July 31, 2012

Apple Getting Skinned

The web is buzzing with unflattering commentary about Apple's latest TV campaign. I'll be writing about it soon.

As a byproduct of Apple's ad problems, a post I wrote last year is getting a lot of attention and traffic.

If you're interested, the piece is called Advertising And The Future Of Apple and you can find it here.

July 30, 2012

Invasion Of The Paramarketers

We have a new breed in the advertising and marketing world. They are paramarketers -- almost marketers. They know the language. They know the look. They know the moves. But they don't have the chops.

In medicine and the law,  people who are almost doctors and almost lawyers are clearly labeled. They are paramedics and paralegals. But in marketing, there are no such labels. They are called marketing managers or account planners or strategy directors or ...

They have taken all the courses, read all the books and attended all the conferences. But they have never actually sold anything to anyone. They have never stood on the floor of a showroom and sold someone a car. They have never worked in a clothing store and sold someone a dress. Their experience is all in the theory of selling, not the activity of selling. They have never stood face-to-face with an actual person and learned what it takes to convince someone to buy something.

They don't understand that advertising and marketing are just selling at a distance.

They believe in glib notions. They think people buy tires because they are part of a "community." And they buy peanut butter because they have a "relationship" with the brand. They think consumers want to have "conversations" with them and "interact" with their advertising. They think technology is bigger than life and ideas are deader than dead.

They are taught this nonsense by professors and pundits and speakers who also have never sold anything.

They are not just young people. They are also old people trying to act young. Many are veterans who have succeeded despite having never sold anything. They have surfed the wave of someone else's successful enterprise.

The marketing world has always had its share of paraprofessionals. But never before have they had the influence or the authority they do now.

July 27, 2012

Ad Contrarian Bails Out Facebook

As you probably know, Facebook announced their earnings yesterday and the men in the grey suits on Wall Street were not happy. Shares in Facebook dropped 10% in after-hours trading after falling 8.5% earlier in the day. Facebook shares were already selling for less than a toasted raisin bagel with light cream cheese, so this was not a good thing.

One thing we don't want is for the men in grey suits to get angry at us again. Remember when they did that in 2008 and took away all our money and give it to General Motors? So here at The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters we knew we had to do something.

We called an emergency meeting of the executive board of The Ad Contrarian Foundation and the board voted to donate $250 to Facebook.

Here's what we're doing. We have produced an ad to appear on Facebook. It's about our semi-brilliant, not-quite-best-seller 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising. The ad is guaranteed to have a negative ROI because the cost-per-click I brilliantly negotiated is higher than the profit I make on each sale. So even if every click results in a sale, I still lose my ass. Pretty slick, huh?

But you know what? That creepy Zuckerberg kid needs the money more than I do.

Now here's the fun part. As you read here earlier this week, banner ads with nothing in them -- blank ads -- outperformed Facebook ads in a research experiment. So I got together with the president of my agency (the lovely and annoying Sharon Krinsky) and we decided to do another experiment. What if we produced ads that were less than nothing. What if we insulted and ridiculed our target audience? How would those ads perform?

We decided the target audience for the ads should be people who bought Facebook stock --  if they are stupid enough to buy that, they'll buy anything.

Then we needed a headline that would be nice and insulting. But here's the hard part. In a Facebook headline you're not allowed more than 25 characters. We struggled over this one for almost 15 minutes (twice as long as the average creative team spends on a Facebook ad.) Finally it came to us. The headline is Click Here Sucker! We felt that the exclamation mark added that certain amateur quality that makes online advertising so appealing.

Then we needed to write some body copy that in 90 characters appeared momentarily earnest but ended in ridicule. Here's what we came up with: "101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising" A must read for anyone in marketing or jail.

We are not looking forward to pissing away $250 dollars, but we are proud to have helped our friends at Facebook. They have provided us with mountains of fun-packed material. It's the least we can do.

Remember, every time you click on this ad, it costs me money.

