May 31, 2016

The "New" Video Revolution

After about 10 years of astounding dimness, the online media industry is starting to wake up and realize that not only is television not dead, but the future of online advertising revenue is largely going to come from video. The rush to video among online publishers is approaching hysteria.

Of course, as usual the marketing and advertising industries are marooned on some distant planet and are still yapping about the death of TV. But don't worry, it'll only take them a couple of centuries to catch up.

Here are some interesting thoughts on this subject:

According to Kevin Draper at Gawker...
"We are, right now, in the midst of a digital media upheaval. What was previously conventional wisdom—that a media company with hopes of turning a profit needs, above all, to achieve scale—is being proven false. The new conventional wisdom is that video will be digital media’s savior..."
Michael Wolff in The Hollywood Reporter agrees...
"The sinking value of web and mobile page views — heading to an increment barely above zero — has galvanized a flight at nearly every major digital media company to a premium video strategy, and even to television itself." 
From Paul Verna, senior analyst at eMarketer,  
“While so much debate has centered on a supposed tug-of-war between TV and digital video, the reality is that digital video is growing not at the expense of TV, but because video content is more popular than ever."
By far the bulk of video viewing is still done via TV programming. According to Toby Byrne, president of ad sales for Fox Networks Group, over 90% of video time is spent on “premium” video, i.e., traditional TV shows. And everyone's favorite obsession, millennials, spend 80% of their video time watching TV programming.

Online media publishers are hellbent on stealing consumer video time from television by becoming video content producers. What does this mean to consumers?

It means it's time to put on your hard hat. We're in for an avalanche of bad video.

Oh, and one more thing. According to Digiday, 85% of video on Facebook is viewed with the sound off.

How Much Ad Contrarian Is Enough? 
Don't answer that. 

Instead go to our new podcast, The Ad Contrarian Show, and listen to further discussions of topics talked about here on the blog

If you like it, let me know. If not, keep it to yourself.

May 26, 2016

Ad Crooks Going To Jail? What To Look For.

According to several reports, the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) report about agency "transparency" (read, misconduct) is due in the next few weeks.

Some background: Over three years ago, in a piece called "Time To Clean Out The Stables" I advocated for an investigation of fraud and corruption in online media buying.

About a year ago, this issue finally surfaced as a hot topic. The ANA decided to hire two organizations (including one that employs former FBI agents) to investigate media buying practices. Since then things have gotten a little testy between the 4As (American Assoc. of Advertising Agencies) and the ANA. The degree of distrust between the organizations may play an important part in determining just how much of the report is the real deal and how much is PR fluff.

Remember, agencies are not hired and overseen by god. They are hired and overseen by the same people who are now having them investigated. There may turn out to be an element of self-interest in the ANA rounding off the sharp edges of their investigation.

The big questions are these: If there is corruption, how widespread is it and how far will the ANA report go in exposing it? One thing to look for is how specific the report is.
1. If the report talks about unsavory practices but does not name agency names, you know we're in for some mealy-mouth horseshit.

2. If the report talks about "grey areas" and "transparency" but does not give specific examples of double-dealing by specific agencies, it's a whitewash.

3. If the report tries to "contextualize" the sleaze (like the pathetic trade press does) by saying online ad fraud is nothing more than a continuation of traditional questionable habits, you know it's a bullshit burrito.
The ANA has a lot to gain and a lot to lose.

Advertisers have been played for fools by crafty agency sharks. But advertisers -- and CMOs in particular -- are not blameless. They have been irresponsibly negligent and laughably naive about the insidious nature of how online advertising has evolved. Their idiotic fervor for anything digital has been a contributing factor to the debased culture of web media.

This report may turn out to be a turning point for the agency business and for digital advertising.

I am assiduously averse to making predictions (I specialize in making fun of fools who make predictions, not being one) but in this case I'm going to play the fool. I'm going to predict a nightmare for the ad industry.

It will all come down to how willing the ANA is to get everything out on the table.

Will their report be a slap on the wrist or a kick in the low-hanging fruit?

I can't wait to see it.

May 23, 2016

The Blind Leading The Stupid

The con game that is online advertising took another hit last week as a report surfaced about the cluelessness of big online advertisers.

