January 18, 2018

Technology And Wisdom

There is a battle going on for the soul of marketing. It is a struggle between two competing forces -- technology and wisdom.

It is not unusual for technology and wisdom to be at odds. Technology moves in a straight line. Wisdom doesn't.

When our country was formed, about 250 years ago, the technology was remarkably primitive compared to today. No motor vehicles, no electricity, no antibiotics. But was there less wisdom? You'd have to be a mighty persuasive individual to convince any reasonable person that today's leaders are wiser than the "founding fathers."

This has been true throughout history. One of the reasons that the Bible and Shakespeare still appeal to us is that the follies of humans - the greed, envy, and betrayal - are constant while the technology moves from slingshots to spears to laser guided missiles.

If I had to make the case that humanity is any wiser today than it was 5,000 years ago, I'd be at a loss.

Nonetheless, today in the marketing industry we have foolishly equated technology with wisdom. The result is Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook has utilized technological skill to create an immensely profitable business. But it has been run by callow oafs whose lack of wisdom has created a crisis for democracies, a dangerously cruel social environment for children, and an un-safe space for truth.

Not all technology is the province of the young and not all wisdom comes with age. But, as a rule, tech is the territory of youth, wisdom the territory of maturity.

In the world of marketing, the conflict between technology and wisdom has been no contest. All it takes is a quick stroll through the halls of any marketing or advertising enterprise and it becomes immediately apparent which side has won. In the US today, 42% of the adult population is over 50. But in the advertising industry only 6% of employees are over 50.

The result is that the marketing industry is drowning in technology and starving for wisdom. Technology, left unbalanced by wisdom, is currently responsible for some of the most wasteful, idiotic, and ineffectual follies in the history of commerce. Or does $16 billion in ad fraud not shock us anymore? Does relentless surveillance not concern us? Does public disgust not bother us?

The wisdom of advertising's great "founding fathers" -- the Bernbachs and Gossages -- are unknown or ignored. They knew nothing about our current technology so how they can they inform what we're doing today?... goes the argument.

Technology without wisdom is just an elevator without buttons.

January 16, 2018

Sweethearts Or Customers?

In 2014, I wrote a book called Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey. The thesis of the book was that we marketers have largely lost contact with reality and are living in a fantasyland of our own invention.

Last week I was doing a podcast for the great Bob Knorpp and was asked about an article that appeared in MarketingDaily entitled "Marketers As Relationship Scientists." The article was the kind of undiluted horseshit that has become the norm in the modern literature of marketing.

If we are to believe the article in question we are no longer "Brand Architects," nor are we any longer "Cultural Anthropologists." No sir. Now we need to be reborn as "Relationship Scientists." It seems that the worse we get at marketing the more preposterous our job descriptions become.

The problem is that the gap I described in "Marketers/Mars" -- between what we think we are doing and what we are actually doing -- is accelerating at a head-spinning pace.

We believe that our ability to collect data about individuals and deliver advertising to these individuals "at the right time, at the right place, with the right message" has made our advertising more relevant, and consequently more effective and better-liked. This is what Marc Pritchard of P&G calls "mass one-to-one marketing."

Ultimately, the goal of mass one-to-one marketing is for us "relationship scientists" to build powerful relationships with individual customers based on our keen understanding of their individual characteristics.We believe we have made big strides toward this goal through our gathering and utilization of personal data.

This is the most insanely out-of-touch delusion in an insanely out-of-touch industry.

In the real world, consumers are horrified. They hate what we are doing. Every reliable study I have seen says that consumers view personalized, precision-targeted advertising as the least trusted, most annoying, least relevant and most hated form of advertising. This is one reason there are over 600 million connected devices in the world running ad blockers.

But marketers are unmoved. We are committed to an ideology, and that commitment is impervious to facts or reason.

We are also preoccupied with infantile concepts like "brand relationships," "brand love," and "brand engagement." Apparently it's a fucking lonely hearts club out there. We're not seeking customers, we're looking for sweethearts.

Consumers, on the other hand, seem perfectly satisfied with having the shallowest of connections to us. They are quite satisfied just to buy our stuff from time to time and to focus their passions on people, not peanut butter or paper towels.

Most marketers don't understand that while their brand is vitally important to them, it is of little to no consequence to their customers. These marketers don't understand the enormous difference between brand acceptability and brand love. (I'll be writing a lot more about this soon.) Their deepest desire is to be loved. But most consumers in most categories don't really give much of a shit.

I am quite sure that my habit of buying the same brand of canned tuna fish every week for the past 30 years has very little to do with "brand love" and has everything to do with my natural inclination not to screw things up that I'm satisfied with.

