May 31, 2012

I Should Have Gone To Harvard

I just read a piece in the Harvard Business Review that leads me to believe that my education at Brooklyn College was way below my station.

Let's compare stuff that a semi-literate Brooklyn graduate has written to stuff that appeared in the Harvard Business Review last week.

Brooklyn: (From 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising)
"... I'll bet you $10 that the primary reason people become "friends" or "followers" of brands on Facebook and Twitter is not to have a conversation with the marketer, but to get a discount..."
"What consumers really want when they interact with brands online is to get discounts..."
"... the marketing and advertising industries have been obsessed with the idea that marketing is a "conversation" and that consumers want a "relationship" with brands and companies. Of course, being the dick that I am, I've gone out of my way to ridicule this obsession. "
"In a study involving more than 7000 consumers, we found that companies often have dangerously wrong ideas about how best to engage with customers."  
"Here's what people want. They want products that work well, look nice, taste good and are reasonably priced from companies that treat them fairly... All this conversation/relationship bullshit is just a distraction."
"Myth #1: Most customers want to have a relationship with your brand. Actually, they don't."
Is it too late to apply?

May 30, 2012

What The Web Has Taught Us About TV

The advertising and marketing industries are in such a profound state of confusion that we no longer believe the evidence of our own eyes.
  • We have never seen a single human being activate a QR code, yet we tell our clients that it is a "powerful new marketing tool."
  • We cannot remember a single ad we've ever seen on a Facebook page, yet we are blithely ready to accept Facebook as a fabulous ad venue -- worth 100 billion dollars.
  • After hearing the same nonsense for the past 5 years, we nod our heads hypnotically when we're told "this will be the year of mobile."
Not only do we maintain delusional beliefs in things that aren't there, we are blind to things that are there.

The Internet has had an incalculable effect on worldwide culture. It is a powerful medium of communication, information, and entertainment. It has affected so many areas of contemporary life that it is difficult for us to re-imagine 15 short years ago when it was just an interesting novelty. But it's been a lousy ad medium.

If there is one lesson we should have learned from the Internet's first 15 years it is this: the astounding marketing power of television.

Until now, we couldn't truly appreciate the advertising potency of television because we had nothing to compare it to. Now we do.

Although the web's cultural impact may be equal to that of television (I'll leave that to the sociologists to argue over) its marketing impact isn't even close.

Certainly there have been a few huge web entities that have transformed categories of marketing. Google has essentially replaced the yellow pages. iTunes has redefined the music industry. Amazon has had an enormous effect on the publishing industry and certain other retail activities.

Yet despite all the hype, most levelheaded marketers are struggling mightily to convince themselves that the web is a worthwhile advertising medium.

After 15 years as a mainstream consumer medium, television had been instrumental in creating hundreds of consumer-facing brands in dozens of categories.

But after 15 years of web advertising, I can't come up with a single major consumer-facing non-web-native brand that online advertising has been responsible for building. Not one major brand of beer, or shampoo, or cereal, or soda, or tires, or...

We're not even sure what web advertising is. Is it display ads? Or YouTube videos? Or Google listings? Or emails? Or Tweets? Or "content?" Is it whatever next week's emperor's-new-podcast turns out to be? Or is it just lemmings throwing a lot of different stuff at the medium and hoping something sticks? Because if it is, the only thing sticking right now is Google.

Our online creatives still can't figure out how to motivate a click. Our online media gurus spend half their time torturing the numbers to make them appear palatable.

Fifteen years after advertisers first jumped onto the web, the medium still hasn't convinced me of its purported magic. And if the Facebook face plant is any indication, I am not alone.

Meanwhile, television has proven to be amazingly resilient. Despite the web's popularity, TV viewership is higher than ever. Ad skipping has not been the disaster all the marketing geniuses said it would be. 98% of all video is still viewed on a television.

It is time for the advertising and marketing industries to call a time out, take a deep breath, turn off the online hype machine, and take a look around.

We knew TV was a powerful advertising medium, but it's taken the web to teach us just how powerful it really is.

May 29, 2012

Good Cholesterol And Advertising

For decades, people with high cholesterol levels have been urged to change their eating and exercise habits, and to take certain medications.

One of the goals of the treatment has been to raise the level of HDL -- good cholesterol.

You see, good cholesterol is kind of like Liquid Plumr. It comes along and cleans out the bad cholesterol that clogs up the pipes. This makes you healthier and at lower risk of heart disease.

Except it doesn't.

After decades of yelling at people to raise their levels of "good cholesterol" researchers have changed their minds. Now they claim "good cholesterol" -- as we used to say in Brooklyn -- don't do shit.

