February 26, 2015

Brand, Bullshit & Beyond

Lately, the Ad Contrarian blog has been breaking all kinds of attendance records.

In trying to analyze the reason for this sudden popularity, I've noticed something. People seem to love posts with the word "bullshit" in the title.

Being the kind of guy who likes to give the customers what they want, from now on every post title will contain the word "bullshit." I think this is what CMOs call "best practices."

Last week, I really gave it to the "Global CEO" of a huge ad agency concerning a video he did in which he invoked the genius of Steve Jobs for his own purposes -- and got it 100% wrong.

The guy was lecturing on his theory called "Why Your Brand Is More Important Than Your Product" which, of course, is the constant mantra of the world's professional brand babblers. To bolster his theory he invoked the name of Steve Jobs and proclaimed that the reason for Steve's great success was that he, too, put brand first.

Only problem was that Mr. Global was absolutely, positively, laughably wrong. In fact, Steve was such a believer in the power of the product, that according to Allison Johnson, his VP of Worldwide Marketing, at Apple "brand" was a "dirty word" and Steve "dreaded, hated" the word branding.

Now we get an equally powerful repudiation of the misrepresentations of this global loudmouth, this time from the man who was closest to Steve at Apple, Jony Ive.

The New Yorker has a lengthy and interesting profile of Ive in this week's edition called "The Shape of Things to Come: How an industrial designer became Apple’s greatest product."

Here are some quotes from the piece juxtaposed with some of the assertions of Mr. Global.
Steve Jobs: "If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it's Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together and then pull the others in and say 'Hey, what do you think about this?' He gets the big picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company."
Global CEO: "Product first, I think, is very retro and very 1980's." 
Jony Ive: "I can't emphasize enough: I think there's something really very special  about how practical we are. And you could, depending on your vantage point, describe it as old school and traditional, or you could describe it as very effective."
Global CEO: (About Jobs) He started with an idea that consumers want to be bespoke...and he back-filled into a product
Ive: "We put the product ahead of everything else."
Don't you love it? There is so much bullshit in our business. Most of it arrives in the form of an opinion or an anecdote. Consequently, it is very hard to actually catch a bullshitter red-handed like this.

I don't know why this thrills me so much, but it does. Despite all my tantrums, I really do feel deeply about the ad business and I'm sick at heart from watching it being diminished and dismantled by financial manipulators and insufferable blowhards.

I'm also completely fucking tired of these over-fed meatballs undermining the credibility of our industry with their trite, cunning theories and pompous pronouncements.

Thank you Allison Johnson and Jony Ive. 

February 25, 2015

Ad Contrarian Cruelly Dumped

Lots of big things happening here at Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters.

Type A Minus
I've been dumped again.

Big congratulations to my business partner in Type A Group, Sharon Krinsky. Sharon's been named President and Chief Creative Officer of RESO, an amazing online kids' activities resource site.

RESO just launched in the San Francisco area in the past few weeks and has aggressive growth plans. Sharon will soon be an internet billionaire and I'll still be going for cheap laughs at the expense of social media dorks.

I'm thinking of looking for a new partner for Type A. Qualifications: Cute; drink too much; laugh too loud.

Better Than The Movie
My new book was supposed to be ready in September. Then it was supposed to be ready early in January. I've postponed this thing more times than my next prostate exam.

Well, I think it's almost ready. I've changed the title and direction a few dozen times, but I think I'm actually happy with where it is. The title is Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey. 

Should be on sale at Amazon by May 15th. What's the over/under on that?

Can't Shut Up
I'll be doing two speaking gigs in the next few weeks.

The first is next week in Brussels at UBA Trends Day. The title will be "Advertising Needs Troublemakers."

The second will be a seminar in Chicago at the American Society on Aging's Aging in America conference. Title: "The Battle For The World's Most Valuable Customer."

Several more talks coming up in Canada, New York, and London. I'll keep you posted.

