Facebooks Algorithm Hijacked This $8 Billion Company to Sell Cat Blindfolds

Over the past few months, Wish ads have dominated Facebook by hawking bizarre items like hamster leashes, giant human-sized balls of yarn, toenail extenders, mysterious car goo, and a myriad of other strange things for extremely low prices.

Thousands of these ads are displayed daily, not only on Facebook itself, but in a plethora of other apps that pull in Facebook ad inventory.

Wish ads are so unusual that theyve developed a cult following. For Wish ad connoisseurs, guessing what the products actually do has become a competitive game and a Twitter account called @WeirdWishAds documents some of the most surreal items.

Wish is an $8 billion e-commerce company similar to Amazon or Alibaba that hopes to become the next Walmart. Its competitive advantage is it offers much lower prices than its competitors by shipping direct from Chinese manufacturers. The only downside is that most items take around 14 days to arrive.

Many people have assumed that Wishs insane ads must be some type of viral marketing stunt.

edens got a conspiracy theory that the Wish app advertises weird shit so ppl will share the screenshot and alert people to Wish nd u know what i think shes right, one user tweeted in November.

But to those businesses who rely on Facebook ad inventory, Wish ads are no laughing matter.

Matt Raoul, CEO of the app Timehop, an app for viewing old photos and memories, said that his users began reporting the ads for offensive content sometime in November of this year.

Timehop is a very family friendly app, Raoul said. We have controls we set on the ads we display saying, no alcohol, no adult content, et cetera. But then we started seeing reports for these ads from this company called Wish and the ads were crazy! We couldnt believe it.

Some of Wishs more problematic ads promote products such as a penis sleeve extender, triple dildo strap-on underwear, a dog collar with a leash for women, an anall speculum, and a sweatshirt featuring the word cocaine and giant bags of the drug.

It was really embarrassing for us, Raoul said. We spend so much time worrying about what ads were showing our users and we do so much to limit them, but somehow these crazy ads got through to our users. We dont want to say no ads from Wish. Its just these particularly weird products we want to stop showing up.

But why would a seemingly straightforward e-commerce company promote such creepy and strange products? Like most things on the internet, it all boils down to the Facebook algorithm.

In February 2015 Facebook launched a new type of ad product. Unlike previous static ads, where the advertiser would have to hand select images that would be shown to users, the social networks new dynamic ads allowed companies to simply upload their entire product catalog to the platform. From there, Facebooks algorithm would choose which product to show which consumer.

Youve probably already noticed these new types of ads in your feed. The carousels are popular with big retailers like Macys and Wayfair that want to show off many products at once.

The theory goes that Facebook, with its massive mine of user data, could far more effectively target products to consumers in real time and save companies time by not forcing them to upload each image separately as a new ad. Since its launch, Facebook has used this ad format to help businesses showcase products like hotel rooms, flight options, real estate listings, cars, and more.

Wish has long been a large and dedicated advertiser on Facebook, quickly embracing new ad formats as fast as Facebook can release them.

Facebooks ad team has been blown away by how much more sophisticated Wish is as an advertiser than literally any other company, according to multiple sources, Jason Del Rey wrote in ReCode.

In 2015 alone, Wish spent around $100 million on Facebook ads and was the No. 1 advertiser on both Facebook and Instagram during the 2015 holiday season, according to app data startup Sensor Tower.

So when Wish decided to adopt Facebooks new dynamic ads this year, the company, unsurprisingly, went all in.

While Wishs competitors like Amazon or Alibaba might balk at handing massive amounts of datalet alone its full product catalogto Facebook, thats exactly what Wish did.

Wish currently has over 170 million unique products for sale, with over 9 million new products uploaded every week. When it made the transition to dynamic Facebook ads it gave Facebook access to every last one of them.

Theoretically, Facebook should have plucked out shoes on Wish and served them to shoe lovers, or pushed perfume on perfume lovers. But since Wishs catalog is so massive and Facebooks audience is so broad, some strange products bubbled their way to the surface.

Unlike the shoe or perfume ads, curious users actually clicked Wishs ads for things like plastic nostril holders or profane cuff links. According to Wish, Facebook registered this click as a positive metric and, in turn, showed the bizarre ads to more users, who were shocked, clicked and, in rare cases, actually bought them.

