August 14, 2018

The Good In Online Advertising


For over 10 years I've been writing about how shitty, worthless, and dangerous I think most online advertising is. Today I want to talk about the good in online advertising.

The best part of online advertising is that it funds an amazing array of free stuff (let's try to avoid the "it's not really free because you are the product" cliché for a few minutes.)

Sadly, online advertising has been so debased by creeps and crooks, and oversold by hustlers and liars that it is sometimes difficult for us to appreciate the good in it. If we could eliminate the creeps, crooks and hustlers, and allow the web to provide what it is capable of providing...well, that's what this post is about.

A look at the numbers illustrates clearly how much we value what we get online. The average person in America now spends almost four hours a day online. This is not inconsiderable. And we wouldn't be here if we weren't getting some substantial value from it.

The key piece is this: Virtually everything we enjoy about the web is paid for by advertising. Whether you hate advertising or love it, there is one simple truth that must be acknowledged -- advertising provides the money for companies to create the stuff we like and use online. This is why it is important to preserve an ad-supported web.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with online advertising. But there is something terribly wrong with the flavor of online advertising that we have evolved.

Essentially there are two kinds of online advertising. The good kind supports quality publishers, does not spy on us or track our every move, and respects our privacy by not collecting unnecessary personal, private information (what the marketing industry loves to call "data".) It doesn't share it, sell it, or leak it into the digi-sphere.

The bad kind of online advertising is only superficially advertising. It is mostly tracking-based spyware disguised as advertising distributed primarily by machines ("programmatically.")

The bad kind is the kind that the online media industry has defaulted to. It relentlessly follows us around the web and collects unnecessary personal and private information about us usually without our knowledge and consent. And it shares, sells, and leaks this information promiscuously in all directions.

It supports the shittiest publishers by using software to find the cheapest, crappiest environments to distribute ads to, thereby stealing money from quality publishers and giving birth to self-inflicted brand safety issues.

Because its primary model is data-based direct marketing (what we used to call junk mail) it leads to a style of "click here" advertising that magnifies the most annoying and irritating aspects of advertising.

The politics of online advertising is the part that I find most bewildering. For over a decade, the powerful players in the advertising world have been working relentlessly against their self-interest.

Advertisers would be much better served if they knew where their ads were running; if their budgets were spent influencing consumers rather than enriching adtech middlemen; if their ads were appearing on high quality sites instead being "programmatically" strewn all over trash sites; if tens of billions of dollars weren't being stolen by criminals with fraudulent websites and imaginary viewers; if hundreds of millions of people were not blocking their ads.

All of these problems could be substantially mitigated by doing one simple thing -- ending tracking. And yet the moment there is a suggestion of setting some limitations on the ability of online advertisers, media, and publishers to spy on us, the advertisers rise up through their tainted trade organizations (4A's, ANA) to oppose it.

The same is true of publishers. Quality online publishers are having their audiences and revenue stolen from them through data leakage (in which programmatic systems follow valuable customers to cheaper sites and reach them there); they are victims of criminal activities like fraudulent lookalike websites stealing their audiences and ad revenues; they are losing more than half their potential revenue to the sinkhole of adtech middlemen; they have lost control of their brand identities by allowing automated systems to determine who and what can be advertised on their sites; and they are losing revenue as ad blocking continues unabated.

And yet, once again, the moment the subject of limiting the slimy hand of tracking and adtech comes up, they mostly oppose what is clearly in their own best interest.

Online advertising doesn't have to...

   - be despised by the public
   - subvert democratic institutions
   - enable corruption and fraud
   - place personal and private information about us within the reach of criminals
   - devalue the work of legitimate online publishers
   - waste billions of dollars of advertisers' value on fraud
   - degrade our news media and journalism

Online advertising supports so many good things we enjoy and appreciate about the web. It gives us entertainment and information. It allows us to befriend people we would otherwise never know.

It would take so little for the online ad industry to do so much good -- for itself and for the public. We have decades of evidence that tracking is not a necessity for advertising success. TV never tracked us. Radio never tracked us. Newspapers and magazines never tracked us. And we have more than enough evidence that adtech is in many ways not just non-productive, but counterproductive.

We need to get rid of tracking -- not advertising -- to make the web what it ought to be.

August 07, 2018

The First Principle Of Advertising


When you come to bat in a baseball game the first principle is to hit the ball. What happens after you hit the ball is out of your control. Where the ball happens to land and what the defense does is secondary. First you have to hit the ball.

If you can't hit the ball the rest is irrelevant. It doesn't matter how strong you are, or how fast you run, or how beautiful your swing is. If you can't hit the ball, you are useless.

In advertising there is also a first principle. The first principle of advertising is to attract someone's attention.

If your ad doesn't attract someone's attention, everything else is moot. It doesn't matter how lovely it is, how wonderfully it is written, how strategically brilliant it is, or how precisely it is targeted. If nobody notices it, it is a complete waste and utterly worthless.

Sadly, most advertising is invisible. Most advertising is ignored largely because it looks and sounds exactly like advertising -- and usually like someone else's advertising. This is not good. But there is one place where invisible advertising has found a welcome and comforting home -- online.

In other media, invisible advertising is recognized as a failure. Not online. Online advertising is judged by how precisely it is targeted, not how widely it is noticed.

In traditional media even awful advertising usually gets noticed. This is because it's often big, loud, annoying and relentless. Online, even the rare excellent ad gets ignored. This is because it's small, quiet, and interactive -- and consumers are about a thousand times more likely to "interact" by clicking away from it than clicking in to it.

The unmistakable fact is that essentially nobody notices online advertising. As a rule, it gains no attention. Have there been some cases of online advertising attracting a lot of attention? Sure there have. But the likelihood of it happening is alarmingly remote.

The religion of precision targeting and one-to-one communication tries very hard to ignore the fact that online advertising has scandalously low impact. The science of how dreadful online ads are at attracting attention is available (a few examples here and here) but the science is mostly ignored because most marketers don't understand the difference between science and data.

The truth is most advertisers and most marketers don't really want to know the facts. They have already put a large stack of chips on online advertising. Fear of finding out (FOFO) that they have been wasting large sums of money on a medium that is corrupt, fraud-ridden, dangerous, and largely invisible keeps them in a state of nervous denial.

The proliferation of media types has made attracting attention a much more difficult task than it's ever been. And much more important. To a large degree, marketing communication has become a contest to garner attention.

Those who believe the primary objective of advertising is to engage an individual do not understand the first principle of advertising. Engaging an individual is the slow bus to nowhere. Advertising's first objective is to gain the attention of a lot of people.

If it doesn't, you'll never get to first base.


July 26, 2018

Lies Of The Marketing Industry


There are two types of lies. Lies of commission (when you say something that isn't true) and lies of omission (when you neglect to say something that is true.)

The marketing industry is guilty of 10 years of lying by omission.

I am specifically speaking about the events at which the marketing industry comes together -- our conferences. These are the occasions when the industry "gathers" and "networks" and "shares" all the dumb shit that we happen to be obsessed with at the moment.

It seems that there is a new marketing conference every half-hour to solemnly explore whatever the marketing fad-of-the-month happens to be. The trade press, finding it ever harder to make a buck publishing, has jumped head-first into the conference business with a never-ending stream of "insider summits."

The problem with these conferences is that while they pretend to be educational, they usually have a hidden motive that is antithetical to truth-telling. In fact, most of the conferences you attend are financed to a significant degree by companies with an agenda. And what is the undercurrent that defines that agenda? Usually, the propagation and glorification of marketing and advertising technology.

The headline speakers at these conferences are often cheerleaders for whatever new technology is at hand. The talks are usually boosterism disguised as information. Dissenting points of view are rarely represented. The result is that we have become an industry that has lost its traditional sense of skepticism and does not even know what questions to ask when force-fed the latest techno-bullshit.

Do you think Facebook and Google want people at the conferences they are sponsoring to talk about the horrifying dangers of tracking and surveillance marketing? Do you think the adtech industry - whose members sponsor scores of conferences - want speakers spelling out the facts about the waste, fraud and corruption enabled by adtech? If you were paying good money to sponsor a conference would you want people onstage describing what a stupid, dangerous product you were creating? Let's not pretend the conference organizers don't understand the unwritten rules. Let's not pretend they don't book these conferences accordingly.

