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No Mercy No Malice

Elephants in the Room

November 4, 2022

In 2017 I wrote a book about Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google called The Four. After working my ass off for 25 years, I became an overnight success: speaking gigs, appearances on cable news and talk shows, book and podcast deals. I spent a bunch of time with elected officials, and powerful people wanted to have lunch with me. People were fascinated — shocked, even — by this simple observation: Big Tech is powerful, maybe too powerful.

Much of the concern was a function of the ad-driven nature of platforms — algorithms that tapped into good/bad aspects of human nature to addict us. Most people knew how Facebook and Google made money, but not how they actually worked, how the ad revenue was fueled by the collection of data and the harvesting of attention. In fact, the phrase “Big Tech” was barely known back then. (Check the Wikipedia entry for Big Tech and see which NYU professor is credited with defining the category.) I just read the last sentence and realized I still crave other people’s affirmation. #Pathetic.

Anyway, things are different today. We know we’re being tracked, and we understand how digital platforms make money. We also know they’re lucrative, as in, among the fastest growing, most profitable businesses in history. Since A Beautiful Mind won Best Picture in 2002, Google has grown its revenue 625-fold. Digital ads transformed the company from a garage project into a multinational corporation, and turned Meta from a college-campus website into the largest media business in the world. If you had to bet everything, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go with whoever controls our attention. Meta or Google? Safe bets. Snap? Riskier, but the moppets love it. It’s fun to flirt with other sectors and firms, but these companies are the smart, safe bets.

Until now.

Sea Change

This is proving to be a historically bad year for tech. Few saw it coming. If you bought Facebook stock in 2015, you’ve lost money. If you purchased shares of General Motors, IBM, or Chevron, you’ve made more money than Meta shareholders. Seven years of gains, erased in 10 months. Meta’s meltdown is shocking, but not singular. Google is down 40% this year, Amazon 45%, and Snap 80%. These losses are unprecedented in the Big Tech era.

As with bankruptcy, the sell-off happened gradually, then suddenly. Last week was a turning point. Amazon, Google, Meta, and Snap all missed big on earnings. The common theme? Ads. Or lack thereof. We knew the Mad Men era had come to an end; we weren’t expecting the end of Ad Men. But let’s be honest, advertising sucks. Cable ads provide a glimpse into what it’s like to have restless leg syndrome, and digital ads, while more relevant, are carbon — the noxious byproduct of converting attention into shareholder value via algorithms that bring out the worst in the species. I’ll say it again, advertising sucks.

In a surprising turn of events, ads have become Big Tech’s Achilles’ heel. Google’s ad revenue grew just 3% this quarter, down from 43% growth a year ago. For the first time, YouTube ad revenue declined. Snap registered its slowest ad revenue growth ever. Meta’s ad sales, which make up more than 98% of the business, were a trainwreck. Meanwhile (and yes, this brings me joy) the company continues to incinerate $2 billion a month feeding Mark’s fever dream that he is a god of new worlds. BTW, it appears people are more likely to worship Tom: Myspace has more traffic than Meta’s Horizon Worlds.

Macro

What is/are the meteor(s) that have struck the Genghis & Khan of ads? Meta says the problem is “the uncertain and volatile macroeconomic landscape.” Google blames “the challenging macroclimate.” Snap, “macro headwinds.” Macro, as in, rising inflation, interest rates, and supply chain issues all conspiring to depress advertising demand. And it makes sense, because if people stop spending money on stuff, then the businesses that make that stuff have less money to spend on advertising.

But here’s where it gets scary for these companies’ shareholders: The “macro” culprit is a ghost, as people haven’t stopped spending. U.S. consumer spending beat expectations in September, rising 0.6% for the second month in a row. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is doing, well, fine — U.S. GDP grew 2.6% last quarter. Of course, there’s still a lot of uncertainty. Growth has slowed, and we’re by no means in the clear. But the weakness we’re seeing in the macroeconomy is a drizzle compared to the Category 5 shitstorm we’re seeing in digital advertising.

The state of the economy is a distraction here. Something else is killing ads, and tech companies are reluctant to acknowledge it because, unlike the economy, it’s not cyclical but structural.

