Category Archives for Information Marketing

Netflix subscriber slowdown could mark streaming giant’s peak

Missing quarterly target may seem minor but is a concern for firm with a high-growth model

Netflix’s surprise failure to hit its subscriber targets stripped $30bn (£23bn) from its stock market value as investors and analysts expressed fears that the stellar global growth of the streaming service may have peaked.

On Monday night, the company reported it had missed its second quarter subscriber growth numbers in both the US and, most crucially, in the international markets it is now relying on for the vast majority of future growth.

The total shortfall of more than a million may not appear to be a big deal for a streaming service whose subscriber numbers have now past than 130 million globally and whose share price has soared 150% year-on-year to value the business at $172bn.

By comparison, the entertainment group Disney – which spans film, theme parks, broadcasters ESPN and ABC and is spending more than $70bn to try to buy 21st Century Fox to fight the Netflix threat – is valued at $164bn.

Even after four consecutive quarters of subscriber growth that comfortably beat forecasts, a single quarter miss for a company that needs to remain in constant high-growth mode has investors worrying about whether the Netflix peak has arrived.

“This was always going to cause jitters among investors from a company that’s spent so heavily on content in order to boost its subscriber numbers,” said Joshua Owen, a senior trader at Ayondo Markets. “The question for investors is whether this is a blip or something more structural within the video streaming landscape.”

The Netflix juggernaut relies on maintaining rapid global growth to continue paying for the content that is its lifeblood – $8bn on 700 original TV shows and 80 movies this year alone. If the slowdown in subscribers persists, the company’s already pressurised business model could break.

Netflix is on track to make $1bn in profits this year. But the company continues to spend much more than it makes and competition against rivals such as Amazon and Apple is intensifying, forcing budgets ever higher for the best content and talent to win new subscribers.

Netflix expects a negative free cash flow of between $3bn to $4bn this year, meaning the amount its spends on content, marketing and other costs in 2018 will exceed what it earns from subscriber revenue ($16bn) by at least $3bn.

In April, the company issued its fifth bond in three years to help finance its activities, adding $1.9bn in fresh debt.

Its debt mountain has surged from $300m in March 2016 to $6.5bn. And it has committed to spending $17bn to making and licensing TV and film content over the next few years.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

The California-based business that started out as a DVD rental outfit two decades ago has in recent years been viewed as a digital startup, making it hot stock with investors, which has, for the most part, kept it insulated from negative market sentiment and scrutiny.

“The company is still burning cash and piling up debt as it funds the development of its content library and thus customer acquisition,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell. “Even some 21 years after its creation, Netflix [still] cannot generate the cash that ultimately pays the bills.

“The question is whether Netflix is generating enough profit and cashflow to support its monster valuation.”

Continue reading

After Seeing How Much ‘Air’ Different Chips Brands Have You’ll Probably Never Buy Some Brands Again

Many of us have eagerly ripped open a bag of our favorite chips, only to be struck with a tragic mix of disappoinment and resentment after it becomes clear that the promised bounty of vaguely potato-based goodness is nothing but a few sad looking shards clustered pathetically at the bottom of the bag.

Well Ross Hudgens, founder of content marketing company Siege Media, is here to save the day. Using a water displacement method to ensure accurate results, Ross presented his findings for Kitchen Cabinet Kings, whose post soon went viral as people were shocked, amused and thankful for this most interesting and relevant information.

Armed with this knowledge, consumers now know which brands offer the best bang for their buck, and can get rid of that chip on their shoulder. Scroll down to check it out for yourself, and let us know what you think in the comments!

Ever wondered how about the air to chip ratio of your favorite brands?

Here’s how people reacted

Continue reading

Talentry scores 6M for its ‘social recruitment and marketing’ platform

Talentry, a startup based in Munich that has developed a “social recruitment and marketing platform,” has closed €6 million in Series A funding.

Leading the round is Nauta Capital, the pan-European VC focused on SaaS, with participation from Rocket Internet’s GFC, Allgeier SE, and number of angel investors. I also understand that GFC previously backed Talentry’s €2 million seed round.

Relatively low-key to date, Talentry offers a SaaS to enable companies to utilise their employees’ social networks to help with recruitment. The platform powers employee referral and employee advocacy programs, including the ability for employees to easily share job openings and corporate content. The premise is that, although social recruitment is as old as recruitment itself, simply having employees post job openings on various social channels alone, is no longer going to cut it.

Instead, explained Talentry CEO Carl Hoffmann on a call last week, social recruitment combined with content marketing works much more effectively. For example, employees could share a company blog post about an upcoming product, which would also include relevant job postings. The landing pages generated by Talentry are personalised, too, so that the employee who shared the content is clearly signposted and the recruitment-related content can be further adapted for their audience accordingly.

More broadly, Hoffmann says that fierce competition for talent is changing the way companies recruit. This is seeing a marketing strategy comparable to winning customers. “To do this successfully — attracting candidates, building talent pools and nurturing them long-term — companies need the right technology,” he explains.

