December 30, 2013

Advertising Needs Troublemakers

My mother once explained her attraction to my father to me. She said that among the young men in her crowd he was "the best of the not-very-good dancers." In that spirit, we continue saluting the best of the not-very-good Ad Contrarian posts from 2013. Here's one from October.

The advertising industry has become too respectable, too congenial, and too polite.

We are in desperate need of troublemakers. We need shit-disturbers. We need hell-raisers.

We need the kind of quarrelsome, pugnacious, opinionated people that make the arts vibrant and interesting.

There's way too much consensus. Way too much cordiality. Way too little controversy in advertising.

Attending an advertising conference these days is like going to an insurance seminar. It is full of bland, head-nodding jargon-monkeys who are very keen on swallowing whole the conventional blather of smug "experts."

Nobody seems inclined to challenge the wearisome assertions of modern-day wizards, no matter how many times they've been wrong.

It's all backwards. Rebelliousness is supposed to be a characteristic of youth. But the only people I hear wailing about the insufferable tedium of ad-think these days are old fools like me.

It ain't supposed to be this way. We need people who aren't afraid to get up on stage at the next "big data" conference and pull their pants down.

We need people who aren't afraid to break a layout over a client's head.

We need people who give a shit.

You know what you call people who give a shit?


December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Everyone here at Ad Contrarian world headquarters wishes you a very happy holiday.

December 23, 2013

The 7 Secrets Of Lazy-Ass Bums

Today at Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters we continue to post our faves from 2013. Here's one from June.

I hate working.

I hate sitting in an office. I hate going to meetings. I hate writing performance reviews. I hate "nurturing" people. I hate listening to bullshit artists and know-nothing loudmouths who dominate our business. Yet somehow I managed to have a reasonably successful career.

Here are my 7 secrets of success.
1. Assume everyone is faking it. Nobody knows a thing about advertising. All the rules are bullshit. There are a few people who can make good ads. That's all there is.
2. Preparation is everything. If you are not the best prepared person in every meeting you are just another empty t-shirt. You will never get your way and you will always be second rate.
3. Do as little work as possible at the office. Do your real work at home. It's almost impossible to do anything useful in an office. Offices are for meetings and phone calls and memos and emails and Powerpoints and politics and bullshit.
4. Worry about everything. If you don't worry you don't care. Figure out what's going to go wrong and be prepared when it does.
5. Stay as far away from big organizations as possible. Corporations will suck all the joy out of your life and all the life out of your joy. Corporations are poison, and the more they pay you the more they own you.

6. Pay no attention to the industry. The more you read about what other agencies or other clients are doing the more you're going to become a cliché spewing zombie. Figure things out for yourself.

7. Be satisfied. You don't have to work for the biggest agency in the world or be the best art director on the planet to be successful and happy. You're not going to be Bill Bernbach anyway, so forget about it. If you're doing work that is respectable, and you're not suffering 90% of the time, you're way ahead of most of the poor bastards in this business. Enjoy it.
 That's as close to a pep talk as I get.

December 20, 2013

Advertising Industry Gives Up

We are continuing our favorites of 2013 parade. This one was posted the day after Omnicom and Publicis announced they were merging.

I would like to be all outraged and upset by the announcement that Omnicom and Publicis are merging. But I can't. It is just the advertising industry's way of telling us that it has joined the parade.

As in so many other fields, the ad industry has discovered that it is way more profitable to provide a mediocre product to a lot of people than a high quality product to a few.

Just look at the airline industry, the banking industry, the telecom industry, the fast food industry. They provide mediocre products to massive markets. It's what huge companies do. It's what markets demand.

If you're a lazy, aristocratic CMO of a global corporation do you want to go out and find the best creative agency in Indonesia? The best digital agency in Korea? The best media agency in Argentina? Are you fucking kidding? That takes work.

Hire a worldwide bullshit factory and let some account director worry about it. You have powerpoints to prepare and conferences to address and, soon, football games to attend.

The boys in the management suite will applaud your wisdom for hiring one entity that can "do it all" (yeah, right) and "save you money" (yeah, right) at the same time.

Hiring OmniPub (or whatever dreadful name they've come up with) turns laziness into a virtue, and stupidity into foresight.

It is the perfect solution for the emptiness of our time. 

The newspaper articles, the business magazines, the TV pundits, and the bloggers will all be busy reporting on how this will affect the clients of this new agency, and what the profit picture is for Wall Street, and which big shots will get new offices and which ones will get walking papers.

No one will report on the important stuff. No one will talk to the rank and file who work for these monkeys and can tell us the truth about how corrupt, disjointed, unmanageable, and feckless they already are -- before they double in size.

But you know what? Nobody gives a shit.

No one is willing to spend for quality. No one wants to pay for service. No one cares to work very hard.

So let's give the suckers what they want and be done with it.

December 19, 2013

How Dumb People Become Successful

We are continuing our rerun of favorite posts from 2013. Here's one from May.

After a few years in the business world, something occurred to me. I realized that the majority of the people I met in business were astonishingly stupid.

Years later I was sitting around a bar with a couple of my agency colleagues. We had won a very important piece of business from a world class client. We were working with the very top people at the client and we were  astounded by their shallowness.

A few drinks into the evening one of my colleagues turned to me and said, "I keep thinking that some day we'll meet the smart ones."

At that moment I recalled a conversation I had had years earlier. A friend introduced me to a business concept he called "achieving orbit."

With enough energy, a satellite will escape the gravitational pull of earth and will achieve orbit. Once it achieves orbit, it operates on its own. It will circle under its own power for years. And the only way to knock it down is to get in its way.

Businesses are like this, too, he claimed. After a certain period of success, they can achieve orbit and stay successful without much added energy.

Many companies are powered by products or services initiated years or even decades ago. And barring a horrible accident, they will stay in orbit. They persevere largely on inertia.

That's why all the monkeys running around having meetings and writing memos really aren't doing that much harm. It's why clueless managers really can't do too much damage. It's why all the CEOs and COOs buzzing around in their golf carts usually aren't fatal.

Of course, there are some industries, like technology, that need constant updating. But think about the market leaders in automobiles, food, soda, beer, fast food, dairy, snacks, candy, paper towels, toasters...for the most part, the market leaders today were the market leaders 30 years ago.

From time to time there come along some people who are so stupid that they knock a successful company out of orbit. But mostly, orbiting companies consist of people running around in circles pretending to make contributions. As long as they don't mess with the color of the box, or build a 3-wheeler, or change the flavor to grape, they usually can't screw things up too badly.

Businesses are successful in spite of all these monkeys, not because of them.

December 18, 2013

Let's Get Phygital

For the holidays, I'm taking a few weeks off from blogging and re-publishing some of my favorite posts of the past year. Here's one from last February.

We are so used to massive bullshit in the advertising business that it really takes something special to shock us.

I'm happy to say, however, that our industry is up to the challenge. You want bullshit that's something special? We got it.

Last weekend I came across a truly outstanding exercise in painful marketing drivel, and I'm proud to share it with you.

It is hard to believe that an agency would actually allow this nonsense on its website. But not only is it on the website, it is the lead copy on their landing page and, apparently, the underpinning of their philosophy.

Buckle up:
Co-creating with brands and people in the Phygital world.                     Modern consumers are "connected protagonists." They are the heroes of their own stories and, thanks to technology, they now have access to an audience of unprecedented size. This presents brands with powerful new opportunities for growth, if brands give consumers the currency to create and share better stories. That currency is content - be it entertainment, connection, experience or information - as long as it is created with the understanding that we live in a Phygital world, where the physical and digital parts of our lives are one and the same. We believe that only through co-creating currency with brands and people - instead of for people - can you guarantee authentic engagements that consumers value and want to share. Momentum provides to marketers - in thought and action - the ideas that engage the connected protagonist to build value for brands and people.
Wow. Let's forget all the usual hogwash -- the co-creating, and the engaging, and the sharing, and the currency (note to author -- you seem to have forgotten "ecosystem." Points off.) Let's get to the fun stuff.

The "connected protagonist." He sounds like an amiable guy with an unsevered umbilicus.

And how are you gonna beat Phygital? I mean, c'mon. It's awesome. It's Stupiculous! If they gave awards for just plain dumbness, Phygital would get double platinum. Maybe quadruple (what comes after quadruple?)

Which gets me thinking. They give awards for everything else in the ad business. Why not for the only thing we're really good at -- bullshit?

December 17, 2013

Pepsi Selling Its Soul

Lazy bastard that I am, a few years ago I decided that a good way to take a few weeks off from blogging around the holidays was to re-publish some of my favorite posts of the year. So for the next couple of weeks we're going to be in re-runs. Here's one from last January.