Elephant No. 1

The elephants in the room are Apple and TikTok. Apple is the larger of the two, figuratively and literally. Last week, the Cupertino giant cemented its position as the most enduring tech company in history: Facing the same macro headwinds as Google and Meta, Apple beat earnings expectations on both the top and bottom lines. At $2.4 trillion in market cap, the company is roughly 10 times more valuable than Meta. Three years ago, it was twice as valuable. It’s getting easier to understand why the Zuck wants out of this universe.

Executioner

Apple may be the last thing an ad-driven platform sees before everything goes black. A year ago, Apple’s iOS upgrade forced apps, including Facebook and Instagram, to ask users for permission to track their data. Meta relies on that data to serve personalized ads that garner greater clicks and sales. So if users opt out, the ads become less effective, and Meta, dramatically less valuable.

But few predicted the change would hurt Meta this much. Turns out when Apple’s privacy prompt pops up, only 16% of users agree to being tracked. And if data is the new oil, ad platforms are losing 84% of their Brent Crude. Apple has gone Putin on Meta’s Germany by cutting supply — though this decision was positioned more virtuously, in the name of privacy, vs. war.

Without data, the digital ad ecosystem doesn’t work. I saw this play out in real time. Here at Prof G Media, we collect data — specifically, whether or not you opened this email. It’s not powerful data, but it’s data. It helps us understand what resonates. However, several months ago our open rate fell off a cliff. Why? Apple’s privacy change: Every iPhone reader started showing up as a no-open. Overnight, our data had become useless.

This newsletter isn’t monetized, so the data blackbox isn’t a game changer. But for most online businesses, it’s dire. Small e-commerce companies across the country have seen customer acquisition costs skyrocket … by 10 times. Why? The ads are no longer shown to the right people at the right time. As a result, small businesses have had to shift spend. Since the iOS upgrade, almost half of e-commerce store owners have decreased their Facebook ad spending by 25% or more. This year, the average price of ads on Meta declined 20%. One year ago, before the privacy change, prices had risen 20%. Tim’s revenge turned Meta, overnight, from a spry, twentysomething growth stock into a Golden Girl, mature and complaining.

Elephant No. 2

In advertising, the pie stays the same. The industry has consistently accounted for roughly 1.3% of U.S. GDP. Which means a couple things: 1) There’s always demand, and 2) it’s a zero-sum game. As with foreign exchange, every increase is met with a commensurate decrease somewhere else.

So if the money isn’t going to Facebook, where is it going? The phantom menace here is likely TikTok. Last quarter (the same quarter Google, Meta, and Snap got crushed), TikTok was the highest-grossing app for the fourth consecutive quarter — meanwhile, the rest of the app market declined. It was also the most downloaded app on the App Store, and more than a quarter of Americans under 30 now get their news from it. TikTok’s global ad revenue will triple this year, to $12 billion, which would best the revenue of Snap and Twitter combined. That number doesn’t include Douyin, TikTok’s China-based counterpart. ByteDance, the parent company that houses these assets, was recently valued at $300 billion. That’s roughly equal to Meta, Snap, and Twitter (at Elon’s inflated price) combined.

TikTok’s growing influence is well documented. We’ve discussed it many times before. Less discussed is the extent to which Xi and Cook have formed an unspoken alliance to repel the advance of Meta. The company is in full-blown retreat. After Facebook and Instagram ads became less effective, ad buyers overwhelmingly turned to TikTok. Standard practice, according to one ad firm, was to move 10% to 15% of ad spend from Facebook to TikTok. The data is opaque (part and parcel of ByteDance being China-owned), but the trend is clear: TikTok is becoming the premier ad platform.

You’d think TikTok would be just as susceptible to Apple’s privacy change as Facebook. After all, TikTok’s ads are fueled by an algorithm, which is fed with your data. But research suggests TikTok is more insulated against Apple’s privacy change than others. According to cybersecurity experts, TikTok can circumvent Apple’s code audits and track activity without the user’s knowledge. Exactly how this works is (again) not so clear, and that’s the point — as one expert pointed out, “ByteDance has gone to monumental lengths to conceal the inner workings of the app.” What could go wrong?