We'll report back with results.

July 26, 2012

Social Media And The Olympic Games

The great Dave Trott turned me on to a truly wonderful social media video about the London Olympics. First take a look at it, then we'll talk.

You watch this and you say to yourself, is she serious? Then a question creeps into your mind. Is she really a social media person or is it a spoof?

One of the characteristics of great satire is that it straddles the line between reality and comedy.

One of the characteristics of social media "experts" is that they, too, straddle the line between reality and comedy.

Is this satire or social media?

The correct answer is, it's a spoof. But what a convincing one.

July 24, 2012

Dead Air More Effective Than Facebook Ads

The broadcast industry has a term called "dead air." It occurs when there's a mistake or a technical glitch that results in no audio on radio, or no picture on a TV screen. A blank TV screen is "dead air."

In an absolutely astounding experiment, the banner advertising equivalent of dead air -- a blank display ad -- performed better than the average Facebook ad; twice as good as the average "branding" display ad; and only one click in ten thousand worse than the average of all display ads.

Here are the details.

AdAge this week has a piece called How Blank Display Ads Managed to Tot Up Some Impressive NumbersThe article was written by Ted McConnell, exec VP-digital for the Advertising Research Foundation.

Ted and a few friends (an astrophysicist from an online analytics firm, a measurement expert from the Advertising Research Foundation, and an ad-platform wizard from a buying and optimization company) decided to do an experiment. The experiment was designed to discover how much clicking of banner advertising was actual engagement with the ad, and how much was just noise -- people clicking for no reason.

To do this they created a unique ad -- an ad with no message. A blank. According to McConnell...
"We created six blank ads in three IAB standard sizes, and two colors, white and orange. We trafficked the ads via a demand-side platform (DSP) with a low bid. We started with run of exchange, and in another phase trafficked to "named publishers" that would accept unaudited copy." 
Here are the results:
  • The click-through rate on the blank ads was .08%. According to published reports, the click-through rate on the average Facebook ad is about .05%. The blank ad performed 60% better.
  • The click through rate for the blank ad was about double the average click-through rate for a "branding" display ad (an ad without an offer.)
  • The click-through rate on the average banner ad is .09%. This means the blank ad drew one click in ten thousand fewer than an average banner ad.
  • About .04% of the clicks were mistakes. Since the average click-through rate for display ads is .09%, this indicates that it is possible that as much as 44% of banner ad clicks are mistakes.
The astounding thing is that with all the data Facebook is collecting, all the geniuses we have analyzing display ad results, all the space-age targeting we are constantly being beaten over the head with, and all the young creative prodigies lecturing us on the magic of online advertising, empty ads outperformed our online geniuses.

You simply cannot make this shit up.

Thanks to Tom Donald for alerting me to this story.

July 23, 2012

A Facebook Story

NPR has a podcast called Planet Money.

Recently they did a show about Facebook. If you have 20 minutes I suggest you listen to it here. The show aired a few days after the Facebook IPO.

They did an interesting experiment. They took a small, popular pizza place in New Orleans called Pizza Delicious that was looking to expand, and paired them with a social media marketing expert in San Francisco who advises large companies on Facebook strategy. Together, they created a Facebook ad campaign for Pizza Delicious, and tracked the results.

Here are the highlights:

The NPR and pizza people thought that the target for the Facebook campaign should be people on Facebook who say they like pizza.

The social media expert disagreed. He said that Pizza Delicious had 2,000 fans on its Facebook page, and the target for the campaign should be the friends of Pizza Delicious' fans. This is very common Facebook ad strategy. In this case, 74% of people in New Orleans (224,000 people) were friends of someone who was a fan of Pizza Delicious.

The pizza owners explained to the social media expert that Pizza Delicious' customers tended to have ties to the Northeast where, presumably, people appreciate good pizza. The consultant then recommended that they further narrow the target by cross-tabbing friends of Pizza Delicious with people who live in New Orleans but are fans of Northeast cultural entities e.g., The NY Knicks; NY Rangers; Carmelo Anthony; NY Times, Notorious B.I.G., New Jersey Nets, bagels, etc.

