November 30, 2009

The Absurdity Of What We Do

This is a true story about the absurdity of advertising.

I was once creative director of an ad agency that had offices with a lovely view of San Francisco Bay.

One of our accounts was a shipping line. The shipping line was doing something amazing with one of its ships and they wanted us to create an ad about it.

They were going to take an enormous cargo ship and lengthen it. First an army of workmen with blowtorches were going to cut the ship in half. Then they were going to add an entire new section between the two halves. Then they were going to weld the whole thing back together. Then they would repaint and refurbish the ship. And then they would relaunch it. It was a monumental undertaking.

The day the work was scheduled to begin, one of our art directors, Genji Handa, flew down to the shipyard in Long Beach, CA to shoot photographs of the welders beginning the, literally, titanic job of cutting this ship in half.

The photos were taken. Later the retouching was done. Then the copy was written. The layouts were sent to the client. The client ad manager had comments, the comments were addressed, the copy was re-written. Advertising being what it is, others at the client had comments. The ad was re-written and re-laid out, it was sent back to the ad manager. More changes were made and the ad was sent back...

One afternoon, months later, Genji was sitting in his office working on what he hoped was the final iteration of the ad. He looked out his window. There he saw the new ship sailing into San Francisco Bay.

They finished the ship before we finished the ad.

Like the man says, you can't make this shit up.

Last days... nominate or vote for the 2009 Bully Award for Outstanding Achievement in Marketing and Advertising Bullshit. Voting closes tomorrow. Let your scream be heard.

November 24, 2009

10 Great, Smelly Candidates

Thanks to everyone who has nominated something for The Bully Awards. We've received lots of glorious, wonderful examples of marketing bullshit (and, honestly, what more could one ask for during the holiday season?)

I've selected 10 good-looking candidates (along with links, where appropriate.) If you'd like, you can vote for your favorite below. But remember, nominations are open until December 1, so keep these smelly things rolling in.

1. Synergy-Related Headcount-Adjustment

2. "It’s About Understanding Conversations." Ohhhh.

3. Build A Brand in 30 Days

4. When Planners Write Ads

5. Arnell's "Breathtaking" Pepsi Logo Document
6. Windows 7 Launch Party

7. 100 Ways To Measure Social Media

8. Hal Riney Is Spinning

  9. "The Conversation Economy"...

10. “We Started On A Journey...

Have a peaceful, thankful holiday.

How Could They Not Be?

From the post above, item #1 about "Synergy-Related Headcount-Adjustment," we find that the name of the CEO of Nokia Siemens Networks is Simon Beresford-Wylie and the head of human resources is Bosco Novak.

Simon Beresford-Wylie and Bosco Novak.

How could they not be full of shit?

November 23, 2009

The Social Media Cesspool

It was such a lovely dream.

A transparent medium in which marketers and consumers were on an equal footing. Where consumer decisions would be driven not just by the propaganda that marketers paid the media to broadcast, but by the forthright opinions and experiences of other consumers.

And like most Utopians dreams, it is quickly becoming a nightmare.

Social media marketing is an incipient cesspool.

In traditional advertising, at least our motives are clear. We're out to sell you something, and you know it.

Social media marketing is different. To a growing extent, it's sneaky, deceitful and covert.

It seems like every company in America has a team of squids working furiously to pollute and manipulate the social media environment with crypto-marketing. These slimy creatures are busy...
  • leaving fraudulent reviews and comments
  • "monitoring" conversations and trying to insert their hidden agendas in ways we can't detect.
  • spamming us with dishonest Tweets from nonexistent people
Social media is becoming so compromised by manipulation, its marketing value is suspect before it even gains traction.