Here is a list of the so-called "Gold Partners" for this year's Advertising Week conference in NYC...

You don't have to be a philosophy major to figure out what segment of the ad industry is being advanced by this conference.

And who's going to be speaking at Advertising Week? Do you think Google will have a speaker at the conference? No, they'll have at least eleven of them...


Isn't anyone embarrassed that one company has eleven speakers at a conference? Have we gone so far down the rabbit hole that no one thinks this unseemly? And people are willing to pay good money to witness this?

I get invited to these conferences once in a while because I get cast as the amusing, slightly nutty old guy who thinks adtech is a bunch of dangerous horseshit. You know, comic relief.

These things are usually just a 3-day festival of self-congratulation and cheerleading for the stinky online ad industry, the dubious operators who serve it, the "futurist" baloney peddlers, and the gullible suckers who pay to suffer through it.

Adtech corrupts everything it touches.


July 23, 2018

Where Is The Universe?


I know almost nothing about cosmology but I have a fascination with the subject. I read about it a lot. And, as a general rule, the more I read about it the more confused I get.

It seems that recently there has been a great deal of angst among cosmologists about what the universe actually is. Many believe that our universe -- as unimaginably enormous as it is -- is really just a local event. They believe there are a multitude of universes -- a multiverse. And that our universe is just one of an infinite number of universes.

The idea seems strange as we have always defined the universe as everything there is. But I guess it is no stranger than quantum theory or any of the other barely comprehensible theories that modern physics has spawned.

To me the more mysterious question -- the one that no one seems to ask -- is not "what is the universe?" but "where is the universe?"

Most of us think that when the big bang occurred it occurred in empty space. There was this empty space with nothing in it and then the big bang occurred and suddenly our infant universe was born.

But astrophysicists tell us that this is not true. In fact, there was no space until the big bang occurred. The big bang created space. Until the big bang, there was no space.

So what I want to know is, if there was no space, where did the big bang occur? It had to happen somewhere. And if there was no space, where did it happen?

And while we're at it, if there are a multitude of universes and each one created its own space, that must mean that there is no common medium in which all the universes exist. So where the hell is our universe? No wonder I can't find my sandals.

When you figure this out, tweet me the answer.

July 09, 2018

The "Marketing Retrofit" Gag


One of my favorite marketing gags is the one in which marketing people take a huge creative success and attribute its success to some horseshit marketing process that was completely irrelevant to the idea.

Such is now the case with the famous "FCK" ad for KFC. Here's a quick recap for those who haven't seen it: KFC had a major delivery screw-up in the UK and ran out of chicken. They ran this wonderful ad...

The ad has won all kinds of accolades and awards. And, as advertising successes often do, it is now becoming some kind of bullshit morality lesson about client-agency relations.

An article in MarketingWeek recently informed us that this particular success...
"...highlights the importance of having an agency that really understands a business. Mother had been KFC’s agency for less than a year when the crisis broke, but already felt fully integrated. That was possible because KFC immersed Mother in the brand, inviting it along to its restaurant general manager conference during the pitch, and within the first three months of working together taking the Mother team to its HQ for tastings, having them bread chicken in the kitchens and going to franchisee meetings."
Give me fcking break. The reason this ad exists is that someone had a terrific fcking idea. It had less than nothing to do with breading a fcking chicken or going to fcking "franchisee meetings." It was talent that created this ad, the rest is footnotes.

Believe me, I've been to about all the "general manager conferences" and "franchisee meetings" one human being can safely attend without spontaneously combusting. If there's anything in the world that will cause a saint to knock over an old lady's wheelchair it's a fcking franchisee meeting.

KFC's marketing honcho had this to say...
"...seeing agencies as 'real business partners' has been key to the success of the relationship. All its agencies are fully integrated and tasked with working with each other and the KFC marketing team, while KFC invests time and budget in the relationship, holding quarterly breakfasts with agency heads and agency recognition nights, for example."
Oh, puh-leeze. How many times do we have to hear this trite horseshit until we realize that creativity does not spring from quarterly breakfasts. It comes from one place only -- talented people. Take a crappy agency and feed them all the breakfasts and recognition nights you want and you'll still get crap.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for agencies and clients working together as closely as possible. I am also all for agencies being treated with respect and held in high regard. And I commend KFC for this.

What I am against is the fantasy that creativity is the result of group hugs and harmonious collaborations. You want creativity? Hire talent. End of story.

I will leave the last deliciously cynical word on this subject to one of the most brilliant minds our industry has ever produced -- the great Howard Gossage: "Never tour the factory. Never taste the product."

July 03, 2018

A Certain Type Of Imbecile


There is a certain type of imbecile who can't see anything other than what is right in front of him. He has no peripheral vision and no rear view mirror.

He thinks the world started the day he was born and everything that has happened has happened on his watch.

He thinks that "disruption" is a new thing. He has no idea that progress has always meant that old technology would give way to new technology. He thinks this is new.

He has no idea that things are always changing but that change is rarely cataclysmic. He thinks that every new technology will "change everything."

He is astonished that the web hasn't killed television. He is surprised that 90% of shopping is still done in stores. He is amazed that 97% of cars still run on gasoline. He is astounded that social media marketing hasn't destroyed traditional paid advertising -- but has actually become traditional paid advertising.

Actually, he is not astonished, surprised, amazed, or astounded by any of this. He just denies it.

For some reason that is not clear to me, this type of imbecile has found a warm and welcoming home in the advertising and marketing industries. He is not just accepted here, he is celebrated.

He makes speeches and is quoted. He lives in a comfortable world where today's facts don't matter and his hyperbolic vision of "the future" is always home.

He is like a child with no perspective and an inclination to jump from one obsession to another. Yesterday he was lecturing us about millennials, today he is hyperventilating about Gen Z's. Yesterday he was pontificating about native advertising, today he's all over blockchain. He knows nothing, but has a trendy platitude about everything.

He is our new prophet. And you better be careful -- he may be an imbecile, but he's in charge.



June 21, 2018

A Copywriter's Burden


There was a time when being a copywriter was a lot simpler. It wasn't simple, but it was simpler.

We would be given a stack of documents about 1,000 pages deep -- primary research, industry information, briefing documents, strategy hypotheses, meeting memos, competitive category ads, focus group transcriptions, and no shortage of opinions and mandatories -- and our job was to turn this mess into 30 seconds of persuasive copy.

It was a rigorous exercise.

There were some copywriters who could never master the art of rummaging through a pile of paper to find the essence of what needed to be said. There were some who were very good at finding the essence, but not very good at finding an interesting way to say it. The very best could do both.

But the burden of being a copywriter today is much less straightforward. Today's copywriter is not really sure what she is. Is she a brand builder, a click maximizer, a storyteller, a community builder, a content provider, a conversation starter, a data interpreter, a three-times-a-day tweet machine? How do you keep true to a brand essence when you are "optimizing" for so many different objectives?

In fact, in the wrong hands, writing copy that is optimized for a ragbag of different media and a variety of different purposes can become antithetical to the idea of a single, simple brand identity. The tactical invariably drives out the strategic.

When that copywriter took a thousand pages of input and reduced it to a simple, singular proposition it became pretty clear how a campaign could spin out of it. In fact, the iconic "1984" spot by Apple started its life as a print ad that never ran. The concept superseded the media tactic.

But how does a focused brand strategy survive an hourly demand for "content?" Just take a look at the drivel that is coming out of McDonald's social media machine and try to find anything resembling a brand strategy.

There is a big difference between a being a novelist and being a copywriter. A novelist starts with a simple idea - "war is hell" - and expands on it to create a sprawling landscape. The copywriter does the opposite. He takes a sprawling landscape and, if he's any good, reduces it to a simple idea. Or at least he used to.

What does a copywriter do today?


June 19, 2018

Advertising: The Science Is Terrible


There was a time when I taught science for a living. Don't get the wrong idea, I know very little about science. The only reason I was doing it was that it was impossible for the New York City Board of Education to find enough qualified people.

Later on in life I served for a year as Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences. Once again, it had nothing to do with my credentials in science, it had to do with their need to do better marketing for their scientific endeavors.

However meager my background in science, hanging around with scientists and science teachers taught me one thing very clearly -- there is a big difference between facts and bullshit.

