March 30, 2016

Kevin Roberts Doesn't Like Me

I guess I must be doing something right.

Kevin Roberts, Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, wrote a nasty blog post about me last week. With the possible exception of Sir Martin Sorrell, there is probably no one in advertising I would rather have dislike me than Kevin Roberts.

Roberts is one of the all-time champion brand babblers. He was apparently upset by an article in Business Insider about a talk I gave in London last month in which I said:
"Creating a strong brand should be every marketer’s primary objective and the highest role of advertising is to create a strong brand. But our industry has taken these truths and twisted them into silly fantasies... There’s a widespread belief in our business that consumers are in love with brands. That consumers want to have brand experiences and brand relationships and be personally engaged with brands and read branded story telling. People...have a lot of things to care deeply about. It’s very unwise to believe that they care deeply about our batteries, our wet wipes and our chicken strips."
Here's what Roberts wrote in response:
"The radically optimistic reality check is that people have dreams, hopes and aspirations. They strive for magic moments in life amidst the dross and struggle, believe in a better future, and ways to make life more valuable, easier, and enjoyable. Products and brands have a vitally important role in helping people navigate their daily lives, bringing ongoing moments of convenience, utility and joy."
Do you want to just kill yourself, or what?

But you have to admit it -- this guy is good. I can see dimwit CMOs slurping up this bullshit with both hands.

I have written about Roberts and his hoary horseshit before. You can find it here and here.

Roberts is the guy who came up with the quintessence of insufferable brand babble: Love Marks...
“They reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can't live without.”
Someone pass the Kleenex.

I know these pompous aristocrats hate facts but, just for the record, Havas Media did a study on this stuff. They found that in the US and Europe people would not care if 92% of brands disappeared.

Well, anyway, it turns out that ol' Kev ain't having much success with his blog. I checked his last 25 blog posts and there is not a single comment on any of them. Not one.

Better get to work on that brand, Kev.

March 28, 2016

Bullshitters Bullshitting Bullshitters

Last week the 4A's had a conference.

It seems like the only thing advertising's ruling class does anymore is hold conferences, attend conferences, or plan conferences.

It was called "Transformation," which is what every advertising conference since the invention of the fax machine has been called.

See, the whole point of putting on a conference is to make lots of money by making you feel like everything's changing and if you miss three days of insufferable Powerpoint presentations and tedious panel discussions you'll be left behind by not knowing what the life-threatening transformation of the month is.

So you pay your money and you go to the conference and with any luck you run into someone who knows about a job opening in LA or you meet a cute art director with an Australian accent at the bar.

The entire Ad Contrarian worldwide staff was planning to attend the conference in question but, sadly, we had an important nap to take.

One of the sessions we're sorry we missed was a panel discussion about ad blocking. The article I read about this session indicated that the panelists agreed that something had to be done and also agreed not to do a fucking thing.

As usual, the agencies blamed the publishers, the publishers blamed the agencies, everyone blamed clients for not paying enough for the crap they're being sold or consumers for not understanding the terrible plight of the virtuous online publishers. What else is new?

The thing I'm really sorry about having missed is the totality of the bullshit that must have been on display.

Just a snippet of it in the article I read made me kick myself for taking that nap. Here's what a genius from AOL had to say:
"No industry is necessarily good at coordinating multi-faceted programs across sub-ecosystems."
That's some mighty impressive conference-style horseshit.

I think what it means in a language we're familiar with is that the online ad industry is not capable of doing anything about its problems.

Apparently, some things never transform.

March 23, 2016

Advertising's Slow-Motion Suicide Continues

Seven years ago, in a post entitled "Crisis Of Advertising" I wrote,
"There way in which the ascendancy of the web is harming ad agencies. We are allowing it to draw off a whole generation of talented creative people."
This week, two trade publications wrote feature pieces on how advertising is losing creative people to tech firms.

In "Where Have All The Creatives Gone?" Ad Age wrote,
"Seeking a respite from the realities of today's agency life... more chief creatives are looking from their corner cubicles toward Silicon Valley."

