November 26, 2014

No App For Gratitude

Today's post is my traditional (since last year) Thanksgiving post.

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 24, 2014

Display Advertising Is Poison

Display advertising is ugly and infuriating. It never stops. It never leaves us alone. It is ubiquitous and toxic. It is polluting the web.

About 30% of online ad dollars are spent on display advertising. But display is responsible for about 100% of the maddening stupidity and annoyance of the web.

As a general rule, things that are successful expand. But it is the opposite with display ads.

Because they are so ineffective we get more and more of them. The rate of clicking on banner ads is so tiny, that for a media genius to deliver the 100 clicks she promises a client she has to buy over 100,000 impressions.

And so, in trying to achieve goals, an enormous amount of ads must be bought. And splattered all over everything we are trying to do online.

Also, because they are so ineffective, they are ridiculously cheap. And they keep getting cheaper. The result is that every creepy company in the world can afford these things and annoy the shit out of us with them.

When you watch a TV program you get somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 minutes of entertainment for your 8 minutes of annoying advertising.

Online the ratio is reversed. You often get six or seven display ads for your one page of "content." (By the way, Facebook is one of the few sites starting to show a little restraint by upping their ad rates and running fewer ads.)

I am an ad guy and I know that advertising provides us with a whole lot of free entertainment and information that most people don't appreciate. While I may find a lot of advertising annoying, and most forms of online advertising misguided, I don't hate them. But I hate fucking display ads.

Display has become the dregs of advertising. If being ugly and stupid isn't bad enough, the whole culture of the display industry is corrupt and infested with creeps, charlatans, and crooks.

Display is poison and it needs to be reformed.

November 20, 2014

The Danger In Being Different

In marketing and advertising everyone is faking it.

I mean everyone -- you, me, your boss, your client, Martin Sorrell -- everyone.

Let me be even clearer: Nobody knows a fucking thing about how any of this works. We throw money at it and we cross our fingers.

Having said that, it is also true that there are some people with exceptional instincts. These people are very good at "precision guessing." That is, they are much better at intuiting what is going to work than the average ad bozo.

These are the stars in our industry. While I have met good precision guessers in many disciplines, the best precision guessers I have met in advertising have been creatives.

They hide their exceptional intuition behind the language of marketing -- strategy and benefits and brand personality and all the other bullshit jargon of our trade. But make no mistake about it -- they are cleverly using our language to bamboozle us. They are going on their instincts but employing our ideology and vocabulary to pretend they are one of us.

In other words, they solve the problem viscerally and then reverse engineer a rationale that we can accept.

This is a very good thing. If they told the truth -- that they are just making shit up -- no one would listen to them.

But let's get back to the rest of us for a minute.

If you read yesterday's post, you know that Forrester Research released a report saying that social media marketing on Facebook and Twitter is substantially worthless. This is a conclusion some of us reached years ago. 

When I left the agency business, people within agencies were essentially forbidden from saying this. If you did, you were labeled a Luddite, a dinosaur, or just plain stupid. You "didn't get it." It was a one-way ticket out the door.

Advertising is one of the world's trendiest businesses. The consequences of being considered out of step are far more powerful than the satisfaction of finding out you were right five years later.

When nobody knows anything -- like about social media, for example -- you would think that controversial and eccentric opinions would be numerous and welcome. In fact, it is just the opposite.

Ignorance demands conformity. Because everyone knows they are faking it, they seek comfort in the warmth of consensus.

Speaking out against the agreed-upon fantasy is looked upon as both heresy and betrayal. No one is more despised or vilified than the nonbeliever in a tenuous theology.

And so the people who knew better about social media -- the precision guessers -- were coerced into shutting up. Agencies were making money, careers were being built, conferences were being held, clients were demanding more of the magic.

The lesson was clear: When everyone is faking it in unison, there is danger in being different.

November 19, 2014

Research Company Crashes Into Planet Earth

Here at the Ketel One Conference Center on the campus of The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters, there's nothing we like better than a good chuckle at the comic antics of the  research industry.

These buffoons are wrong so often that we've asked our stock broker if he can find a way for us to short their press releases.

