September 29, 2016

Who Stole The Ads From Ad Week?

I'm on my third morning at Advertising Week and I've yet to see an ad.

I've seen absurd panel discussions about what marketing will be like in 2030. I've seen a disgraceful PR event disguised as information about the dreadful "McAgency."

I've heard solemn discussions of every mind-numbing cliché in the marketing lexicon: breaking down silos, and storytelling, and authenticity, and ecosystems and so many fucking consumer journeys that you can't swing a brain dead cmo without hitting one.

But there's one thing I haven't seen -- an ad.

It's like going to Music Week and not hearing a song. Or going to Photography Week and not seeing a picture.

It's completely insane and perfectly indicative of our industry. The ads themselves are of no interest anymore.

We are not in the advertising business. We are in the advertising business business.

It is very dispiriting and not a little infuriating.

There is no laughter. There is no joy.

It's not just media buying that has become programmatic. We have.

September 26, 2016

The Devaluation Of Creativity

Today I am reprinting parts of my talk from the IAPI/ADFX awards in Dublin, Ireland last week. For the sake of brevity, I am leaving out some sections and focusing solely on my comments about creativity. Hope you enjoy. 

Thank you for inviting me here tonight.

I’m not usually invited to speak at high class affairs like this. I usually get invited to horrifying events like the “The Programmatic Real-Time Digital Insider Summit” or some other majestically titled festival of horseshit.

But, thankfully, tonight is different. Tonight you are recognizing the best of Irish advertising. And I am honored to help you do that.

I love good advertising. I started my career as a copywriter. After a while I got myself promoted to creative director for a few agencies. And after proving myself to be an utter failure as a creative director, I was demoted to ceo.

But the one thing I always really wanted to be was a great copywriter. Sadly, my copywriting career consisted mostly of holiday-weekend mattress sales and low, low financing on every Corolla in stock.

Despite my mediocrity, doing creative work was the only thing that really interested me about advertising. The rest was torture.

As far as I was concerned, the agency business worked like this: the creative people made the ads and everyone else made the arrangements.

What I could never understand was why it took 5 times as many people to make the arrangements.

I guess you could say I was a creative department chauvinist. And to be honest, I still am.

We are here tonight to celebrate effectiveness in advertising.

I know how had hard you clients, and you account people, and planners, and data analysts, and media strategists worked for the awards you’re getting tonight, and I congratulate you.

But I want you to know in advance, that I’m not going to be speaking about you. I am going to be focusing on the contribution that our creative people make to advertising effectiveness. And the peril they, and we, are facing.

Regardless of how brilliant the briefs we write are, and the strategies we develop are, and plans we implement are, at the end of the line are the people who will take our plans and strategies and briefs and turn them into magic or turn them into trash. They’re our creatives.

For better or worse, the consumer never sees the briefing documents or the strategic rationale. All she ever sees are the ads. And if the ads stink, the whole thing stinks.

Over the past few years I have been doing a lot of traveling and speaking about advertising. Wherever I go in the world, I invariably hear the same two themes.

First is that advertising has become less effective.

And second is that advertising is less creative.

It is hard for me to believe that these two things are not related…

…The problem we are facing today, I’m afraid, is that the creative side of our business is being devalued. Creativity is quickly and quietly becoming a support service.

The alarming thing about this is that I believe creativity is the agency business’s only unique value to clients. Everything else agencies do clients can get somewhere else.

They can get business strategy from about a million different consulting firms. They can find media planners and buyers on every street corner. They can buy data by the truckload with two clicks of a mouse.

The one thing every successful marketer needs — and the one thing agencies can provide better than anyone else — is imaginative ideas about brands.

But apparently, the advertising industry has decided it can no longer support itself by focusing on creativity.

If you remember the aborted marriage between Omnicom and Publicis last year, the rationale for creating the biggest agency in the world had nothing at all to do with creativity. The primary reason given for the merger was their presumed ability to compete with Google and Facebook in the collection and utilization of data.

It seems to me that the agency business is betting its future on playing the other guy’s game. I think this is a mistake.

Over 25 years ago I left the agency business for the first time. Two years earlier we had sold our independent agency to a publicly traded  "global" network. And after the two worst years of my life, I decided it was not the life for me.

For three years thereafter I did creative services on my own directly for clients. In that three-year period being outside of the agency business I learned a very important lesson. Clients, I want you to cover your ears and not listen to this -- Okay, agency people, here’s what I learned. Secretly, clients don’t like agencies.

They put no value on "account service” — or as one client told me "all it does is keep the agency from fucking up, it doesn't do a thing for me."

Behind our backs, they chuckled about our "strategic abilities."