And remember, if you need a speaker for a conference or sales event, I know a good one.

Update: WAB just announced I will Keynote at their 81st Annual Conference. Read about it here.

February 24, 2015

Advertising's Greatest Sin

I am an advocate for advertising. I believe it helps create wealth, and creating wealth is what economies are about.

But I am not a blind propagandist. Having worked in the industry for 41 years, I believe advertising has had some troubling effects on society.

Advertising apologists usually trot out the "we just reflect what is going on in society" defense. While this may be true in certain cases, there is one offense in which advertising has maintained a leading role -- the marginalization and belittling of the old.

In its foolish and unrelenting worship of youth, advertisers and marketers have unwittingly created a barrier between generations and done damage to society.

There was a time when several generations in a family would be close, understanding toward each other, and respectfully engaged. Now, too many young people are embarrassed by their parents and treat older people with thinly disguised contempt. Advertising has played too large a role in this.

Young people constantly see themselves glamorized in advertising, and older people dismissed as fools. Here are some recent examples:

This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for decades. The effect is cumulative. And it is accelerating.

It seems that tech savvy-ness is now a proxy for wisdom, in the language of marketing.

In the real world, we understand that there is no correlation between tech fluency and wisdom -- in fact, some of the most bizarrely maladjusted people we know are basement dwelling web troglodytes.

But in this imaginary advertising world, those who are enthralled with "connectedness" -- i.e, mainly the young -- are portrayed as wise. Those who are not, are dopes and clowns. In this unhealthy, insulting advertising world, older people can't figure out how to turn on a computer or operate a thermostat.

Advertisers wouldn't dare dismiss women or black people or Jews as clueless fools, but dismiss older people as fools on a regular basis.

The aggregate effect of this is more harmful to society than we imagine.

February 23, 2015

5 Bathroom Habits Of Highly Successful People.

One of the most ignored yet profound aspects of business success is what you do in "the library." That's right, what you do behind that closed door is just a mirror, or a microcosm, or something, of what you do in what I like to call "the dry world."

If you can incorporate the toilet routines of highly successful people into your personal brand, or your personal mission statement, or something, you, too, can become a really annoying billionaire.

So here are 5 "best practices" of highly successful people when they are "washing up:"

1. Look At Your Belly From The Side: Since your mirror reflects a two-dimensional image, admiring yourself head-on gives you a false impression of adequacy. You need to look at yourself from the side to realize how disgusting you really are. Lesson: You are not the same person in another dimension.  

2. Use Both Sides Of The "Bathroom Tissue." By using just one side you are being wasteful, causing Brazilians to cut down more trees, which results in deforestation, elevates the level of carbon in our atmosphere, hastens the death of the planet, and most distressingly, convinces more C students to major in environmental studies. You should be ashamed of yourself.  

3. Check For Head Lice Twice Daily: Imagine this -- it's the day of the big presentation. The client is sitting next to you at the conference table eating a blueberry bagel. Suddenly a little white animal jumps off your head and into his cream cheese! Quelle embarrassment!

4. Examine Your Nipples For Nipple Rings: If you have metallic rings through your nipples, you are probably either a porn maniac or a fucking moron. Most highly successful people are not porn maniacs or fucking morons. Well, they're not fucking morons, anyway.

 5. Always Check Behind The Shower Curtain For Bloggers. Duh.

February 19, 2015

Brand Bullshit Never Sleeps

Just when you think that if the brand babblers were to generate one more ounce of bullshit the entire fucking solar system would explode, what do they do? Exceed expectations.

Today we have a lovely clip sent to us by a dear reader which I have culled from a video called "Why Your Brand Is More Important Than Your Product."

I would have posted the entire video but my attorneys inform me that if any reader were to commit an atrocity while reading my blog I might have legal culpability.

Please watch as one of the world's most formidable brand babblers explains Steve Jobs to us:

The wonderful thing about these guys is how, though they never worked with Steve and never spent a minute discussing their birdbrain theories with him, they're all so very certain they are now his representatives here on earth.