According to The New York Times...
...a new study that makes use of powerful databases of genetic information has found that raising HDL levels may not make any difference to heart disease risk. People who inherit genes that give them naturally higher HDL levels throughout life have no less heart disease than those who inherit genes that give them slightly lower levels.
Dr. Michael Lauer, director of the division of cardiovascular sciences at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, agreed. “The current study tells us that when it comes to HDL we should seriously consider going back to the drawing board..."
So here's something to think about. Some marketing researchers and digi-gurus have been trying to convince us that their esoteric measurements of consumer online behavior correlate with ad effectiveness.

They are trying to sell us on the idea that the power of display advertising is not in its ability to generate clicks, but on crackpot measurements like "dwelling" and "lingering" and "mouse hovering." It's all very fascinating to people who were blown away by freshman psychology.

If it's taken real scientists with real test tubes and real peer review decades to figure out that HDL don't do shit, do you really think these marketing meatballs with their "mouse hovering" know anything about the effectiveness of display ads?

Please, don't make me laugh.

May 26, 2012

Best Press Release Ever

The great George Parker at AdScam posted this yesterday, but I just have to repost it because it is truly priceless. It is from an Oracle press release.
"Together, Oracle and Vitrue plan to enable a unified social experience across customer interactions, resulting in meaningful customer engagements with consistent brand experiences across all channels..."
What? No ecosystem?

May 25, 2012

Egregious Self-Promotion Special Edition

Well, it's Friday and this has been a busy week here at The Ad Contrarian global headquarters. Our smug little "told ya so" pieces about Facebook have been quoted by people all over the interwebs, including a British politico. So it's time to take a deep breath before I start believing my own bullshit, and get back to the basics of what blogging is all about -- self-promotion.

I've been reading this week about other old ad guys who are making piles of money. Meanwhile, my paycheck is uglier than a fat man's ass. I need to start hustling.

I know what you're thinking.

"Darn it, Bob. You work so hard to produce this blog for us and all you get in return is nasty comments from dumb-ass flash developers. It's just not right! Heck, why don't you take the opportunity to promote some of your stuff so that maybe you can make a buck or two from all this almost-wisdom and not-quite-entertainment you provide to us."

Well, I think it's awfully nice of you to say that. And so I will. Here is some egregious self-promotion...

My Semi-Burgeoning Speaking Career: Speaking is great. You go somewhere nice and bullshit a little and they pay you. It's almost like being the Vice President. These are some actual comments from a recent talk I gave to agency owners:
  • "I just wanted to send you a quick note of appreciation for the insightful, intelligent, poignant and hilarious presentation you gave to our members... All in all, the best presentation I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing, truly." Cam Green, CEO, GreenRubino
  •  "I want you to know that your presentation on our industry was the best I’ve ever seen. It was smart, well written, and it was at times, hysterically funny." Joe Erwin, President, Erwin Penland. 
  • "On behalf of the entire Intermarket Agency Network I want to thank you for the fantastic presentation you made last Friday in Santa Monica. It was insightful, entertaining, thought provoking..." Deborah Pfluger, President, aha!
    • "You were absolutely fantastic...Whether you like it or not, you now have disciples around the country who will be preaching your gospel." (Bill Lavidge, CEO, The Lavidge Comapny)
    Yup, believe it or not, that was me they were talking about. I am available for one speaking gig a month. If you'd like to turn your event into a huge intergalactic success, see the column on the right.

    The Book:  Apparently, there are still people who read books. Some are kind enough to write reviews. Below are actual comments from the reviews of 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising from Amazon:
    • "This is take no prisoners kind of stuff that is just superbly written... it will make you laugh, make you cry and shake your head in wonder."
    • "This book is an insightful, hilarious look at what's wrong with advertising agencies, with marketing in general, and maybe even the world overall."
    • "A funny, enlightening, clear-eyed look at advertising and marketing." 
    • "The book is a classic, a compendium of some of Bob's better posts on his blog. They are all gems..."
    • "Advertising is a business that is always ripe for satire and criticism which is what Bob does in spades."
    • "Bob Hoffman's perspective is terrific because he continually digs into various heaping piles of advertising hype to discover nuggets of truth."
    You can get the paperback here, or the ebook here.

    Okay, now let's get going. My income this year is only about $26 million behind Maurice Levy. We can do this!

    May 24, 2012

    What The Facebook Fanboys Never Understood

    The Facebook melt down continues to be the best show in town.

    Now all the lemmings who blew their money on this charade (something like $20 billion in value has disappeared so far this week) are pointing fingers at each other and blaming everybody but themselves for their venality and stupidity.

