Data Management


Amazon and Apple’s ‘Tough Slog’ on Madison Avenue

Amazon and Apple just can’tseem to catch a break with the advertising elite on Madison Avenue. Infact, advertising sales are a “tough slog” forboth companies, mourns a feature in the latest Advertising Age. The problem? Apple and Amazon won’t reveal enoughinformation about their customers.

This is the best news I’ve heard all year. In fact, it just reinforcesmy loyalty to both Amazon and Apple.

Meanwhile, it also shows how other industries utterly fail tounderstand the core of two powerhouse organizations. They seem to belooking at what they want Apple and Amazon to provide — wanting thesecompanies to change to fit their needs, rather than embracing whatAmazon and Apple can offer, which, let’s face it, is millions ofloyal, active consumers who repeatedly spend money on a qualityexperience.

“The lack of data both companies deliver is frustrating for marketers because these notoriously opaque giants sit atop incredible troves of information about what consumers actually buy andlike, as well as who they are and where they live,” wrote Kate Kaye.

Pretty Is as Pretty Does

One person familiar with the situation — thankfully not directlynamed or quoted — said that “Apple’s refusal to share data makes it the best-looking girl at the party, forced to wear a bag over her head.”

There are so many things wrong with this statement, I don’t know where to start.

How about this? If Apple were a girl, she wouldn’t stand around a witha bag on her head, much less ever let anyone force said bag upon her.Meanwhile, the person behind the statement doesn’t even realize thatif Apple showed up at the party at all, it would be to invite people over toa different party on the beach — a place where customers wouldn’t feel as iftheir secret desires and private lives had been bartered and sold allthe while they were being groped in an attempt to find their wallets.

As for Amazon, he’s the ruggedly handsome guy on the beach, buildingup the fire and setting up the coolers full of beer.

Let me put this another way: I don’t believe that Amazon or Appleactually want a piece of today’s advertising world. More to the point,I think they are willing to be part of it only to guideothers to a place where everyone has a good time and noone is a bag-wearing object of misguided lust.

Back in 2010, when Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s iAdsoffering, he pointed out that most mobile advertising “sucked.” iAdsclearly was an attempt to make it better.

For its part, Amazon wasworried that advertising would be disruptive to the consumerexperience, itsadvertising lead, Lisa Utzschneider, reportedly noted. What’s to love about this statement? That the challenge tointegrate ads started from the customer experience, and nota treasure chest map with a path that trampled all over Amazon’s loyalcustomers.

Amazon and Apple Aren’t Ad Needy

Fortunately, Apple and Amazon can remain negligible digitaladvertising players because they don’t need to feed at Madison Ave’sparty trough: Apple’s US$258 million in ad revenue in 2013 is a tinyfraction of 1 percent of Apple’s $171 billion in revenue for theyear. Even if Apple quadruples that in 2014, it’s negligible toApple’s bottom line. Bag indeed.

Advertising for Amazon is marginally more lucrative, bringing in $614million to add to Amazon’s nearly $75 billion take for the year –still less than 1 percent.

During the same year, Google reportedly picked up $17 billion inadvertising spend on nearly $60 billion of revenue, while Facebookgrabbed $3.2 billion as part of its nearly $8 billion take. If I readthese numbers, they tell me one thing: Google and Facebook relyheavily on advertising spend — so who is their real customer? You? Theend user? No way. Their key customers are advertisers.

For good orevil, this introduces a layer between you and your relationship withGoogle or Facebook and how they manage their relationship with you and thedata they create to describe, predict and influence your behavior.

Lusting After Apple and Amazon Data

Data is at the heart of the misunderstanding with Madison Avenue,which must not be able to look in the mirror and recognize the patternof “suckiness” that Jobs saw back in 2010.

Because Apple doesn’t track its users and ads with cookies, adagencies can’t do “automated buys via their cookie-centric tradingdesks, which allow them to mesh lots of data from different sources,” Kaye observed.

Perfect! This is exactly what I want from Apple — and moreimportantly, this is exactly what Apple likely doesn’t want: thelowest common denominator ad that is seen everywhere else. It’s whyApple doesn’t appreciate apps created specifically to look and runexactly the same on any mobile OS — because so often developers buildto the lowest common denominator. Apple seems to abhor a sameness thatlacks quality, thought and maybe even pride.

I also appreciate Amazon’s rigor over revealing too much customerdata. In some ways, Amazon might know more about me than Apple. Why?Apple doesn’t know which coffee maker I bought, which lotion, whichtoys for kids, types of dog food, research over which bicycle tire tobuy. Add that to which Kindle books I read or television series Iwatched on Amazon Prime — and who knows what Amazon knows about me?

If I feel for an instant that Amazon is breaching trust, selling mysecrets, thoughts or desires — whether I know them or not myself –I’m gone. Same goes for Apple.

So when I read an article like Kaye’s,it’s just one more proof point of how Apple and Amazon distancethemselves from selling things that get between them and their realcustomers — you and me.

May the “tough slog” continue!

Chris Maxcer

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at You can also connect with him on Google+.

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