July 31, 2009

Pepsi Update

On Wednesday, in Championship Brand Tinkering, I said...
"It seems like the brand babblers have taken over at Pepsi, and they are screwing it up royally.

It will take a while (like it does in all big organizations) for someone with a brain to realize what's been going on."
Well, apparently I was wrong. It only took two days. Adweek just reported that Pepsi North America CMO has resigned.

Bride of Friday Follies

Assertions Without Facts
The latest batch of web nonsense comes to us from an Ad Age piece entitled "Advertising Will Change Forever." (I guess "The Web Has Changed Everything" is now such a cliche, even the jargonistas won't use it anymore.)

You gotta say something for these people, they've got balls. Here's what the writer says:
"In this recession, marketers have learned that interactive marketing is more effective, and advertising less effective, per dollar spent... Unlike the last recession, digital marketing is no longer experimental. Now it looks more like advertising is inefficient, relative to digital."
The great thing about these assertions -- not a single fact to back to them up.

The appalling part is that the writer claims to be a researcher. What's the research basis for these preposterous pronouncements? Believe it or not, marketers opinions.

Someone needs to explain to these people the difference between research and chatter.

Where Are The Frogs When We Need Them?
You can tell there's new management at Budweiser. Their advertising is really starting to stink.

Favorite Spot Of The Week
Thanks to David Burn over at AdPulp for finding this gem.

Death On Wheels
I was in a cross walk this week and almost got killed by a bicyclist. Bicyclists are very self-righteous about drivers hogging the road. But they never stop for pedestrians.

Next Time Some Old Fart Starts Going Off About How Great Advertising Used To Be...

"Friday" image courtesy of Shutterstock

July 30, 2009

What Exactly Is Creativity?

Two weeks ago I posted, "What Is Good Creative And How Do I Get It?" Since then, I've been thinking a lot about creativity.

Specifically, I've been thinking about "the creative mind" and whether it is truly different from the average mind. I think it is.

When I say "the creative mind," I'm not speaking solely about art or writing or music. Creativity can appear in all kinds of disciplines: mathematics, science, technology, engineering -- even business.

I've been trying to define how the creative mind is different. I think one of the ways is this: They know the answer before they know how they know the answer.
It's the chess player who can see a win five steps ahead, before he even knows what his next move is.

It's the 8th grader who gets the answer to the algebra problem right, but gets marked down because she skipped three steps.

Sometimes, it's the creative director who knows what the campaign should be before the briefing begins.

I once read a comment about the difference between being very, very good at something and being a genius (I think it was in a book about Richard Feynman called Genius, by Martin Gleick, but I'm not sure.*)

The writer wrote that being very, very good was something that we could all imagine if we were just 50 times better than we are. But being a genius is something completely foreign.*

I am a half-assed amateur musician. I love nothing better than a beautifully constructed song. When I listen to a song by Bruce Springsteen, I often think it is very good -- but it's not genius. I can see how he formulated the song, I understand the parts and the structure. I can imagine if I was 50 times better than I am, I could write it.

Then I listen to a song like In A Mist by Bix Beiderbecke (see below) and I know it's from another planet. I could sit at a piano for a million years and not create it.

Once in a great while I see that in advertising. I'll look at an ad, and even after I've reviewed it 5 times, I still can't understand how it was conceived and I can't imagine how I could have ever written it.

In A Mist performed by Johnny Guarnieri (1917-1985)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

* I have since found the precise quote:
"There are two kinds of geniuses: the 'ordinary' and the 'magicians'. An ordinary genius is a fellow whom you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they've done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. Even after we understand what they have done it is completely dark. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest calibre." - Mark Kac (TAC 7/31/09)

July 29, 2009

Championship Brand Tinkering

There are many flavors of baloney floating around the ad world these days. There's "digital" baloney, there's "conversation" and "engagement" baloney, but the biggest, most pervasive, and most dangerous form of baloney is still "branding" baloney.

In a post called "Brand Tinkering" I said,
...tinkering with the brand is way more fun than solving real business problems.

Solving problems requires unpleasantness. Floors have to be swept and walls have to be painted. People have to be fired. Systems have to be changed. Products have to be redesigned.

Brand tinkering, on the other hand, is generally quite agreeable. All it requires is money and a bunch of congenial meetings. Hire some branding consultants. Appoint a task force. Interview "stakeholders." .
..Best of all, if there's any real work to be done, it'll be done by the consultants...

Unfortunately, after the money is spent and the naval-gazing brand babblers have gone home, someone still has to sweep the floor and paint the walls.
It looks to me like Pepsi-Cola Co. are becoming the all-time champion brand tinkerers.

We all know about the Tropicana "re-branding" disaster they went through earlier this year. Their Pepsi branding document, courtesy of Arnell, was the laughing stock of the industry a few months ago. And now The Wall Street Journal is reporting that their re-branding of Gatorade to "G" has been another nightmare.

According to the WSJ, Gatorade sales dropped over 17% in the first six months of this year, and they lost 4.5% share of the sports-drink market. That's a lot to lose in 6 months.

It seems like the brand babblers have taken over at Pepsi, and they are screwing it up royally.

It will take a while (like it does in all big organizations) for someone with a brain to realize what's been going on. While the tinkerers have been pissing away zillions on their crazy branding projects, it looks to an outsider like no one's been sweeping the floors or painting the walls.

July 28, 2009

Zealots, Maniacs and Hustlers

Here at The Ad Contrarian global headquarters, we've developed a reputation for being anti-digital media and pro-traditional media.

We are neither.

We have no personal interest in, or allegiance to, any medium.

Our only purpose is to fight bullshit, hyperbole and words without meaning. We are against zealots, maniacs and hustlers of any stripe.

Yes, we are vociferous in denouncing people who tell us that
We would be equally vociferous in our denunciations if traditional media hustlers were saying that
  • digital marketing is dead
  • the web is dead
  • there is a new species of consumer who no longer share information about products
  • tv has “changed everything"
As a matter of fact, you will find that we have been just as voluble in our disdain for the "brand babbler" wing of traditional advertising as we are for cult members of The Divine Church of The Internet.

There are many smart, reasonable people working in digital media who do not make preposterous assertions; who do not think that social media is the answer to every question; who do not speak in dreadful, impenetrable jargon.

