August 31, 2009

More Social Media Baloney

Last month, in a post called "Zealots, Maniacs, And Hustlers," I said,

..."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."
There is, perhaps, no area of marketing more full of hype and bullshit than social media.

Last week, a video popular with social media maniacs exploded in their faces. The video called "Social Media Revolution" was produced by someone or something called Socialnomics. net, and was apparently a thinly-disguised promotional device for a book he/they have written.

Regular readers of TAC may have seen the video because one of our commenters posted a link to it in our comments section. If you haven't seen it, here it is.

The video is apparently so full of piracy, errors, and misleading statements that even a self-described "social media evangelist" by the name of Robert Cole, who thankfully has some integrity, has taken it apart.

If you really want to puke, read the smarmy replies from the creator of the video to commenters on his blog who point out his errors -- and from the knuckleheads who think this guy's sloppy work is just fine.

Thanks to Malachy Walsh for the heads-up on this.

August 28, 2009

Steroids Are Fine. Salt is Dangerous.

Every now and then, TAC reserves the right to blog about whatever the hell he feels like. Today is one of those days.

I had a chance to visit new Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago and here are some thoughts about it.

1. It's impressive but not beautiful. Nice wide corridors, grand main plaza, comfortable seats (at least where I was.) But it does not have the beauty of some of the newer parks.

2. In spite of its grand scope, it has a great "close to the action" feel to it.

3. Love the fact that you can still see the elevated subway tracks from the stands. Gives it an authentic Bronx feel.

4. Compared to a West Coast ballpark: More guys with yarmulkas, fewer guys with tattoos.

5. Too much tacky self-promotion on the jumbotron. The Yankees have a remarkable history and don't need to keep hitting you over the head with it.

6. They spent a billion and a half on the ballpark. They couldn't spend a few thousand to clean up the subway station?

7. Without being too provincial here, I can't see how this ballpark cost four times as much as AT&T park in San Francisco.

8. The menu boards lists the caloric content of everything they sell. I'm sure it's some idiotic city regulation. Do I really need to be reminded that an order of Nathan's french fries has 1200 calories when I'm trying to enjoy a ballgame? Can't we have any fun anymore without government busybodies sticking their pious noses in our business?

9. Someone please explain this to me: there is no salt to be found anywhere in the ballpark. WTF?

And Now For Something Completely Different...
George Tannenbaum over at Ad Aged said something very scary, but very true yesterday. "There's no room for ambition in advertising today. Against the machine-like hegemony of massive holding companies and massive client "marketing" structures."

It's amazing that anything good gets done anymore.

August 27, 2009

Blogging About Blogging

Back in the Middle Ages, when I was a creative director, I had a few strict rules:
  • No talking animals
  • No guys dressed as girls
  • No celebrity's mothers
  • No ads about advertising
Today I'm going to break the spirit of one of those rules and blog about blogging.

Here are a few random thoughts on the subject.
1. Unpleasantness in advertising is not something new. As long as I've been in the business I've seen and heard lots of viciousness. What's different now is the internet. It provides an outlet for angry, cowardly people to hurl vitriol immediately, anonymously, and publically, particularly on blogs.

2. One of the problems for ad bloggers is that the most popular topics for blogging are industry gossip and industry news. Ad gossip and news invariably require bloggers to talk about people. Once you start talking about people, you're going to provoke highly emotional reactions. In other words, if you're going to hurl mud, you better have a good pair of windshield wipers.

3. Here at The Ad Contrarian, I don't give a damn about advertising gossip or news. I try to deal in ideas. That's why I'll never make a nickel doing this.