They came up with about 15,000 people who lived within 10 miles of New Orleans, were friends of the pizza place's fans, and had some cultural connection to the New York area.

According to the NPR reporter, she felt the targeting was "perfect...We were golden. This could not miss."

They placed the ad. Soon after the ad began appearing on Facebook the NPR reporters started receiving calls from the pizza owners. Not a single person had clicked on the ad. Not one.

The next thing they did was toss out the advice of the social media expert, and developed their own strategy and started running new ads. These ads "killed" -- twice as many responses as normal. Because Facebook puts more weight behind ads that get good response rates, the ads ran a lot. In fact, they appeared over 700,000 times.

One result was that they quickly added 10% more fans to their Facebook page. However, as the owner says, "through a long night of asking every single customer where they found out about Pizza Delicious, none of them said they found out about us through the Facebook ad. Zero people."

As the NPR reporters said, it's way too early to say if this Facebook campaign will be successful. Also, I am not a big fan of using anecdotes as representative of anything other than the case in point.

On the plus side, those 700,000 ad appearances cost the pizza guys a grand total of $240. and they got a $10 donation from someone who wanted to help them expand.

According to a valuation expert from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, in order for Facebook to justify its IPO price, ten years from now they will have to attract 10% of all the ad dollars spent on the planet. Not just U.S. ad dollars, but all ad dollars -- Chinese, Brazilian, Ukrainian, and Tunisian. And not just 10% of online ad dollars, but all ad dollars -- TV, radio, print, outdoor, blimps, balloons, butt-danglers, hooter-wobblers...

Let's just say I'm skeptical.

Thanks to Jason Headley for the heads-up on this story.

July 18, 2012

Why Interactivity Makes Advertising Less Effective

The advertising and marketing industries had a dream. The dream was that interactive media would revolutionize advertising and make it far more relevant and effective.

There's only one problem. Consumers have shown no interest whatsoever in interacting with advertising. None.

Click through rates on display ads continue to drop and are now below one in a thousand. Every attempt at interactive TV has been a dismal failure. YouTube has thousands and thousands of TV spots and ostensibly "viral" videos. The overwhelmingly majority of which have never been viewed by anyone but the director's mother.

What marketers still refuse to comprehend is that, at best, advertising is a minor annoyance. It is pretty clear that most consumers are willing to go to substantial lengths to avoid it.

Which makes the ability to interact with a medium the enemy of advertising.

This is nothing new. Radio advertising became less effective with the invention of the push-button car radio. As soon as a crappy ad came on we interacted with the button. It is also why TV advertising became less effective with the invention of the remote. TV spots were a lot more effective when you had to drag your ass off the sofa to change the channel.

People who can easily interact with a medium to avoid ads generally will. But there are a few exceptions to this. Happily there are some very talented people in advertising who can create ads that are so interesting, beautiful, or funny that people will not try to avoid them. Unhappily, there are very few of these.

The other exception occurs when people are shopping. Someone looking for something is willing to interact. Just like she once would interact with the yellow pages, she will now interact with Google.

These exceptions notwithstanding, easy interaction with a medium is not the advertiser's friend.

But there is apparently no end to marketers' ability to delude themselves, and also no end to ad hustlers' willingness to feed these delusions. The latest delusion is "content."

The same crowd that sold us interactive advertising as a marketing miracle is now selling us "content" as the new magic elixir. You see, if we engage the consumer with compelling online content...

Well, guess what? Consumers are at least as eager to avoid our "content" as they are our ads. Most "content," like most advertising, is dumb and self-serving and offers nothing of interest or value to consumers.

Which is just another way of saying that the only way to get most consumers to pay attention to advertising messages is to force them to --  the much-ridiculed "interruption model."

