March 31, 2010

"Ground-Breaking" Baloney

It looks like online ad sales organizations are getting desperate. Their research is starting to look almost as dubious as traditional ad research.

Earlier this week I read a press release entitled .Fox Networks and comScore Reveal Ground-Breaking Findings About the Branding Impact of Online Advertising which claimed that...
".Fox Networks (pronounced “dot-fox”), the leading global online network from Fox International Channels (FIC) and comScore, a leader in measuring the digital world, today unveiled the findings of a ground-breaking U.K. study."
And what did this earth-shattering study prove? I don't know. Something about...
"Research confirms ability of video and display advertising to drive sustained brand engagement regardless of users clicking on ads or not."
In other words, even though no one's clicking on display ads, these ads are still driving "sustained brand engagement" whatever the hell that means.

The release is a masterpiece of obfuscation with no raw data whatsoever, just comparisons. So we don't know how much the advertisers spent, how "sustained brand engagement" is measured, whether there were any sales results, what the ROI was...

Just a few of dicey numbers that can't be analyzed.

More wind-breaking than ground-breaking.

March 30, 2010

Meaningful Relationships?

If you haven't seen it, an interesting piece showed up last week in The Harvard Business Review called The Social Media Bubble. It's by a guy named Umair Haque who is Director of the Havas Media Lab (do you think they have test tubes and Bunsen burners?)

The article is not about social media marketing (which is what I'm always going off about) but about social media itself.

His overall point is that social media debases the meaning of "relationship"
  • "It used to mean someone you could count on. Today, it means someone you can swap bits with."
  • "Far from fueling meaningful conversation, today's "social" web is a world full of the linguistic equivalent of drive-by shootings."
  • "To be "friends" with 1000 people who are also obsessed with vintage 1960s glasses isn't friendship — it's just a single, solitary shared interest."
  • "If the "relationships" created on today's Internet were valuable, perhaps people (or advertisers) might pay for the opportunity to enjoy them. Yet, few, if any, do — anywhere, ever. ..That's because there's no there there. I can swap bits with pseudo-strangers at any number of sites. "Friends" like that are a commodity — not a valuable, unique good."
  • "The internet itself isn't disempowering government by giving voices to the traditionally voiceless; it's empowering authoritarian states to limit and circumscribe freedom by radically lowering the costs of surveillance and enforcement." (By the way, back in July, in a post called Iran: Twitter's Blair Witch we made the same point..."Let's try and remember something here. Tyrants don't get to power by being stupid. They're watching and learning...Technology isn't only effective at spreading information...It's also pretty good at suppressing it")
Although I'm very vocal about my skepticism about social media marketing, I actually enjoy social media. What do you guys think of Haque's points?

Just A Note On The Irresponsibility Of The Press
A few weeks ago we wrote a piece called Crisis In The Newsroom about the deterioration of journalism in the US. Yesterday an AP release left me speechless. It stated that US forces would begin an attack on Kandahar, stronghold of the Taliban in Afghanistan, in June. Don't these people realize that there are lives at stake and that by publishing this stuff they're endangering the lives of young men and women? What's going on here?

March 29, 2010

"You First Must Learn How To See"

Last week I posted a piece called Reality At The DMV. It was about understanding who our customers really are by visiting the DMV and looking around.

One ignorant commenter wrote the following:
"My point is that the scum of the earth waiting in line at your local DMV is not our target audience for anything other than target practice."
In response to that, a wise commenter named Rob wrote the following:
TIME: Day 1 of Year 1 (circa 1981)
PLACE: Los Angeles
CLASS: FINE ARTS INTRO
My teacher (a sculptor of some renown) takes roll, and then informs us of this nugget:
"Before you can learn how to draw, you first must learn how to see."
We then spent the day walking down Vermont Ave., up Figueroa, over to Broadway and through Chinatown. Along the way we visited; A Revival Meeting/Tamale Factory/Sat and talked with the Homeless/Went to a swap meet/Rosedale Cemetery/Korean Sweat Shop/Ate chicken feet.
The best stop was The Junkyard, at which time our Professor instructed us to find
something of beauty amid all the discards.
IT WAS GREAT!
I've never forgotten that lesson!
One day my boss (a rather effete and affected agency CD sort) invited me to attend a showing of 'In The American West' celebrating Richard Avedon's work. As we strolled up
to talk with Avedon, my boss uttered some disparaging remarks about the slovenly
and disheveled nature of his featured subjects. Avedon then tersely shot back:
"They are quite beautiful to me!"
Like it or not;
Wal-Mart
The Sizzler
Hyundai/Toyota/Ford Dealerships
The Lavanderia
are where you'll find the bulk of the folks
whom we profess to know so much about.
They're all around us, in some cases right there in our very own living rooms!
You just have to be open to seeing it.
Thanks, Rob

March 26, 2010

Reality At The DMV

Last week I had the good fortune to spend an hour renewing my driver's license.

