August 26, 2014

The Day The Conversation Died

I'm sorry to be the one who brings you the bad news, but I'm afraid I have to.

Social media -- the thing that killed everything -- is now itself officially dead.

That's right, according to a piece written by someone who modestly calls himself “The Millennial Marketing Guy” Social Media Marketing is Dead.

It died peacefully at home, after a long battle with nitwits. It is survived by its twin brother, Content.

As regular readers know, we here at The Ad Contrarian have spent a good deal of time on death watch -- helping you understand how Social Media killed everything that came before it: advertising, broadcasting, marketing, copywriting, television, and more.

And just when we thought the period of grieving was over, it is with a heavy heart that we have to report that Content has killed the thing that killed everything else.

By the way, if you are committed to non-violence I strongly suggest you don't read the article in question. It is likely to have the same effect on you that it had on me. I am currently in restraints in the back of a patrol car.

I'll give you just a little taste of the wisdom from this enlightening lump of literature. Here we go...
"What drives social media activation for Millennials; however, is content excellence."
What drives people to put semi-colons in the middle of sentences; however, is illiteracy.
"We are currently living in a 'Millennial-inspired Participation Economy' "
Not me. I'm living in a Vodka-inspired stupor.
"Which is most powerful: a like, share, retweet, favorite?" 
Gosh, they're all so powerful it's like asking who's stronger Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk or Captain America. Let's get real -- they ALL have super powers!
"Think of content as an opportunity for your brand voice living everywhere you are not."
Cool. I'm thinking of my brand voice living in Vegas in one of those townhouses where all the super-hot strippers live. Either there or in Tyler's mom's basement where the "Millennial-inspired Participation Economy" is headquartered.
"Uniqueness will be a proxy for brand pricing authority and meaningfulness will be a proxy for sales volume potential."
And typing will be a proxy for writing, and insufferable bullshit will be a proxy for thinking.

August 25, 2014

It's That Awful Time Again

As regular readers know, every 90 days or so you have to pay the price for all this fine crankiness by sitting through some obnoxious self-promotion. Here at The Ketel One Conference Center overlooking the beautiful Ad Contrarian Worldwide Campus, we think it's a small price to pay.

Here's some news:
  • I have completed an almost-final draft of my next book. It's called "Advertising Needs Troublemakers" and it should be available by mid-to-late October at Amazon. Save your nickels. 
    By the way, "101 Contrarian Ideas..." is still Amazon's #1 selling ad book after a year and a half (not that I'm the kind of person who would brag about such things...) If you haven't read it, and you are not happy or successful or sexually fulfilled, don't blame me.
  • Since I gave a talk in London (video here) earlier this year at Advertising Week Europe, I'm suddenly totally popular and getting lots of hot dates. I think my hair is even growing back.
    I'm represented by Keynote Speakers and I have a page here about speaking. For info on having me speak at an event, conference, meeting, or long liquid lunch, please click here or contact Keynote at  
  • Type A Group (my consulting company) works with agencies, clients, and media. If your team is confused, struggling with strategy, needs clarified thinking, or is talking in tongues, we can probably help quickly and reasonably. We have dates available in October and January. For more info, click here right now. By the way, if you're not the boss and your company needs help, feel free to slide this under the boss's door. Yes, that's right, the whole damn computer.
  • Is it possible that we Ad Contras have been right all these years? Avinash Kaushik, self-described "Digital Marketing Evangelist" and all-around smart guy, wrote a post last week about the power of traditional advertising (specifically TV.) I suggest you read it -- particularly if you are an online ad person. It's reassuring to know that there are still some people for whom facts are more important than ideology. 

August 21, 2014

The Problem Of Truthfulness

After spending 40 years in the agency business, I have spent the past 16 months away from it.

It has given me the opportunity to think about it differently -- not as someone preoccupied with meetings, deadlines, and crises, but as someone with the benefit of a little disinterested perspective.

One of the issues I have been thinking about is truthfulness. We are often accused of not being truthful with consumers. This may or may not be true, but it's not the subject of today's sermon.

