December 31, 2011

Reviews of 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising

The following are excerpts from reviews at Amazon. You can read the full reviews here.

Brilliant stuff, funny as hell.,
Stephen McGill
Stumbled across the Ad Contrarian blog a while ago and… it is by far my favourite blog. I grabbed this wonderful book as soon as I could as I wanted to have the best of Bob close at hand…. As a long time ad guy who cut his teeth on the work of Ogilvy, Bernbach et al, I just love the way Bob thinks and writes about our crazy business and even more crazy world. This is take no prisoners kind of stuff that is just superbly written always. Buy it, read it. If you are like me it will make you laugh, make you cry and shake your head in wonder.
~5.0 out of 5 stars

George Tannenbaum
Bob is one of the smartest guys in the business. His thoughts are not obscured by fads, what's au courant or quotidian bs. He is a straight-shooter. Honest, to the point and fact-based. Qualities sorely missing in the world today.
~5.0 out of 5 stars 

You like "Mad Men"? You'll love this book.
This book is an insightful, hilarious look at what's wrong with advertising agencies, with marketing in general, and maybe even the world overall. But it isn't just for people who work in ad agencies. It's for anybody who ever saw an ad that sucked and wondered how it got that way. It's for anybody who works in any kind of job involving generation of new ideas. And yes, it's for anybody who enjoys "Mad Men." Bob Hoffman is smarter than Don Draper. He's funnier than Don Draper. And he's better looking than... Okay, like I said, Bob Hoffman is definitely smarter and funnier than Don Draper.
~5.0 out of 5 stars 

I highly recommend this book
Michael Gass
Bob Hoffman's take on the advertising industry is refreshing, insightful, amusing and discerning. He keeps us grounded when our industry is in a state of flux and upheaval. He is blantantly honest and he wont be appealing to everyone. But to those who are drawn to him, find him to be a 'straight-shooter', a person who will cut through all the agency B.S. and tell you what he really thinks.
~5.0 out of 5 stars

We need more contrarians.
Jason Fox
Bob Hoffman may call himself the Ad Contrarian, but in reality he's a font of common sense.
~5.0 out of 5 stars

Funny book and even better you'll also learn something.
Len Tillem
I loved this book. I am not, thank God, in advertising but this book taught me a lot about how to avoid the BS that comes from working with other people. If you work with more than two people you should read this book.
…it's an easy, clever read and it will help you feel OK about tuning out and spacing out at office meetings. We all need that kind of help.
~5.0 out of 5 stars

This is a great book. It is better than Cats.
David A. Brown
I am going to read it again and again.

…I like Bob's perspective from the trenches of advertising. His writing is witty and has a no-nonsense attitude… This is a great book about advertising for people who don't like advertising.
~5.0 out of 5 stars

1,000,001 pieces of refreshing logic
Mark Trueblood
Bob Hoffman is an ad agency owner and a popular advertising blogger at "The Ad Contrarian." He is known for his hilarious skewering of the BS that inundates the advertising industry. Over the years, he has become my favorite advertising blogger because of his ability to think critically. Critical thinking and logic are two faculties in short supply in our industry, and Bob is always a refreshing read.

…Bob Hoffman's perspective is terrific because he continually digs into various heaping piles of advertising hype to discover nuggets of truth. And if he doesn't find any, he's not afraid to say how bad it stinks.
~4.0 out of 5 stars

What the boss needs to know
By Rodgersrocks
Every boss I have ever had would be better off for reading this.
~5.0 out of 5 stars

Hoffman: The Iconoclastic Craftsman,
Michael Concannon
…Bob is like a master craftsman you find in a small town that builds and sells elegant and structural sound three legged stools that will last 100 years... A handbook for smart marketers. Did I mention he is funny as hell?
~5.0 out of 5 stars

The world's second best book on advertising.

George Parker
It gives me great pleasure to review Bob Hoffman's new book… The book is a classic, a compendium of some of Bob's better posts on his blog. They are all gems…
~5.0 out of 5 stars

A must read for advertising professionals
Edward Flynn
I've been a fan of Bob's blog for a long time. His wit and insight into the business of advertising is spot on. If you, like me, have worked in the industry long enough to see the shenanigans done by agencies and clients, you will laugh at plenty of the contents of his book. Advertising is a business that is always ripe for satire and criticism which is what Bob does in spades.
~5.0 out of 5 stars

Quite possibly the best $2.99 book out there!
Sharon Krinsky
A funny, enlightening, clear-eyed look at advertising and marketing. Pleasantly didactic and cheerfully challenging of the fables and fantasies that pass for advertising principles.
~5.0 out of 5 stars

December 26, 2011

The Year In Contrariana

Every year about this time the editorial board of The Ad Contrarian gets together for its annual year-end analysis. This consists of large plates of pasta, several pitchers of martinis, and an afternoon of irresponsible betting on bowl games.

Sometimes we even talk about the blog.

2011 was an interesting year here at Ad Contrarian world headquarters. Here are the highlights, as chosen by the editorial board.
  • One of the websites that measures these things had us listed as one of the world's top 50 advertising and marketing blogs (there are apparently 100 million of 'em and 99% are devoted to search engine optimization, datametrics, or some other bloodless chatter.) 
  • We passed our one millionth reader. 
  • According to the finance committee, I still haven't made my first nickel from this goddam thing. 
My Top 10 New Years Resolutions appeared on January 3rd. The first of which was... "I will not slow-dance with Eliot Spitzer." I'm proud to say that I have stuck scrupulously to this resolution. One of my personal favorite posts of the year entitled The Legend Of Marketing Man appeared on Jan. 17th.
    In February the ad blogosphere, as always, was dominated by the Super Bowl. We had 4 different posts about Super Bowl advertising. The bottom line was this: "...The game kept getting better and the spots kept getting worse." In a post called Slow Company, we had fun ridiculing the most laughable idea of the month which appeared in Fast Company and claimed that iAds (remember those?) could double the impact of Super Bowl advertising. "...Apple's iAds appear to be twice as effective as a TV spot." Yeah, right. 

    March was Pepsi-bashing month here at TAC. Our most oft-quoted post of the year, called Social Media's Massive Failure, appeared on March 21. It was about Pepsi's disastrous "Refresh Project." It received over 100 reader comments, drove social media maniacs up the wall, and became something of a viral hit with dozens of marketing blogs referencing it.

    We started April with a wonderful line from a social media expert, "We're less likely to be successful if we try to create something where people already aren't." It appeared on April Fools Day but, unfortunately, wasn't a joke. On the 26th we had a piece on how our chattering marketing geniuses were Rewriting History.

    In May, we focused on one of our favorite topics: brand babble. First we posted Brand Babble Battles Back then later in the month Now Branding Saves the World. 

    The best post from June was called How Apple Does It and was about the strategies behind Apple's marketing success and how "... It would be hard to draw-up a set of behaviors that more thoroughly repudiate contemporary marketing dogma."

    In July we celebrated our 4th anniversary of writing this thing. I can remember the day it started. I was in Arizona, it was about 250 degrees outside, and I was sitting in my hotel room with nothing to do. I decided to start a blog.

    In August, we published the most widely-read piece that has ever appeared on this blog. It was called Advertising And The Future Of Apple. The premise was that, with Steve Jobs having stepped down, advertising might be a bellwether for how Apple would face the future without his creative genius. The piece was picked up by The Wall Street Journal, CNN and others.

    The dismal record of display advertising was the subject of a piece in September entitled Clicking Toward Oblivion. Referencing the tremendous growth of display advertising despite the shockingly low click-through rates, the piece concluded that"...if we can just get the click-through rate down to zero, we'll all be rich!" 

    October featured a post called Bulletin: Ad Campaigns Are Now Dead, Too. It was a commentary on a piece in Ad Age by some social media dimwit who claimed there was no longer any need for campaign ideas. The post concluded that... "Social media madness has reached the point where the best idea is no idea."

