January 31, 2015

The Time I Predicted Oreo-Tweet-itis

With the Super Bowl just hours away, and earnest tweetniks all over the world gathering in war rooms to do some heavy duty "real-time marketing," I think it's only appropriate to pat myself on the back for having foreseen this day by reprinting a piece I wrote long before the Oreo tweet changed life on earth forever.

August 9, 2012

The 6 Stages Of Digital Delusion

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 over 10 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 banner advertising, YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. 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 entrepreneurs gather up a Powerpointful of cliches and march them 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 (your miracle here) strategy?" Fearing that she will be thought insufficiently trendy, every CMO is suddenly looking for an agency that is expert at (your miracle here).

5. Reality Rears Its Ugly Head: The numbers dribble in. Oops...people are ignoring our miracle 955 million at a time. 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..."
This cycle has repeated itself so many times that it is comical. Here are just some of the digital miracles that have turned out to be "just part of an integrated program..."

    ...websites... blogs... banners... podcasts... MySpace... Second Life... widgets... YouTube... Facebook... Facebook apps... Hulu...games... Twitter... iAds...Linked In... FourSquare... Pinterest... QR codes... and now... content (whatever the hell that means.)

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Which reminds me...
...what the hell ever happened to "the conversation?"

January 29, 2015

My Super Bowl Ad Scorecard

On Sunday we will be subject to the annual festival of excess known as the Super Bowl.

This year, it's The Cheaters versus The Asshats. It's hard to find someone to root for. So let's root for the ads.

Inside the advertising and marketing communities the Super Bowl is thought of as the litmus test for advertising creativity. It is not.

While Super Bowl spots are usually bigger and more expensive than regular spots, they are also generally more formulaic.

Below are 6 often used templates for Super Bowl spots.

I prefer to wait for Christmas to open my presents, so I have not gone online to look at the 2015 crop. I'm going to keep track of how many of the ads adhere to the tried and true formulas.
1. Anthropomorphic Animals: In these spots, animals either speak or display human emotions. I guarantee the number one fan-rated spot will be one of these.

2. Celebrity Out Of Water: A famous person in a fish-out-of-water situation. These spots are supposed to be funny but, tragically, seldom are.

3. Automotive Adventure: Someone in a car is pursued/challenged/threatened by aliens/spies/evil-doers/cartoon characters. Lots of expensive computer-generated imagery is employed to save the day.

4. Trailer Trash: Movie trailers in which 30 seconds of weapons, explosions, and havoc are employed to promote films. Later this week the same Hollywood morons that created these monstrosities will be testifying before congress about their hatred of violence and commitment to gun control.

5. I'll Do Anything For A _______: The hero of the spot does something outrageous to get his hands on the product in question, and is usually comically injured or otherwise humiliated for his effort. These spots are doubly Super Bowl-ish when the hero is an animal.

6. America The Beautiful: A drippy tribute to the servicemen/workers/farmers/nurses/mothers/dry cleaners of this great country of ours.
Now that the NFL has deflated our balls, let's hope they don't deflate our expectations.

January 28, 2015

Social Media Metrics: Useful Or Available?

Now that nobody with a functioning brain pays any attention to social media "metrics" (like followers and likes) you have to wonder how advertising and marketing wizards spent years being mesmerized by this bullshit.

I think the answer is simple. It's so difficult to isolate the effect of advertising on sales results that people grasp at anything that sounds like a measurement and is simple to understand.

I don't think social media metrics were fashionable because they were indicative of anything useful or meaningful, they were fashionable because they were easy to come by and easy to comprehend.

When The Noise Is Stronger Than The Signal
It is not unusual for click through rates for banner ads to hover in the .02 to .03% range. That's 2 or 3 clicks per 10,000 impressions. (I use the term "impressions" with great trepidation.)

This is so astoundingly low that I wonder if it is a real number. It seems to me that the margin of error may be far greater than the result itself.

For example, if the margin of error in counting clicks is 1%, that would be 100 clicks in 10,000. In that environment, are 2 or 3 clicks real or just noise?

Are there any statisticians out there who can advise us? Prof. Sharp?

Our Doctors Are Rockstars
In my hometown of Oakland California, there is a children's hospital called, not surprisingly, Children's Hospital Oakland.

For several months now there has been a huge banner hanging from the top of the hospital that says, Our Doctors Are Rockstars. This bugs the shit out of me.

