February 26, 2010

Friday Follow-Up

Me and The Prez
Last month I gave my client, the President, some brilliant advice. Like many clients, he seems to be doing a great job of ignoring it. Worst of all, the invoice remains unpaid.

The Last Honest Man In Washington
Joe Biden, caught on tape yesterday: "It's easy being vice president — you don't have to do anything."

Which reminds me of a great quote from former veep Nelson Rockefeller. When asked how he liked his job, "I never wanted to be vice president of anything."

Hiring Update
A few weeks ago I posted a piece about hiring here on TAC. I'm happy to say that we've already hired a few people who came through that post and are close on a few more. To the creative people who sent us stuff, we apologize. We are way behind, but hope to catch up in the next week.

Believing My Own BS
Maybe I've been reading my own posts too much, but I have a feeling that the social media tide is turning. It certainly is not turning for the people who are making money from it (social media "experts", and agencies.) But I think it is turning for those who are being asked to pay for it.

I'm starting to think the bubble is getting a little to big. Companies are going to stop rushing into social media because everyone else is, and are going to start to ask the tough questions -- like, why the hell do I need this?

There Is Still Some Good In The World
Spring training started this week.

It's Friday. Pour Yourself A Glass Of Wine And Enjoy!
Thanks to Scrapper for this.

February 25, 2010

Conversations About Brands. Really? Where?

On Tuesday, in 3 Out Of 4 Don't Trust Their Friends we commented on a study out of Edelman that found that 75% of the people they polled don't have a high level of confidence in recommendations about businesses or products made by their friends or peers.

For people who don't read The Ad Contrarian, this finding may have come as a surprise. To Ad Contras, nothing new.

This finding calls into question the "conversation" philosophy that social media marketing is built on.

You can be pretty sure that social media hustlers (oops, experts) will soon be looking for ways to shoot holes in this finding. They've got too much invested in social media marketing to admit that much of it is a crock of shit.

A good post from a social media advocate can be found here* - Will Social Media Eat Itself. Unlike most social media proponents, the writer of this piece at least can think straight and write a coherent sentence. She doesn't write in cliches and jargon and she's not in denial about the facts, like most agencies will be. (You can bet agencies won't be showing the Edelman report to their clients any time soon. Too much money to be made in social media.)

Another intelligent post** from someone who is not quite so sanguine about social media marketing is called Social Media Is Terrible At Promoting Products. In it, the writer says something we've been saying for a long time, but not as cleverly...
"Social media is great at promoting social media experts but useless at promoting actual products and companies."
For those surprised by the Edelman findings, here's something from a TAC post from last year called The Emperor's New Podcast.
"...I'm a member of several online social communities and here's what we're about: we waste as much time as is legally permissible talking about the stupid shit we're doing. We're having conversations about sex, and booze, and sports, and politics, and, parties, and dinners, and music and did I mention sex?, and just about everything else you can imagine that's irresponsible and silly. However, the one thing I have absolutely never experienced in an online social environment is the one thing the social media marketing maniacs think we're doing -- having conversations about brands.

When it comes to product "conversations" the web is quickly becoming a cruel joke. It's being spammed by interested parties, jammed by morons, and laughed at by people who really know their stuff.

Does anyone with an ounce of knowledge about food take "peer-to-peer" restaurant reviews on the web seriously? Or hotel recommendations? Or car recommendations?

The trustworthy, knowledgeable online recommendations come from the pros on their sites, not the pathetic wankers on Twitter or Facebook or CitySearch."
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Apparently, there's at least one person who agrees with me...

* Thanks again to Elise for this
** Thanks to Jenn Winnem for this

February 24, 2010

Social Media Marketing Ecosystem Explained

Here at The Ad Contrarian world headquarters, there's nothing we like better than a good ecosystem.

So when we came across* this awesome ecosystem for social media marketing, well, how do you resist that?

Now, we know some of you Luddites just aren't up-to-date on these things. So, as a service to our readers, we are publishing the attached chart of the social media marketing ecosystem which we hijacked from some social media website.

Give it a good once over, and then a comprehensive explanation follows.

