April 29, 2015

10 Facts From The Real World

Every year or so I like to take a step back and look at a few key advertising, marketing, and media facts just to gauge how removed from reality we advertising experts are.

These data represent the latest numbers I could find. I have listed the sources below.

So here we go -- 10 facts, direct from the real world:
1. E-commerce in 2014 accounted for 6.5 percent of total retail sales. 

2. 96% of video viewing is currently done on a television. 4% is done on a web device.
3. In Europe and the US, people would not care if 92% of brands disappeared.

4. The rate of engagement among a brand's fans with a Facebook post is 7 in 10,000. For Twitter it is 3 in 10,000.

5. Fewer than one person in a thousand clicks on a standard banner ad.

6. Over half the display ads paid for by marketers are unviewable.

7. Less than 1% of retail buying is done on a mobile device.

8. Only 44% of traffic on the web is human.

9. One bot-net can generate 1 billion fraudulent digital ad impressions a day.
10. Half of all U.S online advertising - $10 billion a year - may be lost to fraud.
As regular readers know, one of our favorite sayings around The Ad Contrarian Social Club is a quote from Noble Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, who wonderfully declared that "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."

I think these facts do a pretty good job of vindicating Feynman. 

1.  U.S. Dept of Commerce, Feb 15, 2015
2.  Nielsen Total Audience Report,  4th quarter of 2014
3.  Havas Media
4. Forrester Research 
5, DoubleClick
6 The Wall Street Journal
7. US Dept of Commerce and MarketingLand
8. Incapsula
9. Yahoo 
10. Adweek 

April 27, 2015

The Universal Creative Brief

Here at The Ad Contrarian global headquarters, we know that our friends in agencies have a big problem: How do you write a creative brief that sounds original, yet says exactly the same thing as every other brief? Not an easy task!

Consequently, we have developed a universal creative brief that can work in any situation. All you have to do is fill in the brand's name and, bingo, your brief is done and you're ready to get back to your important Facebook obligations.

                                         UNIVERSAL CREATIVE BRIEF
Client: (_________)
Job No. XB-9901
Date: April 27, 2015

(___________) is a beloved challenger brand. In order to maintain its relevance, we must engage the millennial target in a way that creates a cognitive and emotional connection between the brand and the target. 

Key Insight:
Our millennial target is turned-off by advertising. They do not react to linear brand messages or product claims. In order to impact this consumer positively, the keys are authenticity and transparency. 

We need to create a new communication platform for (_________). This should not be seen by the target as “advertising.” In fact, we should resist the urge to create material that delivers one-way messaging. Instead, we should encourage our target to engage and co-create with us in a way that provides a framework for unified brand-target alignment.

1. Transition ­­­­from a "functional" brand to an "emotional" brand.
2. Create a purpose-driven movement with the brand at the center. 
3. Motivate an ongoing conversation between our brand and our millennial target.
4. Socialize our transparency initiative for full stakeholder buy-in.
5. Utilize data-driven insights across the brand portfolio. 

Primary: Institute a multi-channel solution that leverages owned, earned, and bought media assets.
Secondary: Communicate the brand essence across the brand ecosystem.

Desired Outcomes:
1. Target will view us as an authentically relevant brand that is aligned with millennial social constructs and beliefs.
2. Target will understand and appreciate our transparency initiative and assign positive meaning to the brand. 

1. Our iconic Dancing Rabbits must appear in every piece of communication.
2. Please use the stacked logo as the client believes it has more impact than the horizontal logo.
3. “Quality And Value” remain at the core of our value proposition and should be prominent in all materials. Client did not think the underscore on "and" was impactful enough in our last round.
4. Client wants to test use of QR Codes in all visual media. Believes most brands make a big mistake by making the QR Code too small. (Let's not make this mistake!)
5. Stay away from words like "production", "factory", "children", "fatalities" as these may evoke negative cognitive links to our ongoing Philippines problem.
6. Everything needs to work seamlessly with our “Summer Season of Savings” sales event. This is our biggest sales driver of the year. This event needs to ROCK!

April 22, 2015

One Chart Demolishes Social Media Fantasy

If you're still a believer in the fantasy of social media marketing on Facebook, this chart may change your mind. It comes from Jay Baer at Convince&Convert.