Talentry says it serves over 150 clients across all industries, including Henkel, Swiss Post, Vodafone, Axel Springer, and Universal Music Group. Meanwhile, the new funding will be used to develop further product features, such as a more powerful CRM for tracking recruitment leads, and to grow the team. Hoffmann says the company also plans to launch in international markets, including the U.K. and U.S., adding to the German-speaking countries it currently targets.

Guillem Sagué, who led the investment at Nauta Capital, says: “At Nauta we invest in capital-efficient global disruptors in the software space, and we believe Talentry has the potential to create a new software category focused on building and nurturing relationships with talented potential candidates at scale. As this is the first investment we made in Germany from our current €155 million fund this investment is the first building block of our German operations”.

Continue reading

Oracle acquired Grapeshot, a ‘brand safety’ marketing provider, sources say for up to $400M

In the era of fake news and controversies over how brands’ advertising — via programmatic platforms — unwittingly ends up alongside content with which they’d rather not be associated, Oracle has made an acquisition to beef up its ability to help customers with these marketing challenges.

The company has announced that it will acquire Grapeshot, a startup out of Cambridge, England, that has developed a platform to help ensure “brand safety”, along with solutions to help brands, agencies, publishers and ad platforms to match ads to more specific placements overall.

The startup will become a part of the Oracle Data Cloud, Oracle said, working specifically in the area of Audiences and Measurement, which already provides a number of other tools to marketers, such as data for custom segmented audiences.

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed but one of the investors tells us it was in the multiple hundreds of millions of pounds. Conservatively assuming at least £200 million, this means Grapeshot has sold for at least $280 million; but the source said it would be safe to assume a higher multiple, so I’m now thinking it was for between $300 million and $400 million. However, another source said it was for around $150 million. Assuming both are “right” the higher number might be including an earn-out. Still trying to find out more.

In either case, it is a strong exit for the company that speaks both to how timely this issue is right now, and also the strength of Grapeshot’s technology and existing business. For some context, Pitchbook notes that Grapeshot’s last pre-money valuation was around $56 million (£40.2 million) in May of 2017, while Crunchbase notes that the company has raised only $22.4 million from investors that include IQ Capital Partners, Draper Esprit and Albion. It’s “an outstanding return”, said the investor.

Grapeshot, via its Contextual Intelligence Platform, says it works with some 5,000 marketers globally, covering some 38 billion programmatic ad impressions. It’s been growing at a rate of over 100 percent year-over-year, it says. It looks like it will continue to work with existing customers, who will in turn become potential targets for the cross-selling of other Oracle services.

The rise of Grapeshot and its acquisition by Oracle speaks to a growing challenge in the area of adtech and corresponding marketing technology: while programmatic advertising has largely become the norm across the web, there are some unintended consequences from all that automation.

For one, it’s harder to specifically match ads to content in every case — and this might potentially become even more difficult with the rise of stronger data protection and increased scrutiny on how are data is used for ad targeting. One of Grapeshot’s services helps marketers solve this with technology that helps match ads not just to basic sites, but to keywords on pages.

But in the worst-case scenarios, brands are finding their ads running alongside content that is outright damaging to their images. In a recent scandal, advertisers were forced to freeze some ads on YouTube when they were found to be running alongside videos of kids with obscene comments from viewers.

Ideally both for the brands and YouTube, the ads would have never been there to begin with — and that is the kind of outcome that Grapeshot (and now Oracle) is going to be helping achieve.

There are, of course, a lot more controls in place now to try to prevent situations like this, and products aimed at generally making it easier to match ads to content. Search giant (and YouTube owner) Google, the world’s biggest online advertising company, earlier this year launched a new AdSense product that uses machine learning to “read” content on specific pages to understand the context before it serves an ad to it.

The interesting thing about Grapeshot is that it’s working a layer back before this. By not being tied to any specific ad platform, Oracle has the potential to play a strong hand as an unbiased helper to customers to achieve the best results.

Oracle has made a number of acquisitions to expand its digital marketing and advertising solutions business, to tap into the rise of social media and also to compete better against Salesforce. They have included Compendium, Moat, Involver, Vitrue, Netsuite, Market2Lead and many more.

Additional reporting Josh Constine

Continue reading

Oracle acquires Grapeshot, a marketing tech startup that helps ensure ‘brand safety’

In the era of fake news and controversies over how brands’ advertising — via programmatic platforms — unwittingly ends up alongside content with which they’d rather not be associated, Oracle has made an acquisition to beef up its ability to help customers with these marketing challenges.

It has announced that it will acquire Grapeshot, a startup out of Cambridge, England, that has developed a platform to help ensure “brand safety”, along with solutions to help brands, agencies, publishers and ad platforms to match ads to more specific placements overall.

