May 30, 2008

Sure To Fail

According to The New York Times, diving into the pool of idiotic online ideas this week is Coors Light. They are launching a "Code Blue" social media application on Facebook.
“We talk a lot internally about ‘360-ing’ our innovations,” said Andy England, chief marketing officer at Coors Brewing...
Wow. 360-ing the innovations.

And what exactly is this innovation? It's the label that turns blue when it's cold because you really have to be a fucking genius to figure out when a bottle of beer is cold. Who said America lacks innovative ideas?
“Imagine being able to ‘Code blue’ someone on your iPhone,” he (Tim Sproul, group creative director... of Avenue A/Razorfish) added, “and say, ‘I just got laid off; you better go buy me a Coors Light at the local bar.’ ”
Wow. On my iPhone! How fucking cool would that be!

Excuse me while I 180 this innovation.

The First Annual TAC Pledge Drive

Here at TAC, we work hours and hours every day (okay, minutes and minutes on weekdays) to provide you with the kind of crabby, peevish, crusty, grumpy, and grouchy opinions you need to get your advertising day off on the wrong foot. And, in advertising, if it wasn't for the wrong foot, we wouldn't have any foot at all.

Here's what we need you to do. See that silly orange thing on the right near the top of the page? Go click on it. Then try to figure out the instructions. This will allow you to subscribe to TAC at no cost!

Do it now. I'm waiting.

a morning without The Ad Contrarian is like a day without acid reflux disease.

May 29, 2008

Don't Miss This

The Ad Contrarian was a guest blogger on Copyblogger yesterday. Be sure to check it out.

Everything You Need To Know About Branding On One Little Page

I’ve been accused of being brand illiterate, brand insensitive, brand averse, and otherwise ignorant of the power and meaning of brands.

I plead kinda not guilty.

My beef with the brand babblers is not about the importance of brands, but about how you build them.

To get some ammunition for my argument, I decided to do some research. I went to Amazon and I typed in the word branding. Up popped 29,777 results (think I'm kidding? Try it). Having only one life to live, I decided that it might be better not to be too ambitious in my research. So I clicked on the first book that looked terribly official and likely to produce just the kind of pompous baloney I love to make fun of. It was called Kellogg on Branding: The Marketing Faculty of the Kellogg School of Business.

I hit pay dirt. Right there in front of me I found this gem from the book:
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.

All this branding trouble started when the word brand became a verb. With the exception of Roy Rogers and John Wayne, everyone used it as a noun: “What brand did you buy?” “What’s the best brand of toilet tissue?” “I think we have a nice brand.”

Then it became a verb and all hell broke loose. “How are we going to brand this?” “This idea needs to be branded.” “Good job on the branding!” (Okay, technically 'branding' is a gerund, but a gerund is just a rotten trick to turn a verb into a noun.)

As soon as 'brand' became a verb, branding became an activity. And as soon as it became an activity it turned into an industry with lots of incompetent practitioners, half a million illiterate blogs, and 29,777 how-to books.

Well, TAC is here to save you a little reading and a lot of money. The idea that a strong brand can be created through branding is wrong.

Some things can only be achieved indirectly. You can’t be happy by trying to be happy. If you want to be happy you have to go fishing, or eat a pizza, or clean out your closet. And when someone tells me she’s “working on” her marriage, I’m pretty certain within a few weeks her house will be crawling with attorneys and real estate agents. You want to have a good marriage? Stop trying so hard. Go to Hawaii. Play Scrabble. Or even better, leave each other alone.

Sometimes, the more actively and directly you address a problem, the worse it gets. It’s the same in marketing. You want to have a strong brand? Quit branding. A strong brand is a by-product. It comes from doing a lot of other things right. For example:

1. Make sure you’re selling excellent products.
2. Make sure you’re taking good care of your customers.
3. Make sure your ads demonstrate how your product is different from, and better than, your competitors.

That’s what builds brands, and that’s all you need to know. The rest is chitchat.

