Contextual Advertising: What Is It and Why?

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Contextual Advertising, as a phrase, sounds so sophisticated, doesn’t it? Throw that one around in a couple of meetings and it sounds like you, as the marketing manager, know what you are talking about and expert in all things advertising. First, let’s jump into some resources that you can use, to get started with contextual advertising:


Infolinks is the epitome of contextual advertising.

Contextual Advertising:  Infolinks

Contextual Advertising: Infolinks Example

Infolinks is a creative look at contextual advertising, allowing elegant solutions that are less advertising-like and more natural. An example is a pop-up that would provide more information on a specific word (shown above). This allows the reader to click on the infolink and learn more about that topic, expanding their knowledge (while making you money, as the site owner).

The beauty of Infolinks and BuySellAds (described below) is that you could use them together, really maximizing the potential for making extra money on the site.

Google Adsense

Google adsense, the one that many of us cut our teeth on, offers the ability to choose the type of ads that you want displayed. It is a great tool to get started and to understand the process. But, it is not the only game in town. provides the ability to offer up certain ad spaces on the site and the advertiser can “purchase” those ad spots, similar to the newspaper idea where different ad spots have different price tags. In the same way, traffic, like newspaper circulation, is a factor. For, the publisher/site owner lists the advertising inventory. The contextual advertising part is where you decide whether or not you will accept an advertiser, based on the relevancy to your site. It is not automatic in the same way that Google Adsense and Infolinks are, but it is related. You can think of BuySellAds as a sort of advertising brokerage firm.

Wikipedia has a whole list of contextual advertising networks, including the now-defunct Yahoo Network.

Still Wondering What Contextual Advertising Is?

According to the ever-popular Wikipedia, contextual advertising is “a form of targeted advertising for advertisements appearing on websites or other media, such as content displayed in mobile browsers. The advertisements themselves are selected and served by automated systems based on the content displayed to the user.”

Contextual Advertising

Contextual Advertising

Let me give you a real time example… Just this week, I was met with my own example of contextual advertising. I was visiting different sites and kept seeing my own smiling face smiling back at me. You see, because I enjoy Jazz music, the contextual advertising algorithms on the advertising networks kept displaying advertisements for me, Deborah E. Now, if I lured you into clicking on that link, you will likely see the same thing when you visit sites that use contextual advertising, because your browser activity indicates that you have an interest.

This is why, if you are using a particular online software, say, Zoho, Mavenlink, Teamwork, you will see their ads pop up while you are reading your favorite blog. It recognizes the interest because you have visited and it serves up those ads through the network, which impacts several different sites.

Have you ever visited a site, especially on those one-off visits for a contest or something and then, for the next hour or so you see their ads everywhere where you surf? There you have it. Contextual advertising at work.

Why Do I Want Contextual Advertising?

The key is relevancy.

As a user, you want to see ads that appeal to you and to your interests.

As a business, you want to serve up ads that appeal to your visitors. You may not want to serve up an ad that is from your competitor, but something that is relevant to your visitor and related to your product or service.

If your product or service is social media marketing, you wouldn’t want to have a picture of an elephant on your site, for no reason. Unless.. you want people to be asking themselves why you have that elephant on your site (and click to a landing page for something), or the elephant is the mascot for your company. Otherwise, random pictures of objects and animals may not have anything to do with the product of social media marketing.

Ok, I take that back, cute kitty pictures do well on social media, so maybe…

Keep that Bottom Line in Mind At All Times

Unless you are giving away stuff for goodwill, you are likely interested in making money. So, keep that bottom line in mind. After you have ensured that your site is monetized and that you have your sales funnel, then ensure that the advertising that shows up on your site is relevant. Many contextual advertising sites provide opportunities to go through and select what you want displayed on your site, even, in some cases, the actual advertiser.

Remember, choose complimentary advertisers, but not competing. So, for my video marketing services, I display video equipment ads, but not other video marketing services or production services.

Contextual Advertising Brainstorming

Contextual Advertising Brainstorming

Oldies, but Goodies, Referencing Contextual Advertising

Want some oldies but goodies? It may give you “context” for the “contextual marketing.” Here on the Internet Marketing Ninjas blog, we have discussed contextual advertising in these articles:

Now What?

