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On May 21, blockchain startup ShipChain was issued a cease-and-desist order from the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office for violating the state’s securities statutes.

According the official notice, the company continuously offered investment opportunities to residents of South Carolina on its platform through its corresponding tokens, both on its website and at in-person events in South Carolina. ShipChain was allegedly unregistered with the Securities Division of the Office of the Attorney General of the State of South Carolina as a broker-dealer. The order stated:

“At no time relevant to the events stated herein was Respondent ShipChain registered with the Division as a broker-dealer, and no exemption from registration has been claimed by Respondent ShipChain… At no time relevant to the events stated herein were the securities at issue registered with the Division or federal covered securities, and no exemption from registration has been claimed by the Respondent.”

ShipChain is an Ethereum-based platform, which provides shipment tracking services. According to its website, the company’s customers are allowed to pay either directly in tokens they hold, or buy tokens from ShipChain for booking freight.

The order requested the company to desist “transacting business” in the state. It also says that the company is “permanently barred from participating in any aspect of the securities industry in or from the State of South Carolina.” ShipChain has 30 days to request a hearing on the matter.

Earlier this month, the Texas State Security Board issued a cease-and-desist order to a Bitcoin (BTC) investment company that reportedly offered unregistered securities and made deceiving statements that mislead investors. The order stated that the company promoted different BTC investments programs guaranteeing “100% profits in 21 days” with no risk involved.

Yesterday, US and Canadian state and provincial securities regulators initiated a slew of investigations into suspicious crypto businesses. Securities regulators reportedly warned as many as 35 companies about violations of state securities laws with some cases resulting in cease-and-desist actions.

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Google has recently acquired the popular GIF platform, Tenor. While most people haven’t heard of this company, it is actually a big business, with more users than Twitter. Tenor allows users to quickly search and access animated GIFs to add to their chat conversations. This is becoming quite a popular service with just about all major platforms today.

The acquisition was completed for a currently undisclosed amount of money.

The Director of Engineering at Google Images, Cathy Edwards, said, “Tenor surfaces the right GIFs in the moment so you can find the one that matches your mood. Tenor will help us do this more effectively in Google Images as well as other products that use GIFs, like Gboard.”

According to reports, Tenor is searched about 12 billion times per month currently. They make money through sponsored GIFs, which bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars from major brands wanting their custom GIFs to show up. Their current clients include Dunkin’ Donuts, Sprint, Nestle, AT&T, KFC, and Nissan.

As of now, Google is planning on letting Tenor continue to run independently, while incorporating their services into other Google properties. Whether they will be rebranded or anything in the future is not yet clear.

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For marketers, driving people to places where they can make a purchase is one of the most important goals. Whether this is driving people to a sales page online, or to a physical store offline, it is good to know how much it will cost to successfully bring people where they need to go. Cuebiq recently released a study called, “Footfall Attribution Benchmarks Report” that looked at how much companies were spending to get each new customer into their store. This specifically looked at digital marketing to drive people into physical offline stores.

To measure this information, the first thing to look at was what percentage of people are actually interacting with different marketing options, and then coming into a store. The overall ‘view rates’ for web advertising was 3.09%, in-app mobile marketing was 4.21%, and using both together was 4.03%.

Of course, these rates varied greatly depending on what type of business category was being advertised. Convenience stores had the highest rate at 6.97%. The lowest converting category was automobiles at .73%.

From this information, the report looked at the cost per incremental visit for each category. This is essentially the amount of money spent on marketing that would predictably drive one customer into the store. Many factors go into this including how much advertising costs for specific categories, and available ad spots on quality platforms.

The most expensive category was retail locations, which cost $54.51 per customer. Given that retail doesn’t always have the highest profit margins anyway, it is hard to see how using this type of marketing would be effective unless they are really looking at the long term ROI from a new loyal customer.