Most people would consider a trip to the DMV about as appealing as listening to a 50-slide powerpoint about search engine optimization while wearing ski boots. But I'm thinking of making a monthly visit to the DMV a condition of employment for everyone on my staff. 

I want them to see what the people they're making ads for really look like. I want them to see the people they never see at the restaurants they go to; never see at the bars they frequent; never see at the focus groups they attend; and never hear from on Twitter.

In other words, I want them to see the "consumer" they're all so very certain they know everything about.

As Eric Mathewson, Founder and CEO of WideOrbit said in an email to me recently:
"There is a huge problem in America where the people making decisions, who grew up in comfortable homes, went to expensive colleges and landed relatively plush jobs, think that the Average American is just like them.   It just isn’t true but this mindset frames enormous decisions in many industries including media."
So, please, do yourself a favor. Go to your nearest non-leafy DMV and spend an hour. And if you come away still thinking that America is on line having "conversations about brands" I'll snap on my ski boots and fire up the powerpoint.

March 25, 2010

More Bogus Toyota Nonsense Exposed

For the past few weeks we've been commenting on the hysterical, irresponsible post-recall Toyota reporting (full disclosure: Toyota's a client.)

Over a two-day period a few weeks ago, there was a frenzy of media delirium over two stories. First the guy in Southern California who claimed his Prius got up to 94 MPH on its own and had to be stopped by a highway patrolman. Second the story of a housekeeper in New York whose Prius supposedly took off on its own down the driveway and crashed through a stone wall.

We commented on the unlikeliness of the first story here last week in The Prius Balloon Boy, Prius Balloon Boy Update, and Crisis In The Newsroom.

Now the second story has proven to be bullshit. Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the police have declared that the Prius that went through the wall was due to driver error.

Of course, that didn't stop the press from publishing nonsense like this:
Toyota's global troubles have again hit close to home — and this time a car crash raises questions about problems with the Prius that go beyond just floor mats.
Harrison police said a 56-year-old woman smashed a 2005 Prius into a stone wall Tuesday after a stuck accelerator pedal "shot" the vehicle forward.

Joseph N. Leff, the owner of the Prius, said this morning that the family's housekeeper was driving the car. She suffered a knee injury and is out of the hospital.  She has driven the car many times, he said, and is "very competent" behind the wheel. .."It was clearly the automobile and not anything else," he said...
Yeah, right.

Of course, the miserable thing about this is that the press will give the vindication of Toyota about 1/1000 the attention they gave to the groundless accusations.

About Yesterday's Post
Yesterday we posted something called Gutless Ad Weasels.

It was a rant against self-hating ad people who have joined the "advertising is dead" mob. It was typified by a moronic video done by Saatchi & Saatchi, an ad agency.

In the course of ranting against traditional ad weenies, I probably insulted some nice interactive people who didn't deserve it. So, in fairness, let me re-post what I've said here previously:

"There are many smart, reasonable people working in digital media who do not make preposterous assertions; who do not think that social media is the answer to every question; who do not speak in dreadful, impenetrable jargon.


Yes, we are vociferous in denouncing people who tell us that
We would be equally vociferous in our denunciations if traditional media hustlers were saying that
  • digital marketing is dead
  • the web is dead
  • there is a new species of consumer who no longer share information about products
  • tv has “changed everything"
As a matter of fact, you will find that we have been just as voluble in our disdain for the "brand babbler" wing of traditional advertising as we are for cult members of The Divine Church of The Internet."

March 24, 2010

Gutless Ad Weasels

There is growing movement among self-hating ad people to declare failure and join the army of digital dimwits.

They have started to believe the "advertising is dead" nonsense.  They have accepted the fiction that there is a new breed of humans who don't believe anything that isn't on the web. They no longer believe that advertising is about persuasion, and think their job is to create "conversations."

Excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth.

Worst of all, they have no confidence in their own abilities and think they have to rely on "user generated" nonsense and dimwit "crowdsourcing" (Crowdsourcing? Dude, have you ever been to a meeting?)

As far as I'm concerned these people are gutless weasels. They're too tired and weak to defend the practice of advertising. They're too effete to be heard above the volume of cackling web-monkeys.

Check out this piece of ignorant bullshit created for some "design and technology" hustlers in Canada and apparently produced by Saatchi and Saatchi (talk about self-hating ad people) and lovingly embraced by advertising's suicidal Twitterati.

If that's not enough to make you gag, listen to this infantile utopian nonsense about "crowdsourcing" in Adweek:
"One rough scenario: Instead of working for one digital agency, a person would work for the cloud. During their tenure individuals would take on assignments from different agencies, in the process capturing a collective intelligence about best practices from each of the shops and sharing that intelligence with the network."
 Cool. I just hope the cloud has a fucking checkbook.
"That last sentiment excites me most: a bunch of smart people, willing to work together beyond the walls of their own agencies to create (or at least try) something new. We have no idea where this might lead..."
Awesome. My mom can sew the costumes.

