February 19, 2020

Decade Of Delusion


I like to think of my new book, Advertising For Skeptics, as an undiluted bounty of heretical, unpopular, and aberrant thoughts about our industry. It is now available at Amazon.

The past decade was expected to be a golden age for advertising. We had amazing new tools and amazing new media.

Our ability to personalize advertising and reach consumers “one-to-one” was sure to make advertising more relevant, more timely, and more likable.

Our ability to listen to consumer conversations through social media and react quickly couldn’t help but connect brands more closely with their customers.

The opportunity for people to interact with media was certain to make advertising more engaging.

And yet, by the mostly unanimous opinion of people inside and outside the ad business, the past decade has been a shit show...
  • Rather than creating advertising that is “more relevant, more timely and more likable” we are  creating advertising that is more annoying, more disliked, and more avoided. The New York Times says, “The Advertising Industry Has A Problem: People Hate Ads”
  • Marketers are taking advertising in-house or hiring consulting firms to do what we once did
  • Public regard for our industry is at an all-time low
  • The ANA claims corruption in our industry is "pervasive"
  • Between one and two billion devices are reportedly armed with ad blockers
  • Regulators and governments are on our ass with a vengeance
  • Tens of billions are being stolen by ad fraud
  • Scandals involving privacy and brand safety are reported every week
  • Social media is undermining confidence in democratic institutions
  • Consumers are becoming disgusted with tracking and spying
What went wrong? Pretty much everything.

I hope this book will give you some things to think about that are antithetical to much of what the advertising and marketing industry now take for granted.

If you've ever wanted to stand up at a marketing meeting and scream, I can't stand this bullshit anymore...

If you've ever suspected that advertising people don't really know things they think they know...

If you've ever had the feeling that there are famous people in our business walking around with nothing but a powerpointful of jargon and bullshit...

....I think you will enjoy this book.




February 06, 2020

Looking For Problems


One of the biggest dangers successful brands face is falling into the hands of dumbass marketers.

Successful brands are usually created by an inscrutable recipe of hard work, good product ideas, luck, and competent marketing. After a period of success there is always a second (or tenth) generation of marketing. Many new generations of marketing make a similar mistake. Before we get to that mistake, let's talk about baseball.

In Major League Baseball's National League, pitchers have to hit. They are very bad hitters. Not because they lack athletic ability, but because they usually didn't hit much, if at all, in high school, college, or minor leagues. Hitting major league pitching is indescribably hard and if you rarely hit as an amateur coming into the major leagues and trying to hit is a nightmare.

Because pitchers are such bad hitters, National League teams usually have between 3 and 5 automatic outs in every game they play. This is a significant hardship because in every 9-inning game you only get 27 outs.

But baseball people are smart. They don't spend a lot of time trying to teach pitchers how to hit. Yes, they have them take batting practice to keep their timing up, but they figure that there's a limited amount of time to be spent in training, and it's best spent improving a pitcher's pitching technique rather than his hitting technique. In other words, there's more benefit in improving what he does well than in trying to improve what he does badly. Many marketers don't understand this.

Every company has strengths and weaknesses. The temptation to focus immoderate amounts of time, energy, and money on tweaking weaknesses rather than maximizing strengths can be overwhelming. To wit...

For many years I did advertising and marketing work for a large fast food corporation. Marketing regimes at large corporations like this don't usually last long. In my 16 years in their stable of agencies, I lived through several marketing regimes. As each new marketing regime took control it was inevitable that they would look at research and discover that - surprise! - they did not score well with consumers on healthfulness. What fast food company does? And the wild goose chase would begin.

Instead of focusing on improving what they could do well and try to deliver a better hamburger in a cleaner store in less time, they would go on a "let's pretend we're healthy" kick which would go nowhere. Months of work and zillions of dollars would be wasted because time and money spent on a non-productive exercise was not spent on making what they could be good at better.

When new marketing "leadership" shows up at a successful brand, it is highly likely that the very first thing they will do is try to identify what "the problems" are. It makes them seem smart. If left unchecked this inevitably leads to trying to fix what the company does poorly instead of maximizing what the company can do well.

In other words, they try to turn pitchers into hitters.

February 03, 2020

Storytelling Or Personalization -- Pick One.


For the past couple of years, the advertising industry has been fixated on two themes: the creative side of the business has been preoccupied with "storytelling," and the media side has been hooked on "personalization."

What no one seems to realize is that these two goals are contradictory. We'll get to that in a minute. First, a little overview.

The dumbest idea of advertising's digital age has been "interactivity." Consumers who could barely stand to watch or read ads anymore were suddenly going to want to interact with them and join conversations about them. 

Because people wanted to interact with pop musicians, famous athletes, and movies stars we thought they'd want to interact with us. Not.

The idea that the same consumer who was gleefully clicking her remote to escape from TV ads was going to joyfully click her mouse to interact with online ads is going to go down as one of the great marketing fantasies of all time.

Our second dumbest idea is "personalization." Somewhere marketers got the idea that personalized one-to-one targeting is superior to mass media reach. (I'll have a lot to say about this in my new book "Advertising For Skeptics" set to be published within the next few weeks -- start saving now!)

Amazingly, the same people who babble on about "personalization" also won't shut up about "storytelling." They can't see the contradiction. They don't understand that storytelling and personalization are enemies. Storytelling is about shared, universal narratives. Personalization is about individualized messages.


Jesus on the cross, Joan of Arc at the stake, George Washington and the cherry tree are not "personalized." They are powerful storytelling because they are universal. They are known by masses of people. That's their power.


If you want to create successful stories you have to tell them out loud and in public. If you want to get all personal you have to do it privately.

We have become so absorbed in our own insular feedback loop that we have lost any sense of the connection marketing has to the basics of human communication. You can't be pro-storytelling and anti-mass media.


As usual the marketing industry is so far up its own ass with its new technology toys that technology trumps common sense. The fact that we can do personalized, one-to-one advertising is not a compelling reason why we should.