Home appliances cost $52.29, which is a little more reasonable given the higher price points. Automobiles may have had the lowest rate at which customers actually come into the store, but they have a much more reasonable cost per customer at $36.64. Given the fact that a dealership can make hundreds, or thousands, of dollars on an auto sale, this is a great deal.

The lowest cost categories were convenience stores at $1.81, financial services at $4.48, and electronics stores at $8.70.

Whether you’re a marketer looking to drive customers to a specific type of business, or a business owner looking to bring in new customers, having this type of information can be very beneficial to improving your bottom line. The full report can be found HERE.

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Google was the main topic of discussion on a recent episode of 60-Minutes’ that looked at how the company was able to grow so large, and how it got so much power and influence. In the segment, one person who was talked to said that Google grew so large by using illegal manipulation of their search results to help push their competitors out, and promote their own content.

Antitrust lawyer Gary Reback made the statement that he believes Google is a monopoly, and worries about the fact that they have a ‘mind-boggling degree of control over our entire society.’

Everyone knows that Google is a key to success for many companies, but many people suggest that Google is in a position to really pick winners and losers in many markets. When a company is seen either as a competitor of Google, or a potential future competitor, the search giant will simply penalize them in the search rankings so that they can’t succeed.

Jeremy Stoppelman from Yelp even said that it would be impossible to build a service like Yelp today because Google wouldn’t let it happen. Yelp is already established now so they can overcome the obstacles that Google puts in their way, but that wasn’t always the case.

Of course, Google claims that they don’t make changes to their algorithms to disadvantage customers, but there is supposedly a lot of evidence showing that this is not the case. Google even had to settle a case with the FTC/DOJ in recent years related to this type of thing. In that case, Google had to change some of their internal practices.

The entire 60-Minutes piece was negative about Google, and they didn’t feature anyone stepping in to defend the company. Most people would agree that Google has done more than almost any other company to make the web easier and more accessible to everyone.

Whether you’re a fan of Google or not, marketers need to be aware of the growing sentiment that Google is indeed a monopoly. At some point in the not too distant future, it seems likely that there will be a full antitrust lawsuit against them, which could have huge ramifications throughout the industry.

For those interested, the 60-minutes piece can be viewed HERE.

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One of the biggest facilitators of marijuana deliveries in California faces a possible class-action lawsuit that one Bay Area attorney says could threaten the company’s existence.

Farrah Williams, of San Diego, filed suit against San Francisco-based Eaze Solutions on May 2, alleging the delivery business violated federal law by spamming her and other customers with unsolicited text-message marketing.

Eaze is a technology company that is not licensed to engage in commercial cannabis activity but, rather, contends it acts as an intermediary by taking orders online from customers and facilitating deliveries from retail partners.

The firm operates in more than 100 cities in California and has reached over 300,000 customers since its founding in 2014, according to the lawsuit.

The company has raised $52 million – much of that through venture capital financing – and turned itself into a cannabis industry force.
But Eaze’s status could be jeopardized if Williams’ lawsuit succeeds – although success isn’t a sure bet.

The case also could have wide-ranging ramifications for an industry whose marketing avenues already are limited and heavily scrutinized.

“The reality is that (Eaze) ‘growth hacked’ its way to the top of the pot delivery business – specifically, by relentlessly bombarding existing and prospective customers with text messages and other digital spam … without anyone’s permission,” the suit alleges.

The suit, filed in a California federal court, hasn’t yet received class-action status.

The case

The lawsuit alleges that Eaze violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a 1991 law that prohibits any company from making unsolicited calls or sending uninvited text messages to possible clients.

The most recent example cited in Williams’ lawsuit are two April 26 texts, including: “We miss you! Make a purchase in the next 7 days and get $10 of credit to use on your following purchase. Shop now at www.eaze.com/menu.”

Williams, who claims in the suit that she received “dozens” of unsolicited marketing texts from Eaze between September 2017 and May, is asking for up to $2,000 in damages per text message.

The lawsuit estimates there could be “tens of thousands” of other potential plaintiffs who received illegal and unsolicited texts.

