Thursday, March 23

The Death of 'Taco Bot': A Cautionary Tale for AT&T, YouTube and the Advertising Business


The news that megabrands AT&T and Johnson & Johnson are the latest in a crush of global giants pulling out from YouTube over concerns about their ads appearing next to offensive content has, naturally, focused largely on the site's owner, Google. On the defensive, Google has promised an "extensive review."

But how do you control a robot?

The actions of one advertiser or vendor are the least of this, and its getting resolved seems about as likely as our making Bill Gates un-rich or Kim Kardashian un-famous. The larger issue around this mess is that it's yet one more defeat for the inexorable automation of business. And in particular, it is another black eye for programmatic advertising.

The Times puts it pretty succinctly:

"The issue highlights the continuing risks companies face with programmatic advertising, which sends advertisers' money through a complex web of agencies and third-party networks that resemble a stock exchange before ads appear. As advertisers target people based on their browser history—the reason a pair of jeans in an online shopping cart may follow a person around the web for weeks—and extend their reach to all manner of websites and videos based on how many people are tuning in, they are growing more reliant on technology companies to prevent them from showing up in the wrong places."

"Growing more reliant on technology companies" is the key phrase there.

We all are, of course. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. That would explain that smirk on our faces whenever the end all and be all of technology fails us. Which it always does. But more on that later.

The future has arrived, we keep being told (sold). Virtually every other headline nowadays has to do with bots or A.I. or self-driving cars or automated/artificial/self-cleaning/self-flushing whatever. Are you as sick of it as I am? Granted, I am a person who still considers the Kindle a sign of the downfall of civilization. Not to get on a rant straight out of "Network" or anything, but we're not just "becoming one of Howard's humanoids"—we're there. Any of us could be forgiven for feeling this close to getting replaced by a machine any minute.

(Wait, there's a knock at the door now—is it the Terminator?)

And like the whole of mankind in those movies, we've all pretty much accepted the fact that none of this is good news for us regular old humans. Self-driving cars alone could end up costing as many as 3 million workers their jobs in the U.S., according to one alarming projection. Earlier this month, that annual techie circle jerk down in Texas known as SXSW Interactive featured more than two dozen discussions on stage concerning bots—panels with irresistible titles like "Artificial Improvisation" and "Ready or Not, the Bots Have Risen!" (now if only they could program one to kill me).

It was somewhat reassuring to come across this weird little story this week about the utter debacle that was Taco Bell's magnificent, state-of-the-art taco-making robot, which was tested in a few of its stores in the U.S. back in the early 90s. As the story goes, these nifty devices could make a perfectly beautiful little artery clogger—and that was precisely the problem. They were, well, too perfect somehow. And that, somehow, managed to affect the taste. Bottom line: they stunk. People bitched, as people (especially Americans) will do when their fast food (or anything) isn't to their liking. So the terrific taco bot got the boot.

Of course, technology is far, far beyond where it was all those years ago. Or is it?

For every depressing article or blog post or magazine cover or conference panel about how a robot is gearing up to take my job and burn down my village before murdering me in my sleep, there's another, more comforting tale about how technology is going horribly, horribly wrong—phones (and even washing machines) exploding, self-driving cars running red lights and even killing people, and of course who could forget those algorithm-armed political pollsters last fall not knowing what the fuck was going on? Now, the latest: Google, YouTube and an army of mysterious technological gatekeepers screwing over the very advertisers who keep the whole world afloat.

It's probably too much to hope that, like those Taco Bell executives way back when, we will wake up and realize some things are simply better done by actual human beings. (I can practically hear every millennial media exec howling at the very suggestion.)

So, worry not. There's bound to be road bumps—this stuff's hard! All the visionary men and women now struggling with the noble work of replacing men with machines need only hang in theredo not give up on your dystopian dreams!

(Poor schmucks. Maybe they'd feel better if they had a taco.)

Wednesday, March 22

God Doesn't Want to Have Dinner With You


"My idea of a great literary dinner party is Fran, eating alone, reading a book." -Fran Lebowitz (via The New York Times)

Tuesday, March 21

Rachel Maddow vs. Jim Carrey vs. ... Whoops

Ever notice how chunky glasses make everybody look the same? 
You know, pretentious?

