November 30, 2011

My Overnight Social Media Success

On Sunday evening I published a new book on Amazon. On Monday afternoon -- 18 hours later -- it was the 2nd best-selling advertising eBook on Amazon.

How did I do it? Social media.

But wait a minute, Bob. Isn't it you who is always throwing rocks at social media?

Yes, that's the same me.

So, have you changed your mind?

Not a bit.

So, you're a hypocrite?

Hypocrite is the term that people who can't draw distinctions frequently use to describe people who can.  Let me explain.

One of the most irresponsible and universal tricks in the advertising toolkit is what I call "arguing from the extreme." You take the most extreme, unlikely case of something and use it as an example of what you  pretend is commonplace.

I saw it all the time when people used to use "got milk" as a typical example of the efficacy of account planning. Or when they used "Just Do It" to justify their dim "branding" ads. And now they use "Old Spice" as an example of the everyday magical powers of social media. It's like pointing to Kobe Bryant and saying, see, basketball is easy.

My payoff had a little to do with social media and a lot more to do with long-term marketing strategy -- which is the antithesis of most social media schemes.

Here's how I became an overnight social media success.
1. First I wrote and published a book called The Ad Contrarian. This took a couple of years. 
2. Next I started a blog called The Ad Contrarian
3. Then I spent virtually every Saturday morning for five years roughing out ideas for Ad Contrarian blog posts. 
4. For almost five years I spent at least two hours a day -- usually between 3 and 5 am -- writing my blog.

5. I also spent at least an hour every day scouring online and offline sources for blog post ideas. 
6. I wrote several articles for trade publications sticking assiduously to my "Ad Contrarian" POV. 
7. As a result, I developed a nice body of subscribers for my blog. I try to keep it fresh, entertaining, and controversial to attract non-subscribers every day. 
8. Although I have several thousand Twitter followers, I act to maintain credibility by only tweeting about the blog when there is something I believe is unusually interesting in it.

9. To develop credibility among my readers, I have never used my blog to promote my agency. 
10. In order to advance The Ad Contrarian I have traveled frequently to do speaking engagements and never accepted money.
So that's how I achieved overnight success in social media. And that's why social media hustlers infuriate me. Their facile crap, their smug ignorance of real marketing strategy, and their promises of magic make me ill.

And when naive clients tell me they want to do some of that "social media stuff, you know like Twitter and Facebook" -- for which they will assign responsibility to the lowest ranking person in their organization -- I have to leave the room.

I have built a social media brand. I know what it takes. I know how useless most social media bullshit is and how hard the people work who do it right.

Don't use me to argue from the extreme.

November 29, 2011

The Paris Hiltonization Of Marketing

People like to talk about the things they spend money on. They are particularly inclined to talk about sexy things -- cars, electronics, movies. They are far less inclined to talk about mundane things -- butter, socks, gasoline.

This is not new. Chattering about what we purchase has been a regular feature of consumer society for a long time. It helps us define for others who we think we are. What is new, however, is that chatter is now measurable.

Previously the chatter was done verbally and privately. Today much of the chatter is done publicly on line between one person and a group of friends or followers. Because this type of chatter is measurable, there is a lot of attention paid to it. As my former partner used to say, that which is measured is attended to.

This does not mean that chatter is any more important or influential than it used to be. It just means that we marketers are more aware of it, more sensitive to it, and more able to make a buck on it.

What is also new is the belief that this chatter is fungible -- that is, it has monetary value. There is very little data to demonstrate that this is true. Nonetheless, the whole discipline of marketing seems to have made a seismic shift toward the belief that one of the most valuable assets a brand can have is online "conversation" or "cultural currency" or "buzz" -- or whatever you choose to call it.

Of course, one of the difficulties with this argument is the problem of logic -- does a brand become popular because it has online chatter, or does it have online chatter because it's popular? Or, even worse, is online chatter just vapid blather whose only consequence is to generate more vapid blather?

An interesting case in point is a story that ran in The Wall Street Journal last week about the relationship between online buzz and real-world viewership of TV shows.
"A new television show that generates a lot of online buzz before it airs won't necessarily draw a host of viewers, according to a new study, which found little or no correlation between the amount of such buzz and the size of the audience that ultimately tunes in.
The study, by ad-buying firm Optimedia US, one of the first to examine the issue, raises questions about the effectiveness of social media as a promotional tool for TV."
The study measured social media chatter about new TV shows. It included Twitter mentions, Facebook "likes," and Google searches, as well as Klout scores. In addition to finding no correlation between online buzz and real world success, the Journal also reported...
"By contrast, some shows with low early levels of online buzz, including CBS's comedy "2 Broke Girls" and its mystery series "Unforgettable," ranked highest in viewership."
There is no indication that this finding holds true outside the TV industry. But why shouldn't it?

