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Original author: 
Peter Kafka

Maybe you’ve heard that your Facebook “Likes” say more about you than you think — and that there’s a scientific study that says so.

But it turns out that you really didn’t need a study to suss out some of this stuff. Stephen Colbert explains.

Bonus: Keep your eyes peeled and see if you can spot a “native ad” from Cadillac!

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magnifying glassLast year, Facebook started running ads that used your Web surfing history to target you. Soon they’ll be a little more obvious about the fact that they’re doing it.

But not a lot more obvious.

After months of discussion with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Facebook is going to start incorporating a small triangular “AdChoices” logo on some of the ads where it uses “retargeting” — the common Web practice of serving ads to surfers based on the sites they’ve already visited.

If you have a sharp eye, you may have seen the triangle on lots of other Web sites, including those run by Yahoo and Google. That’s the result of a self-policing move Web publishers made a couple years ago, in an attempt to keep privacy watchdogs and Federal regulators off their backs.

Here’s what it looks like, for instance, on an ad running on Yahoo’s home page today.

yahoo adchoices

In theory, when you see one of the triangles, you can click on it and learn more about a given Web publisher’s targeting practices. And then you can opt out of them if you want (here’s what happens if you click on Yahoo’s triangle).

In practice, I find it hard to believe most consumers notice the icons at all (that text looks a whole lot smaller when it’s side by side with everything else competing for your attention on a Web page). Or that they’ll understand the language they’ll encounter if they do click on them (“The Web sites you visit work with online advertising companies to provide you with advertising that is as relevant and useful as possible,” etc.)

In any case, Facebook is going to start using the same icons for some of the ads it serves up on the right side of its home page, where it has begun selling retargeted ads through its Facebook Exchange program.

Except you won’t see them unless you look for them, by hovering your mouse over the ad and clicking on the grey “x” that appears when you do. And Facebook doesn’t plan on using them on all of its retargeted ads — a Facebook rep says the company will only do so when its advertisers or ad tech partners choose to use them.

If that doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s at least an improvement over the current set-up. Right now, the only way you can learn that you’re seeing a retargeted ad is if you mouse over the ad, click the grey “x” and then click on the “About this ad” option.

If it turns out you’re seeing a retargeted ad, you’ll see a page that may or may not explain what you’re looking at. Here’s one I found today, from retargeter Chango, after clicking on a Dish Network ad.

If you care and know about this stuff, you’ll understand what you’re looking at. If not …

Which brings us back to the eternal “who does care about this stuff” question.

As The Wall Street Journal has documented via its excellent “What They Know” reports, the Web ad guys know a ton about you (so do the offline ad guys). And if you tell a normal person about it, they’ll get a little creeped out. They’ll also tell you that they think privacy is really, really important to them.

But in practice, this doesn’t seem to be an issue that galvanizes regular folks. And it has yet to find a powerful political ally — you didn’t see anyone running on the “I took on the cookie people” platform last fall.

Maybe that will change, and Facebook and its peers will have to be a lot more obvious about this stuff — or even ask consumers for permission before they go about doing it.

But for now, this seems like it will be enough.

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datum380

Image copyright kentoh

In a series of articles last year, executives from the ad-data firms BlueKai, eXelate and Rocket Fuel debated whether the future of online advertising lies with “More Data” or “Better Algorithms.” Omar Tawakol of BlueKai argues that more data wins because you can drive more effective marketing by layering additional data onto an audience. While we agree with this, we can’t help feeling like we’re being presented with a false choice.

Maybe we should think about a solution that involves smaller amounts of higher quality data instead of more data or better algorithms.

First, it’s important to understand what data is feeding the marketing ecosystem and how it’s getting there. Most third-party profiles consist of data points inferred from the content you consume, forms you fill out and stuff you engage with online. Some companies match data from offline databases with your online identity, and others link your activity across devices. Lots of energy is spent putting trackers on every single touchpoint. And yet the result isn’t very accurate — we like to make jokes around the office about whether one of our colleagues’ profiles says they’re a man or a woman that day. Truth be told, on most days BlueKai thinks they are both.

One way to increase the quality of data would be to change where we get it from.

Instead of scraping as many touchpoints as possible, we could go straight to the source: The individual. Imagine the power of data from across an individual’s entire digital experience — from search to social to purchase, across devices. This kind of data will make all aspects of online advertising more efficient: True attribution, retargeting-type performance for audience targeting, purchase data, customized experiences.

