January 31, 2008

Super Bowl Vigilantes

Super Bowl Sunday is a great day for sports, a huge day for advertising, and a lousy day for the First Amendment.

It's the one day of the year that every interest group and every advocacy group has its thought police on duty (see this from USA Today) looking for any ad that might be "offensive" to them. It's the day that advertisers and agencies fold like single-ply toilet paper when some spokesman for some cause issues a press release about their "offensive" spot.

Am I in favor of offending people? No.

But I am in favor of free speech. And the whole idea of the First Amendment is to protect your right and mine to offend whomever the hell we want whenever the hell we want to.

It's a right that is quickly disappearing.

January 30, 2008

Philosophy or Donuts?

Several years ago, a very sincere guy who ran a chain of donut shops came to see me. He wanted to do an advertising campaign.

"We're different," he explained. "We're a commune. Everyone who works here owns an equal part. We work cooperatively. It's a model for how businesses should be run. It's a vision of the future. I think people will really respond to this if we do an advertising campaign about it."

"How are your donuts?" I asked.


"Then forget the philosophy. Nobody needs more philosophy. They need good donuts."

I still think it's good advice.


January 29, 2008

Branding's Final Absurdity

There's very little fun left in the ad business, but one of the big chuckles we still get (secretly) is watching our clients go through idiotic "branding" exercises.

These con games last for months, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and generally have less impact on business than cleaning the drapes. Nonetheless, there are very clever companies out there making zillions of dollars convincing businesses that all they need to do is "fix their brand" and all will be well.

I can only compare the pain of participating in one of these exercises to putting on ski boots and watching Cats.

Now branding has reached the height of absurdity. Great Britain has embarked on a re-branding program. This is not a joke. Part of the process, introduced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government, is to find out "what does it mean to be British?" Well, Gordo, it used to mean you had an empire to run. Now it apparently means you have nothing better to do than sit on your fat ass and engage in the same type of moronic navel-gazing usually reserved for overfed CMO's.

To poke fun at this idea, the cynics at The Times of London sponsored a slogan writing contest for their readers for a new British "brand." My favorite entry: "At Least We're Not French."

A representative of the British government said that after writing a "statement of values", the government would... hold “an extensive and intensive” period of consultation with regular citizens on what being British means to them. Then it will convene a “citizens’ summit” of 500 to 1,000 people who will "deliberate on the matter."

Get out the ski boots.

January 25, 2008

Guest Blogger: Obey Your CPM

A cranky post from guest blogger Roger Lewis.

Here is an excerpt from AdAge's article on agencies of the year with an A grade or better.

"AKQA's work for Coca-Cola's Sprite grabbed attention with a campaign that invited consumers to participate in the marketing process through a national contest to create a theme song for TV spots featuring basketball star LeBron James. According to AKQA, the site received more than 250,000 visits with an average interaction time of 7 minutes, 24 seconds."

I don't know how much this cost to execute but lets say it was $ 250,000 (and I will bet I am way low). That would give a cost per thousand of $1,000. At $ 1,000,000 it is a cpm of $ 4,000.

I would also posit that they don't know if it was 250,000 unique visitors or one person 250,000 times. And I would also wonder if they knew how many of them were Sprite users before the promotion and how many bought Sprite after they played on the web site.

I do know that management is happy because they could measure it, but was it worth the cost? Did it create new users? Did it change behavior? Did sales go up? ( probably not possible to measure because 250,000 people would not have an impact on sales.)I am sure they can't answer the last few questions.

Its cold here in Florida, tomorrow is supposed to be warmer and I won't have time on my hands to read articles that upset me.


January 24, 2008

Hate To Say I Told You So, But...

New research from Media Life magazine confirms what TAC has been saying for quite some time about ad skipping. TAC has estimated that about 1.6 to 1.9% of spots are missed because of TiVo-ing and the like.