Last week in 3 Distinctions That Need To Be Drawn we said...
...the more that social media hustlers get their greasy hands all over it, the quicker its already questionable credibility will deteriorate.
Now social media may have hit a new low. On Saturday, The New York Times reported in a story called A Friend's Tweet Could Be An Ad  that ad agencies are now paying people to tweet ads to their friends and followers. The ads, of course, are disguised as tweets.
“We don’t want to create an army of spammers, and we are not trying to turn Facebook and Twitter into one giant spam network,” said (the founder of one of these agencies,) “All we are trying to do is get consumers to become marketers for us.”

A distinction without a difference.

Social media marketing is no longer just a vast repository of demented ideas (see Wendy's Realtime.) It is becoming a cesspool.

Dive in at your own risk.

November 20, 2009

Gag Me With A Chopstick

Celebrity culture makes me sick. Businesses, and particularly restaurants, that try to trade on it make me doubly sick.

My family is headed to New York for Thanksgiving. We wanted to have dinner at Tao one night.

I went to their website to make a reservation. Here's what I learned on their home page:
"Tao New York is frequented by celebrities on a regular basis from Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Robert DiNiro, Beyonce and Jay-Z to Britney Spears, Madonna, Paris Hilton..."
I guess I'm supposed to go all vaporous because I might be in the presence of some overblown nothings who have contributed-- what exactly?-- to society.

Hey, Tao, never mind. If I want to see clowns, I'll go to the fucking circus.

November 19, 2009

What Reaches 92 Million More People In A Week Than Google Reaches In A Month?

Media knuckleheads, hysterics, and hustlers love to produce junk pieces about the "death" of this and the "end" of that.

On several occasions I have written about the fictional death of television.

Now it's time to pay some attention to another supposedly dead medium -- radio.

The first time radio died was 1952 when Billboard magazine declared, "Radio is dead..with The Lone Ranger and Jack Benny gone to TV, bye-bye radio."

The second time it died was in 2005 when Wired magazine proclaimed "The End Of Radio."

Of course, we are quite used to digital maniacs declaring the death of everything they can't click on. But when are we going to make these idiots pay for their mistakes? When are they going to be held accountable for the nonsense they engender?

Let's take a look at how dead radio is.
  • Since 2005, when the arrogant dicks at Wired declared radio dead, it has added 6 million listeners. I wonder how many readers Wired has added since then? 
  • If you think iPods and other MP3 players have replaced radio you're wrong. Radio has more than six times the amount of listeners that iPod and all other MP3 players have combined.*
  • The average iPod user listens to radio more than 90 minutes a day.* 
  • In LA, almost twice as many working adults listen to radio as watch prime time TV.
  • Free local radio is kicking the shit out of satellite radio -- which has only 4% of the total radio listenership.
  • And like my headline says, almost 100 million more people are reached by radio in a week than are reached by Google in a month.
Sound dead to you?

*Source: Nielsen, Council for Research Excellence, Ball State University, November, 2009. 
Special thanks to David Field

Recommended Reading...
Chain Store Advertising by George Tannenbaum over at Ad Aged.

November 18, 2009

Is The Great Twitter Scare Waning?

Can it be that The Great Twitter Scare Of '09 is starting to wane? Comscore reports that Twitter usage in the U.S. dropped about 8% in October. That's a lot to drop in one month.

In fact, Twitter usage has dropped in two of the last three months. The only month of the last three in which it grew was September, in which it grew less than 1%. 

Digital Agency Guy Makes Sense

As you all know, I like to take swings at bullshit. Lately, social media bullshit has been my favorite target.

However, as I often say (but am never remembered for) it is not social media per se that makes me gag (after all, I am a blogger,) it's the nonsense promulgated by social media zealots, hustlers and bullshit artists that gets me going.

This weekend I read an intelligent piece called The Content Delusion by a digital agency guy, Eric Karjaluoto. Not only did he make sense, he did it without using the words "conversation" or "engagement" even once. And that, my friends, is a record.

On The Other Hand

Last week, after I  posted  Distinctions That Need To Be Drawn a few commenters pointed me in the direction of this thing from Razorfish.