According to a report by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA)...
"The vast majority of the biggest national advertisers either are only vaguely familiar with or are completely ignorant about the role so-called “sourced traffic” is playing in their digital media buys,
"Sourced traffic" is a misleading, polite term for third-party crap an online publisher buys to pretend he's delivering what an advertiser has paid for.

Here's how the swindle works. You want to reach left-handed dry cleaners who like cheese. So you make an online ad buy because it's so amazingly good at "precision targeting." Your media buyer, or more likely, a software program, buys ad space for you on a website (or more likely a network of 10,000 websites) where left-handed dry cleaners who like cheese are supposedly thick on the ground.

The only problem is you paid for 100,000 impressions and the site can only deliver 50,000. So what do they do? They go out to people who "broker traffic" to send them the remaining 50,000 impressions. And there ain't a cheese-eating left-handed dry cleaner in the lot. In fact, in many cases, there aren't too many human beings in the lot.

According to an article in MediaPost...
"The ANA... has been issuing warnings and updates on the practice, which involves publishers acquiring audiences from other third parties and representing it as their own to fulfill commitments to advertisers, because it frequently is a source of fraudulent or non-human traffic generated by bots and other insidious and unsavory practices."
Huh? Insidious and unsavory practices? On line? Get outta here...

According the ANA
“...sourced traffic results in an alarmingly high level of digital ad fraud in the form of non-human traffic..."
A report by the ANA last year claimed that more than half the traffic from publishers who used "sourced traffic" was fraudulent.

The amusing part of all this is how the marketing geniuses in the world's largest corporations don't have a clue how deeply and vigorously they're being penetrated.

According to MediaPost...
The study found that nearly two-thirds of major advertisers were “only slightly familiar with -- or completely unaware of -- the concept of sourced traffic...”
As I've said so many times, the abysmal ignorance among online advertisers is truly thrilling to behold.
  • They don't know what they're buying
  • They don't know who they're buying it from

  • They don't know what they're getting

  • They don't know how much they're paying 
But they think they do. They're all convinced that they have "systems in place" to outsmart the bad guys and it's everyone else who's getting screwed. This is a con artist's description of a perfect sucker.

According to a report by Kalkis Research entitled, The End Of The Online Advertising Bubble
"An experiment by the traffic quality verification startup Oxford BioChronometrics has shown that under certain circumstances, bot traffic generated by ads on Google, LinkedIn and Facebook may be as high as 90%. Bots can be highly evolved, emulating a human-like behavior, and virtually impossible to detect, rendering ad campaigns useless...
"The (advertising) industry has a huge incentive to downplay and hide the extent of ad fraud, as it’s very lucrative." 
And now for the final laugh. What's the solution to this outrageous bullshit? According to the article in MediaPost, the head of the ANA says... is the job of media agencies to “educate clients."
 Yeah, that's it. Let's put Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

May 19, 2016

Kinda Like Holistic Innovative Thinking

(UPDATE: The video that motivated this blog post has been edited by the owners removing some of the heinous silliness including the line that gave this post its title.)

Earlier this week, the great Rich Siegel (soon to be chairman of WPP) unearthed a video on his blog that I can't stop watching.

I present it here for your consideration.

It is a series of interviews with planners and/or strategists trying to explain something -- I'm not really sure what. It is either the difference between planning and strategy or the similarities or... I don't know, something.

Whatever it is, it is a thorough embarrassment to our industry.

It would be ridiculous and farcical if it wasn't so sad. Our business has reached such a level of self-conscious pretension and confusion that otherwise intelligent people can't even explain in plain English what the fuck it is they do or why.

The other thing that makes it so sad is that it is not unfamiliar. It is depressingly typical of how so many in the ad business torture logic and language and twist themselves into knots pompously describing their precious contribution to civilization.

Watch in awe as planners make the obvious incomprehensible.

The only question is this: Is it real or a lost Monty Python episode?

May 17, 2016

Does Content Build Brands?

Last week, Sir John Hegarty of BBH made some very cogent statements about the relative value of content marketing and advertising.

This week I was a guest on a marketing podcast that ripped into Hegarty for his comments. I didn't have the time to defend his point of view properly. So here goes.