In "How Agencies Are Fighting Back Against Talent Raids by Tech Firms and Marketers" Adweek said,

"More often than not, agencies can't compete..."

Bullshit. The advertising industry can compete. We just choose not to.

We gave up on creativity years ago and we're now paying the price. The industry foolishly thinks its future is in data and technology. As a very wise man once said...
"The ad industry has decided to play the other guy's game. They are now competing in an arena in which they have distinct disadvantages. They are not as good at data or technology as their competitors. They are quietly abandoning creativity, although it is still the one and only thing that clients can't get somewhere else."
Now clients can get it somewhere else. At home. And the ad business is in deep snow as a result.

As the great Dave Trott put it, "...we have become an industry of bank managers."

You can invent all the rationales you want to explain why talented creative people are choosing to leave -- too much work, not enough pay -- but it comes down to this: power.

The agency business was once powered by creativity. It no longer is.

Creative people have no power in most agencies. Creativity is given lip-service, and nothing else. Creative people are harangued by so-called "strategists," they are squeezed by incompetent account mismanagers, they are paid poorly, and are jerked around by tone deaf clients.

In an industry that now thinks media is more important than ideas (see Sorrell, Martin) their power is negligible and falling.

There is only one hope for the ad industry. As that same wise man once wrote...
"We need to quit blathering about the false gods of interactivity, precision targeting, social media, data, and technology... and convince marketers that the most effective way to build brands and businesses is through the unique and unmatched power of mass media and brilliant advertising."
To do that we need to get over our obsession with incrementalism. We need to get rid of the small minds with small goals and small talents.

Until we do that, great creative people will keep leaving. And clients will follow.

March 21, 2016

The Era Of Incrementalism

If we can characterize the digital advertising era thus far, it has been an era of incrementalism. 
  • Marketers are very busy developing "content" that reaches a tiny percent of consumers. 
  • They are sending out Tweets and Facebook posts that only reach a miniscule proportion of the population, all of whom are already "fans" of their brand. 
  • They are buying search terms that reach only the small number of people actively shopping in their category. 
  • They are creating native advertising that realistically has the capacity to reach a minute proportion of the population. 
At best, each of these marketing activities has the ability to influence only a tiny fraction of a brand's potential user base. 

Here's an example. I did some math*

Coca-Cola has almost 100 million Facebook fans. Impressive, right?

They also sell 1.8 billion servings of Coke a day. Let's give Coke the huge benefit of the doubt and assume that everyone who ever followed Coke on Facebook is still active. This means that if they reached all their followers on Facebook on any given day they could reach about .05 of their customers. 

But a Facebook post doesn't reach all followers. It reaches about 2.27% of followers. So if all their fans were on Facebook at the right time the largest fraction of their followers they could expect to reach would be .
05 x 2.27% which equals about .001. This is not a large number.

But wait, it gets smaller. Among people who are reached, about 11% engage (this is a very charitable estimation which I don't believe for a second, but we're being generous here, right?) So the actual fraction of its followers that Coke could realistically expect to influence with a Facebook post is .0001.

It's hard to get much closer to zero.

*Warning: Exposure to copywriter math can lead to fatigue, hallucinations, and chronic diarrhea.

March 17, 2016

Facebook "Amazed" By Crap They've Been Selling

Facebook had to shut down one of its big projects last week because they "discovered" it was so rife with fraud.

They announced "we were amazed by the volume of valueless inventory" in one of their buying platforms.

You gotta feel sorry for those poor bastards. How were they to know? I mean c'mon, it's not like they have eyes or ears or anything.

Apparently everyone on the planet knows that online advertising is a cesspool of fraud and corruption except the people making a killing on it.

Next thing you know agencies will discover there are problems. Then, who knows, maybe even clients will figure it out.

Nah, only kidding. Clients are so fucking dumb they'll want more.

