March 31, 2009

Challenge The Bastards

It's time for all you spineless ad ferrets to get up off your asses and defend yourselves.

Yesterday we talked about a new study that laid bare as a fraud the ubiquitous story that TV is dying.

Unfortunately, the effect of this story is not just that our newspapers and airwaves have been full of bullshit for the past five years. There have been real-world effects on the lives and livelihoods of real people.

It's time to undo some of the damage.

Next time some smelly Twitter-weasel starts screeching the "tv is dying/advertising is dead" stuff and starts mouthing-off about his precious social media, challenge the bastard.

Here at The Ad Contrarian we abhor violence. But putting a good scare into a bedwetter never did any harm.

Here is your Offical Ad Contrarian Anti-Bullshit Cheat Sheet:
- TV viewing is at an all-time high. The average American now watches more television than ever before.

- Contrary to all the baloney about consumers desperate to avoid advertising "the largest observational look at media usage ever conducted" found that...
  • TV accounts for 99 percent of all video consumed.
  • YouTube, Hulu, iPhones and all the other online video and cellphones combined account for less than 1% of all video viewed.
- TiVo and other DVRs account for less than 5% of all TV viewing.

- Fewer than 3% of total tv spots are being missed as a result of TiVo ad-skipping.

- TV viewership has grown over 7% since 2000.

- The positive effect of more viewership on advertising is twice the negative effect of TiVo ad-skipping.

- The New York Times recently reported on two new studies that show that commercials actually improve the enjoyment of watching TV. (That one's a little hard to swallow, but we've gotta use whatever ammo we've got.)
If you weenies don't get up off your butts and do something soon, we'll all wind up writing freaking meta tags for Google.

Oh, I forgot. We already are.

I Love The Web. There, I Said It And I'm Not Sorry.

Because I have not joined the Divine Church of the Internet, and I do not believe it has to vanquish everything in its path to prove its value, many of my readers think I don't like it.

I actually love the web. I spend way more time with it than is either prudent or healthy.

Here's an example of its power. About three years ago I wrote a book called -- you guessed it -- The Ad Contrarian. In those three years I literally couldn't give the freaking thing away. I offered it for free and about 800 people took me up on it.

Last week I offered it as an ebook on this site. In five working days over 20,000 people downloaded it.

By the way, I've decided to charge for it retroactively. You each owe me 5 bucks.

March 30, 2009

Facts Still Matter: The Death And Life Of Television

The New York Times, March 26, 2009: “Even though people have the opportunity to watch video on their computers and cellphones, TV accounts for 99 percent of all video consumed in 2008..."
This is a story about a story. A story that has been repeated so many times, in so many places, with so much zeal, that it has taken on a life of its own -- despite the fact that it is false.

The theme of the story is that television is dying.

It is a story built on shabby journalism, ad industry buffoonery, and the willful suspension of skepticism on a scale unprecedented during my time in the advertising business.

This story has been advanced by a gullible press, confused advertising and marketing executives, web promoters, and careless pundits caught in a feedback loop of such proportions that it's possible it has done serious harm to the media and advertising industries.

Last week, in a remarkable turn of events, the story was exposed as a complete fraud.

Live television has proven to be astonishingly, amazingly dominant.

In "the largest observational look at media usage ever conducted" researchers at Ball State University’s Center for Media Design, found the following:

  • 99% of video viewing was done on a television in the past year.
  • Less than 5% of TV viewing was DVR (TiVo) playback.
  • YouTube, Hulu, iPhone and all other web and cellphone media combined accounted for less than 1% of video viewing
The wonderful thing about this study is that it isn't the typical "self-reported" nonsense. This is actual observed behavior.

If that's not enough...
  • Since ad-skipping among DVR users occurs about half the time, fewer than 3% of total ads are being missed because of ad skipping.
  • TV viewing has risen at least 7% since 2000 which means the positive effect of more TV viewing is double the negative effect of DVR ad-skipping.
Let's see how these facts stack up against a tiny sampling of the commentary on this subject:

From TechCrunch, November 2006 "Let's Just Declare TV Dead And Move On"
...the writing is on the the end of the day, people want to consume content without the friction of having to sit down in front of a television at an appointed time....People want to see the whole show on YouTube. There is a fundamental shift in consumer behavior going on...
From Wired, April 2007: "The TV Is Dead. Long Live The TV"
"Traditional TV won't be here in seven to 10 years...It's changing so fast that I don't know if it's even going to be that long."
From The Telegraph, 2007, "TV Is Dying Says Google Expert"
One of the founding fathers of the internet has predicted the end of traditional television....Vint Cerf, who helped to build the internet... said...that viewers would soon be downloading most of their favourite programmes onto their computers.
From Ad Age, 2008, "TiVo CEO Says End Is Nigh for TV Ads"
TiVo CEO Tom Rogers did everything but hang an "end is near" sign around his neck... with warnings of fast-approaching doom for conventional TV ads... "Probably two thirds or more of the households advertisers care about reaching will be fast forwarding through television ads..."

Unfortunately, we don't have room for all 124,000 citations Google has for "TV is dead."

The Ad Contrarian
has been screaming for years (okay, a year and a half) about the falseness of this pervasive story.

The people advancing this "narrative" live in a bubble of people-like-them. They are mesmerized by the web. They are suffering from nascar blindness. They have lost their perspective.

