February 15, 2011

It's Better To Be Employed Than Right

Recently I wrote about the book The Big Short, and how it applies to the current online ad bubble. The Big Short is about the crash of the financial system in 2008 and the people who saw it coming.

There is a lesson I learned from the book that is important to ad contras -- being right often doesn't matter.

One of the heroes of the book -- who had a remarkable record of investment acumen -- had to fight tooth and nail with his investors who insisted that he undo his bets (um, investments) against the tide of conventional thinking. Ultimately he was proven absolutely right when the financial system crashed, just as he had predicted. He made a fortune for himself and fortunes for his investors.

Once they got their money, every single investor left him. He didn't have one left.

There is a very strange psychological phenomenon that most humans are prone to. We are afraid to  buck conventional thinking. We like to believe in experts and we don't like it when experts are contradicted, particularly by outsiders.

I see it every time I question the conventional wisdom of my clients. When I tell them that...
  • TV ratings are at their highest point ever
  • Only one banner ad in a thousand gets clicked
  • People with TiVo watch live TV 95% of the time
  • 98% of video is still watched on a TV
  • 2 Facebook ads in 10,000 get clicked on
... I can sense that it doesn't matter whether I'm right or not. They want to believe what the "experts" have told them.

They're tired of making TV ads and radio spots, and billboards. They want something new and different and exciting. They've read all about the miracle of online advertising and the magic of social media. They don't want anyone telling them to slow down and think twice. They don't want to look behind the curtain.

Now, to be honest here, it's pretty easy for me to speak my version of the truth to clients. I've had a nice career and while I certainly don't want to, I can afford to get fired. It's a little different for most people in advertising.

So keep in mind one of the the lessons of The Big Short. If you challenge peoples' beliefs and expectations too sharply and too directly, sometimes it doesn't matter if you're right.

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