September 26, 2007

Good At Counting

In the world of advertising, research is no different from creative work -- some of it is excellent and powerful, and some of it is worthless and dangerous.

My experience has been that market researchers are good at counting, and very little else. So if you want to know "how many", you can hire a research firm and be pretty confident you'll get an accurate result. But if you want to know, "why" or "how" or "which one", look out. This is particularly true of copy testing.

There is an advertising blog called Copyranter which I like to read. It is foul, libelous, largely incomprehensible, and often hilarious. Copyranter responded to a Business Week columnist who was confused about the meaning of a study about advertising effectiveness in the following way:

"Just like every other study that's been done to figure which ads "work," this one means absolutely nothing."


September 25, 2007

Quantum Advertising

Quantum theory makes scientists crazy. It's the only area of science in which the idea of cause and effect (or, as they like to say, "deterministic causality") has to be suspended. One of the consequences of quantum theory is that in certain cases things just pop into and out of existence. In fact, there are physicists who believe our whole universe is a quantum event -- it just appeared out of nothing for no reason.

Even Einstein, whose work laid the foundation for quantum physics, hated the idea. And yet it's the best and only explanation science has for a ton of phenomena that occur at the atomic and sub-atomic scale.

I'm starting to believe in quantum advertising. I think there are things that just happen for no reason. I've seen ad campaigns that are brilliant, strategically perfect, and beautifully produced fail miserably. I've seen stupid, ill-conceived campaigns work miraculously. Sometimes, all our logic just doesn't work.

I've seen agencies with tremendous experience in a category get a new account in that category and make a pig's breakfast out of it. I've seen the world's dumbest agencies get accounts they had no right to win and succeed wildly with awful, insight-free advertising.

It's uncomfortable for us to believe that success and failure in business are sometimes random and just happen in spite of our efforts. We've been taught to look for reasons. But I guess if a whole universe can appear for no good reason, the odd marketing success can, too.


September 24, 2007

Terrestrial Locomotor Performance

What happened to the simple declarative sentence? Why can't people talk straight? Do they think they sound smarter by talking in dense, incomprehensible jargon?

Not long ago I wrote "Everything You Need To Know About Branding On One Little Page." In doing so I came upon a book called Kellogg on Branding: The Marketing Faculty of the Kellogg School of Business. In an excerpt from the book, I found this gem:
“The word brand has a tripartite etymology. One emphasis clusters around burning, with connotations both of fiery consummation and of banking the hearth. A second emphasis clusters around marking, with connotations of ownership and indelibility, as well as paradoxical allusions to intrinsic essence, whether of merit or stigma. A third emphasis clusters around the delivery of, or deliverance from, danger (stoke, anneal, cauterize; conflagration, possession, aggression). The brand embodies the transformative heat of passion, properly tended..."
Yeah, whatever.

Then last week I was reading an article about anthropology in The New York Times concerning our primate ancestors and I found this little beauty:
'The lower limbs and arched feet reflected traits “for improved terrestrial locomotor performance”...'
Terrestrial locomotor performance? You mean walking, right? So why the fuck don't you just say walking?


September 21, 2007

The Backlash Will Come

It's not going to take advertisers long to figure out that on-line display advertising has been a failure as an interactive medium (see Two In A Thousand.) It can't sustain its growth for long with a response rate under 2 in a thousand unless it's willing to take big cuts in cpm.

Right now, we're still in the frenzy part of the adoption cycle in which every marketer thinks she has to be doing banner ads on the web. She doesn't know why, but she knows everyone else is and so assumes she has to.

Web zealots can do themselves, and us, a favor. Nobody with half a brain is going to continue to accept banner advertising as dynamically interactive when it has a click through rate of .2%. Instead of continuing to try to sell display advertising on its supposed interactive merits, they can face the facts, admit the issues, and derive a set of principles that help advertisers use the medium in an effective way.

Unless they do, they will face a backlash. It may not be this week or this month, but it's coming.


September 20, 2007

Favorite Ad Of The Week

Check out the description for this used golf club on eBay.


Jersey Old Men

TAC has written previously about the remarkably under-utilized potential for marketing to people over 50 (see Aiming Low)

It was reinforced recently when I went to see Jersey Boys, a stunningly mediocre exercise in pop nostalgia (full disclosure: I almost always hate Broadway musicals.)

The writing was exactly what I expected -- that cloying high school sensibility that so often infuses Broadway shows. The real shocker was the music. A Vegas Four Seasons cover band could have done better.

None of this seemed to bother the baby boomer crowd that packed the theater. They reveled in the self-referential material.

The producers of this musical have cannily filled a gaping marketing hole -- entertainment for baby boomers. Just as so many other industries have foolishly placed all their chips on the youth market, the entertainment industry is not producing nearly enough "product" for these people.

