TIME Companies

Facebook Will Remove ‘Overly Promotional’ Posts From News Feed

Paid ads are still fair game, however

Facebook will reduce the volume of promotional material that appears in users’ news feeds beginning early next year, the company announced Friday.

“Our goal with News Feed has always been to show people the things they want to see,” said a statement on the company’s site. “People told us they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content.”

The effort will target promotional material posted by pages that a user likes, but not paid advertisements. The company said it would target three types of posts placed on the pages of companies and products: “posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app,” “posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context” and “posts that reuse the exact same content from ads.”

Facebook said that most pages will not be affected by the change, but provided a guide so that businesses with pages can adapt to the change. The move will force businesses to pay to reach Facebook’s 1.35 billion monthly active users and follows a previous News Feed tweak in September aimed at showing users more timely stories shared by their friends.

TIME celebrity

Anna Kendrick Makes Getting Locked Out Look Like Fun

The actress, who will play Cinderella in the movie Into The Woods, uses her Kate Spade shopping haul to kill time while she waits

Anna Kendrick, star of Pitch Perfect and Up in the Air, knows how to have fun, even when she’s locked out of her apartment. In a new ad for Kate Spade, the actress checks out her purchases while she waits to get back in. She tries on new clothes from the designer, chats on the phone and sips champagne with a straw. Finally, when she’s had enough, she uses the Kate Spade clothes to build a rope to access the fire escape.

TIME Advertising

Watch AirBnB’s Touching Berlin Wall Anniversary Story

The Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989

You know communism is really dead when the Berlin Wall is being used to advertise AirBnB, the site that allows people to rent out their homes and apartments. But the 75-second ad, which marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, is surprisingly touching.

Wall and Chain” is the story of an old man, Jörg, who served as a guard on the West side of the wall many years ago. He’s haunted by his experience, until his daughter Cathrine takes him back to Berlin to visit his old home. When they meet their AirBnB host, Kai, they find out that he was once a guard on the East side of the wall, and Jörg is finally able to let go of his past. And while few other companies saw an advertising opportunity in the dark past of a divided city, AirBnB was able to turn history into a heartwarming animated short.

(MORE: See an interactive timeline of the Berlin wall)


TIME Advertising

See How Facebook Sold Advertising Space Back in 2005

When way less than one-sixth of humankind used Facebook

One of the original 10 Facebook employees shared this week a glimpse into the social media giant’s early years: a pitch deck sent to advertisers back when the company was called TheFaceBook.

The document, dated April 18, 2005, focuses on how the 14-month-old company TheFaceBook plans to advertise Starbucks DoubleShot. The pitch says they’ll target college students—only students with a “.edu” e-mail could use TheFaceBook then—whose profiles contained keywords like “coffee” or “snowboarding,” the roots of a strategy that’s the reason why Facebook’s ads are now so eerily personalized. There was also room for old-school banner ads.

The pitch also reminds us just how fast Facebook has grown during its 10-year history. The document reports only 1.9 million monthly unique visitors, while Facebook said as of Sept. 30, 2014 it has 1.35 billion monthly active users, which is about one-sixth of the world’s population.

TIME Advertising

Turkish Company Accidentally Features 9/11 Terrorist in Hair Removal Ad

"We featured him for his hair, not terrorism"

A Turkish cosmetics company is defending itself after it accidentally used a picture of a former al-Qaeda leader in a hair removal ad.

The ad features a chest-up image of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as the “principal architect” of the 9/11 attacks, alongside Turkish words that translate to “The hair will not go away because you keep waiting!” according to Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey’s oldest English-language daily.

“We didn’t know that he was a terrorist. This image is in popular use in Turkish memes on the Internet. The guy is quite hairy, so we thought his body was a good fit for our ad,” a spokeswoman for the company told Hurriyet. “We didn’t want to imply anything political. We didn’t know that it could become an international story. I repeat: We featured him for his hair, not terrorism.”

The spokeswoman said the company had discovered the memes using Mohammed on an online community website similar to 4chan. The photo had circulated around the Internet after its release by the U.S. government in 2003 when Mohammed was captured, according to Vox.

[Hurriyet Daily News]

MONEY privacy

Verizon and AT&T Snooping on Customers’ Web Activity

Verizon Wireless store
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

AT&T and Verizon are tracking their customers' web habits using undeletable "supercookies."

Verizon and AT&T are tracking the online activity of over 100 million mobile customers, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and multiple news outlets.

Both services are inserting a special code—dubbed a “supercookie”—into their networks’ cellular web traffic. This code is then used to track the browsing habits of customers; in Verizon’s case, it is also used to help marketing companies send mobile users targeted ads.

The Washington Post reports that Verizon has been tracking its 106 million retail customers (those without business or government contracts) since 2012. AT&T is testing a similar tracking system for advertising purposes. Customers can check if their web activity is being tracked using tools such as AmIBeingTracked.com.

