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Unilever threatens to pull its ads from Facebook and Google over 'toxic content' (latimes.com)
378 points by CodeSheikh 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 358 comments

Top advertiser Procter & Gamble, competitor to Unilever and likewise an owner of many distinct brands, has been very vocal about the sorry state of digital advertising [1], threatening to drastically cut spending [2] on ad networks that made it difficult to gauge ROI.

When in 2017 they cut spending on Facebook [2], they noticed no corresponding drop in sales, leading them to conclude that the spending they cut was probably ineffective to begin with [3][4].

[1] http://adage.com/article/media/p-g-s-pritchard-calls-digital... [2] https://www.wsj.com/articles/p-g-to-scale-back-targeted-face... [3] https://mediatel.co.uk/newsline/2017/07/28/pg-cuts-100m-in-d... [4] https://wolfstreet.com/2017/07/28/procter-gamble-slashed-dig...

I always hear about how online advertising has a lot of data to show how effective it is. I've always been skeptical of that, but I have no evidence either way. This seems to show that it wasn't working for this company.

I really wonder how many companies are actually getting anything for their money.

Does anyone know of any data either way?

When people say ads are ROI trackable, they are referring to ads that have specific monetizable actions, such as buying a product. There's definitely some advantage there.

However, most big ad spenders engage in "brand" advertising, where the goal is building brand recognition to influence decisions at the future point of purchase decision rather than driving a purchase decision at the point of viewing the ad. I don't see what measurement advantage an online ad brings for this type of advertising, and I see many reasons why it would be inferior to, for example, TV, which can more fully capture a viewer's engagement than a side banner ad.

Not all ads are banner ads, and TV spots are no guarantee you'll have people's attention (not to mention you know less about who those people are).

There reason advertising is hard to measure despite lots of data is that the data isn't always accurate and doesn't always tell the whole picture.

When you do advertising for a big brand, things are even harder to measure than direct response advertising. Viewability is a problem, but attribution is an even bigger one because your tracking to the end purchase is missing many key data points.

Hope that helps clarify a bit.

There is also absolutely no will in the marketing departments I've seen to measure negative effects of advertising, only the positive.

Myself I have an adverse effect when I see an ad for a product. I will actively try to avoid it as I feel if you have to advertise, the competition probably has a superior product.

I completely agree. I feel this way for things that I think should not have to advertise. For instance, higher education. I saw a poster at Forest Hills 71 Avenue subway station for Queens College and now I feel like it is not a top class college.

I think my reaction would have been different of the ad was subtler though. Thoughts?

Ads for colleges in the subway aren’t meant for you, though. You probably already have a college degree and are well-educated. Those subway ads are for people who aren’t as well-educated, never went to college and are trying to fit it in between working, and wouldn’t get into a top-tier college.

Exactly. The top-tier college in the city probably has a subway stop with its name in it. Those ads are aimed at someone who doesn't have a college degree and/or has been contemplating doing something positive about their career. So part-time/night college, nursing school, etc. ads are there to nudge them and to suggest a specific option for them to consider.

I believe the thought was that if they were so prestigious they would not need to advertise at all. I have never felt this way about Universities, but I certainly have for defense attorneys.

Of course they advertise. They just do it in subtle ways called PR.

I used to do marketing for HE, and that always used to be the case - however the explosion in intakes has really skewed the market. Increase in tuition fees has also turned it into more of a transaction, so it's now less about selective prestige, and more about outcomes (which lends itself more to outward marketing than traditional reserved means).

There is, but will is different than ability - I've done work on brand perception studies, which look at both the positive and negative, as well as conversion data looking at online ads that work from a vanity metric standpoint (views/clicks) but don't do anything else.

A lot of brands will try and piece together negatives - if you want to help a marketer, fill out that NPS popup you see ;)

I do not understand why it’s hard to see at least the end result. Before switching on the ads and after switching on the ads.

I am sure a company as big as proctor and gamble has at least a team of people who are dedicated to gather the end to end metric. Then where’s the gap?

One big part of the problem is whether that team (if they exist at all, and that's a big IF) works for the marketing department and whether they have an inherent conflict of interest.

In my experience as a data scientist working along-side some marketing people, most of the performance measuring, if it was ever done, was total psuedo-science. It was almost universally done either by people aligned with the actual marketing or who actually worked on said marketing effort.

Not only is there the universal mantra of "Don't ever come to a finding which says that your team and effort fails to contribute value to the company", but lets say that you actually are a data scientist and you really are independent and you come to a conclusion that your multi-million dollar marketing campaign is doing sweet f all.

This will generally be despite 6 months of presentations from the marketing team about how great it was, and probably several bonuses/pay reviews.

And now you're not only fighting a civil war in your company, you're doing it against multiple people with millions of dollars in budget, who have been proclaiming their success, and who's entire career has been based upon appealing to peoples guts to give them high paying jobs and big budgets.

Good luck with that fight...

Rule 37 of professional analytics in big companies: be VERY careful before turning your analytical eye inwards into your own companies' hierarchy/practices...

I think we're reaching that crux point now - it's always been a black box of advertising online, but now teams are taking some knowledge in-house, there's increasing accountability, and thus cutting of budgets as they're clocking onto ROI (which a lot of channels can't show).

  I do not understand why it’s hard to see
  at least the end result.
The longer it takes for a change in input to produce a change in output, the greater the chance confounding factors will interfere, making your conclusions less convincing.

You moved your spending from billboards to print magazines, and 6 months later sales are higher. How do you tell if it was the ads, when there was also a model refresh, your competitor released a poorly reviewed product, and the economy has been kind to your target demographic?

As John Wanamaker supposedly said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half"

Your decision to buy Nike sneakers might be influenced by Nike's sponsorship of Uruguay in the 1998 World Cup. Maybe you were a child back then, and thought their goalkeeper was just the coolest dude, ever.

See where the problem might be?

Recently I was buying some gym clothes and wanted to buy Nike. I stopped to think about why, and traced it back to the early 2000s when I got into golfing, and Tiger Woods was a big influence for me. At that time I bought all Nike clothing.

After realizing that I just need some tops and shorts to sweat in at home, I ended up buying the store brand label, saving myself ~80% in costs.

It's funny how the mind works.

Others have done a great job of highlighting some of the challenges, but I wanted to share my own thoughts.

Conducting an on/off test can be a viable approach in some cases assuming you can properly control for the numerous (understatement) variables that often make your data incredible dirty for such a test. That said, often the nature and number of the variables is such that you would not get meaningful results from an on/off test. This is quite often the case with large brands. As such, other forms of testing are often used individually or in conjunction with each other to get a better read on things.

In terms of the end-to-end data, from an online advertising standpoint you often are missing trackable data points around other brand touch points the person might have encountered before purchase, or often, even the end purchase itself. And that's just the start of the data headaches.

It depends on where the purchase is made and how identity is tracked. You could have a more complicated attribution model that doesn't rely solely on the last interaction, like using clock/view-through windows.

However you also have the problem of identity tracking. The simplest way is cookie tracking but this had cross device and IRL problems. You can use services like Facebook or Google top track identity across devices, even in store purchases if you track data well enough.

Problem in both cases is that the data collection and analyses becomes increasingly complex and inefficient. However this data is a lot more sophisticated than what you could achieve in old media. On the other hand it's up to debate whether the ads themselves are efficient in the digital medium.

Personally, I believe far too many advertisers obsess over ROI without having a clue how to do proper attribution modelling. This leads to everyone trying to grab that last interaction dollar, clickbaiting, creating a divisive environment and this is why we can't have nice things.

One of the major issues I'm coming up against at the minute is the view through window though. When combined with a multi-channel strategy, and retargeting, view throughs can just inflate numbers, masking true effectiveness.

I've lived my life doing digital advertising work, but if I turned off 3/4s of ours tomorrow, I'd be loathed to pin my cap and predict volume would drop by that.

Interestingly, I've seen a lot more focus on different attribution models recently, I think people are finally asking the questions now it's been ingrained in a lot of teams for a few years.

While I think it's great that so much tracking is possible, I need to point out that many things can skew that as well.

eg - person A is going to get onto walmarts site and buy 2 things. They do a G search and click the first result and purchase 3 things. You could track that and attribute 3 items sold to a specific ad at a specific time, person, all that.

However that person was going to buy 2 of those things anyways, had no intention of clicking an ad, only thing the ad did was displace an organic result further down the page and waste money.

I've done ads for years (not a big time high tech company) - but enough to see they can work, unfortunately they seem to work for a short while, I'd say about one year - then you end up paying for clicks for your repeat customers who are actually looking for you, not looking for generic "good past near me".

There comes a point where saving the money on your click budget is actually a bigger savings than the 20% spend's effectiveness gain in profits.

For some types of businesses / some campaigns / your results may vary, yada yada.

Sadly much of the ad inventory and display is completely wasted.

How many people see a display ad for something they just bought? We have been preying upon ignorant companies and ignorant consumers who can't really tell what a sponsored search result is and what the heck organic result means, and what is a url bar? More things like this. It's sad really.

Plus, you have marketing agencies that spend the majority of their clients' ad budgets on branded keywords.

