April 30, 2012

Death And Advertising

As all ad contras know, the best way for a loudmouth meatball to grab some cheap headlines is to declare something "dead." The more absurd the claim, the better.

So if you want to be on the cover of Banker's Weekly, just make a speech declaring that money is dead. If you want to be published in Dairy World, write an article asserting that milk is dead. It doesn't matter that you have no facts and that everything you say is just made-up bullshit. You'll grab some headlines, and moron journalists will line up for interviews.

Here at The Ad Contrarian World Headquarters, we have created a whole department devoted to documenting and archiving all the things related to advertising that are now supposed to be dead.

Today, I am happy to report, we have a new all-time champion in the Department of Dopey Declarations of Death. It is the ceo of a very famous agency. In one fell swoop (by the way, what the hell is a fell swoop?) our new titleholder has declared the following things dead:
  • Strategy
  • Big Ideas
  • Management
  • Marketing
It's not really clear from the article what killed all these poor babies, but my money's on social media. Apparently, there is nothing in the galaxy that can survive the deadly power of social media.

Of course, we've heard most of this nonsense a thousand times before so there's really nothing new here. The thing that makes it curious, though, is that it comes from the ceo of an ad agency. As the ceo of an agency myself, I have always foolishly believed that what we overfed ad honchos are getting paid for is...
  • Strategy
  • Big Ideas
  • Management
  • Marketing
Boy, am I a schmuck.

Why the hell am I busting my ass here trying to give my clients all this stuff? This guy's rolling in dough and all he's doing is prancing around making speeches saying it's all dead.

So I've got a new strategy...oops, sorry, it's not a strategy...that died...it's a...a "conversation" or a "shared value" or something...

Anyway, I'm going to take a page out of this guy's book, and I'm officially finished worrying about all this dead crap. If there is an agency out there who needs a ceo with no interest in strategy, ideas, management or marketing, I'm your man. And I'll do it for half what you're paying that other guy.

April 27, 2012

7 Things I Learned This Week

Last Friday I started something new called 10 Things I Learned This Week. It actually got some readership, which is rare for a Friday. So I think I'll milk this baby.

Here are 7 things I learned this week.
1. 73% of North Americans say they would rather give up their social networks than their TV.

2. In Portland, they are creating retirement homes for chickens.

3. Most depressing advertising story of the week: This hypocritical, showboating, insincere nonsense from someone who should know better. More about this on Monday.

4. According to the TSA, their officers "followed proper screening procedures" when they insisted on physically patting down an hysterical 4-year-old girl.

5. Conrado "Connie" Marrero was a pitcher for the Washington Senators. "One day (Ted) Williams got two home runs off me, and afterward he came up to me and said 'Sorry, it was my day today,' Marrero recalled. "I responded, 'Ted, every day is your day.'" Marrero turned 101 on Wednesday in his home town of Havana, Cuba. He is the oldest surviving major league baseball player.
6. In 1982, the U.S. led the world in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who had the equivalent of a two-year college degree. In 2009, the U.S. was 15th.

7. There is a new cable TV channel. It is called DogTV. It runs 24-hour programming for dogs. According to The New York Times the programming consists of "three- to six-minute segments featuring grassy fields, bouncing balls and humans rubbing dog tummies." Sounds better than the crap I've been watching.

April 26, 2012

The Magical Power Of Advertising

One of the untold stories of the new age of marketing is the way it has lead us back to an old way of thinking .

Advertising was once thought to be magic. We had silly books like "The Hidden Persuaders" and dumb-ass movies like "The Hucksters" which propagated the nonsense that people were compliant sheep who were easily mesmerized by us diabolical ad hacks.

As time went on, a more realistic account of the power of advertising arose. People weren't all docile idiots; they didn't piss their money away on any piece of crap the marketing industry threw at them; advertising needed to have some thinking behind it to be effective.

The ad industry grew up, the marketing industry grew up, our creative people grew up, and our clients grew up. We came to understand that advertising's power was limited and contingent. We came to understand that a lot of advertising was wasteful and inefficient. We learned that television was not a miracle and advertising was not magic.

