June 22, 2017

Apple Treats The Disease. Google Treats The Symptoms.

Apple and Google both know there's a big problem. The problem is that online advertising is a shit show of unprecedented proportions.

In recent days, both Apple and Google have announced initiatives to deal with the problem. Google's solution is timid. Apple's solution is much better.

First let's define the problem. Essentially everyone who uses the web is fully fed-up with the horrifying state of online advertising. It is beyond annoying, beyond stupid, and beyond insufferable.

People have always viewed advertising as a minor annoyance. But online advertising and the imbeciles who create and propagate it are so far removed from reality that human beings are in revolt. Over 600 million web-enabled devices are currently running ad blockers.

The hidden hand behind the horror of online advertising is tracking. Tracking, and the collection of personal information, is in large part responsible for many of the worst aspects of online ads. Let's put aside for a moment the damage that tracking is doing to privacy, security, democracy, and journalism and just talk about two simple reasons why Apple's solution is much better than Google's.

- The personal data that is amassed by tracking has turned the web into a non-stop direct response ad machine. Direct response advertising (whether of the "junk mail", "800 number", or "click here" variety) has always been the ugliest and most annoying type of advertising. It is usually enabled by data bases.

- Tracking enables marketers to creepily follow us around the web and pester us everywhere we go with whatever ads their idiotic algorithms tell them we're interested in and would be delighted to see. Yes, they actually believe this horseshit.

Google's Chrome browser (the world's most popular with over 50% market share) will in the near future be loaded with a partial ad blocker that will block what Google considers the most annoying type of ads.

Google's ad blocker has been developed with a group called the CBA (Coalition for Better Ads). This is a bunch of advertisers, publishers, online media, and agencies whose stated objective is to force better online advertising. But whose hidden agenda is probably to protect tracking and surveillance marketing.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation has this to say about Google's plan...
“…While we welcome the willingness to tackle annoying ads, the CBA's criteria do not address a key reason many of us install ad blockers: to protect ourselves against the non-consensual tracking and surveillance that permeates the advertising ecosystem operated by the members of the CBA.”
I agree with the EFF. Any effort to fix the awfulness of online advertising is laudable, even if it ain't perfect and even if it is somewhat cynical.

But Apple's idea is much better. Apple's Safari browser will soon employ "Intelligent Tracking Prevention." This will keep marketers from tracking us across sites. Don Marti sums up the benefit of Safari's solution succinctly:

  • Nifty machine learning technology is coming in on the user’s side.
  • “Legitimate” uses do not include cross-site tracking.
  • Safari’s protection is automatic and client-side, so no blocklist politics.
The key difference in the way Apple and Google approach the problem can be found in the nature of the companies. Apple makes very little money from online advertising and has a self-interest in protecting their users' experiences.

Google, on the other hand, makes virtually all of its money from advertising and has a self-interest in protecting tracking and surveillance marketing. The key thing to remember is that most of the major players in online advertising have a big stake in surveillance marketing. They will fight like hell to protect tracking.

Google have proven to be geniuses at subtle misdirection. Their whole search engine business is founded on the idea of misdirection -- create a paid search result that seems to a consumer to be close enough to a natural search result to be believable. This is the essence of their business.

It is not surprising that Google's "Better Ads" solution would look like it's treating the disease while actually only treating symptoms.

Always keep in mind that Google, Facebook, the IAB, the ANA, and the 4A's will always fight to retain tracking. Why? They are now in the surveillance business. Their business is collecting, selling, and exploiting the details of our personal lives and our personal behavior.

June 13, 2017

Advertising And The Old-Guy Syndrome

The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in basketball for the past 3 years.

Two years ago they won the NBA championship. Last year they had the best won-loss record in the history of the league but lost the championship in the final game (their best player, Steph Curry, had 3 injuries; their center, Andrew Bogut, was hurt and not able to play; and their heartbeat, Draymond Green, was suspended for a critical game.) This year they had the best record in the league and last night they won the Championship again.

As a result, there are people who are proclaiming them one of the best basketball teams of all time.

But there are also a bunch of old players from years back -- some of them great, some of them mediocre -- who are mouthing-off saying their teams could have beaten the Warriors. They claim the Warriors are not really that good because the league is weaker, or the players aren't as talented, or the game isn't as competitive as it was in the old days.

This is a familiar refrain among old athletes. They always think that players or teams were better "back in the day" and that today's players don't match up. Of course, it's all nonsense. But it doesn't stop the old guys from blowing hot air.

Recently the coach of the Warriors, Steve Kerr, who was on 6 championship teams himself when he was a player, was asked to comment on the assertions of the old guy critics. His sardonic take down was brilliant.
"They're all right. They would all kill us. The game gets worse as time goes on. Players are less talented than they used to be. The guys in the '50s would've destroyed everybody. It's weird how human evolution goes reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I don't know. I can't explain it."
Mr. Kerr's ridicule of the "old-guy syndrome" is easily supported empirically. Take a look at the results of Olympic Games over the years -- where the performances are quantified -- and it's clear that athletes have better training, better nutrition, and better technique as time goes on. The result is that with regularity old records are broken and new records are set. It's obvious that each Olympics contains some athletes who are the best ever at their sport.

Here’s where advertising comes in. Unlike sports, it's hard to make a quantifiable case that creativity increases with time. You'd have to be a remarkably good debater to convince sensible people that Warhol was a better artist than da Vinci. Or that Taylor Swift is more musically gifted than Gershwin.

In creative matters, it's usually more judicious to assume an evolution in tastes than an arrow of progress.

In the ad business we have our own "old-guy syndrome." Many believe that "back in the day" (when they were in the ad business) it was a "golden age." As an old guy myself, I don't have much patience for "golden age" baloney. I believe that creative people today are just as talented as ever.

And yet, it is widely believed that advertising itself isn't as creative as it once was. I do a lot of traveling around the world and I hear this all the time.

It doesn't seem to be just the whining of old advertising guys (by the way, I'm not being sexist here. It's almost always the guys who do the whining and for a long time the ad business was overwhelmingly a boys' club.) It seems to be a widely held belief by non-advertising people, too. So what's going on?

I have a few theories about this. First let's start with the positive stuff.

For one thing, the technology of creativity today is stunning. Special effects we take for granted in spots today would have been astounding 15 years ago

Next, delivery systems are amazing. "TV everywhere" delivered mainly through connected digital devices have made the web way more interesting and has given web-delivered materials far more avenues for creativity.

The same is true of "printed materials." Digital technology has made out-of-home media a lot more noticeable and impactful.

But while the technological aspects of advertising today can be stunning, is technology really what we're talking about when we talk about advertising creativity, or is it ideas? I think there's little doubt that it's the latter.

So why should it be that with so many new media types, so much technological brilliance and so many talented creative people, we're producing advertising that is widely believed to be inferior to past eras?

