October 09, 2017

When Data Is Dangerous


It has become an article of faith in the marketing business that the future of marketing is about data.
 "Data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change," says The Economist.
Scientific American says, "The digital revolution is in full swing...in 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind..."
The primacy of data in marketing has been beaten into us for the past 10 years. In fact, it has become such a platitude that we no longer even stop to think about what it means.

Data sounds very scientific, impersonal and hygienic. But it is not.

When marketers talk about data what they usually mean is personal private information about us that is collected, traded, sold and exploited without our knowledge or consent.

To marketers, data is not all numbers and algorithms. It is your sexual preferences, your religious beliefs or lack thereof, your banking details, your medical and psychological diagnoses, your work history and political preferences. It is thousands of facts about you that you never suspected anyone knew or collected.

It has the potential to be used in a myriad of dangerous ways by any incompetent, irresponsible organization that has the wherewithal to collect it or buy it.

Data is just a bland, emotionless word for some highly sensitive information. It makes the collection of personal private information about us seem to be an inoffensive remote branch of mathematics.

Next time some cliché-spewing marketing-droid  blithely repeats the mantra that the future of marketing is all about data, remember this -- data isn't neutral. Data, in the wrong hands, is dangerous.

And we have every reason to believe that the marketing industry is the wrong hands.


October 05, 2017

Yahoo: Incompetent, Irresponsible, And Dangerous


If you would like an example of how the online ad industry's insatiable lust for "data" - usually just a pleasanter term for personal private information about us - has defiled our society and undermined our right to privacy, look no further than Yahoo.

In my new book, BadMen, I tell the story of how in 2014 Yahoo demonstrated utter disregard for the privacy and security of its users.

Their security chief warned them that their platform was woefully insecure and easily hacked. He recommended a system of end-to-end encryption to protect their users.

The ceo and the board rejected his recommendation because implementing the proper security measures would mean they could no longer scan the emails and text messages of their users and use this information to create targeting opportunities for their advertising clients.

Soon thereafter, half a billion Yahoo accounts were hacked.

But that ain't nothing.

It was revealed yesterday that a year earlier, in 2013, every single Yahoo account -- 3 billion of them -- were hacked. Somehow Yahoo never bothered to fully investigate the extent of the hack.

Earlier, Yahoo had reported that the 2013 hack affected 1 billion accounts - which is bad enough. But an investigation by their new owners - Verizon - revealed that the hack was actually three times larger than Yahoo reported. And, in fact, was the biggest known hack in history.

If I ran the world, Yahoo's ceo and board would be fined $1 per hack and dragged off to jail. But, then again, if I ran the world Yahoo would have been put to sleep years ago.





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October 04, 2017

From Amazing To Appalling


It was all going to be so amazing. It all sounded so great. Advertising was going to be amazing.

People weren't going to just look at online ads, they were going to interact with them.

People were going to go online and “join the conversation” about our brands and start their own conversations. And these conversations would grow virally and it wouldn't cost us a penny.
"If you can harness social media marketing, you don’t have to pay for advertising any more,” said a partner in Sequoia Capital.
It sounded so amazing. And it's turned out to be so appalling.

The online advertising "ecosystem" is a complete disaster.
  • The ANA says corruption within the agency media buying community is "pervasive."
  • Viewability of online ads is reported to be below 50%.
  • Interactivity with online ads is now reported to be about 5 clicks per 10,000 ads. You can't get much closer to zero.
  • The public is so disgusted with online advertising that 600 million web-enabled devices are armed with ad blockers.
  • Facebook and Google are reaping 77% of all online ad dollars in the U.S. and have become an arrogant duopoly who refuse to abide by long established standards of measurement and auditing.
  • The three-headed monster of tracking, surveillance marketing, and ad tech are endangering consumer privacy and undermining important principles of a free society.
  • Quality online publishers are struggling for existence while the crappiest online sites - fed substantially by ad tech's data leakage - are stealing and monetizing their audiences.
  • Fake news, also fed by the scourge of ad tech, has undermined the public's confidence in our news media.
  • Foreign governments, encouraged by the online ad industry's irresponsible practices, have been caught trying to subvert the integrity of our electoral process.
If you set out to create an advertising medium that was a complete fiasco I'm not sure you could do much better.

September 27, 2017

Doomed: Why The Current Model Of Online Advertising Can't Survive


The current model of online advertising -- based on the 3-headed monster of tracking, surveillance marketing, and ad tech -- is unsustainable and will not survive.

The forces against it are building and will shake up the advertising and marketing industries. Here is why it is doomed:
  • It is too abusive of consumer rights and personal privacy.
As of today, most people are not aware of how effectively the online ad industry is using questionable technology (ad tech) to track their every move. They are not aware that they are the targets of constant and unrelenting surveillance by the advertising and marketing industries. But over time this will change. If nothing else, clever politicians will adopt this as a cause célèbre and, because it is a non-partisan issue (all sides of the political spectrum oppose erosion of privacy), it will resonate with the public.
Smart companies with Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives will get ahead of this wave and insist that their media partners and agencies not utilize ad networks and publishers who secretly track their customers. They will promote this to the public and unlike so many Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives that are tiresome clichés, it is one that will have traction.
  • It is too laden with fraud and corruption and too wasteful of advertising dollars.
Ad fraud is currently responsible for many billions of dollars of criminal theft. The WFA (World Federation of Advertisers) says that within 8 years ad fraud may become the second largest source of criminal revenue in the world, after drug trafficking. While naive marketers are being told that ad fraud is being controlled, knowledgeable insiders say it is metastasizing.

A large component of ad fraud is enabled by ad tech and programmatic buying. Every credible study I've seen demonstrates that programmatic ad buys (those powered by tracking and ad tech) are far more encumbered by traffic fraud and click fraud.  
Sooner or later CFOs and CEOs will come to realize how much money they have lost to online ad fraud and will demand that asleep-at-the-wheel CMOs get off their asses and insist on a better model.
  • You can't fool all of the people all of the time.
The online ad industry has had a 10-year free ride in which its preposterous assertions and absurd metrics have been swallowed whole by a naive and enchanted advertising industry. Those days are coming to an end.
Although ad agencies are supposed to be protectors and defenders of their clients' media dollars their venal malpractice in promoting and defending the corrupt and fraudulent practices of the online ad industry have been a disgrace. However, grown-ups on the client side are starting to ask the right questions and demand sensible answers.
All the powerful forces (Google, Facebook, Amazon, the 4As, the ANA, the IAB) are currently aligned in favor of tracking. But sooner or later someone with integrity will conclusively demonstrate to advertisers how insanely convoluted and immensely wasteful the current ad tech model is. They will show advertisers how little value they are getting for their ad tech dollar. 
  • It is too dangerous to democratic societies
We were taught to fear totalitarian governments. We feared they would know everything about us, follow us everywhere, track our every move, and keep secret files about us which could be used to influence our lives in ways that were only vaguely visible to us.
We are well on our way to such a nightmare. Except it isn't our government that knows everything about us, follows us everywhere, tracks our every move, and keeps secret files about us. It is the marketing industry.
“Today in the United States we have somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every individual... So we model the personality of every adult across the United States, some 230 million people.”
-Alexander Nix (Chief Executive, Cambridge Analytica), October 2016.
In May the GDPR regulations and perhaps the ePrivacy Regulation will go into effect in Europe. This will make it much more difficult for online advertisers and media entities to collect personal private information about people without their prior consent.