Apparently the dimwits who conceived this banner believe higher virtue obtains to the nincompoops who sing pop songs than to people who save the lives of children.

What a joy it would be to wake up one day and see a sign somewhere that said, Our Rockstars Are Doctors.

Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads?
Is the title of a wonderful, gorgeous book by Alfredo Marcantonio, David Abbott, and John O'DriscollLike I said in my Amazon review, if you're thinking of a career in advertising it will show you how it's supposed to be done. If you're working in advertising it will remind you of why.

January 26, 2015

McDonald's Jargon-Fest

In this wonderful video, McDonald's new cmo throws every dreadful cliche in the marketing jargon handbook at their problems and comes away with nothing.

If you're a fan of journeys and sharing and relationships and conversations and open dialogues you're going to love this.

Being the thoughtful and generous person I am, I would like to offer McDonald's new cmo an alternative view of the universe. And a few ideas about how to turn their tanking business around.

Dear Deborah,

You seem like a nice and smart person. However, I think you may be on the wrong track here. I worked on the McDonald's business for over 15 years and I have a scrapbook full of claptrap about relationships and customer engagement and dialogues and brand transformations that went nowhere.

It is my view that a little less highfalutin' philosophy and a little more practical application of sound business practices would do you a lot of good. To wit:

1. Clean up the fucking stores.
2. Serve the burgers off the grill instead of those plastic drawers.
3. Teach the crew how to smile.

When you're done with that, then you can do all the journeying and dialoguing you want.

No charge.

Your pal,


January 21, 2015

Good Advertising Is The Best Strategy

People who are good at golf tend to believe golf is the greatest game. People who are good at painting tend to believe art is our highest calling. People who are religious believe in the brilliance of the bible.

This is called confirmation bias. We tend to embrace those things that validate our beliefs or inclinations.

Advertising has two primary branches of discipline -- the strategic and the creative. The strategic part of advertising deals in logic and analysis. The creative part is concerned with imagination.

Most of us who work in advertising, perhaps 90% or more, are primarily involved in the strategic part. Although most of us don't have the word "strategy" in our title, strategy is what we do. We decide how to spend media dollars, how to develop a promotion, how to present something to a client, etc. In other words, we make strategic decisions.

Is there a creative component to these strategic tasks? Sure. But in advertising the word "creative" has a specific meaning. It relates to the development of advertising materials -- ads, designs, videos, photographs, music, and words meant for dissemination to consumers for the purpose of persuasion. Most of us don't do that.

The people we deal with -- our clients -- are also primarily occupied with strategic tasks. Their involvement with creative work is generally second-hand. They manage, evaluate or otherwise interact with it. But they are not usually involved in the hands-on making of it.

The consequence of this is that although it should be self-evident that the most important aspect of advertising is the advertising itself, our behavior says that we don't really believe this. We give great lip-service to creativity, but actually place a higher value on strategy.

Clients and agencies will allow themselves months to develop strategies, and days to create ads. We have endless hours of meetings, presentations, off-sites, deep-dives, decks, and downloads to discuss strategy. And at the end of all this, every now and then an ad appears.

Why? Because placing a higher value on strategy validates what we do. It is another example of confirmation bias.

This would be worth it if we could demonstrate that all this activity paid out. But the contribution of most people we blithely call "strategists" to the effectiveness of advertising is suspect at best.

It has been my experience that what passes for strategic insight in advertising is often quite unexceptional. It is usually some variation on a) quality and value, b) we're so hip, c) new and improved, d) we're authentic/fresh/natural, or just some clever way of saying something very ordinary.

In fact, a typical brand's advertising strategy usually looks very much like its closest competitor's and provides very little in the way of differentiation or leverage. Because of this, as Dave Trott pointed out recently, most ad agencies have become "the gift-wrapping department." We take something mundane and make it look nice.

Sadly, creative people these days cannot rely on anything very useful coming out of the briefs they get. When advertising breakthroughs occur, they are usually the result of an imaginative creative idea. This sometimes is the result of a well-thought out strategy, but most often comes from a creative person who understands the problem better than the strategy does.

One reason for this is that as brands become bigger and more globalized, they become too big for specificity. They have to appeal to too many types of people which leads to fluffy "strategies" that result in  "gift-wrapping" instead of effective advertising. Large brands are becoming too big for what we have traditionally called "strategy."

