It really is a plastic model of a severed tongue
December 6, 2017 9:18 PM   Subscribe

Just as Facebook’s algorithm rewarded shocking, useless news in the past year, it’s doing the same to Wish, an app now known for selling what its CEO calls ‘plastic tongue things.’ Over the past few months, Wish ads have dominated Facebook by hawking bizarre items like hamster leashes, giant human-sized balls of yarn, toenail extenders, mysterious car goo, and a myriad of other strange things for extremely low prices. But to those businesses who rely on Facebook ad inventory, Wish ads are no laughing matter: Facebook’s Algorithm Hijacked This $8 Billion Company to Sell Cat Blindfolds
posted by not_the_water (36 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
This makes me unreasonably happy.
posted by Literaryhero at 9:35 PM on December 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's fun when a marketing genius manages to piss off the time clockers.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:51 PM on December 6, 2017

Facebook: the unprecedented amount of data we collect on our users allows our state-of-the-art algorithms to micro-target ads to the individuals most likely to be interested in your product.

Also Facebook: wanna buy a tongue?
posted by skymt at 9:56 PM on December 6, 2017 [19 favorites]

It is funny and strange and makes perfect sense.
posted by davidmsc at 10:01 PM on December 6, 2017

So with Google's AdSense, advertisers submit bids via AdWords, and on pageview a high speed auction takes place to see who gets to advertise. The auction is run by calculating bid * click rate, so higher clickthrus tend to win auctions, but it's fundamentally limited by advertiser's willingness to pay. They can even help you determine how much to bid, if you use Analytics to track conversion rates.

When even the Wish CEO's like 'these clicks are worthless', it seems like Facebook's algorithm isn't super great about the 'how much is a click worth' calculation, and maybe shouldn't have been outsourced.
posted by pwnguin at 10:01 PM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh my God how I needed that hearty laugh tonight.
posted by latkes at 10:03 PM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm amused that even Wish's CEO has no idea why they are selling most of this stuff.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:07 PM on December 6, 2017 [7 favorites]

This article should be required reading in history books about 2017.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:12 PM on December 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

Matt Raoul, CEO of the app Timehop, an app for viewing old photos

I..... but....

People make money off this ? Like, they get investors and shit ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:15 PM on December 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

So perhaps the end game of surveillance capitalism may not be turning every human being into a zombie, but the depletion of the Earth's resources for the manufacture of cat blindfolds and plastic models of a severed tongue.
posted by runcifex at 10:19 PM on December 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

The "cat blindfold" is actually a cat muzzle for use in veterinary settings. Not only does it prevent the cat from biting, but it also reduces sensory input at the same time--sensory overload is a problem for both cats and humans [I speak as an autistic person that has had this problem along with many other autistic people]. It is not meant to be used for very long, just long enough to give the cat an injection of a sedative, for example.
posted by RuvaBlue at 10:25 PM on December 6, 2017 [27 favorites]

I literally just joined a group called "What has Wish advertised today OH NO" so I could share the screenshot of the cat blindfold ad which filled me with bleak, eldritch horror but which didn't even make it past the mods, and now I realize that's because the cat blindfold screenshot is the Pete Wells Flavortown review of "What has Wish advertised today OH NO." I can only imagine how many times that screenshot has been submitted to that group.
posted by lunasol at 10:27 PM on December 6, 2017

I'm amused that even Wish's CEO has no idea why they are selling most of this stuff.

Well, I'm amused that they started out as a product recommendation platform, and don't know why things sell.
posted by pwnguin at 10:27 PM on December 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

They don’t need to now why they sell, just that they do. And to whom. Find more whoms and win.

I am glad to learn that they hadn’t linked their “find out what sells” routine to an AI product designer connected to a Chinese factory, but whoops, I’ve already broken the NDA.
posted by notyou at 10:36 PM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wow. Just wow. That triple-donged strapon is... something extra special.I'm not entirely sure if that's even geometrically possible or prudent. And unless you're the Toxic Avenger you probably don't want that thing anywhere near your skin, much less anything involving a membrane. I'm pretty sure direct skin contact with whatever they made that thing out of is how you make Naugahyde.