I have a few hypotheses. First is the ubiquity of online display advertising. It is not just the most annoying type of advertising we see, it is also the most inescapable. It leaves the false impression that advertising as a whole is relentlessly unimaginative.

Next is the nature of contemporary ad agencies. I guess there is no inexorable relationship between the size of agencies and the absence of quality. On the other hand, we have Jay Chiat who famously said, "We want to see how big we can get before we get bad."

Holding company culture, as it currently exists, might prove Jay right. I think there are a lot of creative people who are not comfortable sitting at what Rich Siegel calls "the long table of mediocrity." As a result, they are taking their talents to other industries.

Next is short-termism. Dashboards that show us instantaneous results are very addictive. But the kind of advertising that produces instantaneous results -- the direct response type -- has never been the kind of advertising people think of as creative. In fact, it has traditionally been thought of as among the least creative varieties.

The stature of highly talented creative people has been diminished. Sir Martin Sorrell is reported to have said the medium is more important than the message.

Lastly, we have created a litany of false advertising goals with horrifyingly clichéd and fuzzy definitions like "engagement, conversations, journeys, and storytelling." Highly creative people are skeptical of dreadful parameters like these and are resistant to working within them. While agency leaders can easily find plenty of compliant creatives to buy into this nonsense, it is probable that many of our most talented are not happy with this oppressively vapid terrain.

This could go two ways. First, and most likely, the big guys win. The focus on the false goals will continue and over time many of our best creatives will slowly ride off into the sunset.

The other possibility is that good creative people will take to the streets and try to explain to the brand masters that the true leverage in the advertising business resides in the power of exceptional ideas. It remains to be seen which way the agency business goes.

The problem is, while it would be comforting and convenient to attribute widespread dissatisfaction about the state of advertising to "old-guy syndrome," it may be a little more serious than that.

And Speaking Of Old Guys...
...last week Jack Trout died. Trout invented the concept of "positioning" which has become a basic principle of marketing. Several years ago I had the pleasure of spending a pleasant afternoon with Jack at his home in Connecticut. He was a gracious host and displayed none of the ego one sometimes encounters from people who have been so influential in our business.  RIP, Jack Trout.

And Speaking Of Ego...
...you have to marvel at the stunning self-regard that allows this guy to modestly put himself in the same bucket as Mark Zuckerberg and Mark Cuban.

June 06, 2017

Technology, Progress, And Irresponsible Stupidity

The world does not move in straight lines. We expect things to go one way, but they unexpectedly go another.

In 2000, when the Prius was introduced, most commentators saw a big future for hybrid vehicles.

In 2009, a study by JPMorgan confidently asserted "20% of all vehicles sold in U.S. to be hybrids by 2020."

In 2010, Consumer Reports said "39 percent are considering buying a hybrid or plug-in for their next car."

And yet, as of April 2016, hybrid cars represented less than 2% of car sales in the US. Their share of market has dropped by 50% since 2013. A car dealer I know told me "we can't give 'em away."

If you think the reason for this is the popularity of electric vehicles, think again. Electric vehicles represent less than 1% of car sales in the US.

In the early 1990's the Soviet Union collapsed. We thought "liberal democracy" had become triumphant and would be the model for world governance. Today "liberal democracy" is facing challenges we never imagined.

The point is this. We rarely know what we think we know.

Technologically we are very quickly entering terra incognita. The technological breakthroughs of the past two decades have been pretty mind-blowing. But the upcoming era of artificial intelligence and machine learning will make them seem timid.

Technology is neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It all depends on how we use it. Nuclear energy was an amazing technological achievement, but nuclear weapons are nothing but a danger. As Stephen Fry brilliantly points out in this piece, Gutenberg's printing press - a technological marvel of its day -  could produce Macbeth. But it could also produce Mein Kampf.

So far, our ability to manage advertising and marketing technology has not been encouraging. I'm referring, of course, to ad tech and tracking. While technology makes the tracking of individuals possible, the absence of reasonable managing principles for this technology has created nightmares for consumers over their security and privacy.

I recently took part in a debate about this issue. My partner and I were opposed to the use of tracking-based ad tech.

One of the positions our opponents in the debate took was that if we opposed ad tech we were standing in the way of progress. This was a clever but profoundly misguided argument.

Technology is not synonymous with progress. Our ability to manage technology wisely determines if technology is progress or not. Even a cursory knowledge of history teaches that we are at least as capable of turning technology to the bad as to the good.

The idea that all types of technology constitute "progress" is dangerously shallow. The idea that opposing malevolent uses of technology impedes "progress" is irresponsibly stupid.

May 30, 2017

Ad Blocking Is Not The Best Answer

Here in the War Room at The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters, we are uncomfortable with the idea of ad blockers. As unrepentant ad people, we don't like the idea. And yet, we use ad blockers.

According to PageFair there are now over 600 million connected devices in the world sporting ad blockers. In the US, it is estimated that about 25% of desktop computers are now using ad blockers.

And according to published reports, Google is thinking about adding an ad blocking option to its Chrome browser, which is the most used browser in the world.

For now, the most popular defense against obnoxious online advertising is ad blocking. But ad blocking is a blunt instrument that has the potential to do serious damage to aspects of the web that we all enjoy.

Like it or not, advertising funds just about everything on the web we like. Without advertising, no YouTube, no Facebook...

You'd be stuck with nothing but The Ad Contrarian.

It would be nice to believe that people would be willing to pay for things they enjoy online but most experiments in “paywall” web publishing have been a failure.

So the question becomes, how can we encourage an acceptable version of online advertising that will allow us to enjoy the things we like about the web without the insufferable annoyance of the current online ad model?

The answer is not that complicated. The invisible hand that powers just about everything we hate about online advertising is tracking. Get rid of tracking and online advertising would instantly become a lot less horrible.

There is no reason why online advertising can't be bought and sold on a similar basis to offline advertising -- instead of on the current tracking/ad tech model.

Online advertisers would then not be able to stalk us every where we went on the web; fake news would be less likely to draw "programmatically" delivered advertising money; quality publishers would have a better chance at survival; the economic incentive for click bait would diminish, and a great many other undesirable aspects of web world would be greatly minimized.

We could enjoy what we like about the web without having to resort to the heavy hand of ad blockers.

Along those lines...
... I participated a few weeks ago in a debate about ad tech at the World Federation of Advertisers conference in Toronto. You can see my opening argument here.

May 23, 2017

Global Brand Equals Global Bland

If you wonder why so many big brands are obsessed with media, the answer is simple. It's the only thing they have left to argue about.

Their determination to demonstrate "globularity" has had an unintended consequence -- the trivialization of strategy and creativity.

Globularity leads marketers to bland, non-specific strategies and bland, non-specific advertising.

It's really quite simple. The grander the "brand purpose," the less specific the strategy. The less specific the strategy, the blander the advertising.