    From Yahoo! Finance yesterday:
    As I write, shareholder suits have already been filed in New York and California. The State of Massachusetts has subpoenaed Morgan Stanley following reports that it allegedly only told a few of its best clients that its analyst was cutting his revenue outlook for the company. The entire underwriting syndicate is being sued, as is Facebook's newlywed CEO and several board members. In addition, the Nasdaq has also been sued, and the SEC and FINRA are launching investigations. Congressional hearings and probes can't be far off.
    Had they read The Ad Contrarian last week -- or for the last two years for that matter -- they would have appreciated the pile of crap that Facebook value is built on (by the way, it's really fun being smug.)

    Here's what the market didn't understand -- and still doesn't understand -- about Facebook.

    Facebook, and all online media, are not TV.

    Watching TV essentially creates forced exposure to advertising messages. People who watch a TV show also overwhelmingly watch the spots. Contrary to legend and self-reported BS, people are no more likely to get off their asses during a commercial break than they are two minutes before or two minutes after a commercial break.

    On the other hand, no one pays any attention to the ads on Facebook. Like tiny little newspaper or magazine ads, they are virtually invisible.

    There are people who don't even know there are ads on their Facebook page. They just know there is a column of stupid crap on the right that they never bother looking at. (This is true, by the way, of an enormous amount of web pages. Including this one.)

    This is why the click-through rate on Facebook ads is so astoundingly low (so low, in fact, that they refuse to publish it.)

    Ads that have no impact are worthless. It's really that simple. And Facebook ads are as close to having no impact as it gets. It doesn't matter if they have a billion subscribers. A billion people ignoring your ad are no more valuable than a dozen people ignoring it..

    For a more esoteric explanation, I suggest this article from the former publisher of Adweek.

    Until Facebook finds a way to make paid advertising work in their "ecosystem" this problem will not go away. And until investors understand this simple fact, Facebook shares will remain overvalued, despite the beating they've already taken.

    May 23, 2012

    The Enduring Eternal Truth About Advertising

    A young man died.

    As he stood before St. Peter he was filled with great anxiety.

    "Where am I going?" he asked.

    "Well, " St. Peter answered, "I've been going over your record and I really can't decide. You're one of those borderline cases."

    The young man's anxiety grew.

    "Here's what I think I'll do," said St. Peter. "I'll let you visit both places and you can decide where you want to go."

    The young man breathed a sigh of relief. St. Peter picked up the phone.

    "Angel, would you please come here for a minute to do a tour?"

    Soon a lovely young lady in a white flowing robe appeared. She greeted the young man and escorted him to the elevator, where she pushed the "up" button.

    Soon the elevator door opened and they stepped out into a beautiful verdant field. An immense lawn lay before them. People dressed in white gossamer quietly sat on the grass. Some were strumming stringed instruments and others were singing. Deer played gently in the forested groves.

    "This is heaven," the young lady said.

    "It's quite beautiful," said the young man.

    They went back to the elevator.

    The young lady returned the young man to St. Peter. St. Peter picked up the phone and dialed again. "Lucifer," he said, "I need you to do a tour for me."

    Soon a middle-aged man in a dark tuxedo showed up. He took the young man to the elevator and pressed the down button.

    When the elevator came to a stop and the door opened, the young man was faced with an astounding sight.

    It was a huge amphitheater. Multi-color lights were flashing. Loud music was playing. People, barely dressed, were dancing everywhere. Bars were set up as far as the eye could see. Scantily clad servers were circulating with trays full of wine and champagne. Couples were drifting off together to hidden recesses.

    “This is hell,” said the middle-aged man.

    “Wow,” the young man said. "I never pictured it like this."

    The young man was returned to St. Peter.

    “Well?” St. Peter asked.

    “I’m really confused,” said the young man. “I just don’t know.”

    “Why don’t you sleep on it,” said St. Peter. “Spend the night here and in the morning you can tell me what you’ve decided.

    All night long the young man couldn’t sleep. He went back and forth. Finally he made up his mind.

    “What will it be?” asked St. Peter in the morning.

    “I’ve decided to go downstairs,” said the young man.

    “Very well, then,” said St. Peter, and he called Lucifer to escort the young man to the down elevator.

    Back down they went. This time, however, when the elevator opened, it was a completely different sight.

    People were screaming. Fires were burning. Horrible, acrid smoke was everywhere.

    “What’s going on here?” asked the young man. “Yesterday there was music and laughter. Today it’s torture and screaming.”

    “Yesterday you were a prospect," Lucifer explained. “Today you’re a client.”

    May 22, 2012

    Realism And Nihilism

    I like to think of myself as a realist.

    I put little faith in the pronouncements of people with fancy titles or a shirtful of medals. I want to see proof.

    Having spent some time on the outskirts of science (I taught science to middle-schoolers for a few years and served one year as Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences) I try to practice rational analysis to the degree possible in advertising. I try to have a healthy regard for the difference between a fact and an opinion.

