February 27, 2017

Harvard Flunks Social Media

The most recent issue of the Harvard Business Review has an article called, god help us, "What’s The Value Of A Like?"

It's about a study that four professors and associate professors did on how "liking" a brand on Facebook affects behavior.

This article seems at least 3 years out of date since I think it's now pretty clear even to unreconstructed social media maniacs that "likes" have no value.

Apparently the article was spawned by a horseshit study done by comScore and Facebook...
"...A recent influential study by comScore and Facebook found that compared with the general population, people who liked Starbucks’s Facebook page or who had a Facebook friend who liked the page spent 8% more and transacted 11% more frequently over the course of a month."
The Harvard Business Review article correctly pointed out the flaw in this nonsense...
"...that study and others like it contain a fatal logical flaw: those who already have positive feelings toward a brand are more likely to follow it in the first place, and that’s why they spend more than nonfollowers."
Or as I wrote seven years ago...
"People not trained in research or logic often have trouble understanding the difference between correlation and causality...  it is clear that a Facebook fan is worth more than an average user. But it is not clear that this has anything to do with being a Facebook fan. It may just be that Facebook fans are typical brand loyalists and that all brand loyalists are more valuable, whether they are Facebook fans or not."
Without getting too deep into the HBR article, it reaches some not-very-surprising conclusions, and one spurious one. First the obvious ones:
  • "The results were clear: Social media doesn’t work the way many marketers think it does. The mere act of endorsing a brand does not affect a customer’s behavior or lead to increased purchasing, nor does it spur purchasing by friends."
  • ."..it would stand to reason that a social media user who endorses a brand on Facebook would be more likely to buy it. Yet that’s not what we found. Across 16 studies, we found no evidence that following a brand on social media changes people’s purchasing behavior."
  • "...liking a brand on Facebook had no enhancing effect on the purchasing habits of friends.
  • "...merely liking a page did not change behavior."
We've only been saying this for about 100 years.

Then the professors go off the rails...
"The good news is that there is a way to convert likes into meaningful behavior, and it’s straight out of the 20th-century marketing playbook: advertising."
This is tricky because they're right about advertising, but wrong about the "convert(ing) likes into meaningful behavior" crap.

Here's what they did. They took a group of people and invited half of them to like a certain brand on Facebook. Then they studied the behavior of the "liking" group and compared it to the control group that wasn't invited to like the brand.

What did they find? "...we found no difference in behavior."

So far, so good.

Then they fed ads to the "liking" group. What did they find? This group reported 8% more of the desired behavior.

Their conclusion: "...our research suggests that marketing on social media will be ineffective if it uses only pull tactics. The modern social media marketing playbook should combine new and traditional approaches."

Bullshit. That's a lot of jargon-y claptrap to mask what the the study really demonstrated  -- that advertising was effective at changing behavior and "likes" weren't.

There was only one variable that created effectiveness - advertising.

All the "combine new and traditional approaches" and "modern social media marketing" hogwash is just obfuscation designed to soften the real results of their study -- that the value of a "like" was zero and the only variable they could find that made a difference was advertising.

Sadly, there was another flaw in the study that renders it useless. They didn't actually find any behavioral change. All they found was reported behavioral change.

In other words, it was self-reported baloney. And it was the lowest form of self-reported baloney -- the online kind. There isn't a reputable institution in the world who would accept this horseshit as valid science.

The only place that self-reported nonsense is acceptable as factual and publishable is in the silly world of marketing. Oh, yeah...and apparently, Harvard.

February 23, 2017

Audi, Women, Virtue, And Bullshit

There is an annoying new imperative in the ad business that seems to have had a big moment recently at the Super Bowl.

It's the compulsion of brands to rub our noses in their virtue.

Now, believe me, I have nothing but the highest regard for people, institutions, and companies that do good work. But I have nothing but contempt for brands that hook their "brand purpose" to trendy causes and then do the opposite. You listening Audi?