The explanation:

As you can see, the World Wide Web has 4 big shaded circles and some small blue ones. There are also boxes that resemble credit cards and brown things shaped like stop signs. The whole thing kind of looks like the nucleus of an atom designed by Congress. On the inside of all these shapes there are words that make social media geeks go vaporous, like "Twitter" and "YouTube." On the outside there are arrows. The arrows go back and forth and crisscross and if they were made of wool they'd make a nice sweater. Sadly, two of MSN's stop signs have been ejected from the nucleus, but please don't tell Bill Gates about this or we'll all be in deep shit.

There you go.

Okay, so I don't want to hear anymore of this crap that I don't understand social media.

*Big thanks to Guest for this.

February 23, 2010

3 Out Of 4 Don't Trust Their Friends

Oh, boy. The social media marketing crowd are going to have a hysterectomy over this one.

According to a new study called "Trust Barometer"* done by Edelman, 3 out of 4 people do not trust their friends and peers as credible sources of information about products or companies.

Not only that, in the past two years, the number of people who trust recommendations from friends and peers has dropped almost in half, from 45% to 25%. You can find a summary of the study here.

Perhaps the most devastating aspect of this study is how it undermines the foundational myth of social media marketing hustlers. Their precious "conversations" are apparently a whole lot less powerful than they would have us believe.

These findings support other reports about consumer indifference to social media marketing. Nine months ago, Online Media Daily reported that "less than 5% of social media users regularly turn to... social networks for 'guidance on purchase decisions.'" They concluded that "the influence of social media isn't at the bottom of the list, but it is somewhere in the long tail of marketing."

Believe it or not, while consumer confidence in messages conveyed by peers dropped 13% in the past year (45% to 39%), confidence in messages coming from CEOs actually gained in confidence by 50% (17% to 26%). Try and figure that one out.

The key point here is that social media marketing zealotry is constructed on very few facts and a whole Rube Goldberg apparatus of speculation, assumptions, assertions and inferences about the power of "conversations."

If only 1 in 4 people have confidence in recommendations from friends and peers -- including known friends and peers -- imagine how few have confidence in unknown "friends and peers" on wanker social sites.

Like I've been saying for a long time, the bigger social media gets, the more suspect social media marketing gets.

You can trust me on this. I'm a CEO.

By the way...
...you can expect this study to generate a lot of hyperventilated and killing-the-messenger among the "conversational" class. Agencies, on the other hand, will bury it as quickly as possible. Too much money in social media. I'll be writing more about this on Thursday.

*Big thanks to Elise for this story.

February 22, 2010

The Best Idea Is No Idea

Back in the middle ages, when I was a creative director, there was a period in which I used to hear stuff like this...
"We're going to shoot this over-cranked..."
"We're going to use stop motion photography..."
"We're going to take stills and hand-tint each frame..."
As I broke the storyboards over the creative teams' heads, I would explain to the them that production was not an idea.

Then there was a period when editing became the substitute for an idea. Then attitude became a substitute for an idea.

Now the favorite excuse for not having an idea is technology.

In fact, in the world of web marketing there is a growing movement among techno-dolts to try to marginalize the very idea of having an idea. A big idea is no longer necessary they say.

The web (i.e., technology) has made ideas passe, they say. Instead, we'll just throw a million little tactics at the problem.

You see, according to these guys, ideas are too risky. They sometimes fail.

The shocking thing is that there are marketers so frightened and timid they have actually bought into this. And there are marketing "experts" who take it seriously.

This point of view, of course, is the ultimate hiding place for people with more confidence in pie charts than in talent or judgment.

New age marketing madness has reached the point where the best idea is no idea.

February 19, 2010

If Someone Finds My Brain, Please Return It

If you no longer have use for your brain, and you would like to use your cranial cavity for, say, storing Pop Tarts, I would suggest you read "Why Brands Are Becoming Media."

I tried to read the whole thing but my little gray cells started to melt and ooze out my ears.

It is a horrifying example of the kind of social media double-talk that makes me want to go into the street and kill people.

Here's a little sample...
"One of the greatest challenges I encounter today is not the willingness of a brand to engage, but its ability to create. When blueprinting a social media strategy, enthusiasm and support typically derails when examining the resources and commitment required to produce regular content.

Indeed, we are programing the social web around our brand hub, which requires a consistent flow of engaging and relevant social objects. Social objects are the catalysts for conversations — online and in real life — and they affect behavior within their respective societies.
What language is this? What planet does it come from?