    One of the most popular posts of the year ran at the end of November and was called My Overnight Social Media Success. It was about the launch of my second book 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising. The storyline: "I have built a social media brand. I know what it takes. I know how useless most social media bullshit is and how hard the people work who do it right."

    We ended the year in December with a guest post from God called The Ten Amendments. It was a satirical piece about religion. I was reluctant to post it because I was afraid it would draw a lot of nasty comments. Happily, it didn't. 

    Our editorial board wishes you a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. See you next year. 

    By The Way...
    Let's face it. You're not going to do any work this week. You might as well read a good book. And if you can't find a good one, you might as well read this.

    December 21, 2011

    The Ten Amendments

    Since Christmas and Hannukah are this week, I am publishing this guest post I received recently from a Very Important Being.

    I am starting to get annoyed with you people. The universe is a large territory to cover and I’ve got a lot on my plate. I take my eye off you for a couple of thousand years and what do I find when I get back? You’re putting rings through your eyebrows and pineapple on your pizza.  What the hell is wrong with you?

    I have been reading the books that I’m supposed to have dictated. Are you kidding me? I asked some guy to knife his baby? I let my son get hung up with nails? What would I do that for? (Okay, maybe if he was Donald Trump or something.)

    Let’s get this straight. I didn’t write any of those books that I’m supposed to have written, okay? That stuff you're always killing each other over was written by people who thought I talked to them— in other words, crazy people.

    I don’t have any favorite people or favorite countries or favorite religions or favorite anything. To be honest, you're all mostly just a pain in my ass and I don’t really care that much for any of you. Although sometimes I root for the Steelers.

    Can I explain something else? I didn’t invent you. You’re here because all those little amoeba and bacteria I made needed a way to move around faster. Some of them evolved into you. Now you carry billions of them around with you everywhere you go. Mostly, you’re just rapid transit for bugs. So get over yourselves.

    The more I watch you, the more I believe you’re completely crazy and unreliable. Consequently, I have written this essay in the hope that you’ll stop acting like morons.

    I know you have your “Ten Commandments” so I’m going to call this The Ten Amendments. You can consider these amendments to the commandments. I think it’s kinda cute. Agree?

    Okay, so here are The Ten Amendments. Pay attention please:

    Amendment #1: Be Nice.
    Now how difficult is that? Quit yelling at each other and shooting each other and writing nasty anonymous comments on blogs. Would it kill you to smile a little?

    Amendment #2: Stop Whining.

    You call it praying. I call it whining. Isn’t it obvious by now that I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff?

    Amendment #3: Keep Your Stupid Opinions To Yourself.
    With all due respect, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, so button it. Shooting your mouth off just annoys everyone.

    Amendment #4: Eat Your Salad Before The Meal

    What’s with this salad-after-the-main-course thing? What are you, French or something?

    Amendment #5: Do more screwing

    It’s a nice, inexpensive way to have a good time. And you’ll sleep better. Just one thing – close the windows so you don’t alarm the neighbors’ children.

    Amendment #6: Don’t Change Lanes So Much
    You drive like idiots. Stay in your damn lane.

    Amendment #7: Quit Watching So Much Crap

    "Kim's Fairytale Wedding?" Are you crazy?

    Amendment #8: Take Those Bluetooth Things Out Of Your Ears
    Do you really want to look like the biggest jerk at the airport?

    Amendment #9: I Don’t Think It’s So Terrible To Put Parmesan Cheese On Seafood Pasta.
    I know some people make a big fuss over this, but I wouldn’t worry about it.

    Amendment #10: Clean Out Your Closet

    You’ll feel better. Trust me.

    So that’s all you have to do. I’ve got bigger things to worry about than what you eat, and what songs you sing, and whether you kneel down or light candles or wear a hat. I’ll leave that up to you. Also, don’t  pay any attention to those people who say they represent me -- I don’t need agents.

    One last thing. Try to be helpful, okay?

    Your friend,

    December 20, 2011

    Comparing Apples and Amazons

    My recent foray into publishing an ebook has been a real eye-opener.

    I am a very big fan of Apple products. I believe they make beautiful products that are generally easy and delightful to use. The service in their retail stores is usually outstanding.

    Dealing with "corporate" Apple, however, has been a complete nightmare. They are the epitome of everything that's wrong with the tech industry. Trying to get a response from them is next to impossible. Trying to get an answer to a simple question is useless. When you get a response, trying to decipher it is beyond the abilities of mortal men. Attempting to get a live human on the phone is out of the question.

    Here's my story.

    A few weeks ago I published an ebook with Amazon. It was a pleasure. The instructions on their website were clear. Once I had it formatted, it took just a few minutes to upload it and then just a few hours for it to appear in the Amazon store.

    Having heard that publishing something to Apple's iBookstore was more complicated, I started the process weeks before Amazon. I filled out the necessary forms on line. Then I waited.

    After a few weeks I sent several emails inquiring about my application and trying to get acknowledgement that it had even been received. I heard nothing. I waited a few more weeks. I sent another email on Dec. 7th asking about the status of my account. One week later I received a return email that was completely incomprehensible.

    Not only could I not understand it, our IT guy, who manages the computer needs of 72 people spread out over 2,000 miles couldn't understand it. Not only could he not understand it, the Apple business team (we are an Apple business customer) that handles our account couldn't understand it.

    It has now been well over a month and I have no idea what the hell is going on, what the status of my book is, or where to go to find an answer.

    My opinion of Apple has taken a very significant dive. It seems that when you get beneath the surface they are no different from the rest of the tech industry. All they want to do is sell you something. Once they do, you can go screw yourself.

    By The Way:
    Thanks to everyone who has bought the book. It has been a consistent best-seller in its puny little category. If you haven't bought it yet, remember: Kim Jung Il didn't buy it either. Look what happened to him.

    December 19, 2011

    Advertising, Education, and Science

    I love science. The reason I love it is that unlike marketing and advertising, science does not obediently accept the word of "experts."

    In science, it doesn't matter what your title is, or how many awards you've won, or how many conferences you've spoken at, or how big your weenie is. If you can't prove your premise, you're done.

    No proof, no dice.

    Even today, Einstein's ideas about gravity and the speed of light are still being tested and scrutinized.

    Not so in advertising and marketing. If enough big mouths say the same things loud enough and often enough they quickly become facts.

    As most readers of this blog know, I am highly skeptical of many of the claims made about the magical powers of digital advertising.

    While I believe that people searching for products online are very good prospects for advertising (e.g., Google), 95% percent of time spent online is not spent searching for products (that's a guess) and advertising that is directed at people during that 95% is overwhelmingly ignored (that's a fact.)

    I was insomniating the other night and it occurred to me that perhaps a good analogy for the effectiveness of digital communication in advertising is the effectiveness of digital communication in education. While there are obviously some huge differences, there are also some similarities.

    Marketing experts have been warning us that unless we commit ourselves fully to digital technology, we will die. Shiv Singh, head of digital for Pepsico America Beverages, says "There's no questions that we live in an age of do or die."

    Similarly, education experts have been saying that digital communication technology is the only way to dig ourselves out of the education mess we have created.

    In 1997, a committee appointed by then President Bill Clinton, which included Charles Vest, president of MIT and Charles Young, ceo of Hewlett-Packard, warned us that we had an urgent need to bring computer technology to our classrooms. The fact that there was  inadequate research on the effectiveness of classroom computers didn't bother them. They concluded...
    “The panel does not... recommend that the deployment of deferred pending the completion of such research.”
    They, too, were in a big "do or die" hurry.

    In addition to issuing hysterical warnings about the dire consequences of not adopting their pet panaceas, educators and marketers also face challenges that are similar.