First and most obviously is this: The highest goal of marketing is to build brands. Advertising has built thousands of major consumer-facing brands in hundreds of categories. Until you can show me even a few major brands that have been built by "content" I cannot accept content as anything but a footnote.

Let's be more specific: Overwhelmingly the world's major brands -- Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Nike, Pepsi, Microsoft, Walmart, Samsung, Toyota, BMW and, literally, hundreds of others -- have been built by advertising. I cannot think of one major non-web-native brand that has been built by content (or social media, for that matter.)

Second is this: If you look at the brands that are most successful at content marketing, they are overwhelmingly brands that have spent billions of dollars on traditional advertising. In other words, success in content marketing (and social media) is overwhelmingly the effect of brand power, not the cause of it.

Do you think Coca-Cola would have 100 million Facebook followers if it was Bob-a-Cola? It took billions of dollars of traditional advertising to make Coke a social media success.

Have there been a few brands that have come out of nowhere and been successful with these tactics? Sure, but these are very rare exceptions. Check the lists of the brands most successful at content marketing and social media and you will find they are overwhelmingly brands with enormous advertising budgets.

Finally, content is a symptom of the advertising and marketing industry's obsession with incrementalism. With very few exceptions, the content created by most marketers reaches a miniscule proportion of the population. And the rare examples of content that break out and reach a large percent of the population tend to be those that closely resemble traditional advertising.

There are many people of integrity in the content/social world who understand these factors and are modest in their claims and moderate in their speech.

But, sadly, there are still far too many swaggering digital showboats who are dismissive of the power of traditional advertising and are too eager to take credit for content and social "successes" that have far more correlation to the popularity of a brand that was built by advertising than to anything they have contributed.

May 16, 2016

6 New Types Of Intelligence

A few decades ago, during the hysteria of the "everyone-is-exceptional" era, hipster psychologists decided that intelligence didn't mean what we thought it meant.

They decided you didn't have to be smart to be intelligent. Instead, everyone was intelligent. Even CMOs.

You see, all these people we thought of as nitwits just had different kinds of intelligence than, you know, smart people.

So Stephen Hawking and Gwyneth Paltrow were equally intelligent, just in different ways.

There was "interpersonal" intelligence and "spatial" intelligence and "turtle feeding" intelligence and all kinds of intelligence we never even knew existed, but turned out to be worm-holes in the space-time continuum for well-below-average people to be considered smart in their own stupid way.

Well, I've been rethinking this whole thing and I've come up with what I think are the important new types of intelligence for the modern era. Here we go:

                                                           6 New Types Of Intelligence

I have identified 6 new types of intelligence that the modern person has to have to succeed in the world.

1. Pizza Intelligence
You're out with your friends. When the waiter slaps that pie on the table some people are capable of quickly gauging the slice with the right proportions of cheese to sauce to pepperoni before they make their grab. And if it comes with pineapple, they are able to smoothly slide to the next table unnoticed.

2.  Powerpoint Intelligence
There are people who have figured out how to change line spacing in Powerpoint. I'm not shitting you.

3.  Hockey Intelligence
Why are toothless men on ice sliding around beating the shit out of each other? There's a reason. But without hockey intelligence you're just too fucking stupid to get it.

4.  French Intelligence
Have you ever tried speaking like a real Frenchman without spitting all over everything? It can be done.

5.  Clock Radio Intelligence
If you've been in a hotel room lately and you've tried to set the alarm clock, I think you know what I'm talking about.

6. Vagina Intelligence
What in the world goes on down there?

So how did you do?

May 11, 2016

Advertising Eats The World

It's difficult to imagine that there was a time, not long ago, when advertising was said to be "dead."
  • In 2004, research company Forrester & Co, proclaimed that we had reached “the end of the era of mass marketing.
  • In 2009, Advertising Age, said “the post-advertising age is under way.” 
  • Advertising Is Dead,” headlined the Huffington Post last year, 
I'll save you the tedium of reading the thousands of other quotes about how the web was ushering in the death of advertising.

What has happened, of course, is exactly the opposite. The web and all other forms of media have been bitten, chewed, and swallowed by advertising. All media are now prisoners of the advertising business.

Media aristocrats are now walking around with their knickers down begging advertisers to have a peek.

