June 30, 2010

Crazy Blogger Uncovers Evil Sexist Plot

The web advertising bubble is out of control, right?

Anyone who looks at the facts about web advertising has to conclude that while there are some people who know what they're doing, most web advertisers might as well stand on the roof and make paper airplanes out of thousand dollar bills.

So the other night I had a thought.

What if this whole web advertising thing is a big, fat sexist conspiracy? Step into my laboratory...

Fact #1: The vast majority of promoters of "new age" marketing are men. Most of the chatter about how "digital changes everything" and the death of the "interruption model" and the claptrap about "the conversation" and "brand relationships" has been promulgated by male marketing gurus with way too much podium time at advertising conferences.

Fact #2: Men don't hardly buy nothin'. 85% of consumer purchases are made by women.

Fact #3: The things that men buy are all stupid gadgets -- sound systems and computers and fishing rods and guitars -- exactly the kind of crap you'd go on line to get info about.

Fact #4: Women buy all the important stuff -- the not-sexy, essential stuff that keeps the world going: socks and pickles and half-and-half and mayonnaise and cookies and toothbrushes and umbrellas and napkins and horseradish and dental floss and coffee filters and pillows and nail clippers and furniture polish and frozen chicken strips and lamps and potting soil and cat food and sun block and light bulbs and pillow cases and vacuum cleaner bags and shower curtains. All the stuff you'd never go on line to get info about unless you're seriously demented.

Fact #5: Men think that all this vital stuff just appears in the house while they're out having beers with their jerk-off pals. These lazy-ass bastards also have plenty of time to sit on their fat asses and have "online conversations" about what brand of golf balls to buy. So they think women are doing the same thing.

Fact #6: Meanwhile, what women are doing on line is having conversations about dumping the old fat bastard and finding a delicious young towel boy. They are decidedly not having conversations about brands of mushroom soup.

So there you have it. The web advertising bubble is simply the result of a conspiracy by a small group of ruthless marketing guys to get themselves out of the house and off to Las Vegas where they can be paid 10K to shoot their mouths off about "Your Personal Brand in the New Era of Digitally Integrated Social Media Content And Engagement and, oh yeah I almost forgot, Conversations."

Am I crazy?

Wait, don't answer that.

June 29, 2010

Social Media Guru Disses Social Media Gurus

You can put this in your "You Can't Make This Shit Up" file.

Here we have a a social media guru sitting beach side in Cannes -- at her fabulous corporate cafe -- talking shit about social media gurus.

She tells us that social media gurus are full of crap, then she goes on to give a tour de force performance in impenetrable, incomprehensible social media gibberish...
"...interface and interactivity was what we were worried about. But the words were not really necessarily part of it. Actual conversation. Cause we predicted how you would navigate. Now with social media the conversation is immediate so we can't predict how the conversation is going to be. And that needs to shape creativity because the visuals, the things we prepare for you, the way we imagine you're going to absorb our content might just change because -- I don't know because we used the wrong words, because we tagged the wrong content, because something else happened with something else..."

The startling thing is that we've all heard the rap so many times that while she's talking we are almost seduced into believing it makes sense. It's not until we see it written down that we realize what utter nonsense it is.

Thanks to i2 Partners for turning me on to this. Sorry it took awhile to acknowledge them.

June 28, 2010

Just Wait, You'll See

Here at Ad Contrarian World Headquarters, we've been at war with the "new age" advertising crowd for almost 3 years now.

They still can't understand the distinction between the popularity of the web and the dismal record of web advertising. They think that because the internet has become pervasive, internet advertising must be similarly powerful.

They are wrong.

We all learned to ignore banner ads 10 years ago. Today, a click-through rate of 2 in thousand is considered very successful. Online video accounts for a ridiculously small 1% of video watched. Podcasts are a joke, and social media is more PR and customer relations than it is advertising.

Additionally, the more these people shout about the death of television, the more TV viewership grows and the more facts pile up to prove them wrong.

Every time some pain-in-the-ass like me points out to them that the facts are against them, they always have the same answer...

"Just wait, you'll see."

Well, I don't know about you but I've been waiting almost 10 years now and I still don't see anything very impressive.

I see plenty of hustlers making a nice living off the naivete of gullible marketers. I see plenty of chatter and plenty of hysteria about the glories of social media, but I'm still waiting for just one non-web-based mainstream brand to be built primarily through web advertising. Just one.

Nowhere has the story of the death of traditional advertising/ascendancy of web advertising been more mindlessly reported and repeated than in the ad trade press. The "digital changes everything" narrative has become so pervasive that to even dare to question it is to be deemed some kind of oddball, fool, or Luddite.

