November 27, 2013

No App For Gratitude

Thanksgiving is my kind of holiday.

It doesn't require gods or miracles or tragedies or victories or angels or kings or winners or losers or flags or gifts.

All you need is some pumpkin pie, a big-ass flat screen, and a comfortable sofa to drool on.

Oh, and a little gratitude.

Gratitude, by the way, is a commodity in very short supply. Regrettably, we seem to have mountains of expectation but not much in the way of appreciation. It's a socially transmitted disease.

So this Thanksgiving, let's put aside harsh judgments for a day or two. Thank a cop. Give a bum a buck. Kiss an in-law.

I don't like Puritans of any stripe. But I like the idea of them having the Indians over for dinner. I know the detente didn't last too long, but any day you're eating sweet potatoes instead of shooting off muskets is a good day.

Be grateful that you have shoes. Be thankful that your cat is healthy. Compliment someone's posture.

If you can't do any of that stuff, then at least give thanks that you won't be dining with Whoopi Goldberg or Donald Trump. That alone should be enough.

Finally, do yourself a favor -- quit whining. That's my job.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving.

November 25, 2013

Astounding News From Moronsville

You simply cannot make this shit up.

Just when you think the world of online advertising can't get any more absurd, the banner boys prove you wrong again.

Let's start at the beginning.

On June 13, we wrote about an article in The Wall Street Journal that reported on a study by comScore which found that 54% of display ads paid for by advertisers were never seen by a live human being.

About a month ago, a digital media company created an infographic about this finding. Not satisfied to leave bad enough alone, they decided that it required some commentary.

Here's what these people deduced:
"...higher rates of viewability drive increased action through the effect of accumulated ad-views."
For those of you who speak English, what this bullshit means is that ads that are seen are more effective than ads that are not seen. How's that for a stunning insight?

Gosh, what next? Cars with wheels go faster than cars without wheels? Rats with brains are smarter than online ad geniuses rats without brains?
"With a move to marketers only paying for adverts that are seen, this infographic highlights a sea change in online advertising."
"Marketers only paying for adverts that are seen." Huh? What kind of fucking moron would pay for ads that are not seen? I mean, besides a CMO?

I would like to suggest that this is not a sea change. It's a see change...we'd like someone to see our fucking ads for a change.

Expecting ads to be seen is apparently a radical new "approach" in the never-never-land of online advertising.
“Brand marketers are able to use this approach to safeguard the quality of their advertising inventory, whilst performance marketers can benefit from the increased response that is triggered by more viewable advertising.”
I don't even know what to say about this monumental stupidity. But here's the line that really got me:
"If an ad is in view, your audience is more likely to act upon it."
No shit? You mean an ad works better if someone can see it? Well fuck me blind.

And to impress us with their "data" here's a graph that proves that visible ads get more clicks than invisible ones.
This is what passes for thinking in the amateurish, confused, corrupt pile of crap that is the online ad industry. It is the land of the absurd.

Big thanks to Christopher for sending me this link.

November 20, 2013

Advertising's Most Destructive Force

One of the great afflictions suffered by people in the advertising industry is status anxiety – worrying about what people think of you.

I’m not really sure what role status anxiety plays in the lives of media people, account people, planners or administrative types. But having grown up in creative departments, I know that it plays a powerful and seriously unhealthy role among creative people.

One of the most obvious manifestations of status anxiety is job-hopping. It has been my experience that creatives who jump from job to job are usually among the most status conscious and least happy people in our industry.

At one time, in one of my agencies, we had a talented creative guy who was about to be promoted to creative director of the agency. He had just completed a wonderful campaign for one of our clients that was winning all kinds of awards and he was gaining recognition. He was a very good creative but had bounced around a lot and had never settled into a situation in which his talent could be fully cultivated and harnessed.

Because of his much-awarded campaign he was suddenly on the radar of some of the most high status agencies in the country. He did not accept our offer to run our creative department and become a partner. He accepted a second-tier job at Goodby. Obviously, working at Goodby conferred more status on him than staying at our agency.

Instead of choosing the opportunity to be the chief architect of his own agency, he chose the reflected glory of someone else’s. I have nothing but respect for GS&P but, in my opinion, he punted.

The problem with a decision like this is that it confuses reflected glory with true accomplishment. It may feel nice to tell people at cocktail parties that you work at a famous agency, but as the person in question soon found out, reflected glory has a limited shelf life.

It’s important to remember that the truly high-status people in our business – the Goodbys, the Wiedens – eschewed status themselves to start their own things. They did not take a job at a prestige agency. They built their careers on a bet against the reflected glory of someone else’s agency, and put their money on their own ability to outclass the high-status agencies of the time.

There are plenty of people who find solace -- and, in fact, satisfaction -- basking in the reflected glory of their employers and colleagues.  While I always enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to work with top quality people, the only status I could ever convince myself was worth anything was that which came from having accomplished something myself. Being near success may feel nice, but creating something on my own was my only true gratification.