The thousands of companies in America who think they’re going to be successful if they just get their 'brand' right are nuts. You’ve got to get a whole lot of other things right first. If you do, the brand will take care of itself. If you don’t, all the "branding" in the world won’t help.

May 28, 2008

Our Thought For Today

I used to work with a guy who said, "In advertising, nothing very good or very bad lasts very long."

I guess he never met George Zimmer.

You Can't Stop The Graph

"Ad Contrarian," people often say to me, "how come you're always so nonchalant while the rest of us are so aggravated?"

I say, "Sit down my friend and let's talk." Then I light my pipe, kick off my slippers, and sit back in my rocker.

"We humans have been around this sorry planet for about 200,000 years. The planet has been around for 4.5 billion years. So what portion of the Earth's life have we been part of? The answer is .00004. This is not a large number ."

Then I take out the graph you see above. "You see this graph above?" I say. "This shows human population over the past 12,000 years. For most of that time, we were just a minor annoyance. But a couple of hundred years ago we started multiplying like, um, humans. And we became an epidemic.

"There is no way in hell or -- more to the point -- on Earth, that this growth is sustainable. None.

"Just for a moment, I want you to forget all the nonsense that politicians and poets and holy men and newspapers fill you full of, and take another look at the graph. No graph of anything ever in history was able to continue up a straight line. It just doesn't work that way. And this one won't either. Which means catastrophe is coming. It may be environmental, or cosmic, or nuclear, or medical. I have no idea. It may be quick or it may be long and drawn out. Who knows? It may be tomorrow or a hundred years from tomorrow. Can't tell. But the graph says it's coming, and I never argue with graphs.

"So, why am I nonchalant? Sure I want the A's to win the American League West, but I'm not going to get too aggravated if they don't. Yes, I wouldn't mind getting the Nobel Prize, or the Coke account, but I'm not going to get all pissy if they don't come through. And if my candidate doesn't win the presidency... well, do you really think he can stop the graph?

"Oh, and would you mind passing that bottle?"

May 27, 2008

Rock 'n Roll Officially Dead

Over the years, the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame has made some inexplicable decisions -- Blondie (yuk), The Mamas and the Papas (triple gooey yuk), Leonard Cohen (rock 'n roll?), Miles Davis (huh?) But this year, they went too far. Apparently, for the first time, they let deaf people vote.

Electing The Dave Clark Five to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame is like electing Neifi Perez to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's like electing Dick Cheney to the Hunting Hall of Fame. It's like electing me to the Blogging Hall of Fame. (You know, some day there's going to be a Blogging Hall of Fame. I better start writing better.)

As a protest, I am officially hanging up my rock 'n roll shoes. I'm going over to easy listening or smooth jazz or something else really annoying. Nice knowin' ya.

I'm in pieces. Bits and pieces.

Rock 'n roll was a funny thing. Part of its charm was its shlockiness and the feeling that pretty much anyone could do it. Anyone, that is, except The Dave Clark Five!

What Does This Have To Do With Advertising...
you ask. I'm not sure, but there's definitely a creative connection between advertising and rock 'n roll. Maybe practitioners of both are just good enough to be entertaining but not good enough to be taken seriously. Waddaya think?

May 24, 2008

May 23, 2008

All The Lonely People

Is there anything more pathetic than "social media?"

Way back in the old days, there were chat rooms. You went on line and talked with people you didn't know. It was like dialing random phone numbers and chatting with strangers.

Now that people are bored with Facebook and MySpace, Twitter is all the rage. Following the pathetic lives of dorks, 140 characters at a time.

TAC predicts that social media will continue to be ridiculous and unstable. It's going to be very tough for anyone to figure out how to make any money with them. They'll arrive with a bang and, like chat rooms, they'll just evaporate.

Sell 'em short.

May 22, 2008

Million-Dollar Ideas -- Free Today Only!

