January 28, 2015

Social Media Metrics: Useful Or Available?

Now that nobody with a functioning brain pays any attention to social media "metrics" (like followers and likes) you have to wonder how advertising and marketing wizards spent years being mesmerized by this bullshit.

I think the answer is simple. It's so difficult to isolate the effect of advertising on sales results that people grasp at anything that sounds like a measurement and is simple to understand.

I don't think social media metrics were fashionable because they were indicative of anything useful or meaningful, they were fashionable because they were easy to come by and easy to comprehend.

When The Noise Is Stronger Than The Signal
It is not unusual for click through rates for banner ads to hover in the .02 to .03% range. That's 2 or 3 clicks per 10,000 impressions. (I use the term "impressions" with great trepidation.)

This is so astoundingly low that I wonder if it is a real number. It seems to me that the margin of error may be far greater than the result itself.

For example, if the margin of error in counting clicks is 1%, that would be 100 clicks in 10,000. In that environment, are 2 or 3 clicks real or just noise?

Are there any statisticians out there who can advise us? Prof. Sharp?

Our Doctors Are Rockstars
In my hometown of Oakland California, there is a children's hospital called, not surprisingly, Children's Hospital Oakland.

For several months now there has been a huge banner hanging from the top of the hospital that says, Our Doctors Are Rockstars. This bugs the shit out of me.

Apparently the dimwits who conceived this banner believe higher virtue obtains to the nincompoops who sing pop songs than to people who save the lives of children.

What a joy it would be to wake up one day and see a sign somewhere that said, Our Rockstars Are Doctors.

Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads?
Is the title of a wonderful, gorgeous book by Alfredo Marcantonio, David Abbott, and John O'DriscollLike I said in my Amazon review, if you're thinking of a career in advertising it will show you how it's supposed to be done. If you're working in advertising it will remind you of why.

January 26, 2015

McDonald's Jargon-Fest

In this wonderful video, McDonald's new cmo throws every dreadful cliche in the marketing jargon handbook at their problems and comes away with nothing.

If you're a fan of journeys and sharing and relationships and conversations and open dialogues you're going to love this.

Being the thoughtful and generous person I am, I would like to offer McDonald's new cmo an alternative view of the universe. And a few ideas about how to turn their tanking business around.

Dear Deborah,

You seem like a nice and smart person. However, I think you may be on the wrong track here. I worked on the McDonald's business for over 15 years and I have a scrapbook full of claptrap about relationships and customer engagement and dialogues and brand transformations that went nowhere.

It is my view that a little less highfalutin' philosophy and a little more practical application of sound business practices would do you a lot of good. To wit:

1. Clean up the fucking stores.
2. Serve the burgers off the grill instead of those plastic drawers.
3. Teach the crew how to smile.

When you're done with that, then you can do all the journeying and dialoguing you want.

No charge.

Your pal,


January 21, 2015

Good Advertising Is The Best Strategy

People who are good at golf tend to believe golf is the greatest game. People who are good at painting tend to believe art is our highest calling. People who are religious believe in the brilliance of the bible.

This is called confirmation bias. We tend to embrace those things that validate our beliefs or inclinations.

Advertising has two primary branches of discipline -- the strategic and the creative. The strategic part of advertising deals in logic and analysis. The creative part is concerned with imagination.

Most of us who work in advertising, perhaps 90% or more, are primarily involved in the strategic part. Although most of us don't have the word "strategy" in our title, strategy is what we do. We decide how to spend media dollars, how to develop a promotion, how to present something to a client, etc. In other words, we make strategic decisions.

Is there a creative component to these strategic tasks? Sure. But in advertising the word "creative" has a specific meaning. It relates to the development of advertising materials -- ads, designs, videos, photographs, music, and words meant for dissemination to consumers for the purpose of persuasion. Most of us don't do that.

The people we deal with -- our clients -- are also primarily occupied with strategic tasks. Their involvement with creative work is generally second-hand. They manage, evaluate or otherwise interact with it. But they are not usually involved in the hands-on making of it.

The consequence of this is that although it should be self-evident that the most important aspect of advertising is the advertising itself, our behavior says that we don't really believe this. We give great lip-service to creativity, but actually place a higher value on strategy.

Clients and agencies will allow themselves months to develop strategies, and days to create ads. We have endless hours of meetings, presentations, off-sites, deep-dives, decks, and downloads to discuss strategy. And at the end of all this, every now and then an ad appears.

Why? Because placing a higher value on strategy validates what we do. It is another example of confirmation bias.

This would be worth it if we could demonstrate that all this activity paid out. But the contribution of most people we blithely call "strategists" to the effectiveness of advertising is suspect at best.

It has been my experience that what passes for strategic insight in advertising is often quite unexceptional. It is usually some variation on a) quality and value, b) we're so hip, c) new and improved, d) we're authentic/fresh/natural, or just some clever way of saying something very ordinary.

In fact, a typical brand's advertising strategy usually looks very much like its closest competitor's and provides very little in the way of differentiation or leverage. Because of this, as Dave Trott pointed out recently, most ad agencies have become "the gift-wrapping department." We take something mundane and make it look nice.

Sadly, creative people these days cannot rely on anything very useful coming out of the briefs they get. When advertising breakthroughs occur, they are usually the result of an imaginative creative idea. This sometimes is the result of a well-thought out strategy, but most often comes from a creative person who understands the problem better than the strategy does.

One reason for this is that as brands become bigger and more globalized, they become too big for specificity. They have to appeal to too many types of people which leads to fluffy "strategies" that result in  "gift-wrapping" instead of effective advertising. Large brands are becoming too big for what we have traditionally called "strategy."

The homogenization of strategies is why imaginative thinking (creativity) has become so much more important, and so much harder to come by. Nonetheless, confirmation bias still leads the agency/client community to foolishly value the word of the most mediocre "strategist" above the instincts of the most talented creative person.

All this is just a long way of saying that, in most cases, good advertising is the best strategy.