Consumer Groups Express Concerns Over Ads By Social Influencers

Social media icons
Consumer groups have begun to investigate the integrity of some so-called social influencers?

Sometimes, Instagram users with a relatively modest following of just a few dozen followers can get the opportunity to promote products from various companies, just like the Kardashians and other big stars. These users are called “micro-influencers” in the industry and receive a variety of incentives for their promotional activities, such as discounts on future purchases from a brand or free products. While having social media users act as promoters for a brand is a standard practice, it can be a problem if those users don’t disclose the fact that a post is an advertisement and that they’ve received incentives for making it.

This has caused criticism from consumer watchdogs and various advocacy groups, such as Public Citizen. The group has recently contacted US regulators, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in order to bring attention to the growing number of Instagram posts that are obviously made for the sole purpose of promoting a product.

Companies that act as middle-men between social media influencers and brands have been specifically mentioned in letters sent by Public Citizen to US regulators. The concern is that these digital advertising industry firms don’t ensure that their marketers comply with all FTC disclosure rules, which require users making promotional posts on behalf of a brand to include a disclosure that clearly states that they have received payment or some other type of benefit for making the post. Any form of compensation, even if it doesn’t involve cash payments, such as free products or services, has to be disclosed.

A few firms that work with micro-influencers have caught the attention of consumer advocacy groups as a result of disclosure practices that may not meet FTC regulations. Examples include only requiring that users include a “thank you” line in their post in exchange for receiving free products, using hashtags like #ad, #sp, #sponsored or #promo, or putting the word “sponsored” in small type at the bottom of a review or unboxing video for the first few seconds. According to previous statements made by the FTC’s Ad Practices Division, such disclosures are often not enough, as they’re too vague, easily missed by users and don’t make it clear that the post is a promotion.

As TV ads are losing their marketing power, brands are increasingly moving to social media in order to capture the attention of consumers, especially young adults. Recent reports show that brands are now spending over $255 million per month on Instagram influencer marketing alone. Many businesses are using social media influencers, as social media users are more likely to see their content as authentic and trustworthy when compared to marketing messages posted by the brands themselves.

Does Phising Actually Work?

Fish and hook
Do online phishing tactics actually work?

Almost every cybersecurity lecture involves at least a few slides on phishing. The concept seems basic enough that even a child should be able to avoid it, yet it’s still covered in-depth by professionals at all levels. It’s natural to wonder whether phishing is a real problem in an increasingly sophisticated online world, and whether the tactics described by concerned lecturers actually work on anyone. The truth is a bit more frightening than you might think, and taking the time to analyze why phishing tactics work can give you a great deal of insight into the need for greater security education.

Is it Real?

If you’re wondering if phishing is real, you’ll just need to look at the raw numbers. According to at least one study, around eight percent of all American internet users had their antivirus software and/or e-mail filters triggered by a phishing attempt. Phishing is easy, sometimes quite unsophisticated, and often relatively difficult to detect. The fact that eight percent of users reported encountering an attempt only tells you the number of attempts that were actually caught. This puts phishing in a unique category of being incredibly prolific, while still almost certainly incredibly under-reported.

Do Phishing Tactics Work?

The short answer is a definitive yes. If they didn’t work, there wouldn’t be conversations about phishing. While it may seem that phishing is an attractive topic to bring up because it is so technologically simple, the reality is that phishing is a type of malicious activity that users are both likely to encounter and that a fair number are likely to fall for. Phishing attempts may not make up all – or even the bulk – of the causes of data breaches in company around the world, but attempts are successful enough that they certainly cause problems for businesses and individuals.

Why Does Phishing Work?

Phishing works because an increasing number of people are using online applications who have absolutely no experience dealing with cybersecurity issues. Phishing has been a problem as long as there have been official accounts to spoof, of course, but as more users turn aspects of their lives to online services, more attempts can be made. Phishing services have become increasingly sophisticated, and even the most basic attempts can still defraud users who are simply uneducated about the tactics used. It’s easier to get caught by a scam than you might think, especially if you aren’t usually careful with your online security.

