Idiots Selling Garbage: TikTok's Latest Commerce Obsession

Plus: Meta removes even more targeting interests. Will all campaigns be one giant broad bucket one day?

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In Today's Issue

Meta to Remove More Interests. RIP Micromanaging.

These are the topics that you can choose when setting up an ad campaign — things like football or incense or horror films.

But as Meta, and the marketing industry as a whole, leans even further into machine learning, these manual tweaks continue to be taken away.

This time, though, we don’t know which specific interests, other than what Meta calls topics that “people may perceive as sensitive” and are related to health, race, or ethnicity.

Starting January 15, 2024, we’re removing or consolidating some detailed targeting options that relate to topics people may perceive as sensitive.

Existing ad sets with impacted targeting options will continue to run until March 18 2024, but will require you to update your targeting selections.

After this date, we will stop delivering ads to the discontinued detailed targeting options, and impacted ad sets may be paused.

While interests targeting was the norm for many advertisers, most have pivoted away from many narrowly defined audiences into a simpler collection of broad audiences.

And while this might help avoid misuse, it doesn’t completely eliminate the risk.

For example, while you can’t target people based on race, you can target users residing in certain regions, which some would suggest could lead to, effectively, the same result.

Given this, there’s no way for Meta to fully remove all forms of questionable audience targeting, while over time, Meta has also continued to improve its automated ad targeting tools, to the point where giving advertisers more manual options is actually, often, more restrictive.

I personally miss the days when you could use Meta’s ad platform recreationally — in case you were curious how many single British grandmothers liked Chuck Norris, you could get an answer. In my experience that target group: Not particularly profitable. 😉 

How do you feel about fewer targeting interests?

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Video Marketing Is (Still) All About the Seconds

You’ve heard it before, and now there’s new data to remind you — the first few seconds of your brand’s video ad are the most critical.

TikTok this week released data from a study it did with MediaScience. They found that 50% of the impact from a TikTok ad happens in the first two seconds.

As for the first six seconds: that captures 90% cumulative impact on Ad Recall, and 80% cumulative impact on brand awareness.


Ads have a greater impact and are viewed longer when they are placed next to popular, relevant content, regardless of the platform...

For instance, when placed alongside trending content, the same ad becomes more relevant to viewers, enhancing its effectiveness, increasing purchase intent by 9%.

Chrome Users Are Worth Less: Study

We are beginning to see the effects of Google’s slow removal of tracking cookies from its Chrome browser.

And an interesting piece today in Gizmodo says it may be damaging to the ad revenues that some web sites rely on:

According to Raptive, an ad tech firm, Google’s new cookieless users are bringing in a whopping 30% less revenue. What’s really surprising, however, is that Raptive thinks that’s good news.

“If you had asked me a week ago what I thought the numbers could be, I would have said cookieless users would perform 50% worse, so I’m optimistic,” said Paul Bannister, Chief Strategy Officer at Raptive. “The goal is to design a system to increase privacy and also help publishers keep making money, and a 30% drop in monetization feels like a hill that can be climbed.”

The problem is cookies are one of the primary ways that information is collected and shared on the web. Without cookies, it’s hard for websites to tell the ad system much more than “there’s a person here reading this really cool article.”

Advertisers aren’t willing to pay as much for random internet users, so every time the page loads for a cookieless Chrome user, it’s bringing in less money than it might have before.

Microsoft’s New AI-Based Retail Ad Platform

Microsoft has launched a new site called the Retail Media Creative Studio, and it contains an AI tool capable of generating ads in their entirety based just on a product sales page.

You can then customize its output, using text prompts like “make the couch brighter” or “the perfume bottle should be bigger.” Microsoft says its AI will try its best to stick to your style guide if you have one.

Even more interestingly, the company says its AI is generating things based on its understanding of what works best in the ad market.

Once the banner ad campaign goes live, Microsoft Retail Media also leverages AI-powered algorithms to choose and display the most effective banner creative based on key performance metrics such as click-through rates (CTRs) and sales conversion rates.

With AI-driven optimization, advertisers can improve banner campaign performance without spending time running A/B testing.

By the way, if you’re wondering where Microsoft’s once hyped PromoteIQ tool went, that actually is Microsoft Retail Media now — the company just rebranded it.

Would you trust AI to create the entire ad, including creative and campaign setup?

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YouTube Updates its Livestreaming Features

A bunch of nice updates at YouTube for marketers who use their live broadcasting service for things like product reveals or corporate events.

Channel moderators can now see the history of a user’s previous chats and past moderation activity during a livestream. That includes deleted chats, timeouts, hides, etc. as well as messages from the last 30 days. This is something that the livestreaming platform Twitch has had for some time.

If you have a podcast, you can now ingest your existing audio RSS feed directly inside Creator Studio. That means you can take all your past episodes and make them available in YouTube and YouTube Music. Old episodes won’t flood your subscribers with notifications, but new episodes will send out alerts just like any new long-form upload.

The company reminded people in its update today that it has a pretty robust content discovery system:

If someone is watching another video on a topic you cover in your podcast, there’s a chance your video will be suggested alongside it, or recommended right on their home page.