So maybe the solution to “More Data” vs. “Better Algorithms” isn’t incremental improvements to either, but rather to invite consumers to the conversation and capture a fundamentally better data set. Getting this new type of data to the market won’t be easy. Four main hurdles need to be cleared for the market to reach scale.

Control and Comfort

When consumers say they want “privacy,” they don’t normally desire the insular nature of total anonymity. Rather, they want control over what is shared and with whom. Any solution will need to give consumers complete transparent control over their profiles. Comfort is gained when consumers become aware of the information that advertisers are interested in — in most cases, the data is extremely innocuous. A Recent PWC survey found that 80 percent of people are willing to share “information if a company asks up front and clearly states use.”

Remuneration

Control and Comfort are both necessary, but people really want to share in the value created by their data. Smart businesses will offer things like access to content, free shipping, coupons, interest rate discounts or even loyalty points to incentivize consumers to transact using data. It’s not much of a stretch to think that consumers who feel fairly compensated will upload even more data into the marketing cloud.

Trust and Transparency

True transparency around what data is gathered and what happens to it engenders trust. Individuals should have the final say about which of their data is sold. Businesses will need to adopt best practices and tools that allow the individual to see and understand what is happening with their data. A simple dashboard with delete functionality should do, for a start.

Ease of Use

This will all be moot if we make it hard for consumers to participate. Whatever system we ask them to adopt needs to be dead simple to use, and offer enough benefits for them to take the time and effort to switch. Here we can apply one of my favorite principles from Ruby on Rails — convention over configuration. There is so much value in data collected directly from individuals that we can build a system whose convention is to protect even the least sensitive of data points and still respect privacy, without requiring the complexity needed for configuration.

The companies who engage individuals around how their data is used and collected will have an unfair advantage over those who don’t. Their advertising will be more relevant, they’ll be able to customize experiences and measure impact to a level of precision impossible via third-party data. To top it off, by being open and honest with their consumers about data, they’ll have impacted that intangible quality that every brand strives for: Authenticity.

In the bigger picture, the advertising industry faces an exciting opportunity. By treating people and their data with respect and involving them in the conversation around how their data is used, we help other industries gain access to data by helping individuals feel good about transacting with it. From healthcare to education to transportation, society stands to gain if people see data as an opportunity and not a threat.

Marc is the co-founder and CEO of Enliken, a startup focused on helping businesses and consumers transact with data. Currently, it offers tools for publishers and readers to exchange data for access to content. Prior to Enliken, Marc was the founding CEO of Spongecell, an interactive advertising platform that produced one of the first ad units to run on biddable media.

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Image via vichie81

Recently, Omar Tawakol from BlueKai wrote a fascinating article positing that more data beats better algorithms. He argued that more data trumps a better algorithm, but better still is having an algorithm that augments your data with linkages and connections, in the end creating a more robust data asset.

At Rocket Fuel, we’re big believers in the power of algorithms. This is because data, no matter how rich or augmented, is still a mostly static representation of customer interest and intent. To use data in the traditional way for Web advertising, choosing whom to show ads on the basis of the specific data segments they may be in represents one very simple choice of algorithm. But there are many others that can be strategically applied to take advantage of specific opportunities in the market, like a sudden burst of relevant ad inventory or a sudden increase in competition for consumers in a particular data segment. The algorithms can react to the changing usefulness of data, such as data that indicates interest in a specific time-sensitive event that is now past. They can also take advantage of ephemeral data not tied to individual behavior in any long-term way, such as the time of day or the context in which the person is browsing.

So while the world of data is rich, and algorithms can extend those data assets even further, the use of that data can be even more interesting and challenging, requiring extremely clever algorithms that result in significant, measurable improvements in campaign performance. Very few of these performance improvements are attributable solely to the use of more data.

For the sake of illustration, imagine you want to marry someone who will help you produce tall, healthy children. You are sequentially presented with suitors whom you have to either marry, or reject forever. Let’s say you start with only being able to look at the suitor’s height, and your simple algorithm is to “marry the first person who is over six feet tall.” How can we improve on these results? Using the “more data” strategy, we could also look at how strong they are, and set a threshold for that. Alternatively, we could use the same data but improve the algorithm: “Measure the height of the first third of the people I see, and marry the next person who is taller than all of them.” This algorithm improvement has a good chance of delivering a better result than just using more data with a simple algorithm.

