October 31, 2007

October 30, 2007

The Yellow and Brown Process

Prospective clients want to believe that there is a method to the madness.

More and more, success in winning new clients is not about the effectiveness of the advertising you create, but about how clever you are at articulating a convincing process behind your creative endeavors.

Well, there are processes for doing just about everything an agency does. But when it comes to creating ideas, sorry, there ain't no process. I once asked marketing icon Jack Trout how much of his success was due to his process and how much to inspiration. He said 95% inspiration.

Don't get me wrong, we all pretend there's a process (see Precision Guessing.) We have to. Clients insist. We sometimes even give it a name...oops, sorry...I mean, we brand it.

A prospective client once asked me what process I used to create an ad he particularly liked. I told him I used the "Yellow and Brown" process. He seemed excited, "Really? What's the 'Yellow and Brown' process?"

"I took a legal pad with me to the bathroom."

We didn't get the account.


October 28, 2007

Nobody Knows Anything

In Hollywood they have a saying: "Nobody knows anything." This explains how huge-budget, big-star, focus-group-approved movies manage to bomb on a regular basis.

It is not dissimilar in advertising. Most of consumer behavior is perfectly obvious -- people like things that look nicer, taste better, work more dependably and cost less (see Salesmen & Sociologists.) But then there’s the mysterious emotional part. And what we claim to understand about the mysterious part is usually speculation and ideology masquerading as knowledge.

Our clients don’t want to be told that they’re paying for speculation and probabilities. They want data and they want it now. No wonder ad agencies spend great quantities of time and money dressing up probabilities to look like facts.

October 26, 2007

Stay Foolish

"Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice... Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
- Steve Jobs


October 25, 2007

The Ribbon

One of the things that worries me about the internet is the naive and foolish belief that it has, and will continue to have, a substantially empowering effect on the individual.

Web advocates speak eloquently about how the advent of the internet has allowed individuals to influence communities, organizations, and enterprises in completely unique and original ways. While there is some truth to this, I believe it is diverting attention from a much larger and more pernicious trend -- the alarming corporatization of everything in our culture.

I used to get off an airplane and know where I was. Not today. Today Dallas looks exactly like Walnut Creek. The local news in Cleveland looks exactly like the local news in San Diego. The Gap in New Jersey carries the same stuff as The Gap in Miami. The radio station in Atlanta sounds just like the radio station in Seattle. I could go on.

We have become blinded by science. We are swimming in a sea of dis-empowering corporate homogenization so vast we can't even detect it. The shiny new thing that is dangling in front of us -- the web -- is masking the big picture.

For now, the internet seems an antidote to the malignant effects of corporate homogenization. This is because the intrusive reach and depth of Google, Facebook, et al, are not yet understood by the general public. This will change at some point. When it does, the web may be viewed as the ribbon that ties the whole corporate package together. If that happens, look out Mr. Google Shareholder.


October 24, 2007

Marketing Tips for Geniuses

DOTAC (Daughter of the Ad Contrarian) is in full college application mode, which means we've been traveling around looking at colleges. We've met some genius-type people on our visits but have witnessed some woefully inadequate marketing practices. If you're a college or university marketing or admissions officer, here are some tips:

1. A visiting high school senior bases about 99% of his/her impression of your school on the student giving the tour. There is a very simple calculation the senior makes -- if this is not my kind of kid, then this is not my kind of school. Make sure you pick your tour guides carefully.

2. Parents make a slightly different, but similar, calculation. Student guides who begin every sentence with "so", use the word "like" three times in every sentence, and end every sentence with "so that's cool", make a bad impression on parents. Somehow we expect a university to teach a student to speak the language.


October 23, 2007

Baloney Sandwich

I came across two marketing stories today that made me want to scream. Or even worse, update my blog.

First from the Boston Globe. A story about how net research can explain everything in the universe.

"You can use online data to predict what consumers are doing across every facet of their lives," said Stephen DiMarco, chief marketing officer of Compete Inc., a Boston firm that tracks Web traffic. "The Web is so mainstream and so ingrained . . . this is kind of like the dawn of a new age."

Yeah, this is kind of like the dawn of a new age...of total nonsense. So, Steve, if the web can predict "every facet of their lives" please tell us what stocks they'll be buying tomorrow so we can make a little money on this deal.