How will this new study change things? Not one bit.
  • These people are so heavily invested in their story that facts don't matter to them anymore. They will respond to this study the way they have responded to every contradictory piece of factual evidence for 5 years, "...just wait, you'll see..."
  • This study will disappear from view in a week. The advertising agency business is too solidly committed to the fraud. They'll just bury this report and hope their clients don't see it.
  • There is not one CMO in the world who will go back to his management and say, "I was wrong. I got swept up in the hysteria. TV is kicking ass. It's different from how it used to be, but it's kicking ass. Instead of wasting our money chasing rainbows we need to figure out how to use TV more effectively."
The story will live on.

What should we do about this?

March 27, 2009

The One Question Every Client Should Ask And Never Does

Earlier this week in a post called "Clients Ask All The Wrong Questions" I said...
Any agency person who's ever participated in a new business pitch has been asked this question: "What is the process you use to develop advertising ideas?"
I also said...
There may be a process for developing a strategy; there may be a process for developing a media plan; but there is no process for giving birth to an idea... This does not mean, however, that there is not a very important question that clients should ask. There is, and later this week we'll talk about it.
Well, it's later this week, so let's talk about it.

There is one question every client should ask a prospective agency, and if you're in an agency it's a question you should be able to answer. The question is this:
What are the principles by which you create advertising?
If you can't answer that question, you are confused. If your answer is about "360 degree touchpoints" or "cultural conversations" or "consumer engagement" you are not only confused, you are also full of shit. There is a difference between a principle and a jargon slider.

Here's how to know if something is a principle or not. A principle can be stated in a simple, declarative sentence without the use of marketing cliches.

Here are some examples of principles:
- Advertising is only effective when it is entertaining. This is totally wrong, but it's a principle.

- Advertising works best when it uses celebrities. Also totally wrong, but a principle.
Principles are truths that can be applied in general and across many categories. They are not necessarily rules. They are guidelines that inform your thinking about advertising and help explain why you think this is a good advertising strategy and that isn't.

I am not trying to convince you of the correctness of any specific principles, but I am trying to convince you that establishing your own principles helps everything you do.
  • It helps you explain to your clients why you are recommending this campaign and not that.
  • It helps you explain why this is a good ad, and that isn't.
  • It helps you train your colleagues to think in a strategic fashion.
  • It helps you clear up the fog of confusion that enshrouds every agency.
What are the principles by which you create advertising? If you can't tell me, you ain't gettin' my account.

March 26, 2009

Advertising And Evolution

Yesterday we started a 2-parter about the death of advertising. We talked about a dumb piece written by a Wharton professor.

Today we're going to talk about a smart piece written by Bob Garfield of Ad Age. Bob doesn't actually come out and say that advertising is dead, but he does say, "the post-advertising age is under way." I'm not sure what that means, but he makes a much better case for a massive shake-out in the media world than for the death of advertising.

Garfield does an excellent job of cataloging all the horrors currently facing the media industry.
  • The media industry is in crisis.
  • The "Marketing-Media Complex", in which advertising revenues were capable of supporting almost unlimited media options, is not long for this world.
  • There will be a period of chaos until a new equilibrium is found between the supply of media and the demand for media.
Unlike the "advertising is dead" maniacs, Garfield wisely states
This isn't about the end of commerce or the end of marketing or news or entertainment. All of the above are finding new expressions online, and in time will flourish thanks to the very digital revolution that is now ravaging them. The future is bright.
Here are a few reasons why advertising will survive:

1. Shit doesn't just happen. Shit evolves : Stephen Jay Gould, a brilliant evolutionary biologist, developed a theory called "punctuated equilibrium." The dumb blogger version of punctuated equilibrium goes like this: Species don't evolve smoothly and gradually over time. They pretty much stay the same for most of their geological lives, but once in a while a big fat mutation occurs. This is what is occurring in the media world right now.

The web and the awful economy are creating a massive, nasty ongoing event for the media industry which will be manifest as a "punctuation" in the equilibrium it has enjoyed for many decades. In other words, the shit is hitting the fan.

As in all environmental crises, those well-adapted to the new realities will survive, and those poorly adapted will die. We will lose newspapers, tv channels, maybe even networks, magazines, radio stations, etc. (we'll also lose ad agencies, but that's another story.) However, the strong will survive. Remember the dot-com bust? A million little economically unfeasible web companies disappeared. Nonetheless, last time I looked, Amazon was still in business.

2. Nothing moves in a straight line: If you would have told people 5 years ago a guy named Barack Obama would be president now, they'd have said you're nuts. Just when you think you understand what's going on, you find out you don't know shit.

3. The mirage of abundance: Garfield says:
"Mass media thrived on the economics of scarcity. The internet represents an economy of unending abundance."
I think what he means here is that mass media had a limited supply of time and space to sell. Consequently demand was always chasing supply, creating ever-increasing prices.

This is where I think Garfield goes wrong. The internet may represent an unending supply of media abundance, but it is, for the most part, an abundance with little or no value. No one in his right mind would cancel his tv schedule and run his advertising on this blog. This blog and zillions of other web entities may represent an "unending abundance" of media space, but it is an essentially valueless abundance.

