May 22, 2019

I Go To Conferenceland


One of the downsides of making your living as a loudmouth is that you have to do it in public. This means participating in conferences. As everyone knows, there's nothing in the world as dreary as a marketing conference, with the possible exception of a State of the Union address or lunch with a CMO.

It is my good fortune that when I speak at conferences I am usually billed as the keynote, which often means I get to speak first. Speaking first has one great advantage. After I speak I can wait until no one's looking then sneak out the back door and find a nice quiet bar.

I was at a conference a few months ago and I decided to be mature and hang around and listen to some speakers. I'll never make that mistake again. Here's what I learned:
  • The future is going to be amazing. No one's going to have to do anything. Everything will be done for us by AI, or robots, or Jeff Bezos. We won't have to work, rotate our tires, or chew our food.
  • Robots, by the way, will be stealing our jobs, our airline miles, and our children
  • Women will also be amazing. When they run everything there will be no poverty, or inequality, or wait times at the Genius Bar. Except that one from Theranos.
  • Advertising, on the other hand, is not amazing. In fact, it's dead. It's going to be replaced by Google glasses or flying cars or moving sidewalks or something.
  • Better expect the unexpected because if you expect the expected than your expectations will be unexpectedly... I don't know...something very scary.
  • China and India are going to have their own internets which will be better than ours because your password will be embedded in your brain or your kidneys and you won't have to update Flash every half hour.
  • Data is not only the secret to marketing success, it also makes your car's engine run smoother and -- something you probably didn't know -- it makes a great Father's Day gift!
  • Facebook is changing. No, really, they mean it this time! They're going to be double-extra careful with our data, our bank account numbers, and our drug bust records by taking all our files and putting them in Ziploc bags. And if anyone tries to break into them they will suspend them and not let them open another Facebook account for almost twenty minutes. Unless they use another name.
  • Consumers love your brand and want a relationship with it and want to join the conversation about it and share it with their tribe... or, wait a minute... (DISSOLVE TO 30 MINUTES LATER)... brands mean nothing to consumers. The internet has disintermediated everything and the whole idea of brands is totally stupid... (CUT TO PANEL DISCUSSION)
  • Gen Z is a whole new species of human that is even cooler than millennials. You have to get rid of all those clueless millennials you just hired because they are stupid dinosaurs. If you don't have a Gen Z strategy in place by tomorrow 9am you are already too late and you are dead. By the way, we are holding a 3-day Gen Z Insider Summit in Orlando next month...
  • Consumers will love your brand of orthotic shoe inserts even more if your brand purpose aligns with their values and they know you are committed to world peace and colonic cleansing.
  • And, by the way, everything is changing and if you don't change you will be left behind and die. It doesn't matter what you are, you have to change into something else. It doesn't matter what you change into as long as you stop doing whatever it is you are doing and start doing something else that requires AI, robots, or Jeff Bezos.
Bottom line: The only sensible reason for attending a marketing conference is to get as far away as possible from the dreary reality of marketing. Like Disneyland, marketing's conferenceland is so much cleaner, prettier, and safer than actual marketing.

My advice is stay the hell away from marketing conferences unless, of course, I'm speaking. In which case, bring the whole family.

April 30, 2019

Marketing And Modesty


Human beings have an annoying habit of thinking we know things we don't really know.

In “The Cooling World," April 28, 1975 Newsweek informed us that meteorologists "are almost unanimous" that “catastrophic famines might result from…global cooling

On Sept. 14, 1975 The New York Times told us that this global cooling "may mark the return to another ice age."

And on May 21, 1975 the Times said "a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable" because it has been "well established" that the climate in the Northern Hemisphere "has been getting cooler since about 1950."

Seems they were wrong.

Up until a few years ago, we thought we knew what the universe was made of. There was matter, which was largely atoms composed of electrons, neutrons, and protons. And there were four forces - gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.

It turns out we have no idea what the universe is made of. Science now believes 94% of the universe is "dark matter" and "dark energy." Which is another way of saying, we have no fucking clue what it is.

My psychiatrist friends often tell me how unfathomable a lot of human behavior is. And yet 27-year-old account planners seem to understand behavior so thoroughly.

If the A students who study physics, math, climate and medicine are so often misguided, do we really believe the C students who study advertising and marketing know anything?

I’ve been around advertising and marketing a long time, and I’ve noticed something. I’ve noticed that we have a lot of unreliable opinions.

I had a long and pleasant career in the advertising business. I’ve had the opportunity to create multi-million dollar campaigns for brands like McDonald’s and Toyota, and Bank of America and Chevrolet.

I’ve been invited to speak in dozens of countries.

My opinions and comments have been sought by organizations like the NY Times, the BBC, the Wall Street Journal and other substantial media groups around the world.

And I’ve written 4 books about advertising that were Amazon #1 sellers.

I don’t say any of this to brag. I say it for the exact opposite reason — to make an important point. The point is this - I don’t know anything. I am faking it. I always have been. I have no idea why anybody buys anything. I have no idea why you buy Coke instead of Pepsi, or Nike instead of Adidas. As a matter of fact, I have no idea why I buy Coke.

As we used to say back in Brooklyn, I don’t know shit.

In my career I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of marketing and advertising people. And I mean no disrespect, but I don’t think they knew shit either. Mostly what we do is precision guessing.

I think we would be wise to keep open minds and admit that a great deal of our understanding of consumer behavior is incomplete at best, and wrong at worst.

We would do ourselves and our industry a whole lot of good to exercise a little modesty and discretion when we claim to know things we don’t really know.

April 16, 2019

AI And BS


AI is now in the same fantasy phase that online advertising was in 20 years ago. We are being bombarded with horseshit about how AI has made everything so wonderful -- and in the future is going to make everything even wonderfuller.

Here are a couple of spots from AT&T and IBM going all goofy about AI.



And this...



As always with new technology, the benefits are easy to foresee and the dangers are either invisible or willfully ignored. Twenty years ago, when the ad world started to go all gaga over "interactive advertising," who could have foreseen...
The current mania for AI - and its relentless promotion as our fabulous future - ignores an enormous potential for mischief and danger. The brainless enthusiasm for every flavor of online advertising only cost us money (ok, and maybe a few elections, and our reputation as an industry, and our confidence in democratic institutions, and our privacy rights.) The same wide-eyed stampede into AI could be a lot more costly.

Stephen Hawking said, “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.” Hawking went on to say that ignoring the dangers of AI “would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake ever." AI could "spell the end of the human race".
Hawking is not alone. Elon Musk, hardly a technophobe, says, “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.” 

Bill Gates, another famous Luddite dinosaur, says, "I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned."

Of course, the simple-minded marketing industry - armed with its usual obsessions and delusions - can't see anything in AI but 1) another miracle to promote, 2) a topic for dreadful gee-whiz "content", and 3) a great new jargon term to insert into every sentence.

This time around, can we please be a little more mature and thoughtful?

Us? Only kidding.