They will do anything, and eschew no compromise in integrity, to get their sweaty hands on advertising dollars. The New York Times said it best:
"Caty Burgess, the senior vice president for media strategies at the CW television network, said, “Is the question, ‘What is an ad?’ or ‘What isn’t an ad?’
The squalid corruption of media is not just limited to product placements and "native advertising" (gag me) in TV, movies, print, and online. It has now infected the news.
“We believe branded content and native solutions is a large-scale opportunity for Time Inc.,” Joseph A. Ripp, chief executive of Time Inc., 
"Branded content" and "native solutions" are just fancy-ass bullshit for advertising disguised as editorial. (And just a word, Mr. Ripp, "branded content and native solutions" are two different things and require a plural verb. But I guess we can't expect much from the chief executive of a major publication these days.)

And if you think this kind of whoring is limited to second-rate media...
"Many publishers, including...The New York Times, have formed what are essentially internal agencies that create ads for brands. And many already boast of success, or at least the promise of it."
Jennifer L. Wong, president of digital for Time Inc., says they are...
 “...helping brands develop original content” and added, “Working with us is easy.”  
Remember when the news industry saw themselves as protectors of integrity and enemies of irresponsible horseshit? Not any more. Now, if you have money to spend “Working with us is easy.” 

The Times says online advertising is about to surpass TV as the largest consumer-facing medium. Other sources still claim that TV is about 25-30 billion larger than the web. But whatever numbers you choose to believe there's one thing that's incontrovertible: The fast and loose ethics of the web have infected all other media.

This is a terrible development for civil society and a looming danger to democratic institutions.

Our news media have always been privately subjected to the insidious pressure of marketing hustlers. But never before have they so proudly auctioned their virtue to the highest bidders.

The only fools bigger than the ones who claim "advertising is dead" are the imbeciles who say "the consumer is in charge."

May 09, 2016

Crystal Ball Breakers

If you ever need a good laugh, a surefire place to start is by reading the futuristic bullshit of marketing geniuses.

Last week, Ad Age ran the 10,000th  piece on the future of advertising and how agencies need to adapt or die. Yes, it's 2005 all over again.

First the writer of the piece sets the tone by combing LinkedIn for every marketing cliché he could gather and smashing them together into a sentence:
"They must manage marketing across devices and serve customized ads to specific audiences based on real-time analysis of constantly changing data. That data must inform creative, CRM and media buying strategies tied to new commerce and brand experiences."
Yeah, we'll get right on that.

Then the parade of experts show up with their absurd comments and dreadful, trite nonsense.
"We're looking for a higher degree of consolidation to make integration and interdependence more effective,"
Yeah, that's what the agency business needs, more consolidation. Martin Sorrell and his financial wise guy clones haven't fucked it up ENOUGH. We need MORE consolidation. Is it possible that someone could be this abysmally stupid and actually believe this?

Then we get...
"Agencies need to make their complexity invisible."
Huh? Make complexity invisible? I don't even know what the fuck it means, and this guy thinks it's a big problem. I think what he's trying to say is that we need to simplify things. But by talking in the bullshit vocabulary of marketing, he does exactly what he's railing against -- making complexity visible.

Here's a heavy thought...
"We're going to need to be much more accountable to our clients for results"
Oh shit! Accountability? Not that! I'd like to know when we weren't accountable so I can get all my lost accounts back.

The CEO of Publicis had this to say -- I'm not kidding:
'Mr. Levy's vision of the new model as "modular instead of being siloed"'
Gosh, what a new and provocative thought. I guess talking in stale banalities is how you become a ceo. I know it worked for me.

Then there's the guy who is...
'trying to build what he called the "anti-holding structure." The company's plan was to absorb every type of agency bought into one brand that could handle cross-discipline work.'
Oh my god, The Agency Of The Future! We haven't had one of them in about.. let's see...2 weeks.

Anyway, I stopped reading the piece when my brain started melting. The future is always the place knuckleheads love to pontificate about because it's the one and only place where your stupidity can't be fact-checked.

The future may turn out to be better or worse, but one thing you can absolutely rely on -- it's never what anyone expects.

May 04, 2016

This Week In Bullshit

One of the essential factors that has lead to the longevity of this blog is our access to the extraordinary abundance and diversity of bullshit in the advertising business.

Today we are honoring that heritage with a round-up of some of our favorite recent instances of marketing and advertising drivel.

