January 29, 2010

Marketing and The End Of The World

One of the unpleasant effects of the age of marketing is that politicians have learned the lessons of marketing all too well.

They have learned that it is important to reduce a message to its simplest possible form, e.g. "pro-life" or "change".

This is fine when you're selling peanut butter, but not such a good idea when critical issues of public policy are at stake.

In the debate concerning what to do about climate change, everyone is being simplistic and disingenuous.

There are two important issues about which no one is certain. First, is the Earth warming at a rate that is uncharacteristic and out of proportion to the normal planetary cycle of warming and cooling? Second, if unusual warming is occurring, is it the result of human activity or of natural phenomena?

Climate change advocates are pretending they know all the answers (remember, 30 years ago they were warning us about global cooling.) On the other hand, climate change skeptics want to ignore the  array of scientists who are aligned on this, and instead blame a worldwide left-wing conspiracy.

The problem is that we have to make some very big, very critical decisions and very few politicians are giving us the whole truth - instead they're giving us marketing-style answers.

If the climate change advocates are correct, we are screwed unless we make big changes fast. But the politicians on this side want to promise us everything. They want us to believe that we can make the necessary changes without making big economic sacrifices. This is bullshit. They need to come clean on this.

On the other side, the climate change skeptics have to get over their paranoid fantasies. They have to admit that there are some very serious, very smart people who are pretty convincing about this and it's not just a left-wing political conspiracy.

Then we, the public, have to make some decisions. And these decisions are not going to be easy.

Here's a much simpler version of the same dilemma.

Here in North America, bees are responsible for pollinating an estimated 30% of our food. The scary thing is that bee populations have been collapsing at an alarming rate.

Some serious scientists believe that this is being caused by cell phone usage. The short version of the theory is that the electro-magnetic radiation from cell phone usage is interfering with the bees' famous ability to navigate. Whether this is true or not, I certainly don't know.

But let's assume for a moment that scientists can demonstrate that there is a 90% chance that this is true. Would the American public stand for the government banning their precious cell phones? Will the economy be able to withstand the shutting down of a huge industry that directly and indirectly employs millions of people? Will the unthinkable consequence of losing 30% of our food supply be ignored?

The climate change issue is far more complex and even more perilous.

It's time for politicians on all sides to quit marketing and start talking straight.

January 28, 2010

The Midweek Philosopher

* Department of You Can't Make This Shit Up
In Piedmont, CA police found the dead, mummified body of Patricia Bostrom sitting in a comfy chair in her living room. Police say the last time Bostrom had been seen alive was 6 years ago when she was 82 years old. Bostrom's daughter, Sunny, regularly picked up mail at the house, planted flowers in the yard and paid the utility bills. She claims she thought her mother had gone traveling to Scotland. Sunny Bostrom is now running for City Council in Piedmont. Her platform?  Helping seniors and crime prevention.
* Dave Trott on losing at snooker to his art director, Dave Christensen: 
"The difference was, Dave was playing like a creative director and I was just playing like a creative. He was seeing the big picture: winning the game. All I was looking at was the individual shot."
* From my good friend Cary Lemkowitz:  
"Writing a blog is like joining a gym. You start out like a house on fire, but before you know it, you're putting on weight and your membership has lapsed."
* The great Grumpy Brit has nominated the first candidate for the 2010 Bully Awards. It's a piece that appeared in Marketing Magazine’s 2010: Industry Expert Predictions and was written by a guy named Andy Krupski. It's a wonderful start to the 2010 bullshit season.
"People will continue to buy and pay more for reliable brand reputations that enrich the depth and breadth of their own identity. The future belongs to any product that can give users a unique identity and place, be it real or virtual. 2010 will be about combining an engaging story with an immersive experience so that the brand becomes an avatar and the communications investment becomes an extension of the brand experience. Communications technology is now the enabler, source and subject matter of human entertainment as a result the concept of the “Avatar” has crossed the chasm into mainstream culture and branding."
* Unbelievable. From Sharon Krinsky:
85% of all brand purchases are made by women. 3% of advertising agency creative directors are women.
* Web metrics: A cruel joke.
In the past few weeks this blog has achieved its highest number of subscribers ever (by the way, thanks.) During the same period of time it has dropped in the Ad Age Power 150 (which actually measures over 1,000 blogs) from #112 to # 344. Meanwhile in another listing of advertising blog popularity it's #45.
* The inevitable disillusionment in every agency person's life occurs when they discover that advertising is so much more interesting than advertisers.