My favorite example of the power of specificity was Apple's introduction of the iPod. They didn't give it the vanilla, global "World Class MP3 Player" treatment. They said "1,000 Songs In Your Pocket." They were specific. They talked about the virtues of the product, not woolly melodramatic horseshit

My direction to the creative teams who worked for me was always the same - be specific. Today the objective is to ignore the specific and "ladder up" the benefit.

In the idiotic world of "laddering-up," every piece of chewing gum, every vacuum cleaner bag, and every can of sugar water is purported to "make life better and the world a better place."

Specificity has died because it's too sales-y. It doesn't have sufficient virtue or globularity.

It seems that every big brand is instituting its own flavor of the same strategy:
"We're inclusive and committed. Our products are for every type of person in the whole darn global world and our awesome universal values prove it."
Why has the ad industry given up on specificity in favor of globularity? First, it flatters the self-absorbed client. She loves to hear wearisome bullshit about how her yogurt is changing the world.

Second, it's so much easier. By insisting on the default strategy of universality - including every type of person and every cultural stereotype - they find themselves creating not the best possible advertising but the least objectionable advertising. And selling the least objectionable advertising to their corporate overseers is a much easier task.

Another consequence of this fuzzy thinking is that it leads marketers to focus on silly fantasies like "millennialism" -- huge swaths of people who are presumed to have a uniform "global" identity.

Then, instead of doing the hard work of differentiating the product, they just hold up a mirror and try to tell us who we are and how they are just like us.

This type of spineless, watery exercise in tedious whacking-off usually leaves very little of a strategic or creative nature to argue over. Just show every kind of person engaged in every kind of virtuous activity. And the result is that the conversation quickly turns to something everyone can have a fine old time arguing about - media choices.

It's no wonder "global" brands are obsessed with media. It's the only thing left to them. When it comes to strategy or creative, the only issue is which key to sing "We Are The World" in.

May 15, 2017

Live TV Declines Bigly For 3rd Month

Here at The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters, we try to be fact-driven rather than ideology-driven. And it's time to say that the recent declines in live TV viewing are a becoming a worry.

For years we have argued against the ignorant hysterics who said TV was dead. While TV remains by far the most popular form of video viewing and by far the most popular entertainment medium, the past three months have not been pretty.

Here are some data from the Pivotal Research Group...
  • In April, total daily TV use was down 5.3% for adults and 2.1% for households versus 2016.
  • Among adults 18-49 day time and prime time viewing of traditional TV programming fell by double digits for the third month in a row.
  • A bright spot for video in general was internet delivered viewing which rose by more than 50% versus 2016, but which is mainly not advertising supported.
As Pivotal suggests, the recent declines are likely to invigorate "efforts to explore and encourage the use of alternative media vehicles" by marketers. 

One of the problems for TV is that for decades they have used "time spent" with the medium as a proxy for the effectiveness of the medium. But these are two different things.

Time spent with a medium may be an interesting sociological point, but it is not a measure of advertising effectiveness. Here in The Ad Contrarian Executive Board Room, we spend a lot of time with vodka bottles. That doesn't make them a good vehicle for advertising.

There is little doubt in our minds that overall TV remains the most effective form of advertising. Or as Pivotal says, "television is the worst form of advertising except all those others..."

But if the declines in viewing time keep increasing, TV is going to have a tough time convincing advertisers that the "time spent" narrative they touted for years wasn't really important.

May 10, 2017

Evolutionary Change In Advertising

If you are a young person working in marketing or advertising, let's say you're 28, you probably think the world of advertising is changing at warp speed.

You would say that every day new technological breakthroughs in communication and media are changing how the advertising and marketing industry reaches and influences people.

You would point to smart phones and say that in just the past decade smart phone usage has soared and is now the second most popular electronic device we spend time with. This is something that didn't even exist 10 years ago. You would point to Facebook and say that here we have something that barely existed 10 years ago but is now the biggest media entity on the planet.

And you would be right to say those things.

If you were an old fuck like me, however, you would say that advertising and marketing are evolving  more slowly than you think. You would point to the fact that only about 8% of retail activity happens online, and that people still buy an overwhelming amount of their stuff in stores, and still spend more time watching television than all other leisure activities combined.

And you'd be right about that, too.

In biology, it has been suggested that evolution runs more quickly on short time scales, and more slowly on long time scales. This isn't just a cute sentence, it seems to be an actual scientific fact.

Think about stock markets. If you follow the markets all day you are witnessing wild swings minute-by-minute. It looks like ever-changing chaos. But if you check them once a month, they look pretty much this month like they did last month.

Yes, every few years there may be a bust or a boom that puts the punctuation in "punctuated equilibrium." But looked at from a distance, the changes seem to have a surprising smoothness.

As time scales expand, there is a fluidity to change that is not evident in the turmoil of the hour-by-hour mayhem.

This can be seen in trendy marketing obsessions that seem terribly consequential over short periods but tend to flatten out as time passes and perspective advances.

It's good to remember this when we start popping off about something being dead, and something else being the future.

May 02, 2017

The World's Most Expensive Clown Show

This week The Worldwide Bullshit Insider Summit is being held here at the Ketel One Conference Center on the campus of The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters.

The question being hotly debated is this: Who’s more full of shit? The marketing honchos who are pretending they just discovered there’s no transparency in online media, or the agency hustlers who are pretending they’re shocked that ads running in the bowels of the web are creating brand safety issues?

Let’s examine the evidence.

First, the marketers. They have insisted for years on getting the lowest possible online CPMs — which everyone with a functioning cortex knows means buying a heavy dose of the cheapest crap you can find, aka “non-human traffic,” aka “bots,” aka standing in the executive wash room flushing million dollar bills down the toilet (by the way, do they have million dollar bills? If so, can I have one? Please?)

Did it bother them? Hell no! They had amazing KPIs, aka "Kockamamie Performance Indicators," that they could wave in front of their clueless bosses and prove they were getting tremendous value from the bots, sourced traffic, and non-viewable ads they were buying.

But then trouble arose. The ANA "transparency" massacre became public and their bosses started asking questions. Suddenly they were transformed into helpless victims who were outraged! at the crookedness around them. Oh my god, the poor babies!

So they played the outrage card and hung onto their jobs for another three months (by the way, three months is known around here as a "CMO Year.")

But now that the storm has passed, the aggrieved marketers have taken the offensive and have changed the subject (always a good survival strategy!) to "brand safety."

Which brings us to the agency sharpies. They’ve built careers telling half-truths about online advertising to their goober clients and giggling all the way to the bank.

They've been "programmatically" spreading their clients’ money all over the sleaziest corners of the web in order to impress them with their awesome CPMs, and winking and nodding when ad network hustlers tell them the traffic is 100% clean and pure.

Now, suddenly, they have found out that - oh my god! - our clients’ ads have been running in naughty places. We’re shocked! We demand to see the manager!

I've seen some hilariously lousy performances in my time, but if they gave Oscars for duplicity these guys would have to build a trophy room.