Count on Facebook to hide their irresponsible screwing of their customers behind a curtain of baloney. Here's what their Head Of Adtech had to say about the "amazing discovery":
"We were able to deliver ads to real people with unprecedented accuracy, but came up against many bad ads and fraud..."
Here's what that bullshit means in English: We delivered ads to millions of bots and six real people. But the six real people were, like, totally in our target group.

He then went on to say:
"This eye-opening experiment left us with a decision: Do we bury quality (which is industry-prevalent), or do we focus solely on building a product in our mission to help marketers deliver and measure true business value? We chose the latter. Value is the better and longer-term view."
Translation: We have some new stuff to sell you, so all the miracles we've been pushing on you all these years is now worthless crap.

Bullshit in online advertising? It's industry-prevalent.

(Update: Apparently the Facebook buying platform in question was in a test and hadn't been launched widely.)

March 16, 2016

3 Things I Don't Hate

I'm afraid I've developed a reputation as a person who hates everything. It's not true. I just hate most things.

People often come up to me and say, "yeah, I hate the web, too." Or, "Millennials really suck, right?" Or "you're right, social media is total bullshit."

And I have to either shake my head enigmatically to signal a kind of vague agreement or be a dick and say, "I kinda like millennials."

So just for my own clarity, here are 3 things that a lot of people think I hate, that I don't hate.

First, I don't hate online advertising. I think as it exists today it is annoying, ineffectual, and wasteful. But I think there is a future for it. All that needs to happen is for adtech to go away, and for agencies to start hiring some talented people to do it. I think we'd be surprised that it might light a spark under the moribund agency business.

Next, I don't hate social media. I actually enjoy social media a lot and have been using it with modest effectiveness to promote my writing and speaking businesses.

Third, I don't hate millennials. I actually had a hand in creating one and she's pretty amazing.

Here's what I do hate: I hate the ignorant obsession with these things, and lack of perspective about them -- which are the hallmarks of the contemporary marketing and advertising industries.

I hate the fools who constantly exaggerate the effectiveness of digital advertising and conveniently ignore the enormous problems.

I hate the overblown promises and claims of social media "experts" and the naively gullible marketing industry that buys into them.

I hate the embarrassing obsession with millennials that has been the fetish of the self-absorbed ad industry for almost a decade.

But let's not blame the objects of our foolishness for the foolishness itself. Online advertising doesn't create itself. Social media isn't responsible for the fantasy of social media marketing. Millennials never tried to take control of our minds.

All these manias and fixations are the result of a marketing industry that is lost in space and devoid of perspective.

That's the only thing I really hate.

March 14, 2016

The Amazing Tale Of Bill Grizack

Bill Grizack is an advertising strategist. But he's not just any advertising strategist. This guy is special. According to AgencySpy:
"Despite being indicted late last year by the State of North Carolina and intentionally defrauding at least three different agencies, Grizack continued to gain employment as a senior strategist working on legitimate pieces of business like AT&T and remained employed almost literally until the very moment the news of his guilty plea broke last week."
Here are some of the scams Grizack is alleged to have run on agencies over the past few years:
  • He convinced an agency that he had landed $269 million in client contracts and on that basis they made him a partner and hired dozens of people.
  • At more than one agency he faked contracts with large, imaginary accounts -- big accounts like Coca-Cola, Brown-Forman and McDonald's.
  • Up until recently, he apparently was working at three San Francisco agencies at the same time without anyone knowing it.
The incredible story of Grizack first appeared in the Winston-Salem (NC) Journal and has been nicely followed-up by Patrick Coffee of AgencySpy.

Part of this story is understandable. It is very difficult to get accurate information these days on people you are hiring. References are mostly worthless. Having been an agency ceo, I know that every lawyer tells every agency head not to provide reference information. Providing any kind of comments on a former employee opens you up to all kinds of legal mischief.

But once the agencies hired him, how did they accept his stories of having landed clients that they never saw? 

According to one story, one of the three jobs Grizack held simultaneously in SF was at Interbrand (owned by Omnicom) where he was senior director of strategy on the real AT&T account.