* You think our politicians are nuts? Check this out.
Mircea Geoana recently lost the presidential election in Romania. He is now claiming that the reason he lost was that before a key debate against his rival for the presidency, he was the target of negative energy waves. He claims that his rival, President Traian Basescu, hired a  parapsychologist to put a Romanian voodoo on him.
* Great piece about web vs TV by Paul Carr here. Thanks to Thomas Cleret for this.

* And most important of all -- three weeks until spring training.

January 27, 2010

The Planning Controversy Continues

As I expected, I got a lot of push-back yesterday on my post about account planning. It seems to have come mostly from planners, which is also to be expected.

The comments seemed to fall into 5 primary areas. I'll sum up the crux of the criticism, then give a sample from a comment, then respond.

1. As a "creative chauvanist," how can I criticize account planning for being based on opinions...when this is exactly how creatives operate? An example from a commenter:
"... if we take out opinion-as-fact then really we negate the whole idea of creativity in advertising, which after all is about a creative's opinion on what is best, their opinion on what will work, their opinion on what people will like, the CD's opinion on what work is best."
I have no problem with opinions. I have big problems with opinions-masquerading-as-facts. Creativity doesn't pretend to be science. Planning does.

Nobody claims a creative execution is anything other than what it is. When it comes to planning, however, there is a lot of conjecture, interpretation, and speculation pretending to be facts.

2. How can I criticize planning for not having principles, when there are no principles for creativity? An example from a commenter:
"What are the principles of creative work? I think it's the most elusive thing in the world. You won't find two creatives that will give you exact principles as well."
There most certainly are principles for creativity in advertising. While every agency may have its own individual ideas, most creatives will agree that good creative work exhibits 1) simplicity 2) clarity 3) consistency.

Additionally, I believe that the underpinnings of successful advertising are most often found in these three principles. They are not principles for creating ads, but they are principles for creating ad strategy. What principles do planners use in developing strategy? I'd like to know.

3. How can I criticize planners when most creatives are idiots? As one planner put it:
"...who needs creatives - I could come up with better creative than countless campaigns I've seen..."
Yeah, right. Try it, dude. I'll give you 6 months and I'll bet you a thousand bucks you can't get a job as an agency creative. Put up or shut up.

4. How can I claim that creatives would be better off without a strategic foundation to what they are doing? Or as one commenter wrote:
"Show me creative directors that deliver positive results in a void from strategy and I'll gladly reconsider my career in strategy/planning."
These comments come from either low reading comprehension or willful twisting of my meaning. My post argues for better strategy not absence of it. As I said in my post: "Do we need research and data? Absolutely. Do we need reliable information about consumer behavior? Absolutely. Do we need people who can synthesize insightful strategies? Absolutely. Do we need amateur anthropo-psycho-sociologists? No thank you."

I'm tired of all the sidewalk psychology and brand babble that planners are stuck on.  I want strategies that focus on understanding behavior and how we can use persuasion to change it. Like it or not, that's the business we're in.

5.Finally, how can I criticize planning when I'm a fucking idiot? Okay, on this one you may have a point.

Just one more thing...
A few thousand people read my post yesterday. Not one was able to send us evidence that advertising created with the use of planning is any more effective than advertising produced without it. After 20+ years of planning, shouldn't there be some evidence that it works? If a car dealer told you that his special additive made your car get better gas mileage, how long would you continue to pay for it until you asked "how do I know this stuff works?"

January 26, 2010

5 Reasons Account Planning Needs To Die

As many regular readers of this blog know, I am a former science teacher turned copywriter, turned creative director, turned management bean counter.