As an ongoing service to our loyal readers, TAC has a few ideas that can make you lots of money. They won't make me a dime because I'm too damn lazy. Go ahead and use 'em. Just send me a check sometime.

  • Supermarkets: Hey supermarket manager, you've got it all wrong. Why make things easy for your unprofitable customers and annoy the shit out of your profitable ones? Why have express lanes for people buying a bottle of Mountain Dew and a TV Guide? Why not express lanes for the people who actually make you some money? The ones with 25 items or MORE!
  • Clothing: Clothing manufacturers and retailers, here's something you should know. By 2010 (that's 18 months from now) half the population of the US will be over 45. And you know what happens to people when they approach 50? They get fat. The average waist size for men in America is 33-36. For people over 50, it's larger. And yet, it is impossible to find a pair of men's pants with a 37 waist. Or 39. Nobody makes 'em. So a large number of men in this country are walking around in pants that don't fit. As if these guys weren't ugly enough. People over 50 control almost 80% of the wealth in this wonderful country of ours. You want them in your store? Is it too much trouble to provide them with a pair of pants that fits?
  • Restaurants: Restaurant owners -- how much does it cost you to serve fresh bread? Right, zilch. And yet at least half the restaurants I go to serve bread that's been lying around all day getting stale or soggy. It's the first thing your customer tastes -- the first impression he/she gets of your food. Is it worth the $10 a day you're saving to serve crappy, half-stale bread? (Hint: No.)

May 21, 2008

A Banner Day (Not)

On September 21, 2007, in a post called The Backlash Will Come we wrote the following:

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... It may not be this week or this month, but it's coming.

Guess what? According to The New York Times on Monday:

...there are signs that the growth in online advertising — particularly...display ads — is slowing down... The prices paid for online ads bought through ad networks dropped 23 percent from March to April, according to PubMatic...Large Web publishers fared the worst in PubMatic’s study, with the prices they received through networks dropping 52 percent.

Remember, my little ones, regardless of what the online zealots tell you, the laws of economics have not been repealed.

May 20, 2008

You Can't Be Everybody's Girlfriend

Running an independent ad agency is hard. That's why there are so few successful ones. The reason it's tough is that the market for independent agencies has diminished radically. Not long ago Y&R had the largest share of the ad market in the US -- 1.5%. Today, five global holding companies control over 75% of the ad market.

Big clients are constitutionally predisposed to big agencies. They believe the nonsense about global agencies providing global solutions. (On the other hand, anyone who's worked in a global agency knows that not only don't global "partners" cooperate with one another, they go out of their way to screw each other. If you haven't yet, you must read e by Matthew Beaumont.)

So what strategies should independent shops pursue? The most effective is to be the best creative shop in town. However, being the most creative shop in your city is tough because there can only be one of them. Also, these days clients are far more likely to go out of market than they used to be. So you have to be the most creative shop in the country. All other differentiators tend to sound like cliches, or are fuzzy and hard to adhere to.

Left with a diminishing market and limited positioning opportunities, most independent shops ignore the advice they give their clients. They don't clearly differentiate themselves.

The hardest thing to do in a new business pitch is to stand up and say, "Here's who we are, here's what we believe. If you agree, great. If not, we're not for you."

With competition as fierce as it is, if you don't stand for something different and original you have no chance. You need to have a POV, and it needs to be different from what all the other agencies are saying. You need to say something outrageous and be willing to stand by it.

If you're not being laughed out of 2 out of 3 pitches you're not doing your job.

As usual, David Ogilvy said it best:
"The essence of strategy is sacrifice."

May 19, 2008

How To Annoy 40,000 People

I am a sports fan and a patriot. I go to lots of games. But if I have to sit through one more excruciating interpretation of The Star Spangled Banner I may never go back.

If you are ever asked to sing the national anthem at a ballgame please follow these guidelines:
  1. Sing the melody. Songs have melodies for a reason. Your improvisations are not improvements. Trust me on this.
  2. Don't gargle. This isn't American Idol.
  3. There's a difference between drunkenness and admiration. You know all those morons who are going "Wooo!" when you hit the high notes? They're drunk.
  4. And, most of all, get on with it. Patriotism is fine, but our hot dogs are getting cold.

