June 23, 2016

Sometimes, Even Bloggers Need To Shut Up

I'm headed off on a completely undeserved vacation. Unless something irresistibly stupid happens in adworld I won't be posting for a while.

But before I go, it just wouldn't be right not to do a little gratuitous self-promotion. So here we go:

My speaking calendar is booked up through September, but if you need someone to light a fire under the lazy-ass bastards at your next conference or sales meeting, I have availability in October and November. Read all about it here.

The Ad Contrarian blog is now 9 years old. Our podcast this weekEpisode 4 of The Ad Contrarian Show is all about nine years in the life of a blog. It's entitled Who Made You The Boss? You can find it here.

Also, if you haven't subscribed to my free weekly newsletter you can do so here.

Have fun, be sure to feed the dogs, and don't let anything important happen while I'm gone.

My newsletter this past week was very popular, so I thought I'd reproduce it here.

The Scourge Of Ad Tech

Here in the 21st century, every problem seems to have the same solution - technology.

What a simple, lovely world it would be if this were true.

Sadly, the real world is a lot more complicated and messy. But in marketingland we have convinced ourselves that technology offers more leverage than ideas. It's a silly and childish belief, but it prevails nonetheless.

As Sir Martin Sorrell so lovingly put it...
“The definition of creativity needs to change. We’re not in the advertising business anymore.”
(I don't know what business he thinks he's in, but if I read the ANA report correctly, they seem to think he's in the racketeering business. But let's leave that for another day.)

When given the opportunity, we always default to technology. Because technology generates numbers and numbers are the new ideas.

Being a Luddite dinosaur, I am not convinced that technology has done us "not-in-the-advertising-business-anymore" folks any favors. In fact, I'm pretty certain that ad tech has done us a hefty amount of harm and is in desperate need of a good beat down.

For those not conversant in the arcane language of marketing, the simplest definition I can come up with for "ad tech" is the selling, buying and distribution of (mostly) online advertising by software. It seems harmless enough in theory, but below the surface it has been a disaster.

It has damaged the ad industry, it has damaged consumers, it has damaged the web, it has damaged advertisers, and it has damaged publishers. Who has benefited? Google, Facebook, and certain slippery creeps not-in-the-advertising-business-anymore.

As in most cases, it is not the technology itself, but the misapplication of technology that has done the most damage.

Here is just a brief recap of some of the harm that ad tech has wrought:

- It has turned the public against us.
No sane person has ever gone looking for advertising. But until now the public has accepted advertising as fair exchange for free entertainment. Not any more. Over 400,000,000 people worldwide are now reportedly using ad blockers to escape from digital advertising.

- It has turned web advertising into crap. As Doc Searls has pointed out, advertising has two genotypes: the good stuff (brand and product advertising) and the horrible stuff (direct response, aka junk mail.) The web has evolved into a junk mail medium. Building a brand, the most important goal of marketing, has been sacrificed to the most measurable goal, generating a click.

- It has harmed advertisers. Without getting too deep into the esoteric nature of ad tech, here are a few ways advertisers are being screwed by ad tech:

    •    Advertisers have no idea if they are communicating with humans or bots.
    •    When utilizing programmatic (software driven) buying technology, over 50% of advertisers' dollars are not going to media, they are going to ad tech middlemen.
    •    As a result, over 70% of advertisers say they are dissatisfied with the current state of online advertising.  
- It has harmed publishers. Ad dollars are being pushed down to low quality sites and up to Google and Facebook.
    •    Down: Clueless media buyers and automated programs buy all kinds of worthless, fraud-laden crap enabled by ad tech to make their buys appear more efficient   to clients. 
    •    Up: When nothing's reliable, where do you take your money? To the big boys where you think your dollars are safe. Not everybody agrees they're safe there.

    •    The result is that most quality publishers are struggling to make a buck.
- It has harmed consumers. Here are a few of the ways ad tech is harming consumers:
    •    Tracking is seriously undermining the idea of privacy, one of the fundamental concepts of a democracy. 

    •    Tracking software can carry java scripts that deliver all kinds of malware to our computers and threaten the security of anything stored online with our info in it. You think your info is secure on line? Hackers just found 138 holes in Pentagon web security. Good luck with your Amazon account.

    •    Ad tech has created a nightmarish user experience in which constant interruption and  annoyance are the norm.
Those who were around at the dawn of "interactive" advertising probably remember the term "disintermediation." It was meant to describe how the web was going to make things simpler by allowing a seller and buyer to interact directly without the need for middlemen.

