February 27, 2013

The Content Con

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that this year's online magical marketing word is "content."

All the hustlers who were selling us "the conversation" a few years ago and "social media marketing" for the past two years have suddenly all become "content" experts. The great thing about content is, it's anything you want it to be. If you can upload it to the web, it's content.

It may be "content" in the digital world. In the real world it's mostly garbage. 99% of it will go unnoticed and will live and die anonymously.

Like all the online wonder drugs, there will be a few winners. They will be the same really smart people and the really smart agencies who know how to do things right. They will be a tiny, tiny minority.

As usual, the 99% talent-free mediocrities will attach themselves to these winners as proof of the magical powers of "content." And, also as usual, the vast majority of content "providers" will produce nothing but drivel that no one will pay a moment's attention to.
A growing number of marketers and agencies have already quietly given up on over-hyped online marketing marvels. Websites that aren't transactional lay around like a lox waiting to be upgraded "next year."

Between 2010 and 2011 over 25% of "fast-growing" companies identified by Inc magazine who had blogs dropped them. And according to USA Today, only 23% of Fortune 500 companies have a blog anymore. A far cry from the days when websites and blogs and podcasts were going to be the fast track to marketing stardom.

Now, of course, everyone has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. Why? Because everyone else has one.

They're the lazy mans' blogs. It's just so much easier to write a tweet or an update than a blog post. And you get the same credit for "doing social media."  In fact, you are not doing social media. For the most part you are doing nothing. But it's masquerading as social media.

Plus you don't need brains to Tweet or update a Facebook page. Here is Coke's last tweet, as of this writing:
For your to-do list today: “pay a compliment to one friend and one stranger” #HappyMonday
This abominable idiocy could have been written by a half-bright 9-year-old. In fact, it probably was. Pepsi's latest Facebook update (again, as of this writing)
One way to make this the best week EVER is to ____. (With a picture of a Pepsi can.)
This pathetic nonsense drew over 4,000 likes.

The essence of social media is democracy. Everyone has something to say. Unfortunately, everyone doesn't have something interesting to say. Or intelligent to say. As a matter of fact, almost no one has anything interesting or intelligent to say.

As user-generated-content has become the standard, and as marketers' content tries to emulate and imitate user-generated-content, it is being relentlessly dumbed down. It is devolving into empty platitudes and boosterism.

We are in for a period of truly vapid online marketing in 2013. It will be the year of content without content.


February 25, 2013

Sex And Commerce

Back in high school there were people who were "heavy users" of sex. Remember them?

They often had one characteristic in common -- they were promiscuous. They didn't just have lots of sex with one person. As we used to say, they "got around."

The world of commerce is like that, too. Heavy users in a category tend to be promiscuous. They tend to try lots of different brands in the category. They get around.

Someone who is a heavy user in the fast food category might go to McDonald's 4 out of 10 times; Subway 2.5 in 10; Wendy's 1.5 in 10; Taco Bell 1 in 10...etc.

People in advertising and marketing often wrongly equate usage and loyalty. They think that heavy users in a category tend to be brand loyal. And that heavy users of a brand are brand loyal. The truth can be quite the opposite.

In the above example, the heavy fast food user might also be a heavy user of McDonald's. He may go to McDonald's 4 times a week. But he is not brand loyal. In fact, 6 out of 10 times he patronizes a competitor.

This is true in many categories. Heavy users of sneakers (like yours truly) will tend to have Nikes, Adidas, and Reeboks in their closets. Heavy users of wine are very avid brand jumpers. Heavy travelers visit a lot of different locations. 72% of Pepsi drinkers also drink Coke.

Meanwhile, light users can be very brand loyal. My parents didn't eat out much, but when they did, they always went to the same places.

Of course, this does not mean there are no heavy category users who are highly brand loyal. But in general, the idea that heavy users in a category and heavy users of a brand are more loyal than light users is not just mistaken, it is dangerous.

It's dangerous for two reasons. First, because it fosters the infantile fantasy that people care deeply about brands and want to have "relationships" with them.

Second, it has large implications for advertising strategy. Success of a brand is not singularly related to high degrees of brand loyalty. Let me repeat that. Success of a brand is not singularly related to high degrees of brand loyalty. In fact, the most important success factor for mainstream consumer brands is not how many loyal customers you have, but how many customers you have.

Which is why the current obsession with "engagement" is so misguided. The idea that your success is dependent upon your customers becoming deeply emotionally attached to your brand is a delusion. Consumers are promiscuous. Most successful brands have a customer profile that is a mile wide and an inch deep. They're just not that into you.