Most of the advertising inventory on the web has a value of zero. In the short term, gullible marketers will waste money experimenting with these online advertising venues, but in the long run they will stop pissing away their marketing budgets on this "unending abundance" and put it where it will do them some good.

The value of an advertising medium is dependent primarily on two factors:
(a) Its ability to attract people.
(b) Its ability to successfully communicate the advertiser's message to those people.
A media entity that can't do these things has no value, regardless of the abundance or scarcity of space it has to sell.

The internet has so far proven to be very good at (a), and very bad at (b). Advertisers may be stupid, but they're not crazy. Abundance without value is like dirt. It's cheap because it's useless.

4. The other mirage of abundance: In the current environment, it seems as though there is a great abundance of "content" (God, I hate that fucking word) on the web.

However, the web content that is compelling is not the moronic home videos (oops, excuse me, User Generated Content) of YouTube, or the idiotic musings of bloggers (shut up), it is mostly the news, videos, music, and entertainment that the web is stealing from the traditional media. If these traditional media are dying, where is all this abundant free content going to come from? Are CBS, the NYTimes, and SNL going to continue to supply content to the web after they're dead?

If you think the web is going to make up for this potential scarcity of content by creating its own, I think you're wrong. To date, the web has produced almost no entertainment of value. It has mainly sliced and diced the entertainment produced by other media, or by people willing to create free entertainment for the web in the hope there's a payout for them in traditional media, or on websites supported by, duh, advertising.

And if the web does start to produce its own type of quality entertainment, it's going to cost money. Where will that money come from?


5. The laws of economics have not been repealed. What made the old advertising model work so well is supply and demand. There has been a demand for entertainment (I refuse to say content one more time) and a limited supply. So advertisers have made an agreement with consumers--we'll show you Monday Night Football, if you'll watch our beer spots.

Because the internet has been stealing entertainment from other sources and re-purposing it, the supply of entertainment and news has gone up dramatically which has driven down the prices the media can charge. But demand for entertainment has not gone down. Television viewing is at its highest point ever in its history.

Let's assume for a moment that Garfield is right (I believe he is) and lots of tv outlets and cable outlets are going down. That means there will be far fewer tv entities, which means increased scarcity of entertainment, which means a larger audience for those that are successful, which sounds a lot to me like tv in the 50's, which if I'm not mistaken was called the Golden Age of television. This same logic applies to all endangered media. The weak will die. The survivors should have lots to eat, just so long as they can keep the web from stealing their product.

6. The unforeseen: If everything I said so far is wrong, advertising will still survive. New forms that we can't even imagine now will be created to connect marketers to consumers. I promise you there are a thousand brainiacs who want to get rich who are at this very moment working on new ways to annoy the unsuspecting, innocent citizens of the world with ads.

Advertising doesn't really care what media live and what media die. It will use what's available. Car dealers still have to let us know that they have 1.9% APR on all half-tons in stock. Burger meisters still need to tell us they have Tim Geithner action figures with every kid's meal. Beer makers still need to make fart jokes.

I am advertising, and like the lady said, I will survive.

March 25, 2009

Advertising Is Dead Again

This week there have been two major pieces about the death of advertising. One was very dumb, the other was very smart.

The dumb one was by some professor at Wharton with credentials from Cornell and MIT.

The smart one was by Bob Garfield of Ad Age. (Give me a wise-ass over a PhD any day.)

Let's talk about the dumb one today and the smart one tomorrow.

The dumb one is called Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet* which, I have to admit, is a very promising title. Unfortunately, it was a nice piece of bait and switch. The article is really about the same old crap we've been reading for 10 years -- the death of advertising.

He starts out by defining advertising:
"Advertising is using sponsored commercial messages to build a brand and paying to locate these messages where they will be observed by potential customers performing other activities; these messages describe a product or service, its price or fundamental attributes, where it can be found, its explicit advantages, or the implicit benefits from its use."
Only a professor could use over 50 words to define advertising without mentioning the only important thing about it: it's supposed to sell shit.

He says,
"My basic premise is that the internet is not replacing advertising but shattering it..."
Then he goes on to give 3 reasons why:

"Consumers do not trust advertising."
Now there's a bulletin. When in recorded history did people trust advertising? The correct answer: Never. Has the internet changed that? No.
"Consumers do not want to view advertising."
Really? Got news for you professor. Consumers have never wanted to view advertising. They do it for one reason only -- free entertainment. It's a bribe, get it? You wanna watch American Idol? You gotta watch this McDonald's spot.
"Consumers do not need advertising."
You mean they used to need advertising before the internet? Like when? The only people who need advertising are brand managers, ad agencies and Rupert Murdoch. To everyone else in the world it's a pain in the ass. Always has been, always will be.

Yeah, advertising is dead.

It's on every blimp, hat, subway tunnel, shopping cart, every fucking t-shirt in every airport in the world, every urinal, every stick that separates my groceries from the smelly guy in front of me, every bus stop, gasoline pump, museum map, supermarket floor, license plate holder, taxi top, sidewalk, bus side, bus bench, bus shelter, umbrella, Chinese take-out box, stadium cup holder, shopping bag, side of a building, roof of a warehouse, napkin, coaster, pizza box, grocery receipt, milk carton, boarding pass, theater ticket, dry cleaning bag... every square inch of the fucking planet is covered in advertising and this schmuck is telling us it's dead.