So let's sum up: We have CMOs pretending they just discovered that online advertising is not transparent. And agency bigwigs pretending they're shocked that they've been buying disreputable crap.

It's a full-tilt, 3-ring festival of comedy horseshit.

And the outcome? The marketers issue some somber press releases about how they're going to clean up this mess and the agencies do the bobblehead dance while continuing to ride the grotesque ad tech gravy train.

But best of all, I get to continue writing about the world's most hilarious and expensive clown show. Everybody wins!

April 26, 2017

Making Marketers Uncomfortable

When I am finished speaking at a conference or advertising event people often ask me how I can be so sure I'm right and other people people are wrong.

The answer is, I'm not.

I spent 41 years in the agency business. I worked on some very big brands including McDonald's, Toyota, Bank of America, AT&T and others. And I had a pretty successful career and did some reasonably successful work.

But that doesn't make me sure of anything. One thing I learned about advertising is that when you're trying to anticipate human behavior -- which is what marketers and advertisers do -- there are no sure things. All there are are likelihoods and probabilities.

This is why I am highly skeptical about what I hear and read from advertising and marketing experts these days. Particularly those of the digital stripe.

They tend to be awfully sure of themselves and very dismissive of those who disagree with them. They also tend to have a lot more opinions than experience.

It is certainly possible that they are brighter than I am and have more insight into consumer behavior. But, to be honest here, I really don't think so.

I've been asked to do a lot of interviews lately (it probably has something to do with the shit-storm over online advertising that the last six months has produced and my sudden promotion from idiot to genius.) Sooner or later, the interviewer usually gets around to this question: Why do you write your blog?

It's a good question for someone who's been out of the agency business for four years and is supposed to be quietly retired and planting tulips or something.

And as I think about it, it becomes pretty clear why I continue to do this. I believe we marketers  think we know a lot of things that we don't really know. I think we do a lot of faking. I know I certainly did, and I don't think the average marketing person is that much smarter than me.

I think it's important that we have more humility and understand that there's a lot about human economic behavior that we don't understand. I like to point that out. I like to find the contradictions and expose the weak points and the phonies.

I see my job as making marketers uncomfortable.  It doesn't make me popular, but I hope it heartens some people who feel the same way I do.

April 20, 2017

TV To Die Soon. Again.

Okay, this time they really mean it. TV is about to die.

Don't believe me? It's right here in Ad Age in black and white, another fucking article entitled "TV May Actually Die Soon." Can you believe this?

I'm just wondering how many Ad Age stories there have been over the past 15 years about TV dying?

Will  they ever figure out that regardless of what the marketing and media geniuses have to say, people like television. How fucking difficult is that to understand?

As we all know, online viewing of video is "killing" traditional TV. "Nobody" watches live TV anymore. Everybody is watching video online.

That's what we've all learned from going to conferences and listening to media, marketing and digital geniuses speak. It's what we read in the trades and in the press every day.

Only problem is, it's all bullshit.

A new study released by comScore shows that of households with both traditional TV and OTT (video delivered over the internet) for every hour spent with online video people spend about 5 1/2 hours with traditional TV.

Even the top 20% of online video users spend twice as much time with traditional TV.

The bottom 50% of online video streamers, watch 98% of their video on traditional TV.

Despite the fact that Netflix has almost as many subscribers as all cable TV companies combined, and more households have Netflix than a DVR, comScore says,  
"Traditional rules the roost in terms of time spent, as OTT continues to act more as supplemental viewing..."
Then there's this. A report by Pivotal Research Group last week said,  
"...despite the significant growth in access to SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand, e.g., Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) services over the past few years, consumption of traditional TV programming has not been affected to the degree that many might expect...any expectations around the 'death of TV' because of SVOD services are likely overstated."
Meanwhile, viewership of national news programming is surging. Once again, according to Pivotal,
"YTD viewing of all news-related programming on national media properties is now +12%."
 Last week it was up 23%.

As I speculated last year, what's likely to happen is that the internet media companies who don't call themselves media companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple) who have all the money in the world, are likely over time to buy up TV properties. This is starting to raise its head in the recent Amazon-NFL $50 million football deal.

I'm afraid we're all going to be dead long before TV is.

April 17, 2017

Pokémon Went

If you've ever doubted that most marketers are clueless, fad-jumping nitwits who drool at any shiny object, I have two words for you -- Pokémon Go.

A reminder, this was just a few months ago...







Every stupid fucking fad that comes along is now "disruptive," "game-changing," and "the future of marketing." What a clown show the marketing industry has become.

April 12, 2017

Agency Phonies Piling On

The Great Pepsi Bloodbath of last week had one salutary effect -- it helped divert our attention from the YouTube "brand safety" scandal.

We could all pretend how shocked we were at Pepsi's stupidity instead of pretending how shocked we were at adtech sleaziness.

Six weeks ago, if you had said that online advertising was a corrupt and dangerous pile of shit, all the  experts would have looked at you like you had three heads and called you an ignorant dinosaur (believe me, I know.)

Today, these same geniuses are suddenly shocked and outraged by the problems of adtech and are calling for big changes. All it took were a few headlines and promptly everyone who had been working the online ad hustle for the past 10 years was shocked...shocked, I tell you.

As Andy Ball said in Ad Age recently...
"The same folks that took their clients off-roading into digital land in the first place -- initially bouncing through the well-documented shortcomings of display, and now crashing into the emergent problems with programmatic buying....Suddenly, agencies want answers from publishers."
It is painful to listen to the people who have been making excuses and cashing checks for years now bemoaning the terrible state of the industry and how we've all been victimized by the terrible people at YouTube.

Along with these bozos are the outraged CMOs who have been asleep at the wheel and had to wait for the news media to tell them what they should have known years ago.

What a load of crap.

Online advertising has not changed in the past 6 weeks. The corruption, fraud, deceit, absence of responsibility and accountability that have plagued it for years did not suddenly appear in February.

I don't know what's worse, listening to nitwits tell us how amazing online advertising is or listening to their sudden squeals of disapproval.

You have to laugh as the phonies who have been selling their clients delusional horseshit about online advertising for over a decade are suddenly demanding to see the manager. 

April 07, 2017

Pepsi Selling Its Soul

In light of the cacophony of yakking about this week's Pepsi debacle, I thought it would be a good idea to remind everyone that Pepsi cluelessness is nothing new.  Here is a piece I wrote back in 2013 that did a pretty good job of  presaging the hijinks of the past week. Pepsi stupidity is something you can always count on...

January 10, 2013

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 with that title. 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 person 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 the elevator, 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 some brilliant 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 Foreskin 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 anymore. I think I lost it. Maybe Pepsi can give it back to me. Sometimes at about 3 a.m. I have a sense of peeing. But I don't think that's what they mean.

The Foreplay 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.

April 05, 2017

Pepsi Takes Clueless To Next Level

A few weeks ago, the executive committee here at The Ad Contrarian Global Center for Horseshit Detection coined a term - virtue hustling. We defined it as the practice by marketers of attempting to convince us barbarians of how wise and virtuous they are.