One of the great things about the marketing world is that if things get really bad, if everything is caving in around you, if your whole world is crumbling and you desperately need a laugh, you can always Google "Pepsi marketing" and have yourself a hearty chuckle.

Just spend a few minutes rooting around in their amazing alternate universe and you're sure to find a treasure trove of fun, guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Here at Ad Contrarian Labs, we have been chronicling the wonderfully entertaining, yet seriously preposterous, goings-on at Pepsi for years. And every time we think it can't get any more silly, we are proven wrong.

 As we predicted years ago...
"PepsiCo's soda business is in the midst of an epic, historic collapse."
...said Business Insider a few weeks ago. They went on to report...
"In Q3 2012, volume at its American division declined 3%, driven by a 4% decline in North America. There was a 7% revenue decline to $5.5 billion. In March 2011, Pepsi was humbled as Diet Coke became the nation's No.2 favorite drink behind Coke, and Pepsi slipped to No.3. Diet Pepsi is only the 7th most-drunk soda in the U.S."
Gosh. Whodathunkit?

But don't worry. In an article that appeared recently, they seem to have a whole new vocabulary of knucklehead double-talk (Pepsi leads the league in that category) that is sure to save them. This comes from the Pepsi Global Beverage Group Foresight Director. Yes, they actually have someone called that. The more dreadful their business gets, the more ridiculously pompous their titles get.

I wonder how the Global Beverage Group Foresight Director gets along with the President-Global Enjoyment and the Global Chief Marketing Officer-Hydration. I'm starting to believe the most creative employee in the company is the HR nitwit who comes up with these breathtaking titles.

As an aside, I think I have a good strategy for bringing Pepsi's beverage business back to life. Fire all the overfed worldwide globalizers and hire an Ad Manager who'll let the agency make some decent fucking ads.

But I digress...

The Global Beverage Group Foresight Director thinks he has the solution to Pepsi's problems. He says...
"There's a growing realisation that ... innovation has to come out of the brand soul."
Apparently, in the ever more ludicrous lexicon of brand babble, brands no longer have DNA, now they have soul.

It seems that innovation has not been coming out of Pepsi's "brand soul." It's been coming out of their ass, or the janitor's closet or something. Now they are searching for the brand's soul and -- pop -- out will come the innovations. Sounds like fun.

I wonder how much a branding consultant is going to charge them to find the brand's soul? Personally, I wouldn't do it for less than 2 million.

The Global Beverage Group Foresight Director also thinks it's important
"...that people running a brand share a "sense of being" with its buyers"
As a sometime Pepsi buyer, it is very clear to me that the people running the brand and I do not share a sense of being. I'm not even sure I have a sense of being. Sometimes around 3 a.m. I have a sense of peeing, but I don't think that's what they mean.

The Foresight Director wants the people who run the brand and me to...  
"... form "one big force" sharing the same goal..."
Gosh, imagine if I shared a goal with a soda brand team. What an awesome life it would be. We'd be "one big force."

The Pepsi brand team and little ol' me. My friend, it's a carbonated dream come true.

December 16, 2013

The Top 10 List Of Top 10 Lists

Tis the season of top 10 lists.

As we get closer to the new year, top 10 lists will thrive like blue fuzzy stuff on last week's cream cheese.

Recently, Emily Nussbaum, TV critic for The New Yorker, wrote a piece about why she hates year-end top 10 lists and how she refuses to write them. Clearly, Emily is out of touch with the prevailing digital-age zeitgeist.

Here at The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters, one of our core values is to give back to our loyal readers. And if that means top 10 lists, then top 10 lists it is.

Since many of our regular visitors are bloggers, web entrepreneurs, or other underachievers who depend on web traffic to build either their businesses or their egos, we thought we'd help out with some top 10 list ideas you can use this week that are surefire click-magnets.

So here are some titles for "10 thing" posts that are guaranteed to have people flocking to your web site: 
  • 10 Ways To Smoke All The Weed You Want And Still Write Awesome Banner Ads 
  • 10 Super-Hot Nymphos Who Don't Mind Picking Up a Pizza On The Way Over 
  • 10 Jobs Besides Marketing That Pay A Lot Of Money To Dimwits 
  • 10 Internationally Handsome Movie Stars Who Want To Take You To France
  • 10 Things To Put On A Pastrami Sandwich That Make You Lose Weight
  • 10 Reasons Why Women Vacuum While You're Watching Football 
  • 10 Legal Foods That Still Contain Gluten 
  • 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising...oops, sorry, that's the title of my book that you should buy everyone for Christmas
  • 10 Guys Named Zander Who Aren't Douchebags
  • 10 Ways To Become Wealthy Sitting On Your Ass Reading Blogs  
Since there are only a few days left in the year, and since I'm way behind in my drinking, and since I look for any excuse not to write, for the remainder of the year I'm going to post my ten favorite Ad Contrarian posts from 2013. I realize it's a little narcissistic to pick your own top 10, but what the hell do you think blogging is about anyway?

Have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year and remember, it's only advertising.

December 10, 2013

Attack Of The Billionaire Hypocrites

The Silicon Valley aristocracy, who have made billions and billions of dollars by collecting ungodly amounts of personal information about us, came out in force yesterday to denounce governments for collecting ungodly amounts of personal information about us.

They're shocked -- shocked I tell you! -- at the intrusion into our privacy.

I have two words for these greedy, lying, hypocrites: screw you.

You are the people who enabled this. You are the people who chose to ignore what was obvious to everyone with a functioning brain -- that your relentless collection of personal information about private citizens is totally at odds with the principles of democracy.

Here's what the despicable hypocrites of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Microsoft and AOL had to say yesterday:
The undersigned companies believe that it is time for the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information.
Let me tell you something Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Microsoft and AOL -- you puffed-up, self-important, arrogant phonies -- you have the smell of this all over you. Pretending that you are suddenly the stalwart guardians of peoples' privacy makes me sick.

If a dumbass blogger could figure out what was going on, don't pretend that you couldn't.

Three years ago, almost to the day, long before all this NSA shit hit the fan, the aforementioned dumbass blogger published an article called Big Brother Has Arrived And He's Us. In the article he wrote:
The essence of freedom and democracy is being undermined.

The Internet now knows everything about us. It knows where we go, who we talk to, what we talk about... It knows our locations at any moment and whom we are with... It knows our political beliefs and our sexual habits... It knows what our ailments are, what drugs we use, what doctors we see and what our psychological profiles are.

It pretends the information is secure, but only a blind fool believes this...

And why does it do all this?... for the marketing and advertising industries...
There is no realistic vision of the future in which this will not lead to appalling mischief.
It’s time to put aside our petty self-interest, take a step back and see where this is leading. We need to stop tracking people and their behavior now. Right now
I know what your posturing is about. It's about money. You are afraid that people are starting to realize what malignant jackals you are. And you're trying to delegate the blame.

Here's what I think:
The undersigned believes that it is time for the world’s web scumbags to address their practices regarding internet surveillance of individuals and access to their information.
Physician, heal thyfuckingself.

December 09, 2013

Get Ready For Hysteria

After a decade of irresponsibly reporting the death of TV viewing, the clueless news media are sure to go into full hysteria mode after the release of Nielsen's latest cross-platform report.

Last week, Nielsen reported that in the 3rd quarter of 2013, average daily total TV viewing among all Americans (including live TV and DVR playback) dropped by 3 minutes. Ohmygod!

Daily TV viewing in the 3rd quarter dropped from 286 minutes a day (4 hours and 46 minutes) to 283 minutes a day (4 hours and 43 minutes.)

This is the first time since 2009 there has been a downward movement in viewing.

Of course, the media never reported on the upward movement. It went against the "narrative" they invented years ago.

Even for dimwits like us, there is apparently only so much time in the day we can spend watching TV. It looks like 4 3/4 hours is about our limit. I guess we need time to do other important things like take selfies and try to get on 

Having stuck all these years to the narrative that TV was dying, the media are sure to trumpet this downward tick as proof of the correctness of their ongoing misrepresentation of consumer behavior.

Since this is also likely to be twisted out of all proportion by online advertising hustlers and careless bloggers, here is some perspective from the Nielsen report:
  • People spend almost 7 times as much time watching TV as they do on line.
  • People spend 23 times as much time watching video on television as they do watching video on the web.
  • People spend 27 times as much time watching video on TV as they do on a mobile phone.
  • People spend almost 3 times as much time listening to radio as they do on the web.
But don't let the facts influence you. Traditional media are dead. I know because I read it on line.

