This Is How We’re Tricking You

07 Jan This Is How We’re Tricking You

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This is part three of our Emmy-nominated* series — so if you’re just tuning in, here’s what you’ve missed:

Part 1: Tim Cook took a thinly veiled shot at Google and Facebook’s business model, suggesting that “if an online service is free, you’re not the customer; you’re the product.”

Part 2: Eric lost his Schmidt over the comments and countered with what we deemed (at the time) the “world’s lamest defense” — that if you don’t like sharing data with Google, you can just turn that part of Google off, no biggie.

Which brings us to the present.

It seems Mark Zuckerberg didn’t much care for Cook’s characterizations either, and so felt the need to add his own layer of obfuscation to the mix, telling Time Magazine in December:

“A frustration I have is that a lot of people increasingly seem to equate an advertising business model with somehow being out of alignment with your customers. I think it’s the most ridiculous concept. What, you think because you’re paying Apple that you’re somehow in alignment with them? If you were in alignment with them, then they’d make their products a lot cheaper!”


Okay, first question: Is this as stupid as Eric Schmidt’s argument?

I don’t know.

I do not have access to the types of scientific instruments it would take to accurately compare stupidity on such astronomical scales. Perhaps if I had a few years and access to the CERN laboratories… okay, suffice it to say Zuckerberg’s argument is mind-numbingly stupid.

Here’s why:

First, the concept of “customer alignment” is ridiculous and vaguely anti-capitalist. Nearly every customer in the world wants the same two things: the best product for the best price.

You don’t see a whole lot of disparity there.

It’s not as if some Canadian customers prefer paying more for crappier stuff. No, even in Canada this is a pretty basic tenet of consumer psychology.

Now Zuckerberg’s contention is that if Apple really wanted to serve its customers, it would find a way to cut costs. And to do that in a way that doesn’t hurt the business or get Cook pulled in front of a subcommittee on anti-American activities, Apple would have to shift the costs to a third party.

What’s that, you say — they did exactly that by arranging mobile phone subsidies with voice and data carriers?

Oh yeah. And it’s been great for the customers (if not so much for the carriers). In fact, you can now get an iPhone for “free” — with a contract from AT&T.

Now Facebook had a different idea about how to give away free services by shifting the cost burden — they’d sell advertising.

But there’s a problem here. It’s a universal problem, and as an advertising professional I can attest to the severity of it:

Traditional, straightforward advertising no longer works.

According to my Canadian contacts at the CERN laboratories, the last time a human being purposely clicked on a website banner ad was September of 2007 (and some reports suggest she was being held at gunpoint by a renegade sales rep from

See, today’s consumers are really, really good at ignoring traditional advertising.

The only way to be successful in advertising these days is to trick people into thinking your ad isn’t actually an ad.

Seriously. That’s all there is now in advertising — trickery.

It’s what Google’s business model is based on. It’s what “native advertising” is based on. It’s what most content marketing and social media marketing strategies are based on. It’s what the movie “Transformers” is based on.

And where there’s a trickster, there’s always a person getting tricked — in this case, you the consumer.

These are venial sins, and one could easily argue that advertisers have always been tricksters. We’ve simply replaced overt lying with covert manipulation.

Furthermore, companies like Google and Facebook aren’t enabling these tricks because they’re evil corporations and they hate mankind. We’re not talking about Comcast here. These guys are simply trying to do what Apple did with phone subsidies — deliver services more cheaply by shifting the cost burden.

But the mechanism by which those costs get shifted matters. And if you choose a path that confuses, exploits, or antagonizes your customers… well, you may be due for a re-alignment.

Speaking of trickery:


*My neighbor Emmy likes to nominate things.
Jonathan Katz
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