You see, these corporations are full of love for all of global humanity and treat us all with respect and reverence. Especially in their advertising. Especially if you're young and beautiful.

Pepsi, who you can always count on to jump with both feet into whatever the idiotic marketing or cultural obsession of the week is, has taken this unpleasant new gimmick to its logical absurdity.

If you haven't seen this thing yet, you're in for a treat. It is, perhaps, the worst piece of inauthentic crap I've seen in a long time. Try not to barf.

Our story so far...

...a zillionaire supermodel, responding to an entreaty by an Asian musician, fosters world peace and general elation among cheerful and beautiful young protestors of every sex and color by giving a Pepsi to a cute police officer while a tortured-artist-Muslim-photographer-woman finally gets her big shot.

However, when you decode the spot you get a whole different story -- all you people of color can prance about all you like but it takes a beautiful white girl to really make something happen.

This is as real as it gets in that special universe that marketers live in and that Pepsi marketing in particular  has come to symbolize.

The wonderful thing about this whole exercise in crass stupidity is that it was created by Pepsi's in-house content studio. According to Digiday, Pepsi "hopes (it) will let marketers, not agencies, sit in the creative driver’s seat." Yeah, that's the ticket. Let the waiters do the cooking!

How completely insanely clueless do you have to be to create a "protest march" in which everyone is beautiful, everyone is under 25,  and no one is angry? And someone is holding a sign saying "Join the conversation." Really? Join the fucking conversation?

Since I wrote this post it has been announced that Pepsi has pulled this "global" monstrosity.

You may now feel free to un-join the conversation.

April 04, 2017

Smart Phones Not Killing TV

"A new study of media and attention by Nielsen Co. confirms what has now become conventional wisdom: Smartphones are winning and traditional television is losing..." Fortune, 2015
Not exactly.

Nielsen's Total Audience Report for the 4th quarter of 2016 just arrived and it has some interesting stuff in it. First have a  look at this chart.

A quick glance shows that the quickly expanding amount of time we are spending with our smart phones (light orange) does not seem to be impacting the amount of time we are spending with broadcast media.

While time spent with Smart Phones has more than doubled in 2 years, time spent with TV, DVR's and Radio is remarkably stable. (You'd never know it if you read horseshit like this 2 years ago.)

Observation tells us that a lot of time spent on cell phones is done during commutes, in restaurants, or standing around waiting for the fat guy to finish up in the men's room. It is not replacing other media occasions, it is inventing new ones.

Smart phones seem to be a last choice for viewing video. Here's a chart I put together from Nielsen's figures illustrating how people watched video last quarter.

The type of viewing that has been growing most quickly, and is probably responsible for the small decline in live TV viewing, is the use of "multi-media" devices such as Roku, TiVo, and Apple TV.  Time spent with these devices has more than doubled in two years, but according to Nielsen's numbers, still constitute only about 5% of video viewing.

Viewing of live TV still dwarfs all other types of video consumption combined.

April 03, 2017

Opening Day, 2017

Today is Opening Day for most of the baseball world. Here is my customary Opening Day post.

The world is a complete fucking mess. Somewhere, an asteroid is heading toward Earth. Web pornography is warping the minds of our children. Grown men and women are relentlessly tweeting each other. Yes, my friend, the end is near.

But who gives a damn?

It's Opening Day. I'm going to have a hot dog and a beer. I'm going to sit in the sunshine till the back of my neck is red and raw and my ass stings like a shot of tequila on a bad patch of strep throat.

What the hell, I'm having two hot dogs.

Once a year, every aspect of life should have an Opening Day. Every business should have one. Every friendship should have one. Every family should have one.

A day when everything starts over. When all of last year's successes and failures go into the record book, no longer a matter of life and death, just a matter of history. A day when the slate is clean and the possibilities are unlimited. A day when you call in sick-and-tired; when you leave the iPhone in the glove compartment; when you go somewhere where the grass is perfect and the people are unaccountably cheerful.

It's Opening Day. Let's play some ball.

March 27, 2017

Online Advertising Is Corrupt At Its Core

Let's forget for a minute about the growing Google scandal.

Let's forget the kickback scandal unearthed by the ANA.

Instead, let's go back to first principles and focus on the nature of online advertising, and why - at its core - it has become a corrupt and dangerous thing.

It all started with a big fantasy. The fantasy was this -- people would want to interact with online advertising.

We were told that online advertising would be far more effective than traditional advertising because it would be interactive. This fantasy lived for a few years until reliable data arrived and it became clear that consumers had virtually no interest in interacting with online advertising. In fact, click rates (the only possible way to interact with online advertising) were so low, platforms like Facebook refused to divulge them.

There are two ways online publishers make money - traffic and clicks. In light of the indifference consumers were demonstrating toward display advertising, publishers needed to find a way to generate traffic and/or clicks to attract advertisers and make money.

A crisis was averted when they hit on a solution: Disguise advertising as something else.

When you see a TV commercial, a billboard or a magazine ad, there is no question what it is. It is an attempt to sell you something. These ads may be annoying, stupid, or tiresome but there is no doubt about the nature of what they are or what their motives are. They are ads and they want to sell you something.

Online advertising is different. It has become devious, non-transparent, and unscrupulous. It is intentionally confusing and its motives are often unclear. It does everything possible to hide its real intent.

Yahoo is in the top 5 websites in the U.S. by visitor count. Here is a a screen grab from this morning's (as I write this) front page news feed.

Let's ignore for a second the unspeakable crap that Yahoo considers front page news. One of the leading stories on this front page is not a news story at all. It is an ad disguised as a news story (it's the Stephen Hawking "story.")

Yahoo also deceives us about the security of our personal information. According to Yahoo...

“...we have a deep understanding of the threats facing our users and continuously strive to stay ahead of these threats to keep our users and our platforms secure...”

But according to The New York Times, in 2014 Yahoo's chief of security recommended some changes that would make their platform a lot more secure by employing "end-to-end" encryption.

This initiative was thwarted by the person who runs their email and messaging services because "...it would have hurt Yahoo’s ability to index and search message data..." That means simply this -- they wouldn't be able to read our email and target us with advertising accordingly.

The result? Last year Yahoo announced that half a billion accounts had been hacked.

Google earns its money by misdirection. When you search for "Gloves" as I did here, you get an ad disguised as a search result.

Unless you happen to notice the word "sponsored" in the upper right corner, and happen to know that by "sponsored" Google actually means "this is an ad" you would believe you're getting a search result.

Google has made a minimal effort to identify ads (as is required by regulation) including a little yellow "ad" badge on most paid ads. However, the overall look and feel of the ads is so similar to search results that half the people can't distinguish between a paid ad and a legitimate search result. There is only one possible explanation for this - Google is intentionally blurring the lines.

