October 28, 2015

Another Fun-Packed Bullshit Bonanza

In my lifetime, there has never been a subject about which more bullshit has been written than digital advertising. Except maybe God.

Anyone who has been to one of my talks knows that my favorite thing to do is go back a few years and compare the grand proclamations and predictions of our digital marketing experts with reality. This never fails to yield a treasure trove of giggles.

Recently, it has been particularly entertaining.

Earlier this month Digiday, reported in an article entitled "The IAB UK: Banners Don't Work" that the senior industry programs manager of the IAB in the UK said, "We’re learning now that it doesn’t work.”

One week later, the senior VP-technology and ad operations at the IAB in the US all but admitted that banner advertising is a blight and a disgrace, "We messed up...The consumer is demanding these actions...and we must respond."

This drove me to go back a few years and re-read a few things. First was a piece that I wrote for Digiday. The piece itself is nothing special -- just my usual diatribe against the waste, stupidity and ineffectiveness of display advertising.

But the great thing was the comments on the piece.

For example...
"What a totally off-base article...he clearly hasn't invested much time in understanding the digital display space…The reason display is so interesting is precisely because there are much deeper metrics that can be gleaned on ad engagement, time on site, visibility, cross channel tracking, post-view influence, and many others - all combined with targeting and retargeting capabilities that dwarfs what's possible in any other mediums..."
"I think you make several logical fallacies, especially the one that marketers are spending billions cluelessly on digital advertising (given the vast data it spins off). This is a ridiculous assumption..." 
"...the real insight comes when you look beyond each silo and start to measure the cross-channel value of a campaign, optimizing budget in real time..." 
"Banner ads should NOT be used for clicks, nor measured by such. But they can brand quite effectively..."
Yeah, right.

Then, having too much fun to stop, I came upon these wonderful articles from 2012:

From American Express: QR Codes Make Print Campaigns Jump Off the Page which assures us that...
"You can flip through any magazine and see dozens of brands using QR codes."
Why just dozens? Why not hundreds? When you're making shit up why not go all the way?

Then from Entrepreneur.com: Is the End Near for Traditional Advertising? In which we learn that...
"The demise of in-your-face marketing and advertising is close at hand..."
Yeah, yeah, any minute now.

And of course from the geniuses at Harvard Business Review we learned the value of a "like" in How to Calculate the Value of a Like . It turns out that the secret formula was...

No, you can't make this shit up.

I can only imagine how much of their clients' money these experts flushed down the toilet with their dopey arguments, trendy jargon, delusional bullshit, and shallow knowledge of how advertising actually works.

On the plus side, they do provide plenty of laughs for the rest of us.

October 26, 2015

Will The ANA Investigation Become A Stunt?

After reflecting on it a little, I'm thinking that the investigation launched last week by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) into the dealings of media agencies has the potential to turn into a feeble stunt.

I don't think it's any secret that the ANA and the globalized agency holding companies are a little cozy.

A lot of the agency boys were hand-picked by the client boys. Overfed corporate types on both sides tend to be cut from the same mold. They don't like to see their fraternity brothers getting into too much hot water.

There are three ways this investigation could go.

First, it could uncover nothing. This is the ideal outcome that would clear the industry of any responsibility for fraud, sleaze, or corruption. While I am certain that most agencies are principled and do not screw their clients, I am equally certain that there are others who are not so principled. My assessment of the probability of this investigation turning up no wrong-doing: between zero and nothing.

Second, the investigation could turn up evidence of criminal behavior. The reference to former FBI agents in the stories last week implied that this was possible.

I believe the chances of this happening are very small. The issue here is definitions - what constitutes a criminal act as opposed to just plain sleaze is often hard to define.

The U.S. government, as a rule, expects businesses to keep a careful eye on their own money and doesn't generally display much sympathy for big, stupid corporations who get fleeced by sharpies. I'd say the odds of government agencies stepping in are very low unless a clear pattern of criminality is established. I doubt this is the case. These hot-shot agency boys are crafty and duplicitous but they're not criminals. At least I hope not.

The third and most likely outcome will be that the ANA investigation will turn up a shitload of hanky-panky, but no criminal behavior. They will find that some agencies have found new and creative ways to use clients' money and/or value to feather their own nests. And have been putting their own interests ahead of their clients'.

But let's be realistic here. The ANA members have some face to save and some boneheadedness to hide, too. As I've been ranting for years, advertisers have been asleep at the wheel. Their naiveté about online sleaze has been a clown show of epic proportions.

Aristocratic suckers don't usually like to be publicly exposed. I doubt they're going to want the world to see how timidly they were led to the slaughter.

