Yo, Santa! Check out our ‘Naughty and Nice’ list for 2017

We didn’t need AI or data mining to figure out who in marketing, advertising or search most deserved a candy cane or a lump of coal.

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When you have a rollercoaster year like 2017, it must be hard being Santa Claus.

Who’s good, who’s bad. Who was good and is now bad, or vice versa. Who is sorta good and sorta bad.

Of course, he’s not one to complain about such a dream job. While his crowd-sourced community of elves and parents keep track of potential gift recipients all year — without cookies or mobile device IDs! — he only has to show up for work one day a year. (Well, technically, one night.)

And who could whine about rewarding good folks and spiking the others? It’s hard to imagine that Santa’s job satisfaction could get any higher.

But the price of knowing everything about everybody is managing all that data, which covers you like a snowstorm at the North Pole. So, as we’ve done last year and in 2015, we again filter the data to help the Big Guy segment the Naughty from the Nice in marketing, advertising and search.


Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai

This former Verizon legal counsel has apparently decided that he wants to be remembered as the guy who turned the most even playing field in the history of information, marketing and commerce into a non-net neutrality landscape of gated communities, fast and slow lanes and tar pits.

When next year’s “Nice and Naughty” list rolls around, it remains to be seen if there is still an “internet,” or if it has broken down into an archipelago of fiefdoms and ISP-owned territory. If so, we may have to create a “Beyond Naughty” category just for Pai.


In September, Equifax — one of the three main credit reporting bureaus in the US — announced that the most sensitive financial data from as many as 143 million Americans had been stolen.

And, if this wasn’t bad enough, it turned out the hack had taken place somewhere between two and four months previously.

Oh, and did we mention that three top Equifax execs sold almost $2 million in their company’s stock as soon as they learned of the hack, but before the public knew?

Worse yet, the Equifax hack had competition this past year from several other massive data thefts at other brands.

Pepsi, Dove and Airbnb

At the pitches for the Pepsi ad with celebrity Kendall Jenner sashaying through a political demonstration, the Dove ad where an African-American woman lotions herself into being white, or the Airbnb email about floating homes that was sent in the middle of Hurricane Harvey, there probably were people who immediately knew these were classically offensive concepts.

But they apparently were too busy reading email on their phones. Now, these three campaigns will become leading examples in marketing classes about what not to do.

Facebook: What Russia?

In July, more than half a year after the 2016 election, the social networking giant — which prides itself on knowing everything about everything on its platform — insisted there was “no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election.”

Except they weren’t “actors,” they were out in the open. What we know so far is that they were not just buying ads on Facebook that reached over a hundred million users, they were paying for at least some of them … wait for it … in rubles.

Not much acting going on.

Blockchain hype

It’s apparently not enough that blockchain, the technology infrastructure supporting bitcoin, can provide distributed ledgers, smart contracts or tokens for customers.

Many of its proponents are also touting it as the biggest thing since the invention of the internet, a way to end the need for lawyers or, in one video at a recent blockchain conference in New York City, as a self-regulating way to battle everything that has afflicted economies for the last few centuries.

The past year has shown us that blockchain-based systems certainly have their shortcomings. They have suffered their share of breakdowns and are currently too slow to support programmatic platforms. And, regardless of how permanent, secure or self-reinforcing they are or become, they will still have to permanently interact with one eternally fallible component.


Burger King hijacks Google Home

OK, we admit that this ad — whose soundtrack issues a direct order to your Google Home — should also be on a “Clever” list, but Santa doesn’t have one.

It reminds me of a 2016 episode of “Modern Family,” where the character Phil Dunphy also said the words “Ok, Google,” and our Google Home perked up in response. Or a Lowe’s ad last year that asked: “Ok, Google, turn on the bedroom lights.”


But Burger King lands on this “Naughty” list because it tried to do an end run around viewers, by reaching into our living rooms and delivering the actual ad.

Clever … but devious.

Inarticulate chatbots and inarticulate press releases

They may seem like very different things.

But chatbots that can’t chat about very much before they tell you they don’t understand, or press releases that pretend to be in English but are actually in a dialect of High Jargon, are two sides of the same coin.

They both waste the user’s/reader’s time by their inability to communicate, and, consequently, they both lose a deal they could have had.


Marketo’s Guardian Angel, Travis Prebble

When you’re a big marketing company like Marketo, you can forget some things now and again.

But forgetting to renew the domain of your main website?

Fortunately for Marketo, a good soul named Travis Prebble noticed the lapse, went ahead and paid the domain renewal fee and didn’t even ask for a reimbursement.

Santa, Travis deserves the biggest gift you got.

Marketo CEO Steve Lucas

In his defense, Marketo top exec Lucas didn’t try to blame someone else for his company’s screw-up.

But, on another front, he told our MarTech conference of digital marketers this past fall in Boston:

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Those aren’t exactly the same words as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben — “With great power comes great responsibility” — but it’s the same idea.

Although marketers can’t yet swing on spiderwebs across the city, they now also carry enormous power in the form of massive data and smart, fast tools.

Even though Marketo offers such world-bending power, Lucas was making the point that marketers must now learn the difference between a superhero … and someone who can just climb a wall.

DeepIntent versus Russia

While social networking giant Facebook spent part of 2017 stumbling over whether Russians had actually invaded its shores in order to wreak havoc on the American political system, startup ad tech firm DeepIntent decided enough was enough.

It developed what it says is the first set of automated and human processes to detect if an ad coming into its platform is political, and, if it is, if the sponsor is legitimate and US-based.

Patriotism comes in all sizes.

Stranger Things’ Snapchat filter

Any marketer attempting to augment reality will have to address the key question: Why?

The Snapchat augmented reality filter for Netflix’s “Stranger Things” is a good answer, since it works perfectly to present the series.

Of course, it helps that the series premise — about a ghoulish world hidden just underneath ours — builds on the idea that our reality is just an augmentation of another.

User tracking with fewer cookies

Apple’s initiative against third-party cookies and the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) may hasten the day when “cookies” again refer only to crumbling morsels of circular deliciousness.

In response to such anti-tracking developments in this past year, we’ve seen a variety of new and clever efforts to track users without cookies of any kind, without third-party cookies, with “snowflake” session-based trackers or with a single universal cookie.

It’s just one of the ways in 2017 where the marketing/ad/search community has shown it can figure out great workarounds to new obstacles.

We ask Santa to reacquaint these vendors’ and publishers’ stockings with the original meaning of “cookies.”

The Better Ads initiative

Like the cookie-less or cookie-stingy trackers (see above), advertisers are coming up with clever workarounds for what ails their industry.

One constellation of efforts centers around the Coalition for Better Ads, along with related efforts from several major ad industry organizations, Microsoft, Google and others.

We’ll see if more engaging, more useful and less intrusive ads actually emerge in 2018, but, for now, we’re asking Santa to encourage all these folks with the biggest candy canes he has.

CREDITS: Thanks for nominations from Third Door Media’s Michelle Robbins and Tim Peterson, Visto CEO Kerry Bianchi, ON24 CMO Joe Hyland, Kargo CEO/founder Harry Kargman, ICR’s Nirav Suchak, Cint CDO Peter Milla, AdYouLike’s US Managing Director Francis Turner, Extreme Reach CMO Melinda McLaughlin and Clarity PR Senior Account Director Sherry Smith.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Barry Levine
Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.

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