August 26, 2009

Symptoms May Include

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Sudden and inexplicable death
  • Dancing ahead of the beat
  • Calling everyone "Billy"
  • Fond memories of Paris
  • Bunting with men in scoring position
  • Asking your dentist for a date
  • Hankering for kosher pickles
  • Naive faith in golf tips
  • Shaving one side only
  • Being nice to Frenchmen
  • Ability to see magnetic waves
  • Putting both socks on one foot
  • Compulsion to sign non-compete agreements
  • Questioning the rules of hockey
  • Vomiting
  • Rhyming "prove" with "love"
  • Aversion to fondu
  • Saluting Chinese people
  • Belated birthday wishes from strangers
  • Relief pitcher facial hair
  • Sex with others
  • Overuse of the word "penultimate"
  • Sleeping at your dry cleaner's house
  • Buying a dinette set
  • Cat teasing
  • Frequent dizziness when spinning around very fast with your eyes closed
  • Wearing silly hats
  • Assigning unpleasant names to co-workers
  • Tiredness after thinking
  • Expecting a package from New Jersey
  • Violence directed at those weaker and smaller than you
  • Running through fields in slow motion
  • Overcooking the beans
  • Not being able to get "The Impossible Dream" out of your head
  • Bouncing your shoulders while chuckling
  • A penchant for quadratic equations
  • Moist nostrils
  • Not finishing your sentenc

August 25, 2009

Things As They Really Are

One of the hardest things for agency people to do is to see things as they really are. Not as they'd like them to be. Not as they've heard they are. Not as they've read they are. Not as their company's philosophy says they are. But as they really are.

The terribly difficult part about this is that you have to take yourself out of the equation. You have to understand that you are not typical. That your circle of friends is probably not typical. That the articles you read, the blogs you subscribe to, and the colleagues you talk to are probably not typical. In fact, the entire micro-culture you are immersed in is not typical.

Let's take me for example. I am about the lightest user of television you can find. I essentially watch nothing on tv other than baseball games. I have never seen American Idol, or Survivor, or...I pay so little attention to tv that I don't even know what shows to list here as examples of popular shows I have never watched.

I'm sure I spend at least 20 times more time on the web than I do watching television. I have a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page. I am a prototypical web geek.

And yet, every few months I try to run a piece here at TAC to remind us where the web stands in the advertising pantheon. I try to keep my personal behavior in perspective and understand that I am very, very far from typical.

Most important, I try to remind myself -- and you -- that no matter how much hype we have read, and no matter how many trendy opinions we have been exposed to, no one is smarter than the facts.

Which leads me to another study that points up the weakness of the web as an advertising medium. This one comes from the UK where it was published by Deloitte/YouGov on behalf of the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival*.

Some highlights from the study:
  • 64% of respondents ranked television commercials as the advertising format with the most impact.
  • Young people (18-24) ranked tv commercials even higher, with 3/4 saying tv was the ad format with the most impact.
  • 12% of consumers chose search advertising as one of the top three types of advertising with the most impact and only 8% ranked banner advertising in their top three.
I am often surprised at these findings. Each month I expect to find a "tipping point" event that launches the web into a new level of success as an advertising medium. So far, the facts say it hasn't happened.

* I have often warned against taking at face value research done by interested parties. This is obviously such a case. If it wasn't consistent with so much other research we have seen, I wouldn't put much faith in it.

August 24, 2009

Warning: Beware Of Math

One of the most interesting aspects of the financial meltdown of the past few years is the role that mathematics played in it.

Over several decades, Wall Street developed very sophisticated mathematical models of financial markets. During the 90's they were literally recruiting rocket scientists to work in investment houses.

As we now know, everything they were doing turned out to be a bunch of bullshit. But during its heyday, it was a very rare and brave analyst who would contradict the conventional wisdom.

In a piece in The New York Times Review of Books, August 9th, entitled "School For Scoundrels" Noble prize winner Paul Krugman tells us...
"...supporters of the approach start to resemble fervent political activists — or members of a cult..."
Today we are often told that analytics are leading the way to the future of advertising. This point of view is particularly popular among members of the Divine Church of the Web. As you might imagine, I'm officially skeptical.

I can understand why advertisers hunger for quantitative analysis. The insufferable imitation-science-sociology-lite of account planning that has infected the ad industry has turned out to be a major whack-a-thon. Just about anything is better than listening to these people blather on about their ethnographics and their brilliant consumer insights.

Nonetheless, it would also be wise to maintain a healthy skepticism about analytics.

There are some aspects of marketing that are conducive to mathematics: How many? When? How? How much? Understanding these and other factors are essential to marketing.

