January 30, 2009

Social Media Skepticism

Several months ago I wrote a guest post for Copyblogger called, "A Cranky, Skeptical Loudmouth Looks at Social Media Marketing." I re-read it the other day and liked it, so I thought I'd reproduce it here with a few edits. Also, it's Friday and I'm a lazy bastard.

I stand naked before you with the intent of committing heresy (okay, I’m not really naked, but I’m still pretty unsettling to look at.) My heresy is this – I don’t think the internet is all that interactive.

If I’m right, this has big ramifications for us in the marketing world.

Let’s start at the beginning.

What Do We Mean By Interactivity?

I know the web is interactive for you, and I know it’s interactive for me. But for the vast majority of internet users, the ones who don’t have blogs and don’t have their own websites, it is mostly another passive medium. And it’s getting passiver -- which is either a word I just made up or a new Jewish holiday.

Before you start hyperventilating, let’s define our terms. What do we mean by interactivity? I propose the following definition: the ability to interact with the content of the medium, not just the medium.

For example, television. You interact with the medium all the time. You change the channel. You turn the volume up and down. You lighten and darken the picture. But you don’t think of it as an interactive medium because you can’t interact with the content.

The web, on the other hand, allows you to post a comment about what an idiot I am, and it will appear on the screen almost instantaneously. So, rightly, you consider the internet more interactive than tv.

But how much more interactive? It is my contention that web interactivity is continuing to grow for most every function except marketing. It is my further contention that marketing on the web is evolving very much as marketing on tv evolved – people with stuff yelling at people with money.

The Electric Library Card

There are three major ways that marketing is manifest on the web: "search", "display", and "social marketing." The most popular use of the web for marketing has been search. Search is worrisome because it does not really fit our definition of interactivity.

Search is interactive in only the most mechanical sense. It is really just a very smart library index that allows us to access the stacks quickly and (sometimes) easily. We do not contribute to the content.

Two In A Thousand

Display is also worrisome. It’s hard to imagine a medium that could be more intrusive, wasteful, and inefficient than direct mail. But display is it.

The best figures I can find show that the response (click-through) rates on display ads are less than two in a thousand. This is ridiculously small. It is almost 10 times smaller than direct mail. And remember, with direct mail you have to tear off a post card, find a pen, fill out a card, walk to the mailbox and drop it in. With display ads, all you need to do is move your finger.

How can it be that display ads are so ineffective? Simple. We all trained our eyes to ignore banners ten years ago. Just like we trained our eyes to ignore small space newspaper ads.

When it became evident that display was a lousy response medium, those selling it to us changed their tune. Now they claim it’s a branding medium. To this I can only say – yeah, right.

Marketing To Ourselves

So the best hope for the web as a truly interactive marketing medium is "the conversation," i.e. social marketing. I am sure there are wonderful examples of marketers building valuable and profitable social networks. But please, don’t post comments with anecdotes about the wonderful social network this or that company has built. For every success you name, I can name a hundred failures. Let’s make that a thousand.

I don’t care what the conversation crowd says, the average consumer simply does not have the time or the inclination to have conversations with marketers. Most of them, wisely, don’t have conversations with their husbands. Why in the world would they want to have conversations with us?

You and I are web geeks. We spend way more time than we should looking at computer screens. We are not normal. Especially you. The biggest mistake any marketer can make is marketing to himself, i.e. assuming his customer is just like him. They’re not and they never will be.

The Age Old Problem

When it comes to marketing, the average person uses his computer much as he uses his television — in passive mode. He sits back and looks at what’s on the screen and when he’s tired of what’s on the screen he clicks to change the channel, uh, page.

Don’t kid yourself. As an online marketer, you are facing the same challenge that every marketer since the beginning of commerce has faced: How do you attract the attention of people who are actively trying to avoid you?

It would be lovely if the “social media/conversationalist” crowd were right and interactivity between marketer and marketee would evolve as a caring, loving relationship.

I’m officially skeptical.

Why The Economy Is In The Toilet:

Yesterday 27.4% of visitors to TAC spent over an hour here. I know this shit is fascinating but, people, there's work to be done!

