March 28, 2012

The Golden Age Of Advertising.

Monday I posted a piece called Opinions About Everything, Knowledge About Nothing.

It was about the shockingly low level of knowledge that many ad people have regarding the facts of life in our business today.

One of the most troubling aspects of our business is not just the absence of knowledge about contemporary advertising but also about the history of our business.

It would be unthinkable for a lawyer not have knowledge of the Magna Carta or the Code of Hammurabi, or for a doctor not to know about Hippocrates. Some of this history is thousands of years old.

But it is quite possible for today's advertising practitioners to know nothing about advertising 30 years ago.

This is in part responsible for the astonishing lack of perspective one can find in much of the contemporary writing about advertising.

Which leads me to a particularly appalling piece of drivel I found in Fast Company last week. Over the years, Fast Company has been one of the leading sources of nonsense about advertising. It's nice to see they haven't lost their touch.

The piece I am referring to is entitled Forget "Mad Men"--Now Is The Golden Era For Advertising. This piece of clueless hokum has the alarming gall to suggest that "We are living in the golden era right now..."

Of course, this baloney is written by a social media expert so what can you expect? In the course of writing this pap, the guy drags out every cliche in the new age marketing handbook:
"We are witnessing a complete social transformation..."
Really? A complete social transformation? Funny, I haven't witnessed that. Seems to me people still go shopping, and drive cars, and live in houses, and go to work, and eat pizza, and watch football. Just shows you how out of it I am.
"Today, consumers are in control..."
It's not like the evil past when WE were in control and stupid, passive consumers would mindlessly do everything we told them to do, like drive Edsels and fly TED airlines. Gosh I miss those days when we were in control.
"...intrusive advertising and brand messages simply no longer works."
Yeah, right. Better tell that to Apple and McDonald's and Toyota and Coke and Budweiser and Southwest and Geico and...
"In the post-digital age, everyone’s roles are blurred..."
Are we in the post-digital age already? What the fuck happened to the digital age? I was just starting to get used to it.
"At Tribal DDB, every member of our team is creative and we believe a good idea can come from anywhere..."
Well, aren't you special! Gosh, if only we could ALL be creative, like you. Wait a minute... we ARE all creative. What a wonderful world!

I can't go on. The rest of the article is such a festival of worn-out cliches and infantile prattle that it drains me just to read it.

The golden age of advertising? This piece is a monument to what this era really is -- the golden age of bullshit.

March 26, 2012

Opinions About Everything, Knowledge About Nothing

I had a disconcerting, but not unexpected, experience last week. I taught a workshop on advertising creativity to a group of 30 advertising people.

These people were all employed at agencies. They were mostly working in account service and media departments. They were a very bright, young, engaged, and attentive group.

Unfortunately, for the most part, they were very much like the current crop of veteran advertising people -- they had opinions about everything and knowledge about nothing.

In the course of the 1 1/2 hour discussion I was shocked by how little they knew about the realities of the ad business.
  • Not one of them knew the average click-through rate for display advertising. The consensus of the group over-estimated the CTR by a factor of ten.
  • Not one knew a single critical fact about DVR usage -- what percent of the population owns a DVR; what percent of viewing among DVR owners is live versus recorded; what percent of ads are being missed by ad skipping. 
It is a sad fact of life that many of the people working in advertising today are not even interested enough to find these things out.

They read the nonsense that is published in trade magazines and blogs, they hear the baloney that is spouted by pundits and "experts," they listen to the ignorant chit chat that goes on at their agencies, and they accept it. They don't have the curiosity or resourcefulness to find out what's true and what's not.

Advertising people are always whining about not being treated like "partners" or "professionals" by their clients. To a large degree they don't deserve to be. Imagine if your doctor didn't know the latest facts about his specialty, or if your accountant wasn't up to date on the tax codes.

In this era, how in the world could 30 professional advertising people not know the click-through rate for display ads?

March 23, 2012

Author, Blogger, Pimp

I think you have to agree that I have been very circumspect, or circumscribed, or circumcised, or whatever the hell that word is, about pimping my book here recently.

Well, there's a limit to everything.

So today, we're going to do two things. First, we're going to remind you that 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising is on sale for a mere $2.99 at Amazon.

You can read the reviews there, and if after reading the reviews the reviewers have not convinced  you to buy the book, I am going to demand that all the money I paid to those sons of bitches be returned.

Second I am going to send you over to AdPulp for a very nice interview that the great David Burn did with me about the book.