May 16, 2008

Talk To A Naked Copywriter, #2

Dear Naked C:

I have been a Big Agency Art Director almost 5 years and I still can't figure out what account people do. Can you help?

Dear BAAD,

Good. Yes, I can help.

The account person has a very important job. It is to keep the client occupied until the creatives can get around to doing the work.

In this day and age, creatives have many more responsibilities than ever before. This includes downloading new music, maintaining their Facebook pages, reading blogs, forwarding hilarious emails, and stalking old boyfriends and girlfriends on line. These activities take time.

In order to allow for this, account people must keep clients busy and maintain the appearance of activity, if not actual progress. The weapons in their arsenal are manifold, and include: meetings, conference calls, offsites, lunches, emails, voice mails, focus groups, ethnography, field visits, store checks, employee interviews, intranets, brief writing, strategy sessions, brain dumps, and brand audits.

These can often take many weeks and allow the creatives plenty of time to make the logo bigger.

Hope this helps,

Yours truly,
A Naked Copywriter

May 15, 2008

Worst Of The Web

My first nominee for worst use of the web, 2008, goes to Ritz-Carlton.

Back in March we wrote a post called "This Film Is Rated T For Torture" about an abominable "web film" done by Ritz-Carlton.

Well, they couldn't leave bad enough alone. They've released another one called "Last Night" and it's every bit as excruciating.

These films, which had to cost hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- to produce, have the rancid smell of a brand babbling cmo all over them; someone who thinks R-C needs to "get beyond" rational benefits and make "emotional connections" with its customers. Is nausea an emotion?
The Ritz-Carlton, in association with American Express®, has produced three films that subtly weave exceptional and unique guest experiences into their story lines, demonstrating how our hotels elevate service to an art form...

No. They demonstrate how your marketing department elevates pissing away money to an art form.

The new one is soft-core porn about a groom-to-be's last night. The dialog is beyond agonizing. The models -- I mean actors, all look like actors -- I mean models. My favorite part is that the best man's name is Roxie. Roxie? Is he a stripper?

I won't ruin the big surprise ending for you, but let's just say it's every bit as cheesy as the rest of this enterprise.

I love Ritz-Carlton but they have completely and totally lost their minds. Their marketing department is driving me to Motel 6.

I'll leave the light on for you.

Memo to Ritz-Carlton management:
You run really good hotels. Would you please stop listening to the marketing morons who are telling you you have to pretend to be something you're not. Be who you are. You'll do just fine.

May 14, 2008

The Unknown Secret To Successful Advertising

I am about to reveal the marketing secret that has made me fabulously famous, ridiculously wealthy, and internationally handsome.

Drum roll, please...

Target the heavy user, stupid.

It is a simple idea that so few clients and agencies understand. The heavy user* in your category usually...
  • ...represents only about 30% of the customers, but
  • ...probably represents about 70% of money spent in the category
  • ...probably represents most if not all the profit in the category
  • no more expensive to reach than a light user
  • ...but can be worth 10 or more light users
  • the key to success
Companies that attract the heavy users in their category are usually the category leaders in sales, profitability or both.

Don't forget:
Key strategies for targeting the heavy user are explained in The Ad Contrarian book.

Revealed tomorrow:
How to target the light user and lose lots of money.

"Unknown secret"
I know it's a redundancy, smartass.

* By "heavy user" we mean the person who spends lots of money in your category. And, by the way, what other blog gives you footnotes? Name one.

May 13, 2008

Online Advertisers: Don't Read This.

In our never-ending battle to poke holes in the holy religion of Online, we try to bring you real, actual facts. You remember them? They're not as easy to come by as glib, fashionable opinions, but they have the novel benefit of being true.