The startup will become a part of the Oracle Data Cloud, Oracle said, working specifically in the area of Audiences and Measurement, which already provides a number of other tools to marketers, such as data for custom segmented audiences.

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed but we are trying to find out. According to Pitchbook, Grapeshot’s last post-money valuation was around $56 million (£40.2 million) in May of 2017. Crunchbase notes that the company has raised $22.4 million from investors that include IQ Capital Partners, Draper Esprit and Albion.

Grapeshot, via its Contextual Intelligence Platform, says it works with some 5,000 marketers globally, covering some 38 billion programmatic ad impressions. It’s been growing at a rate of over 100 percent year-over-year, it says. It looks like it will continue to work with existing customers, who will in turn become potential targets for the cross-selling of other Oracle services.

The rise of Grapeshot and its acquisition by Oracle speaks to a growing challenge in the area of adtech and corresponding marketing technology: while programmatic advertising has largely become the norm across the web, there are some unintended consequences from all that automation.

For one, it’s harder to specifically match ads to content in every case — and this might potentially become even more difficult with the rise of stronger data protection and increased scrutiny on how are data is used for ad targeting. One of Grapeshot’s services helps marketers solve this with technology that helps match ads not just to basic sites, but to keywords on pages.

But in the worst-case scenarios, brands are finding their ads running alongside content that is outright damaging to their images. In a recent scandal, advertisers were forced to freeze some ads on YouTube when they were found to be running alongside videos of kids with obscene comments from viewers.

Ideally both for the brands and YouTube, the ads would have never been there to begin with — and that is the kind of outcome that Grapeshot (and now Oracle) is going to be helping achieve.

There are, of course, a lot more controls in place now to try to prevent situations like this, and products aimed at generally making it easier to match ads to content. Search giant (and YouTube owner) Google, the world’s biggest online advertising company, earlier this year launched a new AdSense product that uses machine learning to “read” content on specific pages to understand the context before it serves an ad to it.

The interesting thing about Grapeshot is that it’s working a layer back before this. By not being tied to any specific ad platform, Oracle has the potential to play a strong hand as an unbiased helper to customers to achieve the best results.

Oracle has made a number of acquisitions to expand its digital marketing and advertising solutions business, to tap into the rise of social media and also to compete better against Salesforce. They have included Compendium, Moat, Involver, Vitrue, Netsuite, Market2Lead and many more.

Continue reading

Me Too Is Changing Even the Smarmiest Advertisers

In 2016, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation sent a letter to a fast-growing content marketing network called Revcontent. The nonprofit watchdog was concerned about the way some of Revcontent’s advertisers portrayed women. The network regularly ran ads for mail-order bride services, for example, or ones that featured close-ups of women’s breasts. “Revcontent was the fastest growing of the content advertising networks,” says Haley Halverson, vice president of advocacy and outreach at NCOSE. “so we thought it would be a good place to start.”

For eighteen months, Halverson got no response.

Then last fall, Revcontent’s founder and CEO John Lemp reached out for help reducing the racy ads. The times had changed, even for a web advertising in Florida. He credits the birth of his second daughter for his sudden desire to strip the racy ads from his network. He references the #MeToo movement as the reason for the startup’s expeditious wokeness. And sure those things count, but there’s an immediate business reason for Revcontent to position itself as clean well-lit place for web advertisers: as premium advertisers grow increasingly skittish about the material that surfaces adjacent to their brands on the web, choosing to lay off the cleavage shots is a marketing opportunity. So Lemp invited Halverson to visit the company’s Sarasota headquarters, learn how his business works, and help Revcontent figure out which ads exploit and degrade women.

Content advertising networks are among the web’s bottom feeders. It’s hard to get a sense of who the largest players are among these companies because the niche is so tiny not many services keep track, but there are at least a couple dozen. The most well-known of these networks are Outbrain and Taboola, but Revcontent has grown quickly. Polar, which is a content marketing platform for publishers, predicts this will be a $3.6 billion market by 2020. These companies serve up sponsored ads on the pages of publishers like Fast Company or TIME (or WIRED, which has an agreement with Outbrain) under a banner that identifies them as native advertising.

Nearly everything about this kind of content marketing is meant to trick a reader. It’s designed to look like actual stories, and often have salacious headlines like “A Teen Sent a Photo of Herself to the Wrong Number” and “Tom Selleck Makes Brave Statement About his Personal Life.” Sometimes the advertisers are other publishers that hope to recirculate their pieces in order to get more page views. Sometimes they’re advertisers who’ve purposefully designed ads that look and feel like editorial stories about their products. (Surely everyone has had the experience of clicking on that headline about Meghan Markle’s acne, only to discover it links to a skincare ad.) The networks usually share revenue with the publishers that host their ads.

Not Too Salacious

In recent years, as the advertising industry has rejiggered its strategy to compete with Facebook and Google, publishers have increasingly turned to content advertising networks as a new source of revenue. But in a crowded advertising space, these networks are fighting for scraps of attention and desperation often causes them to turn to questionable tactics. I stumbled across a Revcontent module on InfoWars, for example, that included the headlines “Warning from God Discovered in Human DNA” and “Malia Obama was Spotted in her Brand New Car and it’s Disgusting!”