But now the magic is back.

This time, of course, the magicians have new rabbits and new hats. But it's all still illusions.

This time around consumers want to have conversations with us and "co-create." All we have to do is give them "compelling content" and get all social with them.

The new illusions are just as absurd as the old.

It's time, once again, for everyone to grow up.

April 25, 2012

It Didn't Take Long

 On August 29, upon the retirement of Steve Jobs from his role as CEO of Apple, I wrote...
"...one of the first indications of whether Apple is capable of continuing its explosion of creative energy without Jobs at the helm may be found in its advertising. The product pipeline will take years to screw up. But the ad pipeline can be screwed up in no time...
About a year from now...the knuckleheads at Apple (there are knuckleheads everywhere) will have a chance to get their sweaty hands on the advertising...
Advertising will be an early indicator of whether people without vision and taste are moving in at Apple. It will be interesting to watch."
Well, it didn't take long. If you've seen the new Apple spots with Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel you know what I mean. They're not terrible. They're just not Apple.

They look like an idea that a committee could easily agree on.

You always knew an Apple spot when you saw one. These things are from a different land. They have the "almost-funny" quality of something from Microsoft or Taco Bell.

In advertising, a lot of the good stuff has been done at the direction of amateur savants -- like Jobs. There has never been a great creative visionary with an MBA (okay, I'm making that up, but I'll bet it's right.)

It smells to me like "marketing professionals" are taking over at Apple. That means processes will be introduced and rules will be followed. And celebrities will be handsomely paid.

Here's a likely scenario.

Unless Apple gives advertising oversight to someone with vision, the work will continue to wobble. Of course, the agency will take the blame. You will hear rumblings.

By the way, there is nothing less funny than something that is "almost-funny."

Yesterday, Apple reported huge growth in iPhone sales and profit for the quarter. Advertising isn't everything.

April 23, 2012

The Restaurant For People Who Don’t Like Food

In my hometown of Oakland, California, there’s a restaurant I hate.

It’s very chic, and popular with a certain type of person – a person who likes restaurants, but doesn’t like food.

Everything about it is unappetizing. It has a cheerless austerity that appeals to the guilty wealthy. The food is very artfully arranged twigs and pebbles. It’s as if the chef learned his craft working with Tinker Toys.

They are afraid to use any ingredient that might add flavor to one of their precious concoctions as it might also taint its virtue.

Today we have agencies like this. They are agencies for people who don’t like advertising.

They are post-advertising agencies. They have no interest in the art, no passion for the craft.

They have no zeal for selling. They tell us that today's human does not want to be sold to. As if any human ever did.

They want to co-create, and have conversations, and share values.

Everything about them is unappetizing. They, too, have a cheerless austerity. They believe that persuasion is an insult to their relationship with the consumer. They believe that selling will taint their virtue.

They are bloodless, timid, and unenthusiastic.

Not me. I like selling. I like persuasion. I like advertising. I like food.

April 20, 2012

10 Things I Learned This Week

Since it's Friday and for some reason people don't read blogs on Friday, I thought I'd just make a list of 10 things I learned this week.

1. From Steve Harrison's book Changing The World Is The Only Fit Work For A Grown Man: legendary adman Howard Gossage never had more than 13 people in his agency.

2. People in their 20's "change" media 27 times an hour.

3. There was an unconfirmed report out of Chicago this week that someone was seen using a QR code.

4. We have a new type of humanoid in the ad world who is essentially a walking-talking briefing document. The head marketing whiz at AT&T wants us to think..."that AT&T is an emotional lifestyle brand that lets you live your life more expansively and brings you new experiences and new value." What planet do these meatballs come from?

5. Advertising used to be known as an industry that knew how to party. Today if you want to party, you have to work for the feds.

6. Which reminds me, mind readers apparently make $3,200 a pop. At least the ones who advise our hard working public servants.

7. Science Update: Rats that are not on drugs prefer listening to Beethoven as opposed to Miles Davis. But rats that are high (specifically on cocaine) prefer Miles to Ludwig.

