June 30, 2011

The Law Of Conservation Of Stupidity

One of the most annoying aspects of reading anything written by ancient ad guys like me is our habit of glamorizing the old days of advertising.

Recently I've seen a movie and read a book that have had a lot to say about the silly practice of glorifying the past.

The first, Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris is an entertaining tale about the silliness of romanticizing earlier times. The second, At Home, by Bill Bryson, is a vivid and absorbing history of the past we never learned about in school.

Woody Allen's story is a gentle and playful reminder that the past always seems more attractive to those who didn't have to live through it. Bryson's story is centered on exploring the history of the contemporary idea of the home, but he manages to turn it into a fascinating but sobering description of the harsh realities of former times.

This leads us back to advertising. According to old ad guy legends, apparently there was a time when advertising was just one big party with lots of drinking, lots of screwing, pliant clients who would do whatever they were told, and a lot less stress and aggravation.

I must have been sick that week.

As far as I can tell, advertising was every bit as stressful, every bit as competitive, and every bit as aggravating 20 years ago as it is today. Or 30 years ago, for that matter.

Advertising, like every other enterprise known to man, attracts a few exceptional people and a whole lot of mediocrities. And where mediocrity goes, stupidity is sure to follow.

I spend a whole lot of time here ranting about the stupidity of the advertising and marketing businesses. But the truth is there is no more stupidity today than there ever was. It's just a different kind of stupidity.

Like the law of conservation of energy, stupidity can neither be created nor destroyed -- it can only be transformed from one form to another.

June 29, 2011

A Lot Of Mouths Yapping

We all know that "buzz" is a lot more valuable than paid advertising.

How do we know this? Because the experts tell us so. And how do the experts know this? Because they go to conferences and convince each other.

According to an article entitled "Publicists Pump Up Value of Buzz; Don't Believe the Hype" in the The Wall Street Journal recently...
"...public-relations specialists, reasoning that news coverage carries greater weight with consumers than paid advertising, put a news article's value at three times an equivalent-size ad...
....publicist Max Markson...multiplies news coverage by five when assessing for clients the return on their investment..."
Asked how he arrived at a value of $10.5 million for a nice bit of buzz for one of his clients...
"Mr. Markson says he 'pulled the figure out of thin air'—because the reporter was on deadline."
But what if buzz is no more valuable than an ad? What if the experts are wrong and ads are just as persuasive as buzz?

This can't be possible, can it? The experts have assured us that there is a new breed of human being out there who no longer wants to be marketed to. She pays no attention to ads. She is immune to the "interruption model" and we need to get her "permission" to market to her.

Not so fast, says the Journal...
"David Michaelson, principal of David Michaelson & Co., a New York-based company that studies measurement of communications effectiveness, has compared the effect of publicity with traditional advertising in a controlled experiment. He and a co-author presented research subjects with a faked ad for an invented product, and a faked newspaper article about the same product. On a scale of 1 to 10, the article was a 10 "from the standpoint of a publicist's dream article," Dr. Michaelson says. Yet their study showed that the article was no more effective than the ad in building brand awareness.
Now here's something to think about. I have no idea of the validity of this study. But if it's true that people are not terribly moved by "buzz" in reputable media like newspapers, how much power do you think buzz has in dopey social media like blogs, and Twitter and Facebook?

Maybe buzz is exactly what it sounds like -- just a lot of mouths yapping.

June 28, 2011

Anyone In Advertising Still Interested In Facts?

Here at The Ad Contrarian World Headquarters, our commitment to our readers is so intense that we actually pore through media research studies to provide you with the most up-to-date, relevant information available.

Sometimes we even do it with our clothes on (I don't know what that means, but it seemed funny.)

I have just finished reading Nielsen's "Cross-Platform Report" for the 1st quarter of 2011 and, let me tell you, it was no Great Gatsby.

Besides suffering from Melted Brain Syndrome, I am sitting here in shock and awe. I am amazed at two things.

First, I am amazed at the resilience of television.

Second, I'm amazed at how the media world continues to ignore this story.

