August 25, 2013

August 21, 2013

TV Dying? More Alive Than Ever.

Nobody is smarter than the facts.

Contrary to all the baloney you read and all the nonsense promulgated by media and marketing "experts," and digital maniacs, TV viewing continues to grow and continues to swamp online activity.

Here are some facts from Nielsen's Cross-Platform Report for the 1st quarter of 2013:
  • The average American spent about six times more time watching live TV than on the web.
  • 97% of all video was viewed on a television. Less than 3% was viewed online.
  • About 1/2 of 1% of video viewing was done on a mobile phone.
  • Average live TV viewing increased by more than 1.5 hours a month compared to last year.
  • 92% of TV viewing was done live. 8% was time-shifted (DVR.)
  • TV viewing remains at record high levels.
Memo to agency media directors: When is the last time you told your clients the truth?

August 19, 2013

The "Youth Car" Delusion

This post is adapted from a piece on the Type A Group website.

According to The Wall Street Journal, it's not young people who are buying "youth cars," it's older people.
"Appealing to the young has auto makers designing and marketing to the "millennial generation"—that group of consumers in their 20s and 30s... But senior citizens are making Swiss cheese of those efforts."
The auto industry continues to target 18-34 year olds who account for only 12% of subcompact car sales. Meanwhile they essentially ignore the 88% of the population who actually buy these "youth" cars.

Of course the dimwits responsible for this ineptitude have to justify their stupidity...
"The baby boomer generation is the largest cohort in the marketplace," (said one executive) "Just by virtue of their numbers being so large, we'll continue to see them skew the data for a long time."
So, you see, older people aren't really customers. They don't really buy things. They don't spend real money. All they do is "skew the data."

And we love this one. The president of a market research firm had this to say:
"So when marketing messages are for millennials, there are a lot of things that are attractive to the older generation."
What utter nonsense. Older people are buying these cars in spite of the horrible, mis-targeted advertising, not because of it.

There is no other group in the pantheon of marketing that anyone would claim is best influenced by targeting someone else. The whole science of marketing is based on finding the most relevant message and delivering it to the most probable buyer. Except when it comes to people over 50. Then all the rules are suspended. Because these people don't count. They're just "data skewers."

So instead, you deliver the wrong message to the wrong people and this is called "advertising strategy." And pathetic "market researchers" endorse this idiocy.

The advertising and marketing industry are absolutely, totally, hopelessly clueless.

August 16, 2013

Beware Of Narratives

On January 4, 2012, I wrote a piece about media and politics. I never published it because I try to stay as far away from politics as possible on this blog. However, being on vacation from blogging, I went back and took a look at some of my unpublished stuff and felt that in light of the horrors going on in Egypt, I would post this. It's a year and a half old, but I think it holds up pretty well.

January 4, 2012

Our imprudent media love a good "narrative." A narrative is a generally accepted account of what's going on --  a story that explains a story.

For the media, it is a way to talk about events without bothering to understand or explain them in a mature fashion. Instead, they use a shorthand that assumes we all know the story, what it means and where it is going. A "narrative" often is represented by a catch phrase or cliche that sums it all up for us.

There are two big problems with "narratives." First is that they are usually born at the beginning of a phenomenon when the true nature of the phenomenon is not at all clear. The second is that they ignore cross-currents. There are very few actions in this world that don't have opposite reactions.

In the marketing world, there are certain narratives that have dominated press coverage of advertising for the past decade. The most obvious are the "advertising is dead," "television is dead," "social media is magic," and "the new consumer." It's taken about 5 years for the first two of these to be seen for the nonsense they are, but the second two are still going strong.

The real danger in believing in narratives does not reside in the silly sciences of advertising and marketing, it is in the real world of politics and power.

Last year our global media invented a narrative called the "Arab Spring." The Arab Spring took its name from the Prague Spring. The Prague Spring occurred in 1968 when Alexander Dubcek was elected first Secretary of the Czech Communist Party and instituted a series of liberal reforms. It ended when unopposed Russian-controlled forces invaded Czechoslovakia amid massive student protests and imposed "normalization."

By association with the Prague Spring, the Arab Spring narrative has taken a phenomenon --  the popular outbreak of dissatisfaction with a bunch of brutal dictators -- and has given it a story. The implied story -- or narrative -- is that liberal forces in the Middle East are uniting to create a democratic movement. In other words, the narrative already assumes an outcome of greater freedom and liberality.

It would be lovely if it were true, but thus far the evidence is thin on the ground.

In Egypt, the 10% of the population that is Christian has been persecuted and in some cases murdered. Women have been brutalized. The recent election has brought to power a coalition of ultra-conservatives and the Muslim Brotherhood -- an organization not renown for its tolerance. In Libya, black Africans were reportedly lynched by triumphant rebels. Organized rebels and militias armed with heavy weaponry are back to battling again. In Syria, thousands have been killed in unspeakable brutality. Even in Tunisia, where the "Arab Spring" was born, one week after elections riots broke out.

