Facebook is a Surveillance Machine

I’ve been increasingly weary of posting status updates on Facebook over the last few months, and the latest revelations of the data harvesting by a firm Cambridge Analytica only heighten my anxiety about what Facebook is becoming: a massive surveillance machine. From a recent New York Times piece by Zeynep Tufekci:

This wasn’t a breach in the technical sense. It is something even more troubling: an all-too-natural consequence of Facebook’s business model, which involves having people go to the site for social interaction, only to be quietly subjected to an enormous level of surveillance. The results of that surveillance are used to fuel a sophisticated and opaque system for narrowly targeting advertisements and other wares to Facebook’s users.

Even if you aren’t a user of Facebook (or have ever had an account), facebook may have built a “shadow profile” of you. That’s kind of frightening.

Tufekci is mindful that it isn’t as easy as just deactivating Facebook for many users—it is the de facto internet in portions of the world, to others it is a place to organize civic events or protests, and for the rest of us, it is still a useful tool to keep up with friends and family. The point is: before you make your next social media update, be mindful of what you are sharing and that for every incremental post you make on Facebook, you provide additional data on which some (unbeknownst to you) third party will build an extensive profile of you.

How Coca-Cola is Marketed in Myanmar

Until last year, Myanmar was one of the three countries in which the sale of Coca-Cola was banned (sanctioned). This NPR article discusses how the company marketed the soda to people who’ve never tasted Coca-Cola before (or have forgotten the taste). The key: billboards, fliers, and free samples:

Myanmar has spotty electricity and bad refrigerators. Coca-Cola was worried that people were trying Coke at room temperature. At the tastings, everyone gets an ice-cold bottle of Coke, and instructions on the proper way to drink Coke — a five point plan for deliciousness:

1) Get a glass.

2) Chill the bottle.

3) Put three cubes of ice in the glass.

4) Pour at a 45 degree angle.

5) Add a dash of lime.

A shorter version of the advice is on the back of the bottle. In fact, all the marketing messages, the slogans, the history of Coke, and the ice-cold mandate are all squeezed onto the bottle. Moin says its the one place where they know they can catch the consumer’s eye.

This was an interesting pricing strategy:

In the center of every label is the price of the product, 300 Kyat, about 32 cents. Coke almost never does this. It lets the retailer set the price, but this time, they were convinced that stores would just continue to sell Coke at a huge mark-up unless they put the price on the bottle.


The Anar Foundation Uses Lenticular Printing to Target a Message Only for Children

The ANAR Foundation is a Spanish organization which helps kids in risk of abuse. They Operate a unique phone number – 116 111 – where minors at risk can get aid and consultation.

Anar did a campaign advertising the number, but they faced a potential problem: they didn’t want adults (i.e., possible aggressors) to see that a kid was even looking at the ad.

So they came up with a nifty solution. They used Lenticular printing on street signs. Lenticular printing is a technology in which Lenticular lenses (a technology that is also used for 3D displays) are used to produce printed images with an illusion of depth, or the ability to change or move as the image is viewed from different angles.

In this case, the image seen by an adult is innocuous, while the one seen by the average ten year old kid displays the phone number:

The ad appears different based on the height of the viewer.

The ad appears differently based on the height of the viewer.


The bloody lip, and the phone number, is visible only to kids in a height range typical for a ten year old.

In case this is confusing, watch the video that explains how lenticular imaging works:



(via Creativity Online)

Sneaky Orbitz

The online travel site Orbitz has found that people who use Macs spend as much as 30% more a night on hotels, so the site shows more expensive travel options to those using Macs vs. those using Windows machines. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Orbitz found Mac users on average spend $20 to $30 more a night on hotels than their PC counterparts, a significant margin given the site’s average nightly hotel booking is around $100, chief scientist Wai Gen Yee said. Mac users are 40% more likely to book a four- or five-star hotel than PC users, Mr. Yee said, and when Mac and PC users book the same hotel, Mac users tend to stay in more expensive rooms.

A Mac search for a hotel in Miami Beach for two nights in July displayed costlier boutique hotels on the first page of results, such as Sagamore, the Art Hotel and the Boulan South Beach, that weren’t displayed on the PC’s first page. Among hotels appearing in both searches, some pricier options (such as the $212 Eden Roc Renaissance and the $397 Fontainebleau) were listed higher on the Mac. Overall, hotels on the first page of the Mac search were about 11% more expensive than they were on the PC…

Two questions: 1) Is this legal? 2) How does it make you feel to pay more with the site tracking you in such an intrusive fashion?

I feel that this kind of targeting, however, is going to become more and more common.

Sensational Spelling

I’ve wondered for a long time why some products are deliberately misspelled (such as “Froot Loops”). Turns out, there is a name for this phenomenon/movement in popular culture: sensational spelling. From Wikipedia:

Sensational spellings are common in advertising and product placement. In particular, brand names such as Cadbury’s “Creme Egg” (standard English spelling: cream), Weet BixBlu-ray (blue) or Kellogg’s “Froot Loops” (fruit) may use unexpected spellings to draw attention to or trademark an otherwise common word. It has also occasionally been used to dodge regulations which dictate how much of an ingredient a product must contain in order to be featured on the label. In video games, the best-known example of sensational spelling would be the franchise name Mortal Kombat, in which the word “combat” is deliberately misspelled by replacing the hard C sound with the letter K.


The Most Important Idea in Advertising

What is the most important idea in advertising? As I’ve been reading about all the latest products being unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I was reminded of my all-time favorite scene from the TV Show Mad Men. In the episode titled “The Wheel,” Don Draper and his company is tasked with presenting a pitch for Kodak’s latest product, a projector which they have dubbed “The Wheel”. How Don Draper pitches the product (and its new name) is nothing short of incredible. Just watch:

Following is the text of Don Draper’s pitch for “The Carousel”:

Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product…My first job: I was in-house at a fur company. This old pro copy writer. A Greek named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new.” It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate but potent…”

Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

It’s not called the wheel. It’s called THE CAROUSEL. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again. To a place where we know we are loved. 

If you’ve never watched Mad Men and this clip doesn’t convince you to start watching it, nothing else will.

What’s a City Without Advertising?

What would happen if a major metropolis made it a law prohibiting all advertising? That means no billboards, no flyers, no ads on trains or buses.

That’s exactly what São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil with a population of 12 million people (20 million in the metro area), did in 2006:

In 2006, Gilberto Kassab, mayor of São Paulo, Brazil, passed the “Clean City Law.” Citing growing concerns about rampant pollution in his city, Kassab decided enough was enough. But this was no ordinary piece of pollution legislation. Rather than going after car emissions or litterbugs, Kassab went after the billboards. Yes, you read that right: Kassab wanted to crack down on “visual pollution.”

Saying that visual pollution was as burdensome as air and noise pollution, Kassab banned every billboard, poster, and bus ad in São Paulo with the Clean City Law. Even business signage had to go. Within months, city authorities had removed tens of thousands of ads both big and small—much to the dismay of business owners, who said the ban would surely ruin them.

What’s amazing is that the ban has forced business to improvise and create novel ways to interact with potential customers. São Paulo started having a lot more guerilla marketing [unconventional strategies, such as public stunts and viral campaigns] and it gave a lot of power to online and social media campaigns as a new way to interact with people.

Makes you wonder: what other major city will take this cue and follow through with this idea?