We respect and appreciate these people.

All we want to do is get our readers to understand:
  • the risks and rewards of all media investments
  • the difference between facts and “buzz”
  • that success stories (both digital and traditional) tend to find their way into print but failures get buried
  • that the “narrative” that has arisen about social media marketing is largely anecdotal and substantially fact-free.
We try not to be advocates of anything other than common sense. We try not to be enemies of anything other than bullshit.

July 24, 2009

More Friday Follies

RIP Gidget
According to PeoplePets, Gidget, the chihuahua that was the face of Taco Bell for a few years in the late 1990's has died.

Gidget was the subject of lots of controversy within the ad community. She also pissed off a whole lot of Hispanic people who saw her as an unflattering stereotype.

In 2003, Taco Bell had to pay out over $40 million to two guys who claimed Taco Bell had stolen the idea for a chihuahua spokesdog from them.

Some Good News For Social Media
There are some facts emerging that may indicate that social media can pay out.

Online Media Daily reports that a study...
...from social media platform Wetpaint and digital consulting firm Altimeter Group found that companies with the highest levels of social media activity on average increased revenues by 18% in the last 12 months, while the least active saw sales drop 6% over that period.
It sounds promising, but there are two problems:
1. What's the cause and what's the effect? Are companies more likely to do well because they participate in social media? Or are they more likely to participate in social media because they are doing well?

2. I never trust studies done by interested parties. It sounds to me like both the sponsoring companies have a vested interest in the success of social media.
If You're Interested In The Results...
...of the survey we did on Tuesday, you can find them here. And if you took the survey, thanks.

Why Are Web Metrics So Screwed Up?
I use something called Feedburner (it's owned by Google) to measure how many people subscribe to a feed of this blog. It seems simple enough. All it has to do is count.

I'm sure, like everything else related to the web, it ain't as simple as it seems. They probably can't count subscribers directly, so they use a formula (I'm sure they call it an "algorithm" just to be as pretentious as possible) that counts something they are able to count (X) and then derive the number of subscribers (Y) based on their knowledge of the relationship between X and Y. That's simple enough.

I've been using Feedburner for almost two years, and you'd think by now it would have learned that I don't publish on weekends. My visitor counts on Saturday and Sunday drop off significantly.

And yet every weekend Feedburner tells me that I've lost hundreds of subscribers and every Monday I magically pick up hundreds of subscribers. Obviously, this isn't a function of subscribers, it's a function of weekend visitor counts.

With all the amazing brainiac technology Google uses, you'd think they could create a formula that recognizes such obvious patterns.

And Speaking Of Annoying Web Metrics...
...I get aggravated when I go to the AdAge Power 150 and find blogs that I know get half the readers of TAC placing ahead of me. I know they're playing Google games.

You Read It Here First
A few days after Michael Jackson died, we wrote ...
"By the way, Michael's doctor is going to wind up in deep doo-doo."
Yesterday, the AP reported that Jackson's doctor is the target of a manslaughter investigation.

July 23, 2009

It's The Ads, Stupid

Last week, in a post called "What Is Good Creative And How Do I Get It" we said
Creativity is what happens after the strategy is done. Creativity is the process that transforms a strategy into a terrific ad.
A great example is the Dos Equis campaign, "The Most Interesting Man In The World." According to Ad Age, for the first half of this year, Dos Equis sales grew 17%, while the category (imported beers) dropped 11%.

The strategy was about as generic as you can get.
..."establish a distinctive, desirable and premium identity as evidenced by significant growth of key brand-tracking measures," which would, in turn, be "different from other brands," a "cool brand" and be "worth paying more for."
In other words, the same as every premium beer brief you've ever seen.

The creative team has taken a turd of a strategy and turned into a terrific, effective campaign.

You can talk all you want about metrics, and media, planning and strategy. Advertising is still about the ads. And the ads are still about creativity. And great creative is still the best strategy.

July 22, 2009

Two Years Later

This is the second anniversary of The Ad Contrarian.

I started this blog with three goals in mind.
1. Shoot my mouth off
2. Expose bullshit and challenge hypocrisy
3. Harness my insomnia
I don't know if I've accomplished anything, but at least I have something to do at 3 am.

I have noticed that some fairly popular ad blogs have packed it in this year, including Scamp and Dear Jane Sample. I can see why. Blogging is a pain in the ass.

The most popular ad blogs are about two things I have absolutely no interest in: agency gossip and ad industry news. I really don't give a damn about who's about to get fired at some global monstrosity or which agency is losing what account.

Once you take that stuff out of the mix, there really isn't all that much to write about. I realized this after about 10 days and figured I was done.

Another thing that makes blogging a pain in the ass is that, while most readers are sensible and generous, there is a significant component of the online population that are either malicious nut jobs or maddening pests. I divide them into two groups: The Squids and the Ferrets.

The Squids are sociopaths who send anonymous emails and comments -- usually about the sexual preferences of your family members. These are the people who used to torture small mammals when they were children.

The Ferrets are nuisances who think everything you say requires a counter-argument by them. They clog your comment box with poorly-reasoned, slightly off-point assertions. These are the people who get fired from agencies every few months because they know how to do everyone's job but their own.

Finally, the pay is lousy and there are no groupies.

Nonetheless, it's two year's later and here we are.

There are some people I want to thank. First, my regular readers. Second, the people who have had nice things to say about this blog. Third, my frequent commenters -- especially the ones who agree with me.

I know what you're thinking. "That Ad Contrarian, he stays up late writing every night just so we can have a rollicking good time in the morning. What a guy. I wish there was something we could do for him!"

Well, as luck would have it, there is. Please take this 5 question survey. I promise it will take you under 30 seconds and will help me understand what the hell I'm doing here.


Oh, Yeah, And Another Thing You Can Do...
Send this link to 3 smart people. If you don't know 3 smart people, send it to 3 marketing people.

July 21, 2009

Disgracing The King

Earlier this week we went to see the King Tut exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

It was a disgrace.

I'm not a purist. For a time, I was special assistant to the executive director of a large museum. I understand that museums need to make money. But this was shameful.