Which means a court judgment could cost Eaze tens of millions of dollars depending on how the suit is resolved, said San Francisco attorney Tsan Abrahamson, an expert on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

“The TCPA has, particularly for smaller companies, bankrupted them,” Abrahamson said. “They have had to close their doors. So this is no joke.”

For instance, she noted:

Wells Fargo agreed to a $30 million settlement in a TCPA lawsuit in 2017.
Bank of America agreed to a $32 million TCPA settlement in 2014.
Even if the suit doesn’t reach class-action status, it could spawn copycat legal complaints, Abrahamson said.

“That’s certainly the fear,” she said. “You might even see lawyers that like to bring class-action suits (and advertise them).”

Abrahamson pointed out, however, that Eaze has not yet fully responded to the suit and could have options that will protect it. For examples, notes on its website that text recipients can opt out of marketing messages by replying “STOP” to any communication.

However, the lawsuit alleges, Williams was not given that option in the texts she received.

What’s next

The lawsuit is in its infancy and could take months if not years to wind its way through the courts.

It’s been filed as a class-action suit in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, and such complaints typically require dozens of plaintiffs to gain that legal status.

But so far it appears only Williams has signed on as a plaintiff. One of her attorneys responded “no comment” when asked by MJBizDaily if other plaintiffs had joined the suit.

“The case, it’s really in its early stages, but we look forward to litigating it,” said David Hall, one of Williams’ lawyers.

The crux of the legal issue for Eaze, Abrahamson said, is that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act allows for enormous sums to be awarded to plaintiffs as a deterrent against companies engaging in the type of spam marketing that Williams alleges.

And, according to Abrahamson, legal precedent has shown that companies must have some type of prior consent before sending such text messages. Otherwise, they’ve broken the law and are vulnerable to lawsuits like Williams’.

“The TCPA says that what a consumer opts into has to be what the consumer believes they opted into, nothing more,” Abrahamson said, noting that such cases are fairly common, especially in the tech space.

‘Take it seriously’

Colorado-based cannabis industry attorney Rachel Gillette echoed many of Abrahamson’s thoughts about Eaze.

While Gillette declined to speculate on the strengths of the case or a possible outcome, she said Eaze “needs to absolutely take it seriously.”

“Lawsuits take a long time to play themselves out, and they cost a lot of money, and that’s on both sides,” Gillette said. “The reality is that there will be winners and there will be losers.

“Will it put (Eaze) out of business? I can’t speculate. It’s just impossible to know. But they should hire a good lawyer.”

Gillette said the cannabis industry’s takeaway from this situation should be a reminder about the importance of due diligence in every aspect of operations, including marketing.

“What it illustrates is you’ve got to be really careful out there, especially when you grow into a successful company,” she said. “There are always going to be people who want to tap into your financial success.”

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In February of this year, legislation was initiated to expand the existing California anti-spam law to provide stricter requirements applicable to any person or entity initiating or advertising in a commercial email advertisement either sent from California or to a California email address.

How Will the New Legislation Affect Commercial Email Advertising?

The author sponsored bill seeks to amend Sections 17529, 17529.1, and 17529.5 of the Business and Professions Code, insofar as the law relates to commercial email advertising. The new bill looks to expand the means by which a violation of California’s anti-spam law may occur. What does this mean for commercial emailers?

Extending Liability to Third Party Emailers

Currently, courts have interpreted the existing law to hold that it is only the advertiser featured in an email advertisement who can be held liable for false or deceptive email marketing. The language of the proposed bill seeks to extend liability to third parties who have been hired by advertisers to transmit commercial email advertising on their behalf. Specifically, the language would allow for enforcement against anyone who enables or assists in the sending of deceptive commercial email advertising.