    This leads me to some unorthodox opinions.
    • While I believe social media has been a remarkable worldwide phenomenon, I have seen little evidence that social media marketing is the magic it is purported to be.
    • While I believe in the power of brands, I believe strong brands are best built on product advertising, not branding.
    • While I believe there are times that online advertising can be effective, I believe it has been vastly over-hyped; most of it is invisible; and "interactivity" with online advertising is overwhelmingly a myth.
    • While I believe in the importance of marketing strategy, I believe most people who call themselves marketing strategists are dead weight or flat tires.
    Having these and other unpopular opinions, it is no surprise that there are people who find it off-putting and difficult to work with me. I understand this.

    But I am not a nihilist. I believe in advertising. I believe in the importance of marketing strategy. And I believe in the primacy of ideas.

    What I can't understand is how people in advertising can work for someone who does not believe in these things.

    There is an ultra-hip, nihilistic point of view circulating in the agency world these days that asserts that strategy is dead, ideas are dead, and marketing is dead. This point of view has been expressed most recently by the ceo of a very large global ad agency.

    I don't understand how you can  be working in a creative department, busting your ass every day to come up with ideas to excite and satisfy your clients, and read in the trades that the ceo of your agency believes that big ideas are worthless.

    I have a hard time understanding how you can be spending hours every day searching for  marketing leverage or strategic insight for your clients and hear your boss say that these no longer have relevance.

    At best, someone making comments like this is guilty of employing poseur bullshit to grab some headlines. At worst, he is undermining the efforts that his employees put forth on his behalf every day.

    Anyone with an open mind can see that the fantasy of the internet killing everything in its path has turned out to be fatuous nonsense. It is two years past its sell-by date.

    The buffoonery of the "everything is dead" nihilists has to come to an end. It has become tiresome and destructive. It makes our whole industry look even sillier than it already is. It's time for these people to shut the hell up.

    Addendum: The Roll Call Of The Dead
    Strategy, Ideas, Marketing, and Management Are Dead: Here 
    Television Is Dead: Here
    Advertising Is Dead: Here
    Ad Campaigns Are Dead: Here
    Broadcasting Is Dead: Here
    Copywriters Are Dead: Here
    Marketing Is Dead: Here

    ...the commenting system is completely screwed up. To leave or read comments, click on the headline of the post and commenting will magically appear at the bottom.

    May 21, 2012

    Attack Of The Global Enjoyment Hydrators

    Marketing people just refuse to leave shit alone. Somewhere they got the idea that everything they see needs to be changed and everything they change is an improvement.

    Mr. Obama's campaign slogan notwithstanding, most change is for the worse. If you've ever heard a cover of a favorite song, or gotten a new boss, this should come as no surprise.

    The first thing every marketing person does when he gets a new job is to change everything. If it's red he makes it blue. If it's blue he makes it red.

    Whenever I read in the trades that a successful advertiser has hired a new CMO, I know a festival of laughter is on the way. They always say the same thing: 
    "X Corp has been very successful. I am not here to change that. My focus is just on making sure that we ______."
    Amazingly, making sure that they ________ always seems to require that they change everything.

    A couple of years ago I got fired by a client. They had been a client for 20 years. We had done excellent work for 15 years and they were remarkably successful. Then the ceo and the head of marketing retired. In the ensuing 5 years they had 6 different CMOs. Every one of them had to change everything. Every change was for the worse. Naturally, it was our fault.

    A wonderful example of this is my favorite marketing freak show -- Pepsi. Recently, Jim Edwards at Business Insider had a startling recap of the changes that have gone on during the past few years in Pepsi's marketing leadership. Edwards said:
    "The appropriate reaction to the news that PepsiCo has reshuffled its senior marketing management—again—is laughter.

    The number of recent reorganizations at the beverage and snack group is now beyond a joke. At least 26 senior marketing managers have left Pepsi since 2008..."
    According to Edwards, Pepsi has people running around headquarters with titles like "president-global enjoyment" and "global chief marketing officer-hydration." These titles are so thoroughly preposterous that you need to be George Orwell to satirize them adequately.
    DAD: Son, what would you like to be when you grow up?
    SON: I think I'd like to be president of global enjoyment.
    DAD: It's a tough job, son. But I think you can do it!
    The result of all this bureaucratic nonsense has been a new strategy every half hour, and a series of increasingly dumb advertising initiatives.

    The trend toward escalating bureaucracy in marketing departments, and the concomitant absurdity of titles and overlapping of authority, gives these ninnies the idea that they're supposed to do something.

    And when global enjoyment hydrators start doing something, look out.

    I'm still trying to get a new commenting system going without losing 5 years of previous comments. Sorry, but nothing's easy in web world.