Of course your ad campaign seems effective when you're displaying ads to people specifically searching for your company name. At some point, agency cannibalization of their client organic results crosses from inefficiency to straight up fraud.

What happens when you search for Walmart (or some product where Walmart is the organic top result) and Target gets the ad spot above the organic result? Should Walmart let that go without bidding?


If someone searches "Walmart near me" or "Walmart sales" or something like that, they're as brand-aware as you can possibly make them. If you're worried that a competitor might distract them somewhere between their deliberate branded search and clicking on your #1 organic search result, you need to de-commodify your frigging product line.

excellent question, several possible answers. imho -or If I was King and ruled by stroke of a pen.. perhaps:

If search = "walamart" and another non-walmart company is placing ad above organic result, then a warning would be prominent in the ad displayed, and when you clicked it - an interstitial warning would tell you that you are going to a different web site than the one you believed to be shopping for most likely.

- several reasons, 1 - the faint color change google says clearly marks ads is a friggin joke, everyone knows it, and adwords laughs all the way to the bank while the tech face says "look at our perfectly calibrated large screen blah blah" (not the average person's cheap laptop) - 2 - malware has been installed how many thousands of times when I tell someone to update they flash, they type flash into google search (not url bar) - first result is trusted - and it's a malware site. Seen it happen dozens of times myself, know it's happened lots more. 3 - fake news - or whatever else, this is basically saying that many other devious things can be done with ads beyond neighborhood markets battling for eyeballs.

If search equals "walmart diapers" - I think it is fine to show competitors as long as they are clearly marked as such. It gets complicated if the results show 5 competitors with pricing like google shoppiung kind of style - and if they are all paid results - and they not be accurate, and what IF walmart would not pay to be listed there, and it was at the top - is this right?

Some people might think the search they did returned no results and instead google was showing results that were more likely to return an actual document. Now this gets serious in my mind, we could joke that people would know better.. but what if it was amazon echo or something else.

Lots could / should be said about these things above.

Also, walmart should be educating web site visitors, just as other businesses should - explicitly show them that the top results from google (and others) are almost always paid results. Show them that these could be conflicts of interest, and that clicking on them costs money.

Being lazy and typing walmart into search box instead of url bar is giving google money, and wasting time, and raising your costs at walmart and other places - completely unnecessarily - and most often without the consumer having any clue.

I've seen it too many times with so many different types of people. They do not know these things, and it's costing us all. We know that google knows / sees this, with the opaque bidding for adwords cost thing - no one knows like google how much this is screwing how many people and millions of dollars.

Yes, I do think walmart should let go any and all ads that have "walmart" in the search parameter, also "wal-mart" and "wallmart" etc. They should not have to pay for those results, and they should educate the consumers about why they will never show up in a sponsored ad box when they are searched by name, and how consumers would be leery of any company / page that does show up there.

It is wasteful, it takes advantage of the ignorant consumers, and the companies that are essentially being held hostage by engines who at one time earned so much trust with the public that they will now search for anything, click the first result, download and install new software without reading more than "google first result".

So many patterns have emerged to encourage this wastefulness, cramming small screens with lots of ads and pushing more and more organic results away - it's greed run rampant at the expense of all of us who don't own stock in the alphabet.


I think the whole of concept of “brand advertising” is fundamentally flawed. A brand is a set of values that is delivered consistently and repeatedly. You can’t build a brand by showing pictures of happy people (or whatever else) with a nice copy. People just don’t care and won’t listen.

PS: I’m not referring to actionable ads, but mere advertising to boost brand awareness etc

I think it does work. Although I consider myself pretty "immune" to advertising I know I am not. I do not buy off-brand toothpaste or store labeled coke. I do buy detergent I have seen in advertising and so on. All this while knowing that some TESCO detergent would be probably perfectly fine.

Detergent is one of the areas that I am “brand immune” because there’s really no difference in cleaning power between a cheap bleach you can buy by the gallon and branded cleaning products that are orders of magnitude more expensive. The same is true of many health and beauty products: same stuff, different branding.

Then again, I’ve spent lots of money on Apple products because there’s something I value associated with that brand.

There actually are meaningful differences in detergent: pricier brands contain all sorts of things besides soap, such as proteases and lipases (proteins that break down proteins and fats in foods and other dirt of biological origin), or colouring agents.

It's not enough for me to make a difference, considering I don't spend much time in dirt. But if I had children, I'm sure I'd try different brands.

> People just don’t care and won’t listen.

Not consciously. But when you get into a store and want to buy a shampoo or toothpaste, you are more likely to buy a brand you have heard of than something completely unknown.

That is true, but it has little to do with advertising. In the absence of other evidence I buy the product that costs least per gram/litre. In most cases that's the supermarket's own brand, which is also the brand I've most likely to have heard of, because it's difficult not to have heard of Tesco or Sainsbury's when you're in Tesco or Sainsbury's. The choice between Tesco and Sainsbury's is determined by location and transport options. They're not usually right next to each other so that you've got to decide between them on their merits.

Note that in the case of consumables, like shampoo or toothpaste, there's almost no risk in getting the cheapest: if it turns out to be crap you'll mentally blacklist it and buy the second cheapest next time if the blacklisted product is still the cheapest. Buying a car is a very different matter.

You are a bargain hunter. The majority of the consumer spending is not. And your store brand is made by the same company that buys ad for their product and creates demand for the flavor of toothpaste you like.

Your anecdotal opinion is worth less than decades to centuries of empirical evidence.

I think they'd get a bigger bang for their buck by paying "influencers" and personalities than by paying those companies for placement.

Influencers like Logan Paul and PewDiePie? They have their own brand safety issues.

Don't go blindly throwing money at random YouTubers, but yes if you can find social media influencers who aren't morons like these two then it's probably more effective than ad placement.

There's quite a lot of conflicting reports about the effectiveness of influencers. It really does depend on the campaign/product - I think a lot of companies are going to get burned by throwing cash down that well as they do with the advent of any new channel.

I don't know, don't you think that the population of morons in the pool of social media influencers is disproportionately high?

It depends.

I watch plenty of maker/electronic/mechanic channels on YouTube and having them recommend a product to me would definitely be more effective than putting an ad on social media or between videos.

Influencers like SmarterEveryday or SameerReviewsRunningShoes

And the internet is probably the worst outlet for brand-building.

Why would Calvin Klein place their beautiful ad with Kate Moss next to photos of your right-wing friend's AK-47 collection and videos of his deer field dressing skills?

Indeed. I once saw an ad on a local online news site (~1M daily visitors) that was a full-border (around the news stories) shock pink commercial for a diaper brand. And all the news stories were about a horrible terrorist attackvthat just happened with pretty awful images. It's a juxtaposition I will never forget, and I can't honestly believe they ever sold a single diaper more.

The "joys" of keyword matching.

"Children killed in terror attack" matches "children", ergo diaper ads.

Why did you have to throw in a random criticism of hunters? The article is referring to "extremist" content.

In many places in the U.S., hunters are among the most effective conservationists at the local level.

While I don't disagree with your basic point, you need to get out more if you think owning guns/hunting automatically equals "right-wing" in much of the US.

> Why would Calvin Klein place their beautiful ad with Kate Moss next to photos of your right-wing friend's AK-47 collection and videos of his deer field dressing skills?

Because they want to reinforce the notion that wearing Calvin Klein will make you strong and manly and help you attract beautiful women? I'm sure your general point makes sense but I'm really not seeing your example.

Because that's where you spend your time. The advertisers are ultimately going to go where consumers' attention is...they don't have much of a choice.

> I'm sure your general point makes sense but I'm really not seeing your example.

The goal in fashion is to make people appear more attractive, not to make them appear unattractive.

Through my most recent ~3-4 contracts I've come to confidently realize something I'd always suspected: companies that are in a market where advertising and marketing are just expected when comparing what competitors do is the majority of reason why so many dollars are budgeted in that direction. I don't complain to anybody who has a say in my workload or paycheck, of course, but I often find myself conversing with peers about how ridiculous it all seems and feels. That conversation rarely changes, either.

Then getting into the amount of money allocated when it comes to "Keeping Up with the Joneses" for companies competing in pharma, healthcare, or any health related field really racks my brain, especially with pharma. In the United States there is no way to purchase pharmaceuticals online. We aren't making any e-Commerce-type products. The target audience is being fed information that looks better suited for scientists, doctors, and lawyers as opposed to who we and our customers imagine / intend. At some point it feels like it's being created to cover asses more than help sell product. I see things like case studies and the like but I imagine that even those are flubbed in order to mask the truth: nobody really knows if the work we do or the end result our customers seek is moving the meter in any direction at all.

> The target audience is being fed information that looks better suited for scientists, doctors, and lawyers as opposed to who we and our customers imagine / intend.

That's because they intend for you to go to a pill mill, and demand an 'as seen on TV' prescription.

The entire system needs to be torn out, root and stem.

The UK bans advertising of prescription drugs, which makes the ads a lot quieter.

> Through my most recent ~3-4 contracts I've come to confidently realize something I'd always suspected: companies that are in a market where advertising and marketing are just expected when comparing what competitors do is the majority of reason why so many dollars are budgeted in that direction. I don't complain to anybody who has a say in my workload or paycheck, of course, but I often find myself conversing with peers about how ridiculous it all seems and feels. That conversation rarely changes, either.