Whew, that feels better.

Advertising will be here long after every professor with a bow tie gets his heavenly tenure. It will still be here when "the internet" is the punch line to a joke about primitive technology.

Now, for tomorrow: Your assignment is to read this very smart piece by Bob Garfield. He makes a much more convincing, and frightening, case than the professor-- based on economic realities. Then we'll talk about what's right and what's wrong, and why advertising will survive -- even if CBS, Newsweek, and the San Francisco Chronicle don't.

*Thanks to Randy for sending this article to me.

March 24, 2009

Clients Ask All The Wrong Questions

Any agency person who's ever participated in a new business pitch has been asked this question: "What is the process you use to develop advertising ideas?"

Any agency person with an ounce of integrity has answered thusly: "Schmuck, there is no process."

In other words, no agency person has ever answered that way.

There may be a process for developing a strategy; there may be a process for developing a media plan; but there is no process for giving birth to an idea.

There never has been and there never will be.

Nonetheless, when asked the question, the agency usually trots out a chart with arrows and boxes and buckets and silos and feedback loops and checkpoints and all manner of obfuscatory baloney.

The chart usually has a very pompous sounding title, like "Developmental Matrix" and it shows how through consumer ethnographic analysis the idea starts as a small spark of insight and then by some highly evolved system it's inflated into a grand unifying concept.

In other words, a full 7-course bullshit banquet.

How it really happens is like this: a writer and art director are locked in a cage. A creative director opens the cage door just wide enough to throw in 5 pounds of briefing documents, memos, research reports, and old ads. He slams the door, yells "I need this shit by Thursday, and it better be fucking good" and runs off to lunch with his assistant..

How do you like the process now, amigo?

This does not mean, however, that there is not a very important question that clients should ask. There is, and later this week we'll talk about it.

Coming Soon...
The One Question Every Client Should Ask and Never Does.

March 22, 2009

5 Things I Hate About The Web

I love pizza. But I understand that there are things about it that are unpleasant. For one thing, it makes me fat. It also isn't terribly helpful to my general health.

I also love the web. But I realize that it, too, has some pretty unpleasant consequences. Here are 5 things I hate about the web.
1. The demise of newspapers: There are larger economic issues than just the web responsible for the increasingly dire situation of the newspaper industry. However, without doubt, the web has played a leading role.

If the evaporation of the newspaper industry is allowed to proceed, it will prove to be a disaster for democratic societies. (For a totally different opinion on this subject, I suggest this.*)

The web will never provide the same oversight as the newspaper industry. It is an unreliable, shoddy medium of news dissemination. Like television, over time it will become more of what it is, not less. It will destroy the newspaper industry but it will not replace it. (For a more complete and thoughtful analysis on this subject, I recommend this.*)

2. The proliferation of pornography: The most upsetting and degrading forms of pornography are now just two clicks away from every 9-year-old. If you think internet pornography has not already had an effect on your children, you're living in a dream world.

3. The devaluation of intellectual property: Artists' work used to be among the most highly valued of commodities. This is no longer true. This development has already nearly ruined the music industry, and threatens both the movie and television industries.

Web maniacs applaud this as some fuzzy-headed form of democratization. They don't seem to understand that democracy respects and protects personal property. I don't think they'd be quite as sanguine about it if it were their paychecks being democratized.

4.The acceleration of dumbing down: I believe there is a direct correlation between celebrity culture and the dumbing down of society. The web has stimulated celebrity culture to an unprecedented extent.

Among the truly dumb and addled there is also a belief that in the future the internet will not only replace everything ever invented, but will save the world by creating new avenues for human understanding. To this I can only say: What reason do we have to believe that in the future people will be any less stupid than they are today?

5. And one more thing I hate: Fucking Twitter.

What's the difference between pizza and the internet? Glad you asked. You're allow to criticize pizza. But as soon as you criticize the internet, you get emails and comments from devout web zealots telling you how stupid/backward/clueless you are. They'll be rolling in any minute now...

*Thanks to the wonderful Kelly.

March 19, 2009

It's Not Just An eBook, It's A Free Book

The Ad Contrarian ebook is finally available. It's free and worth every penny.

You can download it by clicking here.

Some things you should know:

1. It's short. You can read it in about an hour. Since most ad people have nothing to do now anyway, you can be done with it by lunch.

2. I apologize to those who have been waiting patiently. Like everything ever created for the web, this has taken way longer than anticipated.

3. Most of the content of the book can be found on the blog, but it takes a lot of rummaging and clicking to find the non-turds in this mess. The book is easier.

4. The book does exist in hard copy, but it's become too damn expensive to print and mail and I don't like the idea of charging for it. If you really need a hard copy or two (like if you teach a class or if you've run out of fire wood) we'll send you some.

5. If you are an advertiser and you read the book and at some point you say to yourself, "This is the first freakin' thing about advertising I've ever read that makes any sense," you have an obligation to call me to talk about your advertising. (Hey, it's a recession. We all need to hustle a little.)

After you read it, please send comments to I'll publish the nice ones.

Some nice comments from smart people:

“I loved [this] book. It’s nice to find a real thinker in the ad business these days.”
— Jack Trout,

"You say what we all say when we're together in a room and the doors are shut...Then we all talk publicly exactly the same crap we railed against in private. Thanks for restoring a bit of my sanity."