    May 18, 2012

    Selling Facebook Short

    First of all, anyone who takes investment advice from me is an idiot. I know less than nothing about investing. If I knew anything, do you think I'd be writing this stinking blog?

    Nonetheless, fools rush in...

    I am going to boldly make a really dumb prediction which I'm sure I will be eating soon. Later this morning, Facebook will start selling shares to the public. Counter to everyone who knows anything about investing, I think Facebook shares have a good chance of flopping. Not immediately, but soon.

    After the IPO hysteria phase is over (and I don't think it will last very long, couple of months maybe) Facebook will be a sell. Here's my logic:

    1. I believe Mark Zuckerberg. In a way, I admire the Z-man. He doesn't give a shit about advertisers and he doesn't bother to hide it.

    Now that he is going to be a zillionaire, he is likely to care even less about advertisers. He cares about his subscriber's experience, and frankly, I think that's a good thing.

    What the hell does he need more money for? I think his psyche is an open book. He'd rather be a rock star than a suit. He'd rather be popular with his groupies than with his investors. I think he made that perfectly obvious in Boston.

    Investors want him to sell more advertising. But he doesn't want dopey display ads plastered all over his baby. This will become a problem.

    Strangely, by tacitly telling advertisers to screw themselves, he may be instituting a better long-term strategy for Facebook. But in the short term, shareholders are greedy bastards and they want returns on their investment now. Investors could lose patience and start selling pretty quickly.

    2.  They still haven't figured it out. As we have said often, Facebook has two options for marketers: the free option (a Facebook page/suite of pages) and the money-making option (paid advertising.)

    The free option is interesting. It offers marketers opportunities for creativity and interesting ways to involve consumers.

    The paid option is pathetic.

    Invisible small space ads tumble down the right side of the page, where most people don't even know they exist. The limits on what you can say in such ads are daunting. The potential for creativity is meager.

    These ads have about the same impact as classified ads used to have in newspapers. The difference is, people rummaging through classified ads were actually looking for something. People on Facebook are not.

    Facebook still hasn't figured out how to sell its 900 million subscribers to advertisers. If they do, it will become a huge advertising hit. But until they do, I remain skeptical.

    The smart money will get in during the frenzy and then get out quickly.

    I'm taking my Monopoly money and selling.

    May 17, 2012

    Facebook: The Best Show In Town

    Well, well, well. This whole Facebook carnival is getting mighty fun to watch.

    It seems like only yesterday we had this to say about advertising on Facebook...
    "No marketer in his right mind would pay to be ignored by a small number of people. But there is apparently great appeal in being ignored by hundreds of millions."
    Suddenly, however, in the last few days everyone has abruptly discovered what we've been saying about Facebook for a long time -- no one pays any attention to the ads.

    On Tuesday, the big bomb hit when GM announced it was cancelling $10 million in Facebook ads. According the The Wall Street Journal...
    "General Motors Co. plans to stop advertising on Facebook after the auto maker's executives determined their paid ads had little impact on consumers' car purchases... (GM) will continue to expand its use of marketing through Facebook's pages, in which marketers can display content at no cost..." 
    Well, I'll be darned. Six months ago, you read the following here at The Ad Contrarian...
    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.
    Now, 2 of the 3 biggest advertisers in America have decided that the free part of Facebook is a lot more attractive to them than the paid part.

    And apparently the trend may be snowballing. According to the NY Times...
    Several analysts believe that GM’s decision will cause other marketers to take at least a second look at their own Facebook strategy. Melissa Parrish, an analyst at Forrester, wrote in an e-mail...“My colleagues and I have spoken with several other advertisers who were already thinking of putting their dollars elsewhere... Now that G.M. has done so in such a large and public way, many of the fence-sitters will know that they’re not alone in their disappointment about their results.”
    Also according to MediaPost..
    ... even before the GM announcement Forrester analyst Nate Elliott wrote this damning judgment: “Marketing on Facebook doesn’t work very well, and marketers can’t count on things improving anytime soon.... And so every day more smart marketers are going to wake up and look for other places to dedicate their social resources."
    Apparently, hell hath no fury like a lemming scorned.

    Just for the heck of it, I did a little math.

    If Facebook's IPO valuation comes in at $100 billion, as many predict, that would be over 30 times its ad revenue. Google is valued at about 5 times its ad revenue. So the people who are going to bid up Facebook are paying 6 times as much for a dollar of ad revenue from Facebook then they'd pay for a dollar's worth of ad revenue from Google.

    According to a calculation I did, Google produces 25 times the revenue per minute spent on it than Facebook does.