Unfortunately, religions don't place much value on facts. So if you're a committed Online-ist or a Traditional-Advertising-Is-Dead Head, we recommend you click to another page before reading on, as you may find this upsetting.

A recent survey on advertising conducted by Nielsen and reported in Ad Age found that consumers consider tv advertising more persuasive than online advertising by an astounding margin of 14 to 1. Here are some highlights from that survey:
... TV advertising overwhelmingly remains the most influential with 81.4% of the 25-54 adult segment, compared with advertising on internet (6.5%), newspapers (5.8%), radio (3.9%) and magazines (2.3%).

Those surveyed also overwhelmingly reported TV had the most persuasive advertising (69.9%), as opposed to 9.5% for newspapers, 7.5% for radio and 8.1% for magazines.... Remarkably, the current darling of marketer attention, the internet, scored lowest in persuasive advertising, at 5.1%.

Memo to puffed-up web gurus and gullible agency bandwagon-eers:
No one is smarter than the facts.

Not even me:
I'm looking for a good fight, here. Click comments and let's rumble. Or forward this post to your friends in online agencies and let's get it on.

May 12, 2008

Obama's Secret Weapon Revealed

According to some marketing geniuses, granola may be the secret behind Barack Obama's success against Hillary Clinton.

The New York Times reports that political analysts have determined that if you like butter, white wine and Fig Newtons, you were more likely to vote for Hillary. On the other hand, if you preferred olive oil, granola and a latte you probably went for Obama.

How about the general election? Well, it looks like Obama has a tough fight on his hands. According to The Times, people who like bourbon and stuffed crust pizza are likely to vote for McCain.

Anyone who prefers granola and a latte to bourbon and pizza shouldn't be allowed to vote.

But seriously folks...
..what's with stuffed crust pizza? Not enough cheese on the regular stuff? Huh?

May 08, 2008

Keeping America Safe For Advertising

TAC is on emergency field duty in NYC. Until we return on Monday we will, once again, leave you to contemplate The Ad Contrarian mantra:
We don't get them 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.

May 07, 2008

Conversation With A CEO

The following is an imaginary conversation between The Ad Contrarian and a company CEO.

CEO: Okay, why did you drag me down here?

TAC: I want to talk to you about advertising.

CEO: I have a marketing department for that.

TAC: Advertising is too important to be left to the marketing department.

CEO: What's so important about it?

TAC: It's your company's public personality. Nothing's more important.

CEO: What do you want me to do?

TAC: Right now, there are dozens of people in your organization who think they have a right to influence your ads -- product people, operations people, financial people... This is death to creativity. You have no idea how many ads are being twisted, crushed, and mutilated by knuckleheads before they get to you.

CEO: If I get involved, isn’t that going to piss-off my cmo.

TAC: Not if she's smart. The best advertising is often done one-to-one between a creative director and a ceo. Do yourself a favor. Call the head creative at your agency and invite him/her to lunch. Buy him a glass of wine or two and get the truth out of him. You will find that there are way too many people at your company involved in the process and that they are screwing up the creative product.

CEO: Okay, so now I’m the head advertising guy. What do I do?

TAC: Get your people out of the way. Work with the agency directly. Give them a chance to do it their way. If they can't, find an agency that can.

CEO: Anything else I should know?

TAC: That's it.

CEO: Okay. Will you untie me now?

May 06, 2008

I Love To Say "I Told You So"

On August 1, 2007, in response to all the "advertising is dead" idiocy appearing in every newspaper and trade publication, TAC wrote a blog entry called "The End of the World." In it, we said the following:
It will soon become apparent that the advertising industry, far from dying, is in a substantial growth period. It will be re-energized, redefined, and creatively refreshed by the diversity of media. Marketers will need the creativity of the advertising community more than ever."

Well, guess what? Ad Age reported yesterday that US agency revenues grew 8.6% in 2007. The GDP grew 2.2%. So advertising revenues grew at almost 4 times the GDP. I wonder how many mature industries grew 8.6% last year?