It was only a matter of months before things spiralled out of control. By late November, Wish had become the leading purveyor of advertising clickbait.

Its funny, Peter Szulczewski, CEO and founder of Wish, said about the ads, but its actually suboptimal for us.

If youre optimizing for clicks, people will click on these items, but its a curiosity-driven click, he said. People are just clicking on things because theyre crazy. No consumers are actually purchasing these products.

He said that he personally reviews Wishs top-selling items every day and hes never seen any of the strange products advertised on Facebook breach that group.

No one is going to buy a plastic tongue thing, he said.

Its a consequence of Facebooks ad system. Its basically rewarding high shock value items that people will click on. If we just show a garden hose or jacket, the CTR wouldnt be as high, he added.

Facebook doesnt particularly want to show these strange items either though, because ultimately they arent driving sales and some items even violate the companys guidelines.

Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson said, We review ads before they appear on Facebook to ensure they adhere to our policies. Upon further review we realized that some of the ads presented did not, so weve removed them.

Thankfully for Facebook, this issue hadnt arisen previously, because most businesses that use dynamic ads offer pretty mainstream products. Even the oddest coffee table on Wayfair is unlikely to shock a user into clicking.

Szulczewski said Wish is in the process of creating a more restricted product list to serve specifically to Facebook. Hes also been reassured by his conversations with Facebook ad executives, who he says are working on a solution to the Weird Tongue Thing problem.

Normally, when Wish chooses to serve ads for specific products, Szulczewski said, the company takes into account over a dozen metrics, including buy rate, refund rate, reviews, ratings, and more. Facebooks algorithm is simply emphasising clicks far too much.

Szulczewski said that he communicated this to Facebook and the company assured him that it is in the process of de-ranking clicks as a metric when it comes to the companys dynamic ads.

Wish ads, however, are simply the latest battlefield in Facebooks broader war against clickbait. The company has publicly struggled for years to tamp down on clickbaity editorial content in News Feed. Without restrictions, ads on the platform could eventually devolve into the type of internet chum that has clogged the broader web for years.

Because Szulczewski still does a lot of business through Facebook and credits the platform with facilitating a portion of Wishs growth, he stressed that he has no plans to abandon the worlds most visited social network, or dynamic ads, any time soon.

He also feels that, from a branding perspective, the damage done from the Weird Tongue Things will be reversible over time.

Were going to start showing things people are actually buying and people will see, he said.

Weve been around 5 years, we sell 3 million items a day, and very few of those are weird severed tongue devices or cat blinders.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/facebooks-algorithm-hijacked-this-dollar8-billion-company-to-sell-cat-blindfolds

Dove apologises for ad showing black woman turning into white one

Brand says it missed mark after being accused of racism in campaign promoting body lotion

Dove has apologised after publishing an advert on its Facebook page which showed a black woman turning into a white woman.

The brand was accused of racism over the online advertising campaign and it later admitted it had missed the mark with an image posted on Facebook.

The advert showed a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman underneath supposedly after using Dove body lotion.

Habeeb Akande (@Habeeb_Akande)

Dove apologised for ‘racist’ Facebook advert showing a black woman turning white after using @Dove lotion. pic.twitter.com/NGXyhnGuBZ

October 8, 2017

The campaign has since been removed from Facebook but was shared by Naomi Blake, an American makeup artist who goes by the name Naythemua.

So Im scrolling through Facebook and this is the #dove ad that comes up ok so what am I looking at, she wrote as the caption.

Under the post, she was asked if people would be offended if the white woman had turned into a black woman. She said: Nope, we wouldnt and thats the whole point. What does America tell black people? That we are judged by the color of our skin and that includes what is considered beautiful in this country.

She added that Doves marketing team should have known better and said the tone deafness in these companies makes no sense.

Following the removal of the advert, Dove, which is owned by Unilever, tweeted: An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offence it caused.

In a further statement Dove said: As a part of a campaign for Dove body wash, a three-second video clip was posted to the US Facebook page.

This did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened.

We have removed the post and have not published any other related content. We apologise deeply and sincerely for the offence that it has caused.