Companies like Google and Facebook have long used cookies, numerical identifiers that travel with users between sites, to track their customers’ activity and send relevant advertising. But the extent of Verizon and AT&T’s snooping appears unprecedented. Unlike normal cookies, the so-called supercookies cannot be deleted by clearing browser data, and because the markers are added by the carrier at the network level, customers are tracked no matter which sites they visit.

Worse, privacy advocates say, the networks’ supercookies are shared with all unencrypted websites the user visits, making it possible for websites to piggyback on Verizon’s perma-cookie and reassign their own tracking mechanisms, effectively making normal cookies stronger.

Verizon says it is allowing users to opt out of the program (using this link) and that it has taken steps to notify customers of the tracking. But according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, opting out of the program doesn’t actually disable the supercookie, it just means Verizon won’t share its tracking information with advertisers. That means third-party websites can still use the company’s unremovable cookie for their own tracking purposes.

A Verizon spokeswoman noted that the company changes its cookie’s identifier frequently to prevent exactly this type of piggybacking, but she declined to say how often the cookie changes (AT&T revalues its cookie once per day). EFF points out that ad networks can use their own less-powerful cookies to connect Verizon’s old and new identifiers together.

The carriers’ tracking methods are also worrying because they ignore browsers’ Do Not Track setting, which is meant to give users an easy way to opt out of surveillance. Critics contend they may even be against the law. The Post cites potential violation of the federal Wiretap Act, which “prohibits altering personal communications during transmission without consent or a court order.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is also considering suing the carriers for violating the Communications Act, which says carriers cannot reveal identifying information about their customers.

TIME Advertising

Those Matthew McConaughey Lincoln Ads Might Just Have Worked

Lincoln says sales were up 25% in October

Lincoln Motors had an alright, alright, alright October. The company announced its best sales for the month of October since 2007 — and it may have Matthew McConaughey to thank for the boost.

The Interstellar actor, who starred in advertisements for the MKC crossover SUV, possibly helped Lincoln’s overall sales last month go up 25 percent, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Of the 8,883 vehicles sold last month, 2,197 were MKCs.

Car sales go up and down based on a number of factors, of course, though sales for this particular model reportedly spiked after the television spots — and the resulting parodies of them by Jim Carrey (on Saturday Night Live), Ellen DeGeneres and Conan O’Brien — began airing this fall.


MONEY Shopping

Retailers Are Launching Black Friday Sales the Day After Halloween

Customers shop at a Walmart store in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles November 26, 2013. This year, Black Friday starts earlier than ever.
Customers shopping at a Walmart store on Black Friday 2013. Kevork Djansezian—Reuters

Drop the trick-or-treat bag and commence holiday shopping. That's the scenario retailers are hoping for this season, and they're using big sales starting November 1 to make it happen.

There are plenty of Americans who hate the decision made by retailers to roll out Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Thursday. Part of the disgust with stores like Macy’s—and more recently, Kohl’s and Staples—which are opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, is the idea that they’re ruining what was once a blissfully shopping-free holiday.

There is a sizable portion of the population that is also turned off in general by “Christmas creep,” the relentless expansion of the most promotion-heavy, consumerism-crazed of seasons. Kmart has started airing Christmas ads within days of Labor Day weekend for the past two years, and retailers have gotten into the habit of introducing “Black Friday” sales not on the Friday after Thanksgiving, nor on Thanksgiving itself, but often a full week earlier.

For 2014, retailers are pushing Christmas creep to extraordinary new levels, now that Amazon, Walmart, and others have just announced Black Friday-like holiday sales and promotions starting the day after Halloween. Essentially, retailers are asking consumers to shift from orange-and-green spending to green-and-red spending overnight. They want us to go shopping the moment trick-or-treating is done, before there’s even a chance to pack costumes and ghoulish decorations away until next year.

Naturally, many consumers are reluctant to embrace the holiday shopping mentality so early and so abruptly. To get them on board, major retailers are launching sales that they claim are every bit as good as Black Friday’s, only they’re starting them on Saturday, November 1. Amazon, for instance, is calling November 1 “the official start of the holiday shopping season,” with sales on toys, electronics, and other gift items popping up daily beginning on Saturday and picking up the pace as each week passes. Walmart says it is introducing “Rollback” prices on 20,000 items as of November 1, including plenty of popular holiday gifts (Disney “Frozen” toys, Samsung electronics, etc.), and on Monday, November 3, walmart.com is hosting a “cyber savings event” with discounts and free shipping on select items. (Yes, it’s not just Black Friday that’s being imitated and multiplied; stores are doing it with Cyber Monday as well.)

Meanwhile, Target started offering free, no-minimum-purchase shipping for the holiday season one week ago, Office Depot begins “early Black Friday” and “Every Day is Cyber Monday” deals as early as this Sunday, and other players such as QVC promise “better than Black Friday” sales throughout November.