Although we had tickets for a specific time, we had to wait in two long, annoying lines. When we finally got into the exhibit, the space allotted was not nearly sufficient for the amount of people who were being sent through.

Each display case was three people deep. It was impossible to take the time necessary to learn anything about the items on display. I was penned in and uncomfortable every minute of my time in the exhibit and, frankly, couldn't wait to get out to breathe some decent air.

There were people hawking headsets and trying to up-sell us while we were prisoners in line. We were given a tacky "Pharaoh's Gold Card" (shown above.) My daughter and her friends said they felt like they were at Disneyland.

The trick for a museum with a popular exhibit is to maximize income while maintaining some degree of integrity regarding the visitor experience. This exhibit was just a shabby exercise in greed.

When it's all over and they count the money, they will tell each other it was a marketing success. It wasn't. There are a lot people -- like me -- who will never go back.

A Stinky, Slimy, Pole Dangler Called Wanda...
The leader of yesterday's vote for the new name for fish is "Stinky, Slimy, Pole Danglers" with 24% of the vote. Very close behind is "Aqua Bunnies" with 23%. The name that PETA suggested, Sea Kittens, is running dead last with 2%. We received over 20 suggested new names including: Water Burgers, Finburgers, Sometimes Sushi, and Dinner. Thanks for voting -- and remember, it's not just a privilege, it's a responsibility.

July 20, 2009

Your Vote Counts!

Last week, we learned that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) believes we would all start treating fish more kindly if, instead of calling them "fish," we started calling them "sea kittens."

To be honest, I have very little personal contact with fish other than every now and then taking pieces of dead ones and sticking them in a taco.

Nonetheless, this is apparently a serious issue to PETA.

At TAC Global Headquarters, our executive committee held a meeting about this and we feel that PETA may have made a rash decision. We think there are other names that might do the trick even better than "sea kittens."

Please vote for your preferred new name for fish.

July 17, 2009

Only In California

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) thinks we would treat fish more kindly if instead of calling them "fish" we started calling them "sea kittens." This is not a joke.

Because of the budget deficit in California the state is planning to close a bunch of state parks including one called Pescadero State Beach. Pescadero means "place to go fishing."

PETA have offered to pay to keep the beach open if the state will agree to change the name from "Pescadero State Beach" to "Sea Kitten State Park."

You simply cannot make this shit up.

Seth Nails It

Ever wonder why big corporations keep hiring the same agencies over and over?

Seth Godin nails it in this short but insightful post.

There is a pattern to life in large corporations. It's not a pattern specific to a particular large corporation, but to all of them.

If you deal with them long enough, you get to recognize the language, the values, the legends, and the rituals.

You also get to recognize the types of people who work at these places and how they tick.

There are ad agencies that are specialists at this. They have learned how to talk the talk and walk the walk. They are very successful.

They may not be very good at creating ads, but they are brilliant at writing presentations that get MBAs to nod their heads.

Not So "Free" After All

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and editor in chief of Wired, has a new book called Free.

The point of the book seems to be, I don't know, some baloney about "we should not fear free." I've only read reviews of the book but the point seems to be that if you give away stuff for free, it will lead inexorably to money-making opportunities.

I'm not sure how, but I believe that this is related to the idiotic argument made by web maniacs that everyone is entitled to everything free on the web. Why should all intellectual property be free? Um ... because ... um ... "information wants to be free"... or some such childish nonsense.

Anyway, I'm not about to review a book I haven't read so you can discount everything I've said above. The real subject of this post is this: To prove his point, Anderson is giving his book away free. "I felt it was important to walk the walk," said Anderson.


He's not giving away anything for free. If you want to read the book, you have to read it on line (you can't download it) and you only have a few days to do it before the hard copy of the book is released, then no more.

That's not called "free", that's called "sampling" and it's a marketing technique that's been around almost as long as authors working a PR hustle.

Read This Post

TAC has previously posted about the stupidity of marketers who have a knee-jerk reaction about targeting young people (see Aiming Low.)

Another great take on this subject, by Brent Bouchez, is found here.

A Good Start To The Weekend

A brilliantly written, wonderfully acted comedy scene -- Mary Richards meets Lou Grant for the first time.

July 16, 2009

Nasty Little Things Called Facts

(Last week we had a very spirited debate over whether the internet has "changed everything, utterly" as one of my commenters claimed. Obviously, he can't have meant what he said literally. Presumably he still brushes his teeth -- let's hope that hasn't "changed, utterly." I assume what web zealots mean when they make overblown statements like the above is that the web has changed 'everything about marketing and consumer behavior.'

Of course, this too is baloney. Some facts arrived the other day that, once again
, undermine these pompous claims. Before I get to them, let me state for the 100th time that the internet is playing a significant role in our lives and its influence on consumer behavior continues to grow. But we've got to keep our sense of proportion. The overblown claims, the hyperbole, and the out-and-out bullshit that is promulgated by web hustlers needs to be challenged --TAC)

As we learned last week, according to some people the internet has "changed everything, utterly."

As the Grumpy Brit has wonderfully put it, the world of marketing has supposedly been changed by...
"...the advent of the ‘conversation’, the freeing of the captive audience, the ouster of persuasion in favour of ‘engagement’, (and) the rather creepy idea of a ‘relationship’...
A Harris Poll released last week shows something very different:
  • Consumers find tv ads more helpful than any other type of commercial message.
  • They find tv spots more helpful than online banner ads in deciding what products or services to purchase by an astounding margin of 37 to 1.
  • They find tv ads more helpful than search engine ads in deciding what products or services to purchase by a margin of almost 3 to 1.

  • Consumers ignore banner ads almost 4 times as often as tv ads.
  • Consumers ignore search engine ads almost 25% more than tv ads.

Of course, now that facts have been around for awhile undermining the outrageous claims that web hustlers used to make about web advertising, they have changed their tune.

So now they tell us advertising is dead. And marketing is no longer about selling stuff, it's about engagement, and conversations and relationships and whatever other buzz words and false goals they can conjure.

We are already getting some facts to challenge this baloney, too. But don't worry, they'll come up with something else.

Despite all the florid claims of web zealots, Harris draws a very clear and simple conclusion:
"...television ads are the most helpful to consumers."