Then I promise, no more pimping for the rest of the week.

March 21, 2012

Advertising's Stupidest Legend

Of all the stupid, misguided truisms of advertising, the one that is most thoroughly destructive is the idea that advertising is a "young person's business."

This nasty, insulting platitude comes from two different but related misconceptions.

The first is marketers' irrational obsession with young people. As I have written many times here, this insane, costly preoccupation with young people makes no business sense and is just a ritual left over from a long-gone era.

Just to quickly recap the case:
  • People over 50 control over 75% of the financial assets of the US
  • They dominate 94% of all consumer packaged goods categories
  • They purchase almost 40% of consumer packaged goods
  • Even in technology categories, where marketers assume young people dominate, baby boomers "are purchasing at rates just as high as other segments, and because they are often buying for their kids, many are double-dipping.
  • According to Nielsen, less than 5% of advertising is aimed at them
The second misconception is that young people are more creative than older people. Go into any creative department in any ad agency in America and it is a miracle to find anyone over 40.

And yet, in every category you can think of (except the unspeakable pap called "popular music") older people completely dominate the creative arts.
  • In 2012, the five Oscar nominees for Best Director were Woody Allen, Michel Hazanavicius, Terrence Malick, Alexander Payne, and Martin Scorsese. Average age: 62.4 
  • The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction went to Jennifer Egan, age 50
  • The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to  Bruce Norris, 52 
  • The Pulitzer for Nonfiction went to Siddhartha Mukherjee, 42 
  • The Prize for Music went to  Zhou Long, 59 
  • The Pulitzer for History went to  Eric Foner,  69
  • The Poetry award was won by Kay Ryan, 67
  • Ron Chernow, 63, won the award for Biography
  • The Noble Prize for Literature went to 83-year-old Tomas Transtromer
  • The winner of the Emmy for Best TV Drama was Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner, 47
  • The Emmy for Best Comedy went to Modern Family, created by Christopher Lloyd, 52 and Steven Levitan, 50
Not one of these people could a get a job in the creative department of an ad agency today.

    March 19, 2012

    Inter-Galactic Worldwide Experientiator Predicts End Of Advertising

    Just when you think every meatball who has predicted the end of advertising has either been exiled, jailed, or sent to the permanent rotating 4A's conference on "transformation," up pops another one.

    This one is the "Global Brand Experience Manager" for Facebook. I'm pretty sure everything you need to know about him is explained in his title.

    According to this guy, traditional advertising and marketing are nearing their end and they will be replaced by "many lightweight interactions." Well, if anyone should know about "lightweight interactions" it's Facebook.

    We have all read this same "advertising is dead" nonsense 1,000 times over the past decade, and the idea that someone is still spouting it is a pretty good tribute to the enduring power of dimness. 

    It's hard to believe that anyone would publish another article entitled Is The End Near For Traditional Advertising? but there it is at a website called The Daily Dose, which is apparently run by Entrepreneur magazine. The perpetrators of The Daily Dose apparently live in some kind of upper-crust twit dream world...
    "Much like the way we develop friendships over a period of time, an entire generation of advertisers will need to plan their marketing scenarios around the concept of building relationships. We often meet new acquaintances through friends. We chat them up, maybe catch them later at a party with other mutual acquaintances, discover we have similar interests, and, before you know it, we’re all packed up and off on a weekend ski trip together in Vermont."
    How absolutely charming. We're all cozy and snug in our little weekend ski chalet in Vermont.

    Gag me with a snow board.

    I swear, these "marketing relationship" doofuses have left orbit. They are so far out of touch with the real behavior of real people that you can't even write parodies any more. The originals are more ridiculous.

    The Dose goes on to say...
    "...we can subtly promoting our brands in passing -- as an aside to a bigger discussion or conversation...lightweight, not heavyweight. With the advent of the World Wide Web, there’s so much information out there for us to absorb and so little time to absorb it. As a result, the best way to introduce new products, content or ideas to consumers will be seamlessly, naturally and subtly through word-of-mouth interactions."
    If I may rewrite that sentence, it ought to read like this...
    "With the advent of the World Wide Web, there’s so much information out there for us to absorb and so little time to absorb it... that we really need to hit people over the fucking head more forcefully and relentlessly than ever."
    Most of these "relationship" goobers couldn't sell a nose ring to a barista. As George Tannenbaum brilliantly put it last week...
    "They are the the great un-accountables who produce nothing but hot air, nothing that lives and breathes, nothing that has an impact in the market. Nothing you can pin down."
    But hell, who's got time for that when all your fabulous ski friends are waiting for you up in Vermont?

