December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

The entire Ad Contrarian global staff is off for the holidays. Have a wonderful week and we'll see you after the New Year.

December 23, 2008

Remarkable Rudeness

Recently my agency was asked to pitch an account.

We were given little time and no money to do so. Our assignment was to develop full-blown plans -- including creative and media -- for three different markets.

We spent tens of thousands of dollars on the pitch. We had people working nights and weekends -- including Thanksgiving weekend.

When we gave the presentation the head marketing person from the client organization sat with her laptop open reading and answering emails for half the presentation.

While many clients are wonderful and appreciative, sometimes the rudeness and disrespect agencies have to put up with is intolerable.

One of the most difficult tightropes an agency principle has to walk is this: The desire to react honestly to insufferable, self-important jerks, and the knowledge that doing so may cost jobs to people in the agency.

Just once I'd like to be able to tell someone like her to put her laptop on vibrate and stick it where the sun don't shine.

There, I just did.

December 22, 2008

How To Select An Ad Agency

The process by which companies select ad agencies continues to get more arcane and bewildering.

It is fed by search committees who don't know what they're searching for and consultants who need to justify their fees by creating monumental RFPs filled with grotesque irrelevancies.

As someone who has participated in a thousand agency searches, here's how I would do it.
Dear XYZ Agency,

We are looking for an ad agency. We would like to consider yours. If you're interested, please read the information we've attached, then answer two questions:

1. In your opinion, what are the key marketing issues we're facing?
2. If you were our agency, what would you do about it?

You may take as much or as little time as you need. Please call me and let me know when you'd like to come in to answer these questions.

Thank you,
If the answers to these two questions don't tell you everything you need to know about the agency, there's nothing wrong with the agency. There's something wrong with you.

December 19, 2008

The Complicators Have Won

There are two kinds of people -- simplifiers and complicators.

Simplifiers have the ability to distinguish between the essential and the irrelevant. Complicators cannot.

In advertising, simplifiers are indispensible. Complicators are disastrous.

The advertising business is now in the hands of complicators.

From The New York Times, December 2, 2008:
...a new breed of companies is...creating hundreds of versions of clients’ online ads, changing elements like color, type font, message, and image to see what combination draws clicks on a particular site or from a specific audience...
In other words, more complexity; more impenetrable, useless factoids masquerading as data; more paralysis by analysis. More stuff that you think has meaning until you start asking questions and get answers like..."well, that depends...."

If you haven't seen Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO Randall Rothenberg's comments on this subject, check it out here.

Web metrics maniacs have been measuring every visit, every click, every time we blow our nose or wipe our ass. They know what we do and where we live and where we go.

Now they need to tell us what are the principles? What are the simple truths? What do we need to know?

We're waiting.

December 18, 2008

Bad Days For Brand Babblers

Times of economic hardship are especially tough on ad people who make their living bullshitting about "brand relevance," "brand integrity," " brand saliency," and other forms of brand baloney.

In these times, clients expect their advertising to actually sell something. When it doesn't, they get cranky.

Some years ago the ad industry decided that it no longer had to bother itself with the mundane task of selling. Instead, advertising could focus on the much more civilized practice of branding -- whatever the hell that means.

Usually it means we don't have to bother to provide the consumer with any reason to prefer our product. As long as we're clever, hip, and arch we can create "brand advocates" who will internalize our "brand meaning," and...I don't know...write blogs about how much they love us, or something?

Unfortunately, it ain't that easy. The most effective, in fact, the only way to build a brand is to sell someone something.

It often comes as a shock to ad people when we find out how little the marketplace cares about our cleverness and our hipness. Apparently, consumers are more concerned with their own self-interest than with our brilliance.

Ungrateful bastards.

December 17, 2008

Social Media Fantasies

From TechDigest, July 2007
"Facebook applications are the best thing since...sliced bread...they're mushrooming by the day, as companies and individual developers alike catch on to the potential of having their content splashed over (potentially) millions of Facebook profiles."
Yeah, right.

Along with so many other social media fantasies, marketers have found Facebook apps to be a pretty good way of pissing away barrels of money. According to Adweek...
  • Nike's "Ballers Network" ("the brand saw its mission as building community through applications") gets about 3,400 visitors a month.
  • FedEx touted its "Launch A Package" Facebook app as a big success, having achieved 100,000 installations in its first three days. It now gets 1,500 visitors a month.
For some perspective, this pathetic blog gets ten times that.

Other marketers who have flushed away good money on failed Facebook apps include Coca-Cola, Champion, Ford and Microsoft.

As we have said on many occasions, there is no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he's missing a trend.

So Let's Review...
Advertising on Facebook is going nowhere. The apps scheme is falling apart. Someone remind me... how are they going to make money again?