Today's sermon is about the "to thine own self be true" kind of truthfulness. It is about the lies we tell ourselves. These lies don't come from a desire to deceive, they come from a desire to be right.

One of the honorable aspects of our work should be the impartial way we go about learning what is effective for our clients.

We should have creditable answers when our clients ask questions about the effectiveness of this technique or that tactic.

Mostly we don't. We have cute anecdotes and semi-relevant case histories and the assertions and opinions of "experts." We spend way more time justifying our beliefs than trying to learn basic truths about what we do.

Many of us have become specialists and don't have access to the larger picture. Consequently, we have become advocates for our particular specialty without really knowing how effective it is.

We are interested in reading about and hearing about the cases that support our point of view. We skim over the ones that belie our thinking. I think sociologists call this confirmation bias.

The truthfulness I'm concerned about is the truthfulness of the conversations we have with ourselves.

Bad scientists start an experiment with a result in mind. When they get results that don't match their expectations they either ignore them, call them anomalies, or find a way to discard them as irrelevant.

Good scientists learn more from what they didn't expect than from what they did.

Of course, this requires a different frame of mind from what most of us carry around. There are some very large unanswered questions about the comparative effectiveness of the ocean of new advertising possibilities.

What we should be doing is trying to find the truth. What we are actually doing is trying to confirm our beliefs.

August 20, 2014

Confessions Of A Contrarian

I received an email last week from a reader.

The reader had some kind things to say about the blog, then asked a few questions. I thought the answers might make an interest piece. Here are the questions:
How did you continue to move along in your career while being so contrarian? 
What did you do to mitigate the negativity that a contrarian attitude so often incurs? 
You mean well. How do you get other people to understand that?
First, let's be clear about something. My career and my experience are in no way a model for anyone else. You have to do things your own way. I started as a copywriter and through a series of unfortunate accidents I wound up as ceo of two agencies. I guess that's the price you pay for not being a very good copywriter.

Anyway, here are some answers to the reader's questions.
  • While I have always had a contrarian bent, I didn't flaunt it until my career was well-established. What that means is that when I had to make a living, I mostly kept my mouth shut about the stupidity I saw around me. It is much easier and safer to be a loudmouth when you own the agency than when you're an employee.
  • I always tried to put my clients' interests first. Even though I may have thought what they wanted me to do was stupid, I didn't let my personal ideology get in the way of helping them. For example, if they insisted on spending a lot of money on a social media jack-off, I did the best I could to help them do what they wanted to do. If they asked my opinion, I told them the truth as I saw it. If they didn't, I kept my mouth shut and did the best I could.
  • Third, and this was probably the hardest part, I did not insist that everything done in my agency be done my way. The staff of the agency knew what the principles of the agency were -- we published them -- but they were usually left free to interpret the principles according to the needs of the client. There were times I wanted to explode, but mostly I bit my tongue and let them do it their way.
  • You are right that contrarianism is often misinterpreted as negativism. They are different things. This doesn't mean that I am not negative about certain aspects of our business -- I certainly am -- nonetheless, contrarianism and negativity are not the same thing. There are people who always think that if you disagree with them you are being negative. They are idiots, but you're never going to change that.
  • I am very gratified that you recognize that, despite my immoderate writing, I mean well. Many people do not understand this. Do I want people to like me? Sure, we all do. But when you sign up to be a show-off loudmouth -- which is exactly what bloggers are -- you are going to be criticized, disliked, and misunderstood. It is not something I spend time worrying about. I believe the advertising and marketing industry are drowning in bullshit and I feel a need to express that. I am at a very fortunate point in my life at which I don't really care where the chips fall.
  • The advertising industry is one of the trendiest industries in the world. As soon as an idea, a gimmick, or a fad becomes publicized, it immediately becomes ubiquitous. It was just a few years ago that every campaign had to have a street team, a flash mob, and a podcast attached to it. Now these are seen for the stupid contrivances they were. But at the time, it was heresy to be negative about them. If you questioned their value you "just didn't get it" or you were a "Luddite dinosaur." The pressure in the ad world - the pressure to believe what everyone else believes, to talk like everyone else talks, to do what everyone does - is oppressive and, if this is possible, even worse than high school.
  • Being a contrarian has its dangers. If you are going to swim against the tide, you'd better have damn good reasons and damn solid arguments. Otherwise people will  call you a petulant brat -- and they'll be right.
Having said all that, the most important thing you can learn from me is that the way I succeeded was by helping my clients sell a lot of stuff. All the rest is chit-chat.

