Concerned About Fraud, Web Giants Ban Cryptocurrency Ads

The Bitcoin craze is petering out: to protect users from the unregulated, dangerous cryptocurrency markets currently exploding, Twitter has reportedly joined Facebook and Google in banning all cryptocurrency ads on its platform, according to a report by Sky News.

Facebook has disallowed all ads related to cryptocurrency since late January. “Misleading or deceptive ads have no place on Facebook,” Rob Leathern, the company’s product management director, claimed in the announcement.

Announcing a policy update just last week, Google took a softer approach for several other financial products in addition to cryptocurrency ads. Beginning in June, advertisers must be licensed and certified by AdWords to purchase any advertisements related to cryptocurrencies.

Google’s announcement did not declare its reasoning for harsher restrictions, but given the other types of financial products it clamps down on, it is treating cryptocurrencies in the same manner as other commonly fraudulent illicit betting institutions.

According to SkyNews, Twitter will implement its own prohibition in the next two weeks, unilaterally banning any and all ads related to initial coin offerings, sales or cryptocurrency wallets—essentially, any and all services related to Bitcoin and others like it.

It’s no surprise that digital platforms are starting to take action on unsafe alt-coins. Morgan Stanley has described the current cryptocurrency market as like the dot-com bubble, but “15 times faster,” and The Outline reported on “pump and dump” groups that exist exclusively to scam of cryptocurrency neophytes. In the UK, cryptocurrency scammers have driven a 400,000 percent increase in “binary option” fraud in just six years.

Chinese web companies like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have prohibited cryptocurrency ads for much longer, as have smaller American companies like Amazon and Oath. Interested advertisers will be limited to Microsoft and Snapchat, though according to Recode the latter is “currently evaluating [its] position on cryptocurrency advertising.”

SXSW Attendees React To Experiential Marketing Activations

SXSW is known for its experiential marketing activations and this year was no different. For over a week, Austin became a hub for brands to connect with guests with immersion and FOMO.

Austin’s bustling downtown city streets may have been the epicenter of brand interaction, but one of the most-talked-about activations was about 20 miles outside of town. To promote the second season of Westworld, HBO built a town from the ground up and filled it with actors to entertain its guests.

“I don’t think I’ve been a part of any conversation over 20 minutes that didn’t eventually talk about Westworld,” one SXSW attendee told AListDaily.

Attendees were seen walking around SXSW wearing either a white or black hat and carrying souvenirs from the Westworld experience, which helped fuel conversation and social media sharing ahead of the show’s April 22 premiere.

Dell returned to the festival with “The Experience,” a display of technology, discussions and how artists use technology in creative ways, such as building a portal out of circuit boards.

Pinterest House took over Austin’s Container Bar to teach guests how the social network helps its users discover new ideas.

“It was just a great way to expose us to how data and images could be used potentially from Pinterest in the future,” one attendee said.

Steven Spielberg held a screening for Ready Player One at SXSW, and Warner Bros. made sure everyone knew it. A parade of troopers dubbed the IOI Sixers stormed up and down downtown Austin calling for the capture of Wade Watts—the main character of Ready Player One—and offered people passing by a $1 million reward.

In Brazos Hall, HTC Vive set up eight pieces of VR content across separate demo bays. The idea was to emulate technology and a sense of wonder from both the film and the book it was based on.

One SXSW who visited the activation told AListDaily that Ready Player One pretty much “nailed it.”

‘Ready Player One’ Will Help, But Not Change The VR Industry

Ready Player One will help drive awareness for VR when it hits theaters May 29, but don’t expect it to solve the industry’s problems overnight, one analyst said.

“We’ve been hearing everybody put the future of the VR industry on the shoulders of this movie,” Debby Ruth, senior vice president of global media and entertainment at Magid told AListDaily. “One movie isn’t going to change the fortunes of an entire industry.”

Ruth cites two major frictions that VR must solve before humanity finally embraces its VR destiny—lack of content and complicated setups.

“Even if people are excited by what they see in the movie and the concept of VR in general, those two things still exist as issues for the industry,” said Ruth. “Hopefully headsets coming this year will help reduce that friction and making it easier for people to use it.”