Therein lies the tension: in their attempt to get you to click, content advertising networks are incentivized to embrace the most outrageous, attention-getting aspects of the content floating around the web. In late 2016, these companies came under fire for fueling fake news. Even as Google and Facebook said they were taking steps to remove propaganda from their sites, purveyors of misinformation with names like NationalReport.net and TheRightists.com were partnering with these networks to recirculate their content. The networks tightened their guidelines for who qualified as a publishing partner, and they stepped up their efforts to screen their advertisers. Even so, the widgets containing their ads still slip through. After the Parkland, Florida shooting in February, for example, the website Infowars was thrust into the spotlight when founder Alex Jones published a video saying the student gun activists were actors. Both Taboola and Revcontent were showing ads on Infowars, according to Digiday. Taboola pulled its advertising, but as of April 2, Revcontent continues to partner with Infowars. The company says it wants to work with independent partners to help determine what content should be removed.

Content advertising networks are incentivized to embrace the most outrageous, attention-getting aspects of the content floating around the web

Facing increased scrutiny, content marketing networks must deal with a similar set of conundrums as larger platforms, like Facebook and Google: namely, how to moderate what publishers they work with and what ads get shown on their content modules. Which publishers are spreading misleading information, and which are simply embracing extreme and unpopular points of view? It’s a tricky difference to negotiate at scale. “Sometimes what seems appropriate to some, seems very wrong to others,” wrote Taboola CEO Adam Singolda in a 2016 blog post addressing fake news. “This can be a ‘grey’ area.”

That may be so, but premium advertisers are also becoming more skittish about placing their ads alongside inappropriate content of all sorts. More than a third of them are concerned their ads will land next to hate speech, according to recent research by Digiday and GumGum, and 17 percent are concerned their ads will land next to pornography. And now that the industry has started to tackle fake news, it’s negotiating grayer areas—like policing ads that portray women inappropriately. On March 28, Singolda published a blog post entitled “1000 Ways We Are Cleaning Up the Internet” in which he said the company had removed 1000 ads it deemed racy, saying it “will represent a few million dollars of lost revenue in 2018, but it’s without a doubt, worth it.” Singolda said Taboola employs 30 people to review content, and plans to add another 15 this year. He says the company is also adding an option for readers to flag content they deem racy. (Like Lemp, Singolda credits recent fatherhood for his embrace of this issue.)

The problem with this approach is that the definition of racy material is far more subjective than that of pornography. Google the word, and the first definition that pops up reads: “lively, entertaining, and typically mildly titillating sexually.” In an environment where sex sells (at least as much as fake conspiracy theories, if not more), it’s a sizable challenge to figure out what constitutes appropriate above-board imagery, without exploiting its subjects.

More than a third of premium advertisers are concerned their ads will land next to hate speech

This is a question Lemp didn’t feel qualified to answer last fall when he enlisted the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) to help. Halverson’s organization has been working to strip businesses of pornography since 1962, and it has a particularly high bar for what passes as appropriate. Its victories include getting Walmart to remove Cosmo from its checkout aisles and getting large hotel chains like Hyatt and Hilton to remove on-demand pornography from guest rooms.

After meeting with Revcontent’s compliance team to learn how its process for vetting ads worked, Halverson made some immediate suggestions. The network relies on technology to scan its images, and it also has human reviewers that screen for problems. She suggested Revcontent remove all the mail-order-bride advertisers from its network immediately. “That’s a hair away from a prostitution transaction,” she says. She also encouraged the company to look more closely at the relationship between an image and its headline. There was an ad, for example, which featured First Lady Melania Trump. “It said ‘these 35 photos will have you wondering if she’s First Lady material,’ and was cropped so you’d have only her bare shoulders and breasts,” says Halverson. This is the kind of thing she says the site shouldn’t publish.

In March, satisfied that Revcontent had undertaken adequate efforts to remove all sexually explicit content, the watchdog provided its endorsement to the company. Halverson says she plans to send letters to Taboola and Outbrain on behalf of NCOSE shortly, and hopes to have a similar impact.

But while Revcontent’s advertisements may be much improved, it doesn’t control the stories its publishing partners produce. Even as I discussed the company’s work with Charlie Terenzio, who recently started as a brand manager at Revcontent, an image cropped up of a woman in a low-cut tank top and jean shorts, legs open suggestively. How’d that get through, I asked him? He explained the module I saw was part of a different technology product publishers used to recirculate their own content. In other words, Revcontent can only police its advertisers. If publishers choose to rely on risqué photos of women, it’s on them.

Correction at 10:30 a.m. on 4/3/2018: An earlier version of this story misspelled the Revcontent CEO's name. It is John Lemp.