This is not the only way Google strives to deceive. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Federal Trade Commission has reported "... Google Inc. manipulated search results to favor its own services over rivals’, even when they weren’t most relevant for users...the FTC’s bureau of competition found evidence that Google boosted its own services for shopping, travel and local businesses by altering its ranking criteria and “scraping” content from other sites. It also deliberately demoted rivals."

The Wall Street Journal also recently reported that "ads for products sold by Google and its sister companies appeared in the most prominent spot in 91% of 25,000 recent searches related to such items."
The Journal says, "The results show how Google uses its dominant search engine to boost other parts of its business and give it an edge over competitors....After the Journal shared the analysis with Google on Dec. 15, many of the ads disappeared... Google declined to comment on the disparity." I bet they did.

Facebook uses the names of its users to create phony testimonial ads which falsely imply that your friends and family are endorsing the brands in question. This practice amounts to hijacking user identities and disguising them as product endorsements. The ad below appeared in my Facebook feed today.

I have contacted both Nathan Krinsky and Susan Tillem, the people referenced in the ad, and have confirmed that neither of them knew they were being used in this way.

When Mr. Krinsky was questioned about this his response was, "how did they get my name?" He said he had no awareness of their using his name, he did not give permission nor did he "like" the advertiser.

Actually, he did give permission but didn't know it. The permission for them to engage in this deceptive practice is buried deep in the agreement he signed when he opened a Facebook account.

There is only one explanation for this -- Facebook is intentionally exploiting a legal loophole to deceive us into thinking our friends are endorsing products which they are not endorsing.

Many of the ads in my current Facebook feed are identified as "suggested posts." I wonder what language it is in which "suggested post" means "ad?" As usual, they are doing their best to confuse what is an ad and what is not.

Social Media is a gross abuser of reasonable advertising standards. The most dangerous outcome of this has been the perversion of the news industry.

First is fake news. The ability of fake news to make money for its creators is enabled by adtech (the automated buying and selling of advertising space.)  In very simple terms, a fake news story runs on a social media platform, attracts traffic and clicks, which signals programmatic (automated) systems to buy advertising on the site. Below is an egregious example of a "successful" fake news story.

A second corruption of journalism is the ascendancy of clickbait. Since online publishers only make money from clicks and traffic, the use of clickbait tactics to attract traffic has become more economically rewarding than good journalism.

In the current model, good journalism can actually have a negative economic effect. The valuable people you attract through good journalism are tracked and re-targeted to at a lower cost site. Or your story is hijacked, aggregated and republished somewhere else. You'll never believe what happens next!

Third is the development and acceptance of "native advertising" as a legitimate form of journalistic activity. Despite its euphemistically lovely name, native advertising is nothing but advertising disguised as news.

Legitimate news organizations, desperate to make money at all costs, have been seduced into  producing and running thinly disguised advertising pieces masquerading as news. The rot has gotten so deep that some once-reputable news organizations have actually set up studios for the creation of this crap, and are going so far as to oversee its wide dissemination on social media channels on behalf of its clients.

It's hard to overestimate the damage that online advertising has had on the credibility of our news media. The fact that we have a populace that no longer knows what to believe from a media industry they once trusted, is not an accident.

Advertising and marketing people are generally good, hard-working people with worthwhile motives. We want to help our clients and we don't want to damage people or society. But we have been sleepwalking on a slippery slope of deviousness and deceit that has been advanced by a tech culture which has embraced - let's not kid ourselves - an ethos of malleable ethics.

There is decay, corruption and deceit now sitting at the heart of online advertising.

March 23, 2017

Adidas And Television

Adidas made some headlines this week when their new-ish ceo announced that they were no longer going to use television advertising and were going to put all their advertising money online.

The purpose of this move, according to the ceo, was to quadruple online sales in the next 3 years.

A few thoughts:
  • First, this doesn't sound like a change in ad strategy as much as a change in business strategy. 
"All of our engagement with the consumer is through digital media and we believe in the next three years we can take our online business from approximately 1 billion (euro) to 4 billion (euro) and create a much more direct engagement with consumers." 
From this language, it sounds like Adidas is switching from a typical retail sales strategy to an online direct response strategy.
  • The only problem is, from numbers I've been able to dig up, only 6% of their sales are online. Adidas annual sales are about $17b, about $1b of which is the result of e-commerce. The risk-reward element seems completely out-of-whack to me. Do you really want to spend 100% of your advertising money to support 6% of your sales?
  • This change in strategy could cause serious erosion of distribution at retail. I doubt that retailers will be happy about Adidas spending all its money to support its own online store sales and no money to support theirs.
  • Over several decades, Adidas has spent hundreds of millions - if not billions - on TV and other traditional ad media. In so doing it has established a successful and well-known brand. Milking the brand of its value by converting it to direct response may provide some short-term sales lift, but is likely to do damage long-term.
  • By the way, what TV advertising? I watch almost nothing but sports on TV and in the recent past I can't remember the last time I saw an Adidas spot. This means one of three things: either the whole "no more TV" stuff is horseshit, or their media buying is lousy, or their creative is so weak I can't even remember it. 
  • Or maybe he is not envisioning a refocus to direct response and believes he can boost all sales with a purely online advertising effort. Let's do some math.
    In the past year, Adidas grew by 16%. Projecting that growth over the next 3 years they would be at about $25.5 billion in sales. Quadrupling their online sales without growing their retail business would leave them with about $20 billion in sales. So even if they achieved their magnificent online growth, they still have to grow their retail business by about 10% annually to get to that $25.5 number. I'm curious to see how well they can do at achieving 10% annual growth in offline sales with 100% online advertising. This should be fun.

March 20, 2017

The Future Is The Place To Be

When I'm shooting my mouth off at some conference the question I get most frequently is this, "What's the future of advertising?"

I have no fucking idea what's going to happen 10 minutes from now, how the hell am I supposed to know what's going to happen "in the future," whenever the hell that is? For all I know, someday someone might click on a banner ad. Who knows?

But conference goers and press reporters can't help asking that question. They've been trained to do this by marketing yappers.

You see, marketing gurus are usually so confused by all the horseshit generated by their industry that they can't even figure out what's happening now. So they've learned to hide in the future.

The great thing about talking about the future is that you don't have to know anything. You just make shit up and nobody can refute it.

And when the future comes, who's going to remember the baloney you predicted 10 years ago? Meanwhile you make a lot of money and get a lot of press with impressive sounding horseshit.

This strategy also works great for CMOs...
BOSS: Why is business so shitty?
CMO: Well, we're preparing for the future...
Sadly, when the future shows up 18 months later and business is still shitty the CMO gets thrown out on his ass and is replaced by some other nitwit who thinks he knows what the future looks like.

The present, on the other hand, is a dangerous place. It's a place with actual facts. There's accountability. When you say something about the present there's a way to check on it. So if you're a buffoon with a Powerpoint and a bag full of clichés stay away from the present. Nothing to see here. Head for the future - it's your happy place.