January 29, 2009

Only In Berkeley

Berkeley is a non-stop chucklefest. Here's the latest.

It seems that the Berkeley Public Library is in violation of the city's Nuclear Free Ordinance. No, they're not enriching uranium down in the basement or stashing H-bombs in the comparative lit stacks.

So what's the problem? Well, it seems they have these 5 scanners for checking out library books. The only company that services these scanners is 3M, which hasn't signed Berkeley's nuclear-free disclosure form as required by the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act. Apparently 3M has more to worry about than Berkeley's 5 library card scanners.

The important thing to know is that Berkeley is a nuclear free area. So if some nutjob like Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-Il gets his hands on a nuke, get your ass here as fast as possible.

But I digress...

So these scanner machines have not been serviced in six months. The poor library people went before the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission (I'm not kidding) to ask for a waiver so it could have its scanners fixed.

The Peace and Justice Commission rejected this request 7-1. Said Peace and Justice Commissioner George Lippman, "The act is meant to be a blow against nuclear war."

You can't make this shit up.

What Does This Have To Do With Advertising?
Nada. The fun part of being a contrarian is writing whatever the hell you want.

Quote Of The Day
"...now that everyplace is the same, there's no place to run."
James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

Half My Facebook "Friends" I Don't Know
The other half I don't like.

Our New Jingle
Don't miss the new Ad Contrarian anthem over on the right.

January 28, 2009

Never Speak The Truth

We are a culture of hypocrites.

We scream about the lack of honesty in public discourse -- the dreadful language of obfuscation that politicians use, the awful words-without-meaning of corporate America.

But as soon as someone dares to say something without measuring it five ways, we jump down his throat.

Take the case of the poor PR guy from Ketchum. He was Twitter-ing from Memphis where he had attended a meeting with client FedEx. He had the poor judgment to Twitter the truth and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here.’ Ironically, he was there to talk to their corporate communications people about social media.

Well, some small-minded ferrets at FedEx discovered his tweet and jumped all over him with typical mealy-mouthed corporate bullshit...
"...these are your comments about Memphis ...the global headquarters city of one of your key and lucrative clients, and the home of arguably one of the most important entrepreneurs in the history of business, FedEx founder Fred Smith."
Oh my god, not the hallowed ground of the great god Fred! ...the most important entrepreneur in the history of business! (Someone please get me a sickness bag.)

Yeah, so what? It's still a fucking stink hole.

Actually, I've never been to Memphis. For all I know it may be heaven on earth. Doesn't matter. If this guy thinks it stinks, he's entitled to say so.

Poor guy had to make up some bullshit excuse and apologize to these bullies.

Our government can't keep us from saying what we want to say, but corporate imbeciles can.

On The Other Hand...

Any moron who Twitters deserves what he gets.

Bookmark and Share

January 27, 2009

How Advertising Works - Part 5: The Final Principle

In parts one and two of this series I observed that most ad people and most agencies do not have unifying principles for how and why they create advertising. In parts three and four I discussed the first and second principles of what I call Performance-Based Advertising (PBA). Today, I'll talk about the third and final principle.

Principle #3: 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.

Principle #3 is the heart and soul of PBA. It is a different view of advertising and branding. It is different because it takes contemporary advertising thought and flips cause and effect.

What this principle is saying is that the best way to build a brand is through product advertising, not brand advertising.

Let’s define our terms.

In general, what people mean when they differentiate between “product” and “brand” advertising is that product ads are about features and benefits, and brand ads are about imagery and lifestyle.

(This, by the way, is nonsense. All advertising is brand advertising. All advertising either enhances or diminishes a person’s net impression of your brand, whether you intend it to be brand advertising or not. Nonetheless, the idea that brand advertising is something different is so ingrained in the system that we have to deal with the idea whether we like it or not.)

I believe that “brand” advertising – advertising focused on imagery or lifestyle -- is least effective against your most desirable customers. It may be effective against light users or non-users in your category, but it tends to be ineffective against heavy users.