Sadly, Steve isn't here to defend himself, but we have the next best thing. Here is Allison Johnson, VP of Worldwide Marketing at Apple from 2005 to 2011...
..the two most 'dreaded, hated' words at Apple under Steve Jobs were "branding" and "marketing.
...we understood deeply what was important about the product, what the team’s motivations were in the product, what they hoped that product would achieve, what role they wanted it to have in people’s lives
...The most important thing was people's relationship to the product. So any time we said 'brand' it was a dirty word.
In other words, she totally, utterly and directly contradicts every fucking word this doofus has to say.

My guess is that if this guy spent 30 seconds with Steve he'd find himself flying head-first through a refrigerator door.

The frightening thing is that this isn't just some run-of-the-mill meatball spouting this dreadful, cliche-ridden nonsense. This guy is global ceo of one of the world's largest ad agencies. He's a worldwide, artisanally curated meatball.

Is it any wonder the advertising industry is such a fucking disaster?

February 17, 2015

There's No Bullshit Like Brand Bullshit.

Okay, just for the record let's state the obvious:
  • Yes, having a strong brand is very valuable.
  • Yes, the highest goal of advertising is to create a strong brand.
Now, let's get to the bullshit
  • No, for the most part consumers are not in love with brands
  • No, consumers do not want want to have a conversation with your brand, or an "authentic relationship" with it, or co-create with it, or engage with it, or dance with it, or take a shower with it.
They want it to work well, taste good, be reasonably priced, and look pretty. End of story.

As I've said about a million times (and Prof. Byron Sharp has said much more articulately in his book, How Brands Grow) most of what we call "brand loyalty" is simply habit, convenience, mild satisfaction or easy availability.

I promise you, if Pepsi would disappear tomorrow, most Pepsi "loyalists" would switch over to Coke with very little psychological damage.

Nike devotees would throw on a pair of Adidas without having to enter rehab.

McDonald's faithfuls would cheerfully eat a Whopper without the need for counseling.

In fact, according to Havas Media, “in Europe and the US, people would not care if 92% of brands disappeared.” And, to be perfectly honest here, I would not care if Havas Media disappeared.

Which brings us to a lovely bit of new age marketing baloney published on the Entrepreneur website recently called "How to Get Customers Raving About Your Brand

Apparently, in the never-never-land of brand babble, the way you get customers "raving" about you is through transparency, or to quote the article, "transparency is the new black." Somebody please shoot me.

You see, consumers are now so enchanted by their love of brands that they are studying brands to see which ones are most transparent. 

This makes it a little difficult to explain the world's most successful company -- Apple -- which, with the possible exception of North Korea, is the most secretive enterprise in the history of mankind.

Apparently, opaque is the new transparent.

The meatball who wrote this thing thinks Starbuck's is successful because of its transparency. On the other hand, I have a feeling it might have something to do with having a store on every corner, making the stores clean and comfortable, and serving a good cup of coffee

In fact, I did a little survey at my Starbuck's this morning. I went around and asked everybody why they were there. Transparency came up exactly... hang on, let me check my notes... oh, here it is -- no times.

But this is the new ideological world of marketing. Marketing is no longer about meeting the practical needs of customers. It's about high-minded principles of transparency and co-creating and conversations and... 

Well, I'm afraid I have a very old guy opinion. You want customers raving about your brand? Sell them a good fucking product.

February 11, 2015

3 Ways To Never Be Wrong

One of the big problems with being a marketing expert is that deep down you know that you really don't know anything. If you knew something, you'd be rolling in money from all your marketing brilliance. It's that "those who can, do..." thing.