However, analytics are becoming far more sophisticated than we are used to. Soon we are sure to be hearing from hustlers who tell us that they have derived formulas for every kind of marketing activity.

Let's keep in mind that when all is said and done, advertising is about persuasiveness. As Bill Bernbach said:
"Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art."
Advertisers have always hungered to quantify persuasiveness. For better or worse, the creative --persuasive -- aspect of advertising is highly resistant to statistical analysis.

Until someone comes up with a way to quantify the creative factor, it's going to take an awful lot to convince me that rocket scientists were unable to create valid mathematical models of financial markets, but MBAs can construct useful mathematical models for advertising.

August 21, 2009

Clients Ask All The Wrong Questions

The Ad Contrarian will return from vacation Monday. Here's a post from last March.

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?

August 20, 2009

Branding's Final Absurdity?

The Ad Contrarian is on vacation until Monday. This post appeared in January of 2008.

There's very little fun left in the ad business. But one of the big chuckles we still get (secretly) is watching our clients go through crazy "branding" exercises.

These con games last for months, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and generally have less impact on business than cleaning the drapes.

Nonetheless, there are very clever companies out there making zillions of dollars convincing businesses that all they need to do is "fix their brand" and all will be well.

I can only describe the pain of participating in one of these exercises as equal to putting on ski boots and watching Cats.

Now branding may have reached the height of absurdity. Great Britain has embarked on a re-branding program. This is not a joke. Part of the process, introduced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government, is to find out "what does it mean to be British?"

Well, Gordo, it used to mean you had an empire to run. Now it apparently means you have nothing better to do than sit on your fat ass and engage in the type of inane navel-gazing usually reserved for overfed CMO's.

To poke fun at this idea, the cynics at The Times of London sponsored a slogan writing contest for the new British "brand." My favorite entry: "At Least We're Not French."

A representative of the British government said that after writing a "statement of values", the government would... hold “an extensive and intensive” period of consultation with regular citizens on what being British means to them. Then it will convene a “citizens’ summit” of 500 to 1,000 people who will "deliberate on the matter."

Get out the ski boots.

It's now a year and a half later. Anyone know what happened with this?

More On Branding Nonsense:
Can be found here

August 19, 2009

Murder Most Productive

The Ad Contrarian is on vacation this week. Here is a post from January, 2008

In Death by Branding TAC asserted that Southwest Airlines was on the way to ruining their brand with "branding."

What makes their campaign so awful is that they're trying to convince business travelers that flying Southwest will make us "more productive." Right. That's the big airline issue for me. Not price. Not schedule. Not comfort. Not reliability.
"Bob, what airline you wanna take?"
"I don't know. Which one makes me more productive?"
It's such a moronic strategy, it can only have come from a planning department.

As a service to the marketing department at Southwest, thought I'd give them one traveler's list of the top 10 things I consider when choosing an airline:
1. Hope I don't die.
2. Hope I get an upgrade.
3. Hope the toilet ain't too stinky.
4. Hope I don't sit next to a talker.
5. Hope it leaves on time.
6. Hope I don't sit next to a laptop maniac.
7. Hope I don't sit next to a smelly fatty.
8. Hope I don't sit next to a smelly fatty laptop maniac talker.
9. Hope I don't die.
10. Hope I don't die.

August 18, 2009

Puzzles And Mysteries

The Ad Contrarian is on vacation this week. Today's post is an excerpt from the book The Ad Contrarian (which you can download free here.)

An article by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, in The New Yorker leads me to believe that advertising people can learn something from spies. Not about stealing other peoples’ ideas, but about solving business problems.

Gladwell tells us about a national security expert, Gregory Treverton who distinguished between two kinds of problems: puzzles and mysteries. His distinctions have great value for us.

Puzzles, he wrote, are problems for which there is not enough information. An example of a puzzle: Where is Jimmy Hoffa buried? If we had more information, we would know the answer. If someone told us “Jimmy Hoffa is buried in New Jersey,” we’d know a little more than we know now. If they said,“He’s buried in northern New Jersey,” we’d know even more. If they said,“He’s buried in the Meadowlands,” we’d have an answer to our puzzle.