Does phishing work? Of course. It’s an attractive, low-tech way for those with low moral fiber to get access to data and funds. While it might seem like only an idiot could fall for these scams, remember that most people don’t have the background knowledge to detect the attempts in the first place. If you are willing to put yourself in the shoes of an unskilled user, you can begin to see how phishing is not only effective, but also quite frightening. Phishing rightfully deserves its place in the pantheon of major cybersecurity threats.

New Certification Program Helps Online Ad Industry Fight Malware

While the majority of online ads are perfectly safe, there have been cases where criminals have used them to spread malware. In some cases, the ads themselves contained malicious code that would infect vulnerable systems with malware. A more common technique used by cybercriminals is to run ads for websites whose sole purpose is to spread malicious software. Sometimes, the page itself would contain code that infects the user’s computer. In other cases, the malware would be bundled together with a seemingly innocent application, such as a free movie player or screensaver.

Digital ad malware monster
Major players in the industry are taking steps to prevent malware from being delivered by digital ads.

Once malware infects a computer, it can allow cybercriminals to use is as part of a bot network. Criminal organizations have used these infected computers for a variety of nefarious purposes, such as launching denial of service attacks on websites, hiding their true IP address to make them harder to trace when they commit crimes online, as well as committing click fraud, which lets them defraud advertisers by sending fake traffic to their websites.

As the spread of malware can have serious repercussions on consumers, advertisers and publishers, the online ad industry has recently launched a program to combat it. The initiative was put forward by the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), an industry watchdog fighting digital advertising fraud. Their new certification program requires online ad platforms to scan a reasonable percentage of the ads they serve to ensure that no malware is present in them. In order to obtain TAG’s “Certified Against Malware” seal, the companies must also abide by guidelines and best practices to fight against the distribution of malware.

As of now, an honor system is used and the ad platforms themselves are responsible for complying with the certification program’s standards. TAG is working on developing an independent verification system in the future. However, companies in the digital advertising industry have a strong incentive to comply with the anti-malware guidelines on their own, as the spread of malicious software hurts the entire industry. Advertisers lose money when they receive fraudulent ad clicks, digital advertising networks miss out on new clients as businesses become reluctant to use them if they fear they will be paying for fake visitors, while consumers become suspicious of any form of digital advertising, which can lead to an increased use of ad blocking software.

Many important players in the online advertising industry have agreed to participate in the program. These include RocketFuel, Google, AppNexus and OpenX. More are expected to join in the next few weeks.

Advergaming: A Powerful Digital Advertising Strategy

Advergame screenshot
Have you made Advergaming part of your digital strategy?

Among the various strategies currently in use by major brands to promote their goods and services through digital marketing, advergaming is undergoing a slight renaissance.

Advergames date back to the days when video games were still produced on floppy disks and cartridges. Some of the earliest examples include the ill-fated Atari game to promote the blockbuster family film ET in the 1980s; another example was “Avoid the Noid” for Microsoft DOS and Commodore 64 desktop, this was part of a campaign by Domino’s Pizza to develop a brand mascot.

Later techniques in advergaming included product placement, endorsements and the current trend of in-game advertising along with gamification.

Branded mini-games are being used to great effect by European and Asian wireless service providers to instill customer loyalty. These games can be mobiles apps or HTML5 browser-based titles that offer rewards and social media features to make them more attractive. Achievements in these games can be exchanged for rewards such as extra SMS credit, wireless data and additional minutes for voice calling.

Business owners and brand managers do not have to commission original titles to reap the benefits of advergaming. Some game development studios offer white label programs for companies to incorporate brands into ready-made titles, which range from Tetris clones to puzzles and from racing games to classic arcade shooters.

An even easier entry into the world of advergaming is by in-game advertising, which consists of displaying banners or short video commercials inserted into mobile apps. Some players believe that this method is a bit heavy handed, but some brands have found sufficient success to continue this practice.

A study by Loyalty 360, a market research firm in Asia, indicates that advergames are better for customer engagement, retention and loyalty. When it comes to implementing an advergaming strategy, brand managers should think about the immense value of lifetime customers instead of trying to attract new ones. The idea is to tap into the human affinity for being challenged and competitive in a playful way.

