Big Business is Watching

Marketing has arguably always been a form of public manipulation however, with the increasing availability of digital consumers’ private information, the ethicality of the industry is being further called in to question.


Photos and Art by Patille Papas and Leon Lau

As you wait in congested traffic, you see billboard after billboard, all advertising a different product. Some pop out more than others forming a long-lasting impression, getting you to look into and possibly even purchase the product later. Each of these billboards were strategically designed and placed in order to incentivize their chances of having potential consumers spend money on their product. This is the power of marketing.

Marketing is a crucial component in creating a successful business, as it serves as a strategic way to exhibit the company. Traditionally, the industry was limited in its advertising abilities; it was meant to help businesses personalize their brand. However, with the ubiquity of the internet and the availability of sophisticated marketing and digital tools, modern companies have achieved unprecedented access to their consumers.

But with this great power comes great responsibility. Marketers are expected to advertise their products in an ethical fashion to ensure that they are spreading truthful information. However, the ethics of marketing conducted by major companies have recently been called to question due to the influx of false advertising. This is when advertisers present information in a way that is more appealing to the viewers but are not necessarily accurate to the product they are selling. This falsification of information contributes to a large amount of revenue generated from eager consumers but does so in a deceitful way. With the methodology used in the marketing profession, many have questioned whether advertisers are doing more harm than good for their customers.

Clickstreaming and Useful Techniques:

All businesses want to know how much attention their company is drawing from the public and can track this data with online programs and applications. With this kind of technology beginning to become implemented in many areas of the business world, it is becoming easier for a company to gather data regarding the amount of attention it has attracted through its online presence. Collected through advertisements published online, the information regarding the number of clicks generated by the ad is used by companies when they design more ads.

There is a fine line that divides elements of click streaming and clickbait for ads. While click streaming is tracking the path a website viewer takes, clickbait draws them in with the intention of getting more clicks. Despite the good intentions of any business, there is another side to the actions – using false information to gain clicks. Clickbait ads and headlines typically take advantage of human curiosity just in order to get clicks.

One notable example of clickbait that is seen throughout Youtube, where creators title their content something bizarre that is too obscure to ignore. To accompany these titles, the videos have thumbnails that are just as unique, making the viewers believe they must watch the video.

Jim Lattin, a Professor of Marketing at Stanford University, explains that businesses use advertisements to spark interest among their target audiences, leading to more clicks and views on the website of the business.

However, this form of tracking comes at a cost. Although this kind of publicity and recognition may be beneficial to a company, smaller franchises and start-ups have to control how valuable the ads actually are, to make sure they are not losing more revenue than they are gaining.

“Most paid marketing is an experimental search,” Lattin said. “[The] main point in trying to deal with [this testing is] most marketers don’t know what works.” Many businesses will conduct A/B testing, a test where they compare two versions of an ad to see which performs better in focus groups, collections of volunteers or members of the public who provide feedback about the ad. After this, companies review the collected data and funnel it into categories that will help them create an improved and more successful model to be used in the future.

At a glance, this process seems lengthy and unnecessary, but in the long run, the company benefits from the research. Trial and error are recurrent in the business world and are important aspects of finding effective ad designs.

Lattin believes that the most successful types of ads are ones that make the reader think about the message or leave them wanting to get more information and visit the website. “[Try to see] if you can get people curious to get answers to your question,” Lattin said. “It sparks curiosity and makes them take action to find the solution by visiting your site.”

While both click streaming and clickbait are promoting the company’s product or mission, they are interpreted in different ways amongst society, one being the idea that idea that advertisements are not always telling the truth. If newly established companies want to effectively communicate with their market, it is important for them to focus on spreading their message through marketing and click streaming, instead of clickbait and false information.

Color Psychology and Design: 

A major aspect of creating a logo is the colors used, which are decided based on a form of research known as color psychology: the study of how different colors influence people’s behavior and decision-making. In marketing, color psychology can impact how potential consumer views and forms an opinion on a particular brand. The use of color as it relates to persuasion is one of the most controversial aspects of marketing.

Colors are often chosen by companies as a way to create a personality for their brand, best suited for the product or service they are producing. However, colors are also chosen based on the psychological responses they elicit in the brain. Many people have expressed their concerns regarding the implications of colors, claiming that it is an unethical way for companies to manipulate their customers. Yet, our perception of color is heavily reliant on our individual experiences like personal taste, gender, and family upbringing.

A popular brand that is notorious for its color branding is McDonald’s. The iconic yellow “M” encased in a red box is recognizable to people of all ages, regardless of whether or not they actually eat there. Yellow is generally perceived as an eye-catching, happy color that grabs the attention of hungry, potential consumers while they are driving by an establishment. In addition, yellow is commonly associated with the feeling of home. This creates a persona for the brand; one that is family forward with a home-style approach. Consumers are thus more likely to associate eating at McDonald’s with positive experiences; and crave it on sight, increasing the company’s revenue.

Another brand that is famous for its iconic colors is Coca-Cola. This company has been around since 1886 and has built a brand around the idea of sharing experiences with friends and family. Today, this is apparent in their numerous #Shareacoke campaigns. The red used within their branding encompasses the sense of passion and excitement that is prevalent amongst the company’s campaigns and advertisements. This color is also known to be a dominant color and is associated with a range of emotions that can often be overwhelming. To make the color less overpowering, marketers pair it with a soft color to hinder the consumer from associating it with feelings of danger or caution. When picking the right color, research has shown that marketers care less about what the reaction towards a specific color is, and more about whether the color is an appropriate representation of the product or service being sold. According to a study titled “Impact of Marketing and Coloring,” 90% of rash judgments are made solely based on color. So, while color psychology does involve some subtle manipulation, the majority of the results are determined by the individual’s personal biases and experiences.