Here's what Media Life (Jan 11, 2008) says:

"Nearly all ads are viewed in DVR homes.

"For the longest time the great fear among the broadcast networks and advertisers was that ad-skipping devices like TiVo would make the 30-second spot all but obsolete.

"Those fears are turning out to be unfounded as more data comes in on how viewers use those devices.

"As it turns out, almost all ads are still seen by TV viewers, either live or when shows are seen in playback. Ad-skipping is minimal...

"When ads seen during DVR playback over three days from the original airing are added in, the share of ads seen by viewers rises to 97 percent, according to a new report from media buying giant Magna Global."

And when you add viewing that occurs after 3 days, you probably get something around 1.9% skipped. Now, would everyone please calm down.


January 23, 2008


On October 15th, 2007 TAC predicted there would be a firestorm over the influence of internet pornography on children in the upcoming year.

Now, Australian Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy has announced that all ISPs that feed houses and schools will be required to provide a filtering system to protect children from explicit pornography and violence. Of course, Australian civil libertarians are predicting the end of the world.

This is an issue that would have traction with parents and I'm amazed that with all the self-righteous god-bothering in the presidential primary campaigns there hasn't been a candidate who has seized on it.


January 22, 2008

Smelly Volvo Families, Part 2

On September 17, 2007, in Smelly Volvo Families, TAC predicted,
"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."

On December 24th, Autoblog reported
"Things at Volvo haven't been going well... Anne Belec, CEO of Volvo's North American sales operations, expects another serious decline...The first move will be to pair down Volvo's Stateside dealer network in an effort to match demand with the sales infrastructure.

"...the one thing that seems to be plaguing Volvo is a lack of brand identity. The Automotive News interview with Belec categorizes Volvo as a "luxury brand," something that Ford has been trying to hype in recent years. "Luxury" is a far cry from Volvo's original identity of manufacturing the world's safest vehicles, and with far more competitive offerings coming from Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, it's no wonder the Volvo is floundering considering its lack of focus on what it does best."
On January 9th, 2008, Autoblog reported
"Volvo has been trying its darnedest to reinvent itself, but the Swedish automaker is finding it can't escape its own image."


January 20, 2008

Calling All Geeks

Can any of my brilliant readers who use "Blogger" explain why there is a question mark next to 2007 in the column on the left, and why we can't see post names listed by month when we click on 2007? Your help will be appreciated and you will receive a TAC merit badge.

January 17, 2008

More Research Crap

According to Online Media Daily consumers are 47% more engaged in ads that run in television programs viewed on line than those watched on a TV set. The research was conducted by Simmons, a unit of Experian Research Services.


If any other industry was as irresponsible with its claims as the research industry, they'd be thrown in jail.

Here's the part I love: "The study defines "engagement" according to six characteristics that respondents identify with media: "inspirational," "trustworthy," "life-enhancing," "social interaction," "personal time-out" and "ad receptivity."

Huh? "Trustworthy" may be a characteristic of media, but "ad receptivity" is a characteristic of a person. And what in the world is "personal time out" a characteristic of? These people are not just irresponsible, they're stupid and would be laughed out of any legitimate scientific laboratory.

Anyway, according to these bozos, all you Super Bowl advertisers better find something a little more "engaging" (the Super Bowl is not "life-enhancing" and "inspirational," you know).

Do these idiots have any idea how advertising works?


January 16, 2008

Sky Still Not Falling

From The Hollywood Reporter, Dec. 27, 2007: "A study by Palisades Media Group (owned by Nielsen) suggests that despite the growth of digital video recording devices, DVRs are not drastically affecting the viewing of commercials, even time-sensitive or seasonal messages."

Now there's some big news. We've only been reporting this for months. See "Nailed", "The Sky Is Not Falling" and "Sky Not Falling, Update."

The Hollywood Reporter is apparently too dumb to do the math, but in the above-mentioned posts TAC gives you the best calculations on how many commercials are actually being skipped, based on the latest data I can find.