Also, who the hell is buying all of this weird crap to the point that they're just making more and more of it? It's like China went completely nuts in the last 5 years and just started randomly manufacturing endless nonsensical nightmare fuel. It's like they have an entire megacity factory somewhere (I mean, a different one, and not that one either) run by a mad AI educated on Archie McPhee and dollar store sales all making randomly generated crap and then just spamming everything at Ali Baba, eBay and Amazon en mass to see what sticks.

Toddler-sized stripper poles? Why not? Why not in ten lurid colors, and four different scents? Why not edible toddler stripper poles?

Some random piece of sickly green and yellow silicone rubber covered in spiky things? Sure! Is it a hat? A sex toy? A tea cozy? Does it remove blackheads? Does it fit in your ear? Your pants? Who knows! Buy it! It's silicone and stretchy and it fits your active lifestyle!

Here's a dodgy mains to USB power supply that somehow manages to fake 5V DC from 120 VAC with nothing more than a germanium diode, a resistor, a capacitor and some chewing gum! It totally won't make your phone catch fire! How does it work? Who knows!

Here, have a combination book light, cigar lighter and nose hair trimmer that plays Fur Elise and gives you and RGB LED light show when you turn it on! Would you like that in the mutated shape of a fictional cartoon character, shaped like a nose or a pair of overly round, bun-like boobies? No? Say no more, you obviously want the model that looks like the Golden Gate Bridge!

The truth and reality is probably something like this: China's manufacturing has become very good at custom, quick turnaround manufacturing in both low or high part counts. Many of the really weird things we're seeing in these ads and elsewhere probably aren't being made in large quantities and being stockpiled and warehoused for sale - as many of them are hand tooled prototypes.

So you make some random prototypes, figure out your parts, tooling and labor costs, skip any marketing or consumer research, totally skip any safety or materials testing, take a quick and dirty thumbnail-ready picture and throw it into the catalog of stuff for sale. If a few people buy it? You make it. You've got some slack and lead time with the implied increased shipping on an actual slow boat from China.

If there isn't any complex idesign or assembly and most of your stuff is manually produced and manufactured with limited automation and you have that much labor power it's really easy to produce limited runs of items that can quickly scale into extremely large runs. All you have to do is throw more people on the assembly line or shift production.

If a whole bunch of people order it? More than you can manage in your factory? You contract the work out to nearby plants, train them, retool them and slam it out. A weird, cheap PVC dildo harness is basically the same tooling process as a weird, cheap PVC purse or backpack or phone case. It doesn't matter what you're making as long as it's within some general scope, because in the end it's just a bunch of human meatbots with hand tools and sewing machines.

I've seen this pattern in a number of legitimate products that have demand. The hoverboard phenomenon was an example of this, as many manufacturers openly shared plans, designs and parts and the concept of industrial intellectual property theft just isn't a thing there like it is here.

I've also seen this in niche markets like electronic cigarettes and high performance flash lights - and the related batteries and battery chargers that go with them. People can get custom flashlights and ecig battery boxes and such made in China in runs as small as 10 units, even including custom circuit boards - or just using a bunch of off the shelf parts like Lego.

I've seen stuff like extruded aluminum profiles that were used for an ecig battery holder, and then I've seen the same extruded profile barstock being reused elsewhere as, say, a USB battery bank. Some of the buck converters and chips used by ecigs and flashlights and even USB battery banks are shared parts between all three kinds of products. This same extruded stock could easily be, say, an LED desk lamp, or a fancy towel bar, or the handle for some luggage.

(On preview: glares at notyou, throws weird silicone rubber thing of inexplicable purpose.)
posted by loquacious at 10:42 PM on December 6, 2017 [61 favorites]

I must be doing Facebook wrong, I've never seen these ads. But I probably will now...
posted by sweetmarie at 10:50 PM on December 6, 2017

Me either, sweetmarie! Maybe we're not fully here in this darkest timeline.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:24 PM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

These ads and the Spiderman + Elsa videos on YouTube are evidence that the Eldritchverse is leaking into our universe through the internet.
posted by Svejk at 11:37 PM on December 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I thought I'd hallucinated the "anall speculum" ad.
posted by fshgrl at 11:42 PM on December 6, 2017

I know you were trying to be horrifying, loquacious, but that was exhilarating to read.
posted by Literaryhero at 1:30 AM on December 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

So this is basically documenting the Singularity of Capitalism.
posted by glonous keming at 1:50 AM on December 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Facebook: You want a tongue? I can get you a tongue, believe me. There are ways, Dude.
posted by hal9k at 3:09 AM on December 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

Algorithmic content leads to spam.
posted by harriet vane at 4:10 AM on December 7, 2017

A tongue with nail polish.
posted by ryanrs at 4:36 AM on December 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

> When even the Wish CEO's like 'these clicks are worthless'...