Why is everyone in the ad business so anxious to bury it? Where are the people with the balls to call bullshit on all these new age web-hustlers? When are we going to drag these jargon-spewing meatballs away from their precious digital conferences and make them do some useful fucking work?
Thanks to Vic of Sell! Sell! for the video

March 23, 2010

TV Viewership At Highest Point Ever. And Growing

Being The Ad Contrarian isn't all merriment and high living.

Sure, there's all the money, and the women, and the parties...but there are also moments of loneliness and doubt. Okay, loneliness.

Once a quarter, however, I get to sit back and treat myself to a large pitcher of self-admiration. You see, every three months Nielsen releases something called it's 3-Screen Report. It shows us just how much time people are spending with their 3-screens -- TVs, computers and cell phones.

And instead of the infantile ramblings of web hustlers -- who have seized control of the marketing and advertising industries -- I get to read some actual facts.

Unfortunately, it seems that we -- you my dear ad contras and I -- are the only ones who pay any attention to facts anymore. Nonetheless, let's glow in the knowledge that while the marketing herd is louder than we are, we are quietly, stubbornly correct.

Yesterday, Nielsen released its 3-screen report for the last quarter of '09 and guess what? TV kicked ass.

Here are the highlights:
  • The average viewer watches 2,223 minutes of video in a week
  • 99% of it is on a traditional TV
  • 1% (22 minutes) is on a computer. That means YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo, all the porn your kid watches, and every idiotic viral video combined amount to 1% -- which, if my math is correct, is pretty close to zero
  • About 5.5% of total viewing is time-shifted (DVR playback)
  • About 53% of viewers skip commercials when time-shifting, which means that, at most, 3% of total spots are being skipped because of DVRs
  • Mobile video viewing? Essentially non-existent (4 minutes, or about 1/5 of 1%)
It's 2010. TV viewership is at its highest point ever and continues to grow. Here are some questions:
  • Weren't TiVo and the web supposed to have killed live TV long ago? 
  • Where are all the geniuses who were predicting the death of TV 5 years ago? 
  • Why doesn't anyone hold them accountable for their stupidity? 
  • And, most important, why do agencies and the trade press continue to ignore the facts while acting as docile, gullible cheerleaders for the interactive industry?
And here are the correct answers:
  • Years ago the media decided that tv was dead and they always stick to their "narrative"
  • The Nielsen study took place in the real world, not the never-never-land of contemporary marketing
Thanks to Eric Mathewson

March 22, 2010

If Apple Were Microsoft

I've spent a lot of time recently pissing off planners and digital strategists and account people. I think it's time I started pissing off brand managers.

First, let me acknowledge that in many, if not most companies brand managers have difficult, thankless jobs. I have no gripe with the work they do, or the pressure they're under.

My gripe is about advertising. In my career I've had the good fortune to work with a number of brand managers who have had very good taste in advertising. I've also worked with a whole bunch who had no clue.

In many companies, in return for all the suffering they're put through, brand managers are given something fun to do. They get to play creative director and tell the agency how to make ads. Most are ill-equipped for the task.

Some smart companies, on the other hand, understand that advertising decisions are too important to be made anywhere other than at the top.

One of the reasons I suspect Apple's advertising is, and always has been, so much better than Microsoft's is that playing with the advertising isn't something you get as an entitlement if you're a brand manager.

My guess is that Steve makes all the big ad decisions.

If Apple were Microsoft, there'd be one brand manager making ad decisions for the iPod and one for the iPhone, and one for computers, and...you get the idea.

I've never worked for Apple, but I'll bet that no matter how many brand managers there are, there's only one real advertising decision maker.

March 19, 2010

The Bride of Friday Follies

He's Back
In the past few weeks, Cold War era Russian singer Edouard Khil has become something of an internet sensation. We featured him here at TAC on Feb.26.

Someone did a very funny remix of his Trololo song.



No Cliche Left Behind
Last week, we commented on new educational standards issued by the  National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

This week, the Obama administration is presenting its version of Bush's No Child Left Behind nonsense.

Congress will have furious, nasty debates over it for months and, regardless, it won't do a damn thing to improve the dreadful situation in our schools.

As we said last week, the horrible situation in schools is due primarily to two intractable problems: a) bad parenting and b) bad teaching. 

The reason these problems will not get fixed are a) you can't replace bad parents and b) you can't replace bad teachers.