    So if my math is right (which it rarely is -- never trust copywriter math) and a) investors will be paying 6 times as much for a dollar's worth of Facebook ad revenue, and b) Google produces revenue at a rate that is 25 times faster than Facebook, then investors are paying 150 times as much for a minute spent by a viewer on Facebook than for a minute on Google.

    In what universe does that make sense?

    On the eve of the big IPO, The Ad Contrarian turns investment adviser. You'd be wise to stay away.

    May 11, 2012

    Proud Father Goes AWOL

    Today, the very proud father of a very wonderful daughter hits the road to attend commencement and celebrate graduation from college. Hers, not mine.

    I am leaving my blog-o-matic at home and will probably not be posting anything for a while. 

    Think of it as scheduled maintenance.

    Meanwhile, with no Ad Contrarian to keep you entertained for a week or so, this is the perfect time to buy "101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising" in either the paper version or the pixie version

    If you need convincing, read these fantastic reviews, many of which I didn't pay a dime for. 

    And have a good week.

    May 10, 2012

    Ads About Nothing

    Here at Ad Contrarian world headquarters we have a little 2-word commandment: Be specific.

    You see, we think that "1,000 songs in your pocket" is a better promise than "world-class MP3 player."

    We think that "15 minutes can save you 15%" is more motivating than "get huge savings."

    We think "$5 Footlong" is a better idea than "really cheap and really big."

    We believe in being specific.

    As usual, this precept runs counter to contemporary marketing thinking. Today's busy marketing windbag is too lazy to bother with specifics. He doesn't want one campaign that is specific to, say, the UK and another that is specific to China. He doesn't really care that in one culture yogurt is a dessert and in another it's an ingredient. Don't bother him with the idea that the world and its people are filled with a million little subtleties. It's too much darn work.

    He wants globularity. He wants to do one big thing and run it everywhere. That way, he doesn't have to think too much or strain too hard.

    The upshot of this is that we get "global" ad campaigns that are about everything in general and nothing in particular.

    Just have a look at Pepsi's new global ad effort that we picked on here the other day (picking on Pepsi is not just a hobby, it's a lifestyle.) It stars two actors who are not-quite-Hispanic, not-quite-Anglo, not-quite-Mediterranean, and not-quite-Middle-Eastern. They are in places that are not-quite-anywhere, doing stuff that is not-quite-anything.

    It is a monument to non-specific globularity.

    So what if there's no evidence that "global" campaigns are any more effective than any other campaigns? So what if there's mountains of evidence that specifics are more motivating than generalities? This is a new age and being global is, like, totally awesome.

    Being everything to everyone, everywhere is not strategy. It is absence of strategy.

    "The essence of strategy is sacrifice." David Ogilvy said that.  

    "When you make ads about everything, you make ads about nothing." I said that.

    Apologies... fabulous new commenting software still isn't working. On the other hand, it's been nice not being called an idiot for a couple of days.

    May 09, 2012

    Are Brands Real?

    A very interesting piece appeared last week in Ad Age about vacuum cleaner magnate James Dyson. The piece was called "James Dyson: I Don't Believe In Brand."

    Here is the gist of the article:
    "There's only one word that's banned in our company: brand," Mr. Dyson said... "We're only as good as our latest product. I don't believe in brand at all."
    While I applaud Mr. Dyson's spirit and his disdain for the insufferable brand babble that infests our business, I'm afraid he's wrong.

    Brands are important to people. That's why stores have signs and bottles have labels. It's why he puts his name on his vacuum cleaners.

    I read a remarkable article recently about a very talented football player named LaMichael James who went to the University of Oregon. James said...
    ...he based part of his college decision on what brand of athletic apparel sponsored the athletic program...

    “I would not go to two or three colleges just because they were Adidas,” James said... "I wouldn’t go to Arkansas and I wouldn’t go to Mississippi State because they were Adidas schools… No three stripes for me. All Nike.”
    Now, let's be clear here. Not everyone in the world is a knucklehead football player. But to think that brands don't influence our decision making is just plain naive.

    Where Mr. Dyson is correct -- and where most everyone else in marketing is wrong -- is in how you build brands. As Mr. Dyson has shown, the best way to build a brand is with product advertising. Not brand advertising.

    Just to make sure we have our definitions straight here, I consider "product" advertising to be about features and benefits. I consider "brand" advertising to be about imagery and lifestyle.

    There are a few categories in which "brand" advertising is effective -- fashion, soda, booze, some luxury goods.

    In the vast majority of categories, however, product advertising is far more effective -- not just at selling products, but at building brands.

    The best example is Apple. Virtually every ad you've seen of theirs has a single product smack dab in the middle of the page or screen and talks about the benefits and features of the product. As a result, they have one of the most powerful brands in the world.

    As we say here at Ad Contrarian World Headquarters...
    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.