Over the past decade, if there is one story that is absolutely astounding, unexpected, and in complete disjunction with the opinion of experts, it is the incredible resilience of television.

Yes, web usage has grown. Yes, social media is an interesting and important social phenomenon. Yes, DVR's have become commonplace. But with all the new media and all the new technology no one expected TV viewership to behave as it has.

And yet, the trade media and media research companies continue to ignore this story, and instead report on the sexier, trendier new media stories.

As I have commented before, traditional TV viewing is at its highest point ever in history. People are watching, on average, over 35 1/2 hours a week. How much more stupid TV can these nitwits watch? Five hours a day isn't enough?

And it's continuing to grow! Over the last year, TV viewership grew another 22 minutes a month, on average.

Meanwhile, with all the hysteria about TiVo, and YouTube, and mobile, no other video medium even comes close to live TV.  Here are the numbers:

The average person in America watches 38.7 total hours of video a week
  • 92% of that is real-time television
  • 6% is time-shifted television (TiVo, etc)
  • 1.5% is online video
  • Less that 1/2 of 1% is mobile video
(And, by the way, the average person spends 6 times as much time on television as he does on line.)

As a service to all of you who are under the thumb of web maniacs, here is a simple chart I've created that you can click on and print out and stick up their...well, on their desks, anyway.

June 27, 2011

Another Social Media Blockbuster

"What defines an effective brand today?"
That's a question asked by Leo Burnett in a very self-important piece of self-promotion.

The answer, apparently, is spending a shitload of money to create one of the silliest, most pointless gimmicks in recent memory, shipping it to Cannes accompanied by a bunch of super-important-global-worldwide ad geniuses, holding a seminar about it and, of course, promoting it in social media with the obligatory Twitter feed, YouTube video and Facebook page.

For those of you poor slobs who didn't make it to Cannes this awards season, here's the gimmick.

Burnett created a whole set of big wooden alphabet blocks. They're each about the size of a nice toilet. The letter on each alphabet block stands for a "new building block of communication today."

So the wooden block that says "t" is for Twitter. And "f" is for Facebook. How awesomely cool is that? I guess it must have sounded super hip to a bunch of overfed C-Something-O's sitting around the board room on Wacker Drive.
"To truly connect with people, the world’s great brands are speaking a new language of communication...
A "language of communication," huh? I'm just curious fellas. What other kind of language is there?
...a language which doesn’t just speak to consumers, but instead, speaks the language of people."
Oh, the language of people! You see, before now brands were speaking the language of goats or fruit flies or something. But now, because of the web, we have to speak the damn language of people. So the Boys From Burnett are going to help us with this and also...
"...discuss their views on the brands which will lead the conversation of the 21st century."
The conversation? Is that f*cking thing back? I thought that train ran out of steam two years ago.

Well, sadly it seems the new language of people is not creating much of a conversation. The Lads From Leo held their seminar last Wednesday. As I write this post on Sunday night, their Facebook page has 39 likes.

I got more likes than that writing about my hernia operation.

And I did it in the old language of English.

June 23, 2011

The Talkative Child

Since Sunday was Father's Day, and I'm sick to death of writing about advertising, I thought I would serve up a little Father's Day reminiscence.

My daughter was a very talkative child. In fact, when we went on car trips it was not unusual for her to talk non-stop for 3 hours. Anyone with a motor-mouthed child knows that this is not an exaggeration.

One day we were on such a trip -- my wife and I in the front seat, my 5-year-old daughter in the back in her car seat. We were about 45-minutes into one of her relentless monologues, when suddenly the question popped-up: "Mommy, where do babies come from?"

We looked at each other, gave the nod, took a deep breath, and dived right in.

We told her about eggs and sperm and penises going into vaginas. She received this information in stunned silence.

Then came the kicker. We told her about how she was special. How, because of some medical issues, the doctor had to take the eggs from mommy and the sperm from daddy and put them together in a dish and then put the fertilized egg back into mommy.

Now she was totally lost in thought. You could almost hear the wheels spinning and smell the synapses burning.

One minute went by, silence.

Two minutes went by, silence,

Five minutes went by, silence.

Finally she spoke.

"Mom," she said.

