January 28, 2016

The Power Of Opportunity

My Uncle Moe was the smartest, funniest person I ever knew.

He was not a comedy writer or a stand-up comedian. He sold men's clothing and he worked at an off-track betting parlor in New York City.

But he was amazingly smart and funny.

The reason he was not "successful" was perfectly obvious to me -- he never had the opportunity to be successful.

His father died when he was a kid. His mother had to struggle to raise 3 young kids in a tenement. He was the oldest and had to help.

He might have been a great writer -- if he could have gone to college or had a typewriter. But he had more mundane responsibilities.

Which leads me to "consumer generated advertising."

The fact that "consumer generated advertising" is sometimes terrific doesn't mean that creating good advertising is easy, or that advertising creative people aren't talented, or that anyone can create good ads.

All it means is that advertising is like every other human endeavor  -- there are people with talent who, through no fault of their own, have never been given an opportunity to demonstrate it. And when given the opportunity, they shine.

A lot of successful people think that they got that way by exhibiting extraordinary ability or  perseverance. Some have.

But many are just average people who had above-average opportunities.

January 27, 2016

Empty Calories And Empty Strategies

Coke introduced a new campaign last week. Well, new for them, but not new for us.

We've seen it a thousand times -- music beds and beautiful young people of all colors jumping around.

The funny thing is, if you read what the marketing guy had to say (and can fight your way through all the jargon and cliches) he got the strategy part right. He made two main points:
1. They are going to a "one-brand" strategy.

2. Coke (and, by the way, so many other brands) have gotten way too philosophical and brand-y, and have forgotten about the product.
So far, so good.

Now here comes the bad part. The public never sees the strategy document. All they see are the spots. If the spots suck, the whole thing sucks. And, sadly, the spots pretty much suck.

Yes, they're beautifully and expensively produced. The sound design for the opening scene alone probably cost more than most spots. But the campaign is empty. You could stick the old tag line "Open Happiness" over any of the final scenes and not know that Coke had done anything but add more product shots to old footage. In fact, you could put the Pepsi logo at the end and feel just fine about it.

By the way, the new tagline is Taste The Feeling. Or Feel The Taste, or something. It's a least-objectionable-tagline . It will be forgotten as quickly as these spots will.

And speaking of the spots, they are emotionalistic without being emotional.

When you have a campaign that is kicked off with a spot named "Anthem" you can be pretty sure you're in deep shit. It means you have a song masquerading as an idea. It's a "made-for-the-bottler-meeting" movie.

Coke is probably the world's most popular brand. But all the health/cultural trends are against them. When you're in a tough spot, sometimes there is an irresistible urge to punt.


January 25, 2016

What Marketers Can't Learn From Donald Trump

Dimwit marketers always think there's a big lesson to be learned from every cultural phenomenon.

Every time there's an Oreo tweet or an Ice Bucket Challenge the Powerpoint crowd boot up their laptops and hit the conference circuit with overheated bullshit like...
"10 Things Marketers Can Learn From Caitlyn Jenner"
So, my friends, it's time to get ready for a blizzard of marketing stupidity about the Trump candidacy.

Already the media doofuses are drawing wrong conclusions.

Jeb Bush, who they proclaimed the Republican "front-runner" months before there was any running to be in front of, has spent millions on tv advertising and is going backwards.

Donald Trump is leading the Republican candidates by a wide margin in all the polls. He has spent zilch on advertising.

As a result, everyone who knows nothing is proclaiming a new era in politics in which advertising -- particularly tv advertising -- is no longer necessary.

A New York Times headline says:
"Donald Trump Scraps the Usual Campaign Playbook, Including TV Ads"
In USA Today a headline reads:

"TV, the old king of U.S. politics, faces mortality

Utter bullshit.

There is one reason and one reason only that Trump is in the position he's in -- television.

He doesn't need to run commercials because for years he got millions in free TV air time. Take away his TV fame and he's just another blowhard who was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.

There's one thing brand marketers can learn from The Donald -- despite all the "precision targeting" bullshit of digital hustlers, mass media is as powerful as ever.

Do you think this guy would be where he is if The Apprentice was a fucking webinar?

January 19, 2016

Still No Standard Unit Of Online Advertising

Among the many problems that plague online advertising, there is one that seems to have gone unnoticed. After 20 years, there is still no standard unit.

TV has the :30 second spot.
Radio has the :60 second spot.
Print has the page
Outdoor has the board.

This doesn't mean there are no variations on these units, but at least we have a standard workable unit.

What is the standard unit of digital advertising?

God help us if it's the banner.
Is it the social something?
Or the content something?
Or the native something?