Rangers

I’m on a plane as I write this, taking my sons to see the Glasgow Rangers play St. Johnstone in Perth, Scotland. We are football mad, and I want my sons to see my dad’s favorite team in a 10,000-seat stadium. I’m trying to re-create a memory my dad used to tell me about, when he and his father went to this same game — Rangers were his team. He’d get emotional talking about that day, one of his few memories of doing something, alone, with his father.

About 20 years ago, I stopped dwelling on my dad’s shortcomings, put the bullshit aside, and decided to be the son I’d like to be … full stop. The catalyst for this was his sister telling me he’d been physically abused by his father. He had never mentioned this. The idea that the person you should trust most would beat you, and the damage that must do to a young soul, is unthinkable. When I told my dad about our trip, he didn’t remember who Rangers were. He’s 92 and struggling. As his attention and memories are disappearing, I’m riddled with questions that will likely never be answered: What planes did he repair while serving in the Royal Navy? My mom, his second wife, told me his first wife tried to kill herself after he told her he was leaving her — is this true? A difficult subject I never had the confidence to broach. All of a sudden, a ton of questions.

This weekend, I will take a bunch of videos of us rooting for Rangers and send them to my father. I’ll also send them to my sons with a voiceover. I will tell them what I know of their grandfather’s affinity for Rangers. I’ll also tell them that I have no interest in football, but love it because they love it, and it makes me feel closer to them. And that when they were born, for the first time, I knew I had purpose. That all “this” meant something.

Life is so rich,

P.S. I’ll go deeper on Big Tech and the strategies that do work for it in the Business Strategy Sprint, happening Dec 5-9. Join me. Sign up here.

88 comments

  1. Frank McGillicuddy says:

    great ending to your great column – for parents who see kids engaged/challenged/achieving, there is no happiness above that

  2. Michael Harrington says:

    Yes, so META knows what you “Like,” Google knows how you’re window shopping, but Amazon knows what you actually buy. Where does digital advertising go for conversions?

  3. Mike says:

    I’ve wondered what would be the value of managing and owning ad targeting “locally”? So my device goes out and “plucks” ads instead of them being crammed down my feed. (I suppose this has a lot of potential for abuse though too) The “plucking” criteria remains private. I sometimes like the fact that I learn about products/services I might not have known exist. However, I don’t like the fact that right now my furnace is broken and suddenly my social feeds are flooded with new furnace ads even though I did not search for them online.

  4. Carri says:

    The reason TikTok can partially evade Apple’s “do not track” mechanism is because TikTok is essentially spyware. DO NOT PUT TIKTOK ON YOUR PHONE UNLESS YOU HAVE A BURNER WITH NO PERSONAL DATA.

    Scott has written about how dangerous TikTok is to privacy and shaping public opinion before, but you can certainly read more in-depth details about the app’s egregious privacy violations from a wide variety of legit security researchers. I’ve been working in social media marketing since 2008 and I don’t have it on my personal phone.

    I’m guessing that U.S.-based companies will not try to circumvent Apple and/or breach users’ privacy to the extent that TikTok does (though Facebook certainly did for many years) because that would open them up to Federal scrutiny and likely get their apps banned from the app stores. It’s a mystery to me why TikTok is still allowed in the app stores.

  5. Tom says:

    Thanks, Scott. This is a great piece — both parts.

  6. John says:

    First of all, I get this via Refind, and it is about the best use of Refind I’ve found. Great newsletter keep up the good work.

    In the early days, I didn’t like Apple’s walled garden approach, and the arrogance of whole Apple Shtick. Now, I’m feeling a bit like I made the wrong choice sticking with Android. I want to share a couple ancedotal observations to confirm what you are seeing from the data. First (I find this endlessly funny), I’ve noticed the targeting on the ads is a bit off, and it seems to be getting worse. I keep getting hit with this Instagram Reels ad, and it is must be the worst targeted ad in history. the ad actively makes me hate a product I already have no intention of using! Insipid, ridiculous and pointless, that what the Instagram Reels looks like to me, a 54 year-old man.