For those of you who signed-up for more information about our One-Day Personal Reboot, please be patient. It's been a little busier around here than we expected and we probably won't be launching it until early October. More info will come soon, stay tuned.

August 18, 2014

The Unrelenting Assault Of Marketing Bullshit

Now that I am on the speaking circuit, one thing has become very apparent to me. The  appetite for marketing bullshit is inexhaustible.

Of all the new age marketing doubletalkers, one guy is my favorite. I'm not going to name names because I don't like to do that.

But this guy was there at the beginning of the fabulously disastrous Pepsi Refresh Project -- going from conference to conference telling all the drooling dimwits how fabulously successful this fiasco was.

Three years ago I quoted him in this space:
" much are we encouraging the continual learning from inside our staff about how to leverage these technologies with inside of their communications and engagement plans but as well as just for their own personal communications and internal communication with inside each other..."
I'm still trying to figure out what language that was.

Then he went over to Mondelez (that's what Nabisco is now called) where he is Worldwide Global Engagement Bullshit Meister, or something. A couple of years ago, Stephen Colbert did a hilarious take down of a preposterous Mondelez/Nabisco Wheat Thins product brief. You can see it here.

Our guy pitifully tried to make a positive out of being ridiculed on national TV by claiming, “You could not ask for something better even if you wrote it yourself.” Yeah, right.

Well, the good news is that he's still imparting his wisdom to the cretins who go to these hopeless marketing whack-a-thons.

The guy is truly amazing. Here he is being interviewed recently at another bullshitfest by some doofus with a British accent.

It is impressive to watch someone who has totally mastered the most important skill for a contemporary business "thought leader" -- the ability to use jargon and buzzwords to make it sound as if you're saying something while saying absolutely nothing.

Thanks again to Prof. Byron Sharp.

August 14, 2014

Confusing Gadgetry With Behavior

Today's post is a follow-on to a post from a couple of weeks ago called "Technology And Consumer Behavior"

When I was a kid, I wore jeans.

Now that I'm a thousand years old, I still wear jeans.

I don't know how the jeans got to the store when I was a kid. Probably some guy went and picked them up at a warehouse. I don't know how they get to the store now. Probably some computer controlled hypersonic drone.

I don't really care. As long as the store can sell me jeans, I don't much care how they get there.

The point is, for the most part, people don't care about delivery systems. They want what they want when they want it. How it gets there is irrelevant.

For example, they want to sit back and be entertained by video. They don't care if the signal comes through the air, or a cable, or the web, or a DVR. Ask them what they're doing and they say the same thing: watching television.

What I'm getting at here is that for over a decade the marketing industry has been confused. They've confused media technology with consumer behavior.

Even though there's been a revolution in media, technology, and communication, consumer behavior has remained surprisingly stable. Of course, there have been some big changes. But a lot of what has changed are the gadgets, not the behaviors.

Consumers are still watching TV for a record amount of time. No one predicted this (okay, maybe one guy did.)

Confusing technology and behavior is nothing new.

Many years ago I was pitching an account. It was around the time that cable TV was becoming an important media factor. At the final pitch, the client ceo said, "We're looking for an agency that really understands cable."

"What's there to understand?" I said. "The signal comes through a wire instead of the air. So what?"

Needless to say, we didn't get the account.

August 13, 2014

Visible Stuff More Noticeable Than Invisible Stuff

Here at the Over-Served Lounge on the campus of The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters, we all agree that this is a truly amazing time to be in the advertising business.

An example: In the remarkable land of online advertising, there is apparently some controversy over whether ads that can be seen are more effective than ads that can't be seen.

We first reported on this raging storm last winter, here and here.