    First, they have to decide what to do with a fixed and limited budget. Would a school district get better results for its money by hiring more teachers, putting computers in classrooms, paying for more teacher training, buying more books, or doing any number of other things with its budget?

    Similarly, would a marketer get better results by hiring more sales people, buying a spot on the Super Bowl, doing trade incentives, creating an online advertising program, or doing something else with their money?

    A second resemblance is that digital technology seems attractive in both cases because not only does it promise a new way of communicating, it also promises a more engaged participant. The undeniable allure of technology is assumed to create a more engaged individual -- whether that individual is a student or a consumer.

    Finally, in both cases digital technology also presumably provides a more interactive experience -- an end to the one-way communication style of teacher-to-student or marketer-to-consumer.

    With those parallels in mind I started to do some research to see how wired classrooms were doing. The results were enlightening.

    From a paper called "No Access, No Use, No Impact: Snapshot Survey of Educational Technology in K-12" issued jointly by researchers from the University of Michigan and The University of North Texas, we learn...
    There is general agreement that computing technologies have not had a significant impact on teaching and learning in K-12 in the U.S., even though billions of dollars have been spent in purchasing, equipping, and supporting the technology.
     From The New York Times piece entitled "Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops" we learn...
    ...the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse (NY), has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and worse...
    “After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president...
    ...the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not...
    In one of the largest ongoing studies, the Texas Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group, has so far found no overall difference on state test scores between 21 middle schools where students received laptops in 2004, and 21 schools where they did not. 
    In a second NYTimes article called "In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores", we learn...
    ...the Kyrene School District (in Chandler, AZ) as a whole, offer what some see as a utopian vision of education’s future...
    ...the district’s use of technology has earned it widespread praise. It is upheld as a model of success by the National School Boards Association, which in 2008 organized a visit by 100 educators from 17 states who came to see how the district was innovating. 
    The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.
    Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.
    But The Times points out that there is one little problem...
    Since 2005, scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.
    There is one big difference between educational usage of digital communication and advertiser usage. Because educational usage is publicly funded, there is substantial pressure to provide evidence of effectiveness. This is not the case in advertiser usage in which positive results are often trumpeted and negative results are usually buried.

    Regarding the investment of large sums in digital learning  technology, “There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” says Larry Cuban, education professor emeritus at Stanford University.

    According to the Times, when faced with the dismal record of digital learning, proponents pull out an argument very familiar to marketers: "engagement."  The Times reports...
    But the research, what little there is of it, does not establish a clear link between computer-inspired engagement and learning, said Randy Yerrick, associate dean of educational technology at the University of Buffalo.
    Yerrick says "engagement is a 'fluffy term' that can slide past critical analysis."

    And according to Professor Cuban at Stanford: “There is very little valid and reliable research that shows the engagement causes or leads to higher academic achievement.”

    Obviously, education and advertising are very different endeavors. But, when it comes to the power of digital communication, advocates in both fields are so sure of themselves that they are immune to facts. Or, as the astoundingly clueless director of technology at the Kyrene school district said, “If we know something works, why wait?”

    The techno-crowd in both the education and advertising industry have a lot in common.
    • They are very strong in their assertions, and very weak on proof. 
    • They continue to inflate the hysterical threat-of-not-accepting-their-solution language, despite contradictory data.
    • They think anecdotes are evidence.
    • When data does not support their position, they jump to false goals -- like the dubious "engagement" argument.
    There is a lesson to be learned here. Whether you are selling cheeseburgers, trying to lift the educational achievement of children, or operating in any other field of endeavor, technology has so far proven to be no substitute for strategy.

    December 16, 2011


    Christopher Hitchens had such an original mind that it was almost impossible to agree with him on everything. But even when you disagreed, you continued to be in awe.

    I still can't get used to the idea that people really die.

    The wise understand by themselves; fools follow the reports of others”-- Tibetan proverb.

    Just In Time For The Holidays -- Contrar-A-Thon!

    I read an article in The Wall Street Journal last week that said the way to get a best-selling ebook is to sell it for 99¢.

    Since it doesn't cost me anything to print the book -- it's just a bunch of electrons or pixels or something -- I thought, what the hell, let's sell it for 99¢ and see what happens.

    So for the next five days, you can get my new book 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising for just 99¢. Now this isn't just some ordinary dumb-ass ad book. This is a very special dumb-ass ad book. Go to Amazon and you'll see that some of my best friends really brilliant people have written rave reviews about it. This is a book that once held the #2 sales position among all advertising ebooks (it's like being the smartest kid in the dumb class.)

    Now, being an ad guy, I figured I needed to brand this special one-time offer. So we're going to call it (drum roll) Contrar-A-Thon! -- yeah, that sounds like advertising.

    The good part -- no 0% APR financing or $500 cash back. You don't need a good credit score. All you need is a stinkin' buck.

    The thing is, I bust my ass everyday (okay, a few days a week) looking for stuff to write (okay, type) about advertising that isn't the usual crap (I like to think of it as unusual crap.) The least you can do is scrape the pennies out from under the driver's seat of your car and invest 99¢ in this book.

    I'm not going to make any money on the deal, but you'll make me feel good.

    Part 2: How To Read A Book
    Surprisingly, I have gotten quite a few emails from people who would like to read 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising but don't know how to do it if they don't have a Kindle.

    You can also read it on an iPad, a Mac, or a PC. It's very simple. Step by step instructions follow.

    If you have an iPad:
    1. Just go here.
    2. Click the blue "View in iTunes" button.
    3. Click OK.
    4. Once the Kindle app downloads, go here to download the book.
    5. Once downloaded, it will appear when you click on the Kindle button on your iPad.

    If you have a Mac
    1. Just go here.
    2. Click the blue "Download now" button
    3. The Kindle app will download to the applications file on your computer.
    4. Then go here to download the book.
    5. Once downloaded, it will appear when you open the Kindle app on your Mac.

    If you have a PC:
    1. Just go here.
    2. Click the blue "Download now" button
    3. Once the Kindle app downloads, go here to download the book.
    4. Once downloaded, it will appear when you open the Kindle app on your PC.

    December 15, 2011

    The Facebook Dilemma

    As Facebook prepares to go public, they face some significant problems. Like most web-based businesses that don't sell anything, they need to find a way to monetize their user base -- in this case, a base that is both enormous and loyal.

    They are obviously not the first to face this problem. The history of non-sales focused websites with large user bases achieving their assumed potential (as money earners) is not encouraging.

    As I wrote a few weeks ago in Facebook And Advertisers, they are substantially underperforming Google in generating ad dollars per time spent with them. People spend almost four times more time with Facebook than Google, but it generates about 1/7 the percent of online ad revenue.

    The problem has been that to businesses, the free part of Facebook -- a Facebook page -- is way more attractive than the paid part -- a Facebook ad.

    The other problem is that a Facebook ad currently does not fit well into either of the traditional models for successful advertising. It does not fit the "interruption" model (like a tv spot that interrupts your viewing) because the ads are small and off to the side, where they verge on invisible. As a result, the click-through rate for Facebook ads is a dismal 2 to 5 clicks per 10,000 ads served.

    Neither does it fit well into the "permission" model in which you give active permission for an advertiser to market to you -- like an opt-in -- or like search in which you give tacit permission by doing research from the site.

    On the other hand, Facebook has an enormous amount of information about an enormous number of people. The problem here is to utilize the information in a prudent way that does not scare the shit out of their customers. Fortunately for them, while they have spooked a few users from time to time, most Facebook enthusiasts have shrugged off the privacy issue.

    It is my belief that there are two ways for Facebook to grow revenue. The first is a value-added b2b or b2c product. The second is by making advertising on the page more intrusive.

    The difficulties here are obvious. How do you charge businesses for what you used to give them for free? There's not a lot of precedent for doing this successfully on line. And second, how do you make ads more intrusive without turning off your loyal users?