December 16, 2008

A Civilization Of The Mind

From A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. John Perry Barlow. Davos, Switzerland. February 8, 1996.
"We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before."
Yeah, right.

Here were the top ten search items on Yahoo for 2008:
1. Britney Spears
2. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
3. Barack Obama
4. Miley Cyrus
5. RuneScape
6. Jessica Alba
7. Naruto
8. Lindsay Lohan
9. Angelina Jolie
10. American Idol
A civilization of the mindless.

December 15, 2008

Hobbies & Businesses

On the web, there are two kinds of entities -- hobbies and businesses. There are a zillion hobbies and a few businesses. And a lot of hobbies pretending to be businesses.

This blog is a hobby. iTunes is a business.

The difference? Businesses make money.

Facebook is a hugely successful hobby, and a dismal failure as a business. That goes for virtually all social media schemes (more on this later in the week.)

It is very easy to piss away boatloads of money convincing yourself that your web hobby is a business. As a matter if fact, it's the biggest mistake companies and web entrepreneurs make.

In your wildest dreams, can you imagine Steve Jobs spending money on developing a web location where people can upload pictures of their cats, and express their moods, and send cute icons to each other?

Here's a good way to tell if your web idea is a hobby or a business -- would Steve do it?

December 12, 2008

Guns N' Roses N' Pepper

In its brief life, the web may have spawned more idiotic, wasteful, and non-productive marketing schemes than perhaps any other medium on earth.

The latest was an attempt by Dr Pepper to hitchhike on the 17-year saga of Guns N' Roses releasing an album called Chinese Democracy.

Apparently without authorization from the band, Dr Pepper claimed it would give away a free can of soda to everyone in America when the album was finally released.

Okay, so far it looks like a cheeky way to have some fun with an ongoing cultural melodrama.

But here's where it gets dumb.

In order to claim your can of soda, you had to go to the Dr Pepper website. Why the website? Because every fucking thing a marketer does now has to have a web component. It's the law.

You see, then you can force all the poor idiots who want a free can of soda to register...and then you have their email addresses...and then you can send them spam...which will wind up in their junkmail boxes...and then you will have tens of thousands of email addresses which are essentially worthless...but in some vague way it looks like you have a web strategy.

So, of course, the website crashed.

And Dr Pepper wound up with a zillion pissed-off, thirsty freeloaders, a possible lawsuit from Guns N' Roses, and soda all over its face.

Would somebody please invent web 3.0 already. Web 2.0 just ain't cutting it.

December 11, 2008

You Read It Here First

Over a year ago, we predicted that online display advertising was headed for trouble. From The Ad Contrarian, September 21, 2007:
"The Backlash Will Come

It's not going to take advertisers long to figure out that online display advertising has been a failure as an interactive medium (see Two In A Thousand.) It can't sustain its growth for long with a response rate under 2 in a thousand...

Right now, we're still in the frenzy part of the adoption cycle in which every marketer thinks she has to be doing banner ads on the web...

Web zealots can do themselves and us a favor...and derive a set of principles that help advertisers use the medium in an effective way.

Unless they do, they will face a backlash. It may not be this week or this month, but it's coming."
Two weeks ago (November 24, 2008), Ad Age ran this:
"Is The End Near For Display Ads?

...Web publishers and agency executives said they are under growing pressure to prove the value of online display advertising..."
Despite the fact that display ads are remarkably ineffective, Ad Age is wrong in suggesting that "the end is near" for them. The end is nowhere in sight. There are three reasons for this:
1. Banner ads are cheap.
2. They are a great source of alibi advertising.
3. The metrics are so arcane, no one knows what they hell anyone is talking about.
So don't worry. You'll have the opportunity to ignore banner ads for many years to come.
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December 10, 2008

Great New Use For Internet

Just when you think turgid claims about the internet can't get any more foolish, along comes a Noble prize winner to prove you wrong.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - The spread of information on the Internet has given the world a new tool to forestall conflicts, Nobel literature prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio said Sunday.

In his Nobel lecture to the Swedish Academy, the 68-year-old Frenchman said an earlier introduction of information technology could even have prevented World War II.

"Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler's criminal plot would not have succeeded..." he said.

Yeah, Jean-Marie good thinking. If only we had the internet then. Because the internet has done such a fine job of preventing wars lately. Except, of course, in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Chechnya, and the West Bank, and Darfur, and Georgia...

But other than that, hardly any wars at all!

Thanks, internet.

For Dumb Ideas About Politics...
...just ask an artist.

December 09, 2008

The Results Are In

The final results of ad spending during the recent political cycle are rolling in.

Politicians spent about 50% more on advertising in the 2008 elections than they did in 2004. In 2004 they spent $1.7 billion. In 2008 they spent between $2.5 and 2.7 billion.