One VR headset manufacturer that may already be benefiting from Ready Player One—at least in terms of brand awarenessis HTC Vive, which has been instrumental in promoting the film. Ruth says that “tying itself to the movie promotion juggernaut” could be a benefit for the VR headset manufacturer.

Together with Warner Bros., HTC Vive promoted Ready Player One at SXSW with eight pieces of VR content in an experiential event that culminated in a screening with Steven Spielberg.

Brand awareness is a plus, but Ruth predicts a more immediate benefit for movie theaters themselves.

“I think it will have an impact especially for location-based experiences that are in theaters,” Ruth stated. “I think it’s a really great opportunity for theater owners to see a little bump in their business.”

Last year, movie theater attendance in the US and Canada hit its lowest point since 1992. In response, many theaters are changing their business models to include gourmet food, alcohol and audio technology not found at home. That includes VR experiences, like the ones IMAX debuted in AMC theaters last year.

Analyst firm Jefferies, meanwhile, is more confident in Ready Player One‘s ability to boost the VR industry, especially for companies that manufacture headset components.

“We believe that the movie will drive sales of VR headsets that require high-performance GPUs [graphics processing units],” Jefferies analyst Mark Lipacis said Monday in a statement.

Dunkin’ Donuts Adds Google Assistant For Mobile Ordering

Dunkin’ Donuts has integrated Google Assistant into mobile ordering, introducing zero UI to its DD Perks customer experience.

DD Perks Rewards members can now link the Dunkin’ Donuts mobile app to their Google account. Users can say, “Hey, Google, talk to Dunkin’ Donuts,” and the Google Assistant will get help linking their DD Perks Rewards account, select a restaurant location and place orders.

Once an order has been placed with the help of Google Assistant, the distance and estimated time to reach the selected Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant will be identified by Google Maps.

Dunkin’ Donuts is embracing the age of mobile payments by placing a strong emphasis on its mobile ordering service over the last year. The company reported that On-the-Go Mobile Ordering (OTG) had a retrial rate of 80 percent in 2017.

In January, Dunkin’ Donuts opened a concept store in Massachusetts that features a dedicated drive-thru lane for mobile orders. The company expects that more than 75 percent of its new locations going forward will have a drive-thru lane of some sort to boost overall sales volume.

In February, the chain announced it plans to make mobile ordering a key part of its three-year growth plan, including the addition of up to 50 “NextGen restaurants” by the end of 2019. These new locations will cater to on-the-go customers and faster service.

The integration of Google into Dunkin’ Donuts’ mobile strategy is one of several attempts to remain on the cutting edge of technology impacting its young consumers. In December, for example, the company partnered with GM to offer Dunkin’ Donuts ordering right from the touchscreen of a user’s car.

Worldwide mobile payment revenue is expected to reach $930 billion this year and surpass 1 trillion US dollars in 2019.

To include underbanked customers and offer additional convenience, Dunkin’ Donuts announced plans to test “tender agnostic” participation in its DD Perks Loyalty program later this year. The program will allow members to earn points using all forms of tender, including their DD Card, credit, debit or cash.

Google Details Plans To Protect The Ad Ecosystem

Google said it blocked more than 100 bad ads per second last year, releasing a blog post on Wednesday to assure marketers of its efforts to protect the ad ecosystem from ad fraud, malware and content scammers.

“Digital advertising plays an important role in making the web what it is today,” wrote Scott Spencer, Google’s director of sustainable ads. “In order for this ad-supported, free web to work, it needs to be a safe and effective place to learn, create and advertise.”

In his blog post, Spencer stressed the importance of user experience when policing Google ads, maintaining a balance between monetization and honesty. News sites and those posing as news sites were the biggest offenders last year.

Google has cracked down on those who use AdWords to promote clickbait, suspending more than 7,000 accounts last year. The company also blocked over 12,000 websites for “scraping,” the act of duplicating and copying content from other sites.

In 2017, Google removed 320,000 publishers from its ad network for violating publisher policies, the company said, adding that it blacklisted nearly 90,000 websites and 700,000 mobile apps. Ads were removed from 8,700 web pages that violated Google’s terms regarding discrimination and intolerance, as well.