Well, if marketing in a given field is genuinely a waste of money then eventually a competitor should be able to enter the field and beat the incumbents by spending less on marketing. There are some fields where the cheap generics win out, but there are others where they don't.

The efficient market hypothesis kind of falls over in the real world, though. There's _many_ fields where it isn't trivial or even possible for new competitors to just arise from nothing.

I spend in the tens of thousands of dollar range on digital advertising every month. It’s very easy to measure ROI if your goal is to get someone to buy something on your website. If your goal is to promote a brand or get someone to take action in the real world (go to a store to make a purchase, for example), things get a bit more difficult. This has always been the case with all forms of advertising, however, and digital is still far easier to measure than traditional shotgun approaches like TV, radio, print, etc.

If a company is finding digital advertising to be inefficient then they should cut it, but it begs the question - what IS efficient for them? In my experience, the efficiency of digital simply can’t be touched.

Many channels can be more efficient than digital. When I did advertising for after sale services for cars, the most efficient channels were physical mail, then radio, then specialized magazines, and then digital. Main reason was demographics and lack of focus in digital (very hard to convey a message that is not super basic).

" If your goal is to promote a brand"

As a shopper, I know damned well that brands mean nothing these days. Here's my deal: Make a great product, promote it enough so that I know it exists, is something I really need and will last, and - after I test that with experience - I'll promote your brand for free.

The deal is off once you're bought by some Org only interested in milking the brand dry.

Yes. Coupons are a popular way to gauge in store action, but they have a very low redemption rate and they're far more expensive than digital.

The ones that do it on their own data do. The ones that must buy it from 3rd party data miners, have significant 'startup' costs.

Have to admit, its not 'fully online' but, with their webshop and customer card registration for in shops, its all one datapool if you ask me.


Much more that traditional display adverts I saw a Kfc Add on a road leading out of town which makes no sense. There is a lot of mostly wasted advertising brought for the nebulous "Brand"

If you had kids and do road trips you'd know exactly how unwasted that ad is.

when your 20 miles away from the town with the next KFC?

Um, yes. Never doubt the memory of kids when it comes to food.

Thing is 250 yards down the road there is a subway so they might be triggering the munchies and driving footfall to a competitor.

Yes. Its fostering brand awareness.

And look now you remember KFC and now just told hundreds/thousands of people on the internet about KFC.

I always find this a dubious and unsupportable metric for advertising's efficacy.

How that translates into dollars is what matters and I think the hand waving of "any publicity is good publicity" has long been a way for marketing folks to avoid talking about measurable results.

Sure, but I was just thinking about what I want to eat for dinner and you've just added KFC to the potential list. The emperor may not be wearing his full regalia in this regard, but he's certainly not naked.

I can't speak for advertising in general, but I do performance marketing on Facebook for clients and if it's not profitable we don't get budget. It's profitable for us (we're in the middle doing the arbitrage) and presumably profitable for them, or at least the clients of ours who are doing the measuring with their call centers, ROI, etc.

How I wish all the brand dollars that are probably wasted stopped advertising and making our clicks so expensive, ha!

We're doing well but our annual ad spend is like any of those company's lunch breaks at best. I imagine profitability analysis doesn't scale well, plus you run into more and more bots / fraud as you spend that kind of money.

On top of that, I'd wager most people don't very strongly weight a Youtube advertiser with the video it's played before. At least not me.

I weigh those ads very negatively. Looking at you, Grammarly. Seriously, why do they play the same ad over and over again, one after the other, to the same viewer? What with all that AI and machine learning and deep neural networks, they can't tell the same session has been served that same ad 50,000 times already?

Haha, this made me laugh. It’s humorous that we’re living in a period where a vocal group of critics declares that ML, AI, and incredible amounts of data and tracking are being leveraged to push ads at me so skillfully and subtly that I’m helpless to resist.

Meanwhile, like you said, I’m served the same handful of annoying ads over and over, for products I’d never consider buying. Where are all the ads for stuff that’s so desirable and targeted to me that I just can’t resist purchasing them??

Not saying that critics of advertising have no valid claims, but the juxtaposition is funny.

I think it was always a bit like this. You can read what people thought about advertising in the 60's, and they had the same kind of paranoid fantasies we have today, although less focused on tech, more on psychology. In reality, advertising psychology then was much as it is now - basically quackery, with a side of 'thought leadership' by guys that really should have stuck to squash.

That said, I think the reason why machine-driven advertising is so much better than its predecessors is simply that the predecessors were really awful. They used to do market research by installing double-sided mirrors in department stores then taking notes on what people looked at. It was absurd. Now, there's actually an even-odds chance that a targeted advert will meet somebody that might be vaguely interested - and that's absolutely orders of magnitude better than a billboard.

And also, to be honest, this whole complaint about cost-performance indices is a bit absurd - since as far as I can gather, they were basically oneiromancy before Google and Facebook came along.

"They used to do market research by installing double-sided mirrors in department stores then taking notes on what people looked at."

I'm not so sure we have progressed that much since then. You search for something on Google, swap to Facebook and an ad appears for that same exact thing on the sidebar - not really any different than using browsing as a determining factor for desire to purchase.

A small aspect of ads, I know but I found it such a ridiculous truth that I can't imagine the rest of their systems are actually all that smart.

Furthermore, they continue to serve you the ad for the same products, even after you've purchased them.

Internet advertising sounds horrible. I marvel that so many people still put up with it.

In my experience, it's because internet advertising is indeed globally horrible, but advertising on internet is often not about global effects.

To give you a perspective, efficient "performance" (the kind which wants you to buy now) advertising is a click ratio of about half a percent on ads, which vastly outperforms the basic performance one, usually having a ratio of about a tenth of a percent. Of those fractions of a percent, a fraction of a percent will actually buy...

That still means ads missed the target 995 times out of 1000, so are still globally horrible.

Nevertheless, since ads on the internet are so cheap (prices are often negotiated by 1000 ads, to make it a bit more tangible, and we're talking like 5$ per 1000 ads here), it's still sometimes worth it.

So yeah, the global experience is crap, but that's often not the point anyway.

We have progressed since then to the extent that now, stores use technology to observe the behavior of every individual shopper in detail, all over the store.

Paranoid fantasies about 42% of the population being lured into smoking and millions of lives lost to easily preventable disease.

Other factors (e.g. Do your friends smoke?) play a much larger role than advertising.

It helps that cigarette smoking is physically addicting.

Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders from 1957 is well worth a look about how advertising was seen as far back as the 1950s.


> I’m served the same handful of annoying ads over and over, for products I’d never consider buying.

Or worse, for big-ticket items that you'd only buy infrequently. HEY THIS GUY BOUGHT A DRONE LETS SEND HIM DRONE ADS! WAIT NO NOW HE BOUGHT A CAR HE'S A CAR BUYER SEND CAR ADS. No, you silly equation, I just bought a car, that means I'm NOT in the market for a car.

This strategy may actually work for drones. I know very few people who own a drone and don't also own five drones.

Can confirm, it works for cameras too. This brought to you by the menagerie of Panasonics now littering my office...

or who own a drone and haven't crashed at least one drone

On some ads (Google?) you can click an X button to select a reason for not wanting to see that ad anymore. If I recall correctly one of the options is that you've already purchased that item. It actually worked in my case, but guess what - the advertiser now has even more info on you!

Not only Google slurps all your personal information to better target ads it shows you, you have to do extra work on top of that to keep them relevant. That's rich.

The problem is that their models are so broken, they require an insatiable amount of invasive training data to try to correct for their erroneous conclusions. Their failures drive even more affronts to privacy. The cycle continues.

Then they sell us household gadgets to sink their hooks deeper into our lives. Microphones listening to conversations won't be enough; soon we'll herald the coming of new "smart" appliances like the Google Toilet, which plays your favorite music, recommends better posture, sprays you off when done and stealthily analyzes your stool samples for markers to see if the Captain Crunch ads they bombarded you with over the last week led to a conversion.

It doesn't work, but failure is clearly no impediment to progress.

Any chance it’s actually all a house of cards and direct to consumer advertising doesn’t actually doesn’t do much to begin with?

"Half of all money spent on advertising is wasted - the problem is we don't know which half."

Cut ad spending in two (random choice) and put that money into product development, or just cut prices. Win win.

Genius! We should also throw a randomly selected 50% of job applicants' resumes in the bin. After all, we don't want to hire anyone who's unlucky!

Say what you will but I haven't seen a diaper or tampon ad in years so I'm pretty happy with the improvement over the untargeted advertising of the past. Grammarly is at least within the realm of things that have some possible use to me.

It seems the ML's cost-reward function maximises profit for the platform.

There was a great article posted here a few months about the internal market maker that Facebook uses to decide which ads to display. Long story short unless a particular platform is the only way to deliver ads to some group of people, the platform needs to keep its customers (the ad purchasers) happy with what they've bought.

Those ads simply pay more and / or have more inventory to burn.

This struck a chord with me. I worked in AdTech for two years and wanted to pull my own eyes out because of this.

The reason this happens is that nobody involved gets anything out of stopping this happening. Incoming extreme cynicism.

