream, they are going to have to learn to continue to adapt.  They cannot show the same commercial, even a great one, 7 times to a viewer in 40 minutes.  It will never work.
Maybe someone at AT&T or Verizon paid Fox to put seven Sprint commercials in a row during 24.  That’s about the only explanation that makes sense.
Here’s the offending ad:

The Audacity of Dope


I shamelessly pulled this headline from The Smoking Gun because I couldn’t do any better. Apparently drug dealers in New York were selling Obama brand Heroin. Other brands were “bin Laden heroin,” “Harry Potter Ecstasy,” and “green tinted crack for St. Patrick’s Day.”

Like I said in my previous post, its too bad that these guys’ creativity isn’t being put to better use. Imagine what they could do with a 30 second spot for the Superbowl…

Would you Delete 10 Facebook Friends For a Free Whopper?

While I probably haven’t eaten fast food in at least six months, Burger King is my favorite burger chain solely based on its innovative marketing.

They are at it again with their Facebook application Whopper Sacrifice.  WhopperSacrifice.com says:
What would you do for a free WHOPPER?  Now is the time to put your fair-weather web friendships to the test.  Install WHOPPER Sacrifice on your Facebook profile and we will reward you with a free flame-broiled WHOPPER when you sacrifice 10 of your friends.

When a Facebook user defriends someone, Whopper Sacrifice notifies the defriended person with a notice that the person likes Whoppers more than them.
This is by far my favorite Facebook Application so far.  It fulfils an actual need, food, and makes fun of all of the quasi-friends that everyone has on Facebook.  It’s incredibly sticky and extremely viral: one user turns into at least 10 users very quickly.
As of today, over 30250 people have been defriended in favor of the Whopper and it is going up fast.  I am surprised that Facebook has allowed this app to continue, as it eats away (pun intended) at its user base.  Even if the Facebook team decides that this app violates the terms of service, it is a publicity coup for Burger King and a strategy that other web companies should emulate.

What is G?

These commercials have been on during the latest bowl games including tonight’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (or Chip Bowl for those so inclined).

I assume they are for Gatorade, but many people have been complaining that they do not mention the product at all.  These complaints are the exact point that the ads are going for.  If it just said “Gatorade” at the end, nobody would remember the ad and I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.
I like commercials that make people think, as they are stickier, so this one gets my thumbs up.  The music gets a little annoying after awhile, though.