8. Facebook page views are down 54 percent since August 2010. Average stay on a Facebook page is down 35 percent since January 2011.

9. Never stiff a Colombian hooker.

10. Good News. In Australia, if you're supposed to be working but you are having sex in a motel room, and you are "going hard," and your exertions cause a light fixture to come flying off the wall and hit you, and you are injured, you are entitled to workman's comp.

Have a good weekend.

    April 18, 2012

    The Accountability Gap

    If there’s one thing us ad hacks hate it’s accountability.

    We are forever trying to find ways to inoculate ourselves from the nasty business of actually selling our clients products

    We go through amazing contortions to move our clients away from hard, behavioral measures like sales, transactions, and customer counts to soft measures like awareness and attitude.

    We are always on the lookout for new justifications that separate advertising from the mundane, tiresome chore of peddling things.

    That's why "branding" has been such a godsend.

    When an advertising campaign is successful at selling stuff we’re geniuses. But when it isn't, no problem. It wasn’t supposed to. It was a "branding" campaign.

    As I have written before, I read an article a few years ago by the creative director of a global agency. He said his advertising was not intended to sell products. The objective was to "build brands".

    So, as I asked at the time, how does he know whether he's building a brand if not by measuring sales? How does he know?

    Does he ask a bunch of account planners? Does he consult an awards committee? Does he conduct focus groups? You can imagine the conversation: "We know you won't actually spend your money to buy this stuff, but are we building a brand here?"

    What could possibly be a better indicator of whether a brand is being built than if people are willing to shell out some dough to buy the stuff?

    By disassociating "branding" from "selling" he has found the perfect Catch-22 of unaccountability -- setting a goal that is not measurable.

    This way of thinking is starting to creep into online advertising, too. Web people hate to talk about click-through rates. Why? Because they represent accountability. 

    First they promised us that online advertising would be so much more measurable, we’d know exactly how many clicks, and who the clickers were, and where they came from and where they went.

    But then -- uh oh -- no one was clicking. So they had to change their story fast. Now, clicks mean nothing. Mention click-through rates to a modern web prodigy and he’ll look at you with great condescension and explain to you how out-of-it you are. Click-through rates are so 2008.

    “A click means nothing, earns no revenue and creates no brand equity." Is how a Starcom Research & Analytics super genius put it.

    A commenter to one of my recent posts said click-through rate is a "stone age metric" while another called it "an archaic form of measurement."
    So I have a question. If clicks mean nothing, why do we have links?
    The only way to activate a link is to click on it. Why do we spend all this time and money linking things and building things for them to link to? The connective tissue of the Internet is links and clicks. How in the world can these meatballs keep a straight face -- and more to the point, a job -- and tell us that clicks are meaningless?

    What is really going on is that most online advertising is so ineffective that the click rates are horrendous. And the only path around this indisputable fact is to assert that clicks don't mean anything.

    The Office Of Web Ad Sales And Justification is now hard at work trying to bury clicks and prop up its own pillar of unaccountability -- "engagement."

    Just like we disguise our offline advertising failures behind "branding," we are now hiding our online ad failures behind "engagement." Nobody can agree on what engagement means, how to measure it, or what value it has. So it’s the perfect flavor of online unaccountability.

    Let’s look at something written much better than I could have written it by the head of planning for Wieden+Kennedy’s Amsterdam office.

    “Let’s be clear. ‘Engagement’ is an unworkable and meaningless concept. It means everything. And absolutely nothing. And as such it cannot possibly claim to be any kind of metric.
    Searching, viewing, visits, spending time on site or page, opening promotional e-mails, completing a survey, page views, linking, bookmarking, blogging, forwarding, following, referring, clicking, friending, liking, +1-ing, playing, reading, subscribing, posting, printing, reviewing, recommending, rating, co-creating, discussing,...uploading, downloading, adding an item to favourites, joining a group, installing a widget...All of these and more are potential measures of ‘engagement’. 

