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Irish terrier takes a bite out of Google // Back-to-basics Gillette // An apology

09 Sep 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
Irish terrier takes a bite out of Google // Back-to-basics Gillette // An apology

With academic rigour, Dr Johnny Ryan has dug deep into the toxic stew of adtech, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: influencer openness, a back-to-basics Gillette - and a reader apology

Anyone interested in following the twists and turns of the privacy/advertising debate would be well advised to track the work of Dr Johnny Ryan. The Irishman is a one-man terrier nipping the heels of Google, Facebook et al.

When he isn’t testifying before the US Congress or lobbying GDPR regulators, Ryan is digging deep into the toxic stew of adtech.

His latest savaging emerged last week, in which he accuses Google of secretly channelling personal data to advertisers to get round privacy laws.

This is no casual, fly-by-night, attack. Ryan, currently chief policy officer of Dublin-based Brave, which positions itself as an alternative browser company, knows what he is talking about.

Yes, he is open to the charge that Brave has much to gain by attacking Google. And yes, I have met Ryan and he can come across as monomaniacal. But his claims are based on exhaustive research. You can read it here. I won’t even attempt to summarise it in any detail, but suffice to say it has been compiled, and the evidence gathered, with academic rigour.

Which is indeed where his roots lie. Among his many academic qualifications is a PhD from Cambridge. On the subject, no less, of how terrorist memes are spread across the web. Quite a useful background, I imagine.

And of one thing adtech can be sure: sticking with the terrier analogy, Ryan isn’t going to let go of the bone any time soon.

And for a slightly less ferocious take on the story, Addicted’s Simon Andrews suggests the problem is not so much that Google doesn’t take GDPR seriously - but that the left and right hands don’t know what the other is doing.

#influencer, #better to be open

The ASA weighed in again last week on the vexed issue of labelling influencer content. It’s a big report, well worth a read on something that isn’t going away.

At the very minimum, it suggests, influencer posts should be labelled ‘#ad’. In fact, I’d suggest a lot more than that is necessary.

There’s a sense, however, that this is pushing water uphill. There’s a tendency for both brands and influencers to disguise what’s really going on. Better to smuggle in the message, they think, while pretending it is freely produced by the influencer.

But what if the opposite were true? What if, in fact, influencer messaging performed better if they were open about the commercial nature of the deal?

It sounds counter-intuitive, but some new US research published last month by Harvard Business Review suggests that this might be the case.

According to the research, there is now no significant difference between the way consumers view a brand that is open about its use of an influencer versus one that is not. This extends to trust in the brand and intention to purchase.

What’s interesting is how this represents a shift in attitudes in just over 12 months. Whereas disclosure was regarded as a negative, it is now neutral, ending towards the positive.

It’s actually not that hard to figure out why this might be. The pervasive growth of influencers might lead consumers to assume they were all taking the commercial dollar, disclosure or not. Better then to be open about it.

To add a twist, there is a school of thought that says influencers accepting sponsorship gain extra credibility. It is a badge of expertise and success bestowed by a brand.

If this is true, the ASA might finding itself pushing water downhill.

Gillette: sticking to its knitting

This four-page cover wrap for Gillette on City A.M. on Monday 2 September caught my eye.

It was an interesting choice of media. For many men, September 2 will have been the first day back at work after a summer break. I’m guessing some men will have grown scruffy beards over the holiday period and thought, “I can’t go back to work looking like this. I need a good shave.” In that sense, it’s the grown-up bloke’s equivalence of all those ‘new school year, squeaky-clean-new-uniform’ ads.

But it was more what was missing that really drew my attention. Nowhere on the four pages is any mention of Gillette’s grand purpose, which as we all remember from the start of the year is to rid the world of toxic masculinity.

So what’s happened? It’s possible that the grand statement of purpose — donate $1m a year for three years to various Boy Scout-type organisations — was for the US market only. But that’s ridiculous. You can hardly say toxic masculinity is only a problem in the US, and anyway Gillette sells razors everywhere.

More likely, I suspect, is that in the face of the derision heaped upon it at the time, Gillette is doing its best to retreat quietly.

The result is that, in this ad at any rate, Gillette has gone back to its knitting, which is to sell the hell out of the product benefits.

In this case it’s the addition of incremental technology to produce the feeling of a hot shave. After going from three- to four- to five-blade razors, adding aloe vera moisture strips and so on, this is its latest iteration.

And you know what, the ad worked. I thought I might get one.

Then I found out the starter kit costs £199.00.

They are totally taking the piss on that, especially when you see the US version costs ‘only’ £162.60 at Current exchange rates.

The scruffy beard stays.

Eeurgh...I got this wrong

Dear Readers, I owe you an apology.

Last week I may have inadvertently led you to believe that Asda’s tie-up with the Downton Abbey film might have been a good idea.

I was wrong. At the time of writing I couldn’t find the ad. Then I saw it — twice — one evening last week. It features Downton kitchen queen Mrs Patmore fussing around as she prepares for a royal visit.

Other than to say it is naff and unmemorable - and what a waste of money and talent - I won’t describe it for you.

Actress Lesley Nichol must be holding her nose and thinking of the money. Those of a brave disposition can see it here.

Mind you, I still think on balance the idea was not without merit, although judging by a couple of comments from readers, I am in a minority.

As long as it’s not an Asda one, it’s humble pie time for me.

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22 May 2020 

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