For better or worse, the heavy-using customer in your category is probably already an expert on your brand. By definition, she participates in the category frequently. She is more likely to be interested in the category and knowledgeable about it. When you want to learn about your standing vis-à-vis your competitors, what do you do? You ask her. You conduct research and invite her in to tell you how you’re doing. It would not be hyperbolical to say that in some ways she knows your brand as well as you do.

Her knowledge and experience in the category have far greater influence on her opinion of your brand than advertising does. Please reread that last sentence.

Because she knows her stuff, her attitudes are hard to change. That’s why Principle #3 stresses the importance of product advertising. Give her a solid reason to give you a try. She will quickly recognize meaningful product differentiation, innovations, new product benefits, a good deal, a compelling offer, a service enhancement, or evidence of emotional enrichment.

She is far more likely to recalibrate her opinion of your brand by experiencing your product than by experiencing your advertising. Getting the customer to experience your product doesn’t just create sales—it’s what builds brands.

(One thing I need to say here. There are some categories in which imagery and lifestyle advertising are often highly effective e.g, cigarets, booze, soda, fashion. These are categories in which there is minimal product differentiation and, in fact, advertising often serves as the differentiator. Like I said in Part 2 of this series, PBA principles do not apply in all cases and in all categories)

Let’s take a look at Southwest Airlines. Here we have an airline that offers perhaps the worst flying experience in the nation. But they don’t waste their money on “branding” ads (until recently.) Instead, they wisely try to sell us something. They give us specific, concrete reasons to fly with them: lower fares, more flights, more convenient destinations. As a result, they have actually built a meaningful brand — a brand that stands for something concrete and discernible—while United and American, with all their “brand” advertising, have not. Someone please tell me what United stands for?

As Southwest demonstrates, the best way to build a brand is with persuasive product advertising.

Does this mean that the image components of advertising are irrelevant or unimportant? Of course not. You always want to look good and there is no excuse for doing ugly, annoying ads. But first things first. The first order of business is to sell someone something.

You want to build a strong brand? Forget all the ethnography, sociology, sidewalk psychology, and brand babble. Make sure your advertising gives people a damn good, convincing reason to try your product.

You think that’s too simplistic? It’s the hardest thing an advertiser has to do.

Who Loves Ya, Baby?
For those of you who want access to this series and don't want to go rummaging through 400 posts to find it, I have put all five parts together here, along with another series, "The Crisis of Advertising."

January 26, 2009

The Other Thing Advertising Does

Seth Godin had a very interesting post a few weeks ago called Do Ads Work?

His point (if he'll allow me to paraphrase) was that if advertising works -- i.e., if it brings in more money than it costs -- why not spend everything you have on advertising? If you can trade one dollar for two, why not do it with all your dollars? The way Seth put it was this:

So, why, precisely, do you have an ad budget?

If your ads work, if you can measure them and they return more profit than they cost, why not keep buying them until they stop working?

It's a great point. And I think I have an answer.

Advertising works in two very different ways -- short-term and long-term. Short-term, advertising creates sales. Long-term, advertising is insurance.

The sales aspect is what Seth is referring to. It's a short-term job with a reasonably straightforward ROI. It either returns more than it costs or it doesn't. It's not always easy to measure this ROI because business is so complicated these days that unless you're a direct marketer it's hard to isolate any one factor. Nonetheless, most companies can get a general sense of whether the advertising they are buying is returning more than it's costing.

The insurance aspect of advertising, however, is harder to reckon.What effect does money that Coca-Cola spent on advertising 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 25 years ago, and 50 years ago have on its sales today? There's no doubt that there is some effect but it's very hard to measure. We have a name for it, though. It's called brand equity.

Coca-Cola doesn't cost 50 cents a can more than Safeway Cola because of any ad they're running today. It's primarily because of all those ads they ran all those years ago.


How Advertising Works: Part 5 - The Final Principle

January 24, 2009

New Poll Results

First, thanks to those of you who took my poll last week. For those who are interested, here's what you do:
Work in an ad agency

Work in marketing

Work in advertising, but not in an agency



Don't work in marketing, but make marketing decisions

Work for a media company

Work, but not in marketing or media

Don't work (retired, rich, or just lucky)

Other answer...