July 15, 2009

"What Is Good Creative And How Do I Get It?"

(I was rummaging through my laptop the other day and I found a talk I gave to a group of ad agency owners a few years ago on the subject of creativity. I have done a tiny bit of editing to get it up to date. Other than that, it remains as it was.)

The subject matter of my talk this morning is "What is good creative and how do I get it?"

My intent is to take us through a course of logic in the hope that at the end we will reach the discomforting conclusion that perhaps the lies we've been telling ourselves about creativity deserve more thought than we've given them.

Let's first rid ourselves of the notion that the definition of good creative is simply "that which is successful in the marketplace." That definition is merely a tautology and doesn't tell us a thing about the nature of "good creative."

Good creative has certain characteristics.
  • It is the stuff that is beautiful, or outrageous, or funny, or interesting.
  • It is the stuff we wish we had done.
  • It is advertising we like to watch.
  • It is advertising we would volunteer to watch.
We have a roomful of highly successful ad agency owners here today and I think it is mildly disingenuous of us to pretend that we don't know what good creative is.

I believe we all know what it is, but we make a game of finding esoteric definitions for it in order to justify what most of us produce most of the time -- which is not good creative.

So we re-define what creativity means in order to deceive ourselves into thinking that what we're doing is good. We tell ourselves that creativity is, for example, "the clear and compelling articulation of a strategy". Which, in my opinion, is not creativity.

Creativity is completely unrelated to strategy. Let me say that again -- creativity is completely unrelated to strategy.

Creativity is what happens after the strategy is done. Creativity is the process that transforms a strategy into a terrific ad.

Or, more usually, the absence of creativity is what transforms a strategy into a smelly turd.

That's not to say that strategy is not an important component of advertising. It is. It's just that advertising has two components. The first is strategy. The second is creativity.

Now before all you account guys start yapping at me, I stipulate that there is a "small c" creative component to the development of strategy and that the difference between an average strategy and an excellent one is often the degree to which it is creatively conceived. [For my thoughts on ad strategy, look here -- TAC]

However, I don't think that is what we're talking about here. When we talk about "creativity" in the context of advertising, what we're usually talking about is what the copywriter and art director do after the planners are finished mucking-up the brief.

In my opinion, those who think creativity is merely "the clear and compelling articulation of a strategy" are doomed to a career of apologizing -- apologizing for mediocre ads, and apologizing for mediocre results.

Now the complicated part of all this -- and the part that is guaranteed to drive you crazy -- is that good creative doesn't always produce good business results. Which is another way of saying that good creative isn't always effective advertising.

Why? Nobody knows. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Despite our many pretensions to the contrary, there's an awful lot we don't know about advertising. We get up in front of our clients and feed them a lot of hogwash about branding or engagement or whatever happens to be your buzzword of choice, and that's fine. They expect us to be full of shit. But I would strongly suggest that you don't start believing your own baloney or you'll find yourself in hot water pretty darn quick.

If you're going to be the type of agency that does good creative work, you're just going to have to get used to the idea that you usually can't prove that it's any better than doing crap. And you're going to have to get used to the idea that good creative sometimes fails.

On the other hand, if you're going to be the kind of agency that does not do good creative work, you're going to have to get used to always being on the defensive with your clients. And you're going to have to get used to the idea that even when bad creative succeeds, it is still stinky and you're still going to be apologizing for it.

Those are your unpleasant options.

Whichever course you choose, you can be sure you'll always be on the hot seat. When you say it's an art, they'll say it's a business. When you say it's a business, they'll say it's an art.

The way I see it, if you're going to be miserable anyway, you might as well do good creative work.

It has been my experience that there are some things in life that are not achievable directly. They are only achievable indirectly. Like being happy. You can't achieve happiness by trying to be happy. You can only do it indirectly. By going fishing, or playing your guitar really loud or something. That will make you happy. But try hard to be happy and you're pretty certain to be miserable.

This, I believe, is also true of creativity. You are far more likely to be creative by not trying too hard to be creative, but by trying to communicate with people in an interesting way.

You've seen it at your agency. Those who are trying desperately to be creative often arrive at puerile, ludicrous solutions. Those who are just trying to communicate in an interesting way, often come up with the most creative solutions.

The second part of the question is "How do I get creativity." The answer to that one is simple. You buy it.

Creativity is a rare and precious commodity. The reason there are so many crappy ads in the world is the same reason there are so many crappy books, and crappy songs, and crappy movies, and crappy tv shows. It's not because there's a conspiracy to create crappy stuff. It's just that creating good stuff is very difficult and there are very few people who can do it.

We have been told by new age charlatans that "we're all creative people" and that all we have to do is free ourselves from the artificial restraints of our society and our culture and all our creativity will flow forth.


Creativity is the most rare and precious of commodities. It is the result of hard work, discipline, and above all, talent.

You can't teach talent. You can barely manage it. You have to go out and find it and buy it.

So, in 10 words or less:
  • What is good creative? You know what it is.
  • How do I get it? You buy it.
But those are the simple questions. The hard questions are: Do you really want creativity, and what are you willing to sacrifice to get it?

First of all, really good creative people are dangerous. Some clients don't like them. As a matter of fact, many clients don't like them. I have seen companies that have done terrible advertising for years suddenly produce a really good campaign. And get fired. Creativity is not for the timid.

Talented creative people are hard to find. Those who call themselves "creatives" in our business are, to a large extent, mediocrities who delude themselves into thinking that if they have a silly haircut and an annoying personality they must be talented.

The only thing that truly talented creative people have in common with the mass of not-very-talented creative people is that they, too, are pains in the ass.

Great creative people are smarter than us. They will challenge everything we say, they will scoff at the pathetic strategies we come up with, and they will make trouble and annoy the shit out of us.

They will also -- under the right circumstances -- make us rich and famous.

July 14, 2009

Bozos de Zappos

If you're an agency person, I highly recommend reading "Is 30 Minutes Too Much To Ask?" by Mike Wolfsohn, ECD at Ignited.

The piece is about Ignited's experience pitching Zappos (the darling of the Twitter crowd.)

As Mike says, "Like more than 80 other shops around the country, we were lured by the Zappos cattle call."

