December 28, 2019

Imbecile Of The Decade

We have double torture this year. Not only are we ending a year, we're also ending a decade (pettifogging killjoys will take great pains to instruct us that the decade doesn't technically end until next year. I don't care. I'm celebrating this year. Next year we could all be dead. In fact, at the rate we're going, we probably will be.)

The torturing part is the dumb lists. It's bad enough when we have to endure The 10 Best Everything of the Year, but this year we have also to endure the The 10 Best Everything of the Decade.

For some reason that I can't fathom the advertising and marketing industries seem to be particularly fond of these idiotic lists. I guess it has something to do with click bait. The trade rag publishers have probably discovered that everyone wants to know who they have dubbed The Best Influencer Marketing Follower Fraud Celebrity of the Year or something.

Not being one to miss out on an opportunity to be stupid, I have a list of categories that I don't think have been covered. So here we go... The 10 Best Remaining Marketing Subjects for 10 Best Lists of the Decade.
  • The 10 Most Frightening Retweets of the Year
  • Best Use of Metaphor in an Email Subject Line of the Year
  • 10 Most Incomprehensible Unsubscribe Pages of the Year
  • Best Insincere Facebook Birthday Wish of the Year
  • The 10 Most Fascinating Articles About CMOs of the Decade
  • 10 Most Memorable Privacy Policy Updates of the Year
  • 5 Most Poetic LinkedIn Articles about Blockchain of the Decade
  • 10 Best Mutilations of the Name "Zuckerberg" of the Year
  • 10 Most-Unemployable-People-Who-Started-a-Podcast-this-Decade of the Year
  • 10 Best Years of the Decade
And, as always, the most heartfelt use of the term...Happy New Year!

December 10, 2019

The Annual Invisible Advertising Awards

It's holiday season which means it's time to give awards for the "_______ of the Year"

Every advertising and marketing organization, publication, and media interest group is giving awards to The Real Time Online Digital Media Analyst Of The Year, as well as other heroic marketing and advertising practitioners. Since it's also a year that ends in a 9, they're also giving awards to The Same Truckload Of Brilliant Geniuses Of The Decade.

I would like to start a new way to think about awards. I would like to recognize an ignored and underserved minority -- the invisibles.

My thinking goes like this. Having spent hundreds of years in the advertising business, there is no doubt in my mind that the advertising and marketing industries generate far more bad ideas that never get produced than good ideas that get produced. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes in an agency will agree with me.

This is why we have creative directors, account managers, and CMOs. Someone has to separate the wheat from the shit.

As a former creative director, I would estimate that for every ad I approved I turned down at least 10 (I'm sure some of my former colleagues will get a good hearty chuckle from that estimate, but for the sake of this essay, and in the spirit of the Holiday Season, let's assume I wasn't quite as big a prick as they might claim.)

The point I'm trying to make is that if the ratio of bad to good is somewhere near ten to one, there is a very large gap in our appreciation of the importance of saying no.

We celebrate the people who create good ideas, but we do not celebrate the people with the good sense to shit-can the bad ones. And yet, bad ideas may have as much potential to do harm as good ones have to do good.

Some valuable activities are highly visible -- like the creation of a wonderful ad idea, or a brilliant media idea. But other valuable activities are invisible -- like the rejection of dumb ones.

Imagine if someone at Pepsi had quietly said no to the Kendall Jenner monstrosity of a few years ago. That person would have invisibly delivered an enormous benefit to Pepsi, but she would never have been recognized for it. Imagine if someone at Peloton had the sense to say no to their dumbass spot. The invisible person would never be known, no less win an award, but would have contributed mightily.

So let's just take a minute to thank all the brilliant, creative, brave, and invisible people who, in the face of often strident and self-righteous opposition, had the good sense and balls to say no to stupid fucking ideas.

Then, of course, there is the other kind of invisible excellence. It is the wonderful work of highly talented people that does not get approved.

Among the ranks of the aforementioned creative directors, account managers, and CMOs there is no shortage of imbeciles. As anyone who has ever worked in business is surely aware, a highly-placed idiot can kill or cripple the excellent work of dozens of people. 

A good deal of excellent, award-worthy work gets killed every year by the arbitrary stupidity of dimwits. (Once again, I'm sure some of my former colleagues are getting a good hearty chuckle from that but, again for the sake of this essay, and in the spirit of the Holiday Season, let's assume I wasn't quite as big a moron as they might claim.) The result is that there appears to be a much smaller pool of excellent ideas than there actually is. 

I think there's a term for this called "survival bias." In other words, we believe there isn't much excellent work being done because only a fraction of it survives. The excellent work that gets killed or mutilated is invisible.

Imagine all the good ideas for Pepsi that must have died so that Kendall Jenner could live.

It is my belief that the invisible marketing and advertising contributions are at least as important to our industry as the visible contributions. The only problem is, well, they're invisible.

So to all the talented, sensible, and invisible people who contributed to our industry this year by saving us from bad ideas, and to the creatively excellent people with wonderful ideas that suffered ignominious invisibility at the hands of nitwits, thank you.

This column is your award.

December 08, 2019

Advertising's Untold Stories

Have you ever wondered why the highly touted marketing miracles never seem to work for you? Stick around.

In recent years, copywriters, "branding" experts, "strategic" thinkers, and advertising and marketing agencies have evolved a conceit in which they refer to themselves as "storytellers."

Although it is largely self-inflating bullshit, I enjoy this conceit. It puts an emphasis on the concept of "stories" and helps me explain and expose one of the great logical errors of our industry. I call it the "untold stories" problem. Here's how it works.

