December 20, 2016

Huge Video Ad Fraud Uncovered

I know, I know...I'm supposed to be on vacation. But this is just too delicious to let go.
For years fools like me have been warning advertisers and marketers about the absurd amount of crime and fraud in online advertising. And, of course, because marketers are smarter than everyone else, none of the warnings have any effect.
Well, maybe they'll wake up now.

Introducing Methbot -- “the largest and most profitable ad fraud operation to strike digital advertising to date” says, WhiteOps, a provider of online fraud protection software.
According to the Pivotal Research Group, Methbot is responsible for...
- 200-300 million fraudulent video impressions a day
- $3-$5 million in criminal revenue a day
- More than $1 billion in annual revenue a year from fraudulent online video advertising
When you realize that total US income from online video advertising will only be $7 billion this year, you can see how enormous this fraud is. Pivotal says, "the scale of this single fraud is stunning."
And nobody knows how many other bots are out there.
According to Pivotal, here's how Methbot works...
" is focused on programmatic video inventory and because of the way it has fabricated both demand and supply of inventory. Among other details, Methbot produces counterfeit premium publisher sites and generates fraudulent ad calls that appear to originate from US-based internet providers including Verizon, Comcast and Spectrum. Methbot then generates revenue from programmatic sources of demand seeking premium video inventory."
If you understand any of that, please drop me a post card.
So let's recap:

- The Association of National Advertisers says kickbacks and other corrupt activities among agencies is pervasive."

- The New York Times reports that about half of all online ads paid for are not viewable.

- The Guardian reports that 60-70% of online ad budgets are being scraped off by ad tech middlemen.

- Over 1/2 billion people have ad blockers installed on their online devices.

- The World Federation of Advertisers says that within 8 years online ad fraud could be the second largest source of criminal revenue in the world (after drug trafficking.)

- We know that online ad fraud is completely out of control and no one knows how large it is.

- We have just learned about the biggest online video ad fraud ever uncovered.
Yup, sounds like online advertising is just the thing for today's busy marketing moron.

December 19, 2016

The Obligatory End-Of-Year 5-Point Click-Bait List

With 2016 about to come to an end, and me late to the market with the obligatory 5-point click-bait list, let's take a step back from the mundane and horrifying details of  day-to-day life in ad land and take a look at the big picture.

Here are the five major advertising industry realities of 2016.

1. Agency Business In Trouble
Several years ago the agency business as a whole stopped investing in creativity and placed its bets on data, analytics, and other disciplines which seemed more promising. Having abandoned their raison d'etre for these apparently fertile and trendy pastures, agencies are now paying the price. They are finding that clients are even more dissatisfied than usual. The momentum for large clients to move their business in-house, or to consultancies-cum-agencies, or to non-AOR arrangements is growing and is a serious threat to the health of the agency business.

2. Online Advertising Equals Google and Facebook
Outside of China, Google and Facebook account for 72% of online ad revenue. Of all the new revenue that came into the online ad industry in 2016, about 90% went to Google and Facebook. The millions of other ad-supported web publishers are fighting over the scraps. The market is speaking loud and clear. It is telling us that with the exception of the duopolists they think online advertising is worthless.

3. The Web Is Evolving Into Television 
Gadgets change, people don't. Video viewing is at an all-time high and a lot of it is being done online. Not because "television is dead," but because television is the web's killer app. Over 70% of internet bandwidth is used for video. Every major online player is developing proprietary video content. Consumers couldn't care less about what pipe programming and content are delivered through as long as it is simple, cheap and entertaining. It is only a matter of time until Google, Facebook, Amazon or Apple tries to buy a TV network.

4. Corruption Is Widespread
The ANA investigation into agency media buying concluded that kickbacks and other unsavory practices were "pervasive." The Department of Justice is now investigating agency bid-rigging. The World Federation of Advertisers reported that within 8 years online ad fraud may become the second largest criminal activity on the planet, after drug trafficking. The Wall Street cuties have taken over the ad industry and the culture of anything for money has come along for the ride.

5. Ad Tech Is A Fiasco
Advertisers, publishers, and consumers are all disgusted by the current state of online advertising. Ad tech middlemen are scraping 60-70% of online ad budgets from advertisers and publishers. Over half a billion consumers have ad blockers installed on their devices. 70% of marketers say they are dissatisfied with the current state of online advertising. So who likes ad tech? The people who are taking it to the bank -- Google, Facebook and holding companies.

It seems that every year I write that it has been a pretty shitty year for the ad industry. It's getting tiring.

In other news...

This is my favorite blog post every year. It's the one in which I say it's holiday time and this is going to be my last post of the year.

It's not that I don't enjoy writing this thing, it's just that I keep wondering when I'm going to hit empty.

On the other hand, when you write about advertising and marketing there's really no end to the silliness. So if you search hard enough, you can always find amusing material.

I sometimes think that the only reason for the existence of the marketing industry is to make the rest of humanity seem prudent and levelheaded.

In more other news...

The perfect gift for every business bozo on your holiday gift list is a book entitled "Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey."  How do I know? Trust me, I'm a blogger. Don't believe me? Read the reviews here (and be sure to read the great Geraldine's review.)

It is available in both paper and pixels. Even though I don't make anything on the electronic version, I prefer you buy it. We need the trees more than I need the money.

In even more other news...

Before I pour myself a festive holiday beverage, let me take time to thank some people.

First I want to thank the people who hired me to speak or to advise or to appear on their shows or wrote about me this year. In no particular order: Comcast SportsNet; NBC; 1000watt; BeanCast; Marketing Book Podcast; Cox Media; Screenforce Austria, Switzerland and Germany; Business Insider; MadClarity; TVNZ; ASIcast; Discovery Networks; IAPA; Worthshop; Software Engineering Daily; Ireland AM; The Irish Times; WPP; National Business Review; Business Day; Media Post; StopPress; Agency Spy; Mumbrella; The Cog Blog; Tech Crunch; MarketingWeek; The Economic Times; The Age; and the organizations for whom I did confidential advising -- you know who you are. I'm sure I've left some groups out, so thank you, too.

Also, thanks to the people who write intelligently about marketing and advertising and whose thinking I steal from shamelessly. You also know who you are.

Most of all, thanks to the people who read this thing and keep it interesting with comments -- especially the brilliant ones that agree with me.

Happy holidays to all, even the bozos who don't agree with me, and I'll see you next year.

December 12, 2016

Disruption Is Not A Strategy, It's An Outcome

It’s hard to imagine an industry more in need of disruption than the fossil fuel industry.

There is no question that the burning of fossil fuels creates toxic byproducts that cause serious illnesses and death.

There is compelling evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is contributing to what might turn out to be irreversible damage to the environmental stability of our planet.

Geopolitically, the economics of attaining fossil fuels has caused hundreds of billions of dollars to be transferred from Western countries to places bent on our destruction.

And individually, purchasing fossil fuels for automobiles is a major financial burden on many low income consumers.

It’s hard to draw up a more compelling case for the need for disruption.

Strangely, there is a very obvious technological solution to a substantial aspect of the problem — battery powered vehicles, or as we call them, electric cars.

And yet, electric cars have not been anything near a disruptive technology.

In 2008 we had 12 car models in the US that were battery powered. Today we have 55. But they are languishing. Between 2008 and today the electric car's share of the automotive market has crawled from 2.3% to 2.8%. If it wasn't for production driven by government mandated emissions standards, I doubt the share would have grown at all.

So what's gone wrong?

As we’ve said so many times here, marketers always overestimate the appeal of new things and underestimate the power of traditional consumer behavior.

So far, battery powered cars are very unappealing to consumers. They’re too expensive, they have limited range, and except for a few, they look like crap.

Despite the incessant marketing horseshit about consumers' passion for products that “do good” and products that "align with their values,” most consumer behavior still operates on a very simple principle -- what’s in it for me?

If you think your new technology is going to be disruptive you better first be sure it has consumer appeal.

Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb aren’t popular with consumers for technological reasons. They are disruptive because they are 1)cheaper and 2)produce a better user experience.

