It may have been hard to keep track of all icky news around Uber in the last 6 months (I know I for one went down the rabbit hole after the explosive Susan Fowler blog post in February and have been following the fall-out closely ever since).
In case you haven’t been keeping as close a tab, Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down on Wednesday this week after pressure from the board following Eric Holder’s report on the company– proving that all it takes for the bros of Silicon Valley to get their act together is just a little gentle scolding from the US Attorney general.
WIRED wrote a helpful timeline of the last few years’ mishaps and exposés here, in “A Brief History of Uber’s Many, Many Screw Ups”:
WHY IT’S HOT
It’s cringeworthy to say the least. And it got me thinking about company culture overall, and how tech giants who have grown quickly and exponentially with little oversight or accountability can manage culture and the right way to do so. With all of the recent talk about Amazon’s retail (world) domination, it’s worthwhile to note that Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick based his company’s values on the leadership principles of Amazon. But while Jeff Bezos obsessively tends to the churn-and-burn culture of Amazon, Kalanick let the “always be hustlin” ethos of Uber run amuck. It remains to be seen if Uber’s 180-day plan can make a sizable shift in its company culture in any sort of meaningful way.
Companies like Uber, Amazon, and Google aren’t just services, retailers, or manufacturers. They are fundamentally upending our economies, our policies, and our daily behaviors. What is the “right” company culture for companies that will continue to influence so much more than just their employees’ 9 to 5 – and shouldn’t we care?
Today, Instagram rolls out a new feature that will now tell you who’s getting paid to post. I.e. You see your favorite Instagram model is going to a music festival in the Bahamas, and the post itself will have a call out to the sponsorship.
WHY IT’S HOT:
In addition to contributing to the suite of ad products Instagram currently provides to advertisers, this feature will explicitly note partnerships, sponsorships and paid product placement– and will hopefully mark the beginning of the end of the #ad hashtag. influencer marketing tends to be covert and transparency has at times been an issue. But instead of trying to fool consumers, Insta is leaning into its place as the natural outlet for bloggers and brands alike to reach their audience.
Heads up for Monday June 12th, when major internet leaders (Amazon, Etsy, and Reddit among them) will join forces in the face of impending decisions by the FCC to potentially roll back Net Neutrality rules. WHY ITS HOT
What is Net Neutrality and why should I care?
“Net neutrality is the idea that internet traffic is treated equally and internet service providers can’t prioritize some traffic over others.
“Net neutrality made it possible for Vimeo, along with countless other startups, to innovate and thrive. The FCC’s proposed rollback of the 2015 open internet rules threatens to impede that innovation and allow a handful of incumbent ISPs to determine winners and losers,” Vimeo said in a statement to CNet.
It will be interesting to see how the internet bands together to take action and how the FCC, and Congress, responds.
More Reading on Net Neutrality:
A very extensive Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_neutrality
TechCrunch looks at the arguments against Net Neutrality: https://techcrunch.com/2017/05/19/these-are-the-arguments-against-net-neutrality-and-why-theyre-wrong/
Letter from Sam Altman of Y Combinator in WIRED making the case to other tech entrepreneurs to speak out Net Neutrality: https://www.wired.com/2017/05/hey-startups-duty-fight-net-neutrality/
Since the election, newly minted activists and community groups across the country have been looking for ways to quickly and effectively rally mass as well as local groups of citizens. Enter new platforms – Rapid Resist, Hustle, and Indivisible to name a few – which are taking advantage of peer-to-peer texting using volunteer texters to reach the largest possible group of people directly, without messages getting lost on myriad social media feeds.
WHY IT’S HOT:
Former White House staffer Yoni Landau, the co-founder of Rapid Resist, observes “Text is intimate… It lets people know something is really happening if someone has taken the effort to text them individually and have a conversation with them.”
Plus, it’s fast and highly localized, creating an immune system of local movements. These peer-to-peer text platforms prove that solutions do not necessarily have to be highly technical to be effective, and sometimes the simplest solutions are the most successful.
A new report from the Dept of Health and Human Services found that “the second half of 2016 was the first time in the U.S. that the majority of American homes had only wireless telephones.”
Here are the numbers:
• 50.8%, a majority of U.S. households, now only have mobile phones at home. In 2007, only 15% of U.S. households only had mobile phones at home.
• 39.4% have both a landline and mobile phone.
• 6.5% only have a landline phone.
• 3.2% have no phone at all.
• 70% of adults between 25 and 34 only have a mobile phone.