Google is also working to combat trends like gambling, cryptocurrency and scam artists posing as rehabilitation centers online.

“We’re constantly updating our policies as we see new threats emerge,” wrote Spencer.

Earning $27.7 billion in ad revenue for the fourth quarter of 2017 alone, Google has a lot to lose over brand safety concerns and fake news. Along with Twitter and Facebook, Google testified before US Congress in November about possible abuses by Russian agents on their platforms to interfere with State elections.

Google denied any knowledge of such abuses on its platform, but the advertising giant has other, more local problems to deal with. During the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call, chief executive Sundar Pichai assured investors they were working to stop the monetization of offending content on YouTube to include extremist groups and hate speech.

Facebook Tests Marker-Based AR Experiences For Facebook Camera

Facebook is testing marker-based AR experiences, beginning with films Ready Player One and A Wrinkle In Time. The feature will be added to Facebook’s AR studio and made available to all developers next month.

As reported by TechCrunch, these two films serve as a closed beta for the new marker-based AR feature coming to Facebook Camera. Facebook Camera users can point their phones at movie posters, either in the real world or on a computer screen, to trigger an AR experience based on either Ready Player One or A Wrinkle In Time.

Pointing Facebook Camera at a poster for Ready Player One overlays a window that peers into the OASIS—a VR world central to the movie’s plot. Ready Player One premiered at SXSW on Monday and will open in theaters March 29.

For A Wrinkle In Time, the effect creates flowers that float into the user’s world and creates a ripple effect around the user when taking selfies. The Facebook Camera effect was announced on March 9 through the film’s official account.

Facebook launched its Camera Effects Studio beta less than a year ago and to all developers in December. The addition of marker-based AR will allow marketers to integrate Facebook Camera effects into their print or digital campaigns. Unlike marker-less AR filters that can misinterpret the world around a user, marker-based AR is more accurate and invites users to interact with real-world objects or images.

Some retailers, like Ikea and American Girl, already use marker-based AR together with print catalogs to provide additional information or preview an item in a 3D environment. Disney released an AR experience for Pete’s Dragon that would make the dragon appear when pointed at objects as instructed, such as a couch.

AR books are also becoming more popular, and the music industry has adopted the technology, as well. Last year, Sony Music Entertainment and Michael Jackson’s estate partnered with Shazam to create an AR experience for Scream. Pointing the Shazam app at the album’s insert would cause the artwork to animate in AR.

IDC predicts that global AR/VR spending will rise 95 percent in 2018 to $17.8 billion. Consumer spending is expected to exceed $20 billion by the year 2021.

Sony’s SXSW Exhibit Invites Attendees To Interact And Experiment

SXSW is smitten with start-ups, so for a multinational marque like Sony, it’s strategy at the conference this year is to show that it’s not the legacy brand most consumers likely grew up with.

The company took over a cavernous space in downtown Austin at SXSW to show its latest prototypes with playful and interactive experiences.

The “Wow Studio” is designed to be the brand’s innovation and experimentation lab. It’s centered around delivering on kando, a philosophy that the company bills as building experiences that resonate on an emotional level by combining their line of products and technologies with interactive content.

Some of the activations from the exhibit included: a tabletop projector; an AR air hockey game that displays how Sony is shaping the space of high-speed vision sensors and haptics technology; an interactive VR soccer experience with sensors that reproduce the ball’s direction and speed; and a hero generator that creates avatars for guests to star as a protagonist for their own short film and renders a file that can be viewed later on a smartphone.

The company is pairing their experiential marketing efforts during the Music portion of the festival this year with “Lost In Music” to showcase its spatial audio technology and roster of artists with a PlayStation VR music video from star singer Khalid.

The brand also partnered with DJ Skee and built an enormous see-through speaker with a DJ booth in the middle and lyric projections matching the music.

As the Japanese conglomerate continues to reinvent its image, SXSW served as a worthwhile destination for the brand to reestablish consumer affection.

3 Emerging Trends From SXSW 2018 That Marketers Should Know

SXSW only gets bigger every year. Here are the biggest trends impacting this year’s festival of interactive, music, film and gaming.