While it may have been true that you could make millions of dollars with contextual advertising, “back in the day,” it is still a viable option, even today. Why not consider adding it as one of the income streams for your business? It may just pay enough for the morning coffee at Starbucks. ;)


The post Contextual Advertising: What Is It and Why? appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

December 11th 2014 Marketing

The 6 SEO Mistakes Your Business Can’t Afford to Keep Making

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by Jayson DeMers

Have you ever wondered what’s holding your Google rankings and SEO efforts back? Proper SEO is complicated, and making a mistake in your SEO campaign is easy. It’s possible your only roadblocks to higher Google rankings are foolish – yet fixable – mistakes. What are some common SEO don’ts, and how can you fix them?
1. Ignoring Google’s latest rules. It’s difficult to keep up with Google’s changing algorithms. Many inexperienced businesspeople working on SEO strategies are under the mistaken impression that if a strategy works, it will work forever. Google can roll out new changes with little or no advanced notice – and SEO strategies that worked yesterday can cause your rankings to plummet today. 
Optimizing for Google’s latest changes can be difficult, especially if SEO isn’t your area of expertise. SEO is one of the most changeable areas of marketing out there. Failing to account for Google’s latest content rules can cause a previously high ranking page to fall very low in rankings.
2. Linking to the wrong sites. The reason Google refreshes its algorithms frequently is to keep up with businesses who are trying to game their system. Their goal is to provide searchers with quality results. With every new change come new SEO strategies. However, understanding the principle of Google’s algorithm updates doesn’t mean your strategy for beating them will be effective. One example of this is linking to suspicious and low quality sites on your business’s page.
Outbound links are a way to gain credibility for your business, but simply having many outbound links isn’t enough. Your links must lead to quality pages. Too many outbound links to suspicious pages can cause your Google rankings to plummet. When linking, you should focus on quality rather than quantity. Outbound links on your page should be relevant to your industry. Avoid linking to pharmacy, gambling, or adult websites. These are specifically flagged by Google’s algorithms as low quality and undesirable.
3. Too many error pages. Another way linking can create problems for your business’s page is if they are broken. Google will recognize your site as having quality problems if multiple links result in 404 errors. Broken links are a loss of credibility.
Sites naturally accumulate errors as time goes on – especially in outbound links. It’s important to regularly check your site for these errors and update or delete any broken links. Checking for broken links on your site is easy; check your Webmaster Tools and look for any pages under the section entitled “Not Found.”
4. Duplicate or plagiarized copy. It’s fairly common for businesses to take another site’s content and place it on their own page. This is illegal and causes Google rankings to plummet. If your business has a high level of plagiarized copy, Google may completely de-index your site. This is a death sentence for your brand.
Even duplicating content within your own site can lead to consequences. Having multiple pages with exactly the same content can cause several problems for Google. The search engine can’t be sure which version is better to retrieve. Even having the same title or meta description on more than one page can be a problem. Supply your website with unique content and titles. This allows search engines to properly index and retrieve the most relevant pages for a particular search.
5. Optimizing for the wrong keywords. Choosing the right keywords might seem like a no-brainer. Selecting the wrong ones, however, is a common error, and can strike a big blow against your business. Your site should be optimized for keywords matching its purpose and the products it sells – however, the keywords should also be words people actually search for when they need your product or service.
When choosing keywords, it’s best to be as specific as possible. Broader keywords can lead to increased traffic, but low conversion – because people landing on your page don’t actually want your service. There are tools online for choosing solid keywords.
6. Slow page loading. Most people know that SEO requires good keywords and relevant content. However, many are unaware that Google actually ranks pages according to loading speed as well. If your business’s site is slow, your search engine rankings will suffer. Especially when it comes to mobile webpages, it’s easy to accidentally create a slow loading page.
Designing your business’s page according to responsive design principles allows you to omit certain pages from the mobile site. A professional can help you figure out what is causing your business’s page to load slowly.
Spotting and Addressing SEO Mistakes
These SEO mistakes are common. However, if your site is performing poorly, it can be hard to figure out exactly what the problem is. The best solution for all SEO issues is regular SEO auditing. According to Chuck Aikens, CEO of Volume Nine, “Because algorithms and weighted factors shift over time, it’s a good idea to periodically conduct a technical audit of your website to spot unexpected issues that may have cropped up without you knowing it. An SEO audit can analyze your site to determine where problems are and provide the best solution.” Because of the ever-changing ranking factors and the highly technical nature of SEO, it’s important to have a professional conduct a regular SEO site audit.
Don’t let your business suffer as a result of these simple SEO mistakes. If you’ve never had a professional SEO audit, that’s the best place to start. If it’s been a long time since your last one, make a plan to regularly audit your website. It’s an investment not only for the health of your website, but also the relationship you have with your customers and business as a whole.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