"Yes?" replied my wife.

"I'm so glad you didn't have to do it the regular way."

June 22, 2011

Nonsense Never Sleeps

When will these morons ever learn?

I read a post on a website called Business Insider recently entitled "The Brick-And-Mortar Retail Store Is Headed For Extinction." I thought I was in some kind of stupidity time warp.

This is the same nonsense I was reading 15 years ago. It was bullshit then, and it's even stinkier bullshit now.

The article was written by some guy who claims to be "Managing Director at a $2 billion venture capital firm based in NYC." Remind me not to venture any capital with this guy.

Here's a sample of his logic:
"...My partner Larry told me about one innovative retailer that uses their physical store to crowd source and showcase new products only – as soon as something sells in meaningful volume... it is moved to the online store and that shelf space is freed for a new product to experience."
Now there, my friend, is some brilliant fucking marketing! Take all the good selling stuff out of the store and only leave the crap that no one wants.

Hey, Steve, wake up! Take all those iPhones and iPads and iPods out of your stores and make people go online to buy them, you fucking idiot. That way you won't have all that annoying store traffic. Instead, you could be putting in some crap that nobody wants. Maybe Gates has some old Zunes laying around.

Or even better, you can get some slow selling crowdsourced stuff  -- ohmygod, double wicked cool -- crowdsourced!

Then there's this statement..
"Over time, I see stores being “owned” by marketing and viewed it as a brand expense instead of the independent full P&L today."
Apparently there is a language in which that sentence makes sense. But I'm afraid you need 2 billion dollars to understand it.

June 20, 2011

How Apple Does it

Apple is not just the most successful consumer tech company on the planet, it is also the galaxy's most successful marketing company.

An article last week in The Wall Street Journal gives us some insight into how they have made their Apple stores into a retail juggernaut. More people visit Apple stores in a quarter than visit the four largest Disney amusement parks in a year.

Not surprisingly, how they have done it is by essentially ignoring all the "best practices" of business gurus and new age marketing nitwits.

While the oft-quoted gaggle of speakers who make the rounds of marketing conferences keep telling us we need to empower our employees and be transparent to our customers, Apple keeps its employees on a very short leash, essentially dictates the language they are allowed to use with customers, and fires anyone who thinks he or she ought to be having an "online conversation" about the company.

From the WSJournal...
"...A look at confidential training manuals, a recording of a store meeting and interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees reveal some of Apple's store secrets. They include: intensive control of how employees interact with customers, scripted training for on-site tech support...and anyone caught writing about the Cupertino, Calif., company on the Internet is fired..."
The astonishing part of all this is that to the advertising and marketing communities the lessons of Apple's amazing success are apparently invisible.

Here is a brief summary of Apple's consumer advertising activity as observed by this writer:
  • Apple spends a ton of money on traditional advertising, in particular TV and outdoor.
  • Apple's advertising looks much the same as it did 20 years ago.
  • Apple's advertising is always product focused. The product itself is usually smack dab in the middle of the page or screen. There is never any "lifestyle" bullshit or "branding" nonsense (as I have written here so many times, the best way to build a brand is with excellent product advertising.)
  • From what I can see, Apple spends next to nothing on social media and almost all their online ad budget on something that actually works -- search.
  • Apple's "engagement" strategy with customers is not built around dopey online gimmicks (Pepsi Refresh comes to mind) but with well-controlled, tightly managed, face-to-face communication between people and customers.
  • Apple fires those who engage in online "conversations" about the brand.
It would be hard to draw-up a set of behaviors that more thoroughly repudiate contemporary marketing dogma.

With all the success Apple has had, you'd think cmo's, agencies, and marketing "experts" would take a step back, take a look at what Apple has accomplished, and try to learn from it.

Instead they are mired in their own delusional feedback loop and blind to the evidence of their own eyes.

June 15, 2011

Parading Our Excesses

Now that the Cannes "Festival of Creativity" is almost upon us, it is time for some self-examination.

Unfortunately, there is nothing more damaging to the advertising industry than the truth.

