“Ad blocking is a symptom of a pervasive problem. If consumers enjoyed the web experience and felt there were adequate controls for privacy and the ad industry was making a sincere effort to fight abuse and malfeasance, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” ~ Craig Spiezle, Online Trust Alliance, via The New York Times.
Two weekend news stories paint “marketing” in a pejorative shade; one is kind of funny and the other is decidedly not so funny. The lighter story concerns Tesco, the UK supermarket chain, and its decision to stop making crescent-shaped croissants. This is how Harry Jones, Tesco’s croissant buyer, explained the decision in a written statement, cited in The New York Times:
“The majority of shoppers find it easier to spread jam, or their preferred filling, on a straighter shape with a single sweeping motion. With the crescent-shaped croissants, it’s more fiddly, and most people can take up to three attempts to achieve perfect coverage, which increases the potential for accidents involving sticky fingers and tables.” The story concludes by noting that Tesco’s move to twist-free croissants was roundly mocked on Twitter “as a marketing tactic.”
The other story is, of course, the one involving Apple and the Justice Department’s demand for “the technical tools to get inside the phone” to help investigate the mass killings in San Bernardino, California, also reported in The New York Times. In a court filing, prosecutors said Apple’s resistance “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy.”
In Tesco’s defense, it appears the retailer is mainly interested in creating what it believes is a better croissant “experience” for its customers. Call that “marketing” if you want, but it falls squarely within the realm of solving a perceived customer problem. Bravo. The problem is that Tesco is forcing this solution on all of its customers, disenfranchising those who care less about the efficiency of consuming a croissant than the enjoyment of it. For many, this means pulling the damn thing apart bit by bit and making a real mess of it along the way.
As for Apple, it’s clearly a more complicated issue. Without taking sides on the controversy itself, this much is clear: The company should not be denigrated as a “marketer” for trying to keep its brand promise — privacy– to its customers. This isn’t about marketing to its customers; it’s about being true to them. The Times article also makes this key point:
“Apple has taken a strong stand on privacy … because the company’s business model encourages a bolder stance. Unlike other Silicon Valley tech giants, Apple’s business has a straightforward hardware model that hinges on selling physical devices like iPhones, iPads and Macs. Other tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, depend more on the online collection of large amounts of consumer data for their digital advertising-oriented businesses.”
“Mark Riedl and Brent Harrison from the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology have just unveiled Quixote, a prototype system that is able to learn social conventions from simple stories,” reports The Guardian.
“A simple version of a story could be about going to get prescription medicine from a chemist … An AI (artificial intelligence) given the task of picking up a prescription for a human could, variously, rob the chemist and run, or be polite and wait in line. Robbing would be the fastest way to accomplish its goal, but Quixote learns that it will be rewarded if it acts like the protagonist in the story.”
“Quixote has not learned the lesson of ‘do not steal,’ Riedl says, but ‘simply prefers to not steal after reading and emulating the stories it was provided … the stories are surrogate memories for an AI that cannot ‘grow up’ immersed in a society the way people are and must quickly immerse itself in a society by reading about [it].’”
“The system was named Quixote, said Riedl, after Cervantes’ would-be knight-errant, who ‘reads stories about chivalrous knights and decides to emulate the behaviour of those knights.'”
“The challenge of creating a computer “personality” is now one that a growing number of software designers are grappling with,” reports The New York Times. “A new design science is emerging in the pursuit of building what are called “conversational agents,” software programs that understand natural language and speech and can respond to human voice commands. However, the creation of such systems, led by researchers in a field known as human-computer interaction design, is still as much an art as it is a science.”
“Most software designers acknowledge that they are still faced with crossing the ‘uncanny valley,’ in which voices that are almost human-sounding are actually disturbing or jarring … Beyond correct pronunciation, there is the even larger challenge of correctly placing human qualities like inflection and emotion into speech. Linguists call this ‘prosody,’ the ability to add correct stress, intonation or sentiment to spoken language.”