5 Instagram Food Photographers Who Keep Fans and Brands Hungry for More

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Marketers hope they can make consumers hungry for their products from Instagram posts. And it's not just food brands getting in on the action—online services and retailers like Expedia and Target also are infusing tasty treats into their pictures.

Food acts as a great messaging medium because it’s something that everyone participates in daily, and it’s easy to make meals look good, explained Tim Hwang, head of special initiatives for photo hosting service Imgur.

"Instagram has solidified the 'you eat with your eyes first' mantra," added Irene Kim, a popular Instagram user who has posted food pics for Whole Foods in Berkeley.

Niche, a platform that helps brands find social media influencers, pulled five top Instagrammers on its network who have done food-based marketing.

Here's a slice of their delicious-looking pics:

December 2nd 2014 Marketing, Technology

Jam3 Turns Crazy Marketer Ideas Into Digital Reality

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Who (l. to r.) Mark McQuillan, co-founder and technical director; co-founders and creative directors Adrian Belina and Pablo Vio
What Digital design and development
Where Toronto

When Publicis and Orange came up with the idea of speaking to your future self to celebrate the telecom’s 20th anniversary, it called Jam3 to help make it reality. Since time travel hasn’t yet been invented, the Toronto-based shop came up with #FutureSelf, which digitally aged users’ pictures 20 years using facial-motion software, then allowed them to talk to their future selves using Speech API. Jam3 has won more than $6 million in billings by inventing clever ways to create immersive experiences using experimental technology. Projects have ranged from the test drive of a Toyota Corolla using a mobile device to the Visa Infinite Story Booth, which had Toronto International Film Festival attendees create fictional stories based on statements made by the person before them. "We've kind of niched ourselves to being those guys who you come to when you have this crazy idea," said creative director Adrian Belina.

December 1st 2014 Marketing, Technology

Will social media listening replace market research?

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by Mike Moran

Advertising Age had an interesting story that was brought to my attention by a colleague, where a Procter & Gamble exec speculates that social media is already changing the world of market research. It’s an interesting story, mostly because of who is quoted. When a company with the marketing chops of P&G says something, you’ve got news. But the news is actually much bigger than what you are reading in Ad Age.

So, yes, the world is changing, but in an even bigger way than we think. Social media is not able to replace all uses for market research today, and won’t for many years, in my opinion. But I work with clients every day who use social media for market research. [Full disclosure: I serve as a senior strategist for Converseon, a leader in social media listening platforms.] In fact, one of the largest companies I know has worked on social media for several years, led by its market intelligence team.

Not only is social media listening replacing some traditional market research already, but P&G (as quoted in Ad Age) says that it’s changing the willingness of consumers to even be part of panels because there are so many other different ways that they can tell a company what they are thinking. The allure of being part of a panel went far beyond the gift the participant received–it extended to the ability for a consumer to tell a big company what to do. But now they can do that every day through social media.

But that client (and a number of other smart clients) has always known that social media is only one part of market research. Market research has always depended on the statistical sample that is representative, something that social media cannot easily deliver today. But traditional research also suffered from the dilemma that you can’t get the answers to questions that you don’t ask. And that you can’t control how the act of surveying changes people’s answers. So smart clients have used social media listening to find things they didn’t find with traditional research, using surveys and focus groups to confirm social findings when needed. So social is only a part of market research.

But while social media is only a part of market research, it is much larger than market research, too. Yes, customers have many ways of giving feedback to companies besides being chosen for a focus group. But you can’t just look at that for how it affects market research. You must recognize that social media has implications across many functions in the modern corporation. If market researchers recognize how these changes affect themselves, they ought to take a minute to tell their colleagues how it affects them.

The same tweet that complains about the poor battery life in your newest electronics product might need to be seen by many areas of the company:

Market research. Well, sure. We want to collect the voice of the customer through all means necessary, including social media.