We'll start with McDonald's. Last week, McDonald's announced they were beginning a search for a new agency. McDonald's CMO couldn't just say, "We need new ideas." That would have been too clear and simple. Instead she stitched together a breathtaking tapestry of cliches and jargon which perfectly represent the contemporary state of PMH (Professional Marketing Horseshit.)
"To be the modern and progressive company that we want to be, we have to create more immersive consumer engagement. We need the support of an omnichannel integrated agency resource that can support our marketing efforts today and then prepare us also as the future continues to evolve."
While "omnichannel integrated agency resource" is pretty damn majestic, I am particularly partial to "immersive engagement." Although as someone who's been involved in a few immersive engagements, I think you're way better off with a quick movie and dinner.

Next we have a little video clip that is not only entertaining (in a 'makes-you-wanna-kill-yourself' kinda way) but is actually educational. In case you've ever wondered what a "Digital Analytics Manager" does, you're about to find out.

Yes, you heard that right -- he said "in our day-to-day lifes." By the way, the editor of this piece is now facing a firing squad. To make this even more delicious, the geniuses at Netbase (whatever the hell that is) who apparently put this thing together spelled the name of the agency wrong.

Finally, Coke announced new package design recently. But in the jive-speak of package design it is never just package design. We have Coca-Cola's vice president for "global design" to thank for this lovely bit of PMH:
“When applied across packaging, retail, equipment and experiential, this new approach becomes a global design language that utilises a historical brand icon"
You knew we couldn't get through a post about bullshit without a little globularity. And I'm very gratified to learn that "experiential" is now a noun.

As the sun sets gently on the rotting carcass of a once-proud industry, I will allow Mel Brooks and Bea Arthur the last word...

May 02, 2016

The Existential Adman

Before we get started, let's acknowledge that "The Existential Adman" is the worst title for a blog post in the history of online jabbering. If this thing gets 5 hits it'll be a miracle. But we soldier on unafraid...

Why do we care about advertising? Is there anything in it worthy of our attention and concern? These are the existential questions that we hope to answer in today's post.

Let's start with a wide shot and then cut to the extreme close-up. The wide shot is this: Is there anything anywhere worth caring about?

To contemplate this we need to get a sense of our place in the universe. We hear a lot of awe-inspiring banalities from gasbags like Neil deGrasse Tyson about the 100's of billions of stars in a galaxy and the hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. This gives us the impression that the universe is teeming with stuff.

In fact, the universe is the emptiest thing you can imagine. Only 0.000000000000000000004 percent of the universe contains any matter. The universe has less actual substance to it than a social media pitch deck.

Our planet is not even a speck of dust on a galactic scale. On a universal scale it essentially doesn't exist. Still worried about whether your socks match?

The next depressing reality concerns our species. Our planet has been around for about 4 billion years. We humans have been here for only about 200,000 years. So what portion of the Earth's life have we been a part of? The answer again is a decimal point, a lot of zeroes, and a 4 -- .00004.

In other words, our stay here at the Planet Earth Inn and Suites has been quite a short one and, sadly,  promises not to last very much longer. The odds of us blowing ourselves up, melting ourselves, or poisoning ourselves seem to be shortening daily.

So the question is, if we are so insignificant and so temporary does anything really matter? This philosopher believes that no, nothing really matters. But in order to live an orderly life we have to pretend it matters. If we don't pretend things matter, we're all likely to wind up in the gutter drugged up and filthy. You remember college, right?

Next we get to advertising. In light of all this meaninglessness and nothingness how can anyone take advertising seriously?

Well first, of course, there's the money. We gotta pay for Netflix somehow.

But let's be honest. There's something fascinating about advertising that transcends payday.

Studying advertising helps us strip away some of the fanciful notions of human rectitude and more often than not exposes the depth of human vanity to those of us who are willing to recognize it.

Of course there are those in the advertising business who, despite all evidence to the contrary, believe that peoples' consuming habits are motivated by high-minded principles and not by self-interest.

But to those of us who accept humanity warts and all, advertising presents a unique lens through which we can view human behavior in a way that is not always evident in other lines of endeavor.

And now for the existential answers:

Does advertising mean anything? No.

Is it interesting? Yes.