Monday, June 29, 2009

Something To LOVE About Commercial Marketing

Jason Falls’ blog this morning noted that tolerating commercials is the “price of admission” to the free entertainment and information we crave. If we increasingly reject commercials and ads as fair exchange for content, we may be locking ourselves into somebody else’s notion of what’s fair to pay (some venture capitalist’s, for example, or some technology mastermind’s idea). Facebook is a case in point.

In February this year, users were furious when Facebook tried to “update” its terms of use. Although the new terms didn’t much change what had always been true – namely, that Facebook pretty much owns all the data posted there – users were offended. Fred Vogelstein’s article last week in Wired magazine illuminated the controversy further.

The nugget in Vogelstein’s article lay in this paragraph: “Hardly any of [a user’s] Facebook information turns up on a Google search, because all of it, along with similar details about the other 200 million Facebook users, exists on the social network's roughly 40,000 servers. Together, this data comprises a mammoth amount of activity, almost a second Internet. By Facebook's estimates, every month users share 4 billion pieces of information—news stories, status updates, birthday wishes, and so on. They also upload 850 million photos and 8 million videos. But anyone wanting to access that stuff must go through Facebook; the social network treats it all as proprietary data, largely shielding it from Google's crawlers." And now comes the Facebook Business Page, which -- under pressure not to get "left out of" the newer, better social media advertising -- many are adopting as an augment to or replacement for the costlier, but proprietary, corporate website.

Do I care? Actually, I do.

On Google, I go where I want, tolerating Google ads as I go or using some other “free” search engine. Fair Enough. But Facebook! Here’s a single repository of personal information about 200 million people – all of it gathered without most users having given any thought whatsoever to the company’s ultimate intentions or ability to use that information (who reads those “terms of agreement,” really? Likely, not the 45% of users 25 and younger.. likely few of us).

What will Facebook decide to do with all this captive data, surreptitiously gathered (buyer beware, sucker!), and to which no other entity has access (except maybe a favored politician or the “government”)? That’s a kind of “marketing” I don’t want any part of.

Back in the day, when television was young and fresh, t.v. commercials were as much fun to watch as the shows themselves. But we grew tired, so the marketers got smarter and t.v. ads got better. Today, commercials on the small screen (and, yes, annoyingly, now on the big screen, too) are mini-movies, some of them fabulously written, directed, and acted. Meanwhile, we continue to take for granted the hundred-plus years of ingenious copy, photography, and design that artfully graces the pages of great magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. Apple’s television introduction of the Mac at the 1984 Superbowl was memorable and is historic. And – as much as we like to criticize “junk mail” – we’ve all seen direct mail campaigns good enough to persuade us to give a stranger our money (again and again). That’s pretty impressive.

So, before we rush to judgment against “marketing,” let’s acknowledge both its creativity and its enormous contribution to the democratic spread of information.And that’s important, this word democratic: It means everybody can afford it and nobody gets shut out because they can’t afford to pay for commercial free television, TiVo, or “premium” access to this or that website.

Let’s be willing to trade a little time for what we want, while always applying pressure for better marketing (as opposed to no marketing at all). And, finally, let’s be careful about greedily taking what’s free now, in exchange for turning over to any corporate entity later, our right to choose.

- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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