    ...It really is time to call bullshit on ‘engagement’. Better, to bundle it into a coffin labelled ‘Agency Puffery’ and put a nail firmly in it once and for all.”
    The medium that promised us a clear path between advertising and sales accountability is now adopting the worst habits and practices of traditional advertising.

    Video Update

    The video we posted earlier this week, "The Top 10 Double Secret Unknown Facts About Advertising" has been a hit here at TAC. If you want to share it, I've posted it on YouTube here.

    April 16, 2012

    Advertising's 10 Best Kept Secrets

    In an attempt to restore some perspective to the overblown claims about online advertising and social media, a few years ago I produced a list called The Top 10 Double-Secret Unknown Facts About Advertising.

    I have updated it and the Fine Arts Committee here at The Ad Contrarian has made a little movie out of it.

    Feel free to spread it around. (This video is now posted on YouTube here.)

    Sources, in order:
    4. Nielsen Cross Platform Report Q1 2011
    6. Nielsen Cross Platform Report Q1 2011
    7. Nielsen Cross Platform Report Q1 2011, http://today.duke.edu/2010/05/tivo.html
    8. US Department of Commerce QUARTERLY RETAIL E-COMMERCE SALES 4th QUARTER 2011
    9. Li, Hairong; Leckenby, John D. (2004). "Internet Advertising Formats and Effectiveness". Center for Interactive Advertising. And DoubleClick, Benchmark Report, 2009
    10. Wistia, March 15, 2012 

    To all the web zealots who are going to flood me with hysterical emails and comments about the accuracy of this data, this is not my data. It comes from third parties who are respectable and reliable. I have annotated or provided links above. If you don't like their data, that's fine. Please write to them, not me.

    April 13, 2012

    A Great Day In The History Of Literature

    Regular readers will be happy to know that today is a no-whining day here at TAC. I am a happy dude.

    My book 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising is no longer just a bunch of electrons bouncing around an Amazon server. It's now a real book with real ink and real paper.

    You can find it here at Amazon. Of course if you prefer pixels, you can still buy the pixie version.

    Even if you have the eBook, here are five good reasons you should have the printed version:
    1. Gutenberg gets a royalty
    2. You can wrap it in a "Remembrance of Things Past" dust jacket and the chicks at Starbuck's will think you're sensitive
    3. It makes a great gift for all your friends who can read
    4. It's very difficult to make margin notes on electrons
    5. The colors go nicely with your bathroom 
    So head on over to Amazon and order a copy. It will make the one you love (that's me) very happy.

    April 12, 2012

    Talking To Grown-Ups

    I've spent an inordinate amount of time over the years railing about the silliness of marketers who are constantly chasing people with no money (young people) and ignoring the people with lots of money (people over 50.)

    Today we'll leave that argument behind and talk instead about a different aspect of the problem: there isn't an adequate vocabulary for talking to grown-ups in advertising.

    It's much easier to talk to young people. We all know what to do. You start with a dopey pop music track, you add quick cuts of people with bad haircuts and tattoos, you mix in a few half-naked models pretending they can act, then slip in a few product shots. (For a primer in how to sell this vapid formula to boneheads, don't miss the "The Pitch.")

    We know that this is mindless crap but let's not be coy here, young people are dimwits and the stuff works.

    But talking to adults is harder. We don't have a visual language for it. It's just one cliche after another. Grandpa and Timmy in the row boat fishing. Worn out pop "oldies." Icky suburbanites getting all horny in bathtubs.

    Dumb cliches work with young people because pop culture is always evolving (perhaps devolving is a more accurate word) so there are new images to work with all the time. But the cliches we've developed for old farts haven't changed at all. We need a new visual language.

    The problem isn't just that the ad industry doesn't want to talk to grown-ups, it doesn't know how.

    In Other News...
    I watched "The Pitch" last night and wrote a long post about it. But I've decided not to run it. I have an unwritten rule here about criticizing other agencies -- it's just too easy and self-serving. But, boy, has our industry lost its way.

    And Speaking of Self-Serving...
    I almost never use this platform for talking about the agency, but our Toyota team did a spot that I particularly like. Hope you enjoy it.