Broadening the Definition of “Commercial Email Advertisement”

The proposed bill will expand the definition of “commercial email advertisement” within the meaning of California’s anti-spam law. The previous language defined a “commercial email advertisement” as, “an electronic mail message initiated for the purpose of advertising or promoting the lease, sale, rental, gift offer, or other disposition of property, goods, services or extension of credit.” The new language is more of an umbrella term, defining a “commercial email advertisement” as, “an electronic mail message initiated for the purpose of advertising or promoting the lease, sale, rental, gift offer, promotion, or other disposition of stocks, bonds, sweepstakes, insurance, employment opportunities, or any other solicitation (emphasis added).” This broader language would include emailer initiators and senders who previously were not covered by the California law.

Increasing the Categories of Parties who have Standing to Bring Action Under the California Anti-Spam Law

Currently, California’s anti-spam law allows for the Attorney General, email service providers, and the actual recipients of unsolicited commercial email advertisements to bring actions for a violation of the law. The new bill would also allow California district attorneys, city attorneys, and individuals/entities (whose names, usernames, email addresses, and/or domain names appear in the “from” line or sender’s email address without permission) to bring an action against the sender. Additionally, under the terms of the bill, a recipient need not opt out of receiving commercial email messages in order to bring a cause of action against the subject defendant.

Altering the Judge’s Discretion when Deciding Liquidated Damages

Presently, liquidated damages must be reduced if the subject defendant has taken due care to prevent the sending of unsolicited commercial email advertisements that are in violation of California’s anti-spam law. The proposed bill would give California courts the discretion to reduce liquidated damages if it can be demonstrated that due care was taken to effectively prevent deceptive email marketing practices. In addition, the bill would put the onus on the defendant to show that it has consistently maintained and followed compliant practices and procedures, trained its employees with respect thereto, and maintained records of such compliance.

Restricting the Content of the Subject Line and Body of Email Messages

The proposed amendments to the California anti-spam law would add certain prohibited commercial email advertising practices. Specifically, under the language of the bill, it will be unlawful for the “from” line of any email message to: 1) have generic text that would misrepresent where the subject email came from; 2) use a fictitious name that has no connection with the applicable advertiser’s business; or 3) imply that the subject email message came from an individual that the recipient knows or has a relationship with. Additionally, the new bill would not allow truthful content in one part of an email to cure an unrelated defect in another part of the email. For example, if an email advertisement suggests that a “free gift” is available from the sender or advertiser in the subject line of the email, but the applicable gift is only free upon making a purchase, the sender/advertiser may not rely on the body of the email to clarify otherwise misleading subject line language.

Protecting Yourself Now and in the Future

On April 10th, the bill was sent to the Appropriations Committee for review. We will be monitoring the proposed legislation and providing updates as the bill moves through the legislative process. It must be emphasized that this is proposed legislation and that the foregoing only highlights certain aspects of the pending bill.

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In an effort to not just provide advertisers with more information, but also increase transparency, Google is expanding their existing relationships with third-party measurement groups like MRC, comScore, and Nielsen. These relationships help provide information across just about all Google platforms, including YouTube.

Google’s SVP of Ads and Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy said, “We face some fairly fundamental issues in how we think about users, content, advertising.” He went on to comment that they are going to, “actively engage with all stakeholders more proactively and act more aggressively to fix problems and make things better.” “It is clear that there is a strong need for commonly accepted standards by which advertising can be measured. It’s also clear to all of us that these metrics need to be verified by third parties and measured by third parties.”

This is why they are putting a strong effort toward taking advantage of the third party solutions available. For example, google currently supports 30 of the standards offered by Media Ratings Council (MRC), and they are working on adding an additional 40 of their standards. These are related to transparency regarding impressions, clicks, and viewability.

In addition, YouTube will be expanding their measurement research offered by Nielsen and comScore. Nielsen is providing a lot of data on mobile measurement for the video site, and will be added to UK, Germany, and France. comScore’s measurement services are also expanding out to 13 additional countries.

With the ongoing issues that major tech companies are having regarding transparency, data security, and how the collected data is being used, this seems to be a step in the right direction from Google.