Experiential Is King

With literally hundreds of things to do and hundreds of thousands of people to do them with, marketers use experiential marketing activations to break through the SXSW noise.

Last year, TV networks went all out to gain the attention of those nearby and inspire photo ops for social media.

To promote its show Stripped, Bravo sent a flash mob of 60 models in nude fabric to walk from the Austin Convention Center to sixth street. Hulu’s ghostly handmaids from A Handmaid’s Tale mulled about. A pop-up Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant served curly fries and talent appearances to hype Better Call Saul.

This year, expect more experiential pop-ups, especially around TV and film. Warner Bros. is hosting a Ready Player One event, for example, that lets users explore the film’s VR world of OASIS and dystopian society in the year 2045.

HBO is bringing the town of Sweetwater to SXSW to those who can grab a ticket before they disappear. The interactive Westworld experience drops attendees into two acres of elaborate sets and actors. Various easter eggs will be scattered throughout, offering clues about the new season.

Panels on experiential storytelling hope to empower marketers with tools and ideas on how to capture customer imaginations. The Henry Ford Museum, Jameson Distillery and BRC Imagine Arts will host a panel on this topic March 12. Another panel on Monday discusses the applications of immersive theater, story rooms, mixed reality and other experiential activations, hosted by Two Bit Circus, Meow Wolf and Soda Borg Corporation.

Social Justice Is The New Business Model

It’s no secret that brands are taking a stand on social and political issues at unprecedented rates. This trend continues into SXSW, where everyone from start-ups to tech giants try to make the world a better place, whether it be through inclusive hiring, groundbreaking tech or sustainable farming.

Philanthropists, entertainers and entrepreneurs will be on-hand to talk about they are enacting, or hope to enact, social change around the globe. One look at the list of panels and it becomes obvious that SXSW will tackle gender, equality, politics, global warming and building a better community, just to name a few. Self-empowerment is also a common theme this year, whether it be through religious faith, meditation or learning new skills.

A panel on March 13 called “Social Media and Social Good: Creators to the Rescue” discusses the positive impact social media creators can have and creating relationships between marketers, non-profits and online celebrities. The panel is hosted by Google, Ad Council and social creators Hannah Hart and Tyler Oakley.

International Women’s Day on March 8 will prompt discussions about equality and gender identity this week, alongside celebrations of female leaders and talent. John Hardy is hosting a party to celebrate the holiday on March 11.

Trending Tech: AI, Blockchain And VR

Technology is ever-present at SXSW, and AI is a hot topic at this year’s festival, with nearly 50 panels on the topic alone. Ethics, regulation, development and marketing are just some of the discussions around AI this year, but using the technology to solve problems is a running theme.

On March 12, Quantcast is hosting a panel on how AI will transform every aspect of the customer journey and how marketers can develop their own AI strategies.

Blockchain, including cryptocurrency, has become a disruptive force in the marketing industry, a subject explored by SXSW’s Intelligent Future track. There are nearly 30 panels on blockchain and its implications at SXSW this year—a testament to how the technology is impacting our world.

Linux and JP Morgan are hosting a panel on March 11 about ecommerce on the blockchain and the opportunities therein. On March 13, a panel hosted by Lampix will outline the opportunities presented when augmented reality (AR) and blockchain meet.

Virtual reality has matured in the last year, leaving marketers and creatives wondering how the technology fits into their business models. This year, professionals will discuss the implications of AR/VR/MR across filmmaking, medical science, journalism and more. For creatives, Microsoft, Valis Entertainment and others are hosting a panel March 15 that talks about using human performances in AR/VR and the impact on narrative.

Data privacy is a common thread that runs through just about all technology panels at the festival. Tim Bell of DPR Group is offering GDPR insights and steps for compliance during his panel on March 12. For brands using AR/VR, law firm Kelley Drye & Warren are hosting a panel on March 14 about how to avoid privacy and security problems.

Frito-Lay Drops AI-Powered ‘Cheetos Vision’ App At SXSW

Cheetos Vision is an app released at SXSW that makes photos and videos look like they were made with crunchy Cheetos snacks. Frito-Lay timed the app’s release with SXSW at a time when attendees were already thinking about tech and making memories.