I expect this will create a period of chaos in Europe until the regulators figure out what is working and what isn't and adjust the regulations accordingly. But in the long run it will set a precedent for balancing the privacy rights of individuals against the power of online media and marketers.

It may take a while to raise the consciousness of people here in the US about the dangers of the 3-headed monster, but ultimately it will.

Like a stock market melt down, it's easy to say it's coming, but it's impossible to say when. It could be five months or five years. One thing I'm certain of, however, the current idiotic, wasteful, and corrupt model is doomed.

In Other News...
BadMen is now available as an ebook here for just $2.99.

September 25, 2017

Battle Of The Century


Get ready for what could be the PR, lobbying, and regulatory battle of the century as the Goobook (Google and Facebook) duopoly start to realize what the new regulations of the EU (European Union) may mean to their businesses.

In May, a new regulation, called the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will go into effect. More importantly, something called the ePrivacy Regulation may also go into effect. These regulations will seriously limit the collection of personal information by online entities. In fact, they may cripple substantial parts of their businesses.

Right now, Goobook are essentially in the surveillance business - a business that yields tens of billions of dollars in revenue annually. By tracking us across the web, collecting information about us, and monetizing that information by selling it as targeting data to advertisers, Goobook have essentially taken over the online advertising industry, reaping 77% of online ad revenue in the US.

But things are going to change. Many commentators have suggested that the new EU rules will not materially effect Google and Facebook. Not so says an opinion from a law firm hired by Digital Content Next (DCN) to analyze the likely effect of the ePrivacy Regulation on the duopoly (the doo-wops?)

I have had a look at the opinion and it is startling.

Below are quotes from the legal opinion as well as quotes from the SVP for Government Affairs at DCN.
"... much of the... data on which Facebook and Google currently sit could lose its value because it could not be used for online behavioral or targeted advertising purposes..."
"...Google and Facebook’s ability to collect and use consumer data will be dramatically curbed. They would be restricted from targeting advertising based on data from electronic communications services such as WhatsApp, Gmail and Messenger unless they receive consent from all parties involved in the communication. As currently drafted, Facebook would likely be prohibited from using data transmitted from the clicking of a “like” button for the purpose of targeting advertisements."
"...Google and Facebook would be required to get separate consent from consumers before attempting to collect and use browsing history or “personal” data...What’s more – companies would not be allowed to bundle consent for multiple purposes nor require consent as a condition for using a service."
"...companies that collect and use data at smaller scale (such as solely on their owned and operated domains) are likely to be less impacted by this Regulation. These companies will be significantly less challenged in getting the required consent for their limited purposes. As a result, companies that create trusted, premium digital experiences, enjoy direct relationships with consumers and do not rely on tracking consumers at such a large scale may find new leverage and opportunities in the marketplace." 
"...the ePrivacy Regulation could conceivably prohibit any data transmissions by Facebook or Google between connected IoT (Internet of Things - BH) devices."
"...no matter what happens, it is highly likely Facebook and Google will need to make major changes to their online behavioral and targeted advertising practices in order to comply with forthcoming EU privacy laws and regulations."
One thing to keep in mind is that the ePrivacy Regulation is currently in draft form, the final language has not been approved, and the regulation has not yet been adopted.

As I said in BadMen
"The key thing to remember is that most of the major players in online advertising have a big stake in surveillance marketing. They will fight like hell to protect tracking."
I expect that in the next six months we will see a battle royal. Google and Facebook will use every trick in the book to try to influence European regulators to take the teeth out of the ePrivacy Regulation. Get ready for an avalanche of horseshit about it being anti-democratic, anti-American, anti-free speech (it's already started) and every other spurious argument they and their advertising industry apologists can pull out of their asses.

When confronted with the unprecedented power and influence of Goobook, we will discover if the European regulators really have balls or if they're just grandstanding.

Meanwhile advertisers, who are already in shock over the fraud, corruption, waste, and non-transparency in online advertising, and have flocked to Google and Facebook as presumed "safe havens," are going to get another shotgun blast to face. They've been living in a fantasyland and it will soon start crumbling.

This is gonna be the best show in town.

September 21, 2017

Apple Right, Ad Industry Wrong


This piece from the Type A Group Newsletter was very popular this week. I am reprinting it here today.

As usual, the tin-eared aristocrats of the ad industry are on the wrong side of an important issue.

Apple is planning to release a new version of its Safari browser with new cookie-blocking technology, called "Intelligent Tracking Prevention."  It will put strict limits on the ability of websites and advertisers to track us across the web.

According to digital expert Don Marti it looks like Safari has built a set of features that will help protect us from the kind of tracking we don't like, while not screwing up features we like such as single sign-in to favorite sites (my words, not his.)

Apple has said  
“...users feel that trust is broken when they are being tracked and privacy-sensitive data about their web activity is acquired for purposes that they never agreed to.”
Damn right. I even know a guy who wrote a book about that.

Of course, all the major advertising trade bodies are soiling their shorts at the thought of not being able to spy on us everywhere and know everything we do online. They are not satisfied that people are so disgusted with online ad practices that 600 million web enabled devices are now armed with ad blockers.

Listen to this horseshit from a consortium of ad trade groups including the 4A's, ANA, and IAB:
“Apple’s unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love...Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful."
What planet do these imbeciles live on? Do they really believe anyone is going to buy that crap?

Here is a study published last year that reports that of 13 different forms of advertising studied, the top 8 most disliked were all forms of online advertising.



Furthermore the argument that Safari's "Intelligent Tracking Prevention" is "...bad for consumer choice..." is laughable. Any idiot who prefers to be followed around the web by assorted squids and slugs is perfectly welcome to download dozens of free web browsers that are more than happy to spy on everything we do.

Every impartial study I've ever seen says the same thing: Online advertising is the most disliked and most distrusted form of advertising. One of the primary drivers of this situation is tracking.

When are the "leaders" of our industry going to get their heads out of their asses and realize how they are destroying the integrity of web advertising by not supporting initiatives like Apple's that are trying to establish responsible guidelines for online advertising?

September 19, 2017

Why Online Advertising Needs To Be Regulated


Last week I did a video interview with Australian ad site Mumbrella. Here is an excerpt from that interview that discusses the issues raised in my new book BadMen: How Advertising Went From A Minor Annoyance To A Major Menace. 

To watch it, click here.



September 18, 2017

The Pritchard Problem


Marc Pritchard -- chief brand officer at the world's largest advertiser, P&G -- has done the advertising industry a great service over the past 15 months.

He is the first grown-up to acknowledge head-on the awfulness of online advertising as it is currently being practiced. Of course, some of us less-than-grown-ups have been writing about it for years, but very little attention is paid to the chirping of people without a $2.4 billion ad budget.

Pritchard has spoken unambiguously about the problems of a murky and often corrupt system of buying and selling online advertising; the scourge of ad fraud; the problem of viewability; the opaque financial dealings of agencies; the issue of brand safety; the head-spinning number of third-party toll takers standing between advertisers and publishers; and the arbitrary and unreliable methods used for measuring ad delivery. He has done an admirable job and deserves praise.

If you're an astute reader you probably feel a "but" coming, and here it comes.

But as far as I can determine Mr. Pritchard has neglected to say a word about the single factor that enables most of these issues - tracking.

Essentially, there is only one thing that differentiates online advertising from all other forms -- and makes it both susceptible to the types of appalling mischief we've experienced and dangerous to a free society -- the relentless tracking of every one of us online.

Advertising used to be about imparting information. Online advertising has become equally about collecting information.

In a recent article, Marketing Week says "Pritchard believes that next generation will be mass one-to-one marketing. That is the promise digital has always held, but so far it has failed to live up to it."

