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.