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Dominic Mills 

Clegg to world…it’s all your fault; Lucky dip Vodafone 

Clegg to world…it’s all your fault; Lucky dip Vodafone 

Dominic Mills marks Nick Clegg's homework and stamps 'could do better' on Vodafone's latest creative

A friend was moaning about a work problem. I was bored by it and thought he wasn’t acknowledging his own part in the situation. “Well,” I said, in a bid to close the conversation down, “it takes two to tango.”

It worked, although we didn’t speak for a couple of weeks after and it was, on reflection, a bit passive aggressive on my part.

I mention this because the title of a long essay by Nick Clegg, his master’s voice at Facebook, invokes just this feeling.

Entitled, You and the Algorithm: It Takes Two to Tango, it was published in full on Medium last Wednesday. Those with good stamina — it’s a 20-minute read — can find it here.

It’s a puzzle. I can’t work out who it is for and why Clegg wrote it.

One theory is that it’s an attempt to set the scene for a wider debate about the power of the algorithm in maximising time spent on the platform.

Another, perhaps more likely theory, is that it’s an attempt to make good any damage caused by a seemingly less-than-par performance by Mr Z at a Congressional hearing the week before.

Here’s Wired’s summary of the session in which Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai repeatedly denied that Facebook’s incentive is to keep users engaged for as long as possible — even though that is the underpinning of its business model.

User engagement, Zuckerberg said, was a sign “that the experience was so meaningful to them” — ie nothing to do with the role of the algorithm in serving up hateful or extreme content.

Back to Clegg and his defence of the algorithm. “Ultimately”, he said, “content ranking is a dynamic partnership between people and algorithms. On Facebook, it takes two to tango.”

So there we have it. It’s all our fault that we get served-up distasteful and dangerous content, and if we don’t like it, all we have to do is…well…I’m not sure.

In the meantime, and here it feels as though Clegg has been spending too much time with self-delusional marketing folk, we can all enjoy the benefits of the personalised advertising on which Facebook depends for its income.

You can’t beat the zeal of the recent convert, and Clegg gives it the full monty.

“Personalised digital advertising not only allows allows billions of people to use social media for free, it is also more useful to consumers than un-targeted, low-relevance, advertising.”

More fool me, it seems. I always thought personalised advertising — such as it is, and frankly, the so-called personalisation experience is a poor one, let alone the volume — was the price of using social media, a contract I broadly accepted.

But I am wrong. in Clegg’s view, personalised advertising is the prize or reward for the user. FFS!

To take this to its logical conclusion then, it must be that all the poor material or consumption choices I have made of late — that take-away, that craft beer purchase, that meal kit — are the result of ignoring all that personalised advertising.

When I die I’ll ask for an inscription on my headstone: “Here lies a man whose life would have been better if he’d paid more attention to personalised advertising.”

Yep, it’s all my fault.

Vodafone’s ‘lucky dip’ slogan 

On the one hand, plaudits and praise to Vodafone and New Commercial Arts, the first fruits of whose new relationship appeared last week.

It is no mean feat during the pandemic both to start a new relationship and, within six months, complete a whole new brand positioning.

On the other, if they had perhaps taken more time, they might have come up with something a bit more exciting and meaningful, particularly when it comes to the slogan.

Here’s the ad, built on the premise that, according to Vodafone research, we’re all dead excited about the role technology can play in things like sustainability and the development of society — presumably for the better. Yeah, well, those are the sorts of things people say in the anonymity of a research group.

It’s quite a nice ad (in a very NCA/A&E DDB feel-good style), featuring a young girl posing a series of rhetorical questions. “Can we hate less?. Can we make sure no-one is left behind? Can we cure every disease?”.

Obviously IRL the answer is ‘no’ but then advertising, quite understandably, is not in the business of selling pessimism, hence Vodafone’s answer is that of course we can.

As the slogan has it: “Humanity and technology. Together we can.”

Hmm. This feels like a ‘lucky dip’ slogan — stick your hand in the tub and see what you pull out.

It feels both instantly familiar — it could belong in a number of sectors, let alone to any tech company — and instantly meaningless.

There’s an unspoken suggestion that Vodafone, whose business has gone nowhere in a decade (thus a share price a third lower today than April 2011), wants to reposition itself away from the commoditised telecoms sector and into the tech sector, and this ad is a step in that direction.

But how does that work? In telecoms companies the real tech resides in the phone, not with the infrastructure provider.

I’ve been a Vodafone customer for about 20 years — yes, the inertia factor but the service is ok — and I’ve never thought of it as a technology company capable of solving all the world’s ills.

This ad won’t make me change my mind.

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MikeBaker, Director, Negotiation Gym on 7 Apr 2021
“Headstone inscription comment made me laugh out loud. Well done Dominic.”