    Facebook has some significant obstacles to overcome to justify what is likely to be an enormous initial valuation.

    December 14, 2011

    Wrong Again

    As regular readers know, I very rarely make statements about the future. The reason is simple. I'd rather make fun of stupid predictions than generate them. Here's a perfect example.

    Over four years ago I wrote a post called "The Backlash Is Going To Come." I was about as wrong as I could be. In it I wrote...
    It's not going to take advertisers long to figure out that on-line display advertising has been a failure as an interactive medium. It can't sustain its growth for long with a response rate under two-in-a-thousand unless it's willing to take big cuts in cpm.. they will face a backlash. It may not be this week or this month, but it's coming.
    Well, since I wrote that, display advertising has boomed.
    • According to Kantar Media, display advertising grew 14.6% in the first quarter of 2011
    • eMarketer predicts display advertising will grow 24.5% for the entire year
    The amazing thing about all this is that in the intervening four years, the overall click-through rate for display advertising has dropped by half from about 2 in a thousand to less than 1 in a thousand.

    I can understand why people rushed into display advertising when it was supposed to be "interactive." But now that we know that "interactivity" is mostly an illusion, it's hard to find a logical explanation for the enthusiasm.

    But that doesn't make me any less wrong.

    I predict that in the future I will make even fewer predictions.

    December 12, 2011

    Think Like A Prussian General

    In his famous essay, Principles of War, Major-General Carl von Clausewitz postulated that one of the key principles of winning a war was to apply a preponderance of physical force and material advantage to a decisive point of conflict.

    This principle is also applicable in marketing. Sadly, however, it is rarely understood these days. Instead, we are living in the era of "360-degree touchpoints."

    The current media landscape is kaleidoscopic as never before. There have never been so many media options, or options within options. The term "online advertising" alone means so many different things that it has simply become a short-hand for twenty or more different types of advertising which have nothing in common, other than they are all delivered over the web.

    What does a Google listing have in common with a YouTube video? What does a Twitter feed have in common with a website? Nothing except the delivery system.

    In their never-ending rush to cover all their bases and produce impressive looking media flow charts, clients and agencies have forgotten Clausewitz' principle. The key to winning any battle is not spreading yourself so thin that you apply a little force in many directions. The key is to concentrate your forces so that you break through. We call this impact. Advertising that does not have impact is a waste of money.

    There are two ways to have impact. First, by doing great creative work. Second, by buying your way into the public consciousness. The first is obviously preferable, but the second also works.

    The most wasteful way to spend advertising dollars is by doing invisible creative work and diluting your media presence over "360 degree touchpoints" so that you're everywhere and you're nowhere.

    Nobody, and I mean nobody, has enough money that they can spend effectively in every medium. In fact, the whole science of media planning and buying is based on the presumption that there are ways to maximize the effect of media dollars and also ways to piss them all away.

    It's time to bury the "360-degree touchpoints" nonsense and start thinking like a Prussian general. You don't want to do a little of everything. You want to do a few things well.

    No one will ever say it better than David Ogilvy, "The essence of strategy is sacrifice."

    December 09, 2011

    The Gold Medal In Jargonomics

    Congratulations to Sprint's CMO for winning The Ad Contrarian first Gold Medal in Jargonomics. He managed to cram a remarkable stinking, reeking heap of CMO double-talk into one sentence yesterday as he announced he had fired Goodby.

    Before we get to the winning sentence, let's talk about the context. Apparently this ninny fell for the oldest agency gag in the book -- the "integrated network alliance." Publicis conned this rube into believing that by pulling in agencies from across their network and branding this hodgepodge "Team Sprint" they would be getting some extra-special double-secret agency goodness. This doesn't even pass the giggle test.

    Anyone who's ever spent 15 minutes in one of these holding company fusterclucks knows that he'll get two weeks of smiley play-acting and then a lifetime of back-biting, petty jealousies, and internecine warfare.

    But I digress...

    And now, the winning entry:
    "Team Sprint, a brand-dedicated agency ecosystem, provides an integrated, collaborative environment where the focus is on consumer needs today and in the future." 
    This guy is seriously demented. First of all, how do you write such mind-numbing bullshit and think anyone is going to believe you're anything but a clown? Then, how does he knows what Team Sprint "provides?" It doesn't even exist yet.

    He has written what is essentially a PR release for the agency that, if the agency had written it, would get them laughed out of any self-respecting bar in America.

    Here's how our judges scored him:
    • 10 points for "ecosystem"
    • 10 points for "collaborative"
    • 9 points for "brand-dedicated"
    • 9 points for "integrated"
    • 8 points for "environment"
    • 5 points for "today and in the future"
    That's 51 points in one sentence. A very impressive performance.

    I'm sure there are CMO jargonistas all over the world seething with envy.

    December 08, 2011

    Festival Of Shameless Self-Promotion

    It has come to my attention that some of you have not yet purchased 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising. I'm afraid this is not acceptable.

    Consequently, I have created, for your reading pleasure, a list of quotes about the book that will convince you of your need to read it.

    First, some quotes from the reviews on Amazon:
    "This is take no prisoners kind of stuff that is just superbly written always. Buy it, read it. If you are like me it will make you laugh, make you cry and shake your head in wonder. "

    "A handbook for smart marketers. Did I mention he is funny as hell?" 

    "His thoughts are not obscured by fads, what's au courant or quotidian bs. He is a straight-shooter. Honest, to the point and fact-based. Qualities sorely missing in the world today."

    "The book is a classic, a compendium of some of Bob's better posts on his blog. They are all gems..."

    "His wit and insight into the business of advertising is spot on. If you, like me, have worked in the industry long enough to see the shenanigans done by agencies and clients, you will laugh at plenty of the contents of his book. ..It's a really quick read and at three bucks on kindle it's well worth it."

    "Pleasantly didactic and cheerfully challenging of the fables and fantasies that pass for advertising principles..."
    But wait...there's more. Here are some reviews from bloggers:
    From Ben Kay's blog If This Is A Blog Then What's Christmas?
    From George Parker's blog AdScam

    From Vinny Warren's Escapology

    From Mark Trueblood 
    So, please, I know this is really obnoxious. Don't make me do it again.

    5 New Ideas For Stimulating Sales Of "101 Contrarian Ideas..."
    1. Now with easy-to-bake holiday cookie recipes.
    2. The part about the really resourceful Swedish girl
    3. Pictures of Kim Kardashian's ass
    4. Write your "101 Contrarian Ideas..." true story about how it changed your life and put it on our Facebook page and, I don't know, we'll give you 20 million dollars or something.
    5. Change the title to "Steve Jobs"

    December 06, 2011

    First Comes The Sale. Then Comes The Social.

    Now that I'm an Official Social Media Expert, I thought I'd give you a little lecture -- because that's what we Social Media Experts do. 

    The subject of today's lecture is this: Where does social media marketing fit into the marketing "ecosystem." See, now I even talk like a knucklehead.

    Social mediacrats, agency trendsetters, and marketing conference blowhards have been assuring us dumb bunnies for years that traditional forms of advertising are essentially extinct and social media is the future.

    It has been my opinion that, professionally speaking, they're full of crap. I happen to believe that you have to be seriously demented to risk the future of your business on your customers' inclination to talk you up. Does social media lightning strike every now and then? Sure. But are you going to take gobs of money (like Pepsi did) and bet the house on it? Good luck.

    Unless you've already built a strong social media foundation over a period of years, social media is mainly a good way to maintain healthy customer relations and provide your business with some nice sales promotion opportunities.

    But it's important to keep reminding yourself that social media marketing is not magic and most of what is written and said about it is nonsense. There is very little evidence that it has much value as a brand builder or customer acquisition driver.

    Of course, we are in a post-evidence world, and if enough pompous twits say something often enough and loud enough, it becomes truth.