Now, for a new poll. If you wouldn't mind taking 10 seconds to click a button, I'd love to know how you got here:

January 23, 2009

We're All Creative. Yeah, Right.

We're in one of those awful business cycles during which every ad agency manager is required to stand up and rally the troops. It's the law.

One of the highlights of the obligatory pep talk occurs when the agency manager solemnly states that old slice of baloney that "we're all creative."

Well, I've got bad news. We're not all creative.

As a matter of fact, hardly any of us are. Even those of us who are called "creative" usually aren't.

We may be clever, or resourceful, or entertaining. But creative? Sorry, I don't buy it.

Nobody claims we're all handsome. Or good dancers. Or good at spelling. Or basketball. So what makes us think we're all artistic visionaries?

C'mon, let's celebrity diversity by joining hands and admitting that most of us are dim, stinky, and not creative at all.

January 22, 2009

The Mystery Of Success

Here's a mystery.

Those of us who have worked at global ad agencies know how screwed up most of them are. Those of us who see the output of these agencies know how lousy much of it is.

And yet big, successful companies keep hiring the same 4 agency networks over and over while much smarter, smaller agencies have to fight over scraps.

Why is this?

The most obvious reason is that people like to work with people like themselves. So "global" marketing directors like to have "global" account managers to sip white wine with.

But I think it's more than that. It's obvious that the ad business has become less about the ads and more about the rationale for the ads. We call it strategy, but it's rarely strategy. It's mainly justification.

The same is happening in the area of agency new business. Clients no longer select agencies on their ability to create good ads. They select them on their ability to make good presentations.

The agency that makes the best presentation wins. Global agencies are better at making presentations than smaller agencies. They can afford people who are good at nothing but making presentations.

Some of the best ad people I've ever worked with were terrible presenters. Making good presentations is a very different skill from making good ads.

January 21, 2009

How Advertising Works - Part 4: The Second Principle

In parts one and two of this series I observed that most ad people and most agencies do not have unifying principles for how and why they create advertising. In part three, I discussed the first principle of what I call Performance-Based Advertising. Today, I'll talk about the second principle.

Principle #2: Advertising messages should be created for, and directed at, the heavy-using, high-yield customers in your category.

It is a good thing to love all your customers and treat them with respect and gratitude. But it is not productive to fashion your advertising message to appeal to all of them.

Most marketers define their target customer in either demographic (women 18-34) or psychographic (millennials) terms. I think this is wrong.

The target customer should be defined in terms of category usage. This is just a fancy way of saying that you should define your target as the high value customer in the category -- regardless of sex, age, or generational characteristics -- and create your advertising to appeal to these people.

Some customers just aren't profitable. And some are extraordinarily profitable.The following chart is not meant to be scientific, but to illustrate the wisdom of focusing your message on heavy-using, high-yield customers:

Even though some customers are way less profitable than others, the cost of marketing to them can be just as expensive. While people in your top quintile may be hugely profitable, people in your lowest quintiles may actually cost you money. Even if you market to them successfully, it may cost you more than you can ever hope to recover.

The reason it is critical to fashion your message for the heavy-using, high-yield customer is that they will usually have a different point of view and a different set of needs from the average or light user.

As an example, let's talk about fast food. The average user of fast food may visit a fast food place once every two weeks. To him, fast food may be a guilty treat. The heavy user of fast food, however, uses it in a completely different way. He visits fast food places 10 times a week or more. To him, it's not a guilty treat. It's his refrigerator.

In fact, in the fast food category, as in many, about 30% of customers account for 70-80% of the volume.

These heavy fast food users are the key to profitability in the category. Attract them, and you're coining it. Miss them, and you're in trouble.

Often advertisers try to find a common denominator among all their potential customers and then try to create a message that appeals to everyone. This is a mistake. The way to minimize waste and maximize the productivity of your advertising is to shape the message for the high-yield customer.

Media strategy can only do so much. When you buy a spot on Monday Night Football, it costs just as much to talk to the guy who buys a hamburger once a month as the guy who buys every day. But you have no choice.

The key is your creative strategy. Make sure your ads are written for the right people. Be sure your advertising has been developed with the needs of the heavy user in mind.