And the big winner in all this added spending had to be the web, right? Wrong

Television got a huge share, with about 85% of all ad dollars ($2.2 billion.)

The web? Less than 1% -- $20 million. Of that $20 million the bulk was in search, which I'm not even sure is advertising.

For a good laugh, go back a couple of years and read all the hyperventilating about how the web was going to play a huge role in political advertising in 2008. For example, this piece from Online Media Daily, August 23, 2006
"Report: Politicos To Boost Web Spending in '08

Political consultants are gearing up to spend more on the web in 2008...

The study, based on a survey of 155 political consultants, found that about one in three...intend to spend more than 20 percent of their campaign budgets online..." (emphasis mine)
Yeah, right.

Researchers do studies and issue reports. Nobody ever follows up on their predictions. Some day I'm going to quit the ad businesss and start "The Institute For Research About Research." I'm going to document all the nonsense and bullshit that market researchers promulgate.

I'll do it right after I get my World Series ring and my Nobel prize.

December 08, 2008


I know two guys named "Tommy."

One is funny, cheerful, and charming. One is sullen, negative, and unpleasant.

The name "Tommy" has no singular meaning for me. It denotes two different people who are completely unrelated.

I know two companies named "Taco Bell."

One is on television. It is clean, cheerful, and makes nice looking food.

One is in my neighborhood. It is dirty, disgusting, and I would never consider visiting it.

The name "Taco Bell" has no singular meaning for me. It denotes two different things that are completely unrelated.

The people who are spending money to reach me with a message about the tv entity called "Taco Bell" don't realize that it has nothing to do with the store called "Taco Bell" in my neighborhood.

Companies are getting more sophisticated at marketing and more inept at operations. The result is schizobranding. They are promoting something that has the same name, but is disconnected.

Just as I can easily have places in my brain for two unrelated things called "Tommy," I can also have places for two unrelated things called "Taco Bell.
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December 05, 2008

6 Things A Creative Director Needs To Know

TAC has been making presentations and missing airplanes all week. Here's an oldie.

Six things you need to know if you're going to be a happy, healthy creative director.

1. Hiring is everything.
If you have terrific people, the advertising business isn’t that difficult. If you have mediocrities, advertising is impossible. For your own self-preservation you must get rid of bad people and hire good ones. There is no other way to do good work and have a happy life. Talent is a rare and precious thing. The idea that "we're all creative" is absolute bullshit. Mediocre talent never makes terrific ads. Never.

2. Avoid the “tyranny of strategy.”
Strategies are not written by God. They are written by planners, researchers, account execs, clients and other mildly retarded mortals. Good creative people often have a better feel for the problem than the committee that wrote the strategy. When you are evaluating a campaign idea, it’s not enough to say ‘this is off strategy’. You must also ask yourself, ‘is this a better strategy than the one we have?’

If the answer is yes, you’re going to have a lousy week. You have to go back and un-sell a strategy that has probably taken months to develop, has been up and down the client organization, and has lots of (probably irrelevant) research to back it up. Somehow, you have to convince a whole bunch of people that all the work they’ve been doing for the past few months is wrong.

Sound impossible? That’s why you get the big bucks.

3. Be eternally skeptical of grand strategic insights:
Planners, researchers and their ilk love to take a little information and turn it into a heroic vision. Beware of this. Most valuable insights are small and contingent. There is almost nothing you can say about human behavior that is universal. Including this.

I was once at an advertising conference and a planning director was making a presentation. She was talking about groups she was conducting for a bank. The groups were going nowhere. She asked a participant “If you could invent the perfect bank, what would it be like?” He sat there for a minute or two without answering.

“I suddenly realized,” she said, “I had the answer right there before me. People don’t want to think about their bank. Then I knew I had the strategy: Bank of Whatever-It-Was. It’s the bank you don’t have to think about.”

I have a different explanation for the above. She asked a stupid question and the respondent sat there dazed and confused.

From the flimsiest of observations, she drew a grand, idiotic conclusion. And worst of all, the agency and the client bought it.

4. Simplify and specify:
I‘ve seen thousands of ads that were too complicated or too generic. I’ve never seen one that was too simple or too specific.

5. Remember why people buy stuff:
There is an old blues song that goes like this:
Feelin’ good
Feelin’ good
All the money in the world spent on
Feelin’ good*
The guy who wrote that lyric understands marketing better than all the Stanford MBA’s I’ve ever worked with put together. That’s what commerce is about – people spending money to acquire things they think will make them feel better.

Save your dark, pessimistic vision for your screenplay. Which reminds me...

6. You’re a salesman, not an artist:
Want to be an artist? God bless you. So do I. I wish us the best.

But first you probably need to quit your day job. As a creative director, your job is to sell stuff. If you don’t like that, I don’t blame you. It’s dirty work and hard on the creative ego.