While it is far from definitive, it offers us a microcosm of what is going on in social media marketing. And it suggests that the whole "conversational" theory of marketing is a cruel joke.

What the chart shows is that over a 5 month period, from October 2014 to February 2015, as Facebook's organic reach dropped dramatically, its share price increased dramatically.

I'll explain what this indicates in a second, but first let's clearly state the caveats:

1. Five months is a short period for drawing big conclusions.
2. Share price is a better indicator of market sentiment than it is of business success.

Having said that, if the chart is accurate, it strongly suggests that Facebook's success as a marketing tool is totally related to paid advertising and not at all related to "conversations about brands."

The first thing we need to understand is the meaning of "organic reach." It is the number of people who were served a post free. As you can see, according to Baer, in that 5 month period the average number of a brand's followers who were shown one of the brand's posts on Facebook dropped by half, from 12% to 6%.

Also according to Baer, that number is now often 1%. He goes on to say...
"...Facebook encouraged businesses to build and reach audiences for “free” on their platform (until that free ride ended)... Facebook has still been able to pull off the greatest Gillette scam ever (you give away the razor, and then sell the blades)."
Social media promised us "conversations" among our followers, and now only 1% of our followers are even seeing our Facebook posts.

During the same time period Facebook's share price rose almost 40%. Why? Because while clueless marketers still believe in the fantasy of Facebook social "engagement," Facebook has gone all-in on good, old-fashioned paid advertising.

By cutting organic reach to almost zero, they are not even pretending to be a social media marketing entity.

Is their conversion from a social medium to a paid advertising medium a good thing for marketers? Not according to the London School of Marketing which released a white paper this week that called marketing on Facebook "a lost cause."

According a piece on the Global Marketing Alliance website...
"...experts claim Facebook advertising is no longer a cost-effective option for marketers who are seeking to build new audiences or attract new customers...Facebook advertising has changed. For some, it has shifted from being every marketer’s dream to, quite frankly, a lost cause. "
Social media marketing is useful for ultra-high-interest products (movies, bands, celebrities) and some small brands in small categories.

For the rest of us -- as we have been saying here for years -- the idea that consumers are in love with our brands and want to have conversations or social interactions about our brands online is an infantile delusion.

The billion or so people engaged in social media want to engage with each other. Not ads, not brands, not you, not me.

Thanks to Plannersphere20 and Alistair MacLenan.

My new book -- "Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey" -- will be available at Amazon within a few weeks. Here's some promo hype.

April 20, 2015

How Marketers Lie To Themselves

Anyone who has spent time in advertising knows that there are very few things in this world as unreliable as the numbers we throw around.

Our industry is so poorly trained in mathematics and statistics, we can be fooled by the most elementary of statistical manipulations and misrepresentations.

But our denseness about numbers is often as much about self-delusion as it is about ignorance. Often, we want to believe the lies we tell ourselves.

I remember not long ago -- during The Great QR Code Scare Of 2012 --  I was finding the following statistic being bandied about: "60% of people say they use QR codes."

This statistic was obviously total bullshit, and yet serious people seemed to be taking it seriously. Anyone who spent any time in the real world could see that no one was using QR codes. Yet this stat kept popping up to justify the implementation of this dimwit technology.

It was pretty clear to me what was going on. Someone did a survey: "Have you ever used a QR code?" 60% of some sample said yes. This lead to enormous misrepresentation and misunderstanding.

Here's how it happens. Let's say you ask people the following question: Have you ever eaten a snail? And 60% of the people say they have. Then you create a sentence -- "60% of Americans say they eat snails."

Even though the incidence of eating a snail may be once in a lifetime, the sentence in question appears to make the eating of snails a regular occurrence.

The same with the QR code. If 60% of consumers used a QR code once, the actual incidence of using a QR code while shopping might be one in a hundred thousand.

But by structuring the sentence to say, "60% of people say they use a QR code" instead of "the incidence of QR code use among shoppers is one in a hundred thousand" a truth is technically being told, but reality is being radically misrepresented.