Then all of a sudden, last week, Ad Age had an article entitled Increased Advertiser Interest Signals Resurgence of Big TV.  

In one of the most mammoth "duhs" in recent advertising history, Ad Age seems to have discovered what everyone who's been paying attention (or reading this fascinating blog) has known for a long time...
"...as marketers examine all sorts of new-media options, they may be finding that TV is a better buy for the money."
No shit? How long have we been saying that? And, by the way, so is radio, and so is outdoor, and so is just about any other medium you can think of.

My favorite line of the article is the sub-head.
Impressive Upfront Numbers Suggest Marketers Agree That -- for Now -- Medium Offers Most Bang for Buck.
 " -- for Now --."  You know what that little "-- for Now --" phrase means, right?

"Just wait, you'll see."

Summer Schedule...
It's summer and I need a break from being cranky all the time. I'm going to be posting less frequently, and re-posting some old but still semi-brilliant pieces from time to time.

June 25, 2010

Nielsen Buries The Lead

The advertising industry is so intent on pumping up (some might say pimping up) web and mobile video, they can't even see the real world anymore.

Nielsen's "Three Screen Report" (which reports on TV, web, and mobile screen usage) for the first quarter of 2010 has some astounding data about viewing habits. But you'd never know it from reading their conclusions.

Here are the facts I found compelling.
1. While time spent with TV increased by 1.3% compared to the same quarter last year, time on the internet dropped by 10 times that amount.

2. Compared to Q1 last year, TV viewing grew by 2 hours per month, while watching video on the internet grew by 11 minutes per month.

3. DVR viewers fast forwarded through 3% fewer spots compared to Q1 a year ago.

4. The number of people watching TV and using a laptop simultaneously dropped by almost 5% compared to last year.

5. Video viewing on the internet continues to be less than 1% of all viewing.

6. Mobile viewing of video is essentially a non-factor, constituting about 2/10 of 1% of total viewing.
Meanwhile, here are the "Key Conclusions" Nielsen draws:
1. While mobile subscribers watching video on a mobile phone is (sic) still only a small fraction of the audience, the year-over-year growth is a notable 51.2% 

2. Over half (55%) of the mobile video audience is aged 25-49, not teens as some might think 

3. Simultaneous usage of television and PC, while down year-over-year in March, remains fairly constant.
Two of the "key conclusions" revolve around mobile viewing, which is not even a pimple on the ass of total viewing. No "key conclusions" about the amazing, continuing dominance of television.  Nothing about the bewildering drop in internet viewing (can you imagine the hysteria and death knells if time spent with TV dropped 13% in one year!)

To me it is painfully obvious that the marketing and advertising industries have so thoroughly bought into the "narrative" of the power of web and mobile video --  and are so eager to find justification for that narrative -- that they can't even interpret their own numbers sensibly.

June 24, 2010

How To Be Fabulously Successful

People often say to me, "Ad Contrarian, how can I be a fabulously successful online copywriter like you?"

Well, I'm here to tell you that you, too, can be famous and make millions of dollars and have super-hot nymphos crawling all over you.

What's the secret to online copywriting success? First, you need some words. Words are the building blocks of writing! Without words, writing is a thankless chore. Take the Sumerians. They didn't have words. All they had were pictures. Now they're dead.

The best part? They're all free! Any word you want. Even "penultimate."

When we write online copy, the words we use say a lot about us. If we are depressed, we want to use depressing words like "advertising" or "exercise."

If we are funny, then we want to use funny words, like "homo" or "Kotex."

The important thing is to be yourself when you are writing. You have to know who you really are. If you don’t know who you are, you have to find yourself. The best place to find yourself is in bed. Hopefully, with someone cute.

The Key To Being Creative: Creativity
In order to be a successful online copywriter you have to be creative. The most important part of being creative is "creativity". Without "creativity" most of us wouldn’t have a creative bone in our body. Except maybe our fibula.

Nobody really knows what "creativity" is. Every year thousands of people take a pilgrimage to find out. This involves flying to Cannes, snorting cocaine, and having sex with smokers.

How do you nourish your creativity? I suggest chicken caesar wraps. But I know a very successful creative director who swears by strawberry Toaster Strudel.

The important thing to remember is that we’re all creative. Although, honestly, I have my doubts about Leon Panetta.

The F Word: It’s Effing Awesome!
On the internet, content is king. And dirty words is queen.

If you are writing a blog, you must be hard-boiled and never show weakness. You must not let on that you are from Valley Stream and went to Hofstra and worked at Grey. You must show the world that you’re an anarchistic, hard-living, hard-drinking bastard. And what better way to be a bad-ass muthafucka than to use naughty language.