Without stealing Mike's thunder, here are some highlights from the piece:
  • Ignited created its proposal in the form of a 25-page blog.
  • Ignited used analytics that allowed them to know exactly how much time Zappos spent with each page.
  • Zappos looked at only 5 of the 25 pages.
  • Zappos spent an average of 14 seconds with each of the 5 pages it bothered viewing.
  • Zappos never even looked at the page that introduced the team, something they had specifically asked for.
Mike is clearly too much of a gentleman to call Zappos jerks, but I'm not.

I'll bet it took Ignited at least 100 hours and many thousands of dollars to put their pitch together. And these Zappos bozos spent 70 seconds with it.

It's enough to turn a lesser man into a skeptical, cynical, contrarian bastard.

Thanks to John Truscott for this.

And Another Thing...
I know this means nothing to you, but it's important to me. There is no way The Panda, Pablo Sandoval, should not be playing in the All-Star game.

Batting Avg: .333
Home Runs: 15
RBI's: 55

July 13, 2009

Extremely Good At Something Specific

An interesting piece appeared in Adweek last week entitled, "In The Shadow of the Founders."

The thrust of the piece is that it is often difficult for agencies to survive the exit of a charismatic founder.

The piece spotlights the troubles that have dogged agencies like Riney, Fallon, and Cliff Freeman as the founders have either left or taken reduced roles.

Of course, it is true that the exit of a charismatic founder often creates big problems for an agency. The thrust of the piece, however, misses the core of the issue.

The piece suggests that among the key prescriptions for a successful transition from charismatic founder to second generation, is that the new leadership has to share the values, principles, and culture of the founder.

This has almost nothing to do with it.

The reason charismatic agency leaders become successful is that they are usually extremely good at something specific. They have a talent.

They may be extremely good creative people, or extremely good strategists or sales people, or extremely motivated, or extremely confidence-inspiring.

To an outsider -- and even to themselves -- their success may seem to be related to values, principles, and culture. In fact, these usually emerge as a by-product of the success, not a cause.

That's why, when global agencies buy entrepreneurial agencies, and the founders leave, they almost always screw it up. They bring in a "manager" chock full of "values, principles, and culture" instead of someone who is extremely good at something specific.

July 10, 2009

Friday Follies

Best price ad of the week. Here.

3 Lousy Things About Getting Old

1. Your skin becomes a garden of biological oddities.
2. Pretending you're interested is harder than ever.
3. Even people you like are annoying.

And Speaking Of Growing Old Gracelessly...

88-year-old legendary adman Julian Koenig can't let go of his feud with his former partner and legendary egomaniac George Lois. Listen to Koenig's Complaint as narrated by his daughter here (go to "Act One")

Special thanks to Kelly Erickson for this.

2 Great Popular New Ways To Impress Idiots

1. Assertions without data
2. Strategy by anecdote

July 09, 2009

A Skeptic's Guide To Twitter

I've been a pretty vocal critic of Twitter.

Nonetheless, I have given it a chance. I've been on it for about 8 weeks now, and I'm ready to issue my final report.

It's a mixed bag.

1. I stand by my initial evaluation that, for the most part, it's how the narcissistic keep in touch with the feckless. This opinion has only been reinforced by the growth of celebrity Twittering and the phony sense of "community" it has engendered in the foolish and impressionable. I also stand by my initial opinion that about 5% of if is useful and 95% is worthless.

2. I still believe that, for the most part, Tweets fall into two obnoxious categories:
  • Idiotic stream of nothingness
  • Thinly disguised self-promotion
3. Personally, I have found two worthwhile uses for Twitter. Both extremely selfish:
  • To promote this blog
  • To follow what is being said about this blog in Twitterland.
Since opening my Twitter account, I have added about 10% more new subscribers. Even though I try to "follow" everyone who follows me, my follow is very hollow. Honestly, I read almost no tweets that don't reference this blog.

4. While most of the claims about business uses for Twitter are overblown, I can see how Twitter can be useful:
  • as a tactical tool for retailers. It allows them to reach a lot of people quickly and cheaply with an offer ("Save $5 on a pizza tonight.")
  • as a customer relations tool. However, this is tricky and must be done seriously and expertly. It has the potential to really piss customers off if it's seen as simply a promotional gimmick.
5. When you read all the stuff about Twitter becoming a powerful form of citizen journalism, remember, the exact same predictions were made about blogging.

July 08, 2009

Like We Said...

On July 3, in a post called "Iran: Twitter's Blair Witch?" we wrote,
"Tyrants don't get to power by being stupid....Technology isn't only effective at spreading information. It's also pretty good at suppressing it."
Twenty-four hours later a "denial of service attack" began on US government and South Korean government websites. The suspected perpetrator: North Korea.

Plastic Surgery For Business

Several years ago I was in Los Angeles casting for a tv campaign. Before the casting session began I was thumbing through the head sheets and saw that an actress who had had a starring role in a very popular sitcom was coming in on the call.

The sitcom had been canceled at least 10 years earlier, but in the head shot she looked exactly as she had on the show. Although I knew she had to be close to 60, she looked mid-40's in the head shot.

When she arrived to read for the part, she looked like a mutant. She obviously had had enormous amounts of plastic surgery. She looked fine to the camera, but grotesque in person.

It occurred to me then -- for the first time -- that there are people whose real lives aren't as important to them as the perception they imagine others have of them. They would rather look good in a photograph than in life.

The same is true in commerce.

There are too many businesses around that are grotesque. They believe they can continue providing lousy service and shoddy goods if they just create a nice picture of themselves. That's what they think advertising is for.

A good strategy for ad agencies is to stay as far away from these companies as they can.

Along Those Lines...
I was in a Denny's with a friend. The menu was decorated with gorgeous pictures of food. My friend ordered a hamburger. When it arrived it looked like a fat guy had sat on it for two weeks. The waiter put the burger down and left. My friend called out to him, "My compliments to the photographer."

July 07, 2009

When Bad Trends Collide

This is a particularly dangerous time for marketers.

There are two bad trends converging on the marketing world. The multiplier effect of both together is more dangerous than the sum of the two.

First is a bad economy. Very few are immune to its effects.