However the damage was done and the nearly 3,000 comments below the tweet were almost exclusively negative. Many social media users called for a boycott of Doves products.

A Soldier of the Art (@SelinaNBrown)

IS ENOUGH!@Dove Needs to be an example of black boycott worldwide!!!
They need to see the power of the black and brown money power

October 7, 2017

Ava DuVernay, the director of the film Selma, was one of many prominent people to criticise both the advert and the apology. She said on Twitter: You can do better than missed the mark. Flip + diminishing. Deepens your offence. You do good work. Have been for years. Do better here.

The trans model Munroe Bergdorf, who recently was at the centre of a racism row with LOreal, tweeted to say: Diversity is viewed as a buzzword or a trend. An opportunity to sell product to women of colour. Dove Do better.

Others pointed out this was not the first time the company has been accused of racism. In 2011 Doves before-and-after advert charted the transition of a black woman to a white woman after using its body wash.

Keith Boykin (@keithboykin)

Okay, Dove…
One racist ad makes you suspect.
Two racist ads makes you kinda guilty. pic.twitter.com/hAwNCN84h2

October 8, 2017

At the time, Dove said in a statement: All three women are intended to demonstrate the after product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/08/dove-apologises-for-ad-showing-black-woman-turning-into-white-one

Herschell Gordon Lewis: low-brow schlock horror director with a kind of horrible genius

Lewis was the master of bargain-basement splatter without whom we would not have the likes of Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino

One of the most extraordinary figures in the history of popular American moviegoing has departed the stage: film director Herschell Gordon Lewis was the godfather of gore and the sultan of splatter who in the 1960s energetically pushed the envelope of bad taste with low-cost, low-brow schlock-horror exploitation pictures. Lots of blood, lots of screaming, lots of nudity and lots of money.

Photograph: Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

But he was more than just this. Lewis was a sort of cross between Ed Wood Jr, Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, Dale Carnegie and maybe even Bernie Madoff. Because as well as being a conveyor-belt of trash movies, Lewis was a formidable and unnervingly driven entrepreneur and compulsive wheeler-dealer who did three years jail time in the 1970s for fraud, having conned people through crooked schemes, like a fake car rental company and incredibly a phoney abortion referral service, and for (nearly) all these services he borrowed money from the bank using as collateral the cinemas of which he claimed to be the un-mortgaged owner. It was a breathtaking and crazy illegality, but nothing dented his almost sociopathic self-belief and work ethic. He cranked out dozens of books on direct marketing and salesmanship and to the end of his life kept his focus on this, producing how-to guides on making money from the web. In fact, he may well have seen in the internet the same kind of wild-west, anything-goes spirit that drove him in his film-making heyday.

Lewis came into low-budget movie-making in Chicago from a flourishing career in ad copywriting. After his softcore nudist-camp smutfests like Goldilocks and the Three Bares, Lewis found his true vocation in bargain-basement horror with his pioneering splatter film Blood Feast in 1963, about a cannibalistic caterer who kills women so that he can offer up their cooked remains in horrendous occult rituals. Lewis actually made a sequel in 2002 entitled Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat a title which had a kind of horrible genius. John Waters was always a fan.

Photograph: Everett/REX/Shutterstock

After this, Lewis created A Taste of Blood and The Gruesome Twosome, which cemented his own cult reputation, and he was a master of films which appeared to have been created simply to justify the existence of outrageous titles and delirious posters: The Gore Gore Girls (aka Blood Orgy); Monster A Go-Go; Just for the Hell of It; Bell, Bare and Beautiful; The Ecstasies of Women; Alley Tramp; Sin, Suffer, Repent.

After his brush with the law, Lewis turned his hand to direct marketing and his book titles have a very similar gamey spirit to his mould-breaking splatter: Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings (surely inspired by his masterpiece Blood Feast?), Sales Letters That Sizzle, and Open Me Now.

Lewis was a one-off, although perhaps his career is maybe a lesson in the fact that cinema has its origins in hucksterism and the fairground tent. But without Lewis, there would be no Robert Rodriguez, no Quentin Tarantino. Respectable cinema entertainment is Dr Jekyll; Herschell Gordon Lewis was its Mr Hyde.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2016/sep/26/herschell-gordon-lewis-schlock-horror-director-blood-feast