On the other hand, there are mysteries. Mysteries are problems for which we have plenty of information, but no accurate analysis. An example of a mystery: Why can’t inner-city schools teach kids to read? There are thousands of studies. Every education department of every university in America has done a study on this; every committee of Congress has done a report on it; every editorial writer has a theory about it, and every pundit has an opinion. And yet, we have no definitive answer. More studies and more information are not likely to yield an answer. What is needed is an accurate analysis of the voluminous information that already exists.

Gladwell gives a wonderful example of the importance of distinguishing between puzzles and mysteries. In 1943, during World War II, the Allies were concerned about Germany’s boast of having developed a “superweapon.” Did they really have a superweapon, or was it just propaganda? There were two ways to deal with this problem. It could be dealt with as a puzzle, and spies could be sent out to gather more information. Or it could be dealt with as a mystery, and information the Allies already had could be analyzed.

Fortunately, American intelligence had a bunch of brainiacs who were known as “the screwball division.” They were “slightly batty geniuses” who were brilliant at analyzing information that was readily available to anyone. So instead of sending out spies disguised in mustaches to infiltrate German munition factories, the intelligence community gave the brainiacs German newspapers and radio broadcasts. These guys pored over the information that already existed and accurately predicted that the Germans had, in fact, developed a new weapon, the V-1 rocket. And they also accurately predicted both that it had been stalled in development and when it would be ready.

As a matter of fact, in retrospective analysis, these guys had been correct an amazing 81% of the time in their analyses during the war. A success rate many times higher than the spies.

How does this apply to us? We ad people are almost always tasked by our clients with solving some variation of the following problem: How do we sell more stuff?

Sometimes it is a subset of that question, like Who is our target customer? or What is our primary medium?” or Which of these campaigns should we go with? or What is our brand position?

One hundred percent of the time these problems are dealt with as puzzles, not mysteries. We always assume that one more study will yield the magic answer. Research is commissioned. Spies are sent out to live with customers or interview them or hold group discussions with them.

The results of these endeavors are almost always inconclusive. They are often dressed up to appear scientifically valid. Even when the results seem conclusive, the conclusion is often wrong.

On the other hand, most companies have stacks of research and reams of data about their customers and about their industry. This mountain of existing information is almost never consulted.

In my entire career, I have never seen a marketing problem treated as a mystery. I have never once heard a marketing officer say,“You know, we have all this research we’ve done over the years and all this data from the industry. Before we do more research, I want someone to go through this stuff and tell me what it means.”

Why do we prefer to deal with business problems as puzzles rather than mysteries? Frankly, because it is easier. Most information about business problems is not conclusive on the surface. It requires a special intelligence to be able to examine imprecise, unfiltered, often contradictory information and come up with a correct analysis.

Also, the information that is lying around was usually gathered by someone else. In other words, not created here. And as we all know, in American business there is nothing stupider than the previous generation of management.

It is much more comforting to send a researcher or planner out with a fake mustache and give him six weeks to come back with an answer. Unfortunately, as we all have experienced, most of the research we do yields nothing of value and is often actually counterproductive. The following year the report becomes part of the dusty heap of improperly analyzed information sitting around adding to the mystery....

...In short, the hard part of solving marketing problems is not getting more information, it’s figuring out what the information we already have means.

One day after posting this, the SF Chronicle ran a story about the gap in standardized test scores among kids in different ethnic groups. State Superintendent Jack O'Connell "has renewed efforts to tackle the most vexing problem in public education, with...research aimed at finding the answers." Good luck, Jack.

August 17, 2009

Advertising Reflects Everything

The Ad Contrarian is on a well-deserved vacation this week. Here is a re-post from last March.

Here in the San Francisco area we have something called "casual carpools." During rush hour, 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. They don't seem to notice that there are price ads in times of prosperity and luxury goods for sale during recessions.

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."

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 The Times. Reporters have to come up with crap everyday. Just like bloggers.

August 14, 2009

Conversation With A CEO

CEO: Okay, why did you drag me down here?

TAC: I heard you're not happy with your advertising and I want to talk to you about it.

CEO: Advertising? I have important work to do...

TAC: Advertising is important. It's your public personality. What's more important than that?