In other words, they are an improvement.

Disruption is not a strategy. Improvement is a strategy.

When improvement is compelling enough, disruption is the outcome.

Quote Of The Week...
...And speaking of things that are not a strategy, here's a great quote from Coke global CMO Marcos de Quinto, "Social media is the strategy for those who don't have a true digital strategy." Or as I am fond of saying, "Social media isn't a strategy, it's absence of a strategy."

December 07, 2016

Another Scandal In Ad Land

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating whether agencies are guilty of bid-rigging on production and post-production jobs. Commercial production and post-production is a $5 billion business in the US.

There is no announcement yet of which agencies may be under investigation but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to take a good guess. WPP, Omnicom, IPG, and Publicis all have in-house production and post-production capabilities. IPG has said that it has been contacted by the DOJ about this investigation.

According to The Wall Street Journal, agencies have been accused of manipulating the bidding process and coercing production houses into submitting phony, overpriced bids — called “check bids.” These phony bids create a paper trail that agencies use as cover when clients want a rationale for why agencies award jobs to themselves.

This new scandal comes on the heels of the ANA investigation this summer which found that unethical media buying practices were “pervasive" in the agency business — particularly in online advertising.

There is a big difference, however, between an ANA investigation and a DOJ investigation. The ANA investigation was a toothless joke. It was all thunder and no lightning.

The DOJ is a whole different ballgame. You do not want to fuck with these people. Price-fixing and bid-rigging are criminal activities. The same person who is apparently investigating the bid-rigging for the DOJ was also involved in investigating criminal charges that sent several agency print production execs to jail not long ago.

It may turn out that this investigation goes nowhere. But don't bet on it.

As each new scandal comes to light, it becomes harder and harder to overstate the damage that consolidation has done to the advertising industry.

There is little doubt that there have been crooks in the ad business - just as in every business - since the beginning of time. But the culture of the publicly-traded, consolidated agencies, steeped in financial sleight-of-hand and Wall Street monkeyshines, have created an environment in which ethics are malleable.

The agency business is a mess. You have to ask yourself how much of this crap clients are going to put up with? Is it any wonder that they are taking advertising in-house or hiring consulting firms to do their advertising? We are losing the confidence of sensible business people everywhere.

We jump from one fad to another; we are a cesspool of -isms; we have traded our knowledge-base for trendy clichés; we have eroded anything resembling a moral code; we have fired our experienced, talented people and replaced them with cheap, amateurish nobodies who have degraded our product; and we have brutalized our language into a liturgy of dreadful jargon and insufferable bullshit.

Other than that, we’re doing great.

December 05, 2016

Potato Chip Line Extensions

It all started with pineapple pizza.

Who's fucking idea was that?

Then we got blueberry bagels and olive oil ice cream and avocado toast and almond milk and pretty soon it'll be salted caramel Viagra.

Have you tried to buy potato chips lately? Do they have to fuck with everything? Can't they leave potato chips alone?

I went to the grocery the other day to buy my favorite lunch: a tuna sandwich, chocolate milk, and potato chips.

I stood there staring at the potato chip shelf for about 10 minutes and couldn't find a bag of simple, plain-ass potato-flavored potato chips. Everything had insane ingredients that had no business being anywhere near a potato chip. Bloody Mary and Jalapeno and...

Anyway, as long as the snack food industry has decided to go off the deep end, I thought I'd help them out with some new flavor ideas for potato chips. Here we go:

- Red Pepper and Milk

- Sweet Maui Onion and Handbag

- Fully Grown Beaver

- Cheddar and Self-Driving Car

- Mushroom and Dust

- Diet Dijon

- Honey Glazed Sweatsock

- Sri Lancan Sriracha

- Spicy Field Mouse

- Plump Chicken and Beans

- Aggressive Panhandling and Vinegar

- Wax Paper and Maple

- Crispy New York Toenails

Enjoy your lunch.

November 30, 2016

The Danger In Storytelling

I have noticed something recently when I read articles in trade publications.

Much of the data we are getting about online advertising is negative. To wit:

- The amount of fraud
- The extent of ad blocking
- The siphoning of revenue by ad tech middlemen
- The minuscule rates of interactivity
- The absence of consumer engagement
- The lack of transparency in media agency buying

Much of positive news we get, however, is anecdotal. The trades tell us about this successful social media program and that successful Facebook campaign.

And the anecdotes seem to have far more impact.

One of the principles that every good copywriter learned in her first six weeks on the job was "tell a story." The reason is simple -- people remember stories (sadly, storytelling has now become an inescapable and insufferable cliché that every dimwit marketing poseur is required by law to mention twice in every sentence. But we'll leave that for another day.)

But storytelling has its dangers.

The danger is that anecdotes make far better stories than data.

For example, the anecdote of the Ice Bucket Challenge makes a much more memorable story than the report by the American Marketing Association that 88% of marketers find no return on social media marketing.

And so the Ice Bucket Challenge lives on as an exemplar of the power of social media while the AMA report is nowhere to be found.

Someone once said "don't bring an anecdote to a data fight." But smart salespeople know better. They know that a good story trumps a bunch of numbers every time. And they use anecdotes wisely and widely to camouflage data (see this post from last month.)

Stories are a good technique for communicating. But they're a bad basis for making business decisions.

November 28, 2016

Subversive Thoughts About Marketing

Here at The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters, we're starting to have subversive thoughts about marketing. Well, we're not actually starting -- we've had them for decades -- but we needed a good lead line...

Back in my agency days, I would often sit and listen to marketing people talk and think 'these people don't really know anything. They've learned a vocabulary and they think that is the same as knowing something.'

As Richard Feynman used to say, if you know that a tree is called an acacia tree you don't know anything about trees, you know something about people -- what people call trees.

Well, I'm getting off track here. The point is, I think there is a fairly large segment of the marketing fraternity (or sorority if you prefer) who are bluffing. They don't really know anything but they've created jobs in which knowing something isn't really necessary.

Here's an example.

Thanks to a loyal reader, I was sent a link to something written by the head of "Marketing Science" at Facebook. I think we would all agree that no company on Earth has prospered more from the marketing industry's passion for social metrics like "shares" and "clicks" and "likes" than Facebook.

And yet the article in question, published in the Journal of Advertising Research, makes clear in no uncertain terms that Facebook's study of these so-called metrics has found them to be meaningless and useless. In other words, there is no correlation between these "metrics" and real world effectiveness. As marketing data, they have no value.

Using these tools to evaluate the effectiveness of marketing is like trying to gauge a person's intelligence by measuring her bra size. Believe me, I've tried it and it doesn't work.

Now please keep in mind that this research wasn't done by a chronic pain-in-the-ass like me. This was written by a head brainiac at the one company in the world that, in a previous incarnation, made a fortune selling us on the amazing value of these "metrics."

The shocking thing is that most marketing people won't bother listening to this guy. These people are spending days and weeks producing reports, Powerpoint decks, and presentations analyzing exactly the data that he says is completely useless.

Many have made a career out of it.

You have to ask yourself why these people continue to do this stuff when it is of no value? There are two reasons.

First, despite its meaninglessness, there is still a demand for this nonsense among other marketing people who also know nothing.

And second, this is the only thing these people know how to do. If they don't do it, what the fuck else are they going to do?

So what we have here is people who know nothing paying other people who know nothing to do something that is useless.

Which turns out to be a pretty good definition of social media marketing.

November 23, 2016

No App For Gratitude

Today I am repeating my traditional Thanksgiving post which I have run for several years. And, yes, the Trump line was there years ago.

Thanksgiving is my kind of holiday.

It doesn't require gods or miracles or tragedies or victories or angels or kings or winners or losers or flags or gifts. 

All you need is some pumpkin pie, a big-ass flat screen, and a comfortable sofa to drool on.
Oh, and a little gratitude.

Gratitude, by the way, is a commodity in very short supply. Regrettably, we seem to have mountains of expectation but not much in the way of appreciation. It's a socially transmitted disease.

