October 30, 2013

Battle For World's Most Valuable Consumer

Last week, I was invited to speak at a conference sponsored by the 4A's and the law firm of Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP. The topic was "The Battle For The World's Most Valuable Consumer."  I published my remarks on my company website and received some nice comments, so I thought I'd publish them here. 

Good morning boys and girls.

I’m going to try something amazing today. I’m going to try to talk and change Powerpoint slides simultaneously. This is not a core competency. It's sad. A few months ago I was the ceo of an ad agency. I had departments full of people who did nothing but advance powerpoint slides for me. Now look at me.

Okay, my talk today is entitled The Battle For The World’s Most Valuable Consumer.

Who is the world’s most valuable consumer? Actually, it’s my wife. But that’s a whole other slide show.

The world’s most valuable consumers are people over 50. And the title of this talk is a big fat lie because the truth is that there is no battle for these people. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s start at the beginning. Before I began my advertising career 130 years ago, I was a science teacher. I taught science in the NYC public schools for 3 years. This, by the way, is a very compelling argument for home schooling.

I was not much of a teacher and really didn’t know much about science, but one of the things teaching science taught me was a very deep respect for the scientific method.

Scientists work really hard until they are able so say that they know something. They have to do experiments, and repeat their experiments, and then their peers review their methods and assumptions, and then their peers repeat their experiments, and then they publish the results and then people can comment and question and look for flaws. And after all this torture and scrutiny, if their results hold up, then they can say that they actually know something.

Knowing something, it turns out, is completely different from thinking you know something.

So then I left teaching and got into the advertising business. And the first thing that struck me was that in the ad business we didn’t really seem to know very much.

We thought we knew things…we had all these rules and principles and philosophies and ideas about what made good advertising…but I couldn’t find any facts.

We did things that looked and sounded like science…we used the language and the tools of research… we had clip boards and questionnaires and lab coats … but we didn’t use the scientific method. We rarely if ever used controls. We didn’t repeat our experiments. We didn’t have peer review of our methods. And no one ever repeated our work to validate it.

Now, I’m not here to pick on market researchers. Our lack of rigor is not their fault. We simply don’t have the time, money, or inclination to do the type of rigorous experimentation that academics and scientists and some industries do before they can say they really know something.

Over time, making a nice living helped me accommodate myself to the idea that we didn’t really know what we thought we knew. But it never stopped bothering me. And so I developed a very annoying habit – I stopped believing advertising experts.

I don’t care what school you went to, or what credentials you have or what awards or medals you’ve won. If you don’t have the facts, and you can’t explain them to me simply and clearly, I’m sorry, I'm skeptical. I will defer to a certain professor Einstein on this subject who once said, "It should be possible to describe the laws of physics to a barmaid." 

Now one of the doctrines of the ad industry that fell into this category of things I never fully believed was why we spend so much of our time, money, and energy talking to young people and so little on older people. I always assumed that there must be some pretty good facts to justify this somewhere and I just hadn’t run into them.

So about 6 months ago when I retired from my agency I had some time on my hands and I started to look into this issue. Now I stipulate that there are certainly some things that I haven’t found or read. But what I have seen and what I have read leads me to believe that we don’t know what we think we know.

In fact, I have come to believe that most of us target young people because we see everyone else doing it and we assume that somewhere there must be someone who knows why the hell we're doing this and has a good reason for it. In other words, somewhere at the end if all this there’s a smart person with facts.

Well, if there is a smart person somewhere with the facts on this, I haven’t found him yet. Here’s what I have found.
  • People over 50 have about about 70% of all the wealth in the country
  • They are responsible for about half of all consumer spending
  • They buy 62% of all new cars
  • Despite the fact that many are retired, they still have 55% higher annual income than some other adult demo groups.
  • And on average they have a net worth about 3 times that of the rest of the people
  • They dominate 94% of CPG categories.
  • They are the internet’s largest demographic constituency.
  • They are much easier and much cheaper to reach than any other demographic group.
  • And, according to Nielsen, they are the target for 5% of all advertising.
Let me repeat the key fact here. Despite the fact that people over 50 are responsible for about half the consumer spending in the country, they are the target for 5% of all advertising.

I have stared at this slide for weeks, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

According to Nielsen, they are “The most valuable generation in the history of marketing.”

Forbes calls them “the most ignored wealthy people in the history of marketing.”

