December 27, 2017
Best of 2017 #8: The World's Most Expensive Clown Show
2017 will go down as the year the world woke up to the sleaze of the online ad industry. In May, I wrote this piece ridiculing the absurd play-acting of marketers and agencies pretending to be shocked at the squalid nature of the beast.
This week The Worldwide Bullshit Insider Summit is being held here at the Ketel One Conference Center on the campus of The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters.
The question being hotly debated is this: Who’s more full of shit? The marketing honchos who are pretending they just discovered there’s no transparency in online media, or the agency hustlers who are pretending they’re shocked that ads running in the bowels of the web are creating brand safety issues?
Let’s examine the evidence.
First, the marketers. They have insisted for years on getting the lowest possible online CPMs — which everyone with a functioning cortex knows means buying a heavy dose of the cheapest crap you can find, aka “non-human traffic,” aka “bots,” aka standing in the executive wash room flushing million dollar bills down the toilet (by the way, do they have million dollar bills? If so, can I have one? Please?)
Did it bother them? Hell no! They had amazing KPIs, aka "Kockamamie Performance Indicators," that they could wave in front of their clueless bosses and prove they were getting tremendous value from the bots, sourced traffic, and non-viewable ads they were buying.
But then trouble arose. The ANA "transparency" massacre became public and their bosses started asking questions. Suddenly they were transformed into helpless victims who were outraged! at the crookedness around them. Oh my god, the poor babies!
So they played the outrage card and hung onto their jobs for another three months (by the way, three months is known around here as a "CMO Year.")
But now that the storm has passed, the aggrieved marketers have taken the offensive and have changed the subject (always a good survival strategy!) to "brand safety."
Which brings us to the agency sharpies. They’ve built careers telling half-truths about online advertising to their goober clients and giggling all the way to the bank.
They've been "programmatically" spreading their clients’ money all over the sleaziest corners of the web in order to impress them with their awesome CPMs, and winking and nodding when ad network hustlers tell them the traffic is 100% clean and pure.
Now, suddenly, they have found out that - oh my god! - our clients’ ads have been running in naughty places. We’re shocked! We demand to see the manager!
I've seen some hilariously lousy performances in my time, but if they gave Oscars for duplicity these guys would have to build a trophy room.
So let's sum up: We have CMOs pretending they just discovered that online advertising is not transparent. And agency bigwigs pretending they're shocked that they've been buying disreputable crap.
It's a full-tilt, 3-ring festival of comedy horseshit.
And the outcome? The marketers issue some somber press releases about how they're going to clean up this mess and the agencies do the bobblehead dance while continuing to ride the grotesque ad tech gravy train.
But best of all, I get to continue writing about the world's most hilarious and expensive clown show. Everybody wins!
December 20, 2017
Best of 2017 #7: Pokémon Went
To point out what pathetic unfocused imbeciles we have become, I wrote this piece in April about the faded hysteria over Pokémon Go.
If you've ever doubted that most marketers are clueless, fad-jumping nitwits who drool at any shiny object, I have two words for you -- Pokémon Go.
A reminder, this was just a few months ago...
Every stupid fucking fad that comes along is now "disruptive," "game-changing," and "the future of marketing." What a clown show the marketing industry has become.
December 18, 2017
Best Of 2017 #6: Ad Industry Lost At Sea
If we had access to the internal financials of WPP, IPG, Omnicom, Publicis and Dentsu, here's what I think we would find.
We would find that in the past decade they have invested heavily in technology, data and analytics and not at all in creativity.
In fact, I would bet the farm that in each of these holding companies the proportion of salary devoted to the creative area has dropped in the past decade.
The financiers, accountants, investors, and Wall Street wise guys who now control the ad business are betting on the wrong horse. There is only one element of marketing at which agencies have an advantage over other suppliers -- creativity.
Consultants can provide clients with better strategy; data and analytics companies can provide clients with better numbers; "martech" companies can provide better technology services. But no one can provide better creative ideas.
And yet agencies -- who are always telling clients that they need to differentiate -- are de-emphasizing their only unique differentiator.
The Pivotal Research Group reported this week that clients are starting to bring programmatic media buying in-house. This is not a good sign.
They surveyed 200 of the world's top advertisers and found that 15 had established in-house media operations. Pivotal called it a "relatively significant escalation from the last time we explored the topic." But they concluded that "we expect to hear of more marketers participating in such activities. But at the same time, we also expect that the depth of involvement many of them will have with agencies may expand as well."
I'm not so sure. It seems to me that there is a slow but steady leakage of marketing services away from agencies and toward either specialized firms or in-house operations.
Agencies are diversifying into areas at which they have disadvantages, and are letting the one area at which they have a distinct advantage languish. This is just plain bad strategy.
New media types, new communication models, and new media distribution modes are developing every day. Agencies are hiring for the technological aspects of these new practices. But the real winners will be the agencies with creative ideas to make these new modes come to life.
Circumstances change but principles don't. The ad industry is first and foremost about ideas. Any agency that believes technology can mask an insufficiency of imagination is looking for trouble.