Second was this piece of baloney from CNET:

"A report by U.K.-based Datamonitor, titled "The future of social networking: Understanding market strategic and technological developments," predicts that growth in the number of people signing up to be a part of the cultural phenomenon, which has put the likes of Facebook on the map, will peak by 2009 and plateau by 2012."

Really? Wanna bet? These guys know as much about what's going to happen to Facebook in five years as the guy from Boston knows about the stocks we're going to buy tomorrow.

TAC predicts: Bullshit press releases from research companies will increase in 2010, come with side curtain airbags in 2016, and be available in both regular and sour cream and onion in the year 2525 (if man is still alive.)

(For more on this, please see Sky Not Falling, Update)


October 19, 2007

And Speaking of Churchill

Yesterday we posted a quote from Winston Churchill. Apropos Sir Winston, guest blogger Simon Billing contributes this piece on the silliness of focus groups.

May 28, 1940

The Rt. Hon. W.S. Churchill
The House of Commons
London W1


Please find below the results of our focus groups on the speech you intend to make before Parliament next week. Please note that this research is qualitative in nature and represents the views of: "16 doughty yeomen and good burghers of Albion" (your stated target audience). Nonetheless we feel confident in making some recommendations which we feel will add clarity to the messaging and ultimately garner the desired listener response.

Original Text
"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

Our Findings
• The burgher group felt that use of the pronoun "we" significantly diminished the credibility of the text overall as, for the most part, they felt that you personally wouldn’t be doing any of the fighting.

• Some respondents found the use of the auxiliary verb "shall" to be rather old-fashioned.

• Respondents in Birmingham were unclear on what exactly constitutes a beach.

• It is strongly recommended that reference to "landing grounds" be deleted altogether as most respondents were unable to recall ever seeing or visiting a landing ground.

• The yeomen group had some trouble with the use of fields and streets in the same thought; we must be absolutely clear on what we mean here.

• Respondents generally felt that fighting on hills might be a little tricky, as a result this phrase tended to diminish our "intention to fight" rating.

• Both the burghers and the yeomen were a bit put off by the word "surrender" and felt that the final thought should leave things on a more positive note.

Recommended Text

"We, or rather you, will fight on the sandy bits where the sea meets the land; and you, depending on your precise whereabouts at the time, will fight either in the fields or in the streets, we/you will fight on reasonable inclines; and, so long as things seem to be going our way, we’ll do our best to put on a damn fine show."

In summary, we feel that your text represents a very good start and, with some judicious tweaking, the basic idea will work hard in getting the point across. A final thought: some of the respondents were a little uncomfortable with the notion of "fighting" per se; it may be worth looking at some less confrontational language.

By the way, the preliminary results are now in on the "Never in the field of human conflict…" speech. People seem a little confused by the "field" metaphor given that you are in fact referring to aerial combat. We may need to be a bit more direct on this one.

As always, I remain your loyal and most humble servant,

Brigadier (Ret’d.) Sir Percival Postlethwaite (Bart.) M.C. (and bar) M.B.E., T.D., M.A. (Oxon.)
Managing Director
Stirring Insights Limited

Thanks to Simon Bolling. To be a guest blogger send your post to adcontrarian@gmail.com


October 18, 2007

Reality Check

"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."
--Winston Churchill


October 17, 2007

Marketing To Yourself

One of the great joys of being in the advertising and marketing business is the power to market to yourself.

So if you're young and work for an NBA team, you blast the hip-hop music in the arena even though the average season ticket holder is an over-50, fat-ass white guy.

And if you work on a car account, you write a spot your friends will think is cool, even though no one under 25 can afford a car and the average American car buyer is 46. The best thing is, you don't even have to justify it to your client, because they want to market to themselves, too.

But be very careful. Don't wander out of the city or talk to anyone who isn't like you. Those people just aren't cool.


October 15, 2007

TAC Predicts

Casey Stengel once said, "I never make predictions, particularly about the future." The Ad Contrarian does not have the wisdom to follow Casey's sage advice. TAC predicts:

Within the next year there will be a very disturbing report/investigation/article on the influence of internet pornography on the sexual behavior of young people.

This report will create headlines, a furor, lots of posturing among the political class, and will even be a factor in the presidential race.

There will be hearings, editorials and lots of smoke blown. And nothing will happen.

Remember, you read it here first.


October 12, 2007

Start Your Own

I was talking to a young lady the other day. She went to a great college, studied advertising, and now has a job in an agency. She expected the ad business to be full of oddballs, eccentrics, and iconoclasts -- like in the movies.