We know what 'mass one-to-one marketing' means, don't we? It means more surveillance marketing, more tracking, more despicable "ad tech."

If Mr. Pritchard really wants to do something valuable -- not just for our industry, but for society -- he will put his influence behind this issue.

September 07, 2017

Will Facebook Ever Stop Bullshitting?


You'd think by now Facebook would have learned.

For years anyone with a brain has known that Facebook "metrics" are a joke. They make shit up, imbeciles at agencies believe it, dimwit clients fund it, and - bingo - more ad money. Most famously, not long ago they inflated video viewing time on their site by as much as 80%.

Recently in my newsletter, I recounted this story...
Facebook Discovers 300,000 Invisible Swedes

Facebook "metrics" have a long illustrious history of being laughable bullshit. Anyone who believes their numbers is an idiot. Here's a lovely example.

According to a recently published report, Facebook says they reach 1.5 million Swedes between the ages of 15 and 24. The  problem here is that Sweden only has 1.2 million of 'em. If Facebook reached 100% of them, they'd still be 300,000 short. Sometimes I think Facebook's calculations are done by bloggers. 
But today we have something even more delicious.

According to Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group, one of the industry's most respected media analysts, Facebook is at it again.

Facebook's Ads Manager says that the website is capable of reaching 41 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 24. The problem is there are only 31 million Americans of that age. But hey, what's 10 million people here or there?


You have to admire Facebook for their ability to reach 10 million imaginary 18-24 year olds. But as well as they do against imaginary 18-24 year olds, where they really excel is against non-existent 25-34 year olds. They reach 60 million of them. Unfortunately, there are only 45 million alive.

So it looks like, if your media target is the highly coveted imaginary American between the ages of 18-34, Facebook is the medium for you.

We always knew that Facebook was an amazing company, but their ability to reach non-existent people sets a new standard for the online ad industry -- which has always prided itself in imaginary advertising accomplishments.

Perhaps the only area in which Facebook can exceed its amazing use of metrics is its amazing use of language. When they were asked to explain the bullshit they were peddling, they had this to say about their numbers...
"They are designed to estimate how many people in a given area are eligible to see an ad a business might run. They are not designed to match population or census estimates."
Oh.

September 05, 2017

Gunfight At The Ad Tech Saloon


Reprinted from Sunday's Newsletter

My new book has just been released. It's called: BADMEN: How Advertising Went From A Minor Annoyance To A Major Menace.

Maybe it's just me, but I think surveillance marketing, the collection and selling of personal information, online tracking, and ad tech are existential dangers to free societies.

I think the monopolistic powers of some tech giants have gotten way out of control.

I think the idea that "the consumer is in charge" is the stupidest, most naive bullshit we've been fed since some dimwit decided that people wanted to "join the conversation" about their frozen fish sticks.

The book is about all these things.

 It is also about how ad agency holding companies have turned into lapdogs for the corrupt and unsavory online ad industry and have, in the process, squandered their credibility.

Oh, and it's also about fraud, terrorism, hacking, fake news, kickbacks and everything else that makes the online ad business such a golden ray of sunshine. Best of all, it's under a hundred pages and under 6 bucks. If you're looking for advice on...

   - Where to find the best cheesecake in Pyongyang
   - President Trump’s surprising secret for longer lashes
   - What to do if Gary Vaynerchuk calls your sister

... I'm afraid this ain't it.

But if you want to get pissed off about how we're being screwed blind by creeps, squids, and slugs, this just might be your ticket. So, here's what to do...

1. Go here now
2. Click "Add to cart"
3. Read the book
4. Go to Amazon and write a glowing review
5. Send a copy of the book to all your clients, friends, and dumb-ass colleagues who have bought into the online ad industry's horseshit
6. Fix yourself a martini
7. Fix yourself another martini

UPDATE:
BadMen was selected by Amazon as #1 "Hot New Prospect" in advertising and also #1 "New Release" in advertising. On its first day it got to be the #5 best seller in advertising. Thanks, people.

 A few questions I've been getting:

1. Yes, it will be released in ebook format in a few weeks. But it's ok to buy the paper version. Amazon needs the money.
2. Yes, it will be available in the UK. Apparently it takes a few days for US titles to get fully integrated into the UK system, but they assure me it will available by the end of the week.
3. Same in European countries.

 

August 29, 2017

Doing Stephen Hawking's Light Work


I know you're worried about KPIs and journeys and data-driven everything and dashboards but, honestly, there are bigger things to worry about.

Stephen Hawking says Earth is about over and we're going to need to leave here within a hundred years and find a new planet. And he's even smarter than a blogger.

So I thought it would be good to start a conversation about the kind of place we want. This way when we send out the interplanetary real estate agents to look for a new home they don't come back with some piece of shit planet for us.

Here are the things I think we should be looking for in a new planet:

   - Plenty of free parking

   - TVs that automatically turn off when you start snoring

   - Lots of pretty flowers

   - Super-hot nymphos who dig old bald guys

   - Coffee shops with good cinnamon twists, not the crap they sell at Starbucks

   - Dogs that don't shit

   - And while we're at it, babies that don't shit

   - And while we're at it, guys in front of you on the bathroom line at restaurants who don't shit

   - Free beer on Wednesdays

   - Invisible flying millennials

   - Public transit without the public

   - Bottomless martini glasses

   - Lots of amazing banner ads. Only kidding

   - Floors that give off a deadly electric shock when someone misses the urinal

   - Mandatory mid-day naps

   - Cars that drive themselves...oh, wait a minute...

   - Reverse digestion.The more lasagna you eat, the thinner you get

And this would be our planetary anthem...


That's my kinda planet. No charge, Stevie.

(h/t Malcolm Gordon)

August 22, 2017

Can Facebook Make Old Cool?


Say what you want about Facebook, they have proven to be amazing salespeople.
  • When they started out they convinced gullible marketers that advertising was dying and that social media, in the form of conversations, was the future. Mark Zuckerberg said... “For the last 100 years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation.                                                                                                                                                                       That is, until he discovered he could make billions pushing out advertising to people all over his platform and then Facebook quickly morphed into another channel for delivering traditional paid advertising. Doing a complete 180, a Facebook spokesperson had this to say “… if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and always has been, paid advertising.” Oh.
  • For several years they sold imbeciles in the marketing industry the fairytale that "likes" were worth something. 
  • When every discount dentist was advertising on Facebook, they convinced marketers that the key to advertising success was getting clicks through "precision targeting." But when big advertisers balked, they changed their tune and decided advertising was all about that tired old thing, reach and frequency.
The point is, if there's anyone who knows how to blind the marketing industry with horseshit, it's Facebook. But now, they may actually be in a position to do the marketing world some good despite the industry's unwillingness to help itself.

According to Bloomberg, Facebook will lose over 3% of its teen audience next year  -- the first year in its history it has lost any part of any audience. A few more years of this and Facebook may be forced to do the unthinkable -- start selling its clients on the value of an older target.

People over 50 are the most valuable consumer group in the history of marketing. But the television and radio industries, who have plenty of over-50's, have been totally incompetent at explaining to advertisers the incredible amount of money they are losing by ignoring this group.

The one and only media entity with the brains and skill to sell advertisers on the value of advertising to a mature target may very well be Facebook.

If so, it would be the second time Facebook stole billions of dollars in ad revenue from the asleep-at-the-wheel broadcast industry.

August 17, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse Insider Summit


Monday in North America we will be experiencing a total eclipse of the sun.