As Martin Weigel says... "Your consumers are just someone else's consumers who occasionally buy you."

That is also why the current mania for spending enormous amounts of time, money, and energy getting your "fans" to "engage" with you is such a silly preoccupation. Having your customers "like" you may be nice, but having your competitors' customers try you is what builds your business.

Wanna grow your brand? You don't need more engagement. You need more customers.

February 21, 2013

Who The Hell Is "The Consumer?"

One of the things that gives me big chuckles is listening to account planners and creative directors talk about "the consumer."

"The consumer" is someone they think they know a lot about. Apparently she attends the same pilates classes as planners, and goes on mountain bike rides with creative directors.

Despite their unctuous devotion to mouthing the word, most people in advertising don't know the first thing about "the consumer."

This point was reinforced to me recently by two things I read. First was a blog piece by the great Dave Trott, writing about the reaction he gets to his cockney accent when speaking to business groups.
"Was the white collar world of marketing and senior management made up exclusively of middle class people with middle class accents?
Did they think everyone, everywhere was exactly like them?
Because here’s a funny thing.
Where I grew up everyone had cockney accents.
Around three million people.
And I’d lived my whole life without anyone ever commenting on it, until I started doing talks to people in marketing.
People who, apparently, never hear anything but middle class accents."
The second occurred when I was doing some research on automotive trends. I was reading a piece about how some cars stay in the hands of owners far longer than others. The writer of the piece thought he had uncovered a startling anomaly. He found that people with crappy cars held on to their cars longer than people with quality cars. Why would people hold on to lousy cars, he wanted to know?

He was digging around for explanations for this crazy fact. I'm pretty sure this would have stumped most agency people.

So here's the answer Mr. Strategist -- they hold on to their crappy cars longer because they don't have any fucking money.

Unlike us marketing wizards, people in the real world are forced to buy crappy things and hold onto them. To them, Walmart is a way of life. To us it's a punch line.

Here's something I wrote three years ago in a post called Reality At The DMV...
I'm thinking of making a monthly visit to the DMV a condition of employment for everyone on my staff. 
I want them to see what the people they're making ads for really look like. I want them to see the people they never see at the restaurants they go to; never see at the bars they frequent; never see at the focus groups they attend; and never hear from on Twitter.
In other words, I want them to see the "consumer" they're all so very certain they know everything about.

February 19, 2013

Slaves To Trendiness

Take a look through any agency website and you're sure to read about how innovative they are. They do things differently. They have a unique perspective.

Spend time at these agencies, on the other hand, and you're sure to find out how absurdly derivative and slavishly trendy they are.

According to Ad Age, no fewer than 60 agencies have so far posted videos of their staff doing the Harlem Shake.

Not only are agency cretins posting Harlem Shake videos, but so are advertising "educational" institutions like the Miami Ad School and the VCU Brandcenter. If that's not enough for you, so have Pepsi, A&W, Chili's, Google, and Facebook.

I guess one of the positive things about the web is that the life cycle of these memes is so short that by the time these dimwits have posted these monstrosities they are already past their sell-by.

On a similar subject, last week in a post called Rethinking Our Addictions I wrote about how resisting the shallow lure of pop culture had helped some advertisers create standout commercials in this year's Super Bowl...
"The interesting thing is that they may have stood out because they eschewed the thrash-pop sensibility. They were gentle, innocent, and positive. They were not evocative of pop culture in their style and structure."
 Apparently someone's been reading this blog. A few days later, Adweek wrote...
"The top five (ads) show how viewers can appreciate quieter and more poignant moments during an often-hectic Super Bowl telecast. Three of the five, including the top two, are heartwarming productions, rather than the broad comedy for which Super Bowl ads have generally become known."
I'm going to say this one more time. Bad advertisers think that advertising is about identifying the latest fad and jumping on it as fast as they can. Good advertisers know that advertising is about finding something interesting to say and saying it cleverly, wittily, or beautifully.

February 14, 2013

Money Is Their Leverage. Media Is Their Weapon.

Of all the silly, naive marketing notions that have accompanied the growth of the Internet, the most pervasive and foolhardy is the idea that the "consumer is now in charge."

The truth is exactly the opposite. The consumer today has less control than ever.

The web has intensified and consolidated the hold that large media entities and large marketers have on our culture, our economy, and our purchasing habits.