So this Thanksgiving let's put aside harsh judgments for a day or two. Thank a fireman. Give a bum a buck. Kiss an in-law.

I don't like Puritans of any stripe. But I like the idea of them having the Indians over for dinner. I know the detente didn't last too long, but any day you're eating sweet potatoes instead of shooting off muskets is a good day.

Be grateful that you have shoes. Be thankful that your cat is healthy. Compliment someone's posture. 

If you can't do any of that stuff, then at least give thanks that you won't be dining with Whoopi Goldberg or Donald Trump. That alone should be enough.

Finally, do yourself a favor -- quit whining. That's my job.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving. 

November 21, 2016

Like Me On Facebook

We have become desensitized to the ridiculousness of our industry and to the pace at which yesterday's marketing miracle becomes today's bad joke.

I doubt there's anything that has gone from marketing phenomenon to laughable punchline faster than "Like us on Facebook."

The time it has taken "Like us on Facebook" to drop off the world, even for an industry as silly and fad-obsessed as ours, is breathtaking.

Just a few years ago you could not present an ad to a client without "Like us on Facebook" lurking somewhere near the logo. Today, if you dared to do that you'd be thought a complete imbecile.

Also in that brief period of time Facebook has gone from the exemplar of new age "brand conversations" to the most crass practitioner of full-on old-fashioned paid advertising.

The pivot has been stunning and for the most part the lemmings in the advertising and marketing businesses still haven't awakened from their dream world in which social media is about "brand conversations" and "sharing" and "communities" and all the other woolly nonsense of social media.

It is very instructive to go back 3 or 4 years and read the literature of our industry and the horseshit of the trendy phonies who were touting "likeanomics" and straight-facedly torturing data to evolve all kinds of absurd calculations for the value of a "like."

One genius (a self-proclaimed "Social Media Scientist") in a Harvard Business Review article actually calculated the value of a like as:

No, you can't make this shit up. 

And While We're Going Off On Social Media...

McDonald's recently hired 200 social media experts in an effort to attract more... you guessed it...millennials.

I've given them a one-month grace period to get their act together before excoriating them for their stupidity. But their month is up and here's what we've got. These are actual tweets from McDonald's last Monday.

Apparently some social media genius at McDonald's must have decided that millennials love fucking exclamation marks!

Is it really possible that there are sensible people who believe this moronic nonsense has marketing value?

November 16, 2016

Trump And Twitter

The people who are always wrong are convinced that to a significant extent Trump's victory was the result of his masterful use of Twitter.

According to an article in the the NY Times in which reporters in the bubble ask marketers in the bubble why people in the bubble got it wrong....
"...the chief executive of the public relations company Edelman, said Mr. Trump’s use of Twitter — which he often used to forcefully attack Mrs. Clinton and the news media — and reduced reliance on traditional TV ads showed the power of “peer-to-peer” communication."

As usual, the people who do marketing by selfie-stick think that everyone is like them. According to a study in the UK, an advertising person is almost 7 times as likely to have a Twitter account as a real person.

Here are the facts:
  • Only 20% of adults have a Twitter account.
  • Only 15% of rural adults (heavy Trump backers) use Twitter.
  • Only 11% of people over 50 (the most likely voters) use Twitter.
In fact, if Trump's tweeting had a significant effect it was because of television's obsessive coverage of his tweets. Take away newspaper and, especially, television coverage of his tweets and they would have been dust in the wind.

Think about it. Where did you see Trump's tweets? On Twitter or on television?

Trump is a television creation. Do you think he'd be president if The Apprentice was a fucking webinar?

If you want to have a stroke, read this bullshit about the election from marketing experts.

There is no way in the world Trump should have won this election. But he did. And the reason he did had very little to do with data or social media or any of the other nonsense we're hearing. It was primarily because he had a simple, clear message that was popular with a lot of people -- "Fuck You, Washington."

And the reason Clinton lost was that she had no message. Period. Exclamation point. End of story.

My favorite quote in the Times article referenced above was from the ceo of DDB (apparently a Clinton advisor) translating the lessons of Trump's victory into brand babble... 
“Brands can shape culture, so I think in that sense brands have a responsibility to represent their values and talk about them...And if you’re an inclusive brand — there’s nothing more democratic to me than inclusion.”
I'm sure there's a language in which that horseshit means something, but I'll be damned if I know what it is.

November 14, 2016

Reconciling Sharp And Ritson

I'm much more interested in advertising than I am in marketing. But there are a couple of marketing people I pay particular attention to. They are Byron Sharp and Marc Ritson.

They are both professors and both work in Australia. Sharp wrote "How Brands Grow" which is a wonderful marketing book.

Ritson is one of the most entertaining and sensible speakers and writers on marketing you'll ever come across.

Unlike me, they're not just bomb-throwing blowhards with strongly held, ill-informed opinions. These guys actually know things.

They agree on a whole lot of stuff regarding the clown show that is contemporary marketing. But there's one thing they disagree on -- the value of segmentation and targeting.

At the risk of mischaracterizing their positions, let me be clear that these are my words and interpretations, not theirs. And this is my dumbass distillation of their positions on the subject.

Sharp thinks that in mass marketed consumer product categories segmentation and targeting are often empty exercises. Ritson thinks that segmentation and targeting are one of the essentials of marketing.

Sharp's argument is that for mass marketed brands, growth is a function of how many customers you can acquire, and that the best way to acquire as many customers as possible is to advertise to as many people as possible.

Sharp does a good job of convincing us that one of the attributes of leading brands is that they have a long tail of light users. He asserts that the best way to acquire a long tail is by talking to everyone.

Ritson argues that no one can afford to reach everyone efficiently. He would say that without segmentation and targeting, strategy becomes dangerously nebulous and media dollars get sprinkled lightly everywhere instead of focused where they can do the most good.

I'm somewhere in the middle.

I'm a big believer in mass media. But my experience in the real world of agency life taught me that this is often not practical, and that somewhere along the line the reality of budget constraints will interfere with the desire to talk to everyone.

In other words, every budget decision becomes a targeting decision.

So the key issue is what is the most efficient way for a major brand to use advertising dollars to acquire new customers?

I believe the answer is somewhere in between their positions. To the extent possible mass media should be utilized. But it should be tempered by a bias toward targeting heavy users of the category.

So when targeting and segmentation are employed they should be based on behavior, not demographics, psychographics, or any other thingographics.

As Prof. Sharp points out in his book, heavy users in a category tend to be promiscuous - they often use several brands in the category. Consequently, there is plenty of opportunity to attract new users to your brand from within the segment of the population that is already active in the category.

For example, the dominant brand of soft drink in the U.S. is Coca-Cola. But Coca-Cola only has about an 18% share of market. This means that 82% of the time people who drink soda don't buy Coke.

It seems reasonable to me that the best use of one's advertising money is to spend it against the component of the population that likes and participates in the category but has not been converted to your brand. This is an argument in favor of segmentation.

However, it ain't that easy to identify these people because in mass marketed categories like soft drinks they tend to be widely dispersed throughout the population. In this I agree with Sharp.

While I would love to spend all my ad dollars focused on actual soda drinkers, and particularly heavy using ones, it's hard to see how you can put up a billboard that is only seen by these people.

That leaves me in between the two professors. To me, the usefulness of segmentation and targeting have been oversold, but are still valuable. But the idea of spending money against light or non-users has also been oversold.

If, as Sharp asserts, heavy category users tend to be promiscuous, I would suggest that acquiring a long tail of light users for your brand is best achieved as a by-product of targeting the frequent users in the category.

It seems that this hypothesis could be easily verified or refuted by studying the category habits of light brand users. In other words, is the long tail of light Coke users comprised mainly of light users of soft drinks or frequent users of soft drinks? (Professors, have at it.)

While finer segmentation and targeting may be useful in niche categories and B2B, I believe for most mass marketed products there are only a few important segmentation distinctions that provide significant value and they are mainly behavioral (e.g., category users vs. non-users; luxury vs ordinary.) You will certainly sell more golf balls by targeting golfers rather than tennis players, but once you make that cut I suspect the returns of further segmentation diminish quickly.