“The highest-quality techniques for natural-sounding speech begin with a human voice that is used to generate a database of parts and even subparts of speech spoken in many different ways. A human voice actor may spend from 10 hours to hundreds of hours, if not more, recording for each database.”
The Washington Post: “A Los Angeles man with an unusual passion for phone systems created a new robotic answering service that wastes telemarketers’ time. Roger Anderson started the Jolly Roger Telephone, which lets users start a three-way call with the service so they can listen gleefully as the bot rambles on. It’s designed to provide entertainment and empowerment for everyone who has grown weary of the phone calls. Its first question of the telemarketers is often, ‘Is this a real person?'”
“Anderson experimented with different personalities for his robot before deciding that an odd man who just woke up from a nap worked best. For instance, the robot burned time by telling the telemarketer they sound like a former high school classmate, rambling on about needing coffee or asking them to start over again.”
Christian Science Monitor: “Harry Campbell, author of The Rideshare Guy, a popular blog for rideshare drivers, asked his 10,234 e-mail subscribers to rate their experience with Uber. Of the 453 who responded, only 48 percent are happy with their employer.”
“A common perception of the difference between Uber and Lyft is that Lyft is a better company to work for, but Uber brings in higher pay. But Uber’s claim to fame among drivers – that it offers the highest wages in the game – is slowly eroding. To increase business during the slow winter months, Uber recently cut fares for passengers, and thus salaries for drivers, in over 100 cities.”
Some drivers say “weekly expenses like gas, toll fees, insurance and car maintenance detract the company’s impressive averages. In a company report last year, 11 percent of drivers said they actually lost money after being their employment with Uber.”
The New York Times: “In some ways, what we experience as consumers is like what we experience when we listen to music or lift a heavy object. For example, we are more likely to notice that a drumbeat is loud if we have been listening to, say, a gentle violin. And we will notice that we are lifting extra pounds if they are added to a lightly packed suitcase. The same additional weight is barely noticeable in a heavy one. Vision, heat perception, smell and taste all obey a similar law: Perception is largely a relative mechanism.”
This dynamic manifests itself when we compare prices: “We tend to focus on the percentage rather than the amount we save, and fall prey to a mental illusion. After all, when your shopping is done, it is dollars — not percentages — that will be in your bank account … Ofer H. Azar, an economist at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, asked consumers in the United States how much they needed to save to justify spending an extra 20 minutes … When shopping for a $10 pen, they required only a $3.75 savings, on average. For a $30,000 car, though, they needed $277.83 for that 20 minutes.”
Less affluent shoppers are less likely to fall prey to the illusion: “Poorer people tend to value a dollar more consistently, irrespective of the context. It is not simply that those with less money pinch more pennies; it is that they are compelled to value those pennies in absolute rather than relative terms … To them, a dollar has real tangible value. A dollar saved is a dollar to be spent elsewhere, not merely a piece of token accounting.”
“Traditionally, men’s path to purchase has been more linear than women’s, adopting a more utilitarian approach, considering all options rationally and weighing up alternatives based on price and quality. As men become more concerned about how they look, what they wear and products they use, their decision-making is beginning to imitate women’s.” ~ Ildiko Szalai, senior analyst of Beauty and Personal Care, Euromonitor, quoted in The Wall Street Journal.
The Verge: “The Model S for Kids charges in just three hours, and also utilizes swappable batteries (something Tesla has had trouble with on the real Model S).”
“On the whole, the problem with new books is that there’s a list price set by the publisher and a discount price that’s also set by the publisher. So, as a new bookseller, you have no control over what the book sells for or what you pay for it. With used books, if you’re smart, you find ways to get them cheap, and you decide what you price them at.”
“As a general rule, on any book, a used bookseller is probably making twice as much profit as a new bookseller. And that’s the difference between making it and not making it, because the profit margins on new books are razor-thin. At a used bookstore, no one is getting rich, but you can make enough to stay alive.” – Benjamin Friedman, co-founder, Topos Bookstore Café, as quoted by The Awl.