While we in the marketing business often use slippery words and sentence structures to put a happier face on our communication to consumers, we don't realize how frequently this trick is used on us.

When an entire industry wants to believe, there is no better time to be skeptical.


April 16, 2015

Corruption And Fraud Starting To Hurt

A couple of weeks ago we posted a two-part piece that asked Will Advertising Corruption Scandal Explode?

The nub of the potential scandal is that the gullible clowns in big marketing corporations are being screwed blind by the sharpies in the global agency holding companies who are...
1. Buying online media at one price and selling it to them at another.

2. Taking kickbacks...oops, I mean "volume-based incentives"...from media vendors.

3. Buying media that is in the agency's best interests, not the client's.
My point of view was that clueless advertisers have been getting so badly date-raped by every variety of con man, digi-hustler, techno-crook, and cyber-scammer for so long that they probably wouldn't even notice a few billion gone missing to agency scoundrels.

However, it could be that I'm wrong. In the last few days a couple of influential ad industry analysts have been downgrading the big agency holding companies based on the belief that their somnambulant clients might finally be regaining consciousness and realizing what's been going on.

Brian Wieser, an influential analyst at Pivotal Research Group, had this to say...
“The volume and specificity of allegations by aggrieved media owners, former agency executives and marketers are difficult to ignore. Rightly or wrongly, there is a growing perception among marketers that agencies have been misleading, transferring value associated with media volumes without clients’ full understanding or support.”
He went on to say...
“As...more specific allegations come to light, a drumbeat of negativity will build around the sector over the course of this year....Given this risk, we’d recommend that investors move to the sidelines or exit the sector altogether while it all plays out.”
So who knows, maybe these creeps will finally get what's coming to them.

I know how hard and how diligently most people in the agency business
work on behalf of their clients. I've seen the blood and I've felt the suffering.

The online media industry is rotten to the core and a terrible discredit to our business.

And as we have documented here over the past few years, the agency component of online media fraud and corruption is only a small part of this sleazy circus. 

April 15, 2015

Where Are The Misbehaving Malcontents?

Advertising is getting more technically adept. And as it does so, it seems to be getting more spiritually colorless.

I know that advertising was never a spiritual pursuit. And I'm not one of those nincompoops who believes that things were so much better in the good old days.

But I miss the crazy people.

I used to be able to pick up an advertising magazine and read something outrageous, or at least thought-provoking.

I used to read about people who had crazy ideas about what advertising should be. Now all I read is the carefully manicured stylings of corporate mannequins.

They're wearing black t-shirts these days and sporting knit caps but they're the same old jargonistas in a new drag.

Who's crazy any more? Where are the troublemakers and the bullshit caller-outers? Where are the misbehaving malcontents?

One of my former colleagues once said that success in advertising was about "harnessing immaturity." But we seem to have wrung all the immaturity out of the business.

I guess there is a school of thinking that would assert that advertising is better off without  the bedwetters and the screaming miscreants.

But I gotta tell you...I miss them.

April 13, 2015

The Dumbest Client I Ever Didn't Get

One of the great joys of the ad business is that if you're in it long enough you'll meet every kind of dumb person on the planet.

During my career in advertising I had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of nice, intelligent people. And more than a few real nitwits.

Among the nitwits, one stands out.

Thankfully, he never became a client. As a matter of fact, I only had the pleasure of being with him in one meeting. But in that one meeting it became clear to me that a well-dressed, well-spoken, internationally handsome imbecile could really go far in marketing.

I don't want to embarrass anybody, so I won't get too specific.

One of our clients, a very successful food company here in the U.S., was doing a joint venture with a European company to introduce a new "fresh fruit" product. Well, it was kind of fresh and kind of fruit, but nonetheless, it was positioned as a "fresh fruit" product. It was juice-like.

The product was just so-so and if everything went perfectly I gave it about a 30% chance of success. For some reason the introduction in the U.S. was being handled by the cmo of the European partner, which gives you some idea of how well thought-out this whole enterprise was.

We were finalists in a multi-agency circle jerk. To the European cmo we were just some dumb agency from San Francisco. He was used to internationally dumb agencies.