Callow digital utopians believe that because we consult Yelp to find out what some fixie biker in Brooklyn thinks is good pizza, we are freeing ourselves from the power of corporate and media dominance.

For the most part, digital media and traditional media have become indistinguishable. They are driven by the same need to attract eyeballs, which means they are obsessed by the same stories and slaves to the same types of narrative.

You can take Yahoo's top stories on any given day and be pretty certain they will be identical to the top stories on the nightly news. You can check what's trending on Twitter and be pretty sure it will be on the evening trash magazine show.

Corporate marketers are learning very quickly how to manipulate technology to leverage the assets of the new media types. Or haven't you heard of Facebook?

Is it a surprise to anyone that the organizations with the largest Facebook followers are also the ones that have dominated traditional media? Is anyone still shocked that almost 45% of all digital ad dollars are spent on Google?

The new digital media giants are interbreeding with old school marketing and media kingpins to create a modern kind of corporate/media sovereignty. It is stronger than ever. It is more pervasive than ever. It has not been diminished by the rise of digital media. It has been enhanced.

Money is their leverage. Media is their weapon.

Now the marketing-media complex is discovering a new way to assert itself -- by absorbing show business celebrities like Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, and Lady Gaga into the corporate structure. According to Ad Age...
"...brands aren't just featuring celebs in marketing campaigns -- they're giving stars a place in the marketing suite...with lofty titles like chief creative officer (and)...chief innovator..."
Marketers have always been willing to pay celebrities for the reflected glory of their fame. But now they're willing to pretend that these people are in the back room.

For their part, celebrities have always been willing to whore for money. Now they're willing to pimp.

The tighter the relationship between big media, big marketing, and big entertainment, the more absurd the idea that the "consumer is now in charge."

We are faced with a daunting prospect -- a new face of marketing that is not just plastered all over TV and billboards, but is embedded in our emails, steals our identity to influence our friends, knows where we are at all times, and makes it all pretty by pretending our beautiful idols are pulling the strings.

Only the delusional and the credulous can really believe that "the consumer is now in charge."

I'm going on vacation. Talk amongst yourselves.

February 12, 2013

Rethinking Our Addictions

I have a little ritual.

Each year, I wait about 10 days after the Super Bowl and then I go back and look at the spots.

The event is still fresh but the hysteria is gone. It gives me a little perspective on what marketers did and what I can glean from it.

Advertising always tends to reflect trends in the larger culture. That's a nice way of saying we steal shamelessly from whatever is popular. Sometimes the stealing is overt. Sometimes it is cleverly disguised. Sometimes we don't steal the actual ideas, just the styles and the structures.

This year, the advertising was unusually evocative of popular culture -- the comic book aesthetics of the movies; the trashy morality of "reality" TV; and the horror of pop music.

The advertising was beautifully executed but mostly vapid -- all muscle, no brains.

A few spots stood out -- Budweiser's "Clydesdale"; Ram's "God Made A Farmer"; and VW's "Get Happy."

We can argue all day about whether we liked the spots, and we can argue over their creative value and political meaning, but regardless of our professional opinions, there is no doubt that these spots struck a chord with viewers.

The interesting thing is that they may have stood out because they eschewed the thrash-pop sensibility. They were gentle, innocent, and positive. They were not evocative of pop culture in their style and structure.

Perhaps there is a lesson in this. Maybe we need to rethink our addiction to pop aesthetics in advertising. Maybe in the 21st century we like our culture trashy, but our ads innocent.

Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

February 11, 2013

Blogger Math Takes On Facebook

I saw some numbers last week on how the top 10 retail brands are doing on Facebook.

The numbers came from the 4th quarter of 2012 -- the Christmas selling season which is by far the best season for most retailers and, presumably, the season at which Facebook activity would be highest for retailers.

The numbers are startling.

We know that ads on Facebook are alarmingly invisible, with click through rates somewhere around 5 in 10,000. But we've been told that the real value in Facebook is not in display ads but in engagement on brand pages.

From what I can tell, these things are just as ineffectual as display ads. Let's do some blogger math (full disclosure: blogger math is known to be unreliable and is not to be confused with real math.)

Let's take Walmart as an example. According to the report I read at Business Insider among retailers Walmart has the most fans on Facebook -- over 26 million. When Walmart posted something during the holiday period, they averaged about 19,000 "fan actions" per post. A "fan action" is defined as either a "like" or a "share" or a "comment."