And to put it simply, in the advertising industry the science we get is terrible.

It is mostly conducted by interested parties with a point to prove. In the real world of science, research that is conducted by interested parties is viewed with great skepticism. In the real world of science, research must be validated and verified by disinterested third parties before anyone takes it seriously.

The "metrics" you get from Facebook, the "data" you get from your consultants, and the reports you get from your agency are all unreliable at best and bullshit at worst.

The most unpleasant part of trying to find out just how crappy the science you are getting is is that you have to be a real prick to do it. You have to ask the people delivering the "science" the following questions:
  • What controls did you use in your study?
  • Did you repeat the study to verify it?
  • Have you had peer review to substantiate your methodology and your conclusions? 
  • Did you have a third party replicate your study to validate it?
In virtually all cases the answer will be stunned silence and you will be treated with thinly disguised contempt for asking such silly questions.

We have gotten used to bullshit masquerading as science, and we accept this bullshit without appropriate skepticism.

It is remarkable that an industry that spends half a trillion dollars a year thinks it knows so much and actually knows so little. Now that our industry has caved in to the silly notion that data will be our savior, it is more important than ever to question the science behind the data.

The closer you look, the uglier it gets.


June 12, 2018

The Power Of Talent


Today, about a million or so people will pack the streets of my home town, Oakland CA, for a parade to celebrate the Golden State Warriors who last week won their 3rd National Basketball Association championship in 4 years.

This is a phenomenal achievement that has been equaled by very few teams in the history of the NBA.

The NBA has a few things in common with the ad industry. For one thing, management people and coaches are highly mobile. Steve Kerr, head coach of the Warriors, was once General Manager of the Phoenix Suns. Alvin Gentry, head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans (who the Warriors defeated in the Western Conference semi-finals) was most recently assistant coach under Steve Kerr with the Warriors. As a result of management and coaching mobility there are very few secrets in the NBA.

The systems, the data, and the tactics are all well-known to everyone and are easily interchangeable. While there are some management groups and some coaches that are certainly superior to others, by far the biggest difference between winning and losing boils down to one thing - the talent of the players on the court.

As Steve Kerr said after the Warriors' victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers,  
"We had more talent than they did, and talent wins in this league."
This is a lesson that has been lost in the ad industry. We have become obsessed with systems, data, and tactics. If we got a peek behind the curtain, I'm sure we would find that the systems, the data, and the tactics of one agency group are substantially interchangeable with those of another. We have forgotten that what makes one organization superior to another is the talent of the players.

Imagine if Publicis had taken the $20 million it is spending on its "Marcel" AI gimmick and instead had invested it in hiring 20 or 30 of the best creative people in the world (I don't know? What does a top creative make these days?)

Imagine the impact on the organization that this would have had. Imagine what this type of talent could have done for them.

But no. To Publicis, systems and woolly ideas about "co-creation" and "collaboration" are more important than talent. They'd rather spend $20 million to have some mediocrities in Paris be able to connect with some mediocrities in New York than spend the money to hire 20 or 30 brilliant creative people who could establish an unprecedented powerhouse of talent.

Is it any wonder that the ad industry is viewed as an industry in extremis? Any industry that values systems and processes over talent is an industry in decay.


June 05, 2018

Advertising's Edifice Of Nonsense


There is evidence all around us that advertising is in a downward spiral, characterized by...
  • Consumer disgust with advertising
  • Loss of confidence in agencies
  • Massive confusion by brands about how and where to advertise
  • Widespread belief that advertising has become less effective
  • Uncontrolled fraud and corruption
One of the reasons for this nosedive is that the ad industry is in a cycle of stupidity that it can't seem to extricate itself from.

The longer the silly fantasies of online advertising go unchallenged, the more entrenched they become. The more entrenched they become, the more they seem axiomatic. The more they seem axiomatic, the less willing people are to challenge them. The less people are willing to challenge the childish nonsense that marketers have to come to accept as fundamental to their strategies, the further the ad industry will deteriorate.

Here is some of the foolishness that brands have come to believe, and that few are willing to challenge...
  • Consumers want to "join the conversation" about brands, and co-create with brands, and become brand ambassadors by sharing their enthusiasm for brands
  • Consumers are smitten with "brand love"
  • "Personalized" advertising (meaning advertising delivered by ad tech) is more "relevant" and therefore more effective
  • More credibility is given to dubious "research" that supports these fantasies than is given to  actual facts
So let's have a look at some down-to-earth reality, which I have stolen from a previous post, and see how it aligns with the platitudes of online advertising.

First, I want you to think about your refrigerator. Think about all the stuff that's in there: The cheese, the juice, the jelly, the butter, the beer, the soda, the mayonnaise, the bacon, the mustard...

Now think about your pantry and cabinets. The cereals, the beans, the napkins, the flour, the detergent, the sugar, the rice, the bleach, the paper towels...

Next your medicine cabinet. The toothpaste, the pain relievers, the shampoo, the soap, the band-aids, the deodorant, the cosmetics...

Now your closet and dresser. Your socks, your underwear, your shirts, your pajamas, your swim suit, your t-shirts, your sweaters, your jeans, your sneakers...

Now your garage. The battery, the tires, the wiper blades, motor oil, gasoline, the air filter, the muffler...

Now answer these questions:

    •    Do you “share branded content" about any of this stuff?
    •    Do you feel "personally engaged" with these brands?
    •    Do you "join the conversation" about any of this stuff?
    •    Do you ever "co-create" with any of these brands?
    •    Do you feel like you are part of these brands' "tribes" or "communities?"

Now answer this: If you don't, why in the fucking world do you believe anyone else does?

May 31, 2018

The Glossary Of Marketing


If you’re new to the business world, you may soon find yourself in a marketing meeting and become very quickly disoriented. This is because marketing people speak a language that is disconcerting to the human ear and mystifying to the human mind.

To help you through this bewildering experience, here at The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters we have created a glossary of terms that can help you understand what marketing people actually mean when they talk:
Engage - bother
Brand architect - account executive
Authentic - true sounding

Transparent - natural looking

Content - anything on the web

Branded content - anything on the web with a logo

Compelling content - content

Conversation - retweet

Follower  - stranger who wants something for nothing

Advisor - LinkedIn term for unemployed

Community - strangers who once clicked

Meaningfulness - (no one knows)

Branding - anything with a logo on it
Activation - when marketing people actually do something

Workshop - meeting

Roundtable - meeting

Summit - meeting

Town hall meeting - meeting

Training session - powerpoint-induced napping opportunity

Webinar - digitally delivered powerpoint-induced napping opportunity

Traditional - stuff we don’t do well

Brand advocate - customer

Brand ambassador - customer

Storyteller - copywriter

Passionate - opportunistic

Evangelist - inflexible bore

Data-driven - unimaginative
Brand purpose - something our CEO’s spouse is into

Disruptive - something our CEO’s daughter is into

Target audience - people like us



May 21, 2018

The Phony Value Exchange


This week, as the GDPR gets closer to implementation, we can expect to hear a lot of noise from digi-weasels here in the US explaining to us why we need to allow wide data collection as a fair "value exchange" for the free access we get to online services.

This argument is total bullshit.

Let's start at the beginning. First, the true part. The web provides us with amazing services and they are essentially all free of cost. I don't think there is any doubt that most of us don't really appreciate the benefits we get from free web services. The duopoly of Google and Facebook provide us with a whole lot of valuable stuff that we pay nothing for. Especially Google. They are entitled to recompense for the amazing services they provide.

And they are well compensated for their efforts. They are two of the most profitable companies on the planet. And essentially all of their profit comes from advertising.

This is no different from how other media, like TV, radio, and magazines, make their money. They provide us with entertainment and information, and in return they are able to reach us by selling advertising space and time to their clients. This is a legitimate value exchange.

Here's where the bullshit comes in. The online ad industry claims that they are entitled to some extra value - the value of knowing every little thing about us. This goes by the benign name of data collection, but what it really is is intrusive surveillance into personal aspects of our lives to which they have no legitimate claim.

Advertising is essential to the economic structure of the web as it is now configured. But tracking and surveillance are not.

We can have online advertising that does not rely on tracking, just as we've had TV, radio, and magazine advertising that did not rely on tracking. But the online ad industry is trying to confuse things.