December 04, 2013

Delighting In Digital Dumbness

If you have a healthy sense of the absurd, there is great joy to be found in the dumbness of some digital mediacrats.

Last week in this space there appeared a post called Astounding News From Moronsville. The post was about a digital media agency that created an infographic asserting that ads that were "viewable" were more effective than ads that were "non-viewable." I guess you have to be a Certified Digital Media Professional to figure that shit out.

My post was less than complimentary about the nitwits that propagated this stunning wisdom.

Amazingly, some digital media honchos got all huffy about my post. They wrote nasty emails and tweets. I was accused of singling digital media people out for scorn -- which, of course, I did. An article referencing my stupidity even appeared yesterday in Digiday.

In a remarkable torturing of logic, they asserted that since there is waste in traditional advertising, there is nothing absurd about creating a chart showing that online ads that can be seen get more clicks than ads that cannot be seen. 

These people are so insulated and engulfed in the arcane minutiae of their narrow little discipline that they can't see the monumental ridiculousness in asserting that things that can be seen are more effective than things that can't. In their bizarre world, this is an insight.

First, let me state the obvious. I've known some brilliant, talented media people, both traditional and digital. Okay, everyone got that?

I've also known a lot of dumb-ass media people. Let's face it, a media agency isn't exactly the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Now, here's the difference between traditional media people and digital media people.

I've known some really dumb traditional media people. But I've never known one so fucking dumb that he would write...
"If an ad is in view, your audience is more likely to act upon it."
That takes a wonderful, extraordinary kind of dumbness. It takes a transcendent dumbness. It takes a dumbness that charms, and thrills, and makes you think that maybe life really is just a bowl of fucking cherries.

It takes more than traditional dumbness. It takes cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, up-to-the-minute, undiluted, artisanally curated digital dumbness.

December 02, 2013

Why Do Marketers Hate Old People?

One of the most infamous advertising campaigns in the history of the auto industry was called, "This Is Not Your Father's Oldsmobile."

The premise was that Oldsmobile was suddenly a vehicle for young people. There were only three problems with this campaign:
1. Young people couldn't afford and didn't buy new cars
2. When they did, they'd rather stick a jelly donut up their ass than buy an Oldsmobile
3. The campaign insulted the people who did buy these cars - their parents
Apparently, Oldsmobile thought it was a good idea to malign their real customers and flatter the people who would never buy their products. Why? Because their real customers were old, and everyone in advertising and marketing hates old people.

It may have been the first time in the history of business that a company told its customers that their product was no longer for them.

Marketers, it seems, would rather pander fruitlessly to young people than make real money selling things to old people.

The idea of people over 50 driving their cars, drinking their coffee, eating their hamburgers, and wearing their sneakers is so appalling and such an embarrassment that they willfully ignore and disparage the most valuable economic group in the history of the world.

Well, believe it or not, the Oldsmobile campaign flopped, and ultimately Oldsmobile folded.

What hasn't folded, however, is marketers' irrational obsession with young people and loathing of old people.

Today, marketers are just as likely to target people simply because they are young -- even though they have no money and cannot and will not buy their products .

Conversely, they are just as likely to ignore people who are old -- even though they have lots of money and are prime targets for their products.

As I wrote recently, automobile marketers continue their idiotic habit of targeting people 18-34 for "youth cars" despite the fact that 88% of the people who buy these cars are over 35.

Almost everyone you see in a car commercial is between the ages of 18 and 24. And yet, people 75 to dead buy five times as many new cars as people 18 to 24.

In fact, marketers are more likely than ever to ignore and insult the people who can actually buy their products and grow their businesses.

Marketers contempt for and prejudice against older people is a remarkable and fascinating story. They have volumes of data that tell them about the size and power of the over 50 market, but because of their hard-wired prejudices they are blind to it.

It is very much the story of the weapon that is hidden in plain sight.

If you could find a group

...who was responsibly for about half of all consumer spending

...who control over 70% of all the wealth in the country

...who dominate 94% of all CPG categories

...who buy almost 2/3's of all new cars

...who owned 57% of all second and vacation homes and all the stuff that goes with that

...who are far easier and cheaper to reach than other groups

would you ignore them?

There is only one type of person foolish enough to do that -- a marketing person.

If we dropped marketing people in from Mars and they looked at the data, they would immediately understand how important it is to aim marketing activity at people over 50.

Unfortunately, our marketing leaders don’t come from Mars. They come from New York and LA and Chicago where decades of prejudices and legends have overwhelmed simple, clear thinking.

I was speaking to a very smart ad agency guy recently. He made a great point: 
"If I could talk to CFOs about this, they'd get it in 5 seconds. But I have to talk to CMOs."
According to Nielsen, people over 50 are "the most valuable generation in the history of marketing." Yet only 5% of advertising is directed at them.

Why? Because marketers are embarrassed by them. They are afraid that 18-year-olds will, god forbid, see people over 50 using their products.

Marketers think that people over 50 are decrepit old farts. The unrelenting stupidity of marketers cannot accept the fact that Barrack Obama, Jerry Seinfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Bruce Springsteen, Meryl Streep and tens of millions of others are all over 50. They are healthy, wealthy, and wise. And, in many ways, hipper and more youthful than the marketers.

Oh, but they're dying out, right? Not exactly. Between now and 2030 the adult population over 50 will grow at about three times the rate of adults under 50. It's the young people who are dying out.

Marketers are also under the delusion that older people want to be like young people. Yeah, Steven Spielberg is aching to be like Justin Bieber, and Michelle Obama is just itching to be like the doofuses in Taco Bell commercials.

Let's be honest here. As a former ad guy, I am sorry to have to say that any intelligent business person who comes into contact with advertising and marketing people soon discovers that many are exactly what the clichés say --  shallow, glib mediocrities who have learned some dreadful jargon and buzzwords and repeat them endlessly.

When it comes to having the imagination to understand the tremendous opportunity that is staring them in the face, they are clueless. They are obsessed with people like themselves. They think that everyone is a young, big city, coastal elite hipster.

Despite their pretensions of leading-edge hipness, they are mired in beliefs and practices that are 30 years out of date.

Strong letter to follow.

November 27, 2013

No App For Gratitude

Thanksgiving is my kind of holiday.

It doesn't require gods or miracles or tragedies or victories or angels or kings or winners or losers or flags or gifts.

All you need is some pumpkin pie, a big-ass flat screen, and a comfortable sofa to drool on.

Oh, and a little gratitude.

Gratitude, by the way, is a commodity in very short supply. Regrettably, we seem to have mountains of expectation but not much in the way of appreciation. It's a socially transmitted disease.

So this Thanksgiving, let's put aside harsh judgments for a day or two. Thank a cop. Give a bum a buck. Kiss an in-law.

I don't like Puritans of any stripe. But I like the idea of them having the Indians over for dinner. I know the detente didn't last too long, but any day you're eating sweet potatoes instead of shooting off muskets is a good day.

Be grateful that you have shoes. Be thankful that your cat is healthy. Compliment someone's posture.

If you can't do any of that stuff, then at least give thanks that you won't be dining with Whoopi Goldberg or Donald Trump. That alone should be enough.

Finally, do yourself a favor -- quit whining. That's my job.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving.

November 25, 2013

Astounding News From Moronsville

You simply cannot make this shit up.

Just when you think the world of online advertising can't get any more absurd, the banner boys prove you wrong again.

Let's start at the beginning.

On June 13, we wrote about an article in The Wall Street Journal that reported on a study by comScore which found that 54% of display ads paid for by advertisers were never seen by a live human being.

About a month ago, a digital media company created an infographic about this finding. Not satisfied to leave bad enough alone, they decided that it required some commentary.

Here's what these people deduced:
"...higher rates of viewability drive increased action through the effect of accumulated ad-views."
For those of you who speak English, what this bullshit means is that ads that are seen are more effective than ads that are not seen. How's that for a stunning insight?

Gosh, what next? Cars with wheels go faster than cars without wheels? Rats with brains are smarter than online ad geniuses rats without brains?
"With a move to marketers only paying for adverts that are seen, this infographic highlights a sea change in online advertising."
"Marketers only paying for adverts that are seen." Huh? What kind of fucking moron would pay for ads that are not seen? I mean, besides a CMO?

I would like to suggest that this is not a sea change. It's a see change...we'd like someone to see our fucking ads for a change.