    By the way...
    ...for more about brand reality, you could do worse than pick up my new book, 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising. Just sayin...

    And also...
    I am changing commenting software. Your basic tech nightmare. Comments may be screwed up for several hours. Or eternity. Who the hell knows?

    May 08, 2012

    Pepsi As Confused As Ever

    As all ad contras know, one of the great pleasures of writing this blog is commenting on the ongoing clown show that is Pepsi.

    In our last exciting episode, we bragged about our amazing prediction of exactly what Pepsi would do after the social media disaster that was "Refresh."

    Now that we've had a look at a spot from the new campaign, it is everything we hoped for and more. Last year we said... "let's just hope it's really big and dumb so the rest of us can continue to stay 'refreshed.'"

    Well, my friends, it's bigger and dumber than we had any right to expect. It is deliciously big and dumb.

    But the best part isn't even the spot. It's the bullshit that goes along with it. Here is some background about the new campaign from Ad Age...
    "For nine months, a core team of Pepsi execs...scoured the globe for inspiration, looked to the past for insights and sought to understand what precisely made Pepsi different from Coke. There were exhaustive focus groups, in-home ethnographies, quantitative and qualitative studies, and cultural immersions in markets as diverse as Argentina, Australia, United Arab Emirates and Russia."
    And what was the result of all this ethno-global-quanti-quali-immersion? The oldest, tiredest formula in the book. Last year we told you exactly what it would be...
    "Happy, youthful people of every color from all over the global world are drinking Pepsi while the most expensive pop stars of every color in the global world are singing about Pepsi."

    This is a 60-second spot with a strategy that is indistinguishable from every soda and light beer spot done in the past 20 years. It is a perfect amalgam of disposable pop music, ethnically homogenized young people jumping around mindlessly, and worn out special effects.

    It is five million dollars worth of bad acting and rotten tomatoes.

    One of the Pepsi marketing prodigies had this to say, "Pepsi is not a brand that belongs in a museum." Maybe not, but this spot does.

    The president of PepsiCo China asked, "Who doesn't want to work on a brand that promises to capture the excitement of now?" 

    I think I speak for the people of Argentina, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Russia and the rest of the civilized world when I say, we don't.

    May 07, 2012

    What Is Facebook Hiding?

    I would like someone from Facebook to explain to us why they will not reveal click-through rates for ads on Facebook.

    Since advertising is their primary source of revenue, and since click-through rates are a legitimate, recognized measure of online advertising effectiveness, it seems reasonable that they would do so.

    Thus far, Facebook has gotten away with not revealing these numbers. They have managed to hide behind the gaudy number of members they have and the amazing popularity of their free services.

    They have also been protected by an advertising industry hungry to have another Google and not inclined to challenge Facebook by asking too many unpleasant questions.

    It seems likely, however, that in the fullness of time, when the exuberance and shininess of Facebook wear off, advertisers are going to start asking the emperor about his wardrobe. Like exactly how effective is Facebook at motivating people to link to their messages -- in other words, click on their ads?

    Click-through rates for online advertising in general are abysmally low - on average, fewer than 1 in a thousand. Consequently, the online ad industry and complicit ad agencies have been desperately trying to convince us that clicks don't mean anything. This nonsense simply will not sell, and anyone foolish enough to believe it deserves what he gets.

    Third party sources have done analyses which estimate that Facebook ads have a click-through rate that is about half the industry average. Rumors I have heard say that the actual number is one-fifth the industry average -- an alarming 2 clicks in 10,000. This isn't even large enough to be called rounding error.

    With an IPO upcoming, and billions of dollars about to change hands, it doesn't seem quite gentlemanly for Facebook to continue refusing to reveal these numbers.

    Unless, of course, they are trying to hide something.

    May 04, 2012

    6 Things I Learned This Week

    Here are 6 things I learned this week.
    1. Annals Of Marketing: According to news reports, Osama Bin Laden was working on re-branding Al Qaeda before he was killed.  Apparently he was all grumpy and depressed and thought Al Qaeda's image had been damaged (!) and was thinking about a name change.

    2. According to the great George Tannebaum at Ad Aged, William Pace had the all-time record for living with a bullet in his head. His brother accidentally shot him in the head when he was 9. The bullet was never removed. He died this week at 103.

    3. Annals Of Marketing, Part 2: A motel operator in Cocoa Beach, Florida has decided that the only way to save his failing business (The Fawlty Towers Motel, no I'm not kidding) is to turn it into an all nude motel. Next up: All nude ad agencies.

    4. If, on the other hand, you'd rather not drag your naked ass to the ice machine, the Emirate of Dubai is planning to build an underwater hotel. I'm thinking of staying home.