The value they saw in agencies was in creativity. They believed the only place they could get good ads was from an agency.

But creativity is in trouble.

There’s a mantra I hear in agencies back in the States. I don’t know if you hear it here, too. But it goes like this. “We’re all creative” or “Creative ideas can come from anywhere.” In my opinion this is bullshit.

True creative talent is a rare and precious thing.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many shitty songs, and shitty TV shows, and shitty movies? I’ll tell you why. Because it is really fucking hard to do a good one. 

The same is true with advertising. No one sits down to write a crappy ad. Mostly they just turn out crappy. Why? Because it’s really fucking hard to do a good one — and there are very few people who can do it.

If you really believe that we are all creative, then you have to believe that it’s just a coincidence that Shakespeare wrote dozens of brilliant plays and Donald Trump didn’t.

Now, I stipulate that when we talk about creativity, the word is confusing. It has two very different meanings. And the new bigwigs of advertising are trying their best to muddy the issue by confusing the meanings.

In the first meaning, creativity is seen as a method for accomplishing a practical goal. So you can approach any task in a creative manner. In this meaning creativity is a way of thinking. So you can fry an egg the traditional way, or you can be “creative” and fry it in alligator oil or something.

In the second case, there is a special meaning for the word “creativity" that is specific to the communication arts. This is the kind of creativity that makes music and art and literature and, yes, sometimes even advertising, extraordinary and delightful.

Sure, the guy who printed the tickets to Hamlet, or made the popcorn, or counted the proceeds, may have found creative ways to do so. But he didn't write the fucking play.

That’s a whole different kind of creativity. And a whole different meaning of the word.

But the current generation of ad industry kingpins are trying very hard to dilute it into meaninglessness by asserting that we’re all creative and that creativity can come from anywhere.

If you think I am overstating my point, let me read you a recent quote from Martin Sorrell, the ceo of WPP and the most powerful man in the history of the agency business. And, by the way, an accountant by trade.

”The snottiness of believing that creativity just resides in the creative department of traditional agencies, that media people can't be creative, or data people can't be or people who do healthcare or promotion or CRM can't be creative – it's a nonsense and it's insulting to the people who are in those areas.”

He’s equating doing a practical job in a creative manner, with creating something unique from scratch. He’s saying they are the same thing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against account people, or planners, or data people or CRM people or anyone else who thinks smartly and does a job in an imaginative way.

But I resent that the talents of our great creative people are being dismissed as the same thing.

This is not healthy for the ad business nor is it healthy for the people who work in it.

Our industry has been hijacked by aristocrats with private jets. They have made the agency business leaner and meaner.

They have made it more efficient. They have made it more productive. They have squeezed all the fat out of it. And in the process, they are also squeezing the life out of it.

They are money managers, and investors and financial wise guys. The one thing they are not is advertising people.

Advertising evolved as an industry of craftsmen and craftswomen. Account people, art directors, researchers, copywriters. People who actually worked on accounts would start their own agencies. There were hundreds of independent, entrepreneurial agencies in every country. When I started in the ad business 300 years ago, the largest agency in the U.S., Y&R,  had about a 1.5% share of market. Today four global giants control over 70% of U.S. advertising spending.

A while back, Mr Sorrell gave a talk in London.  According to press reports, he told the conference…

...‘media, has become "more important" than the message…’

This is unacceptable. Someone who believes media is more important than the message, believes the instruments are more important than the music; the canvas is more important than the painting; the bottle is more important than the beer.

It’s unacceptable.

I’m worried.

Call me crazy, but I think ad agencies should be run by advertising people. I don’t see airlines run by green grocers. I don’t see hospitals run by folk singers. I am curious why the agency business is being run by bookkeepers.

In an industry led by people who now think delivery systems are more important than what they are delivering, creativity is floundering

We need to convince marketers once again that the most effective way to build brands is through the unique and unmatched power of great advertising ideas.

This summer the IPA released a report called “Selling Creativity Short.” In it they reported that creativity by itself can make a marketing dollar ten times more effective.

We also have to stop deluding ourselves about what we are doing. You know, we talk a lot about our “target audience.” As a former adman and recent Harvard faculty member, Doc Searls says, there is no audience for advertising.

An audience is created by demand.

There is demand for music, so there’s an audience for it. There is demand for movies, so there’s an audience for them. There is demand for theater, so there’s an audience for it.

The demand for advertising is precisely zero. Nobody is demanding advertising. There is no audience for advertising.

Similarly, the idea that anyone wants to engage with advertising is equally delusional. We engage with people and things we enjoy.

We find books engaging. And music engaging, and dance engaging. And people engaging.