Choosing opportunities to show online advertising to consumers is very much like that example, except that we’re picking millions of “suitors” each day for each advertiser, out of tens of billions of opportunities. As with the marriage challenge, we find it is most valuable to make improvements to the algorithms to help us make real-time decisions that grow increasingly optimal with each campaign.

There’s yet another dimension not covered in Omar’s article: the speed of the algorithms and data access, and the capacity of the infrastructure on which they run. The provider you work with needs to be able to make more decisions, faster, than any other players in this space. Doing that calls for a huge investment in hardware and software improvements at all layers of the stack. These investments are in some ways orthogonal to Omar’s original question: they simultaneously help optimize the performance of the algorithms, and they ensure the ability to store and process massive amounts of data.

In short, if I were told I had to either give up all the third-party data I might use, or give up my use of algorithms, I would give up the data in a heartbeat. There is plenty of relevant data captured through the passive activity of consumers interacting with Web advertising — more than enough to drive great performance for the vast majority of clients.

Mark Torrance is CTO of Rocket Fuel, which provides artificial-intelligence advertising solutions.

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Years ago, the photographers Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel decided to put together a book about the work on which they had collaborated, decades worth of significant art made between the 1970s and 1990s. Each had been working on his own solo projects and Mandel had left California, where the two grew up and met and studied together, so the book was always meant to be a look back, a visitation from a place of finality. But then Larry Sultan got sick. Sultan succumbed to cancer in December of 2009 at the age of 63.

“We thought it would be great to take some of the work that people hadn’t seen a lot of or hadn’t seen anything about and bring that to light, and we just thought now would be a great opportunity to do that, now that we were kind of moving into a different part of our lives,” Mandel says. “We didn’t realize Larry was moving into leaving this place.”

The book project was dormant for a while after Sultan’s death, but his wife, assistant and gallerist—who continued to be involved throughout the project—helped Mandel get the idea going again. Because the book had always been about a collaboration that had ended, the form and structure imagined by Mandel and Sultan could still be implemented. The resulting book, Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel, will be released by Distributed Art Publishers in September.

The artists, who met as graduate students at the San Francisco Art Institute, shared an openness to conceptual and experimental photography. “We were lucky to be young and freshly in that world when so much was changing,” says Mandel. The medium was expanding—although Sultan later became known as a photographer, the work the two did together is photography mainly in a conceptual sense—and the community was small enough that the two had access to influential teachers and artists even outside their school environment.

Courtesy Mike Mandel

Larry Sultan (R) and Mike Mandel, circa 1997

Their collaboration began in 1973 with public art displayed on billboards, work that both interrogated the tropes of advertising and challenged art by placing it in a commercial context. They continued to make billboards for many years. They also worked together on books, including How to Read Music in One Evening, which re-appropriated advertising imagery, and the seminal Evidence, their best known work, which took documentary and archival photos out of their contexts. Later, the two turned their attention to the news media, applying their signature critical mindfulness to the subject. Alongside photographic highlights of their art career together, Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel features analytical essays and a metaphorical commentary by author Jonathan Lethem.

Mandel says that this new book was an opportunity to revisit some of their projects that had not been previously examined. “As time went on I think we recognized that a lot of the work we had decided at the time we didn’t need to talk about really ought to be talked about, for different reasons,” he says. “We did re-frame what we chose to put in the book based on this idea of looking back and being a little bit more generous toward ourselves.”

But even though the photographers had discussed the content of the book prior to Sultan’s illness, Mandel was left to make many decisions alone. He says that there were moments when he knew that there would have been a disagreement if Sultan had been there; the weight of sole responsibility was a heavy one. And they hadn’t yet decided how to end the book. Mandel chose the project Newsroom, a 1983 exhibit in which they used news tickers to edit their own versions of the days events, as the book’s stopping place. He says he felt that to stop there was to present the most coherent set of ideas, and it was also a chance to step back and look at a project that the artists had been such part of that they never got to see it from a distance. “If Larry had been with me it would have been really great to have done that together,” Mandel says.

In an essay that accompanied Evidence, Robert F. Forth, the dean of the California College of Arts and Crafts, examined the meanings of evidence, surprise and context. He wrote about the “yin/yang balance between the circumstantial and the evident,” the way that the two compliment each other to make one whole thought. If one has any defect, its relationship to the other can fill that whole. Likewise, says Mandel, his own introverted working process and Sultan’s gregarious quick thinking co-existed without one drowning out the other.