I've said a lot of nasty things about ad strategists over the years (like here and here). I'm sure there are some brilliant ones.

But this guy's story reinforces every skeptic's worst suspicions.

March 09, 2016

Data vs Probability

I took my data analyst with me to Las Vegas.

We spent three days at the roulette wheel. We learned a lot of little things. We did a thorough, highly detailed analysis of what went on:
  • We counted how many times red came up and how many times black came up. 
  • We calculated the effect of the croupier spinning the ball left or spinning it right.
  • We calculated how often red came up three times in a row. Then black.
  • We established the effect of the speed of the roll on the number of times it turned up red or black.
  • We computed the number of people over 40 at the table and how that affected the result
  • We counted and analyzed lots of other stuff.
We lost anyway.

Meanwhile the house did no data analysis. But they knew a few big things.
  • They knew there were 18 red, 18 black, and 2 green. 
So they had a 5% advantage on every roll.

Consequently, they never lost.

In marketing and advertising we have two ways of doing things. We can measure every little data point or we can see the big picture.

Small picture marketers know a lot of little things:
  • Who went to what website? 
  • What they searched for.
  • What kind of car they drive.
  • Who their dentist is.
  • Where they bank
  • And tons of other stuff
They create tightly focused advertising and put it in front of a select number of precisely targeted individuals.

On the other hand, big picture marketers know a few big things:
  • People are more likely to buy brands they're familiar with. 
  • People are more likely to buy brands that sound interesting.
  • People are more likely to buy brands they like. 
They work very hard to produce widely appealing materials and put them everywhere.

Then they stand back and let probability do the work.

Why have all the world's leading brands been built by big picture marketers?

Because the more you study data, the more you realize that data is just the residue of probability.

March 07, 2016

Evaluating All The Campaigns In The World

The ad industry has never been short on hyperbole and unreliability. It has been a problem for decades.

The era of online advertising has only deepened this problem.

One of the troubling new phenomena is the way third parties -- the trade press, the business press, academia, and trade organizations -- have become complicit in the reckless boosterism of online advertising at the expense of the critical thinking and skepticism that used to be considered their responsibility.

This was reinforced last week when I read an article on MediaPost entitled:  
"WARC: Over Half Of The World's Most Impactful Campaigns Are Digital-Led."
WARC is an acronym for an organization that modestly calls itself the "World Advertising Research Center."

The thrust of the article was this:
"The World Advertising Research Center (Warc) has issued its annual rankings of the most effective marketing campaigns...The Warc analysis found that 55% of the world’s most impactful campaigns are digital-led."
Upon reading this, my first thought was this: How do you evaluate all the marketing campaigns in the world? There must be tens of thousands of marketing campaigns launched every year. You'd have to have thousands of people on staff, speaking dozens of languages, monitoring all media, spending months on analyzing sales data and consumer sentiment. What a remarkable undertaking!

My next thought was, hold on, this must be a click-bait headline from a publisher intentionally misrepresenting the WARC story to make a few extra bucks. But then I went to the WARC website and there it was plain as day...
 "The Warc 100 is a ranking of the world’s best marketing campaigns..."
I was hooked. What an amazing project. I couldn't wait to discover how they determined this. Until I read the rest of the sentence...
"...based on performance in effectiveness and strategy competitions."
Wait a minute... "based on performance in effectiveness and strategy competitions?" What the hell does that mean? So I dug further.

This led me to a page that described what MediaPost called WARC's "rigorous methodology developed in consultation with King's College London." Now I'm really impressed. So I read on.

What I found was a truly majestic exercise in making the obvious incomprehensible. I invite you to read the methodology here, but I warn you -- don't do it near sharp objects.

Once you fight your way through the hogwash and the labyrinthine description, you suddenly realize that the WARC 100 is essentially an award for winning awards.