Customer service. Wouldn’t you want to reach out to that customer and help?

Marketing. If power users are running out of battery life, might it make sense to target your marketing toward people who are lighter users?

Public relations. Is this meme taking off? Will this become a viral story that you need to respond to?

Product development. Shouldn’t they be thinking about how to fix this in the next version?

The list can go on and on. As each group (market research in this case) discovers how social media has an impact on them, they are reminiscent of the blind men examining the elephant. If they hadn’t shared their opinions with each other, they would have learned only a small part of the story. Don’t be seduced into thinking that social media will neatly affect your specialty without blurring it into five others. Those neat functional lines that we draw on our org charts won’t hold up as the new transparency comes crashing in.

The smartest clients I know are breaking out of these traditional roles and taking an enterprise approach to social media. You would be wise to follow.

Originally posted on Biznology.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

November 21st 2014 Marketing, Social Media

LinkedIn Can’t Shake Publicity Rights Claims Based on Reminder Emails

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This is a lawsuit against LinkedIn alleging that LinkedIn wrongly sent out repeated invites to users’ contacts. In an initial ruling, Judge Koh denied LinkedIn’s request to dismiss on the grounds of standing but dismissed the federal claims for alleged violations of the Stored Communications Act and the Wiretap Act. Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 10.25.45 AMThe court said that Plaintiffs consented to the initial invitation email but not the second and third emails. (Blog post on the previous ruling here.) The plaintiffs’ second amended complaint drops the federal claims and alleges violations of publicity rights and California’s unfair competition statute. While the court finds some technical deficiencies with plaintiffs’ pleading, it still declines to dismiss the crux of the case.

The sign-up process: The court walks through the sign-up process in detail. Shockingly, LinkedIn does not have a check-the-box implementation for its sign-up process. Rather than forcing users to check the box as a condition of proceeding, LinkedIn merely includes an asterisk next to a “join linkedin” button that directs the user to a line at the bottom of the page that then link to the relevant policies.* After confirming that the user wishes to “grow their network on LinkedIn,” the user is then directed to the third party email provider page (e.g., Google, Microsoft, and even AOL) where the user then enters in their email password. The court’s run-down of the process vis-a-vis various other platforms is interesting, as the platforms vary in their presentation and amount of control they say they provide to users. sign upThe user enters their password and then can connect with those of their contacts who already have LinkedIn accounts and can also urge those who do not have accounts to sign-up and ultimately connect with them on LinkedIn.

[* Note: we have repeatedly blogged about cases where large, established companies have a less-than-airtight sign-up process, which results in all sorts of entirely avoidable legal issues. Zappos was one of the more prominent examples, but there have been others. I didn’t check to see if they revised their sign-up process, but if not, that is something LinkedIn should take care of ASAP.]

Reminder emails: The court also describes the reminder emails in detail. The first email is an “invitation to connect”; the body says “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” If this email does not result in the recipient joining, a reminder email is sent. This is titled “reminder about your invitation from [user’s name].” Finally, LinkedIn sends a second reminder. For some reason, the second reminder email includes the user’s profile picture.

The plaintiffs describe the difficulty in stopping these reminder emails. Apparently, you have to “individually open up each invitation from within his or her LinkedIn account . . and click a button that allows the user to withdraw that single invitation.” Plaintiffs further point to the complaints users have raised (for example):

at this point I’m finding LinkedIn more of a problem in terms of hurting my reputation rather than helping it.

Ouch. Plaintiffs also point to the various representations LinkedIn made about “respecting users’ privacy” and that LinkedIn would “not email anyone without your permission.” Finally, Plaintiffs pointed to statements in LinkedIn’s filings and corporate materials to the effect that this type of network-based emails along with reminders continue to be an important way for LinkedIn to grow its user base.

LinkedIn raised three defenses, none of which resolve the lawsuit.

Statutory damages under section 3344: First, LinkedIn argued that plaintiffs were not entitled to statutory damages under California’s publicity rights statute because they did not allege emotional damages. The court agrees, and says that while economic damages and reputational harm are available as actual damages, the statutory damage provision was aimed to provide relief to non-celebrity plaintiffs who suffered mental harm from commercial misappropriation of their name. While emotional injury that results from reputational harm is sufficient, plaintiffs did not allege emotional injury. Because plaintiffs only asked for statutory damages and did not allege emotional injury, the court dismisses this claim, but grants leave to amend.