The homogenization of strategies is why imaginative thinking (creativity) has become so much more important, and so much harder to come by. Nonetheless, confirmation bias still leads the agency/client community to foolishly value the word of the most mediocre "strategist" above the instincts of the most talented creative person.

All this is just a long way of saying that, in most cases, good advertising is the best strategy.

January 19, 2015

10 Critical Ways To Make LinkedIn Less Boring

Let's face it. LinkedIn is a freaking snore.

Unless you're a demented stalker or desperately looking for a job, what the hell is LinkedIn good for? I've been on it for about five years now and I still have no idea why.

The only personality the site has is a constant stream of tediously earnest essays entitled "10 Critical Ways To (Whatever-The-Hell-The-Author-Is-Peddling-This-Week)"

Other than that...let's be honest here. We don't really give a shit if some dry cleaner from Buffalo is looking at our profile. We want people who can make us some money, do us some good, or at least get us laid. Am I right?

So I have some ideas for the folks over at LinkedIn. Create some categories of stuff that we actually care about.

Here are 10 suggestions for some totally compelling info about our connections that would make LinkedIn a lot more interesting:
1. People you are connected to who have extra Super Bowl tickets.
2. People you used to work with who hate you and are checking to see if you're dead.
3. Super-hot nymphos who looked at your profile 
4. CEOs you're connected to who have a criminal record.
5. Guys you once slept with when you were drunk and are now no longer married.`
6. People you've done business with who are useless but have jobs you want.

7. Rich guys who can get you to Pebble Beach.

8. People who have deliciously nasty stories about your boss
9. Contacts who've had bad plastic surgery.
10. People with your same birthday who look way older than you.
See what I mean? If LinkedIn had stuff like this, I'd like them on Facebook.

January 15, 2015

E-Trade Re-Trades

Back in April I wrote a piece entitled "Talking Babies And Babbling Baboons."

It was about E-Trade's announcement that they had hired a new CMO who was coming in to kill their talking baby and bring in her own agency to do a different, and presumably more successful, campaign.

While I had some reservations about`` the Talking Baby, at the time I wrote,
"...good advertising can't withstand the relentless onslaught of baboons in the marketing suite...
Marketing people just refuse to leave shit alone. Somewhere they got the idea that everything they see needs to be changed and everything they change is an improvement...
Whenever I read in the trades that a successful advertiser has hired a new CMO, I know a festival of laughter is on the way. They (the new CMOs) always say the same thing: 
"X Corp has been very successful. I am not here to change that. My focus is just on making sure that we ______."
Amazingly, making sure that they ________ always seems to require that they change everything.
Recently E-Trade got a new CMO, which, of course, meant a new agency which, of course, means a new campaign. And what an inexcusable piece of excrement it is.

Of course, this horrible, disgraceful, odious (am I making myself clear?) campaign is being justified with the usual steaming pile of hogwash about "consumers" and "research" and "control" and "spaces."

Just reading this crap is so depressing. It has to make anyone with a sense of what advertising should and could be disgusted that advertising decisions are in the hands of such philistines.

When are these people going to learn that a distinctive campaign idea is worth ten-thousand of their vacuous strategy documents and hinky research reports?

The new CMO, in the time-honored tradition of insolent duplicity, gives the old campaign the obligatory counterfeit high praise while sticking an ice pick in the heart of something good in support of something unspeakably horrible.

I hate to do this to you on a Monday morning, but take a look at this monstrosity and try not to lose your breakfast.

They followed this disaster with further awfulness involving poor Kevin Spacey.

Well, guess what? After just 9 months the brilliant new CMO and her agency are out on their asses, as is their "improved" campaign for E-Trade.

CMO's -- particularly newly arriving ones -- have a terrible compulsion to screw up good things they didn't create. They just can't help themselves.

A good ad campaign is a very rare thing these days. Glib CMOs, on the other hand, can be acquired in bulk at any marketing conference or social media "summit".

Any company that trades a good ad campaign for a jargon-spewing CMO deserves what it gets.

January 14, 2015

The Difference Between Waste And Fraud

According to the Association of National Advertisers, $6.3 billion of advertisers' money will be stolen by online ad fraud this year. Globally, Solve Media puts the number at $11.6 billion.

According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau about 1/3 of online ads paid for by advertisers never appear before a human being. Google puts the number at 56%.