Anyone who has observed shoppers patrolling a supermarket and has the slightest bit of acumen can't help but observe that when buying plastic wrap or apple juice we are far more likely to behave pragmatically than passionately.

I'm still waiting to observe the first shopper going gaga over her choice of tomato sauce, frozen waffles, or wet wipes.

Nonetheless, we will continue to delude ourselves into believing the self-aggrandizing nonsense that we are 'brand architects', 'cultural anthropologists', and 'relationship scientists.' It is so much more romantic than admitting what we really are -- sales bozos.

I can't help but recall the great line Dashiell Hammett wrote for Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

If you want to test my thesis that we have lost touch with the real world try this experiment. Go into any bar in America and explain to the assembled crowd that you work in marketing and that you are a "brand architect", a "cultural anthropologist" or a "relationship scientist."

It shouldn't take much more than 30 seconds to get your ass handed to you.

In Other News... 
... I don't usually pimp my podcast on the blog, but there's a new episode called "I Finally Understand Why Online Advertising Doesn't Build Brands" which I think you will find interesting.

January 11, 2018

My Hopes For 2018

Three years ago I wrote a post called "My Hopes For 2015." Just to show how little things change, I am re-posting it here word-for-word as my hopes for 2018.

I'm tired of being disappointed. Every year I have high hopes that it's going to be different. And it never is.

So this year I am determined not to be disappointed. I've adjusted my hopes for the year accordingly.

Here's what I'm hoping for in 2015:

  • I'm hoping that some people with no talent or brains became really famous. 
  • I'm hoping that a presidential candidate writes a book.
  • I hope that some Hollywood stars sign a petition.
  • I'm hoping that a famous athlete gets arrested.
  • I'm hoping that college students discover the world isn't perfect.  
  • I hope there's a Super Bowl spot with talking animals.
  • I'm hoping that companies I buy things from make it very hard for me to talk to someone on the phone. 
  • I'm hoping for really annoying online ads. 
  • I hope to see more about Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, and Al Sharpton.
  • I'm hoping that someone announces they are going to re-invent the ad agency. 
  • I'm hoping this is the year of mobile. 
  • I hope someone in Washington suggests that we move to the metric system. 
  • I hope that some pop music stars share their political opinions with us.
  • I'm hoping that a lot of people decide that anyone who doesn't agree with them -- particularly about religion or politics -- needs to be killed. 
  • I hope that two large advertising companies merge.  
  • I'm hoping that a marketing group holds a conference called "Disrupt" or "Engage" or "Connect."
  • I hope that people get really sensitive about their religion or race or size or height or sex or ethnicity. 
  • I'm hoping that we have more people on TV talk shows screaming at each other. 
  • I hope our elected representatives have really nice suits and haircuts.
  • I'm hoping someone makes a movie about a flawed loner who has to save the world.
  • I'm hoping that a car company has the best deals of the year. 
  • I'm hoping that all my friends post cute pictures of their children. 
  • I'm hoping someone says, "It is what it is." 
  • I hope that a food we thought was good for us turns out to be bad, and a food we thought was bad turns out to be good. 
  • I'm hoping for more data-driven insights.
  • I hope that the ceo of a once-great magazine or newspaper decides they need to be an "online content provider. " 
  • I'm hoping to read about developing my personal brand. 
  • I hope that a tech ceo publishes an article about how I can be just like him if I follow five simple rules. 
  • I hope that someone writes a book about how to market to millennials. 
I have a feeling that this year I won't be disappointed.

January 07, 2018

The Copernicus Of Media

So today we're having a nice light pleasant day in which no planners will be harmed, no fraudulent or corrupt online bastards will be unmasked, and no agency holding companies will be ridiculed. I know, it sounds a little creepy. But fear not.

Instead we will focus on the positive. In particular, the self-aggrandizing positive -- my most favorite kind.

Today we are announcing the launch of the Ad Contrarian Show a sporadic podcast focusing on some of my favorite blog posts over the years. I believe they make for a nice cleansing 5 minute break from the horrifying daily onslaught of bullshit we all subjected to.

So when you're feeling really blue, punch up the Ad Contrarian Show right here and I suspect you'll feel a lot better.

The second part of today's blog is to accept my elevation to the role of the "Copernicus Of Media" as bestowed on me by the great David Indo and Tom Denford of ID Comms. Each year they pick their ten favorite people and things in marketing and bestow certain honors.

It is with great humility (and a year's supply of Polish sausage) that I
accept this daunting, yet challenging responsibility.

Here's a greatly abridged version of how my coronation went down...

Next year I am hoping to be recognized as the Isaac Newton of synchronized swimming.