Each of my incarnations has a little compartment in my brain. Consequently, I often look at ads like a science geek, or finances like a copywriter. It's very confusing, but it keeps me interested.

As a result of my background, I have a few prejudices. Before we rip into planning, let's get them out on the table:
  • I am highly skeptical of social sciences
  • I am thoroughly tiresome on the question of what is a fact and what is an opinion-masquerading-as-a-fact
  • I am a creative department chauvanist. I believe the creative department makes the advertising and everyone else makes the arrangements.
Now that you know my prejudices, let's get on with subject of today's rant.

I think it's time for account planning to crawl away and die. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Strategy is too important to be left to the strategists. Advertising and brand strategy ought to be done by the smartest people at the agency. I don't care if their titles are art director, billing supervisor, or ceo. The most important thing an agency does is make ads -- and the ads are worthless if the strategy isn't right. In my experience, the ability to synthesize an imaginative strategy is unrelated to job title. It has to do with intelligence. Let the most intelligent people do the strategizing, regardless of their titles.

2. There are no principles. I admit I haven't read many books on planning (or any, for that matter) but in my interviews and conversations with planners I always ask the same question -- what are the principles of account planning?  I never get the same answer twice. All I get is baloney and jargon about branding and engagement and conversations and the voice of the consumer. A discipline with no principles is not a discipline -- it's an amusement.

3. It has encroached on the authority of creative directors.  Although nobody in an ad agency has perfect pitch, one would hope that a creative director would have extraordinary insights into motivating consumers. In many agencies, however, creative directors have become supplicants who need permission from planners. Are there talented planners who are invaluable to some creative directors? Of course. But for the most part, planners are inserting themselves into areas where they have no business going.

4.  Planning has degraded account service. In agencies with large planning departments, account managers have become little more than project managers (see this.) We used to be able to attract talented marketing people to our account services departments because they had substantial strategic responsibilities. Fewer talented marketing people choose to work in an account services department anymore because their strategic responsibilities have been devalued.

5. There is no evidence that it works. Throw out the previous four reasons and we're still left with a compelling reason to get rid of it -- after more than 20 years, there's no evidence that it works. I have seen no reliable studies that indicate that advertising produced with the benefit of planning is any more effective than advertising produced without it. (If you've got some, please send it to me and I promise I'll change my mind.) If clients are to be believed, advertising has actually become less effective in recent years -- in direct correlation with the ascendancy of account planning.
Account planning has done its job. It's helped us wrestle control of consumer insights away from client-side research departments (see this.) Now it's time to move on.

Do we need research and data? Absolutely. Do we need reliable information about consumer behavior? Absolutely. Do we need people who can synthesize insightful strategies? Absolutely. Do we need amateur anthropo-psycho-sociologists? No thank you.

We need a discipline for developing advertising and brand strategy that is...
a) based on recognizable principles
b) not tainted with pseudo-science
d) verifiable
I don't know what that is, but it ain't account planning.

Because this post seems to be generating a lot of intelligent comments, and because I have a real job, I don't have time to do justice to responses today. Please leave your comments and I'll respond  in my post tomorrow.

Note: Unfortunately all the comments from this post were lost along with thousands of others because of a crappy 3rd party commenting program. 

January 25, 2010

The Tweet Machine

If you have a Twitter account (yes, I am one of those wretched losers) you quickly learn how monumentally dull most people are.

I can't imagine that any sane person is pathetic enough to read all the Tweets he receives. But if you did, you would surely be driven to suicide.

So, I have an idea.

It's a way for the average brain-dead Twitterer to appear smart. Okay, maybe not smart, but at least conscious.

It's a website where you buy Tweets. I call it The Tweet Machine. You go to the website and find ready-made Tweets on virtually any topic you want.

You want to Tweet about advertising? You go to The Tweet Machine, you click on business, then you click on advertising, and there you find 100 ready-made Tweets about advertising, some complete with links. All you do is copy and paste.