Controversial Content

  • Posts that elicit extreme emotion are more often shared. One WIRED columnist thinks that phenomenon helped Donald Trump's political ads get more views on Facebook.
  • Advertisers have long sold podcasts as the holy grail of attentive listeners, without having the data to prove it. Turns out, they were right.
  • Sick of the secret influence of advertising? Check out these photographs, depicting a world scrubbed clean of ads.

Continue reading

ClearVoice helps freelance writers show off their portfolios

ClearVoice recently launched a new feature to give freelancers a better way to show off their work and get new jobs.

CV Portfolios offer an easier alternative to personal websites that are often sparsely populated, out-of-date or otherwise neglected.

Thanks a technology that the company is calling VoiceGraph, writers no longer have to keep the pages updated themselves. Instead, co-founder and CEO Joe Griffin said VoiceGraph indexes stories from the top publishers online (about 250,000 currently) and matches them to their authors. It also aggregates metrics around social sharing and connecting to the authors’ own social media accounts.

“At the end of the day, what we want to do here is give freelancers very robust tools that make it as simple as possible to address one of the biggest hurdles freelancers were having: creating a portfolio and maintaining it,” Griffin said.

So for example, you can visit my CV Portfolio to see many of my latest TechCrunch articles. Granted, that’s not that so exciting, since you can do the same thing on my TechCrunch author page, but this could be pretty useful if I was a freelancer with a variety of publishers, or if I wanted to highlight articles I wrote for past employers.

There were around 400,000 automatically generated CV Portfolios at launch. Authors can claim their profiles, then edit them by creating new sections, moving articles around, deleting work that they’re not proud of, adding links or uploading files. And again, it’s a lot easier because they’re starting with a portfolio that’s already populated and automatically updated with new stories.

(And yes, if you’re a freelancer with an automatically generated portfolio that you don’t want on ClearVoice, Griffin said you can just delete it.)

The product is free. Sure, you can can use your CV Portfolio to promote yourself on ClearVoice’s talent marketplace, where freelancers get hired by companies to help with content marketing. But Griffin said he’s perfectly fine if people just want to create CV Portfolios and don’t participate in the market at all.

Continue reading

5 Awesome Acts Of Revenge That Qualify As Creative Genius

Revenge is a dish best served cold. For most of us, that saying simply means that you shouldn’t punch a dude the second he mocks your Animorphs T-shirt; you should wait about a week and then punch him when he least suspects it. It’s funnier that way. But, some folks put a hell of a lot more thought into revenge than we do. Like …

#5. A Man Drives His Roommate To Paranoia Using Targeted Facebook Ads

Brian Swichkow found his roommate, Roderick Russell, on Craigslist, and the two became fast friends. Not long after moving in, Russell pulled what Swichkow only describes as “a rather elaborate prank” on his roommate. Swichkow was sure to warn him that he had made a big mistake this day, and Russell had left him no choice but to escalate the situation.

Now, Russell was a man with a very obscure and unique weakness. Though a professional sword swallower by trade, he was ironically unable to swallow pills without gagging. Swichkow, a marketing expert, had a specific, Liam Neeson-esque set of skills to exploit this, and so the game was set.

The mission: to slowly drive Russell out of his mind with a bombardment of incredibly specific Facebook ads.

Using Facebook’s marketing algorithms, Swichkow was able to set himself up as an advertiser and launch ads targeted to an “audience” of just one person. Then, he began a series of ad campaigns with targeted questions such as “Does it seem ironic that swallowing swords is easy and then small pills make you gag?” and an ad for dildos that said “So you like swallowing things?”

“You certainly managed to swallow this crock of shit.”

Swichkow rolled the ads out slowly and discontinued them shortly after discovery in an effort to keep the prank going as long as possible. Compounded with the fact that the Snowden surveillance scandal had just broken in the media, it only took a few weeks for Russell to become deeply paranoid and stop using his phone.

Eventually, Swichkow sent Russell an ad containing information that Russell had only ever told Swichkow and his girlfriend, which is when he finally started to catch on to what was really happening. Swichkow decided now was the time to end it, partly because he was afraid he was actually going to send his roommate to an asylum. So, he sent one final ad:

“That’s right, I was responsible for most of those dildo ads!”

The next day, Swichkow found a message on the kitchen whiteboard simply reading: “VERY VERY VERY WELL PLAYED,” which is basically the written equivalent of the slow clap. The story later went viral on business websites as a lesson in niche marketing, though we’re not exactly sure what that lesson is. “You could potentially destroy a man with the right ads?”

#4. Paying Fines With Mounds Of Pennies

In July 2009, Tallahassee college student Jordan Renken emerged from a bar to discover that his car had been towed, resulting in a 15-mile walk home. He needed to pay $88 to release his impounded car, so Renken decided to exact his revenge on the towing company by delivering the fine … in the form of 8,800 pennies.