Words like "fuck,” “bullshit,” and “douchebag” make your copy sing! Put a few of them together and you’ve got magic -- “Fuckingdouchebag!,” “Fuckingbullshit!,” “Fuckingfuck!” (By the way, it is impossible to punctuate that last sentence properly, even for an experienced online copywriter.)

The ability to express complex concepts in a censorship-free environment is what makes the web great. Well, that and those nutty cats on YouTube.

Understanding Your Online Customer
Let’s face it. Most of the people who visit your website are fuckingdouchebags.

I mean...um... they are Web 2.0 savvy consumers whose engagement with their own personal brands make them willing to join the conversation in an interactive way that leverages social media to become engaged customers for life. You know, that kind of thing.

Well, whatever the hell they are, they got money and we want it!

Remember, engaging content is how you engage their engagement.

The Three Simple, Double-Secret Magical Copywriting Rules for Success
Now we get to the heart of the matter. Anyone can be a successful online copywriter if you just follow these three simple, double-secret, magical rules:
1. Don’t use Windex on your computer screen. It fucks up the molecules or something.
2. Don’t hold back. People love to know personal details about your life. Unless you have a hernia or some kind of smelly intestinal disorder.
3. Amateur MILF in wild inter-racial 3-way... Oops, sorry, wrong blog.

June 23, 2010

Why Clients Are Always Confused

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called "Why Creatives Are Always Confused." Today, it's clients' turn.

I have been in the advertising business now for about 200 years.

One of my quests while serving this lengthy sentence has been to try to find some universal truths about advertising. So far I've come up empty.

If someone like me -- who spends 14 hours a day thinking about advertising -- is confused, imagine how our clients, who have real jobs to contend with, must feel.

I suspect that there are no universal truths about advertising.  Advertising is a function of human behavior, and human behavior is always contingent. The only general statements you can make about human behavior are about probabilities, not absolutes.

There is nothing you can say about advertising that is always true. There is also nothing you can say about advertising that is never true.

This leads to big problems, lots of wasted money, and a very large quantity of disoriented, confused clients.

It makes it possible for a certain type of agency person -- who is articulate but often wrong -- to convince the impressionable and the naive to follow him.

It makes it commonplace to argue from the extreme and make it seem as if an improbably rare occurrence is somehow typical.

How many times have bad agencies used the brilliant Just Do It to justify pointless "branding" campaigns?

How many times have bad agencies used the ground-breaking Subservient Chicken to justify preposterous viral schemes?

How many times have agencies used the wonderful got milk? campaign to justify shoddy account planning?

How many times have web hustlers used Zappos to justify expensive, ineffectual social media projects?

How many times have hack agency heads used horrible but successful used-car advertising to justify absence of creativity?

Because there are no universal truths, you can find justification for virtually anything in the annals of advertising, no matter how unlikely.

By factoring out the brilliance of the people who created Just Do It, Subservient Chicken, and got milk? agencies can pretend that there are some general principles about advertising to be drawn from them. There aren't. But clients are constantly being mislead into thinking there are.

When evaluating advertising, remember
  • there are no absolutes, just probabilities
  • never allow anecdotes to masquerade as principles
  • even people who do brilliant, groundbreaking work have trouble reproducing it
It would make clients' lives -- and ours -- so much simpler if there were some rules about advertising that were always true. Unfortunately, there aren't.

No wonder clients are confused. No wonder I'm confused.

June 22, 2010

The Value Of A Customer's Hat

Yesterday, we talked about my problems with a study called The Value Of A Facebook Fan: An Empirical Review produced by a company called Syncapse. It purported to calculate a value for Facebook fanhood. Today we'll discuss another problem with the study.
After 18 pages of charts and graphs and marketing babble that occasionally resembles English, Syncapse concludes that the average value of a Facebook fan is $136.38.

Not $137.12 or $135.29, but $136.38.

They do this through a series of calculations. As they say...
"Understanding long-term Facebook fan value is a complex undertaking with advanced calculations required across multiple variables."
But before doing advanced calculations across multiple variables, you first need a clue about what you're calculating.

The problem with the quantitative part of their study is that the underlying assumption they are using is wrong. It is based on...
"...the measureable (sic) differences between (Facebook) users who have “fanned” a brand and those who have not."
Here's what's wrong with this assumption. If people who wear Red Sox caps spend $250 a year more with the Red Sox than people who don't, does that mean the value of a Red Sox cap is $250?  Of course not. You are taking the value of the customer and attributing it to his hat. But that's essentially the logic of the Syncapse study.

They are taking the added value they've calculated for a Facebook fan and attributing it to fan-hood at the expense of all other possible explanations.