Finally, if you have a long-form video you want to turn into a vertical Short, the company has released a new workflow to change the layout more easily. You can crop, zoom, and stack your videos so they’re more consumable on mobile. This feature is more aimed at livestreaming gamers who rely on Shorts to promote their channels.

TRIVIA: What percentage of YouTube users are male?

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39%  |  45%  |  54%  |  59%

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Instagram’s New Focus on Teen Engagement

We are beginning to see what priorities Instagram is focusing on for the year ahead — and, according to reporting today from The Information, that focus will be threefold: Creation, Creators, and Friend Sharing.

And that trifecta aimed specifically at teens.

With the new lineup, priority will be given to supporting the creators who are most likely to drive teen engagement on the app…

Instagram’s investment in helping creators make money on the platform will also be focused on efforts that have the most sway with teens…

The fact that Instagram wants staff focused on the creators who keep teens glued to the app isn’t exactly surprising. But it is notable, given the external tumult surrounding the app going into 2024—particularly around how Instagram handles youth-safety issues. 

Meta is facing a lawsuit alleging it designed its products to addict teenagers. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to testify in the U.S. Senate this month about its response to online child exploitation.

Threads and Mastodon to Soon Interoperate

If your brand was one of the many that left X, formerly Twitter, you may have not known where do set up shop instead.

  • There’s BlueSky, which is actually a Twitter spinoff, fronted by former CEO Jack Dorsey. It’s gotten some traction, but not a tonne of brand attention.

  • There’s Mastodon, which is a pretty solid social network — no ads, no algorithm, no “suggested posts” but some people found the initial setup to be confusing.

  • And there’s Threads — Meta’s upstart. This is where most defecting brands seem to have gone. And while there are no ads there now, of course there will be, along with all the usual Meta issues like accounts being automatically banned for no reason and with no appeal.

But soon, that decision will be made a little easier.

Mastodon operates using a network protocol called ActivityPub. Any other web sites that uses that protocol can operate interchangeably with it. And Threads is building that connection out.

It already works with a handful of Threads accounts, but now Techcrunch reports the two sites will be fully connected by the end of the year.

What that means is that if you set your brand up on Mastodon, people who use Meta’s Threads app will be able to follow your account, interact with you, reply, like, repost, and so on.

Other questions remained unresolved at this time — like whether Threads would surface third-party Mastodon content in its algorithmic feed, whether it would ultimately allow for algorithmic choice, whether Mastodon content would be made to appear visually differentiated from Threads’ content in some way, and more.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg believed that Threads should be “totally open” — essentially, that his view was that open was the future of social networking.

[This might explain why] Meta may be pursuing this — perhaps to thwart coming regulation or to take over Twitter/X’s place in the zeitgeist as new owner Elon Musk turns it into an everyday app, potentially diluting its value as a fast-breaking news network and home to conversations. But it could also be that Zuckerberg is simply foretelling where the direction of the web is going.

We are active on both platforms:

Where is your brand?

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TikTok Shop is Hard-Pushing Literal Junk

Finally, if you’ve noticed your "For You" page on TikTok has become an endless stream of TikTok Shop posts and livestreams selling all sorts of nonsense, you’re not the only one.

The app is obviously doubling down on its commerce play, and — for American users, at least — jamming the app with people selling things.

And as Business Insider noted today, so far it’s a pretty good deal for sellers:

TikTok has been subsidizing massive discounts and free shipping to woo customers, making it a great deal for sellers and buyers.

Even sellers have noticed how Shop content seems to get boosted — one creator told BI that a post with a Shop link got almost a million views while her normal posts got only 2,000 to 3,000 views.

Shop posts are all over your TikTok feed now — for better or worse. And unlike the regular FYP, which has an uncanny ability to predict what content you'll love, the TikTok Shop has a way of showing you stuff you don't love.

One writer at New York Magazine, John Herrman, tested it out from the seller’s side to see if it would promote literal junk.

He signed up as a seller and listed a single item — a used mechanical pencil that he happened to have on his desk, for $1.

Then, he started a livestream to sell this used pencil — and the incredibly banal livestream got more than 1,200 viewers.

He writes:

“I had intended to broadcast to an audience of about three; in the end, my grueling stream for a worthless product reached more than 1,200 people and was "liked" by 157 of them. According to my account dashboard, this was an outlier experience, and my stream got more views than 99 percent of streams from accounts with similar (that is: basically no) followers — I strongly suspect that the reason the stream got an audience is that I was selling something — that I was using e-commerce features the company was trying really hard to promote, and that it rewards its users for trying.”

He notes that many of those viewers seemed to have gotten a notification in their inbox that he had gone live. (They didn't even follow him!)

Herrman was selling a piece of garbage, had almost no followers, and was doing a really boring livestream. This was a terrible experience for anyone who happened to scroll past it or get alerted.

And yet, TikTok appeared to promote it heavily.

So… progress, I guess?

TRIVIA: What was TikTok's engagement rate for micro-influencers (less than 15K followers) as of 2024?

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