    April 11, 2012

    Everything Not Previously Dead Is Now Dead

    Guess what? Now marketing is dead, too!

    First television was dead. Then advertising was dead. Then ad campaigns were dead. Then broadcasting was dead. Then copywriters were dead.

    Now marketing is dead. And it's not just dead, it's dead in caps, as in, "Marketing is Dead."

    This time it must be true because it comes from some genius who teaches at Stanford and writes for the Harvard Business Review. It seems like the gaudier the credentials, the dopier the patter. (Which is stolen directly from one of my all-time favorite lines: Sam Spade, in  The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett, says: "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.")

    You can read about the terrible death of marketing (such a pity, it was so young) on a website called Yes and Know (groan.) The name of the piece in question is What Replaces Marketing? Apparently, the answer is "shared purpose" (double-extra-groan.)

    You see, we ad hacks are no longer responsible for selling stuff, instead we are social workers whose job is to "engage in a community" and "co-create with people."

    I have only two words for this bullshit: Pepsi Refresh.

    After feeding us this baloney sandwich, the writer goes off into hyperspace about Apple retail stores, completely misunderstanding Apple's business strategy. If ever there was a secretive, paranoid, walled culture that absolutely, positively refused to "engage in a community" or "co-create with people" it's Apple.

    But you really can't appreciate the depths of the cluelessness of this meatball until you hear her advice for Best Buy on how to resurrect their rapidly decomposing carcass...
    "...become social thru Pinterest...all of a sudden you become a magnet for what’s hot."
    All of a sudden! Wow, that was easy! Man, this marketing stuff is fun!

    We here at The Ad Contrarian World Headquarters would like to welcome Pinterest to the official registry of Idiot's-Answers-To-Everything. It joins the hallowed ranks of podcasts, widgets, Facebook, apps, Twitter, social media, and content.

    I know that the people who write all these insufferable "____ is Dead" articles are imbeciles, but please, when will the Guardians Of The Internet stop publishing this crap? Who the hell is in charge here?

    April 09, 2012

    The Consumer Is In Charge. Really?

    In my family's history, there were a pair of people who I find fascinating.

    They were an aunt and uncle who were born in the 1920s. They grew up in deep poverty during the great depression. According to legend, their families were often to be found out on the streets of NYC with their meager belongings, having been thrown out of their tenement apartments. Then they would rent other apartments and be out on the street again in 60 days, having, once again, not been able to pay the rent.

    One set of parents tried to scrape out some kind of living with petty crime, like bookmaking and running card games.

    Despite their hardships, the two people in question were brilliant and went on to impressive accomplishments. She became the head of the mathematics department at an East Coast college. He went on to become an author respected enough to have his work featured in The New York Times Book Review.

    They were gentle, kind, compassionate people. During their college days, in the 1940s, they became communists. Their experience of poverty lead them to believe that communism offered the world the first truly realistic shot at equality.

    When the horrors of Stalin's Soviet system started to become common knowledge during the 50s and 60s, they were devastated. For years they lived in a kind of denial state, refusing to change their political beliefs in the face of reality.

    Although they were brilliant, they were the kind of people who Lenin is reported to have referred to as "useful idiots." There were thousands of well-meaning people in the West who completely misunderstood the nature of communism. They were "useful" to the Soviets in that they created an idealistic, sympathetic lobby for a brutal, murderous regime. They were "idiots" in that their ideology blinded them to reality. They couldn't see that communism was built on bullets and repression, not bake sales and sing-alongs.

    Today, the marketing industry is espousing a conviction that may turn out to be very misguided. It is the belief that "the consumer is in charge." This assertion is inescapable in marketing circles.

    The hypothesis behind this meme is that traditionally, in the relationship between marketers and consumers, the power has been in the hands of marketers. But today, because of the Internet, the consumer has the power.

    Underlying this thinking is the viewpoint that the Internet has had a democratizing effect that is good for consumers and good for society. The thinking is that it has given the individual more power and more control. I am not so sure. In fact, I am highly skeptical.