The second is a new, unproven theory of marketing that is being accepted as fact by a gullible, frightened marketing community.

Take a company that is suffering from the effects of the recession, add some fearful marketing executives swinging wildly, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Here are some of the symptoms:
  • The primacy of "channel" over ideas. Too much advertising no longer starts with an idea. It now starts with a channel -- "let's do social media", "let's do a viral video", "let's Twitter." I attended a conference recently in which an expert on digital marketing told us that the central hub of marketing is no longer the brand idea -- it's the website. This is not a joke.
  • The greed of ad industry leaders. They are afraid to get up and say, "wait a minute." They are afraid to defend the principles that made them rich and famous. They are afraid to call bullshit on the bullshit artists.
  • The smugness of digital zealots. Despite its enormous popularity, the web has proven to be a very elusive muse for marketers. It has spawned a few highly publicized successes and a torrent of expensive failures.
The devastating effect of a feeble economy has punished almost all businesses. Put it together with an uncertain, speculative philosophy of marketing and you've got yourself a highly intoxicating, dangerous cocktail.

July 06, 2009

Conversation With A Web Maniac

This past weekend I had a web conversation with a guy named Felix Velarde who runs a company called Underwired in the UK. The conversation was conducted via comments on a blog post of mine from April entitled "The Thing That Will Change Everything."

Dave Trott, one of the UK's most respected admen, sent Felix over to TAC to read the post knowing Felix would disapprove. Here's the conversation between Felix and me. It's way, way too long and may be the dullest thing I've ever posted, but if I edited his stuff he'd rightly accuse me of being unfair. I've done a tiny bit of editing just for clarity.

Honestly, I don't know if you'll find this interesting or not.


TAC ... I'm sure you've got a trillion years of understanding consumer behaviour, and I'm sure you're right about how venal, faddish and self-important the marketers you work with are.

But here's the thing. The internet did change everything, utterly and without mercy. We have a globally distributed notion of justice. We have a globally distributed set of cultural norms. We (finally) have a near-universal language. We have a US President accepted as a good replacement for the universally reviled previous global leader who everyone in the world knows intimately, and who has been elected based on a third of the world's cultural norms. We have a world of consumers who elect and buy, taken over from a locale of consumers you used to sell to.

Consumer behaviour may not have changed. But expectation, motivation, influence and conversion to buy have changed forever. The consumer, finally, is king. And TV, though still a powerful medium, hasn't caught up despite 12 years of interactive TV. The day TV advertising can be segmented not by programme but by the individual consumer's implicit or explicit at-that-moment requirements will be the day TV gets back on its feet. And yes, when we started an interactive TV agency for Lowe in 1998 it was arguably way too early. The fact it produced interactive TV ads for Tesco and Unilver, two of the most far-sighted marketers, doesn't take away from the fact that it couldn't make money - but it was necessary to help get the ball that may one day save the TV advertising industry's arse rolling.

My own view about what people might remember is that it takes two types of people for progress to happen - the innovators and visionaries who come at things too early but set up the parameters of the experiment, and the reactionaries that temper the enthusiasm but enforce rigour. I'm quite happy to be in one of the groups, and I'm glad of the existence of the other, because your maturity means I can borrow, say, the discipline of data planning and prove that what we do works better for the new world's consumers than what you used to do when it was the only way.

Glad this social media thing is here though, because previously the only way we could have an argument was down the pub or in the letters pages, so thanks Twitterverse and blogosphere, at least you've revolutionised how fast one man can flourish his own reactionary views, another can highlight them, a third can get it all wrong before correcting his mistake, and how fast presumably this will turn into pixels in the wind. Personally I'd much prefer to do this over a pint than in public, but hey, you know that when even the Iranians are using Twitter to complain about injustice, the world's all gone and changed while you were busy watching television ;)


To be honest, I would normally ignore your "visionary" comments as just the usual ravings of an online maniac.

But since Dave Trott sent you over here, and I admire Dave greatly, I'm going to take what you have to say seriously.

Extraordinary claims ("the internet did change everything, utterly") require extraordinary proof. You are very good at making the extraordinary claims, but a little weak on the evidence. Ten pounds of assertions do not equal one ounce of validation.

Let's take it point by point. First, we do not have a "globally distributed" notion of ANYTHING. The internet notwithstanding, there is just as much diversity of opinion about justice, and cultural norms and everything else political and cultural as there has ever been. Maybe you and your pals who read each others' blogs and tweets have reached a consensus, but the world is just as messy and full of conflict and discord as it has ever been. I would like to suggest that you try reading one of those old-fashioned things we "reactionaries" call newspapers.

In the next paragraph you got one thing right: consumer behavior has not changed. Everything else in that paragraph is wrong. All that baloney about "expectation, motivation...", do you just make that shit up? Do your clients believe it? Here are some facts: 1)People now watch more tv than ever before. 2)Every test ever done on interactive tv has been a failure.

You are obviously an intelligent person. When you make assertions like "the internet did change everything" there are only two possibilities: either you mean what you say, or you are playing with words. If you are just playing with words, it's not worth commenting on. If you mean what you say, it is very disturbing.

There is a lot to life beyond the computer screen. There is food and music and art and friendship and talking and laughing and flowers and sports and, as you say, an argument down at the pub. To say that the internet changed everything is simply an alarming assertion for an intelligent person to make. You are spending way too much time in front of a computer screen.

PS: Just because I'm right, doesn't make me a "reactionary." Just because you're wrong, doesn't make you a "visionary."


@Dave, you were right - he's both intelligent and acerbic. But he's also a little pompous no? (Note: I'm not clear why Felix addresses this to Dave Trott and then later to me. -TAC)

So this is me. I probably have just as much of a non-screen life as he does. I fly gliders, ride horses, have friends all over the world, throw parties, eat at nice restaurants, drive sports cars, same stuff as he. I have a reasonable online life as well, though very little outside of work hours. I keep in touch with the 200 or so people of every social, religious and political hue that I cherish in my personal life, and the 200 or so I value in my professional life, using my social media. But I'm no geek, I went to a school with no computers - unlike the current generation in the West and the new generation in the East that relies on bandwidth like air.