2007 was the year our economy went into the crapper. Can you imagine what growth might have been if real estate and banking hadn't tanked and the auto industry was normal?

Morals of the story:
  1. The hysterics are always wrong.
  2. The trade press is a pack of lemmings.
  3. Nobody knows anything.

May 05, 2008

Three Words

In a post yesterday, Seth Godin defined "great marketing" in four words: Make Big Promises, Overdeliver. In the blog he said, "If you can define great marketing in fewer words than that, you win."

I don't know what I win, but I'd like to take a crack at it.

There's a blues song that goes like this:
Feelin’ good
Feelin’ good
All the money in the world spent on
Feelin’ good*

The guy who wrote that lyric understands marketing better than all the Stanford MBA’s I’ve ever worked with put together. That’s what commerce is all about – people spending money to acquire goods or services they think will make them feel good.

And so, in three words, my definition of great marketing (coincidentally from another song lyric) is this: Make Someone Happy.

Note To Seth:
You can donate my prize to your favorite charity.

(J.B. Lenoir/Jim Dickinson)

May 02, 2008

Talk To A Naked Copywriter, #1

This is the first installment of a new feature here at TAC. Each Friday, a comment or question from our readers will be replied to by a naked copywriter.

Dear Naked,

When did so much science come into making a sale? When I was selling door-to-door newspaper subscriptions as a kid I was given a script to follow. When I followed it, I couldn’t sell a thing. When I went by my gut, I killed.

The same applies to an ad don’t you think? A sale comes from a gut feel — it is not found in some documents that prove what the customer wants to hear. And what we are doing is sales. Salesmanship in print, right?

I’m getting really tired of putting a bunch of stuff in ads that “needs to be there” and think it is time we returned to putting the stuff in an ad that should be there. If the ad simply feels right, then send it and make some sales.

Are we sometimes being so factual in our ads these days that we forget to make a connection?An ad can only do one thing well. These days we seem to be trying to tell much more.

Plop-Plop. Fizz-fizz. Oh what a relief it is. That's it.

The new mac laptop. Slim and light... Perfect for those who need slim and light. Not a bunch a BS about power, battery life, monitor, keyboard, compatibility, warranty, shipping, url, 1(800)... etc. If you need to know that stuff —seek it out. But if your wishing for slim and light, here it is. Simple and at the soul.

Apple feels my pain. I need slim and light. Sale made. Forget the rest. What do you think?

Art Director Wearing Tight Trousers

Dear Art Director Wearing Tight Trousers,

There are always a million things to say about every brand and every product. The art of advertising is in finding the one important thing and saying it loudly and clearly. Unfortunately Art Directors Wearing Tight Trousers and Naked Copywriters are being lead today by clients monstrously ill-prepared to make these kinds of determinations and we are, consequently, being asked to stick every piece of irrelevant bullshit into every ad, just so they have their fat behinds covered.

And speaking of butts, I am sitting here bare-assed, freezing my nuts off. Can you make the questions a little shorter?

Naked Copywriter

By the way:
This problem is not new. Forty-five years ago, Hal Riney and Fred Manley created a wonderful spoof called "Nine Ways To Improve An Ad."

Note To Readers:
The guy in the picture above is not really me. But the resemblance is remarkable.

Note To Copywriters:
If you would like to be a guest Naked Copywriter, please send an email to Please do not include a picture. I'm depressed enough.

May 01, 2008

Schmoozefest '08

The advertising industry is having its annual schmoozefest this week at the the AAAA's 2008 Leadership Conference in Laguna Niguel, CA.

Every self-important, overfed agency grandee will be there. There'll be lots of inane speeches about how advertising needs to embrace the future and how digital is changing everything (golly!)

I once went to one of these things and felt like killing myself.

There is an upside though. If you run an independent shop you get a first-hand look at what a pack of zeros these global ad tycoons are.

It gives you new respect for the term "empty suit" and new disdain for the term "publicly traded."