If so, what is the something -- what is the unit?

If you have a realistic strategy and produce decent creative work you can plug it into one of the standard units of TV, radio, print or outdoor and have a reasonable chance of effectiveness.

But what is the online equivalent?

I guess you could argue that this absence of a standard unit is the strength of the medium -- that it is more malleable and flexible. But the facts contradict this assertion.

There are so few major non-web-native brands that have been built by online advertising, that it's hard to see how this argument could hold water.

Display advertising is riddled with fraud, corruption, and phony metrics.

Social media marketing has seen a handful of big successes and an ocean of flops.

Content success is impossible to define because content is impossible to define.

And in the fullness of time I think we will find that native advertising turns out to be just as spectral as all the other online methodologies.

It seems to me more and more likely that the standard unit of online advertising is going to turn out to be some variation of the TV spot.

What a disappointment that would be.

January 14, 2016

Toddlers With Money

When my daughter was a toddler she put every question through what we called “Twelve Degrees of Why.”
“Dad, why do flowers have different colors?”
“Um, to attract insects”
“Why do they want to attract insects?”
“Well, they don’t actually want to, it’s just that those that do tend to have more success reproducing”
Because insects pick up some of the material from flowers and then go to other flowers and transfer this material which helps them reproduce...
It was not just valuable for her learning. It was valuable for me, too. After the twelfth “why” I found out whether I really understood something or not.

A smart client doesn't stop after the first "why?"  A smart client keeps asking why until he finds out if the agency really knows what they're talking about, or if they're bluffing.

Why are we using this medium? Why is this a good idea? Why do you believe that statistic?

A smart client is a toddler with money.

January 13, 2016

On Being A Prick

Recently, once again, Barry Bonds was not voted into the Hall of Fame.

Bonds was an astoundingly great baseball player. He may very well have been the most fearsome hitter since Babe Ruth. His stats are amazing. He has the all-time Major League home run hitting record.

He was such a scary hitter that in one game Buck Showalter, manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, ordered him intentionally walked with the bases loaded. 

But Barry Bonds was a prick. No one who had a choice wanted anything to do with him.

Bonds admitted using PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) but claimed they were secretly given to him by his trainer. Yeah, right.

Whether or not players who used PEDs should be considered for the Hall of Fame is a big issue in baseball circles.

But one thing I am certain of -- there are many baseball writers (who do the voting) who are absolutely thrilled that they have a reason not to vote for him.

Being a prick is an occupational hazard for a certain type of person. For a good part of my career I was prick. Sadly, I chose to be a prick.

If you're not careful (and I wasn't) being a creative director can turn you into a prick. Mostly all a good creative director does is say no to people. It can become a very bad habit.

I once took over the creative department of an agency that was doing terrible creative work. I promised to give everyone in the department a few months to demonstrate their abilities before I made any moves. But I hated it.

I wound up re-doing everyone's work and driving them crazy. I couldn't help myself. I felt that the only way I could demonstrate my seriousness of purpose was to behave like a jackass. Not being talented enough to actually help them be better, I just became hypercritical and censorious. It was silly, immature, and counter-productive.

Many years later, I heard the following story.

One night the creative department (without my knowledge) got together for a "bonding" (drinking) session. After a few cocktails, the conversation quickly turned to me, and what an asshole I was.

Each person got a chance to air his or her rendition/illustration of why I was a prick. Then it got around to one person who said, perhaps, the most charitable thing anyone ever said about me.

"He's not really a prick. He's actually a nice guy who wants you to think he's a prick."

January 11, 2016

What Replaces Television?

The ad industry and the trade press can’t seem to understand that TV industry internals are not the same as consumer behavior.

They keep pointing to changes in the industry as evidence of the “death of television” or the “free fall in TV viewership.”

Yes, network share of viewership has declined. Yes, individual program ratings are going down.

But no, TV is not dying and viewership is not in free fall. Here's a chart from the website FiveThirtyEight:

Consumers are watching about as much TV as ever. And they don't care how it’s delivered to them.

As far as they’re concerned, whether they are watching video delivered over the air, through a cable, via an app, from a satellite, or on the web is about as interesting as whether their underwear gets to Walmart by train, truck or boat. As long as it’s there when they need it they couldn’t give a flying shit how it gets there.

Delivery systems are of no interest to consumers. All it is to them is confusion. They don’t care what pipe it comes through. They’ll get the pipe that gives them the best choice at the lowest price.

Every time I post a piece about TV, I get comments saying, "Yeah, people are watching TV, but they're not watching live TV, they're watching Netflix or YouTube or Amazon Prime, or...."