I did a little math to find an "engagement rate" -- in other words, to find out at what rate people who self-select themselves as fans of Walmart interacted with Walmart's posts on their page. The engagement rate came out almost identical to the average click-through rate for ads -- .0007.

In other words, 7/100 of one percent, or 7 in 10,000. This isn't even rounding error. This is almost all noise and no signal.

Not only that, the calculation uses the most charitable possible definition of "engagement."

The people who did the study (and have a vested interest in the advancement of social media) cavalierly include "liking" as engagement. I doubt that disinterested observers would agree that an action that takes a third of a second is anything approaching "engagement."

Then deduct from that number all the people at the agency who were directed to do gratuitous liking, sharing, and commenting and all their friends and relatives, and all the people in the marketing department and all their friends and relatives, and all the hate comments on Walmart's page that are counted as "engagement," and all the click-bots that are working overtime in the Ukraine, and all the inadvertent clicks due to poor hand-cursor coordination, and you have yourself the real number.

If you can call it a number.

February 08, 2013

Return Of The Friday Follies

Yeah, But He Read It Twice
A book entitled "Fire of Francis Xavier" was returned to the Fort Washington branch of the New York Public Library on Monday. It was 55 years overdue.

Trading Dollars For Pennies
Coca-Cola received 910,000 votes for their online Super Bowl promotion. Sounds like a great success until you calculate the cost -- 107,000,000 other people had to sit through a pointless :30 seconds of stupidity. If they put half as much time into making a good spot as they did into the online gimmick, they would have gotten 10 times the value.

More Bad News For The Nutrition Nazis
"Replacing animal fats with vegetable oils, a mainstay of modern health advice, may lead to an increased risk of death among people with heart disease," says the San Francisco Chronicle. In an analysis of 458 Australian men with heart disease, funded by the National Institutes of Health, it was found that those who replaced saturated fats with polyunsaturated vegetable oil had a 60% higher death rate from cardiac disease than those who didn't get any "dietary advice."

Holy Cow! Flying Machines! 
Can you believe this nonsense?

Give War A Chance
In 2004, professional basketball player Ron Artest went into the stands and got in a fight with fans. He was given the longest suspension in NBA history for an on-court incident. In 2006, he was suspended for Game 2 of the Sacramento Kings' playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs for throwing an elbow to the head of Manu Ginobili. In April of 2012, he elbowed Oklahoma City's James Harden in the head, causing a concussion. He was suspended for 7 games. Last week he was suspended for one game for punching the Detroit Piston's Brandon Knight in the face.

In 2011 he changed his name from Ron Artest to Metta World Peace. You can't make this shit up.

Deep Thinking In Brandland
And speaking about Coke, their former chief creative officer, now head of brand and brand marketing at AT&T has this profound piece of wisdom for us: "It's not just about customers, it's about people."

Don't laugh. I've seen some of their customers.

February 07, 2013

Advertising Is Like Exercise

Here's what the ROI monkeys don't understand about advertising. They think you can advertise today and measure the results tomorrow. It doesn't work that way.

Advertising is like exercise.

If you're not used to running, and you run 5 miles today, you will not be stronger or healthier or feel better tomorrow. Or next week. As a matter of fact, you'll probably feel like crap.

But if you run 5 miles every day, next year you probably will be stronger, and healthier, and feel better.

That's also how advertising works.

If you advertise today, your business is not going to suddenly be successful tomorrow or next week. But if you advertise every day, next year your business probably will get better, and healthier, and stronger.

Why do you think a can of Coca-Cola is worth 50¢ more than a can of Safeway cola? It's not because of the Coke ad you saw last night or last week. It's the ones you've seen for your entire life.

Notice I said "probably." There are no guarantees. Just like exercise, sometimes advertising backfires. You can take off on a 5 mile run and have a heart attack after 10 minutes.  Or you could run for a year and wind up with a gimpy knee. You never know.

Similarly, you could advertise for a year and end up with nothing but a one-way ticket to unemploymentland.

It's all about likelihoods and probabilities.

If you look at the leading brands in mainstream consumer products and services categories, the likelihood is that they have one thing in common. They advertise, and they do it a lot.

Does this mean that in all consumer products categories advertising is a surefire road to success? No.

But absence of it is a pretty reliable road to failure.

February 05, 2013

Let's Get Phygital With Connected Protagonists

We are so used to massive bullshit in the advertising business that it really takes something special to shock us.

I'm happy to say, however, that our industry is up to the challenge. You want bullshit that's something special? We got it.