For a shocking, surreal look into our alarmingly ineffectual education system, be sure to read this

And Speaking Of Presidential Nonsense
Despite its promise of more open government, the Obama administration has been even more secretive than Bush. According to the AP...
The review of annual Freedom of Information Act reports filed by 17 major agencies found that overall,...withhold(ing) information rose in fiscal year 2009, which ended last October.
Major agencies... refuse(d to release) records at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, compared with 47,395 times during President George W. Bush's final full budget year...
I Hope You're All Reading....
..The Grumpy Brit. He writes a very intelligent ad blog. Not about gossip or industry crap, but about the culture and practice of advertising. He's a lot like The Ad Contrarian, only smart.

And They Said It Wouldn't Last!
John Edwards and his girlfriend are still in love. It's a wonderful world.

  

March 18, 2010

Why I Do This

Here at The Ad Contrarian, we allow ourselves one crass, self-serving post a quarter.

Sorry, today's the day.

You see, writing this blog is a big pain in the ass. It has gotten me in way more trouble than it's worth. So from time to time I have to remind myself why I do it.

Once in while, something nice happens. Here's a letter I received yesterday.
Hello Bob,
I happened to chance upon your blog at just about the time when I had begun to look for job opportunities outside of the advertising world, simply because I began to lose faith in this whole business of communication.
I'm not a writer of any sort, so fancy words are not for me, but I would like to tell you that I am simply in love with your thoughts and take on the industry as a whole.  For some time now, I have been trying to understand the chaos that I see around me when it comes to agency's and their strategies.  I have been questioning everything and everyone around me, right from the branch head to the creative directors to the planners, as to why we seem to be doing all weird stuff in the name of communication.  As a consequence of my curiosity, I have been shunned by a few, shoo'd by a few and been fed rocket science bullshit by the rest claiming to be the experts in what they do.  The effect hasn't been good on either side of my brain, so I thought it best to exit this industry before I'm forced to exit my own mind.
I found your writing irresistible and it does reinstate my faith in the fact that advertising as an industry hasn't completely gone down the drain yet and that there are people like you who will keep it alive and give it it's true meaning.
Thanks and regards,
Pragya
PS: I am an MBA and I did notice that you have an aversion to MBA's in general.  I don't agree with your idea of generalising and placing people in a certain category basis a subject or a specialisation they chose to go into.  I do understand that creative guys have a different bend of mind; they're probably born with superior communication skills, but that does not make MBA's a misfit in the industry.
Hello Pragya:

Thanks so much. You don't know how much I appreciate your kind words.

As for my aversion to MBAs (and account planners, strategists, social media gurus, and researchers) I know there are some very good ones out there who are hard-working, smart, and tremendously valuable. But dammit, I need to blame someone.

March 17, 2010

Stinkability

Yes, my friends, sometimes even bloggers are right.

About a year and a half ago, the brilliant editorial staff here at Ad Contrarian world headquarters commented on Bud Light's "Drinkability" campaign:
Their "Drinkability" campaign is awful. This is what happens when you let researchers into creative meetings.

"Drinkability" is not a word that an actual human being would use. Only an MBA would speak it. If this is representative of what the InBev boys are going to be doing, Budweiser is in deep dark shit.
Well, it's 18 months later and "Drinkability" has proven to be a total disaster. In an article entitled Bud's Biggest Blunder: Letting Consultants Run Away With Brand, Ad Age this week calls it the "Drinkability" debacle and says...
...four years and millions in fees later -- (Drinkabiltiy) is considered a major factor in Bud Light posting the first full-year sales decline in its history...
Just as we expected, "Drinkability" was the handiwork of MBA research knuckleheads who know everything about marketing double-talk and nothing about human beings...
Cambridge's exhaustive findings led directly to dramatic shifts in how Budweiser and Bud Light were marketed. Each brand largely abandoned the emotional appeals that had helped them become the two largest beer brands in the U.S. for straightforward pitches about process and product attributes that coincided with worsening sales for both labels...In 2009, its shipments fell 2.5%, the first-ever negative sales year for the country's No. 1 beer.
As advertising migrates farther from the creative department, into the hands of consultants, MBAs, planners, researchers, strategists, data analysts, and other tone-deaf jargon jockeys, it will continue its slide into awfulness and irrelevance.

You can line up all your researchers, analysts, and data geniuses. Give me one great creative person and I'll give you a better ad strategy every time.

March 16, 2010

The Amazing Power of Social Media

The executive staff here at Ad Contrarian world headquarters thought we had a pretty good understanding of the remarkable power of social media.

We know it can freshen your breath and create peace on earth, but we had no idea of all the other stuff it can do.

According to a post from several months ago on the blog Microgeist entitled What Does Social Media Make Obsolete? social media is in the process of making pretty much everything obsolete.