Let's start at the beginning and pretend for a moment that, unlike Syncapse, we are not "global leaders in...digital measurement," we're just a bunch of bozos trying to figure out what a Facebook fan is worth.

We'll start with another example. After doing some calculations, Taco Bell finds that people who have Taco Bell bumper stickers are worth $100 a year more to them than people who don't have bumper stickers. The bumper sticker people buy more stuff at Taco Bell and they recommend it to their friends, etc.

Someone not very good at math or logic might conclude that this proves that a Taco Bell bumper sticker has a value to Taco Bell of $100. 

Someone a little more assiduous in her work, might think differently. She might do another calculation and find that all Taco Bell customers (whether they have bumper stickers or not) are worth $95 a year more than people without Taco Bell bumper stickers. She might conclude that $95 of the $100 attributed to the bumper sticker actually comes from the fact that the person is a Taco Bell customer. She might conclude that the value of the bumper sticker is actually $5 a year.

So the key question for Syncapse is, how much of their imputed value can we attribute to "Facebook fan-ing" and how much to something else -- like the fact that fans are more likely to be customers?

The answer is, I don't know and neither does Syncapse. And until they know, it is impossible for them to calculate a reliable value for a fan, no matter how many charts and graphs they produce.

It is my contention that a substantial part of the value imputed to being a Facebook fan has nothing to do with Facebook, and may be related to being either a customer or an active category participant or something else.

If I am right,  Facebook fanhood has a far smaller value than the one they have calculated. This, of course, is not good for companies like Syncapse who have a vested interest in pumping up social media.

Apparently, when it came time to publish this study, someone at Syncapse with functioning synapses (sorry) must have read the thing and realized the fallacy of the logic. Buried on page 15 is the following disclaimer...
"It is important to note that this audience would still have value without Facebook..."
In other words, what they probably have been measuring is the value of the customer, not the value of his hat.

June 21, 2010

The Value Of A Facebook Fan

This weekend I had the misfortune of reading a mind-numbing piece of work called "The Value Of A Facebook Fan: An Empirical Review" by a company called Syncapse.

I knew this report would be a lot of bluff and bananas when I saw the word "empirical" in the title.

Syncapse modestly describes itself as "a global leader in the areas of community building, technology solutions, and digital measurement." Is that all? Not world peace or Hungarian folk dancing?
The study purports to calculate the value of a Facebook fan. But it's riddled with problems. One of which is the problem of correlation versus causality.

People not trained in research or logic often have trouble understanding the difference between correlation and causality.

Here's a quick explanation.

If you were to study people who are hard-of-hearing you would probably also find that they have a much higher likelihood of being bald. Does this mean that bad hearing causes baldness? Of course not. It occurs because old age causes both hearing and hair loss. So there is a correlation between deafness and baldness, but there is no causality. One does not cause the other.

Syncapse clearly shows that there is a connection between Facebook fanhood and certain financial and marketing benefits to a brand. But to demonstrate that Facebook fanhood has value, they need to show that the connection is causal, not just a correlation.

In other words, it is clear that a Facebook fan is worth more than an average user*. But it is not clear that this has anything to do with being a Facebook fan. It may just be that Facebook fans are typical brand loyalists and that all brand loyalists are more valuable, whether they are Facebook fans or not.

In order to show that Facebook fanhood has value, Syncapse needs to demonstrate that "fanning" on Facebook actually causes higher value and doesn't just correlate with it. Which they have not done.

You might expect ignorant knuckleheads like you and me to confuse correlation with causality. But a "global leader in...digital measurement?" I'm shocked!

Tomorrow we'll discuss the second fallacy in this study. 

* When they compare "fans" to "average users" it is unclear whether they are talking about average brand users or average Facebook users. It seems that they have only studied Facebook users. However, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have calculated their Facebook fan value using average brand users as their baseline, rather than just average Facebook users. Otherwise their calculations are even more goofy.

Thanks to Redstarrevolt for sending me this study.

June 18, 2010

Advertising Is A Good History Teacher

Advertising is a good history teacher.

One of the lessons our teachers and history professors always try to impress on us -- usually fruitlessly -- is that it is very tricky to judge the past by applying contemporary standards.

Advertising teaches this wonderfully.

A few days ago, one of my readers (CaliforniaGirl) sent a link to a post she had written.

The post was about past ads that we now find alarming and insulting. I have taken the liberty to reproduce some of them here.

The post got me thinking. Politics and values change so fast, ads that were acceptable just a few decades ago would now cause instant outrage.

And yet, at the time they probably seemed reasonable.