So I guess I'm in the middle.

What makes advertising and marketing endlessly fascinating is that nothing is absolute. It's all about likelihoods and probabilities. I wrote a mostly incomprehensible little pamphlet called "Quantum Advertising" a few years ago that I'm strangely fond of and that speculates on the duality of the nature of advertising.

Sharp and Ritson are wonderful examples of how contradictory theories can exist side by side and still both be valuable and convincing.

November 09, 2016

The Big "Fuck You"

In case you haven't heard, we had an election here the other day. The people spoke and what they said was "fuck you."

They said "fuck you" to Washington.
They said "fuck you" to global corporations.
They said "fuck you" to people who look down on them and ridicule them.
They said "fuck you" to Silicon Valley billionaires.
They said "fuck you" to people who don't look like them or speak their language.
They said "fuck you" to transgender toilets.
They said "fuck you" to Black Lives Matter.
They said "fuck you" to the media.
They said "fuck you" to Hollywood.
They said "fuck you" to people who want to tell them what they can eat and what they can say.
They said "fuck you" to safe spaces.
They said "fuck you" to smug elitist scum like you and me.
They said "fuck you" to modernism.
They said "fuck you" to Facebook and "fuck you" to fucking self-driving cars.
They said "fuck you" to logic and "fuck you" to decency and "fuck you" to propriety.

They stuck their middle fingers way up high in the air and in a flood of pent up anger said "fuck you."

November 07, 2016

The Opposite Of Data

You don't need an MBA to figure out that most of the really big marketing successes of our time did not come from data analysis or business models or strategy briefs or professional marketers. They came from daydreamers with a hunch:
  • Steve Jobs
  • Walt Disney
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Mark Zuckerberg
The list could go on for weeks.

The advertising industry -- whose only important asset is ideas -- has learned nothing from this. We keep heading in the wrong direction.  We hire more and more math majors. Then we take the people who are supposed to be our idea people and give them banners to do by 3 o'clock.

We need to rethink the whole idea of what we mean by "creative department."

We don't need more people who are tech-savvy or analytical. We need some brains-in-a-bottle who have no responsibility other than to sit in a corner and feed us crazy ideas.

Just a cursory look at the output of most agencies and marketing companies will convince anyone that primarily what we are producing is different versions of the same things.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the development of big ideas is easy or can be formularized. Nor am I suggesting that data is not important. Nor am I suggesting that having information thwarts creativity. What I am suggesting is that creativity is being subsumed by our obsession with data.

Big ideas are a by-product. They don't come from briefs and assignments. They don't come from trying to have a big idea. They come indirectly from staring off into space.

Ad agencies and marketing departments need daydreamers. Does that mean we are going to produce the next Jobs or the next Rowling? Not likely. But that's not the point.

Our industry is drowning in math and starving for ideas. We need people who can dream shit up. We need impractical, illogical people.

We have plenty of data. We need some more of the opposite.

November 02, 2016

It's Your Lucky Day

If you're a regular here, you know that once a quarter the finance committee at The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters insists that we earn money to pay off the lawsuits by doing some shameless self-promotion.

Well, today's your lucky day.

Now that we have a whole fucking ecosystem of Ad Contrariana going on, I'm only going to bother you with two things. First is speaking.

If you've been to any conferences, sales meetings, or industry events recently and have had to sit through the life-threatening assault on intelligence that passes for "thought leadership," you are probably aware of the desperate need for entertaining and provocative speakers. Well, I'm the next best thing.

Rather than bore you with self-serving assertions, I'll bore you with third party endorsements:
“… the best speaker we’ve ever had.” Time Inc, UK
"The most provocative man in advertising." Michael Gass, Fuel Lines

"Thank you. People loved it...we have had many comments... Every one of them is 'wow'" A very nice TV executive from Norway whose permission I don't have to print this.

 “...the most entertaining talk given during Advertising Week Europe (or any conference for that matter.”) AdRants

"Your presentation could not have been better...A beautifully articulated provocation to an industry that needs it." Matt Dowshen, President, PNYC

"Bob Hoffman has mastered the art of getting people’s attention...the whoops and cheers were plentiful... In any case, Hoffman knows exactly what he is doing." The Irish Times
So, the point is, if you need a speaker for an event that will be entertaining and provocative, I know a guy.

Here's where you can find info about what I speak about and where you can reach me. I'm now accepting dates for 2017.

Next is the book Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey. Once again, I'll defer to the reviewers:
"Likely the funniest marketing book ever"
 Amazon Review
"How much do I like this book? I refer to it almost daily for comic relief, brutal honesty, and 'inspiration.' This should be required reading at every advertising school in the country" 
Rich Siegel, author, "The Big Book Of Rants"

"Simply Priceless"
 Amazon Review

"...a fun and uproarious read"
 Douglas Burnett, host of "The Marketing Book Podcast"

"Hilarious, irreverent and informative!"
Amazon Review

"I didn't stick around...after reading the F word (twice), in the first couple of pages. That was a REAL turn-off and I'm guessing there was more crude language to come."

"Fantastic, brutal and very honest"
 Amazon Review
The ebook book costs 99¢ which is less than you pay for a banana at the airport. And if you're a real big spender spring for the paperback for $5.25.

Okay, so here's what you need to do:
  • Call the person who plans the conferences or sales meetings you attend and tell her to book me.
  • Go to Amazon and buy the book.
  • Go back to pretending you're working.

October 31, 2016

The Rise Of Digital Oligarchies

It wasn't long ago that naive digital utopians labeled the web the "information superhighway" and promoted it as the great democratizing medium that would give us all a voice.

For a good laugh, here's a quote from Arianna Huffington from 2012...
"Thanks to YouTube -- and blogging and instant fact-checking and viral emails -- it is getting harder and harder to get away with repeating brazen lies without paying a price..."
Yeah, right. I'm just curious about what universe Ms. Huffington resides in.

In fact, what was promised to be the "information superhighway" has turned out to be an autobahn of stupidity, pornography, narcissism, fraud, terror, bullying and disinformation. The only saving grace is blogs.

Yes, that's a joke.

For marketers, the digital fantasists promised a world in which online democratization would allow the smallest start-up to challenge the large corporate monsters. Sure, any minute now.

In fact, we are currently living in a business environment in which the consolidation of economic power into the hands of a few massive entities is unprecedented.

Outside of China, Google and Facebook completely dominate the internet. There are literally millions of publishers on the web trying to earn a living. Google and Facebook account for 72% of all the online media revenue.

There has never in history been a duopoly that so dominated a medium. And was so free of governmental restraint. Or self-restraint, for that matter.

They are not just selling media space like the TV, radio, and print people are. They are weaving their way into the fabric of the world's leading companies.

According to Ad Age, Google and Facebook now have teams of people who are embedded in the marketing departments of over half the world's 50 leading brands. They are not just vendors to these companies, they are part of the process of developing marketing and advertising strategies.

They are so far ahead of the traditional media, they might as well be from another century...oh, wait a minute. They are.

I have often written about the pitiful efforts of traditional media to fight against the tidal wave of online media. They pathetically believe that they are going to survive on the crumbs of online media revenue that Google and Facebook spill, and so they are too timid to confront online media directly (the result of which can be found in yesterday's newsletter.)

They have no strategy to defend their businesses -- other than whining. These guys can't find their dicks with a flashlight.

But let's stop picking on traditional media for a minute and have a look at how the cozy relationships between Google, Facebook and their marketing partners might be working.

Apparently P&G and Unilever have been bragging that because of their close relationship with Facebook, they were not surprised that Facebook had been overstating video viewing times by up to 80% for two years. The above-mentioned Ad Age article says... "P&G and Unilever...weren't blindsided by the recent revelation that Facebook overstated average video view times." 