    According to the aforementioned twits, advertising has a new tripartite purpose -- to create engagement, to foster conversations, and to build communities. In other words, to support the allegedly new "social" nature of marketing.

    Let's slow down and think about it for a moment.
    • When is the last time you were engaged with a product you hadn’t yet used?
    • When have you ever spawned a conversation about a brand you had no experience with?
    • When have you joined a community devoted to goods you’ve never tried?
    The answer is, probably never.

    That's because the twits have it all backward. Engagement, conversation and community don't lead to buying, they follow it. You don't recommend things you've never tried. Duh.

    And that's why the purpose of advertising remains, as it has always been, to sell someone something.

    First comes the sale, then comes the social.

    December 05, 2011

    TV Just Won't Stay Dead

    It's been a long time since we checked in on the death of television.

    In about 2007, as the economy was going into the tank and the ad industry was bleeding money our chattering marketing geniuses, pundits, and visionary journalists developed a "narrative" that television was dying. Of course, TV was being killed by the web. Why would we watch TV anymore when we had YouTube and Hulu and TiVo?

    Well, from time to time the investigative staff here at Ad Contrarian world headquarters likes to check up on the imperious assertions of our chattering experts and see how they're doing.

    The big story last week was that Nielsen is predicting that the number of US households with TVs is going to drop next year for the first time in history. All the way down to 97% -- ohmygod!

    So to get the real story we did something that takes exceptional courage and determination. We read all the way through the 2010-2011 Nielsen report on TV viewing. If you've ever attempted this, you know it's not for the faint of heart.

    Wading through 32 pages of charts, graphs, columns, percentages, distributions, circles, arrows, pies and bars we were able to actually find some interesting facts that you'll never read because they're out of sync with what the media decided 5 years ago

    During the 2010-11 season:
    • Average household TV viewing increased more than an hour a week from the previous year
    • Average household TV viewing increased to 59 hours and 28 minutes a week (when do these people sleep?)
    • Average household TV viewing reached almost 8 1/2 hours a day (when do they work?)
    • Average household TV viewing has increased almost 12% from 2000
    • Average household TV viewing has reached its highest point ever
    Sound dead to you?

    Book Update:
    Several people have asked about a print version of the book. It is in the works and I hope it will be available before Christmas. Thanks to all the people who have written and tweeted nice things about it. Remember, you're allowed to write a glowing customer review right here.

    December 04, 2011

    Keeping Poetry Alive

    Allow me to tell you the fable
    Of a story I followed on cable
    'bout a fellow named Herman
    Who had the girls squirmin'
    Apparently this Cain was able

    If you liked the poem, you'll love the book.

    December 02, 2011

    Random Thoughts On A Friday

    Some Thoughts About Apple
    • The Steve Jobs book is terrific. Jobs was apparently a total pain in the ass and a complete dick -- as some brilliantly creative people are. (I only got to meet him once, for about 15 seconds.) Jobs was a walking, talking warehouse of contradictions. My only gripe with the book -- a little repetitious.
    • Why does Apple make things so hard? Last week my book 101 Contrarians Ideas About Advertising was published at Amazon in the Kindle format. It was a breeze. I published it in less than an hour. At this writing it's the #2 advertising eBook at Amazon. (Fucking Tipping Point.) On the other hand, about 4 weeks ago I sent in my red tape "paperwork" to Apple to get the book published at the iBookstore. Not only have I not heard from them, there is no way to even find out if they received the paperwork or what the status is. What a pain in the ass.
    • I bought a new MacBook Air about 2 months ago. After a few weeks it started randomly running out of memory when there should have been 100's of gigs left. I struggled with this for weeks. It disrupted my work and cost me hours of frustration and anxiety. Finally our IT guy discovered that this was a "known problem" to Apple. If it was a "known problem" I'd like to know why they didn't let us buyers know so we wouldn't have to go through the torture that I went through? They have fixed it, but that doesn't take away the time I wasted or the aggravation I suffered. By the way, I hate Lion.
    Tips For Authors
    This week I stumbled upon a blog post by Seth Godin called Advice For Authors from a few years ago. I wish I had found it several months ago. Some great advice in it if you are a writer.

    The Herman Cain Affair
    This whole thing makes me sick. I don't give a damn about Herman Cain and would never have voted for him, but the hypocrisy of this country on the subject of sex is just appalling. If sexual purity ware a condition of employment the following people would never have been president: Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson. Not to mention probably every other president we've had. Can't we just stipulate that everybody lies about sex and get on with it?

    November 30, 2011

    My Overnight Social Media Success

    On Sunday evening I published a new book on Amazon. On Monday afternoon -- 18 hours later -- it was the 2nd best-selling advertising eBook on Amazon.

    How did I do it? Social media.

    But wait a minute, Bob. Isn't it you who is always throwing rocks at social media?

    Yes, that's the same me.

    So, have you changed your mind?

    Not a bit.

    So, you're a hypocrite?

    Hypocrite is the term that people who can't draw distinctions frequently use to describe people who can.  Let me explain.

    One of the most irresponsible and universal tricks in the advertising toolkit is what I call "arguing from the extreme." You take the most extreme, unlikely case of something and use it as an example of what you  pretend is commonplace.

    I saw it all the time when people used to use "got milk" as a typical example of the efficacy of account planning. Or when they used "Just Do It" to justify their dim "branding" ads. And now they use "Old Spice" as an example of the everyday magical powers of social media. It's like pointing to Kobe Bryant and saying, see, basketball is easy.

    My payoff had a little to do with social media and a lot more to do with long-term marketing strategy -- which is the antithesis of most social media schemes.

    Here's how I became an overnight social media success.
    1. First I wrote and published a book called The Ad Contrarian. This took a couple of years. 
    2. Next I started a blog called The Ad Contrarian
    3. Then I spent virtually every Saturday morning for five years roughing out ideas for Ad Contrarian blog posts. 
    4. For almost five years I spent at least two hours a day -- usually between 3 and 5 am -- writing my blog.

    5. I also spent at least an hour every day scouring online and offline sources for blog post ideas. 
    6. I wrote several articles for trade publications sticking assiduously to my "Ad Contrarian" POV. 
    7. As a result, I developed a nice body of subscribers for my blog. I try to keep it fresh, entertaining, and controversial to attract non-subscribers every day. 
    8. Although I have several thousand Twitter followers, I act to maintain credibility by only tweeting about the blog when there is something I believe is unusually interesting in it.

    9. To develop credibility among my readers, I have never used my blog to promote my agency. 
    10. In order to advance The Ad Contrarian I have traveled frequently to do speaking engagements and never accepted money.
    So that's how I achieved overnight success in social media. And that's why social media hustlers infuriate me. Their facile crap, their smug ignorance of real marketing strategy, and their promises of magic make me ill.

    And when naive clients tell me they want to do some of that "social media stuff, you know like Twitter and Facebook" -- for which they will assign responsibility to the lowest ranking person in their organization -- I have to leave the room.

    I have built a social media brand. I know what it takes. I know how useless most social media bullshit is and how hard the people work who do it right.

    Don't use me to argue from the extreme.

    November 29, 2011

    The Paris Hiltonization Of Marketing

    People like to talk about the things they spend money on. They are particularly inclined to talk about sexy things -- cars, electronics, movies. They are far less inclined to talk about mundane things -- butter, socks, gasoline.

    This is not new. Chattering about what we purchase has been a regular feature of consumer society for a long time. It helps us define for others who we think we are. What is new, however, is that chatter is now measurable.

    Previously the chatter was done verbally and privately. Today much of the chatter is done publicly on line between one person and a group of friends or followers. Because this type of chatter is measurable, there is a lot of attention paid to it. As my former partner used to say, that which is measured is attended to.

    This does not mean that chatter is any more important or influential than it used to be. It just means that we marketers are more aware of it, more sensitive to it, and more able to make a buck on it.