I expect the producers of Jersey Boys have made a fortune. There are more fortunes to be made.


September 19, 2007

Account Planners Gone Wild

The same day I posted "Smelly Volvo Families" an article appeared in Ad Age about the new Volvo campaign.

The article was about how Volvo's agency developed the idea for its new campaign. Apparently, the agency interviewed valet car parkers to find out what Volvo owners are like. I swear this is not a joke. Valet car parkers.

I wonder what planning genius came up with this idea.

They enjoyed many deep insights about Volvo owners from this exercise. "They are users not havers; they use what they have," says the agency's account director. Apparently the rest of us don't use what we have. I know I haven't been using what I have lately.

Their director-global advertising added, "Safety is about enhancing the quality of life for people inside and outside the car."

Uh...excuse me, moron. Safety is about saving your childrens' fucking lives, okay?

According to the article, 'The results were enough to build a campaign showing Volvo drivers as "we" people as opposed to "me" people.' To this I would just like to add, Give Me A Fucking Break!

I know agencies are brilliant at coming up with this bullshit, but what kind of nitwit clients actually believe it?

This account planning thing has gotten way out of control (see Salesmen and Sociologists). We've got to kill them all and start over.


September 18, 2007

How To Get Bad Advertising

Over the past few years, some large advertisers have decided that the best way to get good ads is to have a roster of agencies and make them compete for assignments. Now smaller advertisers are starting to do this.

It's a perfectly brilliant way to get lousy advertising, but a lovely way for narcissistic marketing executives to get agencies to kiss their asses.

Anyone who's spent 15 minutes in an ad agency knows that good creative people want nothing to do with clients who don't respect them. They'll take a shot at one of these circle jerks and if they don't win, phone it in the next time around.

Clients who don't know the psychology of ad agencies think that by getting agency account managers all worked up over competition they'll get the agency working extra hard. They get the opposite. The creatives laugh at the hysterical management people, do some perfunctory work, and spend their real time on real assignments that will actually get produced.

Marketing managers would do themselves a favor by remembering that the only value they get from an ad agency is imagination -- imaginative strategies and imaginative campaigns. When you turn off the people with imagination, you lose big time.

On the other hand, nothing motivates high-quality people more than a sense of personal responsibility. Turn that on and you win.


September 17, 2007

Smelly Volvo Families

I was at the movies last Saturday night and saw a remarkably ill-conceived theatrical spot for Volvo. It was a faux James Bond thing with yachts and helicopters and jet planes and very expensive looking people doing idiotic superhero things.

The gag, you see, was that it was a couple trying to get somewhere for their anniversary. It ended with some inanity about life being better together. A beautiful example of a spot written to justify a tag line. It had absolutely nothing to do with Volvo and had the tortured logic of account planning written all over it.

The theater was in Berkeley where there are more Volvos per capita than Stockholm. If Volvo had intentionally set out to alienate their customer base they couldn't have done a better job.

My daughter used to call them "smelly Volvo families." They drive beat-up 10-year old Volvo station wagons with Goldfish crumbs lodged in the folds of the upholstery, plastic milk crates in the back filled with old sneakers, and "John Edwards for President" bumper stickers. The men all have some form of facial hair, the women have an unfortunate tendency to wear Peruvian ponchos. At least one of them is a therapist. Very few of them hang out on yachts.

They drive a Volvo for the following reasons:

1. To show they are smarter than us.
2. To show they are immune to imagery and marketing.
3. To show they are more concerned with safety than style.
4. Oh, and did I mention they are smarter than us?

They will be appalled by this "new" Volvo.

Volvo is making a classic marketing mistake. They are trying to be someone else. Instead of positioning themselves as a new, safer, more stylish Volvo they are aiming to be the second best BMW.

I'm sure there's some marketing genius/account planner telling them that safety isn't enough and they have to make an "emotional bond" with consumers. In fact, safety is an emotional bond to their customer base and TAC predicts that they will learn this the hard way. They have relinquished their unique reason for being.

I haven't seen any other work from this campaign, but if it's like this thing, these people are in trouble.


September 14, 2007

Two In A Thousand

In "Legends of Interactivity, Part 2" we saw that the click through rate on a typical banner ad is under 2 in a thousand.

The question is, why is the level of interactivity so alarmingly low on display ads?

We understand why response rates are low in traditional direct response media -- you have to cut out a coupon or tear out a card; fill in your name and address; take it to a mailbox, etc. It's a pain in the ass. But in banner ads, all you have to do is move your finger. And yet, even with such a low threshold for interactivity, almost no one interacts.