Really? So here are some questions I'd like answered:
  • If P&G and Unilever knew that Facebook's numbers were bullshit, why didn't they say something?
  • Or, why didn't they tell Facebook? 
  • Or, did they tell Facebook and Facebook did nothing? 
  • Or, did they conspire with their pals at Facebook to keep it quiet and have a good laugh about it?
It's got to be one of these.

WTF kind of bullshit is going on here?

October 26, 2016

Digital Data Denial

One of the great paradoxes of our industry is that the people who are constantly haranguing us with the indispensable role of data are the most active group of data deniers.

Every day there are conferences being staged, meetings being held, and presentations being made at which digital experts are standing up and intentionally misleading the attendees by glossing over or completely ignoring key data about online advertising. To wit...
These are some of the most critical data points about online advertising and they are almost never voluntarily disclosed by anyone in the online ad industry.

Instead, they use misdirection strategies to focus on tangential data that looks material to the undiscerning eye, for example...

1. Sociological data
2. Anecdotes

In the first case, they give us irrelevant sociological data about, for example, how much time people spend with social media. This may be interesting but has nothing to do with the effectiveness of social media marketing as a tactic. We're marketers, not sociologists.

In the second instance they present us with anecdotes disguised as data. We'll hear an amazing case history that is two standard deviations from the norm and is not repeatable. But they imply it is representative and that there are great lessons to be learned from it.

Having critical data is an important component of marketing decision-making. And the people who spend the most time yapping about it seem to be the people most likely to sidestep it.

October 24, 2016

Everyone Disgusted With Ad Industry

In a story this morning, Campaign US is reporting that morale in the U.S. ad industry is dropping faster than panties on prom night.

Here are some stats from the report:
  • In 2015, the percent of people working in advertising who rated their morale as "low" or "dangerously low" was 34%. This year it has fallen to 47%
  • This is a drop in morale of 36% in just one year
  • 63% of the people with low morale said they are actively looking for a new job.
  • By far the number one reason for low morale -- at 73% -- was "company leadership."
Couple that with these facts... 
  • The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) says that unscrupulous financial practices among agencies is "pervasive."
  • Almost 3/4 of marketers say they are dissatisfied with the state of online advertising
The only honest conclusion you can draw is that there is a depressing level of unhappiness awaiting anyone who has to deal with the contemporary advertising business.

While alarming, I'm afraid it's not surprising.

Under the "leadership" of the financial sharpies, lawyers, and accountants who now control the agency holding companies, the advertising business has become a confused and chaotic mess.

A business that valued ideas and creativity above all else is now a pig's breakfast of insufferable bullshit, dreadful jargon, stupid gimmicks, and amateur bumblers producing horrific crap.

Morale has dropped because standards have dropped. Standards have dropped because the "leaders" of our industry don't know what business they're in.

In a recent talk I said that wherever I go in the world I hear the same two things:
"Advertising isn't as effective as it once was, and advertising isn't as creative as it once was. It's hard for me to believe that these two things aren't related."
It's also hard for me to believe that the precipitous drop in morale isn't also related.

The holding company model has been a disaster for our industry. Their obsession with data and metrics is simply a misdirection strategy by bewildered awkward behemoths that can't produce good work.

We have reached such a level of effete absurdity that maintaining that the central business of ad agencies is to produce good ads is now controversial.

There is only one hope. It is for marketers to wake up and remind the agency aristocrats what they're getting paid for - great advertising, and nothing less. All the rest is footnotes.

Until marketers insist that their agency's first, second and third priorities are to create great ads, the level of satisfaction across the ad industry will continue to plummet, and the advertising business will continue to degenerate.

October 19, 2016

Agencies Profiting From Online Ad Fraud

We know that fraud is a major problem for online advertisers. But we don't know how big a problem it is. Estimates range from 2% to 90% -- which is another way of saying we have no fucking idea.

The ANA (Association of National Advertisers) estimates that ad fraud will cost marketers $7.2 billion this year. But this estimate is based on assumptions that are imprecise at best. If any of the assumptions baked into this estimate is incorrect or inaccurate, the number could go up or down dramatically.

The $7.2 billion number represents about 5% of worldwide online ad spending. To give you an example of how fuzzy this number is, the WFA (World Federation of Advertisers) says that the actual amount of fraud could easily be 30% -- or six times this.

Believe it or not, if fraud accounts for just 10% of the online advertising system, in 9 years ad fraud will be the second largest source of criminal activity in the world, second only to drug trafficking.

And ad fraud carries with it almost no risk. According to Hewlett-Packard Enterprises, ad fraud has a higher payout potential and lower risk factor than any other type of online crime.

The scary part is that according to knowledgeable people, organized crime is not yet a major player in ad fraud. With so much money there for the taking, it is only a matter of time.

We might assume that the big gainers from online ad fraud are the criminals themselves. But according to the WFA, the group that gains the most is actually the legitimate marketing industry.

Below you'll see a chart which shows how money flows through the ad fraud "ecosystem." I'm not going to pretend for a minute that I understand all this stuff, but the key point is that most of the money that is being extracted from advertisers as a result of ad fraud is done by the marketing industry before the crooks enter the picture (click on the chart to read it better.)

The more skin an agency or agency holding company has in the "money-flow" chain (e.g., agency of record; trading desk; DSP; ad tech provider, etc) the greater is its potential for revenue derived indirectly from ad fraud.

In fact, as far as agencies and other marketing entities are concerned, fraud seems to add to their revenue stream.

This is not to say that agencies or marketing companies are complicit in ad fraud, but it is to say that they are inadvertently some of its biggest beneficiaries.

One can only wonder how much more seriously ad fraud remediation would be taken if the unintentional beneficiaries were being punished instead of rewarded.

October 13, 2016

The 3 Stages Of Online Advertising

I believe that long after I’ve left the advertising world for a better one, people will look back and say that the era of online advertising could be divided into 3 stages.

Stage 1: "Fools Rush In"

This is the stage we’ve been in for the past 10 years. Tens of billions of dollars have been flushed down the digi-drain by marginal marketing meatheads trying desperately not to fall behind the stampeding herd in the pursuit of up-to-the-minuteness.

Egged on by bumbling amateurs… oops, sorry…online experts, they have thrown every dollar they could find at the mythical “brand advocate” who was sitting at home exhausted after her Herculean “customer journey” just waiting to express her “brand love” to cyberworld once she received the bat signal in the form of a Twitter post.

It would be wonderful if this stage could continue forever because it's been a lot of laughs. But I’m afraid it’s had its day.

Stage 2: "Wait A Minute"

A US Senator named Everett Dirksen once said the three most important words in the English language are "wait a minute." We are about to transition into the “wait a minute” stage.

All the marketing geniuses and their agency enablers are no longer going to have free rein to piss money away on infantile digital daydreams.

Suddenly, c-suite lemmings who were pressuring marketing departments for more and more delusional online schemes, are starting to say, “Hold it. What are we getting for all this money?”

The numbers, metrics, and data that just one year ago were proof of how amazing the web is are suddenly morphing into proof of how fucked up it is.

We are just at the beginning of this stage and it’s not going to be nearly as entertaining as the first stage when “the stupider the better” was the rule (Tell us your Philadelphia Cream Cheese story!)

Instead we’re going to be slowly tortured by dueling flavors of data-death. It's going to be painful.

Stage 3: "Oh, Now I Get It"

Sometime in the future — could be 2 weeks from now or 10 years — someone’s going to figure out how to use the web for advertising in a sensible way.

There will be numbers we can trust, people we can trust, and results we can trust.

When you see this happen, please drop me a line.

October 11, 2016

The Walking Dead

As we've all been told a thousand times by marketing and media geniuses, television is dead. Here are a few examples:
Business Insider: "The Death Of TV As We've Known It Is Finally Here"

Forbes: "Why Television Is Dead"

Politico: "TV Is Dead. Now What?"
Tragically, here at the Ketel One Conference Center overlooking the campus of The Ad Contrarian world headquarters, we've been a little negligent recently in chronicling the death of television. So today we're going to do a little catching up.