A total eclipse occurs when God turns out the lights for few minutes because he has to do scheduled  maintenance.

It is further proof (as if any were needed) that everything revolves around the earth. Otherwise how could airplanes get anywhere? Answer me that, Mr. Smart Guy!

A total eclipse is different from a total ellipse.

A total ellipse is a curve that is the locus of all points in the plane the sum of whose distances r_1 and r_2 from two fixed points F_1 and F_2 (the foci) separated by a distance of 2c is a given positive constant 2a.  This results in the two-center bipolar coordinate equation r_1 + r_2 = 2a, where "a" is the semimajor axis and the origin of the coordinate system is at one of the foci. The corresponding parameter "b" is known as the semiminor axis.

But let's not dwell on the obvious.

The question for marketers is how will they leverage the eclipse to create experiential brand purpose that will authentically resonate with consumers to contextualize the millennial target's relevant alignment with your ecosystem? Either that or something about engagement or blockchains.

Here's why you don't want to miss the Total Solar Eclipse Insider Summit:
  • Learn best practices, case studies, and newest tactics which can all be applied to your eclipsifying strategies.
  • Understand emerging models of true one-to-one, highly personal, addressable and real-time eclipsification.
  • Craft Identity Graphs and translate them into people-based eclipse shit.
  • Use everything from  dynamic content tools and embedded multimedia to AI and cross channel data to serve what is relevant or at least edible.
  • Plus all kinds of horseshit about conversations! 
So, don't be left in the dark (get it?) The Total Solar Eclipse Insider Summit is the one must-attend marketing event of the year. There won't be another total solar eclipse for another billion years or something.

And there won't be another Total Solar Eclipse Insider Summit until February.


August 16, 2017

Report: Over 40% Of Mobile Ad Impressions Fraudulent


First the disclaimers: I'm not a researcher, I'm a copywriter.

When I print research results I try to use only 3rd party sources I trust. There are often no perfectly dispassionate sources and you have to use some discretion. But unlike idiot agencies, you shouldn't rely on Facebook to tell you what Facebook's metrics are.

Nevertheless, all research is modeling and interpretation so you always have to look at the source, the methodology and the credentials of the researchers before you take it too seriously.

Having said that, a report issued last week by Marketing Science is pretty astounding. It claims that overall, 43% of mobile ad impressions they studied were fraudulent.

This remarkable result is based on a study of 1 billion ad impressions from nearly 1,000 mobile apps.

Marketing Science is the consulting company of Dr. Augustine Fou, whose credentials are pretty impressive. Here's a summary of what they found. Click to enlarge.

Second, here's a summary of a study conducted by Dr. Fou on viewability. The bottom line is that he found only 41% of ads were viewable on open exchanges vs 91% for "good publishers" -- another ugly blemish for ad tech and programmatic buying.







August 08, 2017

Proof I'm An Idiot


Before we get to today's indisputable proof that I am a complete idiot we have a long way to go, so stay focused.

First we start with Oath. As you may know, Oath is the new name of Yahoo's parent company. Yahoo's parent company used to be called Yahoo, but when Yahoo sold off everything it owned that was worth anything the remaining dregs were branded "Oath."

Only marketing people could come up with a name as alarmingly dumb, but we'll save that for another day.

Oath now owns Yahoo, AOL, and a bunch of other rotting media carcasses.

Working at Oath is a guy named David Shing. Shing is known as "Shingy" in certain circles. Shingy's title at Oath is "Digital Prophet" the same modest title he held at AOL for many years.

I love Shingy. He is so monumentally full of shit that he makes bozos like me seem sensible in comparison. He also has amazing balls. Not just the little dimpled Titleist kind of balls, but big inflatable multi-colored beach ball kind of balls. Anyone who can get up in front of audiences and get away with the incomprehensible horseshit he spouts is my kinda guy.

Plus he has the greatest  hair-do on the planet. Somewhere Between Jackie Kennedy and Phyllis Diller.

With that as background, I was reading a piece in The Drum a few days ago that was sent to me by the great Claudia Caplan. It had me very confused. It was an article entitled  "‘Brand love must be core to the DNA of the brand’: Oath launches new video series exploring emotional connections"

 The article stated that the video series was a group of "in-depth conversations" by Shingy with  "industry prodigies" to "explore the nuanced aspects of what drives brand love..."

As you can imagine, within seconds I was strenuously exercising my gag reflex. Just for starters...

- Are there 2 companies anywhere in the world that have destroyed their brands more thoroughly than Yahoo and AOL? In what bizarre universe do they have the balls to lecture anyone on "brand love?"

- Is there a more profitless prophet anywhere on the planet than the fabulous Shingy? What have his brilliant futuristic insights done that have created a nickel's worth of value for AOL?

But what really blew me away was the fawning, gee-whiz nature of the article.
  • Shingy was referred to as a "digital prophet" without a hint of irony, as if he really was one.
  • It posed the question, "what can brands do to make their customers fall in love with them?" as if "brand love" was a recognized fact instead of a steaming pile of marketing droppings.
  • It promoted the participants in this festival of horseshit as "some of the most respected and interesting minds in media, marketing, and entertainment" who were offering "one-of-a-kind insights and rare perspectives on how brands can make that crucial emotional connection with the consumer."
I read the article three times in utter disbelief. It claimed Shingy "represents a nexus of brand and individual, thinker and marketer, and analog and digital, making him the perfect choice to lead this conversation."

What kind of journalism is this?

What the fuck is going on here? I asked myself.

And then I saw it. Greyed out, near the name of the so-called "reporter", were the words "Sponsored by: Oath." The whole thing was a fucking ad masquerading as journalism.

You'd think a cynical old fox like me wouldn't be fooled by the despicable, corrupt games the online media are playing. But I was.

Is it any wonder that nobody trusts a fucking word they read from online "news" sites.

Except, of course, from bloggers.



August 02, 2017

Marketers And Millennials


Earlier this week, The Drum had a piece by Samuel Scott about marketing and millennials.  As an add-on to the piece, Scott interviewed me about my thoughts on the subject. The following is a reprint of that interview.

Samuel Scott: One rule in marketing is to 'hook ​ them while they're young', so marketers have usually devoted some of their budgets to that. After all, no one would want to purchase luxury cars in middle age unless they had seen ads for those cars their entire lives. How useful has this approach been in general over the decades? Has the usefulness of this practice changed in recent years?

Bob Hoffman: It depends on the category. People buy luxury cars in middle age that didn’t even exist when they were young (Tesla). But some products (Coke) are bought not because we saw an ad yesterday, but because of the ads we’ve seen for 20 (or 30 or 40) years. For the most part, advertising now because you think somebody’s going to buy your product in 20 years is stupid. We see that all the time in the car industry.

​Scott: A frequent comment about millennials is that they are still broke at worst or underemployed at best following factors including the 2008 financial crisis. How valuable of a demographic segment are they today? But even if they have less money today, will they not have more money tomorrow? What is the problem with brand advertisers targeting them with long-term goals in mind?

Hoffman: There’s nothing wrong with targeting millennials when appropriate. The problem isn’t targeting. The problem is obsession.

Scott: ​Of course, 'millennials' may be a demographic segment but they may not be a useful marketing segment. Why are there so many news articles and marketing essays today that focus on what millennials want as though they have a single identity and set of characteristics?

Hoffman: There is just as much diversity within generations as there is between generations. The idiotic idea that all millennials are this or all baby boomers are that is just the stupid lazy thinking that makes most of marketing a joke. Remember, marketing consultants and researchers have to make a living. So every few years they have to come up with new 'generational' bullshit to sell to jackasses in marketing departments and ad agencies.