“This is full of fresh, surprising, in-your-face insights into how just about everything we take as gospel in advertising is wrong. I guess what Bob Hoffman is saying is that if we want to talk sense to our clients and set reasonable goals for our work, we’re going to have to come up with a whole new language and belief system for what advertising is supposed to do, based not on clich├ęs, but on how things really are.”
— Andrew Jaffe, Executive Director, Clio Awards; President, Compass Consulting

“Bob’s approach to the ideas of simplicity and focus is refreshing. I began discussing these with agencies and staff the day after finishing the book.”
— Neil Golden, Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, McDonald’s USA

“It’s mercifully short.”
— Sharon Krinsky, President, Hoffman/Lewis

Worse Than Twitter

From Jason Headley:

"If you're too fucking lazy to type:"

Where's The Advertising In Online Advertising?

I have an odd thought about online advertising. What if there's no such thing?

What if it's really a whole lot of other things?

Let's start at the beginning.

In tv, radio or magazines, product marketing is primarily one thing -- ads. Sure, there is some product placement and some pr, but 98% of the "marketing content" is ads.

On the web, it's different. There are social media. There are sites and viral videos. There are banners. There is search. Marketers lump this all together and call it "online advertising" -- but I'm not sure any of it is advertising.

Websites are more like brochures than ads.

Social media is closer to pr than it is to advertising.

Viral videos are more like guerilla tactics and wild postings than ads.

Search is closer to a yellow pages listing than it is to an ad.

A banner is more like a direct mail piece than an ad.

So where's the advertising in online advertising?

Maybe what we're calling "online advertising" is really pr, sales promotion, listings, direct response and guerilla tactics, and just about every form of marketing communication except advertising.

And maybe we've got the model all wrong. When this whole thing started, we had stand-alone online agencies. Now online is integrated into the fabric of most agencies. But what if both these models are wrong?

What if social media would be done better by pr shops? What if websites were created by sales promotion agencies? What if banners were done by direct response agencies?

What if the key competence isn't knowledge of the medium, but knowledge of the discipline?

Of course, the correct answer is that the key competence is neither of these. The key competence is creativity. The work will go where the creativity is, whether we call it "advertising" or anything else.

March 18, 2009

Ignore The Paperwork

I'm no David Ogilvy, but I've had a reasonably successful advertising career.

One of my secrets is to ignore the paperwork. When I'm doing a creative project I never wait for the paper. When it comes, I used it for fact-checking, never for guidance.

Often what happens in an agency is that you will meet with a client, you will talk about a project, and then someone will write up a brief and do the paperwork necessary to get the project started.

The paper often arrives days after the meeting took place. It is almost always deficient in one of these ways:
  • A misinterpretation of what was said
  • A misstatement of the problem
  • A misrepresentation of the issues
  • A misunderstanding of the strategy
I don't know why this happens, I just know it does. I learned very early that my interpretation of the meeting was usually better than what was written up in the notes and the brief. I also learned that if I got to work on the project immediately, I was fresher and more likely to create something interesting.

Here are 3 reasons not to wait for the paperwork:
  1. It's usually inadequate anyway.
  2. Your first impression of the problem is often the most insightful. The ideas you have during the meeting are often the best ideas you're going to have.
  3. You're just going to get angry when you see how flawed the paperwork is. It's better to spend your energy on the creative task than on the anger the paperwork is going to engender.
In an agency, I guess the paperwork is necessary, but it is rarely useful.

March 17, 2009

Advertising Reflects Everything

Here in San Francisco we have something called "casual carpools." People line up, you pick them up in your car, and then you can cross the Bay Bridge in the carpool lane.

I once picked up a crazy old lady who thought every license plate had a secret meaning. The whole trip she was trying to interpret license plates. "5JNU361. What do you think that means?"

The advertising press is like that. They think every ad has a significant social context.

So if the economy is lousy, they suddenly notice that there are price ads in the world. If times are good, they brilliantly perceive that luxury goods are for sale.

According to these guys, no matter what is happening in the wider world, it is always reflected in advertising.

In an article entitled, "Down Economic Times Elicit Upbeat Campaigns" The New York Times seems to be surprised
that in a bad economy advertisers are trying to portray their products in a positive light.
"It seems counterintuitive to accentuate the positive amid all the downbeat financial news."
Really? What are we supposed to say to consumers? You're ugly and this stuff is shit?

On The Other Hand...
You can't really blame them. Reporters have to come up with bullshit everyday. Just like bloggers.

Steffan Postaer's new book, The Happy Soul Industry. This guy runs a huge agency, writes a blog, and produces terrific novels. And I can't even remember to pick up my fucking dry cleaning. (Note to George Parker: I'd say nice things about The Ubiquitous Persuaders, too, if you'd send me a copy you cheap-ass old fuck.)

March 16, 2009

How To Be A Happy Creative Director

Last week, The Denver Egoist and Scamp both had posts about what makes a good creative director. I thought I'd weigh in on this by re-posting some thoughts I published a few months ago -- not about how to be a good creative director, but how to be a happy one.

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 weeks or 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 both 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

March 13, 2009

Online Advertising Is Like Communism

Every time you read an article or hear a talk about online advertising it always begins the same way:
"The web is still in its infancy and we're just figuring out how to use it..."