One of my personal policies when I do talks is to never talk about the future. The present is bad enough. The only time I do so is to ridicule predictions made by marketing geniuses. Always good for a few laughs.

I try only to speak about what's currently happening. Not horseshit about stuff that may or may not happen in 10 years. A good deal of what I talk about is how different the present is from the once certain predictions of marketing futurists.

I go to a lot of conferences (hey, it's a living) and I have to listen to a lot of speakers. It's pretty easy to know pretty quickly who the bullshit artists are. They're the ones who are telling us what the future is going to be like and warning us that we'd better be ready for it or we'll be left behind. And being ready for it usually includes buying into some baloney they're selling. 

The futurists know nothing that you don't know. Well, I'm wrong. They know one thing - they know how to turn bullshit into a speaking fee.

And they always have an escape valve. When you point out that a prediction of theirs was 100% dead-ass wrong, they give you this -- "just wait, you'll see."

In other words, they kick the can farther into the future. It's a no-lose proposition.

So I have some predictions to make about the future...
  • Social media will replace advertising
  • The 30-second spot is dead
  • Google glasses will be everywhere
  • TV will die
  • QR codes will change advertising
  • Interactive TV will be huge
Just wait, you'll see.

March 15, 2017

Ad Industry's Dangerous, Misguided Policy

A coalition of advertising trade associations joined the Trump administration yesterday in calling for the rejection of an FCC regulation created to protect consumers by restricting the collection and sharing of personal information by internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T.

The regulation would have given consumers far more control over their personal information by requiring them to opt-in before the ISPs could use or sell their personal information.

The actions of the advertising industry in this instance are deplorable -- but hardly surprising. The ad industry is losing its grip. We can't control ourselves.

Jonathan Schwantes of the Consumers Union has said,  "Consumers deserve to know—and have a say in—who is collecting certain information about them and how it’s used."

Listen to this bullshit from the 4A's, AAF, ANA, DMA and IAB...
"Without prompt action in Congress or at the FCC, the FCC's regulations would break with well-accepted and functioning industry practices, chilling innovation and hurting the consumers the regulation was supposed to protect."
Yeah, right. Well-accepted practices like stalking us, selling our personal information to the highest bidder, enabling creeps and criminals to hack info about us. We wouldn't want to deprive them of innovations like that. Heck no.

It's not bad enough that the amount of information online marketers and media companies now have about us is alarming. Now we have to let Comcast and AT&T into our pants.

Adtech - the computerized media exploitation of the fruits of tracking - is allowing criminals to steal our personal information, and governments to spy on us by tapping into marketing data. It is destroying our trust in the news, and repulsing our customers.

What is it going to take to make the ad industry understand what we are enabling?

Everything the ad tech industry and the online media honchos have ever told us about privacy and security has turned out to be 100% undiluted horseshit. They are incompetent, irresponsible, and dangerous. They cannot be trusted with private information about us.

It's time for sensible, responsible people in the advertising and marketing industry to get off their asses and do something about this.

Along with some others, I am speaking at the World Federation of Advertisers next month in Toronto on the subject of tracking and adtech. It will be an audience of hundreds of the world's largest marketers who are unlikely to be sympathetic to my point of view.

I can't wait to give it to them with both barrels.

March 13, 2017

Another Decade, Another Miracle

This is one of those blog posts you write when you’re on a transatlantic overnight flight and you haven't slept a fucking wink and you’re groggy from taking way too many drugs that aren't doing shit.

But you have to be alert when you land because you have all kinds of obligations that you foolishly agreed to when you imagined a pleasant flight with kindly air hostesses pouring champagne, and a gentle few hours of nocturnal reverie, instead of a smelly dark cabin with the faint aroma of fresh-squeezed urine emanating from every closed door.

Yeah, one of those posts.

So if I get a few details wrong, like what decade I’m talking about, I don’t want any shit from you people. Please click this button if you agree to our terms.

So while I was not sleeping, I was thinking that every decade I worked in the ad business there was always a miracle that was going to make advertising finally reputable, orderly and grown up. A real honest-to-god business with predictable and reliable outcomes.

In the 70’s, the miracle was marketing. Suddenly every agency was flush with freshly minted MBAs right out of the best schools in the country. Mostly they were nicely scrubbed frat boys who made us street rats feel somehow inadequate. They had actually read books about advertising and spoke a language that was impressive if you didn’t listen too closely. Sadly, they were mostly dumber than stumps but luckily they weren't allowed to do too much damage.

By the 80’s the frenzy over the MBA’s had grown stale as it turned out that their only reliable competence was for choosing the right wine. The 80’s gave us the miracle of research. Out of some dank and pungent caves in the basement of your client’s headquarters emerged a new species of researcher. They were proto-nerds. They had all the characteristics of nerds but none of the charm. They had no idea what any meeting was going to be about but somehow came armed with studies to refute whatever it was you were planning to advocate. It was a kind of bizarre and evil ESP.

Bless Jay Chiat’s heart, he saw to it that by the time the 90’s rolled around the client research people were sent to bed without dinner as the research function was cleverly ripped away from them through the genius of account planning. See, you research geeks view everything from the company’s standpoint. We ad geniuses see it from the consumer’s standpoint. This became one of the greatest misdirection operations in advertising history and the power of its brilliance can be seen in many agencies yet today as account planners are still allowed to walk the halls and, in some compassionate agencies, even speak.

But planning's Decade Mirabilis ended abruptly as the year 2000 approached and online advertising became the new miracle. The web was the answer that everyone needed. The agency industry was tired and lifeless. Clients were restless and cranky. Advertising was stale and expensive. We needed something new, modern, exciting, and cheap. We also needed something that no one had a fucking clue about so we could make shit up. Something that we could build all kinds of dreamy expectations around. Online advertising was a godsend for everyone. Until it turned out to be a devilishly clever bento box of lies, fantasies, crime and mark-ups.

In our current decade we're finally on to a true miracle - data. At last, a scientific-smelling miracle that will make advertising reputable, orderly and grown up. A real honest-to-god business with predictable and reliable outcomes!

Yeah, and I’m the fucking Queen of France.

And While I'm Being Cranky...
...if you haven't yet listened to my interview with Marketing Today, do so now. Here.

March 08, 2017

State Of The Agency World

I was interviewed recently on "Marketing Today." The topic of the interview is the state of the agency world.

Here is the interview.

March 07, 2017

Ad Industry Lost At Sea

If we had access to the internal financials of WPP, IPG, Omnicom, Publicis and Dentsu, here's what I think we would find.

We would find that in the past decade they have invested heavily in technology, data and analytics and not at all in creativity.

In fact, I would bet the farm that in each of these holding companies the proportion of salary devoted to the creative area has dropped in the past decade.

The financiers, accountants, investors, and Wall Street wise guys who now control the ad business are betting on the wrong horse. There is only one element of marketing at which agencies have an advantage over other suppliers -- creativity.