Don't pitch me your high-minded Super Bowl bullshit about what to "tell my daughter" when you have zero women on your management Board. I know what to tell my daughter. It's to stay away from bullshit artists like you.

Corporations that tie their supposed virtue to trendy causes are annoying. Those that do it and then practice the opposite are trash.

Doing what's right is not an after-school project, it's your responsibility. So do what's right and then shut up about it. 

When I give money to charities, causes, or people in need I don't put up billboards. I don't want kudos for my noble principles. I just want to be able to sleep at night.

Do you, as a company, have certain values? That's great. Support them with money and actions but, please, leave me out of your self-regard. Do it because it's the right thing to do, not to impress me with your nobility.

Virtue-hustling is just one example of the old school psycho-babble trope of "laddering-up" of  consumer benefits. Often to the point at which they have no relationship to the product at hand.

It goes something like this: Shin-E-Flor makes your floors shinier, which makes your house nicer, which makes your family happier, which makes life better, which makes your dreams come true. Ergo, Shin-E-Flor makes your dreams come true.

It is very easy to talk yourself into this nonsense, and usually a really bad idea.

When I was a creative director I would often get synchronized eye-rolls from my staff when I insisted that the two most important words in advertising are "be specific." They all wanted to make ads about how our new vacuum cleaner nozzle made life better. I wanted to make ads about how it picked up more dirt.

My predilection for specificity was reinforced this week. Although I'm a little out of practice writing ads, I still have to write headlines for my blog and my newsletter that will make people want to read further.

I wrote the following headline for a blog post I did earlier this week - "Messaging Versus Signaling." It described what the post was about succinctly and accurately. But as I was writing the blog I wrote the following line of copy, "This is why Tiffany doesn't run infomercials" and I knew I had the making of a better headline. It was nicely specific, and it became one of the most-read posts of the year on the blog.

I was also fretting over a headline for my email newsletter (which, btw, you can subscribe to here.) The headline also acts as the subject line in the email. I wanted to re-purpose an old blog post called "Why I Lied," but I didn't want to use the same headline.

I played around with other headlines that were more "laddered-up" like "Why Are Agencies Afraid Of The Truth?" But in the end I decided to stick with the old headline as it was more direct, and more specific. The average email marketing newsletter has an open rate of about 11%. This one had an open rate of almost 60%.

The bottom line on all this is that we shouldn't get too puffed up, too self-important, and start believing in grand themes for all our communication.

As I once told the misguided owner of a chain of donut shops who wanted to do a campaign about their management philosophy... "no one needs more philosophy, they need good donuts."

February 21, 2017

Why Tiffany Doesn't Make Infomercials

We advertising people often spend months trying to develop the correct messages for our brands. We do consumer research, we create strategy documents, we write briefs, we develop many rounds of creative material, we test and refine these materials, and then we launch them.

It is not hyperbole to say that we are obsessive about "messaging."

However, there are some very smart people who think that there is an equally important aspect to advertising success that we pay almost no attention to. It's called "signaling."

This is well-known in academic circles, but let me try to explain it in idiot blogger terms (if you want to read what grown-ups say about it, check out Don Marti, Rory Sutherland, and Doc Searls.)

I walk into a room. I announce that I am the handsomest man in the world. I have just "said" one thing, but communicated another. What I have communicated is that I am a big jerk.

My message was undermined by what I signaled.

This is one of the most important arguments against tracking-based, data-driven advertising.

Data-based advertising is nothing new. We've had it for decades. It first arrived as "junk mail", oops, I mean direct response marketing. It later morphed into 800 numbers and junk faxes and infomercials. Display advertising of the "click here" variety is just its latest, most technologically advanced incarnation.

Consumers recognize this type of communication as advertising's lowest level of quality. They may not understand why, but they recognize the form.

I am not trying to denigrate direct response. It is clearly effective at certain types of selling. But is hopeless at building major brands.

I cannot think of one major brand of anything in any major consumer product category that has been built by direct response advertising (beer? soda? soap? fast food? shampoo? snack foods? clothing? paper goods? pain relievers? toothpaste? cars?... okay, I'll stop.)