We charge $5 a month to be a member.

I figure I can get this thing up and running for about a million bucks and make more money in the first week than Twitter will make this century.

Who's in?

Line Extension...
The Face Machine, ready-made status updates for Facebook.

January 22, 2010

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations on completing your first year in office.

I know you've had a tough week.  As your trusted advertising counselor, I feel obligated to write you this memo because I think you're getting bad advice.

I know nothing about politics or policy. But I know something about human behavior. It's kinda my job. I think I know what's going wrong, and how you can fix it.

I hope you'll excuse me for talking about this in advertising terms, but it's the language I speak best.

Let's start at the beginning. There are two types of voters -- Brand Loyalists and Product Examiners. The Brand Loyalists are essentially ideologues. They will vote for a Republican regardless of how corrupt he is or a Democrat regardless of how inept he is. They don't care. They're buying the brand. We need to forget about these people. They almost never decide elections.

We need to target the Product Examiners. These are people who vote for the product, not the brand. These people almost always decide elections.

What is the product? It is the net impression of a)the individual candidate b)the candidate's beliefs and policies c)the attractiveness of those with whom the candidate hangs.

Unlike the Brand Loyalists, the Product Examiners are discerning. They liked what they saw in you. They swept you into office.  They are now abandoning you in alarming numbers. You have been reading pundits and listening to counselors about why this is happening -- and I don't think they are giving you good information.

The reason for the recent poll drops and election losses is not necessarily about health care or jobs or national security. It is about something bigger and less concrete. It is about the perception on the part of Product Examiners that your administration is wasteful and incompetent.

These people hired you because they believed that their government was in the hands of incompetent people (the firm of Bush & Co.) They expected this to change. Instead they are now feeling that they are once again in the hands of incompetents.

You have made a few large mistakes. First, you outsourced the two most important initiatives of your first year -- the economic stimulus plan and health care reform. To allow congress to drive these initiatives was terribly misguided. You let the clowns take over the circus. (It is not easy to out-arrogant Cheney and Rumsfeld, but in the eyes of Product Examiners, Reid and Pelosi have managed to do it.)

The Product Examiners viewed the economic stimulus package as a hodgepodge of special interest payoffs and gross, frivolous spending. It's difficult to explain to these people how a $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film is a wise use of their money. Also, spending $650 million for digital tv converter box coupons is, unfortunately, not what our target considers prudent economic stimulus.

The handling of health care reform was also pretty gnarly. The smell of ineptitude on this will be difficult to overcome. Your people controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House, and yet, after a year of doing almost nothing but health care, they still couldn't agree on a coherent program.

The House had a bill that was 2,000 pages long. Twice the size of War and Peace. Our constitution itself is only 4 pages long.

The final straw was the payoffs -- the $300 million to the Senator from Nebraska; the $100 million to Louisiana. The exemption of labor unions and government employees (two of your most loyal constituencies) from the health insurance tax seemed particularly corrupt. Reneging on your promise to "sunlight" the process was viewed by our target as evidence of further unscrupulousness.

Here's the thing. Brand Loyalists will accept this stuff. Product Examiners will not.

There are some people you need to ignore:
  • People who say the electorate is angry and they'll vote against anyone in office
  • People who want you to argue that Bush was even worse. It may well be true, but it is clearly not selling
  • People who say the Massachusetts election was local and doesn't mean much
  • People who say it was a referendum about health care
  • People who say it's only conservatives, kooks, and Tea Party-ers who are disaffected
The Product Examiners are a wide, varied, and open-minded group. They are losing confidence in the capability of your administration. You need to change this immediately or your party will suffer severe losses and you will become a premature lame duck.

Now the good news.

People still like you. I believe Product Examiners still have confidence in your personal competence.  But you need to do some things really fast:
1. Get Pelosi and Reid off television. Democratic Brand Loyalists may love them, but to our target audience they have become poison and are the new symbols of Washington wastefulness, arrogance and incompetence.