Consultants can provide clients with better strategy; data and analytics companies can provide clients with better numbers; "martech" companies can provide better technology services. But no one can provide better creative ideas.

And yet agencies -- who are always telling clients that they need to differentiate -- are de-emphasizing their only unique differentiator.

The Pivotal Research Group reported this week that clients are starting to bring programmatic media buying in-house. This is not a good sign.

They surveyed 200 of the world's top advertisers and found that 15 had established in-house media operations. Pivotal called it a "relatively significant escalation from the last time we explored the topic." But they concluded that "we expect to hear of more marketers participating in such activities. But at the same time, we also expect that the depth of involvement many of them will have with agencies may expand as well."

I'm not so sure. It seems to me that there is a slow but steady leakage of marketing services away from agencies and toward either specialized firms or in-house operations.

Agencies are diversifying into areas at which they have disadvantages, and are letting the one area at which they have a distinct advantage languish. This is just plain bad strategy.

New media types, new communication models, and new media distribution modes are developing every day. Agencies are hiring for the technological aspects of these new practices. But the real winners will be the agencies with creative ideas to make these new modes come to life.

Circumstances change but principles don't. The ad industry is first and foremost about ideas. Any agency that believes technology can mask an insufficiency of imagination is looking for trouble.

March 02, 2017

Invisible Advertising

A few months ago I was contacted by one of the world's largest marketing companies. No names.

They were instituting a review of several brands and wanted my advice on how to properly conduct a review. I spoke to the global head of this and the worldwide head of that.

I gave them my advice in one sentence. Look for the agencies that make the best ads. All the rest is trivial.

Marketing today is a battle to be noticed. There is so much of it. It is so loud and so relentless. There are so many ways to throw money away.

But the worst way to throw money away is by doing invisible advertising. What is invisible advertising? It is advertising that looks, sounds, and smells like everyone else's advertising. It has no impact and leaves no trail. It appears and disappears in a second. It is a total waste of money.

We have become so focused on irrelevancies that we have forgotten the first principal of advertising -- it doesn't matter how well you sing if no one hears you.

Here are some ways advertisers wind up with invisible advertising:

1. Confusing strategy with execution. They spend six months on strategy and three weeks on execution. They think that because they have a strategy that has been tested to death that their work is done. Their work has not even begun. The consumer never sees your strategy statement or your briefing documents. All she sees are your ads. And if your ads suck, the whole thing sucks.

2. Doing "360˚ media." This is one of the biggest and dumbest of the media clichés. First of all, no one can afford to do 360˚ media. Second, it's counter-productive -- you wind up sprinkling a little media here and a little there and have no impact anywhere. It is far better to do one medium well than 10 media poorly. The objective of media strategy is to find a way to have maximum impact, not maximum dabbling.

3. Digital first: Of all the dumb ways to piss away dollars, this is the dumbest. It is the equivalent of choosing the medicine before you know what the ailment is. You would have to be an imbecile to have an ideology that advocated for "bus sides first." The medium needs to fit the objective. But, as always, when it comes to online advertising all the rules of logic and prudence have been suspended. It is perfectly ok these days to have the answer ready before you know the question.

There is only one aspect of advertising that is absolutely critical -- you must be noticed. That means you must make good ads.

Dave Trott had a great piece about this a few days ago. As Bill Bernbach said - "If nobody notices your ad, everything else is academic."

There are plenty of sins we advertisers commit. But the most costly sin of all is to squander our money running invisible advertising.

February 27, 2017

Harvard Flunks Social Media

The most recent issue of the Harvard Business Review has an article called, god help us, "What’s The Value Of A Like?"

It's about a study that four professors and associate professors did on how "liking" a brand on Facebook affects behavior.

This article seems at least 3 years out of date since I think it's now pretty clear even to unreconstructed social media maniacs that "likes" have no value.

Apparently the article was spawned by a horseshit study done by comScore and Facebook...
"...A recent influential study by comScore and Facebook found that compared with the general population, people who liked Starbucks’s Facebook page or who had a Facebook friend who liked the page spent 8% more and transacted 11% more frequently over the course of a month."
The Harvard Business Review article correctly pointed out the flaw in this nonsense...
"...that study and others like it contain a fatal logical flaw: those who already have positive feelings toward a brand are more likely to follow it in the first place, and that’s why they spend more than nonfollowers."
Or as I wrote seven years ago...
"People not trained in research or logic often have trouble understanding the difference between correlation and causality...  it is clear that a Facebook fan is worth more than an average user. But it is not clear that this has anything to do with being a Facebook fan. It may just be that Facebook fans are typical brand loyalists and that all brand loyalists are more valuable, whether they are Facebook fans or not."
Without getting too deep into the HBR article, it reaches some not-very-surprising conclusions, and one spurious one. First the obvious ones:
  • "The results were clear: Social media doesn’t work the way many marketers think it does. The mere act of endorsing a brand does not affect a customer’s behavior or lead to increased purchasing, nor does it spur purchasing by friends."
  • ."..it would stand to reason that a social media user who endorses a brand on Facebook would be more likely to buy it. Yet that’s not what we found. Across 16 studies, we found no evidence that following a brand on social media changes people’s purchasing behavior."
  • "...liking a brand on Facebook had no enhancing effect on the purchasing habits of friends.
  • "...merely liking a page did not change behavior."
We've only been saying this for about 100 years.

Then the professors go off the rails...
"The good news is that there is a way to convert likes into meaningful behavior, and it’s straight out of the 20th-century marketing playbook: advertising."
This is tricky because they're right about advertising, but wrong about the "convert(ing) likes into meaningful behavior" crap.

Here's what they did. They took a group of people and invited half of them to like a certain brand on Facebook. Then they studied the behavior of the "liking" group and compared it to the control group that wasn't invited to like the brand.

What did they find? "...we found no difference in behavior."

So far, so good.

Then they fed ads to the "liking" group. What did they find? This group reported 8% more of the desired behavior.

Their conclusion: "...our research suggests that marketing on social media will be ineffective if it uses only pull tactics. The modern social media marketing playbook should combine new and traditional approaches."

Bullshit. That's a lot of jargon-y claptrap to mask what the the study really demonstrated  -- that advertising was effective at changing behavior and "likes" weren't.

There was only one variable that created effectiveness - advertising.

All the "combine new and traditional approaches" and "modern social media marketing" hogwash is just obfuscation designed to soften the real results of their study -- that the value of a "like" was zero and the only variable they could find that made a difference was advertising.

Sadly, there was another flaw in the study that renders it useless. They didn't actually find any behavioral change. All they found was reported behavioral change.

In other words, it was self-reported baloney. And it was the lowest form of self-reported baloney -- the online kind. There isn't a reputable institution in the world who would accept this horseshit as valid science.

The only place that self-reported nonsense is acceptable as factual and publishable is in the silly world of marketing. Oh, yeah...and apparently, Harvard.