    What is also new is the belief that this chatter is fungible -- that is, it has monetary value. There is very little data to demonstrate that this is true. Nonetheless, the whole discipline of marketing seems to have made a seismic shift toward the belief that one of the most valuable assets a brand can have is online "conversation" or "cultural currency" or "buzz" -- or whatever you choose to call it.

    Of course, one of the difficulties with this argument is the problem of logic -- does a brand become popular because it has online chatter, or does it have online chatter because it's popular? Or, even worse, is online chatter just vapid blather whose only consequence is to generate more vapid blather?

    An interesting case in point is a story that ran in The Wall Street Journal last week about the relationship between online buzz and real-world viewership of TV shows.
    "A new television show that generates a lot of online buzz before it airs won't necessarily draw a host of viewers, according to a new study, which found little or no correlation between the amount of such buzz and the size of the audience that ultimately tunes in.
    The study, by ad-buying firm Optimedia US, one of the first to examine the issue, raises questions about the effectiveness of social media as a promotional tool for TV."
    The study measured social media chatter about new TV shows. It included Twitter mentions, Facebook "likes," and Google searches, as well as Klout scores. In addition to finding no correlation between online buzz and real world success, the Journal also reported...
    "By contrast, some shows with low early levels of online buzz, including CBS's comedy "2 Broke Girls" and its mystery series "Unforgettable," ranked highest in viewership."
    There is no indication that this finding holds true outside the TV industry. But why shouldn't it?

    TV viewing is a high-interest category in which "cultural currency" is assumed to be an enormously important factor. It certainly seems logical that if these findings are true, online "conversations" might have even less impact in other categories. On the other hand, how can you have less impact than none?

    Is "the conversation" really a barometer of business success? Or is it just chatter without value -- the Paris Hiltonization of marketing?

    Book Update
    I was truly astounded by the reaction to my book release yesterday. At one point it was the #2 best-selling ad ebook at Amazon and #3 among all ad books, including paper. Thanks to everyone who bought it, tweeted about it, blogged it, or just talked about it. A lot of the success of the release of the book was due to social media. Does this mean I've changed my mind about social media? Tune in later this week for "My Social Media Overnight Success."

    November 28, 2011

    101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising

    I know what you're thinking.

    "Wouldn't it be great if I could have the best of the wit and wisdom of The Ad Contrarian in one handy little eBook that I can read any time I need a dose of reality or just something to take to the toilet?"

    Well, guess what? My new book 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising has just been published.

    It is a measly $2.99 here at Amazon. That's less than Starbucks charges for just standing around and smelling a triple grande non-fat latte. I have priced it so low for you -- the glorious 99%!

    The book is a compilation of the best pieces from this blog, plus articles I've written for Adweek, plus some other stuff I just threw in to fill it out. Here's what the critics are saying.
    "...Ten times funnier than Beowulf. Maybe eleven."
    "...Hoffman is a national treasure. Oh no, wait a minute. That's the Liberty Bell."
    "...A brilliant translation from the original Swedish."
    "...You can read it while driving. Don't worry, nothing will happen."
    "...I saved over $30,000 buying this book instead of remodeling my kitchen."
    Best of all, it makes a perfect holiday gift for all your friends and family members who can read.

    How To Buy It
    If you're a Kindle owner, just go here and download it.

    If you're a Mac person (iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch) first go here and download the free Kindle app, then go here and buy the book.

    101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising is now the #3 best-selling ad book at Amazon's Kindle store. Thank you!

    November 21, 2011

    Today's Subject Is Bullshit

    Today's subject is bullshit.

    It is an important subject because it is the material of which contemporary society is built.

    The world today is swimming in bullshit. It is drowning in bullshit. It is submerged, inundated, and deluged with bullshit.

    This is a serious issue. The most harmful force in business, politics, and education is bullshit.

    The good news for us in the advertising and marketing industries is that we are no longer the primary purveyors of bullshit. We used to be. And we have done such a lovely job at popularizing it, that others have copied and even surpassed us. Today, the great generators of bullshit are media and government.

    Bullshit is so prevalent today that when a public figure says something that is not bullshit we are startled.

    The reason for today's post about "bullshit" is that this week the Super Committee of Congress is supposed to issue its plan for fiscal reform. What is a Super Committee, you ask? Simple. It's a committee, plus bullshit.

    You see, when you want to pretend you're doing something super special, when you're actually doing nothing at all, just add bullshit.

    If you don't understand what all the fiscal fuss is about, here it is in simple terms. Our government used to collect 18% of GDP in taxes and spend 20%. This was not good as it left us in deeper debt every year. But recently it's gotten much worse. Now we collect 16% of GDP in taxes and spend 25%. This means that pretty soon we'll be in the same crapper that Greece is in.

    Anyone with a brain can see we need to collect more money and spend less. Duh. But we no longer have people with brains. We have replaced them with Super Committees.

    When this Super Committee accomplishes Super Nothing, I have an idea. Our "leaders" can appoint a Super-Duper Committee to accomplish Super-Duper Nothing.

    And that, my friends, is bullshit in a nutshell.

    November 16, 2011

    Big Is The New Stupid

    I don't like big things.

    I think the ad business was a lot smarter and healthier before it became dominated by four global monstrosities. It wasn't that long ago (well, not to me anyway) that Y&R had the largest share of the ad market in the US at 1.5%. Now four holding companies have over 70%. 

    I worked for a publicly traded agency for 2 of my 100 years in the ad business. I had to. They bought my agency. They were the worst years of my life. And that was a small publicly traded agency.

    I have passed up opportunities to work for big agencies and have never regretted it for a minute. They are simply awful.

    I don't like bigness of any type. Big businesses, big banks, big governments, big unions, and corporate big shots all give me indigestion. I think this country was a lot better off economically, socially, culturally, and morally when everything was smaller. When every city had its own brewery. When every street had a bakery. Before every mall in the country was populated by the same hundred or so retailers. When small businesses had a fair chance.

    All you need to know about the advantages that the large have over the small is that our tax code is over 2,000 pages long.

    It's 2,000 pages of special pleading written for people and businesses that have access to power -- and don't want to pay their fair share. Do you think any of those pages of exceptions, exemptions, and exclusions was written for your neighborhood dry cleaner?

    A few weeks ago a local drug store I have been patronizing for over 20 years was taken over by Safeway, the largest supermarket chain in California. The drug store is in the same site it has always been. But now it's called Safeway pharmacy.

    I called the store this morning to renew a prescription. Instead of talking to John the pharmacist I got a message about pressing 1 if I was this, and 2 if I was that.

    I used to be able to pick up my prescription 15 minutes after I called it in. When I went to pick up my prescription five hours after calling it in today, the person at the counter couldn't find it. Fortunately, a long-time employee of the pharmacy was there. She said, "Hi Bob" and showed the new knucklehead where the record of the prescription was.

    I waited longer for the pharmacist to count out 30 pills and put them in a little bottle than it used to take me to call in the prescription, drive to the drug store, pick up the prescription and drive home. And this after giving them a five-hour head start.

    I want my small pharmacist back.

    November 15, 2011

    The Courage To Change Everything

    A very funny and pitch-perfect video.

    Congratulations to John St. in Toronto on a terrific piece of work.

    Thanks to Tom Donald, Manu Manceda and others who sent me this.

    November 14, 2011

    Advertising's Decade of Confusion

    I've been in the ad business a long time. But I've never experienced a more bewildering period than we have been through in the past 10 years.

    We thought we knew what this decade was going to look like. We thought we knew the script. Just about everything we thought we knew has turned out to be wrong.

    We thought that interactivity would make advertising far more engaging. We thought that traditional advertising was dead. We thought that TiVo was going to cripple TV. We thought the PC and the television were going to converge. None of this has happened.