Thanks for this to Philip O'Neill.

February 18, 2010

Free Is The New Stupid

In October 2009, Newsday, a popular newspaper in the NYC area, began to charge $5 a month to subscribe to its online content. Newsday has about 400,000 daily readers and about 450,000 weekend readers. After three months, Newsday's online content had 35 paid subscribers.
One of the dumbest ideas to have come out of the internet is the idea that everything on the web should be free.

This idea has been glorified in a book called Free by Chris Anderson, the editor in chief at Wired and author of another suspect theory, The Long Tail.

Without going too deep, the premise is that intellectual property on the web, unlike that in the real world, should have no economic value. Instead, artists should give away their music, art, literature, inventions -- everything -- free on the web, and by some magic process they'll make it all back by giving lectures or something.

Of course, Anderson himself isn't giving anything away. You want his book? $17.81 at Amazon.

Now, enter a voice of reason. Jaron Lanier, a tech genius who invented the term "virtual reality" and had a hand in lots of important tech stuff we take for granted today, has written a book called "You Are Not A Gadget."

From a review of Lanier's book:
Lanier is at his most convincing while parsing the illogic of the open source/open culture direction of the Internet. His position is that the price we pay for free content... is a severe devaluing of individual human creation.
Lanier is right.

As I said in an interview with AdPulp last year...
Artists' works used to be among the most highly valued of commodities and were protected by law. While technically they still are, the laws seem virtually unenforceable...
Online content is now expected to be free. AdPulp has several thousand readers a day. You're entitled to something for the news/entertainment/information you provide them. I know how hard you work. You work all day, every day to provide it. But they expect it for free. Why? Do they work for free?
From an article about Lanier that you should read...
This is partly why Lanier is wary of what he calls the "information shall be free" religion. In a fair and sustainable economy, he says, why shouldn't the 16-year-old who made a mashup video that generated 1 million views for YouTube get paid? 

"We're destroying the creative middle classes; we're destroying reporters, illustrators, songwriters - and we're not really creating a new industry," he says. "We're creating a kind of centralized set of server-operators."
Of course, Lanier is being denounced as a Luddite by the infantile morons who think they're entitled to everything free because they're alive.

"Free" is just a massive transfer of wealth from those who create things to those, like Google, who aggregate access to them.

February 17, 2010

The Age of the Complicator, Part 4

"There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules... They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art."  Bill Bernbach, 1947
As advertising and marketing have become more sophisticated, more technologically advanced, and more populated with well-trained specialists, we are constantly reminded by clients that it has also become less effective.

We blame the problem on environmental issues -- clutter, disengaged consumers, proliferation of media. Anything but us.

But the problem is systemic. We've lost our way. We are no longer clear on the purpose of advertising. We have invented a whole culture of obfuscation and catalog of false goals.

We want to engage consumers. We want to have conversations with consumers. We want to have relationships with consumers. And in the process, we have forgotten the essential purpose of advertising -- to persuade consumers.

So how do we bring advertising back down to Earth?

First, we have to remove the word "branding" from our vocabulary. It has lost its meaning and has become a catch-all cliche to justify pretty much anything we can convince a client to spend money on. Someone please tell me one thing you can't put a client's logo on and call "branding."

Next we have to realize that successful brands are by-products. They don't come about by "branding." They come about by doing lots of other things well. Like making great products; satisfying our customers; differentiating our products in advertising.

Then we have to understand that the most efficient, most effective, most durable way to build a brand is to sell someone something.  Experiencing a product is a thousand times more powerful than experiencing an ad. Getting someone to try your product is far and away the best way to build your brand.

It is also the most efficient way to engage consumers, have conversations with them, and build a relationship with them. The engagement/conversation/relationship crowd are confused about cause and effect. You don't sell someone something by engagement, conversation and relationship. You create engagement, conversation and relationships by selling them something.

Which leads us back to the simple art of advertising. We are not anthropologists, sociologists or psychologists. We are creative people. We have to get all the sidewalk psychologists, all the jargon-babbling planners, all the anthropologists-without-shovels out of the way.

We have to clear out all the human speed-bumps and detour signs. We don't need more strategists. We need better creative people.