Instead, she said, everybody repeats the same 10 cliches, drops the same 3 agency names, and talks about the same ads.

One of the problems is that it's getting harder to hold unconventional ideas in a consolidated, globalized industry. Conventional wisdom has become too canonical and too powerful. The pressures to accept it are too great and the penalties for doubting it are too severe.

I'm glad I have my own company.

For a wonderful piece on the dangers of blindly accepting conventional wisdom, I highly recommend this.


October 11, 2007

Big, Dumb, Global Bozos

Every now and then some big, global agency comes sniffing around trying to buy us. Usually it’s because their agency in SF is a disaster, or they want to get their hands on one of our accounts.

Recently it was driven home to me why we’ve never taken any of these guys seriously. The ceo of a very large agency came around. He’s sitting in our conference room. He leans across the conference table. The first question he asks is, “So, Bob, what would you say are your core competencies?”

What are our core competencies? What are our core competencies? We’re an AD AGENCY. What do you THINK our core competencies are? Folk dancing? Knitting? Cheese making? We make ADS, schmuck. That’s our core competency!

No, I didn’t say that. My mother taught me to be nice to guests.

Even big, dumb, global guests.


October 10, 2007

Big News from Brandweek

Stop the presses! Here's some huge news. Consumers favor brands that offer them good quality at a low price! Oh my god!

"The 26,000 men and women polled... showed a strong inclination to brands that either saved them money or were perceived as having good value" is how Brandweek reported it.

A company called Brand Keys did the survey. Apparently, they had to poll 26,000 people to figure this out. Ya think we could have saved these people some money?

But wait. There's more. Just the name of the survey tells you it was run by nitwits: The "2007 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Leaders List" is what it's called.

Congratulations to Brand Keys on squeezing every horrible cliche and buzzword in the marketing lexicon into one survey title. A masterful achievement. And just for the record, what language is that?

Oh, and one more thing -- a warning to anyone who uses the word "engagement." I'm going to come after you. I mean it.

Note to Brand Keys and Brandweek: In case you haven't read "Everything You Need To Know About Branding on One Little Page" on The Ad Contrarian web site (and shame on you if you haven't!) here is an excerpt:

'You want to have a strong brand? Quit “branding”. A strong brand is a byproduct. It comes from doing a lot of other things right. For example:

1. Make sure you’re selling excellent products.

2. Make sure you're taking good care of your customers.

3. Make sure your ads demonstrate how you are different and better than your competitors.'

Didn't need 26,000 people to figure that out.


October 09, 2007

Stick a Knife in My Head

We’ve been ranting for quite some time about how advertisers are missing a huge opportunity by always targeting young people.

In short, people over 50 have 77% of the money and are the target for about 10% of all advertising (see "Aiming Low.") According to The New York Times it looks like some companies are starting to wake up

However, with their typical heavy hand, most marketers will blow their opportunity with this target by pandering to them instead of talking to them. They will make the same mistakes that they make with every other “generation” by holding up a mirror and saying, “This is you. See, we understand!”

Let’s clear this up right now. A person is not a generic symbol of his generation. He is an individual. In order to motivate him you need to provide a specific, differentiated benefit. All the sociological/cultural baloney you hear from your agency about “Gen Xers are this” or “Gen Y’s are that” or “Baby Boomers are this” are simply lazy clichés that offer virtually nothing that is useful in advertising strategy.

Nonetheless, TAC predicts even more of that brainless, atrocious “Ameriprise”-style advertising that makes me want to stick a knife in my head.


October 08, 2007

Absence of Choice

A recent post by Seth Godin in Seth's Blog called "Choice" had this to say: 'If I had to pick one word to describe what's new, what's different and what's important about now vs. then, it would be "choice."'

As usual, TAC disagrees. What's new and different is absence of choice.

"Then" there was a mens' store, a pharmacy, a grocery, a shoe store, a fruit stand, a pizza joint, a coffee shop and a bakery on every corner. "Now" we're stuck with Wal-Marts, Rite-Aids, and Pizza Huts. Our economic choices are being consolidated at an alarming rate (see "Dull Men in Grey Suits.")

Of course, what Seth is talking about is electronic choice. Like most of us who sit in front of a computer screen all day, the web is Seth's default frame of reference. Certainly the web, cable and satellite tv, and other electronic innovations give us choices we didn't previously have.