The ordeal was recorded in a video that quickly went viral. Initially, the cashier refused to take the money, telling Renken and his friends that they were out of their minds. She then relented slightly by telling them that she would take the pennies only if they were rolled. Renken, who had read up on the law beforehand, knew that they were required to accept the money as long as it was legal tender. And although pennies are the redheaded stepchild of legal tender that you can go your whole life without using, they are still money.

“Just be glad I’m paying in clean ones.”

Renken refused to back down to the point that she called the police, and the cops found it pretty hilarious. After several back-and-forth exchanges between Renken and the cashier, the police maintained that the cashier must accept the pennies, rolled or not, and the only restriction being that they had to fit through the tender window. After almost an hour of debate and the threat of getting the feds involved, Renken managed to both retrieve his car and give a certain towing company employee the worst day she’s ever had.

This isn’t the only time someone has gotten away with paying a large sum of money in couch cushion leavings. In 2012, Thomas Daigle of Milford, Massachusetts, hauled more than 62,000 pennies, weighing in at about 427 pounds, to his local bank to make the final payment of the mortgage loan on his first home.

Frankly, we’re more impressed by a $620 mortgage payment.

He made the payment on the couple’s 35th wedding anniversary, making these arguably the most romantic and inconvenient 62,000 pennies on the planet. At least he rolled them. Even though, we stress again, he totally didn’t have to. You don’t, either. Not even if you’re paying Comcast. We mention that for no particular reason.

#3. Man Gets Revenge On eBay Scammer By Setting Up A Fake Blog For Him

In 2005, Thomas Sawyer purchased a laptop on eBay for 375 pounds from seller Amir Tofangsazan. The laptop took two months to arrive and, when it did, Sawyer discovered that it did not work. Tofangsazan brushed off all requests for a refund, so Sawyer took matters into his own hands. After some fancy technological footwork, Sawyer recovered enough of the hard drive to enact a creative, albeit humiliating, revenge.

The buyer found more than 90 voyeuristic photos of women’s legs, shot on the London subway, in addition to several kinds of porn and tons of personal information — including Tofangsazan’s CV, passport, and selfies. So, Sawyer used what he had gathered from the hard drive to set up a mock blog written from Tofangsazan’s perspective.

“If only I had washed that huge pile of laundry so I could take a selfie with a damn shirt on.”

The blog, called The Broken Laptop I Sold On Ebay, includes photos of Tofangsazan as well as embarrassing items from his voyeuristic and porn collections. Speaking as Tofangsazan, Sawyer jokes nonchalantly about not issuing a refund and the justification for using the blog to put Tofangsazan in the spotlight.

“The buyer of my laptop was understandably miffed at being ripped off but highly amused at finding this wide selection of information so easily accessible,” Sawyer says. “What else could he do but publish this information on the Internet for the whole world to see what a sad man I really am!”

“Sad man” being a nice way of saying “Seriously creepy fucking voyeur.”

In case you feel even remotely sorry for Tofangsazan, it was later discovered that he was a serial con artist who was eventually arrested for defrauding women in an online dating scheme. He was caught, in part, because one of the women he scammed Googled his name and found the blog. Let this be one of two lessons to you: either don’t con people or remember to wipe your hard drive.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. For most of us, that saying simply means that you shouldn’t punch a dude the second he mocks your Animorphs T-shirt; you should wait about a week and then punch him when he least suspects it. It’s funnier that way. But, some folks put a hell of a lot more thought into revenge than we do. Like …

#5. A Man Drives His Roommate To Paranoia Using Targeted Facebook Ads

Brian Swichkow found his roommate, Roderick Russell, on Craigslist, and the two became fast friends. Not long after moving in, Russell pulled what Swichkow only describes as “a rather elaborate prank” on his roommate. Swichkow was sure to warn him that he had made a big mistake this day, and Russell had left him no choice but to escalate the situation.

Now, Russell was a man with a very obscure and unique weakness. Though a professional sword swallower by trade, he was ironically unable to swallow pills without gagging. Swichkow, a marketing expert, had a specific, Liam Neeson-esque set of skills to exploit this, and so the game was set.

The mission: to slowly drive Russell out of his mind with a bombardment of incredibly specific Facebook ads.

Using Facebook’s marketing algorithms, Swichkow was able to set himself up as an advertiser and launch ads targeted to an “audience” of just one person. Then, he began a series of ad campaigns with targeted questions such as “Does it seem ironic that swallowing swords is easy and then small pills make you gag?” and an ad for dildos that said “So you like swallowing things?”

“You certainly managed to swallow this crock of shit.”

Swichkow rolled the ads out slowly and discontinued them shortly after discovery in an effort to keep the prank going as long as possible. Compounded with the fact that the Snowden surveillance scandal had just broken in the media, it only took a few weeks for Russell to become deeply paranoid and stop using his phone.