2. Get a few small things done quickly and smoothly.  Forget the big stuff for a while. Get something done! Get what done? I don't know. Like I said, policy is not my category.
3. Here's the really tough one. One more terrorist problem (like Fort Hood or Detroit) and you're done. The facts surrounding these attacks have added significant weight to the appearance of governmental incompetence (I know. Bush invented this insane intelligence labyrinth, but it doesn't matter. You own it now.) You need to simplify the system. Most important, you need to fire all the lawyers who are running these security agencies and hire cops to run them.
4. You need to quit "branding." It's great that you're such an articulate, attractive guy. But, dude, you have to stop communicating and do something (see #2, above.) Remember what I told you a while back, "you want to have a strong brand? Quit branding. A strong brand is a by-product. It comes from doing a lot of other things right."
So that's it. Shall I send my invoice via mail, or just fax it over?

Have a nice day,


January 21, 2010

I Don't Know and I Don't Care

Yesterday I wrote
"It is possible that all the front-end work we do to find a suitable brand strategy is terrifically valuable and leads us to brilliant insights that inform our marketing decisions and make our advertising far more effective.  And it is equally possible that it is all a bunch of crap.
As far as I know, there's no scientific evidence either way."
The motivation for writing this was a column I read last week by David Brooks in The New York Times. Brooks was writing about the tragedy in Haiti. His point was that it is part natural disaster and part man-made disaster caused by poverty.

In the column he wrote that all the billions of dollars in aid that has been given to Haiti over the years by people and countries who thought they understood the causes and cures for poverty have been ineffective. But, he says, there are some approaches to poverty eradication that seem to work...
...the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care.
I certainly don't mean to trivialize poverty by using it as a metaphor for what we do in advertising, but there is a lesson for us here.

Most advertisers, and most agencies, would be so much better off if they didn't pretend they understood "all the factors that contributed to" consumer psychology, and instead just focused on changing consumer behavior.

They spend zillions of dollars trying to affect consumer "attitudes" (which almost always prove unshakable) when they should be spending their time and money focused on changing consumer behavior.

What do people think? I don't know and I don't care.

What do they do? That I can see and that I can affect.

January 20, 2010

Admitting What We Don't Know

A few years ago I wrote a post for this blog, and a chapter for my book (it's free here) called "Precision Guessing."  The thrust of the article was that, despite our pretensions, advertising and marketing people know almost nothing about human behavior.

Of course, we pretend we do and we have invented a whole lexicon and area of practice (account planning) built around our supposed knowledge.

But our "expertise" in this area is never actually put to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

Sometimes what we do works and sometimes it doesn't. All the research -- the focus groups and ethnography -- that lead to our brilliant insights are never revisited after the fact to find out what was real and what was not.

It either works and we keep the account, or it doesn't and we lose it.

I have never seen evidence that advertising created with the benefit of planning is any more effective than advertising created by a guy with a yellow pad sitting at a bar (which I frequently saw Hal Riney do at a joint called Reno Barsocchini's.)

So we are left with this: It is possible that all the front-end work we do to find a suitable brand strategy is terrifically valuable and leads us to brilliant insights that inform our marketing decisions and make our advertising far more effective.  And it is equally possible that it is all a bunch of crap.

As far as I know, there is no scientific evidence either way.

Let's call on our favorite genius, Richard Feynman, for some thoughts on this.

More about this tomorrow.

January 19, 2010

Marketing In The New Decade. It's All Different Again.

If you'd like to see what brand babble is going to look like in the coming decade, you can't do much better than reading a recent piece of gobbledygook from Adweek called, "5 Marketing Principles Brands Should Embrace in 2010."

We learn that in the new decade...
"Marketing becomes the product and the product becomes the marketing."
Oh, good. For dinner tonight,  I'll start with a little Ketel One marketing cocktail, then I'll have me some steak marketing with baked potato marketing. Then I'll jump in the old Toyota marketing and go see some movie marketing. I hate this decade already.