They'll probably slap the hands of their pals in the holding companies. They'll "insist" on more "transparency." A few heads may roll and an account or two may change hands.

But what we'll get will be carefully crafted PR. I doubt we'll ever get the full story.

October 22, 2015

Dead Agencies Walking

Over 2 1/2 years ago, in a piece entitled "Time To Clean Out The Stables" I called for an investigation of the advertising industry's media buying practices.
"Not only are online advertisers getting screwed by crooks, some of them are also getting screwed by their agencies... This industry is in desperate need of investigation.
It seems that advertisers have finally woken up.

In the past week, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has announced an investigation into the media buying practices of ad agencies. The investigations will go beyond online practices and look at all media.

There are a number of interesting things to note about these investigations:

First, the ANA has hired two separate companies to conduct its investigation. One of which employs former FBI agents. These guys don't fuck around.

According to the Financial Times, the ANA's investigation will...
"...probe the “non-transparent behaviour” of rebates, barter, arbitrage, dark pools, inventory management, global transactions, and supply chain media management."
This is just corporate fancy talk for agency kickbacks and undisclosed fees. And believe me, the industry is drowning in them.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a study done by Forrester Research and the ANA last year that interviewed high level marketing executives found that...
 "...more than half of those polled noted a high level of concern over the possibility that agencies may receive a rebate from the media seller."
Ad Age reports that ANA President-CEO Bob Liodice said the effort will go beyond rebates and include arbitrage of digital ad inventory.

What this means, as I said in my piece 2 1/2 years ago, is that agencies...
 "...buy online ad space at one price and then resell it to their clients at another price. And guess what? The price they sell it at is higher than the price they buy it at."
Second, previously the ANA had been working with the 4A's on a "Joint Media Transparency Taskforce" to develop a set of principles for "transparency" in the agency business. Between the lines, you can only assume that the ANA has to be pretty damn pissed off with the 4A's "Taskforce" if in the middle of this they are pulling out and starting to conduct their own investigation. Sounds very troublesome for the 4A's

Third, there are some big time agency executives shitting their pants right now. Under racketeering laws, some of the stuff that has been alleged is not just sleazy, it's illegal. And Federal Country Clubs have lousy wine cellars.

If the ANA investigation finds what I thoroughly expect it to find, this could be a very rough year ahead for the agency business.

There have been three major factors in the corruption of the agency industry over the past several years.

First is the transition of the agency business passing from the hands of craftspeople (copywriters, art directors, media people, research people, and account people) who actually worked in advertising, into the sweaty hands of financial wise guys, lawyers and accountants.

Second, has been the accumulation of far too much power in too few hands by the consolidation of the industry into a handful of grotesque corporate holding companies.

And finally is the pitiful acquiescence of the client community in allowing the hideous destruction of a once vibrant and creative industry into another corporate monstrosity.

This investigation is long overdue. It would be wonderful news if it was found that our leaders did nothing irregular or illegal.

But you can put me down as officially skeptical. I foresee months of "I said, he said" which will result in some small to middle size suckers taking the fall for the big guys. The big heads will hire high priced lawyers and will negotiate fat cat exit packages We can only hope that there are a few emails floating around that implicate the Sorrells and his ilk.

I used to tell my staff that when a client has confidence in you you can do anything. But once a client loses confidence you're dead.

This could be the year of dead agencies walking.

October 21, 2015

The Emperor's New Medium

Sometime in the future, business schools are going to offer a course about the first 20 years of online advertising. It is going make a wonderful story of delusion on a scale unprecedented in the history of business.

Everyone knows that online advertising is great. We just don't know what the hell it's great for.

Last week the Interactive Advertising Bureau in the US and the Internet Advertising Bureau in the UK finally admitted that banner advertising is a disaster and useless. A study in the UK confirmed what other research has revealed -- social media is mostly a waste of time.

It's just a matter of time till we get confirmation that the magical power of our other online miracles like "content" and "native" are sprung whole from the same fantasy factory as display and social.

We are living in a unique era in advertising history. What we have experienced is a truly amazing and singular series of events.

How did a form of advertising so unpopular with consumers, so ineffectual, and so corrupt become so big so fast?

If you're of a mind to write a book about marketing, culture, or mass delusion, I suggest you get started writing this story.

Call it The Emperor's New Medium.

October 19, 2015

Disruption: The Magical Answer

When political pollsters ask people to choose their favorite candidate, the winner is very often "none of the above."

The reason for this is obvious. Real candidates have flaws, imaginary candidates are perfect.

Today, a favorite answer of clueless marketers is "none of the above."

This was driven home to me last week in an article in Ad Age about a presentation made at the ANA conference by a guy named Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo's global beverage group.