    Interactivity has not made advertising more engaging. In fact, interactivity is mostly a rumor. Display ads have a click-through rate that is less than 1 in a thousand. While consumers have shown substantial interest in using the web to search for things they've already decided they're interested in, they have shown almost no interest in interacting with the ads we produce. In other words, the web has proven to be far more effective at fulfilling demand than at creating it.

    Anyone who still thinks traditional advertising is dead probably didn't watch a football game this weekend. I don't think I have ever seen more commercial messages squeezed into 3 1/2 hours.

    TiVo's impact on television viewing and consumer behavior has been a weighty topic inside the marketing beltway but has been a non-event to consumers. While about 40% of Americans now have some sort of DVR, those who own one only watch recorded material about 5% of the time. What's more, owning a DVR has not changed their purchasing behavior one whit.

    We are essentially no closer to the convergence of TV and the PC than we were ten years ago. We keep hearing that it's right around the corner, but we never seem to get to the corner. The latest stats I've seen say that over 98% of video is still viewed on a television.

    The advertising landscape has been riddled with inconsistencies and cross-currents. Print advertising has certainly suffered. But television advertising has been booming. In 2008, as TV ad sales dropped significantly, it looked like the pundits were correct and that advertisers had lost confidence in traditional advertising. But now with TV ad sales growing and viewership at its highest point ever, it looks like the pundits were wrong and 2008 was about the recession.

    Online advertising has been hit and miss. Search has certainly been effective, but display ads -- despite impressive sales growth -- have had a very discouraging record of effectiveness.

    Social media has been a huge worldwide phenomenon, but social media marketing still has to prove it's a sales builder and a brand builder. With 60% of people who "friend" or "like" a brand saying that their primary motivation is to get something for nothing, it is hard to take seriously the argument that people are engaged in social media because they want to have "conversations" with brands.

    And we're still waiting for the first major consumer-facing, non-web-native brand to be built primarily by online advertising.

    You would think that the gulf between our expectations and the facts would give us pause. But no such thing has happened. Our delusional belief that we understand what is going on has not been weakened at all. If anything it has strengthened.

    We are just as certain in our prognostications, just as arrogant in our pronouncements, just as sneaky in our data. We tell our clients half the truth half the time.

    I am dismayed every week by how much of what is now accepted wisdom in the ad business is nothing but legend. I am disheartened by how little familiarity people in advertising have with the particulars. I am dumbfounded by how tolerant most clients are of false goals and how little appetite they have for the facts.

    Perhaps the most confusing part of the past 10 years is not how far reality has veered from expectations, but how reluctant our industry is to validate its assumptions.

    November 09, 2011

    How Did Amazon Become A Great Brand?

    If historians are always arguing about how civilizations emerge, I guess us ad hacks can argue about how brands emerge.

    Al Ries had a piece in Ad Age last week. The piece was called Let's Get Real: It's Not Marketing We Do Today, It's Branding.

    The essence of the piece is that the function that was once called marketing should now be called branding. Frankly, I don't care what you call it. Richard Feynman once talked about a scientist who could tell you the Latin name of every plant in the world. Feynman said that the guy knew nothing about plants, all he knew about was what people called plants

    Whether you call it marketing or branding or anything else is simply a question of semantics. The important question is not what you call it, but how do you do it? How do you build a strong brand?

    Ries's argument about how to do it is very unconvincing to me. He is advocating the "branding first" school of business.
    "...there's a new approach many companies are using that dramatizes the importance of the brand. I call it: Branding first, sales and profits second. If you can build a brand, then you should be able to figure out a way to turn that brand into a profitable enterprise."
    A new approach? I don't think so. Fifteen years ago every web start-up in the world was following this "quick branding" philosophy. Hundreds of millions of advertising dollars were flushed down the toilet as hundreds of WebVans and Pets.coms followed this thinking into oblivion.

    Then Ries makes another interesting claim:
    "If there's an iron-clad rule in marketing, it is this: Brands are built by being first in a new category."
    I wonder what he would say about this from a recent New Yorker piece written by Malcolm Gladwell -- which made the exact opposite point about Apple...
    "The first portable digital music players came out in 1996. Apple introduced the iPod, in 2001...Smart phones started coming out in the nineteen-nineties. Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, more than a decade later... The idea for the iPad came from an engineer at Microsoft..."
    Ries uses Amazon as his exemplar of "branding first." It is always convenient to argue from the extreme -- take the one example of your philosophy that seems uniquely successful and ignore the thousands of flops. But Ries is being coy here. He's too smart not to know that what made Amazon a huge success was not "branding," it was an amazing and ground-breaking operations and customer service system developed by a visionary leader.

    Look, brands are hugely important in commerce. Anyone who thinks brands are not important is either blind or delusional. Brands are why we have signs on stores and labels on bottles.

    But the idea that brands are built by "branding" -- whatever that means -- is wrong. My view has always been that a strong brand is usually a by-product. It comes from doing a lot of things right -- like making good products, innovating, treating customers respectfully, and doing effective advertising. 

    It's like happiness. The route to happiness is usually indirect. You don't achieve happiness by trying to be happy. You achieve happiness by doing something else -- spending time with people you like or learning to do something well. But trying to be happy will mostly make you miserable.

    I disagree with Mr. Ries. Amazon did not become a great brand by "branding." It became a great brand by doing a lot of other things brilliantly.

    November 07, 2011

    Facebook And Advertisers

    Facebook continues to be an astounding success with the public.

    It is not, however, such an astounding success with advertisers.

    One of the problems Facebook has is that the free part -- having a Facebook page -- is way more attractive to marketers than the paid part -- advertising.

    Unfortunately for Facebook, you make more money selling stuff than giving it away. It's one of those pesky laws of economics.

    Ads on Facebook are very close to invisible. According to IT World the click-through rate for Facebook ads is about 5 in 10,000. That is astonishingly low. (According to an unofficial insider at Facebook, the true CTR is 2 in 10,000.)

    Recently, Facebook has been crowing about an 18% increase in its CTR. Strangely, their press release neglects to give us the raw numbers. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) An 18% increase from what to what? Here's a tip from an old science teacher -- when someone gives you results in percentages but neglects to give you the raw numbers, they're hiding something.

    But let's give Facebook the benefit of the doubt and assume that the "5 in 10,000" number is correct. An 18% increase brings the click through rate all the way up to almost 6 in 10,000. Be still my heart.

    While consumers spend about 15% of their online time on Facebook, Facebook is only garnering about 6.4% of online ad dollars. There's something very wrong here.

    The numbers for Google, on the other hand, tell a much different story. People spend less than 4% of their online time on Google, but Google attracts (according to my calculations) about 44% of online ad dollars*.

    If you were to do an index of ad dollars per unit of time spent, Google is about 25 times more efficient at producing ad revenue than Facebook (also my calculation.)

    This is not the only problem Facebook is facing. To a large degree, marketers evaluate the success of their Facebook efforts by "likeonomics" i.e., the number of people who "like" them.

    The issue here is that 2/3 of all the "liking" done on Facebook is done by people between 13 and 24 -- in other words, people with no money. Jim Edwards, at CBS MoneyWatch says...
    Social media marketing firm Vitrue says youngsters' preponderance can actually hurt a social media campaign's value...
    It's the online equivalent of allowing gangs of teens to hang around in the mall... Sure it looks nice and crowded, but it's deterring older shoppers who actually have money to spend.
    Additionally, marketers are starting to think more carefully about the value of a "like" -- especially since you can now buy Facebook fans in bulk for 10 cents a pop.

    How much is it worth to have a 16-year-old like you? Ask Napster or MySpace.

    Or Ask Dippin' Dots...
    Dippin' Dots, a quirky ice cream product, is one of the world's top 50 product brands on Facebook. Ranked at #40, with over 4.5 million fans, it ranks higher than mega-brands like Gatorade, Domino's Pizza, Nike Basketball, Snickers and Barbie. Last week Dippin' Dots filed for bankruptcy.