    If the Internet has produced any change in the power relationship between consumers and marketers, it may very well be in favor of the marketers. The amount of information they are collecting, warehousing, and selling about us is outrageous and alarming.

    From an article last week in The Wall Street Journal...
    "Some of the most widely used apps on Facebook—the games, quizzes and sharing services that define the social-networking site and give it such appeal—are gathering volumes of personal information.

    A Wall Street Journal examination of 100 of the most popular Facebook apps found that some seek the email addresses, current location and sexual preference, among other details, not only of app users but also of their Facebook friends. One Yahoo service powered by Facebook requests access to a person's religious and political leanings as a condition for using it. The popular Skype service for making online phone calls seeks the Facebook photos and birthdays of its users and their friends...
    ...a user's friends aren't notified if information about them is used by a friend's app. An examination of the apps' activities also suggests that Facebook occasionally isn't enforcing its own rules on data privacy. "
    In an article I wrote for Adweek over a year ago entitled Big Brother Has Arrived And He's Us, I said...
    It (the Internet) pretends the information is secure, but only a blind fool believes this. It tells us that privacy is an old-fashioned, out-of-date concept. It is reassuring in its pervasiveness.

    Then it sells the information to the highest bidder. And sometimes to any bidder at all...

    There’s no reasonable way that this is a good development for a free society. There is no realistic vision of the future in which this will not lead to appalling mischief.
    Like my aunt and uncle, the people who trust in the democratizing effect of the Internet are not evil or stupid. They sincerely believe that the web has given us more control. They sincerely believe the consumer is in charge.

    Also like my aunt and uncle, they may be letting ideology get in the way of reality. They may be blind to the hidden, subtle structure.

    Today, the Internet is essentially three things: Google, Facebook, and a zillion little rats and mice. An unprecedented amount of information and power is being concentrated in the hands of a few entities and their allies. I can't help but notice that in the world of marketing the big keep getting bigger and small keep getting vaporized. Does this sound to you like the consumer is in charge?

    We are used to thinking about tyranny as a function of governmental excess. Never before in history has this kind of information monopoly been in the hands of non-governmental institutions. This is completely new and we have no idea where it leads.

    It's getting harder and harder for me to believe that they have all the information, but we are in charge.

    Right on cue, Facebook announced that they were buying Instagram today. This set off a firestorm among the social media crowd who apparently just discovered that Facebook knows where they live.

    Also, someone sent me a pdf of the intro to Doc Searl's new book called "The Intention Economy" which has yet to be published. Doc is one of the authors of "The Cluetrain Manifesto." He is a very cool guy and from what I can tell from the intro to the book, he is in 100% disagreement with today's post. He thinks consumer power is about to explode. I would post his intro but I don't need a lawsuit for copyright infringement. If you can find it, it's worth reading to get another viewpoint.

    April 04, 2012

    Nobody Learns Anything

    The very first post I wrote for this blog almost 5 years ago was called Aiming Low and was about marketers' unrelenting stupidity at targeting young people in advertising.

    A few months later I wrote a piece about Pontiac mindlessly doing exactly that:
    According to Ad Age, Pontiac is shifting its advertising efforts toward media that appeal to younger audiences such as video game tie-ins, Web ads and spots on sports channels and late-night shows.

    The logic of this is perfectly idiotic and, as such, perfectly in line with the brainless reflexes of so many marketers... A few facts:

    1. The average Pontiac buyer is over 50.
    2. Baby Boomers and older comprise as much as 80% of the market for new cars.
    3. Of the 13 cars the average American will buy in a lifetime, 8 will be bought after they're 50 years old.
    4. Even if they want a Pontiac (which they don't and never will) young people can't afford new cars, and no lender in his right mind will finance them.
    Now that Pontiac is dead and buried (huge surprise!), General Motors, having learned nothing, is in a big push to apply the same brilliant strategy to Chevrolet.

    According to The New York Times, General Motors has hired MTV (Ohmygod, how cool is that?) to teach them how to sell Chevys to young people.

