November 30, 2016

The Danger In Storytelling

I have noticed something recently when I read articles in trade publications.

Much of the data we are getting about online advertising is negative. To wit:

- The amount of fraud
- The extent of ad blocking
- The siphoning of revenue by ad tech middlemen
- The minuscule rates of interactivity
- The absence of consumer engagement
- The lack of transparency in media agency buying

Much of positive news we get, however, is anecdotal. The trades tell us about this successful social media program and that successful Facebook campaign.

And the anecdotes seem to have far more impact.

One of the principles that every good copywriter learned in her first six weeks on the job was "tell a story." The reason is simple -- people remember stories (sadly, storytelling has now become an inescapable and insufferable cliché that every dimwit marketing poseur is required by law to mention twice in every sentence. But we'll leave that for another day.)

But storytelling has its dangers.

The danger is that anecdotes make far better stories than data.

For example, the anecdote of the Ice Bucket Challenge makes a much more memorable story than the report by the American Marketing Association that 88% of marketers find no return on social media marketing.

And so the Ice Bucket Challenge lives on as an exemplar of the power of social media while the AMA report is nowhere to be found.

Someone once said "don't bring an anecdote to a data fight." But smart salespeople know better. They know that a good story trumps a bunch of numbers every time. And they use anecdotes wisely and widely to camouflage data (see this post from last month.)

Stories are a good technique for communicating. But they're a bad basis for making business decisions.

November 28, 2016

Subversive Thoughts About Marketing

Here at The Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters, we're starting to have subversive thoughts about marketing. Well, we're not actually starting -- we've had them for decades -- but we needed a good lead line...

Back in my agency days, I would often sit and listen to marketing people talk and think 'these people don't really know anything. They've learned a vocabulary and they think that is the same as knowing something.'

As Richard Feynman used to say, if you know that a tree is called an acacia tree you don't know anything about trees, you know something about people -- what people call trees.

Well, I'm getting off track here. The point is, I think there is a fairly large segment of the marketing fraternity (or sorority if you prefer) who are bluffing. They don't really know anything but they've created jobs in which knowing something isn't really necessary.

Here's an example.

Thanks to a loyal reader, I was sent a link to something written by the head of "Marketing Science" at Facebook. I think we would all agree that no company on Earth has prospered more from the marketing industry's passion for social metrics like "shares" and "clicks" and "likes" than Facebook.

And yet the article in question, published in the Journal of Advertising Research, makes clear in no uncertain terms that Facebook's study of these so-called metrics has found them to be meaningless and useless. In other words, there is no correlation between these "metrics" and real world effectiveness. As marketing data, they have no value.

Using these tools to evaluate the effectiveness of marketing is like trying to gauge a person's intelligence by measuring her bra size. Believe me, I've tried it and it doesn't work.

Now please keep in mind that this research wasn't done by a chronic pain-in-the-ass like me. This was written by a head brainiac at the one company in the world that, in a previous incarnation, made a fortune selling us on the amazing value of these "metrics."

The shocking thing is that most marketing people won't bother listening to this guy. These people are spending days and weeks producing reports, Powerpoint decks, and presentations analyzing exactly the data that he says is completely useless.

Many have made a career out of it.

You have to ask yourself why these people continue to do this stuff when it is of no value? There are two reasons.

First, despite its meaninglessness, there is still a demand for this nonsense among other marketing people who also know nothing.

And second, this is the only thing these people know how to do. If they don't do it, what the fuck else are they going to do?

So what we have here is people who know nothing paying other people who know nothing to do something that is useless.

Which turns out to be a pretty good definition of social media marketing.

November 23, 2016

No App For Gratitude

Today I am repeating my traditional Thanksgiving post which I have run for several years. And, yes, the Trump line was there years ago.

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.