Why it’s hot:
Aside from the implications for our telcom clients as their business has shifted over the last 10 years, it’s fascinating to see how behaviors have changed as technology rapidly advances. For Millennials it may have never occurred to them to get a landline phone, and even pay phones in the city have now been transformed into LinkNYC wifi hotspots. While the results of this study may feel obvious for younger folks who move often and have never relied on a landline, their parents would likely never consider getting rid of their landline phone. I’d be curious to see the reasoning behind people wanting/needing a house phone vs. those who do not. Is it about safety? The need to feel settled in a permanent home? The associated cost?
Remember Coca Cola Blak? Colgate Lasagna? Bic “For Her” Pens? What about Google Glass? Each of these products has something in common. Hint: it’s not their commercial success.
Set to open this summer in Sweden, the Museum of Failure is a collection of exactly that – failed products from some of the worlds largest, most successful corporations on display – products that are “failures so legendary they have their own appendix in business-school textbooks.”
But the museum’s founder, organizational psychologist Dr Samuel West, isn’t laughing at these failures, but rather thinks it’s crucial to examine and learn from them. He profoundly states “Innovation requires failure. Learning is the only process that turns failure into success.”
(The Nokia N-Gage. Womp womp.)
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In additional to being a fun trip down memory lane and a chance to gawk at these (at times) hair-brained ideas, it’s interesting to take a look at the design flaws and flawed strategies behind many of these products and think about their path to market.
At its most reductive core, “his is a museum about psychological flaws made visible.” For example, Bic’s “For Her” pens, (elevator pitch: “A range of pens with floral patterns on them”), took a useful idea (“market segmentation”) and over-extended it to an embarrassing degree. Mostly, these products set solve a problem without asking if one existed.
WeWork has unofficially announced a new initiative currently in the research phase informally called “space as a service” that will expand their office management software and services offering to corporations too large to typically work out of a WeWork location. Chief product officer David Fano says of the offering, “(we) see it as a way to give customers the cost savings that WeWork enjoys, because of its vendor relationships.”
WHY ITS HOT
As WeWork continues to grow it’s real estate footprint at an exponential rate, it’s telling to see them expand their design philosophies into service offerings. For clients like Staples, a lean start up offering facilities consulting (i.e. How to seat more employees in less office space) as well as office management and vendor services looks to be a new competitor in the making.
*** PSA: I learned a valuable lesson this week when I hit “Publish” and WordPress took me to the log in page, deleting my post– save your posts in a word doc!!!***
As you have probably already heard this week, Congress voted for a resolution to repeal the Obama-era regulations that would prohibit Internet Service Providers from selling consumers web browsing history to advertisers. The house Republican majority gave the rationale that “consistency” was the reason for repealing this consumer-friendly legislation, saying “What America needs is one standard across the internet ecosystem.” Read: If internet companies like Google and Facebook can monetize customer data, why can’t Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon?
Well, Facebook and Google are free to use, with the (growing) awareness by consumers that in order for these services to be free, you are opting-in to be advertised to based on your data. Internet services, however, aren’t free, and consumers already pay handsomely for broadband and wireless data plans. There is no customer expectation that ISPs will profit from personal data on top of the fee they are already charging. This legislation reversal would make it possible for ISPs to sell customer browsing, app usage, and location data without express opt-in from users.
WHY IT’S (NOT?) HOT:
The implications for we as consumers, as well as as advertisers remain to be seen. However, wary civilians are already taking signal-jamming measures to obfuscate their browser history from potential surveillance (to the chagrin of Google search advertising). In the meantime, ISPs like our client Verizon will be devising new means to monetize customer data and forming new streams of revenue.
While Facebook has made efforts to crack down on “Fake News” ‘in the wake of the election, clickbait still garners millions of shares on Facebook every month. How is it possible that the most shared article on Facebook in November (the month of the election, in fact) was “Forget Coffins! This Company Will Swirl You Into Beautiful Glass Creations When You Die” ?
While Facebook started to crack down on clickbait earlier 2016, and cracked down more so on Fake News since the election, clickbait is still as prevalent as ever– no matter the broader national conversation. Back in June 2016, Facebook made a sweeping set of changes to its newsfeed algorithms that would rank clickbait-y publisher content less favorably in the news feed, after Facebook spent months identifying classifying phrases commonly used in clickbait headlines (read: “When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions and Saw THIS… I Was SHOCKED!”) Facebook likened the process to a kind of email spam filtering process. Yet if the last few months are any indication, clickbait still prevails on newsfeeds everywhere.