Jakeman seems to think the answer to everything is "disruption" -- the cliche of the decade, and the marketing equivalent of "none of the above."

Disruption is an outcome, not a strategy.

But people who have no strategy throw the "d" word around like the knuckleheads who want a "viral" video. Bring me some disruption!

Of course, as always, the only path to disruption is creativity.

In the world of marketing, creative thinking is the one and only engine of excellence. All the rest is chit chat.

The media landscape today is absolutely mind-blowing. Twenty-five years ago marketers would have given an arm and a leg to have these kinds of media options. But our obsession with media has blinded us to the real problem -- creative talent.

What's missing today is the application of creative thinking to the new media types. We have traded in our creative people for a bunch of data analysts, media mavens, software gurus, and jive-talking digi-maniacs.

What we are left with is an amazing array of delivery systems and nothing worth delivering.

Remarkably, Jakeman believes the "agency model" (whatever that means) hasn't changed in 25 years.
"The agency model that I grew up with largely has not changed today," 
Really? I wonder where he's been the past 25 years? Has he heard of Martin Sorrell? Or the consolidation of the agency industry into a a handful of horrible monstrosities? Or the bifurcation of the business into media agencies and creative agencies? Or the appearance of digital agencies? Has anyone told him about the Internet? I suspect that someone who fell asleep in an agency in 1990 and woke up there today wouldn't even understand the language.

On the plus side, Jakeman seems to have made some very good points about the idiocy of most digital advertising, the awfulness of consolidated, global agencies, and the cluelessness of corporate agency management.

But he struck out on the big issue.

What we need is not disruption. What we need is talent.

Where talent goes, disruption follows.

October 15, 2015

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Steps In It Again

Over a year ago I wrote a piece about Yahoo ceo Marissa Mayer's clueless comments at the Cannes carnival of narcissism, which included this gem...
"Art is advertising and advertising is art."
Yeah, right. Poetry is limericks and limericks are poetry.

A couple of weeks ago at the Advertising Week jerkoff jamboree (which I am proud to say I contributed generously to) she took a nice shot at equaling the lunacy of her Cannes statement with the following nonsense about online advertising...
"I just think it makes the Internet better... The experience on the Web [without ads] becomes a lot less rich in my experience."
Yeah, that's why people are running for the exits.

They're downloading ad blockers by the bucketful because online advertising provides such a wonderfully rich experience.

You really have to wonder if these people actually believe this bullshit or if they are so contemptuous of the rest of us that they think they can say anything and not be held accountable.

I understand that Ms. Mayer has to make a buck. We all do. But, please, use a little common sense. You're a smart person, don't go making statements that make you look like an idiot.

Online advertising, fueled by "ad tech", is a blight and a disgrace. It desperately needs help. It desperately needs people like Mayer to take the lead in reforming it, not adding to the festival of denial and whining that the industry is currently engaged in.

October 14, 2015

The Oddest Thing About Apple.

There is something striking about the phenomenal success of Apple.

It's something that sensible, non-delusional marketers should take note of.

Despite being the world's premier technology company, and one of the world's most successful online transactional marketers (the iTunes store), the overwhelming majority of Apple's advertising money is spent on traditional advertising -- TV, outdoor, and print.

They use the web brilliantly for their "below the line" stuff. But their advertising is almost exclusively of the traditional variety.

I've only ever seen one banner ad for Apple. I've never seen a Facebook "sponsored post." I don't believe they have a Twitter feed.

Mostly, all they do is that dead old TV and outdoor and print stuff. Yet somehow they've managed to survive and, oh yeah, become the world's most valuable company.

What have the wizards of the marketing and advertising industry learned from this?

Absolutely nothing.

October 12, 2015

Data Is A Frame, Not A Picture

You don't have to spend much time around marketers to realize that every few years the marketing industry discovers a new miracle and becomes obsessed with it -- until the next miracle comes along.

Our latest marvel-du-jour is data.

You can tell it's an official miracle by the number of dreary conferences held to talk it to death, and the number of nitwits that can't finish a sentence without invoking its name.

Every dim bulb consultant and loudmouth agency hustler has a tendentious Powerpoint proving that data is the answer to every marketer's problem.

But I have a thought I'd like you to consider.

Do you think Coke has some mystery data that Pepsi doesn't have?

Do you think McDonald's has secret data that Burger King can't find?

Do you think Facebook will peddle its data to Target but not to Walmart?

Here's my point -- just about the same data is available to just about everyone who wants it.

Yahoo and Twitter and dozens of other online media companies have reams of data about you and know everything there is to know about you. And they're still stuck in the mud.

It's not the data that makes the difference, it's what you do with it.

