October 15, 2019

Advertising's Decade Of Delusion

The ten years we have just experienced were expected to be some of the most fruitful and productive in the history of advertising.  We had amazing new tools and stunning new media that we never had before. The whole thing was head-spinning and certain to engender all kinds of remarkable opportunities for advertisers.

Our ability to reach consumers one-to-one with web-based platforms was sure to make advertising more personalized, more relevant, and more timely.

Brands' abilities to listen to consumer conversations through social media and react quickly couldn’t help but connect us more closely with our customers.

Consumers themselves would be one of our biggest assets by engendering conversations about our brands and helping us understand and define what our brands should represent.

Further, the web would have a democratizing effect on society and particularly in the business sphere where new brands could flourish without spending lavishly on marketing.

And yet, the past decade has been the most disappointing and disheartening period that I’ve experienced in my long advertising career.

It is widely believed inside and outside the ad industry that on the whole the state of advertising has gotten worse, not better.

Consumer research shows that regard for our industry is at a new low. It's gotten so bad that we have half the trustworthiness of lawyers.

Marketers are disillusioned. They don’t trust us. Their trade organization, the ANA, has officially stated that they believe corruption in our industry is “pervasive.”

Brands are facing strong headwinds. A recent study by Nielsen reported that consumers say they are 46% more likely to change brands than they were just 5 years ago, and only 8% say they are strongly brand loyal.

Regulators and governments are after us with a passion. They want to know what we are doing with data and whether we are acting illegally in collecting, trading and selling personal private information about consumers.

By steadfastly defending the abusive and creepy surveillance practices of our adtech ecosystem, the "leaders" of our industry are clearly on the wrong side of history.

As for consumers, one study showed that of all forms of advertising, the eight types rated the lowest by consumers were all forms of online advertising. Ad blocking apps are reportedly present on somewhere between one and two billion devices.

Meanwhile tens of billions of dollars are being stolen annually from our clients by online ad fraud.

Marketers are taking their advertising duties in-house and hiring consulting firms to do what we used to do.

As for the democratizing effect, it has been just the opposite. The web has produced advertising and marketing monopolies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, etc) that would never be tolerated on dry land. Our industry has been right in the middle of scandals that have undermined our confidence in free and fair elections.

To say that the last decade has not lived up to expectations is like saying the Titanic was a boating mishap.

Our industry is in trouble. I believe we've had a lost decade. We have allowed ourselves to be bamboozled by the suspect assertions of articulate people -- and more than a few clowns -- masquerading as experts. We have lost any healthy degree of skepticism. It has cost us dearly.

Our industry needs to take a good hard look at our assumptions and where those assumptions have led us. It's time for the pretending to end.

September 19, 2019

Everything I Know About Advertising I Learned From A Blues Song

I was wasting time on the web the other day and I came upon an article from Medium called "Let’s Talk About How to Build a Brand." There was nothing actually wrong the piece if you're the kind of person who likes to read instruction manuals. It was kind of the 30-minute version of Marketing 101.

But, like so much of marketing thinking today, it was all brains and no guts.

It reminded me of my Aha! advertising moment when I realized how the whole thing works -- when I realized that it's not about how marketing works, it's about how people work. 

I was listening to an album by Ry Cooder called Paradise and Lunch, a monstrously great album. One of the tunes on the album is called Feelin' Good, which was written by a blues singer named J.B. Lenoir.

In two lines, Lenoir made me realize how simple the whole thing is and how stupid I'd been not to understand what was right in front of me. He tells us more about how marketing works than all the books in the worldwide marketing library...
"Feelin' good, feelin' good
All the money in the world spent on feelin' good"
And after years of working in advertising I finally understood how the whole thing works. People buy what they believe will make them feel good. 

Why do they buy an iPhone instead of a Samsung? Because they believe will make them feel good. A Ford instead of a Chevy? Because they believe it will make them feel good. A Bud versus a Coors? Because they believe it will make them feel good.

They don't buy to be part of a tribe, or to have a brand relationship, or to do any of the prodigiously analytical things our marketing prophets tell us. What our experts are seeing is what it looks like to us from the outside.

What people are actually doing is buy what they believe will make them feel good. 

Next time you sit down to create or evaluate an ad, remember this..."All the money in the world spent on feelin' good."

September 08, 2019

A Conspiracy Of Silence

For several years the advertising industry has been engaged in a conspiracy to deceive its clients and the public about online advertising.

It is not the kind of conspiracy you get when bad people get together to plot a crime. It is the kind of conspiracy you get when greedy, frightened people individually decide it is safer to keep their mouths shut than tell the truth.

For the last few years we have been flooded with scandals and revelations about corruption, fraud, and lies in the online advertising ecosystem. Here is just a partial list in no particular order:
The terribly damning part is that there are only two possibilities: Either agencies are remarkably stupid and don't know what is going on, or they know and are keeping their mouths shut. It's hard to decide which is worse.

I believe they have been engaged in an unspoken conspiracy.

Not a single one of the scandals involving online media were brought to light by a media agency. Not one. Let's put this another way -- not one of the scandals about online media were exposed by the people whose job it is to scrutinize online media.

Agencies, particularly media agencies, are as close to the online media industry as you can get. They are analyzing online media 24 hours a day. They are responsible for seeing to it that hundreds of billions of online advertising dollars are spent properly every year. They work very closely with media. They have the facts at their fingertips. They are assessing online media opportunities on behalf of their clients every day.

How can it be that reporters, who are not trained in media, have not nearly the resources to scrutinize media, and have no expertise in analyzing media, were able to sniff out scandal after scandal while the "experts" were not able to do so? It is not possible. It doesn't even pass the giggle test. As one very highly regarded media analyst commented to me recently, "agency bigwigs are notoriously paranoid and fearful. There's a strong code of silence..."

If it were left to the leaders of the ad industry, we would know nothing about any of the appalling stories listed above. By concealing their knowledge of deceit and dishonesty in online media, the ad industry has failed at one of their most consequential responsibilities - being trustworthy stewards of their clients' money. Instead, they have been responsible for wasting billions of client dollars. Why?

  • Because they're afraid to admit they've been played for fools by online media.
  • Because they get fees or commissions on most of the wasted billions.
Is it any wonder marketers are moving media functions in-house? One can only wonder what additional sleaze the media "experts" know of and are keeping quiet about.

The ad industry has allowed itself to crawl into bed with the squids at Facebook and Google and the rest of the devious adtech weasels. It makes us look like fools. Every week there are alarming reports of fraud, corruption, privacy abuse, and security failures in online media and we shrug our shoulders and duck for cover.

The ad industry, controlled by misguided and incompetent leadership at trade associations and holding companies, had better get its act together. By being lapdogs to the corrupt and dangerous online media we are quickly squandering what's left of our credibility.

We are on the wrong side of history and will continue to stay there until the silent conspiracy to protect online media ends.