Most of the time it doesn't matter. You can get away with not knowing anything by talking in riddles, parables, and indecipherable jargon. For example, here are three points from an article I read recently:
  • "Notification windows introduce a thin layer for rapid engagement."
  • "The Internet of Things is a hot and beautiful mess until it becomes the Internet of Everything"
  • "Mass personalization and full funnel marketing suites reset vendor landscape and change how brands “think” and work."
Maybe there's something in there that means something, but I'll be fucked blind if I know what it is. Nonetheless, the article was read by hundreds of thousands of people who are apparently a lot smarter than I am. It received thousands of "thumbs ups"

I guess as long as you write stuff like that and avoid real English and saying anything specific you'll be fine. People, being the insecure dimwits that they are, assume that since you are an expert and they're not, all this hogwash must mean something.

The tough part comes when you have to say something in real English with real words and real meaning. Because, if you're a prototypical marketing genius, pretty much everything you say in real English with real words and real meaning that hasn't already been said a hundred times is going to turn out to be wrong.

Consequently, you need an effective strategy for dealing with those unfortunate times when you can't speak in nursery rhymes and have to actually say something.

Here are three effective strategies for being dead wrong, but maintaining your "expert" status.
  • "I wasn't wrong, I was ahead of my time." This is also known as the "just wait, you'll see" defense.
  • "Of course, I didn't mean it literally." You see, the philistines don't understand the subtleties of an allegory.
  • "It may seem like I was wrong, but if you look beyond..." This is the "broader view" defense and is sometimes known as "torturing the logic."
Fortunately, most people are too distracted by the fires that are burning to go back and see how wrong you were. But just in case you run into some pain-in-the-ass who is insistent on pointing out your imperfections, keep these three defenses in mind and you'll be just fine.

February 09, 2015

An Adman's Life

Okay, this is embarrassing.

Here's the back-story: A while ago I was listening to a wonderful song by Jesse Winchester called "A Showman's Life."

I thought it would make for a nice parody. So I wrote, "An Adman's Life."

It's been laying around for a few years. Having no shame, and with sincere apologies to Jesse, I decided to record it and put it on the blog.

The bad playing and terrible singing are mine alone (with a little help from Apple) so there's no one to blame but myself.

To prevent being beaten senseless by your neighbors, I suggest you listen to this only on headphones.

February 05, 2015

Marketing: From Sales To Sociology

Now that the U.S. educational system is unable to educate our children, they have redefined their mission.

They are no longer in the business of teaching readin', writin', and ‘rithmetic. Instead, they are in the business of instilling values, and fostering expression. In other words, their mission has evolved from education to sociology.

The marketing world is headed in the same direction. This is why reading essays about marketing in business journals or attending marketing conferences is such an exasperating experience.

The marketing chatterers no longer seem terribly concerned about the selling of goods and services. Instead, they are obsessed with relationships. We are flooded with nattering about conversations and engagement, co-creation and “dialogues.”

It is the rare marketing article or talk that even mentions the words “product” or “selling” anymore.

The reason for this transformation is that it helps us avoid the one thing we hate most -- accountability. It is far more dangerous to measure sales than to measure the effect of “conversations.” We can hide behind “likes” and “followers” as indications of achievement even though it is pretty clear that the relationship between these "metrics" and customer acquisition is substantially nonexistent.

According to Mark Ritson, Assoc. Professor of Marketing at Melbourne Business School, the prevalence of articles about social media is 10 times out of proportion to its actual business importance.

I am pretty certain that an understanding of sociology is useful in marketing. But I am equally certain that its prevalence in business media is, likewise, about 10 times out of proportion to its value.

February 03, 2015

SuperBowl XLIX: Toe Fungus Comes Of Age

I think toe fungus is a pretty good metaphor for this year's crop of Super Bowl ads. Some random thoughts:
Snickers: Took a tired old idea, added new celebrities, and came up with a tired old idea.

