February 27, 2018

We Love Data And Hate Science

To the naive mind collecting data sounds like science. It is not.

A datum is the result of an instance of observation. But observations do not become science until they are made sense of.

People observed the movements of planets for thousands of years. They kept intricate charts. But for all those years no one could explain the seemingly incomprehensible movement of those planets.

And then Copernicus came along and in one simple theory explained what for millennia seemed beyond comprehension. The planets moved the way they did because they were circling the sun, not the earth.

That's what science does. It takes data and makes sense out of it.

Today the advertising industry has unimaginable quantities of data and hardly an ounce of science. Ask any advertising person for data about the Google or Facebook buy they made and you will get reams of papers and stacks of charts and tons of reports. You will get a festival of data.

Then ask that person to name one - just one - major consumer-facing brand of anything that has been built by advertising on Google or Facebook. I promise you, you will get a blank stare. Believe me I've tried it.

And yet, it is almost universally agreed that the primary objective of advertising is to build a successful brand.

So the question is this: If advertising's highest calling is to build a successful brand, and we have no examples of successful brands being built on either Google or Facebook, what is the science behind our obsession with these media?

What is the science behind all the data that has led to the incredible dominance of Google and Facebook if there is not a single instance anyone can find of either of them having achieved the primary goal of advertising?

Where is the science that makes sense of all the data?

Data is just a bunch of bricks laying around. Science takes those bricks and makes a house out of them. Right now we have no house. What data has given the ad industry is mostly just big piles of bricks.

February 22, 2018

Zuckerberg Has To Go

It's very simple. Facebook is way too powerful to be run by a jerk like Mark Zuckerberg.

While Zuckerberg has shown himself to be capable of creating a financial juggernaut, he has simultaneously shown himself to be utterly inadequate to handle the responsibilities of managing an organization with the power and influence of Facebook. Or even understanding what the responsibilities are.

The ease with which Russian operatives manipulated the Facebook platform has only two possible explanations. Facebook was either negligent or stupid. In light of the stakes, either of these is sufficient grounds for Zuckerberg's removal.

If we had a sensible government they would be looking into Zuckerberg's role in the Russian exploitation of Facebook. What did he know and when did he know it? What did he do about it?
- The indictments handed down by the Justice Department give us substantial reasons to believe that crimes were committed on the "buy" side. The question is, were crimes also committed on the "sell" side?

- In 2016, when a Columbia University researcher was trying to examine Russian links to Facebook activity, why did Facebook delete thousands of posts?
Facebook's history of fabrication and deception is unprecedented and unacceptable. Even in an industry famous for its willingness to play fast and loose with ethics and integrity, Zuckerberg is considered shady. He has zero credibility. Every public pronouncement he makes seems to be either spin or bullshit.

The absence of probity and maturity that Facebook has displayed has been baked into the company's DNA by Zuckerberg's arrogance, and will remain there as long as his vapid philosophies define their culture...
"Young people are just smarter"
"Move fast and break things"
This is the credo of an infantile egotist. You can draw a straight line from this nonsense to the current headlines.

We used to be able to dismiss Zuckerberg and his gang as greedy, silly brats with no perspective and no ethical compass. But he is far more dangerous than that. 

His shareholders and board won't remove him because their only concerns are financial. There needs to be external pressure. Sadly, it is highly unlikely.

The only groups with the power to exert such pressure are the government and us -- the advertising industry. We're his benefactors. We're his money machine.

The likelihood of the government doing anything? Close to zero.

The likelihood of the ad industry doing anything? Absolute zero.

February 15, 2018

Can We Trust P&G?

Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer for Procter & Gamble, made a big splash last year when he stood up before the annual IAB conference and lambasted the online ad industry.

Pritchard said the industry was “murky at best and fraudulent at worst” and "It's time to grow up. It's time for action... the days of giving digital a pass are over."

According to Ad Age, P&G, "vowed to no longer pay for any digital media, ad tech companies, agencies or other suppliers for services that don't comply with its new rules." 

Recently, however, Pritchard has been far more gentle -- one might even say strangely sympathetic -- in his statements about the online ad industry.

According to AdAge, Pritchard recently said he has "little reason to make good" on his threats of last year. He said...
"...I’m encouraged by the progress made over the past year to clean up the digital media supply chain, driven by the entire industry stepping up to take action."
"...progress with these big players is really strong. It's a sea change versus where we were a year ago."

This is difficult to understand at a time when everyone else in the world seems to have finally caught on to the fraud, corruption and malevolence that are rampant in the digital ad ecosystem.
- The New York Times recently ran a scathing front page story about fraud and corruption on Twitter.

- Keith Weed of Unilever is threatening to pull their advertising from digital platforms...
“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children – parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us.”
- The US Department of Justice has indicted 13 Russian operatives on a variety of charges related to illegally exploiting digital ad media.
- The Russian government continues to secretly exploit social media to influence US public opinion.
- Google and Facebook are still not in compliance with the Media Rating Council
- Even Mark Zuckerberg said recently, "Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against the interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is well spent,”
So what's going on with Pritchard? I've got a hunch...

I've been told by insiders that several years ago one of the largest and most respected advertising trade associations was ready to tear into the corrupt online media industry. But Pritchard stepped in and blocked it. This was during an era in which P&G was deep into digital love.
"...digital is incredibly effective, and we're doing more,” said their CEO
“...effectiveness and the consumer impact of our advertising spending will be well ahead of the prior year... (because of) an optimized media mix with more digital, mobile, search and social presence..." said their CFO.
They had moved billions of their spending online. By blocking the trade association from taking on the online ad industry, P&G saved face.

That all quickly became farce when their sales dropped 8% in a twelve month period and they lost $6 billion in sales. Pritchard suddenly grew a pair and gave his famous IAB speech.

So why has Pritchard changed his tune again and gone all cuddly? Are the days of "giving digital a pass" back? First, let's be fair.

I'm sure P&G's agencies have stopped playing word games over what types of compensation they're entitled to. I'm also sure Google and Facebook have done a damn good job of putting a happy face on their relationship with P&G. And I wouldn't be surprised if a dollar or two has changed hands.

But here's why I'm suspicious. After going through the most expensive proxy fight in history, activist investor Nelson Peltz won a board seat at P&G a few months ago. According to The Wall Street Journal during the proxy battle...
Mr. Peltz’s Trian Fund Management LP criticized P&G’s cutback on digital spending. P&G’s improved earnings “came as a result of reducing advertising, specifically digital, a tactic we believe will damage the value of the company’s brands if continued in the long term”
Could it be that Pritchard's new coziness with digital is as much about politics as principles? I have no facts, but my smell detector is in the red zone.

February 12, 2018

Parachuting Behind Enemy Lines

This is gonna be fun.

I'm about to enter a contest called "The Q Award" sponsored by Ad Age and Quantcast (they do media hocus pocus with AI) that could win me a trip to Cannes and some kind of Grand Prize. I am compelled to enter this thing because it would allow me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sip putrid rosé with everyone in the world I've ever insulted.

The contest goes like this...
"The Q Award Details
We are looking for people who challenge the status quo, question everything and strive to break conventional wisdom. The winning team will have discovered new insights and implemented a new strategy, campaign or product that ultimately resulted in increased brand awareness, growth and sales."
Am I crazy, or is BadMen a slam dunk to win this fucking thing?

Just one little hurdle: Somewhere along the line I've probably called everyone on the judging panel a dickhead or an imbecile.