First off, the marketers are still mostly using demographic segments - often a marketer will encounter a machine-learning model, and their first question is "who are these people" and when you can't explain how the model works, they revert to using demographic segments because they trust them more. This means they often do analysis demographically, and over target people in particular narrow age and gender demographics because they did better last month by chance.

Second, management want to keep their budgets large so their resumes look good. Their desire is to increase the amount of people they can target, while simultaneously appearing to work on interesting tech. Since social and video have recently been en vogue, spend increases on these platforms, while projects focus less on increasing spend efficiency and more on taking credit for sales by tracking customers through the pipeline. This creates a weird scenario where everyone says they're using sophisticated machine learning models, but the contractors and consultants involved are glorified powerpoint factories.

Third, the big silos, google and Facebook, probably have some incredibly sophisticated models of consumer behaviour that are incredibly efficient - but why would they want to give their advertising customers something that would reduce spend?

Grammarly's ad links directly to an immediate single-click-to-install page for their suspicious browser extension whose fine print asks for total access to look at your private webpage data, keystrokes, ability to inject mysterious scripts into every single page you visit, including email, banking, cryptocurrency exchange login pages, etc. With over 10 million active installations, they could easily use this absurd amount of power to profit in a shady manner. The ROI for their ad spend must be incredible because the average tech-naive person just has to fall for it once and then this extension is installed for the remaining lifetime of their computer. The whole thing has a stench similar to the Hola browser extension botnet incident.

Unfortunately, the repetition is probably intentional. It's like the old idea of constantly playing the company jingle. They hope to bludgeon the product into your brain through brute force.

I'm sure it raises "brand awareness" measurements, at the cost of making people hate them.

It’s because the message that the algorithm is trying to match you to ads you are interested in is BS. They are matching you to ads that will make you, and others like you buy. So they are ok with pissing off lots of people since it results in shares.

The reality is that people don’t actually want enough to cover ad revenue, but ads make them buy more.

On facebook though, I actually disabled my ad blocker because I wanted to see the ads. However, I immediately skip over any videos that show ads. My general rule of thumb is if a video has an ad, I don't need to watch the video.

Its not what you want to see or buy - they’ll push the ad from a provider who’s bidding highest and providing them most revenue.

I am not sure the advertising party has a say. You give a budget, put your media in, and start the campaign. I don't believe the obvious feature exists: "Only play my ad once per user". It definitely wouldn't be a money maker for google. Every advertising party could use this feature to cheaply sweep through all the unique eye balls.

At least Youtube and Facebook offer this feature. It's pretty standard. The problem is that a lot of their inventory is an inch wide and a mile deep.

The rule is roughly "narrow targeting, cheap impressions, reasonable frequency, pick any one". A shady ad agency (but I repeat myself) will never pick "reasonable frequency" because their advertisers aren't sophisticated enough to ask if their ad is being sent to one person 50 times in a day.

It only takes one buyer to not set the frequency control option to spam you with the same ad over and over -- everyone else is one-and-done.

Sounds like the advertiser needs to create a progression of videos/display ads instead of showing the same one. I work for a company that provides tools to create such ads. Maybe they need me. :D We definitely know how many times we've shown ads to which people (even across devices).

How is that possible. You don't know how many YouTube vids I am watching vs someone else who watches more or less per day.

I was referring mostly to display advertising, but with video ads, VAST compliant players sent http requests to whichever endpoint specified based on different quantiles (start, 25%, 50%, 75%, video finish). This endpoint would be our servers so we can track which video and how much you've seen. The same is true for display, where we get an impression. You load the image which hits our ad servers, along with your cookie (who are you), and redirects to the actual image.

"Hi, I'm <E-list celebrity> and I made my own website..."

Ugh. Seriously though I suspect it is because their algorithms have decided that you like X and therefore they only show you adverts about X, which is a small subset of all available adverts, so you get the same ones again and again.

On TV they can't target so accurately so you basically get shown every advert. This means there are more to show and it is less repetitive.

I also think advertisers don't mind showing the same person their advert a million times. It may be annoying but it works - name one competitor to Grammarly off the top of your head.

My brain is a competitor to Grammarly

OMG yes!! I honestly really mostly kinda don't mind ads for media that I value (youtube, spotify, etc) ... however, when it comes down to it, when I get served the same freaking ad over and over and over and over, it just drives me up the wall!

I'd go as far as to say that the end user would be more receptive to ads, if they filled ads with pro-bono charity ads promoting some charity or another ... then the user wouldn't start to hate ads, and they could probably write off the ads they donated.

Yep, Grammarly and Wix seem to be pervasive on the channels I watch. I have no interest in using either of them, they're usually out of context with the content I want to watch, and the only times I watch them is to make sure my favourite channels get the cash (although signalling that they should target me more...)

I'm always wondering who thinks it's a good idea to show me ads for a product I just bought, ad that I never saw before bought the item.

Similarly, twitter showing ads for Mac/windows only product when my user-agent clearly says Linux!

The single most annoying set of adverts on the internet. Hammy with extra ham on top.

I believe `randyrand` was talking about weighing the advertising company based on the Youtube videos their ads play on, not which videos that ad company produces...

It's because grammarly is paying a boatload more than anyone else would

Chase bank did something similar a year ago.


> leading them to conclude that the spending they cut was probably ineffective to begin with

There's a simple explanation for that: they cut only the advertising spend that was ineffective.

When do I change what toilette paper I buy? When they cheapen whatever I am buying enough to discomfort me, or raise the price per unit significantly with no apparent justification. (My supermarket chain was sold from one giant conglomorate to another, and the house brand immediately went up a dollar a package. Then was replaced by the new outfit's house brand, that seemed slightly inferior (and also more variable in quality), but also offered less quantity at that price.)

Maybe brand recognition plays some role, at that point, but the push to change almost always seems to be the degradation of what I'm currently buying.

Or, just outright dropping it. This happens frequently enough, when I find something I like, that I joke with the store staff that they're watching me on the cameras and if I seem to like something, dropping it to pull my chain.

There was a news story a few years back about consumers who were found to consistently tend to purchase new products that soon fail overall in the marketplace.

I take your point, but it does not apply to all or most of my cases.

Often, long-established brands and products. Store staff themselves express surprise. Granted, their perspective is limited to that store and what they notice. But I've had them comment that the product sold well, and they have no clue why it was discontinued. And how I'm not they only one they've heard from about this.

In one case, it wasn't even the supermarket's decision. A product that had been purchased by the Frito Lay brand. It sold, but the Frito Lay rep who stocked Frito Lay products at that store (yes, more and more, supermarkets don't do their own stocking -- not for big brands, who purchase shelf space from them) just stopped stocking it. Store management was even readily willing to request its return. It did return, for a few weeks, and then no more.

One way or another, big brands seem to lose customers more through their own actions than direct competition.

Like my recently acquired Merrell boots. (There was a thread on that brand, recently.) Merrell used to be -- still "are", in one associates mind -- "the best".

But, they apparently have gone volume and cheaped out. I won't be buying them, again. Not because I found a better competitor, but because they sabotaged their own product.

But, maybe they're selling tons of them, trading accumulated good will against profits. Someone will bonus out, leaving the eventual wreckage behind.

"I know half my advertising budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half" -- John Wanamaker

This article is not about effectiveness of ads on social media. They don't want to be associated with all the fake-news on social media.

I wonder if they show adds on foxnews. Foxnews also seems to be filled with mostly fake news.


Not a democrat, way to right wing for me.

Anyway, fake or not is a difficult discussion, i agree. Personally i think religion is also fake news, no evidence available as far as i'm concerned.

Reason i mentioned fox is that i recently read: https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/you-need-to-watch-this

It seems a bit shortsighted to just single out social media for fake news, when regular media is as much to blame.

They make soap and toothpaste, I buy these things regardless of their advertising. They could cut cable ads and nothing would change as well (I don't even have cable).

To the contrary; they need to advertise on the internet to capture the next generation, who don't watch as much TV. If it turns out that facebook ads were influential, P&G could risk losing billions by giving up on that market.

Brand preferences are overwhelmingly set in the youth years and it's been sliding younger and younger [1].

Sure, they make soap and toothpaste and food and a billion other things, but so do their competitors.

Every sale of a bottle of shower gel is a competition between P&G, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, and Henkel; every tube of toothpaste is a competition between P&G, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Church & Dwight, Johnson & Johnson, and GlaxoSmithKline...

And most white-label generic store brands are the product of an alliance between a retailer and a manufacturer, whereby spare plant capacity is used to run a slightly different product through, whose bulk amount was paid for by the retailer ahead of time. This way, the big brand still gets paid, and retailers make better margins on store brand items than big brands.

[1] http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/when-does-brand-loyalt...

Soap and toothpaste are interesting in that they were ubiquitous advertising on television back a few decades ago.

I haven't had a television in the past decade... but I still buy soap and toothpaste. The advertising from decades ago still haunts my decisions. I'm more likely to get a brand name toothbrush over a non-name one, even if it costs a few cents more (my preferred flavor of toothpaste is mostly discontinued - its harder to find cinnamon toothpaste than mint... so its Tom's of Maine which is easier to find cinnamon toothpaste for). I'm also more likely to ty a different variation on a major brand soap than an off brand soap (I've found I like irish spring oatmeal soap...).