In summary, success in most categories is directly related to the number of heavy-using, high-yield customers you can attract. (In this post I have used "heavy-user" and "high-yield" interchangeably. In some categories this may not be true.)

Since nobody has an unlimited marketing budget -- except, apparently, erectile dysfunction remedies and congressional candidates -- maximizing the performance of your advertising dollars consists of doing the following:
• Studying high-yield customers and understanding what they want
• Crafting a message to these needs
• Treating your low-yield customer nicely, but not shaping ad messages for him.
The Series So Far
How Advertising Works - Part 1: The Problem
How Advertising Works - Part 2: Overview
How Advertising Works - Part 3: The First Principle
How Advertising Works - Part 4: The Second Principle

January 20, 2009

I Got Your Stimulus Package Right Here

One of the strange things about being the head of an ad agency is that people think you know stuff.

It's not unusual for clients to ask me what I think about the economy or when I think the recession will end. Asking a copywriter about economics is like asking a cat about chemistry.

Nonetheless, when asked, I have to answer. So here's what my answers have been.
1. This "recession" is not a recession. We're calling it a recession because that's what we call it when business turns shitty. But this is different. I don't know what the hell it is, but it's different. And because it's something else, nobody knows what it is or where it goes. Anyone who says he does is full of shit.

2. Anyone who thinks she is not going to be affected by it is delusional.

3. Every day at work I feel like someone is peeling another layer of skin off me.

4. The ad business was in disarray before this economic downturn. This will accelerate the restructuring of the ad business.

5. If you're in the ad business, just be thankful you're not in the media business.

One more thing
Good luck to our new President. Dude, you're gonna need it.

How Advertising Works - Part 4: The Second Principle

January 19, 2009

Fire Your Account Planners

Okay, you no longer need planners. You can fire them all and save lots of money.

All the mind-numbing planning bullshit you'll ever need is encapsulated in this unbearable video from Leo Burnett. I dare you to watch the whole thing.

If it were a put-on, it would be hilarious. Unfortunately, it's not.

Who Are You?

A few days ago, somebody asked me "who reads your blog?" This was done in the snidest possible fashion, as if to say, "what kind of freaking moron reads your blog?"

Once I got over the hurt, I realized that, for the most part, I have no idea what kind of freaking moron reads my blog.

I don't want your name or your email address (come to think of it, though, your Visa card number would be nice to have.)

If you wouldn't mind taking 15 seconds to answer my poll, so I know something about my readers, I'd appreciate it.

January 16, 2009

Annals Of Branding

With all the bullshit that marketers generate about branding, you'd think they could at least get something right about a brand.

TAC was driving in San Jose, CA a few weeks ago. We passed by Extended Stay Deluxe. According to their website, there are more than 680 Extended Stay places in the US and Canada.

Apparently, however, Extended Stay Deluxe is such an idiotic name, they have to put a big red banner out front that says, "Yes, we are a HOTEL!"

The average 9 year-old could come up with a name for a hotel that at least lets you know what the hell it is when you're standing there looking at it. But these knuckleheads couldn't.

Like the man says, you can't make this shit up.

Hats off to Chesley B. (Sully) Sullenberger III, the heroic pilot who landed that jet in the Hudson River. How long until some media sleazoid digs up some dirt on him? I give it 3 days.

I was wrong. It took less than an hour. According to a friend, some jackass on NPR was already insinuating this morning that he did it on purpose.

January 15, 2009

I Knew It!

According to an article at Space. com...
"The universe appears to be lopsided..."
I knew something was wrong.

January 14, 2009

How Advertising Works - Part 3: The First Principle

In parts one and two of this series I observed that most ad people do not have unifying principles for how and why they create advertising. I promised I would give you some, and today we begin with the first principle.

Principle #1: Advertising is most productive when it is focused on changing behaviors, not attitudes.

If you listen to advertising people talk, you'll think the most important thing we do is change consumer attitudes. It is not.

The primary job of advertising is to change consumer behavior -- to get them to buy something, not believe something.

Most ad people will argue that until you can get someone to believe, you can't get her to buy. This is wrong.