WARC, of course, wants to blind us with science, so the way they put it is...
"Warc tracks different advertising competitions around the world – all of them require entrants to show the impact of a campaign. Campaigns (and the brands and agencies behind them) are awarded points based on the prizes they win in those competitions."
Which, of course, is thinly disguised double-talk for it's an award for winning awards.

In order to swallow WARC's assertion that these are the world's best campaigns, you have to accept all of the following:
  • Advertising awards are a reliable proxy for effectiveness
  • WARC's choice of which award shows to consider (which they refuse to divulge) are a valid sample
  • WARC's arbitrary weighting scheme is scientifically defensible.
If any one of these assumptions is erroneous, the whole formulation falls apart. It is my opinion that every one of the premises is erroneous.

Furthermore, a campaign cannot even be considered unless someone entered it in one of the awards shows WARC draws on. That alone is enough to make its claim of identifying the world's most effective campaigns spurious.

Anyone who has spent 15 minutes in an agency knows the following:
  • Some agencies spend hundreds of thousand of dollars entering awards shows every year (sometimes called "award-whores".) Some spend nothing.
  • Some agencies have people on staff who are dedicated specialists in generating "case histories" that are effective at winning awards.
  • Some agencies have people who specialize in knowing the most favorable categories to enter to produce an award.
Further, anyone who has ever judged an award show knows the following:
  • On every judging panel in every awards show there are brilliant people and complete fools. It is not unheard of for the fools to prevail.
  • The judging itself is like every other aspect of life -- frequently ruled by emotion, not rationality.
Unlike many in advertising, I am not an awards hater. I think great stuff deserves to be recognized. Advertising and marketing people do a lot of suffering and are entitled to some satisfaction once in a while. If an award does that, I'm happy for them.

When I was a copywriter and a creative director I was always proud and gratified when we won a major award. But I never deluded myself into the silly belief that an award was in any way an accurate reflection of effectiveness. I knew how the game was played.

The WARC 100 winners can arguably be billed as "the world's most awarded marketing campaigns." But to bill them as "the world's most effective campaigns" is simply brazen puffery. And to draw a conclusion from this that the best campaigns are "digital-led" is fatuous and irresponsible.

The effectiveness of advertising is a serious business that deserves serious scrutiny. If you are going to make an extraordinary claim -- that you have uncovered the world's most impactful campaigns -- you have an obligation to demonstrate that you have devised a judicious, reliable methodology for determining this..

WARC's methodology is superficial and unconvincing.

March 01, 2016

If Agency People Were Honest

Here are two memos that ought to be circulated at most big agencies:


TO:               Staff
FROM:         Human Resources
SUBJECT:   We Are Not A Family

Contrary to what you heard from senior staff here at the agency when you were hired and at several staff meetings since then, we are not a family.

Families are forgiving. We are not.

Families are tied together for life. We are not.

Families can't get rid of problem people. They can't replace them with more pleasant or capable or younger people. We can.

Families have to feed you. We don't.

Just so we're clear, here are some things you should know:
  • We don't love you. Many of you we don't even like.
  • When you become bad casting we will hire someone younger and prettier.
  • You will have a job here as long as you produce more than you consume and solve more problems than you create.
  • You will have a job here until we find someone who can do your job as well but costs less.
  • You will have a job here as long as the client thinks you're necessary.
Nothing personal. We just thought you'd appreciate knowing the truth.



TO:               Human Resources
FROM:         Staff
SUBJECT:    Leaving At First Opportunity

Contrary to what we said when we took these jobs, we are not really that thrilled to be working here.

As far as we can tell, this place is pretty much identical to every other place we've worked at.

And all that stuff about being a family? Please...we're your employees, not your children.

Here are a few things you should know:

We believe we are underpaid. 
We believe our bosses are, for the most part, schmucks.
We think you have no balls and suck-up to our clients.

Just so we're clear, here are a few things you should know:
  • We don't respect most of you.
  • We will stay here until someone is willing to pay us more.
  • We will stay here until someone offers us a better job. 
Nothing personal. We just thought you'd appreciate knowing the truth.


Your employees