    *Web numbers are notoriously unreliable - especially mine. According to a recent chart at Business Insider, Facebook's ad performance is even worse than the numbers I quote. According to this report they have about a 3% share of  online ad revenues while Google has a 46% share. Thanks to Roger Lewis for this.

    Thanks to David for some info that helped this post. I don't use last names of people employed at agencies anymore. Last year a reader who contributed info to this blog almost got fired. 

    November 04, 2011

    Social Media Adoption Among Fortune 500

    As a follow-up to Wednesday's speculation about The Future of Social Media, I am reprinting the conclusion of a study done at the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
    The adoption of blogs, Twitter and Facebook in the 2011 F500 (Fortune 500 - TAC) appears to have leveled off with no significant change in the past year. Twenty-three percent (114) of the 2011 F500 have corporate public-facing blogs. There has been a slight increase in both Twitter use (60% in 2010, 62% in 2011) and use of Facebook (56% in 2010, 58% in 2011).

    These results may signal a leveling off and possibly retrenchment when it comes to the adoption of social media among the 2011 F500. There is also evidence of change in the adoption of these tools by industry and a clear sign from some companies that these are not part of their communications strategy. Given that the F500 are the titans of American business, we may be seeing the slowdown in business adoption of social media. At the very least, this group appears to have slowed or stopped its adoption of the three most prominent tools – Blogging, Facebook and Twitter.
    If you'd like to read the entire study, you can find it here.

    Thanks to Tom for this link

    November 02, 2011

    The Future of Social Media

    One of the principles here at The Ad Contrarian is that we never make predictions. The primary reason for this is that it's way more fun to ridicule stupidity than generate it.

    So today, we are not actually trying to predict what will happen with social media, instead we are just going to engage in a speculation about it. You understand the difference between a prediction and a speculation, right? A speculation is a prediction couched in candy-ass weasel-words that the author can wiggle his way out of when proven wrong. Consequently, this is a speculation.

    It seems ridiculous to us now, but not that long ago having a company website was seen as a sure-fire route to wealth and fame. Companies were hysterically racing to get websites up and running.

    Because it was new, sexy and everyone was doing it, a website became the top marketing priority for virtually every company on the planet. If you didn't have one you were doomed to imminent collapse. Clients were frantically looking for agencies to get websites created and launched.

    Today, every company, former company,  proto-company, and bullshit-artist-trying-to-be-a-company has a website. Unless you’re an online store, it is highly likely that your website is just as lame, just as stultifying dull, and just as dusty and lonely as all your competitors’ websites.

    But you try to keep it up and running and attractive because -- even though it gets very little attention from anyone but you -- the people who do visit it are thought to be genuine prospects. Whether this is true or not you mostly don’t know. But you think it’s true, so you play along.

    For a good education in the true value of websites as differentiators, I suggest you take a quick pilgrimage through the websites of some big ad agencies and see how mundane they are. (Here are some examples: #1, #2, #3.) And remember, ad agencies are creative enterprises. Their websites are about 100 times more interesting than the average insurance company or muffler marketer. 

    In fact, what most
    non-transaction-based company websites have become is a necessary but not very bankable cost of doing business – like brochures, or business cards, or signage. You gotta have it, but you really don’t rely on it to generate a whole lot of revenue.

    I have a hunch that's the future of social media. Once the hysteria wears off and the bubble starts deflating, a social media program will become another necessary cost of doing business, but not a huge differentiator or revenue generator. Already,
    every company, former company,  proto-company, and bullshit-artist-trying-to-be-a-company has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. Some even have blogs. Shut up.

    From time to time, someone will have a terrific social media idea (e.g., Old Spice) that will be a hit and have a big impact on their business. But, just as today, they will remain the very rare exceptions.

    For the most part, the millions of business enterprises with social media programs will muddle along using social media for customer relations and sales promotion -- legitimate and valuable uses -- but not a magic carpet ride to fame and wealth and brand building as promised by the hyperventilating jive talkers in the social media industry.

    And if I’m wrong, no problem. This was just a speculation.

    October 31, 2011

    The Universal & The Transient in Advertising

    In any serious field of study there is a healthy tension between what is universal and what is transient. This is true in art, literature, history, architecture, science, and virtually every other discipline.

    It would be inconceivable to have a serious contemporary writer who was not familiar with the works of Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, or Shakespeare. It would be unthinkable to have a consequential contemporary artist who wasn't conversant in the contributions of Rembrandt, Picasso, Da Vinci, Monet, and Van Gogh. It is unimaginable that there would be eminent lawyers who didn't know the thinking of Cicero, Jefferson, or Mandela.

    Being good at something requires wisdom. And wisdom requires perspective.

    One of the reasons advertising is held in such low esteem by the business community is that there is no canon of wisdom. There is just the present. We shallowly pursue the transient at the expense of understanding the universal.

    This pursuit is manifest in our anointing an endless stream of "things that will change everything." The literature on these "things" is dismaying and instructive.

    Only someone with no wisdom and no perspective about art would have claimed that a new type of sculpture by Calder, as brilliant as it may have been, would "change everything." Influence some things, yes. Change everything, no.

    Only blind fools can't see the connections between things. Only nitwits don't see the interrelationships and the evolution in disciplines.

    Today, the ad industry is being overrun with people who have no idea what is universal and what is transient in our business. They are not being taught principles, they are being taught tactics.

    To them, Bernbach, Ogilvy and Riney are just names of old dead guys. They never heard of Ally & Gargano or Scali, McCabe, Sloves. They have no idea what these people and organizations did, or stood for, or taught us about advertising.

    It's our own fault. No one is willing to take the time to learn the history so he can teach it. Our own industry organizations - particularly the 4A's - are prime culprits. By desperately trying to remain "relevant" they have sounded a constant drumbeat about "digital changing everything" that is not only false, it undermines the importance of young peoples' need to learn the history and principles of our trade.

    October 27, 2011

    Sometimes This Feels Almost Useful

    Every now and then I receive an email from someone, particularly a young person, that makes me feel like this blog actually has some value. Here's one from a young man working in Silicon Valley. Name withheld to protect the innocent.

    Hi Bob,

    I wanted to drop you a quick line to say a sincere thank you for your writing. I came across your blog a couple of months ago and have since been reading every article. I'm now nearly at the very beginning.

    I find your blog very important for the very reasons you mention - cutting through the crap. Getting past the stupid babbling and actually selling stuff which is what ad people are supposed to do. I'm in marketing, but am a young one - only graduated about two years ago and I only came into marketing by circumstance, actually. Anyway, I do love it quite a bit, but having been thrown into the field of web marketing, where not only is performance such an issue as you've been reporting in TAC, but where everything is so new (relatively) it's all being made up on the spot, I quickly became very frustrated. The problem I faced was with the CEOs I worked with. They were smart guys, but oh-so-badly wanted the latest and greatest new thing to come out of Silicon Valley that apparently would revolutionize everything. I always saw the problems with the web marketing industry, but being inexperienced and without mentors (I ended up being the one who taught VPs of marketing and CEOs of venture-backed companies what *I* knew about marketing at various points in my career) I always thought the problem was with me.

    Only recently have I started to understand that a ton of people around me are just completely full of shit, and that management often has no idea what the hell they actually want even though they're so sure that this latest geolocation-based-silo-busting-mobile-payment-enabled-crowdsourcing-community-building phone app is the way to catapult us into success.

    Your writing has helped me get a grasp on these facts, and despite that the industry I've come into seems to be in complete shambles, I think I understand what I have to do to succeed without becoming a platitude-spewing sycophant.

    Thank you,

    I'll be speaking tonight in Kansas City. If you're in the neighborhood, here are the details.