Marketing analysts believe that advergaming may go through a branding reversal phase in the next few years. An example of this is already being tested in South Korea, where an entrepreneur is thinking about opening a retail chain of fast-food restaurants to accommodate Pokemon Go players. In this instance, an established video game brand is being used to create a new revenue stream by welcoming fans of Pokemon Go into a place where they can enjoy the game as well as social interaction and snacks.

Yes We Spam—From Meat to Mail

Spam, Email, Heather Cisz

As it turns out, British comedy group Monty Python is responsible for more than just numerous laughs and several memorable films. Considered a cultural icon, the group has inspired a genre of absurdist comedy, been the namesake for asteroids, a programming language, and, appropriately enough, an actual species of python.

But, as it turns out, we also have Monty Python to thank for “spam,” the colloquial term for junk email. Though many have drawn parallels to SPAM, the preservative-rich canned meat product of memetically questionable origin, it turns out that a certain group of British comedians accidentally coined the term.

Spam_can

The acronym, but sadly not the taste, has been lost to history.

You may know the sketch. In it, a couple inquires about a restaurant menu that gradually devolves into SPAM, with a group of rowdy Vikings singing of their love for the product, ad nauseum, until they drown out the rest of the conversation.

Now, with Monty Python reaching the height of its popularity shortly before the debut of the Internet, it’s not hard to imagine that early adopters would, as we all know, be more than willing to quote pop culture online.

A few incidents of chat room harassment later (some even typing out the entire SPAM song), and spam had received a new, arguably worse meaning. Junk mail, inevitably prolific and suppressing any valuable messages, is hardly a new concept, after all.

Really, there could not be any better parallel to draw. Regardless of the content of the Monty Python sketch, the utter revulsion that individuals display to both spam and SPAM is perhaps as good of a reason as any.

It’s hardly exclusive to the Internet, either. Telephone spam and letter spam prove that, no matter what the medium, people will go out of their way to shove an unappetizing, unsolicited message in your face.

3 Ways to Encourage Millennials to Shop with You

Millennial Consumer Scrabble Tiles
How to tailor your marketing strategy to target millennial consumers.

Digital advertising seemed easier when your focus was on advertising in print media. Those days are long gone as retailers are focusing on millennials that were born in the 1980s and 1990s. Most do not remember the world without internet in their homes. Therefore, retailers need to change their digital advertising techniques.

Recommendations From Friends Carry More Weight

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and many other social media outlets make it very easy for millennials to see what their friends are thinking about any topic. Since people naturally trust what their friends are thinking more than what a retailer is telling them, retailers must create methods to encourage people to say great things about their companies.

The first step that retailers need to do is listen to their customers. One possible suggestion is to participate in secret shopping programs to see what type of experience a customer is truly receiving. Use Social Mention and other programs to see what your customers are saying about your business online is vital.

Once a company can be sure that customers are receiving outstanding service, then find ways to share that message. Create a page where customers can leave reviews. If your business is part of a review site, then allow Google to post those reviews right on the search engine result page. Create customer testimonial YouTube videos to allow others to see the results from real customers.

Nearly 44 percent of customers say that they are willing to promote products to their friends in exchange for a small gift which is far cheaper than hiring a celebrity to promote your product especially when you consider that 84 percent of millennials say that they trust these recommendations more than what others say.

Use Smartphone Advertising

The average millennial checks their smartphones more than 43 times a day. You must be competing in mobile advertising if you want to beat out your competitors.

Start with thinking mobile first when designing new websites as this forces you to think about what content and images are really the most important. Using this approach allows the designer to focus up rather than eliminate important elements. Choose typefaces, colors, and interface elements like buttons, menus, and input controls to make it easy for mobile users to navigate your site. Make sure that your site is responsive.

Use Cause Advertising

61 percent of millennials say that they are very concerned about leaving the world a better place than it is now. Therefore, cause advertising is very effective. When your company does something good to help the world, let others know through your advertising.

Successful retailers will change with the times by adapting these three methods. Make sure to always have a way for your customers to share with their friends, have a mobile site and do cause advertising.