Status anxiety is a destructive and debilitating force. Worrying about what others think is a monumental waste of time and energy. Making career decisions based on what you think others will think of you is not just pitiable, it can damage your life.

Do what you think is right, not what you think will impress others. If others don’t like it, fuck ‘em.

November 18, 2013

The Ignorance Of Experts

Once in a while you read something so wonderful that you have to tell people about it. Such a thing happened to me last week.

I was reading a book entitled The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman. Feynman is one of my heroes. I have written about him often on this blog. He was probably one of the most brilliant people of the 20th century (I say "probably" because I haven't met all the people of the 20th century.)

I have made a practice of trying to read everything that Feynman wrote (although much of it is indecipherable to my feeble mind.) The great value to me in reading Feynman is not in understanding his remarkable discoveries in physics, for which he won the Albert Einstein Award and the Nobel Prize, but in observing the clarity and dexterity of his thinking and, most of all, his congenital skepticism.

Feynman was an inveterate doubter. One of the things that made him such a brilliant and successful scientist, and such an interesting person, was that he never accepted anything because it was the opinion of an expert or an "authority." He insisted on proving things to his own satisfaction.

In my (trivial) advertising career, I tried to maintain a skeptical and doubting outlook. While it is obvious that advertising is a monumentally silly occupation, I tried to make it more stimulating (to me, at least) by questioning everything I read or heard about it -- by trying very hard not to accept the generally accepted wisdom unless I could find convincing evidence that it was true.

In the past few weeks on this page I have expressed that idea a couple of times. On October 28th I wrote...
Nobody seems inclined to challenge the wearisome assertions of modern-day wizards, no matter how many times they've been wrong.
On October 30th I wrote...
...the first thing that struck me was that in the ad business we didn’t really seem to know very much... We thought we knew things…we had all these rules and principles and philosophies and ideas about what made good advertising…but I couldn’t find any never stopped bothering me. And so I developed a very annoying habit – I stopped believing advertising experts.
The persona I created for this blog is one of a cranky old guy who is out to question everything about advertising that conventional wisdom, and conventional wizards, have to say.

There are times I have reservations about this posturing. I ask myself whether I am just doing it to advance my "brand" and be a pain in the ass, or if I really possess the doubt and skepticism I claim to have?

And then the wonderful thing happened. I was reading an essay in Feynman's book. The essay was in the form of a speech he gave to the National Science Teachers Association. The subject was "What Is Science?" He gave several different definitions of science from several different perspectives. Then he gave one that really got me smiling. He said...
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."
Amen, brother.

By The Way...
There is a terrific movie about Feynman's struggle with the "experts" of NASA called "The Challenger Disaster" that is airing this week on the Science Channel and the History Channel. Not to be missed.

And Don't Forget...
Feynman went to Far Rockaway High School.

November 14, 2013

The Scam What Am

For several months, the Investigative Helicopter Team here at The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters has been writing about the masssive fraud being perpetrated on online advertisers (here, here, here, and here.)

This week, Jack Marshall of Digiday has a great interview with a former online scam artist -- oops, I mean publishing executive -- who tells his story. You can read the whole thing here.

Here are some of the highlights:

- Why he bought traffic he knew was fraudulent:
"As a website running an arbitrage model, all that mattered was profit, and for every $0.002 visit we were buying, we were making between $0.0025 and $0.004 selling display ads through networks and exchanges."
- How did he know it was bots, not humans, he was buying?
"When we told them we were looking for the cheapest traffic we could possibly buy there would be sort of a wink and a nod, and they’d make us aware that for that price the traffic would be of “unknown quality”... You can tell it’s bot traffic just by looking at the analytics."
- Do publishers know they're engaged in fraud?
"Publishers know... Any publisher that’s smart enough understand an arbitrage opportunity is smart enough to understand... What we were doing was 100 percent intentional. Some articles revolving around bot traffic paint publishers as rubes who were duped...I believe publishers are willing to do anything to make their economics work. "
- On networks and ad exchanges:
"We worked with a major supply-side platform partner that was just wink wink, nudge nudge about it. They asked us to explain why almost all of our traffic came from one operating system and the majority had all the same user-agent string. There was nothing I could really say.... It was their way of letting us know that they understood what was going on... It was people at the highest levels in the company... In theory they maintain the quality of their traffic. In reality they just turn a blind eye."
 - How widespread is the fraud?
"...there are a lot of people who knowingly do it....There are so many ways they could police this, but the incentive just isn’t there."
I've always found that the ad industry atracted a certain kind of harmless bullshit artist whose assertions were so obviously self-serving and unreliable that no one with an ounce of grey matter would take them seriously.

Apparently I am wrong. We seem to have a large group of online buyers and sellers who are willfully buying and selling fraudulent merchandise. By keeping one step away from the smoking gun, they believe they are able to maintain deniability. Time will tell. Sooner or later, if the foundation is dodgy the house comes tumbling down

It's a rotten, dirty game and ignorant advertisers are getting skinned alive.

The amazing thing is that no one's been arrested or fired.

November 11, 2013

Insights That Lead Nowhere

Somewhere along the line, the ad industry decided that advertising should be about consumers, not products.