I submit to you that if I could get you to forget for a minute that you’re in the advertising or marketing business and I showed you this slide, you’d say there is something radically wrong here.

Usually, when I give this talk it is 45 minutes long and I give several examples of the inexplicable disregard marketers have shown for older people. But I only have 18 minutes today so let me give you one recent example.

In a piece last month, the The Wall Street Journal reported on so-called “youth cars.”
According to the Journal:  
"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 percent of sales of youth cars that are actually sold to the youthful target of 18-34 year olds is 12%. Meanwhile we are substantially disregarding the 88% of the population who actually buy these cars.

 Of course the people responsible for this have to justify it. How do they explain this anomaly?
"The baby boomer generation is the largest cohort in the marketplace," said one automotive marketing 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." In the same article, 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."
Sorry. Older people are buying these cars in spite of the mistargeted marketing and advertising, not because of it.

Can you think of any other demographic, ethnic or social group 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 just "skew the data."

So why are marketers and advertisers ignoring people over 50?

There are a lot of reasons. It starts with the demographics of our industry. 80% of all workers in the professional and business services sector are under 55. Can you imagine what that number is in advertising agencies and marketing departments?

Go into any creative department in any ad agency in America and it is a miracle to find anyone over 50.

And yet, in every serious creative field you can think of older people completely dominate.
 • Last year, the five Oscar nominees for Best Director were Woody Allen, Michel Hazanavicius, Terrence Malick, Alexander Payne, and Martin Scorsese. Average age: 62.

 • The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction went to Jennifer Egan, age 50

 • The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to Bruce Norris, 52
 • The Prize for Music went to Zhou Long, 59

 • The Poetry award was won by Kay Ryan, 67

 • The Noble Prize for Literature went to 83-year-old Tomas Transtromer. And this year’s prize was just announced. It went to Alice Munro, 82

 • The Emmy for Best Comedy went to Modern Family, created by Christopher Lloyd, 52 and Steven Levitan, 50
I guarantee you, not one of these brilliant people – not one -- could a get a job in the creative department of an advertising agency today.

We have all the numbers and all the data, yet we are blinded by things we think we know that we don’t really know-- myths that we have been taught, and fairy tales about people over 50.

Let’s look at some of the fairy tales.
Fairy Tale #1: People over 50 are downsizing 
Here’s the reality. Between 1999 and 2009, spending by people 55 to 64 grew 45%. People aged 55-64 outspend average consumers in virtually every consumer products category. In fact, people 55-64 buy 30% more new cars than people 25-34. In fact, people 75 to dead buy more new cars than people 18-34.
Fairy Tale # 2: Older people are dying out 
The reality: Between now and 2030, the population over 50 will grow at about 3 times the rate of adults under 50. We are not losing our old people, we are losing our young people.
Fairy Tale # 3: By advertising younger, you automatically reach and influence people over 50
Advertisers believe that by advertising to 25-49 year olds we will reach the 50+ market as “spill.” But a study done by one of our associates recently showed that a typical media plan directed at 25-49 year olds had a 50+ component of only 15%. It is not just the media thinking that is wrong, it is also the message. According to The New York Times, the generation gap is wider than at any time since the 1960’s. 2/3 of people over 50 say they are less likely to purchase a product if they find the advertising offensive. And guess what, the same 2/3 say that advertising has become cruder and more offensive.
Fairy Tale # 4: People over 50 are “stuck in their ways” and will not switch brands
The reality is baby boomers are just as likely as young people to try new products. 61% say that “in today’s marketplace, it doesn’t pay to be loyal to one brand.” Guess what the number is among people 18 - 41. Exactly the same.
Fairy Tale #5: If you get them young, you’ll have them for life.
This is the “lifetime value” delusion. A few months ago, the wrongness of this argument was exposed in a study published by the journal Science. 
A team of psychologists released a study which discredited what we call “Lifetime value” and the scientists call "the end of history illusion" i.e., the illusion that things will remain as they currently are and we will stay like we are now.   According to one of the authors of the study we simply do not realize "how transient our preferences and values are..."  And if you think that targeting millennials now means you’ll have them for life, here’s some sobering news. A study last year reported that 80% of millennials looked for the lowest price possible when shopping, and that 60% are more inclined to bypass their favorite brand if a cheaper alternative is available.
Fairy Tale # 6: People over 50 want to be like young people.
This may be the oldest and perhaps the most damaging of the fairy tales. Do older people want to be youthful? Yes. Do they want to be like young people? No. This is a crucial distinction which seems to be completely lost on our industry. People over 50 have their own idea of what it means to be youthful, and I promise you it has nothing whatever to do with Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus or the young, hip doofuses we are bombarded with in advertising.