Nielsen just released its Total Audience Report for the second quarter of 2016, so let's have a look at how the dead are doing:

    •    On average, adults 18+ spent 4 hours and 9 minutes a day watching live television.

    •    This is over 4 times as much time as they spent online on a laptop or desktop 

    •    It is over twice as much time as they spent connected on a smartphone

    •    They also spent more time listening to radio (almost twice as much) as they did online on a laptop or desktop 

    •    They spent more time listening to radio than they did connected on a smart phone.

Of course, listening to our chattering experts you'd never know any of these facts because... well, let's be honest here... because mostly all they're capable of doing is listening to each other babble and then repeating it.

OK, so maybe TV isn't quite dead yet but it's certainly dying quickly, right? Here's proof:
Business Insider, "TV Is Dying, And Here Are The Stats To Prove It."

The Motley Fool: "It's Official. The TV Industry Is Dying."

Money, Inc: "Need Proof That Cable TV Is Dying? This One Stat Trumps Them All."
Except... live TV viewing fell from 4 hours and 11 minutes last year to an alarming 4 hours and 9 minutes this year.

Personally, I'd like to die at this rate.

When you consider the quantity and range of incredible new media options that are available, there is one crystal clear truth that the clueless lemmings in the marketing and media world have completely misread -- the stunning resilience of television.

October 05, 2016

Data, Facts, And Principles

Data beget facts. Facts beget principles.

Without facts and principles, data is useless.

After years of studying planetary motions, and compiling data, Copernicus uncovered a fact. The fact was that the Earth revolved around the sun. Until then, the data made no sense.

After years of studying the facts of bodies in motion, Isaac Newton developed a principle -- all bodies with mass seem to attract each other (we call it gravitation.) Until then, the facts were confusing.

Right now, the online advertising industry is drowning in data, but has generated almost no useful facts or principles.

Nobody can agree on anything related to online data. Other than the collection of it is obnoxious and intrusive.

The encyclopedia of things we don't know about online advertising since we started collecting "big data" is comical.
  • We don't know where our ads are running
  • We don't know who's viewing our ads or if they're even human
  • We don't know who's clicking on our ads or why or, again, if they're even human
  • We don't know if anything we're told by online experts is true because everything they tell us seems to turn out wrong
  • We don't know if any of the data we're gathering online is real or has value
As my friends in Brooklyn would say, we don't know shit.

Traditional advertising is far from science. But over the years we have been able to develop some facts and derive some principles. Are they perfect? They're barely adequate. But at least they provide us with some guideposts.

Online advertising has a very long way to go. Until we have reliable data we won't have facts. Until we have verifiable facts, we won't have principles. Until we have established principles we'll continue bouncing around in the dark.

Data is just a pile of bricks until someone builds a house.

October 03, 2016

Advertising's Lost Generation

It started over 15 years ago.

The web was becoming wildly popular. Agencies were quickly becoming consolidated into oversized, lumbering behemoths. The ad industry desperately needed a facelift to hide the fact that it had devolved from an industry keen on creativity into a clumsy financial contrivance of Wall Street sharpies.

In order to align itself with the new gods of business - the wunderkind of Silicon Valley - the ad industry quickly adopted the customs, language, and conceits of that world.

Among the most oppressive of those conceits was the worship of youth.

“Young people are just smarter,” said a smirking Mark Zuckerberg.

Of course, Zuckerberg wasn’t the world’s only arrogant prick. This attitude - though mainly unspoken - became a prevailing ethos in the advertising world.

But advertising is not like science and math where the brightest tend to excel while young. Advertising has more in common with literature and art. Artists and writers tend to do their best work in their 40's, 50's and 60's.

Nonetheless, the agency business has demographically cleansed itself of mature people. Today, while 42% of the adult population of America is over 50, 6% of the population of advertising agencies is over 50. This is not an accident.

If you were over 40, you were very likely a dead person walking.

If you dared to question the received wisdom of the people who were “just smarter" than you, you might as well turn in your badge. You were done.

Not surprisingly, the advertising industry is suffering. It is broadly acknowledged that the quality of advertising has reached an all-time low and is in free-fall. We are learning how foolish and misguided we were.

But the satisfaction of seeing the ad industry floundering and in disrepute is small solace for the pain of driving for Uber.

This post is dedicated to the thousands of talented ad people who were trampled in the insane stampede of advertising’s cultural revolution.

The billions of dollars that marketers have pissed away on idiotic schemes concocted by bungling amateurs will never be recovered. And neither will the careers of the thousands of people who tried to warn us when we were too smart and too smug to listen.

September 29, 2016

Who Stole The Ads From Ad Week?

I'm on my third morning at Advertising Week and I've yet to see an ad.

I've seen absurd panel discussions about what marketing will be like in 2030. I've seen a disgraceful PR event disguised as information about the dreadful "McAgency."

I've heard solemn discussions of every mind-numbing cliché in the marketing lexicon: breaking down silos, and storytelling, and authenticity, and ecosystems and so many fucking consumer journeys that you can't swing a brain dead cmo without hitting one.

But there's one thing I haven't seen -- an ad.

It's like going to Music Week and not hearing a song. Or going to Photography Week and not seeing a picture.

It's completely insane and perfectly indicative of our industry. The ads themselves are of no interest anymore.

We are not in the advertising business. We are in the advertising business business.

It is very dispiriting and not a little infuriating.

There is no laughter. There is no joy.

It's not just media buying that has become programmatic. We have.

September 26, 2016

The Devaluation Of Creativity

Today I am reprinting parts of my talk from the IAPI/ADFX awards in Dublin, Ireland last week. For the sake of brevity, I am leaving out some sections and focusing solely on my comments about creativity. Hope you enjoy. 

Thank you for inviting me here tonight.

I’m not usually invited to speak at high class affairs like this. I usually get invited to horrifying events like the “The Programmatic Real-Time Digital Insider Summit” or some other majestically titled festival of horseshit.

But, thankfully, tonight is different. Tonight you are recognizing the best of Irish advertising. And I am honored to help you do that.

I love good advertising. I started my career as a copywriter. After a while I got myself promoted to creative director for a few agencies. And after proving myself to be an utter failure as a creative director, I was demoted to ceo.

But the one thing I always really wanted to be was a great copywriter. Sadly, my copywriting career consisted mostly of holiday-weekend mattress sales and low, low financing on every Corolla in stock.

Despite my mediocrity, doing creative work was the only thing that really interested me about advertising. The rest was torture.

As far as I was concerned, the agency business worked like this: the creative people made the ads and everyone else made the arrangements.

What I could never understand was why it took 5 times as many people to make the arrangements.

I guess you could say I was a creative department chauvinist. And to be honest, I still am.

We are here tonight to celebrate effectiveness in advertising.

I know how had hard you clients, and you account people, and planners, and data analysts, and media strategists worked for the awards you’re getting tonight, and I congratulate you.

But I want you to know in advance, that I’m not going to be speaking about you. I am going to be focusing on the contribution that our creative people make to advertising effectiveness. And the peril they, and we, are facing.

Regardless of how brilliant the briefs we write are, and the strategies we develop are, and plans we implement are, at the end of the line are the people who will take our plans and strategies and briefs and turn them into magic or turn them into trash. They’re our creatives.

For better or worse, the consumer never sees the briefing documents or the strategic rationale. All she ever sees are the ads. And if the ads stink, the whole thing stinks.

Over the past few years I have been doing a lot of traveling and speaking about advertising. Wherever I go in the world, I invariably hear the same two themes.

First is that advertising has become less effective.

And second is that advertising is less creative.

It is hard for me to believe that these two things are not related…

…The problem we are facing today, I’m afraid, is that the creative side of our business is being devalued. Creativity is quickly and quietly becoming a support service.

The alarming thing about this is that I believe creativity is the agency business’s only unique value to clients. Everything else agencies do clients can get somewhere else.

They can get business strategy from about a million different consulting firms. They can find media planners and buyers on every street corner. They can buy data by the truckload with two clicks of a mouse.