Well, Media Post reports that there was a definitive study released this week that proves once and for all that visible ads are more effective than invisible ones. Thank goodness that's been settled.

The reason this is important to the prodigies in the online ad business is that according to The Wall Street Journal and other sources, as many as 54% of all online ads are not visible. By the way, the online ad crowd doesn't use the word "visible." They say "viewable" because, as with everything related to online advertising, the more imprecise and confusing you can make things the better off you are.

The headline of one of the most astounding articles you'll ever read says, "Viewability Drives Awareness, Recall, Intent, TubeMogul Study Shows."

And the lead informs us that...
"Viewability matters when it comes to digital advertising -- if ads are more likely to be seen, they are more likely to be effective..."
No fucking shit? 

But wait...there's more. Apparently, the study also concluded that viewability can increase purchase intent, and product awareness, and message recall.

I'm just do you measure "message recall" for ads that are not viewable? I think it would be a fantastic breakthrough if the ad industry could come up with a way to calculate the memorability of stuff that isn't there. It would be like measuring the IQ of people with no brains... if you get my drift.

TubeMogul, the problematic programmatic video ad platform company that conducted this brilliant research, based it on over one million streamed video ads. I think most of us could have surveyed a salami sandwich and reached a similar conclusion.

According to BoobMogul TubeMogul,
“Video’s inherent purpose is to drive upper-funnel activity... If a marketer’s goal is focused around increasing lift in one of these three areas, viewability should definitely be one of the primary KPIs.”
If you don't understand what that horseshit means, don't worry. It's just the way nitwits say,"visible stuff is more noticeable than invisible stuff."

PS: I got your "upper-funnel activity" right here.

August 11, 2014

Whatever You Do, Don't Be Yourself

If you want to be successful in the ad business, one of the first things you have to learn is to ignore all the baloney about "being yourself."

As a matter of fact, at all costs, do not be yourself.

Being yourself is a one-way ticket to Starbucksville.

I don't know who you are, or what "yourself" is like, but I guarantee you, "yourself" will be a big flop in the agency world.

In the agency world, you are expected to talk like this:
"(White Castle) is a beloved challenger brand... They seek an agency partner to align with their idea-rich, entrepreneurial culture and evolve the brand’s cultural relevance, especially among the millennial target."
See what I mean? That's an actual quote from an agency consultant. I don't care how full of shit yourself is, yourself can't be that full of shit.

Yourself might have said,
"White Castle is a bottom-feeding purveyor of unspeakable crap that just got a new CMO who wants an agency that will kiss his ass."
I'm afraid that just wouldn't sit well with the new masters of marketing.

That's why, to be successful in the agency business, you have to be very careful not to be yourself.

Here are some simple rules to follow to keep from being yourself:
Do not speak in simple declarative sentences
Do not ever express doubts about anything
Do not tell your colleagues what pathetic kiss-asses they are
Do not ever disagree with the highest ranking person in the room
When a client says the stupidest fucking thing you've ever heard, smile and nod
Remember, every sentence you speak or write must contain the word "brand" or "engagement"
I'm afraid that being yourself simply will not align with this idea-rich entrepreneurial culture or evolve your cultural relevance. So take my advice, amigo. Be the other guy.

Okay, now get out there and knock 'em dead.

August 07, 2014

Facebook's About Face

Here at the Ketel One Conference Center of The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters, we've been talking lately about the remarkable success that Facebook has achieved.

Not only have we been talking about it, but we've been high-fiving ourselves and taking full credit for it.

Perhaps you remember Facebook in its initial incarnation. It was the social media upstart that was going to slay the traditional advertising dragon. Well, it seems that it has done just the opposite. It has become a juggernaut of traditional paid advertising.

Some of the baloney that Facebook first tried to sell us was:
  • Consumers wanted to "join the conversation" about brands on line.
  • Precision targeting and social media marketing were going to make mass marketing obsolete.
  • Traditional paid advertising was a thing of the past.
But according to The New York Times...
"Facebook has changed its pitch and the products it offers advertisers so often that many marketing executives are wary."
Now Facebook is making money hand over fist, its stock value has soared, and they've done it by completely abandoning their initial principles and implementing the semi-brilliant marketing advice of a certain Luddite dinosaur blogger.