Our advertising is a very reliable mirror of contemporary culture. And like every generation before us, we think of ourselves as terribly civilized  and enlightened.

I wonder which ads (and which values) we accept as reasonable today will be viewed as archaic and disgusting 50 years from now.

Surely we are not immune to the evolution of culture and the idiosyncrasies of history.

(For a better look at these ads, and others, go to CaliforniaGirl's website.)

June 17, 2010

Social Mediocrity

As regular readers know, there are few things that make me more cheerful and insufferably smug than sticking pins in pathetic social media schemes.

Earlier this week, The New York Times ran a big story in their "Media and Advertising" section about a product for arthritic baby boomers called Elations. The story devoted a good deal of space to a social media program that Elations is engaged in. Here is some of what The Times wrote...
Now the brand is embarking on an online marketing effort...to align itself with aging consumers’ predilections for volunteerism and social media. In a contest called Boomers Building a Better America on the Facebook page of Elations, the brand is accepting nominations for community projects, which Facebook users can vote on...
...a panel that includes the former Olympic gymnasts Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci (now husband and wife) will choose three projects, and those will win $10,000...
Boomers have the highest volunteer rate of any age group, at 33.2 percent, compared with a national average of 29 percent...
And 46 percent of boomers were on a social media network in 2009, up from 30 percent in 2007, according to eMarketer, a research firm.
Since this idea sounded exactly like about half a million other social media whack-a-thons I've listened to in the past year, and because I'm just that kind of prick, I decided to go to Elations Facebook page and see how this brilliant plan was coming.

I figured with a big story in the NYTimes it had to have attracted some heavy-duty consumer attention. But, as you can imagine, I was secretly hoping it was a big stinky turd.

Well, it's stinky beyond my wildest imagination. After all this publicity, as of 11:30 pm EDT yesterday, there were a total of 836 followers.

Apparently Nadia Comaneci has lost some of her fabulous charisma.

Just as an aside, here's a little tip for you young 'uns working at the agency -- Boomers Building A Better America? We tried that. It didn't work.

June 16, 2010

A CMO I Can Love

It's rare that I read something in a trade publication written by a cmo that isn't a cliche-riddled jargon fest.

This week, however, I read a brief interview with Rick Bendel who is international chief marketing officer for Walmart in AdAge. In spite of his alarming title, he had some intelligent things to say that echo a post I wrote almost a year ago called "The Laziness of Global Advertisers (Parts 1 and 2.)" Rick says:
Retail is an incredibly local business and a shop's franchise is based around people's experiences. We are protective of the fact that our business has been built up locally. ... I don't believe that working with a single global agency would give value. ... It's lazy to copy.
Here's what I said in my post. 
... the closer you are to the customer, the better sense of reality you have. This is not to say that everyone "in the field" is a genius and that everyone at "headquarters" is an idiot...
But if you take two people with equal ability... the one who deals with customers everyday is far more likely to have an accurate idea of what the marketing issues are than the one who sits in meetings.
And yet, in the world of global advertising and global marketing, there seems to be an irresistible gravitational pull drawing advertising and marketing decisions to the central office...
We now have "global" CMOs in New York deciding what advertising will run in Argentina. We have global creative directors in London "adapting" campaigns for Korea...
...why do marketers do this?
...They are too lazy to deal with the messiness of finding the right people on the ground all over the world. It's much easier to just hire a "global" agency and let them worry about it. So they suspend disbelief and buy into the fiction (which creates gales of laughter in anyone who has ever worked at a global agency) about the "integrated worldwide capabilities" of these agencies.

June 15, 2010

Pepsi Proves You Can Give Away Money

I know I'm like totally old school and out of it and a big old dinosaur, but I thought marketing was supposed to be about selling stuff. Silly me.

So wasn't I all red-in-the-face and feeling like a dork when I read an interview in BrandWeek with Pepsi's marketing director. The interview was about their much ballyhooed "Refresh Project" -- which, in my churlish opinion is a big cynical gimmick to get some marketing leverage by giving away 20 million dollars to people with nice ideas.

Now, before you go calling me an ogre, I am all in favor of giving money to help people and communities. I even do a fair bit of it myself.

The difference between Pepsi and me, however, is that I don't go around beating my chest about it. I  do it because I think it's the right thing to do.

Maybe I just don't like the idea of big, fat corporations gloating over their munificence, and executives from these corporations parading their smugness. Call me cynical, but to me altruism loses its luster when it seeks bouquets.

Pepsi is brazenly using their "Refresh" project for the purpose of buying their way into social media stardom and "creating buzz on social networks." Double yuk.

But I digress...