Here are just a few things that social media is making obsolete:
  • Speaking and listening 
  • Celebrity endorsements 
  • Centralized power and authority 
  • Social manipulation 
  • Charlitanism (sic)
  • Tradition.
Only trouble with the post? It's utter nonsense. Let's take a look at some these soon-to-be-obsolete things one at a time.
  • Speakers and listeners - "The days of a television (and) radio... talking at a potential customer are fading fast." Yeah, right. Just to set the record straight one last time, Americans now watch more TV than ever before. And radio reaches 92 million more people in a week than Google reaches in a month.
  • Celebrity endorsements - "The only kind of celebrity endorsements that seem to be working these days are by authorities." Really? That would be news to Adweek. In an article entitled Dancing With The Stars  last week they said...
"...if anything, the use of celeb endorsers seems to be making a comeback....At high-profile advertising events...celebrities and popular music appeared in 40 percent of the commercials."
  • Centralized power and authority - Hey, Einstein, tell that to about a billion people in China.
  • Social manipulation - "...social networks almost seem to seek out and illuminate the shady areas of discourse." Unfortunately, they didn't do a very good job of seeking out and illuminating this shady baloney.
  • Charlitanism (sic) - You mean charlatanism, right? You mean, like social media experts, right? Apparently they're not all obsolete yet.
  • Tradition - Cancel Christmas, social media is here
It's comforting to know that clueless zealots with no perspective are still asserting that the latest trendy thing is going to destroy everything in its path.

That's one tradition social media won't make obsolete.

By The Way...
In a piece in the Wall Street Journal today entitled, Entrepreneurs Question Value of Social Media, it is reported that only 22% of small business owners said that their social media marketing efforts were profitable.

Apology: Someone sent me a tip on the "obsolete" story and I lost the email.  Pls re-email me and I'll acknowledge you.

March 15, 2010

Crisis In The News Room

It's pretty obvious that the quality of the news we are getting has deteriorated seriously.  It may now have reached a point at which consumers cannot take most news sources seriously.

I spoke recently to a network executive -- a really good guy -- who made it clear that they no longer have the resources to do a satisfactory job of reporting. He told me that they used to have the money and personnel to actually develop stories and verify what they were reporting on. They no longer do. (If anything, it's even worse at most newspapers.)

So reporting on TV is now left mostly to good-looking, cheerful people who are willing to work cheap.

As they have become less competent, the news media have simultaneously become more irresponsible. One has only to look at the hysteria they have whipped up in the past decade over Y2K,  Bird Flu, Ebola Virus, WMDs, SARS, Swine Flu, Balloon Boy, and a whole lot of other non-stories.

Once they develop a "narrative" -- that is, a group-think version of a story -- they are generally done with it. I have written extensively of the "narrative" about the death of television.

Because Toyota is a client of mine, this past weekend I paid particular attention to the sensational story -- covered hysterically by the news media last week -- of James Sikes, the guy in Southern California who claimed his Prius went out of control and had to be stopped by a Highway Patrolman.

According to Forbes.com the story is complete nonsense. You can read about it in posts I wrote this weekend here and here.

The sad part is that it seems all the real reporting -- the investigation into who the guy is and what he may have been up to -- has been done by bloggers.

As a blogger myself, it is very disconcerting to know that the people I think of as responsible, professional journalists are lazy and incompetent and the difficult job of ferreting out the truth is left to bozos like me.

Here's a typical, hysterical TV news report on the Prius story.



Here's a quote from a report by a congressional panel about Sikes's Prius...
"...Every time the technician placed the gas pedal to the floor and the brake pedal to the floor the engine shut off and the car immediately started to slow down...it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time."
Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Congressman Darrell Issa of California, one of the ranking members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said yesterday that the findings "certainly raise new questions surrounding the veracity of the sequence of events" reported by Sikes.

They also raise questions about the role of the news media in finding and reporting the truth.

March 14, 2010

Prius Balloon Boy Update

Several hours after we posted The Prius Balloon Boy -- a story about how the incompetent,  irresponsible, gullible news media were perpetrating a Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax -- the AP ran this story entitled Probe Questions Runaway Prius Story.

The thrust of the story is this:
A memo drafted for a congressional panel says that investigators with Toyota Motor Corp. and the federal government were unable to make a Prius speed out of control as its owner said it did on a California freeway, casting doubt on the driver's story.
...the experts who examined and test drove the car could not replicate the problems James Sikes said he encountered.
"...Every time the technician placed the gas pedal to the floor and the brake pedal to the floor the engine shut off and the car immediately started to slow down," the memo said.
...The memo continued that... "it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time."
 I'm shocked, shocked I tell you!

For the complete story, be sure to read The Prius Balloon Boy.

March 13, 2010

The Prius Balloon Boy

After being exposed as hysterical, incompetent buffoons by the "balloon boy" story a few months ago, you'd think our media brainiacs would be a little more vigilant in their reporting.

According to Forbes.com however, they've been taken in again by another con artist named James Sikes -- this time doing enormous, perhaps irreparable damage to Toyota (full disclosure, they're a client of mine.)

In a story entitled Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax, Michael Fumento in Forbes.com says, "Virtually every aspect of Sikes's story as told to reporters makes no sense."