That's why all the data hustlers are full of shit. They want you to believe that their proprietary data inevitably leads to a magical answer. It doesn't.

The answer is, and always has been, a smart person with an idea.

Give a mediocrity all the data in the world and he'll come up with garbage. Give a brilliant person one critical fact and he'll build you an industry.

Literally thousands of scientists had the same data as Einstein. But Einstein had something they didn't -- the creative brilliance to formulate a vision of what the data meant.

Data is a frame, not a picture.

October 08, 2015

The Whining Of The Online Ad Industry

Now that the adolescent online ad industry is facing its first serious crisis, we are experiencing exactly the kind of behavior we should expect from juveniles -- whining.

The growing problem of ad blocking has generated a chorus of infantile bellyaching from online publishers and their apologists.

First, they are exaggerating the problem to gain our sympathy. The IAB claims that 34% of adults are using ad blockers. I am highly suspicious of this number. In fact, I'd be surprised if 34% of people even know that ad blockers exist. My guess is that the actual number of ad blocking software users is closer to half this number.

Next they say that there is an unwritten agreement between publishers and users. Publishers provide free content and, in return, we are obligated to receive the ads they send us. This is a lousy argument. The internet is not free. I write a hefty little check to my internet provider every month. The fact that online publishers have a dumbass business model and do not get any part of this revenue is not my fault or my problem.

They say publishers are going to go out of business and the websites we love are going to disappear. I doubt it. If 95% of the websites in the world disappeared tomorrow, there would still be a thousand times as many as we'd ever need.

The online ad industry does not understand its problem. The problem is ad tech. And the longer they cling to the obnoxious model of ad tech that currently exists, the worse their problems are going to get.

People are only mildly averse to advertising. They tolerate it in many forms in many media. What people hate is the type of ultra-annoying, creepy advertising that has been enabled by online ad tech.

If they would dump their addiction to ad tech a large number of their problems - fraud, blocking, price deflation - would take a nice step toward evaporating.

Sadly, they are willing to address everything but the problem.

October 06, 2015

Take This Test To See If You Are Delusional

As a world famous writer once said, marketers are from Mars.

But today we are not talking about marketing nutjobs in general, today we're talking about you.

The question today is a personal one: How far have you deviated from reality?

Take this test to find out.

First, I want you to think about your refrigerator.

Think about all the stuff that's in there: The cheese, the eggs, the juice, the jelly, the butter, the beer, the mayonnaise, the bacon, the mustard, the frozen chicken strips...

Now think about your pantry. The cereals, the beans, the napkins, the flour, the detergent, the sugar, the rice, the bleach...

Next your medicine cabinet. The toothpaste, the pain relievers, the shampoo, the tweezers, the soap, the band-aids, the deodorant...

Now your dresser. Your socks, your underwear, your shirts, your pajamas, your swim suit, your t-shirts, your sweaters...

Now your car. The battery, the tires, the wiper blades, motor oil, gasoline, the air filter, the muffler...

Now answer these questions:
  • Do you "share branded content" about any of this stuff? 
  • Do you feel "personally engaged" with these brands? 
  • Do you "join conversations" on line about this crap? 
  • Do you ever "co-create" with any of these brands? 
  • Do you feel like you are part of these brands' "communities?"
Now answer me this: If you don't, why in the fucking world do you believe anyone else does?

Okay, you may now return to your regularly scheduled delusions.

October 05, 2015

Think It's Easy Writing Nasty Things About Online Advertising Every Day?

Okay, maybe it is.

But just to keep things almost fresh, today I am not writing nasty things. I'm speaking them.

Today we have an audio post.

Last week I recorded an interview with Spark, a program that airs on the CBC (Canada's public radio.)

The interview is about online advertising, ad blocking, and gravitational wave inconsistencies in binary black hole systems.

Okay, not really that black hole stuff.

But it's almost interesting anyway. You can listen to it here.

October 01, 2015

Digital Hypocrites Getting What They Deserve

"Information wants to be free."
That was the moronic mantra of the digerati and the digital publishing industry.

When they were stealing content from newspapers and magazines and republishing it...
"Information wants to be free."
When they were hijacking intellectual property from artists and writers...
"Information wants to be free."
When they were aggregating other peoples' work and monetizing it...
"Information wants to be free."
As long as they could make some money from it, information wanted to be free.

Now that the greed, sleaze and stupidity of the online ad industry are driving people to ad blockers, information don't wanna be so free no more. Now "free" is "robbery"

Now they're telling us that there's a price. Now they're saying that in order to get all this "free" information we are not allowed to ignore the advertising. Yeah, suddenly there's a cost factor.

When they could make some money from it, information wanted to be free.

Now that their revenue stream is threatened, information wants to have a price tag.