December 14, 2017
Best of 2017 #5: Another Decade, Another Miracle
In March we turned our attention to the one thing marketers love above all else - miracles. Here is Best of 2017 #5.
This is one of those blog posts you write when you’re on a transatlantic overnight flight and you haven't slept a fucking wink and you’re groggy from taking way too many drugs that aren't doing shit.
But you have to be alert when you land because you have all kinds of obligations that you foolishly agreed to when you imagined a pleasant flight with kindly air hostesses pouring champagne, and a gentle few hours of nocturnal reverie, instead of a smelly dark cabin with the faint aroma of fresh-squeezed urine emanating from every closed door.
Yeah, one of those posts.
So if I get a few details wrong, like what decade I’m talking about, I don’t want any shit from you people. Please click this button if you agree to our terms.
So while I was not sleeping, I was thinking that every decade I worked in the ad business there was always a miracle that was going to make advertising finally reputable, orderly and grown up. A real honest-to-god business with predictable and reliable outcomes.
In the 70’s, the miracle was marketing. Suddenly every agency was flush with freshly minted MBAs right out of the best schools in the country. Mostly they were nicely scrubbed frat boys who made us street rats feel somehow inadequate. They had actually read books about advertising and spoke a language that was impressive if you didn’t listen too closely. Sadly, they were mostly dumber than stumps but luckily they weren't allowed to do too much damage.
By the 80’s the frenzy over the MBA’s had grown stale as it turned out that their only reliable competence was for choosing the right wine. The 80’s gave us the miracle of research. Out of some dank and pungent caves in the basement of your client’s headquarters emerged a new species of researcher. They were proto-nerds. They had all the characteristics of nerds but none of the charm. They had no idea what any meeting was going to be about but somehow came armed with studies to refute whatever it was you were planning to advocate. It was a kind of bizarre and evil ESP.
Bless Jay Chiat’s heart, he saw to it that by the time the 90’s rolled around the client research people were sent to bed without dinner as the research function was cleverly ripped away from them through the genius of account planning. See, you research geeks view everything from the company’s standpoint. We ad geniuses see it from the consumer’s standpoint. This became one of the greatest misdirection operations in advertising history and the power of its brilliance can be seen in many agencies yet today as account planners are still allowed to walk the halls and, in some compassionate agencies, even speak.
But planning's Decade Mirabilis ended abruptly as the year 2000 approached and online advertising became the new miracle. The web was the answer that everyone needed. The agency industry was tired and lifeless. Clients were restless and cranky. Advertising was stale and expensive. We needed something new, modern, exciting, and cheap. We also needed something that no one had a fucking clue about so we could make shit up. Something that we could build all kinds of dreamy expectations around. Online advertising was a godsend for everyone. Until it turned out to be a devilishly clever bento box of lies, fantasies, crime and mark-ups.
In our current decade we're finally on to a true miracle - data. At last, a scientific-smelling miracle that will make advertising reputable, orderly and grown up. A real honest-to-god business with predictable and reliable outcomes!
Yeah, and I’m the fucking Queen of France.
And as a postscript I would like to add that for the most part, "data" turns out to be just a pleasanter term the marketing industry uses to describe personal, private information they collect about us without our knowledge or consent.
December 13, 2017
Best of 2017 #4: Cocktails In The Morning
Here's the fourth in our series of so-called "Best of 2017." A reminder: just because these are the best of 2017 doesn't mean they're any good.
Let's face it. Most of what we ad people do is really dopey.
I wasn't much of a creative person, but I've had the good fortune to know some great ones. There is one thing about them that I love.
They work hard and have high standards, but they also have an enduring sense of how silly the whole thing is.
It takes a special kind of intelligence to be diligent about what you do and yet keep the part of your brain alive that realizes it's largely ridiculous.
There is a great deal of nonsense in the advertising business and I think it's very healthy to appreciate the absurdity. All the somber imbeciles who think that what they're doing is terribly important need a good solid whack in the golden globes.
I think I blame it all on conferences. There are way too many fucking conferences. I go to a lot of these conferences because I'm one of the speakers and I get paid. But if I didn't, I wouldn't (I think this is what's called "biting the hand...")
Most of the people who speak are so fucking serious. I'm sorry but after sitting through 8 hours of “The Programmatic Real-Time Digital Insider Summit” you can't help but want to go to your room and watch a good hockey fight. Or go to the bar and start one.
I suspect the reason we lost the war on drugs can be laid at the feet of marketing conferences. How can thousands of people every day sit through these things if they're not high?
I know why people go to conferences. They think anything's better than a day at the office. But they're wrong. They wind up getting the worst of both worlds. They pay for the conference but wind up standing outside the ballroom all day talking on their cell phones to the same dipshits they were trying to escape in the first place.
I know what my great creative friends would do to solve this problem. They'd have backwards conferences. They'd start the day with the cocktail party and then have the presentations.
That way, instead of presentations called...
- Real-Time Bidding Algorithms In An Optimized Content Management Environment
- Boosting Your Personal Brand Through Naughty Videos.
- The Open Plan Office: What Asshole Dreamed Up This Shit?
- Millennials: Pathetic Narcissists Or Unsufferable Bedwetters?
- Working From Home. Yeah, Right.