Let's start at the beginning.

Last Tuesday, March 9, Toyota was presenting evidence to reporters at a press conference about testimony that was given to Congress and aired by ABC-TV by professor Dave Gilbert, of Southern Illinois University's auto technology department. Gilbert maintained that he had found a possible source of sudden acceleration. The evidence being presented made it clear that Gilbert was wrong.

In fact, it turned out that Gilbert was paid by a "safety research" company that was working on behalf of lawyers who were in the process of suing Toyota. It also turned out that ABC had doctored the footage in their report.

Toyota had an independent testing firm replicate Gilbert's "experiment."
"We did what Dr. Gilbert and ABC should have done to test the real-world relevance of Dr. Gilbert's findings," said Toyota spokesman Mike Michels. Gilbert's experiment was "completely unrealistic. He rewired and reengineered a vehicle in multiple ways in a specific sequence that is impossible to occur."
This conclusion was shared by J. Christian Gerdes, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford who is the director of Stanford's Center for Automotive Research.

But trying to demonstrate facts to reporters is a waste of time. The news media will take sensationalism over facts every day. And that day, Sikes's sensational story broke and the media flooded the airways with it.

In a call to 911, Sikes claimed that his accelerator was stuck and he was going 90 mph and could not slow down. Furthermore, the Highway Patrol responded and in order to get the car to stop had to pull in front of the car. I'm sure you've all heard this story.

Well, according to Fumento, it's all a bunch of bullshit. You can read about it in this article.

Here's the amazing part.  While repeating word-for-word all of Sikes's claims, and, in fact, amplifying them, no one in the hysterical news media bothered to find out the following:
  • According to Forbes, Sikes and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and are over $700,000 in debt. At the time of their filing, they owed Toyota Financial Services over $20,000 on the lease of their Prius. When questioned by a website on whether they owed money on the Prius, Sikes denied being behind on his payments.
  • According to Forbes, "Sikes also has a history of filing insurance claims for allegedly stolen items that are slowly coming to light. In 2001 he filed a police report with the Merced County Sheriff's Department for $58,000 in stolen property, including jewelry, a prosumer mini-DV camera and gear, and $24,000 in cash." 
  • According to TV station Fox40 in Sacramento, CA
    • His bankruptcy documents show a 2008 payment of $7,400 for an allegedly stolen saxophone and clothes.
    • "He's been on TV before, and seems to cherish the attention. In 2006 he was on television, winning $55,000 on "The Big Spin." As a real estate agent in San Diego, he boasts of his celebrity clients, including Constance Ramos of "Extreme Home Makeover." "
  • Apparently, Sikes has a reputation as a scammer. William Sweet, who says he's Sikes's former business partner says:  
    • "As soon as i heard the words "Jim Sikes" I immediately woke up out of a dead sleep and thought "uh oh what the hell is this guy up to now?" He's trying to do a scam, and get in on that lawsuit for the Toyota thing, that's immediately what i thought."
    • According to Fox40, "Jim Pernetti with AAA California Document Services says he's also aware of Sikes' past..."I've been warned that he used to do business here," Pernetti told FOX40, "and that I should be wary of anything with him."
  • Sikes operates a website called AdultSwingLife.com which isn't exactly a porn site, but isn't exactly Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood either.
I have no way of knowing whether Sikes's story has any validity. But, by any standards, Sikes is not a reliable witness and the news media had a responsibility to examine his claims, not just regurgitate them without even an "allegedly" anywhere in sight before smearing Toyota once again.

As Fumento sums it up in the Forbes story:
"Journalism schools are supposed to teach that skepticism is paramount. "If your mother says it, check it out," goes the old adage.
Yet comments on Web sites across the country reveal that practically everyone thought the Prius incident was a hoax... except for the media. They have been as determined to not investigate Sikes' claims as Sikes was to not stop his car. It's a Toyota media feeding frenzy and the media aren't about to let little things like incredible stories and readily-refutable claims get in the way."
For the latest on this story see Balloon Boy Update
Also be sure to read Kirk's comment below

March 12, 2010

Friday Follies

A Close Shave In Florida
Megan Barnes was arrested in Florida last Friday after causing a two-car crash. 

She was on the way to meet her boyfriend and she "wanted to be ready." So she was shaving her pubic area while driving. Yes, you read that right.

But wait, there's more.

The previous day, Barnes was convicted of drunk driving. Oh, and she was also convicted of driving with a suspended license.

But wait, there's more.

Apparently, Megan was quite diligent about her toilette. In order to do a nice neat job of shaving, just before the crash, she handed the steering chores over to someone sitting in the passenger seat. Yes, you read that right.

Who was this passenger, you ask?

Her former husband.

No, my friends, you simply cannot make this shit up. 

Look Who Hasn't Jumped On The Social Media Bandwagon
But what the hell does he know about marketing.