I can think of only two possible explanations:

1. We trained ourselves very early on to ignore banner ads. Banner ads used to exist mainly in the upper third of a web page and it didn't take us long to figure out what our eyes could profitably avoid.

2. The people creating banner ads are particularly incompetent.

I think it's a lot of #1 and a little of #2.

On-line display ads are just too easy to ignore. They are small, annoying, generally ugly, and slow us down. And the people creating them are using what is essentially a direct response medium without understanding the principles of direct response.

What do you think?


September 13, 2007

The Ad Contrarian Mantra

Just about everything you read on The Ad Contrarian blog derives from one unifying principle:

We don’t get customers to try our product by convincing them to love our brand, we get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

This seemingly innocuous sentence represents a radically different perspective from how most companies and most ad agencies practice advertising and marketing today.

It is different because it flips the cause and effect relationship that is the rationale for most “branding”.

This principle asserts that the most effective way to build a brand is to sell someone something.

It is a comment on how tortured the logic of marketing has become that this observation, so stunningly obvious, is actually controversial.


September 12, 2007

Legends of Interactivity, Part 2

I really pissed off some net heads a few weeks ago with The Legend of Interactivity. As a matter of fact, they were so pissed off they actually interacted.

It’s amazing how vehemently zealots react when their beliefs are challenged. The major objection to "The Legend of Interactivity" was that I based my observation that interactivity on the web has been grossly exaggerated on one data point -- the number of people commenting on blogs. Well, here's some more stuff for them to get hysterical over.

We all know that the great advantage that an on-line banner (display) ad has over a magazine ad is that it is interactive, right? In other words, you can click on it and be taken somewhere where an actual buying or learning experience can occur.

Except for one thing. In about 99.8% of cases nobody clicks. (See this recent data from DoubleClick)

So all this hoo-ha about the interactivity of on-line display advertising is really about two people in a thousand.

In fact, if a magazine ad has a response mechanism that gets a 1% response rate, it will be five times as effectively interactive as the average on-line display ad.

Any traditional direct response advertiser that has a response rate of one-fifth of one percent will be bankrupt in about fifteen minutes.

Okay, net heads, let’s have it.


September 11, 2007

Sky Not Falling, Update

In 2003, Forrester Research (see Nailed) estimated that DVR's would be in about 26% of homes by now.

In fact, Nielsen reported earlier this year that DVR's were in 17% of homes. About 1/3 fewer than Forrester had predicted.

Always remember that without change nobody needs research. Consequently, it is baked into the DNA of research companies to emphasize (and, unfortunately, sometimes exaggerate) what is changing, and downplay what is stable.

Exaggerating change works for research companies in two ways:

1. It gets them press. Nobody ever got famous predicting that things would stay pretty much the same.

2. It gets them customers. There's no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he's missing a wave.


September 10, 2007

The Long Tail and The Fat Head

There is an interesting marketing hypothesis called The Long Tail. The Long Tail states that companies with low costs of inventory and distribution (like web powerhouses Amazon and Netflix) can derive substantial income, even a majority of income, by selling unpopular items to tiny market segments. There seems to be significant data to back up this idea.

As usual, a whole lot of marketing people with low reading comprehension have completely misunderstood this concept. They think it means they should focus their marketing efforts on trying to sell their products to light users or non-users in their category.

I have dubbed this phenomenon The Fat Head. The Fat Head states that only a fathead would waste his marketing dollars trying to sell golf balls to tennis players.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of fatheads.


Report From the Real World

A few brave souls volunteered to drop out of pop culture for two weeks (see Media Droputs) and tell us how it feels. Here are two reports after the first week:

From "Dotcalm"
I have realized this is not easy to do! I'm used to either waking up to Whoopi or NPR - so there's news in my face one way or the other - so set it to buzz...
Then, my e-mail login page has "Bad News" and "Celebrity Idiots of the Day" sections, so tried to avert my eyes...
Okay, is baseball and juvenile comedies sexist? I'm usually aurally entertained with soaps and sitcoms while I work, but tried to just play jazz instead...
I usually don't read newspapers as they like to print 10 bad stories for every good one - but giving up Sunday paper....?
We eat in front of the TV so that's tricky too (no kitchen table here folks!)
So... I did feel more productive with just the radio on, and less stressed. I tried to just stay in my office one night and avoid tv with my husband, but a steady diet of that would create tension all around!
It was great to avoid all the stupid lead ins and teasers the news and "entertainment" shows bombard us with; not hearing "crap" like that - only bits of "real" news - gave me less stuff to "worry" about (ie, clutter my mind with).
I think this has been a difficult, but useful, challenge!

From "The Professor"
So far so good. Not feeling much different but it's early. The hardest part is remembering. I have discovered that consuming Pop Culture is habit more than anything. I don't think about it, I just find myself in front of the tube for no apparent reason. If this gets me to start making the consumption of Pop Culture a decision rather than a reflex it will accomplish a lot.


