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.


February 21, 2019

More Elephant Advertising


There is a cute little research trick that semi-clever operators use to con gullible rubes. I will give you a small, silly example of it which I hope will make it more understandable on a large, global scale. It goes like this.

Let's say you want to open a strip club in a residential neighborhood. Obviously, no one in the community in their right mind wants a strip club in their neighborhood. But as the potential owner of the strip club you have to make a case to the city council to try to get your permit.

You do a survey in your community. What you don't ask is a clear, direct question, "Do you want a strip club in your community?" because you'll get a resounding no and a few solid blows to the golden globes.

Instead, you ask a question that sounds kinda like a suitable question: "Do you think the residents of Smallville would benefit from more recreational and entertainment opportunities?" This question has a lot of benefits.
  • Who is going to say no to the vague notion of "more recreational and entertainment opportunities?"
  • The so-called "recreational and entertainment opportunities" are not defined
  • The social ramifications (cost/benefit relationship) of the so-called "recreational and entertainment opportunities" are not described
Once the survey is completed you go to the city council and show them your pitch slides:
  • 88% of people in our community are in favor of "more recreational and entertainment opportunities." That's what we provide!
  • If approved, revenue from our company will contribute over $1 million annually to the tax base in the community.
  • We understand that not everyone will be in favor of our business, but enjoying our shows is entirely voluntary and no one is forced to patronize our establishment.
Even a city council isn't dumb enough to swallow this bullshit. Even a city council isn't dumb enough to not understand when they're being conned. That's how they're different from us.

I would submit to you that this is exactly the type of specious rationale that underpins the entire online ad industry. The con goes like this: the reason that tracking and spyware are necessary is that consumers want "more relevant advertising." This claim is put forth virtually every time the spy masters are asked to justify their practices.

To quote a semi-clever operator named Zuckerberg, “People consistently tell us that if they’re going to see ads, they want them to be relevant.

Yeah, right. People are out in the streets marching for more relevant advertising.

A recent New York Times piece by a communications professor and a law professor exposed this bullshit for what it is. They reported on two large studies they did. Here are some of the results...
"Sixty-one percent of respondents said no, they did not want tailored ads for products and services, 56 percent said no to tailored news, 86 percent said no to tailored political ads, and 46 percent said no to tailored discounts. But when we added in the results of the second set of questions about tracking people (emphasis mine - BH) on that firm’s website, other websites and offline, the percentage that in the end decided they didn’t want tailoring ranged from 89 percent to 93 percent with political ads, 68 percent to 84 percent for commercial ads, 53 percent to 77 percent for discounts, and 64 percent to 83 percent for news."
By posing questions in manipulative ways that don't actually describe the issues in question, it is possible to use research to distort the truth. If you ask someone "do you prefer ads that are relevant?" of course they're going to say yes. Just like if you ask if they want more entertainment opportunities.

But if you're asking the appropriate question -- "Are you willing to trade private, personal information about yourself and your family, and have your movements tracked and catalogued both online and offline, and have your emails and texts read and archived, and have files about you sold to anyone who wants to buy them, in order to get more relevant advertising?"-- I don't think you need to be a Harvard-billionaire-semi-clever-operator to know that you better be wearing a cup.