The thing that interested me most about the interview was that it focused on the marketing effectiveness of the campaign without once mentioning the word "sales."
"The success has been overwhelming. We have more than doubled our Facebook fans since we started the campaign. We have more than 24,000 Twitter fans"
Hmm. Let's see. So far Pepsi has given away 5 mil (not counting the millions they've spent on promoting this thing) divided by 24,000 comes to about $208 a fan. So their Twitter fans are costing them about $208 a pop. At that rate, I could sell them my 3,000 Twitter followers and make a nice cool $600k on the deal. By the way, my Twitter followers cost me less than $208 each. They cost me nothing on a stick.

Now here's the thing. If you're going to give away 20 million dollars to help people and communities, then god bless you. But please, don't rub my nose in it.

On the other hand, if you're doing it to promote sales, then don't pretend you're Mother Teresa.

And if you're just doing it to attract Facebook friends and Twitter followers, then you're seriously demented.

This is probably the most expensive social media effort ever. I'm very curious to know what effect it will have on sales.

So far all it's proven to me is that if you want to give away money, you can.

June 14, 2010

Let The Hysteria Begin

Well, it didn't take long.

Last Wednesday, in a post called The Amazing Social Media Swindle I wrote,
"The good news is that pretty soon social media marketing hysteria will go the way of podcasts and widgets, and we can all get hysterical about iAds."
For once, I was prescient. Within 24 hours, the Wall Street Journal ran a headline story called "Apple's Next Disruption: Advertising."

Just as I suspected iAds are the next installment in the long history of "things that will change everything." According to the Journal,
It is easy to underestimate the importance of mobile Internet and advertising...

Who will suffer from the advance of mobile advertising? TV networks... big Internet portals also may be at risk. Regardless, mobile likely will cause a bigger, faster disruption to the ad world than is generally appreciated.
This is exactly the kind of article that will get the hysteria ball rolling. Better put an iAds section in your new business presentation because I guarantee you every marketing nitwit in the world will be asking you about it.

That was Thursday. Then on Friday came this:

"A panel of experts will discuss how media will embrace the emerging platform of mobile tablets."
Gotta love it. iAds were introduced about a half hour ago and already there are experts.

The fun thing about this is that as iAds hysteria builds and social media becomes old hat, all the frauds who have worked so hard to be social media experts are going to have to scramble to become mobile/tablet media experts.

The good thing is that the digi-babblers are starting to get bored with their weekly social media conferences. iAds hysteria will spawn a deluge of new "tablet advertising" conferences which will keep them busy and out of town where they can't annoy us and do too much damage.

June 11, 2010

The Consumer Knows Nothing

There was a time when advertisers weren't afraid to make decisions. They would trust their judgment. They wouldn't be too timid to have an opinion.

Unfortunately, those days are gone. Now, every creative decision is made by "the consumer"-- i.e., research.

This would be fine if there was a reliable research methodology to determine advertising effectiveness. But there isn't. I've been involved in about a million creative decisions made by "the consumer" and the decision might as well have been made by my cat.

You think Steve Jobs lets "the consumer" make advertising decisions for him?

Consumer research certainly has its value for certain kinds of marketing and strategic questions. But when it comes to creative matters, the research is unreliable and the consumer knows nothing.

And Speaking Of Jobs...
Watched his new iPhone presentation earlier this week. Wonder how he likes his ATT network now?

June 10, 2010

Advertising's Degenerative Disease

Last week, Apple surpassed Microsoft as the world's most valuable technology company.

I've never done work for either of these firms, but they seem so different to me it's hard to think of them as being in the same business.

I was trying to understand what made them feel so dissimilar to me. I think it's craftsmanship.

It seems to me that Microsoft is a company run by a businessman. Apple is a company run by a craftsman.

This is not to say that a craftsman can't be a good businessman, or that a businessman can't also be a craftsman.

But there is clearly an aesthetic sensibility at work at Apple that doesn't exist at Microsoft.

As I said in a previous post, "We are so used to the name Microsoft, we have forgotten what an alarmingly awful, cringe-inducing name it is. When you start with such bad taste, it’s hard to ever recuperate."

I think there is a lesson in this for the ad industry.

The ad industry used to be a business of craftspeople. The men and women who started agencies were generally copywriters, art directors, or account people. They plied the trade of advertising and knew it well. They worked at ad shops and when they got fed up, they set out to do it better themselves.

They'd start their own shop and this would spawn a new generation who, in their own time, would break off and continue the cycle.

The leaders of today's global ad agencies are not crafts people. They're businessmen -- lawyers, accountants, financiers, insurance guys. They wouldn't know a rough cut from a lug nut.