September 06, 2007

Help wanted

I need your help:

1. Does anyone have an ounce of data that indicates that campaigns created with the benefit of account planning are any more successful than those done without it?

2. Now that the “upfront” is concluded for 2008 and the tv networks increased their take by almost 5%, where are all the geniuses who were predicting its demise a few months ago?

3. Can anyone remember an ad they saw on the internet this week?

4. In American business, is there anything dumber than the previous generation of management?


September 04, 2007

How to Watch TV Commercials

Now that fall is approaching, the new tv season is almost upon us. There used to be just one new tv season every year. But now there’s a new season every, well, season.

We can all get more out of the commercials we’ll be seeing if we know a little more about advertising.

The first thing you need to know is that there are basically two types of tv commercials: those with talking animals and those without talking animals.

Commercials with talking animals are the best commercials because they are for the best things -- like car insurance, cable tv, and beer. There's one with a duck for supplemental disability insurance, but no one knows what that is, so it doesn't count. In the recent past we’ve seen hilarious frogs, polar bears, lizards, geckos, and dogs. Who knew animals could be so funny? (Well, we knew monkeys and amphibians were funny, but reptiles?)

When I was a kid there used to be talking camels but the government outlawed them because they were too dangerous. (Plus, when they talked, their mouths looked really stupid.) So then they invented camels that smoked, but one of our former Presidents didn’t like that so he outlawed them, too. That President didn’t think people should use smoking materials. Not for smoking, anyway.

A while back the advertising industry demonstrated its commitment to diversity by introducing dogs that spoke in a foreign language. These dogs were popular but didn’t sell very many tacos. Adios, amigos!

Once in a while you see insects in commercials, but they never talk. They usually just die.

One ad agency took the monkeys out of their ads and they lost the account. Let that be a lesson.

Commercials without talking animals are not nearly as creative. Sometimes they just have very poor kids from far-away lands talking about the internet. Or sweaty “urban” people playing basketball. Or half-ton pick-ups with 0% financing for 60 months.

A few years ago a new kind of advertising started appearing. It has 27 seconds of something really "creative", then 3 seconds of the company’s logo. Nobody knows what this means. It’s called branding.

I hope this will help you enjoy the new season. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. There’ll be another new season in a few weeks.


Today's News Tomorrow

Reports from media drop-outs tomorrow. Apparently, they've become so mellow they've stopped consulting their calendars. But don't worry, TAC is on their ass.


September 01, 2007

Brand Babble

I read an article by the creative director of a large international ad agency. He said his advertising is not intended to sell products. The objective is to "build brands".

There was something alarming about this statement, but I had heard it expressed so many times before that I'd begun to take it for granted that I was crazy and everybody else was right.

A few days later, however, a thought occurred to me: How does he know whether he's building a brand if not by selling products? How does he know?

Does he ask a panel of account planners? Does he consult with advertising award committees? Does he conduct focus groups? I can imagine the conversation: "We know you won't actually spend your money to buy this stuff, but are we building a brand here?"

What could possibly be a better indicator of whether a brand is being built than whether people are willing to spend their money to buy it?

And so it occurred to me that by disassociating his ads from selling stuff, this guy had craftily found what the ad industry has always secretly been seeking -- the Holy Grail of unaccountability; the ultimate Catch-22. When the product sells well, it's because the ads are brilliant. When the product doesn't sell well, it’s not supposed to. It’s a branding campaign. No wonder clients are sick of ad agencies.

If you ask me, the brand babblers have it all backwards.

First of all, you can't separate selling products from building brands. The idea of taking a deconstructionist view of brands -- that they are somehow discrete from the products they represent -- has led to the phenomenon of brands without content, the product equivalents of empty suits. We've heard their names, we've seen their ads, but we have no idea what they are, what they do, or why we should want them. What’s an AIG and how is it different from an ING? And what does a Cisco do that an Intel doesn’t?

Second, the brand babblers are wrong about how great brands are built. They think they can do it with short-cuts -- with "branding".

So instead of a brand being an intrinsic, organic thing that evolves over time from a) the true essence of a company and b) carefully conceived product advertising, they have turned it into a contrivance that they tack on.

It's the Dennis Rodman school of marketing: if you don't have a personality, get some tattoos.

Concurrently, the notion has gained acceptance that some campaigns are "branding" campaigns and some aren't.

To understand the folly of this idea, let's talk about me. Someday you may meet me. When you do, you will develop an impression of me. Whether I intend for you to develop an impression of me or not is irrelevant. You will develop one anyway.