Scott: Most news articles out there portray millennials in a negative light. They are supposedly narcissistic, selfie-absorbed snowflakes who are lazy and want trophies for everything. I don't believe that. But why does everyone have those negative perceptions?

Hoffman: You can always find a component of any population that is lazy, self-absorbed and narcissistic. Nothing new here. But because culture and technology change, the manifestations of laziness, self-absorption and narcissism change. Consequently there is always something that seems new to write about. It’s horseshit, but it’s good copy.

​Scott: ​ Many marketers believe in segmentation. But is there not a case for some B2C products and platforms with millions of users such as Snapchat or Coca-Cola targeting a broad demographic group such as millennials?

Hoffman: Sure. At different age stages we use different types of products.

Scott: From what I have read, baby boomers have all the money and are projected to live a very long time. So, why do you think that marketers ignore them?

Hoffman: I could write a text book on this subject. In short, marketers ignore mature people because we hate them. All the 'reasons' for ignoring older people are bullshit. Ignoring mature people and obsessing over millennials is just narcissism disguised as strategy. It is marketing by selfie-stick.

Scott: Can you cite any examples of brands losing sales or market share by focusing on millennials?

Hoffman: Scion targeted millennials, although at the time people over 35 bought 88% of 'youth vehicles'. It succeeded in becoming the car brand with the youngest owner population — and it went out of business.

Scott: What do you recommend brands do in the future in terms of generational targeting?

Hoffman: I recommend they ignore the ignorant, lazy thinking of generational cliches. Stop trying to hold a mirror up to your target and saying “we’re just like you”. Advertising should be about the desirability of your product, not your superficial assumptions about who I am.

Scott: What do you wish digital-focused millennials would know about traditional marketing and advertising?

Hoffman: I wish they knew how much they don’t know.

Scott: Lastly, I myself straddle the border between Generation X and the millennials. Generation X has always gotten lost in the debate. What do you think of us?

Hoffman: I think you’re all lazy, self-absorbed and narcissistic.

                                                                                 ***

In other news...
I have a new website which you are welcome to visit here.
The Australian Financial Review did a nice story on my misgivings about online advertising here.

July 17, 2017

Brand Preference Vs Brand Love


Today's post first appeared in my newsletter this week.

There is only one essential job for marketing - to acquire customers.
Everything else marketing does is a footnote. This is why the current obsession with social media is largely misguided.
People are far more likely to use social media to follow a brand they currently use than a brand they don't. It is very reasonable to assume that the vast majority of people following your brand on social media are already customers. And usually they are a tiny component of your user base - well under 1/10 of one percent.
Consequently, most of the money you spend on social media is spent talking to a tiny group of people who are probably already using your brand.
Every hour and dollar spent talking to these people is a dollar and hour not spent on acquiring new customers.
The justification for this is usually some fuzzy nonsense about "brand love." It comes from that infantile school of marketing that believes if you shower people with social media or "content" - whatever the hell that means -- they will fall in love with your brand.
Here is a recent chart from McKinsey. Frankly, I can't vouch for the methodology or the conclusions, but even if it's only half-true it demonstrates pretty convincingly the daunting limitations of "brand love."
 There is obviously nothing wrong with trying to communicate with some of your customers through social media and trying to build a nice relationship. It's a matter of perspective. It is reasonable to devote a small component of a marketing budget toward that. If you do it well, your objective should be modest -- to maintain or motivate brand preference.
However, spending a lot to chase the chimera of brand love is usually a wasteful and largely empty exercise. The idea that social media creates brand love is a fantasy. A recent article published in the Harvard Business Review reported that...
“Across 16 studies, we found no evidence that following a brand on social media changes people’s purchasing behavior."
I'm sorry to tell you this, but most people just don't care that much about your paper towels. And if some do, and they follow you on social media, it's not likely to change their buying habits.
Unfortunately, we have been lead to accept a very seductive philosophy based on the fantasy of brand love. It is founded on the expensive, wasteful delusion that people want to have "conversations" with brands, read and share "content" about brands, co-create with brands, and several other flavors of childish nonsense (for a great read on this subject, particularly for creatives, I suggest "Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t" by Steven Pressfield.)
Our brands are critically important to us marketers but in the vast majority of cases not very important at all to most consumers.
Instead of spending a lot of money trying to convince a small number of people to love your brand, your money would be much more wisely spent trying to convince a lot of people to like it.
I'll be taking some time off from the blog for vacation and to finish up my new book. See you in a few weeks.

July 12, 2017

Why All Advertising Philosophies Are Wrong


As a former ceo of a few ad agencies I think I know something about how agencies work.

One of the core principles of the agency business is to develop a philosophy about the advertising process that differentiates you from your competitors. Then you give it a name -- you "brand" it -- and you speak to your clients and prospects in the language of this brand credo.

There's nothing evil about this. I did it when I ran an agency, and almost every agency does it.

The only problem is that it is inevitably wrong. The reason it is wrong is that advertising success is about likelihoods and probabilities, not certainties. But there is no agency in the world that is brave enough to say out loud that their philosophy is contingent and uncertain.

For brand marketers, there are no straight lines in advertising. You cannot assume that if you do this, that will happen. The best you can do is infer likelihoods.

I believe in the power of probability (by the way, I wrote a curious and highly unpopular little pamphlet about this called Quantum Advertising.)

I am often asked to speak at conferences and I sit there and listen to speakers talk with great certainty about how whatever it is they happen to be selling is the root of great brand success. I don't buy it.

If you tell me that advertising success is all about emotion, I'll show you a hundred campaigns that were successful with no emotional factors. If you tell me that advertising success is all about logic, I'll show you a hundred successful campaigns that were completely logic-free.

You want to claim that all advertising success is based on strategy? I'll show you a hundred successes with no discernible strategy. You want to claim it's always about creativity? I'll show you a hundred successes my dog could have written.

What does skepticism about fixed advertising philosophies - and belief in the power of probability - mean in the real world? It means...
  • The more people who see your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
  • The more people who remember your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
  • The more people who like your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
  • The more people who have an emotional reaction to your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
  • The more people who agree with the logic of your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
These may seem like platitudes, but it is remarkable how many marketers waste money creating messages that are directed only at their fans, are immediately forgettable, are crass and unlikable, are emotion-free, and cliché-ridden.

Does this mean that advertising that is pervasive, memorable, likable, emotional and/or logical is guaranteed to be successful? No. It just means it's more likely to be successful. And that's all you get in advertising.

If you want to be a simpleton who believes in certainties, get into politics.

July 10, 2017

A Day In The Life Of A Blogger


4:50 AM - Wife’s Alarm Goes Off
First decision of the day: Divorce or hit man?

5:15 AM - Roscoe The Dog Starts Barking
Second decision of the day: What to throw at him? Shoe or iPad?

7:00 AM - Wake Up, Get Out Of Bed, Drag A Comb Across My Head
Oops. No hair. Drag a wash cloth across my head

7:30 AM - Meet My Breakfast Boys At Coffee Shop
Discussion: Ailments, Medications, Basketball, Trump

8:15 AM - Return Home

Read nasty emails from people who hate me


8:30 AM - At Home Office
Write nasty emails to people who hate me

9:00 AM - Decide Not To Do Much Today
It’s a great habit to develop

9:30 AM - Check Bank Account To See If Nigerian Prince Has Deposited The $22 Million
Not yet.