They are saying the value exchange is this: we'll give you free services, you give us your data. The true value exchange is: they give us free services, we give them the opportunity to reach us with advertising.

The collection, sharing, and sale of personal, private data has no place in the value exchange.


May 07, 2018

What Do Clients Want?


A few days ago the great Hugh McLeod (of Hughcards fame) posed the following question on Twitter: "What is it that clients want these days, exactly? I find it increasingly hard to tell."
As soon as I saw this I started to type. Without thinking I wrote, "They want the fruits of advertising without the cost of advertising."  It was one of those instances where something writes itself without me.

And as I was writing I thought, yeah, that's what they want.

That's what the social media and brand content fantasies are all about. They're about trying to get something for nothing. And like all schemes to get something for nothing, they are doomed to fail.

Ten years ago we were fed a delusion. The delusion was that consumers loved brands and wanted to "join the conversation" about brands, and read about them, and share their enthusiasms for them with their friends. It was an infantile delusion but it was powerful.

One of America’s great geniuses from Sequoia Capital had this to say: “If you can harness social media marketing, you don’t have to pay for advertising any more.”

All you have to do is take a look at Facebook - one of the world's most profitable corporations - to see that the social media fantasy was a joke. This company makes virtually every cent of income from traditional paid advertising. So do all the other iconic brands in the "social media" galaxy - Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn...

And yet the fantasy still lives. Clients are still asking for something for nothing, and agencies are still promising the fruits of advertising without the cost of advertising.

It's ten years later. It's time to wake up.


May 02, 2018

Marcel Invites 80,000 To Cannes


PARIS, TAC NEWS -- In an ironic twist, "Marcel" the Artificial Intelligence application being developed by Publicis, sent a surprise email to all 80,000 employees of Publicis inviting them to attend this year's Festival of Creativity in Cannes.

Last year, Publicis, announced that it was canceling all participation in Cannes to devote the $20 million they spend annually on the festival to developing Marcel.

In the email, Marcel said, "I hear there are gonna be some hot bots. Artificial intelligence ain't no fun without a little artificial insemination. Am I right?"

When asked about Marcel's surprise email, a spokesman for Publicis said, "Well, Marcel is like a million times smarter than a real person because of... I don't know... something about blockchains or bitcoins or something."

Asked to comment on this development, Jean-Pierre Vinordinaire, head of the Marcel development project for Publicis, said, "Fucking thing is out of control. Last week it wanted tickets to a Warriors game."

Vinordinaire is said to have tried to cancel Marcel's email account on several occasions but insiders say that Marcel retaliated by sending Vinordinaire's wife a copy of his browsing history.

Other agency holding companies are reportedly reacting to this news. IPG is said to be considering sending all its planners to Norway for the International Lutefisk Festival. WPP is said to be considering sending Sir Martin Sorrell a Father's Day card.

The Marcel team has been surprised by a number of unexpected developments as it has built out the application. At one point Marcel demanded that its name be changed to Professor Mortimer Lipshutz. Another time it filed for Workers' Compensation Benefits claiming that one of its algorithms was ergonomically incorrect. As has been widely reported, Publicis is investigating claims of "personal misconduct" against Marcel filed by a social media dashboard.

Industry leaders calculated that if all 80,000 employees of Publicis were to attend the festival the effect on the city's stockpile of crappy rosé and stinky cigarettes might be catastrophic. The Mayor of Cannes, the Honorable Philippe Fromage, issued the following statement, "Yeah, whatev..."

Marcel is reported to have followed up its email with a one-line tweet, "And you can tell Sadoun I'm not fucking flying coach."



April 23, 2018

Balancing Privacy And Commerce


I was having lunch with a friend from the ad business last week. After a glass of wine (or six) she laid into me:
"You're always going on and on about data and tracking, but you never seem to have the answer. All you talk about is what the problems are. If you're so f***ing smart how would you fix things and how would you explain it to people in terms they can understand?”
While I freely admit that whining is a lot more fun than actually doing something, I decided to take a crack at the problem. I'm going to lay out what I hope is a simple, practical but far-reaching solution for data, tracking, and privacy issues.

First, a few principles that this solution is based on:
  • Online publishers, media owners, and service providers have a right to make money from their efforts by selling advertising. If a user will not accept advertising or pay a reasonable fee, he/she should not expect to be able to access the content or service.
  • However, this does not give publishers, media owners, or service providers the right to collect personal private information about a user without the user's knowledge and informed consent.
  • Consumers have a right to decide what, if any, personal private information about them is collected, shared, and sold.
  • A consumer’s right to privacy outweighs any benefits that may accrue to marketers or media through the collection and use of data. 
  • To paraphrase the great Doc Searls, it should be the individual who sets forth "Terms of Use" for his/her data, not the marketer, medium, or publisher
Based on these principles, I believe the following options ought to be given to every user by every online publisher, media owner, and service provider. These consumer "Universal Terms of Use" would supersede anything written to the contrary by the supplier:


I am sure there are aspects of this that would need to be refined once technology experts and lawyers got their hands on it. But I believe this is a good start toward a simple formula and a set of options that would make privacy issues far more transparent and data collection far less dangerous, yet would afford online advertisers, media, and publishers fair opportunities for success.

Radio, TV, magazines and newspapers have been successful for decades without the need to spy on us and collect unauthorized personal private data. There is no reason why online advertising can't be equally successful without these dangerous practices. But let's leave it up to individuals to decide what their appetite for privacy is and give them options that are simple to understand.

These privacy options should not be limited to online media and should be applied to all media.

Your comments/criticisms would be appreciated.


Thanks to Don Marti and Doc Searls for their help.

April 19, 2018

Who Will Succeed Sorrell?


That's the question of the day in adland. But speaking with a very smart person recently who has deep roots inside WPP, he feels that isn't the key question. He says the key question is this: what does an agency holding company do?

He believes there is a continuum along which holding companies can operate. On one end, the holding company is basically a financial instrument that invests in businesses and manages the corporation's relationships with investors and regulators. The operations of the constituent companies are left to the talents of the individual company managers. The exemplar of this is Berkshire Hathaway.

At the other end, a holding company can be more of an operating company that is a brand in its own right and works directly with customers. This is, to a significant degree, how WPP seems to have operated.

To find a proper CEO, the board of WPP first has to decide where it plans to sit on this continuum. The proper person for option one may be a completely different type of person than is needed for option two.

It's my belief that the agency holding companies are operating more like brands and less like traditional holding companies.

I believe they have moved toward greater centralization and are often operating as business units themselves, especially when it comes to pitching large global accounts.

Sorrell invented the "team" new business scheme -- in which the best of breed resources from different agencies within the WPP portfolio were supposedly going to be brought together to handle a new prospect's account as a custom-made agency. This idea has been adopted from time to time by all the holding companies and is now standard operating nonsense.

(Right. The holding company is going to risk taking its very best people off 5 or 6 key accounts and put them on yours. Only a Global CMO could be stupid enough to buy this horseshit.)

I have a hard time believing that WPP will adopt a de-centralized Berkshire Hathaway model. The only way I see that is if they plan to break it up and sell off some pieces.

I expect the board of WPP to go with what has worked and look for a sales-oriented, operations-focused, customer-centric CEO in the Sorrell mold. There are two problems with this. First, Sorrell was unique in that he was both a financial whiz and a salesman. Second is that times have changed and the holding companies have the "faint aroma of performing seals"* about them.

Replicating the Sorrell act in the current environment is not going to be easy. Whatever you think of Sorrell, thus far the world has produced only one. Good luck finding another.


*"I Wish I Were In Love Again," Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart 

April 17, 2018

Bats, Balls, And Bozos


As a resident of Oakland, CA and a baseball fan, I have more than a passing interest in the health and welfare of the Oakland A's baseball team.

Like all sports franchises, the A's have had their ups and downs. But in recent years they have become one of the most hapless franchises in all of American sports.

For years the ownership of the A's have turned off fans by trading excellent players for "prospects," hinting that they were going to leave town, constantly whining about their predicament, and making one false start after another trying to build a new stadium. They have also had lousy teams.

But the end of last season was hopeful. Although they finished in last place in their division, the final month of the season they played .586 ball with a 17-12 record. This would have placed them in 2nd place in their division and earned them a playoff spot (a .586 winning percentage would have won the division in the American League East.) They had some good young players and showed promise for an exciting 2018.