We have to identify and hire a new generation of creative people and let them do what they do best -- charm and persuade.

We are salesmen. Get used to it.

February 16, 2010

The Age of the Complicator, Part 3

Today we continue with Part 3 of a 4-part series called "The Age of the Complicator."

One of the reasons advertising has become so complicated is that we have lost confidence in the creative process.

Nobody trusts creative directors any more. They used to lead, now they need to be led.

We used to trust that they understood business. We used to trust that they understood what motivated people. We used to trust that they knew how to sell someone something.

Then a complication arose. Advertising stopped being about selling, and became about "branding." We no longer sell products. We build brands.

Nobody really understands what branding means, other than it requires lots of sweaty athletes and very few product shots.

Nobody really understands why "building a brand" is different from selling stuff.

The role of creative directors has changed. They no longer need to understand business, or what motivates people, or how to sell something. Instead, they need to be sociologists. They need to be able to interpret cultural phenomena and foresee trends. They need to understand where a brand fits and what it means in the lives of consumers.

Others have been brought in to help them figure out what they should be doing. Yes, they are still allowed to make the ad, but they aren't trustworthy enough to figure out what the ad should be about. They need people to figure that out for them. (Don't get me wrong. It's not like a lot of them don't deserve what they got. It's not like there aren't plenty of frauds, popinjays, and deadbeats...)

Once the ad runs, success and failure are hard to define.

The ad may sell stuff, but it may not do a good job of "branding."  If the ad fails to sell, well, no worries, mate. It wasn't intended to. It's a "branding" ad.

Advertising has become so complicated, and we are so confused, we don't even know what we're trying to do anymore.

Next, the final part of this series. How do we un-complicate advertising?

February 12, 2010

Web Bashing: It's Not Just A Hobby, It's A Lifestyle.

Attention "TV Is Dead" Maniacs
Last week's Super Bowl was the most watched show in the history of television.

Attention Web Advertising Hustlers
In the past two years clicking on web ads has dropped 50%.
If that isn't bad enough, 85% of the clicking is done by 8% of the people.

The Amazing Power Of Web Advertising (Yes, This is Irony)
The wonderful Google spot that everyone in advertising is talking about was actually posted by Google on YouTube three months ago* and has been up there ever since. Nobody but a few social media circle jerks even knew it existed. It airs once on TV. Explosion.

Morons And Their Mouths
Of all the stupid things said about the Super Bowl last week, the stupidest was this:
“Why was Google, in the forefront of the movement from old advertising to new, legitimizing TV by buying a spot in the Super Bowl?” asked Gary M. Stibel, chief executive at the New England Consulting Group.
Why? Because it works, schmuck (see "The Amazing Power Of Web Advertising" above.)
Legitimize TV advertising? Where's this guy been for 60 years?
I guess he believes it's not legitimate unless Google says so. Consultant? Perfect.

Web Metrics: Remind Me Not To Laugh
A few weeks ago I wrote about the unreliability of web metrics. Yesterday I got an email from another service claiming to measure the popularity of advertising blogs. According to this service, there is a blog that averages zero posts a week and is ranked higher than TAC. I'd like to know how that works.

Then there are two blogs that I know for a fact (I know the bloggers) have higher readership than TAC and are ranked way behind us. What a bunch of crap.

And Now Something Good About The Web


This guy's name is Michael Paul Smith. His work with miniatures is amazing. This shot was done without photoshop. View his work here. I suggest you view it in "slideshow" mode**.

*Thanks to Sharon Krinsky for this. 
**Thanks to John Lewis for this.

"The Age of the Complicator" series has been very popular so far (thanks). Part 3 posts on Tuesday.

February 11, 2010

Yes, Someone Is Hiring

I rarely mix this personal blog with agency business, but once in a while it makes sense.

I'm proud to say that we are single-handedly leading America out of The Great Recession. How, you ask? By doing some hiring. Yup, that ought to do it.

We need some good people for our San Francisco office and I’ve been wondering, where can we find the most brilliant minds in advertising?

Hmmm...thinking...thinking...thinking....wait a minute...

Duh! Right here at The Ad Contrarian.

And it's so much cheaper than a headhunter.