The lovely fantasy of advertising interactivity has been undermined by an unfortunate fact of nature -- no one in his right mind volunteers for advertising.

To put it succinctly, consumers are far more likely to utilize interactivity to avoid advertising than to engage with it.

July 12, 2012

Display's Dismal Dysfunction

For years here at Ad Contrarian global headquarters, we have been questioning the marketing industry's delusional enthusiasm for online display advertising. Despite consumers' ongoing indifference, and the pitiful performance of this form of advertising, marketers continue to pour billions of dollars into this black hole.*

There are naive clients who insist on throwing their money away on display ads despite the admonitions of responsible agencies. And there are agencies who continue to hustle these ads to clients with a combination of digital jive talk and misleading data.

Finally, there are some in the industry who are getting fed up with the deceptive "metrics" and hype, and are starting to see that the emperor has no clicks. An article from Reuters recently laid out the case for the dysfunctional state of the display advertising industry.
  • Display ad prices have dropped about 50% since the dot-com boom. 
  • Last week, Microsoft had to write down essentially all of its $6.3 billion investment in display ad network aQuantive. Reuters says: "Microsoft's spectacular capitulation is the latest admission of failure on display advertising." 
  • Facebook is desperately attempting to justify its IPO price by flooding the market with display ad inventory, further deflating prices. 
  • ValueClick has lost half its value since 2007. 
  • In 1998, Yahoo was getting a CPM of $25 for banner ads. By the end of 2011, that had dropped to $11.50. Yahoo, too, is worth about half what it was worth in 2007. 
  • Despite the promise of pinpoint targeting, it looks like display is becoming the province of the exact opposite type of advertiser -- the tonnage direct marketer who used to buy the 2 am TV inventory. One industry veteran calls display "...a ghetto for bad direct-response.
  • Display advertising has become so devalued that according to one industry insider, Microsoft may be considering giving away display ads.
According to Reuters, "Advertisers now question the performance of display ads more as Internet users train themselves to avoid such marketing."  Duh. How long have we been saying that? 

But facts don't bother the display ad apologists. Despite the fact that 15 years of display advertising have failed to produce a single major consumer-facing brand, and TV advertising has produced thousands of them, you can still find spurious data to prove that display advertising is more effective than TV.

Accordingly, I have written a little poem that you might want to use as the first slide in every agency Powerpoint presentation. Maybe you've met someone like this:
There once was a digital guy
Who was brilliant at pie-in-the-sky
Sooner or later
He'd torture the data
To prove that elephants fly
 Tell the truth. Where else do you get ad poetry?

 *There is a sensible strategy for utilizing display advertising which you can find here.

July 10, 2012

How The Higgs Boson Can Help You Build Customer Engagement

Executive Summary: Start by creating a Boson-link (Blink). Then co-create by sharing Blinks about your brand with a million billion trillion zillion other Blinks and, like, then those Blinks will, like, totally connect and grow exponentially and before you know it you're delivering brand messages and branded content and branded branding to everyone online without having to give a penny to that creepy Zuckerberg kid. 

Yes, the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN changes everything for marketers.

First, it poses a huge challenge. How will you use the Higgs Boson to build stronger engagement between your brand and your customers?

Scientists tell us that without the Higgs Boson matter would have no mass. There would be no stars, no galaxies, and no cinnamon raisin bread. Without mass, we would have no mass media and no mass transit. Massachusetts would be called achusetts.

The calcified old-world thinking of Madison Avenue, with its TV commercials and display ads, relied on dreary, clunky electrons to deliver a one-way message to a passive viewer. But now, electrons are dead!  Today's particle-wave-connected consumer, or (as we like to call him) the average schmuck, is just another bump in an ever-expanding Higgs Field.

Messages embedded in a Higgs Boson bounce right off the average schmuck and create an immediate channel connecting him to someone else -- in many cases, a below-average schmuck.