Most of the information we get about the success or failure of advertising and marketing activities comes in the form of a story:

  - A press release

  - An article in a trade publication

  - A feature in the business section or on a TV business report

  - A case history presented at an industry conference or event

The stories that reach us are often superficial -- they are mostly just headlines lightly dusted with a few specifics, some meticulously curated numbers, and a generous helping of spin. This is because marketing strategies are valuable trade secrets and keeping them confidential is crucial to business success. You don't just give 'em away. As a result, the stories we get are often devoid of some important specifics that are key to understanding the true nature of the activity.

Nonetheless, for every story we are exposed to, there are a thousand untold stories we don't get to read or hear about. These are the non-spectacular stories, created in non-spectacular fashion, by non-spectacular brands -- in other words, they are about 99.9% of everything that ever happens in  marketing.

I don't think it's terribly controversial to suggest that we are far more likely to hear success stories than failure stories. Ask any business reporter. The number of PR releases she gets about the brilliant new campaigns being launched will outnumber the releases she gets about the failure of campaigns by about a zillion to one.

After all, who wants to embarrass the CEO, alarm the Board, scare the shareholders, frighten the puppy dogs, and reveal themselves for the bewildered bumblers they are? It's a lot wiser  to be forthcoming about your successes and circumspect about your failures.

However, when this tendency becomes terribly dangerous is not when it is applied to a specific case history, but when it is applied to primary information we get about marketing fundamentals in general (not just particular brand campaigns.)

I would wager great stacks of money that the untold stories of the mediocre performance of virtually all marketing activities outnumber the widely told stories of success by a hundred to one. This is doubly true of (but not limited to) the shiny new object activities like social media, content marketing, virtual reality, native advertising, "personalization," blockchain, and whatever new marketing miracle happens to be trending this week.

The narratives we are exposed to about marketing activities, and the belief we have in these activities, are profoundly skewed by the bias toward trumpeting success, not failure.

This is perilous. It leads to conferences, books and, god help us, Powerpoints, extolling the efficacy of undertakings based on wildly unrepresentative samples. It gives our entire industry a false impression of the value of these activities.

It leads us to throw money at expensive, wasteful tactics. And it reinforces the lemming-like attraction of naive marketers to the trendy fantasies that have dominated our industry for the past decade, often through widely read "success" stories.

It is not that the stories themselves aren't true. It is that the results being reported may be wildly divergent from the reality to be found in the total number of stories on the subject, the vast majority remaining untold.

Before you take any story about advertising or marketing as indicative of a general truth, you'd be wise to assume that just the fact that it is being told at all makes it likely that it is one or two standard deviations from normal. You should assume that the overwhelming number of stories that haven't been told on the subject aren't nearly as rosy.

In marketing, the untold stories are usually the real story.

December 02, 2019

The Problem With Bubba's Burgers

Let's do a little thought experiment.

You've been driving all morning on a two-lane highway and you're getting hungry. You come to the small town of Nowheresville and at the intersection there are two hamburger joints. One is McDonald's, the other is Bubba's Burgers.

It is highly likely that Bubba makes a better burger than McDonald's. But it is also highly likely that you will choose McDonald's. Why? I think the answer goes something like this. 

While you might like to have the better burger, it's more important that you have a burger that isn't risky. While you might like to stop at a place that is comfortable and relaxing, it's more important that you stop at a place that isn't icky.

McDonald's may not make a great burger, and it may not be the most lovely environment, but you have a high level of expectation that the burger won't make you sick and the place won't be icky.

In other words, Bubba's may very well make a better burger, but McDonald's is good enough and relatively risk free. The aversion to unknown risks trumps the likelihood of superiority.

So the question is, why do you believe McDonald's is good enough and safer? I think the answer is simple. McDonald's is famous. Fame creates many advantages.

In all the jabbering about marketing, and all the strategic gymnastics that marketers put themselves through, the simplest and most obvious objective of marketing should be to create fame. Brands that are famous have an enormous advantage over brands that aren't famous.

The world's largest, most successful brands -- the Apples, Nikes, Cokes, Pepsis, Toyotas, McDonald's, Tides, Budweisers, Doves, et al -- all have one thing in common -- they're famous. Does that mean that fame guarantees success? Absolutely not. But it makes the likelihood of success massively greater.

Those of you looking for holes in this argument will say it's circular. It's not the fame that's causing success, it's success that's causing fame. That argument is good for about 30 seconds until you realize that each of these brands spend billions every year to stay famous. 

There are several ways for brands to achieve fame. Some get lucky. The press falls in love with them, follows them everywhere, and provides them with zillions of dollars of free exposure -- Google, Uber, Amazon, Tesla -- are examples. With very little marketing activity these brands became enormously famous. Others become famous through imaginative PR initiatives, clever stunts, or the charismatic personalities of their leaders. Or a combination of these things. There are many ways to achieve fame.

Sadly, the likelihood of the press falling in love with you is one tick above zero. Imaginative PR is wonderful to have but very rare to come by. And charismatic leaders are one in a thousand.

The most expensive way to become famous is through advertising. It is the most expensive, but also the most reliable. It is the only avenue to fame that you can buy your way into.

Those of you who know me probably know where I'm going next. Online advertising has not been very impressive at creating widespread fame. While there are certainly some brands who have achieved a level of fame through online advertising, after 25 years there are no Apples, Nikes, Cokes, Pepsis, Toyotas, or McDonald's. 

The philosophy behind online advertising is deeply flawed. "Experts" tell us that highly personalized, precision targeted, one-to-one advertising is far more capable of performing successfully because it reaches “the right person, at the right place, at the right time.” This may be true if you have the least ambitious marketing goal -- to generate a click. However, if you have the highest marketing goal -- to build a successful brand -- I have seen no evidence that this is true. In fact, I have seen considerable evidence to the contrary.