CEO: Okay, maybe it's important...but I have a whole department...

TAC: Yeah, that's the problem.

CEO: Do you mean these people aren't doing their jobs?

TAC: No, I mean there are too many of them involved in advertising decisions. Inside the marketing department and outside. Right now, there are dozens of people who think they have a right to comment on your ads -- product people, operations people, finance people... This is death to creativity. You have no idea how many good ideas are twisted, crushed, and mutilated before they get to you.

CEO: So what do you want me to do?

TAC: Tell them to do their own jobs better and leave the advertising alone. If you have a CMO with good creative instincts, make it clear that she's in charge of advertising and tell everyone else to stay the hell away.

CEO: What if my CMO doesn't have good creative instincts?

TAC: Then take it away from her and give it to someone who does.

CEO: Isn’t that going to piss her off.

TAC: Yes, but it's necessary.

CEO: But I disagree with your premise. I don't think we have people meddling with the advertising...

TAC: Do yourself a favor. Call the head creatives at your agency and invite them to lunch. Buy them a glass of wine or two and get the truth out of them. You will likely find that there are way too many people at your company involved in the process and that they are killing the creative output. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it.

CEO: Then what do I do about the agency?

TAC: First, you leave the agency alone. Get out of their way for a while. Give them the “you’re the experts” speech and see what they do. If they come up with something good, you know you’ve got a great partner. If not, you've got a problem. What you are currently getting has probably been diluted and disfigured by people inside your company. Give your agency a chance to do it their way.

CEO: What if they don't perform.

TAC: Like I said, then you've got a problem.

CEO: Anything else I should know?

TAC: That's it.

CEO: Okay, can you untie me now?

August 13, 2009

A Humble Suggestion To Improve The Economy

I have an idea. It's not a big idea, it's a small one. But in these times, with deficits running into the zillions, I think every little bit helps.

Here's my suggestion. I think we should use our laws for two years.

This way, every other year we can send all the federal, state, and municipal lawmakers home and let them get back to annoying their families, instead of us.

This will save us a lot of money and, honestly, who's gonna know?

I mean, if we only need a new president every four years, why do we need new laws every year?

I don't think we have a shortage of laws. I think there are plenty of 'em. And if we're careful, we ought to be able to squeeze another year out of 'em.

If you don't have enough laws where you are, I'm pretty sure my friends and neighbors here in California will be happy to let you use some of ours.

Every year they make thousands of new laws, and to tell you the truth, I can't really tell the difference. I mean, what was the difference between, say, 2005 and 2006? Did all those guys really need to sit around for a year and make up laws?

We can make the idea palatable to both liberals and conservatives by giving it a fancy name like "The Legislative Conservation Act of 2009." We'll tell them we're just trying to preserve our precious statutory resources.

Here are some the other benefits of this idea:
  • Less shouting on cable tv
  • Reduce the number of political blogs from a trillion to just a few hundred billion
  • We'll lessen our dependence on foreign oil and reduce global warming because congressmen won't be flying around on "fact-finding" missions every half hour
  • Maybe with more free time they'll get better face lifts and hair plugs
  • Maybe lobbyists will start buying us fancy dinners once in a while
Frankly, I think we can do just fine re-using last year's laws. They weren't so bad.

August 12, 2009

Something Nice Happened

A very gratifying thing happened this week.

We've been in New York producing music for a new campaign (yes, once in a while they still let me near advertising) and someone said something that brightened my day.

As regular readers know, we have a few principles about advertising called "Performance-Based Advertising" (shameless self-promotion alert: more about it available free here.)

The foundation of PBA is a belief that turns most of contemporary advertising philosophy on its head: we believe that you don't get people to try your product by convincing them to love your brand, you get them to love your brand by convincing them to try your product.

As a result, we believe very strongly that the best advertising is focused on the product, is specific, and is not the kind of woolly, vague "branding" nonsense that is so prevalent these days. We believe advertising should be created to address the common sense needs of consumers, not the arcane musings of account planners.

One of the people who was working on the spots was a musician (who had just come off the road with one of the all-time great names in rock history -- sorry, no name-dropping.)