School Standards
This week, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) issued new standards for K-12 education across the nation.

It seems that organizations like this issue new educational standards every half-hour and these standards have absolutely no effect on the alarming decline of our educational system, except perhaps to accelerate it.  

As a former teacher, it is my opinion that these organizations are willing to point the finger at every factor except the true causes of this problem: bad parenting and bad teaching.

Focusing on class size, funding, curriculum changes, technology and every other scheme and gimmick have so far achieved nothing but failure. Until we recognize that bad parenting and bad teaching are the problems, nothing will change.

For Those Who Just Can't Get Enough
Two Fridays ago, this musical tribute to the extra Y chromosome was a big fan favorite. If you dug that, you will probably dig this...



Thanks to Michael Vassolo for this video

March 10, 2010

Brand Babble Meets Digital Drivel

A few weeks ago, in a piece called The Age Of The Complicator, Part 4  I said, "we have to remove the word branding from our vocabulary. It has lost its meaning... "

If you need further evidence, I urge you to read Time To Rewrite The Brand Playbook For Digital in Ad Age this week.

It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a piece of highfalutin' baloney as much as I enjoyed this thing.

The author (of course, a "digital strategist") managed to use the word "brand" or some derivative of it 54 times in a 58 sentence article. That's a brand babble quotient of .93 which is a new world's record. Kudos all around!

She has also been able to do a lovely job of integrating brand babble with digital gibberish to come up with a true tour de force of contemporary marketing double talk. A few excerpts...
  • "Instead of simply wondering whether we should spend more time and effort on developing strategy or focusing on implementation, our challenge is to address branding online simultaneously as behavior and technology." 
Yup. I'll get right on that.
  • "There's always an opportunity to choose anew how a brand is going to behave online." 
And if it doesn't behave online, no dessert. I mean it.
  • "The branding industry of the past worked by coming up with an idea that they handed off. In the branding industry of the present, it is not easy to hand things off."
And in the branding industry of the future, there will be no hand-offs. It'll be all passing. Everyone go long.
  • "...people's behavior in digital is shaped by a simple trade-off between expected gains and expected costs of interacting with a brand."
Really? I thought people's behavior in digital was shaped by watching too many dirty videos.
  • "Traditional branding deals with extending the brand promise to the digital space and integrating go-to-market tactics with digital tactics to support the brand promise."
How many times have we all said that!
  • "Of course, brands realized that they needed to appropriate their message to the new media, according to McLuhan's "medium is the message" idea, and now everyone is talking about brand experiences online."
Yeah, whatever.

And speaking of Marshall McLuhan...


Thanks to Matt Morin for bringing this article to my attention.

March 09, 2010

Changing Behavior

If you've read my semi-brilliant book The Ad Contrarian, (which you can download free here) you know that one thing I believe is that advertising is more productive when it's focused on changing behavior, not attitudes.

I recently read a very interesting piece by a smart ad guy named Rory Sutherland. The piece is about Behavioral Economics and how understanding human behavior can make us very much better at what we do.

I recommend that you get hold of the piece (it originally ran in Campaign in the UK several months ago and is available at the 4A's website if you're a member) and read it.  Here are some interesting excerpts from it:
People will work harder to avoid losing something than they will to gain it. It can be twice as painful to lose a dollar as it was enjoyable to acquire it in the first place.
I'll have what she’s having. People frequently simplify decisions by mimicking the actions of people around them and by adhering to social norms. In Australia, water consumption was cut dramatically by simply printing the average consumption figure for his street on an individual’s water bills

When items promise multiple benefits, they are less convincing than items that appear to do only one thing. Ever wondered why Google is so successful? At a time when everything else was a portal, a page trying to do many things, Google was a single-minded search engine.

The price that is demanded for something makes us value it more. People who paid more for the same over-the-counter pain relief products reported more effective pain relief despite price being the only variable.
 These excerpts are just a small part of the article.

March 08, 2010

Spin Citi

Last year, our generous representatives in Washington took 45 billion of our dollars and gave them to Citigroup so they could stay afloat.

Now Citigroup has a new online strategy for restoring themselves to that special place in our hearts for companies that really care about us.

A component of their strategy is a blog by their ceo -- some guy named Vikram Pandit (rhymes with bandit.) Pandit has admitted to having availed himself of company jets (that you and I paid for) for personal use, and last year got $125,000 for 6 weeks work. (Which isn't quite social media consultant money, but it ain't bad.)

Now, I'm not saying that Pandit's blog is the kind of worthless self-serving baloney you'd expect from a ceo of one of these global monstrosities, but then again, I'm not saying it's not. If you have trouble sleeping, it ought to do the trick.

The pathetic part is that after about a month, this guy's blog has 33 comments on it. Citi has about a zillion customers and another jillion shareholders and this guy's blog has 33 comments.