Ad tech has had exactly the opposite effect. It has suffused the buying and selling of ad space with complexity to an unimaginable degree. It has permeated the online ad ecosystem with misintermediation. It has placed literally hundreds of middlemen between buyers and sellers and made the whole process impossible to decipher. It has complicated the shit out of online advertising. It needs radical simplification.

Below is a chart from Luma Partners that illustrates some of the incomprehesible complexity of ad tech.

There is some good news. People who seem to know about this stuff are telling me that advertisers and publishers are starting to get fed up. There is movement toward a simpler, less noxious model of online advertising.

Of course there are some very fat fat cats who like it just the way it is, so it ain't gonna be easy to change.

There is no reason online advertising can't be more effective, more acceptable, more transparent, and more lucrative. But there's one big ugly thing standing in the way -- the stupid, wasteful, and totally unnecessary misuse of technology.

June 21, 2016

Wrong Problem, Wrong Solution

Yesterday in one of the great insights of the 21st century, a member of a Cannes panel on ad blocking had this to say...
"The root cause of digital ad blocking is digital ads.”
No shit?

Imagine the poor bastards who traveled 5,000 miles, are paying $1,200 a night for a room, and $25 a glass for putrid rosé who had to listen to this twaddle.

By the way, it wasn't some content strategy dipshit from Brooklyn who made this brilliant statement. It was the ceo of The New York Times.

No, you simply cannot make this up.

The panel in question consisted of the following: the above-mentioned ceo, the ceo of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (Inactive Advertising Bureau) and a content strategy dipshit, probably from Brooklyn. The panel was called, "Block You: Why World Class Creativity Will Obliterate Ad Blocking."

As you can see, the theme of the panel was how to overcome the problem of ad blocking.

Maybe I'm a little slow, but it seems to me that there are about 1,000 people on the planet to whom ad blocking is problem and about 7 billion to whom it's a solution.

As usual, the view from inside the beltway was completely ass-backwards. Their solutions went something like this:
1. The creative work needs to be "world class." These guys really need to get their heads out of their asses and take a look at what's going on online. World class? This crap isn't even gym class. Tracking has made the web a direct response medium and in direct response the creative work never gets better. Never.

2. The big bad ad blocking companies need to stop "profiteering." Likewise, not gonna happen. The culture of the web demands that anyone who can make a buck does so. Sure, some ad block entrepreneurs are shaking down marketers. Are we supposed to be shocked that there is sleaze in the online ad culture?

3. Collaboration. Everyone has to get together, hold hands, and put aside their self-interest in the furtherance of a good user experience. Yeah, any minute now.
There is only one solution to the problem. Tracking (stalking) must end. All the problems that the panelists discussed are merely consequences of the pernicious effect of tracking.

Take away tracking/stalking and to a substantial degree the problems evaporate.

Take away tracking/stalking and online advertising will become a minor annoyance like all other advertising instead of an intolerable, disreputable scourge.

Sadly, the online ad industry is willing to address everything but the problem.

June 20, 2016

Gang Of Six Have A Meeting

NEW YORK -- The six major advertising agency holding companies (known to marketers as the "Gang Of Six") held their first annual summer retreat this week in New York City.

The 2-day event, known as The Worldwide Racketeering Summit, was themed "Kickin' Back" and focused on the future of dodging responsibility and circumventing client contracts.

Chairman of the event Simon Ian-Derrick introduced a new logo for the organization which he said, "communicates our ongoing commitment to world peace or diversity or something."

Keynote Speaker, Derrick Ian-Simon, Chief Obfuscation Officer of WPeePee, got the proceedings off to a rollicking start with this introduction:
"Question: How is a rooster different from an agency holding company?
Answer: A rooster clucks defiance."
On the afternoon of Day One, Ian Simon-Derrick, Head of Worldwide Globularity for Omnivore, gave a talk entitled "Fuck 'Em" in which he reinforced the organization's belief that clients are "too fucking stupid to take their dicks out of a blender."

He encouraged members to stick by their guns when it comes to lying about kickbacks and other squalid money-scraping activities, "Our shareholders expect us to lie for them. It is a responsibility we must never take lightly."

Day Two featured a panel discussion lead by Halfass Chief Financial Launderer Jean-Pierre Vinordinaire on the subject of "Disruption And Re-invention And Some Of That Other Bullshit."