Online advertising is like communism. It's never working very well right now, but it's always going to be great sometime in the future.

Advertising Diagramed:

Stop The Violence Or I'll Kill You

Sixteen adults and juveniles were arrested in Silver Spring, Maryland last weekend when a fight broke out at a "Stop the Violence" concert.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

March 12, 2009

The 2 Most Important Words In Advertising

I've never been to ad school or art school.

I've never taken a course in copywriting or design.

I've never read a text book about marketing or strategy or account planning or media.

So I have no idea if what I'm about to say is commonly taught in classrooms and how-to advertising books, or if it's just some heresy I made up.

Creativity is very important in advertising. Strategy is very important in advertising. But, I'm sorry people, there is something much simpler and much more basic that is more important in producing successful advertising.

It's this: Be specific.

We have all seen advertising that is ugly and stupid succeed. We have all seen advertising that is lovely and intelligent fail. I would suggest to you that if you go back and look, you will find that the successful ugly and stupid advertising said something specific about the product and the unsuccessful lovely, intelligent advertising was full of platitudes and generalizations.

That's why horrible car dealer advertising is sometimes more effective than beautiful car manufacturer advertising.

The best advertising is strategically wise, creatively pleasing, and specific.

Perhaps my favorite example of this is the idea the iPod was launched with:

Not "world class mp3 player."
Not "a whole new way to enjoy music."
But this: "A thousand songs in your pocket."

March 11, 2009

What About The Research?

Last week I wrote about the Tropicana package massacre.

The question I would love to have the answer to is this: What about the research?

I've been around Pepsi people (the owners of Tropicana) and their kind, and I can assure you they don't wipe themselves without first researching which hand consumers prefer.

Somewhere, I guarantee you, there is a very big deck that demonstrates conclusively that the dearly departed Tropicana package was a dream come true.

I wonder if anyone is going to hold the research firm accountable? (That was a rhetorical question. Research firms are never held to account for the stuff they generate.)

Or I wonder if the research was done in-house by the agency? (My guess? Yes. That way they can control the process and be certain of a beneficial outcome.)

I wonder when the marketing community is going to realize that they can get an equally reliable prediction of the success of creative endeavors, at far lower cost, by flipping a coin.

I'd love to see that Tropicana research deck. I'll bet it's a classic.

I forgot to thank Bonnie Miguel for the lovely graph last week. It was the only part of the post anyone liked. Also David Popino for the Fritter page yesterday.

March 10, 2009

Introducing Fritter. It's Even F***ing Stupider Than Twitter!

Here at Ad Contrarian global headquarters, we're always looking to improve the lives of our readers. Now we're developing something we think you're going to like. It's called Fritter.

The idea behind Fritter is to enable you to waste enormous quantities of time publishing self-absorbed ruminations (just like Twitter) -- but the difference is, you can do it without involving others. (Kind of like masturbation, except without the mess.)
Some FAQs about Fritter:

Q: Why do we need Fritter?
TAC: Twitter did a very good job of creating something really stupid. But we feel we can do something really, really stupid.

Q: How will Fritter be different from Twitter?
TAC: With Twitter, you write something really stupid and then you send it to people. With Fritter you write something really stupid and you just leave it there. It doesn't go anywhere.

Q: How is that better?
TAC: When you use Twitter there is a chance -- a slight chance, we admit, but still a chance -- that something worthwhile might actually be communicated. By eliminating the "communication" factor, a Fritter message (we're thinking of calling it a Froot) is a message to no one. So it provides the social media enthusiast with the ultimate online experience -- the first fully complete waste of time.

Q: So, you write a brief message and you...
TAC: You just leave it there.

Q: You leave it there...
TAC: Bingo! You get it.

Q: Why do I do that?
TAC: Because everyone is doing it. Ashton Kutcher...Rahm Emanuel...Wolf Blitzer...

Q: So what happens to the message?
A: Nothing. It's lost forever. It's like a global diary that no one will ever read. It's like a time capsule that no one will ever open. It's like a dirty magazine that you leave under your bed and your mother never finds, but when you move out you suddenly remember it's still there and you have to go back to get it, and when you go back you discover that it's not there any more and your mother looks at you really funny, which never happened to me, but it happened to my friend.

Q: Will there be rules for using Fritter?
TAC: Yes, three rules:
  1. You must write your Froot in either English or Swedish.
  2. You may not mention Whoopi Goldberg.
  3. In keeping with internet protocol, every Froot must contain the word "fuck."
Here's what our site will look like.
Q: Do you plan to monetize Fritter?
Yes. Lots and lots of monetizingization. And we're going to buy a big company airplane and have a gourmet restaurant for our employees and have free massages (the good kind!) for everyone. And, oh yeah, we're going to contribute 1% of our profit to starving people or something.

Q: If I may say so, Fritter sounds like something for morons.
TAC: That's why we're so excited.

March 09, 2009

The Postmodern Ad Contrarian

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon and the basketball game isn't on for another couple of hours, and I haven't taken a shower yet because I've been writing all day, and I'm too lazy to finish the CD I've been working on or walk the dog, and I can't stand the thought of reading all the emails I've been ignoring all week, and my wife is at some ballet thing, and I'm saving The Times crossword for later, and so I'm daydreaming.