    But also, I’m seem to be getting targeted ads for stuff I just bought. Like, thanks, Subaru, but your ads already worked. This kind of misfire as got to add up.

    Finally, I really can’t believe Tik Tok. Nobody should be using TikTok, the business doesn’t have to play by the same rules, and they have demonstrated that they aren’t going to play by the same rules. They are giving the PRC a weapon to use against us. I don’t get it.

  7. Marcy says:

    Love the education and insight on the ad market including the why. I regularly read No Mercy/No Malice but it was the last 3 paragraphs that compelled me to comment. WOW! What you wrote was so impactful and it is that human connection that drives the action. Thanks for the reminder and honesty.

  8. bartb says:

    Great post! As a watcher on the sidelines for the last 40 years, I agree with many of your insights. How fallen are the mighty! Also, enjoy your continuing journey in fatherhood! Time is precious.

  9. bmw says:

    Great update on the state of play in tech.

    But thanks moreso for story of your sons and your father. I hope that the loss at St. Johnstone did not dampen their enthusiasm too much…perhaps the long, cold, wet traipse home with a hole in your sole having lost to someone you should surely have beaten would be a feeling that your father too would still recognise.

    Go well.

  10. Paul Kazzi says:

    Great insights and charts. Thanks for the on point education. Saved me opening up 100 tabs of Chrome.

  11. Hamilkar says:

    The Apple’s price is high due to the buybacks. Apple spent like half trillion dollars on them since the Tim Cook and Carl Icahn meeting.
    USA’s GDP growth is not for long: first off, the growth comes due to the Oil&Gas and selling it at 4x prices to EU, and secondly, the overall consensus is that USA will have recession with 100% probability next year. Corps have better prediction comparing to people (as well as PPI is less laggard than CPI), so their marketing budgets are already shrinking.
    PS: come on, it wasn’t Putin who cut off supply to Germany, please don’t be a tool in the US propaganda war

  12. Monica says:

    I always appreciate your observations on the economy, but those personal observations, they serve us at our core. Kudos for going full stop and not dwelling on your dad’s shortcomings. That very act of your consciousness is possibly what our short time on this planet is all about anyway. Money and tech stocks come and go, but some of this life stuff is a much, much longer “game”. Thanks for the reminder. Have a lovely and present time with your kids.

  13. Monica says:

    I always appreciate your observations on the economy, but those personal observations, they serve us at our core. Kudos for going full stop and not dwelling on your dad’s shortcomings. That very act of your consciousness is possibly what our short time on this planet is all about anyway. Money and tech stocks come and go, but some of this life stuff is a much, much longer “game”. Thanks for the reminder. Have a lovely and present time with your kids.

  14. Yangyang says:

    I don’t think this address the slow down in Google’s ads revenue, does it?

  15. George from Glasgow says:

    Always the best read of the week Scott. Thanks.
    Two observations. First, I’m keeping the faith that your earlier predictions on Amazon stock…ie. will move into healthcare…its a big enough sector to fuel their growth…etc, will all still come true and justify my buying of Amazon shares. I remain confident.
    Second, I am a Glasgow Rangers fan. We don’t refer to them as the Rangers, simply Rangers. A bit like the Facebook used to be till it became Facebook…sorry Meta…sorry train wreck…incinerating $2 billion a month feeding Mark’s fever dream.

  16. Laurent says:

    It’s a bit hard to believe that TikTok engineers have figured out a way to circumvent Apple’s code audits and track activity without the user’s knowledge but that Meta, Snapshat or Twitter engineers have not.

    • SANDY says:

      I cannot stop thinking about same question too. If apple’s privicy initiative upgrade triggers such casualty in the ad-driven digital darlings, it would be hard to persuaded that Tik Tok strives coz they are better at circumventing Apple’s code audits (I am not a data expert, just curious). But, again, always great reading from Pro G.

  17. Jon says:

    Scott,
    Frist off, I love you man! You have brought so much to light in the past decade your observations, insight and perspective has been stellar! I want to add (as a video strategist) I think there is an element of – a lot of companies are in operation regain control and learning more about organic growth and the importance of “owning their space” has become very popular. That said it might be fractional now, but it will be standard practice soon!