WHY IT’S HOT:
Despite the general feeling that the internet is making us dumber– how Facebook battles the clickbait epidemic has implications for us as digital marketers. As we think about content marketing and paid social strategies for our clients, it’s important to remember all of the noise on various platforms, and the reality of the user experience (including the other content vying for eyeballs). Perhaps the difficulty Facebook has had in combating clickbait will point to a future evolution of social media platforms where there is more competition among digital distributors, and more diversity of platforms where publishers choose to reach their audience.
This week, YouTube (and parent company Google) announced soon to launch YouTube TV, the latest player in the arms race to win cord cutters everywhere. The “skinny bundle” program lets users stream 40 channels of TV programming for $35 a month; far cheaper than signing up for a traditional cable provider, with the curated feel of only getting the channels you actually watch.
Though far from the first player in the skinny bundle game– let alone across the OTT competitive set– YouTube has apparently been working on this release for a few years now (most likely because getting large TV network conglomerates to sign contracts takes time – CBS being the first notable one – which gets you premium content like CBS-owned Showtime).
Look out for a similar launch from Hulu in the coming year, and for traditional cable to continue to feel the heat from forthcoming OTT services and skinny bundles alike. It will also be interesting to see what devices become compatible for YouTube TV; currently, Google’s Chromecast is the only device on which YouTube TV is available to stream– will Google let any other devices stream it’s skinny bundle, or continue to holdfast against Roku, Apple TV, Amazon FireTV?
As the next big player to join the streaming wars, Google/YouTube is just the latest entrant in a race to disrupt traditional TV, and the fight for eyeballs is on. Although cord-cutters still represent a small segment of our overall population, the implications for more and more Millennials to eschew traditional cable in lieu of something more personalized, customizable, and well- cheap, without sacrificing sports content and the network shows they love, seems to be where TV is headed. It will be interesting to see how major TV providers and channels alike respond to the increasingly fragmented industry– and how our clients’ new offerings (Fios+, NatGeo) will do in this highly competitive marketplace.
As one of the greatest to ever play the game, and perhaps one of the most polarizing figures in sports today, Lebron James’s has seen his share of ups and downs since he joined the NBA in 2003. But there’s no arguing that James has carefully crafted his Brand. At times powerfully emotional – at times wholly contrived – James harnesses his branded partnerships and massive media leverage to tell his story and sell product while he’s at it. Because that’s exactly what a superstar player like James does off the court– he constructs and carefully manages his image. Through media and brand partnerships over the years, James has established himself as one of the most iconic figures in advertising– most notably through his work with Nike.
Watching James’s career through the lens of his ads shows us the story arc of his own personal brand strategy come to life. Juxtaposing James’s Nike spots during his stint in Miami with those that followed once he returned as the Prodigal Son of Cleveland make for an uneasy character study; The Ringer’s Jason Concepcion cynically muses of the spots, “Authenticity is a valuable commodity that can be replicated as necessary”. Yet if this tells us anything as marketers, it’s that strong brands are resilient, despite losses, missteps, and change.
Two fascinating new studies, covered in Wired this week, are giving credit to the idea that when you are focused on incredibly dull, boring tasks, you’re more easily able to spark creativity. The thinking here is that boredom may bring about creativity because “a restless mind hungers for stimulation.” In today’s hyper-stimulated world, it can feel like every waking moment needs to be filled with a click, scroll, or search. Many people feel they spend too much time in front of screens– and studies like this raise an interesting notion of the potential implications of how our brains function on overdrive.
Why It’s Hot:
We’ve also seen brands begin to play into the notion of mental and psychological wellness as it relates to their category – REI’s #OptOutside campaign comes to mind – to it will be interesting not being in the creative industry but also paying attention to the broader trend of health and wellness, including mental health, in the digital age.
Raising money for causes online is nothing new, but as political unrest has risen in recent weeks, causes like the ACLU are benefitting from private citizens starting grassroots fundraisers across social networks, and gaining traction from heavy hitters in Silicon Valley.
Just as the Pussyhat Project gained millions of followers to gear up for the January 21st Women’s Marches around the world, in the wake of the election powerful grassroots movements are forming by private citizens, using the tools most readily accessible to them to speak out, organize, and recruit followers.
Why It’s Hot:
As marketers, it’s crucial to pay attention not only to the macro-trends and cultural movements of our communities, but also to how regular people are using the tools available to them (namely, in this case, social media) to take political and philanthropic action in this time of rapid change.