Now Forrester Research, the geniuses who ten years ago declared "the end of mass marketing" (but apparently forgot to tell Apple and Amazon and Walmart and Nike and Toyota and... you get the idea) have discovered something that everyone with just a little grey left in their matter have known for years -- social media marketing is a cruel joke.

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, "Brands Are Wasting Money on Facebook and Twitter, Forrester Says." Well, who'd-a-fuckin'-thunk-it?

You see, Forrester recently discovered that Facebook and Twitter have fuck-all to do with social media marketing (I admit it, I've been spending too much time in the U.K.) As we have been writing here since about forever, Facebook and Twitter have become the toxic breeding grounds for the seemingly unlimited propagation of display ads.

According to a Vice President and Senior Analyst at Forreester... 
Facebook “will become nothing but a repository for display ads”
Well I'll be darned. It seems like over a year and a half ago I wrote in these pages that..
(Facebook) has mutated into a channel for delivering traditional banner advertising.
And then back in January...
Facebook calls itself a social medium, but its advertising model is good old-fashioned paid advertising plastered all over the page. 
Now that an internationally expensive research company has stumbled upon the truth, I guess maybe the truth is double extra true.

The really remarkable thing about this report from Forrester is that they had to write it at all.

The fact that so many demented people in the marketing and advertising industry are still living in a dream world of "conversations" on Facebook and Twitter -- a dream world that was DOA years ago -- is a sad and disheartening commentary on how far our industry has wandered from reality, and how thoroughly it has been hijacked by an ever-expanding species of jabbering baboons.

Thanks to Atomic Tango for the link to this story.

November 17, 2014

The Dim Client Syndrome

One of the most dispiriting aspects of my life as an agency ceative director was working with dim clients.

These people are to be found all over corporate America. 

They're not stupid - they often have business degrees from prestigious institutions - but they have no creative sensibility. They can't recognize a good idea and they fall in love with bad ones.

They should never be allowed to make creative decisions but because they have a title, they also have an entitlement.

The problem usually starts with the strategy. Somehow, the arcane process of strategy development delivers to you a brief that is just awful. I remember one in particular. 

We were introducing a new fresh pineapple product for Dole Foods. After months of consumer research and analysis I was handed a brief with the following strategic insight: "Dole fresh cut pineapple is better because it's fresh."

It took half a dozen MBAs about three months to come up with that tautology. A mildly intelligent 11-year-old could have probably thought of it over lunch.

Then the creative process begins. Within the first few days you realize that there are about a thousand better ways to approach advertising for this product but you are locked into a deadly strategy that is non-negotiable because apparently it was written by God.

So you do the best you can and a few weeks later you present a few ideas and the client goes ga-ga over one of them. You're a genius. You get back slaps and glowing memos. You cracked it. You're a hero!

And in your heart you know it's a piece of shit.

November 13, 2014

The Social Media Paradox

It may be that the best way to have success in social media is to do less.

Here's my thinking.

First, let's get rid of the delusions. While social media marketing is a nice way to keep in touch with your customers and a nice way to respond to customer problems, overall it has been a flabby failure at building brands.

While there are certainly some cases of social media success, in most categories social media marketing has had little to no effect on business growth.

Without going through a whole lot of argument on this, just do an experiment to prove it to yourself. Go to your neighborhood supermarket and cruise the aisles. Make a list of all the products and all the brands that were built by social media marketing. The answer will be somewhere between zero and nothing.

There are, however, certain categories in which social media can be substantially influential. These include restaurants, hotels, certain consumer services, and travel-related categories.

The problem for you as a marketer is that in every one of these categories the type of social media that is influential is substantially free of marketer interference. In other words, it is essentially consumer-to-consumer.

In fact, there is an inverse relationship between social media effectiveness and perceived marketer involvement. The more people sense the heavy hand of marketing, the less inclined they are to believe the reviews that are the soul of social media success in these categories.

The danger in trying to clumsily insert yourself into "the conversation" among consumers is that social media failure does a lot more harm than social media success does good.

If you're in one of the categories in which social media is substantially influential, your best strategy may be to shut the hell up.