One of the reasons is signaling. The knowledge that an ad was personally targeted at us, that it includes mechanisms of direct response, and that it appears in a certain type of (sorry DR people) cheap and cheesy media, signals to the consumer that it is not a high quality brand.

This is why Tiffany doesn't run infomercials.

The value proposition of display advertising is re-targeting -- that we will find the most valuable target for a product at the least expensive site. In other words, we will find the most luxurious eyeballs in shittiest possible location.

This is essentially the promise of tracking, adtech and re-targeting.

And this is where signaling kills you. Most people are pretty good behavioral economists. They may not know anything about how the products they buy work, but they know how to read the advertising signals.

According to an article I read recently, the average Western household has about 10,000 items. People can't possibly take the time or energy to learn how every product they buy is made or the variables behind its efficacy. So they take what they can understand about the product as a proxy. And one of the variables they use as a proxy is advertising signal.

Their subconscious logic (is that an oxymoron?) goes something like this: A quality brand has a reputation built over years and worth billions. As a result, they have sufficient resources to advertise in proper places and with a set of skills that is unavailable to less successful, less reliable companies.

They know how and where quality brands advertise and what advertising for quality brands feels like. And they also know where shitty brands advertise.

When your re-targeted ad appears on a crappy website among the ads for divorce lawyers and discount dentists -- as it unquestionably will -- are you building a brand or sabotaging one?

You may be saying that you are the handsomest man in the world, but you may be signaling that you are a big jerk.

February 16, 2017

Interpreting Research Bullshit

We poor oppressed advertising and marketing people are daily fed many flavors of bullshit.

One of the least understood is research bullshit. Research, because it sports the veneer of science, is generally not subjected to the same degree of scrutiny as, say, media bullshit or creative bullshit.

But, make no mistake, research bullshit is just as pervasive in our sorrowful world.

Here at the headquarters of Ad Contrarian Labs, we like to feature some nice research bullshit every now and then just to stay on our toes and keep our readers on the lookout.

Yesterday I was reading a piece in the Research Brief From The Center For Media Research. Now, I have no idea where the Center For Media Research is, but based on the logo at the top of the page, I have a feeling it's a laptop in the basement of the MediaPost office.

Anyway, the story in question was a little convoluted so I'm not going to recap the whole thing (if you want to read it you can find it here.) But I want to highlight a couple of "facts" found in the article. The study in question, done by a company called Kibo, reported that...
  • "94% of consumers do research online before visiting a store"
  • "92% of consumers reported interactive content influences them to make a purchase"
Now these are very impressive numbers. They give the impression that people hardly buy anything before researching it online, and are amazingly influenced by interactive content. But as is so often the case with sneaky online data, it means nothing of the sort.

The problem here is not that the numbers are wrong, it's that they are grossly, and perhaps intentionally, misleading.

Here's how this baloney works.

It's hard to tell from the article what period of time this study encompasses, but it seems to be six months. Let's assume that.

So if you went online once in September to check the price of motor oil at Costco, you are one of the 94% of consumers who "do research online before visiting a store." You may have shopped for thousands of items in the months before and after and never gone online to do "research before visiting a store" but if you did it once, you are one of the 94%.

Similarly, if you happened to once come across a tweet that said you could save $1 on a pizza you ordered, then "interactive content" influenced you to make a purchase. You are among the 92%.

This is the same type of deceptive horseshit that a few years ago lead to the absurd "fact" that "60% of shoppers use QR codes." Yeah, right.

What's obvious here is that if the researchers wanted to do a serious analysis on the impact of "online research" on shopping, and the influence of "interactive content" on purchasing behavior, they would have reported on the frequency of each behavior, which is much more relevant, not the reach. But I doubt it would have made for very clickable "facts."

I mean, what kind of story would you have if the facts turned out be...
  • 6% of items are researched online before they are bought
  • 2% of purchases are influenced by interactive content

February 13, 2017

Adtech's Massive Failure

There are days here at the West Coast Regional Campus of The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Global Headquarters that we just sit around and scratch our heads.