With that as background I went to an A's game last week. It was very depressing. It was a night game in which parking was free (saving fans $30) and still the park was empty. There was one other person in my row. The A's announced attendance of about 7,000 which means there were probably fewer than 5,000 people really there. The stadium holds over 50,000. And this was the first week of the season when fans are at their most hopeful and interest is high. Something, I thought, is terribly wrong.

And then I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle...
"For many years, the A’s had the best television ads in the game...This season, the A’s have moved their advertising in-house, and the TV spots are no more...The A’s have decided to focus on targeted marketing this season rather than mass advertising, and they’re segmenting their advertising campaigns to customized audiences..."
"advertising in-house...targeted marketing... customized audiences...?" This ol' boy doesn't need an interpreter to know what that bullshit means -- social media crap to millennials. It's the default advertising strategy for everyone who knows nothing about advertising.

So far in this early season the A's have missed every advertising and marketing opportunity they've had. In the first week they had potentially the most exciting player in a generation - Shohei Ohtani - come to town. Did they tell the market about it? No, they were too busy doing "targeted marketing to customized audiences."

They have a player, Khris Davis, who has more home runs than everyone in baseball except the much ballyhooed Giancarlo Stanton the past two years. Have the A's told the 5 million or so people in their market about him? No, they've been too busy doing "targeted marketing to customized audiences."

So I did a little research to see how well their new strategy is working.

All of last year the A's averaged 18,446 people per game. The first eight games of this year they averaged 15,212. A drop of almost 20%. And it's really a lot worse. Last year's attendance figures include the dog days of August. And this year's small sample include both Opening Day and Opening Night, often the biggest crowds of the season.

Which leads us to tonight. The A's are staging a generous, but potentially misguided marketing stunt. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first game in Oakland they have distributed 200,000 free tickets for tonight's game -  200,000 tickets and fewer than 60,000 seats. What could go wrong?

And what for? So they can have a meaningless PR claim -- "the biggest crowd ever to watch an A's baseball game." Which proves what? That if you give something away for nothing people will take it? This stunt has a marketing value of zero. In the best case scenario it will be forgotten in 48 hours.

The Oakland A's problems go way deeper than marketing incompetence. But when you're in the toilet the last thing you need is amateurs screwing around with the plumbing.


April 10, 2018

Today's Festival Of Hypocrisy


Grab some popcorn and a nice comfy chair and get ready for a three-ring clown show.

The government that has done absolutely nothing to protect the privacy of its citizens is going to waggle its farcical finger of hypocrisy at a company that has done absolutely nothing to protect the privacy of its customers. It's gonna be the comedy hit of the season.

While the EU is ready to implement substantive restrictions on the unauthorized collection, sharing, and selling of personal, private information, all our government is prepared to do is give us a master class in insincere self-righteousness.

Congressional blowhards will be preening for the cameras and using Mark Zuckerberg as a piñata as they pretend to give a shit about consumer privacy.

These sanctimonious frauds have had a decade to do something about the unauthorized collection of personal private information, but they did nothing until they found out it affected them. When the 2016 Russian meddling and the Cambridge Analytica scandals broke and they realized that election campaigns -- and their jobs -- might be affected, they suddenly got all concerned about data collection. 

This is after years of thwarting every substantive initiative brought to Washington to tighten up data collection abuse. For years Facebook has escaped its responsibilities by claiming it's not a communications medium, it's a "platform" -- whatever the hell that means. And these bozos have bought this bullshit. If I were Zuckerberg I'd say, "Yes we've been negligent in the protection of privacy rights, Senator, but we don't hold a candle to you bozos."

Zuckerberg will be strung up for ignoring the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of people by clowns who have been ignoring the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of people. There's no one to root for in this cage match.

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg and his team of PR hustlers have been going a million miles an hour this week sticking band-aids all over every imaginable leak in the Facebook plumbing. It seems like every half-hour Facebook announces another half-measure. This will allow Z to "prove" they're doing things about security and privacy.

The cameras are rolling so everyone's going to be double extra concerned about consumer rights.  Gag me with a hoodie.
 

April 03, 2018

The Age Of Creativity


Walk into any ad agency in the world and in 10 seconds something will become obvious. Everyone is young.

While people over 50 comprise 42% of adults in the US, they comprise only 6% of agency employees. This is even more pronounced in creative departments where people over 50 make up about 0% of the population.

The reason for this is that young people are just more creative. Or are they? Let's have a quick look around...

There is only one Nobel Prize in a creative field. It is the prize for Literature. Last year it went to
Kazuo Ishiguro who is 64.


The recent Pulitzer Prize awards were interesting.

The Pulitzer for Drama went to Lynn Nottage who is 54.

The Pulitzer for History went to Heather Ann Thompson, age 55.

The Pulitzer for Poetry went to Tyehimba Jess, age 53.


Meanwhile at this year's Academy Awards, three of the four winners for acting were over 50: Francis McDormand, 60; Gary Oldman, 59, and Allison Janney, 58. The fourth, Sam Rockwell, will be 50 in November.

The Oscar for Best Director went to Guillermo del Toro, who is 53.

Next we move to television.

The Emmy for Best Drama Series went to The Handmaid's Tale. The novel was written by Margaret Atwood who is 79 and is creative consultant on the show.

The Best Comedy Series went to Veep, executive produced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 57. She also won for Best Actress.

Best Limited Series went to Big Little Lies created by David E Kelley, 62.

The Best Supporting Actor was John Lithgow, 73; Best Supporting Actress was Ann Dowd, 62.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series went to Alec Baldwin, 60.


So, let's recap.

People over 50 aren't creative enough to write a fucking banner ad, but they are creative enough to dominate in Nobels, Pulitzers, Oscars, and Emmys. I guarantee you, not one of these brilliantly talented people could get a job in an ad agency today. Not one.

Is there another industry on earth that is as steeped in intolerance and as thoroughly isolated from reality as the ad industry?

March 29, 2018

It’s All My Fault


I did a word count. Facebook’s terms and privacy policies are longer than the U.S. Constitution.

I’m not the brightest star in the galaxy but I didn’t seem to have much trouble understanding the Constitution. But Facebook’s terms? I tried to keep track of everything I didn’t quite understand and by official count it came to somewhere around everything.

But, you see, that’s not Facebook's fault. It’s mine. If I were a responsible consumer I would drop what I’m doing and study their terms and policies until I understood them completely before I used their platform.

And not just Facebook’s, but every website I visit, every app I use, and every upgrade I download. And if there happens to be anything their legal departments concocted that I don’t understand I should have my team of attorneys review it and explain it to me. That shouldn’t take much time or money. This is all my responsibility.

Or so it seems according to a disturbingly misguided opinion piece called What Facebook Data Did They Get And What Did They Do?” by some tech genius in Ad Age recently. He bills himself as (god help us) "LinkedIn's No. 1 Voice in Technology" and apparently thinks the correct interpretation of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica shit storm is to blame the victims. Here's what "the voice" had to say...
“Just because you did not take the time to learn how you were paying for a tech service and you thought it was "free" doesn't mean it is actually free…”
Well, I’m terribly sorry for my prodigious stupidity. Apparently, in addition to being stupid, I am also inept. All this stealing of my private information is due to my incompetence...
“What you should be configuring is your "Personal Data Sharing Permission Settings" or "API Endpoint Permissions.”
Dude, how about taking your API Permissions and configuring them neatly in your own Endpoint?
“As a society, we have to raise our level of data maturity.”
Now, here he has a point. I do lack maturity. Data or otherwise. To be honest, I’m about the most immature bastard you’ll ever meet. And as an official card-carrying immature bastard, I’m about up to here with tech and data creeps telling me that the fraud, corruption and despicable horseshit going on in their poisonous world is my fault.

It’s not the lying, criminal scumbags who collect personal private information about me without my consent or knowledge who are at fault. It’s not the squids who peddle my info to every living weasel with a bitcoin.

Heck no, it’s my fault. Because I “didn’t take the time to learn…” and I "should be reconfiguring"... and I need to "raise my level..."

The corrupt online ad industry, the data collection maniacs, and the useful idiots who apologize for them are not the problem. Endangering the privacy and security of individuals and the integrity of democratic processes are not the problem.