So here are the positions we are looking to fill.
  • Creative Director/Group CD (2)
  • Junior Copywriter
  • Junior Art Director
  • Edit Suite Assistant
  • Account Executive
  • Account Coordinator (2)
  • Director, Brand Strategy
  • Data Analyst
  • Sr. Media Planner
  • Administrative Assistant
Here are some particulars:
Creative Directors: We are looking for 2. Each will direct the strategy, concept, and execution on 2 major accounts. Each will have at least one and perhaps two creative teams working under him/her. You need significant experience supervising the creative work on both brand and retail accounts. You will report to the Chief Creative Officer, and believe me, she's no picnic. Please, no aristocrats or brand babblers.

Junior Copywriter: Write for all media on a variety of significant accounts. Keep your mouth shut and learn.

Junior Art Director: Same as above, only with crayons.
Edit Suite Assistant: Manage our video editing suite and assist senior editors. Make sure stuff doesn't disappear.

Account Exec: Assist in the day-to-day agency operations on a significant retail account. Don't complicate the shit out of everything.

Director, Brand Strategy: Help us create jargon-free, effective strategies by clearly analyzing business situations and synthesizing intelligent communication strategies. If you use the word "conversation" you will be fired.
Account Coordinators: Do whatever you're told. We need two of these.
Data Analyst: Try to figure out all the numbers our clients send us.

Sr. Media Planner: You need significant experience putting the right stuff in the right place.  You need to know new media and you need to be able to think of stuff we haven't already thought of.

Admin Assistant: Keep our president under control. Good luck.
If you are interested in one of these jobs, please do the following:

1. First, don't call. I'm sorry but we just don't have time to answer calls. If you call you will not be considered.

2. Send an email to jobs@hoffmanlewis.com. In the email:
a) state why you think you would be good for the job in fewer than 50 words
b) include a resume or link to your website
c) if you don't want us contacting you at the email address you are sending from, please provide an alternative
d) all emails will be treated confidentially
3. If you want to check out our website, it's here.

The Age of the Complicator, Part 3, is coming soon.

February 10, 2010

The Age of the Complicator, Part 2

Yesterday we began a 4-part series called The Age of the Complicator. This is Part 2.

The art of advertising is really quite simple: Find something that makes your product seem more appealing than the other guy's and find an interesting way to communicate it.

Put a straightforward idea like this into the hands of today's advertising professional, however, and he will quickly turn it into a dog's breakfast. You'll wind up with planners and analysts and strategists and managers and global chief something-or-others of all types.

A process will soon develop. The process will consist of meetings and briefings and presentations and downloads and uploads. Anathema to the process will be sitting and thinking.

Something that should take a day and a half will take two months. But that's okay. The hours are billable.

Every now and then, as a byproduct of all this activity, an ad will appear somewhere.

When the ad appears, it won't actually be about the product.  It will be about the "lifestyle" of the user. Or about what the product means in the emotional make-up of the user. Or, maybe, it won't be an ad at all. Maybe it will be a "conversation" pretending not to be about the product.

Where's the logic in all this?

You see, the more complicated the process, the more powerful we ad people are. If advertising is just about finding something appealing and communicating it...well, anyone can do that, right?

But if advertising is about the mysterious workings of the consumer's mind, and the arcane elements of cognition, well, now we've got ourselves a nice little business.

So we can't afford to have just one smart person sitting around trying to figure out an interesting way to make a product more appealing. We need to surround her with planners and analysts and strategists and managers and global chief something-or-others of all types.

Advertising is the only sport on the planet in which 20% of the team are players and 80% are equipment managers.

This series continues later this week with Part 3. In it we describe why "advertising has become so complicated, and we are so confused, we don't even know what we're trying to do."

February 09, 2010

The Age of the Complicator, Part 1

Today we begin a 4-part series called "The Age of the Complicator."

There are two kinds of people. Simplifiers and complicators.

I have spent my advertising career (now going on its 200th year) trying to find simplifiers and avoid complicators.

Next to talent, the most important quality an ad person can have is the ability to simplify.

Every ad problem is a mystery. There are a million things to say about any product or brand. A simplifier understands the difference between what is essential and what is peripheral. A simplifier can clear a path through the jungle.

To a complicator, on the other hand, everything has equal weight. He is unable to do the most essential of all strategic tasks -- eliminate the unnecessary.

One well-placed complicator can easily undo the work of 10 simplifiers.  