Here's an example of how Higgs Boson marketing works in a worldwide, inter-globulated ecosystem of engagement: Let's say a Higgs Boson  passes through my arm. In the next instant it may pass through your foot. Or it might pass through some super-hot nympho's tiny skirt and go bouncing around in her thong. How awesome would that be? (We'd finally get some data-driven insights we could really use, if you get my drift.)

Today, the consumer is dead! I mean, she's in total control (unless she's had wine at lunch, then look out!) Scientists now estimate that somewhere between 14 and 600 million billion trillion zillion Higgs Bosons penetrate a typical consumer's body every moment. Can you imagine how many would penetrate it if she was totally naked?

According to one theory proposed by physicists at the Very, Very Small Teflon Collider in Rhode Island, there are actually more bosons in the universe than social media experts in Brooklyn.

Three Ways To Incorporate The Higgs Boson Into Your Marketing Plan Right Now!
1. Remember, activating Higgs Boson technology is only one part of your 360 degree marketing mix. It's actually about 154 degrees. So you still have 206 degrees to play with. Don't neglect all your other important marketing activities like tweeting, podcasting, crank calling, and going to Cannes to snort coke with Swedish account planners.

2. Collecting "likes" on Facebook is still a great way to stay busy without actually accomplishing anything. But it's not too early to start accumulating "Bosos." A "Boso" is like a "like." It occurs when a Boson interacts with another particle and then something amazing happens and your score goes up and you can win a new dining room set.

3. Three words: Gamify your bosons!
One warning. If you haven't activated your Higgs Boson integrated worldwide artisanal strategy already, it's too late and you and your brand and all your colleagues and friends and their families and pets are dead!

July 09, 2012

The Real Poop On Marketing

The Ad Contrarian is on sabbatical. For the sake of blogaholics I am reprinting some old stuff that is either still relevant or still silly. Here's a silly one from 2008.

Something I read recently got me thinking that we may be flushing millions of dollars right down the old crapper.

It turns out that in marketing today, poop is some valuable shit.
- A big-time Manhattan spa is offering a Japanese-style "Geisha Facial" which features all the goodness of real bird droppings.

- Peter Jones, an upscale retailer in London, is offering the world's most expensive cup of coffee. At 50 pounds (these days, that's about 10 million dollars) you can get a cup of coffee made with real cat excreta.

- If you want to send a note that says "I care", how about sending it on paper made of elephant shit?

- Sending photos to a loved one? Now you can send them in picture frames made from panda patties? (Panda's are so cute. Imagine how adorable their doodies must be!)

- And finally, if rubbing it on your face, drinking it, and sending it to loved ones isn't enough, now you can live in it. Michigan State researchers have developed the Eco-Floor, a floor for your home made of -- you guessed it -- cow shit.
Apparently, brown is the new green.

July 06, 2012

How To Be Happy In Advertising

The Ad Contrarian is on sabbatical. For the sake of blogoholics and other harmless sociopaths we will be posting stuff from years back that is either still relevant or still silly. Here's one from 2007.

Dr. Adcontrarian is on duty today to help you be a happier ad person. Please have a seat.

It's not easy being happy in advertising. It's a frustrating business. Modern life is filled with many horrors -- war, husbands, pizza topped with smoked chicken. And we ad people are closely aligned with something uniquely unsettling -- popular culture.

Advertising used to be about discovering what consumers wanted and creating messages that addressed those interests. Now it's about pretending to find out what consumers want but really trying to figure out what the next hot cultural thing is going to be and jumping on it under the pretext of understanding consumer interests. Call me cynical.

Paying such close attention to pop culture causes great anxiety. It is non-stop slime bucket stimulation . We secretly enjoy pop culture because it keeps us edgy and anxious. This works its way through our back-door neuroreceptors to stimulate us consciously yet make us miserable unconsciously (full disclosure - I have no idea WTF I'm talking about but, admit it, if your shrink said this you'd nod your head.)