    But unlike Pontiac, which only pissed away media dollars, Chevy is flirting with frittering away its whole culture on people who don't buy cars, don't want cars, and can't afford cars.

    According to The Times...
    "The partnership (with MTV) is intended to transform things as diverse as the milieu at the company’s steel-and-glass headquarters, the look of its Chevrolet cars, the dealership structure and the dashboard technology. Even the test drive is being reimagined, since young consumers find riding in a car with a stranger creepy..."
    You wanna talk creepy?  Listen to this...
    "Mr. Martin (the MTV guru-in-charge) has recruited what he calls “insurgents,” young Chevrolet employees who are willing to change things from the inside and report to him on skeptical executives."
    What a great idea! An internal Gestapo ratting out non-compliant employees. The Cultural Revolution comes to Detroit.
    "Last summer, (the MTV) team temporarily transformed part of the G.M. lobby into a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle, with graffiti on the walls and skateboards and throw pillows scattered around."
    They can keep their damn coffee, where's the weed? By the way, it just doesn't get any cooler than Seattle or Awestin.
    “We tried to teach dealers how to calibrate conversations”
    Yeah, that oughtta work. I can just hear the training session now:
    MTV: You really need to learn how to calibrate conversations...

    DEALER: Calibrate this, asshole.
    A lot has changed since I started this blog 5 years ago. But one thing will never change: Marketers' brainless, pathetic pursuit of young people.

    April 02, 2012

    Stimulation Nation

    We are addicted to stimulation.

    Every bar has nine TVs going at all times. Every commuter is wrapped in an iPhone-induced cocoon of digital music, chat, or games. Every couch potato is checking his Facebook page while watching American Idol. Every retail store has music playing and screens fluttering. Every sporting event is a non-stop parade of videos, promotions, and giveaways. Every movie is a hysterical spectacle of explosions, fire-breathing monsters, gunplay, and sex.

    The stimulation is unrelenting.

    We are so immersed in stimulation that when it ends we feel uncomfortable. It is no longer possible to vacation in quiet. Every resort swimming pool has pop music pumped in. Every hotel room has a huge flat screen.

    A great deal of this stimulation is supported and amplified by advertising. Everywhere we turn, there is advertising. You can't swing a dead account planner without hitting some. In addition to flooding all our traditional channels of communication, advertising has now saturated all our new media.

    Against this background of constant stimulation and advertising overload we have the persistent chirping of new age marketing wizards and web hustlers.

    First they told us that advertising was dead. When that observation proved to be astonishingly stupid they came up with another dubious premise to justify their unremitting defense of the Divine Church Of The Internet. It goes something like this...
    "The demise of in-your-face marketing and advertising is close at hand, to be replaced by...a form of advertising that depends on 'many lightweight interactions over time.' "
    This nonsense (which I have quoted before) comes from a big shot at Facebook.

    It is a tidy bit of verbal sleight-of-hand that accomplishes two objectives at once. First, it subtly acknowledges the dirty little secret that anyone with eyes can see, but no one wants to say out loud -- that the Internet has thus far been a weak advertising medium. But it cleverly tries to make the preposterous case that this weakness is actually a strength -- that web advertising (specifically, content marketing and social media) are more effective because of their low impact.

    There's only one problem with this lovely little fantasy -- it is entirely without basis in fact. Where are the dominant brands that have been built with "many lightweight interactions over time?"

    Where's the beer, or the airline, or the fast food joint, or the pick-up truck, or the cell phone, or the hotel chain, or the yogurt, or the sneakers, or the soda, or the car insurance, or the bank, or the...am I boring you?... that have been built with web-centric "lightweight interactions?"

    I, too, would love to believe that there is a quieter, less frantic, more serene world in which subtlety and delicacy will carry the day. But where the hell is the evidence?

    The evidence is all in the other direction. We are a culture that is hooked on stimulation. We like our stimulation loud and we like it in hi def.

    The idea that the Internet has somehow cured consumers of this addiction is a juvenile amalgam of fairy tales and baloney.