January 04, 2018

Facebook's Dangerous Ad Model

People sometimes ask me some version of the following question:
"Why are you so down on political ads on Facebook and not on TV?"
It's a reasonable question. The answer has 3 parts:

1. Television advertising is obviously advertising. When we see a TV spot, we know exactly what it is. No one ever mistook a TV spot for a news broadcast. Ads on Facebook, however, look exactly like "content." It is hard to differentiate an ad from a post or a post from a news item. Consequently, political ads on Facebook often serve as fake news even if they are not intended to be such.

2. On television (and radio) political ads are required to be identified as such. Not on Facebook. Facebook maintains the absurd position that it is not a media company. In fact, it is the largest media company in the history of the world. By saying they are a "platform" or a "tech company" or some other obfuscation, they have exempted themselves from the adult responsibilities that media companies must assume. Amazingly, the governmental authorities have allowed Facebook to get away with this nonsense.

3. Facebook does everything possible to blur the lines. On the web, there is an awful culture of blurring the lines between advertising and content (for some depth on this, you might want to read an excellent book called BadMen.) Facebook is one of the worst offenders. They intentionally use imprecise language -- e.g.,"sponsored" instead of "ad" -- to describe advertising in our feeds. They use loopholes in their user agreement to imply endorsements when none exist. Here's an example taken from my Facebook feed...

Despite the claim in this ad, I can assure you that Barbara Lippert (whom I know) did not endorse The Wall Street Journal. Nonetheless, Facebook continues to use this squalid practice to confuse people. Once again, the result is that we are never quite sure what is an ad.

Regardless of one's political leanings, the corrupting effect of Facebook's advertising practices have to be regarded as anathema to any idea of responsible political advertising. Couple this with the amount of personal and private information they have amassed about us without our explicit knowledge or consent and you have a very combustible and dangerous mixture. 

As I said over 7 years ago...
"There’s no reasonable way that this is a good development for a free society. There is no realistic vision of the future in which this will not lead to appalling mischief."
The "appalling mischief" arrived in 2016, contaminating our presidential election.

Our elected officials have demonstrated utter incompetence at dealing with this issue. The only hope is that responsible advertisers will force Facebook to clean up its toxic practices by withdrawing advertising money.

Did I say "responsible advertisers?" Yeah, right. This will happen when chickens play checkers.

January 02, 2018

Everybody Wants My Feedback

We can't do anything these days without someone annoying the shit out of us for feedback.

Buy a cell phone? Pretty soon you'll get an email inquiring about your buying experience. Visit the doctor? In a few days the ceo of the "system" will be asking you to rate your visit. Take a flight? You'll get some free miles if you just complete the survey.

Every morning I go to a coffee shop called Peet's. Every morning they ask me if I have their app. Every morning I say no. Every morning they tell me I should download the app because I can accumulate points and get a free cup of coffee. Every morning I tell them that if I wanted a free cup of coffee I would stay the fuck home and make it myself.

The whole business of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has evolved into not much more than a contest for who can collect the most data by constantly pestering the hell out of us. 

It might be acceptable if these people were actually doing something useful with their data. But they're not. The amount of time, energy, and money they are spending irritating us with data collection schemes disguised as feedback inquiries is way out of proportion to the actual application of this data to anything of value.

A recent article in Marketing Week was headlined "Customer Experience Investment Fails To Pay Off As Performance Hits All-Time Low"

The article says...
KPMG Nunwood’s annual Customer Experience Excellence study shows that rather than improving, the overall performance score for British brands has hit the lowest level in the eight-year history of the report
In other words, the more feedback they are getting from us, the worse they are performing. One of the executives at the company that did the research said...
"...part of the issue is that organisations are not structured to think effectively about the customer..."
I don't know what that bullshit means, but here's what I do know. Most companies are living in a fantasy world in which they think that if they engage (i.e., bother) us enough they can get us to "love" their brand.

Consumers, on the other hand, mostly don't give a good flying shit about their brand. They want a cup of coffee and they want it now. And they don't want to stand in line while the barista wastes everybody's time trying to peddle a useless app to every bleary-eyed bastard who's late for the bus.

If companies would stop wasting their time implementing their marketing department's idiotic ideas about brand engagement and just provide better service, maybe customer satisfaction wouldn't be at an all-time low.

This means they need to forget the juvenile delusion that we are all in love with brands. They need to  stop trying to get us to love them by annoying the living shit out of us with emails, apps, social media contrivances, idiotic "content" and other engagement gimmicks that cost them a fortune and buy them not an ounce of loyalty.

Here's the thing Ms Marketer -- most of you are collecting data to "better understand" your customer. This is just code for sending us more useless, annoying crap. It is a colossal waste of your time, money and energy. And, as the research indicates, it has had the exact opposite of its intended effect.

The only value in data is if you actually do something useful with it. Annoying us with a relentless torrent of horseshit is the antithesis of useful.