The best way to test whether someone is a simplifier or a complicator is to ask her to create a PowerPoint presentation. It doesn't matter what the topic is. Just pick a topic and ask her to do a PowerPoint about it.

A simplifier's presentation will have fewer slides, fewer words on each slide, and will tell a logical story.

A complicator's presentation will try to cover every base. Instead of focusing on the subject, she will attempt to guess what you had in mind by giving her the assignment, and will build her presentation around that.

We have all sat through meetings that should have taken 10 minutes but took 90. We have all seen art directors un-sell work that clients have already bought. We have all seen account executives exasperate an intelligent client by asking unnecessary questions or bringing up irrelevant issues. We have all sat through impenetrable presentations and wanted to stick knives in our heads.

And we've all been delighted when a simplifier has gotten up and cleared away the fog.

The advertising industry, in fact the whole of marketing, is now sinking in the quicksand of complicators. They are in charge. This is the era of the complicator.

Later this week, Part 2 . In which we describe why "advertising is the only sport on the planet in which 20% of the team are players and 80% are equipment managers."

February 08, 2010

The Obligatory Super Bowl Post

It's Super Bowl Monday.  The day when every half-wit in America gets to play creative director -- including bloggers.

In order to keep my contrarian credentials, I'm not going to talk about the advertising.

Okay, maybe just a little.

A few observations.
  • When does John Madden get back?
  • Loved Sean Payton's guts 
  • Carrie Underwood missed the note on "...brave" by about 30 yards
  • The Who? Really? Glad to see the old formula still holding up -- the bigger the laser show, the worse the music.
  • The only spot that made me laugh out loud took 25 minutes to shoot and consists of three people sitting on a sofa -- Letterman, Winfrey, Leno.
  • GoDaddy continued its run of alarming witlessness.
  • Looks like another good year at the movies for morons. 
  • US Census advertising -- the biggest waste of your tax money since... I don't know, the AIG bailout?
  • The least expensive spot on the Super Bowl and a good one -- Google. 
  • Denny's Free Grand Slam Breakfast -- terrific use of Super Bowl.
  • The animation on the baby's lips in the eTrade spots has definitely improved.
  • That Tim Tebow thing broke one of my cardinal rules -- no spots with athlete's mothers
  • Huh? -- Bridgestone, Kia, Emerald Nuts + Pop Secret, BoostMobile, Doritos, Monster
  • Dove for Men? -- Wrong
  • Long run for short slide -- CarsDotCom 
  • Betty White -- Still funny after all these years
  • Dodge Charger -- Politically dangerous. I liked it
  • Coke (Simpsons) -- nice
  • Clydesdales -- The final thud? 
  • Taco Bell (Barkley) & Dr Pepper (Kiss) -- Oy 
  • Is the talking animal thing finally over?
  • But seriously, when does John Madden get back?

February 04, 2010

Bob And The Beancast

Here at Ad Contrarian global headquarters, our first order of business is to call 'em as we see 'em.

Last week I got account planners all aflutter and atwitter when I said planning needed to die. Honestly, I didn't think it was so harsh. In a previous post I said it was the planners that needed to die, not the planning. But that was back when I was young and opinionated.

Naturally, lots of commenters said I was a moron and explained to me how I just didn't get it. You know, the usual.

This week, a marketing industry podcast (who knew podcasts still existed?) called the Beancast took up the topic.

Four very important marketing people (VIMPs) discussed my rant and did a pretty good job of making it seem almost reasonable.

The moderator was Bob Knorpp. The panelists were:
If you'd like to hear their discussion, it's below. (Just as an aside, you have to be a freaking electrical engineer to get audio onto a Blogger post. After exploring 10 different ways of doing it, what I ultimately had to do was turn it into a Quicktime movie, upload it to YouTube, then embed it in the post. This whole thing must have been designed by a fucking account planner. Anyway, that's why you have to look at my stupid logo while you're listening to it.)

But seriously, thanks to Bob, Edward, Sally, Len and Abbey. To hear the whole show, go here.

By the way, the quote of mine they screwed up on the podcast was this, "the creative department makes the advertising and everyone else makes the arrangements."

February 03, 2010

Who's Making Money From Social Media?

The hysteria over social media raises an interesting question.

