December 02, 2019

The Problem With Bubba's Burgers


Let's do a little thought experiment.

You've been driving all morning on a two-lane highway and you're getting hungry. You come to the small town of Nowheresville and at the intersection there are two hamburger joints. One is McDonald's, the other is Bubba's Burgers.

It is highly likely that Bubba makes a better burger than McDonald's. But it is also highly likely that you will choose McDonald's. Why? I think the answer goes something like this. 

While you might like to have the better burger, it's more important that you have a burger that isn't risky. While you might like to stop at a place that is comfortable and relaxing, it's more important that you stop at a place that isn't icky.

McDonald's may not make a great burger, and it may not be the most lovely environment, but you have a high level of expectation that the burger won't make you sick and the place won't be icky.

In other words, Bubba's may very well make a better burger, but McDonald's is good enough and relatively risk free. The aversion to unknown risks trumps the likelihood of superiority.

So the question is, why do you believe McDonald's is good enough and safer? I think the answer is simple. McDonald's is famous. Fame creates many advantages.

In all the jabbering about marketing, and all the strategic gymnastics that marketers put themselves through, the simplest and most obvious objective of marketing should be to create fame. Brands that are famous have an enormous advantage over brands that aren't famous.

The world's largest, most successful brands -- the Apples, Nikes, Cokes, Pepsis, Toyotas, McDonald's, Tides, Budweisers, Doves, et al -- all have one thing in common -- they're famous. Does that mean that fame guarantees success? Absolutely not. But it makes the likelihood of success massively greater.

Those of you looking for holes in this argument will say it's circular. It's not the fame that's causing success, it's success that's causing fame. That argument is good for about 30 seconds until you realize that each of these brands spend billions every year to stay famous. 

There are several ways for brands to achieve fame. Some get lucky. The press falls in love with them, follows them everywhere, and provides them with zillions of dollars of free exposure -- Google, Uber, Amazon, Tesla -- are examples. With very little marketing activity these brands became enormously famous. Others become famous through imaginative PR initiatives, clever stunts, or the charismatic personalities of their leaders. Or a combination of these things. There are many ways to achieve fame.

Sadly, the likelihood of the press falling in love with you is one tick above zero. Imaginative PR is wonderful to have but very rare to come by. And charismatic leaders are one in a thousand.

The most expensive way to become famous is through advertising. It is the most expensive, but also the most reliable. It is the only avenue to fame that you can buy your way into.

Those of you who know me probably know where I'm going next. Online advertising has not been very impressive at creating widespread fame. While there are certainly some brands who have achieved a level of fame through online advertising, after 25 years there are no Apples, Nikes, Cokes, Pepsis, Toyotas, or McDonald's. 

The philosophy behind online advertising is deeply flawed. "Experts" tell us that highly personalized, precision targeted, one-to-one advertising is far more capable of performing successfully because it reaches “the right person, at the right place, at the right time.” This may be true if you have the least ambitious marketing goal -- to generate a click. However, if you have the highest marketing goal -- to build a successful brand -- I have seen no evidence that this is true. In fact, I have seen considerable evidence to the contrary.

Mass-media advertising is demonstrably more effective at brand building than precision targeted, highly individualized advertising. Personally targeted direct response advertising certainly has its uses. But the number of exceptionally famous brands created by direct response advertising is somewhere between zero and nothing. The number of exceptionally famous brands created by mass media is enormous.

Highly individualized advertising makes advertising a private, rather than public, experience. Online, we all live in our own little personalized, precision-targeted digi-world. This is not an environment that is conducive to growing a brand. 

To a substantial degree, mass media advertising is public advertising and online media advertising is private advertising. It's hard to become famous in private.

November 27, 2019

No App For Gratitude


Today I am repeating my annual Thanksgiving post which I have run for many years. And, yes, that crack about Trump was there years before anyone could have imagined...

Thanksgiving is my kind of holiday.


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

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



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



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



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



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



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



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



And have a Happy Thanksgiving. 

November 25, 2019

The Six Stages Of Digital Delusion


This week an old piece of mine from one of my books got some attention on Twitter when someone posted it. I decided to update it and repost it today.

One of our axioms here at The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters is that in today's world of marketing, delusional thinking is not just acceptable, it's mandatory.

Digital media have been the primary cause and the primary beneficiary of delusional thinking. The fascinating thing is that the cycle of delusion has been going on for almost 20 years and we still don't recognize it.

Here are the 6 stages of digital delusion:
1. The Miracle Is Acknowledged: It may be podcasting or virtual reality, blockchain or the Ice Bucket Challenge, Pok√©mon Go, QR Codes, or "content." Whatever it is, it is going to "change everything." It will be the focus of hysterical attention in the trade press and will often find its way into the business section of the newspaper.

2. The Big Success: A company somewhere has a big success. This is where the danger starts. The success is plastered all over every trade magazine and analyzed at every conference. It is "proof" that the miracle is real.
3. Experts Are Hatched: Clever "experts" gather up a Powerpointful of bullshit and march it around from conference to conference. They write articles, and even books, on how not to be left behind.
4. The Bandwagon Rolls: Everyone who knows nothing is suddenly asking the marketing department, "what is our (latest miracle) strategy?" Fearing that she will be thought insufficiently trendy, every CMO is suddenly looking for an agency that is expert at (latest miracle.)

5. Reality Rears Its Ugly Head: The numbers dribble in. Oops...people are ignoring our miracle by the  billions. The miracle seems to be working for everyone but us!

6. The Back-Pedaling Begins: "Well, it's just part of an integrated program..." say the former zealots. The experts start blaming the victims, "Hey, we never promised...We told you you had to... Just wait, you'll see..."
This cycle has repeated itself so many times that it's comical. 

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.