The app, available on the iPhone App Store, is an AI camera that maps the lines and shadows on both images and videos, then overlays them with Cheetos. According to a spokesperson from Frito-Lay, the AI used deep learning to study Cheetos in order to make its creations look realistic. This involves a convolutional neural network “learning” Cheetos images using intense computation. That’s where the machine learning ends, but it’s enough to transform just about anything into the crunchy snack. In addition to capturing new footage, users can also transform existing photos and videos on their mobile devices.

Users are encouraged to share their cheesy creations on social media using the hashtag #CheetosVision. The app launch includes ads that use geo-targeting to reach SXSW attendees in Austin, Texas, along with a billboard on prominent display. Ads promoting Cheetos Vision are also running on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The app is consistent with Cheetos’ tongue-in-cheek brand persona. In February, the snack brand created and launched a dance move called “The Curl” to rally support for the USA Curling team in February. In August, it opened the Spotted Cheetah—a pop-up restaurant installation in New York that served a menu developed by Food Network personality Anne Burrell.

A Cheetos-themed fashion line was introduced in December of 2016 that offered items ranging from the spicy (Flamin’ Hot Pants) to the comfy (cheetah onesie) and even the pricey—a $20,000 sapphire and diamond ring.

PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division has adopted a mix of digital and experiential marketing campaigns in recent years. Cracker Jack has replaced its toys with mobile game codes. At E3 2016, Doritos’ Mix Arcade let viewers vote on visual effects during a concert through a Twitch livestream.

With Net Neutrality Repeal, Digital Marketing Spend May Move Toward ISPs

Marketers should be concerned with the absence of net neutrality because it has the potential to increase advertising prices and influence brands to begin budgeting their marketing spend more toward internet service providers (ISPs).

The repeal of net neutrality is scheduled to go into effect on April 23. In a non-neutral internet environment, ISPs like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile and Spectrum can block or at least slow web traffic, which can create an unpleasant clog in the user experience. It may ultimately force marketers to pay a premium in order to reach the widest possible audience in a timely manner.

Think of network access now as a surcharge or tax on top of advertising prices, all while the consumer bears the brunt of the extraction.

“Brands will invest in marketing that reaches people, and if that means they can use platforms and adtech owned by ISPs, they will,” Mozilla CMO Jascha Kaykas-Wolff told AListDaily. “If ISPs can pick and choose what works—and what works well—then it will be harder to reach consumers if you don’t put up the money.”

Obama-era net neutrality protections were intended to keep the internet a fair, open playing field by requiring ISPs to treat web traffic equally. With consolidation in ad platforms and major media and tech platforms becoming wealthier and more influential than ever, the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality creates a lack of competition within online markets.

“You’ve got to question whether it is the role of ISPs to pick winners before you start marketing,” said Kaykas-Wolff. “I don’t feel the majority is being represented in this hyper-partisan debate. Marketers will have to be a lot smarter upfront doing their planning for ad buying.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the poster child for the imminent change, took the stage for a keynote at Mobile World Congress last week and claimed the regulation is needed to build out the nation’s next generation of wireless infrastructure.

“The United States is simply making a shift from preemptive regulation—which foolishly presumes that every last wireless company is a competitive monopolist—to targeted enforcement based on actual market failure for any competitive content,” Pai said.

Companies from Netflix, Reddit, Tumblr, Sonos and even Burger King are all trying to keep alive the fight against Pai and net neutrality. Internet companies like Etsy, Expa, Kickstarter, Automattic, Foursquare and Shutterstock are taking it one step further and suing the FCC over the repeal. 

In a cause marketing move that coincided with the Grammy’s, smart speakers-maker Sonos closed the doors to its New York flagship store to underscore the importance of net neutrality and the innovation it allows.

“If the internet becomes a pay-for-speed channel, I think marketers might have to pay,” said Dmitri Siegel, global head of brand for Sonos. “We will adapt to whatever changes take place in the media landscape. Unfortunately, there is no work around.”

Siegel stated any changes to the economics of sharing content could have a sizable effect on their advertising business.