Expecting ads to be seen is apparently a radical new "approach" in the never-never-land of online advertising.
“Brand marketers are able to use this approach to safeguard the quality of their advertising inventory, whilst performance marketers can benefit from the increased response that is triggered by more viewable advertising.”
I don't even know what to say about this monumental stupidity. But here's the line that really got me:
"If an ad is in view, your audience is more likely to act upon it."
No shit? You mean an ad works better if someone can see it? Well fuck me blind.

And to impress us with their "data" here's a graph that proves that visible ads get more clicks than invisible ones.
This is what passes for thinking in the amateurish, confused, corrupt pile of crap that is the online ad industry. It is the land of the absurd.

Big thanks to Christopher for sending me this link.

November 20, 2013

Advertising's Most Destructive Force

One of the great afflictions suffered by people in the advertising industry is status anxiety – worrying about what people think of you.

I’m not really sure what role status anxiety plays in the lives of media people, account people, planners or administrative types. But having grown up in creative departments, I know that it plays a powerful and seriously unhealthy role among creative people.

One of the most obvious manifestations of status anxiety is job-hopping. It has been my experience that creatives who jump from job to job are usually among the most status conscious and least happy people in our industry.

At one time, in one of my agencies, we had a talented creative guy who was about to be promoted to creative director of the agency. He had just completed a wonderful campaign for one of our clients that was winning all kinds of awards and he was gaining recognition. He was a very good creative but had bounced around a lot and had never settled into a situation in which his talent could be fully cultivated and harnessed.

Because of his much-awarded campaign he was suddenly on the radar of some of the most high status agencies in the country. He did not accept our offer to run our creative department and become a partner. He accepted a second-tier job at Goodby. Obviously, working at Goodby conferred more status on him than staying at our agency.

Instead of choosing the opportunity to be the chief architect of his own agency, he chose the reflected glory of someone else’s. I have nothing but respect for GS&P but, in my opinion, he punted.

The problem with a decision like this is that it confuses reflected glory with true accomplishment. It may feel nice to tell people at cocktail parties that you work at a famous agency, but as the person in question soon found out, reflected glory has a limited shelf life.

It’s important to remember that the truly high-status people in our business – the Goodbys, the Wiedens – eschewed status themselves to start their own things. They did not take a job at a prestige agency. They built their careers on a bet against the reflected glory of someone else’s agency, and put their money on their own ability to outclass the high-status agencies of the time.

There are plenty of people who find solace -- and, in fact, satisfaction -- basking in the reflected glory of their employers and colleagues.  While I always enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to work with top quality people, the only status I could ever convince myself was worth anything was that which came from having accomplished something myself. Being near success may feel nice, but creating something on my own was my only true gratification.

Status anxiety is a destructive and debilitating force. Worrying about what others think is a monumental waste of time and energy. Making career decisions based on what you think others will think of you is not just pitiable, it can damage your life.

Do what you think is right, not what you think will impress others. If others don’t like it, fuck ‘em.

November 18, 2013

The Ignorance Of Experts

Once in a while you read something so wonderful that you have to tell people about it. Such a thing happened to me last week.

I was reading a book entitled The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman. Feynman is one of my heroes. I have written about him often on this blog. He was probably one of the most brilliant people of the 20th century (I say "probably" because I haven't met all the people of the 20th century.)

I have made a practice of trying to read everything that Feynman wrote (although much of it is indecipherable to my feeble mind.) The great value to me in reading Feynman is not in understanding his remarkable discoveries in physics, for which he won the Albert Einstein Award and the Nobel Prize, but in observing the clarity and dexterity of his thinking and, most of all, his congenital skepticism.

Feynman was an inveterate doubter. One of the things that made him such a brilliant and successful scientist, and such an interesting person, was that he never accepted anything because it was the opinion of an expert or an "authority." He insisted on proving things to his own satisfaction.

In my (trivial) advertising career, I tried to maintain a skeptical and doubting outlook. While it is obvious that advertising is a monumentally silly occupation, I tried to make it more stimulating (to me, at least) by questioning everything I read or heard about it -- by trying very hard not to accept the generally accepted wisdom unless I could find convincing evidence that it was true.

In the past few weeks on this page I have expressed that idea a couple of times. On October 28th I wrote...
Nobody seems inclined to challenge the wearisome assertions of modern-day wizards, no matter how many times they've been wrong.
On October 30th I wrote...
...the first thing that struck me was that in the ad business we didn’t really seem to know very much... We thought we knew things…we had all these rules and principles and philosophies and ideas about what made good advertising…but I couldn’t find any never stopped bothering me. And so I developed a very annoying habit – I stopped believing advertising experts.
The persona I created for this blog is one of a cranky old guy who is out to question everything about advertising that conventional wisdom, and conventional wizards, have to say.

There are times I have reservations about this posturing. I ask myself whether I am just doing it to advance my "brand" and be a pain in the ass, or if I really possess the doubt and skepticism I claim to have?

And then the wonderful thing happened. I was reading an essay in Feynman's book. The essay was in the form of a speech he gave to the National Science Teachers Association. The subject was "What Is Science?" He gave several different definitions of science from several different perspectives. Then he gave one that really got me smiling. He said...
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."
Amen, brother.

By The Way...
There is a terrific movie about Feynman's struggle with the "experts" of NASA called "The Challenger Disaster" that is airing this week on the Science Channel and the History Channel. Not to be missed.

And Don't Forget...
Feynman went to Far Rockaway High School.

November 14, 2013

The Scam What Am

For several months, the Investigative Helicopter Team here at The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters has been writing about the masssive fraud being perpetrated on online advertisers (here, here, here, and here.)

This week, Jack Marshall of Digiday has a great interview with a former online scam artist -- oops, I mean publishing executive -- who tells his story. You can read the whole thing here.

Here are some of the highlights:

- Why he bought traffic he knew was fraudulent:
"As a website running an arbitrage model, all that mattered was profit, and for every $0.002 visit we were buying, we were making between $0.0025 and $0.004 selling display ads through networks and exchanges."
- How did he know it was bots, not humans, he was buying?
"When we told them we were looking for the cheapest traffic we could possibly buy there would be sort of a wink and a nod, and they’d make us aware that for that price the traffic would be of “unknown quality”... You can tell it’s bot traffic just by looking at the analytics."
- Do publishers know they're engaged in fraud?
"Publishers know... Any publisher that’s smart enough understand an arbitrage opportunity is smart enough to understand... What we were doing was 100 percent intentional. Some articles revolving around bot traffic paint publishers as rubes who were duped...I believe publishers are willing to do anything to make their economics work. "
- On networks and ad exchanges:
"We worked with a major supply-side platform partner that was just wink wink, nudge nudge about it. They asked us to explain why almost all of our traffic came from one operating system and the majority had all the same user-agent string. There was nothing I could really say.... It was their way of letting us know that they understood what was going on... It was people at the highest levels in the company... In theory they maintain the quality of their traffic. In reality they just turn a blind eye."
 - How widespread is the fraud?
"...there are a lot of people who knowingly do it....There are so many ways they could police this, but the incentive just isn’t there."
I've always found that the ad industry atracted a certain kind of harmless bullshit artist whose assertions were so obviously self-serving and unreliable that no one with an ounce of grey matter would take them seriously.

Apparently I am wrong. We seem to have a large group of online buyers and sellers who are willfully buying and selling fraudulent merchandise. By keeping one step away from the smoking gun, they believe they are able to maintain deniability. Time will tell. Sooner or later, if the foundation is dodgy the house comes tumbling down

It's a rotten, dirty game and ignorant advertisers are getting skinned alive.

The amazing thing is that no one's been arrested or fired.

November 11, 2013

Insights That Lead Nowhere

Somewhere along the line, the ad industry decided that advertising should be about consumers, not products.

This unnoticed and unremarked-upon mutation has had a profound impact on the nature and effectiveness of what we do.

The first effect has been to transform us from salespeople to sociologists. Of course, we don't like to call what we do sociology (too down market) instead we like to call it "cultural anthropology" (much more lyrical.)

So, along with our friends in the market research world, we have developed all kinds of cultural cliches which we lean on: Baby Boomers are this, and Millennials are that, and Gen Xers are the other thing, therefore...(INSERT QUESTIONABLE ASSERTIONS HERE.)

Instead of spending our time looking for imaginative advertising concepts about products, we spend our time developing dubious "insights" about consumers. Our sociological cliches form both the basis of these "insights" and the justification for them.

Of course, if these insights actually helped us create more effective advertising and sell more stuff, we'd all agree that progress has been made.

Sadly, however, it is pretty widely recognized that advertising has become a less powerful force, not a more powerful one. If our metamorphosis from salesmen to sociologists had been a constructive thing, we would expect the opposite.