And I have an idea.

It's a blog about a blog.

It's called "The Postmodern Ad Contrarian" and it contains notes about The Ad Contrarian blog and about what I'm thinking when I write it. Because, you see, I'm not really the guy you think I am.

I actually like people. And I'm occasionally pleasant to be with. And I'm sometimes reasonable and open-minded.

So, the point is, there's a lot of consciousness about "voice" when I write The Ad Contrarian which I can write about in this new blog. I never really had a voice until July 31, 2008 when I wrote a post called "The Bitter Blogger."

Before that, I had been writing the blog for a year but no one had paid any attention. That day, some bloggers noticed the post, referenced it, and since then it's been a giddy roller-coaster ride of success, money, fame, and super-hot nymphos.

Now people still don't pay attention. But there are a lot more of them.

But I digress...

So the idea is a blog about a blog. I'll write about what's going on in my mind when I'm writing a post; about who I might be offending; about my fear that one of my clients will read the post and fire me; about how I'm making fun of really nice people who don't deserve it; about my misgivings over what I'm writing; about whether I really believe what I'm writing or just writing to be provocative; about whether I think the post will be any good and how many views it will get.

But then I have an even better idea. Instead of writing from my true point of view, I'll write it from the point of view of a fictitious me, who is nothing like me, but is...

Okay, that's it. I'm taking a shower.

March 06, 2009

My New Facebook Strategy

Half my Facebook friends I don't know. The other half I don't like. So I'm thinking about a new strategy for my Facebook page.

It started a few weeks ago when I decided to cull my 'friends.'

First I unfriended everyone who was using Facebook to Twitter. (Here's a tip. Nobody gives a shit that it's sunny in your fucking backyard, okay?)

Then I unfriended everyone who used Facebook to bore the shit out of me with their stupid political opinions.

Then I unfriended everyone guilty of gratuitous over-sharing. (Another tip: Your personal hygiene, sex, and bowel habits are best kept to yourself.)

Then I unfriended everyone who thought Facebook was a scrapbook for posting every fucking picture they had of their rotten brats.

Then I unfriended everyone who flaunted their important big-shot friends.

I'm now down to about 75 friends and it feels really good. It's like cleaning all that ugly old shit out of your closet.

So here's my new strategy. I'm thinking of taking it to the next level. I'm thinking that I'll set a limit of 50 friends.

I'll give a free pass to my daughter, my real friends, and the other 3 or 4 people I actually like. The rest have to earn their way on.

They either have to post entertaining updates, or take me out for pizza (thin crust, no fucking pineapple) or do something to earn their way on. Maybe I'll charge $1,000.

Then I'll rank them.

Every few weeks I'll drop #50 and give someone new a chance. If they perform they can stay. If I find out they're branding consultants, or don't drink, or think Whoopi Goldberg is funny, they're gone.

By the way, no credit cards. Cash or check only.

March 05, 2009

Traditional vs Digital Smackdown

The subject of today’s sermon is going to be the effectiveness of traditional advertising versus some types of non-traditional online advertising. Before we begin, however, a few caveats:
1. Don’t be afraid of the graph. I know ad people see a graph and their brains start to hemorrhage. Just be cool, I’ll explain it.

2. I am excluding “search” from this discussion. I don’t know what the hell search is, but it ain’t advertising. I'm also excluding banners because I hate them.
The point I’m going to try to make is that traditional advertising usually performs within a fairly predictable range of effectiveness while online advertising like viral videos, social sites, and blogs have a far greater upside, but are also way more likely to be a failure.

So here we go.

A fabulously effective tv campaign may be three, four, even ten times more effective than an average tv campaign. But a fabulously effective online posting/website/social site will be hundreds even thousands of times more effective than average.

There are two factors that make effectiveness in these two realms so different.

First, in traditional advertising, media buys create what is essentially forced exposure. If I execute a competent media plan, there is a very high likelihood that the people I want to reach will see my campaign. This means that no matter how mundane or misguided my message may be, I will receive some value from my investment, even if it is strictly brand awareness.

The second differentiating factor is that in online media creativity is much more highly rewarded than in traditional media (I am using the word 'creativity' very loosely here to mean "that which is popular." As Van Gogh will tell you, that which is popular is not always creative, and vice versa.) My tv spot will get the same amount of exposure regardless of how imaginatively it is done. Because of the viral nature of the web, something that is popular online will get thousands of times the exposure (views) for no more money. The vast majority of online efforts, however, go completely unnoticed.

The graph you see below is a simple expression of this. The hypothesis is that if you graph the effectiveness of traditional radio/tv/print/outdoor ads, you will get something that looks like the bell curve (in blue). There will be a small number of efforts that are unusually ineffective, a small number that are unusually effective, and most efforts hovering around the middle.

The graph for online efforts, on the other hand, will look a lot like the “long tail” (in red,) with a very small number of websites/viral campaigns/social sites that are hugely successful and a very large number that are essentially invisible.

This graph demonstrates the hypothesis that there are a few digital efforts that are highly effective, but a large number that are completely ineffective. Traditional efforts tend to hover more toward the middle. It is not to scale.