Mass-media advertising is demonstrably more effective at brand building than precision targeted, highly individualized advertising. Personally targeted direct response advertising certainly has its uses. But the number of exceptionally famous brands created by direct response advertising is somewhere between zero and nothing. The number of exceptionally famous brands created by mass media is enormous.

Highly individualized advertising makes advertising a private, rather than public, experience. Online, we all live in our own little personalized, precision-targeted digi-world. This is not an environment that is conducive to growing a brand. 

To a substantial degree, mass media advertising is public advertising and online media advertising is private advertising. It's hard to become famous in private.

November 27, 2019

No App For Gratitude

Today I am repeating my annual Thanksgiving post which I have run for many years. And, yes, that crack about Trump was there years before anyone could have imagined...

Thanksgiving is my kind of holiday.

It doesn't require gods or miracles or tragedies or victories or angels or kings or winners or losers or flags or gifts. 

All you need is some pumpkin pie, a big-ass flat screen, and a comfortable sofa to drool on.
Oh, and a little gratitude.

Gratitude, by the way, is a commodity in very short supply. Regrettably, we seem to have mountains of expectation but not much in the way of appreciation. It's a socially transmitted disease.

So this Thanksgiving let's put aside harsh judgments for a day or two. Thank a fireman. Give a bum a buck. Kiss an in-law.

I don't like Puritans of any stripe, but I like the idea of them having the Indians over for dinner. I know the detente didn't last too long, but any day you're eating sweet potatoes instead of shooting off muskets is a good day.

Be grateful that you have shoes. Be thankful that your cat is healthy. Compliment someone's posture. 

If you can't do any of that stuff, then at least give thanks that you won't be dining with Whoopi Goldberg or Donald Trump. That alone should be enough.

Finally, do yourself a favor -- quit whining. That's my job.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving. 

November 25, 2019

The Six Stages Of Digital Delusion

This week an old piece of mine from one of my books got some attention on Twitter when someone posted it. I decided to update it and repost it today.

One of our axioms here at The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters is that in today's world of marketing, delusional thinking is not just acceptable, it's mandatory.

Digital media have been the primary cause and the primary beneficiary of delusional thinking. The fascinating thing is that the cycle of delusion has been going on for almost 20 years and we still don't recognize it.

Here are the 6 stages of digital delusion:
1. The Miracle Is Acknowledged: It may be podcasting or virtual reality, blockchain or the Ice Bucket Challenge, Pokémon Go, QR Codes, or "content." Whatever it is, it is going to "change everything." It will be the focus of hysterical attention in the trade press and will often find its way into the business section of the newspaper.

2. The Big Success: A company somewhere has a big success. This is where the danger starts. The success is plastered all over every trade magazine and analyzed at every conference. It is "proof" that the miracle is real.
3. Experts Are Hatched: Clever "experts" gather up a Powerpointful of bullshit and march it around from conference to conference. They write articles, and even books, on how not to be left behind.
4. The Bandwagon Rolls: Everyone who knows nothing is suddenly asking the marketing department, "what is our (latest miracle) strategy?" Fearing that she will be thought insufficiently trendy, every CMO is suddenly looking for an agency that is expert at (latest miracle.)

5. Reality Rears Its Ugly Head: The numbers dribble in. Oops...people are ignoring our miracle by the  billions. The miracle seems to be working for everyone but us!

6. The Back-Pedaling Begins: "Well, it's just part of an integrated program..." say the former zealots. The experts start blaming the victims, "Hey, we never promised...We told you you had to... Just wait, you'll see..."
This cycle has repeated itself so many times that it's comical. 

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

November 14, 2019

Greg Stern Needs To Apologize

Greg Stern is Chair of the 4As. Unfortunately for Stern, his chairmanship has coincided with the
most unsettling, corrupt, and damaging era in the history of the ad industry.

In recent years, we have assiduously cataloged the problems the ad industry is facing (here's a good place to start.)

Earlier this week, Stern wrote a piece for Campaign in which he tried to frame the confused and weakened state of the agency business as a hopeful jumping-off point for "positive change." That remains to be seen.

In the course of doing so, Stern took some ill-advised and unnecessary cheap shots at people who have done nothing but radiate credit on our industry.

Stern's article is framed as his reaction to presentations and comments he has heard recently at industry conferences. He starts out by saying that the "overriding messages have spanned from hopeful to dire." Fair enough. I attend lots of conferences, too, and I hear the same baloney.

Next he gives us his "real talk" outlook: Yeah, it's tough out there but this is no time for negativity. OK, if we were in his shoes we'd do the same.

Then we get the obligatory parade of clichés about "transformation,"  "disruption," and "collaboration." Once again, fair enough. In his position, I'd throw a coin in the jargon jukebox, too.

But then things go very wrong. Instead of honestly asserting that there are reasons to be concerned about the direction of the agency business -- which is shocking news to absolutely no one -- he looks for scapegoats.

He starts by planting the seed that conference organizers sometimes have unwholesome ulterior motives...
"a conference sponsor’s agenda will often come through, whether implicitly or overtly."
He follows it up one paragraph later with...
"I recently attended a small, private conference in San Francisco, where the tone wasn’t even cautiously optimistic."
This is patently false. I spoke at that conference. It included some of the most upbeat and inspirational speakers you could hope for. It including Margaret Johnson, Chief Creative Office and Partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Sarah Mehler, CEO of Left Field Labs, and Mark Figliulo, founder of FIG. 