People over 50 are not who we think they are. They grew up smoking weed and listening to James Brown. They invented the personal computer. They helped develop Google. They didn’t invent sex, but they invented the sexual revolution.

For the most part, they are healthy, wealthy and wise. They are not grandma and grandpa.

They do not look like this...

They look like this...

In my opinion, the idea that people over 50 want to be like young people is simply the narcissistic excuse that the young people who dominate our industry use to not bother learning or understanding older people.
I have come to the conclusion that the rationales we use for targeting young people are highly questionable and that there is little to no factual evidence to support these practices.

I believe we do not ignore older people for the reasons we give. These are just rationalizations we use because we prefer to identify with the excitement of youth than the dullness of middle and older age.

I have come to the conclusion that we are spending 10’s of billions of dollars on questionable practices based on questionable assumptions.

Now maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is a logic that I can’t see in which half of the buying power of the country is only worthy of 5% of our effort. But I don’t think I’m wrong. I’ve been around advertising too long to accept the idea that there are mysteries about it that average people like me can’t understand.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is no place for advertising to young people. There certainly is. But at 95 to 5, I believe we are way out of balance.

The 50+ generation is not just a niche that needs sidebar attention. They are the mainstream. There are now 101 million people over 50 in America. In just 5 years, half of all American adults will be over 50. They are the hard core of our economy. They are the group that determines the success and failure of most products.

It’s time to think outside of health care, financial services and erectile dysfunction -- to all the other mainstream product and service categories that are heavily patronized, and often dominated, by people over 50.

The sooner we recognize this and adapt our marketing and advertising thinking to this reality, the sooner we will all enjoy the attention and the financial benefits of the most valuable consumer group in the history of the world.


October 28, 2013

Advertising Needs Troublemakers

The advertising industry has become too respectable, too congenial, and too polite.

We are in desperate need of troublemakers. We need shit-disturbers. We need hell-raisers.

We need the kind of quarrelsome, pugnacious, opinionated people that make the arts vibrant and interesting.

There's way too much consensus. Way too much cordiality. Way too little controversy.

Attending an advertising conference these days is like going to an insurance seminar. It is full of bland, head-nodding jargon-monkeys who are very keen on swallowing whole the conventional blather of smug "experts."

Nobody seems inclined to challenge the wearisome assertions of modern-day wizards, no matter how many times they've been wrong.

It's all backwards. Rebelliousness is supposed to be a characteristic of youth. But the only people I hear wailing about the insufferable tedium of ad-think these days are old fools like me.

It ain't supposed to be this way. We need people who aren't afraid to get up on stage at the next "big data" conference and pull their pants down.

We need people who aren't afraid to break a layout over a client's head.

We need people who give a shit.

You know what you call people who give a shit?


Last week I gave a talk at a conference sponsored by the 4A's called, "The Battle For The World's Most Valuable Consumer." You can find a transcript of the talk here.

October 24, 2013

10 Great Things About Obamacare Website

Yesterday we posted 10 ideas to help The President with his troubled health care website.

Frankly, we're getting a little tired of all the negativity. So let's just stop for a few minutes and take a look at the bright side.

Today, we're focusing on the positive. Here are 10 Great Things About The Obamacare Website:
1. Government techies so busy screwing up website, they have no time to tap your emails
2. Makes World Series seem exciting
3. Since it launched, Kanye and Kim got engaged
4. Signing up takes less time than booking a flight on United.com
5. Has created big surge in demand for Microsoft Surface tablets: total worldwide sales approaching six
6. Ukrainian click farms so frustrated the bots are quitting

7. When caught watching porn, just say, "I was trying to buy health care. Can you believe this?"

8. It's still easier than deleting your Facebook account

9. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius looks even hotter when she's aggravated

10. It's not as annoying as a blog

October 23, 2013

10 Ways To Make Obamacare Website More Successful

President Obama is having a tough time with his new HealthCare.gov website. So far he's spent $394 million on it, and it doesn't even have any funny cat videos.

The President has found out what we in the civilian population have known for years -- expecting an online expert to get something right is like expecting a 16-year-old to vacuum the garage. And having an I.T. department is like having a family of blind monkeys with aluminum baseball bats.