He was sitting in the control room as we were putting finishing touches on one of the tv spots. The spot is about as unambiguous an example of PBA principles as you can find -- product focused, benefit oriented, simple and clear. And it's in a category that is usually replete with fuzzy, irrelevant imagery.

As he sat there watching the spot, he turned to us and said, "You know what I love about this spot? I really understand what you're saying about this product, and I really understand why I should buy it."

I think that's about the highest compliment an ad can get.

August 11, 2009

The Laziness Of Global Advertisers, Part 2

Yesterday we began a series called "The Laziness Of Global Advertisers." I wrote it as a 3-part series, but I condensed the final two parts into this one.

Here's a good laugh from The Wall Street Journal:
"For a global marketer...There is a whole infrastructure that you need to adapt and change ads (emphasis mine - TAC) so you can successfully market around the world," says Robert LePlae, president of the North American operations of McCann Erickson..."
Yeah, right.

The "infrastructure that you need to adapt and change ads" is just the infrastructure of laziness.

If you talk to a "global advertiser" she will tell you that the reason they have a global agency and do global campaigns is that they want a global brand.

This is just typical brand babble. The reason they do it is because they are too lazy to do what's right.

It is perfectly possible to have a hugely successful "global brand" without having "globalized" advertising.

Cultures are different, tastes are different, buying habits are different and people are different everywhere. There is a lot of business opportunity in leveraging these facts.

It is either a credit to the sales abilities of the big agencies or an indication of the naivete of big marketers that this nonsense has become accepted practice.

According to The New York Times, Quebec is one of the only places in the developed world where Pepsi dominates Coke. Pepsi's share is about 30%, Coke's about 12%.

For the past 25 years, Pepsi has created advertising specifically for the province of Quebec*. It has not used French language advertising from elsewhere or shot French language "adaptations" of its English language Canadian advertising.

It has assiduously not "changed and adapted ads."

It has recognized the specific culture and behaviors of the people of Quebec and incorporated these understandings into the advertising. It has not tried to create something so general and non-specific that it "works" everywhere.

It is certainly true that Quebecois are more different from their English-speaking Canadian counterparts than Iowans are from Nebraskans. Nonetheless, if you are not lazy, you can usually find leverageable cultural and behavioral differences among distinct geographic populations.

Is it a coincidence that the one place Pepsi does not "change and adapt" its general ad campaign is the one place it dominates Coke?

I don't believe in coincidences.

I have seen thousands of ads that were too general. But I’ve never seen one that was too specific.

On several occasions I have mentioned that, in my opinion, the two most important words in advertising are “be specific.”

The perfect ad would be so specific that those outside the target would not understand it. The perfect ad for golf equipment would be incomprehensible to non-golfers. The perfect coffee ad would be meaningless to non-coffee drinkers.

Unfortunately there are very few perfect ads. And there are very few perfect advertisers.

Probably about 95% of all advertisers don't have the financial resources to address all their segments with that degree of specificity. It's expensive to be specific.

Which makes the laziness of global advertisers -- who do have the resources -- even more incomprehensible.

If you had the resources to create advertising that is culture-specific, why in the world would you want to run an "adaptation" of advertising from somewhere else?

I can understand why agencies sell this idea -- in some cases largeness is their only differentiating characteristic. But why would any sane marketer buy it?

Of course, there is only so much slicing and dicing a marketer can do before he runs out of money.

But it seems like the current ideal among global advertisers is not to achieve as much specificity as possible, but as little.

*From what I can reconstruct, Pepsi Quebec has been handled by BBDO Montreal, part of Pepsi's global agency, since 1997. But the strategy of not utilizing the "global" campaign was initiated by JWT when they handled the account in the 1970s.

August 10, 2009

The Laziness of Global Advertisers, Part 1

Today we start a 3-part series called "The Laziness of Global Advertisers."

Democracy is messy. It requires compromise. It allows for dissent. It takes time to get things done.

Nonetheless, it seems to be the best form of governance we've been able to devise.

Dictatorship is not not messy. Things can happen quickly. You don't need discussions. You don't have to pay attention to annoying opinions.