Advertising isn't necessarily a "do this, get money today or tomorrow". I suspect that the advertising from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s; however, is paying off now... at least for my purchase decisions.

And so, it could be interesting in another decade or so as these companies find brand awareness of the next up and coming generation "lacking."

Huh. My algorithm for bathroom goods is basically: these are all the same get the cheap one.

There's probably a bell curve where we all make some decisions on brand, but some people moreso.

I wish they could put where I fall in my advertising ID. Advertisers could spare me jingles and cartoon dogs and just tell me who is selling cheaper toothpaste than I usually buy.

> these are all the same get the cheap one

I’m always surprised when people feel this way about toilet paper. I have literally spent two weeks in pain after switching toilet paper brands once. When I later moved countries, I was very wary of the fact that I would have to switch brands.

Ok, TP was literally the counterexample that made me hover over the back button and almost not post.

Some generics have multi-ply and quilting features and they do ok, but most generics are John Wayne toilet paper: they're rough as hell and don't take shit off nobody.

There are generics and then there are generics...

Growing up, there were a few things that my father taught me are worth spending money on: shoes, tires, saw blades, condoms, and toilet paper. Deviating from this advice has never made me happy.

Haven't we learned recently that young people aren't on Facebook? It's not a surprise; everyone who complains about my not being on FB is older than me, and I'm no spring chicken.

Yes, that has been a known trend for years, dating back to the dawn of Instagram and Snapchat.

Instagram is Facebook

>I buy these things regardless of their advertising

They are not trying to increase the size of the pie, they are trying to increase their share of it. Yes, (nearly) everyone already buys these household items, but are you brand indifferent? Do you just reach for whatever is closest when you walk down the toothpaste aisle or do you buy the same product over and over? When was the last time you switched brands or even product lines within the same brand? This is why these ads exist; not to coerce you into buying toothpaste, but to convince you to buy _their_ toothpaste (that has the highest profit margin).

> Last year, Unilever spent nearly $9.5 billion marketing its brands, including Dove, Lipton, Axe and Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

Holy cow, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Dove soap, Lipton tea, and Axe fragrance are all brands owned by the same company?!

There is far less competition than it appears, which is why brands are so important for maintaining the fictional appearance of it. This is why some of the left say "there is no ethical consumption under capitalism" = while it's a crappy slogan, the reality is that many well-meaning consumers who try to vote with their wallets are just picking 'nicer' brands but still giving their money to the same places, and their buying decisions have far more influence on the way goods and services are marketed than the way they are produced.

Now, in some places you can absolutely vote with your dollars, buying locally produced food and keeping the money circulating within your community and so forth. But that's also a bit of a luxury choice - you're willing to pay a bit more, and have the know-how to figure out the difference between a genuine small business that's doing right by its employees/the environment/whatever you care about, and a hip brand that is associated with those values but actually yet another front for a large corporate concern. Many people don't have those choices available (their only buying options maybe through superstores like Walmart or Dollar Tree), or lack the insight to see through the multiple layers of marketing and the economic pros and cons of our complex business infrastructure.

Unilever and other big conglomerates do actually put their logo on the products so if you pay careful attention you can see that information just by inspecting the packaging at the supermarket, but to most people that's just another certification stamp.

My understanding is that the "there is no ethical consumption under capitalism" phrase is meant as a direct antithesis of the "liberal idea that there is no such thing as a systemic issue, it's just that the wrong people are in charge". It is, I feel, often interpreted as unnecessarily defeatist, but I instead interpret it not as that you should just give your money to the worst company you can because it's all evil capitalism anyway, but that these changes alone will not solve the underlying and inherent issues of the system.

It's interesting that you mention these 'greenwashing' marketing tactics as well, as I have never really drawn a line between these two phenomena. I am always surprised to hear how many very smart and un-naive people fall for transparent tricks like this. It seems that, like Harley stating that they don't sell motorcycles, they sell a lifestyle, these companies could be said to sell neo-liberalism along with their products. No need to worry about the fact that a system where corporations are destroying the planet might not be perfect, I bought from a company that donated $100k to save the Orangutans once etc.

Note also that the worshipping around Elon Musk is much the same thing, just for techies.

Nit: neoliberalism means different things depending on context, but it really doesn’t mean “new-fangled leftism”.

Neoliberalism(as leftists use the word) is used quite appropriately here. See Zizek:

> Let’s turn to the high point of our consumerism. Let me take a drink.

> Starbucks coffee. I’m regularly drinking it, I must admit it. But are we aware, that when we buy a cappuccino from Starbucks, we also buy quite a lot of ideology? Which ideology?

> You know, when you enter a Starbucks store, it’s usually always displayed in some posters, their message, which is: “Yes, our cappuccino is more expensive than others,” but, then comes the story.

> “We give 1% all our income to some Guatemalan children to keep them healthy, for the water supply for some Saharan farmer, or to save the forest, to enable organic growing for coffee, or whatever or whatever.”

> Now, I admire the ingenuity of this solution. In the old days of pure, simple consumerism, you bough a product, and then you felt bad. “My God, I’m just a consumerist, while people are starving in Africa . . .”

> So the idea is that you had to do something to counteract your pure, destructive consumerism. For example, I don’t know, you contribute to charity and so on.

> What Starbucks enables you, is to be a consumerist, without any bad conscience, because the price for the countermeasure, for fighting consumerism, is already included into the price of a commodity. Like, you pay a little bit more, and you’re not just a consumerist, but you do also your duty towards the environment, the poor, starving people in Africa, and so on and so on.

> It’s, I think, the ultimate form of consumerism.

I was unaware that zizek called this form of consumerism neoliberalism. I was only aware of the economic definition of the term relating to Keynesian economics and deregulation and the like. The reason I piped up is because that definition is really more in line with American right-wing policies (although Democrats seem to have little issue getting on board...)

In America, "Liberals" are "The Left", while in other countries, "Liberals" are "The Right". Many internet discussions on economic policy fall into misunderstanding due to these types of terminology differences

Yeah the word "Liberal" is vague enough that it has a wikipedia disambiguation page with 12 different political idealogies. I refuse to use it and usually avoid conversations involving it because of how many things it can mean.

What makes you think that is what I think it means? I'm not a native speaker, perhaps I could improve that section a bit for future readers.

> Note also that the worshipping around Elon Musk is much the same thing, just for techies.

Huh, you mean Musk doesn't actually push R&D more than other car manufacturers / launch providers?

Its only natural those marketing tactics work. Who the hell does have the time to research environmental impact when buying a $4 brush. Don't forget to also research its durability, health impacts, social ethics, and so on. Apart from "evil" gov regulations, consumer organizations can help you to at least some degree. But i doubt that is enough for a good society.

> the reality is that many well-meaning consumers who try to vote with their wallets are just picking 'nicer' brands but still giving their money to the same places

Exactly. I can't think of a better example of this than Dove branding (love-your-body-in-any-shape-or-size feminism) compared to Axe (our deodorant will make hot chicks love you).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_(brand) is owned by a parent company that owns a lot of dairy brands, but their marketing emphasizes feeling good about consuming a completely non-dairy product (which some customers, like me, do because of objections to the dairy industry).

You can see some of this on display at



Notice the Danone link at the bottom of those pages (!!). (Americans will know their yogurt brand as "Dannon".)

The money might ultimately end up in the bank account of the same company that runs veal farms, but it's still sending a trackable signal.

Same with cars, buy a Bolt or a Prius and the money still goes to GM and Toyota. But the signal it sends is pretty clear (and it's clear car companies are seeing consumers voting with their wallets).

This is how it should work. We all want change to happen quickly and we want companies who suddenly (20 years ago, milk wasn't cruel) find themselves on the wrong side of morality to be punished. But it's more reasonable (and probably better) for this to happen gradually.

That some brands are less transparent than Bolt == GM, Prius == Toyota, doesn't seem materially relevant.

(I realize you weren't necessarily passing judgement, just some facts (which I didn't know!), so I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just injecting my opinion onto your facts).

In fact, I basically agree with your view most of the time. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

A counterpoint is basically about giving companies resources that they might use to cross-subsidize advertising or lobbying on behalf of their other business units, affecting the demand, political environment, or cultural environment that those other business units face. In the electric car example, maybe some of the revenue from electric car sales allows manufacturers to lobby on emissions regulations in a way that some of the electric car buyers might strongly disagree with.

When people I know "vote with their wallet" they are buying handmade soaps at the farmer's market (for example), not Dove. Even brands like Organic Valley and Patagonia are probably only moderately better than average.

This is not how the argument against “ethical consumption” goes. There never will be anything close to enough soap artisans to meet even a tiny fraction of the demand; and even if production would be greatly expanded, the product would still be unobtainable fore a large majority. Therefore, buying handmade soap from the farmers market will never be more than a fashion statement.

Dove is for women. Axe is for men.

Ironically there are "Axe for Women" and "Dove Men" products.

> There is far less competition than it appears

And then looking at who owns all the huge companies: Vanguard, Wellington, BlackRock, State Street, Fidelity, etc.