These are three amazing, talented, and cheerful people who made me, and I'm sure everyone else in the room, proud to be in the ad business. I don't know what presentations Stern was watching, but the assertions that the nature of these presentations "wasn't even cautiously optimistic" is beyond explanation.

The conference in question is nothing short of excellent. It has been so for 10 years in which time it has displayed the type of integrity that some of our advertising "leaders" could learn from.  The implication that it was influenced by some treacherous "sponsor's agenda" is, there's no other way to say this, simply truth challenged.

Another of Stern's cheap shots made me sick. Stern characterized one of the talks as follows... "one industry big thinker phoned in a presentation (literally)"  

I'm not going to abuse anyone's privacy by naming names, but the speaker in question is a very brilliant person who's had a stellar career in advertising. He made a phenomenal presentation despite terrible hardships. He could not come to the conference because of a heartbreaking illness to one of his children. Instead he did his presentation over the phone from London. I just hope for Stern's sake that he never has to "phone in" a presentation for a similar reason.

Stern owes an apology to the organizers of the conference for implying that there was some kind of sinister "sponsor's agenda" lurking in the background. There most certainly was not.

He also owes an apology to the speakers mentioned above for the nasty and condescending characterizations of their excellent and inspiring talks as "not being even cautiously optimistic."

But of course, since I was on the agenda, it wasn't all lollipops and roses. Stern says...

"The Ad Contrarian delivered his usual rant, only somewhat paraphrased as 'no one in digital advertising has any idea what the hell they’re doing.' 
While I will gladly stipulate that no one in digital advertising knows what the hell they’re doing, this is a grossly inaccurate characterization of my talk. 

In fact the lead organizer of the event, one of the most highly respected advertising lawyers in the industry, wrote to me after the event to say...
"Several of my colleagues who dropped in....told me you were the best, most entertaining, and important speaker we’ve had at the firm in anyone’s memory."
But, as we all know, you can never trust a lawyer. So judge for yourself. I am posting my entire talk here. Read it and see if the distinguished 4As Chair's characterization of my talk is fair. 

Make no mistake, I was highly highly critical of the industry and I could see how it would make Stern squirm. But if he wanted to counter my argument he had a perfect platform to do so in his article in Campaign. Instead he opted for an ad hominem cheapshot.

It's hardly fair to lay all the troubles of the ad industry at Stern's feet. I have no idea what the chair of the 4As is supposed to do other than go around mumbling platitudes about transformation, disruption and collaboration. I understand why Stern wrote what he wrote. He's in the wrong place at the wrong time and he's had a tough go.

However, mean-spirited, self-serving commentary should remain the purview of blogweasels like me. It doesn't reflect well on the chair of the 4As.

November 11, 2019

Upgrading From Email To Fmail

Email was fun, but we can do better.

It's time for us to disrupt the entire personal communication ecosystem. We need to upgrade to fmail.

Email was good for two types of things:
1. Receiving annoying messages from people we know who want something from us, and
2. Receiving annoying messages from people we don't know who want something from us.

The time has come for us to bifurcate. I love to say bifurcate.

Email can remain the system of choice to connect with the people we know. It would be made up primarily of messages concerning...

   - Meetings we don't want to go to
   - Dinners we don't want to eat
   - Parties we don't want to attend
   - Weddings taking place on days we were planning to play golf
   - People cancelling lunch plans
   - Naughty jokes that aren't funny
   - Political opinions that are hilariously funny

Then there's fmail.

First of all, let's not pretend we don't know what the f stands for. Fmail would constitute about 99% of what is currently called email. It would include...

   - Notifications that we have to update Flash
   - Invitations to attend the Double Secret Real-Time Programmatic Insider Summit
   - Amazing deals on airline flights to places we don't want to go
   - Amazing deals on hotel rooms we don't want to occupy
   - It's someone on LinkedIn's birthday!
   - How do rate our recent stay at St. Larry's Hospital?

There are other changes that need to be made to the messaging ecosystem. Just to get the ball rolling... If you're a male athlete, please don't text me pictures of your dick. Also, if you're a Russian female athlete, please don't text me pictures of your dick.

November 06, 2019

Making It Up On Volume

There's a very old business gag about losing money on every sale but making it up on volume.

While the premise of losing on every transaction but making up for it with lots of transactions may be ridiculous, in our confused world of marketing it has become a foundational principle.

Essentially what most brands are doing when they flood the web with idiotic social media posts and self-serving nonsense masquerading as "content" is hoping that their lack of ability to derive a cogent, commanding concept for their brand can be disguised and tarted up with a torrent of moronic bullshit.

They even teach this nonsense in marketing programs with concepts like "always-on" marketing, and denigrate the essence of marketing effectiveness by claiming that "the big idea" is dead.

Of course, when you don't have the talent to create something worthwhile the next best strategy is to declare it dead.

McDonald's former CMO claimed that in 2016 they would create 5,000 pieces of online content. That's one piece of shit content every 24 minutes of the work year. Since starting a Twitter feed, McDonald's have posted over half a million tweets.

Nothing very useful, but making it up on volume.

November 04, 2019

Our Principal Problem Is Principles

In most fields of endeavor progress is achieved by the accretion of knowledge over time.

In medicine, for example, we learned of the germ theory of disease. Then we learned that there were not just bacteria causing diseases, but other agents like viruses. Then we learned that parasites and fungi could also cause disease. But it all started with the basic knowledge that diseases weren't caused by frogs or witch's spells, but by germs.

In aeronautics, the materials we use to make airplanes are completely different from the ones used 100 years ago. But we still use the fundamental design of a fuselage and a pair of wings. The principles of lift and acceleration are still basic to airplane design and function.