On the one hand, smart shoppers are aware that these early season promotions are likely ploys to get shoppers to pay more than they would have by waiting for even better prices on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or some later day in the season. Considering that retailers overuse the term “Black Friday” to the point of meaninglessness, and that many early season promotions are underwhelming considering the 40%- or 50%-off deals shoppers have come to expect during the holidays, this is surely part of the game.

Yet there’s more to it. Retailers aren’t simply trying to sell merchandise for slightly more money than they’d charge a couple of weeks down the line. More importantly, they’re engaged in a battle to beat the competition and win the business of consumers as early as possible. After all, we’re talking about the shopping dollars of households that, more often than, are suffering from stagnant wages and are operating on limited budgets. Once the holiday gift budget is blown, that’s it for the season whether the household’s holiday shopping is done on November 2 or December 24.

Last week, Bill Martin of the store-traffic research firm ShopperTrak spoke to the Minneapolis StarTribune about why stores are increasingly feeling compelled to open on Thanksgiving, and his insights explain a lot about why retailers are hell-bent on pushing for earlier and earlier shopping in general:

“Retailers say that consumers are clamoring for them to be open on Thanksgiving, but that’s not the case,” he said. “They’re just attempting to get to the wallet before the money is gone. That’s what this holiday creep is all about.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why stores aren’t giving shoppers even a brief moment’s pause between Halloween promotions and Christmas promotions. If retailers took a break and actually allowed consumers time to digest some candy, and perhaps even allowed the weather to start feeling wintery before rolling out winter holiday deals, they run the risk of losing out on tons of sales snagged by competitors that beat them to the punch with early season sales—however absurdly early these sales may seem.

TIME Advertising

These Are the 6 Curse Words You Can Say in British Advertising

The Union flag is seen flapping in the wind in front of one of the faces of the Great Clock atop the landmark Elizabeth Tower that houses Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament. Justin Tallis—AFP/Getty Images

And how they compare to U.S. rules

A United Kingdom advertising authority recently gave the country’s businesses a refresher on which words are kosher to use in advertisements.

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) updated its guidelines this month on offensive language in non-broadcast ads, but the CAP emphasizes that its recommendation on language “does not constitute legal advice.”

Here’s what’s been given the OK in the U.K.:

  • “Bloody,” “shag,” “slag,” “piss,” “pee,” and “balls” are acceptable when targeted appropriately
  • Subtle word play like “Give a fork about your pork”

Here’s what hasn’t:

  • “Fu—k” and “cu—t” should generally not be used in marketing communications as they are very likely to offend
  • Double entendres suggesting offensive concepts are unacceptable, and banned examples include “Poker in the front . . . Liquor in the rear” and “The Sofa King — Where the Prices are Sofa King Low!”

The only set-in-stone rule is that “advertisements should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offense,” and that compliance with the code is judged on context, according to the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority, which administers CAP’s guidelines. As a result, ads banned for offensive content are mostly done so after they’ve aired.

Stateside, it’s a similar story but without specific recommendations. Broadcast advertisements are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which bars obscene, indecent and profane content. Profanity is defined as “language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance,” according to the FCC’s guidelines. Like in the U.K., the FCC welcomes public complaints, but offensive ads are removed only after complaints.

That doesn’t meant that U.S. advertisers aren’t allowed to flirt with language that may be somewhat profane, though. Advertisers are now using more daring language as a means to attract younger audiences, according to the New York Times. Here are two ads that just made the cut:

Fun stuff!


This Ridiculously Romantic Ad Aims to End Divorce

A Chinese shampoo commercial doubles as a pitch for couples to stay together

In today’s overly ambitious advertising era, a shampoo ad that merely touts its ability to combat split ends is severely lacking. Rather, haircare marketers must also aim to end sexism in the workplace and, according to a new Chinese spot, divorce.

Leo Burnett Hong Kong created a commercial for Procter & Gamble’s Rejoice shampoo that acts as a marriage counselor. The four-and-a-half minute long ad, which the ad agency claims has been viewed 40 million times in a month, follows a couple on the brink of divorce. But the wife (who, if we may, has some great hair going on) will only sign the papers under one condition: Her husband must agree to hug her every day for a month.

Thus begins a rom-com (minus the com) in which the wife makes her husband travel to different landmarks from their relationship — where he proposed, where they shared a first kiss, where they met — and asks for that hug. While there are no scenes of hair-washing prior to their encounters, things escalate on the husband’s end from wistful hair stroking to full-on hair smelling.

You can probably guess how things end. (Hint: The official hashtag for the campaign is #IBelieveInLoveAgain).

The spot is cinematographically beautiful and acts public service announcement of sorts. Rejoice claims that of 3 million Chinese couples who divorced last year, 100,000 reconciled.

We wonder if any of them had stringy hair.

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