That's why, for the finest in cranky opinions, discerning readers keep their computers tuned to The Ad Contrarian.


January 15, 2008

Research Knuckleheads

Pollsters were wrong -- some by more than 10% -- in their predictions of the outcome of the Democratic primary in New Hampshire.

You'd think that with all the money these guys make, and the inflated sense of importance they have, at least they could count correctly. Answering the question "how many?" is so much easier than answering the question "why?"

And yet gullible marketers still rely on these "researchers/social scientists" to tell them how to run their businesses. (See Research or Baloney?) These people are unreliable and anyone who listens to them is nuts.


January 14, 2008

Ads About Ads

One of the dumbest trends of the past year has been ads for ads. You run a "blind" ad (it gives no information about your product or brand) in the hope it will lead people to a website where you will deliver the message.

In other words, you use your ad budget hoping someone will get the message somewhere else. Here's why it's such a stupid idea:

1. First of all, while you have their attention why not deliver the message? Why ask them to take a second step?

2. How many of the people that you reach with your ad are going to go to the website? If you're lucky, 1%. So you're wasting 99% of your money by not delivering a message while you can.

3. Finally, most ads are more powerful than websites. Websites are typically lame, boring, and confusing. By sending them to a website, you're trading down.

Using a blind tv campaign to direct people to your website is like trading dollars for pennies.


January 11, 2008

Who's In Charge of the Bagel?

In a recent post (Web Films vs Bagels) I whined that an expensive internet program Ritz-Carlton was embarking on was less likely to be effective in building their brand than serving me a fresh bagel.
Guest blogger Roger Lewis has some thoughts.

The issue for Ritz is who is authorized to make a decision about product and service that affects brand image. Specifically, who could have made the decision that Bob H. does not get a stale bagel? Is it the waiter, the chef, the food service manager? Is there a process to make sure they don't serve stale bagels? ( I doubt it.) These issues are important for all organizations but top management probably does not think about brand execution at all levels of the company. They should.

Top management needs to spend more time involved in issues pertaining to marketing. Sitting back and demanding proof of its effectiveness is not enough.

Guest blogs are always welcome.


January 10, 2008

Murder Most Productive

In Death by Branding TAC asserted that Southwest Airlines was on the way to ruining their brand with "branding."

What makes their campaign so awful is that they're trying to convince business travelers that flying Southwest will make us more productive. Right. That's the big airline issue for me. Not price. Not schedule. Not comfort. Not reliability.
"Bob, what airline you wanna take?"
"I don't know. Which one makes me more productive?"
It's such a moronic strategy, it can only have come from an account planner.

As a service to the marketing department at SWA, thought I'd give them one traveler's list of the top 10 things I consider when choosing an airline:

1. Hope I don't die.
2. Hope I get an upgrade.
3. Hope the toilet ain't too stinky.
4. Hope I don't sit next to a talker.
5. Hope it leaves on time.
6. Hope I don't sit next to a laptop maniac.
7. Hope I don't sit next to a smelly fatty.
8. Hope I don't sit next to a smelly fatty laptop maniac talker.
9. Hope I don't die.
10. Hope I don't die.


January 09, 2008

A Good Laugh

One of the so-called advantages of the web is that you can be more precise in your message. You can move at "internet" speed.

So it gave me a good laugh to find this on my Yahoo home page this morning.


TAC Maintains Perfect Record

Nothing The Ad Contrarian has ever written or said about politics has been correct. He kept his perfect record intact with the prediction of an Obama win in New Hampshire.

When it comes to politics or driving directions, listen to what TAC says and do the opposite.


January 08, 2008

Death By Branding

Southwest Airlines better be careful. They have been a great example of how the best way to build a brand is with product advertising. They are now on the road to proving how the best way to kill a brand is with "branding."

Here we have an airline that offers the worst flying experience in the nation. But they haven't wasted their money trying to make us love them. Instead, they have wisely spent their money getting us to fly them.