According to Forensiq, just one average bot-net can produce 1 billion fraudulent ad impressions a day. No one knows how many average bot-nets there are. Or above-average ones.

Like all the "metrics" related to online advertising, no one can agree on a damn thing. What everyone does agree on, however, is that the amount of fraud is staggering. As Rance Crain, editor-in-chief of Advertising Age magazine says,"...there is massive fraud in the digital marketplace."

But there is another fraud being perpetrated that no one is talking about.

It is a soft fraud committed by those tacitly accepting the criminality. I'm talking about advertising agencies and marketing officers.

They are quietly complicit with the creeps that are corrupting our industry. They pretend they are concerned by corruption while they cavalierly pooh-pooh it.

The soft fraudsters always starts with a chuckle and a recitation of the famous quote from John Wanamaker, "Half my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half." And then they pretend that this corruption and criminality is part of the waste Wanamaker was talking about.

It is no such thing. The willingness of advertising agencies, marketing officers, pundits and "experts" to pretend that the billions of dollars being stolen is, ho-hum just part of the waste we've always had, is a lie.

This type and level of corruption has never existed before in the ad business. The insouciant dismissal of it is inexcusable.

Once the crooks have stolen half your advertising budget with fraudulent traffic, fraudulent impressions, fraudulent clicks, and fraudulent websites, what's left of your budget is still subject to the waste of inattention that Wanamaker talked about.

Online advertising is growing too fast. Too many people are making too much money. When this happens, no one wants to kill the golden goose.

The advertising industry is heading for big trouble. It needs to start taking this seriously instead of appointing committees and pretending it's just an annoyance we can "manage."

There is a difference between waste and fraud. It's time for the ad industry to stop pretending.

January 12, 2015

A Year With No Goals

How about having no goals this year?

How about just enjoying the year and letting it take you wherever the hell it pleases?

How about working hard because it's fun, not because it's advantageous?

How about forgetting your ambitions for a year?

How about not caring what people think?

How about not believing experts this year?

How about doing the right thing simply because it's the right thing?

How about re-thinking everything you learned in business school, everything you read in business publications, and everything you think you know about your job?

How about doing things your way?

How about ignoring big shots?

How about appreciating a few more things?

How about doing one thing at a time?

How about rejecting the fashionable ideas of unhappy people?

How about being quieter, smaller, calmer, and sunnier?

How about not worrying about your status?

How about enjoying your life?

You may find that having no strategy is the best strategy of all.

January 08, 2015

The Day I Wrote A Dirty Book

I spent my twenty-fifth birthday writing naughty literature.

At the time I was essentially a bum. I had quit my teaching job (by acclamation, I was chosen America's worst teacher) and had decided that I wanted to be a writer. I had no idea what I wanted to write.

Scouring the classifieds, I answered an ad for a writer of "adult fiction." I submitted a sample and was hired.

You can imagine how proud I was.

Our office was in Greenwich Village. It was above a gym on 6th or 7th Av. somewhere south of West 4th St. Forty or so intervening years of advertising, alcohol, and adulthood have rendered the details a little hazy.

There were three of us -- a statuesque lesbian about a head taller than me who wore cat's eye glasses and was the sexiest thing I had ever laid eyes on. I still have dreams about the black knit dress she wore.

Then there was Erwin or Walter or something like that. He was a scrawny little intellectual about my age with curly, balding hair who walked bent over as if he was prepared for the ceiling to fall in on him at any moment.

And there was me. Since it was the 70's I had the obligatory full beard and shoulder length hair.

Our boss was a gay guy we will call James. He had an earring, which was unusual in those days. He wore a multi-colored, vertically striped silk shirt with a long, pointy collar and rolled up sleeves. I wasn't sure if he owned the place or was just the editor.

Our assignment was simple. We had to write a book a week. The book had to be exactly 150 pages, which meant we had to write thirty pages a day. I can't type thirty pages a day. We got paid $1 a page.

I lasted one day.

When I tell this story, I often say that spending eight hours that day thinking about nothing but sex was too much, even for a dirty little mind like mine. But the truth is, one day's work exhausted everything I new about the subject.

I called in the second day and left a message that I wouldn't be returning. James called me back and asked me to reconsider. He said he had read my "manuscript" overnight and was very impressed.

You can imagine how proud I was.

I don't often talk about this episode. But sometimes, when people ask me what I did before advertising, I say, "I was a novelist."

