Please Extinguish Your Ad Blockers at This Time and Return To Your Seat

Will consumers consider more personalized travel ads creepy, or a "fulfilling travel experience"?

I’ll be out of town Monday and Tuesday for a medical appointment, so the next issue will be Wednesday. Have a restful weekend!

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In Today’s Issue:

✈️ United plans to deliver targeted ads to passengers' seatback TVs.

🐛 Google Ads bug falsely alerts advertisers of ad account suspensions.

🔍 Google’s search engine core update is still rolling out, weeks later

📰 Elon Musk reverses decision and restores article headlines on X (sort of)

🎥 Instagram enables global download of public Reels, includes watermark.

🎮 Ubisoft attributes in-game pop-up ads in Assassin's Creed to a “technical error.” And nobody believes them.

Targeted Ads Coming to Airplane Seats

Personalized, targeted ads are almost everywhere. They’re baked into nearly ad platform. In fact, consumers have to manually opt-out if they don’t want their personal data used for ads — if the platform even lets them.

But there are a few places left where the ads are still gloriously broad.

Take airplanes, for instance. We all know we’ll be subjected to five minutes of ads on the seatback screen in front of us, but at least it’s not targeting us specifically, right?

(Can you see where I’m going here?)

According to a report this week in the Wall Street Journal, United Airlines is now working on seatback ads that are specific to the people watching.

It might make it possible for an advertiser—such as an entertainment company—to recommend one of its movies to a passenger who United knows occasionally vacations near the company’s theme parks and recently redeemed miles for merchandise from that company, according to a presentation…

It’s already happening in hotels.

Turns out, this expansion into personalized ads has been quietly happening throughout the travel industry.

Last year, Marriott opened up an ad platform letting brands buy targeted ads that show up on TV sets in the rooms. If the company knows you frequently book accessible rooms, you could see an ad for a wheelchair cushion brand.

In a news release at the time, Marriott somewhat hilariously said it believed pushing more ads in more places gives consumers “a more fulfilling travel experience.”

The hotel conglomerate which owns — and this is only a slight exaggeration — every hotel brand on the planet now, has 164 million members in its loyalty program.

Preventing the creepy factor

At United, apparently the work being done by the ad team there is to figure out how to pull off the personalized ad messages without crossing the creepy line. The company said customers would be allowed to opt out, at least to the extent that privacy legislation requires of it.

Google Bug Claims Ad Accounts Were Suspended

Hours into one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year, Google has disabled your ads and suspended your ad account. Or did they?

Media buyers started reporting late Wednesday that they were getting emails from Google’s Merchant Center saying:

Media buyer Kirk Williams posted on social media:

Was it a phishing attempt? Nope, the emails did come from Google.

Except it was a bug, the company says — albeit a horribly timed one. This morning the Google Ads Liaison confirmed the report saying:

And you thought you were having a bad day.

Google’s November Core Update Still Not Fully In Place Yet

Speaking of complicated Google systems, reports say that Google’s November 2023 core update and its reviews update are still being rolled out, weeks after they were launched.

Normally these updates finish about two weeks after they start but now the core update is 22 days since it started and the reviews update is now 16 days since it rolled out.

I believe this is now the longest-running core update since Google started to talk about core updates.

Barry Schwartz,

Google search engineer John Mueller, who is pretty active on Mastodon, was asked by an SEO person when the update would complete, and Mueller politely punted on the question, saying:

SEO people generally prefer to know when rollouts are complete, as that’s one signal they use to mark a period of results stability.

X to Restore Link Previews. (Sort of.)

Here’s the score, in case you’re keeping count: Everyone on the planet 1, Elon Musk 0.

This week, Musk announced that he’s reversing his earlier edict that removed headlines for links posted on X.

Web link previews shared on social media have looked the same forever — an image pulled from the meta, the page title, and sometimes the meta description. Elon’s version did away with everything except the image and a tiny domain name in the corner.

The resulting links looked terrible, made things much more confusing, and were the bane of social media content managers.

But Musk, never one to admit defeat, says he’s still not giving the people regular link previews back. No, it’ll still have just the image, but now the page’s title will be overlaid. Certainly an improvement over the current version.

Musk says he made the change for aesthetic reasons, but pretty much anyone with a marketing background knows the real reason: Posts that take up less vertical space on the feed provide more room for ads.

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Now Anyone Will Be Able to Download Your Brand’s Instagram Reels

Social media platforms have always been careful about what content they let people share, and how. That Share button on mobile apps like Instagram and Facebook don’t go to your phone’s actual share sheet, they first go to a curated list of places they’d rather you share that content to — usually, still on their own platform.

But TikTok turned that thinking on its head when it made it possible — easy, even — for people to download any TikTok they find and save it directly to their phone. That downloaded video got a TikTok watermark burned into it, but the download made it easy to share the video anywhere else.

And share, people did. On Instagram. On Snapchat. Hell, 80% of Reddit these days is just reposts from TikTok.

These shared TikTok videos became so much a problem for Instagram that the platform slashed reach and discoverability for content where it found the TikTok watermark.

Now, Instagram says all users globally can now download public Reels to their devices. And yes, they’re going to slap a watermark on them too. (Until now, you could only save Reels to the Instagram app.)

  • If your brand posts Reels and you’re a little squeamish about this, you can turn this ability off — go to Settings > Privacy > Reels and Remix and tap the “Allow people to download your Reels” option.

  • If your brand posts Reels and you’re excited by this, be aware that any of your videos that use commercial music will be muted when people download them.

This is something that’s been in wide testing in the U.S. for some time; it’s now rolling out globally.

Video Game Company Claims Full-Screen Ads Was an Accident (and Literally Nobody Believes Them)

Some gamers this week were in the middle of playing through the Ubisoft game Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (which, I think, is the best Assassin’s Creed game in the series).

This is not a multiplayer game. This is one of those “download the whole thing to your PC or console, then play it” kind of games. It cost $70 when it came out.

But that didn’t stop Ubisoft from barfing out a full-screen ad for their newest game when players went to access the game map. Usually, you’d see a map of the world you’re in, with nearby locations. But instead, gamers got a huge ad promoting a sale on Assassin’s Creed Mirage (which — and I know this isn’t a gaming podcast, but is anyone else having a hard time getting into the story?)

An Ubisoft spokesperson told The Verge that the bug was a “technical error,” which I guess is their way of saying “A/B Test.”

We can’t imagine the game suddenly became sentient and started adding its own Black Friday pop-up ads to promote Ubisoft’s latest versions of Assassin’s Creed.

Someone at Ubisoft had to code this into the game specifically for the sale this week.

Either way, one thing is clear — you might have beaten the Boss Fight. But in the end, the accountants always win.


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