Copernicus taught us that the universe did not revolve around the Earth, but that the Earth revolved around the sun. Then we discovered that there were other bodies revolving around the sun, called planets. Then we discovered that that there were stars that didn't revolve around the sun. And then we found there were things that we thought were stars that turned out to be galaxies comprised of hundreds of billions of stars. One thing lead to another.

Advertising is different. We respect no history. We observe no principles. We have no connective tissue.

Every generation tosses out what was learned before and declares it dead. Marketing is dead. The Big Idea is dead. Positioning is dead. Brands are dead. Traditional media are dead.

Every generation invents its own clichés that mean nothing, but for a brief time pass for principles -- likeanomics, engagement, conversations, storytelling, empowerment.

The absence of principles is the dirty little secret behind why we engender so little respect in the business world. A field of endeavor without principles is not a discipline -- it's a free for all.

What are the principles that everyone in advertising agrees on? In most disciplines there are unifying principles. Some examples: Physics has the law of conservation of energy. Biology has natural selection. Medicine has the germ theory of disease. Economics has the law of supply and demand. These are fundamental to the nature of the field. In  advertising, what are the proven unifying fundamental principles that we all accept? If there are any, I don’t know what they are.

We used to believe that creativity was the essence of successful advertising. No longer.
We used to believe that big ideas were the backbone of outstanding advertising. No more.
We used to believe that an agency's primary job was the delivery of outstanding ads to its clients. Not today.

What do we believe in now? Likeanomics, engagement, conversations, storytelling, and empowerment? These aren't principles. These are the tired clichés of a struggling industry.

October 15, 2019

Advertising's Decade Of Delusion

The ten years we have just experienced were expected to be some of the most fruitful and productive in the history of advertising.  We had amazing new tools and stunning new media that we never had before. The whole thing was head-spinning and certain to engender all kinds of remarkable opportunities for advertisers.

Our ability to reach consumers one-to-one with web-based platforms was sure to make advertising more personalized, more relevant, and more timely.

Brands' abilities to listen to consumer conversations through social media and react quickly couldn’t help but connect us more closely with our customers.

Consumers themselves would be one of our biggest assets by engendering conversations about our brands and helping us understand and define what our brands should represent.

Further, the web would have a democratizing effect on society and particularly in the business sphere where new brands could flourish without spending lavishly on marketing.

And yet, the past decade has been the most disappointing and disheartening period that I’ve experienced in my long advertising career.

It is widely believed inside and outside the ad industry that on the whole the state of advertising has gotten worse, not better.

Consumer research shows that regard for our industry is at a new low. It's gotten so bad that we have half the trustworthiness of lawyers.

Marketers are disillusioned. They don’t trust us. Their trade organization, the ANA, has officially stated that they believe corruption in our industry is “pervasive.”

Brands are facing strong headwinds. A recent study by Nielsen reported that consumers say they are 46% more likely to change brands than they were just 5 years ago, and only 8% say they are strongly brand loyal.

Regulators and governments are after us with a passion. They want to know what we are doing with data and whether we are acting illegally in collecting, trading and selling personal private information about consumers.

By steadfastly defending the abusive and creepy surveillance practices of our adtech ecosystem, the "leaders" of our industry are clearly on the wrong side of history.

As for consumers, one study showed that of all forms of advertising, the eight types rated the lowest by consumers were all forms of online advertising. Ad blocking apps are reportedly present on somewhere between one and two billion devices.

Meanwhile tens of billions of dollars are being stolen annually from our clients by online ad fraud.

Marketers are taking their advertising duties in-house and hiring consulting firms to do what we used to do.

As for the democratizing effect, it has been just the opposite. The web has produced advertising and marketing monopolies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, etc) that would never be tolerated on dry land. Our industry has been right in the middle of scandals that have undermined our confidence in free and fair elections.

To say that the last decade has not lived up to expectations is like saying the Titanic was a boating mishap.

Our industry is in trouble. I believe we've had a lost decade. We have allowed ourselves to be bamboozled by the suspect assertions of articulate people -- and more than a few clowns -- masquerading as experts. We have lost any healthy degree of skepticism. It has cost us dearly.

Our industry needs to take a good hard look at our assumptions and where those assumptions have led us. It's time for the pretending to end.

September 19, 2019

Everything I Know About Advertising I Learned From A Blues Song

I was wasting time on the web the other day and I came upon an article from Medium called "Let’s Talk About How to Build a Brand." There was nothing actually wrong the piece if you're the kind of person who likes to read instruction manuals. It was kind of the 30-minute version of Marketing 101.

But, like so much of marketing thinking today, it was all brains and no guts.

It reminded me of my Aha! advertising moment when I realized how the whole thing works -- when I realized that it's not about how marketing works, it's about how people work. 

I was listening to an album by Ry Cooder called Paradise and Lunch, a monstrously great album. One of the tunes on the album is called Feelin' Good, which was written by a blues singer named J.B. Lenoir.

In two lines, Lenoir made me realize how simple the whole thing is and how stupid I'd been not to understand what was right in front of me. He tells us more about how marketing works than all the books in the worldwide marketing library...
"Feelin' good, feelin' good
All the money in the world spent on feelin' good"
And after years of working in advertising I finally understood how the whole thing works. People buy what they believe will make them feel good. 

Why do they buy an iPhone instead of a Samsung? Because they believe will make them feel good. A Ford instead of a Chevy? Because they believe it will make them feel good. A Bud versus a Coors? Because they believe it will make them feel good.