It doesn't matter what we tell our clients about the seriousness of our purpose. When they see photographs of the Cannes festival like this in Ad Age* and they realize that every nickel that supports this debauchery comes directly from them, it is easy to understand why we suffer such disrepute.

I am not a prude. I enjoy your average bacchanal as much as the next guy. But only a fool -- and a foolish industry -- parades its excesses in front of the poor suckers who are paying for it.

*These photos are from Ad Age's coverage of the 2008 Cannes festival.

June 13, 2011

Making The Obvious Incomprehensible

Unless you've been involved in making a movie, it is impossible to understand how it can take two years and tens -- if not hundreds -- of millions of dollars. There is simply no way to adequately describe the painstaking intricacies of the process to someone who has never been through it.

To a lesser degree, the same is true in advertising. Clients really have no idea how long it takes and how much work is involved in developing advertising. And when we describe it, it doesn't seem all that complex or difficult. Once again, you have to live through it to understand it.

One of the most successful ad campaigns I've ever done had a little to do with the idea and a lot to do with the casting of the main character. My partner, our producer and I spent four 14 hour days locked in a casting studio in Los Angeles looking for the right person. Luckily, we found him. The campaign was a huge success. But if we had told the client in advance that the casting alone would cost tens of thousands of dollars in man-hours, they would have fired us.

Conversely, one of the most disastrous campaigns I've ever done was also casting-related. The key character we wanted for the campaign (Edie McClurg - see below) was booked on the day of the shoot  and the client wouldn't let us move the shoot back a day. We had to book someone else and it ruined the entire campaign and almost cost us the account.

My point here is not about casting, it's about the amount of invisible, unexplainable time and work that goes into doing advertising right.

Consequently, one of the problems that an ad agency is always facing is how to justify our costs and fees to our clients when they don't really understand how much time and work goes into what we do.

One of the primary weapons that we use to compensate for this is to make the process of developing strategy mysterious. The logic goes like this -- we'll never get them to understand how painstaking the creative process is, but we can make it up on the front end by making the strategy development process seem as complicated and arcane as possible. This is not necessarily willful deception, it's just baked into the rituals of the ad business.

And so we have planners doing ethnographic this and anthropological that, and we have directors of cognitive studies and brand architects and all manner of abstruse nonsense to make the practice of developing strategies seem scientific, mysterious and worth all the money we charge.

My favorite story in this regard relates to one of America's most famous and successful ad agencies, which for reasons of discretion I will not name. A couple of years ago it won a very prestigious award for account planning on a very successful ad campaign. One of my colleagues congratulated the creative director on the account, a friend of his, for the award. The creative director laughed. "Why are you laughing?" asked my colleague. "I never had a single conversation with the planner," replied his friend.

Nonetheless, the the more magical we can make the strategic process seem, the more we are worth because we are the ones who can interpret all the mysterious goings-on of the consumer's mind.

For the most part, this is nonsense. Probably ninety percent of consumer behavior is perfectly obvious. People buy most stuff because it tastes better, looks nicer, works better, or is cheaper or more convenient.

Yes, perhaps 10 to 15% of consumer behavior is truly mysterious, but unless you are in the fashion, soft drink, cigarette or alcoholic beverage business, you'd be well-served to just ignore it.

Although the traditional ad industry has always been pretty good at the game of creating misdirection, they are mere children compared with the online ad industry.  They have taken blinding clients with science to new, unimaginable heights.

While the online ad industry has developed all kinds of mysterious math to confound the uninitiated,  the big picture is pretty obvious. Every now and then I write about the dismal data, e.g. Facebook ad click-through rates under 5 in ten thousand; general display ads with average click-through rates of one in a thousand.

Each time I quote these facts I get angry emails and comments saying, "oh yeah, well no one ever clicked on a newspaper or magazine ad."

If the point is that online display ads are about as effective as similar small space print ads, all I can say is, I couldn't agree more.

Here is the above-mentioned Edie McClurg in a scene with Steve Martin from "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"

June 09, 2011

Gullible, Ignorant, Or Just Plain Stupid?

As a person who sits with clients every day and listens to alarmingly naive notions about the magical powers of social media, it is confounding to understand where intelligent people get such misguided ideas.