  18. James says:

    Just because the economy is holding up for now doesn’t mean advertisers aren’t pulling their spend. I think if you listen to any of the big advertisers they are seeing the slowdown and are beginning to adjust their costs accordingly.

    There are some structural factors such as ATT and TikTok but there is reason to believe these aren’t as bad as you describe. ATT will start to soften with the roll out of SKAdNetwork 4.0, which looks like it will favour large digital ad platforms over smaller ones. Meanwhile TikTok’s growth appears to be slowing and given the calls for it to be banned in the US I wouldn’t be surprised if advertisers are very cautious allocating any additional spend to it, especially heading into a possible recession.

    Also the number you quote for TikTok revenue this year is from the WSJ who I believe got it from Insider Intelligence. They have since downgraded their forecast to <$10 billion. Quoting something as fact without so much as even checking the source of the information yourself is a cardinal sin.

  19. Matt Szabo says:

    ” Apple has gone Putin on Meta’s Germany by cutting supply — though this decision was positioned more virtuously, in the name of privacy, vs. war.”

    Brilliant statement… this is one of your best newsletters ever! In a few paragraphs it summarizes the ad-tech landscape we live in today.

    THANK YOU!

    and when the h*ll will TikTok be pulled out of the US? (and hopefully Canada too)

  20. Mohamed El Beih says:

    Insightful as usual. However, it’s called Rangers not “the Rangers.” I spent a year in Scotland growing up and was corrected non-stop!

  21. Lorenzo says:

    Enjoyed the read, as usual, Scott.
    I am really hoping one day you will dig a bit into the industry of football (in the sense of futbol, fussball, calcio).
    Some of my great memories of my dad is he taking me and my brother to watch 3rd division soccer games on those cold winter Sundays in northern Italy in the seventies.
    I’d like your take on why this is essentially the one and only global sport and – on the business side – your opinion on what some of the European leagues should do in order to better compete economically against the EPL. Really want Serie A to get back to its glory days.

  22. S says:

    Enjoyed the read.

    You’ll want to track how mobile games spend. They tend to be the majority of ad dollars when it comes to purchasing mobile impressions and, as an industry, it’s an interesting combination of agile and scaled. Due to the nature of mobile game LTV, mobile game developers are far more capable of quickly and accurately measuring the value of marketing spend for a given platform relative to other industries. The upshot is that when the value proposition shifts, billions of dollars in ad spend are quickly redeployed to reflect the new value proposition (in this case to Google, TikTok, and Apple as the value of Facebook’s look-alike model declined). This reallocation can take place within days of the value proposition shifting.

  23. Aditi says:

    Thank for the article (esp the Rangers part). What tool did you use for the graphs? They are beautifully depicted and animated.

  24. Kar says:

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful and heartfelt piece. My first thought to this “TikTok can circumvent Apple’s code audits and track activity without the user’s knowledge” is that it’ scary. Enjoy the time with your kids – they’re lucky to have you.

  25. Jacky Chan says:

    I love your content, delivery and mix with personal emotions at the end. The world needs more of these no BS analysis.

  26. Raul Trejos says:

    A very interesting take on the ad world in language I can understand. And you ended the article magnificently..hope you and kids enjoyed the game.

  27. Adrian says:

    Great article, but on the most important thing about football clubs and definite articles: it’s confusing on this wet and cold side of the Atlantic. An unofficial nickname for a team would have a definite article, but the team name or regular diminutive itself would never have one. So Glasgow Rangers or Rangers but never The Rangers or The Glasgow Rangers. Tottenham Hotspur or Spurs but never The Tottenham or The Spurs. But Sheffield Wednesday should be called The Owls and not Owls. Arsenal are The Gunners (and also confusingly ARE sometimes The Arsenal, though that’s an outlier). Manchester United are The Red Devils etc. Hope that’s completely and totally crystal clear.

  28. Heather says:

    The second to the last paragraph is why I read and listen to you as much as I can. I am not in tech, but I’m human so I use it. But I love how you talk about it so I can understand. And more than that, I love when you show us how human you are. Thank you Scott. Have a great time with your boys.