Popularity of "non-linear" TV is certainly growing, but it doesn't come close to live TV. I'm in a chart-making mood today, so here's a chart that shows what people are watching on their TVs. 

The data comes from Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group, one of the most respected analysts of the media business.
In 2008 I went unhinged on this blog and made a bizarre statement. I wrote, “television is the web’s killer app.” Turns out I was right. 70% of all web traffic is now streaming video.

Dave Pell put it best, “We’ve replaced television with television.”

January 07, 2016

The 14 Things Every LinkedIn Article Will Be About In 2016

As you probably know, LinkedIn is the dreariest, most humorless repository of business commentary mankind has ever produced.

It is a venue for people without the slightest talent for business writing to shoot their mouths off and be taken seriously by other dimwits who are either looking for work or looking for something to do when they ought to be looking for work.

To start the year off right, and as a service to my readers, I'm going to summarize for you everything that will appear in LinkedIn in 2016.

This way you can use the time you might otherwise waste on LinkedIn to do something useful, like polish your guns or make rice pudding.

Here are the 14 things that every article in LinkedIn will be about this year:
1. What Is Your Brand Story?

2. Why Marketing To Millennials Is Different.

3. Why Marketing To Millennials Is Not Different.

4. 2016: The Year Of Mobile.

5. 2016: The Year Of Content.

6. 2016: The Year Of Native.

7. Unlocking The Authentic Purpose In Your Brand.
8. Don't Be Afraid Of Change. Embrace it!
9. Greatness Requires Passion.
10. You Need Leadership. Leadership Needs You!

11. Managing Is About Listening.
12. Social Media Is About Listening.
13. Marketing Is About Listening.

14. Every Fucking Thing In The Whole Fucking World Is About Listening.
 Okay, now let's see those guns sparkle.

January 06, 2016

Advertising And Espionage

Apparently espionage and advertising have a lot in common.

During the holidays I re-read Smiley's People (for the third time). George Smiley, the British spymaster, is one of my fictional heroes.

Here is an excerpt that is so apropos to our industry, it almost made me choke on my vodka martini.
"All his professional life, it seemed to Smiley, he had listened to similar verbal antics signalling supposedly great changes in Whitehall doctrine...

He had watched Whitehall skirts go up and come down, her belts being tightened, loosened, tightened. He has been the witness, or victim -- or even reluctant prophet -- of such spurious cults as lateralism, parallelism, separatism, operational devolution, and now...integration. Each new fashion had been hailed as a panacea: 'Now we shall vanquish, now the machine will work!' Each had gone out with a whimper, leaving behind it the familiar...muddle, of which, more and more, in retrospect, he saw himself as a lifelong moderator."
Substitute Madison Avenue for Whitehall, and  conversations, engagement, co-creation, and interactivity for lateralism, parallelism, separatism, and integration. And what have you got?

The dreary self-deception of the advertising industry.

January 04, 2016

5 Questions For The New Year

Here are five questions about the ad industry in the upcoming year that inquiring minds are asking.

1. What does the ad industry need to do in 2016?
To maintain its credibility and high esteem, the ad industry needs to develop compelling new banalities. "Conversations" and "engagement" and "ecosystems" were great in their day, but I think we can do better. We need to learn to utilize data driven insights to develop new platitudes we can use to hide the fact that we don't know what the fuck we're talking about.

2. What advertising breakthroughs do you foresee in the new year?
The big breakthroughs in 2016 will come in the area of dead things. Traditionally, we have waited several years before we declared certain advertising modes dead. It took 60 years for us to decide TV was dead, but the QR code got itself dead in about 3 weeks. I'm hoping that 2016 will be the year we can declare things dead before they arrive. For example, I just made up a word: Cloudsourcing. I have no idea what it means, but it sounds exactly like the kind of insufferable bullshit a CMO could really get behind. So let's declare it dead before someone decides it's a good idea. Cloudsourcing is dead!

3. Where do you see marketing going this year?
That's easy. To a conference in Las Vegas.

4.  How will technology change everything in 2016?
The big trend in technology will be the introduction of a whole new generation of "things that all do the same thing." Right now our connected devices all do the same things -- we can watch TV on our tablets, send emails from our watches, make phone calls from our PCs, surf the web on our TVs. Nonetheless, we have to have one of each device because Apple says so. In 2016 this trend will expand into our household appliances. We will have "The internet of things that all do the same thing." We will have espresso machines that can iron our underwear and blenders that can barbecue a chicken. We will be talking into our toilets and shitting in our toasters.

5. What is the biggest threat to world peace and civil order in 2016?
The return of the infographic.