There are surely a lot of other reasons for advertising's loss of efficacy -- media fragmentation, clutter, and talent erosion among them. But I think we would be mistaken to believe that our ascension from the uninspiring role of salesmen to the lofty ranks of cultural anthropologists hasn't been a factor.

Most of the "insights" we develop as a result of our sidewalk sociology turn out to be shallow generalities that have little to no effect on our ability to move more peanut butter.

In fact, a nice idea about a product is usually a much more powerful marketing asset than a majestic theory about the nature of mankind.

November 06, 2013

Engagement And The YouTube Music Awards

Online advocates have been trying to convince us that the proper measurement of online success is "engagement."

Engagement is a very imprecise and confusing term. Nobody can agree on what engagement means, how to measure it, or what value it has.

So it’s the perfect flavor of online unaccountability. Just like we disguise our traditional advertising failures behind branding ("it's not supposed to sell, it's a branding ad") we now hide our online failures behind "engagement ("clicks mean nothing.")

As Martin Weigel, head of planing at Wieden+Kennedy's Amsterdam office says,
"‘Engagement’ is an unworkable and meaningless concept. It means everything. And absolutely nothing. And as such it cannot possibly claim to be any kind of metric.
Searching, viewing, visits, spending time on site or page, opening promotional e-mails, completing a survey, page views, linking, bookmarking, blogging, forwarding, following, referring, clicking, friending, liking, +1-ing, playing, reading, subscribing, posting, printing, reviewing, recommending, rating, co-creating, discussing,...uploading, downloading, adding an item to favourites, joining a group, installing a widget...All of these and more are potential measures of ‘engagement’...It really is time to call bullshit on ‘engagement’. Better, to bundle it into a coffin labelled ‘Agency Puffery’ and put a nail firmly in it once and for all.”
Let's take a real-world look at engagement and see how it translates into consumer behavior.

Last week, Google, oops, I mean YouTube, put on its first YouTube Music Awards featuring two of the biggest stars on the planet, Eminem and Lady Gaga.

According to YouTube press releases, they received over 60 million votes for these awards. Get 60 million actions of any kind and you've hit the engagement jackpot. And yet...

According to reports I've read, YouTube only averaged about 180,000 viewers at any particular time.

In other words, for every "engagement" action there were about .003 as many people actually watching the show at any given moment.

This is not the kind of "return on engagement" that is likely to build confidence in engagement as anything other than another bullshit "metric" dreamed up by the ad industry.

And if that's all you can do with Eminem and Gaga, imagine the results without them.

November 04, 2013

Lying: It's Not Just A Strategy, It's A Lifestyle.

You would think that companies whose advertising lies to the public would have a high price to pay. But you'd be wrong.

The consolidation of economic power into the hands of enormous worldwide entities has given consumers nothing much to choose from except which lying bastards to do business with.
  • Does anyone do anything but laugh at the "blazing fast" download speeds that every ISP promises?
  • Or the "personal banking experience" that every bank swears by?
  • Or the "spacious cabins" that airlines talk about?
  • Or the "knowledgeable people" at the big box store?
  • Or the outstanding service of the cable industry? 
  • Or the amazing voice recognition of tech gizmos?
Everyone with a functioning brain knows that these claims are nothing but hot air. And yet, what are our options? Only to choose another liar.

It would be bad enough if lying to the public were just an economic exercise. But it has become part of the political playbook as well:
  • "I am not a crook." Richard M. Nixon.
  • "Read my lips. No new taxes." George H.W. Bush
  • "I did not have sex with that woman." Bill Clinton
  • "There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction." George W. Bush
  • "There is no spying on Americans." Barack Obama
Of course, these presidents have legions of fast-talking media scumbags to explain why their lies weren't really lies.

Sadly, we have gotten used to the fact that the only political option we have is to replace one set of liars with another.

Now, with our consumer options rapidly devolving into a choice among fewer and fewer enormous global enterprises of dubious integrity, we are going to have to get used to the idea of trading one lying corporation for another.

The consumer is in charge. Yeah, right.

October 30, 2013

Battle For World's Most Valuable Consumer

Last week, I was invited to speak at a conference sponsored by the 4A's and the law firm of Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP. The topic was "The Battle For The World's Most Valuable Consumer."  I published my remarks on my company website and received some nice comments, so I thought I'd publish them here. 

Good morning boys and girls.

I’m going to try something amazing today. I’m going to try to talk and change Powerpoint slides simultaneously. This is not a core competency. It's sad. A few months ago I was the ceo of an ad agency. I had departments full of people who did nothing but advance powerpoint slides for me. Now look at me.

Okay, my talk today is entitled The Battle For The World’s Most Valuable Consumer.

Who is the world’s most valuable consumer? Actually, it’s my wife. But that’s a whole other slide show.

The world’s most valuable consumers are people over 50. And the title of this talk is a big fat lie because the truth is that there is no battle for these people. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s start at the beginning. Before I began my advertising career 130 years ago, I was a science teacher. I taught science in the NYC public schools for 3 years. This, by the way, is a very compelling argument for home schooling.

I was not much of a teacher and really didn’t know much about science, but one of the things teaching science taught me was a very deep respect for the scientific method.

Scientists work really hard until they are able so say that they know something. They have to do experiments, and repeat their experiments, and then their peers review their methods and assumptions, and then their peers repeat their experiments, and then they publish the results and then people can comment and question and look for flaws. And after all this torture and scrutiny, if their results hold up, then they can say that they actually know something.

Knowing something, it turns out, is completely different from thinking you know something.

So then I left teaching and got into the advertising business. And the first thing that struck me was that in the ad business we didn’t really seem to know very much.

We thought we knew things…we had all these rules and principles and philosophies and ideas about what made good advertising…but I couldn’t find any facts.

We did things that looked and sounded like science…we used the language and the tools of research… we had clip boards and questionnaires and lab coats … but we didn’t use the scientific method. We rarely if ever used controls. We didn’t repeat our experiments. We didn’t have peer review of our methods. And no one ever repeated our work to validate it.

Now, I’m not here to pick on market researchers. Our lack of rigor is not their fault. We simply don’t have the time, money, or inclination to do the type of rigorous experimentation that academics and scientists and some industries do before they can say they really know something.

Over time, making a nice living helped me accommodate myself to the idea that we didn’t really know what we thought we knew. But it never stopped bothering me. And so I developed a very annoying habit – I stopped believing advertising experts.

I don’t care what school you went to, or what credentials you have or what awards or medals you’ve won. If you don’t have the facts, and you can’t explain them to me simply and clearly, I’m sorry, I'm skeptical. I will defer to a certain professor Einstein on this subject who once said, "It should be possible to describe the laws of physics to a barmaid." 

Now one of the doctrines of the ad industry that fell into this category of things I never fully believed was why we spend so much of our time, money, and energy talking to young people and so little on older people. I always assumed that there must be some pretty good facts to justify this somewhere and I just hadn’t run into them.

So about 6 months ago when I retired from my agency I had some time on my hands and I started to look into this issue. Now I stipulate that there are certainly some things that I haven’t found or read. But what I have seen and what I have read leads me to believe that we don’t know what we think we know.

In fact, I have come to believe that most of us target young people because we see everyone else doing it and we assume that somewhere there must be someone who knows why the hell we're doing this and has a good reason for it. In other words, somewhere at the end if all this there’s a smart person with facts.

Well, if there is a smart person somewhere with the facts on this, I haven’t found him yet. Here’s what I have found.
  • People over 50 have about about 70% of all the wealth in the country
  • They are responsible for about half of all consumer spending
  • They buy 62% of all new cars
  • Despite the fact that many are retired, they still have 55% higher annual income than some other adult demo groups.
  • And on average they have a net worth about 3 times that of the rest of the people
  • They dominate 94% of CPG categories.
  • They are the internet’s largest demographic constituency.
  • They are much easier and much cheaper to reach than any other demographic group.
  • And, according to Nielsen, they are the target for 5% of all advertising.
Let me repeat the key fact here. Despite the fact that people over 50 are responsible for about half the consumer spending in the country, they are the target for 5% of all advertising.

I have stared at this slide for weeks, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

According to Nielsen, they are “The most valuable generation in the history of marketing.”

Forbes calls them “the most ignored wealthy people in the history of marketing.”

I submit to you that if I could get you to forget for a minute that you’re in the advertising or marketing business and I showed you this slide, you’d say there is something radically wrong here.