Last weekend I came across a truly outstanding exercise in painful marketing drivel, and I'm proud to share it with you.

It is hard to believe that an agency would actually allow this nonsense on its website. But not only is it on the website, it is the lead copy on their landing page and, apparently, the underpinning of their philosophy.

Buckle up:
"Co-creating with brands and people in the Phygital world. Modern consumers are "connected protagonists." They are the heroes of their own stories and, thanks to technology, they now have access to an audience of unprecedented size. This presents brands with powerful new opportunities for growth, if brands give consumers the currency to create and share better stories. That currency is content - be it entertainment, connection, experience or information - as long as it is created with the understanding that we live in a Phygital world, where the physical and digital parts of our lives are one and the same. We believe that only through co-creating currency with brands and people - instead of for people - can you guarantee authentic engagements that consumers value and want to share. Momentum provides to marketers - in thought and action - the ideas that engage the connected protagonist to build value for brands and people."
Wow. Let's forget all the usual hogwash -- the co-creating, and the engaging, and the sharing, and the currency (note to author -- you seem to have forgotten "ecosystem." Points off.) Let's get to the fun stuff.

The "connected protagonist." He sounds like an amiable guy with an unsevered umbilicus.

And how are you gonna beat Phygital? I mean, c'mon. It's awesome. It's Stupiculous! If they gave awards for just plain dumbness, Phygital would get double platinum. Maybe quadruple (what comes after quadruple?)

Which gets me thinking. They give awards for everything else in the ad business. Why not for the only thing we're really good at -- bullshit?

February 04, 2013

Special Super Bowl Edition

Okay, boys and girls, here is the obligatory Super Bowl post.
  • I don't know how much GoDaddy paid Bar Refaeli to kiss that guy but whatever it was, it wasn't enough.
  • Amy Poehler was funny. But if Best Buy's management thinks they're going to rescue their rotten carcass by promoting their fabulous customer service they really ought to go to one of their stores and try to buy something.
  • Every day, Facebook has an audience that is three times the size of the Super Bowl's audience. That's every day, not just once year. Yet, in its entire history, not one person has ever mentioned or discussed or remembered a single fucking ad they've ever seen on Facebook.
  • Sometimes you don't need a strategy. The Audi prom spot was wonderful. But bravery? Please.
  • Couldn't believe my ears. That Pepsi Next spot actually said "real cola taste." As horrible as it was, at least Bud Black Crown didn't stoop to "real beer flavor."
  • By the way, Bud and Pepsi were the two biggest losers. First was Bud -- remember when they did good advertising? Sorry, boys. Dark and ominous just doesn't work on Super Bowl Sunday. Second was Pepsi. Blew a fortune promoting Beyonce and didn't say a single memorable thing about their products. By the way, Beyonce, where are the wardrobe malfunctions when we need them?
  • The Biggest Whack award goes to the advertiser who spends the most money on a spot needlessly. And this year's winner is... Mercedes-Benz for paying zillions for huge stars and the rights to Sympathy For The Devil when the most impactful thing they could have done was just show that beautiful fucking car and then super the price. It would have saved millions and been twice as effective.
  • Second place goes to Kia for "Where do babies come from." I'm sure lots of people loved it . It had all the right ingredients -- babies and animals and baby animals -- but the spot had nothing at all to do with the car and in 24 hours no one will remember who it was for. But it's the Super Bowl, so you have to make a spot that looks like a Super Bowl spot.
  • Hey Subway -- is it really that hard to say February? 
  • End of an era? Big losers this year were advertisers who followed the knucklehead script and tied their spots to stupid online gimmicks -- Coke, Axe, Lincoln, Oreo. Big winners were advertisers who just focused on making good spots. Does this mean that the era of Super Bowl dumb-ass online promotions is over? Sadly, no.
  • Didn't mind the blackout. Spent the time trying to decide who to vote for on line to win the big bottle of Coke, and whether to vote for cookies or cream on Instagram, and tweeting my "handle-it" moment. By the way, whatever happened to "like us on Facebook?" Is that over? And speaking of which...
  • PSY -- please pack your things. Your 15 minutes are up
  • Best by a mile: Ram. Also good: Samsung, Tide, VW.  
  • Hated: Taco Bell, Century 21, Blackberry. 
  • As usual, a lot of spots trying to look like Super Bowl spots (aliens, animals, slapstick, sex, celebrities) but very few real ideas.
  • Only Super Bowl tweet worth reading came from Steve Martin: "I didn't realize there would be commercials."