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Universal gets heat for racially targeting Straight Outta Compton ads

Every marketer knows to tailor your ads to an audience, but Universal’s methods are being questioned. Pay attention so you know the rules of the road.



Wait, aren’t ads *supposed* to be targeted?

Targeted advertising is a good thing, right? You’re sending a message to your customer that is tailored to their specific interests, allowing you to attune different marketing strategies to different demographics.

But if your targeted advertising presents different information to customers of different races, you’ll look a lot less credible and a lot more, well, racist.

Universal assumes white people know Dre

Universal Studios is currently in the hot seat, dealing with the backlash from its racially targeted advertising of the film Straight Outta Compton. The film, which is named after the title of the first studio album of the hip-hop group. N.W.A., chronicles the rise of the rappers from their Compton roots to international fame.

However, the studio chose to make advertisements, targeted towards white Facebook users, that don’t even mention N.W.A. Instead, ads for whites features Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, because Universal assumes that white people are more familiar with these faces than they are with N.W.A.

SXSW panel kicks up dirt

The discrepancy was revealed by Universal digital marketing executive, Doug Neil, who was speaking about targeted marketing at a South by Southwest panel. He described how Universal used Facebook’s analytic tools to create targeted marketing. While Facebook doesn’t allow advertisers to segregate content based on race, data on habits, likes, and interests can be used to create categories that mostly lump folks together racially.

So while Universal was patting itself on the back for its crafty targeted marketing, audience members’ responses ranged from eye rolls to outrage.

But not all accused Universal of wrongdoing

Black news and commentary site, The Root, was dismayed at the racial stereotyping behind Universal’s marketing.

They said, “let’s not act like all black people know or like N.W.A.” and commented that “they should’ve presented the fake trailers to the Academy members so the movie could have received more Oscar nominations.” The Academy’s snub of Straight Outta Compton inspired the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

Another Twitter user posted, “Wut? Facebook showed whites and blacks diff versions of ads, calls it a ‘victory’ for race-specific advertising.”

The take away lesson here is that targeted advertising, when based on racial stereotypes, can and will backfire.


Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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  1. Tim

    March 22, 2016 at 8:02 am

    You have GOT to be kidding me. Not only is this manufactured outrage, I am embarrassed to find such a ridiculous article on AmericanGenius. Are things so amazing in America that people have time to whine about, and protest how a company chooses to spend its advertising dollars? Sorry, but there are REAL probelms in this world, people dying, violence, etc. But if you feel whining about how a company targets its advertising is a worthy cause to get behind, then you’ve lost all credibility with me, and a lot of people. I’m unfollowing and spending my time on sites that cover real issues, instead of this manufactured nonsense.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 23, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Tim, you’re right, there are MUCH more important issues than this, but while we were at SXSW, this was a huge topic of conversation, especially paired with the attendee who was asked to remove her hijab before entering. Combine that with the fact that Facebook doesn’t even have an option to market based on race, and it’s interesting.

      World changing? You’re right, it’s not. Worth of note to business leaders looking to tweak their marketing? Sure is!

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Social Media

Twitter branches out into voice chat – what could go wrong?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) We’re learning more about Twitter’s forthcoming audio chat rooms, but what is Twitter learning about moderation?



Twitter open on a smartphone on table next to a cup of warm brown tea.

Twitter wants you to talk more with more people. Like, actually form words. With your mouth.

In November, the micro-blogging giant announced it’s testing its new Audio Spaces feature, which allows users to create audio-only chat rooms – making it what Wired calls a copycat of the new and buzzy Clubhouse app.

Twitter itself hasn’t released many details, but tech blogger/app-feature detective Jane Manchun Wong has been tweeting some of the deets.

How it works

Here’s what we know about the private beta version, according to Wong: Users create a chat room and can control who is admitted to the group, whether it’s the public, followers, or followees. Group size is currently limited to 10. Members can react with a set set of emojis: “100,” raised hand, fist, peace sign, and waving hand. Spaces conversations are not recorded, but they are transcribed for accessibility. It uses Periscope on the back end.

One thing that’s not clear: The actual name. Twitter’s announcements have been calling it Audio Spaces, but the product’s handle is @TwitterSpaces.

It’s Twitter! What could go wrong?

The big gorilla in the chat room is moderation – as in, how do you keep humans from being terrible on Twitter?

We can all be forgiven for skepticism when it comes to Twitter’s aim to keep Audio Spaces safe(ish). Twitter can be a toxic stew of personal insults and even threats. Interestingly, Twitter is starting its test by inviting users who are often targets: Women and people from marginalized groups. Great idea! Who better to help craft community guidelines?

Requiring platforms to shut down hate speech and violent threats is having a moment, and Clubhouse is already in the controversy mix. Even as invite-only, the app has had some high-profile failures to moderate with threats toward a New York Times reporter and a problem anti-semitic conversation. It seems likely Twitter is paying attention.