The same is true in advertising. Whether you intend your advertising to be a "branding" campaign is irrelevant. It will create an impression of your brand regardless of your intent.

But let's not be coy. What most ad agencies mean when they say a "branding" campaign is a campaign that is not about the product. It is a campaign about the consumer -- about her feelings, her emotions, the way the product intersects her life.

In other words, it's the next generation of all that awful lifestyle advertising we had to endure in the 90's. The only thing that's changed is that in lifestyle advertising everyone was clean and ran marathons. In branding ads they need to shave and tuck their shirts in.

Great brands have never been created by "branding". Great brands have been created by excellent product advertising and patience.

Brands need character, not tattoos.

For more on this, see
Indirect Marketing


Salesmen & Sociologists

Has anyone else noticed that the increase in client dissatisfaction with advertising has coincided almost perfectly with the ascendancy of account planning? Maybe it’s just a coincidence. But, then again, how can it be that we have added the science and knowledge of these consumer insight experts into our repertoire and yet -- according to our clients -- our efforts are less effective than ever?

I think I know the answer.

I think we’re turning into a bunch of sociologists at exactly the time our clients need us to be salesmen.

One of America’s most successful agencies has someone called “Group Director, Cultural and Cognitive Studies”. I kid you not. I’m sure he’s a bright guy who does a nice job. But “Group Director, Cultural and Cognitive Studies?” It sounds like the freshman humanities requirement at a bad junior college.

Here’s what’s happening. First of all, we have substantially exaggerated the power of brands. Most consumers in most categories have little or no brand loyalty. They don’t care which bank they go to (they go to the one that’s across the street.) They don’t care which airline they fly (they fly the one that has the best deal at the best time.) They don’t care what auto insurance they buy as long as it’s cheap or what tomato sauce they buy as long as it tastes good.

They go to Target today and Wal-Mart tomorrow. They wear Nikes today and Adidas tomorrow. They sign up for Verizon today and Sprint tomorrow. Most of their buying decisions are for specific, immediate reasons. Not for mysterious sociological, cultural or emotional reasons.

Most brands are so similar, and their so-called brand personalities are so transparently contrived, that consumers have become immune to most “branding”. What consumers mostly are loyal to are excellent products that are clearly differentiated. I buy Heinz ketchup all the time, and nothing else that Heinz makes. I don’t even know what else they make, other than there are 57 of ‘em. I like the product, I’m not loyal to the brand.

According to Arjun Sen, president of Restaurant Marketing Group, only 8% to 10% of people are stubbornly brand loyal. Which, if my math is correct, means that 90-92% of the time a superior product trumps a brand personality. So much for all that baloney about consumers’ deep emotional attachment to brands. For more on this, check out this article from Forbes.

There are two different parts to consumer behavior. First, there’s the big part -- the part that’s perfectly obvious (“I bought it because it’s cheaper/tastes better/looks nicer.”) Second, there’s the small part -- the part that’s mysterious (see Brand Babble.) All the sociological claptrap being pedaled these days ignores the big and misunderstands the small. If you’re not in the alcoholic beverage, soft drink, cigaret or fashion business, you’d be way better off to focus on the obvious stuff.

However, the ethos of advertising these days does not recognize this. We want to focus on the mysterious part. The more mystery, the more leverage we have. If we are the ones who can properly interpret the arcane goings-on of the consumer mind, then we have vast power. If we can raise the everyday buying habits of people to the level of “cognitive studies” – whatever the hell that is – we have carved out a nice little business for ourselves.

If you believe that psychiatrists have a hard time understanding the mysteries of human behavior but account planners have it all figured out, well, good luck. I don’t. I think that to a small degree consumer behavior is mysterious, and to a very large degree it’s perfectly obvious. I’m sorry to strip us of our magical power but, there, I’ve said it and I’m not sorry.

By the way, have you ever bought anything from a sociologist?

Neither have I.


Research or Baloney?

For a brief period I was a science teacher. I didn’t actually have a license to teach science but because of a teacher shortage you could say I was drafted.

My three years in the classroom taught me a lot about science and the scientific method. Most of all, it gave me a healthy respect for the difference between a fact and an opinion.

Scientists are constantly struggling to establish factual knowledge of the world. Their efforts are relentlessly reviewed and tested by their peers. In fact, in scientific terms, nothing is ever truly a “fact”. They learn to be satisfied with degrees of certainty.

Does the Earth revolve around the sun? We have an extremely high degree of certainty that it is does. But if someone were to produce an experiment tomorrow that conclusively contradicted this, science would have to alter its beliefs. That’s the difference between science and most other disciplines. Politicians, for example, are loathe to alter their beliefs, regardless of the outcome of their actions. Science is always skeptical and always prepared to re-evaluate.