10:00 AM - Rummage Through Old Unpublished Blog Posts To See If There’s Anything I Can Use For Tomorrow
Not a fucking chance

10:15 AM - Start Writing Blog Post For Tomorrow
Realize I've written this same post 20 times before

10:20 AM - Decide I Need To Think A Little Before Writing Blog Post
Maybe checking Facebook will help. (Or porn sites!)

10:30 AM - Receive Invitation To Speak At “The Real-Time Customer Journey Optimization Insider Summit”
Third decision of the day: Slit wrists or jump off building?

11:00 AM - Go For Swim
With every stroke, wish it was over.

12:00 PM - Buy A Tunafish Sandwich
Fourth decision of the day: Chocolate milk or apple juice?

1:00 PM - Check To See If There’s A Baseball Game On Television
No. Need a different excuse for not writing blog post

1:05 PM - Get An Email From Former Colleague Telling Me How Much He Hates His Agency
Feel ashamed but nevertheless bask in my Schadenfreude

1:30 PM - Check “To Do” List To Make Sure I Haven’t Done Anything
Clean bill of health

2:00 PM - Cancel Meeting I’m Supposed To Be At Tomorrow
Hasn’t today been exhausting enough?

2:30 PM - Start Panicking About All The Shit I Haven’t Done
Decide to review the status of my projects

2:40 PM - Review Novel I’m Supposed To Be Working On
Get depressed because it sucks

2:50 PM - Review Book About Ad Tech I’m Supposed To Be Working On
Get depressed because it sucks

3:00 PM - Review Speech I’m Giving Next Week In London
Get depressed because it sucks

3:30 PM - Try To Get United Airlines On Phone
What was I thinking?

4:00 PM - Check Email
Why do all these people want to join my LinkedIn network? Didn’t even know I had a LinkedIn network. Who knew there were so many award-winners, storytellers, founders, co-founders, advisors, analysts, professionals, globals, passionates, worldwides, innovators, data-drivens, strategists, authentics, experts, coaches, transformers, disruptors, leads, champions, builders, advocates, ambassadors, pioneers, architects, lifelongs, change agents, believers, motivators and ideators?

4:15 - Get Sucked In By Click Bait About Pop Star I Never Heard Of
You won't believe what she looks like now!

4:30 PM - Find A Baseball Game On TV

This is better

7:30 PM - Find Another Baseball Game On TV And Eat Something Garlicky
This is even better

10:30 PM - Go To Bed
This is even betterer

3:00 AM -  Wake Up And Write The Fucking Blog Post
Get depressed because it sucks

July 05, 2017

10th Anniversary Edition


This week marks the 10th anniversary of The Ad Contrarian blog.

I can't think of a more interesting time to have been writing about the ad industry. I've had a few favorite story lines -- marketers' detachment from reality; brand babble; the devaluation of creativity; the unhealthy consolidation of the agency industry; the foolish disregard for the most valuable consumer group in history.

But the biggest ad story of this decade is undoubtedly the story of online advertising. It has gone from infancy to pimply-faced adolescence in the last decade. And like all adolescents it is annoying, stupid, and stinky.

One can't help but marvel at how our industry was presented with such an extraordinary opportunity and has managed to fuck it up it so thoroughly.

The marketing industry has hijacked the web. It has become a relentless 24-hour marketing machine. Online advertising has been an integral factor in many of today's most dispiriting realities -- the degradation of journalism, fake news, industry corruption and fraud.

In the past ten years online advertising has gone from a minor annoyance to major menace (this is the subject of a book I'm working on.) It is not simply a pesky nuisance; through the twin agencies of tracking and ad tech it has become a danger to democratic societies.

It's been a fascinating decade -- but frankly hard to watch for someone who has derived substantial pleasure and prosperity from advertising.

I don't believe much in legacies, especially in an industry that doesn't even bother to bury its dead. But if I did, I'd hope that this blog would be seen as contributing to the story of how an industry went so far off the rails so quickly.

What a stroke of luck to have been inadvertently chronicling the whole thing. I know it's unseemly to derive amusement from the decline of an industry, but I have to admit I've had a blast for ten years.

Despite the foolishness of our aristocratic "leaders," there are many wonderful people in advertising and I've been fortunate to get to know many of them. This blog has allowed me to become friends, even if just 'virtually,' with great people all over the world.

It has also permitted me to share some of my immoderate views with tens of thousands of others. No matter how wantonly we have endeavored to screwed it up, the web really is a remarkable connection device.

It is not hyperbole to say that some of the people I like best in the world I've met as a result of this blog.

Thanks for reading this thing. I hope it has been of value to you -- if not illuminating, at least thought-provoking.




June 27, 2017

Who's Gonna Guard Marcel?


Publicis ceo Arthur Sadoun made big headlines last week with his announcement that he's taking the $20 million they piss away at Cannes every year and sinking it into an artificial intelligence gimmick called Marcel.

The goal of this AI system is to connect all 80,000 of Publicis' employees for the purpose of universal access to information and collaboration. You can learn about it on this video cliché-fest.

According to Chip Register, co-CEO of Publicis.Sapient...
"In a group of 80,000 people ... how can we assemble that team and allow that team to work and collaborate virtually to bring the best ideas and values we can to a client at a moment's notice?...The use of technology enables great creative work. It enables the connectivity of people... It enables teams to work and it enables ideas to generate, be shared globally and virtually, through the use of better insight in culture and the journey of human beings."
Let's forget the "human journey" horseshit for a minute and talk about the practical use of Marcel.

We know that digital security is a cruel joke. We know that hackers have gotten into White House systems, CIA systems, and just about any system they want to hack.

What I want to know is, how is Publicis going to protect the ideas and information accessible through Marcel from every hacker and every rival agency and marketing entity on the planet?

But let's give Publicis the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that they have better cyber security than the White House. How about the internal issues?

Let's say Publicis is pitching Coca-Cola or General Motors or Unilever or any large global brand. Do they really expect us to believe that they are going to put essential brand strategy, creative work, and media ideas into a system that can be accessed by 80,000 people all over the globe?

Do they really want to tempt some intern or junior planner with Marcel access to sell critical information to a rival agency?

If they're not going to put essential information into the Marcel system, what use is it? How can it enable "ideas to generate, be shared globally and virtually" if they're not, um, shared globally and virtually?

And how about their current clients? Do they really think their clients are going to want proprietary information they give to Publicis to be within reach of 80,000 employees, any one of whom may skip to a rival agency or rival brand tomorrow?

But if they don't put proprietary info into the system, how can they possibly "assemble that team and allow that team to work and collaborate virtually to bring the best ideas and values we can to a client at a moment's notice?"

No company in its right mind puts sensitive, critical, or proprietary information into an email. The same will be true of Marcel.

One of the key attributes clients expect from an agency is mature and discrete handling of confidential information. Not an 80,000 person circle jerk.

When the dual imperatives of protecting confidential information and providing essential security dawn on Publicis, they will discover that Marcel is destined to become not much more than a massively expensive and technologically elegant next gen version of a conference call.

Update:
In an amazing timing coincidence, I posted this last night and WPP got hit with a crippling hack attack this morning.

June 22, 2017

Apple Treats The Disease. Google Treats The Symptoms.


Apple and Google both know there's a big problem. The problem is that online advertising is a shit show of unprecedented proportions.

In recent days, both Apple and Google have announced initiatives to deal with the problem. Google's solution is timid. Apple's solution is much better.

First let's define the problem. Essentially everyone who uses the web is fully fed-up with the horrifying state of online advertising. It is beyond annoying, beyond stupid, and beyond insufferable.