Jeep: A pitch video? In the Super Bowl?
Budweiser: Puppy dog saved by the Clydesdales? Give me a fucking break. Where's GoDaddy when we need them?
Dodge: Won't move any metal, but loved the old folks. Prediction: next year, old people will be the new puppy dogs.
Mexican Avocados: A nice idea from out of nowhere. Silly, memorable, and relevant, which is what a SB spot should be.
McDonald's: Best spot I've seen from them in a long time. Last week I was very critical of McDonald's. This proves once again, the best strategy is good creative. Excellent real-people footage and kudos to the editor.
T-Mobile: I want to have Sarah Silverman's baby, but if one person in ten understood the point of that spot -- that you can use WiFi for calls -- I'll be amazed.
Toyota: Dad-pandering and artificial-limb-porn. Toyotas keep selling like crazy despite pointless advertising. Just shows that engineers are more important than brand managers. Camry? Bold?
Fiat: Viagra idea kinda funny. But most of all, they continue to cleverly use Italian imagery to sell a car made in Poland.
Nationwide: They may be responsible for history's longest continuous stretch of terrible Super Bowl advertising. This year they outdid themselves with the dead kid. Oh, I see, they just wanted to "start a conversation." Gag me.

Bud Light: The characterization of millennials as imbeciles continues. The beer/soft drink/fast food axis of evil has created an ongoing image of them as moronic twits. This Pac-Man thing was beyond inane. Millennials, fight back! Or take a selfie or something.
The Internet: Took some hits. First there were the anti-negativity messages from two of the world's largest brands (Coke and McD's.) Then there was the return of 1999-style "dotcom" advertising for Squarespace (I don't know...The Dude and W+K...big talent there...was it supposed to be ironic??) Finally, there was the most frequently overheard comment where I was: "Oh, I've seen that one already." Translation: The internet is ruining everything.
Michaels and Collinsworth are good.
Half-Time Show: The essence of subtlety and nuance. 
Idina Menzel: Here's a message from my last book. Just change 40,000 to 110,000,000...

The Big Question: Can the Super Bowl do for toe fungus what it did for erectile dysfunction? Tune in next year.

February 02, 2015

The 5 Kinds Of Advertising Troublemakers

I am finishing up a new book called Advertising Needs Troublemakers. The premise of the book is, I believe, self-evident.

One of the aspects of writing the book that has become interesting to me is the realization that while the ad business needs a certain type of troublemaker, there is a whole range of troublemakers, and most of them we don't need.

I've thought about the troublemakers I have come across in the agency business and here are a few of the categories:

1. The Asshole:  Not all troublemakers are assholes. But all assholes are troublemakers. The asshole cannot be trusted. He can't be trusted to give you reliable information from a client. He can't be trusted to deliver reliable information from you to a client. He can't be trusted to speak the truth about anything or anyone. He can't be trusted to address problems head on. He tells you half the truth half the time. He manipulates information to his own advantage and plants seeds of discontent among the naive and the impressionable.

2. The Goddess: The goddess's major asset is not her intelligence, her ability, or her judgment. Her leverage is in her relationship with a client. The goddess is not the agency's person at the client, she is the client's person at the agency. She talks like a client, thinks like a client, and expects to be treated like a client. You may not question her judgment because she speaks for the client and with the authority of the .

3. The God: The god knows how to do everyone's job but his own. He knows what the media plan should look like, how the copy should sound, and what the strategy should be. The only thing he can't do is his own job. When he is alone with a client, and is not protected by his entourage, the result is invariably a majestic fuck-up and weeks of more work.

4. The Chosen One. There is no bigger troublemaker than the chosen one. The chosen one usually gets his status from having had one big random advertising success, often at another agency. The big boss, who is tired and overwrought, has mistakenly hand-picked the chosen one and stepped away from the plate. The chosen one is now your problem.

5. The Real Deal. And then there is the real deal. The real deal causes trouble by asking the right questions. The real deal will not accept sloppy work or sloppy answers. The real deal drives us crazy with questions we think are irrelevant. But the real deal doesn't think the way we do. That's what makes the real deal real.

Tomorrow, my post about Super Bowl advertising, "Toe Fungus Comes Of Age." Don't miss it.