CDA 230: LinkedIn also raised a Section 230 argument, saying that the emails were third party (i.e., users’) content. The court disagrees, crediting plaintiffs’ allegation that LinkedIn was responsible for the content, layout, and design of the reminder emails and cannot take refuge in Section 230. The court focuses on the fact that LinkedIn decided how many emails to send and things like whether or not to include the users’ picture in the email. According to the court, the textual differences in the second and third email also point in the direction that LinkedIn ultimately controlled the content (or, as the court intimates without saying directly, made material changes to content provided by the user).

First Amendment: The court also rejects LinkedIn’s First Amendment defense. First, LinkedIn argued that the reminder emails are non-commercial speech, subject to the full protections of the First Amendment. The court disagrees. Second, LinkedIn argued that even assuming the emails are commercial speech, plaintiffs can only state a right of publicity claim when their likeness is used to promote an “unrelated product”. The court says neither the publicity rights statute nor common law contain such a limitation. Finally, LinkedIn argued it’s entitled to the “adjunct use” rule, where the commercial promotion is incidental to the protected expression. No luck on this score either.

[Finally, the court also rejects the “incidental use” argument, which seems vaguely similar to a fair use argument.]


LinkedIn is doing its best to whittle down this lawsuit, and perhaps it may still succeed, but the court’s order seems to indicate that there’s a cognizable claim buried in there. Auto-posts and emails sent on behalf of users that they can’t control are terrible behavior on the part of networks. Not giving users granular control over these emails just feels like LinkedIn was trying to get cutesy.

Publicity rights in California have turned into a sleeper hit for plaintiffs. (See, e.g., Fraley.) It’s interesting to see the positions reversed here, with the defendant seeking support in an argument premised on plaintiffs’ failure to allege emotional damages. Usually defendants are taking plaintiffs to task for not alleging and having support for economic damages. I’m not sure what to make of the statutory damages provision of section 3344. It would seem trivially easy for plaintiffs to allege that they suffered emotional harm as a result of seeing their network reputation suffer, and the court even alludes to the fact that emotional injury that results from reputational harm is sufficient.

As with all privacy lawsuits, this one is no different in citing to defendant’s flowery marketing assurances—there’s always plenty to choose from.

I don’t think there’s much to say about the First Amendment rulings. The First Amendment defenses did not seem particularly strong to begin with, and I’m surprised the court gave it as much attention as it did. As for the Section 230 defense I agree with Eric’s comments below–it smacked of desperation, or an after-the-fact justification that was not considered at the design phase.

Eric’s Comment: I hate to Section 230 losses but I can see why Judge Koh ruled as she did. She explains about the first and second reminder emails:

Contrary to Defendant’s assertions, then, the first reminder email appears to transform the substance of the initial invitation email from “Do you want to connect with me?” to “You never responded to the user’s first invitation so let us ask you again, do you want to connect with her?” The second reminder email is arguably more transformative still, as the substance changes from “Do you want to connect with me?” to “You never responded to the user’s first invitation or to our reminder concerning that invitation, so let us ask you for a third time, do you want to connect with her?”20 It is precisely this changed character of the reminder emails—from invitation at first to potentially annoying by the end—that the Court found could contribute to the additional harm the reminder emails allegedly caused.

As she summarizes later:

Plaintiffs allege that LinkedIn generated the text, layout, and design of the reminder emails and deprived Plaintiffs any opportunity to edit those emails, which Plaintiffs had no knowledge were being circulated on their behalf.

Perhaps LinkedIn prospectively thought it could rely upon Section 230 for these circumstances, but I doubt it. Instead, I suspect the Section 230 defense emerged only in desperation.