TV viewing is a high-interest category in which "cultural currency" is assumed to be an enormously important factor. It certainly seems logical that if these findings are true, online "conversations" might have even less impact in other categories. On the other hand, how can you have less impact than none?

Is "the conversation" really a barometer of business success? Or is it just chatter without value -- the Paris Hiltonization of marketing?

Book Update
I was truly astounded by the reaction to my book release yesterday. At one point it was the #2 best-selling ad ebook at Amazon and #3 among all ad books, including paper. Thanks to everyone who bought it, tweeted about it, blogged it, or just talked about it. A lot of the success of the release of the book was due to social media. Does this mean I've changed my mind about social media? Tune in later this week for "My Social Media Overnight Success."

November 28, 2011

101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising

I know what you're thinking.

"Wouldn't it be great if I could have the best of the wit and wisdom of The Ad Contrarian in one handy little eBook that I can read any time I need a dose of reality or just something to take to the toilet?"

Well, guess what? My new book 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising has just been published.

It is a measly $2.99 here at Amazon. That's less than Starbucks charges for just standing around and smelling a triple grande non-fat latte. I have priced it so low for you -- the glorious 99%!

The book is a compilation of the best pieces from this blog, plus articles I've written for Adweek, plus some other stuff I just threw in to fill it out. Here's what the critics are saying.
"...Ten times funnier than Beowulf. Maybe eleven."
"...Hoffman is a national treasure. Oh no, wait a minute. That's the Liberty Bell."
"...A brilliant translation from the original Swedish."
"...You can read it while driving. Don't worry, nothing will happen."
"...I saved over $30,000 buying this book instead of remodeling my kitchen."
Best of all, it makes a perfect holiday gift for all your friends and family members who can read.

How To Buy It
If you're a Kindle owner, just go here and download it.

If you're a Mac person (iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch) first go here and download the free Kindle app, then go here and buy the book.

101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising is now the #3 best-selling ad book at Amazon's Kindle store. Thank you!

November 21, 2011

Today's Subject Is Bullshit

Today's subject is bullshit.

It is an important subject because it is the material of which contemporary society is built.

The world today is swimming in bullshit. It is drowning in bullshit. It is submerged, inundated, and deluged with bullshit.

This is a serious issue. The most harmful force in business, politics, and education is bullshit.

The good news for us in the advertising and marketing industries is that we are no longer the primary purveyors of bullshit. We used to be. And we have done such a lovely job at popularizing it, that others have copied and even surpassed us. Today, the great generators of bullshit are media and government.

Bullshit is so prevalent today that when a public figure says something that is not bullshit we are startled.

The reason for today's post about "bullshit" is that this week the Super Committee of Congress is supposed to issue its plan for fiscal reform. What is a Super Committee, you ask? Simple. It's a committee, plus bullshit.

You see, when you want to pretend you're doing something super special, when you're actually doing nothing at all, just add bullshit.

If you don't understand what all the fiscal fuss is about, here it is in simple terms. Our government used to collect 18% of GDP in taxes and spend 20%. This was not good as it left us in deeper debt every year. But recently it's gotten much worse. Now we collect 16% of GDP in taxes and spend 25%. This means that pretty soon we'll be in the same crapper that Greece is in.

Anyone with a brain can see we need to collect more money and spend less. Duh. But we no longer have people with brains. We have replaced them with Super Committees.

When this Super Committee accomplishes Super Nothing, I have an idea. Our "leaders" can appoint a Super-Duper Committee to accomplish Super-Duper Nothing.

And that, my friends, is bullshit in a nutshell.

November 16, 2011

Big Is The New Stupid

I don't like big things.

I think the ad business was a lot smarter and healthier before it became dominated by four global monstrosities. It wasn't that long ago (well, not to me anyway) that Y&R had the largest share of the ad market in the US at 1.5%. Now four holding companies have over 70%. 

I worked for a publicly traded agency for 2 of my 100 years in the ad business. I had to. They bought my agency. They were the worst years of my life. And that was a small publicly traded agency.

I have passed up opportunities to work for big agencies and have never regretted it for a minute. They are simply awful.

I don't like bigness of any type. Big businesses, big banks, big governments, big unions, and corporate big shots all give me indigestion. I think this country was a lot better off economically, socially, culturally, and morally when everything was smaller. When every city had its own brewery. When every street had a bakery. Before every mall in the country was populated by the same hundred or so retailers. When small businesses had a fair chance.