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There are constantly news stories of problems associated with digital advertising ranging from fraud to just being ineffective at driving sales (when done poorly). This may lead many people to think that businesses will be spending less of their advertising budget on digital, but that is just not the case. According to new research from Zenith, advertisers plan on putting 40.2% of their ad budget into digital in 2018, which is up from 37.6% in 2017.

Vittorio Bonori, Zenith’s Global Brand President, said, “We are observing sustained ROI from digital transportation. And we are now at the forefront of a transformation as brands shift budgets along the consumer journey, benefit from powerful algorithms and advanced machine learning techniques, and invest in new e-commerce solutions. This transformation is at the heart of driving brand growth.”

In addition, Zenith reports that the effectiveness of digital advertising is also quite good. They developed their own standard index for how digital ads perform. In it, they found that the more a company invests in digital advertising, the better the results.

The increase in percentage of advertising budget that is going to digital is also helping to push the total ad spend up significantly. In the US, the digital ad spend in 2017 went up by 13.7%, reaching $204 Billion. By 2020, Zenith predicts that online advertising will make up 44.6% of all global ad spend.

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One of the biggest issues that marketers face today is problems with fraud, malware, viruses, and other issues. Whether it is their own devices or systems getting infected (which puts customer data at risk) or their customers getting infected and having issues buying products, it is a major problem. Of course, this type of issue also results in ad fraud, which costs businesses billions per year.

All of these issues fall under the umbrella of security concerns, and they are being addressed in a variety of different ways. One important tool being used in efforts to secure the web is machine learning. In the past couple of years there have been some significant advancements in this area, and many of them are being used specifically to watch for threats, and respond to them.

Ad networks, for example, are able to gather and analyze data much more quickly using advanced machine learning. This can either be done in-house, or by third party analytical firms that have the advanced systems in place and ready to go.

Another area where machine learning is pushing to protect the web is with Internet of Things devices. The IoT devices have been a known ‘weak point’ on the web since most of them don’t have much built in security. This has allowed hackers and other bad actors to use them to conduct large scale DDoS attacks.

Using machine learning, networks can identify inauthentic data coming from these types of devices, and have it dropped before it causes issues. The data gathered can also be used to better secure the devices through updates or other stapes that manufacturers can take.

There are a great many different ways that machine learning can help to protect the net, and marketers are just one group of people who will benefit from it now, and long into the future.

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The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has released a ‘Global Media Charter’ that they hope will help to create an improved global marketing ecosystem that benefits both brands and consumers. In the charter they lay out eight ‘principles for partnerships’ that they are asking all advertisers to adhere to.

The eight principles are as follows:

  • Zero Tolerance for Fraud – A streamlined process must be made to refund any ad spend that goes to fraud. They hope to use accredited third-party solutions to help verify and expose fraud as early as possible.
  • Brand Safety – Platforms and publishers must due the work necessary to ensure their site content is in line with what advertisers require for brand safety.
  • Viewability Thresholds – Brands need to be able to trade against an appropriate level of viewability in order to get what they are paying for. Requiring minimum viewability thresholds may reduce overall inventory, it will improve the results of campaigns.
  • Supply Chain Transparency – Transparency is required at every step including pricing, fees and costs, placements, data usage, and more.
  • Third Party Measurement & Verification – Brands require third party verification on whether ads are viewable, free from fraud, and safe for the brand.
  • Eliminate Walled Garden Issues – Allow advertisers to take advantage of third-party buying platforms of their choice.
  • Data Transparency Standards – Work with partners to help guarantee that data is ethically and transparently sourced, and that it is secured properly to avoid breaches.
  • Improved Customer Experience – Create commercial communication standards that are less intrusive for users, and create a better overall user experience.

The WFA is an organization that works to improve the overall ad industry by creating standards and advising brands, advertisers, and others in regards to best practices. In many ways, these types of demands layed out by the WFA can help to guide the industry forward. This is especially important right now following the many issues the ad industry had over the past year.

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