At the final presentations, he came down from the mountain to attend the meetings. We did a good presentation -- nothing brilliant, but solid and workable and capable of creating a successful launch.

And then Mr. Euromoron stepped in and revealed his brilliant strategy:
"Do you know how many people in the U.S. never buy fresh fruit juice?" he asked rhetorically. "Almost 50%!"

"Really?" I replied. And so...?

"So that means half the people in the U.S. are the perfect target for our new product."

Hold it, you're not saying....

"We're going to target all those people who are not buying fruit juice and..."

"Excuse me," I said. "You mean you are not going to target a juice product to people who buy juice? You want to target it to the people who don't?"

"Yes," he said, with the pride of those who believe they are thinking 'outside the box' but are really thinking inside their ass. "Look at the enormous opportunity."

"May I ask a question?" I asked. "Why do you think these people don't buy fruit juice?"

"Because... some bullshit about convenience.... or some other bullshit about marketing... or some more bullshit about engagement...." he replied.

"No, you fucking moron, it's because they don't fucking like it, you stupid fuck." Is what I wanted to say.
But being the gentleman that I am, I just farted and left the room.

Oh, we didn't get the account and the product died in about 10 minutes. 

April 08, 2015

How Do You Untrain A Generation?

For almost two thousand years, up until the late 19th century, one of the most common treatments for illness was bloodletting.

Medical practitioners, who were trained in the practice of bloodletting, never questioned its efficacy. They just assumed it worked because they were taught it worked and they  credulously attributed the fact that some people got well to the treatment.

We are faced with a similar problem today in advertising. We have a whole generation of people who have been taught nonsense. They are now in important positions in marketing and advertising, and they are practicing what they have been taught.

For almost 20 years, advertising programs, marketing courses, and professional development classes have taught these people principles that can now be labeled either seriously flawed or outright baloney. Some of them are:
  • Consumers want to interact with advertising.
  • The "interruption" model is dead, and the "permission" model is transcendent.
  • Consumers want to have "relationships" with brands and be "engaged" with them.
  • Consumers are heavily influenced by online "conversations about brands."
  • Broadcast media are "dead."
People who were taught these fictions are now CMOs, creative directors, and brand managers. They are running the marketing world and they will continue to do so for a good long time.

Marketing and advertising have always had their share of questionable beliefs. But never before in my experience has a whole generation of marketing and advertising people been taught an entire set of principles that is so lacking in a factual basis, and so influenced by anecdotes and fantasies.

Paradoxically, a generation that has been raised to worship data, is ignorant of the data that has evolved to demonstrate the fundamental fallacies of these principles.

Worse, they dismiss those of us who question their "bloodletting" as ignorant heretics.

Wonderful cartoon is from Tom Fishburne
Hat tip to Steve Goldstein

April 06, 2015

Opening Day, 2015

Today is Opening Day for most of the baseball world. Here is my customary Opening Day post.

The world is a complete fucking mess. Somewhere, an asteroid is heading toward Earth. Web pornography is warping the minds of our children. Grown men and women are relentlessly tweeting each other. Yes, my friend, the end is near.

But who gives a damn?

It's Opening Day. I'm going to have a hot dog and a beer. I'm going to sit in the sunshine till the back of my neck is red and raw and my ass stings like a shot of tequila on a bad patch of strep throat.

What the hell, I'm having two hot dogs.

Once a year, every aspect of life should have an Opening Day. Every business should have one. Every friendship should have one. Every family should have one.

A day when everything starts over. When all of last year's successes and failures go into the record book, no longer a matter of life and death, just a matter of history. A day when the slate is clean and the possibilities are unlimited. A day when you call in sick-and-tired; when you leave the iPhone in the glove compartment; when you go somewhere where the grass is perfect and the people are unaccountably cheerful.

It's Opening Day. Let's play some fucking ball.

April 02, 2015

Death Of TV Continues Not To Happen

Every time a new study comes out and it shows some erosion of share of broadcast or cable TV, we get hysterical headlines about the death of TV.

In fact, what is changing is not consumer behavior. What's changing is what we call it.