What is missing from this, of course, is the cost factor. The investment you need to make in traditional media is usually, but not always, higher than online. If anyone has a way to adjust this for cost, send it in and I'll be happy to share my Noble prize with you.

March 04, 2009

Research Proves Advertising Makes You Happier

Working in advertising may be a living hell, but apparently viewing it is a little slice of heaven.

At least that's what an article in The New York Times reported yesterday. They quoted two new research studies that claim to prove that advertising actually improves peoples' enjoyment of television.
"In one experiment... New York University, had 87 undergraduates watch an episode of the sitcom “Taxi.” Half watched it as it was originally broadcast, with commercials.... The other half watched the show straight through, without commercials.

"After the show was over, the students rated how much they enjoyed it... those who saw the original show (with commercials)...preferred “Taxi” by a significant margin.
"...In similar experiments, using other video clips and a variety of interruptions, the results were the same: people rated their experiences as more enjoyable with commercials...

“The punch line is that commercials make TV programs more enjoyable to watch. Even bad commercials,” said Leif Nelson, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-author of the new research. “When I tell people this, they just kind of stare at me, in disbelief. "
Maybe that's the secret of happiness -- stop making it and start watching it.

Here's something else from the article to chew on:
"...researchers who study consumer behavior argue that interrupting an experience...can make it significantly more intense."
I wonder what this does to the pop marketing theory that "interruption" is dead and "permission" is the new Holy Grail?

Shout out to Michael Gass for calling this article to my attention.

March 03, 2009

The ROI On Bullshit

It seems that Twitter has now become an essential business tool.

An article* appeared in AdAge last week entitled "When Calculating Twitter's ROI, Don't Forget Its Change on Organizations." The article began by asking the following question:
"What's the bigger idea: social media as marketing stimulus or social media as a way to innovate business processes? "
Personally, I believe the correct answer is social media as a giant fucking waste of time.

Here's my experience. As the head of a company, I'll often walk into someone's office and find that she's engaged in social media. She will immediately try to close out of the page. However, the eye is quicker than the hand.

Based on this, I have created an algorithm to calculate the observed ratio between doing something productive for the business in social media and wasting fucking time in social media. Here are the results:
Doing something productive: 0%
Wasting fucking time: 100%
Now let's be honest here. I have nothing against wasting fucking time. I've pretty much made a career out of it. But let's not bullshit each other either. Let's not pretend that all that time you're spending with Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn is doing anything other than helping you get laid, hired, or high.

And, just for the record, I have nothing against that either. Just don't try to tell me you're doing it for the good of the organization.

Apparently, the point of the article in question is that Twitter doesn't just have fabulous sales benefits to your company, but it also miraculously transforms your company in ways you just can't measure.

I use the word "apparently" because it's very hard to tell what the fuck this guy is talking about. The author is fond of using the dense, indecipherable language of the chronically confused. Some examples:
"It's hard to turn over a rock in social media, dip your toe into Twitter or comment on someone's blog without rethinking the fundamentals of a firm's organization, product development and even listening infrastructure."
"The end outcome, whether intentional or incidental, is a disintermediation of existing, and potentially more expensive, processes."
Yeah, whatever.

So now Twitter doesn't just freshen your breath and keep your engine humming, it also magically transforms your whole organization.

With any luck we are reaching the turning point on all this Twitter bullshit. When we get "Twitter: The Musical" we'll know the end is near.

Just One More Thing...
'...the end outcome'? As opposed to what? The beginning outcome?

Just Another More Thing...

'...Calculating Twitter's ROI'? Do normal people really do shit like this?

One Last More Thing...
One of these days I'm going to write a post without the word "bullshit" in it. I promise.

Just Another Last More Thing...
Don't miss this.

*Shout out to Roger Lewis for sending me this article. When the hell are you gonna send me something?

March 02, 2009

The Two Elements Of Advertising

The natural world as we know it is composed of 117 elements. Some of these elements we are very familiar with, e.g. oxygen, gold, carbon. Some we have never heard of -- meitnerium, darmstadtium and ununquadium.

Some elements occur naturally and are all around us. Nitrogen, for example, comprises about 75% of the air we breathe. Some we can only create for millionths of a second by smashing atoms of elements together at very high velocities -- or having my daughter drive into them.

The advertising business, on the other hand, is composed of only two elements: ads and bullshit.

Ads used to be the dominant element in advertising. Unfortunately, in recent years the industry has been much more prolific at making bullshit.

Rummaging around in the ad industry, it's often hard to identify the bullshit. Here's a very simple way to recognize it. Everything that goes on in an agency that is not related to the creation or dissemination of ads, is bullshit.

If you would like a nice, close-up look at bullshit, I recommend this video. It is part of a presentation made a few weeks ago about the "new" package for Tropicana orange juice by its designer, Peter Arnell. I put "new" in quotes because the package is now old and dead.

The new package was yanked after about a half hour because it was such a piece of crap and provoked a firestorm of criticism and customer unhappiness.

Going back a few weeks, before the firestorm, and looking at the pretentious bullshit that was being served up is very entertaining and satisfying.

Whenever some designer starts out with, "We started on a journey..." as if he was climbing the fucking Himalayas instead of playing with crayons, you know there's some massive bullshit heading your way.

My favorite line in the video: "We wanted to take the orange and put it somewhere."

Oh, you put it somewhere, all right.