They don't buy to be part of a tribe, or to have a brand relationship, or to do any of the prodigiously analytical things our marketing prophets tell us. What our experts are seeing is what it looks like from the outside.

What people are actually doing is buy what they believe will make them feel good. 

Next time you sit down to create or evaluate an ad, remember this..."All the money in the world spent on feelin' good."

September 08, 2019

A Conspiracy Of Silence

For several years the advertising industry has been engaged in a conspiracy to deceive its clients and the public about online advertising.

It is not the kind of conspiracy you get when bad people get together to plot a crime. It is the kind of conspiracy you get when greedy, frightened people individually decide it is safer to keep their mouths shut than tell the truth.

For the last few years we have been flooded with scandals and revelations about corruption, fraud, and lies in the online advertising ecosystem. Here is just a partial list in no particular order:
The terribly damning part is that there are only two possibilities: Either agencies are remarkably stupid and don't know what is going on, or they know and are keeping their mouths shut. It's hard to decide which is worse.

I believe they have been engaged in an unspoken conspiracy.

Not a single one of the scandals involving online media were brought to light by a media agency. Not one. Let's put this another way -- not one of the scandals about online media were exposed by the people whose job it is to scrutinize online media.

Agencies, particularly media agencies, are as close to the online media industry as you can get. They are analyzing online media 24 hours a day. They are responsible for seeing to it that hundreds of billions of online advertising dollars are spent properly every year. They work very closely with media. They have the facts at their fingertips. They are assessing online media opportunities on behalf of their clients every day.

How can it be that reporters, who are not trained in media, have not nearly the resources to scrutinize media, and have no expertise in analyzing media, were able to sniff out scandal after scandal while the "experts" were not able to do so? It is not possible. It doesn't even pass the giggle test. As one very highly regarded media analyst commented to me recently, "agency bigwigs are notoriously paranoid and fearful. There's a strong code of silence..."

If it were left to the leaders of the ad industry, we would know nothing about any of the appalling stories listed above. By concealing their knowledge of deceit and dishonesty in online media, the ad industry has failed at one of their most consequential responsibilities - being trustworthy stewards of their clients' money. Instead, they have been responsible for wasting billions of client dollars. Why?

  • Because they're afraid to admit they've been played for fools by online media.
  • Because they get fees or commissions on most of the wasted billions.
Is it any wonder marketers are moving media functions in-house? One can only wonder what additional sleaze the media "experts" know of and are keeping quiet about.

The ad industry has allowed itself to crawl into bed with the squids at Facebook and Google and the rest of the devious adtech weasels. It makes us look like fools. Every week there are alarming reports of fraud, corruption, privacy abuse, and security failures in online media and we shrug our shoulders and duck for cover.

The ad industry, controlled by misguided and incompetent leadership at trade associations and holding companies, had better get its act together. By being lapdogs to the corrupt and dangerous online media we are quickly squandering what's left of our credibility.

We are on the wrong side of history and will continue to stay there until the silent conspiracy to protect online media ends.

July 24, 2019

Three Reasons To Like Gary Vee

If you ever tell anyone I said this I'll deny it, but I kinda like Gary Vee. I know he's full of shit but I can't help liking the guy.

Here are three reasons I like him:

1.  He gives hope to those suffering from DDD (Delusional Disrupter Disorder.) These meatballs think that Gary's "just a poor boy with a vision" hooey is a model for success. They don't understand probability. They have about as much likelihood of gaining success from Gary's homilies as I have of winning a hugging contest. Nonetheless, he gives them hope.

2. Our business has two kinds of bullshit - the cold bullshit of the data weasels and the hot bullshit of the Gary Vees. You can have your Powerpoint-addled jargon-spewing data-monkeys. I'll take Gary's hot bullshit any day.

3. He had to grow up in New Jersey with the name Vaynerchuk. You try it.

June 24, 2019

The Only Test Of Brand Purpose

The message from Cannes this year is very clear. Every brand in the world is now trying to woke-wash itself to appear more acceptable to socially conscious consumers. Much of it is cynical bullshit.

The key to understanding which companies are truly doing the right thing, and which ones are using token "brand purpose" as a PR gimmick is very easy. There is only one conclusive touchstone to knowing who is truly committed to social welfare and who is a cynical poseur...

To what lengths do they go to avoid paying taxes?

The most serious attempts to create a better society are substantially funded by tax dollars: education; affordable housing; civil and personal rights; job training; infrastructure; health care. Companies who take unusual and excessive measures to pay little or no taxes are depriving our citizens of the tools we need to improve our societies.

The hitching of a brand purpose initiative to a politically fashionable cause while behind the scenes going to great lengths to avoid paying a fair share of taxes is a deplorable and cynical manipulation of public perceptions.

The fact that these tax gimmicks may be technically legal does not impress me one bit. It is perfectly legal for me not to support charitable causes, but as a responsible citizen I choose to be better than the law requires.

As far as I'm concerned, corporations who use advertising and marketing dollars to pound their chests about their trendy brand purpose cause-du-jour, but employ legions of lawyers to avoid the true cost of improving society are nothing but scum.