    4. Human psychology explained: Thin people think they're fatter then they are. Fat people think they're thinner than they are. Dumb people think they're smarter than they are. Smart people think they're smarter than they are.

    5. I'm speaking to a group of independent ad agency owners this morning. The title of my talk, "The Golden Age Of Bullshit." Should be another fine opportunity to turn a nice group of people into an angry violent mob.
    6. Pepsi is letting its desperation show by bringing the image of Michael Jackson back on a billion cans of Pepsi. Can't they leave the poor guy alone?
    Have a good weekend.

    May 03, 2012

    The Electro-Magnetic Theory Of Economics

    First of all, have you ever seen a worse title for a blog post? If 9 people read this thing it will be a miracle. Which may be a good thing because I'm going off into hyper-space today.

    I've never understood how an economy works. Why is business good one year and then stinks the next year? There are the same amount of people, and the same amount of money, and all of a sudden everything stops. I don't get it.

    Then an idea occurred to me. Maybe economics is like electricity. The way electricity works is like this (well, this is the idiot blogger version anyway) -- some materials have more "loose" electrons than others. And when two materials that have different levels of loose electrons are connected, and there is a path created, the electrons want to reach an equilibrium, so the electrons flow from the material with more loose electrons to the material with fewer. And we get electricity. The greater the imbalance, the heavier the flow.

    Maybe an economy works that way. Think about dollars as electrons. There is always an imbalance of dollars. Some people have more dollars than others. Some countries have more dollars than others. So when the circumstances are right, and there is a clear path, dollars flow from those with more dollars to those with less -- in other words, people buy things.

    But what is the clear path that makes the dollars flow? The answer is value. Why is there no steel industry in the US any more? Because our steel became too expensive and the loose electrons started flowing where there was a greater imbalance -- overseas.

    If this is true, than the greater the imbalance the more robust the economic activity -- just as long as there's a clear path. This is a disconcerting prospect for advanced economies. It means that societies that have lower costs of production will have more rapid rates of economic growth -- just as long as they have a clear path (something of value) that they're able to sell. This explains our constant balance-of-trade problems. We keep sending our electrons to Saudi Arabia for their oil and to China for their refrigerators.

    It also explains the nasty appeal of colonialism. Societies with lots of expendable electrons will be drawn to creating "paths" to those where the electromagnetic pull is the strongest.

    It also explains our recent recession. I could never understand why the recession started. But if you look at it like electricity, the materials with loose electrons (banks) lost their attraction to materials with fewer electrons (us.) Electrons stopped flowing and the economy went floppy.

    Being an economics idiot I am sure this theory is either completely stupid or completely obvious. But for an ad hack riding to work on the train, I thought it was a pretty handy bit of work.

    Apologies About My Commenting Program
    I use a third party commenting program and they are quitting the commenting business. It's a good thing, too, because it's a terribly confusing and unreliable program (at least from my perspective.) I have gotten emails from people who are telling me that comments are not showing up, others are telling me they are showing up twice, it's a mess. I think it depends on what browser you are using.  I am trying to migrate all my old comments over to Blogger, but it's not as easy as it sounds. I hope to have it done by next week. I love comments, so please keep commenting and be patient.

    May 02, 2012

    Pepsi Follows The Script

    Almost a year ago in a piece called There's Madness To The Madness, while having a great time kicking the shit out of Pepsi for their disastrous Refresh nonsense, I made one of my rare predictions...
    "...when brands lose their minds and go off the rails, their next move is usually to snap back to their roots. With that in mind, here's the kind of campaign I expect come up with:
    Concept: Happy, youthful people of every color from all over the global world are drinking Pepsi while the most expensive pop stars of every color in the global world are singing about Pepsi."
    Well, guess what? According to Ad Age on Monday...
    Pepsi is preparing to launch a campaign, "Live for Now," that positions the brand on the pop-culture forefront around the world.
    Well, I'll be...

    A Pepsi marketing exec said...
    "When we look at what Pepsi really stands for, we've been an entertainment platform for as far back as anyone can remember"... As part of the campaign, Pepsi will partner with emerging entertainers or artists from a variety of disciplines...The initial spot features a cameo from performer Nicki Minaj...
    God, I'm good.

    I went on to say...
    This will all be tied into a mobile Facebook/Twitter/YouTube friend and download fest...The campaign theme will be Planet Pepsi or something else of equal globularity.
    According to Ad Age...
    Consumers will be encouraged to tweet, "like" and pin items from the dashboard... Pepsi Pulse will also promote about 50 events and activities in markets across the country...
    If you didn't know better, you'd be tempted to think I know what the hell I'm talking about.

    Anyway, it's nice to see that there are some marketing people out there who actually read this thing. No charge, Pepsi.