I wonder how much of our money their social media consultant made on this whack-a-thon? (Golly, do you think they have a Facebook page? That would be awesome!)

Another clueless corporation falls for the myth of interactivity.

And this time we pay.

March 04, 2010

Bummer For Marketers: We Gotta Do Something.

Here's some big news.

According to an article in Ad Age last week called Why Measurement Alone Will Not Lead To Better Marketing, stuff doesn't automatically get better because we measure it. Apparently, to make it better, we have to do something.

What a bummer.

I guess this means that taking your temperature doesn't make your sore throat go away. And a longer tape measure will not make you taller. And an IQ test doesn't make you smarter.

Damn, nothing's easy anymore.

I can't believe these guys expect us to do something? We can't just drool all over the metrics? We can't just collect data and make spread sheets and print up reports?

We have to think? And have ideas? And, please God no, employ creative people?

In order to reach their brilliant conclusion, the authors interviewed 400 CEOs, CFOs and CMOs. This is not a joke.

I think many of us could have figured this out after interviewing 4 puppy dogs and a cheese grater.

Frankly, I don't see this study sitting at all well with marketers. If there's one thing we marketers hate to do, it's to do something.

But there's a silver lining.

As we learned on Tuesday in In The Year 2015 we only have to do stuff until all the data geniuses take over in 5 years.

Then I guess measurement alone will lead to better marketing. But maybe we ought to interview some more CEOs, just to be sure.

March 02, 2010

In The Year 2015

If you're looking for a good reason to stick a knife in your head, I highly recommend an article in this week's Ad Age about the future of the agency business.

In a piece called What Will Agencies Look Like in 2015 we learn that, once again, everything is going to change! Imagine that. (Apparently, trade pubs stay in business by validating hysterical readers' fears that everything is always changing. On the other hand, as I'm sure you've noticed, here at The Ad Contrarian nothing ever changes.)

Some examples of the big changes to come: Today's moronic titles like Chief Creative Meddler and Global Brand Sanitizer aren't stupid enough. So the article claims that in 2015 we'll have titles like... "Chief Choreographer."

By the way, I think this is great because from what I remember of our agency Christmas party, most of our copywriters need help with their dance routines.

Also in 2015 "data will dominate all agency activity." This is very exciting because today, as far as I can tell, hostility and petty jealousy dominate all agency activity.

The main thing we have to understand is that ideas won't be important in the year 2015. As a matter of fact, ideas and creativity aren't much to be found in this article.
"Creative directors...will be overshadowed by experts... in all aspects of the new-media world -- from strategy and channel expertise to campaign execution, analytics and beyond." 
The orchestra will no longer need musicians. Just piano tuners.

You see, it's all going to be about technology.
"As the ultimate enabler in the new digital age, technology will no longer play a tangential role...the agencies with the best developers will be the new leaders."
It seems like us copywriters will not be necessary. That's okay. Let's watch these data geniuses argue with the fucking account planners and see how they like it.

We'll be practicing our dance numbers.

We cannot allow this futuristic baloney to go by without paying homage to the worst #1 hit in the history of pop music...

March 01, 2010

The Revolting Taste Of Sour Grapes

A million years ago, FCB in San Francisco was the largest ad agency office west of the Mississippi. The guy who ran the creative department was named Mike Koelker. Mike did some incredible work, particularly for Levi's, when that brand was on top of the world.

I never worked for or with Mike, but I did have the good fortune to meet him socially. He was a very smart guy. One day a group of us were talking about movies. We were all saying this movie is shitty and that movie is crappy...the usual bullshit.

After we were through being experts, Mike said, "I admire all movies. Knowing what I know about making a :30 tv spot, I can't imagine how any movie gets made. Anyone who can do that has my respect."

I feel that way today about independent ad agencies. Between the dual blights of conglomeratization and recession, anyone who's making it as an independent has my admiration. Believe me, I know how tough it is.

Whenever we're pitching against another independent and one of my team denigrates them, I say, "Amigo, all the dumb ones are gone. The only ones left are smart."

Why am I telling you this? Because last week I wanted to kill someone.

We recently won a nice piece of business. We worked our asses off and did a good job.

The new business guy from one of the loser independent agencies (who didn't even come in second) wrote a very nasty post on his blog. It insulted my agency and it insulted the client.

We all feel lousy when we lose a pitch. Most of us, however, understand that we're going to lose more than we win and are grown-up enough to take our losses in stride.

This guy wasn't. He wrote the kind of snide, childish, amateurish nonsense that someone looking to defend his failure to his management would write. Someone with decency, however, wouldn't put this trash on a blog.

What this guy probably doesn't know is that we had recommended his agency on a few occasions to clients we couldn't handle. Never again.

I can forgive, but I can't forget.

If You Haven't Seen This...
...don't miss it. From BusinessWeek, The Toyota Witch Hunt. (Full disclosure: Toyota's a client)