January 07, 2015

10 Important Things To Ignore In 2015

Continuing our look ahead to the upcoming year in advertising and marketing, we believe 2015 promises to be another memorable year in the Golden Age Of Bullshit.

All the bullshit artists marketing experts are busily at work knocking out their cliche-ridden articles and Powerpoint monstrosities which they will be forcing down your throat over the next few weeks.

As an antidote to all this baloney, here are ten things you would be wise to ignore this year. I have been ignoring these things for decades and it has served me well.

1. Any and all predictions about the new year
No one knows what's going to happen 10 minutes from now. 

2.  All stories about "The Death Of Something" 
Every dimwit desperately trying to be published writes one of these abominations. They are the default "think pieces" for writers who can't think.

3. All forecasts by economists
Three words: Monkeys throwing darts.

4. Press releases about client/agency relations
The world's most transparently disingenuous and consistently deceitful form of bullshit.

5. Articles about "millennials", "brand storytelling", "disruption", or "authentic conversations."
If I have to read one more inane article about any of this crap I will personally send the author's IP address to Kim Jong-un.

6. Any presentation about "Something That Will Change Everything"
Nothing changes everything.

7. All utterances of tech CEOs
There's so much not to like about these creeps. Maybe if we stop listening they'll stop talking.

8. Books, speeches or articles about your "personal brand"
You don't need a personal brand. You need a personality.

9. Any word, phrase, or sentence spoken by a participant in a focus group
The source of more bad ideas than any other activity in the history of civilization.

10. Anything written by a blogger 

I hope these suggestions help you have a wonderful year, and remember -- in this year as in every year, there's only one ad bozo who really loves you.

January 05, 2015

My Hopes For 2015

I'm tired of being disappointed.

Every year I have high hopes that it's going to be different. And it never is.

So this year I am determined not to be disappointed. I've adjusted my hopes for the year accordingly.

Here's what I'm hoping for in 2015:
  • I'm hoping that some people with no talent or brains became really famous. 
  • I'm hoping that a presidential candidate writes a book.
  • I hope that some Hollywood stars sign a petition.
  • I'm hoping that a famous athlete gets arrested.
  • I'm hoping that college students discover the world isn't perfect.  
  • I hope there's a Super Bowl spot with talking animals.
  • I'm hoping that companies I buy things from make it very hard for me to talk to someone on the phone. 
  • I'm hoping for really annoying online ads. 
  • I hope to see more about Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, and Al Sharpton.
  • I'm hoping that someone announces they are going to re-invent the ad agency. 
  • I'm hoping this is the year of mobile. 
  • I hope someone in Washington suggests that we move to the metric system. 
  • I hope that some pop music stars share their political opinions with us.
  • I'm hoping that a lot of people decide that anyone who doesn't agree with them -- particularly about religion or politics -- needs to be killed. 
  • I hope that two large advertising companies merge.  
  • I'm hoping that a marketing group holds a conference called "Disrupt" or "Engage" or "Connect."
  • I hope that people get really sensitive about their religion or race or size or height or sex or ethnicity. 
  • I'm hoping that we have more people on TV talk shows screaming at each other. 
  • I hope our elected representatives have really nice suits and haircuts.
  • I'm hoping someone makes a movie about a flawed loner who has to save the world.
  • I'm hoping that a car company has the best deals of the year. 
  • I'm hoping that all my friends post cute pictures of their children. 
    • I'm hoping someone says, "It is what it is." 
    • I hope that a food we thought was good for us turns out to be bad, and a food we thought was bad turns out to be good. 
    • I'm hoping for more data-driven insights.
    • I hope that the ceo of a once-great magazine or newspaper decides they need to be an "online content provider. " 
    • I'm hoping to read about developing my personal brand. 
    • I hope that a tech ceo publishes an article about how I can be just like him if I follow five simple rules. 
    • I hope that someone writes a book about how to market to millennials. 
    I have a feeling that this year I won't be disappointed.

    January 02, 2015

    How To Be Happier In 2015

    Seven things you can do in 2015 that I guarantee will make you happier:
    1. Clean all the shit out of your closet
    2. Never read a newspaper
    3. Wear warm socks
    4. Don't pile all kinds of crap on your pizza
    5. Take a dog for a walk
    6. Turn off the fucking television
    7. Go somewhere and dance
    No charge