The panelists agreed that "new ways to screw advertisers will be important in the future as we evolve technologies to complicate the living shit out of everything."

Vinordinaire concluded the panel discussion by saying, "Just between us girls, what are these fuckwits gonna do? Take their media buying to Joey's Media Store in Buffalo? We got 'em by the profiteroles and they know it."

The evening's festivities ended with the attendees standing and singing "I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke" while ten global CMOs took the stage to be roughly sodomized by a blue-ribbon delegation of agency content strategists.

June 15, 2016

The Cons Of Silicon Valley

It was announced yesterday that Microsoft was buying LinkedIn.

According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the reason for the acquisition was this:
"We are in pursuit of a common mission centered on empowering people and organizations."

The reason for the acquisition was so they could intrude on 400 million peoples' LinkedIn posts and profiles, figure out what you're up to and help sell you shit whenever they detect something in your stream that might make someone some money.

But their high-minded explanation for the acquisition is a perfect example of the relentless hypocrisy that emanates from the mouths of Silicon Valley bullshit artists leaders (I know, Microsoft is in Washington, but you know what I mean.)

It beautifully illustrates the coupling of high minded yakking and unprincipled behavior that typifies their world.
They want to make the world a better place, they just don't want to pay their taxes.

They want to protect our privacy from the government, as long as they don't have to stop tracking us.

They want to save us from drudgery, as long as they can have third world children build their gadgets.

They don't want government intruding on their business, just as long as they can intrude on ours.

They love humanity, they just don't like people.
They want to save the planet, they just don't want to take the bus.
Every one of their intrusive instincts is wrapped in a shitshell of false virtue.

Every acquisitive act has the specious philosophical underpinning of righteousness.

It's not enough for these guys to make billions. They need to convince us that they're doing it for us.

It's all bullshit.

Don't lecture me about doing no evil, just pay your fucking taxes.

June 08, 2016

ANA Report A Disgrace. 4A's Response A Joke.

The ANA released its long-awaited report on “transparency” yesterday and it’s a piece of shit.

It's hard to imagine that there was ever a report on transparency that was less transparent.

It tarnishes everyone in general and no one in particular.

It reaches conclusions that were reached by anyone with a functioning brain years ago. Even dumbass bloggers.

The ANA interviewed about 150 people in and around the media/agency/client world and came up with conclusions you could have reached interviewing 3 puppy dogs and a salami sandwich.

Here’s what we learned:
  • Clients have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. The people who are supposed to know what’s going on (CMOs) are clueless buffoons. This is news? To whom?
  • Ad tech has been a disaster for clients and an amazing source of tainted money for agencies — “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Here at The Ad Contrarian worldwide headquarters we’ve only been talking about this for centuries.
  • Client purchasing/procurement departments are incompetent and are accomplishing the exact opposite of their intended effect. The more they’re trying to fuck agencies the more they’re getting fucked in return. Agency sharpies are running rings around these dimwits.
Here’s what the report failed to do:
  • Give us specific examples of who did what to whom. Without specifics, everyone’s a suspect and no one’s a crook.
  • Give us any idea what the comparative levels of corruption are in different media. They went out of their way a number of times to protect the online industry by stating that the dirty dealings are not limited to online. But it’s obvious from the language and the examples that the web is the muy grande cesspool of corruption.
  • Although the report is laden with the terms “digital” and “ad tech” they failed to make the obvious connection between the growth of sleazy media buying practices and the scourge of ad tech.
  • They claim that corruption is rampant and not just limited to holding companies, but fail to give us any idea of the relative balance. Once again, they went out of their way a number of times to protect the holding companies by stating that the sleaze is not limited to them. But it’s obvious from the language and the examples that holding companies are the sneakiest, sleaziest of the culprits.
  • They failed to correlate the growth of corruption to the rise of holding companies. From the report: “Five of the six major agency holding companies and their affiliated companies declined formal requests to make any of their current executives available to be interviewed.” What else do you need to know?
There is no one who has been more critical of agency buying practices over the years than I have. I called for an investigation years ago. In a post called "Time To Clean Out The Stables" I wrote
"Everything about online advertising is corrupt. The promises are corrupt. The data is corrupt. The suppliers are corrupt. And the buying and selling is corrupt. This industry is in desperate need of investigation."
But this "investigation" is pathetic. It doesn't name names. It doesn't follow the money. It doesn't provide any specifics. It just gives us "he said/she said," which is great ammo for guilty agencies to shoot back at the ANA.