We also learn that...
While brands need to apply the same rigor the human-centric approach design thinking requires and while actionable insights are key, they're only half of the equation.
I've got $10 for the first person who can find a coherent subject in that sentence.
Just like people, brands are a sum of their experience.
So brands have experiences now, do they? Who do you think had a better weekend -- Jif or I Can't Believe It's Not Butter?  I heard that Meineke had a bad experience. They went to Chili's marketing for dinner and wound up needing Pepto-Bismol marketing.

Of course, marketing in the new decade isn't so different from the last decade that it can't use a nice big dose of that mega-cliche from the last decade -- the "conversation"
Shift from singular, consistent messages to multiple coherent ideas, from simplistic, one dimensional, reduced executions to complex, multidimensional, rich executions... Join the movement shifting from campaign thinking to conversation thinking.
And finally...
Y&R's recent Brand Asset Valuator found a 90 percent erosion in brand differentiation over the last 10 years.... a staggering statement of our industry's failure to add value in the past decade.
Or a staggering example of what you get when you listen to the brand babblers who hijacked marketing in the past decade. And are apparently here to stay.

Shameless Self-Promotion Alert...
If you're tired of the endless stream of brand babble and you'd like some jargon-free advice on how to create effective communication, click here for my semi-brilliant book. It's free and worth every penny.

January 18, 2010

Surge In TV Viewing

According to Reuters, a study by Deloitte released last month shows that the percent of Americans who...
"...ranked watching TV... as their favorite media activity,  (took) a 26 percent jump over 2008..."
This trend was predicted here at TAC over a year ago by the brilliant Susan Bandura who, in a guest post entitled Will The Recession Help TV? wrote...
"Now that even The Wall Street Journal has admitted we are in a recession, everyone has run amok with dire predictions about marketing and advertising....

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

Let’s see … everybody has a TV … people are staying at home more … consumption of entertainment usually goes up when the economy is down…

All of these factors say “more TV watching” as far as I’m concerned. Which means that TV advertising will make as much – if not more – sense than ever."
Of course, all the brain-dead lemmings believed the "TV is dead" nonsense perpetrated by branding "experts" and media pundits, and put their money into expensive, moronic online schemes while, according to Reuters...
...Average TV watching per week surged... last year, with Internet-savvy millenials -- the generation born between 1980 and 1995 -- charting the largest increase...(emphasis mine)

As we always say here in Ad Contrarianland, there's no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he's missing a trend.

Big thanks to Michael Gass for this

January 12, 2010

Thinking Inside The Box

Last week I spent several days in a drug-induced stupor as a result of a dental calamity.

During one period of semi-consciousness, I had a moment of perfect perspective about our lives and our universe. Of course, there is no such thing as perfect perspective, but with the aid of powerful pain-killers, the mind can do marvelous things.

It occurred to me that we have lost all perspective on who we are and what we do. This has happened in all aspects of our lives. Let's start with the largest and go down to the smallest.

Our Universe
One thing we have learned in the last hundred years is that our universe is enormous beyond any ability of the human mind to comprehend. There are no words to describe how vast the universe is or how small our world is. To say that our planet is a speck of dust is to exaggerate its size a billion fold.

And yet all our creation stories are ridiculously local. The creator comes to this one infinitesimal grain and disregards all others. Here he pays detailed attention to the goings on of a few families and tribes.

I suspect our place in the universe is not quite as central as we believe.

Our Planet
The controversy over climate change often devolves into hyperbolic arguments about whether we are destroying the planet.

We are certainly capable of destroying species -- and have done so with alarming regularity. We are probably capable of eradicating our own species. But destroying the planet? I doubt it.

Earth has been orbiting the sun for about 4.5 billion years. Our species has been here about 200,000 years or .00004 of that time. We are barely a footnote in the life of the Earth. The idea that we will be determining the fate of this planet seems like the most self-important kind of hubris.

There have been many mass extinctions of species in the history of our world. The planet seems to have taken no notice whatever. There will no doubt be more in the future. If we are foolish enough to precipitate our own mass extinction, I am pretty certain this will have not the slightest effect on the ultimate fate of our planet.

