July 29, 2010


There is no shortage of idiotic online schemes.

The latest one to draw the hysterical attention of the advertising trade media is "crowdsourcing." Crowdsourcing is essentially a way to get unemployed free-lancers to work for you on the cheap. If that's your idea of a good time, have at it.

I have it on pretty good authority that one of the first major ventures into clownsourcing has been a complete failure.

Apparently a clownsourcing  agency, which recently opened to great fanfare, was hired to do a campaign for a major telecom company. According to what I've heard, the campaign has been a total disaster. It hasn't just failed to attract new customers, it has cost the client thousands of existing customers.

Here's what I don't understand.

Advertising is expensive. If you're a major advertiser, you're going to spend tens of millions of dollars every year. At least 90% of that is going to the media. About 10% will go to agencies. Of that, about half will pay for media planning and buying. Much of the rest will go to time spent on servicing the account. Agencies pretty much give the freaking creative work away.

Of all the things you shouldn't do on the cheap, creative is number one.

It's like spending all your money on pots and pans and scrounging through the dumpster for the ingredients.

But you know me. I just don't get it.

July 28, 2010

The Power Of Old Media

At the beginning of July, before Apple offered the world free "bumpers,"  I wrote a post called Apple Playing With Fire.

The thrust of the post was that Apple had better deal with its antenna problem. At the time, Apple was doing its usual stonewall.

Then something happened. As The New York Times reported, on July 18th...
The iPhone’s antenna problems might have remained a dust-up between Apple fanboys and skeptical bloggers except that Consumer Reports — that stolid, old-media tester of everything from flooring to steam mops for the last 74 years — came out with a report detailing the issue and concluding that “due to this problem, we can’t recommend the iPhone 4.”
Although the web had been teeming with hysterical howling about "antennagate" nothing much happened until Consumer Reports weighed in.

According to Steve Jobs...
“We were stunned and upset and embarrassed by the Consumer Reports stuff..."
The conventional wisdom is that companies today need to be more conscious of quality issues because social media spreads the word about problems in an instant. However, it is clear that in this case it was the credibility of old media that moved a company to action, not the shrill ravings of web maniacs.

While the web may provide us with instant opinions and musings, it is clear that it still lacks gravitas.

The web version of "the news" is often unreliable and held in contempt, even among the most tech-savvy.

July 27, 2010

Old Spice Campaign Smelling Better

Here at The Ad Contrarian world headquarters, we try to stay as far away from "Rate-A-Record" as possible.

If you want to know what some blognozzle (thank you, George) thinks about some ad, there are about a trillion blogs for that. I don't know what the hell this blog is about, but it definitely isn't about that.

Nonetheless, last week, in the course of writing about some results I saw concerning the Old Spice Red Zone After Hours Body Wash campaign with the-guy-who-looks-remarkably-like-me, I commented that I thought the whole campaign was very good and I expected it to be successful.

This despite the fact that several online sources (Yahoo, BNET, Brandweek) were quoting a report by SymphonyIRI that claimed sales of the product had dropped 7% in the past year.

In advertising-and-marketing land we are fed so much bullshit data, after a while you start to get a feel for what sounds right and what sounds fishy. This figure definitely sounded fishy to me.

In the interim, several loyal ad contras have connected me to numbers disputing the numbers reported by Brandweek.
  • According to PR Week sales of the product increased over 100% last month.
  • A piece in Forbes.com uses the same SymphonyIRI study to show that sales were up 7.9% from the previous year.
At this time, there is no way to know which numbers are real and which are not. However, the -7% number still sounds fishy to me.

Thanks to Parc, Howard and Ken for connecting me to these articles.

July 26, 2010

The Amazing Blindness of Marketers

One of the long-running themes of this blog is how the marketing and advertising world have lost touch with reality .

There are two major manifestations of this disconnection. As you might expect from an industry as confused as ours, they are contradictory.

First is the delusional religion of the shiny new object. It is a tendency to fall in love with whatever is new. It is a future-fantasy instinct.

The second is the unconscious adherence to legends and rituals. It is a reactionary instinct.

I have written a lot about the first -- particularly in reference to the fads and fantasies of digital marketing.

Today we are going to talk about the second.

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog 3 years ago was called "Aiming Low." I said...
Of all the dumb things that advertisers do, one of the dumbest is aiming their message too young....There seems to be an irresistible need for marketers to target young people despite monumental evidence that older people have far more money, are far easier to reach and all-in-all make better customers.
The post went on to say that people over 50...
  ...control 77% of all financial assets
  ...control 50% of all discretionary spending...
  ...are the target for 10% of all advertising

There are only two possible explanations for the above. Either advertisers are crazy, or they are hopelessly out of touch with...the people who economically control this country.
An article in MarketingDaily last week gives us good reason to believe that in the intervening three years, if anything, marketers have gotten even farther out of touch.

