December 18, 2017

Best Of 2017 #6: Ad Industry Lost At Sea


If we had access to the internal financials of WPP, IPG, Omnicom, Publicis and Dentsu, here's what I think we would find.

We would find that in the past decade they have invested heavily in technology, data and analytics and not at all in creativity.

In fact, I would bet the farm that in each of these holding companies the proportion of salary devoted to the creative area has dropped in the past decade.

The financiers, accountants, investors, and Wall Street wise guys who now control the ad business are betting on the wrong horse. There is only one element of marketing at which agencies have an advantage over other suppliers -- creativity.

Consultants can provide clients with better strategy; data and analytics companies can provide clients with better numbers; "martech" companies can provide better technology services. But no one can provide better creative ideas.

And yet agencies -- who are always telling clients that they need to differentiate -- are de-emphasizing their only unique differentiator.

The Pivotal Research Group reported this week that clients are starting to bring programmatic media buying in-house. This is not a good sign.

They surveyed 200 of the world's top advertisers and found that 15 had established in-house media operations. Pivotal called it a "relatively significant escalation from the last time we explored the topic." But they concluded that "we expect to hear of more marketers participating in such activities. But at the same time, we also expect that the depth of involvement many of them will have with agencies may expand as well."

I'm not so sure. It seems to me that there is a slow but steady leakage of marketing services away from agencies and toward either specialized firms or in-house operations.

Agencies are diversifying into areas at which they have disadvantages, and are letting the one area at which they have a distinct advantage languish. This is just plain bad strategy.

New media types, new communication models, and new media distribution modes are developing every day. Agencies are hiring for the technological aspects of these new practices. But the real winners will be the agencies with creative ideas to make these new modes come to life.

Circumstances change but principles don't. The ad industry is first and foremost about ideas. Any agency that believes technology can mask an insufficiency of imagination is looking for trouble.

December 14, 2017

Best of 2017 #5: Another Decade, Another Miracle


In March we turned our attention to the one thing marketers love above all else - miracles. Here is Best of 2017 #5.

This is one of those blog posts you write when you’re on a transatlantic overnight flight and you haven't slept a fucking wink and you’re groggy from taking way too many drugs that aren't doing shit.

But you have to be alert when you land because you have all kinds of obligations that you foolishly agreed to when you imagined a pleasant flight with kindly air hostesses pouring champagne, and a gentle few hours of nocturnal reverie, instead of a smelly dark cabin with the faint aroma of fresh-squeezed urine emanating from every closed door.

Yeah, one of those posts.

So if I get a few details wrong, like what decade I’m talking about, I don’t want any shit from you people. Please click this button if you agree to our terms.

So while I was not sleeping, I was thinking that every decade I worked in the ad business there was always a miracle that was going to make advertising finally reputable, orderly and grown up. A real honest-to-god business with predictable and reliable outcomes.

In the 70’s, the miracle was marketing. Suddenly every agency was flush with freshly minted MBAs right out of the best schools in the country. Mostly they were nicely scrubbed frat boys who made us street rats feel somehow inadequate. They had actually read books about advertising and spoke a language that was impressive if you didn’t listen too closely. Sadly, they were mostly dumber than stumps but luckily they weren't allowed to do too much damage.

By the 80’s the frenzy over the MBA’s had grown stale as it turned out that their only reliable competence was for choosing the right wine. The 80’s gave us the miracle of research. Out of some dank and pungent caves in the basement of your client’s headquarters emerged a new species of researcher. They were proto-nerds. They had all the characteristics of nerds but none of the charm. They had no idea what any meeting was going to be about but somehow came armed with studies to refute whatever it was you were planning to advocate. It was a kind of bizarre and evil ESP.

Bless Jay Chiat’s heart, he saw to it that by the time the 90’s rolled around the client research people were sent to bed without dinner as the research function was cleverly ripped away from them through the genius of account planning. See, you research geeks view everything from the company’s standpoint. We ad geniuses see it from the consumer’s standpoint. This became one of the greatest misdirection operations in advertising history and the power of its brilliance can be seen in many agencies yet today as account planners are still allowed to walk the halls and, in some compassionate agencies, even speak.

But planning's Decade Mirabilis ended abruptly as the year 2000 approached and online advertising became the new miracle. The web was the answer that everyone needed. The agency industry was tired and lifeless. Clients were restless and cranky. Advertising was stale and expensive. We needed something new, modern, exciting, and cheap. We also needed something that no one had a fucking clue about so we could make shit up. Something that we could build all kinds of dreamy expectations around. Online advertising was a godsend for everyone. Until it turned out to be a devilishly clever bento box of lies, fantasies, crime and mark-ups.

In our current decade we're finally on to a true miracle - data. At last, a scientific-smelling miracle that will make advertising reputable, orderly and grown up. A real honest-to-god business with predictable and reliable outcomes!

Yeah, and I’m the fucking Queen of France.

And as a postscript I would like to add that for the most part, "data" turns out to be just a pleasanter term the marketing industry uses to describe personal, private information they collect about us without our knowledge or consent.

December 13, 2017

Best of 2017 #4: Cocktails In The Morning


Here's the fourth in our series of so-called "Best of 2017." A reminder: just because these are the best of 2017 doesn't mean they're any good.

Let's face it. Most of what we ad people do is really dopey.

I wasn't much of a creative person, but I've had the good fortune to know some great ones. There is one thing about them that I love.

They work hard and have high standards, but they also have an enduring sense of how silly the whole thing is.

It takes a special kind of intelligence to be diligent about what you do and yet keep the part of your brain alive that realizes it's largely ridiculous.

There is a great deal of nonsense in the advertising business and I think it's very healthy to appreciate the absurdity. All the somber imbeciles who think that what they're doing is terribly important need a good solid whack in the golden globes.

I think I blame it all on conferences. There are way too many fucking conferences. I go to a lot of these conferences because I'm one of the speakers and I get paid. But if I didn't, I wouldn't (I think this is what's called "biting the hand...")

Most of the people who speak are so fucking serious. I'm sorry but after sitting through 8 hours of “The Programmatic Real-Time Digital Insider Summit” you can't help but want to go to your room and watch a good hockey fight. Or go to the bar and start one.

I suspect the reason we lost the war on drugs can be laid at the feet of marketing conferences. How can thousands of people every day sit through these things if they're not high?

I know why people go to conferences. They think anything's better than a day at the office. But they're wrong. They wind up getting the worst of both worlds. They pay for the conference but wind up standing outside the ballroom all day talking on their cell phones to the same dipshits they were trying to escape in the first place.

I know what my great creative friends would do to solve this problem. They'd have backwards conferences. They'd start the day with the cocktail party and then have the presentations.

That way, instead of presentations called...

  • Real-Time Bidding Algorithms In An Optimized Content Management Environment
we'd have presentations called...
  • Boosting Your Personal Brand Through Naughty Videos.
  • The Open Plan Office: What Asshole Dreamed Up This Shit?
  • Millennials: Pathetic Narcissists Or Unsufferable Bedwetters?
  • Working From Home. Yeah, Right. 
Sounds more fun, no?