As an admirer of the scientific process, I have a less than sterling opinion of the research methodologies employed in the advertising industry. As a matter of fact, I believe most of them are based on very suspect suppositions and very flimsy science. Most of the research we conduct and conclusions we draw would be laughed out of any respectable lab in the country.

Worst of all is the current trend toward on-line research. On-line research has some major advantages. It is often less expensive than standard methods and also quicker to yield results. However, as currently practiced, it is fatally flawed.

"We're perpetuating a fraud," is what Simon Chadwick has to say. Mr. Chadwick is former head of NOP Research in the U.K. and is now principal of Cambiar, a Phoenix consultancy. "(On-line) surveys tend to poll the same people over and over.” In fact, a study done by ComScore Networks indicated that one-quarter of one percent of the population provides about one-third of all on-line responses. This means that instead of getting one vote, each of these respondents is getting the equivalent of 128 votes.

We are getting the same people responding over and over again to earn points so they can win a toaster. Or as Mr. Chadwick calls them, "professional respondents who go hunting for...dollars”.

What’s so terrible about professional respondents, you might ask? Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times science writer Natalie Angier says: “Nothing tarnishes the credibility of a sample like the desire to be sampled.... a good pollster will hound and re-hound the very people who least want to cooperate.”

So not only are these people ridiculously over-represented, they are the wrong people.

"It's like the hole in the ozone layer," said Shari Morwood, VP-worldwide market research at IBM in an article in Advertising Age. "Everyone knows it's a growing problem. But they just ignore it and go on to the next project."

Kim Dedeker, VP-consumer and market knowledge at P&G, describes an example in which online and mail surveys came up with diametrical results. "If I only had the online result.... I would have taken a bad decision right to the top management," she said. In another case, two surveys conducted a week apart by the same online researcher yielded completely different recommendations.

Furthermore, most of these on-line researchers don’t validate their samples. They don’t know who is responding. It could be my daughter using my computer saying she’s me. Or saying she’s you for that matter. And if all that weren’t enough, many of them don’t limit responses. I can log in as five different people and respond five different times. Or fifty. Or a hundred and twenty-eight.

Another lovely bit of hokum they perpetrate is the “degree of confidence”. They tell us that their results are accurate with a “95% degree of confidence.” However, they never quite tell us what it is that they’re confident about. Is it that, in general, a study with this many legitimate respondents will be statistically valid 95% of the time? Or is it that their interpretation of subjective data will be 95% accurate (by the way, no one’s interpretation of subjective data is 95% accurate) Or is it something else?

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for a minute and say that their sample is legitimate (which is highly unlikely) and that they are brilliant people who can interpret data almost flawlessly. Let’s take a look at what “95% degree of confidence” means under the best of circumstances. Once again we’ll turn to Ms. Angier from her book The Canon.

Here’s an example she gives. You go for an HIV test. You test positive. The test is said to be 95% accurate. This means you have a 95% chance of having the HIV virus, right? Not even close.

What it means is that 95% of the time people who have the HIV virus will test positive. But it also means that 5% of the time people who do not have the HIV virus will test positive.

Now let’s say you live in a town with 100,000 people. Fortunately, the HIV virus is very rare and only appears in 1 person out of 350. So in your town of 100,000 people, this means that there will be about 285 people with the HIV virus (100,000 divided by 350).

But if we tested all the people in your town, we would get about 5,000 positives (remember, 5% of the time people who do not have the virus will test positive) and almost all of these 5,000 “positives” would be false.

In fact when you do the math, after testing positive not only is there not a 95% chance you have the virus, there is about a 5% chance you have it. And an almost 95% chance you don’t have the virus.* So much for a “95% level of confidence.”

We advertising and marketing people are drowning in opinions and starving for facts. But we have to be very careful about distinguishing between the two. In the advertising world, research is no different from creative work. Some of it is very good, some of it is worthless and dangerous.

* To figure out the accuracy of the result, you divide the total number of true positives you’d expect from your sample (95% of 285, or 271) by the total number of true and false positives (5,257) and you wind up with a probability of having the HIV virus is actually about 5.2%, not 95%. If you can’t follow the math, and you don’t trust me, don’t worry. You can trust Ms. Angier, she has a Pulitzer Prize. All I have is a stupid website.


Emotional attachments

One of the most wasteful uses of advertising dollars is to try to create emotional attachments to your brand. First of all, most ads that try to use emotion are transparently pandering, usually generic, and rarely hit the mark.

Second, contrary to all the bull you hear, most consumers have little or no emotional attachment to most of the brands they use (see "Salesmen & Sociologists.") When they do have an emotional attachment, it usually comes from experience with a product, not advertising.