People have always viewed advertising as a minor annoyance. But online advertising and the imbeciles who create and propagate it are so far removed from reality that human beings are in revolt. Over 600 million web-enabled devices are currently running ad blockers.

The hidden hand behind the horror of online advertising is tracking. Tracking, and the collection of personal information, is in large part responsible for many of the worst aspects of online ads. Let's put aside for a moment the damage that tracking is doing to privacy, security, democracy, and journalism and just talk about two simple reasons why Apple's solution is much better than Google's.

- The personal data that is amassed by tracking has turned the web into a non-stop direct response ad machine. Direct response advertising (whether of the "junk mail", "800 number", or "click here" variety) has always been the ugliest and most annoying type of advertising. It is usually enabled by data bases.

- Tracking enables marketers to creepily follow us around the web and pester us everywhere we go with whatever ads their idiotic algorithms tell them we're interested in and would be delighted to see. Yes, they actually believe this horseshit.

Google's Chrome browser (the world's most popular with over 50% market share) will in the near future be loaded with a partial ad blocker that will block what Google considers the most annoying type of ads.

Google's ad blocker has been developed with a group called the CBA (Coalition for Better Ads). This is a bunch of advertisers, publishers, online media, and agencies whose stated objective is to force better online advertising. But whose hidden agenda is probably to protect tracking and surveillance marketing.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation has this to say about Google's plan...
“…While we welcome the willingness to tackle annoying ads, the CBA's criteria do not address a key reason many of us install ad blockers: to protect ourselves against the non-consensual tracking and surveillance that permeates the advertising ecosystem operated by the members of the CBA.”
I agree with the EFF. Any effort to fix the awfulness of online advertising is laudable, even if it ain't perfect and even if it is somewhat cynical.

But Apple's idea is much better. Apple's Safari browser will soon employ "Intelligent Tracking Prevention." This will keep marketers from tracking us across sites. Don Marti sums up the benefit of Safari's solution succinctly:

  • Nifty machine learning technology is coming in on the user’s side.
  • “Legitimate” uses do not include cross-site tracking.
  • Safari’s protection is automatic and client-side, so no blocklist politics.
The key difference in the way Apple and Google approach the problem can be found in the nature of the companies. Apple makes very little money from online advertising and has a self-interest in protecting their users' experiences.

Google, on the other hand, makes virtually all of its money from advertising and has a self-interest in protecting tracking and surveillance marketing. The key thing to remember is that most of the major players in online advertising have a big stake in surveillance marketing. They will fight like hell to protect tracking.

Google have proven to be geniuses at subtle misdirection. Their whole search engine business is founded on the idea of misdirection -- create a paid search result that seems to a consumer to be close enough to a natural search result to be believable. This is the essence of their business.

It is not surprising that Google's "Better Ads" solution would look like it's treating the disease while actually only treating symptoms.

Always keep in mind that Google, Facebook, the IAB, the ANA, and the 4A's will always fight to retain tracking. Why? They are now in the surveillance business. Their business is collecting, selling, and exploiting the details of our personal lives and our personal behavior.


June 13, 2017

Advertising And The Old-Guy Syndrome


The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in basketball for the past 3 years.

Two years ago they won the NBA championship. Last year they had the best win-loss record in the history of the league but lost the championship in the final game (their best player, Steph Curry, had 3 injuries; their center, Andrew Bogut, was hurt and not able to play; and their heartbeat, Draymond Green, was suspended for a critical game.) This year they had the best record in the league and last night they won the Championship again.

As a result, there are people who are proclaiming them one of the best basketball teams of all time.

But there are also a bunch of old players from years back -- some of them great, some of them mediocre -- who are mouthing-off saying their teams could have beaten the Warriors. They claim the Warriors are not really that good because the league is weaker, or the players aren't as talented, or the game isn't as competitive as it was in the old days.

This is a familiar refrain among old athletes. They always think that players or teams were better "back in the day" and that today's players don't match up. Of course, it's all nonsense. But it doesn't stop the old guys from blowing hot air.

Recently the coach of the Warriors, Steve Kerr, who was on 5 championship teams himself when he was a player, was asked to comment on the assertions of the old guy critics. His sardonic take down was brilliant.
"They're all right. They would all kill us. The game gets worse as time goes on. Players are less talented than they used to be. The guys in the '50s would've destroyed everybody. It's weird how human evolution goes reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I don't know. I can't explain it."
Mr. Kerr's ridicule of the "old-guy syndrome" is easily supported empirically. Take a look at the results of Olympic Games over the years -- where the performances are quantified -- and it's clear that athletes have better training, better nutrition, and better technique as time goes on. The result is that with regularity old records are broken and new records are set. It's obvious that each Olympics contains some athletes who are the best ever at their sport.

Here’s where advertising comes in. Unlike sports, it's hard to make a quantifiable case that creativity increases with time. You'd have to be a remarkably good debater to convince sensible people that Warhol was a better artist than da Vinci. Or that Taylor Swift is more musically gifted than Gershwin.

In creative matters, it's usually more judicious to assume an evolution in tastes than an arrow of progress.

In the ad business we have our own "old-guy syndrome." Many believe that "back in the day" (when they were in the ad business) it was a "golden age." As an old guy myself, I don't have much patience for "golden age" baloney. I believe that creative people today are just as talented as ever.

And yet, it is widely believed that advertising itself isn't as creative as it once was. I do a lot of traveling around the world and I hear this all the time.

It doesn't seem to be just the whining of old advertising guys (by the way, I'm not being sexist here. It's almost always the guys who do the whining and for a long time the ad business was overwhelmingly a boys' club.) It seems to be a widely held belief by non-advertising people, too. So what's going on?

I have a few theories about this. First let's start with the positive stuff.

For one thing, the technology of creativity today is stunning. Special effects we take for granted in spots today would have been astounding 15 years ago

Next, delivery systems are amazing. "TV everywhere" delivered mainly through connected digital devices have made the web way more interesting and has given web-delivered materials far more avenues for creativity.

The same is true of "printed materials." Digital technology has made out-of-home media a lot more noticeable and impactful.

But while the technological aspects of advertising today can be stunning, is technology really what we're talking about when we talk about advertising creativity, or is it ideas? I think there's little doubt that it's the latter.

So why should it be that with so many new media types, so much technological brilliance and so many talented creative people, we're producing advertising that is widely believed to be inferior to past eras?

I have a few hypotheses. First is the ubiquity of online display advertising. It is not just the most annoying type of advertising we see, it is also the most inescapable. It leaves the false impression that advertising as a whole is relentlessly unimaginative.

Next is the nature of contemporary ad agencies. I guess there is no inexorable relationship between the size of agencies and the absence of quality. On the other hand, we have Jay Chiat who famously said, "We want to see how big we can get before we get bad."

Holding company culture, as it currently exists, might prove Jay right. I think there are a lot of creative people who are not comfortable sitting at what Rich Siegel calls "the long table of mediocrity." As a result, they are taking their talents to other industries.

Next is short-termism. Dashboards that show us instantaneous results are very addictive. But the kind of advertising that produces instantaneous results -- the direct response type -- has never been the kind of advertising people think of as creative. In fact, it has traditionally been thought of as among the least creative varieties.

The stature of highly talented creative people has been diminished. Sir Martin Sorrell is reported to have said the medium is more important than the message.

Lastly, we have created a litany of false advertising goals with horrifyingly clichéd and fuzzy definitions like "engagement, conversations, journeys, and storytelling." Highly creative people are skeptical of dreadful parameters like these and are resistant to working within them. While agency leaders can easily find plenty of compliant creatives to buy into this nonsense, it is probable that many of our most talented are not happy with this oppressively vapid terrain.

