November 30, 2015

Advertising And Probability

When it comes to human behavior, it is very unwise to think in terms of always and never.

If you tell me people never eat glass, I guarantee I can find some people who do. If you say people always sleep lying down, I'm sure I can locate some who don't.

And yet when it comes to advertising we have become inured to hearing people who are absolutely sure of their positions.

Sadly, we have far too many people committed to ideological points of view about modes of advertising and marketing.  This is particularly true in digital advertising where people who express skepticism about whatever the digital miracle of the year happens to be are regularly marginalized.

In fact, advertising is a highly probabilistic undertaking. There are no certainties -- just likelihoods and probabilities.

As you know, I think the philosophical underpinnings of social media marketing are utter bullshit. But does this mean that social media never works? Of course not. I, myself, am a social media marketing success story.

Is advertising always more effective if it is emotional rather than logical? No. But often it is.

When I do talks and I present the facts about the weakness of online display advertising, I am sometimes challenged by someone who has had success with it. This is not surprising. A probability curve will predict that there will be successes.

But this does not change the facts.

So when you read or hear the pronouncements of experts -- even the handful who actually know what the hell they're talking about -- remember, there ain't no always or never. Just usually and sometimes.

November 25, 2015

No App For Gratitude

Today I am repeating my Thanksgiving post which I have run for several years. 

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 fireman. 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 (OMG, who knew?) That alone should be enough.

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

And have a Happy Thanksgiving. 

November 23, 2015

The Two Faces Of Facebook

We’re almost 10 years into the era of social media and I think it's time we took a step back and had a fresh look.

The fact that social media is a huge cultural phenomenon is very interesting. But it is only relevant to marketers insofar as it affects our ability to influence consumer purchasing behavior or the building of brands.

It’s also time to be precise about what we mean when we say "social media." Our first chore is to separate "social media" from "social media marketing." As the great Mark Ritson points out, and as I have written, we are not sociologists, we are marketers .

We know that social media has been a huge worldwide phenomenon. But how about social media marketing? How effective has it been for the purpose of advancing product sales and building brands?

This is a critical distinction and has been at the root of tremendous misunderstanding and incalculable misuse of marketing dollars.

When the idea of social media first was introduced, it seemed impossible that it wouldn't have massive value in marketing. The logic went something like this: People are going to use social media to talk with each other. They are interested in brands. They will surely have conversations with and about brands. The web will allow them to share their enthusiasms with others who will, likewise, pass these conversations on and potentially create a huge amplification in which a few comments can morph into literally tens of thousands of impressions.

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg put it in 2007,
“The next 100 years are going to be different for advertisers starting today... For the last 100 years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation.”
Of course, the attraction to marketers was instantaneous and powerful -- who doesn't want to create tens of thousands of positive impressions without spending a cent on media?  In fact, many proclaimed the advent of social media to be the death knell of traditional advertising.

Understandably, marketers quickly adopted social media marketing as a fundamental component of their marketing activities.

Just as every now and then a relief pitcher hits a home run, inexorably a few brands did some things with social media that became big commercial successes. These successes became legendary and were offered up at every conference, in every magazine, and at every new business pitch as evidence of the remarkable power of social media.

As time went on, however, it became clear that the philosophical foundation of social media marketing was flawed. People were enthusiastic about engaging with their friends on social media by sharing personal experiences, political opinions, silly videos, photos of children, pets, and meals.  But they seemed to demonstrate little to no interest in talking with or about brands — except sometimes to gripe about mistreatment.

But we became really good at ignoring the evidence of our own eyes.

A look at any Facebook page or Twitter feed would have quickly convinced any dispassionate observer that people were not broadly sharing their enthusiasms for brands. In fact, people were overwhelmingly not voicing enthusiasms for brands at all. And on the rare occasions when they did, their comments did not get shared and go viral, but quickly trickled away.

Additionally, pages that brands built on Facebook and feeds they created on Twitter drew initial interest as novelties, but soon became moribund as consumers found them to be bland and self-serving. Today, about 7 in 10,000 of a major brand’s followers will engage with a Facebook post. The number for Twitter is about 3 in 10,000.

Becoming a publicly held company, and needing ways to make money for its shareholders, Facebook saw what was happening and quickly changed its tune.

To their credit, Facebook pulled one of the most amazing bait-and-switch jobs in the history of business. Notwithstanding Zuckerberg's earlier proclamations, they realized they were in the traditional advertising sales business. They dropped the fancy talk about “sharing” and “engagement” and quickly reverted to “reach” and “TRPs” — the decades-old language of traditional advertising.

Facebook's business is no longer about providing a forum for conversations about brands. It is now believed that about 1% of a brand's followers receive the brand's posts organically. As Forrester Research vice-president Nate Elliott has said...
“Any marketers who believe they’re having a conversation on Facebook are delusional” 
Remarkably, there are still marketers and agencies who believe — or, in the case of some agencies, pretend to believe — that spending ad dollars on Facebook is “social media.”