They have given us specific, concrete reasons to fly with them: lower fares, more flights, more convenient destinations. As a result, they have actually built a meaningful brand—a brand that stands for something concrete and discernible—while United and American, et al, with all their "brand" advertising, stand for nothing.

But lately Southwest's advertising has the smell of "branding" all over it. They are trying to change our attitudes about them. Good luck. Here's a tip for the head marketing honcho: No one gives a shit which airline they fly. They fly the one with the best price at the best time. End of story.


January 06, 2008

Words And Pictures

Here's how to tell that the media have fallen in love with Barack Obama. It's in the photos.

In the past few days, worshipful pictures of Obama have appeared on the front page of The New York Times and Newsweek. Yesterday a huge, beautiful Norman Rockwell-like picture appeared on the front page of the Times. It was Obama reaching out for the hands of beatific supporters. An American flag is draped in the background. The story was headlined, "Daring To Believe, Blacks Savor Obama Victory." The photo had nothing to do with the story. In fact, there wasn't a black face in the crowd.

Newsweek also has an emotional picture of Obama on its cover.

Meanwhile, photos of Hillary have already started to turn frumpy and grumpy. If she loses in New Hampshire, watch the photos get really ugly.

For the past few years the media have been bombarded with criticism of playing favorites. They have become more circumspect in their cheer leading and rarely do it with words anymore. But it's always been the photo editors who've sent us the signals on who we are supposed to like. They're just as good at it now as ever.


January 05, 2008

Change vs Experience

The pundits are reading the polls from Iowa and telling us that Obama beat Clinton because people were more interested in change than experience. Now Hillary is altering her strategy to represent herself as an agent of change.

TAC predicts this strategy will fail in New Hampshire. Like so many marketers -- and candidates -- TAC thinks they are confusing cause and effect.

People didn't prefer Obama because they said they favored change. They said they favored change because they preferred Obama.


January 04, 2008

Conundrum For Some

Last year, in The Ad Contrarian book we wrote... "with increased fragmentation, any medium that can deliver a large audience—even if it is not as large as it once was—should be more valuable than ever."

The New York Post reported a few days ago that even though audiences for individual shows have declined, tv costs have increased significantly.

"...In the fourth quarter, advertisers on average paid 18 percent more for primetime ... spots purchased on the open market, compared with the year-earlier period..."

"...At the same time, the average rating sold in the fourth quarter... was down 14 percent from a year ago..."

"...It's a conundrum for advertisers: even as ratings fall, ad prices on network TV are soaring..."

It's not a conundrum. It's perfectly logical. Fragmentation makes it harder to find large groups of people. Any medium that can deliver large groups is going to be valuable. When there's another medium that can reach large numbers of people as effectively as tv, tv costs will go down. And not until.

While the advertising trade press may have gone all wobbly over the

internet, intelligent advertisers have not.

The laws of economics have not been repealed.


January 03, 2008

Customer Service? Don't Mention It

When have you ever seen a Nordstrom ad that mentioned customer service? How about Tiffany? The answer is never.

You never hear great service companies flogging their service in advertising. It's only the terrible service companies -- the electronics stores, the banks, the software makers -- who talk about their wonderful customer service.

Companies whose advertising strategy centers on "great customer service" are wasting their money. Consumers already know who has good service and who doesn't. Their experience is far more powerful than any ad.

Exceptional customer service is a great business strategy -- and a terrible ad strategy. If you have to talk about it, we assume you can't deliver it.


January 02, 2008

End of the World, Revisited

On August 1 of last year we wrote a post called "The End of the World." The subject was media hysteria, particularly as it relates to the advertising business, but also as it relates to the reporting of other trends, such as disease and climate

For a nice follow-up, I recommend reading "In 2008, a 100 Percent Chance of Alarm" from The New York Times yesterday.

Oh, and Happy New Year