(Oh, never mind.)

Agency Creatives Take On Network News Bias


"We felt like we needed to shine a light on the reality that part of the reason people are divided is because they are getting news that is completely biased." -Alyssa Georg of SS+K, who, with Elena Knox, her partner at the agency, created readbetweentheheadlines.com, which compares how CNN and Fox News each covered the same Trump story and offers its own, less slanted take sandwiched in between (via Digiday)

Monday, March 20

Ad of the Day: Domino's Taps Stranger Things Star Joe Keery for Its Ferris Bueller Homage


Past meets present to terrific effect in this Domino's homage to 80s classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Joe Keery, who plays Steve Harrington on Netflix's 80s-set hit Stranger Things, takes on the role Matthew Broderick made famous in this shot-by-shot redo from agency CP+B, which mixes nostalgia (including Yello's electropop hit "Oh Yeah" from the movie's soundtrack) with today's tech—in this case, the Domino's Pizza Tracker. Paramount Pictures let the pizza chain meticulously recreate scenes from John Hughes's famous flick in two different promos, as Ad Age reports, as long as it kept to one rule: It could not say the name "Ferris Bueller." Though it hardly had to for those of us who grew up in the 80s. Anybody from that decade knows and loves this movie—and for them, this ad will be an instant hit.

Dave Chapelle Takes Credit for Key & Peele

"When I did Chappelle's Show, there were certain conventions of the show that the network resisted. I fought the network very hard so that those conventions could come to fruition. ... So when I watch Key & Peele and I see they're doing a format that I created, and at the end of the show it says 'Created by Key & Peele,' that hurts my feelings." -Dave Chappelle on CBS This Morning, via EW

WARNING: Twitter Might Literally Kill You

The social network has proved to be as dangerous as Ralphie's air rifle
There's little question that Donald Trump's devotion to Twitter—up to and including his unhinged rants this morning about the Democrats, Russia, the latest polls, CNN, etc.—is beyond merely juvenile and annoying, it's dangerous. That's why I started this Change.org petition to have his account deleted. (And I'm not the only one who's urged his silencing.) 

But say this—at least the guy never tried to literally kill anybody using the social network (at least not that we know of). 

As Forbes reports this morning:

When Kurt Eichenwald, a senior writer at Newsweek, publicly disclosed that he suffered from epilepsy, little did he imagine someone sending a tweet as an online weapon—a GIF image of a strobe light—to provoke a seizure. That is exactly what happened to him late in 2016, and now the FBI has arrested John Rayne Rivello, accusing him of sending the tweet containing the deadly file. The FBI has subsequently charged him with criminal cyberstalking with the intent to kill or cause bodily harm.

As noted, I realize Twitter has its issues. A decade after its launch and despite its being heralded as a means for bringing people together, for spreading freedom and democracy and awareness of noble causes and all that crap, it has become best known as the favorite communication platform of an absolute lunatic who's got one finger on the button, the other on the remote (not that his channel is ever switched from Fox News). But even so, it remains my go-to source for news. 

A few years ago, a media executive asked me which sources I turned to every day to stay informed. I threw out some random news sites, but noted that I actually get most of my news via Twitter. Its usefulness in this regard all depends on which outlets one follows, of course. It also depends on what we're calling "news." I learned about the Osama Bin Laden raid on Twitter, as well as the Trump Access Hollywood video and Caitlyn Jenner's unveiling on Vanity Fair's cover. And in the business I cover, each of those could be accurately described as a bombshell.

A quick glance at Twitter first this morning let me in on not only those topics that were trending (the testimony of the FBI chief, the first day of spring) but also important developments out of the advertising world (the BMW Mini account was dumped by its agency before the account had a chance to break up with the agency, according to Campaign US), the media business (LGBT YouTubers are accusing the site of blocking its videos, reports BuzzFeed) and Hollywood (Richard Simmons doesn't want you to bother him, according to People). Then, naturally, there are the opinions ("For Trump, it's just another Manic Monday on Twitter. He's going to need an overhead for that transparency. And an IMAX for that projection," tweeted George Takei).