June 19, 2019

Dying At Cannes

For the 100th consecutive year I did not go to Cannes. But the good thing is, I know exactly what happened and saved myself thousands of dollars. As a free service to you other losers who didn't attend, here's what you missed
  • A very casually dressed ceo from a very big holding company said that the consumer is changing and we have to change to keep up with the changing consumer. He said we have to evolve or die. 
  • A very rich and famous creative person gave a very stirring speech about how creativity is the heart and soul of our industry and we have to get back to celebrating creativity. Agencies that don't prioritize creativity won't be around long.
  • Another famous creative person with very expensive eye-wear said we need to be brave. Those that aren't brave won't last.
  • A very earnest female executive gave a talk about how we have to value all people regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, absence of religion, age, ability, body type or gluten sensitivity. Marketers that don't value diversity will soon be dead.
  • A very European planner gave a talk about how we have to stop thinking short-term and realize that brands are built by long-term strategy. Those who focus on the short-term will disappear in the long-term. (Then she hurried out to see how many tweets her talk got.)
  • A panel discussion was held to discuss the future of marketing. It was agreed that more personalization was necessary to make marketing more relevant to consumers. Brands that don't have better insights into individual consumer behavior don't have long to live.
  • A panel discussion was held to discuss the future of the agency business. It was agreed that the agency business must align its priorities to the evolving needs of our clients or we will fade away.  
  • A very famous celebrity from outside the advertising industry gave a talk on why he/she now pays as much attention to social media as he/she does to acting/singing/basketball. "You have to stay in touch to stay alive."
  • A very famous billionaire sent a very mid-level executive to explain how their company is committed to protecting consumer privacy by developing an AI process to screen out everything and everyone that is bad. "If we don't do that, we have no future."
  • A research expert said that in order to understand Gen Z we must forget everything we know about Millennials, who were digital natives, and start to understand Gen Z, who are "digital aboriginals." Ignoring the needs of Gen Z is a death sentence.
  • A panel of branding experts agreed that consumers now expect brands to be socially responsible and make the world a better place for all people regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, absence of religion, age, ability, body type or gluten sensitivity. Brands that don't do that will soon be extinct.
There is so much potential for death in the advertising business these days that there is only one responsible way to avoid marketing's grim reaper -- hang out on yachts and gulp putrid rosé.
Thank goodness there are thousands of men and women from around the world who are willing to do this on our behalf.

Otherwise, we'd be dead.

June 11, 2019

My B2B Dream

I had a B2B dream last night. I heard somebody say...
We want to become your customer experience partner. We'll help you architect cutting-edge systems, both human and virtual, from high-quality product provision to unique problem resolution through customized resource management solutions.

We are laser-focused on re-imaging customer experience and future-proofing your business. In doing so, we also provide hands-on training to keep your employees engaged, more productive, and up to date on all aspects of your integrated solution suite.

Regardless of what industry you're in, we have the answers for your resource and system needs. Our data-driven, turn-key deliverables protect your most valuable assets - your customer relationships! We have the ability to work with many different industries, quickly responding to changing applications and environments, while staying focused on quality and best-in-class performance.

We analyze your historical and forecasted needs to ensure high execution while reducing costs

Our experienced experts will visit your distributed work environments and evaluate your operating modalities to advise on enhancements that will improve your key measurables and create ongoing alignment with sales and engagement goals. They’ll deliver a detailed report and recommend solutions tailored to your toughest KPI challenges.

Here are some ways that our eBusiness solutions can benefit you:
    • Dynamic integration
    • Catalog extracts  
    • Process regeneration
We are committed to both innovation and speedy adoption of disruptive sales-side ecosystems.

Our highly-trained associates take your operating blueprint and provide you with a finished global solution. The final resource set will be of the highest quality and will be validated and delivered with robust support structures. Additionally, we will source and integrate these structures into your assembly per your stated requirements.

In short, we are inverting the traditional systems architecture and abandoning outmoded team structures in favor of high-octane solutions that supercharge opportunities for growth.

We want to be your total resource solutions partner!
I said, "Okay. But what the fuck do you DO?"

June 04, 2019

The Wrong Math

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner, says people don't believe facts. They believe experts.

In some fields experts have credibility. Mostly it is in fields of hard science like medicine, physics, and chemistry where expert opinions can be tested.

In soft science, like economics and sociology, where enormous variables exist and controls are hard to establish, experts have far less credibility. There is also far less agreement within these disciplines. A quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw goes like this, "If all the economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion." Not because they are any less serious, but because their theories are difficult to prove or disprove.

Sadly in the field of advertising and marketing, experts are not usually hatched based on their record of producing reliable results, but on their ability to attract attention. Consequently we should be highly dubious of their "expertise." But we're not. Because as Kahneman also says, "a reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition."

One of the most frequently repeated and, in my opinion, highly dubious tropes in our industry these days is the idea that the paragon of media strategy is "mass one-to-one" communication. In non-jargonista terms, this means reaching large numbers with individualized messages.

You would expect that this assertion would be met with skepticism. For one thing, there is no record of "mass one-to-one" communication achieving anything. You might argue that no one has yet been able to engineer "mass one-to-one" and that is why there is no record. Which is exactly my point. Shouldn't we exercise a little skepticism about a theory for which there are no examples?

All of our huge brands -- Apple, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Budweiser, Tide, Crest, Nike -- (I could go on here all day but you have work to do) have been created by the supposedly wasteful and sub-optimal mass media.

The power of the marketing feedback loop seems to have caused our industry to lose its ability to be sober or skeptical. Or as Kahneman might put it, facts don't matter. Experts do.

The reason we accept the fairy tale of "mass one-to-one" with absolutely no evidence is that a) experts are talking about it, and b) our math experts (in media and data) say it's true. 

I don't believe the experts, but I do believe in math. I believe math can offer us insights into how advertising works and how consumers can be influenced. The only problem is, I think we're using the wrong math. If you'll pardon my cliché, we have the wrong algorithm.

I don't know what concept of math the data experts use to persuade marketers that "one-to-one" is the media model of choice, but I believe the math model we should be using to understand media effectiveness is probability. In other words, what media strategy is most likely to produce the desired result? For large consumer-facing brands, there is ample evidence that (the prudent use of) broad based media has the highest likelihood of achieving the desired result of building substantial brands, and almost no evidence of anything else doing so.