The one thing every successful marketer needs — and the one thing agencies can provide better than anyone else — is imaginative ideas about brands.

But apparently, the advertising industry has decided it can no longer support itself by focusing on creativity.

If you remember the aborted marriage between Omnicom and Publicis last year, the rationale for creating the biggest agency in the world had nothing at all to do with creativity. The primary reason given for the merger was their presumed ability to compete with Google and Facebook in the collection and utilization of data.

It seems to me that the agency business is betting its future on playing the other guy’s game. I think this is a mistake.

Over 25 years ago I left the agency business for the first time. Two years earlier we had sold our independent agency to a publicly traded  "global" network. And after the two worst years of my life, I decided it was not the life for me.

For three years thereafter I did creative services on my own directly for clients. In that three-year period being outside of the agency business I learned a very important lesson. Clients, I want you to cover your ears and not listen to this -- Okay, agency people, here’s what I learned. Secretly, clients don’t like agencies.

They put no value on "account service” — or as one client told me "all it does is keep the agency from fucking up, it doesn't do a thing for me."

Behind our backs, they chuckled about our "strategic abilities."

The value they saw in agencies was in creativity. They believed the only place they could get good ads was from an agency.

But creativity is in trouble.

There’s a mantra I hear in agencies back in the States. I don’t know if you hear it here, too. But it goes like this. “We’re all creative” or “Creative ideas can come from anywhere.” In my opinion this is bullshit.

True creative talent is a rare and precious thing.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many shitty songs, and shitty TV shows, and shitty movies? I’ll tell you why. Because it is really fucking hard to do a good one. 

The same is true with advertising. No one sits down to write a crappy ad. Mostly they just turn out crappy. Why? Because it’s really fucking hard to do a good one — and there are very few people who can do it.

If you really believe that we are all creative, then you have to believe that it’s just a coincidence that Shakespeare wrote dozens of brilliant plays and Donald Trump didn’t.

Now, I stipulate that when we talk about creativity, the word is confusing. It has two very different meanings. And the new bigwigs of advertising are trying their best to muddy the issue by confusing the meanings.

In the first meaning, creativity is seen as a method for accomplishing a practical goal. So you can approach any task in a creative manner. In this meaning creativity is a way of thinking. So you can fry an egg the traditional way, or you can be “creative” and fry it in alligator oil or something.

In the second case, there is a special meaning for the word “creativity" that is specific to the communication arts. This is the kind of creativity that makes music and art and literature and, yes, sometimes even advertising, extraordinary and delightful.

Sure, the guy who printed the tickets to Hamlet, or made the popcorn, or counted the proceeds, may have found creative ways to do so. But he didn't write the fucking play.

That’s a whole different kind of creativity. And a whole different meaning of the word.

But the current generation of ad industry kingpins are trying very hard to dilute it into meaninglessness by asserting that we’re all creative and that creativity can come from anywhere.

If you think I am overstating my point, let me read you a recent quote from Martin Sorrell, the ceo of WPP and the most powerful man in the history of the agency business. And, by the way, an accountant by trade.

”The snottiness of believing that creativity just resides in the creative department of traditional agencies, that media people can't be creative, or data people can't be or people who do healthcare or promotion or CRM can't be creative – it's a nonsense and it's insulting to the people who are in those areas.”

He’s equating doing a practical job in a creative manner, with creating something unique from scratch. He’s saying they are the same thing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against account people, or planners, or data people or CRM people or anyone else who thinks smartly and does a job in an imaginative way.

But I resent that the talents of our great creative people are being dismissed as the same thing.

This is not healthy for the ad business nor is it healthy for the people who work in it.

Our industry has been hijacked by aristocrats with private jets. They have made the agency business leaner and meaner.

They have made it more efficient. They have made it more productive. They have squeezed all the fat out of it. And in the process, they are also squeezing the life out of it.

They are money managers, and investors and financial wise guys. The one thing they are not is advertising people.

Advertising evolved as an industry of craftsmen and craftswomen. Account people, art directors, researchers, copywriters. People who actually worked on accounts would start their own agencies. There were hundreds of independent, entrepreneurial agencies in every country. When I started in the ad business 300 years ago, the largest agency in the U.S., Y&R,  had about a 1.5% share of market. Today four global giants control over 70% of U.S. advertising spending.

A while back, Mr Sorrell gave a talk in London.  According to press reports, he told the conference…

...‘media, has become "more important" than the message…’

This is unacceptable. Someone who believes media is more important than the message, believes the instruments are more important than the music; the canvas is more important than the painting; the bottle is more important than the beer.

It’s unacceptable.

I’m worried.

Call me crazy, but I think ad agencies should be run by advertising people. I don’t see airlines run by green grocers. I don’t see hospitals run by folk singers. I am curious why the agency business is being run by bookkeepers.

In an industry led by people who now think delivery systems are more important than what they are delivering, creativity is floundering

We need to convince marketers once again that the most effective way to build brands is through the unique and unmatched power of great advertising ideas.

This summer the IPA released a report called “Selling Creativity Short.” In it they reported that creativity by itself can make a marketing dollar ten times more effective.

We also have to stop deluding ourselves about what we are doing. You know, we talk a lot about our “target audience.” As a former adman and recent Harvard faculty member, Doc Searls says, there is no audience for advertising.

An audience is created by demand.

There is demand for music, so there’s an audience for it. There is demand for movies, so there’s an audience for them. There is demand for theater, so there’s an audience for it.

The demand for advertising is precisely zero. Nobody is demanding advertising. There is no audience for advertising.

Similarly, the idea that anyone wants to engage with advertising is equally delusional. We engage with people and things we enjoy.

We find books engaging. And music engaging, and dance engaging. And people engaging.

Who in their right mind wants to engage with advertising? On a rainy Sunday afternoon have you ever heard someone say, I’m going back to my flat to engage with some advertising?

Advertising is at best, a minor annoyance. Sadly, our obsession with online advertising has turned it into a major annoyance, in fact, a scourge.

It has been reported that over 400 million people worldwide - 400 million - now have ad blockers on their devices. This is the opposite of engagement. This is dis-engagement on a monumental scale. This is the largest boycott of anything in the history of humanity.

We’ve got to stop bullshitting ourselves and come to terms with reality.

If we want there to be an audience for advertising, if we want people to be engaged with what we do, we have to do a lot better. We have to make advertising beautiful, and interesting, and entertaining. And I have bad news… algorithms, and data, and metrics can’t do that. Only people can do that.

Let’s not allow the devaluation of creativity to continue. I’m tired of hearing that advertising isn’t as effective as it used to be, or as creative as it used to be. We have so many more amazing tools and amazing media options than we’ve ever had before for making wonderful advertising. We have much better data. We have much better ways to measure. We have no more excuses.

Let’s stand up for what we are celebrating tonight.

Let’s appreciate the unique gift of talent and creativity. And make it, once again, the centerpiece of the advertising industry.

Congratulations to tonight’s winners. I know how difficult it is to create something really good. I know how hard you worked for what you’re about to receive.

Down at the pub you may just be Jimmy or Mary. But to me, you’re a hero.

Congratulations and thank you all very much.


September 21, 2016

McDonald's Kills "Channel Us"

"Despite being one of the world’s most loved and talked about brands, McDonald’s weren’t connecting with 16-24 year olds."
So began the story by The Drum about McDonald's UK launch of a new YouTube channel called "Channel Us" last September.

The idea was to create a video channel...
"...for young people and in collaboration with the influencers they admire most." (Ooh, influencers!)
According to The Guardian, this was done by The Drum in cahoots with OMD.

You see, according to The Drum, these darn Millennials are...
"...a generation getting out there and doing amazing things. (And Channel US)... brings them together, gives them a leg up and helps make their ambitions a reality."
Sounds like an Advertising 101 pitch at a bad junior college. But apparently, that's all you need these days. As long as your strategy is, "get younger, get more digital" you can't lose.