Meanwhile, the average 14-year-old in South Korea could have built the website in about a half-hour while rubbing one out and winning a golf tournament.

There's only one group of people who can help the president now -- the people who really know what they're doing online. I think it's time for us professional marketers to step up and help the President.

So here, Mr. President, are 10 Ways To Make The Obamacare Website More Successful:
1. Change the URL to HealthCare.MILF

2. Have a section where you can upload pictures of your favorite disease

3. Appoint a healthcare "global ambassador" like Will.i.am or Lady Gaga
4. New campaign slogan: "Think it's easy running a country and a website?"
5. Have the IRS "accidentally" investigate the tax returns of everyone who doesn't sign up
6. Do some really cool shit with QR codes
7. Promotion: Enroll by January 1st and win a date with Nancy Pelosi

8. Tweet out what diseases are trending

9. If you spend over $500 on prosthetic devices, free shipping

10. Blame Bush

October 21, 2013

A Very Intricate Nonsense

In journalism there is a phenomenon called "burying the lead." It happens when an incompetent reporter doesn't understand the essential point of a story, and buries it beneath secondary points.

In the advertising business, we also bury the lead. But mostly, we do it intentionally.
"Our click rate was .042% which is about 22% above the category norm of .035%. Our re-targeting really helped with a .7% rate. By using behavioral scoring we achieved... and our optimization matrix...this lead to an uplift rate of... and a year-over-year ROI increase of almost 33%."
I have been at a few too many of these "bury the lead" meetings.

The meeting will continue on to discuss how the re-targeting was implemented and how we optimized and what behavioral elements were included in our plan and how we can continue to increase our year-over-year ROI, and will never get around to the real story.

The real story is this: For every 10,000 ads that were delivered we got 4 clicks. And we don't know how many of those clicks were fraudulent and how many were accidental.

The era of "big data" is quickly becoming the era of "big bullshit" -- bullshit on a grander scale than ever before. We've always had ability to bullshit with words. Now we have the ability to bullshit with math. We've always had bullshit artists. Now we have bullshit scientists.

For a wonderful analysis of how we are raising irrelevancy and obfuscation to new heights, I highly recommend this post by Doc Searls. Doc is a brilliant guy who was one of the writers of The Cluetrain Manifesto, one of the foundational documents of the digital era. I have, at times, poked fun at it. But I have great regard for Doc and his intellect. Here's a snippet from his post:
When I was doing research for The Intention Economy, the most important input I got came from Doug Rauch, the retired president of Trader Joe's. One big reason for Trader Joe's success, he told me, is...that it minimizes marketing bullshit. It has no loyalty program, no coupons, no discounts and none of the expenses any of those involve, including the cost of running a big data mill. ...By avoiding this kind of thing, Trader Joe's spares itself the cognitive overhead required to rationalize complicating the living shit out of everything, which is what marketing tends to do—and does now, more than ever, with Big Data.
Here's a pretty good rule of thumb for understanding what's really going on at the next online advertising presentation you attend: The deeper the dive, the more calculatedly they're burying the lead.

Thanks to George for pointing me to Doc's post

October 16, 2013

Alarming Online Sleaze Factor

If they gave awards for reporting on the advertising industry (and why not, they give awards for everything else) this year's award should go to Mike Shields of Adweek whose work on the corruption and fraud in the online ad industry has been outstanding.

This is by far the biggest advertising story of the year, and no one but Mike seems to be interested in it.

His latest piece, The Amount of Questionable Online Traffic Will Blow Your Mind ran a few days ago and should be required reading for anyone who buys display advertising.

The article asserts that
"...the online ad industry is facing a swelling crisis, one defined by fake traffic, bogus publishers and invisible Web visitors... bogus ad inventory, as it turns out, is rampant. In fact, according to numerous sources across the ecosystem, fake traffic is essentially systemic to online advertising—it’s part of how the business works."
Mike reports that the world of online advertising is so screwed-up, corrupt, and incomprehensible that at times it is impossible to know what you are buying and who you are buying it from...
"...According to (independent trading desk) Digilant COO Nate Woodman, the situation is so ungovernable that the agency has found instances where it’s ended up buying impressions from itself."
The problem is that no one wants to kill the golden goose. Naive, clueless advertisers are getting stuck with billions in worthless, nonexistent "advertising."
"John Snyder, CEO of the keyword-targeting firm Grapeshot, says he’s lost business because his company won’t sell bad inventory. “We’ll hear, ‘Your competitor got great clicks,’ but all on two sites and it was all fraud. But it’s these optimization algorithms that find those clicks.' "
The fraudulent practices aren't just limited to banner ads...
"While the display market has seen dicey practices growing for a while now, the challenge of bad inventory is suddenly escalating in video..."
Is anything changing? Says Woodman (of Digilant)...
“When we try to tighten things up, our measured performance goes down...We need to fix this as an industry,” he adds. “Somebody needs to give a shit.”
Last month, we ran a post about this subject that speculated that as much as $9.5 billion in online advertising is either fraudulent or invisible.