All you need to know about the advantages that the large have over the small is that our tax code is over 2,000 pages long.

It's 2,000 pages of special pleading written for people and businesses that have access to power -- and don't want to pay their fair share. Do you think any of those pages of exceptions, exemptions, and exclusions was written for your neighborhood dry cleaner?

A few weeks ago a local drug store I have been patronizing for over 20 years was taken over by Safeway, the largest supermarket chain in California. The drug store is in the same site it has always been. But now it's called Safeway pharmacy.

I called the store this morning to renew a prescription. Instead of talking to John the pharmacist I got a message about pressing 1 if I was this, and 2 if I was that.

I used to be able to pick up my prescription 15 minutes after I called it in. When I went to pick up my prescription five hours after calling it in today, the person at the counter couldn't find it. Fortunately, a long-time employee of the pharmacy was there. She said, "Hi Bob" and showed the new knucklehead where the record of the prescription was.

I waited longer for the pharmacist to count out 30 pills and put them in a little bottle than it used to take me to call in the prescription, drive to the drug store, pick up the prescription and drive home. And this after giving them a five-hour head start.

I want my small pharmacist back.

November 15, 2011

The Courage To Change Everything

A very funny and pitch-perfect video.

Congratulations to John St. in Toronto on a terrific piece of work.

Thanks to Tom Donald, Manu Manceda and others who sent me this.

November 14, 2011

Advertising's Decade of Confusion

I've been in the ad business a long time. But I've never experienced a more bewildering period than we have been through in the past 10 years.

We thought we knew what this decade was going to look like. We thought we knew the script. Just about everything we thought we knew has turned out to be wrong.

We thought that interactivity would make advertising far more engaging. We thought that traditional advertising was dead. We thought that TiVo was going to cripple TV. We thought the PC and the television were going to converge. None of this has happened.

Interactivity has not made advertising more engaging. In fact, interactivity is mostly a rumor. Display ads have a click-through rate that is less than 1 in a thousand. While consumers have shown substantial interest in using the web to search for things they've already decided they're interested in, they have shown almost no interest in interacting with the ads we produce. In other words, the web has proven to be far more effective at fulfilling demand than at creating it.

Anyone who still thinks traditional advertising is dead probably didn't watch a football game this weekend. I don't think I have ever seen more commercial messages squeezed into 3 1/2 hours.

TiVo's impact on television viewing and consumer behavior has been a weighty topic inside the marketing beltway but has been a non-event to consumers. While about 40% of Americans now have some sort of DVR, those who own one only watch recorded material about 5% of the time. What's more, owning a DVR has not changed their purchasing behavior one whit.

We are essentially no closer to the convergence of TV and the PC than we were ten years ago. We keep hearing that it's right around the corner, but we never seem to get to the corner. The latest stats I've seen say that over 98% of video is still viewed on a television.

The advertising landscape has been riddled with inconsistencies and cross-currents. Print advertising has certainly suffered. But television advertising has been booming. In 2008, as TV ad sales dropped significantly, it looked like the pundits were correct and that advertisers had lost confidence in traditional advertising. But now with TV ad sales growing and viewership at its highest point ever, it looks like the pundits were wrong and 2008 was about the recession.

Online advertising has been hit and miss. Search has certainly been effective, but display ads -- despite impressive sales growth -- have had a very discouraging record of effectiveness.

Social media has been a huge worldwide phenomenon, but social media marketing still has to prove it's a sales builder and a brand builder. With 60% of people who "friend" or "like" a brand saying that their primary motivation is to get something for nothing, it is hard to take seriously the argument that people are engaged in social media because they want to have "conversations" with brands.

And we're still waiting for the first major consumer-facing, non-web-native brand to be built primarily by online advertising.

You would think that the gulf between our expectations and the facts would give us pause. But no such thing has happened. Our delusional belief that we understand what is going on has not been weakened at all. If anything it has strengthened.

We are just as certain in our prognostications, just as arrogant in our pronouncements, just as sneaky in our data. We tell our clients half the truth half the time.

I am dismayed every week by how much of what is now accepted wisdom in the ad business is nothing but legend. I am disheartened by how little familiarity people in advertising have with the particulars. I am dumbfounded by how tolerant most clients are of false goals and how little appetite they have for the facts.

Perhaps the most confusing part of the past 10 years is not how far reality has veered from expectations, but how reluctant our industry is to validate its assumptions.

November 09, 2011

How Did Amazon Become A Great Brand?

If historians are always arguing about how civilizations emerge, I guess us ad hacks can argue about how brands emerge.

