April 12, 2010

How To Criticize The Ad Contrarian

Criticizing a cranky loudmouth is an iffy proposition on a good day. But on an afternoon when my clients are all whiny, and my back is acting up, and I'm running late for opening day at the ballpark, it's just not a good idea.

So I was a little miffed on Friday when I read a blog piece called Debunking The Ad Contrarian.

It was written by a guy named Ilya Vedrashko who describes himself as an "Emerging Media Strategist" (when do you think he'll emerge and become a bona fide media strategist?)

He actually seems to have two blogs, one called Ad Lab and the other called Future Lab. Apparently he can't fit all his test tubes into one lab.

His piece was meant to be a vivid exposé of my foolishness in writing a post last week called The Failure Of Web Advertising. In case you haven't read the brilliant piece in question, my thesis was that although the web has become a pervasive force in our lives, web advertising has not been instrumental in producing non-web-based major brands.  I have a hard time coming up with even one major non-native brand that has been created primarily through web advertising.

For a decrepit old dinosaur like myself, I thought this was a pretty damn impressive piece of thinking.

Mr. Vedrashko, who seems a nice enough young man, set about to "debunk" my thesis.

Because I love all my readers -- even those foolish enough to disagree with me -- here are some tips for Mr. V for a better try next time.

1. Don't use preposterous research.

In an effort to prove the effectiveness of display ads, Mr. V uses a study out of ComScore (a company that seems to have a vested interest in promoting web advertising) that purports to indicate that online display advertising resulted in a 9% sales increase in 12 weeks.

This baloney doesn't even pass the giggle test. If the study has any validity, the advertisers must have been offering outrageous, unsustainable incentives or offers.

Companies like Proctor and Gamble and McDonald's and Coke and Pepsi and Budweiser spend hundreds of millions on every form of marketing imaginable every year in the hope of scratching out 2 to 5% annual sales increases. And we're supposed to believe that if you buy some banner ads, in 12 weeks you'll have 9% sales increases? Does anyone in his right mind believe this nonsense?

Here's a tip from an old-timer, V.  Never trust research from an interested party. 

2. Also, don't quote pointless research.

Mr. V also says,
"Here's a different study published by Yahoo! Research together with, again, ComScore in 2007: "Consumers exposed to display advertising spent an average of $6 in the store for every $1 they spent online."
Yeah, so? What's the point? Is this good or bad? What's the norm? Since online spending constitutes just 6% of total retail commerce, one would assume that normally consumers would spend 16 times more in the store than on line (do the math.) 

3. Try to be logical

Mr. V says,
"I also can't think of...any non-native..."serious" brand  that tried going the online-only route...
Let me explain this slowly. There are a lot of singers you've never heard of. You know why? Because they never made it. The reason you can't think of any serious brands that tried the "online-only" route is that no one has ever made it that way. Lots have tried it, but none has made it. Get it? And, just as an aside, that is exactly my point!

4. Try not to make yourself look too, um, clueless.

In probably the most gulp-inducing quote in the whole piece, Mr V says,
"... (I also can't think of )... many "serious" brands launched in the past 15 years created by any means"
WHAT? The "internet age" is probably one of the most fertile eras of entrepreneurship in history, and he can't think of any successful brands emerging during this era? Apparently he has never heard of Blackberry, or Verizon, or Quizno's, or Palm, or Viagra, or T-Mobile, or Claritin, or Comcast, or TiVo...or...don't make me go on, you can use Google just as well as I can...

Now, let's give him some credit.

He concedes the main point of my argument, which is that web advertising has been unsuccessful at building any non-native major brands. Anyone who concedes my major point can't be too annoying.

And there was one other thing he was right about. I was a little imprecise (okay, lazy) with my numbers. I asserted that the internet was "about 15 years" old as a mainstream medium. It's probably closer to 12 years.

If we define "mainstream" as 30% household penetration, the best numbers I can find show that the web reached 30% penetration in about 1999, which would mean we're in our 12th year.

Using the same parameters, tv reached 30% penetration in 1952. If this guy doesn't think tv was instrumental in building scores, if not hundreds, of brands between 1952 and 1963 there's one more thing he needs to do...

5. Watch a few episodes of MadMen.

Mr. Thin Skin....
There was no reason for me to be so snippy in this post. V actually said some nice things about the TAC blog. What set me off was the "Perez Hilton" comment. Yes, we try to be entertaining and provocative,  but there is one thing we do not do here -- industry gossip. Never have, never will.

And One Afterthought...
Plenty of successful non-native brands were also built by print media and radio in their formative years. I'm not saying the web can't, I'm just saying it hasn't.

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