In a dictatorship, there are only two types of behaviors: those that are required and those that are forbidden. It's not like democracy where there's a whole lot of grey area in between.

Something similar is also true in marketing.

In business, it has been my experience that the closer you are to the customer, the better sense of reality you have. This is not to say that everyone "in the field" is a genius and that everyone at "headquarters" is an idiot. Far from it.

But if you take two people with equal ability and equal intelligence, the one who deals with customers everyday is far more likely to have an accurate idea of what the marketing issues are than the one who sits in meetings.

And yet, in the world of global advertising and global marketing, there seems to be an irresistible gravitational pull drawing advertising and marketing decisions to the central office. This despite the obvious fact that, as a rule, people "on the ground" have a better understanding of what is needed.

We now have "global" CMOs in New York deciding what advertising will run in Argentina. We have global creative directors in London "adapting" campaigns for Korea.

Does anyone in his right mind really believe that someone in New York knows the Argentine market better than a local? Does anyone in the UK really believe that someone in London knows anything worth knowing about Korea?

So why do marketers do this?

Simple -- it's easy, and they're lazy.

They are too lazy to deal with the messiness of finding the right people on the ground all over the world. It's much easier to just hire a "global" agency and let them worry about it. So they suspend disbelief and buy into the fiction (which creates gales of laughter in anyone who has ever worked at a global agency) about the "integrated worldwide capabilities" of these agencies.

In today's world of strong ethnic identities and powerful micro-cultures, it is virtually impossible to get everything you need done correctly in the city of Los Angeles with one agency or one campaign.

The idea that you can do it globally is preposterous.

Part 2 here.

August 07, 2009

Friday On My Mind

Tweets From Hell
I know that one of the reasons you read this blog is that I'm always honest with you. Well, I have something to say kids, please sit down.

I'm afraid that most of the entries in Wednesday's Dead Twitterers Contest were pretty freaking lousy. There I said it and I'm not sorry. My advice -- don't die. And if you do, don't Twitter.

Nonetheless, I was able to pick 5 finalists (make that 6, I added a late entry.) Now you get to vote for your favorite.

Congratulations to our finalists, and thanks to everyone who contributed.

Thanks to Leslie Gordon for the title of this post

Borat & Bruno
Almost everyone I know saw the Borat movie and loved it. Yet nobody I know has seen Bruno.

It is true that Borat received high praise from movie critics and Bruno got lukewarm reviews. But let's not pretend that pop culture success is highly sensitive to aesthetics.

So what went wrong with Bruno?

I think they did too well at publicity. There was so much publicity, in fact, that a lot of people may have felt like they had already seen it, or knew enough about it that they really didn't have to see it.

Marketing is a tricky thing.

Special Thanks To Two Bloggers Today:
The Grumpy Brit is a very smart man despite his baffling fondness for this blog. Also big thanks to Vic and the boys and girls at Sell! Sell! who called my book "the best advertising book of the last 10 years." Wow.

In Honor of Friday

August 06, 2009

Only In California, Part 3

California leads the way again with a groundbreaking economic recovery plan.

Anyone need a CMO?

August 05, 2009

The Dead Twitterers Contest

Here at Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters, we're always looking for ways to make your life better.

Today, we're even going to make your death better.

How? By telling you how you can Twitter after you're dead! How awesome is that?

You see, there's a website called Tweet Later where you can write tweets and schedule them to publish any time you want. So if you know when you're going to die, you can schedule a tweet to appear soon thereafter, and really creep people out.

Is that fun, or what?

Imagine -- you can now Twitter from hell (and if you don't think you're going there, take a look at what blog you're reading.)

So here's what we're going to do. We're going to have a little contest.

Imagine you know you're going to die tomorrow. Now, write a Tweet that will go out a week from tomorrow. Make it funny, or ironic, or, I don't know... did I say funny?

Post your entries in our "comments" section or send them to Our judges will pick the best 3 entries (at least) and publish them. The prizes? We will fly the winners all-expenses-paid to Boise, Idaho where you will be allowed to help George Parker wash up and get ready for bed.*

So get going. It's a chance at immortality. Kinda.

*Okay, maybe not. But I will buy you a beer next time you're in SF.