Eventually, Swichkow sent Russell an ad containing information that Russell had only ever told Swichkow and his girlfriend, which is when he finally started to catch on to what was really happening. Swichkow decided now was the time to end it, partly because he was afraid he was actually going to send his roommate to an asylum. So, he sent one final ad:

“That’s right, I was responsible for most of those dildo ads!”

The next day, Swichkow found a message on the kitchen whiteboard simply reading: “VERY VERY VERY WELL PLAYED,” which is basically the written equivalent of the slow clap. The story later went viral on business websites as a lesson in niche marketing, though we’re not exactly sure what that lesson is. “You could potentially destroy a man with the right ads?”

#4. Paying Fines With Mounds Of Pennies

In July 2009, Tallahassee college student Jordan Renken emerged from a bar to discover that his car had been towed, resulting in a 15-mile walk home. He needed to pay $88 to release his impounded car, so Renken decided to exact his revenge on the towing company by delivering the fine … in the form of 8,800 pennies.

The ordeal was recorded in a video that quickly went viral. Initially, the cashier refused to take the money, telling Renken and his friends that they were out of their minds. She then relented slightly by telling them that she would take the pennies only if they were rolled. Renken, who had read up on the law beforehand, knew that they were required to accept the money as long as it was legal tender. And although pennies are the redheaded stepchild of legal tender that you can go your whole life without using, they are still money.

“Just be glad I’m paying in clean ones.”

Renken refused to back down to the point that she called the police, and the cops found it pretty hilarious. After several back-and-forth exchanges between Renken and the cashier, the police maintained that the cashier must accept the pennies, rolled or not, and the only restriction being that they had to fit through the tender window. After almost an hour of debate and the threat of getting the feds involved, Renken managed to both retrieve his car and give a certain towing company employee the worst day she’s ever had.

This isn’t the only time someone has gotten away with paying a large sum of money in couch cushion leavings. In 2012, Thomas Daigle of Milford, Massachusetts, hauled more than 62,000 pennies, weighing in at about 427 pounds, to his local bank to make the final payment of the mortgage loan on his first home.

Frankly, we’re more impressed by a $620 mortgage payment.

He made the payment on the couple’s 35th wedding anniversary, making these arguably the most romantic and inconvenient 62,000 pennies on the planet. At least he rolled them. Even though, we stress again, he totally didn’t have to. You don’t, either. Not even if you’re paying Comcast. We mention that for no particular reason.

#3. Man Gets Revenge On eBay Scammer By Setting Up A Fake Blog For Him

In 2005, Thomas Sawyer purchased a laptop on eBay for 375 pounds from seller Amir Tofangsazan. The laptop took two months to arrive and, when it did, Sawyer discovered that it did not work. Tofangsazan brushed off all requests for a refund, so Sawyer took matters into his own hands. After some fancy technological footwork, Sawyer recovered enough of the hard drive to enact a creative, albeit humiliating, revenge.

The buyer found more than 90 voyeuristic photos of women’s legs, shot on the London subway, in addition to several kinds of porn and tons of personal information — including Tofangsazan’s CV, passport, and selfies. So, Sawyer used what he had gathered from the hard drive to set up a mock blog written from Tofangsazan’s perspective.

“If only I had washed that huge pile of laundry so I could take a selfie with a damn shirt on.”

The blog, called The Broken Laptop I Sold On Ebay, includes photos of Tofangsazan as well as embarrassing items from his voyeuristic and porn collections. Speaking as Tofangsazan, Sawyer jokes nonchalantly about not issuing a refund and the justification for using the blog to put Tofangsazan in the spotlight.

“The buyer of my laptop was understandably miffed at being ripped off but highly amused at finding this wide selection of information so easily accessible,” Sawyer says. “What else could he do but publish this information on the Internet for the whole world to see what a sad man I really am!”

“Sad man” being a nice way of saying “Seriously creepy fucking voyeur.”

In case you feel even remotely sorry for Tofangsazan, it was later discovered that he was a serial con artist who was eventually arrested for defrauding women in an online dating scheme. He was caught, in part, because one of the women he scammed Googled his name and found the blog. Let this be one of two lessons to you: either don’t con people or remember to wipe your hard drive.

Continue reading

Netflix’s algorithms are more limiting than they are liberating

Ive wasted hundreds of hours browsing Netflixno, not watching, but browsingscavenging through it, like a hungry animal on the prowl, hunting for something worthy of my attention and dedication. My eyes graze over the surface of that familiar plane of posters, seeing each storyline trapped within its own tiny thumbnail, jutting out from the page at the touch of my cursor, they beg: Watch me! Choose me! But, in the age of the internet, choice is more a hindrance than a help, and among the dozens of possible options, nothing stands out. Is this why I pay subscription fees every monthto spend more time in search of something to watch than watching the thing itself?

Dont get me wrong, Netflix is filled to the brim with great content, and whether its critically-acclaimed, comedic, or simply compelling, just about anyone can find something worth streaming on the website. Still, most nights, I browse in vain, faced with the problem of deciding, time and time again, what should I watch?