  29. Jan Roesser says:

    Again, a fantastic newsletter and I love that George is reading them. Congrats to you both.

  30. Mark says:

    There is a reason that Charlie Munger singled out Apple as a must own stock. Your analysis reinforces that.

  31. Mick says:

    Great post.. And I would never normally comment on something so pedantic but just to echo what others have already said – Rangers…. not the Rangers!

  32. Tim R. says:

    Your final three paragraphs say a lot about empathy, parenthood and the importance of moving on. Thanks!

  33. Memphis Vivian says:

    I was originally going to ask why TikTok does not suffer from Apple’s privacy prompts like the others do. Then I read in an earlier comment that TikTok has an algorithm that enables it to evade the prompt entirely. Is that it? In any case, please discuss!

  34. Robbie says:

    Wondering if there are Android controls that are also destroying the ad world?

  35. Carrie Weinrich says:

    Thank you for making tech, advertising & business understandable, and interesting! I lost my parents 12 & 4 years ago, every day I think of the things I wished I’d talked to them about. I hope your Dads memory is sparked by your video. You get it, and that’s what I enjoy about you. You are not so caught up with “you”, that you miss what’s important, and you share that with people. Thank you!

  36. Ian says:

    Great stuff, thanks

  37. Stuart Soffer says:

    Thanks, Scott. As usual.

  38. K.I. says:

    First part was super intelligent, second part full of heart. Great writing. Thanks.

  39. Zuckisapieceofshit says:

    Unprecedented losses? What were not not alive in 2000?

  40. Joseph L says:

    Such a carefully crafted, clear-eyed look at what often makes the world tick. Your talent is that you offer such a range of emotions in analysis (and personal connection) that in other hands/keyboards would be stiff and boring. Pivoting a bit, I work near UCSD, and every day I drive by students sitting at a bus stop on their way to the campus. Every single one of them is on their phone. I believe we still don’t fully understand the impact tech and social media has had on the younger generations. Last comment, I think the news/social media is rat-f***ing democratic elections with their influence on the feeble-minded. I thought the last presidential election taught us not to put too much faith in polling.

  41. Krishna says:

    Did facebook even through about creating an algorithm that beats Apple privacy settings, I mean just like tiktok?

    • Daniel Harvey says:

      They’ve created some end runs around because in-app browsers have weaknesses. It hasn’t been enough to staunch the bleeding.

    • Tien Lee says:

      Fwiw, you know we are all still reading your articles data or not.

  42. Paddy says:

    Great piece Scott. Highlight of my Saturday mornings.

    But, it’s “Rangers” not “the Rangers” unless you want to sound like a total blow in. From a friendly Celtic ☘️supporter 😉

  43. Mike Shogren says:

    Thank you for your Tech insight and a reminder about more important things about being a son and a dad

  44. Alan Turner says:

    Two themes. Both delivered with clear analysis and synopsis. Really enjoyed this issue of your newsletter.

  45. Jesse Morales says:

    I don’t have much to say other than we have been down this road before. we had to deal with the news paper publications, Radio and Television lords from the past. Now its the internet, so is it of no surprise that whom ever controls it will be more powerful then then the AD lords from before…simply because its global.

    they offered us an evolution in our life styles but, we gave them power. now were scared and upset…why?…people need to admit that they like the crack that’s being served to them on a network platter.

  46. Frank Cote says:

    Excellent info about Tech. Eye opening.
    Touching note about your Father and football. Mines gone. The hard questions were too hard for him, emotional overload. He hid behind failing memory.
    That generation had no ability to deal with emotions. Well, they had two skills, denial and rage.
    Have fun with your boys.

    • Fred Smith says:

      Seriously? Two skills, denial and rage. You undersell a great generation that lived life in its heights and depths far more than you. Your skill? May I suggest smugness.

  47. Seniors for a Democratic Society says:

    Very nice. Worth reading all the stats to get to your father…

  48. Pierre Rasputin says:

    Data point. I opened this email.
    You’re welcome.
    Advertising works when it helps build a brand. That has not been going on for a long time. Bad is good became the touchstone of advertising about the time that Avedon decided he should write the ads as well as shoot them.
    Now brands are a joke. Just ask that politician who lost the last election. Sad.