    March 15, 2012

    Awestin, Texas


    TO:                 Registered Delegates
    FROM:           SXSW Board of Directors
    SUBJECT:     The SXSW Human Re-Purposing Project

    Each year at this time, the world's most awesome people travel to Awestin, TX to join us at the gathering known as SXSW (pronounced "Some Xceptionally Smug Wankers.") SXSW exists at the intersection of technology, marketing, and self-absorption.

    It's a fun filled conclave of forward-thinking individuals who understand that the only way to really change the world is to spend shitloads of other peoples' money on horrible music and really crappy Mexican food.

    We like to think of it as America's version of the Cannes Film Festival, except without the talent.

    This year, the spirit of SXSW found its essence in the use of homeless people as human WiFi Hot Spots. Not only did this idea capture the wonderful spirit of SXSW, it also demonstrated our commitment to our core values:
    1. Cluelessness
    2. Narcissism
    3. Privilege
    A big "thank you" goes to the brilliant team at BBH Labs for tearing themselves away from their test tubes and centrifuges to develop this amazing idea. We think it demonstrated to the world how technology can be harnessed to help those less fortunate than us become walking, talking Airport Extremes.

    Because of the success of Human Hotspots, the leadership at SXSW has decided to expand this idea and take it global.

    We want to hear your thoughts on how we might use human beings in new and useful ways. Please submit them to The SXSW Human Re-Purposing Project. Here are some thought starters: Human Sandwich Bags, Human Toaster Strudel, Human Account Planners...use your imagination!

    In order to qualify, your ideas must be expressed in such a way as to give the impression that you really care about these people. So remember -- be sure to make up some humanitarian sounding bullshit to go along with your disgusting self-serving PR stunt.

    And thank you all for being...Some Xceptionally Smug Wankers!

    March 14, 2012

    Teens and Television: The Facts

    One of the characteristics of marketing professionals that makes them so insufferably dim is their obsession with young people.

    The fact that over 75% of the wealth of this country is in the hands of people over 50 makes absolutely no difference to them. The fact that young people have no money and are terrible customers means nothing.

    They always give you the same answer: "Yeah, but our customers are growing old and where are our new customers going to come from?" As if people at 50 wear the same clothes, drive the same cars, and eat the same food they do at 17.

    It's just another offshoot of the idiotic "lifetime value" delusion that assumes once you get a customer you have her for life.

    Because of this obsession, the media habits of young people are especially fascinating to marketing people.

    Every time I write something about the resiliency of TV, I get very predictable comments from knuckleheads who think they understand young people and want to explain their behaviors to me.

    They tell me how Luddite dinosaurs like me just don't get it. They say that, sure TV is still popular with old farts, but young people have no interest in it and are spending their time with Facebook and YouTube and mobile devices and couldn't care less about TV.

    Of course, their arguments usually turn out to be ad hominem nonsense with no data to confirm their assertions. But that never bothers them.

    So, just to set these people straight, let's have a look at the facts about teen television usage as reported by Nielsen and The Los Angeles Times:
    • TV viewing is more popular than ever among teens
    • I'm going to repeat that. TV viewing is more popular than ever among teens 
    • Just for the heck of it, let's say it one more time. TV viewing is more fucking popular than ever among teens. Any questions?
    • Teens watch about 4 hours of TV a day, on average 
    • TV viewing among teens is up an astonishing 33% in the past 8 years
    According to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. senior analyst Todd Juenger...
    "...everybody over-reports usage of Internet and mobile video and under-reports usage of traditional television." 
    Hmm...where have we heard that before?

    Contrary to all the nonsense promulgated by web hustlers, not only are teens not abandoning television, but...
    "So far teens are following historical patterns and in fact their usage of traditional TV is increasing," Juenger said.
    Next time some ignorant web monkey or genius marketing pundit tells you that young people don't watch TV, kindly kick him in the ass for me.

    March 12, 2012

    Interactivity: Get Over It

    From CNNMoney, last week...
    "Imagine if Joe Smith, in need of a new car... presses a button on his remote and instantly receives more information about a Ford F150, including where he can buy one. Meanwhile, Joe's wife, Sally, watches a later ad for a Sony phone. The product on the screen is sleek and modern, and Sally wants it. She can turn her emotion into ownership, purchasing the phone with the click of a button."
    Yeah. Imagine if monkeys flew out of my butt.