Case citation: Perkins v. LinkedIn, 13-CV-04303-LHK (N.D. Cal. Nov. 13, 2014)

Related Posts:

Email Harvesting: Repeated Emails From LinkedIn May Violate Publicity Rights

Path May Be Liable for Text-Spamming Users’ Contact Lists

Facebook’s “Browsewrap” Enforced Against Kids–EKD v. Facebook

Wiretap Claims Against Gmail Scanning Survive Motion to Dismiss — In re: Google Inc. Gmail Litigation

Court Rules That Kids Can Be Bound By Facebook’s Member Agreement

Facebook Sponsored Stories Settlement Approved – Fraley v. Facebook

Judge Seeborg Rejects Sponsored Stories Settlement For Now — Fraley v. Facebook

Facebook “Sponsored Stories” Publicity Rights Lawsuit Survives Motion to Dismiss–Fraley v. Facebook

Court Blesses Instagram’s Right to Unilaterally Amend Its User Agreement–Rodriguez v. Instagram

Privacy Plaintiffs Lose Because They Didn’t Rely on Apple’s Privacy Representations — In re iPhone App Litigation

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November 18th 2014 Marketing, spam

This Is What Consumers Want From New Tech

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What needs and priorities define the contemporary American consumer? The Future Foundation took a look at some key trends shaping modern life, and using its findings, selected four startups the research firm feels will appeal to these consumer needs and desires.

"They all skirt the boundary between the real world and virtual world in ways that suggest that very boundary is breaking down. They all help people take control of their lives and its objectives, and they all propel real trends. That’s why we’re watching them with keen interest," said Meabh Quorin, managing director of the Future Foundation. "When a startup addresses actual changes in consumer behavior, it’s not just an innovation; it’s a solution."

Infographic: Carlos Monteiro

November 17th 2014 Marketing, Technology

For Your Consideration: Can Branded Documentaries Bring Home Oscars?

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In a remote Costa Rican village, a group of female entrepreneurs known as the Asomobi (Asociación de Mujeres Organizadas de Biolley) has created a sustainable coffee production business.

Their inspirational story, told in the documentary A Small Section of the World, will debut in theaters in December, followed by a robust online and broadcast push distributed by FilmBuff, all brought to consumers by Italian coffee maker Illy.

Considering that it bears no branding (save for a shot of an Illy-sponsored conference and some scenes inside an Illy factory), the award-winning filmmakers don't want it to be labeled a "branded documentary." They believe in its merits regardless of how it was backed—so much so that they intend to submit it for consideration at the Academy Awards as well as advertising competitions like the Clio Awards and Cannes Lions.

"It really doesn't matter any longer if it's branded entertainment or entertainment," said Dominic Sandifer, Greenlight Media and Marketing president and co-executive producer. "What matters is if it's a great story." Getting a documentary bankrolled is harder than ever. At the same time, documentaries are in vogue thanks to the growth of online video channels like Netflix and the increasing demand for premium video content on the Web, said Marc Schiller, CEO of event and film marketing firm Bond. And brands are realizing they don't need to plaster their logos on a film to get their company's positioning across.

"It's the purest form of content marketing," said Rebecca Lieb, Altimeter Group analyst.

A Small Section of the World's director, Leslie Chilcott, who received an Oscar for co-producing the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth, admitted she was skeptical at the outset. Illy explained it had tried for a year to find a filmmaker after its agronomist visited Asomobi, which provides coffee for Illy. After being assured that she would have final cut—the last approval on a movie—she came on board. "To be honest, at first I said no," she said. "How can I make a movie on coffee producers paid for by a coffee maker?"

Similarly, Patagonia sponsored DamNation, a film about the damage that outdated dams can create. DamNation bears minimal branding, and its directors were also granted final cut. After completing a short theatrical run to qualify for the Academy Awards, DamNation was released online. It will also be available on Netflix. "We're here to solve environmental problems," said Joy Howard, vp, marketing at Patagonia. "If we can show that, then people process what we're about, become loyal and commit to the brand."

Morgan Spurlock, who helmed the movie about branded content, Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, said filmmakers should be cautious about taking a marketer's money. Still, he's not against it, having partnered himself with Maker Studios on multiple brand-sponsored Web series in early 2015. "You can have a brand come in and be a part of something, but you have to know they want to exert some sort of influence," he said.

"[Brand backing] can hinder the film's ability to compete in that space," said Howard. "Something that had a huge budget is not viewed on the same footing as a documentary that has a scrappier background."

Chilcott understands there may be bias against A Small Section of the World. But as more brand marketers finance filmmaking, she hopes people will judge on merit, not on who is footing the bill. "I think in three to four years, this won't even be a story," she said.

November 17th 2014 Marketing, Technology

10 Ad Mascots You Probably Didn’t Know Were Related to Kermit The Frog

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Jim Henson creations have a storied history in advertising, going back to the 1950s, when a violent proto-Kermit pitched Wilkins Coffee with 10-second TV spots.