That's aside from the really important stuff. You know, like this. And this. And then, this:


I can't believe somebody finally discovered my secret.


Selena Gomez Has Got 113M Followers But Says Instagram Makes Her 'Feel Like Sh*t'


"She has hardly been posting on Instagram. In fact, the app is no longer on her phone, and she doesn't even have the password to her own account. (It's now in the possession of her assistant.) She sometimes fantasizes about disappearing from social media altogether. 'As soon as I became the most followed person on Instagram, I sort of freaked out,' Gomez says. 'It had become so consuming to me. It's what I woke up to and went to sleep with. I was an addict, and it felt like I was seeing things I didn't want to see, like it was putting things in my head that I didn't want to care about. I always end up feeling like shit when I look at Instagram.' " -Selena Gomez, in the April issue of Vogue 

Saturday, March 18

Blueberries, Another Thing Ruined by Trump


"As a child, Conway picked blueberries in southern New Jersey. ... In 1984, when she was 16, she was crowned Miss New Jersey Blueberry Princess. ... Later on, Conway would earn the distinction of World Champion Blueberry Packer." -New York Magazine's profile of our real first lady, Kellyanne Conway (via NYmag.com)

Friday, March 17

Podcasts Suck—So Why Are You Listening?


"The quality of podcasts these days is truly remarkable," starts off this piece dubbed "The Podcasting State of the Union" on the website The Daily Dot. I'm not so sure about that. Ever have difficulty falling asleep and find that you are fresh out of Nyquil, bourbon and Seconal? A tip: Go to the iTunes store and download the latest podcast from American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis. I think the writer of that Daily Dot piece is confusing quality with quantity—the line should be: "The quality of podcasts these days is truly terrible." Serial, which was downloaded 100 million times and helped spawn a category that will generate $200 million in advertising business this year, has led to the inevitable: a big, smelly garbage dump of content. Yes, people like Malcolm Gladwell have podcasts and there are a few decent ones, but others who've been invited to populate this medium include reality TV stars (Heather Dubrow and Brandi Glanville from the Real Housewives franchise, speaking of garbage dumps), professional wrestler Chris Jericho, the horrific Ross Matthews—and journalists. Lots and lots of journalists. (Now there's a group that never seems to tire of listening to itself talk—take it from me.) The question: Why are you listening to them? I think I know why. It's the result of too many media and entertainment options, and a consequent lowering of our collective taste level. And it's not just podcasts. I am routinely depressed by what's hailed as a great creative achievement across all media today. Remember when books, movies, TV shows, radio programs, magazine pieces, fashion, photography, art—whatever—really were great? ("Make Entertainment Great Again!") To satisfy our primal need for something that's truly remarkable and meaningful in this cesspool, our standards have gotten exceptionally low. (Hence, La La Land.) This isn't a new phenomenon: I personally am still struggling to reconcile how Dances With Wolves beat out Goodfellas for the Best Picture of 1990. Corollary (coronary?): We have a basic desire to find greatness, beauty, exceptionalism, cleverness, smartness in that which we read, watch, listen to (maybe out of narcissism, because we need to feel our generation is producing something worthwhile?). So when some piece of content that just covers the basics but holds some glimmer of specialness about it hits, we have a tendency to hype it—first up there in our heads, and then suddenly everybody's talking about this little trifle and mass marketing it as some noble and rare creation. C'mon, when is the last time you were blown away by anything—I mean seriously blown away? Maybe I'm ready for the dotage, but I honestly cannot remember. I do feel that at this point, I have seen every genre exercised (exorcised?), that everything's been done to death, and here I sit with my arms crossed, waiting to be impressed. I don't expect to be. House of Cards is a fine piece of entertainment, to use one example—but a POTUS who stops short of nothing (lying whenever his mouth's open, framing his enemies, abusing his loved ones, even murder) in realizing his ambitions? Not that much of a stretch in these times, now, is it?