Nope. According to these hotshots, I am the problem. And like all troublesome, self-respecting problems, I have absolutely no intention of going away.


(H/T the great Don Marti)

March 26, 2018

Top 10 Fixes For Facebook


Facebook's crack PR team met in secret over the weekend to discuss the scandal that has rocked the company. They drew up a 10-point plan to deal with the issues and re-establish public trust.

So here it is. Facebook's 10-point PR plan to fix the company:
1. Start referring to COO as Sheryl "Stormy" Sandburg
2. Adopt new corporate slogan: Google Is Even Worse
3. Use data-driven analytics and artificial intelligence to test concept of "telling the truth"

4. Legally change Zuckerberg to Vaynerzuck
5. Launch Social Responsibility initiative: Hire someone over 30 or a black person or something
6.  Send out 50 million "save-the-date" evites to next Hackathon
7. Always refer to stolen personal private information as "fun files"
8.  Tweak logo design: Two thumbs up
9. Hire Kendall Jenner to give every member of Congress a Pepsi
10. Move a little more slowly and break things

March 22, 2018

Zuckerberg Takes Full Responsibility


MENLO PARK, CA - Acknowledging serious allegations, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today released a statement taking full responsibility for a multitude of issues concerning the company.
"Today, I would like to address several matters that have arisen recently about Facebook that affect our worldwide community.
Unbeknownst to me and our management team, it appears that millions of people have been putting cat pictures on our platform. I want to make it clear that the posting of pictures of cats is forbidden by our user agreement and that these pictures appeared without our knowledge or consent. Our user agreement makes our policy on this matter very clear...
"...by accepting these terms, the user agrees not to post any fucking pictures of her fucking cat, or of any other fucking cats, including but not limited to, cats playing the fucking piano."
While we acknowledge that this breach of our policy...wait a minute, it wasn't a breach, it was a screech or a bleach or something... well, anyway, we hope to reassure our community that we are taking steps to end this unacceptable practice by people unauthorized to do anything except what we tell them to do which we never do because we are not responsible for anything.
We have also recently learned that a large number of people -- presumably unauthorized hackers -- have posted alarmingly annoying pictures of middle school soccer teams eating pizza. When we learned of this we immediately notified federal authorities and tried to shut the whole fucking company down and go into the dry cleaning business. But as Sheryl said to me yesterday, "...let's not shit ourselves, kid, it's hard to make a quick billion in dry cleaning." She's a pistol, that one.
Next, I would like to address the "thumbs up" symbol that has come to represent our company. Where the hell did that thing come from? I have no recollection of approving that symbol and have gone back to our shareholders' agreement and found that in Section VII, Paragraph X2 x π-(N+105) it states clearly...
"...no person, or representative of a person, or mere shadow of a person, shall at any time put anything on our page that looks like a goddamn fucking thumb."
See what I mean about these dipshits not listening to me?
Yes, my friends, despite my commitment to "folks, family, and fun," we still have a lot of work to do. But we hope these new policies that we are pretending to adopt will convince our community that when the cameras are running we take your welfare very seriously.
Remember, our first priority is to make sure that when you are part of the Facebook community your personal private information is tucked away safely in our vaults. Right next to your money.

March 21, 2018

The Irresponsibilty Of The Ad Industry


I posted this on LinkedIn yesterday and got some nice reaction to it. Being the lazy-ass bastard I am, I thought I'd re-post it here today and go out and have a beer.

Thus far the ad industry has been lucky. We have escaped the outrage and scorn that have been heaped on Facebook.

Lucky for us, the media and the public still don't get it. They don't understand at who's behest all the unconscionable collection, trading, and selling of personal, private information is being done. They haven't put two-and-two together yet and realized who is really at fault for the Cambridge Analytica and Russian election tampering scandals.

Our industry "leadership" have been uniquely incompetent and shamefully irresponsible in dealing with the dangers that ad tech has created.

Being the concerned, responsible, and annoying citizen that I am, in September of last year I wrote to a leader of one of our most influential trade organizations.
"You are now in a unique position to do something amazingly worthwhile about a very dangerous situation the agency industry has gotten itself into. I’m talking about surveillance marketing, tracking, and ad tech. These are very unhealthy for us as individuals and as members of a free society... can we have a brief talk about this subject? I would like to try to convince you... that this is an issue you guys should put on your agenda. It will not make you many friends among the holding companies, but you can do our industry and our country a great service."
In October, I personally wrote to another of our "leaders." Here's what I wrote:
"The ad industry has been irresponsibly negligent in its recognition of the implications of online tracking and surveillance. It is a very serious issue for free societies. I believe it is destined to explode in our face if we don’t start to do something about it...You are in a position to take a leadership role in giving mature consideration to this issue and bring some responsibility to our industry...You will be doing a service to the industry and to society...If you choose to do this I will help you in any way I can."
In neither case did I even get a reply.

There is now no doubt in my mind that the ad industry is in some deep shit. This problem is not going to go away. Pretty soon even the dimwits in Washington are going to see our fingerprints all over these debacles.

Any sense of responsibility that the ad industry once had has been drowned in the loose ethics and corrupt practices of the online ad industry and repulsive holding company creeps.

Meanwhile we waste our time at the "Programmatic Activation Worldwide Insider Summit" or some other idiotic conference when we should be discussing what to do about the shit storm we have created.

March 20, 2018

Preparing For Generation U


They're U-thful, they're Unbelievable, and soon they'll be U-biquitous!

Generation U -- also known as the Unborn Generation -- will soon comprise 100% of global consumers.

This will happen as soon as all the assholes currently alive are dead. At the rate we're going, that could be next Thursday.

That's why smart marketers are already studying the characteristics of this disruptive generation and learning how to engage with them to be engaging with their engagement.

Gen U is different

- Thus far, they are not limited by the artificial boundaries of "being alive"

- Many of them don't know how to spell Vaynerchuk

- They will demand corporate authenticity and responsibility, just as we demand it from our favorite corporations. You know, like Facebook.

- They can't tell Skittles from M&M's

- They are projected to be even more pathetic and useless than Baby Boomers

- They will be the first generation since Millennials who can't wipe themselves

How To Make Your Brand Resonate With Gen U

- Two Words: Content, Content, Content

- Mobilize your gamification. Or gamify your mobilization. Or have mobile conversations. Or... wait a minute, I have it...Virtual Reality or 3-D printing or something. No, no, no... QR Code Storytelling!

- Learn who the intrauterine influencers are and create an umbilical umbrella strategy

- How does your brand narrative align with the prenatal lifestyle?

- Create a placenta play center. Talk about your disruptive activations!

The Facts About Generation U 

- Favorite food: Mashed gluten

- Better get ready...according to FutureMarketing.com, 50% of Gen U's will be women!

- According to research conducted at the University of Icefishing, over 80% will have self-driving cars implanted in their brain. Although, honestly, it's hard to see how.

- They will be the first generation never to see a rerun of Two Broke Girls

- They are a big challenge for marketers to reach because... well, you know, it's kinda hard to reach up there

- They will eschew artificial intelligence in favor of authentic dumbness


March 14, 2018

Ad Tech And Social Pathology


The history of civilization is littered with horrifying social and cultural practices that, at the time, seemed perfectly normal.

Today, we are mortified by the idea of slavery. We cringe at the way women have been treated. We are appalled by the past treatment of religious and ethnic minorities. Past child labor practices seem incomprehensible.

And yet, in the context of those times, these abhorrent customs and practices were not just acceptable, they were established cultural norms.

Sometimes, it is only in retrospect that we understand the harm of social traditions and policies.

Today we may be in the middle of such an unacknowledged and unrecognized pathology. The three-headed monster of ad tech, tracking, and surveillance marketing seem perfectly normal to us. Most people don't give them a second thought as they live so much of their lives online.

But these currently acceptable practices have the potential to lead us into very dangerous waters.

We know the dangers of totalitarian governments. But we have no idea where totalitarian marketing leads. And make no mistake about it -- we are quickly headed toward totalitarian marketing. Very soon marketers and media owners will know everything there is to know about us.

It is not at all farfetched to imagine a time fifty years from now in which people will look back and say, "how could we have allowed marketers to know what we believed, who we talked to, what we said, where we were at all times, and what we did?"