The conventional wisdom is that first we must change a consumer’s attitude and this will lead to a change in her behavior. In graphic form, it looks like this:
The problem with this model is that attitudes are extremely hard to change. Here's what some smart people say about trying to change attitudes:

Nobel Prize winning economist John Kenneth Galbraith says:
"Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
PEN/Martha Albrand Award winning author Sam Harris says:
"It does not require any special knowledge of psychology or neuroscience to observe that human beings are generally reluctant to change their minds."
And marketing brainiac Jack Trout says:
"If your assignment is to change people’s minds, don’t accept the assignment."
In fact, it is usually a lot easier to change behaviors than attitudes.
  • It’s easier to convince you to eat a Big Mac than convince you that a Big Mac is a good thing to eat.
  • It’s easier to convince you to go to Las Vegas than convince you that going to Las Vegas is a wise thing to do.
  • It’s easier to convince you to fly Southwest than convince you that flying Southwest is going to be a pleasant experience.
It’s not that attitudes are irrelevant. It’s not that they don’t affect behavior. It’s just that they’re too damn difficult to change, too damn expensive to change, and they take too damn long to change.

Once someone's a Dodgers fan, he's probably going to stay a Dodgers fan. Once he's a Coke versus a Pepsi, Democrat vs. Republican, United vs. American, Mac vs. PC, paper vs. plastic, his mind is not likely to be easily changed.

The probability is that marketing dollars will be more productive if you focus on changing his behavior.

Even though his attitude may be that another brand is superior, his behavior is malleable. He will recognize meaningful product differentiation, innovations, a special offer, new product benefits, a better deal, a service enhancement, or evidence of emotional enrichment.

Give him a compelling reason to change his behavior. His attitude will follow.

The Series So Far
How Advertising Works - Part 1: The Problem
How Advertising Works - Part 2: Overview
How Advertising Works - Part 3: The First Principle
Next week: Part 4 - The Second Principle

We're Number One, Update
BusinessWeek's online Business Exchange now has about 400 articles on the subject of "Advertising In A Recession." The most read article is a post that appeared here at TAC by guest blogger Sharon Krinsky entitled Good Strategy For Bad Times. It incorporates some of the ideas you read here today.

January 13, 2009

7 Things You Really Don't Want To Know About Me

There is an insidious pyramid thing going around in which bloggers are being asked to reveal 7 things about themselves in their blogs.

I would normally ignore it but I was tagged by the wonderful Ad Broad. Nobody with any sense defies the Ad Broad.

So, here are 7 things you’ll wish you didn’t know about me.

1. I like people who don’t like people.

2. I have never seen American Idol, Desperate Housewives, Survivor, CSI, LA Law, ER, 30 Rock, Friends, Law and Order, or Sex and the City. I have never seen a movie with Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Bruce Willis, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Denzell Washington, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, or Kate Winslett. I like to read.

3. Sometimes I go to baseball games just because I want a hot dog.

4. I have a band. It’s called The All-Bob Band. I am the only member. Well, not counting a computer and a few synthesizers and guitars. It is alarmingly bad, but I don't care. It has one fan. Thank you, David.

5. My favorite movie of all time is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy a made-for-tv 7-part British production from 1979 starring Alec Guiness. I watch all seven parts once a year.

6. My all-time favorite fictional character is Angel of The Rockford Files. TAC Award of Merit if you can tell me Angel's full name (the character, not the actor). No Googling.

7. I am nostalgic for things that never were. The Old West of Louis Lamour; the San Francisco of Sam Spade; the 50's of "I Love Lucy."

Now the really hard part. I have to “tag” seven other bloggers who are also required to reveal 7 things about themselves. The problem is, I only read five blogs regularly. Here are the blogs I read:

AdBroad: Born in Tennessee and speaks Chinese. Beat that
AdAged: Often even darker than I am
AdPulp: I like David
AdScam: Fucking hilarious
The Toad Stool: He’s smarter than us

So I can’t tag seven. I can’t even tag these five, because two have already been tagged. So I’m tagging George Parker (AdScam) who’ll probably call me a douchenozzle for doing it, and George Tannenbaum (Ad Aged) who’ll probably kill himself or me or something. I‘m also tagging David Burn (AdPulp) even though his name isn't George.