I was lucky to have been involved in starting one of the world's first web agencies, one of the first SEO agencies, the first iTV agency, and one of the leading eCRM agencies. I'm still learning all the time because our world is constantly changing, and still very often wrong (there, an easy one for you to quote me on later).

But the world has indeed changed. You've commented yourself on Tehran's new Twittering classes. That's a fine example of real-time, unfiltered interactive news, something that could not have happened before the net. In fact, where there remains no bandwidth TV still rules; but those are the same places where they launch missiles to mock independence day or misguided foreigners swim to meet housebound leaders. Iran's real-time-shared protestations are not iconic like Tianenmen Square, but then what's an icon but a fixation on the object and not the consumer of it. The new world has changed. This world is one where what a brand is is defined by what it lets its consumers say about it - not what it tells its consumers to think about it. And if you can't tell the difference between the two, then that's symptomatic of why the advertising industry has had its day in the sun.

You come from a world where the marketer defined the brand, and substantiated it with product. The world we now live in is one in which consumers commune, and brands that listen are defined by their listening, and their products get defined by what its consumers say - or show - they want un-prompted. This is how Unilever and Dell and P&G now work. On their rapid way out, thank goodness, are the days of the guided focus group, where ad folk with middling geography degrees divine market desires from "representative" samples of ten.

Advertising was first undermined by Direct Marketing, when the three letter lie in econometrics was exposed, and finally replaced with statistical certainty and relevance, something that TV panders but does not provide. Interactive TV was born of advertising people desperate to cling onto a world they could no longer control - of course it hasn't worked, except in hotels - where it's interactive but ad-free - and in the UK, where it forms the backbone to Domino Pizza's revenue stream and where finally the BBC has learned to serve multiple options to millions of viewers in news, Glastonbury (where your Boss played last weekend) and travel sales. Perhaps after all there too you're wrong.

Customers in their collective can make the decisions now, because brands that understand the way the world has changed listen to them, build their new products around them, and acquire brand equity by association. The brand onion is now more of a soup, a broth at best. 150 years ago you too changed the world. But today we know exactly which fifty percent does what, why, how and when.

TV may indeed be watched by more people, but there are also more cars, more polluters, more superpowers - and yet they are the last call of a newly redundant paradigm. TV is trusted by just 38% of viewers, compared with 77% who trust emails from friends. Read Don Tapscutt, who told you fifteen years ago at the same time as all those people - including me - started experimenting with how to make it so, that the world was irrevocably changing. You enjoy a platform that's not confined to a printed, out of date before it's proofed, ad rag. Your assertions and (witty, deeply acerbic) web logs reach, stimulate, annoy and amuse people you'll never meet (though as I said before, love to do this over a pint one day). Tens if not hundreds of millions of people now have a voice that can genuinely be heard. You too have been changed by the internet.

Enjoy your advertising. Enjoy the banners and viral films your world insisted on but which our new world thinks at best ephemerally amusing, at worst intrusive. Party hard while it lasts, because marketing changed while you were being funny. Enjoy the holiday weekend, perhaps upload something to Flickr.


As usual, when confronted with a logical argument, a web maniac goes off into the stratosphere with every possible spurious irrelevancy.

I thought our conversation was about your assertion that the internet changed "everything, utterly." I understand why you would want to change the subject rather than defend such a preposterous position, but at least pretend to stay on subject.

Your argument is not an argument -- it is merely another grab bag of unsubstantiated assertions, just like your first comment. There is only one fact in your comment: TV is trusted by 38% of viewers. What you neglect to say, however, is that the LEAST trusted of all major media is your precious internet.

I'm afraid your latest comment is quite typical of a new class of people who... "fly gliders, ride horses, have friends all over the world, throw parties, eat at nice restaurants, drive sports cars" and have no fucking idea how real people in the real world have to wash floors, change diapers, struggle to make payments on their refrigerators and don't spend all day having fucking conversations about fucking brands with their fucking "followers" on fucking Twitter.

And one more thing. I may have a float in the pomposity parade but, dude, you're the grand marshall.


Very funny, I laughed out loud.

I grew up with my share of challenges, and my first job was as a washer-upper, but I've clearly matured into a passionate, pompous man - I should be in advertising. Oh, that's your gig remember?

The internet isn't a single medium, like TV, it's a venue. 60% of people trust online peer recommendation - but unlike Oprah's book reviews this is actually peer to peer. That's the change. TV offers no peer communication, unless you'd like to cite Big Brother or Jerry Springer.

You and I may be gaudy cheerleaders in the grand pomposity parade (nice pompoms brother), but we're just at different ends of a spectrum that's both necessary and interesting. I happen to think one-way shouting is old, tired and in need of merciful release, and you may think the internet and its attendant democratisation of thought is just so much white noise (like, probably, this little debate), but there's no escaping the fact that it even changed you.

The existence of the net means that valid or invalid opinions can be aired and repeated, no matter if they come from a disenfranchised untouchable or a total ignoramus or a prince or an advertising guru. It means people can find common ground with others in a way never before possible. It means that no longer is that common ground office politics or the television soap or political propaganda everyone saw last night - it means the common ground is whatever anyone wants it to be. Opinion can be aired and can mobilise itself on a vast scale, evolving the views of hundreds of millions. TV only did that in 1963 or 1969 (and, to be fair, when Neighbours went global). You talk scathingly of my lack of appreciation for the man on the Clapham omnibus. To go back to the very beginning, bollocks man.

The internet is truly democratic in its reach; the UK has even recently asserted bandwidth for all as a right. This kind of universal access to global conversation is as revolutionary as universal suffrage, for the same reasons: it gives everyone a voice. Television, on the other hand, gives everyone entertainment. My esteemed sparring partner, the two are not equivalent, there is no competition between the two. One is new, one is old. If you had to get rid of one, even you know you'd choose to consign television to history.


Somehow you have turned this conversation into a debate over tv versus the internet. I am not an ideologue for tv. I've made no claims for tv. You're arguing with yourself.

I don't give a shit about tv. I am just interested in facts.

When you claim that the internet has changed "everything, utterly" you have a responsibility to your readers (and to yourself) to be clear about how this is so. Just re-hashing assertions is the argument of a 10-year-old.

Here's the deal, Felix.