Until, that is, you read idiotic assertions like this...
"...social media is the lone currency that virtually guarantees a return..."
So now social media not only cures jock itch and coffee breath it also "virtually guarantees a return."

You would expect nonsense like this to appear in some dimwit blog written by a self-proclaimed social media expert. But that's not where this is from.

This is from a business story in USA Today -- which, I guess, is the non-digital version of a dimwit blog.

I don't know where the people who write this nonsense get their information from, but you have to wonder if they're gullible, ignorant or just plain stupid. And where are the editors who are supposed to vet this baloney?

Just in case there's anyone out there who still believes all this social media hype, I suggest you talk to your local Pepsi bottlers and see what they have to say.

If I may paraphrase USA Today's business section for a moment here, social media is the lone subject that virtually guarantees misinformation.

Thanks to Mike Gluck for this

June 08, 2011

Volvos and Bozos

According to Monday's Wall Street Journal, Volvo's management are at each others' throats over strategy for the brand.

This should be no surprise.

Almost 4 years ago, on Sept, 7, 2007, in a post called "Smelly Volvo Families," we had the following to say about Volvo...
"Volvo is making a classic marketing mistake. They are trying to be someone else... they are aiming to be the second best BMW. ... TAC predicts that they will learn this the hard way. They have relinquished their unique reason for being."
A few days later I wrote a post called "Account Planners Gone Wild" on the idiocy of Volvo's strategy. I wrote...
"I know agencies are brilliant at coming up with this bullshit, but what kind of nitwit clients actually believe it?"
Since then, a lot has happened.

In 2008 Volvo sales in the US dropped over 30%. In 2009, they dropped another 22%.

In 2010, Ford, who had bought Volvo and was hemorrhaging money from the acquisition, sold Volvo to a Chinese company called Geely.

Now Geely's ceo and Volvo's top European executive are in a pissing match over -- guess what -- Volvo marketing strategy.

The Whole Foods crowd have already abandoned their Volvos for Subarus and Priuses. It's hard to see how Volvo is going to get those people back, regardless of their strategy.

Volvo has screwed up the US market pretty comprehensively. Their best hope may be to find a strategy that can work for them in their new home country -- China.

June 03, 2011

Advertising's Final Solution

Welcome to the 2nd edition of Recycled Friday in which I take a well-deserved day off and recycle posts of the past. This one is from about a year ago.

Good news!

We no longer need creative people in advertising.

We can finally get rid of those annoying, whiney, pains-in-the-ass.

According to The New York Times there's a new software program developed by an agency called BETC Euro RSCG,  that can generate advertising by itself.

But before we get to the software, let's talk about the agency for a minute.

Does an agency really need 8 initials? I mean, the whole name is only twelve letters long -- BETC Euro RSCG. And eight of them are initials. Maybe their software program could have created a better name.

Well, anyway, according to the Times, this program can generate up to 200,000 "perfectly acceptable" ads for print, billboards, or banners. This sounds to me like an improvement because, honestly, I've seen a lot of banner ads that were perfectly awful, but I don't think I've ever seen one that was perfectly acceptable.

Now that computers can write and design ads, we can get down to the real business of advertising -- you know, meetings and downloads and uploads and briefings and off-sites and powerpoints and metrics and brand audits and deep dives.

We don't have to pretend we're in a "creative" business anymore. We can just do the things we're good at -- imitation anthropology, sidewalk psychology, strategy torturing, and data misinterpretation.

No more of that so-called "creativity" bullshit.

June 02, 2011

This Just In - Social Media Not Magic!

"...how much are we encouraging the continual learning from inside our staff about how to leverage these technologies with inside of their communications and engagement plans but as well as just for their own personal communications and internal communication with inside each other and from employee to employee."
If you like double talk, jargon, and brand babble you'll love this video featuring Pepsi's Worldwide Global Digital Director of Worldwide Digital Globularity.

It's got everything your modern day inter-globular digital jargonista needs -- buzzwords, cliches and language without meaning.

If you're wondering how Pepsi could be so tangled up in its social media underwear, wonder no longer.