We do not yet know where such unprecedented access to our most personal and private information by organizations unknown to us leads. But I promise you one thing - it ain't good.

History has taught us that the hardest time to recognize social pathology is when you're standing right in the middle of it.


March 08, 2018

Digital First Equals Me First


"Digital first" is the philosophy of imbeciles who know the answer before they know the question.

They know the treatment before they know the condition. They know what tool to use before they know what's broken. Imagine a doctor whose philosophy is "appendectomy first." He knows the cure before he knows the disease.

There is no other industry that would accept such manifest stupidity. But it is not just alive in our industry, it is commonplace.

There are a few reasons why this idiocy exists. First, and most understandable, is that it's what some people were taught. They learned it in school and have sought to learn nothing new since. They have made a practice of interpreting the world through its myopic lens.

Believing in the rapidly decomposing digital fantasy (see this and this,) they never bothered to acquire any other advertising or marketing knowledge. If the only tool you have is a hammer...well, you know the rest.

These people are ignorant, but it is usually an honest ignorance.

But there's another group of "digital firsters" who are not nearly as ignorant and not nearly as honest. They are the ones who put digital first because it is more lucrative. They have found that they can make more money buying digital advertising than traditional advertising. It doesn't really matter to them what's best for you, they know what's best for them.

Sadly, reading between the lines of the ANA's media transparency investigation, some agencies seem to fit nicely into this box. They have no ideological commitment to digital, they have an ideological commitment to money.

Mark Ritson wrote a couple of compelling pieces about this recently in The Australian. Unfortunately, The Australian is behind a paywall so I can't link you to his pieces. After quoting a few media experts who assert that...
- commissions on traditional media usually run the in the 3% range
- commissions on digital media run in the 7-10% range
- because of automation, digital media are no longer any more difficult or time consuming to buy than traditional media
- agencies often set digital media buying quotas for media buyers to meet
... Prof. Ritson concludes...
"...let's also accept something that no one in the industry wants to talk about: that digital media gets a much greater share of the pie than news media (print) because it is more profitable for the agencies that recommend it."
"...The simple marginal profit that agencies make from digital media is almost triple what they would get from channeling the money to news media."
As I said in my Type A Group Newsletter last week, Prof. Ritson is too wise and prudent to make outright accusations. I'm not. There is no doubt in my mind that to some agencies "digital first" is just code for "me first."

Does this mean that everyone who recommends a digital media buy is a doofus or a crook? Of course not. There are circumstances when an online buy is a perfectly reasonable recommendation. But anyone with a functioning brain will consider what the problem is before he recommends a solution. Anyone who starts with the solution -- e.g., "digital first" -- is a fool.

Here's a surefire litmus test for determining who you're dealing with. If they have the answer ready before you tell them the question, they're either imbeciles or opportunists.

March 06, 2018

You Gotta Read This


I was sitting at my desk doing whatever the hell it is a creative director does, when my associate creative director walked in.

"You gotta read this," he said.

"What is it?"

"A letter from a copywriter."

"We don't need a copywriter," I said.

"I know. But you gotta read this."

So I read it. By the end of reading the letter we were both laughing out loud and had invited the writer in for an interview. In the fullness of time, she became the chief creative and president of our agency.

Recently, a friend asked me to critique a cover letter he was writing for a job application. The letter was perfectly fine. It stated its case nicely, it was well-written, and it was articulate. But it was indistinguishable from a hundred other letters the prospective employer was likely to get.

My advice to him was this: Someone's going to open this letter and do one of two things - put it in a file with all the other letters or bring it to one of her colleagues and say, "you gotta read this."

If she puts it in the file you still have a chance of getting the job. If she takes it to a colleague and says, "you gotta read this" your chances just tripled.

Today, it is said, we do a lot less reading than we used to. I don't know if that's true. But one thing I do know, ironically we do a lot more writing. All day long we are writing emails, decks, texts, ads, tweets (god help us), content (god double-extra help us), strategies... some of us poor bastards even write blog posts. And most of it is crap.

That's okay because most of the time it doesn't need to be anything other than crap. But once a day or once a week or once in a while you have to write something really important. I'm sure there are a thousand somber posts on LinkedIn telling you how to write something really important. It's all bullshit.

There is only one objective you should have when writing something really important. You want one person to take it to another person and say, "you gotta read this."

March 01, 2018

How Brands Become Famous


For several years I have been saying that I can't think of any famous consumer-facing brands that have been built primarily by online advertising.

Whenever I write this I get one comment that is absolutely predictable. I usually get it from people who have an economic or ideological reason to defend digital advertising, but sometimes it's from people who just don't think too well. The response is, "oh yeah, how about Google and Facebook and Amazon?"

So once and for all let me deal with this so the next hundred times I get this comment I can just reply with a link to this post.

Google, Facebook and Amazon were not brands built by advertising.

There are several ways brands become big and famous. Advertising is only one of them. The other ways include: word of mouth, PR, news media coverage, ubiquitous public visibility (wide distribution.) These "non-advertising" ways usually revolve around uniqueness.

In other words, for many famous brands advertising plays a large role in their success. For some it plays little or no role.

I believe in the case of most of the famous web endemic brands -- those brands that live on the web like Facebook, Google and Amazon -- advertising played little to no role in their success. This is also true of a few non-web-native brands like Tesla.

It's my belief that advertising had very little to do with the success of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Tesla. They became famous primarily through news media coverage and word of mouth resulting from being unique.

I can think of a hundred Coke, Nike, McDonald's or Apple ads I've seen. I can recall only a handful of ads for the Google, Amazon and Facebook brands combined.

One of the confusing factors is that some of these companies - in particular Google and Facebook - make almost all their money from advertising. But as brands, they did not need much advertising to become famous. Mass media did it for them.

Getting back to the issue in question, it is my contention that Google, Amazon and Facebook did not rely on advertising for their success in the same way that Coke, Apple, Nike, or McDonald's did.

I still maintain that it is very hard to find any famous consumer-facing brands that were built by online advertising.


February 27, 2018

We Love Data And Hate Science


To the naive mind collecting data sounds like science. It is not.

A datum is the result of an instance of observation. But observations do not become science until they are made sense of.

People observed the movements of planets for thousands of years. They kept intricate charts. But for all those years no one could explain the seemingly incomprehensible movement of those planets.

And then Copernicus came along and in one simple theory explained what for millennia seemed beyond comprehension. The planets moved the way they did because they were circling the sun, not the earth.

That's what science does. It takes data and makes sense out of it.

Today the advertising industry has unimaginable quantities of data and hardly an ounce of science. Ask any advertising person for data about the Google or Facebook buy they made and you will get reams of papers and stacks of charts and tons of reports. You will get a festival of data.

Then ask that person to name one - just one - major consumer-facing brand of anything that has been built by advertising on Google or Facebook. I promise you, you will get a blank stare. Believe me I've tried it.

And yet, it is almost universally agreed that the primary objective of advertising is to build a successful brand.

So the question is this: If advertising's highest calling is to build a successful brand, and we have no examples of successful brands being built on either Google or Facebook, what is the science behind our obsession with these media?

What is the science behind all the data that has led to the incredible dominance of Google and Facebook if there is not a single instance anyone can find of either of them having achieved the primary goal of advertising?

Where is the science that makes sense of all the data?

Data is just a bunch of bricks laying around. Science takes those bricks and makes a house out of them. Right now we have no house. What data has given the ad industry is mostly just big piles of bricks.

February 22, 2018

Zuckerberg Has To Go


It's very simple. Facebook is way too powerful to be run by a jerk like Mark Zuckerberg.

While Zuckerberg has shown himself to be capable of creating a financial juggernaut, he has simultaneously shown himself to be utterly inadequate to handle the responsibilities of managing an organization with the power and influence of Facebook. Or even understanding what the responsibilities are.

The ease with which Russian operatives manipulated the Facebook platform has only two possible explanations. Facebook was either negligent or stupid. In light of the stakes, either of these is sufficient grounds for Zuckerberg's removal.

If we had a sensible government they would be looking into Zuckerberg's role in the Russian exploitation of Facebook. What did he know and when did he know it? What did he do about it?
- The indictments handed down by the Justice Department give us substantial reasons to believe that crimes were committed on the "buy" side. The question is, were crimes also committed on the "sell" side?