Usually, when I give this talk it is 45 minutes long and I give several examples of the inexplicable disregard marketers have shown for older people. But I only have 18 minutes today so let me give you one recent example.

In a piece last month, the The Wall Street Journal reported on so-called “youth cars.”
According to the Journal:  
"Appealing to the young has auto makers designing and marketing to the "millennial generation"—that group of consumers in their 20s and 30s... But senior citizens are making Swiss cheese of those efforts."
The percent of sales of youth cars that are actually sold to the youthful target of 18-34 year olds is 12%. Meanwhile we are substantially disregarding the 88% of the population who actually buy these cars.

 Of course the people responsible for this have to justify it. How do they explain this anomaly?
"The baby boomer generation is the largest cohort in the marketplace," said one automotive marketing executive. "Just by virtue of their numbers being so large, we'll continue to see them skew the data for a long time."
So, you see, older people aren't really customers. They don't really buy things. They don't spend real money. All they do is "skew the data." In the same article, the president of a market research firm had this to say:
"So when marketing messages are for millennials, there are a lot of things that are attractive to the older generation."
Sorry. Older people are buying these cars in spite of the mistargeted marketing and advertising, not because of it.

Can you think of any other demographic, ethnic or social group that anyone would claim is best influenced by targeting someone else? The whole science of marketing is based on finding the most relevant message and delivering it to the most probable buyer. Except when it comes to people over 50. Then all the rules are suspended. Because these people don't count. They just "skew the data."

So why are marketers and advertisers ignoring people over 50?

There are a lot of reasons. It starts with the demographics of our industry. 80% of all workers in the professional and business services sector are under 55. Can you imagine what that number is in advertising agencies and marketing departments?

Go into any creative department in any ad agency in America and it is a miracle to find anyone over 50.

And yet, in every serious creative field you can think of older people completely dominate.
 • Last year, the five Oscar nominees for Best Director were Woody Allen, Michel Hazanavicius, Terrence Malick, Alexander Payne, and Martin Scorsese. Average age: 62.

 • 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 Prize for Music went to Zhou Long, 59

 • The Poetry award was won by Kay Ryan, 67

 • The Noble Prize for Literature went to 83-year-old Tomas Transtromer. And this year’s prize was just announced. It went to Alice Munro, 82

 • The Emmy for Best Comedy went to Modern Family, created by Christopher Lloyd, 52 and Steven Levitan, 50
I guarantee you, not one of these brilliant people – not one -- could a get a job in the creative department of an advertising agency today.

We have all the numbers and all the data, yet we are blinded by things we think we know that we don’t really know-- myths that we have been taught, and fairy tales about people over 50.

Let’s look at some of the fairy tales.
Fairy Tale #1: People over 50 are downsizing 
Here’s the reality. Between 1999 and 2009, spending by people 55 to 64 grew 45%. People aged 55-64 outspend average consumers in virtually every consumer products category. In fact, people 55-64 buy 30% more new cars than people 25-34. In fact, people 75 to dead buy more new cars than people 18-34.
Fairy Tale # 2: Older people are dying out 
The reality: Between now and 2030, the population over 50 will grow at about 3 times the rate of adults under 50. We are not losing our old people, we are losing our young people.
Fairy Tale # 3: By advertising younger, you automatically reach and influence people over 50
Advertisers believe that by advertising to 25-49 year olds we will reach the 50+ market as “spill.” But a study done by one of our associates recently showed that a typical media plan directed at 25-49 year olds had a 50+ component of only 15%. It is not just the media thinking that is wrong, it is also the message. According to The New York Times, the generation gap is wider than at any time since the 1960’s. 2/3 of people over 50 say they are less likely to purchase a product if they find the advertising offensive. And guess what, the same 2/3 say that advertising has become cruder and more offensive.
Fairy Tale # 4: People over 50 are “stuck in their ways” and will not switch brands
The reality is baby boomers are just as likely as young people to try new products. 61% say that “in today’s marketplace, it doesn’t pay to be loyal to one brand.” Guess what the number is among people 18 - 41. Exactly the same.
Fairy Tale #5: If you get them young, you’ll have them for life.
This is the “lifetime value” delusion. A few months ago, the wrongness of this argument was exposed in a study published by the journal Science. 
A team of psychologists released a study which discredited what we call “Lifetime value” and the scientists call "the end of history illusion" i.e., the illusion that things will remain as they currently are and we will stay like we are now.   According to one of the authors of the study we simply do not realize "how transient our preferences and values are..."  And if you think that targeting millennials now means you’ll have them for life, here’s some sobering news. A study last year reported that 80% of millennials looked for the lowest price possible when shopping, and that 60% are more inclined to bypass their favorite brand if a cheaper alternative is available.
Fairy Tale # 6: People over 50 want to be like young people.
This may be the oldest and perhaps the most damaging of the fairy tales. Do older people want to be youthful? Yes. Do they want to be like young people? No. This is a crucial distinction which seems to be completely lost on our industry. People over 50 have their own idea of what it means to be youthful, and I promise you it has nothing whatever to do with Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus or the young, hip doofuses we are bombarded with in advertising.

People over 50 are not who we think they are. They grew up smoking weed and listening to James Brown. They invented the personal computer. They helped develop Google. They didn’t invent sex, but they invented the sexual revolution.

For the most part, they are healthy, wealthy and wise. They are not grandma and grandpa.

They do not look like this...

They look like this...

In my opinion, the idea that people over 50 want to be like young people is simply the narcissistic excuse that the young people who dominate our industry use to not bother learning or understanding older people.
I have come to the conclusion that the rationales we use for targeting young people are highly questionable and that there is little to no factual evidence to support these practices.

I believe we do not ignore older people for the reasons we give. These are just rationalizations we use because we prefer to identify with the excitement of youth than the dullness of middle and older age.

I have come to the conclusion that we are spending 10’s of billions of dollars on questionable practices based on questionable assumptions.

Now maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is a logic that I can’t see in which half of the buying power of the country is only worthy of 5% of our effort. But I don’t think I’m wrong. I’ve been around advertising too long to accept the idea that there are mysteries about it that average people like me can’t understand.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is no place for advertising to young people. There certainly is. But at 95 to 5, I believe we are way out of balance.

The 50+ generation is not just a niche that needs sidebar attention. They are the mainstream. There are now 101 million people over 50 in America. In just 5 years, half of all American adults will be over 50. They are the hard core of our economy. They are the group that determines the success and failure of most products.

It’s time to think outside of health care, financial services and erectile dysfunction -- to all the other mainstream product and service categories that are heavily patronized, and often dominated, by people over 50.

The sooner we recognize this and adapt our marketing and advertising thinking to this reality, the sooner we will all enjoy the attention and the financial benefits of the most valuable consumer group in the history of the world.


October 28, 2013

Advertising Needs Troublemakers

The advertising industry has become too respectable, too congenial, and too polite.

We are in desperate need of troublemakers. We need shit-disturbers. We need hell-raisers.

We need the kind of quarrelsome, pugnacious, opinionated people that make the arts vibrant and interesting.

There's way too much consensus. Way too much cordiality. Way too little controversy.

Attending an advertising conference these days is like going to an insurance seminar. It is full of bland, head-nodding jargon-monkeys who are very keen on swallowing whole the conventional blather of smug "experts."

Nobody seems inclined to challenge the wearisome assertions of modern-day wizards, no matter how many times they've been wrong.

It's all backwards. Rebelliousness is supposed to be a characteristic of youth. But the only people I hear wailing about the insufferable tedium of ad-think these days are old fools like me.

It ain't supposed to be this way. We need people who aren't afraid to get up on stage at the next "big data" conference and pull their pants down.

We need people who aren't afraid to break a layout over a client's head.

We need people who give a shit.

You know what you call people who give a shit?


Last week I gave a talk at a conference sponsored by the 4A's called, "The Battle For The World's Most Valuable Consumer." You can find a transcript of the talk here.

October 24, 2013

10 Great Things About Obamacare Website

Yesterday we posted 10 ideas to help The President with his troubled health care website.

Frankly, we're getting a little tired of all the negativity. So let's just stop for a few minutes and take a look at the bright side.

Today, we're focusing on the positive. Here are 10 Great Things About The Obamacare Website:
1. Government techies so busy screwing up website, they have no time to tap your emails
2. Makes World Series seem exciting
3. Since it launched, Kanye and Kim got engaged
4. Signing up takes less time than booking a flight on
5. Has created big surge in demand for Microsoft Surface tablets: total worldwide sales approaching six
6. Ukrainian click farms so frustrated the bots are quitting

7. When caught watching porn, just say, "I was trying to buy health care. Can you believe this?"

8. It's still easier than deleting your Facebook account

9. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius looks even hotter when she's aggravated

10. It's not as annoying as a blog

October 23, 2013

10 Ways To Make Obamacare Website More Successful

President Obama is having a tough time with his new website. So far he's spent $394 million on it, and it doesn't even have any funny cat videos.