We think about how online advertisers are being penetrated in every possible orifice and we wonder why in the world they don't do something about it?

See if you agree with our logic.

Adtech has proven to be an utter disaster. Unless you are Google, Facebook, or WPP, adtech is a monstrosity that is stealing your money, harming your business, threatening your security, and alienating your customers.
  • If you're an advertiser, adtech middlemen are scraping 60-70% of your media dollars (WFA and The Guardian)
  • P&G says that "precision targeting," the great value proposition of adtech is actually harmful to their marketing efforts.
  • Adtech helps fraudsters steal...who knows?... anywhere from 2% to 90% of your media budget.
  • 90% of you are planning to review your programmatic contracts this year to get more transparency. Adtech is the mortal enemy of transparency.
  • If you're a quality online publisher, adtech is stealing money from you by following your valuable audience to the crappiest website they can be found on, and serving them ads there instead of on your site. 
  • If you're an advertiser, this means adtech is essentially following your customer to the bathroom in the basement of the luxury mall and trying to sell her your necklaces there (h/t Tom Goodwin.)
  • If you're an online publisher, adtech sees to it that you are constantly struggling to monetize your content while the duopoly (Google and Facebook) that create no content reap 72% of all online ad revenue outside China (Pivotal Research Group.)
  • If you are a consumer, adtech's relentless tracking and intrusive unremitting ad serving cause massive dissatisfaction with your user experience, and allow for all kinds of nasty prying and criminal activity in your personal and financial life.
  • Which is why 600 million devices (PageFair) are now reported to be loaded with ad blockers, constituting the largest boycott of anything in human history (h/t Doc Searls.)
Getting rid of adtech cannot immediately solve all problems. But it can be an enormous step toward  making online advertising significantly more effective, less corrupt, more secure, more respectable, and less despised by consumers, advertisers and publishers.

Bob Liodice, CEO of the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) recently said "marketers have to take their industry back."  I couldn't agree more.

So, Ms Advertiser, talk to me. Why don't you insist on a simple transparent buying process in which your agency buys directly from online publishers?

You'll know exactly where your advertising is going to run. Exactly whom you're buying from. Exactly what you're paying, and exactly what you're getting.

In what universe is the corrupt, incomprehensible, wasteful and dangerous world of adtech better than that?

My Favorite Tweet Of The Year


"Jaguar Land Rover has suspended all its digital advertising in the UK following last week's investigation by The Times which named the company among brands which unwittingly funded terror groups...The company said it was "very concerned" and that the online ads were an "unintended consequence of algorithm technology" used on some sites." Campaign Magazine 2/13/07

February 07, 2017

Facebook Bullshit Keeps Exploding

As agencies and marketers continue to throw good money after bad on online ad fantasies, the depth of their gullibility continues to amaze.

Yesterday the leading Australian advertising publication, Mumbrella, published a shocking article about Nielsen's re-calibration of Facebook video streaming numbers in Australia.

If you remember, a few months ago advertisers discovered that Facebook had been overstating its video streaming numbers by 60% to 80% for a period of two years.

According to Nielsen, in Australia the overstatement was much larger than that -- an astonishing 94%.

After Nielsen threw away Facebook's horseshit numbers and recalculated based on true data, they found that the value for Australian video streaming on Facebook dropped by 94% over the course of a month. Here's what the numbers looked like before and after Facebook's bullshit was re-calculated.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that all the data we are given about online advertising eventually turn out to be lies and nonsense, marketers and agencies just can't seem to get it through their skulls that they're being screwed blind.

Facebook and Google have become notorious for not allowing third party examination of their famously unreliable numbers, and do marketers care? They invite these creeps to join their fucking marketing departments and draw up advertising plans!

You have to laugh to keep from crying.

When I launched this blog almost 10 years ago and started questioning what we were getting from the online ad industry I was way out on a limb. Not any more. This is getting too easy. And too depressing.