Unfortunately, nobody is going to "give a shit" until somebody goes to jail.

October 14, 2013

The Value Of Celebrity Losers

A close friend and former colleague of mine from the East Coast wrote last week to ask the following question:
Since you live on the West Coast, you are not bombarded with Eli Manning ads for Toyota, Dunkin Donuts and one or two others. 
Last night with three interceptions, Eli Manning led the NY Giants to their 6th loss of the season.
While discussing his performance at lunch yesterday, someone asked for my opinion on whether Eli is now hurting or helping these brands. I said I didn't have the vaguest idea but knew who to ask.
To frame the question... "Does a spokesperson for a losing team help or hurt sales and brand image?"
Advertisers spend  billions of dollars every year for celebrity endorsements and, on the whole, have no idea whether they pay off or not. They can measure all kinds of things that may represent effectiveness (awareness, likeability, etc) but as far as I'm concerned the only valid way to measure actual sales effectiveness is to do a controlled experiment in which the same campaign with and without the celebrity is run in identical markets.

Since there are no identical markets, and since very few advertisers have the resources or inclination to run a controlled experiment, we are stuck with anecdotes, self-selected case histories (only the successful write them up) and the qualitative conclusion that, in general, celebrities probably help. But, to my knowledge, there's very little in the way of conclusive proof.

But, as my friend asks, what about celebrity losers?

My psychology credentials are a tad thin, but I think we have to look at this question from that point of view.

First, I think we have to look at how we consciously process a celebrity endorsement. I believe that the key to our conscious response is that we pay more attention. When someone we are familiar with, particularly someone famous, is speaking, I believe we are more likely to notice it than when someone we don't know is speaking.

In today's world, with the enormous amount of messages bombarding us, getting someone's attention is very valuable. If a celebrity does nothing more than that, he is earning his money (of course, depending on how much he's being paid.)

The tricky part, and the part I am fabulously unqualified to answer, is the part that is not conscious i.e., our unconscious, or subconscious, responses to celebrity endorsers. It seems reasonable to me that when we are exposed enough times to an individual representing a brand, in our strangely human way some of the qualities of that individual get transferred to the brand.

However, if we are prepared to claim that the positive aspects of an endorser (credibility, likeability, trust) are transferable, we must also be prepared to assert that negative qualities of the endorser are also transferable.

The difficulty comes in determining when the tipping point arrives and someone who was a "winner" and is now a "loser" moves from an asset to a liability. In the case above, Manning may be on a losing team, and may be having a terrible season, but because of his history or his personality he may still command a good deal of respect and goodwill among the public, which still makes him a net asset.

There is also the creative aspect to consider. A good agency can "write" Manning in such a way as to make his challenges endearing. Some of our most popular characters are "loveable losers." (Growing up on the East Coast, I remember Ed Kranepool and "Marvelous" Marv Thoneberry popular anti-heroes of the NY Mets.) However, this is tricky and can backfire in the wrong hands.

All in all, my guess is that Manning still has some value to the advertisers. Not being on the East Coast, however, and not knowing the attitude of the man on the street, these things are hard for me to judge.

An interesting aspect of this is the role of the agency. It is usually the agency that suggests the use of a celebrity spokesman, and often for a multi-year deal. When a celebrity goes bad for moral or legal reasons, it's easy for the agency to recommend terminating the celebrity. Also there are sometimes clauses in agreements allowing advertisers to terminate for such reasons.

However, when an athlete goes bad for performance reasons, the agency is in a tough spot. Particularly when the advertisers are franchise groups (as are Toyota and Dunkin Donuts.)

Having worked with franchise groups, I can tell you that the one thing they hate above all others is non-media ad costs. If they've paid someone for a couple of years and paid to produce spots with him, he could be having the worst season since the invention of the jock strap and I guarantee you they're still going to air them.