  49. David B says:

    Finding such resonance in your musings Scott, and your Rangers’ paragraphs very moving. Enjoy Perth in the beautiful Scottish highlands with your boys.

  50. Diane says:

    Intelligent, clear reporting + transparent heart- is what will keep me here … full stop.

  51. B Elki s says:

    Great article Scott

  52. John Wordley says:

    Just so you know – it’s not “the Rangers”, just “Rangers”
    Go Wolves Go ! (Wolverhampton wanderers football club – WWFC – Premier League).
    I used to go and see them with my Dad in the late 50’s. You never forget those times or lose the allegiance. First result you look for every week.

  53. Geoff says:

    Well said, but I’ll challenge the idea macroeconomics are not hurting big tech. Consumer spending does not necessarily correlate to the current state of advertising spending. We’re reading headlines everyday about businesses tightening their belts, cutting cost, and slowing hiring. Yes, Tik Tok is for real, but cutting marketing expenses are part of the macro belt tightening and Google & Meta are feeling that right now.

  54. Brian says:

    So those not fortunate enough to have kids lack purpose I guess. Author did wait until mid 40s. Now he’s father of the year.

  55. Jeff Zafiropoulos says:

    The first half of life is spent building a healthy ego, the second half letting go of it. I think Jung!
    BigTech-Big ego!

  56. Yariv says:

    Quick correction regarding email open rates, Scott. The new Apple privacy controls actually opens all emails via a proxy, causing open rates to skyrocket (not drop), thereby rendering the ‘open rate’ metric useless because we cannot tell how many of the emails sent were actually opened by a human.

  57. Jim Thompson says:

    Scott, you never fail to deliver. I am a loyal buyer of your brand – listening to your various podcasts 5 days each week. Reading your weekly missive is like going to a Billy Bragg concert – biting commentary and tender love stories. Thanks!

    • David B says:

      Ditto Jim. And the Billy Bragg reference is legit. Clear-eyed realism, optimism and sentiment/heart/honesty. I’d vote for Scott and Billy in a race to save the world from itself.

  58. Justin Claypool says:

    Come for the astute business analysis, stay for the reminder of what really matters. Prof G, your closing is the best reminder of what our priorities should be.

  59. Ed Simnett says:

    Isn’t it also possible that we are in the hangover from the pandemic? There was an implied assumption that growth would continue at the same rate as 2015-2020, even after we saw “5 years of digital transformation in 3 months.” If we are already at the for 2025, then we might expect (very) limited growth for these until they and the rest of the system catch up?

  60. Andrew says:

    I’d agree with just about every point in this post except with Scott’s claim that the macro economic headwinds aren’t really what’s impacting the ad giants. Yes, Apple is definitely ruining Zuck’s day, but just because the economy is still growing and consumers are still spending, that doesn’t mean the macro environment isn’t negatively affective ad budgets — companies often cut their marketing spend before all other expenses in a downturn (or to prepare for one just up ahead) because marketing budgets are highly discretionary. We don’t need to be in a recession for a slowing economy to depress ad revenue. Google is less affected by Apple’s privacy changes but still saw slowing ad revenue growth. TV ad spend is being pulled back too, though TV is also less vulnerable to iOS changes.

  61. Sarah Bacon says:

    Thought -provoking and inspiring article all around. Thank you for your brain and your heart.

  62. David Denham says:

    The first part of this article was insightful and helpful. The last few paragraphs were the best part of it all. Thanks for sharing about your Dad and your sons. Onward we go. Thank you Scott.

  63. Doug Flockhart says:

    Scott… I enjoy this weekly read and look forward to it weekly (delivered here in Australia Sat mornings). Congratulations and thank you for this excellent edition. I also loved this comment – “About 20 years ago, I stopped dwelling on my dad’s shortcomings, put the bullshit aside, and decided to be the son I’d like to be … full stop.” This could be applied to a lot in life, and make “life” much more (or maybe much Richer :). Ciao – from The Land Down Under!