In the era of the crafts person the ad industry looked very different. Not that long ago Y&R had the largest share of the ad market in the US at about 1.5%. Today, four global monstrosities control over 70% of the ad spending in the US.

I've been around the ad business long enough to know that it's never been a little slice of utopia. But I have a hard time believing that an ad industry controlled by financiers is preferable to one controlled by craftspeople.

It's a very rare apple that can have it both ways.

June 09, 2010

The Amazing Social Media Swindle

If you need any further evidence of the insane hysteria the marketing industry has created around social media marketing, a very clever bit of research from Nation's Restaurant News ought to do the trick.

The magazine asked consumers and restaurant operators parallel questions about their use of social media (specifically Facebook and Twitter.) As they say, "...what we found was nothing short of remarkable."

Here are the highlights:
  • While 61% of restaurant operators said their restaurants were on Facebook, 8% of consumers said they ever follow restaurants on Facebook.
  • While 78% of restaurants said they planned to use Facebook more in the next 6 months to market their restaurants, only 15% of consumers said they planned to use Facebook more to follow restaurants.
  • 53% of restaurants say they are using Twitter to market themselves, 3% of consumers say they  follow any restaurants on Twitter.
  • 66% of restaurants say they plan to use Twitter more in the next 6 months. 9% of consumers say they will use Twitter more to follow restaurants.
As The Ad Contrarian says loud and often, there is no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he's missing a trend.

The good news is that pretty soon social media marketing hysteria will go the way of podcasts and widgets, and we can all get hysterical about iAds.

June 08, 2010

Philosophy Or Donuts?

Several years ago, a very sincere guy who ran a chain of donut shops came to see me. He wanted to do an advertising campaign.

"We're different," he explained. "We're a commune. Everyone who works here owns an equal part. We work cooperatively. It's a model for how businesses should be run. It's a vision of the future. I think we should do an ad campaign about it. I think people will really respond."

"How are your donuts?" I asked.

"They're very good." He said.

"Then forget the philosophy," I said. "Nobody needs better philosophy. They need better donuts."

June 07, 2010

Unreasonable People

One of the things web publishers are going to have to get used to is human irrationality.

This can be seen in the worldwide fuss over Facebook, Google and privacy.

Apologists point out that people put their most intimate details on the web and then get all huffy when publishers like Facebook and Google provide access to this information. Isn't this complete hypocrisy, they say?

Darn right it is, and you better get used to it. And you better not argue about it with your customers either.

People are not logic machines. Their behavior is inconsistent, at best. It may take a while for web marketers to learn what traditional marketers learned a long time ago -- if you expect people to be logical, you're barking up the wrong species.

This week I'm going to be publishing some previous posts in full or part.

June 04, 2010

A Whole Lot Of Nothing

We think we're important.

We think our problems are monumental.

We have massive frustrations and grievances.

So I thought a little perspective might help us all have a nicer weekend.

First of all, let's talk about this place we live in.

We call it the universe. We've all heard about the hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars, each surrounded by who knows how many planets and other objects. And so we think there's a lot of stuff out there. But the universe is so unimaginably large that despite all these objects, it is essentially empty space. Only 0.000000000000000000004 of the universe is stuff. If I counted my zeroes right, that's 4 quintillionths of 1%. The rest is emptiness.

Then there's our planet. All the news we read and politics we practice and conflicts we endure, are about a very small component of life on our planet. In fact, 97% of all the habitable area of the earth is in the oceans. We have almost no contact with the vast majority of life on earth -- other than, from time to time, to spill oil all over it.

Then there's us. We're made of atoms. And 99.999999999999% of an atom is empty. Which means we are 99.999999999999% nothing.

So this weekend, if you start feeling sorry for yourself or whining about your condition, mix yourself a tall one. There's a whole lot of emptiness that needs filling.

June 03, 2010

Maniacs With Thin Skins

“He irritates the fuck out of me. He’s got carried away with his own scepticism about the internet and it’s become a self-fulfilling prophesy.” Another blogger, on the subject of yours truly.
The fun thing about being The Ad Contrarian is that it's my job is to stick my finger in the eye of conventional advertising wisdom.

Since conventional advertising wisdom is so, well, conventional, and since it is so lacking in, um, wisdom, I seem to have an inexhaustible supply of material.

I try to be an equal opportunity non-believer. My favorite targets are brand babblers, web maniacs, account planners, researchers, and pundits. But I also like to take cheap shots at account people, media people, and creatives. You know, spreading the love.

But I've noticed something.

You can stick your finger in the eye of everyone of these groups and they'll have a sense of humor or sense of proportion about it.  Except one group -- the web maniacs.