According to OMD,
"This exciting new YouTube channel is the next activation of McDonald’s latest brand platform – ‘Good Times’ – celebrating the role the brand plays in customers (sic) lives."
Someone fucking shoot me.

Back to The Drum.
"All of this was aided with the help of YouTube favourites Oli White and Hazel Hayes,  who fulfilled the roles of both presenter and contributor as they called upon they (sic) worldwide fan bases to back the Channel Us stars."
Yeah, baby. Get them worldwide influencers influencin'.

McDonald's CMO had this to add... 
“This is a ground-breaking moment for McDonald’s in the UK...The launch of Channel Us is completely new territory for the company."
Yeah, well, the best laid plans...

Last week, McDonald's announced they were aborting this monstrosity. In 2016 thus far, not a single "episode" of this clown show managed to garner even a thousand viewers. Do you have any idea how shitty a big budget creation from one of the world's biggest brands has to be to get fewer than a thousand views?

I could post a picture of my dog's ass on this blog and get more views than that. Although, to be fair, some might say my dog's ass has greater appetite appeal than your average McChicken sandwich.

Content marketing is one of the planet's biggest cons. Just because there are a few companies who are successful spending billions on it, doesn't mean you will be.

As Jonathan Salem Baskin has said, "Most branded social campaigns are only as "successful" as the money and time marketers are willing to commit to perpetuate the pretense of conversation and relevance."


September 19, 2016

GOOG, FB, P&G Create Coalition To Do Nothing

I am traveling and speaking once again this week so blog posts will be thin on the ground. To atone for my negligence I am reprinting yesterday's Type A Group Newsletter here today.

Alarmed by a tidal wave of consumer antipathy to the awfulness of online advertising, last week a group of big-time advertisers, publishers, agencies, and media announced a coalition to "rid the internet of annoying ads."

Yeah, any minute.

According to MarketingWeek...
"The ‘Coalition for Better Ads’ aims to take on the “Herculanean task” of bringing together advertisers, agencies, ad tech and publishers to come up with global standards on digital advertising to tackle the rise of ad blocking."
I'm pretty sure they mean Herculean but, hey, who cares about language anymore?

Published reports claim that over 400 million people worldwide currently use software to block online advertising, and the number is growing rapidly.

Here are the self-proclaimed goals of this cruel joke of a coalition:
  • Create consumer-based, data-driven standards that companies in the online advertising industry can use to improve the consumer ad experience
  • In conjunction with the IAB Tech Lab, develop and deploy technology to implement these standards
  • Encourage awareness of the standards among consumers and businesses in order to ensure wide uptake and elicit feedback
This hooey reminds me of an initiative announced over five years ago by the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) called "Making Measurement Make Sense" in which they formed a "coalition" to try to make sense of all the bullshit metrics the online industry was peddling. At the time I wrote...
"The enormous success of digital advertising is based on the fortunate circumstance that almost no one understands anything about the numbers."
Happily for the online ad industry the initiative came to nothing and the confusion over online ad metrics is greater than ever.

This new "Coalition For Better Ads," including Facebook and Google, is doomed to spin in circles and accomplish nothing except waste money because it will not deal with the real problem -- consumer stalking (aka tracking.) If they just got rid of tracking, a great many of the problems consumers, publishers, and advertisers are facing would evaporate.
  • Consumers would not be constantly stalked and harassed by tracking software leading to insufferable  "precision targeted" ads.
  • Quality publishers would be able to monetize their audiences instead of having their ad revenue stolen by crappy or imaginary sites through re-targeting.

  • Advertisers would know who they are reaching and where; not have most of their media dollars pissed away on adtech middlemen; not have to rely on problematic "ad networks."
But this coalition will deal with everything but the problem. The reason they will not deal with the real problem is that the people who own the internet -- Google and Facebook -- will never allow it.

As Doc Searls says, display advertising is "tracking-aimed junk mail that only looks like ads."

Google and Facebook will never accept the suppression of tracking because surveillance is their business.

Dracula is guarding the blood bank.

On The Road Again...
This week I will be in Oslo speaking for Discovery Networks Norway. Then traveling to Dublin, Ireland to speak at the ADFX awards.

Next week I'll be in NYC attending, reporting and podcasting from the week-long festival of self-promotion called AdvertisingWeek. Stay tuned. That should be good for a few laughs.

September 06, 2016

I'm Not Lovin' It

You don't have to be a marketing genius to figure out how this works.

McDonald's hires a new cmo, and then after the obligatory designated waiting period she names a new agency.

Who's surprised by that?

But there is some disturbing news in this story. What goes unsaid is that in addition to a new agency, the cmo gets the big prize every cmo secretly lusts after -- the opportunity to run her own ad agency.

Of course, it will never be said out loud, but have no doubt about it -- the de facto ceo of McDonald's new  custom-made "agency of the future" (someone shoot me) is McDonald's cmo.

As you've surely read by now, Omnicom is following the revolting new agency gimmick-du-jour and promising to create a new agency from scratch solely for McDonald's.

After costs, the agency's compensation will totally rely on meeting key performance indicators created by McDonald's. Anyone who's ever worked in an agency in which the entire agency is in the clutches of one client knows that the key-est of the KPIs is "kiss my ass or die."

I had the opportunity to do advertising work for McDonald's (on a regional basis) for over 15 years. Here's why this new system is a prescription for awful advertising:

1. Omnicom is not new to McDonald's. DDB Chicago (an Omnicom agency) has been arm-wrestling Publicis's Leo Burnett (the other finalist) for McDonald's business on and off for decades. Most of this infighting and maneuvering was never revealed to the press, but it's been an ongoing soap opera.

2. No one who's any good will want to work at this "agency of the future." First of all, "agency of the future" is the cliché of the decade. For years now, McDonald's has been the last stop on the advertising train. They once were one of America's great advertisers. Now they are among the worst. I am officially skeptical that great creative people are going to be lining up for jobs at McDonald's new in-house agency.

3. The agency will have full responsibility and virtually no authority. They will be held to "KPIs" over which they have little to no control.
  • They will have little to no control over the strategy. The strategy will be dictated by a combination of the McDonald's marketing department (don't ask) and a committee of franchisees (yes, it's everything you imagine.) The extent to which the agency's strategy will be executed is exactly the degree to which it mirrors the thinking of the corporation and the franchisees.
  • They will likewise have little to no control over the creative product. They will create idea after idea and all will eventually wind up in the McHomogenizer and come out as price/item promotions. Maybe they'll be allowed an 8-week honeymoon at which they'll introduce a new campaign, but after 8 weeks the campaign will just devolve into a tagline on price-item spots.
  • They will have little to no control over the field. McDonald's has about 20-40 field agencies in the US (I've lost track) who (when I was there) created about 50% of McDonald's advertising on a regional basis. These agencies are very busy keeping chronically dissatisfied franchisees in the corral. The new agency will make a grand tour and present their awesome Powerpoint to every franchisee group and field agency in the nation. The agencies will roll their eyes and do exactly what their local franchisee groups want.
  • Everything I've read from the cmo leads me to believe that she is auditioning for the job of grand marshal of the "more data/more digital" parade. This is the default mantra of every flat-tire cmo on the planet. Before McDonald's leadership falls for this horseshit, they might want to take a long, hard look at P&G's recent experience.
  • No national advertising plan at McDonald's ever gets approved without a positive vote of the franchisees. If you've never presented advertising plans to a ballroom full of franchisees you simply haven't lived.
  • Further, under this scenario, the agency is perfectly positioned for the delegation of blame. They will have no authority over either pricing or operations. McDonald's sales performance is far more related to prices and operations than anything the agency does. 
So when you have full responsibility and no authority how do you demonstrate "performance?" Easy, don't argue with the boss.

The new agency is starting with two hands and several other major body parts tied behind its back. If they manage to create anything exceptional it will be a miracle, and they will have my eternal admiration.

(For an opposing view, read this from my good friend Mark Ritson.)

In other inter-global worldwide news...
Watch me shoot my mouth off about the evils of online tracking in this clip from TVNZ, in New Zealand.