For George, George, and not-George:
The rules:

  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  • Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged.

How Advertising Works - Part 3: The First Principle

January 12, 2009

How Advertising Works - Part 2: Overview

(Most of this series, "How Advertising Works," comes from my book The Ad Contrarian which will be available here free as an ebook as soon as I can get my lazy ass into gear.)

Ask the average ad agency executive what the fundamental principles are behind the advertising she does and you will likely get stunned silence.

When she recovers, you will probably hear a series of buzzwords rather than principles -- vague statements about “cultural conversations” or “360-degree touchpoints” or “consumer engagement.”

The reason ad people have a hard time articulating underlying principles is that, for the most part, they don't have any. Instead, they rely on a grab bag of platitudes and jargon.

In response to that, my associates and I have developed a set of principles called Performance-Based Advertising (PBA). (I know. It sounds like jargon, too. But we had to call it something.)

PBA is meant to displace the fuzzy beliefs and horrible clichés that masquerade as critical thinking in much of the advertising and marketing world today.

It defines a very specific set of principles by which advertising should be developed and managed. It avoids the tired truisms and replaces them with simple ideas that will help you understand why your advertising isn’t performing as well as you’d like it to and what you can do about it.

PBA is about strategy. It’s not about creativity. Thankfully, creativity and imagination are rare and beautiful and can’t be reduced to a set of principles. Strategy can.

I hope what I have to say will challenge what you think you know about advertising. I also hope it will give you a fresh, practical way to approach the advertising decisions you have to make every day.

The premise is simple—there are ways to advertise that are prudent and efficient, and ways that are wasteful and inefficient.

Now the disclaimers. I want to emphasize that what I'm going to provide you with is a series of principles, not rules.

These principles are about probabilities, not absolutes. (For that matter, any statement about human behavior is about probabilities, not absolutes.) The clever ones among you will be able to come up with plenty of examples of ad campaigns that did not followed these principles but were successful.

If you apply these principles, you are not guaranteed to succeed. (Remember, the elusive creative component is always the most important part of advertising.)

However, all other things being equal, if you follow the principles I believe the probability of advertising success is far higher.

Okay, I've teased it enough. In the next part, the first principle.

January 09, 2009

We're Number One

BusinessWeek magazine has a website called "Business Exchange" in which it features articles on topics of interest to business people. One of the topics it has been covering is "Advertising In A Recession."

There are almost 400 articles on this topic which BusinessWeek has identified. The most read article on this topic appeared here in TAC, and was written by guest blogger Sharon Krinsky. The post is called "Good Strategy For Bad Times."

Not only is this article the most read piece on the subject, but a second post by Sharon that appeared here, "Advertising In A Recession: Yes or No?" is also among the most read.

Coming Monday: How Advertising Works - Part 2.

More Self-Congratulation

Last month, in a post entitled "Will The Recession Help TV?" guest blogger Susan Bandura wrote...
"... most pundits are saying that TV advertising is more vulnerable than ever – that companies are going to cut their TV advertising budgets, that DVR penetration is going to help put the nail in the coffin.

But what’s really going to happen to TV viewing in the near future?

Let’s see … everybody has a TV … people are staying at home more … consumption of entertainment usually goes up when the economy is down… and now it's dark by the time we get home from work...

All of these factors say “more TV watching” as far as I’m concerned. Which means that TV advertising will make as much – if not more – sense than ever..."
On December 29th, in a piece entitled "TV Retains Marketing Dollars In Hard Times" The New York Times wrote*...
"While newspapers, magazines, radio and local television are all losing advertisers in the recessionary economy, the broadcast networks continue to be an anomaly, with advertisers putting their marketing dollars into national television at levels reminiscent of prosperous economic times.
Here at TAC, scooping The New York Times is what we do.

However, even though network tv is currently doing better than other media, nobody is going to be immune to this "recession."