I got through two paragraphs of this cliche-fest and had to quit before my brains fell out.

On the other, other hand, nice little illustration on the page by my former colleague David Fullarton.

Friday In Seattle

Last Friday I had the pleasure of speaking to the radio industry group up in Seattle (the PSRBA.)

The topic of my talk was "The Three Most Annoying Trends in Advertising." And, as I said to them, it was hard to pick just three.

I believe they taped the event and I hope to get a look at it soon. If it's not too embarrassing, I'll post it here.

The Geniuses Who Run Our World

The City of Oakland (where I live) has a very high dropout rate among high schoolers (over 30%) which it would like to lower. Like all political entities, the city will do everything possible except address the actual problem -- bad parenting.

Of course, the first thing they did was to have a conference. A conference is a great thing to have because it gives you the feeling that you're doing something while you're actually doing nothing. It's activity without progress.

At the conference, the following suggestion on lowering dropout rates was seriously discussed -- eliminate the grade of "D."

Apparently, in the educational bureaucracy these days, whether kids actually learn something is of secondary importance. 

The Geniuses Who Buy Online Media

Interactive maniacs are always going on and on about how efficient online advertising is because of geo-targeting and behavioral targeting and who-know-what-kind-of-bullshit-targeting.

So yesterday I went to my company's Facebook page. There I found an ad for Nissan.  First of all, no one has been to our Facebook page in about a year, including me. The only reason I got there was because I clicked the wrong link. Second, our biggest client is Toyota, which it says right on our page.

So some knucklehead at Nissan is paying good money to advertise on a site nobody goes to in a social media environment that is completely hostile to his brand.

That's some smart marketing, baby.

Bully Awards Update

So far, we've had great response to the Bully Awards for Achievement in Advertising and Marketing Bullshit. If you'd like to nominate something, just click on this link. As soon as I get some time, I'm going to start posting the nominees and give you a chance to vote. Some should be posted by Monday. Nominees accepted until December 1st.

November 16, 2009

Announcing The 2009 Bully Awards

The Ad Contrarian is proud announce the first annual Bully Awards for Achievement in Advertising and Marketing Bullshit.

In keeping with modern protocols, your job is to be "engaged" and "interact" with these awards by nominating your favorite piece of marketing or advertising bullshit of the past year.

It can be an article from a publication, a website, a PR release, an ad, a video clip -- any piece of communication about advertising or marketing -- just as long as it's bullshit.

A brown ribbon panel of bullshit experts will determine Bully Award winners.

Here's how to nominate something for a Bully:
1. Post a comment on The Ad Contrarian blog with a link to the piece you would like to nominate.


2. Send an email to with a link, scan, or description of your entry.
You may nominate as many stinky droppings as you like.

As entries arrive we will post some of them so you can see what your fellow Ad Contra's think is bullshit.

If you nominate a winner, you will receive the prestigious Ad Contrarian Turd d'Or, and a free drink next time you're in San Francisco.

November 12, 2009

3 Distinctions That Need To Be Drawn

People with little or no analytical abilities (e.g., account planners, CMOs, and, um, bloggers) often have a difficult time with facts. They frequently confuse things that sound the same but aren't.

Here are 3 items that the analytically challenged often are confused about.

1. Popularity As Evidence Of Effectiveness

When you read social media propaganda you often come up against remarkable statistics regarding the popularity of social media. Like there are more Facebook pages than stars in the Milky Way or more Twitterers than rats in the NYC subway system. Stuff like that.

This is given as evidence that using social media is ipso facto a good marketing idea. Of course, it proves no such thing.

One of the most popular communication channels in the world is the telephone. Yet it's a lousy marketing tool.

Popularity of a communications medium -- any medium -- is not necessarily an indication of its effectiveness as a marketing vehicle.

2. TV Viewing

We are often told that TV is dead. The proof is that the networks are struggling, prices are dropping, and ratings are down.