A couple of years ago a piece appeared in this space entitled Either Facebook Is Nuts Or I Am. The piece made a few points:

First, was that Facebook's "precision targeting" strategy was dumb.
"Why would a company that can reach a billion people...want to sell targeting? They should be selling anti-targeting. They should be selling reach. They are the only media property in the solar system that reaches a billion people (yet) they are trading on their ability to reach falafel lovers in Yonkers.
They're sitting on a gold mine, but they're throwing away the gold and selling the dirt."
Second was that they had to abandon the social media marketing fantasy and realize they were in the advertising sales business...
"...the Z-man has to get used to the idea that he's in the ad business... he has to get rid of all the Global Chief  Engagement Content Relationship Jargonators.
He has to get some ad sales people who know what the f/k they're selling, and then give them something worthwhile to sell. "
Third, they needed to forget about the little postage stamp ads they were peddling and develop some ad units that had impact.
"They need to offer big-time advertisers something of real value, not the crap they are currently selling."
Two recent reports, a very positive one in The New York Times and a very negative one in The Wall Street Journal, indicate that Facebook management have become assiduous readers of this blog.

First, they are soft-pedaling the precision targeting and emphasizing the mass reach. Reporting on a meeting that Facebook's sales staff had with a big client, The Times reporter says......
"At the meeting (Facebook's) ad strategists were saying they wanted (the client) to spend money to show ads to every American woman 45 and older on Facebook — as many as 32 million people."
Next, they have pretty much abandoned the social media bullshit...
"A few years ago, the company was telling brands to increase the number of people following their pages. Now it says fans are largely irrelevant." 
And finally, they have gotten rid of the no-impact crappy little side bar ads and replaced them with big fat ads right in the middle of your feed, and as The Journal said..." a changed format for Facebook's right-hand column ads. They're now larger..."

Unfortunately, old habits die hard. Even though Facebook is no longer kidding themselves about what business they're in, the nitwits in agencies and marketing departments still don't get it. According to a piece in Media Post, Facebook just signed a $100,000,000 advertising deal with marketing giant RB. Here's what a clueless RB jargonmeister had to say:
"This is not about advertising, but rather about collaboration to drive growth for RB brands and engagement on Facebook,"
Oh, good. For a minute there I thought this might be about advertising.

Thanks to Jim Dittmann and Prof. Byron Sharp for links regarding today's post.

August 06, 2014

I'm Starting To Think This Internet Thing Isn't So Secure

According to The New York Times, a Russian gang has stolen 1.2 billion user names and passwords.

They also stole 500 million email addresses which they can use to run scams.

They got this stuff from 420,000 websites which are still vulnerable.

Other than that, everything's okay.

August 04, 2014

The Process People

I retired from the agency business with one unanswered question: Why does it take 20% of the people in an agency to make the ads and 80% to make the arrangements?

Even as the ceo of two agencies, I could never figure that out.

In my last few years in the agency business a new variety of doubly non-productive people were gaining ascendancy -- "operations" people. Not only did they produce nothing of value, they stole time from the people who did.

They had meetings about meetings. They wanted to know what everyone was doing so they could... I don't know... know what everyone was doing, I guess.

They were process people. They wanted to be certain that rules were being followed, and lines of authority were adhered to, and flow charts were generously endowed.

They spent as much time tracking projects as the productive people spent working on them. They were less than useless. They were value-free overhead.

Certainly in the ad business timelines and deadlines need to be adhered to. But it was my observation that the process people consumed more time than they saved.

I think an agency functions best with a little bit of healthy anarchy. There's a component of creativity that thrives on operational chaos. It seems to be the job of these people to denude agencies of any illusion of chaos or anarchy.

I guess I am constitutionally averse to "process." Maybe it's just impatience, intolerance, or stupidity, but I believe intelligent people can do their work best when allowed to do it their own way -- without the interference of meddlers who know how to do everyone's job but their own.