You seem like a nice, intelligent fellow whose brain has been addled by paying far too much attention to trendy nonsense.

You need to reconcile all the bullshit you read on line with the facts on the ground.

I want you to spend one hour in front of your local supermarket today and ask shoppers the following question:

"Before you came here today, did you consult the internet or have an online conversation with a friend about any of the brands you bought?"

Then maybe you can get your head out of your ass and see how the real world works.



Yes dear. If you ask them while standing outside Tesco, they'll say no. But a million of them in the UK will be buying the stuff Tesco offered them as a special via email the day before, based on what their Clubcard recorded in their basket the previous week.

If you stand outside Boots they'll also say no, but they'll nonetheless have some Dove products in their basket because listening to the net built that brand.

You're being disingenuous, Bob. We're talking about marketing. The net changed marketing, because it's now about listening not asking, serving not telling.

And if you stand outside Amazon, or Dell, you'll fall off.

Felix Velarde


So now spam email is your glorious "revolutionary global conversation." It's just fucking electronic coupons.

You gotta be fucking kidding.

Anyway, I'm tired of this so I'm going to give you the last word, go ahead...



Yep, sorry mate, world changed while you were in broadcast mode.

Seriously and now that's all over, you might like 'Groundswell', pretty robust thinking from Forrester Research, though you might take issue with some of their rather unrefined segmentation.

It's midday and I'm reading the comments, and I have two observations.

First, it's startling to me the lack of reading comprehension on the part of some people. They seem to think that if I question the absurd claim that "everything has changed" that I believe nothing has changed. This is crazy. Of course things have changed. Things always change. But the assertion that "everything has changed" is just the drivel of ideologues who have no sense of perspective.

Second, I'm really tired of hearing that everyone who disagrees with these people is a "dinosaur" or "out of touch." If you can't argue the subject on its merits, take it somewhere else.

July 03, 2009

Iran: Twitter's "Blair Witch?"

In 1999, a cheaply made, independent horror movie became a huge hit. The Blair Witch Project, which was filmed for a reported $35,000, earned about $250 million worldwide.

One of the reasons for its remarkable success was the brilliant use of the internet to promote the movie.

As usual, the idiots in the media and in the marketing world, mistook a one-off phenomenon for a "thing that would change everything."
"In fact, the Blair Witch phenomenon (is) evidence of a brand-new era, in which nimble independents using smart, low-budget, Net-centric, "viral" campaigns can run circles around their traditional rivals."
Yeah, right.

With 10 years behind us, we can see that the web has become one of the marketing tools movies use. But the record of "smart, low-budget, Net-centric, "viral" campaigns (running) circles around their traditional rivals" is what you might call a little thin on the ground.

Meanwhile, every Super Bowl is swimming in 3-million-a-pop movie trailers.

How does this relate to Iran and Twitter? In the past few weeks, the "tweeting" of turmoil in Iran has given the media a new Blair Witch.

The semi-competence and, in a few cases, cowardice of the traditional media in covering the Iranian post-election turbulence, coupled with the riveting Twitter messages coming out of Iran, have led to lots of yapping about Twitter and "citizen journalism" as a replacement for traditional reporting.

From the always-ready-with-a-cliche pen of Dan Rather...
"...citizen journalism is a way for the people to hold on to freedom of the press, even in times of oppression. In a turn of phrase that seems to be cropping up everywhere, the revolution may not be televised…but it very well could be Twittered."
Yeah, right.

Once again, the impressionable and the naive have taken a one-off and projected it as a "thing that will change everything."

Let's try and remember something here. Tyrants don't get to power by being stupid. They're watching and learning.

Technology isn't only effective at spreading information. It's also pretty good at suppressing it.

Anyone read 1984 lately?

Happy Independence Day...
...particularly to those struggling for their freedom.

July 02, 2009

3 Words That Should Scare Every Client

If John Wanamaker were alive today, he might re-state his famous maxim:
"I know half of what my agency tells me is bullshit, I just don't know which half."
If you're feeling that way, here's a tip.

Anytime someone at the agency starts a presentation with the words "Consumers told us..." that's a good time to get out the boots and shovels.

You see, the key to success in the ad business for the past 15 years or so, has been to deny you have any personal thoughts or ideas and to pretend that everything you are doing is the result of a slavish adherence to the desires of "the consumer."

Next time you hear "consumers told us..." here are a few questions to ask:
  • How many consumers told us this?
  • How many consumers told us something else?
  • Under what circumstances did these consumers tell us this stuff?
  • Are you using their words or your interpretation?
  • Did these consumers stop us on the street and tell us this, or were they in some artificial environment?
  • If it was an artificial environment, what was the stimulus that caused them to tell us this?
The reason you need to ask these questions is that we advertising people are a fortunate lot. Consumers have an amazing tendency to tell us exactly what we want to hear.

July 01, 2009

Emotional Connections vs Logical Connections

On many occasions I have poked fun at "branding", "brand babble" and their many incompetent practitioners. And while that is great fun, there are some serious points to be made.

There are a few product categories that are highly reliant on brand perceptions. These tend to be categories in which the products are essentially frivolous commodities - soda, cigarets, beer/booze, fashion.

These products have little-to-no utilitarian value, are essentially identical, and are bought primarily for the image or status they confer on the buyer.

Because these products tend to be highly advertised and ubiquitous, naive and/or silly advertisers think that the rules that apply in these categories apply in theirs. They don't.

Most products are bought for specific, concrete reasons -- they taste better, work better, look nicer, are more convenient, or cost less.

The emotional buttons that work to motivate sales of perfume simply don't work when you're selling oven cleaner. And yet we constantly hear marketers talk about the need to make "an emotional connection" with consumers.

Yes, it never hurts if people have positive feelings toward your product or brand. But in most categories it takes more than that to motivate a change in behavior.

In most categories it is far more productive to make a logical connection -- a good solid reason to try your product -- than an emotional one.

And, just as an aside, I have seen research that indicates that a fact-based ad is just as likely to produce an emotional reaction in an observer as a supposedly "emotional" ad.

Brand Babble Bibliography:
Looks like that guy from Zszysyggyy (or whatever the hell they call it) we featured on Friday has gone bye-bye.

Thanks to Yuno Ito for this tip