The President has found out what we in the civilian population have known for years -- expecting an online expert to get something right is like expecting a 16-year-old to vacuum the garage. And having an I.T. department is like having a family of blind monkeys with aluminum baseball bats.

Meanwhile, the average 14-year-old in South Korea could have built the website in about a half-hour while rubbing one out and winning a golf tournament.

There's only one group of people who can help the president now -- the people who really know what they're doing online. I think it's time for us professional marketers to step up and help the President.

So here, Mr. President, are 10 Ways To Make The Obamacare Website More Successful:
1. Change the URL to HealthCare.MILF

2. Have a section where you can upload pictures of your favorite disease

3. Appoint a healthcare "global ambassador" like or Lady Gaga
4. New campaign slogan: "Think it's easy running a country and a website?"
5. Have the IRS "accidentally" investigate the tax returns of everyone who doesn't sign up
6. Do some really cool shit with QR codes
7. Promotion: Enroll by January 1st and win a date with Nancy Pelosi

8. Tweet out what diseases are trending

9. If you spend over $500 on prosthetic devices, free shipping

10. Blame Bush

October 21, 2013

A Very Intricate Nonsense

In journalism there is a phenomenon called "burying the lead." It happens when an incompetent reporter doesn't understand the essential point of a story, and buries it beneath secondary points.

In the advertising business, we also bury the lead. But mostly, we do it intentionally.
"Our click rate was .042% which is about 22% above the category norm of .035%. Our re-targeting really helped with a .7% rate. By using behavioral scoring we achieved... and our optimization matrix...this lead to an uplift rate of... and a year-over-year ROI increase of almost 33%."
I have been at a few too many of these "bury the lead" meetings.

The meeting will continue on to discuss how the re-targeting was implemented and how we optimized and what behavioral elements were included in our plan and how we can continue to increase our year-over-year ROI, and will never get around to the real story.

The real story is this: For every 10,000 ads that were delivered we got 4 clicks. And we don't know how many of those clicks were fraudulent and how many were accidental.

The era of "big data" is quickly becoming the era of "big bullshit" -- bullshit on a grander scale than ever before. We've always had ability to bullshit with words. Now we have the ability to bullshit with math. We've always had bullshit artists. Now we have bullshit scientists.

For a wonderful analysis of how we are raising irrelevancy and obfuscation to new heights, I highly recommend this post by Doc Searls. Doc is a brilliant guy who was one of the writers of The Cluetrain Manifesto, one of the foundational documents of the digital era. I have, at times, poked fun at it. But I have great regard for Doc and his intellect. Here's a snippet from his post:
When I was doing research for The Intention Economy, the most important input I got came from Doug Rauch, the retired president of Trader Joe's. One big reason for Trader Joe's success, he told me, is...that it minimizes marketing bullshit. It has no loyalty program, no coupons, no discounts and none of the expenses any of those involve, including the cost of running a big data mill. ...By avoiding this kind of thing, Trader Joe's spares itself the cognitive overhead required to rationalize complicating the living shit out of everything, which is what marketing tends to do—and does now, more than ever, with Big Data.
Here's a pretty good rule of thumb for understanding what's really going on at the next online advertising presentation you attend: The deeper the dive, the more calculatedly they're burying the lead.

Thanks to George for pointing me to Doc's post

October 16, 2013

Alarming Online Sleaze Factor

If they gave awards for reporting on the advertising industry (and why not, they give awards for everything else) this year's award should go to Mike Shields of Adweek whose work on the corruption and fraud in the online ad industry has been outstanding.

This is by far the biggest advertising story of the year, and no one but Mike seems to be interested in it.

His latest piece, The Amount of Questionable Online Traffic Will Blow Your Mind ran a few days ago and should be required reading for anyone who buys display advertising.

The article asserts that
"...the online ad industry is facing a swelling crisis, one defined by fake traffic, bogus publishers and invisible Web visitors... bogus ad inventory, as it turns out, is rampant. In fact, according to numerous sources across the ecosystem, fake traffic is essentially systemic to online advertising—it’s part of how the business works."
Mike reports that the world of online advertising is so screwed-up, corrupt, and incomprehensible that at times it is impossible to know what you are buying and who you are buying it from...
"...According to (independent trading desk) Digilant COO Nate Woodman, the situation is so ungovernable that the agency has found instances where it’s ended up buying impressions from itself."
The problem is that no one wants to kill the golden goose. Naive, clueless advertisers are getting stuck with billions in worthless, nonexistent "advertising."
"John Snyder, CEO of the keyword-targeting firm Grapeshot, says he’s lost business because his company won’t sell bad inventory. “We’ll hear, ‘Your competitor got great clicks,’ but all on two sites and it was all fraud. But it’s these optimization algorithms that find those clicks.' "
The fraudulent practices aren't just limited to banner ads...
"While the display market has seen dicey practices growing for a while now, the challenge of bad inventory is suddenly escalating in video..."
Is anything changing? Says Woodman (of Digilant)...
“When we try to tighten things up, our measured performance goes down...We need to fix this as an industry,” he adds. “Somebody needs to give a shit.”
Last month, we ran a post about this subject that speculated that as much as $9.5 billion in online advertising is either fraudulent or invisible.

Unfortunately, nobody is going to "give a shit" until somebody goes to jail.

October 14, 2013

The Value Of Celebrity Losers

A close friend and former colleague of mine from the East Coast wrote last week to ask the following question:
Since you live on the West Coast, you are not bombarded with Eli Manning ads for Toyota, Dunkin Donuts and one or two others. 
Last night with three interceptions, Eli Manning led the NY Giants to their 6th loss of the season.
While discussing his performance at lunch yesterday, someone asked for my opinion on whether Eli is now hurting or helping these brands. I said I didn't have the vaguest idea but knew who to ask.
To frame the question... "Does a spokesperson for a losing team help or hurt sales and brand image?"
Advertisers spend  billions of dollars every year for celebrity endorsements and, on the whole, have no idea whether they pay off or not. They can measure all kinds of things that may represent effectiveness (awareness, likeability, etc) but as far as I'm concerned the only valid way to measure actual sales effectiveness is to do a controlled experiment in which the same campaign with and without the celebrity is run in identical markets.

Since there are no identical markets, and since very few advertisers have the resources or inclination to run a controlled experiment, we are stuck with anecdotes, self-selected case histories (only the successful write them up) and the qualitative conclusion that, in general, celebrities probably help. But, to my knowledge, there's very little in the way of conclusive proof.

But, as my friend asks, what about celebrity losers?

My psychology credentials are a tad thin, but I think we have to look at this question from that point of view.

First, I think we have to look at how we consciously process a celebrity endorsement. I believe that the key to our conscious response is that we pay more attention. When someone we are familiar with, particularly someone famous, is speaking, I believe we are more likely to notice it than when someone we don't know is speaking.

In today's world, with the enormous amount of messages bombarding us, getting someone's attention is very valuable. If a celebrity does nothing more than that, he is earning his money (of course, depending on how much he's being paid.)

The tricky part, and the part I am fabulously unqualified to answer, is the part that is not conscious i.e., our unconscious, or subconscious, responses to celebrity endorsers. It seems reasonable to me that when we are exposed enough times to an individual representing a brand, in our strangely human way some of the qualities of that individual get transferred to the brand.

However, if we are prepared to claim that the positive aspects of an endorser (credibility, likeability, trust) are transferable, we must also be prepared to assert that negative qualities of the endorser are also transferable.

The difficulty comes in determining when the tipping point arrives and someone who was a "winner" and is now a "loser" moves from an asset to a liability. In the case above, Manning may be on a losing team, and may be having a terrible season, but because of his history or his personality he may still command a good deal of respect and goodwill among the public, which still makes him a net asset.

There is also the creative aspect to consider. A good agency can "write" Manning in such a way as to make his challenges endearing. Some of our most popular characters are "loveable losers." (Growing up on the East Coast, I remember Ed Kranepool and "Marvelous" Marv Thoneberry popular anti-heroes of the NY Mets.) However, this is tricky and can backfire in the wrong hands.

All in all, my guess is that Manning still has some value to the advertisers. Not being on the East Coast, however, and not knowing the attitude of the man on the street, these things are hard for me to judge.