* Thanks to Michael Gass for bringing this article to our attention. Which reminds me, the staff here at TAC Global Headquarters doesn't always have time to keep up with all the semi-fascinating ad and marketing news. If you come across something you think might be of interest, please send it to adcontrarian@gmail.com. If we use it, we'll give you a nice big shout-out and buy you a cocktail next time you're in SF. Please, no gossip or dirty laundry.

January 07, 2009

How Advertising Works - Part 1: The Problem

Admit it, you're confused. You don't know how advertising works.

Like everyone in advertising and marketing, you pretend you do. But you don't.

You believe that ads that win awards are superior to mundane, slice-of-life ads. But why do you believe that? Because you've seen proof, or because everyone else in advertising believes it?

You believe that ads that touch an emotion are more powerful than logical ads. But where's the data that backs it up? Is it really true or just a legend?

You believe lovely "branding" spots are way more engaging than crappy direct response spots. Yet TiVo tells us that consumers skip the beautiful "branding" stuff more than the nasty direct crap.

You can't figure out why the last campaign you did failed, while the one before it -- based on the same strategy -- was a big hit.

You don't understand why the brilliant creative team that wins all the awards also does such atrocious junk.

You know the planners and brand babblers in your agency are full of shit, and you can't understand why clients believe them.

You can't figure out why some agencies do great work for one client and abysmal crap for another.

Does copy testing work? Sometimes.

Do celebrity endorsements work? Sometimes.

Do testimonials work? Sometimes.

Do comparison ads work? Sometimes.

Do jingles work? Sometimes.

Are tag lines effective? Sometimes.

So, what do you really know about advertising? What are the principles?

Are we like the financial community that goes along pretending it knows what it's doing but every now and then discovers it doesn't know shit?

The answer is, we're worse than them.

At least for them there's a reckoning every decade or so. There's a big event that shows the world how stupid they've been. For us, there's no grand reckoning for our ignorance. It's just one little failure after another that no one ever tallies up.

It is remarkable that in an industry that spends tens of billions a year, no one knows a fucking thing. Opinions masquerading as wisdom are all we have.

There are some corners of the ad industry in which people really do know what works. The direct response people know that offers work. The political people know that attack ads work. But these strategies are generally outside the lines of mainstream brand advertisers.

We still rely on the same platitudes and cliches that were developed 50 years ago. We abide by the same legends and rituals that were developed by the MadMen -- handed down unchallenged generation to generation, agency to agency.

We have come almost nowhere in understanding why we do what we do.

Well, my children, fear not. Here at The Ad Contrarian all will be revealed.

Our new 5-part series (actually, it may be 8-part or 11-part depending on how crafty I am at stretching this out) How Advertising Works will help you understand how to develop and evaluate advertising sensibly.

If you work at an agency, it will make you the smartest kid in the dumb class. If you work in client-side marketing, it will make you the special one that the agency really hates.

In any event, it will give you a new way to look at and think about advertising.

Stay tuned.

January 05, 2009

New And Unimproved

Welcome to the new and unimproved Ad Contrarian '09.

After a year and a half, the staff here at TAC Worldwide feel the need to make some changes. And just like most organizations, we're changing for one reason and one reason only -- because it's much easier than improving.

So, here's the deal. We're not going to be posting every day. It may be once a week or twice a week or whenever the hell we feel like it. Why, you ask? Three reasons:
1. Posting every day is a pain in the ass. It's exhausting trying to be entertaining five days a week. Or ever, for that matter. Go ahead, big shot, try it.

2. Advertising really isn't all that fascinating. I've said most everything I can think of saying about it and I feel like I'm doing more re-writing than writing.

3. Unlike most bloggers, I have an actual job. The ad business is going to be a complete mess in 2009 and I have a responsibility to my partners and our staff to pay more attention to it while it spirals inexorably toward the drain.
Another change: we're not going to have those pathetic visuals accompanying our posts anymore. See, we've been stealing them from the web and we're afraid someone's going to find out and sue us for millions of billions of dollars. Plus they're usually either ugly or stupid.

Okay, you say, I can live with all that. What else is going to change?

Here's the good part: Nothing.

You can look forward with great confidence to the same type of strongly-held, ill-informed opinions you've come to love and expect.