As I've said about a million times, I have nothing against web advertising other than to call out the bullshit, hyperbole and words without meaning that extreme web hustlers are fond of.

There are plenty of 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 the dreadful, impenetrable language of digi-drivel.

So why all the defensiveness and hostility when you point out those who do? Why all the animosity when you examine the short-comings, and catalog the failures of web advertising? Nobody gets all huffy when we criticize tv advertising. Or print. Or radio.

Why are these digi-wonders so sensitive about their precious internet?

And, by the way...
...about that quote at the top. As I said yesterday, I don't do prophesies. Self-fulfilling or otherwise.

June 02, 2010

Why I Never Make Predictions

Diligent readers of this blog have probably noticed that the wily ol' Ad Contrarian almost never makes predictions.

The reason for this is simple: I hate looking like an idiot.

People who make predictions are almost always wrong, and usually wind up eating their words.

Here's a lovely case in point. I was going through some old stuff about the supposed "death of advertising" and came upon this from Bob Garfield of Ad Age, a rather bright and interesting guy who unfortunately fell victim to the compulsion to predict things last March...
The post-advertising age is under way. 

... the present is apocalyptic. Any hope for a seamless transition -- or any transition at all -- from mass media and marketing to micro media and marketing are absurd. 
The sky is falling, the frog in the pot has come to a boil and, oh yeah, we are, most of us, exquisitely, irretrievably fucked.
This kind of hysterical chicken licken stuff was all the rage in the spring of last year. But as I often tell my long-suffering colleagues, nothing moves in a straight line. Suddenly it's all different.

Here are a few clippings from last week.

First, from The New York Times:
...a leading ad tracking service reported that advertising spending in major media rose in the first quarter, marking the first gain since the first quarter of 2008.

The gain, 5.1 percent compared with the first quarter of 2009, was the largest increase in ad spending since the first quarter of 2006...

Thirteen of the 19 types of media...experienced spending gains in the first quarter, the company reported...(including) 22 percent for spot television.
The gains in the first quarter were fueled by important categories like automobiles, up 18.6 percent; telecommunications, up 10.6 percent; financial services, up 10.1 percent; and miscellaneous retail, up 8.9 percent.

In fact, 9 of the top 10 categories increased their ad spending in the quarter.
Next, from The Wall Street Journal:
The upfront market, the annual mating dance in which ad buyers and major broadcast networks haggle over ad time for the new TV season, is heating up, and could be sold out in a matter of weeks, ad buyers and marketers say
...It's a major reversal from last year when talks dragged on through much of the summer in a harsh economic climate.

..."I think we'll come back Tuesday morning to fireworks," another network executive says.
And from "Is a Better Caliber of Advertiser Headed to the Super Bowl?" in Ad Age...
With marketers' insight into their finances more clear this year, hope has begun to bubble that a more venerated class of advertiser will return to the gridiron classic. "You will see a number of people back in the Super Bowl that you haven't seen in a few years," Jon Nesvig, president-sales, Fox Broadcasting Co., said...
Mr. Nesvig has reason for optimism. Ad-sales executives from CBS, Turner, NBC and ESPN -- and Fox, too -- say advertiser interest in football telecasts is more intense ...

And ad buyers on the other side of the desk back up the networks' view....
So I'm going to stick with this bit of wisdom variously attributed to Casey Stengel, Sam Goldwyn and Neils Bohr:  "Never make predictions. Particularly about the future."

...this weekend, The Ad Contrarian passed its half-millionth visit. Thank you, gentle readers. Now, if I had only charged a buck a pop...

June 01, 2010

The Yellow And Brown Process

Clients love to believe that there is a method to the advertising madness.

A substantial component of success at winning new business these days is not about the effectiveness of the advertising you create, but how clever you are at contriving a plausible sounding process for developing your ideas.

There are processes for doing just about everything an agency does. But when it comes to creating ideas, sorry, there ain't no process.

Don't get me wrong, we all pretend there's a process (see Precision Guessing.) We have to. Clients demand it. So we tart up the things we all do to make them look like steps in a process. We give them a name---oops, sorry, I mean, we brand them---and bingo! we have the TraDigital Process or the Ethno-Planning Process.

It's all baloney, but it makes clients feel good.

I was once presenting to a prospective client. He was in love with a campaign I had done. He wanted to know the process I used to develop the campaign. I said, "Do you really want me to take you through the full process I used?"

"Yes," he said. "I want to understand it.".

"Okay," I said. "When I wrote this campaign I used the Yellow and Brown process,"

He seemed excited, "Really? What's the 'Yellow and Brown' process?"

"I took a legal pad with me to the bathroom."

We didn't get the account.