It is not unusual that between dictatorships and democratic reforms there is a period of excessive brutality (e.g., French Revolution/Reign of Terror) and we can hope that what we are seeing is just a brief period of violent reaction before the coalescence of democratic forces. But count me officially skeptical.

So far, it appears the "Arab Spring" is turning out to be just a stop on the road from brutal secular dictatorships to brutal theocratic dictatorships.

The Prague Spring was a period of liberalization and no fighting. Thus far, the Arab Spring has been all fighting and no liberalization.

August 14, 2013

Agency Business From A Different Perspective

I don't usually post Op-Eds, but this one is good. Last week I published a piece called, Do A Few Things Well. The point was that agencies should stick to their knitting and not try to be everything to everyone. Patrick Strother, who is ceo of Strother Communications Group says "not so fast." Patrick agrees that "if you think you are an ad agency, that’s what you should mainly do..." But he points out that there are agencies, including his own, that started with a totally different premise.

I normally agree with you, but you have missed the mark by quite a bit with this post. Right off the bat, there are two entire markets you're missing with this point.

The first is there are thousands and thousands of emerging and middle market companies in America, many of them B2B oriented, that are looking for a full external marketing resource. They typically have one or two people coordinating their marketing and want one small agency to handle all the external marketing for them. I've billed millions of dollars to this emerging segment and helped many of them successfully grow from start-up or small to very successful enterprises.

Secondly, many markets want a specific external specialty that trumps the silo mentality of products and services they offer. For example, medical device companies want an agency that specializes in medical devices, not traditional advertising or PR or social media, direct response, search and so on. So the specialty in this case is a market focus, not a product focus. Food, agriculture, certain tech, lots of B2B and many others share this perspective.

The other point that is ignored is that it is indeed possible to specialize
in marketing integration. Being able to successfully combine (optimize) an array of services for a B2B or middle market business adds tremendous value, and can lower marketing cost by 20 to 30%. At least that is our experience the past 21 years.

One of my big complaints about teaching advertising and PR the past 30 years is that the cases are generally big companies with huge budgets. That's not actually the real world. There is a huge market out there for small agencies skillful in delivering a wide enough range of services to be considered an external marketing “department”. These budgets are generally $100,000 at a time, not a million at a time but nonetheless, it's a very rewarding segment to serve because you can make a real difference.

We have a number of these types of clients we have grown with for over 15 years, mainly because we understood their business and market so well, now no one specialty agency could possibly serve them better.

August 08, 2013

The View From Nowhere

I am often criticized by those who don't agree with my incautious opinions about the direction of our industry. That's fine. After a while, I don't agree with some of the things I write myself.

But there is one line of criticism that I find truly annoying.

It is the idea that I am a "traditional" ad guy and therefore I don't "get it." The essence of the argument is that my views are tainted by my history.

My views are certainly influenced by my history. Anyone who is not influenced by experience is an idiot. That is different, however, from being tainted.

What these critics don't seem to understand is that there is no "view from nowhere."

Everyone's opinions are shaped by their circumstances -- digital zealots no less than traditional ad people. Their criticism implies that the only valid opinions are those of people who are a blank slate. It assumes that there are people who appeared on earth immaculately (okay, maybe there was one) and whose opinions are free of history and experience. It is not the basis for serious debate.

However, it is the only line of defense for people who can't argue on merit.

Since there is no view from nowhere, perhaps the people those opinions we should value most are those with a "view from everywhere." Those who have seen it all, done it all, and are in a position to provide a reliable narration.

While I certainly do not have a "view from everywhere," I have seen the marketing and agency businesses from a lot of angles. I started on the client side, I became an agency copywriter, graduated to creative director, ran an agency, worked as ceo of a global agency in the US, started a new agency, did both traditional and digital advertising, and have had a degree of success as a social media "brand."

My opinions may be dead wrong. But the criticism that they are tainted because I started as a "traditional ad guy" is as stupid as criticizing a baseball manager because he started as a player.

I know you don't give a shit about this self-serving twaddle, but I needed to get it off my chest.

And also...
A few apologies. First, I have not answered a whole lot of emails and inquiries recently. I will try to catch up. Second, there are over 500 comments sitting in my "needs to be moderated" folder that Blogger automatically singled out for some reason and which I just discovered this week. I will try to go through them and get them up on the website asap. Third, the Giants suck. That probably is my fault.

With that said...
...I'm going to take a couple of weeks off from blogging. I may post a few things between now and the end of August, but for the most part I'm going to shut it down for a few weeks. See You In September. (And to keep you amused, here are some geeks snapping their fingers and pretending they're singing.)

August 07, 2013

Do A Few Things Well

I would like to suggest a new strategy for your agency: Do a few things well.

You are trying to do too much. As a result, you are mediocre at a lot of things and excellent at nothing.

You are becoming like government. People used to have confidence that government was competent and effective. Now 10% of the population has confidence in Congress and about 1/3 have confidence in the executive branch.