  64. ger says:

    But I love, love, love all your work x

  65. ger says:

    Its not “the rangers”, just rangers. Or glasgee rangers. Ok. Im a pedant

    • Paddy says:

      Note to myself. Read the previous comments before commenting 🤦‍♂️

  66. Susan Brown says:

    Touching. Grateful you so often have the courage to go there.

  67. Jon says:

    Thanks for the great insight you provide daily/weekly, Scott. This article hit home: it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think. Enjoy the game in Scottland and more importantly the experience with your family.

  68. Catherine Fitzgerald says:

    Having been asked by my clients about the drop in their email open rates recently, I will be sharing your insights Scott. This is a good update on the realities of ad tech today. All need to pay attention.

  69. Nick says:

    I look forward to your next post, as always – and hope you have a great day at the Rangers. But TBH, your analysis buys into the idea that growth is everything. You make it sound as though advertising in general, and Google and Meta’s advertising in particular, has imploded. In fact, year over year they have grown 3% and declined 1% respectively. In short, they’ve plateaued after rising rapidly in the last few years partly due to Covid.

    TikTok isn’t the only rising player in ads. Apple Ads has been growing fast. If you were a cynic you might think that their “privacy” moves to hobble parts of Meta’s ad business were more about creating their own walled garden where they alone can mine consumer data to create advertising value than about serving the true privacy interests of their users. Ditto for Amazon, which has built a big advertising business by mining information about their shopper’s purchases.

    Google and Meta have their issues – both have (IMHO) taken a step back on quality of their services and level of true innovation in recent years. Their efforts to stifle competition (about which you’ve written) have succeeded to some degree to protect them from the forces of creative destruction. Perhaps that’s starting to change – but, sadly, not in favor of nimble new entrants but in favor of other huge tech companies deciding that they, too, need to keep growing and that the only way to do so is to take over yet another market segment.

    • Andrew says:

      I would agree with Nick’s observation that Apple itself is getting ad heavy on the iPhone and iPad. I could see where Xi made a godfather offer with Apple some time ago and then with TikTok, Xi went Darth Vader and changed the terms of the agreement and mentioned to Cook to pray that he doesn’t change the terms any further. Still, considering how much of an economic mess China is because of Covid (still) Cook & Apple aren’t worried at all about China.

  70. Sean Tyson says:

    Some of your best work! The only thing that gets in the way of me saying that was this one sentence from your Apple: Thief post: “Tesla’s revenue is a drunk tourist stumbling home late at night wearing a Hublot.” I still laugh out loud to that. xo

  71. Jonathan says:

    Excellent closer in this one, Scott. Looking forward to giving my father a hug and working on being a better son.

  72. Phillip Frandler says:

    I don’t know Scott, but I just love this human being.

  73. Kokuanani says:

    Scott, could you explain something to me: when Facebook et all read their gathered info about who opens their e-mail, posts, or goes on their site, HOW do they shoot the innocents with ads? I see various ads as part of some of the sites I read, but I never open them. How effective are these “ads” if they’re ignored? Are there enough innocent people who click on the ads AND then purchase/follow up? It doesn’t work, at least on me.

    • Yariv says:

      Advertising existed long before you could actually click on an ad, Meta is just yet another type of media channel. If you wonder whether advertising works, then try this: off the top of your head, name 5 auto insurance companies. I bet that one of the five is your current insurance provider, the other four are the ones that spend most amount of money on advertising.

  74. Stephen Wagner says:

    To what extent is ad placement shifting from apps and social media to podcasts? I see that podcast ad revenue is expected to double to 4 billion by next year?

  75. Allen says:

    Brilliant, insightful analysis. As usual. With a bit of profound vulnerability thrown in at the end. Thank you Scott.

  76. TomW says:

    Scott-I am so glad you wrote this as I have been scratching my head to understand their excuses. I think it has little to do with the economy and everything to do with their audiences all at once shifting behavior. They have all been caught off guard both by the rise of Tiktok and the staleness of their business models and products. This is a giant red herring and they can’t admit the truth as it means the glory days for them are never coming back. Elon is the ultimate here in buy high sell low unless he can transform Twitter into a useful utility people will actually pay to use (doubtful).

  77. Brent says:

    Thanks. Very thoughtful article. And what is next? Social media malaise not going away.