An interesting aspect of this is the role of the agency. It is usually the agency that suggests the use of a celebrity spokesman, and often for a multi-year deal. When a celebrity goes bad for moral or legal reasons, it's easy for the agency to recommend terminating the celebrity. Also there are sometimes clauses in agreements allowing advertisers to terminate for such reasons.

However, when an athlete goes bad for performance reasons, the agency is in a tough spot. Particularly when the advertisers are franchise groups (as are Toyota and Dunkin Donuts.)

Having worked with franchise groups, I can tell you that the one thing they hate above all others is non-media ad costs. If they've paid someone for a couple of years and paid to produce spots with him, he could be having the worst season since the invention of the jock strap and I guarantee you they're still going to air them.

October 09, 2013

10-Point List For Making 10-Point Lists

If you want to be a world famous blogger and make millions of dollars and have super-hot nymphos crawling all over you, you have to learn how to write a blog post that has a list of ten things.

Everyone wants to know ten things. Eleven things are too many and nine things are not enough.

Here are ten points you need to know about making a successful blog post with a 10-point list:
1. Always start with number one and work your way down (unless you're Casey Kasem, then you can do it the other way.)
2. Don't start with number 6 and then jump to number three. That's just stupid.  
3. Don't use fractions or irrational numbers. Square roots are confusing and cube roots can only be understood by those Indian guys who hang around coffee shops.
4. You need to pretend to impart information. The best way to do this is to assert that something is dead (hockey, reading, butter, physics ...doesn't really matter.)
5. Have one unexpected element -- something like a picture of Ben Bernanke picking his nose.
6. It's impossible to write a good number 6. Just put down anything and get on to number 7.
7. If you run out of ideas say something like, "remember, social media is about people." Who can argue with brilliant shit like that?  
8. Show that you're tough, irreverent, and controversial by calling another blogger a homo.
10. Get it done quickly so you can have yourself a cocktail.
So that's all there is to it. Start on a 10-point blog post and pretty soon you'll be Klouting through the moon and rubbing elbows and other naughty body parts with the big guys in that rarefied air of social media aristocracy.

October 07, 2013

Inconsequential Culture Of Incrementalism

I have whiner's block.

I'm tired of writing about the silliness of the ad business. I'm sick of complaining about the wrong turns it has taken.

People keep asking me what I'm optimistic about. The only thing I can come up with is that there are still a handful of agencies that have big ideas and can do really good work. A handful.

I meet and talk to too many agency people who are dull and timid and do not belong in the advertising business.

They are getting soft on their own baloney. They're happy to accept well-published wisdom and team-think. They talk in riddles and horrible jargon and think they know something.

They are surrounded by people like themselves, as a protective coating. People who think platforms come first.

The worst part is, they're not just doing it for the paycheck. They really believe.

Then there are those I feel bad for. These are people who at one time were able to do big things but are now prisoners in one of our small-minded bullshit factories. They know the power of a big idea. They know the exhilaration of having a "hit." They've seen the amazing reaction when a campaign goes through the roof.

But now they're stuck in our inconsequential culture of incrementalism. Where little people with little ideas make little things for little audiences. It seems to be our inheritance.

Maybe I don't have whiner's block. I seem to be whining pretty well.

October 01, 2013

The Search For Miracles

With the exceptions of pop music and fashion, there is probably no more trendy business than advertising.

Every few years we invent a trendy new miracle and everyone immediately jumps on it.

Sometimes it's a media miracle like social media.

Sometimes it's a process miracle like account planning.

Sometimes it's a technical miracle like "big data."

Whatever shape the miracle takes, one thing is for sure: it's going to change everything.

Every agency in the known universe jumps all over the new miracle and it becomes the centerpiece of their website and their new business pitch.

Every agency also becomes expert in this new miracle, and starts up a department to specialize in it. They "brand" it (i.e., give it a stupid name) and develop a pseudo-proprietary flavor of this miracle.

Although what they do is exactly the same as what every other agency does, their flavor usually contains some kind of highly-evolved methodology with circles and arrows and dotted lines and feedback loops.

In other words, it's a muy grande bullshit burrito.

Amazingly, clients believe in these miracles. The way it happens is that the agency usually trots out the example of the company that has been wildly successful implementing the miracle. The fact that this example is two or three standard deviations from normal is never discussed. All that anyone needs to know is that Zappos was a huge social media success, or "got milk" utilized account planning, or, I don't know, someone had a million hits on their QR code, and naive clients start salivating and wanting a piece of the miracle.

The truly sad part is that there really is an advertising miracle. It's called an idea -- a great creative idea. Unfortunately, it's hard to come by and there are very few who can perform it.

The ad business has adopted a very dangerous and short-sighted habit: selling the wrong kind of miracles.

The only real miracle we have in our bag of tricks is the creative one. It's the only one we've ever had.

The most appropriate phrase ever written about chasing the latest trendy advertising miracle was written by someone you've never heard of named Herman Hupfeld.

Herman wrote, "the fundamental things apply, as time goes by."

September 23, 2013

Can Online Advertising Survive?

One of the enduring lessons of economics is that things look rosiest just before they explode.

This happened in the tech industry in the late 90's. Prices, valuations, and interest in the dotcom economy had been soaring for years and had reached astronomical levels. And then, in the course of a few short weeks, reality suddenly reared its ugly head and it all came crashing down.

The online advertising industry may be facing a similar fate. There are some very disturbing trends developing in online advertising that we have chosen to ignore. But they are there just the same:
  • Delivery:  According to a Wall Street Journal report, a recent study by comScore found that 54% of display ads paid for by advertisers between May 2012 and February 2013 never appeared in front of a live human being. Furthermore, of the ads that did appear and were counted as "visible" the threshold for "visibility" was so low as to be meaningless -- 1/2 of the pixels had to load for one second.
  • Traffic: There seems to be a huge amount of fraudulent traffic to websites. Adweek reports that according to Solve Media the amount of suspicious web traffic was 46% in the 1st quarter of 2013. That means that 46% of the viewership reported by websites may have been bots, not people. According to Adweek, as much as $9.5 billion of the $20 billion that will be spent on online advertising in 2013 may be for imaginary traffic.
  • Click Fraud: Nobody knows what the true extent of click fraud is. According to Business Insider "...armies of computers unknowingly infected by hackers to drive fake traffic through ads, generating up to $400 million a year in fraudulent clicks." This is particularly disheartening when you consider that click rates, which include the inadvertent clicks we all make, are at an astonishingly low 2 to 9 clicks per 10,000 ads delivered -- before fraud.
  • Prices Are Dropping: According to reports, cost-per-thousand and cost-per-click rates have been dropping steadily for two years. This means advertisers are systematically losing confidence in online advertising's ability to deliver results to them.
  • Social Media: Social media is starting to receive the scrutiny it deserves. The magical mystery honeymoon is coming to an end and marketers are demanding to see results. According to Forrester Research, "Social tactics are not meaningful sales drivers."
  • Ad Blocking: A program called "AdBlock Plus" claims to have 50 million users. Despite its name, AdBlock Plus is more like AdBlock Minus. It does not block all advertising. In fact, Salon magazine says it derives a substantial part of its income by making large corporations "pay to play." It lets a certain type of advertising through its filtering system. But if big guys won't pay up, none of their ads get through. There is nothing preventing a more scrupulous company or browser from developing a true ad blocker, with no asterisks. In fact, Mozilla (Firefox) was reportedly planning to do just that until someone got to them.
  • Dilettantism: When dabblers get involved in an industry, it is generally not a good sign. You could sense the dotcom crash was coming when you were standing in line at the supermarket and the check-out clerks were talking about their tech stocks. We now have big shots working in the online channel who are proud to say they have no knowledge of, and no interest in, advertising.
  • Criminality: There is clearly a substantial amount of criminal and deceitful activity going on. The phony traffic, the phony clicks, the phony delivery numbers have to be coming from somewhere.
Any one of these factors alone is disturbing. Put them together and you have a very discomfiting picture.

Of course, the ad industry and the investment and the business communities are very high on online advertising right now because everyone's making money. Just as they were high on the dotcom sector before it evaporated.

As in the dotcom crash, the strong would survive a melt down. But a whole lot of web businesses, media buying firms, and agencies would go down hard. 

Some might even go to jail. It is difficult for me to believe that law enforcement agencies aren't looking into the mushrooming fraud. It could trigger a major event.

I never make predictions. But online advertising is a train wreck waiting to happen. I wouldn't be surprised...

World Tour...
I am speaking this Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. on "The Golden Age of BS." Here's the info.