    A decade ago, paragraphs like the one above were appearing all over, promising us that interactive TV (ITV) would be the latest thing that would change everything. People would be watching a TV spot, and they'd see something they liked and they'd click and be taken to some long-form info-something. Then they'd click again and buy right from their screen.

    Also, interactive web ads would be so much more appealing. engaging and enticing than traditional advertising. People would see our banners on the web and be fascinated by them and then click to learn amazing new things about our products and then order right from the page.

    And our adoring customers would come to our Facebook page and engage with our brand and comment about how much they love us and share it with all their friends.

    Only one problem: It's all bullshit.
    It turns out that people on line react to ads the same way people off line react to them -- mostly they ignore them. And when they do bother to read them, they overwhelmingly do not interact with them.

    Describing these ads as "interactive" isn't an indication of consumer behavior, it's an indication of advertiser delusion.

    Delusional thinking isn't just acceptable in marketing today -- it's mandatory.

    While people are interactivatin' like crazy with each other, interactivity with ads is miniscule. Bastards. Don't they realize we built all this shit just to sell them something?

    The latest group to fall victim to the siren song of interactivity is Canoe Ventures, a consortium of  Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and four other cable companies that tried to resurrect ITV. Last week they shut their doors and laid off 120 people.

    This is the last time I'm going to say this, so pay attention. In the digital world, people are passionate about interacting with each other -- not brands, not ads, not you, not me.

    Get over it.

    March 08, 2012

    Ad Dude Of The Year

    Last night I received the "Ad Person of the Year" award from the wonderful people at the San Francisco Ad Club at their annual awards gala. Because of time restraints, I had to edit my remarks. Here are the full remarks that I wrote for the occasion.

    Thank you Ad Club for this lovely honor.

    Thanks for this wonderful plaque...and the beautiful new Ferrari, and the dollar off on the drink coupons.

    It is particularly gratifying to me that this honor comes at a creative awards ceremony.

    I am a self-confessed creative department chauvinist. It seems to me that the creative people make the advertising and everyone else makes the arrangements.

    What I have never understood is why it takes 5 times as many people to make the arrangements…

    The great thing about being the "Ad Person Of The Year" is that I’m not just totally awesome for one night. I’m totally awesome for a whole fucking year.

    I’ve never been totally awesome for a whole year before. Once I think I was totally awesome for a weekend. But that was a long time ago.

    There are a few things that worry me about this award though. At my age I’m not really sure I want to be in advertising for another whole year.

    I may decide I want to leave advertising and try something new, like becoming a dry cleaner or something. Then what would happen?

    What if someone came to town and asked, “Who’s your Ad Person Of The Year?” And you would have to say, “Well, we don’t really have one. We used to have one but now he’s a dry cleaner.” That wouldn’t be right.

    The other thing I’m worried about is, I was thinking, what if Ad Person Of The Year isn’t an award for all my awesome accomplishments that will be coming up in the next year, what if it’s for last year?

    Then tonight is not the first night of my year, it's the last night.

    That would really suck.

    It would mean I was Ad Person Of The Year for a whole year and I didn’t even know about it til two weeks ago.

    I could have been going out to nice restaurants every night and drinking champagne instead of sitting home like a schmuck watching Antiques Roadshow.

    Well, anyway. I started in advertising in San Francisco in 1973. That was, let me see… almost 10 years ago.

    In that time I have had the great privilege and honor to work with and meet -- and in some cases become friends with -- a lot of amazing advertising people.

    It's my opinion that over that time -- no thanks to me -- SF has produced more great advertising pound-for-pound than any other city in the country.

    But you know, we ad people put very little value on the history of our business and we know very little about what got us here. Doctors study the history of medicine going back to Hippocrates; lawyers memorize the Magna Carta. The only thing we know about our history is who did the dancing monkey spot in the 2008 Super Bowl.

    I see a lot of young people here tonight and I hope you will take the time to learn about and appreciate the very interesting history of advertising in San Francisco -- and I hope you will continue that great history.

    Finally, I have some people to thank. First I want to thank the Ad Club for being proud of advertising and not changing its name to the “marketing communications” club or the “content” club or, God forbid, the “conversation” club.

    Next, I want to thank my colleagues -- the people I have worked with all these years, whose coattails I have shamelessly ridden.

    Finally, I want to thank you all so much for this wonderful honor. It means a great deal to me and it makes me very proud. Thank you.