This unnoticed and unremarked-upon mutation has had a profound impact on the nature and effectiveness of what we do.

The first effect has been to transform us from salespeople to sociologists. Of course, we don't like to call what we do sociology (too down market) instead we like to call it "cultural anthropology" (much more lyrical.)

So, along with our friends in the market research world, we have developed all kinds of cultural cliches which we lean on: Baby Boomers are this, and Millennials are that, and Gen Xers are the other thing, therefore...(INSERT QUESTIONABLE ASSERTIONS HERE.)

Instead of spending our time looking for imaginative advertising concepts about products, we spend our time developing dubious "insights" about consumers. Our sociological cliches form both the basis of these "insights" and the justification for them.

Of course, if these insights actually helped us create more effective advertising and sell more stuff, we'd all agree that progress has been made.

Sadly, however, it is pretty widely recognized that advertising has become a less powerful force, not a more powerful one. If our metamorphosis from salesmen to sociologists had been a constructive thing, we would expect the opposite.

There are surely a lot of other reasons for advertising's loss of efficacy -- media fragmentation, clutter, and talent erosion among them. But I think we would be mistaken to believe that our ascension from the uninspiring role of salesmen to the lofty ranks of cultural anthropologists hasn't been a factor.

Most of the "insights" we develop as a result of our sidewalk sociology turn out to be shallow generalities that have little to no effect on our ability to move more peanut butter.

In fact, a nice idea about a product is usually a much more powerful marketing asset than a majestic theory about the nature of mankind.

November 06, 2013

Engagement And The YouTube Music Awards

Online advocates have been trying to convince us that the proper measurement of online success is "engagement."

Engagement is a very imprecise and confusing term. Nobody can agree on what engagement means, how to measure it, or what value it has.

So it’s the perfect flavor of online unaccountability. Just like we disguise our traditional advertising failures behind branding ("it's not supposed to sell, it's a branding ad") we now hide our online failures behind "engagement ("clicks mean nothing.")

As Martin Weigel, head of planing at Wieden+Kennedy's Amsterdam office says,
"‘Engagement’ is an unworkable and meaningless concept. It means everything. And absolutely nothing. And as such it cannot possibly claim to be any kind of metric.
Searching, viewing, visits, spending time on site or page, opening promotional e-mails, completing a survey, page views, linking, bookmarking, blogging, forwarding, following, referring, clicking, friending, liking, +1-ing, playing, reading, subscribing, posting, printing, reviewing, recommending, rating, co-creating, discussing,...uploading, downloading, adding an item to favourites, joining a group, installing a widget...All of these and more are potential measures of ‘engagement’...It really is time to call bullshit on ‘engagement’. Better, to bundle it into a coffin labelled ‘Agency Puffery’ and put a nail firmly in it once and for all.”
Let's take a real-world look at engagement and see how it translates into consumer behavior.

Last week, Google, oops, I mean YouTube, put on its first YouTube Music Awards featuring two of the biggest stars on the planet, Eminem and Lady Gaga.

According to YouTube press releases, they received over 60 million votes for these awards. Get 60 million actions of any kind and you've hit the engagement jackpot. And yet...

According to reports I've read, YouTube only averaged about 180,000 viewers at any particular time.

In other words, for every "engagement" action there were about .003 as many people actually watching the show at any given moment.

This is not the kind of "return on engagement" that is likely to build confidence in engagement as anything other than another bullshit "metric" dreamed up by the ad industry.

And if that's all you can do with Eminem and Gaga, imagine the results without them.

November 04, 2013

Lying: It's Not Just A Strategy, It's A Lifestyle.

You would think that companies whose advertising lies to the public would have a high price to pay. But you'd be wrong.

The consolidation of economic power into the hands of enormous worldwide entities has given consumers nothing much to choose from except which lying bastards to do business with.
  • Does anyone do anything but laugh at the "blazing fast" download speeds that every ISP promises?
  • Or the "personal banking experience" that every bank swears by?
  • Or the "spacious cabins" that airlines talk about?
  • Or the "knowledgeable people" at the big box store?
  • Or the outstanding service of the cable industry? 
  • Or the amazing voice recognition of tech gizmos?
Everyone with a functioning brain knows that these claims are nothing but hot air. And yet, what are our options? Only to choose another liar.

It would be bad enough if lying to the public were just an economic exercise. But it has become part of the political playbook as well:
  • "I am not a crook." Richard M. Nixon.
  • "Read my lips. No new taxes." George H.W. Bush
  • "I did not have sex with that woman." Bill Clinton
  • "There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction." George W. Bush
  • "There is no spying on Americans." Barack Obama
Of course, these presidents have legions of fast-talking media scumbags to explain why their lies weren't really lies.

Sadly, we have gotten used to the fact that the only political option we have is to replace one set of liars with another.

Now, with our consumer options rapidly devolving into a choice among fewer and fewer enormous global enterprises of dubious integrity, we are going to have to get used to the idea of trading one lying corporation for another.

The consumer is in charge. Yeah, right.