It's worse than a whitewash. It’s a blackwash.

It taints everyone and accuses no one.

Then we have the 4A's reaction. The less said about this witless nonsense the better.

If you wanted to create an example of how guilty parties obfuscate and throw horseshit in your face, you couldn't have done a better job. It's a text book example of how to torture language to be unmistakably devious and unconvincing. They need a better agency.

Anyone who believes the 4A's response is anything other than a pathetic smokescreen is a moron.

What has to happen is that someone has to do a real investigation and name names and tear open the books. This will identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent.

If the 4A's were representing innocent parties, and had any sense, they would initiate a thorough investigation themselves. It would go a long way toward clearing their name and restoring their credibility.

The chances of that happening? The square root of diddly.

June 06, 2016

TV, Radio, Print: Here's A $Billion Idea For Free

Something we've talked about over the years on this blog is the surprising wimpishness of the traditional media as online advertising has kicked their ass all over the block.

Online is headed toward becoming the number one ad revenue producing medium in the next few years despite being a corrupt, ineffectual pile of shit.

And what are the traditional media doing to protect their turf? Whining and pitying themselves and watching their customers evaporate. They're pretty pathetic.

Why have they been too timid to fight back? Here's my guess.
1. They're living in a fantasy world in which they think their own online ad revenue is going to bail them out. This just ain't gonna happen.
2. They have online inventory to sell and they don't want to undermine the people they have on the street selling it. So they're jeopardizing 95% of their revenue to protect 5%.
3. They are afraid of being called "out of it." The one thing everyone in business is deathly afraid of is being perceived of as "out of it." It's a death sentence. And if you dare to tell the truth, and you don't genuflect, and you have the balls to criticize the divine gods of digital advertising, dude you just don't get it.
Perhaps worse than no balls, the traditional media also have no strategy. They sit back and watch impotently as online eats their lunch.

A couple of reports released last week give a very clear indication of what a successful strategy for them might look like. It revolves around ad blocking.

Ad blocking presents a very potent threat to online media. The more people block ads on their laptops and smart phones, the less attractive online eyeballs become and the more money will flow back to traditional media.

However, right now ad blocking is mostly just a rumor and a lot of media hype. Some facts:
The strategy for traditional media should be this. They should get together and do a big fat unbranded informational advertising campaign explaining to consumers how simple it is to rid their devices of annoying pop-ups, interstitials, page take-overs, tracking, and other obnoxious online contrivances.

They should do TV spots, radio spots, billboards, and full-page newspaper ads and include a web address for a simple one-click ad blocker download.

This would devastate the online ad industry. It would greatly expand awareness of ad blockers and drive up ad blocker usage enormously.

The chances of this happening? Zero.

Why? See 1, 2, and 3 above.

- Coming soon: The other side of the coin: How the online ad industry can protect their turf from potential disaster.

- Also, Episode 2 of "The Ad Contrarian Show" podcast is now live here. The subject: The ANA's investigation of the ad industry's media buying practices.

June 02, 2016

Mobile Ad Blocking Grew 90% In 2015. Maybe.

An article in The Verge earlier this week reported on a study by PageFair showing that usage of mobile ad blockers grew 90% last year. According to the article there are now over 400 million people worldwide using ad blockers on mobile devices.

Several months ago, PageFair put the number of users at about 200 million worldwide.

They claim that in 2015, online publishers lost over 20 billion dollars in revenue due to ad blocking.

We have no way to know how seriously to take these numbers, but I am officially skeptical.

PageFair's business is helping marketers get around ad blockers. They have a vested interest in a high incidence of blocker usage. I never trust the research of a company that has an interest in an outcome.

The good news for US online publishers is that according to PageFair only 2% of American mobile phone owners use ad blockers on their devices. Of course, like all online ad data this number is completely unreliable.

Just nine months ago, the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) reported that 34% of US adults were using ad blockers. Obviously, one is measuring "mobile phone users" and one is measuring "adults" so there is some room for variance, but nowhere near the difference between 2% and 34%. Someone's either very wrong or full of shit.

As is always the case in online ad-related numbers, games are being played and we are left to try to figure out what the hell is gong on.

For some very plain spoken but highly entertaining and informative comments on the numbers games played by the online ad industry, I highly recommend this talk by the great Prof. Mark Ritson.