Al Ries had a piece in Ad Age last week. The piece was called Let's Get Real: It's Not Marketing We Do Today, It's Branding.

The essence of the piece is that the function that was once called marketing should now be called branding. Frankly, I don't care what you call it. Richard Feynman once talked about a scientist who could tell you the Latin name of every plant in the world. Feynman said that the guy knew nothing about plants, all he knew about was what people called plants

Whether you call it marketing or branding or anything else is simply a question of semantics. The important question is not what you call it, but how do you do it? How do you build a strong brand?

Ries's argument about how to do it is very unconvincing to me. He is advocating the "branding first" school of business.
"...there's a new approach many companies are using that dramatizes the importance of the brand. I call it: Branding first, sales and profits second. If you can build a brand, then you should be able to figure out a way to turn that brand into a profitable enterprise."
A new approach? I don't think so. Fifteen years ago every web start-up in the world was following this "quick branding" philosophy. Hundreds of millions of advertising dollars were flushed down the toilet as hundreds of WebVans and Pets.coms followed this thinking into oblivion.

Then Ries makes another interesting claim:
"If there's an iron-clad rule in marketing, it is this: Brands are built by being first in a new category."
I wonder what he would say about this from a recent New Yorker piece written by Malcolm Gladwell -- which made the exact opposite point about Apple...
"The first portable digital music players came out in 1996. Apple introduced the iPod, in 2001...Smart phones started coming out in the nineteen-nineties. Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, more than a decade later... The idea for the iPad came from an engineer at Microsoft..."
Ries uses Amazon as his exemplar of "branding first." It is always convenient to argue from the extreme -- take the one example of your philosophy that seems uniquely successful and ignore the thousands of flops. But Ries is being coy here. He's too smart not to know that what made Amazon a huge success was not "branding," it was an amazing and ground-breaking operations and customer service system developed by a visionary leader.

Look, brands are hugely important in commerce. Anyone who thinks brands are not important is either blind or delusional. Brands are why we have signs on stores and labels on bottles.

But the idea that brands are built by "branding" -- whatever that means -- is wrong. My view has always been that a strong brand is usually a by-product. It comes from doing a lot of things right -- like making good products, innovating, treating customers respectfully, and doing effective advertising. 

It's like happiness. The route to happiness is usually indirect. You don't achieve happiness by trying to be happy. You achieve happiness by doing something else -- spending time with people you like or learning to do something well. But trying to be happy will mostly make you miserable.

I disagree with Mr. Ries. Amazon did not become a great brand by "branding." It became a great brand by doing a lot of other things brilliantly.

November 07, 2011

Facebook And Advertisers

Facebook continues to be an astounding success with the public.

It is not, however, such an astounding success with advertisers.

One of the problems Facebook has is that the free part -- having a Facebook page -- is way more attractive to marketers than the paid part -- advertising.

Unfortunately for Facebook, you make more money selling stuff than giving it away. It's one of those pesky laws of economics.

Ads on Facebook are very close to invisible. According to IT World the click-through rate for Facebook ads is about 5 in 10,000. That is astonishingly low. (According to an unofficial insider at Facebook, the true CTR is 2 in 10,000.)

Recently, Facebook has been crowing about an 18% increase in its CTR. Strangely, their press release neglects to give us the raw numbers. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) An 18% increase from what to what? Here's a tip from an old science teacher -- when someone gives you results in percentages but neglects to give you the raw numbers, they're hiding something.

But let's give Facebook the benefit of the doubt and assume that the "5 in 10,000" number is correct. An 18% increase brings the click through rate all the way up to almost 6 in 10,000. Be still my heart.

While consumers spend about 15% of their online time on Facebook, Facebook is only garnering about 6.4% of online ad dollars. There's something very wrong here.

The numbers for Google, on the other hand, tell a much different story. People spend less than 4% of their online time on Google, but Google attracts (according to my calculations) about 44% of online ad dollars*.

If you were to do an index of ad dollars per unit of time spent, Google is about 25 times more efficient at producing ad revenue than Facebook (also my calculation.)

This is not the only problem Facebook is facing. To a large degree, marketers evaluate the success of their Facebook efforts by "likeonomics" i.e., the number of people who "like" them.

The issue here is that 2/3 of all the "liking" done on Facebook is done by people between 13 and 24 -- in other words, people with no money. Jim Edwards, at CBS MoneyWatch says...
Social media marketing firm Vitrue says youngsters' preponderance can actually hurt a social media campaign's value...
It's the online equivalent of allowing gangs of teens to hang around in the mall... Sure it looks nice and crowded, but it's deterring older shoppers who actually have money to spend.
Additionally, marketers are starting to think more carefully about the value of a "like" -- especially since you can now buy Facebook fans in bulk for 10 cents a pop.