But, as so often in life, there are cross-currents. When it comes to commerce, it's a different story. The best stats I can find say that internet commerce represented 2.4% of economic activity in 2005. Let's be generous and say it's doubled since then (guaranteed it hasn't.) If so, internet commerce comprises about 5% of our economic activity. So for 5% of our purchases we have a lot more choice. But for 95%, we have a lot less.

Choice? Anyone tried to find a tailor lately?


October 05, 2007

Dull Men in Grey Suits

A piece called "Why Have Admen Lost Their Mojo?" in The New York Observer asks where have all the visionaries and scoundrels gone?

The writer has a lot to say, but most of it is off target. The reason there are so few big personalities left in advertising is that advertising has been homogenized into submission by consolidation, globalization and corporatization.

The ad business used to be an industry of entrepreneurs. Now it's in the hands of a few lawyers, accountants and other publically traded dull men in grey suits.

A couple of decades ago Y&R had the largest share of the ad market in the US at a little over 1%. Today four global holding companies control about 75% of U.S. ad dollars. Along with this consolidation of dollars has come a consolidation of thinking. In our opinion, these guys all sound alike, look alike, and smell alike. They spout the same clichés and dreadful jargon. Here is an actual press release from one such global agency. I've changed the names to protect the innocent:

"Mr. A will report to Mr. B, executive creative director of ________, who said Mr. A “represents a new generation of creative visionaries who are able to bring the total brand experience to the development of integrated creative solutions."


How can people who write idiotic nonsense like this be interesting? Or create comprehensible ads? Right, they can’t.

October 04, 2007

Worst Idea of the Week. Any Week

CBS is planning a "reality" show in which the contestants compete to write the best ad jingle. This is not a joke. It's called Jingles.

Apparently no one has told the programmers at CBS that nobody has used a jingle in advertising in about 20 years. They really ought to watch their network sometime.


October 03, 2007

Overstimulated by the NBA

The new NBA season is soon to begin, so you can expect me to become even crankier. I used to love the NBA. Now, every time I go to a game I swear I'll never go back. Until the next game.

The constant marketing drives me crazy. There is not a minute during the game when someone isn't trying to sell me something. And when they're not selling something the idiotic promotions and incessant music and noise are appalling.

People on skates taunting the crowd with cold, gelatinous pizza. Morons with their hats on backwards shooting t-shirts into the crowd. It's got all the delicate charm of Las Vegas, except without the free booze.

Would someone please tell the NBA marketing people that the game is exciting enough. I don't need constant, relentless, artificial stimulation. They are now even pumping in canned crowd noise. I'd like some quiet time. I'd like my taunting of Mark Cuban to be heard.

And one more thing. The Star Spangled Banner has a fucking melody, okay?

I'm crankier already.

October 02, 2007

New Species of Human

According to most new age marketing gurus, there is apparently a whole new species of human being. This species has some interesting traits:

1. Other than the internet, they don’t trust media.
2. They are immune to marketing.
3. They dislike advertising.
4. They want a “conversation” with brands.

This, of course, is a lot of nonsense. But it’s remarkable how widespread these beliefs are becoming in the advertising and marketing community. Just to set the record straight:

1. The internet is by far the least trusted of major media sources (click on chart above.)

2. No one is immune to marketing. That’s why companies spend so much time and money doing it.

3. Nobody has ever liked advertising. At best, advertising is a minor annoyance. Always has been. Always will be.

4. Most people don’t even have time to have a decent conversation with their children. Do you really think they want to have a conversation with “brands”?


October 01, 2007

Pudding Heads

DOTAC (Daughter of The Ad Contrarian) sent TAC this link. Apparently some geniuses called Pudding Media are going to provide you with free VOIP phone service if you will let them listen in on your calls and send you ads that relate to your conversation.

Of course, this will not intrude on your privacy. "Mr. Maislos (chief executive) said that Pudding Media had considered the privacy question carefully. The company is not keeping recordings or logs of the content of any phone calls..." Yeah, right. Anyone wanna bet this ends up in a huge "oh, we're so sorry we overstepped our bounds" scandal?

TAC predicts: Within a few years years, congress will haul all these clowns (including Google, which monitors your email subjects) up to Capitol Hill and rip them a new one.

And nothing will happen.

People are willing to give up freedom for security, and privacy for money.

Kudos to DOTAC, only a high school kid, who understands the dangers in this a lot better than the new media hustlers do.