It is no such thing. It is traditional paid advertising. But, as always, the social media lobby is nothing if not cunning. Every time their spurious claims are exposed they redefine "social media" to fit the facts. So we now have "social ads" -- a complete contradiction in terms. The thing that was supposed to replace ads is now ads.

Social media is an amazing worldwide phenomenon. But social media marketing — and the promise of free lunch through conversations and sharing — has turned out to be a fantasy.

Facebook's remarkable success as a platform for traditional paid advertising is the face of the fantasy.

November 19, 2015

Demographic Cleansing Of Ad Industry

A milestone in marketing stupidity has been reached.

According to a September report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor, a majority of consumer spending (51%) is now done by people over 50.

These people are the target for 10% of marketing activity.

On the other hand, marketers spend five times as much money marketing to millennials, the moronic obsession of every marketer on the planet, than any other group.

How can such obvious stupidity exist? The answer is in the unapologetic malpractice and bigotry of the marketing and advertising industries.

There is almost no one over 50 left in the advertising business. They have been the target of demographic cleansing -- and eliminated from agencies.

The result is a generation of advertising people with enormous self-regard and no hint as to the true nature of "the consumer" they are all so sure they know everything about.

The ugly truth is that the marketing and advertising industries hate older people. We like the excitement of youth, not the boredom of middle age and the frailties of old age. And so we have concocted all kinds of bullshit for ignoring them.

I have previously detailed the ignorance of these spurious pretexts for prejudice. But the one that incontrovertibly defines the stupidity of our industry is this one: the canard that older people want to be like young people. Older people want to be youthful, but they do not want to be like young people.

Nonetheless, if you need an example of the navel gazing of marketers there's this: millennials, who buy about 12% of new cars, are featured in about 99.9% of new car ads.

Even if it were true (which it emphatically is NOT) that older people want to be like young people, why in the world would you TARGET the advertising at young people when they buy almost none of the cars?

There is no logic to the advertising industry's disregard for people over 50.

It is marketing by selfie-stick - narcissism disguised as strategy.

November 18, 2015

The Wrong Thing For The Right Reason

Last week I wrote a post called Why I Lied about a failure of character when, for reasons of "self-preservation," I stayed quiet and intentionally let a client misconstrue a fact.

In response to my post, I received an email from one of my former partners -- the great Sharon Krinsky. 

Sharon reminded me that there was more to it, and that sometimes independent agency owners have to do the wrong thing for the right reason:
"I don't think you were completely honest.

The reason you stayed quiet was AGENCY preservation, not "self preservation."  The same reason (sane, smart, successful) agency owners the world over don't flip their shit each and every time someone opens their stupid fucking pie hole and says or does something completely fucking stupid. Which is shockingly often.

Agency owners have tens (and, if they're lucky, hundreds) of people counting on them for their livelihoods. The right thing isn't always the rightest thing.

You taught me that."

Whether you run an agency, a bakery, or just a family, the price for getting up on your high horse and enjoying the catharsis of airing the truth as you see it is often high -- and paid by someone else.

It's the rare agency owner who foolishly shot his mouth off and then fired himself.

One of the great joys of being out of the agency business is the freedom to say whatever the hell I want, and not having to worry that innocent bystanders and their families will be paying the price.

And speaking of saying whatever the hell I want...
... Tomorrow, Nov. 19, I will be speaking in Chicago at The Escape Pod, courtesy of the great Vinny Warren. Everyone's invited.

November 17, 2015

You Can Never Trust Online Data

Some kind of perfect irony was reached today.

For years we've been saying you can't trust online data.

Well, today, The Ad Contrarian blog reached its 5 millionth user.

That's right. According to Blogger's native stat counter (owned by Google,) two different readers, in two different parts of the world, were visitor # 5 Million.

No, you simply cannot make this shit up. 

But anyway, big thanks to Kamesh Kompella and Roger Hunziker, our combined 5 millionth reader.

And also big thanks to everyone else who has visited this blog over the years.

Now if I'd only charged $1 a visit...

A thrid person, Ray Kilinsli, just sent proof that HE was visitor # 5 million

November 16, 2015

Brilliant Idea Goes Bad

An article in Ad Age last week, entitled "Do You Watch Way More TV Than You Even Realize?" tells us about a wonderful experiment.

Someone at Hill Holiday had a brilliant idea...Let's do an experiment. Let's show all the "television is dead" morons how wrong they are. We'll do something that proves how much people love TV, and how they watch much more than they think. We'll rig a gizmo in their homes in which they'll have to use tokens to watch TV. And as they run out of tokens we'll video their reactions.

It's a great idea and it's well-executed.