This is not proof that TV is dead. What is ailing is the old economic model of the TV business. TV viewing is actually at its highest point ever. The average American watched more TV in the past year than ever before in history.

The reason the TV business is in trouble is not that TV is dead. It's that there is too much supply -- too many channels. The reason ratings are down is that too many competitors are slicing up the pie. It's really quite a nice time for viewers. We have an enormous variety of options. And we are responding by watching more TV than ever.

3. Word Of Mouth

Social media maniacs often (patronizingly) explain to us pathetic fools that social media is more powerful than advertising because word of mouth carries far more weight than paid messages.

It is true, and always has been, that word of mouth is way more powerful than advertising. What is not true, however, is that social media is the same as word of mouth.

Word of mouth carries weight because it comes to us from someone we know and trust. Most product endorsements in social media environments come from people we do not know and trust. Too often it comes from interns paid by creepy social media practitioners to fabricate positive "buzz."

Consequently social media carries far less weight than word of much. And the more that social media hustlers get their greasy hands all over it, the quicker its already questionable credibility will deteriorate.

November 10, 2009

Brought To You By Your Central New Mexico Chrysler-Jeep Dealers

Recently, in Creative For Carpetbaggers, I commented on the idiotic ways that big companies moving into new markets always try to associate themselves with the area, and usually get all caught up in their underwear.

Today I would like to put another really dumb advertising tradition in the crosshairs -- superficial localization.

Let's start at the beginning.

The general purpose of advertising is to give a consumer a reason to buy your product. This is not easy. Usually an advertiser has way more to say about his product than can be fit comfortably into a 30-second tv spot or a 60-second radio spot or a 1/2 page ad.

And yet some advertisers are happy -- as a matter of fact, clamoring -- to waste part of those precious seconds and pages by saying something that may sound nice to them, but is useless to consumers. Something like: "See your Central New Mexico Chrysler-Jeep Dealer."

Here's why it's a waste.

It's been my experience that most people know where they live. If they live in New Mexico they're usually aware of it. It says so right on their driver's license. And if they are able to find their way home at night, I think we can safely assume that they know what part of New Mexico they live in.

Now it may be true that there are a few people who don't know where they live (you know, like account planners.) But even so, I think that if they live in Central New Mexico and they have a hankering to see a Chrysler-Jeep Dealer, they're going to see a Central New Mexico one. It's kind of a long trip to see a Western Illinois Chrysler-Jeep Dealer.

On the other hand if they live in, say, the Bronx, they're probably not going to see a Central New Mexico Chrysler-Jeep Dealer regardless of what the spot says. Even if they wanted to travel from the Bronx to see a Central New Mexico Chrysler-Jeep Dealer, mentioning that in the spot is of no use because the spot is not going to run in the Bronx -- it's only going to run in Central New Mexico.

So who, exactly, is that phrase meant to influence? Those who live in Central New Mexico and have no choice, or those who don't and will never hear it?

When you point this out to the account guy who insists on inserting this into a spot, the comment you usually get is, "well it doesn't hurt, does it?"

Of course it hurts.

There are very good reasons for advertisers to run regional and local advertising. But reminding people of where they live is not one of them. If you are taking 5 of your 30 seconds to remind people where they live, you are essentially taking 15% of your advertising budget and flushing it down the toilet.

So if you're a client and you're committed to pissing away 15% of your ad budget, don't waste it on superficial localization. Do something noble with it. Give it to an ad agency.

Which reminds me...
...of a great quote by an old-time comedian named Fred Allen: "Advertising is 85% confusion and 15% commission."

Those were the days.

November 09, 2009

Engineered By Illiterates

On the inside back cover of last week's (Nov. 2) New Yorker magazine, there's an ad by Land Rover.

The ad is supposed to impress us with the technological wizardry of the new Range Rover.

Only problem is, it's hard to convince us that people who can't write properly, can't hire competent proofreaders, and don't know the difference between its and it's can be very advanced at anything.