Invasion of Privacy:

In recent years, people have been unsettled by various social media platforms decision that have been invading our internet activity and tuning into our microphones and devices to strategically place ads that correspond to their interests. Almost all companies have the ability to possess personal information has become relatively quick and easy.

Voice-activated assistants, or home devices, have increased in popularity in recent years. Many consumers have claimed these home devices, such as Alexa, have not only tracked what users view on their devices but that they also listen to users’ conversations.

Devices like Amazon’s Alexa, while convenient, have become crucial components in advertising, because of the data collected by them is used in ways that lower users’ privacy. The device Alexa functions by turning on when it hears the command “Alexa,” but in order for this feature to work consistently, it must listen to its surroundings at all times. This is often not explicitly stated in advertisements for the product but can be found in the terms of agreement. Many consumers, however, rarely read these terms with any product, as they tend to be long and a confusing amount of information, much of which is very confusing to the buyer. This results in consumers missing crucial information regarding Alexa’s access to various aspects of their connected devices, such as their messages and calls.

A Google employee, who prefers to remain anonymous, has gone through Amazon’s terms and conditions and noticed some faultiness in the product. “I have seen some companies, like Amazon, sharing collected data around… on different messaging services to get additional insight on what they should produce,” the employee said. “So they might even intercept your texts and might provide additional advertisements.” Through Alexa’s constant listening feature, the company is able to listen in and gain more information through our personal conversations to individually target these ads.

Social media platforms, especially Facebook, have also used these strategies. Facebook had to address many concerns from consumers concerning why they require so much information about users’ personal lives on their website. They stated that they understand that these permissions may “sound scary” but claim there is substantial reasoning behind all the information they require. The access they demand when downloading the app is the ability to read users’ text messages, download files without permission, go through and create users’ contacts through their app Messenger as well as modify and access calendar events without the owner’s permission. A problem that many users face is the lack of knowledge they have when signing away their privacy.

Since Google has been under fire regarding their continuous intrusion over our privacy, a Google employee weighed on the companies point of view. He explains that the data gathered by these companies doesn’t actually allow for one’s personal name and location to be identified.

“Ads are based on matric systems and we are provided basic information of the consumers’ interests but none of the user’s personal data is released to everyone else,” he says. In his perspective, the different demographics of Google’s users helps provide a far more satisfactory feed. Employees at Google are determined to run their business while still keeping the privacy of their users a high priority.

Although they may not know personal identity, Our personal data is being exploited for personal promotion, which of course leaves a lot of people terrified of what information has advanced into the world web. As it becomes easier it becomes to hack, more people are trying their best to avert their data from being accessible.

To prevent companies from monitoring them through their webcam, people have invested in covers or stickers for their laptop cameras. This includes Emily Asher, a Paly junior, who finds solace knowing that her face is hidden behind a sliding webcam cover in case anybody ever gains access to her camera.

“Privacy is super important to me,” Asher said. “I started [covering my camera] because I know that if anything would have ever happened I have that sense of safety. Everything you do or say on the internet is there forever and for everyone to see.”

Additionally, Ravit Weissman, a Paly mom and a data scientist at Oath, a part of Verizon Communications Media and Telematics division, has been working in the web search industry for many years. On a daily basis, Weissman combs through data in order to create insights related to consumer experience and behavior, manages A/B testing, and develops new models for improving user experience and engagement as a method of increasing revenue.

“In recent years, the ads, and particularly targeted ads have become an integral part of the web search, as this mode seems like the most effective for monetization,” Weissman said.

The only ways to monetize websites is either through marketing or by having users pay websites each time they search for something. Most people prefer having advertisers pay for the service they are using than themselves.

“There is no free lunch,” Weissman says. “And the price, in this case, is to endure the ads and maybe even click and purchase every once in a while.”

What these services are attempting to do is provide users with the information they seek but simultaneously promote good businesses and products that the person is more inclined to support.

When users view a product, their information is stored in a web browser cookie, which is a small piece of code that allows ad networks and sites to share information on what visitors view or buy, like their browsing history and app usage. From there, data scientists, like Weissman, separate the collected data into two parts. One part consists of training data sets, which build artificial intelligence from the collected data which improve performance. The second part is testing data sets made to test new models.

Once this model is ready to deliver, the data scientists use A/B testing to see how well the new models perform and decide whether or not to launch them.

“We care a lot about user privacy,” Weissman said. Companies that use targeted ads have Data Protection Regulations in place, meaning the data they collect is encrypted and frequently deleted. Users are also given the option of browsing in a private mode. “The price they will pay is that they will get un-targeted ads,” Weissman said

Although many of these companies have good intentions when finding ways to target user’s interests, it does not excuse them from keeping consumers uneducated on what they can and cannot access. However, it seems unknown whether or not companies will attempt to use different marketing tactics as competition to stay relevant increases.


Stay Conscious: 

As our world becomes more dependent on the internet, many are afraid about the unsettling way the internet and other modern technology has adapted in efforts to maintain relevance with consumers. Although many consumers are concerned and have expressed discontent with the marketing industry and their tactics, they have come to realize that the endorsement of these products and platforms is relatively inescapable. And with this realization, they are inherently agreeing to this invasion of privacy when they accept terms and policies.