Consumer behavior has been remarkably stable -- sadly, we're all still sitting in front of a screen watching mostly crap for 5 hours a day. But these days we call some of it live viewing, some of it streaming, some of it time-shifting, and some of it OTT (Over The Top) viewing.

There are so many new ways of delivering crap to a TV, that we are confusing the delivery systems with the behavior.

I was at a conference recently where I heard a great quote, "TV isn't dying, it's having babies."

Although live TV is still hugely dominant, the incremental growth of new forms of video delivery are continuing to have two effects: 1) over the past few years people are watching more video than ever, and 2) live TV's share of total video consumption is declining.

Nielsen released its Total Audience Report for the 4th quarter of 2014 a few weeks ago and here are some charts I made that give you a quick snapshot of what's going on.

While the definition of what it means to "watch TV" keeps changing with each new video delivery system, it's interesting to note that among the four video options in the above chart, 96% of video viewing was done on a TV, 4% was done on a web device.

One of the very interesting things in the report is the extent to which mobile devices are surpassing time spent with "traditional" online devices, i.e., computers.

The fact that mobile time has increased 60% compared to "traditional" online time is very conveniently ignored by the online ad industry and agency doofuses. Of course, if TV was dropping in proportion to mobile as quickly as traditional online, we'd be hearing even more hysterical cackling about the death of TV. But no one talks about the "death of online."

Despite the erosion of viewership because of the proliferation of new "pipes", live TV and radio still crush time spent with online devices.

Since Nielsen released its Total Audience Report a few weeks ago, they also released another report called, Nielsen Television Audience Report. Here's a graph from that report that gives you some idea of how ridiculous the "TV is dead" knuckleheads are:

As you can see, a record number of US households now own televisions. Despite all the yapping about "cord-cutters", the number of households with traditional TVs has grown year over year for the last 2 years.

In fact, households with televisions have grown by 15% since 2000, when the digi-doofuses starting declaring TV dead.  Additionally, the average household now contains, on average, more than 3 TV sets.

There are so many new ways of delivering video, that the language of what used to be "television" is now impossible to keep up with. It seems like every day new pipes, new arrangements, and new set-top boxes are making video delivery astoundingly confusing.

It's been 15 years since we started hearing the nonsense about the death of television. And yet every company in creation is now scrambling to own a piece of the TV pie.

Over time, TV's new babies will mature. Some will survive and some will die. While the business models of today's broadcasters and cable operators will certainly be challenged, consumers will not be abandoning video programming anytime soon.

Consumers will continue to consume video, and there will continue to be plenty of opportunities for advertisers.

People love television -- regardless of how it is delivered or what we choose to call it.

April 01, 2015

7 Things I've Learned Since Leaving Agencyland

Today marks two years since I ran screaming from the agency business. Here are some things I think I've learned about myself and about agency life since I left:
1. The greatest source of misery was status anxiety: The medium you swim in in agency life is anxiety about where you stand -- both as an individual and as an agency. You may not perceive it because it's all around you, but once you are out of it you recognize how pervasive it was.

2. The greatest freedom is not having to give a shit: Agency people are always bullshitting. Clients demand it. Colleagues expect it. We do it so much we don't even realize we're doing it. We think of it as professional discourse. When you leave, there is a wonderful sense of liberation in being able to say exactly what you think, without a calculation of the consequences.

3. I seem to be better at writing about advertising than I was at writing advertising: I was an OK copywriter, but I think I'm better at writing the stuff I'm writing now.

4. My second career is more gratifying: I was reasonably successful and happy in the ad business, but my second career -- doing whatever the hell it is I am doing now -- has been personally more satisfying. I certainly am not earning anywhere near the levels I was, but I am enjoying it more.

5. When you retire you become Chinese: To a great many people who kissed my ass and pretended to be my friends when I was a ceo, I am now Bob Hu? It is not surprising, but it is indicative of the levels of insincerity in the ad business.
6. I left the agency business too late: I had thought about leaving a few years before I did. I should have. Watching what has become of the business from a distance is amusing. But watching the unpleasant changes going on while I was still in it was painful.
7. The things I am ashamed of still haunt me: On those nights when I can't sleep, the things I did in the agency that I knew were wrong still trouble me. I don't replay the successes, I replay the dishonor.