According to the piece, Nielsen says...
  • Baby boomers dominate 94% of all consumer packaged goods categories.
  • They purchase almost 40% of consumer packaged goods
  • They account for 1/3 of all TV viewers, online users, social media users and Twitter users.
  • Even in technology categories, where marketers assume young people dominate, baby boomers  "are purchasing at rates just as high as other segments, and because they are often buying for their kids, many are double-dipping.
The astounding part: According to this article, less than 5% of advertising is aimed at people over 50.

So you ask yourself, how can marketers and advertisers possibly be this stupid? 

Simple -- legends and rituals. 

The legend is that baby boomers are frozen in some universe where nothing ever changes. According to Nielsen, "...marketers continue to believe that Boomers are either reluctant to experiment with new technology and brands, or that because they've been loyal to a certain brand for a number of years, they'll stay that way." This nonsense has been around since the first 26 year-old was made an assistant brand manager.

The ritual is that you have to target the young and hip. Why? Um, because...well, that's what we always do...and anyway, um...I'm a media planner and I'm young and hip, and all my friends are young and hip... and um....

And then there's this. Once again, from Aiming Low
The worst and perhaps most pervasive rationale for targeting young people is the notion that if you get them young you’ll have them for life. This is the idiotic “lifetime value” argument ... Someone please show me one 50-year-old who drives the same car, drinks the same beverages, wears the same clothes, or eats the same food he did at 18.
I mean, besides my brother-in-law.

A Perfect Example...
...of companies witlessly marketing to young people. It's an insurance company marketing to people who a) can't afford insurance (and would have no coverage at all if it weren't for mommy and daddy) and b) are the worst insurance risks imaginable. But they're oh so young and hip.

July 22, 2010

Old Spice Numbers Smell Fishy

I've been on vacation for a while, but I've noticed a lot of web fuss about the Old Spice Red Zone After Hours Body Wash campaign. The one with that guy who looks just like me.

In case you've been even further from civilization than I have, the campaign has been an advertising and media sensation, winning major awards and poking its head into every corner of the social web.

Well, according an article from Yahoo! entitled "Despite Enormous Popularity, Old Spice Guy Not Helping Sales" the campaign is, um, not helping sales.

The article links to a BNET post that quotes Brandweek magazine:
"... sales of the featured product—Red Zone After Hours Body Wash—aren’t necessarily tracking with that consumer appeal: In the 52 weeks ended June 13, sales of the brand have dropped 7 percent according to SymphonyIRI..."
I am officially skeptical.

I think this campaign is a winner and I will be very surprised if it does not result in excellent results for Old Spice.

Some thoughts:
  • I don't trust the IRI numbers. Something smells fishy to me.
  • While the campaign is technically for Red Zone After Hours Body Wash, I believe that for most observers it is for Old Spice, the brand.  Consequently, I will expect to see increases in sales for Old Spice even if the IRI numbers are accurate for Red Zone.
  • If the campaign does fail (which will surprise me) I believe it will be because of targeting. As regular readers know, I am a fiend about targeting the heavy user in a category. I don't know who buys a lot of this stuff so what I'm about to say is speculation. This campaign seems to me to be targeting at horny housewives and gay guys. If women buy a lot of this stuff for their men, then the targeting is correct. However, if men buy this stuff for themselves, there is a targeting issue. 
  • Nonetheless, I expect it to be successful because great creative is usually the best strategy of all.
Thanks to Mark Manion for the lead on this.

July 21, 2010

Emotional Connections vs. Logical Connections

I've been on vacation for a while and I know some of you need a little something to get upset about, so here's a little piece of past contrariana.

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

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

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

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

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

The emotional buttons that work to motivate sales of perfume simply don't work when you're selling oven cleaner.

And yet we constantly hear marketers talk about the need to make "an emotional connection" with consumers.

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

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

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

July 15, 2010

The Omnicom-Google Deal

For years now (it only seems like decades) The Ad Contrarian has been warning* marketers about the questionable effectiveness of web advertising and the unprincipled, self-serving cheerleading for online advertising that has been going on in the advertising industry.