Thursday, March 16

The Part of Kellyanne Conway Has Been Cast!


"I feud in my head with people. Like now, I'm carrying on a feud with Kellyanne Conway—in my head. The thing is, really, your agent calls: 'You've been offered this part. One of the most important women in government right now, she's counsel to the president, she's a spokesperson. And then you pick up the script and read it and think, they've got to be kidding! You've got a scene where they talk about 'alternative facts'? You've got a scene where you imagine that the microwave is turning into a camera? You go to the inauguration dressed as a nutcracker? You can just hear that conversation with the actor: 'Are you kidding me? Nobody's going to take this character seriously—she's a joke!' " -Jessica Lange, star of the FX miniseries Feud, on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert (Via Queerty)

BOOM! Somebody Got Keys to McDonald's Twitter Account and Blew Up the Place


Wednesday, March 15

Who or What Exactly Is Priyanka Chopra Channeling on Cover of New Marie Claire?

Spice Girl's Cheap Nostalgia Misses Target


The clothes are ugly. And so is the commercial. Victoria Beckham's snoozer of a hotly anticipated accessible "fashion" line hits Target on April 9, and as the just-changing-hands Us Weekly reports, the ad is just out, dusting off the 20-year-old Spice Girls hit "Spice Up Your Life" to get us stoked about a bunch of weird, monochromatic women's and children's dresses, pants and tops. The set and production values are as cheap as the drab duds—even the models don't look happy to be there. (Then again, do models ever look happy?) It's hard to believe one of the most high-profile names in fashion would put her stamp on this crummy collection, or let this embarrassingly low-budget atrocity of a promotion on the airwaves. (Maybe that's why she didn't appear in the ad? Or maybe, like stores such as Old Navy, Target has tired of employing celebrities in its campaigns, at least for the time being.) Is the Target ad just a singular, creative miss—or is it, as Digiday contributor Mark Duffy recently griped, part of a larger trend of fashion marketing having lost its juice? Marketing trends notwithstanding, what seems certain is that Target has another flop on its hands, the onetime trendy sophistication of its wares a distant memory, leaving shoppers (including former devotee me) bored and staying away. If you've been following the news out of the retail world the last, oh, decade or so, you know that nobody's actually going to stores to shop anymore—making the financial standing of chains like Target wobblier and wobblier. Does anybody think Posh's anything-but rags are going to have people rushing back into those brightly colored, florescent-lit aisles? It is time for a major overhaul for our once-beloved Target—one much more bold and forward-thinking than this phoned-in effort from a 90s pop star.

Tuesday, March 14

In Case Anybody Wasn't Aware Yet, Yes, Google Does Control Entire Ad Business


Digital ad spending in the U.S. will reach $83 billion this year, according to eMarketer's latest projection, out this morning. Google, says the forecaster, will "maintain its dominance," with 40.7 percent share of the business—more than double that of the second-biggest player, Facebook. (You know who doesn't have to worry about getting laid off during the looming media crash? Anybody who works in Mountain View, California.)

And YOU Get a Free Magazine Subscription! And YOU Get a Free Magazine Subscription!

Gigi Hadid on the controversial April cover of Vogue Arabia
Magazines have never been more starved for cash—still publishers are doing everything short of passing out free copies on the street corner to get you to read them.

Sampling by way of cut-rate, even free subscriptions, even in flush times, is an old sales gimmick, the thinking being that you'll love that issue of Cigar Aficionado so much you'll pay real money once the trial is finished. Certain titles whose readers have proved especially loyal never had to play those giveaway games.

Not anymore. I just received a promotion via snail mail, urging me to cash in my fast-expiring Hilton Honors points for free magazines. Granted, across several titles the exchange rate isn't exactly favorable. It takes many hotel visits to accumulate just a couple of thousand points, and yet a dozen issues of Sports Illustrated Kids command a steep 3,000 of them. A year of the weekly Time magazine goes for 3,600, as do 24 issues of Food &Wine. Just 26 issues of People will set you back 6,000 points. 