Saving the planet may be a nice catch-phrase, but the real challenge is saving ourselves.

Our Country
Those who don't understand evolution think that it is purpose-driven. That is, that there has been an inexorable march from slimy little mud-puppies to noble humans.

This is not at all how evolution happens. It is random and purposeless. Species mutate arbitrarily. Sometimes these changes are useful and help the individual survive or reproduce better. Mostly the changes are neutral or harmful and die out.

Many Westerners feel the same about their form of government. They believe that the arrow of history is inexorably pointed toward liberal democracy, such as we in the West currently enjoy. There is no guarantee that this is the case.

Democracy as we know it has been around for a few hundred years. There is little evidence that this system has any kind of long-term viability, and may just turn out to be a brief anomaly in the history of brutal, repressive regimes that have dominated human existence.

We are particularly arrogant in our attitudes toward the Chinese. American politicians like to lecture China about its system. We pompously point out that if they are to become a successful modern economy like us they need to adopt our political values.

Meantime we owe them trillions of dollars. Our homes and cars and flat screen tv's are bought with the money our government has borrowed from them and loaned cheaply to us. If they suddenly demanded their money back, we'd be in deep snow.

It's like your brother-in-law giving you sermons about his fabulous success while he owes you thousands of dollars.

From last weekend's New York Times Review of Books
China was the wealthiest, most unified and most technologically advanced civilization until well into the 18th century.... It lost that position some 200 years ago as the industrial revolution got under way in Europe. Scholars once viewed China as having crippling social, cultural and political defects that underscored the superiority of the West. But given the speed and strength of China’s recent growth, those defects have begun to look more like anomalies. It is the West’s run of dominance, not China’s period of malaise, that could end up being the fluke....
Our Profession
I have a very bad habit of judging books not by their covers, but by their titles.

There is a certain type of book that I particularly despise. It is entitled "The End of -------," insert subject.

We've had "The End of History" and "The End of Physics" and "The End of Art" and "the end" of just about everything else you can imagine.

Meanwhile, history and physics and art seem to be going along just fine.

This type of book is always a fraud. It is either wrong, or it is not really about what it says it's about.

If it's really about "the end" of something, it's invariably mistaken. But if it's about the end of something "as we know it," it's really about changes in that something. Which is just an indication that the something is very much alive and not at all at an end.

Well, now we have The End of Marketing As We Know It, by Sergio Zyman, who is a big-shot marketing brain. I haven't read it, so I can't comment on the content. But I have read the title, so I can comment on that.

As I've said a thousand times in this blog, advertising isn't dead or ending and neither is marketing.

Did marketing change when the computer was invented? Yes. Did it change when cable was introduced? Yes. Did it change when the internet became popular? Yes. This is what shit does. It happens, and it changes.

But to say that it's ending is just baloney.

Here at The Ad Contrarian we're in the business of fighting hyperbole, hypocrisy, and bullshit.

If you think we're at the end of marketing, all you have to do is look at any blimp, t-shirt, dry cleaning bag, stadium cup holder,  grocery receipt, license plate frame, or bus bench to understand that every square inch of the fucking planet is covered in marketing.

The end of marketing as we know it? Sorry, no such luck.

January 11, 2010

Ducks Deluxe

Sometimes success in advertising is not pretty.

A perfect example of that is Aflac. Personally, I have always hated that duck campaign. It reminds me of some annoying, gimmicky throwback to the 50's or 60's.

Nonetheless, it was very successful. As a matter of fact, in a category that is replete with advertising that is invisible, lame and ineffectual, it was successful beyond any reasonable expectation.

In 2006,  I read that Aflac had hired a new cmo. I read some comments from this guy and I knew the agency was in trouble.

It was typical MBA drivel from someone who was well positioned to screw the whole thing up and clearly had no appreciation for what the agency had done.

Soon I noticed that the Aflac advertising, which up until then had only been mildly annoying, turned into witless, hysterical shrieking.

Apparently that guy didn't last long. They hired a new cmo last year, and a few weeks ago the other shoe dropped. The agency was fired.