Mobile Advertising Strategies to Transform Your Business

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If you’re not focused on mobile marketing your business could be missing out.

Digital marketing has seen major transformation over the recent years. Marketing and advertising tactics such as pay-per-click are today vastly different from what they were at inception. Tactics that appeared to have the magic touch only several years ago might easily fall flat today.

Currently, everything is heading the mobile route, ranging from watching videos to consuming content and opening emails. Everything that your business does today should be done with the ever growing mobile audience in mind.

Create Great Content

The average viewer of today has been swamped with so many ads on their devices to the point where many simply scroll past the ads without even noticing what they contain. This means that as an entrepreneur, you need to become more creative in the kind of content you create. Become innovative so that your viewers can watch an ad without them caring it’s actually an ad or even realizing it.

Display Advertising

Target your potentials contextually utilizing third party data providers. You can even do the targeting based on specific and unique demographics to generate service or product awareness. You can, for example, use Google Display Network’s topic targeting for identifying users that browse sites dealing with mobile devices.

Target through Social Networks

Catch your social networks online audience in a way that is much more targeted — these days, they are using these social apps heavily and all day long. Run well-designed ad campaigns on widely used networks like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Use each of the network based on its unique strengths. For instance, Twitter can be used to keep you in the news feed of a trending topic or active in a particular conversation.

Maximize On Video Streaming

YouTube is currently the second largest search engine. This can be credited to the growing video content consumption for everything ranging from pre-purchase research, entertainment to tutorials, and more.

With the growing popularity of Instagram and Snapchat video, you can develop powerful advertising 15-second clips that can be regularly manipulated, edited and re-produced in lots of creative ways to boost brand authority and awareness.

Utilize Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing, a huge multi-billion industry often gets overlooked by businesses in terms of monetizing mobile. However, the truth is, huge affiliate networks such as Commission Junction and eBay Enterprises are offering access to advertisers in their thousands that pay based on your performance to send orders and leads to them. The best part regarding affiliate marketing is that you are paid for actual performance.

Conclusion

Of course, there are lots of mobile digital marketing strategies that can be employed with great success. You shouldn’t limit your overall strategy to only the above strategies. Organic social media, email marketing, blogging, and SEO are strategies that must continue being part of your larger mobile marketing pie. But incorporating the above critical strategies will help in engaging and reaching a larger audience.

A Brief History of the Scourge of the Internet: The Pop Up

Pop Up Ad Example
The pop up ad’s creator has mixed feelings about his invention.

The hated pop-up ad has a fascinating origin story. The original creator was Ethan Zuckerman, who has since apologized profusely for unleashing such an intrusive form of advertising into the world. His explanation of how he came to write the code for such a universally reviled feature of the Internet reveals a lot about our modern culture and the sacrifices we make for free web content.

Mr. Zuckerman worked for Tripod.com, an early web hosting service similar to GeoCities, Squarespace or Wix. Like most early Internet start-ups, Tripod was created without a solid plan for monetizing. Its founders simply wanted to make a cool product that they would use themselves. Eventually, they realized they needed to bring money in if they wanted to keep their product available, and they sent Zuckerman and his team to convince major corporations to buy advertising spots directly on Tripod’s websites.

Because this took place in the early 1990s, the Internet was seen as a much different place. Zuckerman’s team created a program to place advertisements on random user pages and headed out to pitch a few major clients without thinking about what type of content might pop up during their presentation. Unfortunately, not all of Tripod’s users were creating business-friendly personal pages, and Zuckerman ended up displaying the potential client’s branded advertisement on a page with distinctly NSFW content.

After that embarrassing incident, the team scrambled to create an alternative. It wasn’t feasible or in line with Tripod’s culture to start censoring user pages, but they couldn’t sell clients on placing ads on sites with adult content. As a solution, they created the first pop-up ad as a way to get users looking at company messaging without companies being associated with inappropriate user content, and Tripod made big bucks from its major accounts.

Today, Zuckerman worries that his creation sent Internet culture in a negative direction. In a recent essay published in the Atlantic, he expressed his opinion that by chasing advertiser dollars rather than user fees, Tripod set a precedent for content that appears free to users. He argues that, as the death of the pop-up ad shows, we want an uninterrupted web experience. Because the Internet isn’t free to run, users simply accept behind-the-scenes monitoring and data capture from Facebook, AdWords and other advertising behemoths.