But then it all goes to shit. Instead of being clear about what this video proves, the Chief Insight Misinterpreter, or whatever her title is, steps in and confuses the shit out of the whole thing.

You see, it's not enough to state succinctly and clearly exactly what the point of the exercise was.
Instead she has to go off into cliché-land and give it "context" within the prevailing marketing narrative. In other words, misinterpret, misrepresent, and misunderstand what the video proves. So we get this nonsense:
"The context of television has changed. It’s really not about watching television anymore, it’s about essentially being continuously connected almost in a way that is through osmosis."
Give me a fucking break. Only in the crackpot world of agency strategists is watching television "not about watching television anymore." In their bubble of relentless confusion, nothing about consumer behavior can ever be what it seems. It must have a mysterious meaning that only experts -- ya know, them -- can interpret.

Then we get the all-purpose strategist's banality, "control"...
"...consumers nowadays, they want to have that control over their viewing experiences, whether it’s 2 minutes on their way to the subway looking at CNN, whether it’s looking at a game with their family on the weekend, or whether it’s multi-screening when they’re doing the ironing in their home. It almost doesn't matter. They want to have control."
This has absolutely nothing to do with the experiment they performed. And, by the way, it's not just "nowadays" that consumers decided they wanted to "control" their "viewing experiences." Control is why, in 1956, God gave us remotes.

Finally, fearing she might not be sufficiently au courant, she has to drag us into the dreary sociology lesson that's been forced down our throats for over a decade...
"...we have to understand that consumers nowadays want access to video content whenever they want it, wherever they want it, on any device that they want, and most important they’ve got to have it on demand."
Which, once again, has absolutely nothing to do with the test they were conducting.

What the experiment proved is simply that people don't understand how much TV they watch, and how important it is to them.

And neither, I might add, does the advertising industry.

The Ad Contrarian blog will soon reach 5 million views. If you are number 5,000,000 take a screen shot, send it to me, and you will win a fun prize. Don't know what it is yet, but I'll come up with something.

November 12, 2015

The Glorious Revolution Continues

A spirited debate sprung up last week in Campaign magazine between Dave Trott, a great creative mind, and Richard Cable, of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, a great creative agency.

The debate was essentially about this: What the fuck is "content?"

I've done enough yapping about content (e.g., here and here) so I'll leave you to read the pieces and draw your own conclusions.

But there was something about Mr. Cable's piece that really irritated me.
It was this line about content:
"It’s the stuff that used to be over the wall that we’d built between Church and State until the digital revolution came along, kicked down that wall and told us we could do whatever the hell we liked."
So what we really have going on here is not a serious case for the value of content but another rhapsody to the glorious digital revolution -- the ongoing infantile fantasy of the heroic "digital revolution" that "kicked down" walls and saved us poor fools from ourselves.

I've had enough of this bullshit to last a lifetime. I'm tired of listening to these digital gurus bluffing their way through every argument with overblown self-regard and smug tributes to their glorious revolution.

Mostly what the digital revolution has contributed to the advertising industry is enough hot air to melt the fucking South Pole. Not since Vladimir Lenin took to the streets has there been a revolution that promised more and delivered less.

Here's an accounting of some of the marvelous things their wonderful revolution has given us:
  • The unfettered ability of governments to spy on their constituents through the relentless information gathering of marketers (including this lovely new wrinkle)
  • Monopolistic power in the hands of corporate entities that would never be tolerated "off line." (Amazon is larger than its next 12 competitors combined; Google gets about 45% of all ad online ad dollars; Facebook wields near-monopolistic power in its category))
  • Unlimited pornography at the fingertips of every 10-year-old
  • Huge criminal enterprises anonymously stealing billions from businesses and consumers with impunity.
  • Young people stalking, harassing, and humiliating each other with disturbing regularity.
  • Marketers bamboozled by a never-ending series of digital marvels that never turn out to be quite as miraculous as promised.
If "content" is a valuable marketing activity, great -- show me the facts. But, please, spare me the glorious revolution bullshit.

ON A MORE PLEASANT NOTE... Thursday I'm speaking in Chicago at The Escape Pod. Here's your invitation.

November 10, 2015

Why I Lied

Several years ago I was in a client meeting. We were presenting a Powerpoint deck with the results of an online ad campaign.

Midway through the meeting we got to the slide with the click-through rate -- which we had buried nicely in a very complex table.

We quickly went through the table and moved on to the next slide.

The client interrupted, "Excuse me, can you go back one slide." We held our breath and went back to the slide with the click rate, which was .02%

"Two percent," the client said, "that's not bad."

Nobody said a word. Nobody said, ".02% is not two percent. It's two hundredths of one percent. It's not two clicks in a hundred. It's two clicks in ten thousand."

And we quickly moved on to the next slide.
Two and a half years ago I did two things: I left the agency business, and I stopped lying.