October 09, 2013

10-Point List For Making 10-Point Lists

If you want to be a world famous blogger and make millions of dollars and have super-hot nymphos crawling all over you, you have to learn how to write a blog post that has a list of ten things.

Everyone wants to know ten things. Eleven things are too many and nine things are not enough.

Here are ten points you need to know about making a successful blog post with a 10-point list:
1. Always start with number one and work your way down (unless you're Casey Kasem, then you can do it the other way.)
2. Don't start with number 6 and then jump to number three. That's just stupid.  
3. Don't use fractions or irrational numbers. Square roots are confusing and cube roots can only be understood by those Indian guys who hang around coffee shops.
4. You need to pretend to impart information. The best way to do this is to assert that something is dead (hockey, reading, butter, physics ...doesn't really matter.)
5. Have one unexpected element -- something like a picture of Ben Bernanke picking his nose.
6. It's impossible to write a good number 6. Just put down anything and get on to number 7.
7. If you run out of ideas say something like, "remember, social media is about people." Who can argue with brilliant shit like that?  
8. Show that you're tough, irreverent, and controversial by calling another blogger a homo.
10. Get it done quickly so you can have yourself a cocktail.
So that's all there is to it. Start on a 10-point blog post and pretty soon you'll be Klouting through the moon and rubbing elbows and other naughty body parts with the big guys in that rarefied air of social media aristocracy.

October 07, 2013

Inconsequential Culture Of Incrementalism

I have whiner's block.

I'm tired of writing about the silliness of the ad business. I'm sick of complaining about the wrong turns it has taken.

People keep asking me what I'm optimistic about. The only thing I can come up with is that there are still a handful of agencies that have big ideas and can do really good work. A handful.

I meet and talk to too many agency people who are dull and timid and do not belong in the advertising business.

They are getting soft on their own baloney. They're happy to accept well-published wisdom and team-think. They talk in riddles and horrible jargon and think they know something.

They are surrounded by people like themselves, as a protective coating. People who think platforms come first.

The worst part is, they're not just doing it for the paycheck. They really believe.

Then there are those I feel bad for. These are people who at one time were able to do big things but are now prisoners in one of our small-minded bullshit factories. They know the power of a big idea. They know the exhilaration of having a "hit." They've seen the amazing reaction when a campaign goes through the roof.

But now they're stuck in our inconsequential culture of incrementalism. Where little people with little ideas make little things for little audiences. It seems to be our inheritance.

Maybe I don't have whiner's block. I seem to be whining pretty well.

October 01, 2013

The Search For Miracles

With the exceptions of pop music and fashion, there is probably no more trendy business than advertising.

Every few years we invent a trendy new miracle and everyone immediately jumps on it.

Sometimes it's a media miracle like social media.

Sometimes it's a process miracle like account planning.

Sometimes it's a technical miracle like "big data."

Whatever shape the miracle takes, one thing is for sure: it's going to change everything.

Every agency in the known universe jumps all over the new miracle and it becomes the centerpiece of their website and their new business pitch.

Every agency also becomes expert in this new miracle, and starts up a department to specialize in it. They "brand" it (i.e., give it a stupid name) and develop a pseudo-proprietary flavor of this miracle.

Although what they do is exactly the same as what every other agency does, their flavor usually contains some kind of highly-evolved methodology with circles and arrows and dotted lines and feedback loops.

In other words, it's a muy grande bullshit burrito.

Amazingly, clients believe in these miracles. The way it happens is that the agency usually trots out the example of the company that has been wildly successful implementing the miracle. The fact that this example is two or three standard deviations from normal is never discussed. All that anyone needs to know is that Zappos was a huge social media success, or "got milk" utilized account planning, or, I don't know, someone had a million hits on their QR code, and naive clients start salivating and wanting a piece of the miracle.

The truly sad part is that there really is an advertising miracle. It's called an idea -- a great creative idea. Unfortunately, it's hard to come by and there are very few who can perform it.

The ad business has adopted a very dangerous and short-sighted habit: selling the wrong kind of miracles.

The only real miracle we have in our bag of tricks is the creative one. It's the only one we've ever had.

The most appropriate phrase ever written about chasing the latest trendy advertising miracle was written by someone you've never heard of named Herman Hupfeld.

Herman wrote, "the fundamental things apply, as time goes by."