What do you think? Should we accept a free, ad-supported Internet or push for more subscription models? Would you rather return to pop-up ads or stick with targeted banner ads and integrated content? Contact me to let me know your thoughts on web-based advertising.

A Simple Breakdown of Spotify Ad Targeting

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Spotify is taking ad targeting to the next level.

The most dominant streaming music service Spotify is adapting the way they think about digital advertising and media with the programmed ads that they play for their free members. They are putting out hyper-targeted ads now because they’re looking to add a new layer to the way they do business.

Obviously, Spotify isn’t just dishing out the the same ads to large swaths of their listener base like a traditional radio station or even network might. The idea here being that you can limit the amount of ads that fall on deaf ears. This is much more of a targeted approach than a wide net approach and may be setting advertisers on a path to resolving an age old issue once summed up by department store magnate John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Here’s a simple breakdown of how the targeting works. The user who signs in to Spotify starts listening to music, creating playlists, and engaging in other activities that begin to form a digital identify that Spotify can use to target them. The music they listen to and playlists they create are all used to create an ad profile for the person who is listening, and then they get the ads that would be most helpful for them. People don’t generally like their music to be interrupted by advertising but Spotify has been able to cultivate a large and loyal free user base. Perhaps this is a result of the fact that they don’t barrage people with ads that are totally irrelevant or even irksome to certain individuals.

In short, people don’t mind ads that make sense for them quite as much. Who knew?

Is Your Business Adapting?: Mobile and Security

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and this is changing the way that digital advertising needs to be conducted. Part of this change is caused by changes in the devices that are used by potential customers. There are other changes that are underway, due to the increased need for cyber security nowadays.

Mobile Device Use:

As little as a few years ago, it was quite uncommon for people to search for businesses using mobile devices. However, this has changed dramatically. It is estimated that around fifty percent of internet traffic comes from mobile devices.

Certain types of mobile devices are especially common, but it is important for advertisers to cater their advertising to a wide range of mobile devices.

Business websites also have to be mobile friendly for the sake of search rankings. Google and other search engines tend to rank non-mobile friendly webpages significantly lower than those that are mobile optimized, at least in mobile search results.

It is essential to seek to minimize the amount of space that is taken up by text on websites. Mobile devices have small screens. This has often meant that advertisers have to make their sales pitches more brief and to the point.  This is the driving force behind the explosion in popularity of responsive websites that have the ability to automatically fit any device’s screen.

There are other parts of making sure a website is mobile friendly. It’s important for businesses to make sure that online advertisements with video are designed to show on mobile devices. Many common video codes, such as Java, will not play on mobile devices. Therefore, it is exceedingly common for businesses to need to change the type of video player they use.

There are many businesses that are unsure of how to advertise successfully to mobile device users, and they are seeking out the services of search engine optimization professionals. In addition, some online services that help small businesses to design their page are now ensuring that all websites created through them are mobile friendly. For instance, Godaddy.com ensures that all websites designed through their hosting service are mobile friendly. It is likely that in the future more hosting providers for businesses will begin to take mobile devices into account.

Increased Concern About Cyber Attacks:

Hacker made of code
Will the increased threat of cyber security breaches turn brands off of certain forms of digital advertising?

The recent politically motivated cyber attacks has caused concern amongst some business owners. Some even have made plans of how to continue to advertise successfully, if they aren’t able to advertise online. In the event of this a serious cyber attack, many businesses plan to turn back to advertising on television, radio, and newspapers. Unfortunately, not advertising online would take away a major piece of the puzzle.  This conservative and defensive approach seems shortsighted and it’s more likely that the increased national coverage of this issue will lead to an uptick is digital security, rather than reactionary advertising strategies.

If you search online, you will notice that there are more advertisements for website security. There are now many services that assist business owners in ensuring that their most important online advertisement, their website, will remain safe during a cyber attack.

Just a few of the features and potential pitfalls of our rapidly changing digital world…