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Stupid Media Watch: Facebook Mastering the Art of 'Slow Spam Bludgeoning'


By Ken Magill

Anti-marketing writers for large media outlets would have so much more credibility if their careers and practically everything they do online—except watching the only thing people will pay for—wasn’t underwritten by advertising.

One standout among the utterly clueless anti-marketing writers currently spouting nonsense on a regular basis is Slate staff writer Andrew Leonard.

If you’ll remember, Leonard was the author of the following gem after the Federal Trade Commission announced a BS settlement with online advertising concern Epic:

“[W]hat this incident tells us is that online advertisers place a premium on figuring out exactly what we’d probably desire to keep most secret from outside eyes, and they are willing to exploit any means necessary to get that information.”

Uh, yeah.

Leonard’s latest stab at getting inducted into the Anti-Marketing Idiot Hall of Fame was a screed headlined “Facebook’s perfect spam laboratory” against an experiment the social site has undertaken where people can pay to have messages delivered to non-friends.

“Yes, spam would not exist in its present form if marketers were charged for every email they vomited out into the void,” Leonard wrote.

I don’t know about you, but in the Magill household vomiting into the void is generally preceded by a heck of a good time.

Comparing marketing to vomit speaks volumes about how Leonard thinks—or fails to.

And we can certainly predict how he will come out on Facebook’s paid messaging scheme. It must be a nefarious plot to see how much messaging abuse they can enable while making a buck.

Disclosure: I have spent all of about two hours on Facebook and decided it wasn’t for me. I do go to on a regular basis, though. It’s hilarious.

In any case, here’s Leonard’s take:

[W]hat Facebook wants to figure out is the exact intersection point between how much spam we can bear and what people will pay to send messages to strangers. Where’s the sweet spot that marks the borderline between an avalanche of spam that might (gasp!) discourage Facebook users to log in and a new revenue stream for Facebook?

“Facebook conducts such envelope-pushing experiments all the time on its millions of users. I once had a Facebook spokeperson tell me confidently that the company would never follow the disastrous path of MySpace, which overloaded itself with ads to the point of forcing of mass user migration elsewhere, because Facebook’s constant user testing and monitoring would give the company ample warning whenever it was stuffing too much advertising crap into our news feeds. Facebook’s always got its fingers on the volume knob, ready to turn down the advertising flow whenever the golden goose is in danger of premature mortality.”

This is a good thing, right? Nope. Not in Leonardland.

“Of course, the worst aspect to Facebook’s strategy is that if they execute it perfectly, they can raise the volume of spam and advertising so slowly and smoothly that we never quite notice just how much we’re being bludgeoned by marketing messages. In effect, Facebook is training us to be good corporate citizens, using our own observed behavior to perfect their revenue-generating governance.”

Oh, please. What the hell does that last sentence even mean? Note to Leonard: Being bludgeoned without noticing it is impossible. Here: Let me show you.

According to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Facebook has two revenue streams: advertising and “payments and other fees.”

However, Facebook reported in the same filing: “Our other fees revenue has been immaterial in recent periods.”

So Facebook has essentially one revenue stream: advertising. Does Leonard really think the brass at Facebook is about to knowingly engage in a spamming scheme analogous to the boiled-frog myth and put its essentially sole revenue stream at risk?

Oh wait: Those wily whip smarties at Facebook can slowly and imperceptibly crank up the spam volume until we drown in it and we’ll never notice.

Who thinks like this?

Apparently Leonard does, which shows just how little he knows about what he writes.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: John Pinson
Date: 2013-02-04 19:13:24

Great takedown Ken. Slate seems to pride itself on promoting writers who are wrong about everything. I would love to visit the Anti-Marketing Idiot Hall of Fame some time.
Posted by: Matt Fisher
Date: 2013-01-29 17:10:29
Subject: Advertising is a necessary evil... it pays the bills. Don't like it? Go somewhere else.

Agreed, the quotes by Leonard you've cited are ludicrous. As the saying goes, "people vote with their feet." Facebook users aren't trapped in a pot like a boiling frog; if the advertising they're being inundated with becomes too obnoxious, they'll leave. They'll find another option or (eek!) maybe even seek face-to-face contact with a friend instead of poking them or writing on their Wall. Or is it Timeline now? I dunno... Good article.