Anyone in the agency business with a functioning brain has known for years that display advertising is, to a disturbing extent, a corrupt flimflam and that social media marketing is substantially an infantile fantasy.

But we've been afraid to say so. We may not have been lying by commission, but we told little white lies by omission.

We neglected to mention the problems of "viewability."

We forgot to bring up traffic fraud, and click fraud.

We didn't discuss that virtually no one was interacting with "interactive" advertising.

We didn't talk much about bots, or "volume-based incentives."

We didn't spend much time on engagement rates for social media.

We were afraid of the truth for two reasons.

First was self-preservation. Anyone in an agency who questioned the orthodoxy of digital supremacy was immediately labeled a Luddite dinosaur, and was marked for extinction. Try telling ISIS you don't believe in their God. You'll soon be ten inches shorter.

Second was client relations. Clients wanted to believe in the miracle. Agencies who told the truth soon found themselves competing for their long-held accounts against uber-trendy agencies with fast-talking hustlers equipped with a sackful of digital miracles.

The astounding part of all this is that the dissembling continues. It's still very perilous to say out loud that the emperor's wardrobe

We used to be able to pretend we didn't know. We could throw out sociology numbers and pretend they were marketing numbers.

But these days we can't pretend we don't know. We know the facts about display, and we know the facts about social.

It's easy for me. I don't have anything to protect any more. But it's not so easy for many in agencies.

Our learning has evolved, but the perils of acknowledging what we've learned remain the same.

So the truth remains dangerous, and the consequences remain daunting.

November 09, 2015

Maybe There's Hope

Today's post was written by someone else.

I'm not sending you there because I'm a lazy shit (which, of course, I am) or because I'm mentioned in it (which, of course, I am) but because it is one of the best pieces written about advertising I've read in a very long time.

It offers hope that at least some people in the advertising and marketing businesses may be coming to their senses.

Please read this from the Financial Times and pass it around.

November 04, 2015

Skewing The Data

When I speak to groups, one of the subjects I often talk about is marketers' willful disregard of the most powerful economic group in the history of the planet -- people over 50.

These people are responsible for 50% of consumer spending in the US and are the target for 10% of marketing activity.

One of the examples of marketers' stupidity I give is the comments of an automotive marketing executive.

A Wall Street Journal article a while back did an article about "youth cars." These are cars targeted at 18-35 year-olds, or as we love to call them, millennials.

The Journal noted that 88% of the people who buy these cars are over 35, yet the auto industry continues to target advertising at under 35's.

When asked about this, the above-mentioned marketing genius had this to say.

"The baby boomer generation is the largest cohort in the marketplace…. Just by virtue of their numbers being so large, we'll continue to see them skew the data...”

Think about this for a minute.

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."

When you start with a prejudice -- for example that you don't want to talk to older people -- then their unpleasant appearance in your results is called "skewing the data."

When you start with an open mind, then they are the data.

November 02, 2015

The Natives Are Feckless

For 20 years the advertising industry has been downgrading the importance of creativity in favor of more "measurable" factors. One of the sad consequences of this misguided adventure is the search for media miracles.

You see, if you can't muster the talent to develop good ideas, the next best strategy for impressing clients is to blind them with science.

So we've had a parade of failed digital media miracles.
  • Social media is great if you're a celebrity and mostly useless if you're not.
  • Content is like one of those drippy Christmas letters from a family you don't like.
I can't think of a single major off-line brand of anything that any of these digital media marvels has created.

The revolt against online advertising by consumers — in the form of ad blockers — has created a stampede by marketers toward a new miracle:  “native advertising.”

Native advertising is just a euphemism for advertising masquerading as editorial. Of course, the perpetrators and the beneficiaries of this baloney have all kinds of logic-torturing explanations for why it's not what it obviously is.

In fact,  it is the oldest sleaze tactic in the history of the sport. Historically, some of the less particular print media would offer advertisers editorial mentions in exchange for a nice advertising buy. Or they would sell "advertorials" -- ads technically identified as such, but mostly disguised as editorial.

This is not new for either the online ad industry or the ad industry in general. What's new is that it is now becoming widespread and acceptable.

Here's why it will fail:

Journalists are not marketers. News media are luring naive clients into native advertising by promising them that "real journalists" will be writing their stories. As if "real journalists" are another species from copywriters. When I was a creative director I can't tell you how many "real journalists" wanted jobs at my agency. Most of them weren't good enough.

Consumers don't care. When are we going to learn that no one in his right mind volunteers for advertising? Most of this native advertising stuff will be thinly disguised bullshit and no one with a brain will fall for it.

In the fullness of time we will find out that, like all the other failed online miracles, native advertising is a lot of talk and not much action.

The truth is, we still haven't figured out how to use the web effectively as a brand building advertising medium. When we do, I'll let you know.