I think he's deliberately misstating things a little. If the ludicrous products drive visitors to Wish's catalog, they might not buy a severed tongue or triple dildo but they might find some knockoff Minions teeshirts for $8 a pop and get a few.

The story about the weird products (srsly, if you're getting ads for triple-headed dildos, that's the algorithm telling you something about yourself in a tactlessly indiscreet way), but there's a story with real consequence under the surface. This is an era of online retailers working as middlemen directly between the consumer and the Chinese wholesaler. Alibaba/Aliexpress is the 800 pound gorilla in this market, but there are also Wish, DealExtreme, GearBest, Banggood, and I dunno probably dozens more equally vast and selling mostly the same stuff.

All you really need to be in business is to have a bunch of vendor inventory data and a multinational-ready transaction system. And you can make a lot of money on very low margins because you'll be collecting a currency exchange fee on every sale and your listers handle all the shipping. You don't even need a customer service counter, just a form-based front-end that tracks the correspondence between the consumer and the Chinese wholesaler. Your only concern has to be keeping the servers running. These websites might or might not ever endanger Amazon; Amazon can offer service and expedited shipping, tie-in offers and diverse ancillary services, and Amazon has the means to expand in any direction it feels like. Instead these low-end retail markets can run sufficiently user-friendly consumer-oriented sites in even more threadbare ways than Amazon is capable of, and by undercutting Amazon in exchange for lowered expectations (very slow shipping, spotty customer support, minimal and unmoderated customer reviews) they can carve off a big chunk of Amazon's long tail.
posted by ardgedee at 4:48 AM on December 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

I was wondering what was going on with Facebook ads, I think it is happening with other advertisers as well since I keep getting CarGurus ads for Ferraris and stuff, along with cars I was actually looking at -- CarGurus knows exactly what I am looking for, showing me those ads would make so much more sense. But if they're letting Facebook choose the ads based on some aggregate or generalized "interest" metric rather than specifics of the products for sale, then who knows what will come up.
posted by thefool at 5:13 AM on December 7, 2017

I'll be honest, I'd pay $1 for that tongue, no question. The long ship time might even be a bonus. Ordering cheap junk that takes a month to arrive is sort of like subscribing to a very personalized subscription box service, because by the time the package arrives, you've probably forgotten you ordered anything at all.

The more pictures of their ads I see on Twitter the more I want to buy all of this junk. All of it. Also my wife just sent me a picture of the horse head squirrel feeder (not a Wish item) and I'm pretty sure I need to buy it.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:23 AM on December 7, 2017 [14 favorites]

Just more evidence.
posted by rikschell at 5:47 AM on December 7, 2017

I despise facebook with every atom of my being, but I want an account now just so I can see Wish ads on the fly and microdose some Dada.
posted by Dr. Twist at 8:57 AM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Obviously someone decided this XKCD was a marketing plan.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:03 AM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

“It’s funny,” Peter Szulczewski, CEO and founder of Wish, said about the ads, “[...]people will click on these items, but it’s a curiosity-driven click,” he said. “People are just clicking on things because they’re crazy.

People are crazy? Who is selling the cat blindfolds here?!?
posted by yoHighness at 5:50 AM on December 9, 2017

Perhaps it's the things that are crazy, not the people or the company.
posted by pwnguin at 1:38 PM on December 9, 2017

The gods are crazy.
posted by ardgedee at 5:52 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Must be.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:59 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Why are these things being made at all, though? Do they have some type of regional popularity?
posted by Selena777 at 8:45 AM on December 10, 2017

When I see crap like this, I always think people working in Chinese factories making this shit must think westerners are nuts.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:32 AM on December 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

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