Also on the safe(ish) side: The space creator is all powerful and can mute or kick out bad actors. Spaces can also be reported. Then there’s the transcription, which sets Audio Spaces apart from similar apps. Chat transcription was aimed at accessibility but, TechCrunch suggests that might help keep things civil and appropriate if people know their words are being written down. Hmm. Maybe?

Also… Why?

It doesn’t appear that there was a groundswell of demand from users, but Audio Spaces at least is something different from the feature pile-on making the social media big dogs start to look the same, as in Twitter’s also-new Fleets, Instagram’s and Facebook’s Stories, Snapchat’s… Snapchat. (See also Instagram’s Reels, Snapchat’s Spotlight, TikTok’s… TikTok.)

Clubhouse does appear to be hugely popular in Silicon Valley – and it has the investment capital to show it – so maybe there’s something to this audio-only chat thing. But we’ve already seen pandemic-fueled Zoom-happy-hour-fatigue, as users have gotten frustrated with too many people talking at the same time. Video chat can give users at least a few more clues about who is talking and who might be about to talk. Audio-only chat seems like it could quickly devolve into a chaotic cacophony.

But, Twitter says, conversation will flow naturally, and it advises users to “be present.”

“Just like in real life, the magic is in the moment,” it says.

It’s beta testers will surely have a lot to say about “magic” and “moderation.”

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Social Media

Facebook’s latest acquisition dives into backend of social media marketing

(SOCIAL MEDIA) This $1 billion dollar acquisition of a CRM shows Facebook diving into the back end of social media for the first time.



Woman checking social media on her phone on a balcony overlooking city traffic.

A social media giant is stepping into the Customer Relationship Management Realm.

On November 30, Facebook announced that it had acquired the CRM platform Kustomer for a deal valued at a whopping $1 billion. Founded in 2015, Kustomer boasts to be a customer service focused platform that is made to support high volume transactions. In a statement on the company’s website, Kustomer CEO Brad Birnbaum believes that the platform’s complementary relationship with Facebook will create a mutually beneficial relationship.

“With our complementary capabilities, we will be able to help more people benefit from customer service that is faster, richer and available whenever and however they need it–via phone, email, text, web chat or messaging.” Birnbaum said, “In particular, we look forward to enhancing the messaging experience which is one of the fastest-growing ways for people and businesses to engage.”

The move may seem unusual at first. In the past, Facebook has opted to purchase customer-facing applications and software, instead of back-end applications. Such purchases include Spanish cloud video gaming company PlayGiga in 2019, and popular gif catalog service Giphy this past May. These applications are often used to build out new features for Facebook’s core platform and users.

Considering Facebook makes around 99% of its revenue through advertising, however, the acquisition makes sense. Through Kustomer, Facebook hopes to provide better support to companies wishing to use the social media conglomerate as a channel for attracting customers. By providing end-to-end support for these businesses, Facebook hopes to drive revenue and become a core channel used to sell products and services.

Only time will tell if the investment in a CRM platform can help drive companies to use Facebook as a primary sales channel. Ultimately, the end goal for Facebook is to increase its advertising revenue, and one could expect the organization to integrate Kustomer with popular existing applications like Instagram and Whatsapp.

The acquisition will have to pass a regulatory review, however, before Kustomer can officially become part of the Facebook family. While that is likely to go off without a hitch, Facebook needs to handle some bigger regulation issues before it can take advantage of its new CRM software.

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Social Media

This non-judgmental app can help you switch to a plant-based diet

(SOCIAL MEDIA) There are many reasons people choose plant-based diets. If you’re looking to try it out, this app helps you stay on track.



No Meat Today, a judgement-free plant-based diet tracking app.

The interest in plant-based proteins continues to grow. Healthline suggests that Americans are shifting toward plant-based meat substitutes because of shortages in the grocery store due to the pandemic, but there are many reasons to make the switch.

Plant-based proteins are considered more sustainable than traditional meat. Nutritionally, plant-based meat alternatives are often healthier. Regardless of the reason, if you’re one of the many Americans who are changing your diet, there’s a new app that can help you stay on track without making you feel judged if or when you do eat meat.

Your companion to eating less meat

No Meat Today is an app available in the App Store. You can get on a waitlist in Google Play. It’s a fun app that asks you, “Did you eat meat today?” You can even define what meat means to you, red meat, fish and seafood, poultry, eggs and/or dairy. As you eat less meat, your “planet” attracts cows. The design is simple, “don’t eat meat, get a cow.” If you eat too much meat, your cows go away. There’s no judgement if you lose a cow.

The creator, Arnaud Joubay says, “I’m not here to tell anyone what they should do, only to offer a friendly app to those who want to do the same.” It’s recommended to look back at your history to decide whether you want to eat meat or not.


The app was just released earlier this year. Most of its features are free, but you can pay $4.99 for all the features for one year. There have been some very cute cows released for special days. In the App Store, reviews are positive, but the caveat is that the creator asks you to contact him first if you if your review isn’t 5-stars. It’s a cute app that can motivate you to eat less meat.

Here’s the link to the product page.

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