The headline -- "Eyes In The Front, Back And Side Of It's Head"

It's one thing to find a typo in a stupid-ass blog like this that has one semi-alert writer and no checks and balances. It's another to find one in the headline of an inside back cover.

We all know how many knuckleheads get their greasy hands on an ad before it leaves the barn. How in the world does something like this get through?

Thanks to Maria Winston for this and, oh yeah, happy birthday.

November 05, 2009

"Social Media" vs "I Don't Know": It's A Tie

Earlier this week, in The Enduring Power of Piffle and The Drivel Machine, we took a nice hard swing at the qualitative side of social media i.e., the baloney that social media hustlers are filling gullible marketers full of. Today we take a look at some quantitative data on social media and see what marketers have to say about its effectiveness.

As we know, the answer to all problems is social media.

Need to build your brand? Social media.
Need to sell more stuff? Social media.
Got dandruff or bad breath? Social media
Peace in the Middle East? Social media.

Just pick up any trade publication or attend any digital marketing conference (there are 10 of them a week) and you will find that social media is always The Answer.

However, an article in American Express Open Forum says, not so fast.
"Senior marketers were asked which components of their current digital marketing programs—search, email, display advertising, social networking, and mobile advertising—delivered the best results. Only 11% cited social networking...

As you know, TAC is highly skeptical of this type of research. The remarkable thing, however, is that with social media getting so much hype, the tendency of people who have invested in it would be to exaggerate its effectiveness. Instead, it was tied for effectiveness with "I don't know."

Marketers also said that social media is significantly less effective than banner ads (display advertising), and I just don't know how anything can be less effective than that.

Mobile advertising, by the way, didn't even make the chart.

As I said 6 months ago in Looking For Volunteers,
"TAC predicts that when the frenzy over Facebook, Twitter, and other social media calms down and the dust clears, email and search will continue to be the dreariest and most productive forms of online advertising."

Thanks to Sharon Krinsky for this.

November 01, 2009

The Enduring Power Of Piffle

Just when you think the "conversation" crowd can't possibly devise any more preposterous nonsense about their precious conversations, up pops something so ridiculous that it restores your faith in the enduring power of piffle.

A new record in jargon-hurling and language-torturing was reached last week when the writer of an Ad Age article entitled "How to Develop the Right Communications Strategy for a Conversation Economy" managed to use the word "conversation," or some derivative of it, 31 times in a brief article.

As impressive as this accomplishment is, however, you really can't judge this achievement by the numbers. You have to behold the content.

Within the article, we learn the following awesomely awesome things about "the conversation."
"'re no longer marketing products or services -- you're marketing conversations."
So let me get this straight. The "conversation" is the means by which we market a product, the product itself, and according to the title of the piece, the basis of the economy.
"...meaningful conversations is the big challenge of marketing today."
"Meaningful conversations is...?" IS? What fricking language are that?
"A multimedia mix framed to spark conversations requires a compelling message concept that can work across a multimedia platform."
Fabulous sentence. A true mini-cornucopia of cliches and buzzwords. Nice use of the double "multimedia." You don't often find it twice in one sentence. But the best part is the "compelling message concept." I would like to suggest, however, that it could have been made even more jargon-forward if it had been "compelling messag-ing concept." See what I mean? Using the gratuitous gerundive form is always a nice way to take a tautology and make it sound like it means something -- a must for today's busy marketing professional.
"Conversation is mankind's natural search engine."
What can I say? This would make a perfect title slide in the marketing hokum hall-of-fame Powerpoint presentation.
"Content themed to your target's daily passions, routines or rituals are great for habituating conversations."
"Content...are great...?" ARE? ARE? ARE? Is you fricking kidding me?

If This Isn't Depressing Enough... the congratulatory comments that follow the article. If this doesn't convince you that the whole profession of marketing is becoming one big poisonous feedback loop of nonsense and double-talk, I don't know what will.