“Anyone who delivers or consumes content through the internet should be concerned,” Siegel said. “We take this utility for granted, so it’s easy to think it’s someone else’s problem.”

Jason Peterson, chairman of entertainment tech company GoDigital Media Group, said net neutrality is the “elephant in the room for all internet businesses” and that marketers will now need to be mindful of price discrimination, peering and unfair competition. He offered a metaphor of how one driver will be able to pay $1 but another $5 for driving across a toll bridge.

“If we open up the market for wired and wireless internet access, this will create price and service competition among ISPs,” said Peterson.

Software litigation attorney Marcus Harris said ISPs now hold the keys because they have the ability to dictate where and how ads are going to be seen. For example, entering into a marketing deal with Verizon will ensure that digital advertisements will be viewed on Verizon-owned properties, like CNN (or Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal), and other high-access websites. Similarly, it’s possible that individual websites that ISPs deem as competition with its content could be blocked. This will force marketers to create a wide-net strategy directed toward major websites with the most users.

“At first, there will be uncertainty and a hodgepodge of airline-like fees to deal with,” said Harris. “One way to navigate that uncertainty is for brands to advertise directly with ISPs. It could help avoid uncertainty as to if the ad will be seen at all.”

Harris said brands could very well be forced to advertise on either free websites that bear the brunt of the fees associated with high-bandwidth advertising or pay additional fees to ISPs for content-rich ads. The result will be two-fold. First, small companies with limited advertising budgets will be regulated to second-class placement where ads are seen by a subset of consumers, or not seen at all, either because of limited access or slow load times. Secondly, only the largest companies with the biggest advertising budgets will be seen on large media outlets.

“The impact on targeted advertising to discrete subsets of consumers is unclear,” said Harris. “What is clear though is that this will all have an enormous impact on traditional metrics for tracking advertisements.”

Kaykas-Wolff added that any time ISPs mess with data it’s supposed to deliver, they introduce perverse incentives and a bias in the market. They also make it more difficult to launch a competitive product to the incumbent and more expensive to reach new customers.

“ISPs want to extract money from everyone involved, including users, platforms and ad networks,” said Kaykas-Wolff. “Fundamentally, whenever a user experience is compromised on purpose, no one wins.”

Scissors cutting ethernet cable

Ryan Singel, a fellow at Stanford Law School and formerly a reporter who covered net neutrality and tech policy for Wired, said there may be substantial advantages on spends for platforms owned by ISPs since marketers are always looking to gain a competitive advantage.

“I distrust ISPs, but I hesitate to say that marketers would totally kill off all other viable marketing channels,” said Singel, who also moonlights as the CEO of Contextly, an engagement platform for publishers. “I have a hard time thinking how ISPs can totally corner marketing spend.

“The big worry is that the cost of marketing is going to increase, and innovation and experimentation is going to stall. ISPs are increasingly trying to become vertical [companies]. You can see a future where they make themselves look more attractive to marketers.”

The lack of net neutrality can stall marketing innovation because creators and entrepreneurs will struggle to reach new users, and investment in new ideas may wither. Without innovation, the internet will begin to look more like cable TV over time, said Kaykas-Wolff, as only the dominant players could afford to buy their way into the network.

As advertisers look toward alternative ways to reach consumers, Harris expects a bigger push for brands toward social media like Facebook and Twitter because bandwidth premiums will likely be paid by the platforms.

“Right now there is going to be a very high level of uncertainty,” he said. “Traditional metrics and advertising prices will need to be recalibrated. For advertisers and brands that can afford it, they will need to create platform-specific campaigns to ensure that the user experience or message is not disjointed.”

With the repeal of net neutrality around the corner, there will be an inability to utilize traditional metrics, data and information to measure effectiveness, added Kaykas-Wolff. The C-level will need to start sharpening their skills around audience research and product marketing to develop effective campaigns.

“Marketers haven’t had to work these functions over the past decade because of the proliferation of tech platforms, ad targeting and tricks,” said Kaykas-Wolff. “They will need to start exercising marketing muscles more.

“This ease of access to tools has made us lazy, and we should go back to developing the fundamentals of marketing that are about the pinpoint understanding of where your potential customers are and what they need. This can tune advertising better than any tool.”