Anyway, I was on vacation not long ago. I was out-of-the-loop for a while -- off-the-grid, so to speak. I came back 50% happier than I left. After thinking about it, I realized that I was so much less tense and anxious because I hadn't watched a tv show, or read a newspaper, or visited a website, or watched a news broadcast for weeks.

You may be thinking that ignoring current events and paying no attention to the news is not conducive to good citizenship. This may very well be true but it is not the subject of today's session, so shut up.

You wanna be happy? Unplug.

A good place to start is to stop reading blogs.

July 05, 2012

How Many Cognitive Anthropologists Does It Take To Make A TV Spot?

I know, I know... I'm supposed to be on blog sabbatical. But I came across this and it's just too good to pass up.

CP+B just broke 2 new TV spots for Applebee's. This post is not about the spots. It's about the credits for the spots. Apparently it took more people to create this thing than Gone With The Wind. Below are the credits for the two spots. (If you think I'm making this up, here's the proof.)
  • Worldwide Chief Creative Officer: Rob Reilly
  • VPs, Executive Creative Directors: Steve Babcock, Mark Taylor
  • VP, Creative Director: Allen Richardson
  • Creative Directors: Dave Swartz, Scott MacGregor
  • Associate Creative Directors: Rich Ford, Brandt Lewis
  • Senior Art Director: David Gonsalves
  • Integrated Head of Video: Chad Hopenwasser
  • Senior Integrated Producer: Aaron Kovan
  • Integrated Producer: Annie Turlay
  • Food Shoot Production Company: MJZ
  • Food Shoot Director: Irv Blitz
  • Executive Producer: Franny Freiberger
  • Production Supervisor: Sabrina Mossberg
  • Live-Action Production Company: Moxie Pictures
  • Live-Action Director: Jared Hess
  • Executive Producers: Robert Fernandez, Lizzie Schwartz
  • Head of Production, Producer: Roger Zorovich
  • Line Producer: Laura Heflin
  • Director of Photography: Dariusz Wolskio
  • Postproduction: Plus Productions
  • VP, Executive Producer: Idalia Deshon
  • Integrated Producer: Andrea Krichevsky
  • Editor: Logan Hefflefinger
  • Assistant Editors: Chancler Haynes, Chadwick Schultz
  • VFX Artist: Adam Nix
  • Finishing Company: Method Studios
  • Executive Producer: Robert Owens
  • Music Company: JSM
  • Executive Integrated Music Producer: Bill Meadows
  • Composers, Arrangers: Joel Simon, Jordan Lieb
  • Sound Design, Mix Company: Lime Studios
  • Sound Designer: Sam Casas
  • Assistant Sound Designer: Matthew Miller
  • Animation Company: Buck
  • Visual Effects Company: Method Studios
  • Visual Effects Editor: Claus Hansen
  • Assistant Visual Effects Editor: Krysten Richardson
  • Visual Effects Producer: Colin Clarry
  • EVP, Group Account Director: Danielle Whalen
  • VP, Account Director: Scott Sibley
  • Content Management Supervisor: Ted Morse
  • Content Supervisor: Greg Paige
  • Content Manager: Derek Effinger
  • Assistant Content Manager: Alex Kirk
  • Business Affairs: Lisa Gillies
  • Talent Consultant: Michelle Thompson
  • Cognitive Anthropologists: Andrew Teagle, Kaylin Goldstein, Amelia Hall
  • Traffic Manager: Megan O'Rourke
The gig had seven Creative Directors and four Content Managers. Hard to see how they scraped by with only three Cognitive Anthropologists.

July 02, 2012

The 5th Anniversary Edition

Today marks the 5th anniversary of The Ad Contrarian.

Against all odds, the blog is still alive, readership is still growing, and it hasn't cost me any accounts. All this is very gratifying.

I am rewarding myself with a sabbatical. I'm going to take the month of July off and I'll be back in August.

For all the blogoholics out there, I'll be posting stuff from years past that I think is either still relevant or entertaining.

Have a good July and I'll see you sometime in August.