On the flip side, there's the bargain basement club.

A year of Condé Nast Traveler can be yours for a mere 300 points. The same goes for Entertainment Weekly, also GQ, Allure, Golf Digest, People StyleWatch, Essence, Money and W.

But most surprising of all is the hallowed Vogue—a full year of which costs you a measly 300 points.

When the most fashionable, loftiest magazine in the business is giving itself away, you know things are getting ugly.

Monday, March 13

Wake Up! NY Post Tweets 2-Month-Old Story

There are two things nobody looks to the New York Post for: news or facts. (Except when they quote me.) That's why it wasn't a surprise to come across this tweet this morning noting that this is National Napping Day:


Only problem is, the story they linked to is from early January. (The tweet has since been deleted.) Insert joke here about the Post and napping. 

NYT 'Day Without Trump' First Step Toward a World Without Him (If Only In Our Dreams)

I don't care for children. I view them the same way I view going to the gym, earning a college degree or (unless you're Jenny McCarthy or President Trump) inoculations: a necessary evil. I am (as usual) pretty much with Fran Lebowitz on this one, she who counseled us to "ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he's buying." To those of you who have assumed the mantle of parenthood and perpetuating the human race, however, my congratulations (and, sympathies). Surely nobody better than you (except for those of us unfortunate enough to be seated at the table in the restaurant next to you and your little angel) knows there's nothing a kid loves more than for all the attention to be focused on him. Such is the situation with our petulant president, he with his daily acting out—but nobody to give him a time out, lock him in the dungeon or slip some Rohypnol in his sippy cup. But the Times yesterday came pretty damn close, generously stepping forward and agreeing to be the national grownup—and ignoring the impossible child in the White House for a whole day. "There are two words that didn't appear anywhere in yesterday's Sunday Review articles: 'Donald' and 'Trump,'" op-ed columnist David Leonhardt writes this morning. The Times explained that it didn't intend to be punitive; rather, it merely sought to give props to topics that get less attention than they should these days because of the orange elephant in the room. Naturally, the dangerous part of that is that it's exactly what the president and his cronies want—for us (the people and the press) to get so annoyed and bored by his antics that we just ignore him, leaving him to his own, disastrous devices and wrecking the world at will. Noble as the Times's experiment was, it's a fantasy to think Trump will either shape up or get lost because of anything we do (if only). I am over him and want him to shrink back into his gilded shell as much as anybody else of good sense—but I'm not about to take my eye off him for a minute. Like that kid who demands so much attention, he's already grabbed the book of matches. Let's not let him burn the house down.

Sunday, March 12

SNL's Ivanka Spoof: The End of Parody?


SNL's fake ad for "Complicit" last night nailed Ivanka Trump to the wall for sure. But two months into our national nightmare, spoofs like this have me wondering: Just as Graydon Carter famously declared "The End of Irony" after 9/11, might we not be experiencing the dawn of "The End of Parody"? The definition of the word makes the point that it is imitation "with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect." And again, while Scarlett Johansson's sendup does an able job skewering the elder Trump daughter's impassioned enabling of her deranged dad, it's a little too real to be considered a comic exaggeration, no? How exactly would it be possible to "exaggerate" the president's already over-the-top words and actions—and by extension, the acquiescence of his fawning (or terrified) family members and other dutiful sycophants? If the subject of a takedown would not only be unbothered by it but unlikely to get the joke, did it really do its job? Why, Ivanka is probably calling up Coty right now to pitch a new fragrance to take advantage of "Complicit" having become a Twitter trending topic overnight. Remember, this is a little girl whose first concern upon being told her parents were divorcing was whether she would still be a "Trump." This lady sold her soul a long, long time ago—if she ever really had one. Your barbs bounce off her like inconvenient little things like honor, compassion and simple human decency do.

Friday, March 10

On the One-Year Anniversary of the JWT Lawsuit That Shook the Agency World, How Much Progress Have Women in Advertising and Media Made? Don't Get Your Hopes Up


Folio Magazine is out with its annual salary survey, finding that digital editors earn more on average than their print counterparts (this just in) and that women in ranking editorial positions make less than men (stop the presses).