August 04, 2009

Why Can't Marketers Talk Straight?

I sometimes play a game. As I'm walking down a street, I look at how people are dressed and divide them into two categories: those who are trying to stand out, and those who are trying to fit in.

I do a similar thing when I interview people. I listen to their language and analyze whether they are trying to cloud or clarify.

One way we can tell that the marketing and advertising industries are in dire straits is by listening to the language.

From the HP website:
"... (HP's) collaborative approach is tailored to a customer's ecosystem to create adaptive infrastructures that use leading software products and architectures and leverage HP's own expertise in the creation of adaptive infrastructures."
Spend time at a conference, read a trade publication, listen to a presentation and it soon becomes obvious that speaking plainly and clearly has become anathema to most marketing practitioners.

Instead, we have developed an appalling lexicon of contrived phrases and dreadful gibberish meant to confuse rather than elucidate.

Our most popular words have vague meanings and fuzzy definitions -- branding, engagement, conversation...

It's my belief that a sure sign of a deteriorating discipline is that the participants have agreed on a system of imprecise discourse to replace clear thoughts and exact meanings.

On the value of speaking plainly, Einstein once said, "It should be possible to describe the laws of physics to a barmaid."

One of my heroes is Richard Feynman. Feynman was a genius. He was a Nobel prize winning physicist, he translated Mayan hieroglyphics, he uncovered the cause of the Challenger disaster, he was a best-selling author, a bongo player, and an all-around nut.

As brilliant as he was, he hated complicated, imprecise language. He once defined "hypothesis" as "a fancy word for a guess."

To see how a brilliant mind describes an esoteric phenomenon in the simplest terms, here's Feynman talking about inertia.

By The Way...
Feynman went to Far Rockaway High School, where so many of America's great thinkers were educated.

August 03, 2009

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

One of the very charming aspects of Web Maniac Disease (WMD) is the callow belief in the virtue of all things digital.

For a wonderfully annoying look into the mind of a WMD sufferer, I wholeheartedly recommend The 95 Theses of The Cluetrain Manifesto, one of the foundational documents of the "conversationalist" school of web zealotry.

Here are a few points from that document.
8. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way...

11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
Yeah, right.

For an alternative view (and a good laugh), read the article* about the BlogHer convention in Chicago from last week's Ad Age. Here's a taste:
At the BlogHer '09 conference in Chicago marketers were lining up to woo around 1,500 mommy bloggers with swag, celebrity appearances, shopping sprees and lavish entertainment of the sort that seems part of a bygone era to most of the marketing world...

In one corner of a convention hall at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers on Saturday, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tide and Bounce had Tim Gunn of "Project Runway," not to mention a luncheon topped off with an invitation-only shopping spree at Gymboree.

In another corner, Walmart had celebrity chef Paula Deen was showing off a new line of her products to be sold at Walmart bakeries. A day earlier, Food Network chef Dave Lieberman was cooking dishes using products from Walmart's Great Value private-label megabrand.

Not that they would be hungry with so many luncheons and dinners, including a lavish Ragu luncheon in the convention hall and a list of around 20 non-sanctioned BlogHer events akin to Olympics ambush marketing throughout Chicago.

General Motors, which scaled back its Escalade shuttle service at the Super Bowl in February... wasn't concerned about shuttling BlogHer moms around in hybrids in Chicago.

Though Nikon signed on Carson Kressley, star of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and "How to Look Good Naked," it was hard to outdo Kodak, which had the most sought-after swag of the activities -- a Zi6 handheld digital video camera valued north of $100.
Yeah, these new intranetworked internetworks sure are different from that good ol' boy network that used to run the world.

My favorite quote from the piece:
Asked how PepsiCo, which appeared to be the biggest sponsor of BlogHer activities, would be measuring its success, Global Chief Marketing Officer Jill Beraud, said: "We believe it's the way of communicating in the future, so this is not a short-term ROI ... this is really an investment in our brands and understanding our consumers."
Oh. It's about branding! Well, you Pepsi guys ought to know.

*Thanks to Jeremy Baker for this.

For those of you under 90...
...the title of this post comes from the song "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who.