November 20, 2014

The Danger In Being Different

In marketing and advertising everyone is faking it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 19, 2014

Research Company Crashes Into Planet Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Atomic Tango for the link to this story.

November 17, 2014

The Dim Client Syndrome

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

These people are to be found all over corporate America. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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