On Netflix, familiarity masquerades as something new, and the streaming service presents us with a whole range of choices that, upon closer inspection, are revealed to be a lot more of the same old thing.

At a glance, the choices seem infinite: hilarious chronicles of yuppie New Yorkers living in their so-shabby-its-chic apartments, Oscar-winning biopics about inspirational figures from the 20th century, edgy sci-fi flicks with premises that are as far-fetched as they are fascinating. Do these suggestions sound familiar? Its probably because they are. Netflix uses a complex system of algorithms to tailor selections to each users particular intereststhat is, it shows us more of what we like, and less of what we dont. Its the Silicon Valley companys updated version of a classic boutique sales strategy, and, more often than not, it works like a charm.

Are you a fan of Mad Men? Well then, probably, youll love House of Cards, Suits and Downton Abbey too! Or maybe The Breakfast Club is more your thing, so check out Clueless, Skins and How I Met Your Mother! Let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of craveable content, with every new suggestion seeming to offer the same delights as what you love already. On Netflix, familiarity masquerades as something new, and the streaming service presents us with a whole range of choices that, upon closer inspection, are revealed to be a lot more of the same old thing.


Lately, theres been a lot of chatter online about the brilliance and innovation of Netflixs approach to media. As it turns out, Netflix content is categorized within one (or more) of its 76,897 hidden subgenres, and an intricate system of algorithms determines what a user wants to watch, even when they might not be too sure themselves. According to Netflix officials, an estimated 75 percent of viewing activity is driven by recommendations, a staggering number that demonstrates the companys ability to keep us watching, autoplaying our way deep into the abyss of on-demand content. Its niche marketing at its finest, so successful because it recommends content that appeals to a users unique passions and peculiaritiesenticing them to sit back, relax, and set their sights on the subgenres with the most allure.

For the most part, this is a good thing. Netflix encourages its viewers to watch more of what they love, inviting them to indulge in their personal obsessions for hours on endall while they navigate the sites landscape of content with either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, honing-in on their sense of selves in the process. Nowadays, a persons viewing habits are a reflection of their unique interests and investments, and a watchlist might very well have more to say about someones character than any resum or twitter bio ever could.

Watching Netflix has become a private and isolated experience of self-indulgence, and, despite the prevalence of Netflix and Chill jokes circling the web, for most of us, its an entirely solitary endeavour. Netflix creates a niche to perfectly accommodate each persons unique needs, and once settled there, it seems unfathomable for any of us to step outside our pre-set comfort zones. Even if we dont admit it, most of us are reluctant to experiment with a show or film whose unique equation of actors, writers and story dont add up to equal the predetermined outcome of, well, me.

This is the problem at the heart of niche viewershipone that almost no one is talking about. The word niche originates from the Latin word for nest, and Ill be the first to confess that Ive become far too passive and complaisant in the one that Netflix has fashioned for me.


When it comes to decision-making, the algorithmically-driven platform suppresses my choices more than it supports them, distancing me from content that doesnt match-up with my existing preferences. Often, Im desperate to escape the rows and rows of selections that the system assigns to me, as if Netflix were the nagging coworker who insists on me watching a show that, frankly, is of no interest.

If only there were a way to reorient oneself towards the platforms offerings, washing-away the expectation of fulfilling personal desires, and diving deep into those pools of content in search of new experiences instead. Unfortunately, in the lingo of Netflixs niche cultures, the word new so rarely describes innovation or experimentation, instead, its just more similarity in the form of something you havent seen before. No wonder it seems like theres nothing to watch!

Unfortunately, in the lingo of Netflixs niche cultures, the word new so rarely describes innovation or experimentation, instead, its just more similarity in the form of something you havent seen before.

The problem is that within the apparent plentitude of Netflixs offerings, there is actually a real povertyone that is the direct consequence of an interface that tells you what to watch, rather than the other way around. As Netflix users, were trapped by an algorithm of imprisonment, held captive within a system that predetermines what is worth watching and what isnt. If film and television have the unique ability to break down the boundaries that exist between people, then Netflixs niche categories work to solidify the divides between themmaking it more and more difficult for viewers to see the world through the eyes of the other.

Let me urge you to ditch your existing loyalties and become more promiscuous with your viewing habits, trespassing the borders of Netflixs preset recommendations to seek out content from across the spectrum. After all, culture shouldnt be thought of as a mirror, but as a window insteadone that looks bravely into unfamiliar worlds of difference and diversity. That is, so long as you have the will to open it up.

Quinn O’Gallagher studies pop culture and media at McGill University in Montreal. He writes about the collision between personal experiences and mass communications, unpacking the politics of our everyday digital lives. Follow him on Twitter @quinnogallagher.

A version of this storyoriginally appearedon Medium and has been reprinted with permission.

Image viaBrian Cantoni/ Flickr (CC 2.0)

Continue reading
1 2 3 4 5 10