However, if you are not comfortable being a salesman you will not be comfortable or successful being a creative director.

Does this mean it’s impossible to create advertising that rises to the level of art? No. Every generation has a few people who can do that. But trust me on this one, it ain’t you.

* by J. B. Lenoir, Jim Dickinson

December 04, 2008

Joy Of Eavesdropping In San Francisco

An overheard conversation between two 9-year olds:
Gabe: Dude, I saw the coolest video... this 5-year old dribbling, and like real low and between the legs...

Leo: Dude, I can do that.

Gabe: Dude, you're nine.

Leo: Dude, I could do it when I was 5.

Gabe: Dude, this was girl.

Leo: Dude, that's sexist.

Gabe: No it's not.

Leo: Yes it is. Girls can dribble just as good as boys.

Gabe: Dude, that doesn't mean it's sexist.

Leo: Dude...yes it does. Ask one of your mothers.

December 03, 2008

Ad Agencies Still Don't Get It

The Ad Contrarian mantra goes like this:
"We don't get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand. We get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product."
However, most agencies and most marketing mavens still believe that "branding" is something separate from selling.

A perfect example of the tortured logic of branding can be found in this video of a big agency genius explaining why agencies should stop branding and start selling.

George Parker of AdScam hits it right on head:
"...His main point is that as the economy tightens, agencies should throw "branding" out the window and concentrate on producing work that is "hard sell" as this will produce more sales for clients. .. if this approach will sell more ...goods and services...Why the fuck don't these douchenozzles recommend doing it all the time? I'll tell you why... Because you can't quantify what all those millions spent on branding actually do for you. That way you can't be held accountable...."
Why have clients lost confidence in the ad industry? Because we've re-defined the purpose of advertising from "selling" to "branding" -- and no one knows what the hell "branding" means, other than it's expensive and requires lots of trips to LA.

Worst of all, the bullshit has gotten so pervasive that when we try to talk sense to clients they start throwing our own brand babble back at us.

A Blog You Should Read:
George Tannenbaum writes one of my favorite blogs -- it's called Ad Aged. Check it out.

December 02, 2008

2009: Best Year Ever For Alibi Advertising

Yesterday we described alibi advertising, and predicted 2009 would be its shining moment.

Here's why:
1. When business goes bad, companies go crazy. Activity passes for progress; delusions pass for ideas.

It's so much easier to be reactive than to develop a strategy. There is not a company in America today that isn't considering throwing away/canceling/radically reducing its ad program. However, they'll need something to convince the "stakeholders" that they're "doing something." Enter alibi advertising.

2. Confidence in traditional advertising has greatly diminished. There are a lot of reasons for this -- some legitimate, some not -- and it would require a book to explain them all. It has been fueled by the ubiquitous media narrative that "advertising is dead" and the demented behavior of ad industry leaders who have failed to counter this argument (in fact, have fed it.)

3. The ascendancy of the web. In its brief life, the web has already spawned a truly impressive portfolio of idiotic ideas. But it seems so cheap to do something on the web, that gullible marketers just can't resist. And it looks so nice on a flow chart to have 52 weeks of web presence instead of a few 2-week flights of radio.

Of course, there will be a few winners. But for the most part, we can expect a torrent of truly awful, fruitless online advertising schemes. It's going to be a field day (a field year?) for skeptics.
How To Know If Your Online Advertising Plan Is Any Good:
If it's anything other than search, it's probably a waste of money.

December 01, 2008

Alibi Advertising

Alibi Advertising: a bogus advertising program created on the cheap with the intent of fooling the gullible into believing something useful is being done.

There are two kinds of alibi advertising.

I discovered the first kind when I was working on wine accounts.

Each year, wine marketers would have us create storyboards. Then they would have us create extensive media plans. They would take these materials around to the trade and dazzle them.

Once they made their sale, they would throw away all the plans and run some print ads in Wine Spectator. This reached the retailers who had been conned, and gave them the vague impression that real advertising was happening somewhere.

The astounding thing was that wine marketers would do this year after year and never get called on it.

The second kind of alibi advertising isn't intentionally deceptive. It's a strategy by insecure marketing managers to save money by pretending to do advertising, and thereby becoming heroes to their bosses.

They are afraid to ask for the necessary budget to do things correctly, so they come up with "out-of-the-box" marketing ideas -- which in 99% of cases are just moronic schemes. They pitch these schemes inside their company to willing executives who are always looking for excuses to spend less money.

In both cases the result is the same - the appearance of advertising without the reality of it. In some companies, it's a way of life.

TAC predicts that 2009 is going to be the best year ever for alibi advertising. The convergence of 3 trends is going to ensure it:
  1. A shitty economy
  2. Loss of faith in traditional media
  3. The ascendancy of the web
More about alibi advertising tomorrow.