December 11, 2017
Best of 2017 #3: Global Brand Equals Global Bland
Continuing our stroll down memory lane, here's a piece from May.
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.
December 07, 2017
Best Of 2017 #2: The Future Is The Place To Be
The great thing about the future is that it can't be fact-checked. In our second "Best of 2017" post, we take a look at why the future is so popular among the keynote speaking set.
When I'm shooting my mouth off at some conference the question I get most frequently is this, "What's the future of advertising?"
I have no fucking idea what's going to happen 10 minutes from now, how the hell am I supposed to know what's going to happen "in the future," whenever the hell that is? For all I know, someday someone might click on a banner ad. Who knows?
But conference goers and press reporters can't help asking that question. They've been trained to do this by marketing yappers.
You see, marketing gurus are usually so confused by all the horseshit generated by their industry that they can't even figure out what's happening now. So they've learned to hide in the future.
The great thing about talking about the future is that you don't have to know anything. You just make shit up and nobody can refute it.
And when the future comes, who's going to remember the baloney you predicted 10 years ago? Meanwhile you make a lot of money and get a lot of press with impressive sounding horseshit.
This strategy also works great for CMOs...
BOSS: Why is business so shitty?
CMO: Well, we're preparing for the future...Sadly, when the future shows up 18 months later and business is still shitty the CMO gets thrown out on his ass and is replaced by some other nitwit who thinks he knows what the future looks like.
The present, on the other hand, is a dangerous place. It's a place with actual facts. There's accountability. When you say something about the present there's a way to check on it. So if you're a buffoon with a Powerpoint and a bag full of clichés stay away from the present. Nothing to see here. Head for the future - it's your happy place.
One of my personal policies when I do talks is to never talk about the future. The present is bad enough. The only time I do so is to ridicule predictions made by marketing geniuses. Always good for a few laughs.
I try only to speak about what's currently happening. Not horseshit about stuff that may or may not happen in 10 years. A good deal of what I talk about is how different the present is from the once certain predictions of marketing futurists.
I go to a lot of conferences (hey, it's a living) and I have to listen to a lot of speakers. It's pretty easy to know pretty quickly who the bullshit artists are. They're the ones who are telling us what the future is going to be like and warning us that we'd better be ready for it or we'll be left behind. And being ready for it usually includes buying into some baloney they're selling.
The futurists know nothing that you don't know. Well, I'm wrong. They know one thing - they know how to turn bullshit into a speaking fee.
And they always have an escape valve. When you point out that a prediction of theirs was 100% dead-ass wrong, they give you this -- "just wait, you'll see."
In other words, they kick the can farther into the future. It's a no-lose proposition.
So I have some predictions to make about the future...
- Social media will replace advertising
- The 30-second spot is dead
- Google glasses will be everywhere
- TV will die
- QR codes will change advertising
- Interactive TV will be huge
December 06, 2017
Best of 2017: Social Media Agency Of The Year For Not Doing Social Media
Since it's December and I'm a lazy-ass bastard, it's a good time to re-publish a series of "best ofs." One of these years I'm going to do a "worst of" but I'm afraid it would go on for months. Anyhow, here's the first of this year's "best ofs" from last January. It's about BBDO winning "Social Media Agency Of The Year."
Six years ago, I wrote a good post (yeah, there've been a couple) called "Social Media's Massive Failure." I was denounced as an idiot and a Luddite dinosaur.
Of course I was and still am. Notwithstanding that, my post was correct.
Since then I've squealed and whined extensively about the infantile delusion that social media marketing is based on -- the silly idea that consumers want to have conversations with and about brands and share their brand enthusiasms with the world.
I've also written a lot about Facebook cleverly giving up on the fantasy of social media marketing and becoming a traditional media company, selling as many paid ads as they can stuff on a page.
Well, now things have come full circle.
A few weeks ago MediaPost named BBDO as its "Social Media Agency Of The Year." For what? For not doing social media.
"The solution: Utilize Facebook not as a social network, but a 'media channel.'"Apparently BBDO woke up this year and told its clients to stop wasting their money on "conversations" and "sharing" and start running ads on Facebook.
To appreciate how fucking insane our business has become, you have to read the way MediaPost ties itself into knots trying to make something brilliant out of a conclusion so obvious that even an account planner could have come up with it.
"The strategy was built on a key insight that while Facebook's overall reach continues to expand, the relative effectiveness of “organic” reach for big brands has been diminishing proportionately."You know what that bullshit means, right? Here's the translation: Social media doesn't work and you have to advertise.
But if you want to work in our business you can't just come out and say that. You need to hide it under steaming piles of jargon. Otherwise, you might lose your job for being "traditional."
No, you have to do what MediaPost does -- take the obvious and make it incomprehensible.
Anyone with a pulse and an IQ above 20 knows that social media marketing is largely a pile of horseshit and the only way to get any value out of Facebook is to buy ads.
But if you know how to write a bullshit "manifesto" or "white paper," and you can further torture the already horrifying language of our industry by tossing in large words with small meanings, you can become "social media agency of the year" by not doing social media.
If the ad business didn't already exist no one would believe it could.