“We just had a very different way of being but we both trusted each other a lot and we both gave each other as much room to argue and promote our ideas as much as we could. That’s what the Socratic attitude was about. It was about testing these ideas,” says Mandel. “We collaborated as equals all the way through our relationship.”

Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel, will be released in September by Distributed Art Publishers.

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The throwback Hanna-Barbera thing happening in these PSAs for Mtv is fantastic. It’s the perfect marriage of style and content compliments of  Parasol Island for Grey. These are apparently 8 months old but this is the first I’ve seen of them.

Credits:
Client: MTV Switzerland
Agency: Grey
Chief Creative Officer: Andreas Henke, Sacha Reeb
Creative Director: Regner Lotz, Moritz Grub
Copywriter: Janus Hansen
Art Director: Alphons Conzen, Frederico Gasparian, Reto Oetterli
Producer: Dennis Eichner
Production: Parasol Island
Director: Charles Bals
Animation Director: Dino Figuera
Lead Animator: Hiroaki Ando
Background Artwork: Charles Bals, Oliver Navarro , Steve Scott
After Effects Animation: Christian Hoffmann, Heike Mauer
Producer: Sara Dadras, Meike Müller, Jack Gregory-Donald
Music: Jonathan Wulfes

 

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The good news: Apple’s newest Siri ads feature John Malkovich, who’s pretty cool.

The bad news, if you’re an Apple fan: Just like Apple’s other recent Siri ads, these don’t make Siri seem very cool.

In the first one, there’s at least the suggestion that Siri will help Malkovich find a restaurant where he can get some sausage. So that’s something, at least.

But the second one, where Malkovich is sitting around by himself, just killing time with his iPhone, without any discernible purpose?

That’s pretty realistic, actually. But it’s not fun to watch:

But, like I said, Malkovich really is cool. There are a gazillion furniture-chewing scenes I could pick to illustrate this, but for some reason I’ve always been partial to his preposterous Russian poker heavy, from “Rounders”:

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(Taschen)

Ever since 1957, when Vance Packard published ‘The Hidden Persuaders,’ we’ve had the idea that advertisements are a porthole to our cultural subconscious. The massive two-volume compendium ‘Mid-Century Ads: Advertising From the “Mad Men” Era’ (Taschen, 720 pages, $59.99) would certainly have us think so. It tells a more complex tale than the AMC drama invoked in its title, whose nostalgia for lost glamour is typically mixed with a heavy dose of condescension.

The advertisements of the 1950s and 1960s certainly didn’t shy away from casual sexism; the same blonde ‘girl’ sells everything from men’s shirts to Heinz ketchup, and she has nothing on how stewardesses are displayed. (American Airlines in 1967 saw fit to show a comely young woman in her hostess uniform staring directly into the camera with the tagline ‘Think of her as your mother.’) It’s easy to be smug about such ads—and about the brightly optimistic hues that heralded such wonders as tail-finned cars, color television and touch-tone phones.

But as the years flip by, the impression of a new energy in the culture is undeniable, most of all in verbal and visual wit. Most of the ads appear at nearly their original size, allowing readers to scrutinize the (often copious) text and appreciate a level of graphic design and typography that far exceeds anything served up on our tiny screens today. An ad like Braniff airlines’ dynamic presentation of its stewardesses’ outfits is simultaneously astonishing, offensive and an unintentionally apposite emblem of the late-1960s loosening of mores. We should think twice before condescending: When scholars gather today’s ads—for diet pills, direct gold sales, Viagra and worse—what will they imagine our own collective subconscious looked like?

—The Books Editors

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Beautiful stuff from Studio 4°C (Tekkonkinkreet, The Animatrix, etc.). This is for a new web promotional series called PES: Peace Eco Smile for Toyota Motor Corporation. It’s a romantic-comedy in animation about an alien called PES and a human named Kurumi. Do for Love, directed by Yuichiro Hayashi, has just gone online. It’s in Japanese and looks more like a trailer… but it’s delicious anime eye candy:

(via Anime News Network)

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Animator/designer Gabriel H. Fermanelli has turned me on to the commercials he’s producing through Punga, a collective of artists in Buenos Aires who specialize in animation and branding. Fermanelli co-directed a series of spots for Wrangler Jeans (with Tomas Dieguez); this one is my favorite:

Fermanelli’s latest stylishly designed spot is for Volvo, featuring Sloths:

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