How much is it worth to have a 16-year-old like you? Ask Napster or MySpace.

Or Ask Dippin' Dots...
Dippin' Dots, a quirky ice cream product, is one of the world's top 50 product brands on Facebook. Ranked at #40, with over 4.5 million fans, it ranks higher than mega-brands like Gatorade, Domino's Pizza, Nike Basketball, Snickers and Barbie. Last week Dippin' Dots filed for bankruptcy.

*Web numbers are notoriously unreliable - especially mine. According to a recent chart at Business Insider, Facebook's ad performance is even worse than the numbers I quote. According to this report they have about a 3% share of  online ad revenues while Google has a 46% share. Thanks to Roger Lewis for this.

Thanks to David for some info that helped this post. I don't use last names of people employed at agencies anymore. Last year a reader who contributed info to this blog almost got fired. 

November 04, 2011

Social Media Adoption Among Fortune 500

As a follow-up to Wednesday's speculation about The Future of Social Media, I am reprinting the conclusion of a study done at the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
The adoption of blogs, Twitter and Facebook in the 2011 F500 (Fortune 500 - TAC) appears to have leveled off with no significant change in the past year. Twenty-three percent (114) of the 2011 F500 have corporate public-facing blogs. There has been a slight increase in both Twitter use (60% in 2010, 62% in 2011) and use of Facebook (56% in 2010, 58% in 2011).

These results may signal a leveling off and possibly retrenchment when it comes to the adoption of social media among the 2011 F500. There is also evidence of change in the adoption of these tools by industry and a clear sign from some companies that these are not part of their communications strategy. Given that the F500 are the titans of American business, we may be seeing the slowdown in business adoption of social media. At the very least, this group appears to have slowed or stopped its adoption of the three most prominent tools – Blogging, Facebook and Twitter.
If you'd like to read the entire study, you can find it here.

Thanks to Tom for this link

November 02, 2011

The Future of Social Media

One of the principles here at The Ad Contrarian is that we never make predictions. The primary reason for this is that it's way more fun to ridicule stupidity than generate it.

So today, we are not actually trying to predict what will happen with social media, instead we are just going to engage in a speculation about it. You understand the difference between a prediction and a speculation, right? A speculation is a prediction couched in candy-ass weasel-words that the author can wiggle his way out of when proven wrong. Consequently, this is a speculation.

It seems ridiculous to us now, but not that long ago having a company website was seen as a sure-fire route to wealth and fame. Companies were hysterically racing to get websites up and running.

Because it was new, sexy and everyone was doing it, a website became the top marketing priority for virtually every company on the planet. If you didn't have one you were doomed to imminent collapse. Clients were frantically looking for agencies to get websites created and launched.

Today, every company, former company,  proto-company, and bullshit-artist-trying-to-be-a-company has a website. Unless you’re an online store, it is highly likely that your website is just as lame, just as stultifying dull, and just as dusty and lonely as all your competitors’ websites.

But you try to keep it up and running and attractive because -- even though it gets very little attention from anyone but you -- the people who do visit it are thought to be genuine prospects. Whether this is true or not you mostly don’t know. But you think it’s true, so you play along.

For a good education in the true value of websites as differentiators, I suggest you take a quick pilgrimage through the websites of some big ad agencies and see how mundane they are. (Here are some examples: #1, #2, #3.) And remember, ad agencies are creative enterprises. Their websites are about 100 times more interesting than the average insurance company or muffler marketer. 

In fact, what most
non-transaction-based company websites have become is a necessary but not very bankable cost of doing business – like brochures, or business cards, or signage. You gotta have it, but you really don’t rely on it to generate a whole lot of revenue.

I have a hunch that's the future of social media. Once the hysteria wears off and the bubble starts deflating, a social media program will become another necessary cost of doing business, but not a huge differentiator or revenue generator. Already,
every company, former company,  proto-company, and bullshit-artist-trying-to-be-a-company has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. Some even have blogs. Shut up.

From time to time, someone will have a terrific social media idea (e.g., Old Spice) that will be a hit and have a big impact on their business. But, just as today, they will remain the very rare exceptions.

For the most part, the millions of business enterprises with social media programs will muddle along using social media for customer relations and sales promotion -- legitimate and valuable uses -- but not a magic carpet ride to fame and wealth and brand building as promised by the hyperventilating jive talkers in the social media industry.

And if I’m wrong, no problem. This was just a speculation.