There is even research that indicates that spots that just stick to the facts create as much emotional reaction as those that self-consciously shoot for an emotional response.


The Entertainment Age

Several years ago, observers more optimistic than TAC hailed the ascendancy of the internet as the dawn of “The Information Age”. It’s a lovely idea. Unfortunately it’s a fantasy.

The internet certainly has wonderful applications for people interested in gathering information. And there are a lot of people who use the internet in that way. But, by far, the internet is quickly evolving into an entertainment medium.

YouTube, iTunes, gaming, gambling, pornography, Facebook, and the myriad copycats of these websites are overwhelming the "information" aspect of the web. It is becoming a medium of entertainment, gossip, and chatter.

Even in its infancy, the web was more a "communications" medium than an "information" medium, with email quickly becoming the primary application.

While it will probably always retain some aspect of all three uses -- information, communication and entertainment -- one look at Google's most searched list is all it takes to realize that we are in The Entertainment Age and that the internet has become its great enabler.


Business Week Needs Our Help

Business Week is having a hard time figuring out the TiVo data we've been talking about all week (see Which Ads Don't Get Skipped). Apparently, they need to subscribe to The Ad Contrarian blog (see Myths Exploding, Mysteries Unraveling.)


The Legend of Interactivity

Someday I'm going to write an advertising book called "Legends and Rituals". It will be about how advertising and marketing people are blind to the evidence of their own eyes but keep saying and doing the same fictitious things over and over.

One chapter will be about interactivity. Pick up any article, book or blog about marketing and you'll read that there's a new species of human being around these days who are compelled to interact with us. They don't want to be marketed to, they want a conversation with us.

I don't think so.

As far as I can tell, people are just as lazy as ever. If you do a survey they'll tell you that they want to interact, but if you watch their behavior you'll soon see the difference between what they say and what they do.

This was reinforced to me when I started writing this blog. I quickly noticed that every 10 zillion visits generated one comment -- maybe. At first I assumed I was so brilliant that no one could contradict the logic of my thinking. I was soon disabused of this notion. After visiting other blogs and talking with other bloggers, I realized that there is an amazingly small amount of interactivity among bloggers and bloggees. Sure, bloggees will visit the blog, but they won't interact. Check the comments totals on most blogs. They are tiny. Seth Godin has the most frequently visited marketing blog. I assume he gets hundreds of hits a day. He's got every gimmick known to man to get people to interact with his blog. And yet, a tiny number of trackbacks, links, comments, etc. Check it out.

What's going on here? Simple. Marketers have confused impatience with interactivity. Simply because people are constantly clicking their remotes and mice, doesn't mean they're interacting with the medium. It means they're bored and anxious.

Changing the channel or surfing the web is the opposite of interaction. It's a search for unidirectional entertainment.


Blind to the facts

Advertising and marketing people want to believe that everyone is young, urban, and hip -- just like them. That's why so much advertising is misguided and irrelevant to the people who actually buy things.

The idea that every product must be marketed to a young audience is so baked into the DNA of the marketing community that they can't see beyond this counterproductive, crippling prejudice. Two recent experiences brought this point home to me.

I recently went to a conference at which a company explained its "youth" strategy. Because this company sells expensive products, their young buyers are defined as 18-34 year olds.

They showed us video made by people they are targeting. The videos were about the new and different ways these 20-somethings use media (by the way, anecdotal video like this has zero value as research, but that's another story.) Then they made the point that they will be using non-traditional media and creative strategies to reach these people. Only one problem. The average buyer of this product is 53 years old. They skipped over this fact so fast you'd think it was radioactive. In spite of the fact that their average customer is over 50, they have convinced themselves that this is a "youth" product. Not one person raised his hand and said "wait a minute."

Second, I was privy to some research done for a financial institution. The key fact to know is that 77% of financial assets in the US are controlled by people over 50. In the many focus groups that were conducted to study the behaviors and beliefs of customers in this category, there was not a single person over 50.

For more about this, see Aiming Low.


Myths Exploding, Mysteries Unraveling

For the first time ever, the advertising industry is getting data about things that up until now were the province of speculation and ideology.

We’re starting to get a glimpse of how consumers actually behave when confronted with advertising. Not how they say they behave; not how we think they behave; not how they behave under controlled conditions, but what they actually do at home in front of the tv when they see an ad. The picture we are getting is challenging some of Madison Avenue’s most cherished and widely held beliefs.

The unlikely source of this data is TiVo, the device that was supposed to kill the advertising industry. It may kill it yet, but for a whole different reason.

It may turn out that TiVo demonstrates what some of us have secretly feared for years -- that the advertising industry has been squandering its clients’ money with self-serving and self-indulgent practices that do more to promote ad agency objectives than client products.