The mathematics-based rationale for the primacy of mass one-to-one advertising and its alter ego precision targeting seem to go something like this: a) you are not wasting money on people not interested in your product, and b) customized ads are more relevant and persuasive.

This may be true for certain types of B2B marketers and highly-specific brand categories, but I think both these rationales are wrong for mainstream brands. I think probability would tell us three reasons why they're wrong.

First, I believe brands are far more likely to achieve big success if they are well-known. Public media (broad based media) make you well-known. Private media (one-to-one) don't. Perhaps the best argument for this can be found outside the advertising industry. As many have noted, in their early stages Google, Facebook, and Amazon were brands that became successful without advertising. How did they become successful? One component was that news media fell in love with them and gave them zillions in free coverage. These companies became well-known without advertising, and being well-known helped them grow. The rules of probability don't just apply to advertising, they apply across the board.

Second, I believe people are more likely to accept the legitimacy of brands that advertise in public than brands that advertise in private

Third, except for sociopaths, we all (secretly) want to fit in. Understanding what products fit with our peer culture is part of fitting in. This is why goths wear black and golfers wear plaid. Consequently, we are more likely to buy a brand about which everyone in our group knows what the brand stands for. Public media provide the framework to believe that your group has the same understanding of what the brand is about as you do. Private media do not. When advertising is customized for individuals, we have no idea if others know what we know.

Byron Sharp tells us the key to growing a brand is acquiring new customers. I believe probability tells us that the more people we communicate with loudly and in public the more customers we are likely to acquire. 

Another way to look at this...

The great Rory Sutherland says that "A flower is just a weed with an advertising budget." His point is that flowers expend a lot of resources to look and/or smell pretty. And about 125 million years of evolution have shown that the expenditure pays off. 

If there was a superior way for a rose to attract bees by individually or precision targeting certain types of bees with certain types of attractiveness, one would assume it might have evolved by now. Instead, roses produce a lovely, fragrant flower and let probability do its work.

Only time will tell if "mass one-to-one" is the formula for building big brands. I'm betting the under.

May 28, 2019

The Stupidity Of Ignoring Older People

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the NextM conference in Copenhagen, hosted by Group M.

Here is a short excerpt from my talk. In this section I'm talking about the stupidity of marketers who are obsessed with millennials and ignore older people.

May 22, 2019

I Go To Conferenceland

One of the downsides of making your living as a loudmouth is that you have to do it in public. This means participating in conferences. As everyone knows, there's nothing in the world as dreary as a marketing conference, with the possible exception of a State of the Union address or lunch with a CMO.

It is my good fortune that when I speak at conferences I am usually billed as the keynote, which often means I get to speak first. Speaking first has one great advantage. After I speak I can wait until no one's looking then sneak out the back door and find a nice quiet bar.

I was at a conference a few months ago and I decided to be mature and hang around and listen to some speakers. I'll never make that mistake again. Here's what I learned:
  • The future is going to be amazing. No one's going to have to do anything. Everything will be done for us by AI, or robots, or Jeff Bezos. We won't have to work, rotate our tires, or chew our food.
  • Robots, by the way, will be stealing our jobs, our airline miles, and our children
  • Women will also be amazing. When they run everything there will be no poverty, or inequality, or wait times at the Genius Bar. Except that one from Theranos.
  • Advertising, on the other hand, is not amazing. In fact, it's dead. It's going to be replaced by Google glasses or flying cars or moving sidewalks or something.
  • Better expect the unexpected because if you expect the expected than your expectations will be unexpectedly... I don't know...something very scary.
  • China and India are going to have their own internets which will be better than ours because your password will be embedded in your brain or your kidneys and you won't have to update Flash every half hour.
  • Data is not only the secret to marketing success, it also makes your car's engine run smoother and -- something you probably didn't know -- it makes a great Father's Day gift!
  • Facebook is changing. No, really, they mean it this time! They're going to be double-extra careful with our data, our bank account numbers, and our drug bust records by taking all our files and putting them in Ziploc bags. And if anyone tries to break into them they will suspend them and not let them open another Facebook account for almost twenty minutes. Unless they use another name.
  • Consumers love your brand and want a relationship with it and want to join the conversation about it and share it with their tribe... or, wait a minute... (DISSOLVE TO 30 MINUTES LATER)... brands mean nothing to consumers. The internet has disintermediated everything and the whole idea of brands is totally stupid... (CUT TO PANEL DISCUSSION)
  • Gen Z is a whole new species of human that is even cooler than millennials. You have to get rid of all those clueless millennials you just hired because they are stupid dinosaurs. If you don't have a Gen Z strategy in place by tomorrow 9am you are already too late and you are dead. By the way, we are holding a 3-day Gen Z Insider Summit in Orlando next month...
  • Consumers will love your brand of orthotic shoe inserts even more if your brand purpose aligns with their values and they know you are committed to world peace and colonic cleansing.
  • And, by the way, everything is changing and if you don't change you will be left behind and die. It doesn't matter what you are, you have to change into something else. It doesn't matter what you change into as long as you stop doing whatever it is you are doing and start doing something else that requires AI, robots, or Jeff Bezos.
Bottom line: The only sensible reason for attending a marketing conference is to get as far away as possible from the dreary reality of marketing. Like Disneyland, marketing's conferenceland is so much cleaner, prettier, and safer than actual marketing.

My advice is stay the hell away from marketing conferences unless, of course, I'm speaking. In which case, bring the whole family.