Are agencies all drooling about it because it's good for their clients? Or good for them?

Another way to pose the question is this: Who's actually benefiting from the social media frenzy? Marketers or agencies?

Evidence of the efficacy of social media is pretty thin on the ground. As with all marketing crazes, there are a few anecdotal successes. We've all heard the legend of Zappos and the story of Dell.

But with every company in the universe racing headlong into the world of social media, you'd think there'd be more concrete evidence of its success.

Of course, nobody wants to publicize their failures. When I speak to many agency people off the record there's a lot of enthusiasm for having a new source of income -- but not much belief that it's actually doing very much for their clients' businesses.

We all remember not long ago when having a website was going to be a guarantee of fabulous business success and fame. Now, a website is mainly just a cost of doing business (like a Yellow Pages listing) and is not much of a change maker, except to online retailers.

It looks like social media is headed the same way.

Two things I read yesterday lead me to believe that social media may be a nice source of revenue for ad agencies, but not much of a boon to marketers. The first was a piece called Are Marketers Creating A Social Media Bubble*, by Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst for Millward Brown.

Hollis says...
"All of this leads me to believe that social media is no way for a mass market brand to disrupt the status quo... unless you do it right...you risk undermining your brand rather than strengthening it."
Perhaps the most telling statement about social media was contained in the headline of an email I received yesterday touting an agency conference about emerging media...
"Emerging Media: 100% More Fun + 200% More Billable"
It's pretty clear that someone's making money from social media. But I'm not sure it's the people who are paying for it.

*Thanks to "tom-nonbeliever" for this.

February 02, 2010

Who Needs The "R"

Yesterday was February 1st.

Every February 1st I have the same thought. Why the extra R in February? Why?

Nobody needs it. Nobody uses it. Most people don't even pronounce it.

January doesn't have it. It's not Janruary. So why February?

Isn't this month crappy enough without giving it such a lousy name? All it has going for it is President's Day and,  honestly, with the last few presidents we've had, there really ain't much here to celebrate.

It's not even a legitimate month. It's too short and it's way too complicated. Most years it has 28 days. But if the year is divisible by 4 it has 29 days. Except if the year is divisible by 100. But not if it's divisible by 400. You see how screwed up this month is?

And how about the poor bastards who are born on leap year and only get birthday cake every 4 years? (Except if the year is divisible by 100. But not...oh, never mind). Can't they sue or something?

And count on America to make February Black History Month. Couldn't we give them a decent fucking month? Haven't we screwed them enough?

I say we give the extra R to a month that needs it. Like May.

Wouldn't May be more interesting if it had an R. It could be Mary. You see what I mean? The R is doing some good in May. In February it's just sitting there making a shitty month shittier.

Or we could give the R to the 3 R's and then we'd have the 4 R's -- reading, 'riting, rocking, and 'rithmetic. All of a sudden, education sounds better.

Or how about giving it Toys R Us. They have that stupid-ass backward R. A proper R would do them some good. What the hell is it doing for February?

Where does the name February even come from? Probably some asshole Roman emperor.

I think Washington should pass a law saying that no month can have more than one R. It would make February a little less irritating. And it would give congress something useful to do.

February 01, 2010

The Social Value of Maniacs

Regular readers know two of my prejudices:

1. Skepticism about the power of social media.

2. The importance of marketing to the heavy user in a category.

Unless you are competing in a high interest category (entertainment, sports, wine, etc.) the idea that people are going to find online social interest in your brand is likely to be an expensive pipe dream.

The stuff that most of us sell -- motor oil, peanut butter, socks, and insurance -- is probably not going to play a significant role in the online social life of many people, regardless of what the social media hustlers say.

But there may be a way for brands in low-interest categories to find value in social media.

The answer, once again, is "the heavy user, stupid."

In most categories there are maniacs. The maniacs tend to have unusual interest in the category,  unusual knowledge of the category, and unusually high spending in the category. These people are also unusually influential. We all know someone who's an audio maniac, for example, and when it's time to buy headphones we ask him what to buy.

A smart social media strategy may be to determine what it is about the category that motivates and interests these unusual people, and build a social strategy around that, rather than the product itself.

Don't worry about how many members/visitors/contributors your effort is reaching. Just make sure you're reaching the maniacs.