Who owns BlackRock? PNC, Vanguard, State Street, Wellington, Fidelity, etc.

Who is this PNC? BlackRock, Vanguard, Fidelity, State Street, Wellington, etc.

It's just a big incestuous orgy of pension fund managers pretending to diversify and skimming a little off each trade.

Huh? Are you confusing brokerages with mutual fund?

And you have to read the fine print carefully too. When I forst moved to California, I was buying Knudsen brand dairy products thinking I was buying some kind of local product. But upon closer inspection, I found that it is actually just another brand owned by Kraft.

I still buy it, but I know to treat it like a commodity product and buy when the sale is good rather than a premium product that someone is actually taking pride in and might be worth the premium occasionally.

Similar to Anheuser-Busch selling off-label "microbrews" with no information on their true origin other than "Brewed in St. Louis".

> and their buying decisions have far more influence on the way goods and services are marketed than the way they are produced.

This is gold.

> buying decisions have far more influence on the way goods and services are marketed than the way they are produced.

But if I buy Fair Trade products, even if they're from Unilever/P&G/whatever, don't I still influence the way they are produced? Sure, Unilever would still be producing non-Fair Trade products, but only because other people are buying those.

> their buying decisions have far more influence on the way goods and services are marketed than the way they are produced.

The brand has to reflect the reality eventually; if Dove was being made in sweatshops (for example) that would be a news story sooner or later, in a way that it wouldn't for a brand that didn't have the same image. Likewise if you work for a company whose whole image is x, the easiest way to project it is simply to be x; it takes a lot more effort to fake a position you don't believe in than it does to simply believe that position. Even if the CEO is operating on pure cynicism, if the employees are constantly told that they're working for a company with strong ethical values they'll start to believe that and that will affect how they make decisions in their work.

I wonder what the effect of limiting a conglomerate to 5 companies would be.

Eternal court battles about what counts as a company to start.

You'd rather have to put some limit on how big a company could be, in terms of revenue/etc., and also limit the ability of people or organizations to own multiple companies.

But that's called communism and is frowned upon in most capitalist growth-must-be-eternal countries.

none. A company can own multiple brands.

And indeed they do - look at the beer market, AB InBev - one company, has ~500 brands.

No that's not a typo, the number is around five hundred.

Only works care about competition. Consumers care about having good choices. Why should they care who the investors are?

There are only a few companies that own nearly all brands you can find in a typical first world supermarket. Not much more than these few: Procter&Gamble, Unilever, Mars, Mondelez, Goodman Fielder, Nestle

A few years ago, Australian supermarkets (Coles and Woolworths) started manufacturing and selling their own versions of popular products, usually with preferred placement and 10-20% lower price.

But your point remains valid here. A small number of companies control a huge percentage of supply.

That happens in the US as well. Aldi and Costco have a lot of their own brands. Roundys used to be the generic brand of a nearby grocery store, but then Kroger bought them out. Kroger owns multiple chains of grocery stores across the country, including different ones in the same town sometimes.

The funny thing is that they probably use the same manufacturers as the popular brands and just also a different label on it.

No "probably" about it. The price of entry into a supermarket's inventory is often a discounted-enough rate on white-label stuff that they can sell right beside you. I got an education stocking shelves at a supermarket as a kid. Pretty hard not to make the connection when the bakery dropped off loaves of store brand and their brand, intermixed in the same trays, and we had to separate them out.

> The funny thing is that they probably use the same manufacturers as the popular brands and just also a different label on it.

They absolutely do. For example, Costco has two Kirkland Signature vodkas. One of them is Grey Goose, and the other I forgot. Skyy? Same goes for their tequila, it's all Jose Cuervo.

and the rest of the grocery stores are probably safeway..

This happens in all supermarkets of Europe, basically. Examples from Germany:

Depending on the store you get either mostly only store products (Aldi, Lidl), both store products and brand products (Kaufland, Rewe?) or mostly brand products (likely Edeka)

The case of what you mentioned is the reason why the Schwarz Group (Lidl and Kaufland) are moving overseas, respectively to the US and to Australia: there isn't much price competition.

Disclaimer: work for them.

American grocery stores have been doing this for a long time as well. Often their products taste better too because they use less added sugars and preservatives.

I remember a story about M&S in the U.K. Up until a few years ago they only sold their own brand food, which had a higher price and a higher perceived quality to other supermarket brands.

The story goes that their biscuits are made in the same factory and cooked in the same batch as other brands, but M&S required that their biscuits be taken from the centre of the tray where they were cooked in the oven more evenly.

I swore off Nilla Wafers in favor of store brands in the 90's because Nabisco ruined them by trying to extend the shelf life with preservatives so much that they were never crispy out of a fresh box and had an awful taste. Years later I discovered they changed their ways with a foil lining instead of the preservative overload but I still won't buy them.

Great diagram, but it misses precisely what I found surprising about the whole thing, which is that they also own non-food brands (Axe etc.).

Here's a older brand map that also includes the non-food products:


Sometimes I wish someone would pass a law that forbid the modern use of brands. If you are a company, anything you control should carry your own name first and foremost. It would remove the illusion of choice that the current market of manufactured goods and food strives to provide in order to avoid organised dissent.

Do you mean branding must reflect ownership?

Banning the use of brands obviously won't achieve anything desirable, but requiring transparent branding seems like it will improve the consumer market's spending decisions.

Of course, pro-free-market legislation will never make it through Republican-controlled Congress...

Restricting what brand names people can use is anything but "pro-free-market".

That wasn't the proposal, the proposal was to enforce better information availability to consumers by displaying the owners of the brand prominently.

IANANC but my understanding is that a true market is two-sided: it requires informed consumers. Initiatives that bolster the buyer-side of the market aren't anti-market.

Calling a newly proposed regulation "pro free market" legislation is a little orwellian.

How free is a monopolized market? If a regulation outlaws monopolies, does it improve or impede the market's freedom?

Regulations that improve market efficiency are good. Regulations that impede efficiency are bad. In practice, we do need regulations because real-world actors are not optimal rational agents.

I can see it from that point of view. I purposely don't use the phrase "free market" though, because I don't share the assumption that complete freedom is what leads to an efficient, well functioning market. There is all sorts of manipulation that is required for a "good" market, i.e. one that fulfills the goal of efficient allocation of goods.

The most basic is the enforcement of contracts, which I think everyone agrees on.

But regulations about truth in advertising fit in there too. Lists of ingredients and nutritional information on packaging are an onerous regulation that allow consumers to make better informed choices (and so lead IMO to a "better" market). (I think brand ownership transparency is close philosophically to requiring ingredients on food products.) There are many examples of regulations that promote market efficiency, which sellers don't like because they may have been making profits from the inefficiency, or from information asymmetry.

There are of course regulations which degrade market efficiency too, either by regulatory capture or ill-thought out "consumer protection" like price controls, rent control, etc.

My overall point is that the assumption that a market with the fewest controls is de-facto the "best" market should be examined closely - manipulations of the market (whether by regulation, taxes, etc.) should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis based on whether they promote or degrade market efficiency.

Okay. How about pro-efficient markets? Because certainly markets completely unrestrained leads to rent seeking.

The orwellianism already exists in the technical definition of "free market". The proposed regulation would be anti-lassiez-faire, but pro-free-market, to use the terminology that economists have pushed.

> better information availability to consumers

Devil's advocate...

Brands can be a mnemonic that helps customers quickly recall relative quality experienced in previous purchases. This may vary across brands, and my experiences with Dove soap don't tell me anything about my experiences with Ben and Jerry's ice cream.

Brands are often silly and misleading and I try to avoid them, but they aren't inherently malicious by default.

Any medium that can manipulate can also inform.

Yes, exactly - informed consumers are one of the requirements for a free market. Agents cannot act rationally when information is obscured.

In this case, the information is technically available but obscured such that consumers cannot make educated purchasing decisions without expending an irrational amount of time... thereby reducing supply-side competition.

Even if the information was available, most consumers don't study the entire supply chain of a product or service. We trust legislation to keep poisons out of our foods and punish cartels.

Smith's original phrasing wasn't "free market" it was "freely competitive market". They're very different concepts.

Depends on how you view “free market.” Some would say that, for a free market to work at all, you need informed choice on the side of consumers. Transparent branding would definitely be included in that.

You'd think so, but Nestle already does this of their own free will and they don't really seem to suffer for it.

I dont know about that, why shouldn't a corporation, effectively a person, use lawful speech to define how the world sees it? If you care enough, it easy enough to be informed about who is producing your food.

I feel this is something like identity politics, and something that really does not need regulation except to allow those to identify however they wish, with no determent to others.

Because a corporation should not be considered "effectively a person".

Corporations are made up of people, yes, but giving them personhood is a pretty dangerous idea. Should they get to vote? Obviously, the answer has to be "no" or else people will register companies to rig elections.

If they can't vote, are they really people?

> Corporations are made up of people, yes, but giving them personhood is a pretty dangerous idea. Should they get to vote? Obviously, the answer has to be "no" or else people will register companies to rig elections.