Listen to this bullshit:
"... Aflac is looking to leverage our marketing investment in the most effective, efficient and creative manner to ensure relevance across all channels to fully support our sales efforts."
Oh, now I see...

The most frustrating part of running an ad agency is that sometimes you are at the mercy of people you wouldn't hire to sweep the lobby.

January 08, 2010

Tech Breakthrough Of The Decade

The new decade is only in its second week, and already science has produced a technological breakthrough that will be a boon to mankind for years to come.

The Ford Motor Company announced today that it will introduce a new feature in some of its 2010 model cars that will read you your tweets while you're driving!

This may very well be the most important technological breakthrough since Coors developed the label that turns blue when beer is cold.

Now connectedness maniacs can have something else to distract them when they should be paying attention to the fucking road.

Good job, Ford!

January 07, 2010

Are You Sick Of This Blog?

It's The Heavy User, Stupid
For years, we here at Ad Contrarian global headquarters have been preaching that the key to marketing success in most categories is to attract the category heavy user (if you haven't already read my semi-brilliant book, you can download it here free.) An interesting article on how this idea affects media strategy is available here. (Via George Parker)
Biggest "End of the World" Story of the Decade
The last week of 2009, we asked our readers to vote for the most hysterical media story of the decade. Here are the top 5 results.
1. Y2K -          51%
2. Swine Flu - 16%
3. Bird Flu -      7%
4. SARS -          6%
5. Mad Cow -    5%
Write-in candidate: Global warming (climate change) was by far the leading write-in choice.

We Knew It All Along
According to 50 Things We Know Now That We Didn't Know This Time Last Year,
"Grumpy people think more clearly because negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking."
Thanks to Thomas Stack for this.

Are You Sick Of This Blog?
Or Twitter? Or Facebook? Or all of it? Social Media Suicide quickly and easily removes all traces of social media from your computer and your life. Just go to SuicideMachine.org

The Value of Twitter Followers
Read about it here. 
Thanks to Tucker "The Brain" Perry for this.

January 06, 2010

Conversation With A Creative Director

Recently I had lunch with a head creative guy at a successful agency who works on some very successful brands. I am not going to reveal his identity as his clients may be listening.

He had some interesting things to say.  I will be paraphrasing throughout.

First he said, aside from the paycheck, there are only two good reasons to work in advertising. First, to hang around with funny people. And second, to do cool stuff every once in a while.

Then he started lamenting. He said the funny people have either stopped being funny or have "moved to New Jersey." He said the young creative people he is working with are still motivated and talented, but take themselves way too seriously. They don't have a sense of the "absurdity of most of what we do."

But what's really bothering him is the work he's doing. He said that although his clients were all doing well and were satisfied with his agency, he felt that "I haven't done anything cool in years. My clients think an ad is a brief with pictures."

He lamented the quality of client people he is working with. "They may know the language of marketing, but they don't know what makes a good ad. Every time I try to put some spin on the ball, there are 10 of them trying to take the spin off."

In an era in which there is so much "marketing communication," you'd think clients would be starving for fresh ideas. This guy says no.

He says that they talk a good game, but when push comes to shove they all want advertising that looks and sounds like advertising.

What do you think?

January 05, 2010

10 for '10

Since it's the beginning of a new year, and I'm on vacation, and I'm feeling expansive, and everyone's always telling me how negative I am, and it's a beautiful day, and spring training is only 6 weeks away, and I had a cocktail with lunch, I thought I'd try something new.

So here are 10 ideas that most ad people have never considered that might help us all be more successful in the ad biz in 2010.

The 10 Commandments of Advertising.
1. Tell your clients the truth.
2. Speak in plain English.
3. Put your clients' interests ahead of your own.
4. Be guided by principles, not fads.
5. Be modest in your promises.
6. Make every client meeting as small and short as possible.
7. Never bring up an issue unless you have a recommended solution.
8. Never congratulate yourself or your agency.
9. Be more prepared than your client.
10. Always have a Plan B.