To which one might ask: WHAT print editors? And WHICH women edit leaders?

As anyone who's been paying attention only peripherally knows, the print vehicles that are managing to hang on (more on that below) have not, with the exception of those targeted to women, done much of a job hiring females for top jobs—the same problem that's happening and that's been getting so much attention in the agency world since a lawsuit was filed exactly one year ago today charging JWT's former boss with some particularly ugly behavior toward women.

That and other shameful episodes in the industry, plus a bombshell 4A's survey in which half of the ad women surveyed said they'd been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, have led to a welcome (overdue is probably a better word), full-court-press response. Notably, JWT would end up hiring a female CEO, Tamara Ingram. Ever ahead of her time (she was one of the first and only women to ever run a major agency in the U.S.), adland gadfly Cindy Gallop has been lighting a fire under the industry's ass over this for years—a fire that became a thermonuclear blowtorch last year at Cannes after a moronic party invite sought out "attractive females and models only." I was there on the Riviera and watched that whole disaster ignite up-close and in real time—and all I can say is, the sender's quick, rightful apologies aside, anybody stupid enough to send out something like that in the first place deserves all that's coming to them by way of the ferocious Gallop, and every woman and man of common sense and common decency in this or any industry.

So, back to the business of publishing.

With the exception of a couple of extremely high-profile examples—Anna Wintour at Condé Nast and, more recently, Joanna Coles at Hearst—women in media have, like their agency counterparts, largely failed to reach and hang onto the uppermost rungs of leadership. (Another of the few ranking female editors, Janice Min of The Hollywood Reporter, recently stepped down to take a job as an advisor for the owner of the magazine she revived to much fanfare.) Of course, it is news to no one that putting out a magazine or newspaper gets more impossible every day—leading one to wonder whether we will now see even less attention paid to the advancement of females, as publishers become more intensely focused on other matters, like keeping the lights on. (I'm not the first person to suggest that. Sadly, I won't be the last.)

We keep hearing from the loudest voices in the publishing trade that losses have slowed dramatically and that, at last, Print Is Saved—diminished, but its weak little heart still eking out a thump-thump, thump-thump. If that's the case, then why do we continue to read headlines about still more layoffs (Time Inc., The Wall Street Journal)? And as someone who has closely followed, reported on and dearly loved the medium of print for more than two decades, I must say that it's been some time since I heard of any magazines being launched—while they continue to get killed at an ever-alarming rate. Some recent examples: Self, Complex, The New York Observer, Surfing and The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. A thriving industry is one that continues to introduce new products; for newspaper and magazine publishers, just to have reached the close of another year without ceasing operations is heralded as a victory.

Media's unique predicament is not helped by larger market trends. We all know that the Dow hitting consecutive days of record highs can only lead to one thing: precipitous collapse. And let us not be comforted by that jobs report out today, trumpeting that that hundreds of thousands of new jobs were created in February—think of it as the clinking of your crystal goblet brimming with Dom Perignon right before the Titanic hits the iceberg. Rumblings about the economy's questionable prospects are starting to become more of a quiet roar, as another "R" word is starting to get bandied. Tying it all back to media, if an indicator of the overall direction of the markets and the economy is the recent, hysterical valuation of a certain digital startup (the creator of an app that, by the time its parent went public, was already being shunned by the cool kids who made it hot for a hot minute), then buckle your seatbelts.

On the bright side, though editorial opportunities, and particularly those connected to legacy print brands, are becoming as faint a prospect as "America is a nation of immigrants," there are, as a matter of fact, a handful of companies out there currently seeking editors, I couldn't help but notice recently.

Where, you ask, are these fabulous jobs?

Chobani and Bloomingdale's, each of which is seeking a whip-smart man or woman to create content.

Take that in for a second. The Wall Street Journal and Time Inc. are firing journalists, but a yogurt maker is trying to find one. That single line may actually sum up the state of the marketing and media world in 2017 better than any other.

Welcome to the abyss. Hope you've strapped on your flippers.