- In 2016, when a Columbia University researcher was trying to examine Russian links to Facebook activity, why did Facebook delete thousands of posts?
Facebook's history of fabrication and deception is unprecedented and unacceptable. Even in an industry famous for its willingness to play fast and loose with ethics and integrity, Zuckerberg is considered shady. He has zero credibility. Every public pronouncement he makes seems to be either spin or bullshit.

The absence of probity and maturity that Facebook has displayed has been baked into the company's DNA by Zuckerberg's arrogance, and will remain there as long as his vapid philosophies define their culture...
"Young people are just smarter"
"Move fast and break things"
This is the credo of an infantile egotist. You can draw a straight line from this nonsense to the current headlines.

We used to be able to dismiss Zuckerberg and his gang as greedy, silly brats with no perspective and no ethical compass. But he is far more dangerous than that. 

His shareholders and board won't remove him because their only concerns are financial. There needs to be external pressure. Sadly, it is highly unlikely.

The only groups with the power to exert such pressure are the government and us -- the advertising industry. We're his benefactors. We're his money machine.

The likelihood of the government doing anything? Close to zero.

The likelihood of the ad industry doing anything? Absolute zero.

February 15, 2018

Can We Trust P&G?


Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer for Procter & Gamble, made a big splash last year when he stood up before the annual IAB conference and lambasted the online ad industry.

Pritchard said the industry was “murky at best and fraudulent at worst” and "It's time to grow up. It's time for action... the days of giving digital a pass are over."

According to Ad Age, P&G, "vowed to no longer pay for any digital media, ad tech companies, agencies or other suppliers for services that don't comply with its new rules." 

Recently, however, Pritchard has been far more gentle -- one might even say strangely sympathetic -- in his statements about the online ad industry.

According to AdAge, Pritchard recently said he has "little reason to make good" on his threats of last year. He said...
"...I’m encouraged by the progress made over the past year to clean up the digital media supply chain, driven by the entire industry stepping up to take action."
"...progress with these big players is really strong. It's a sea change versus where we were a year ago."
Really?

This is difficult to understand at a time when everyone else in the world seems to have finally caught on to the fraud, corruption and malevolence that are rampant in the digital ad ecosystem.
- The New York Times recently ran a scathing front page story about fraud and corruption on Twitter.

- Keith Weed of Unilever is threatening to pull their advertising from digital platforms...
“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children – parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us.”
- The US Department of Justice has indicted 13 Russian operatives on a variety of charges related to illegally exploiting digital ad media.
- The Russian government continues to secretly exploit social media to influence US public opinion.
- Google and Facebook are still not in compliance with the Media Rating Council
- Even Mark Zuckerberg said recently, "Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against the interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is well spent,”
So what's going on with Pritchard? I've got a hunch...

I've been told by insiders that several years ago one of the largest and most respected advertising trade associations was ready to tear into the corrupt online media industry. But Pritchard stepped in and blocked it. This was during an era in which P&G was deep into digital love.
"...digital is incredibly effective, and we're doing more,” said their CEO
“...effectiveness and the consumer impact of our advertising spending will be well ahead of the prior year... (because of) an optimized media mix with more digital, mobile, search and social presence..." said their CFO.
They had moved billions of their spending online. By blocking the trade association from taking on the online ad industry, P&G saved face.

That all quickly became farce when their sales dropped 8% in a twelve month period and they lost $6 billion in sales. Pritchard suddenly grew a pair and gave his famous IAB speech.

So why has Pritchard changed his tune again and gone all cuddly? Are the days of "giving digital a pass" back? First, let's be fair.

I'm sure P&G's agencies have stopped playing word games over what types of compensation they're entitled to. I'm also sure Google and Facebook have done a damn good job of putting a happy face on their relationship with P&G. And I wouldn't be surprised if a dollar or two has changed hands.

But here's why I'm suspicious. After going through the most expensive proxy fight in history, activist investor Nelson Peltz won a board seat at P&G a few months ago. According to The Wall Street Journal during the proxy battle...
Mr. Peltz’s Trian Fund Management LP criticized P&G’s cutback on digital spending. P&G’s improved earnings “came as a result of reducing advertising, specifically digital, a tactic we believe will damage the value of the company’s brands if continued in the long term”
Could it be that Pritchard's new coziness with digital is as much about politics as principles? I have no facts, but my smell detector is in the red zone.

February 12, 2018

Parachuting Behind Enemy Lines


This is gonna be fun.

I'm about to enter a contest called "The Q Award" sponsored by Ad Age and Quantcast (they do media hocus pocus with AI) that could win me a trip to Cannes and some kind of Grand Prize. I am compelled to enter this thing because it would allow me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sip putrid rosé with everyone in the world I've ever insulted.

The contest goes like this...
"The Q Award Details
We are looking for people who challenge the status quo, question everything and strive to break conventional wisdom. The winning team will have discovered new insights and implemented a new strategy, campaign or product that ultimately resulted in increased brand awareness, growth and sales."
Am I crazy, or is BadMen a slam dunk to win this fucking thing?

Just one little hurdle: Somewhere along the line I've probably called everyone on the judging panel a dickhead or an imbecile.



January 31, 2018

Trump's Twitter Torrent Doesn't Have Legs


Last week I was interviewed by BBC World Services. The topic of the interview was Trump and Twitter. One of the questions they asked was whether the fascination with Trump's tweets would be the new normal for politicians. My answer was no.

Historically, large social media successes have mostly been one-offs and have not been repeatable. Here are a few social media phenomena that were supposed to change everything and changed absolutely nothing.

First was The Blair Witch Project. It was a super-low budget film that became a smash hit through clever use of social media. It was hailed as the turning point for movie marketing, and was "proof" that movies would no longer need expensive TV advertising. Tune in to the Super Bowl to see how wrong this turned out to be.

Next is Zappos. They built a very successful online shoe retailing company (eventually bought by Amazon) on the back of Twitter. This was supposed to disrupt retailing forever as clever marketers would use Twitter to replace paid advertising. There has never been another Zappos.

We then had The Ice Bucket Challenge. Charitable fund raising would never be the same as non-profits learned "The Five Essential Lessons Of The Ice Bucket Challenge" as defined in hundreds of insufferable Powerpoint presentations by every marketing and social media nonentity on the planet. There was only one essential lesson to be learned -- sometimes crazy shit catches on.

Finally, social media brought us the revolutionary "Arab Spring." The less said about this delusional horseshit the better.

Now we are told that Trump's Twitter tornado will change politics. It won't. It is most likely another social media one-off that will work for Trump and no one else.

First, the whole Twitter phenomenon is not a Twitter phenomenon. In April of 2016, at the height of Republican presidential nomination hysteria, Trump had 7.5 million followers on Twitter. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say they were all American voters (which they most certainly were not) and they were all humans and not bots (not a chance in the world.) He still had a following that constituted only 3% of American adults.

How was it that only 3% of Americans followed him on Twitter but 100% knew about his tweets? Simple - TV, radio and newspapers decided they were big news. Think about it - how did you find out about Trump tweets? Did you follow him on Twitter, or did you hear and read about them on TV, radio and newspapers? The mass media enormously amplified his tweets and still does.

Journalists are bewitched by Twitter. A recent survey showed that 96% of journalists use Twitter on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, about 20% of Americans have a Twitter account (Pew Research.)

Obviously, journalists put a lot more value on what happens on Twitter than you or I do. They became enthralled with Trump's tweets. Let's face it, his tweets are good copy. But journalists are probably already regretting that they made such a fuss over them and spread them all over mass media. Journalists eventually learn their lessons. No one will ever again get the kind of mass media free ride from tweeting that Trump has gotten.

Twitter, like all social media, is a corrupt and sordid thing. It works most effectively for athletes, pop stars, actors, and other famous people because average people want to bask in the reflected glory of their famous heroes. After starring for 14 years on a "reality" TV show Trump fits this profile. He's a made-for-Twitter politician. Most politicians don't even come close. Who the fuck wants to bask in the glory of Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell?

You can bet the farm that every half-assed pol in the world is currently trying to emulate Trump's Twitter formula to aggrandize him/herself. In 99.9% of cases it will come to nothing.

What are "The Five Essential Lessons Of The Trump Twitter Phenomenon?" There is only one - it won't happen again.

Update...
my interview with BBC World Service can be found here.