For well over a decade, the process of creating advertising has been becoming more and more arcane. Ad agencies have re-invented themselves, not as grey-flannel hucksters, but as interpreters of culture; as commercial anthropologists and ethnographers. One of America’s hottest agencies has someone called “Group Director, Culture and Cognitive Studies”.

This move away from salesmanship and toward psycho-sociology has been both attractive and repellent to our clients. On one hand marketers have become the biggest cheerleaders and chief advocates for account planning, communications planning, and other types of “soft” marketing science that supposedly interpret consumer beliefs and behaviors. On the other, they continually harp at us that ads aren’t as effective as they once were. It seems that they haven’t yet connected the dots. But TiVo may change all that.

When you are in playback mode, the TiVo box in your home knows what you are watching at all times. It can tell what you skip past and what you stay for. And here’s what it seems to be telling us: When it comes to advertising, you are skipping the good stuff and staying for the junk. (see Amazing Data from TiVo, and this from Business Week.)

In the advertising world, the good stuff is considered to be the stuff that wins the awards, gets featured in trade publications, wins new business for ad agencies, and big jobs for its creators. The junk is the stuff with 800 numbers, big prices, and not a hint of Cultural and Cognitive Studies.

The first reports we are getting from TiVo say that the commercials that people are staying for most and skipping least tend to be direct response and retail commercials.

The junk.

This challenges one of advertising’s sacred cows. Agencies are always telling their clients that in order to attract viewers, advertising needs to reward them. This is the argument for advertising as entertainment (see Wait A Minute). The argument goes like this: people have too many entertainment options. If we are going to engage them in our ads, we have to be as entertaining as the programming. The hidden agenda here is that everyone in advertising would really rather be in the entertainment business (full disclosure -- so would I) and is always looking for a reason to re-define advertising as entertainment. TiVo is teaching us that either this argument is wrong or Bowflex commercials are way more entertaining than anyone imagined.

This finding has serious strategic implications for advertisers. The key difference between most direct response and retail advertising, and most brand advertising, is that the DR and retail industries use advertising to affect change in behavior. They want you to pick up the phone, or go to the store, and they focus their ads on giving you specific, clear reasons to do so.

The brand advertising model, however, has a different objective. It tries to change your attitudes. It wants to affect your beliefs.

Many in the ad community will wring their hands and pull their hair out trying to understand the TiVo results. How can that crap with the 800 number be more effective than our brilliant, award-winning, focus-group-approved brand campaign?

To some of us, however it is not surprising at all.

In my book, The Ad Contrarian, I explain that one of the three key principles of advertising is that advertising is most effective when it is focused on changing behavior, not attitudes. Attitudes are almost impossible to change – ask any neuroscientist or psychologist.

Retailers and DR practitioners aim to change behavior, brand advertisers aim to change attitudes. Retail and DR wins. End of story.

Does this mean that brand advertisers should have 800 numbers and flying prices in their ads? No. But it does mean their advertising should focus on product-related messages. That's how you build a brand.

Apparently, all the ethnographic and anthropologic chattering may not be doing a thing to make advertising more effective (see Salesmen and Sociologists).

Now that reliable data is becoming available you’d think that ad agencies would start to reconsider their prejudices. They won’t. Their beliefs are too baked into their DNA for them to even consider that they may be operating under false premises. Agencies will continue to ignore any data that suggests that consumers have quite enough entertainment, thank you, and respond best to ads that tell them something interesting about products.


The Sky Is Not Falling

The popular press and the ad trades would have you believe that tv viewing is in steep decline, and that this steep decline is exacerbated by heavy DVR usage (TiVo, etc.) disrupting the traditional effectiveness of tv advertising.

The facts tell a different story.

If you read Nailed you saw how TAC used Nielsen data from November, 2006 to report that about 1.6% of total tv commercials are skipped because of TiVo-ing. Now there is new data from Leichtman Research Group confirming these numbers.

Leichtman reports in its research that about 20% of households have DVR’s and that they time-shift about 16% of the time. This means that 3.2% of total viewing is time-shifted (16 percent of 20 percent.) Several sources, including The New York Times, tell us that when time-shifting, viewers skip commercials about 50-60% of the time.

This means that about 1.6 to 1.9 percent of commercials are being missed because of time-shifting -- right in line with the numbers TAC developed from Nielsen’s figures.

Marketers also keep misinterpreting what is happening with viewing patterns. Because individual shows are getting lower ratings, they think that tv viewing is down. In fact, household tv viewing has increased 7% in the past 5 years. What’s happening is that there is a growing pie and the networks are getting smaller slices.

When it comes to viewing tv commercials, in the past 5 years the positive effect of more tv viewing is 3 to 4 times the negative effect of TiVo-ing.