Give your customers excellent products, excellent service, and excellent value. Then let them do your social media work for you (they're a lot less expensive than social media "experts" and a lot more reliable.)

You can learn from the social media disaster that is McDonald's and the amazing success of Apple, despite its famous aversion to social media marketing.

That's the social media paradox: often the less you try, the more you succeed.

November 12, 2014

Twitter, ROI, And Bullshit

I’m a simple man. Annoying, but simple.

Among my simple needs is a yearning to understand things. Understanding something, science has taught us, turns out to be a lot different from thinking we understand it.

Much of what passes for “understanding” in the world of advertising and marketing is merely the correct memorization and repetition of phrases.

But knowing the words doesn’t mean you understand the concept. As Richard Feynman brilliantly pointed out, someone who knows the name of every plant knows nothing about plants. He knows what people call plants. Knowing the names of things is not the same as knowing things.

This struck me a few weeks ago when I was reading an (unbelievably naïve and amateurish) article in Ad Age titled Study: Twitter Marketing Drives $716 Million In Car Sales. It reported that Twitter recently released a study which showed that advertising on Twitter had accounted for over 700 million dollars in car sales. According to the story, for every dollar a luxury compact car brand invested in Twitter, they received a return of over 17 dollars.

My initial reaction to this was that it was unmitigated bullshit.

Without knowing anything about the actual calculation of the ROI in question, I am certain it is a case of mistaking correlation with causality (you can read about that here.) It reinforced my belief that almost every ROI number I have ever seen or read is, likewise, bullshit (you can read about that here.).

Here’s my simple-guy logic:

If you were to discover an investment that yielded you a return of 17 times your capital, why would you not invest every dollar you have in it? You’d have to be crazy not to.

If you could get a 17 to 1 return on dollars by putting them into Twitter, why not put every cent you have into Twitter?

I did some math. Let's say that during a 2 month period I invested $1,000 in marketing on Twitter. After two months I would have a return of $17,000.

Then let's say I re-invested it for another 2 months. And let's say I did this six times.

At the end of my little experiment I would have a return of $1,419,857,000 on my original $1,000 investment. A billion-and-a half on a thousand dollar investment. Man, this Twitter thing is awesome!

Intuitively, everyone knows these ROI numbers are bullshit. Which is why no one takes all their money and places it to win on so-called "return on investment."

According to Ad Age, the numbers in this case were calculated by a "marketing analytics company" that just happens to have a partnership with Twitter. If I didn't know about the enormous strength of character in the marketing industry, I might think that sounds a little cozy.

Here are some thoughts about ROI calculations:

1. Never believe the ROI calculation of an interested party.

2. Never believe the ROI calculation of a short-term promotion. It never accounts for all the zillions of dollars spent building the brand that made the promotion even possible. It may be a valid calculation of something, but it is not a valid ROI.

3. Unless you have a clear definition of the factors included in the ROI calculation, and the formula used to derive the calculation, you know nothing about ROI. You know something about what people call ROI.

November 09, 2014

I Hate Travel

Ever since my so-called retirement it seems I do nothing but travel. And I hate it.

It is a non-stop festival of sleep-deprivation, food poisoning, and yesterday's underwear.

Travel is supposed to teach me about the people of the world. But I already know about them. They're confused, unruly, and unpleasant -- just like me.

A woman in Spain looks exactly like a woman in New Jersey. Squat and puffy, wearing a Micheline man jacket, holding a large shopping bag in her left hand and something to eat in her right.

Everywhere I go I'm uncomfortable. Every airplane, hotel room, restaurant, and  cab ride. The only time I can sleep is in museums, and they don't have beds. 

Every modern airport looks like a perfect replica of '70s futurism, complete with disembodied female voices and genetically embedded marketing.

When I visit a palace, a castle or a cathedral, all I can think of are the thousands of poor bastards who died or starved so some creep could build a grotesque monument to himself or his worthless god.

As far as I'm concerned there are only two things worth traveling for -- a nice dip in the ocean or a really good pastrami sandwich.

November 05, 2014

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

The Ad Contrarian is currently traveling and speaking and will then be taking a vacation.

We'll be back as soon as the vodka wears off.