Tappy, the latest creation from Jim Henson's Creature Studio, is similarly off-kilter in his role as a living credit card reader at a checkout counter. 

Tappy is the new voice of Softcard, an e-payment product that works at McDonald's and other major chains that now accept phone swipes as currency. Softcard needed a new mascot and some rebranding after changing its name from Isis, an unfortunate name since being co-opted by the infamous terror state.

Tappy is a bit out there as a concept, turning a boring inanimate object into a somewhat obnoxious little critter, but that's what the Henson team has done for decades, building characters for brands to support their more artful Muppet projects. In fact there’s a roster of corporate mascots that come from The Jim Henson Co. that you might not know are basically cousins to Kermit, Oscar and Big Bird. For Instance, Snuggle bear is part muppet and so is Jack In The Box’s oversized snowman.

Here's a look at the some of the characters made by Jim Henson's Creature Studio for commercials and video marketing:

Tappy, Softcard
In a history of oddities, Tappy stands out among the Henson creations for sheer adsurdity. He's a credit-card reading machine with teeth. We could learn to love him, maybe, on a long enough timeline.

Mel, Kraft
Mel the MilkBite is part dairy, part granola bar and totally confused. He's a character with an identity crisis, pondering, "What am I?"

Life, Pacific Blue Cross
Life is a Muppet in the classic sense, and he promoted insurance for Pacific Blue Cross. In the commercials, he bites people in the butt, symbolizing unexpected events like dental emergencies.

Polar Bear, Coca-Cola
The Coca-Cola polar bear, which debuted in commercials in 1993, is a classic, and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop brought him to life for appearances with the public.

Puppet Jack, Jack in the Box
Puppet Jack has very similar mannerisms to Kermit, like when he throws his hands in the air and freaks out. A true pitchman who knows where to find a receptive audience, he shows up on couches to educate stoners about fast-food deals.

Great Chocolate Factory Mystery Experience in 4D, Hershey's

Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery Experience is an interactive show featuring talking candy bars at Hershey’s HQ in Pennsylvania. Henson made the digital puppets for the experience.

Lenny, Lending Tree
Lenny could be brothers with Kermit, given he's so obviously Muppet and green. He basically just follows around a guy named Len, trying to talk him out of taking a loan from a bank.

Fairy-tale characters, Reading Is Fundamental

The literacy effort Reading Is Fundamental featured puppets alongside famous cartoon characters for this ad inspiring adults to read to children.

Rico, Air New Zealand
Rico was a rather NSFW spokesppupet whose South American accent and wordplay raised eyebrows, such as when he praised "a nice Kiwi beach." He was best known for the viral marketing collaborations with edgy celebrities, including Snoop Dogg and Lindsay Lohan.

Snuggle Bear, Snuggle

Snuggle the fabric softener bear has deep Muppet roots. The bear debuted in 1983, a creation of Kermit Love (not related to the frog), who also made Big Bird.

November 16th 2014 Marketing, Technology

Bad Idea: Overdisclosing People’s Positive STD Status–Doe v. Successfulmatch

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This is a privacy lawsuit brought by people who signed up for a dating site (Positive Singles) for people with STDs. Plaintiffs allege that Successfulmatch, the company that operates the site, made numerous privacy representations stating in its website copy that it “care[s] about [users’] privacy more than other sites.”

A registration page said that the site would not “disclose, sell, or rent any personally identifiable information to any third party organizations.” The terms of service stated that profiles created on the site

may be shared with other sites within the SuccessfulMatch network. By posting or maintaining a profile on this or any other SuccessfulMatch Network site, [users] agree and consent that said profile shall be subject to placement on other SuccessfulMatch Network sites, at the discretion of SuccessfulMatch, without further notice.

Defendant operated its own sites but also allowed others to become “private label” or affiliate partners. An affiliate obtains a domain name and builds a site using SuccessfulMatch software, and populates the site with SM user data. Affiliated sites include “” “” “” “” “” and “”. If a user registers with one of these affiliate sites, he or she also automatically registers with SuccessfulMatch and the user profile can be viewed across the entire network.