To me, the reasons are very clear. Government used to do a few things well. They paved the roads, they put out fires, they educated our kids, and they protected us against criminals. Now they do none of these thing well.

They are too busy with other things. They want to tell us how much soda we can drink and who we can sleep with. They're busy monitoring our emails and legislating our reproductive lives.

They are over-reaching and, consequently, under-performing. Just as you are.

It's for time for you to decide who you are and what you do. It is unrealistic to expect that you can excel at traditional advertising and technology and data and social media and shopper marketing and PR and direct response and search and... and all the other disciplines that make up the complex web of activities that marketing has become.

If you're an agency, do a few things well. Make great spots, or build great platforms, or design great websites. But don't pretend you can do it all. You can't. You can't play first base and pitch and do the play-by-play. It just doesn't work like that.

It is very hard for an agency to say no. It is very hard to say, "we don't do that." One of the chuckles I've always gotten from agencies is that the smaller they are, the more they say they can do.

Go to a 12-person agency's websites and you'll find that they do advertising, branding, PR, interactive, social media, design, and on and on.

According to a study reported by Marketing Week, 78% of CEOs do not trust their advertising and media agencies to create effective campaigns. This is not good.

Part of the problem is people pretending to be good at things they are not good at.

It's a lot easier to do many things poorly than a few things well. Don't be that agency.

August 05, 2013

4 Reasons For Advertising's Radical Remake

Marketers' immoderate obsession with dubious metrics is having a profound influence on the nature of advertising.

I was with a group of broadcast executives recently and what I heard was not surprising. Their clients are now evaluating their broadcast advertising the same way they used to evaluate direct mail -- what's our cost-per-response?

Of course, most broadcast advertising is not meant to elicit a direct response, but this doesn't stop dimwits from trying to attribute a cost-per-response value to it.

More than any other trend, this may be the one that has the longest, largest and most detrimental effect on the ad business. Advertising is evolving from an activity whose most valued purpose was to build brands into an activity whose primary purpose is to trigger an immediate response. These ends are not synonymous.

Here are four reasons why this is happening:
  • We have lost confidence in "branding" For two decades the ad industry has been spewing a constant stream of dreadful, mind-numbing brand babble. This hogwash has completely misrepresented how strong brands in most categories are built. The result is that "branding" has become a meaningless, catch-all term for anything with a client's logo on it that an agency can charge for. 
  • We have lost confidence in creativity As we described in last Tuesday's post, the ad industry is abandoning its primary reason for existence -- the creation of imaginative advertising. Marketers once believed that creativity was a valuable asset.  Now it is merely given lip service. Leaders of the ad industry are no longer crafts people. They are lawyers, accountants and financiers. It is no surprise that they value numbers over ideas. The industry has always had to prove to clients that creativity is a worthwhile pursuit. We have given up. It's easier to sell metrics and data, regardless of how misleading and shortsighted they are. The "creative community" is also complicit in diminishing the stature of creativity by associating it with unconscionable excess. The sickening images of outrageous immoderation that emanate from Cannes every year reinforce all the bad myths of wasteful, childish creative people. 
  • We are making a virtue of necessity We have convinced clients that the web is the non plus ultra of advertising. Unfortunately, the facts tell a different story. Online advertising has thus far proven to be a lousy brand-building medium. Walk through your local supermarket or Target or Walmart and see if you can find any brands built by online advertising. So what is web advertising good for? Thus far, it has been  effective at search and moderately effective at a certain type of direct response. Since we've grossly exaggerated the power of online advertising, we now have to justify our irrational exuberance by making the modest direct response abilities of the web the standard by which advertising is judged.
  •  Nobody understands the data There are 50 ways that you've never heard of to spin, misinterpret, hide, and complicate-beyond-comprehension the data you get from web metrics. Media deliveries are unreliable. Agency interpretation of media deliveries and costs are unreliable. Client-side presentations to management of media effectiveness and ROI are unreliable.  However, the misplaced faith in data-based results allows media, agencies, and CMOs to reap the benefits of appearing fact-focused without actually being fact-focused. Marketing organizations, fed-up with brand babble, eat this stuff up. This is an enormous problem for agencies, and an equally enormous opportunity for frauds and con men. (By the way, for a terrific look at a related topic, I recommend this piece.) 
The long-term value of advertising as a way to build a brand is being squeezed at both ends. From the top it is being squeezed by clueless brand babblers who have given traditional advertising a bad name. From the bottom it is being squeezed by delusional digi-hustlers who are promising what they can't deliver.

In the middle are a lot of hard-working, talented people in agencies and marketing organizations who are being jerked around and pulled in all directions at once.

The result is an industry that is being re-made. It is defaulting to its most defensible, yet short-sighted, application -- direct response.

Apparently The Wall Street Journal agrees. Thanks to Roger Lewis for sending this.

August 01, 2013

Microsoft's Surface Gets Buried

Today's post about Microsoft's misguided launch of the Surface tablet can be found here.