Now, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a major deal has been struck between Omnicom and Google worth hundreds of millions of dollars for online display advertising, despite the fact that online display advertising...
"... has come under pressure recently as marketers question the effectiveness of the ads, partly because only a tiny fraction of the consumers who visit a Web page click on the ads.
As far as I'm concerned, this just underscores the unsavory nature of the relationship between agencies and online advertising. The Journal says...
"The trend is starting to raise conflict-of-interest concerns on Madison Avenue.
Ad executives question whether marketers understand that their ad dollars are being used to subsidize technology or other strategic initiatives for ad companies. An advertising company is supposed to seek out the best deals for its clients, and some executives are skeptical whether spending commitments could compromise that goal."
In other words, if online display advertising turns out not to be the most effective use of its clients' dollars, is Omnicom going to eat the cost of this deal, or are they going to put their clients in display ads anyway?

Hmmm, let me think...

* Here are some recent posts on this subject
The Failure Of Web Advertising
Special Pleading For The Web
The Web Advertising Dilemma 
Who's Nielsen Trying To Fool?

July 14, 2010

Sudden Unintended Hysteria

The editorial board here at Ad Contrarian world headquarters is getting a little full of itself lately.

For the second time this week, stuff we have written has turned out to be prophetic.

In March, we posted 4 columns (you can read them here: #1, #2, #3 & #4) about the hysterical, inaccurate, irresponsible press reporting of alleged Toyota "sudden unintended acceleration."

Those if us with functioning brains suspected what was going on -- mass hysteria, Congressional buffoonery, and journalistic incompetence. It was the same baloney that was directed at Audi (particularly by 60 Minutes*) in the mid-80's when reports of "unintended acceleration" were traced back to morons who didn't know the brake pedal from the accelerator.

Anticipating that the truth would eventually vindicate Toyota, we said...
"Of course, the miserable thing about this is that the press will give the vindication of Toyota about 1/1000 the attention they gave to the groundless accusations."
Well, guess what? According to a story yesterday in The Wall Street Journal called Early Tests Pin Toyota Accidents on Drivers...
The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged...
The results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyota and Lexus vehicles surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes.
USA Today had this to say...
In what could turn into a repeat of the infamous Audi 5000 case more than two decades ago, driver error, not the vehicle, appears to be the cause of a number of Toyota unintended acceleration cases.

Now that there are some facts, let's see if the reckless, inept press gives this 3 weeks of non-stop front-page attention like it did the fictitious allegations.

Yeah, fat freakin' chance.

"On November 23, 1986, 60 Minutes aired a segment ...concerning the Audi 5000... The story covered a supposed problem of "unintended acceleration" when the brake pedal was pushed, with emotional interviews with six people who sued Audi (unsuccessfully) after they crashed their cars, including one woman who had killed her six year old boy. Footage was shown of an Audi 5000 with the accelerator moving down on its own...after an expert witness employed by one of the plaintiffs modified it with a concealed device to cause it to do so...The incident devastated Audi sales in the United States, which did not reach the same level for another fifteen years. The initial incidents which prompted the report were found by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Transport Canada to have been attributable to operator error... CBS issued a partial retraction, without acknowledging the test results of involved government agencies."  -- Wikipedia

July 13, 2010

Sometimes Even Bloggers Are Right

Here at Ad Contrarian World Headquarters there is no more pleasant surprise than finding out that something we've been howling about for years turns out to be right.

Those of you who have read my semi-brilliant book, The Ad Contrarian (which you can download free right here) know that one of the three principles I espouse is this:
"Advertising messages should be created for, and directed at, the heavy-using, high-yield customers in your category."
I go on to say:
"Most marketers define their target customer in either demographic...or psychographic... terms. I think this is wrong. The target customer should be defined in terms of category usage.
"This is just a fancy way of saying that you should define your target as the high-value customer in the category— regardless of demographics or pyschographics - and create your message to appeal to these people."
Well, it turns out this wasn't just the usual half-assed blogger punditry. Apparently, someone's come up with proof.

According to an article in Ad Age on May 26 entitled Purchase Habits Trump Demographics in TV Buys...
Demographics have almost no effect on whether TV ads produce sales, and consumers' purchase history is the most reliable predictor of success, according to research from TRA, which has been pairing data from set-top TV boxes...since 2008.
The gender and age of viewers has little correlation with the way those viewers respond to ads, TRA President Bill Harvey said..
"TV's major sales effect tends to be among people who are heavy purchasers in your categories..."
Holy shit. I was right.

July 06, 2010

Apple Playing With Fire

On October 30, 2009, I wrote a post about the unreliability of the iPhone....
Someone left me a voice mail at 3:30 yesterday afternoon. It didn't arrive at my iPhone until 7:55 this morning. That's 16 hours and 25 minutes later. I'm really getting tired of this shit....Here's the thing, Steve. I don't need an app that tells me what my fucking sperm count is, or when Jupiter crosses the plane of the ecliptic. I need to get my phone calls and my emails, okay?
Last week, Apple issued an "open letter" to their customers about the problems with the new iPhone. Apparently there are two different problems which seem unrelated to me, but which they have tried to spin as related.