This could go two ways. First, and most likely, the big guys win. The focus on the false goals will continue and over time many of our best creatives will slowly ride off into the sunset.

The other possibility is that good creative people will take to the streets and try to explain to the brand masters that the true leverage in the advertising business resides in the power of exceptional ideas. It remains to be seen which way the agency business goes.

The problem is, while it would be comforting and convenient to attribute widespread dissatisfaction about the state of advertising to "old-guy syndrome," it may be a little more serious than that.

And Speaking Of Old Guys...
...last week Jack Trout died. Trout invented the concept of "positioning" which has become a basic principle of marketing. Several years ago I had the pleasure of spending a pleasant afternoon with Jack at his home in Connecticut. He was a gracious host and displayed none of the ego one sometimes encounters from people who have been so influential in our business.  RIP, Jack Trout.

And Speaking Of Ego...
...you have to marvel at the stunning self-regard that allows this guy to modestly put himself in the same bucket as Mark Zuckerberg and Mark Cuban.

June 06, 2017

Technology, Progress, And Irresponsible Stupidity


The world does not move in straight lines. We expect things to go one way, but they unexpectedly go another.

In 2000, when the Prius was introduced, most commentators saw a big future for hybrid vehicles.

In 2009, a study by JPMorgan confidently asserted "20% of all vehicles sold in U.S. to be hybrids by 2020."

In 2010, Consumer Reports said "39 percent are considering buying a hybrid or plug-in for their next car."

And yet, as of April 2016, hybrid cars represented less than 2% of car sales in the US. Their share of market has dropped by 50% since 2013. A car dealer I know told me "we can't give 'em away."

If you think the reason for this is the popularity of electric vehicles, think again. Electric vehicles represent less than 1% of car sales in the US.

In the early 1990's the Soviet Union collapsed. We thought "liberal democracy" had become triumphant and would be the model for world governance. Today "liberal democracy" is facing challenges we never imagined.

The point is this. We rarely know what we think we know.

Technologically we are very quickly entering terra incognita. The technological breakthroughs of the past two decades have been pretty mind-blowing. But the upcoming era of artificial intelligence and machine learning will make them seem timid.

Technology is neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It all depends on how we use it. Nuclear energy was an amazing technological achievement, but nuclear weapons are nothing but a danger. As Stephen Fry brilliantly points out in this piece, Gutenberg's printing press - a technological marvel of its day -  could produce Macbeth. But it could also produce Mein Kampf.

So far, our ability to manage advertising and marketing technology has not been encouraging. I'm referring, of course, to ad tech and tracking. While technology makes the tracking of individuals possible, the absence of reasonable managing principles for this technology has created nightmares for consumers over their security and privacy.

I recently took part in a debate about this issue. My partner and I were opposed to the use of tracking-based ad tech.

One of the positions our opponents in the debate took was that if we opposed ad tech we were standing in the way of progress. This was a clever but profoundly misguided argument.

Technology is not synonymous with progress. Our ability to manage technology wisely determines if technology is progress or not. Even a cursory knowledge of history teaches that we are at least as capable of turning technology to the bad as to the good.

The idea that all types of technology constitute "progress" is dangerously shallow. The idea that opposing malevolent uses of technology impedes "progress" is irresponsibly stupid.

May 30, 2017

Ad Blocking Is Not The Best Answer


Here in the War Room at The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters, we are uncomfortable with the idea of ad blockers. As unrepentant ad people, we don't like the idea. And yet, we use ad blockers.

According to PageFair there are now over 600 million connected devices in the world sporting ad blockers. In the US, it is estimated that about 25% of desktop computers are now using ad blockers.

And according to published reports, Google is thinking about adding an ad blocking option to its Chrome browser, which is the most used browser in the world.

For now, the most popular defense against obnoxious online advertising is ad blocking. But ad blocking is a blunt instrument that has the potential to do serious damage to aspects of the web that we all enjoy.

Like it or not, advertising funds just about everything on the web we like. Without advertising, no YouTube, no Facebook...

You'd be stuck with nothing but The Ad Contrarian.

It would be nice to believe that people would be willing to pay for things they enjoy online but most experiments in “paywall” web publishing have been a failure.

So the question becomes, how can we encourage an acceptable version of online advertising that will allow us to enjoy the things we like about the web without the insufferable annoyance of the current online ad model?

The answer is not that complicated. The invisible hand that powers just about everything we hate about online advertising is tracking. Get rid of tracking and online advertising would instantly become a lot less horrible.

There is no reason why online advertising can't be bought and sold on a similar basis to offline advertising -- instead of on the current tracking/ad tech model.

Online advertisers would then not be able to stalk us every where we went on the web; fake news would be less likely to draw "programmatically" delivered advertising money; quality publishers would have a better chance at survival; the economic incentive for click bait would diminish, and a great many other undesirable aspects of web world would be greatly minimized.

We could enjoy what we like about the web without having to resort to the heavy hand of ad blockers.

Along those lines...
... I participated a few weeks ago in a debate about ad tech at the World Federation of Advertisers conference in Toronto. You can see my opening argument here.




May 23, 2017

Global Brand Equals Global Bland


If you wonder why so many big brands are obsessed with media, the answer is simple. It's the only thing they have left to argue about.

Their determination to demonstrate "globularity" has had an unintended consequence -- the trivialization of strategy and creativity.

Globularity leads marketers to bland, non-specific strategies and bland, non-specific advertising.

It's really quite simple. The grander the "brand purpose," the less specific the strategy. The less specific the strategy, the blander the advertising.

My favorite example of the power of specificity was Apple's introduction of the iPod. They didn't give it the vanilla, global "World Class MP3 Player" treatment. They said "1,000 Songs In Your Pocket." They were specific. They talked about the virtues of the product, not woolly melodramatic horseshit

My direction to the creative teams who worked for me was always the same - be specific. Today the objective is to ignore the specific and "ladder up" the benefit.

In the idiotic world of "laddering-up," every piece of chewing gum, every vacuum cleaner bag, and every can of sugar water is purported to "make life better and the world a better place."

Specificity has died because it's too sales-y. It doesn't have sufficient virtue or globularity.

It seems that every big brand is instituting its own flavor of the same strategy:
"We're inclusive and committed. Our products are for every type of person in the whole darn global world and our awesome universal values prove it."
Why has the ad industry given up on specificity in favor of globularity? First, it flatters the self-absorbed client. She loves to hear wearisome bullshit about how her yogurt is changing the world.

Second, it's so much easier. By insisting on the default strategy of universality - including every type of person and every cultural stereotype - they find themselves creating not the best possible advertising but the least objectionable advertising. And selling the least objectionable advertising to their corporate overseers is a much easier task.

Another consequence of this fuzzy thinking is that it leads marketers to focus on silly fantasies like "millennialism" -- huge swaths of people who are presumed to have a uniform "global" identity.

Then, instead of doing the hard work of differentiating the product, they just hold up a mirror and try to tell us who we are and how they are just like us.

This type of spineless, watery exercise in tedious whacking-off usually leaves very little of a strategic or creative nature to argue over. Just show every kind of person engaged in every kind of virtuous activity. And the result is that the conversation quickly turns to something everyone can have a fine old time arguing about - media choices.

It's no wonder "global" brands are obsessed with media. It's the only thing left to them. When it comes to strategy or creative, the only issue is which key to sing "We Are The World" in.