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.