One is that the new antenna on the phone loses effectiveness when the phone is held in a certain way. Second is that the bar indicators are wrong and frequently show too much power. They plan to remedy this with a software patch.

I don't know the first thing about any of this technology, but I do know something about consumer psychology. They better get their story straight and the problems fixed. Here's why:
  • There are already too many business people who think of the iPhone as a cute but unreliable toy. 
  • There are too many skeptical tech nerds who will poke holes in any Apple PR spin that isn't accurate. 
  • There are too many media outlets who have built Apple up and are drooling over the opportunity to tear them down.
My personal experience with the new iPhone has been very positive. It is much faster and seems more reliable than its predecessor.

But one guy's experience is irrelevant compared with the mountain of bad press they're starting to get. And barring a more credible reaction, it will only get worse.

Because of their amazing success, Apple may think they are invincible, but they are not. 

The iPhone is now Apple's most important product.

They better get this problem fixed.

July 02, 2010

Perfect Storm of Hysteria

Last year we witnessed a perfect storm of hysteria.

Unhinged "experts" and feverish media outlets conspired to enhance their self-importance in a worldwide hysteriafest called "swine flu."

The World Health Organization announced: "All of humanity under threat."

Here at Ad Contrarian World Headquarters, our Global Science Division was busy ridiculing these overwrought maniacs. We told our readers:
"Despite all the lurid headlines, pardon me if I don't get too hysterical over swine flu.

You see, I'm living on borrowed time....By now, I should have been long dead from SARS, or bird flu, or mad cow disease, or ebola virus, or Legionaire's disease. You remember those, don't you? They were the other "pandemics" that were going to kill us all."
When the experts told us that "2 billion people could get swine flu" we wrote:
"Here are some other things that could happen:
* Chickens could learn how to yodel..
* Wolf Blitzer could dance the tango naked...
* The World Health Organization could be clueless hysterical bureaucrats who don't know when to shut the hell up"
Well, the results are in and apparently it's okay to take off your surgical mask. According to the Associated Press here's the final score:
  • The swine flu was significantly milder than the run-of-the-mill flu that comes around every year. To be precise, it was about 1/3 as lethal.
  • The US Government has about 40 million unused doses of swine flu vaccine laying around that have passed their sell-by date and have to be destroyed at a cost of 260,000,000 of our dollars.
  • There are another 30 million doses about to expire.
  • Once again, the self-important, self-promoting experts were dead wrong and the gullible, feckless media went along for the ride.
"Each time the so-called experts told us that millions of people would be killed worldwide by the respective viruses. We have learned that the experts were utterly wrong," said an advisor to the World Health Organization, Dr. Ulrich Keil, a professor at Germany's University of Muenster.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with advertising?

You go to advertising and marketing conferences. You listen to "experts" tell you that the consumer is this and the future is that. They're articulate. They're cock-sure. They're convincing. They have awards and books and blogs.

But do they really know anything?

If people with advanced degrees in medicine and epidemiology don't know shit, do you really think these overfed marketing blowhards know anything?

July 01, 2010

Three Years Old And Still Not Potty Trained

Today is the third anniversary of The Ad Contrarian blog. It's nice to still be alive after three years.

Here are some thoughts from a post I wrote on the first anniversary of this blog. They're still true:
Ten days into it I thought I had run out of things to say. Apparently I have a bigger mouth than I imagined.
Five Things I've Learned About Blogging This Year:
  1. It ain't easy being entertaining every day. Or ever, for that matter.
  2. The biggest asset a blogger can have is insomnia.
  3. The professionals (the ones who blog for money) are way better than the amateurs (people like me.)
  4. There are an alarming number of lifeless, dreary, poorly written blogs about advertising and marketing that are way more popular than TAC. I'm bitter.
  5. It's better to be wrong and interesting than right and dull.
I Want To Thank All The Little People:
And a few big ones. First, thanks to my frequent commenters... It's the commenters that make blogging interesting and I thank you for keeping me on my toes.

I also want to thank the people who've had nice things to say about TAC on their blogs... To the people who've had nasty things to say, screw you.

Here's The Interactive Part:
I would like an anniversary present from you. Please copy the paragraph below and email it to 3 smart people. If you don't know 3 smart people, send it to 3 advertising  people.
There's a blog I read that I think you might like. It's called The Ad Contrarian. You can find it at www.adcontrarian.com. Hope you enjoy.
Here are some personal "highlights" from the first 3 years:
Okay, just one more thing. Thanks, gentle reader, it's been fun.

I'm going on vacation for a week (aah, Hawaii) and may not be posting unless something interesting happens. Who the hell knows.