This logic is hugely flawed. Since we work off of a one-person-gets-one-ballot system, grouping people together (as in a corporation) and giving them a vote wouldn't make any sense. By contrast, you can't "use up" your speech rights: Each person is allowed an unlimited amount of legal speech, and I don't think there's a compelling philosophical argument that a group of people speaking together isn't protected. There may be _pragmatic_ arguments, but that's another ballgame altogether, since the entire point of the Constitution is that it's _not_ subject to the pragmatism/whims of the time.

I'm not saying that "corporations should be legally modeled as people" is an ironclad truth, but none of your objections make sense.

the persons in the corporation would not lose their vote. the corporation is just one additional person, meaning someone could create multiple corporate persons and multiply their vote (at least, in OP's hypothetical scenario)

I think you misunderstand the argument made by many who say "a corporation is people". "Corporate personhood" is just a word the left uses to make it sound crazy.

In reality, the argument is that you can't restrict a corporation's speech because using a corporation to speak is merely a form or method people use to speak.

You could speak via billboards, grass roots organizations, a radio show, lettets, or even a company you own.

The government can't curtail your speech no matter the method.

more generally, "corporate personhood" in US law, going back to at least the 1790s and in other countries going back even longer, serves the legal purpose of establishing that when people work together to do something under the "corporate" banner (which allows them to have a succession of members working toward a common goal and pooling resources), they retain rights like speech, property ownership, and ability to enter into or terminate contracts including hiring and firing employees. This connects to the idea (expressed by chief justice Marshall) that "The great object of an incorporation is to bestow the character and properties of individuality on a collective and changing body of men."

Sheesh I wish I had read your response before posting my own. This more succinctly captures what I'm trying to say.

Right, and that's what I'm saying is flawed logic and a bad analogy for speech rights. Putting people in different groupings doesn't change how many votes they get, and saying that "corporations are people means corporations get their own separate vote" is a gross misunderstanding of what we're talking about. When someone says "corporations are people", they're saying "corporations are simply a grouping of people taking an action together".

The people who comprise a group have no extra vote to give: if two friends and I form a group, a new vote allocated to the three of us doesn't magically materialize. By contrast, since there is no quota for speech per person, two friends and I can form a group (eg, an advocacy group) and tomorrow go down to Union Square (or buy airtime, or hand out pamphlets, or stand on a street corner) and engage in whatever legal speech we like, collectively. The claim is that if that group of people happens to be given the structure "corporation", that doesn't automatically allow for infringing on the rights of the people within the corporation to engage in legal speech.

Again, I'm making no statement as to whether I think this approach is wise or good for society or not, but it's astonishing how common it is to see people who completely don't know what they're talking about on this issue and yet are somehow super passionate about it.

Legal personhood is a concept that applies to ships, cities, states, and countries as well as human beings and corporations. It's a legal fiction that serves specific legal purposes; abandoning the entire concept because you don't think corporations should have the same set of rights as human beings is excessive because different types of legal persons already have different sets of legal rights.

>If they can't vote, are they really people?

If they aren't, then what exactly are felons and foreigners?

It’s a bad analogy. The better is because they don’t breath, don’t have a pulse, and don’t have human DNA, they are not really people, and should not be treated as such.

Tying the definition of personhood to voting is problematic. I agree that there should be some distinction between human beings and corporations. I don’t have an answer to what that distinction should be, but I don’t think voting is it.

> why shouldn't a corporation, effectively a person...

Why shouldn't a corporation, effectively a person, use the vast wealth at it's disposal to influence elections and steer government policy in the direction it wants?

Hmmm, perhaps we should rethink this whole corporations as persons thing.

Who should determine the will of this corporate-person? The shareholders? The board? The managing director? If I own a stake in an index fund, how do I propagate my will proportionately to the actions of these corporations? Corporate-persons is an area fraught with agent problems, and should therefore not be allowed.

If corporations were people, we'd call them people. Don't start an argument on a worthless premise.

I'd like that. 'Sucralose' is a brand intended to seem like a substance. It's neither a sugar nor an ose: it's C12H19Cl3O8 also known as (1→6)-Dichloro-(1→6)-dideoxy-β-D-fructofuranosyl-4-chloro-4-deoxy-α-D-galactopyranoside. If you burn it at over 662 degrees you get polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin smoke, which makes sense considering that you make 'sucralose' by a chlorinating process.

I have some nasty reactions to the stuff and so did my late mother, who was a total skeptic to all crunchy-granola pure-foodery. I hate that they can brand a strange chemical like this with the names of natural sweeteners and then we're expected to call it by that name. Though I admit DichlorodideoxyβDfructofuranosyl4chloro4deoxyαDgalactopyranoside is much harder to say, and contains letters that aren't even letters at all.

Splenda is a brand. Sucralose is a substance. No TM, no brand any more than bananas is.

To add on top of that sucralose is a sugar, just one where 5 oxygen atoms are replaced by chlorine.

You missed Kraft Heinz.

Kraft became Mondelez.

Kraft split into two companies, one of which became Mondelez, the other (later) merged with Heinz and became Kraft Heinz.

I stand corrected. I wasn't aware of the Kraft Heinz merger.

and in usa, conagra

One or two companies own almost every widely-known beer as well.

That's a little bit tautological and a little bit misleading; tautological because widely-known beers have nationwide production and distribution and so of course they're produced by big companies, and misleading because unlike unlike self-care products like Axe and Dove, the different beer "brands" owned by major brewing firms tend to be run out of different breweries with different practices; they're different products, just with shared financing.

And, obviously, within any one local market, there will be far more better-known regional brands, often not owned by any big corporation.

Most have merged recently and are global. Give it ten years and bet you’ll find the breweries have consolidated somewhat.

That is the exact opposite of what has been happening in recent years. Bigger independent breweries get bought out but more smaller ones take their place.


AB InBev has a 28% global market share for beer. Interestingly as beer consumption shifts towards craft beers they are buying up a lot of the more well known and successful ones.

They can't do it fast enough though, or at least I hope, to make a legitimate entry into the craft market. I think among people into craft beer it's well known that AB InBev owns Goose, Michelob, Shocktop, Corona, Stella, Modelo. Elysian is less-known as an AB-InBev brand but it's becoming more well known. They have to know that their business practices taints any brand that they buy out at this point, it's just a matter of milking popular high-quality brands as long as they can before public reception catches on

I think it's also important to understand that most of these companies are advertising companies first and foremost. Their business models revolve around the creation of demand for things that no rational society would want.

Why would anyone buy bottled water when it comes practically free from the tap? Why would anyone buy bread that has had all the tasty goodness removed ('white bread')? Why would anyone buy branded toothpaste when the chemically-identical supermarket version is half the price? Why would anyone want roasted grain coated in sugar as the first thing you eat each day? Would anyone buy sugary water (a.k.a. pop) if they knew just how bad sugar is for them? Why would anyone want hydrogenated vegetable oil instead of butter?

Unilever can go hang.

> Why would anyone buy bottled water

Some reasons: immediacy, taste, convenience, quality, lack of price sensitivity.

> Why would anyone buy [prepackaged white bread]

Texture, goes stale slower than fresh baked bread, sizing, taste, convenience.

> Why would anyone buy [brand toothpaste vs store-brand toothpaste]

Taste, familiarity, trust.

>> Why would anyone buy [brand toothpaste vs store-brand toothpaste]

> Taste, familiarity, trust.

That's the idea; familiarity and trust can be manufactured through advertising. You can become familiar with a brand name just by being exposed to it, and trust is harder but advertisers have it down to a science in some important ways.

There is more to trust than advertising. You also must produce a consistent product.

A colleague of mine purchases 12x 500ML bottles of Evian a week. That will be over 600 bottles of water in 2018, not including the bottled water he drinks at home.

Sure, bottled water tastes a little better than tap water, but I can’t help but cringe at the thought of 600 plastic bottles going into landfill. I avoid bottled water as much as possible, however when required I admit I do purchase 6 packs of 2L bottles for long road trips.

> Sure, bottled water tastes a little better than tap water

I guess it depends on where you live, but this is definitely not the case for me. And I live in a 111 year old building.

Old lead pipes apparently do make water taste sweeter...

I did this when I was in Thailand and thought it was completely insane and wasteful. It's shocking people do this because they don't like the taste of their tap water. Just purify it if you hate it that much? Also, the taste of any water pretty much disappears once you get used to it, so the thought of someone hating tap water is just absurd.

People do buy these things, so clearly there must be reasons for doing so. Point is, are they good reasons? And are they real reasons, or have they been put there by some big (and yes, evil) corporation?

The BBC did a wonderfully subversive 3-part documentary a few years ago called "The foods that make billions", which investigates in some depth the way people's tastes have been shaped to accept anything the food industry comes up with (no matter how disgusting in concept). Well worth tracking down on YouTube or whatever (particularly the episode about yoghurt, which I found grimly hilarious).

* Why would anyone want roasted grain coated in sugar as the first thing you eat each day?*

IKR? The tub of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey is right there! And you don't have to pour the milk!

>Why would anyone buy bottled water when it comes practically free from the tap?

A question I often ask myself because the tap water in my house is literally the stuff they put in the bottles (mountain spring fresh etc). And yet the entire family drinks bottled water hauled at great carbon footprint via Costco, probably bottled in California which is 1200 miles away.