Plaintiffs alleged that SuccessfulMatch was liable for claims under California’s unfair competition and Consumer Legal Remedies Act by making affirmative representations regarding the scope of privacy protections, and for omitting the extent of sharing across the network. SuccessfulMatch brought a variety of defenses, none of which work.

The SuccessfulMatch website did disclose that profiles may be shared but plaintiffs argued, and the court agreed, that the disclosure did not detail the number of sites or the nature of the relationship between the affiliate sites and the main sites. Plaintiffs further alleged that the site they signed up on ( uses terms such as “100% confidential” and “exclusive” to denote that profiles would be limited to that particular site. The court says whether reasonable consumers would be deceived is a factual question, and plaintiffs alleged sufficient misleading statements to state a claim. Defendant tried to argue that its disclosure of affiliate-profile sharing was sufficient to dispel any misunderstanding, but the court says that the location and prominence of the disclosure matters, plus the disclosures were qualified and general.

Defendant also argued that they did not have a duty to disclose the withheld information but the court says plaintiffs allege sufficient facts to fit this into a “duty to disclose” scenario. The information disclosed would be material to plaintiffs’ decision, and in fact plaintiffs requested and were not provided with the affiliate information. [This vaguely sounds like it implicates California's Shine the Light privacy statute.]

Finally, defendant raised two other arguments that did not get traction with the court. First, it argued that the allegedly deceptive statements were “mere puffery,” but the court doesn’t give it the benefit of the doubt given the ambiguity in defendant’s disclosures and plaintiffs’ allegations of being misled. Second, defendant argued that it complied with California’s privacy statute and this insulates it. CalOPPA, the statute which requires the posting of a privacy policy for commercial websites that collect personal information, does not expressly dictate what information the policy must contain. While it generally requires the posting of a policy, it is not a get-out-of-jail free card for allegedly misleading statements when such a policy is posted.

Finally, defendant asserted a “benefit of the bargain” argument, saying that plaintiffs received what they paid for (i.e., dating site services) and the fact that their profiles were wrongfully shared did not cause them to lose the benefit of the bargain. However, this argument is only credited when the misrepresentation was not material to the consumer. Given that the privacy representations are alleged to be material, whether or not plaintiffs’ received or took advantage of the dating site services is immaterial.

Finally, after all this, the court says that plaintiffs’ failed to satisfy Rule 9’s particularity requirement: they did not state exactly when the misrepresentations were made and which specific representations each plaintiff relied on. Thus, the court dismisses, but signals that plaintiffs can likely remedy this deficiency.


This is a privacy case where the plaintiffs and claims have key differences from the run-of-the-mill privacy case. First, the facts here are sensitive, and even incidental disclosure would support a claim for damages. Second, these are paying customers and did not sign-up for a free service. It’s unclear whether this is what keeps the lawsuit going in contrast to the numerous other information-sharing lawsuits we see that are routinely dismissed. The case of course contains the age-old scenario of a website making rosy marketing assurances that may not be backed up by its actual practices. (Something the FTC has been cracking down on and that ensnared mainstream sites and services such as Facebook, Snapchat, and even Twitter.)

The key factual question is the role of these affiliate sites. They could just be a means of driving traffic, and while this does not neutralize allegedly misleading statements, it does put it in a slightly different light than a case where a site is actually sharing information with third parties. Unstated in the court’s opinion is whether there is increased security risk or downstream disclosure from the affiliate sites. Once the information is out of SuccessfulMatch’s hands, it’s tough to control what happens to it.

Again, this case is a rare standout as a privacy lawsuit with legs. FWIW, this case involves non-California residents. California residents brought a separate lawsuit in state court. This recently resulted in a whopping $16.5M jury award against the company ($1.5M in compensatory damages and $15M in punitive damages).

Case Citation: Doe v., 13-cv-03376-LHK (N.D. Cal. Sept. 30, 2014)

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My Testimony on California’s Efforts to Regulate Internet Privacy

California Assembly Hearing, “Balancing Privacy and Opportunity in the Internet Age,” SCU, Dec. 12

Google Gets Dismissal of Lawsuit Over Privacy Policy Integration–In re Google Privacy Policy

Privacy Plaintiffs Lose Because They Didn’t Rely on Apple’s Privacy Representations — In re iPhone App Litigation

Google Wins Cookie Privacy Lawsuit

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November 15th 2014 Marketing