    March 07, 2012

    Neuroscience And Pseudoscience

    Yesterday, The New York Times published an interview with Dr. Eric R. Kandel, the Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist and researcher at Columbia University.

    One subject of the interview was the early overselling of psychoanalysis. Dr. Kandel put it this way...
    "In the 1950s and early 1960s, psychoanalysis swept through the intellectual community, and it was the dominant mode of thinking about the mind. People felt that this was a completely new set of insights into human motivation and that its therapeutic potential was significant. It was seen as the treatment that solved everything in the world... It’s amazing how it was oversold...
    There are many fantastically interesting components to it that are worthwhile. The problem of psychoanalysis is not the body of theory...but the fact that it... never tried to test its ideas."
    As I was reading this I couldn't help but draw a parallel to what is currently happening in the world of marketing.

    While there are certainly aspects of digital advertising and marketing that present fascinating new opportunities, our most militant digital advertising advocates make the most cocksure assertions with a minimum of evidence; they are either reluctant to or incapable of verifying their assertions with reliable data; and when data that repudiates their assertions are presented they often respond with ad hominem attacks.

    Mostly they lack that most valuable intellectual asset -- the one attribute that separates the inquisitive from the gullible -- skepticism.

    When I read Dr. Kandel, the wonderful comment of President Harry Truman comes roaring back at me, "The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know."

    March 05, 2012

    A Simple Allegory About Music, Marketing, And Storytelling

    Every evening after work I get off the Bay Area Rapid Transit system near my home in Oakland.

    Often there is a saxophonist standing outside the station playing for contributions. He is  a talented musician. He plays very difficult scales and very complicated jazz runs.

    His collection box is usually empty.

    Being the know-it-all that I am, I have an uncontrollable urge to grab the guy by the lapels and holler, "Schmuck, you want to make money? Play songs, not scales."

    March 01, 2012


    Facebook is like the telephone. It's great for chatting, but not terribly good for selling.

    One of the most remarkable things about it is the blind faith that marketers continue to have in it despite its questionable record as a marketing vehicle.

    For people who are marketing things, there are two ways to use Facebook -- the free way and the paid way.

    Making a Facebook site is the free way. People can interact with your brand and, presumably, act as advocates. This is called "engagement."

    Buying ad space on Facebook is the paid way. Facebook provides paid advertising space on other peoples' Facebook pages. This is how Facebook makes money.

    The only problem is, both of these methods of using Facebook for marketing are seriously flawed.

    Let's start with "engagement." Engagement -- like "branding" and "conversation" -- is one of those dreadful cliches that means whatever some hustler decides it means. Social media jargonistas throw it around like awards at an advertising conference. They start from the position that social media participation is de facto evidence of brand engagement.

    According to Ad Age, researchers at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute (whatever that is) did a study to determine the true level of engagement of Facebook fans.

    They defined "engagement" as actually doing something other than just "liking" a brand. People had to either share something from a Facebook page, or comment on something to be counted as "engaged."

    They studied 200 of the biggest brands on Facebook. The rate of "engagement" was less than one half of one percent. What this means is that someone in a fit of unbridled enthusiasm may have clicked the thumbs up button one day, but the chances are less one in two hundred that she has ever commented or shared anything from the site.

    According to Senior Research Associate Karen Nelson-Field...
    "The significance here lies in the very tiny rate of engagement across all brands in a big sample."
    Next time you get the "engagement" argument for social media, try not to get a hernia laughing.

    Then there's paid advertising on Facebook. There has been substantial uproar about Facebook's intrusion into the private lives of its users. They know everything about us -- from what kind of dog we have to who gave us that nasty rash. All this information about our behavior and our preferences and our personal lives is supposed to allow advertising on Facebook to be uniquely effective.

    In fact, advertising on Facebook is uniquely ineffective.

    The click-through rate for online display ads in general is an alarmingly low one click in a thousand. If you think that's bad, the published click-through rate for ads on Facebook is 50% below this. And according to insiders, I am told that Facebook's true click-through rate is actually 80% below average.

    In summary, as a medium for "engagement" Facebook doesn't seem to be very engaging, and for paid advertising its effectiveness is mostly a rumor. So how in the world can it be worth $100 billion?

    Simple. The marketing industry has bought into the magic of social media marketing lock, stock, and pixel and nothing, including factual evidence, is going to change that.

    No marketer in his right mind would pay to be ignored by a small number of people. But there is apparently great appeal in being ignored by hundreds of millions.