My best answer is that if I were to lay down the law and mandate everyone turn on the tap to get their water[1], I'd be viewed as the cook tinfoil hat Dad everyone hates.

How the water-industrial-complex arranged for that to be the state of play is a very intriguing question I think.

[1]Sometimes people prefer bottled water to tap only because they store the bottles in the fridge. Cold water to some people tastes better, but if you ran a blind test where you took their tap water, put it in bottles and chilled them, they can't tell the difference. This does not explain things in my house however because the bottles are kept at room temp.

> I'd be viewed as the cook tinfoil hat Dad everyone hates.

Maybe it's just a matter of rebranding yourself as the nature-loving, environmentally-conscious Dad who wants to keep the world plastic-free for your children :-)

> Why would anyone buy bottled water when it comes practically free from the tap?

You're in a place where tap water is not safe to drink and don't have a way to boil it. You live in a place where tap water is safe to drink, but tastes of sulfur. You're traveling and will want water in the next N hours. ...

It does not sound like you are answering in good faith. A more considerate — and basically obvious — interpretation of "when [water] comes free from the tap" is that the writer meant potable water.

Sure, there are many regions where potable water is difficult to attain, and there _are_ reasons to bottle water, but your contributions are disingenuously oblique.

I'm not even taking about places where potable water is not available. In North of Iceland you drink, eat, and bathe in sulfur favoured water. It's perfectly fine. But it's great to buy a bottled one from time to time.

How many people in the US live somewhere the tap water is unsafe. How many people on the US drink tap water. That second circle is much larger. So why do people drink bottled water?

> Why would anyone buy branded toothpaste when the chemically-identical supermarket version is half the price?

Doesn't really matter, they are both manufactured and sold by the same company, at the same facility. The difference is just to provide the illusion of choice (and the price difference is usually much smaller, just enough to trigger a response in a certain common kind of consumer.)

Some of the products do have reasons for existing, the brand versions might not be superior.

Bottled water: Because you don't always have a tap on hand and you don't always bring a water bottle from home. Some regions doesn't have water that can be consumed directly from the tap for sanitary reasons.

Hydrogenated vegetable oil: Because of lactose intolerance, and because liquid vegetable oil wouldn't be useful in the situation.

There are massive economies of scale in ingredient sourcing, supply chain management, production, marketing, advertising and product placement with very high minimum efficient scales for global consumer goods products.

It is inevitable that the global consumer goods industry consolidates into a handful of large groups as has happened, and the outcome is lower prices to consumers.

> It is inevitable that the global consumer goods industry consolidates

CPG companies are distribution and marketing powerhouses. They rose with supermarkets and mass media. The rise of voice-based ordering, as well as shops like Amazon, fundamentally threatens their business model.

Indeed, the same factors that led to their success (global supply chains, standard ingredients and manufacturing processes) eventually could make the irrelevant, as the brands become irrelevant.

> ...and the outcome is lower prices to consumers.

Not totally sold on that part.

Oh, it does, by lowering the production cost of the products, which allows competition to drive prices lower.

Unless, of course, the market turns into a monopoly. But even in oligopoly markets (such as the cola/soda) there is still plenty of choice, especially around lower cost products and with the rise of white-label/home-brand products.

If the prices were higher, it would be trivial for local businesses to displace them in stores.

Just the threat that a big company has the capacity to lower prices drastically can keep small companies from entering a market.

In some cases, yes, but take a look at your local supermarket and see how many new brands not owned by the large ones popped up in the past few years.

You can also look at how much the large ones are buying local new brands (such as Blue Bottle). Tastes change, and small local companies are a great way for the big ones to figure out which new products work.

Not really, given that there can be high barriers to entry in getting on store shelves in the first place.

Not really, I've seen many grocery stores have sections dedicated specifically to local stuff because of the whole 'local' movement.

It's just a start. They have a more powerful grasp on the world supply of food than the joint grasp of Google, Microsoft, and Apple on the computing world.

You'd be surprised how many "artisan", "organic", and "fair-trade" brands they own, too.

The full list of their brands did not fit in the main Wikipedia article, so they had to create a separate one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Unilever_brands.

> You'd be surprised how many "artisan", "organic", and "fair-trade" brands they own, too.

I get the quotes on "artisan," but why put them around two terms with very clear definitions?

Fair trade: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_trade

Organic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_certification

From the top of your organic link: "Requirements vary from country to country". And the fair trade article also lists concerns with over-certification and validation consistency.

To pretend they are very clear definitions when applied to products is wrong.

I loosely assumed it was because they don't have much faith in them actually being organic or fair-trade.

The other posts' links are informative, but this graphic is my favorite representation of how many sub-brands are owned by massive parents: https://i.huffpost.com/gen/585370/original.jpg

The surprise factor here for me was the market variety, not the mere number of brands. I knew about Kraft and Nestle making lots of edibles I see around, but never would I have guessed that the same companies would make soap and fragrances etc. (But maybe if I went through the full list of Kraft and Nestle I'd find the same surprise there, I have no idea... these lists are definitely long. :P)

These companies see all of these goods as being part of the same category: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/fastmoving-consumer-goo... Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG)

> These are consumer goods products that sell quickly at relatively low cost – items such as milk, gum, fruit and vegetables, toilet paper, soda, beer and over-the-counter drugs like aspirin.

That's what I figured after I saw the list too, but (from my naive standpoint, knowing nothing about this stuff) it seems a bit... weird? Shouldn't you enter a new product market where you can apply the production efficiencies you've already established in another market? It seems weird deciding what to produce based on how fast the product would be consumed, otherwise e.g. gasoline would also get lumped into this category (modulo being a bit more expensive), and yet I really wouldn't expect an oil company to have much more to bring to the table of ketchup-making than an apparel company (or whatever).

The synergy lies in sales and marketing, not production.

They've amassed their portfolio by slowly buying up local producers and their brands, and keeping the production facilities. There might be some synergy to be had by letting former separate production facilities learn from each other.

However, almost all of their products are sold in grocery stores, and there has to be enormous efficiencies there by newly acquired brands getting into a large existing distribution network. Instead of each product being distributed and marketed separately, Unilever can simply dump a couple of pallets of all their goods at once, and they can easily introduce new products by just dumping it on the grocery stores complete with marketing materials as part of a normal delivery.

> Instead of each product being distributed and marketed separately, Unilever can simply dump a couple of pallets of all their goods at once, and they can easily introduce new products by just dumping it on the grocery stores complete with marketing materials as part of a normal delivery.

Is that how it works? I always assumed grocery stores give shelf space to what they themselves pick, not "whatever you multinational corps want us to advertise today". (?)

Depends on the grocery store and how large of a player it is, and how well it thinks it can anticipate consumer demand, and cross-market across the entire store, etc. Both the distributor and the grocery stores have sales figures for the products, per-store, so it's a matter of who is best at crunching the numbers.

When I used to live in Stockholm, my closest grocery store was one of the big two chains in Sweden, and they had "outsourced" part of their shelf re-stocking to the distributors, so if you went there in the mornings, you could have one or two people from a big bread producer/distributor restocking half the bread section, and you'd have someone from a different producer/distributor doing half the candy section (probably someone from Mondelez). I don't know this for sure, but I would bet that the distributor had a lot of leeway on how to restock the shelves using their own sales data.

Right now, my local Safeway has a bunch of shelves of deli products, but it's all Boar's Head products. Five bucks says that Boar's Head is choosing how to stock those shelves, and not Safeway. They also sometimes have a little floor display promoting new products from Boar's Head, that's also something that the local Safeway didn't do, they were just served up with some ready-to-go marketing, and they're okaying it.

Also, you have to keep in mind the relative size of the players.

If the grocery store is small, and Unilever, for example, is responsible for 10% of the inventory, but they're not happy with what the store is doing, it's probably really easy for them to say "Our delivery trucks only come every other week now, because you're not profitable enough. But, hey, if you let us decide what you should stock, the trucks will be there exactly when you need them."

Thee term you should know is "slotting fees":


It's not just grocery stores, it's a lot of retail. Manufacturers of some products literally rent shelf space and provide the product for those shelves. The store doesn't own the product, the manufacturer does. The store just takes a cut of the sale price, provides checkout services, space, attracts customers, etc.

One of the most obvious places this happens is at Home Depot. The tools department is almost entirely manufacturer-rented. If you buy a drill or such and take it apart you'll find that the anti-theft magnetostrictive tag is actually inside the tool, not just stuck on the box!

You are learning a lot of things today!

Consider it as an investment portfolio. It's not necessarily about leveraging experience across brands (although that's definitely helpful) as much as it is about investing in one kind of investment (product) which behaves in a certain way.

Huh. So you're saying I should see them as shareholders rather than normal companies?

I've seen an info-graphic of who owns what and it's crazy

$9.5 billion out of $52 billion in revenue.

less than $1 billion in research.

$13 billion in SG&A.

I mean, I get what you’re going for here, but how much do we need to spend on research into better soap, paper towels, and ice cream?

If their yearly "new and improved" marketing is to be believed then we are a long way from perfecting any of those products.

That’s why a small deodorant costs $7 and not $2.

one more to the list: Reckitt Benckiser

The penny drops!


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