Who in their right mind wants to engage with advertising? On a rainy Sunday afternoon have you ever heard someone say, I’m going back to my flat to engage with some advertising?

Advertising is at best, a minor annoyance. Sadly, our obsession with online advertising has turned it into a major annoyance, in fact, a scourge.

It has been reported that over 400 million people worldwide - 400 million - now have ad blockers on their devices. This is the opposite of engagement. This is dis-engagement on a monumental scale. This is the largest boycott of anything in the history of humanity.

We’ve got to stop bullshitting ourselves and come to terms with reality.

If we want there to be an audience for advertising, if we want people to be engaged with what we do, we have to do a lot better. We have to make advertising beautiful, and interesting, and entertaining. And I have bad news… algorithms, and data, and metrics can’t do that. Only people can do that.

Let’s not allow the devaluation of creativity to continue. I’m tired of hearing that advertising isn’t as effective as it used to be, or as creative as it used to be. We have so many more amazing tools and amazing media options than we’ve ever had before for making wonderful advertising. We have much better data. We have much better ways to measure. We have no more excuses.

Let’s stand up for what we are celebrating tonight.

Let’s appreciate the unique gift of talent and creativity. And make it, once again, the centerpiece of the advertising industry.

Congratulations to tonight’s winners. I know how difficult it is to create something really good. I know how hard you worked for what you’re about to receive.

Down at the pub you may just be Jimmy or Mary. But to me, you’re a hero.

Congratulations and thank you all very much.


September 21, 2016

McDonald's Kills "Channel Us"

"Despite being one of the world’s most loved and talked about brands, McDonald’s weren’t connecting with 16-24 year olds."
So began the story by The Drum about McDonald's UK launch of a new YouTube channel called "Channel Us" last September.

The idea was to create a video channel...
"...for young people and in collaboration with the influencers they admire most." (Ooh, influencers!)
According to The Guardian, this was done by The Drum in cahoots with OMD.

You see, according to The Drum, these darn Millennials are...
"...a generation getting out there and doing amazing things. (And Channel US)... brings them together, gives them a leg up and helps make their ambitions a reality."
Sounds like an Advertising 101 pitch at a bad junior college. But apparently, that's all you need these days. As long as your strategy is, "get younger, get more digital" you can't lose.

According to OMD,
"This exciting new YouTube channel is the next activation of McDonald’s latest brand platform – ‘Good Times’ – celebrating the role the brand plays in customers (sic) lives."
Someone fucking shoot me.

Back to The Drum.
"All of this was aided with the help of YouTube favourites Oli White and Hazel Hayes,  who fulfilled the roles of both presenter and contributor as they called upon they (sic) worldwide fan bases to back the Channel Us stars."
Yeah, baby. Get them worldwide influencers influencin'.

McDonald's CMO had this to add... 
“This is a ground-breaking moment for McDonald’s in the UK...The launch of Channel Us is completely new territory for the company."
Yeah, well, the best laid plans...

Last week, McDonald's announced they were aborting this monstrosity. In 2016 thus far, not a single "episode" of this clown show managed to garner even a thousand viewers. Do you have any idea how shitty a big budget creation from one of the world's biggest brands has to be to get fewer than a thousand views?

I could post a picture of my dog's ass on this blog and get more views than that. Although, to be fair, some might say my dog's ass has greater appetite appeal than your average McChicken sandwich.

Content marketing is one of the planet's biggest cons. Just because there are a few companies who are successful spending billions on it, doesn't mean you will be.

As Jonathan Salem Baskin has said, "Most branded social campaigns are only as "successful" as the money and time marketers are willing to commit to perpetuate the pretense of conversation and relevance."


September 19, 2016

GOOG, FB, P&G Create Coalition To Do Nothing

I am traveling and speaking once again this week so blog posts will be thin on the ground. To atone for my negligence I am reprinting yesterday's Type A Group Newsletter here today.

Alarmed by a tidal wave of consumer antipathy to the awfulness of online advertising, last week a group of big-time advertisers, publishers, agencies, and media announced a coalition to "rid the internet of annoying ads."

Yeah, any minute.

According to MarketingWeek...
"The ‘Coalition for Better Ads’ aims to take on the “Herculanean task” of bringing together advertisers, agencies, ad tech and publishers to come up with global standards on digital advertising to tackle the rise of ad blocking."
I'm pretty sure they mean Herculean but, hey, who cares about language anymore?

Published reports claim that over 400 million people worldwide currently use software to block online advertising, and the number is growing rapidly.

Here are the self-proclaimed goals of this cruel joke of a coalition:
  • Create consumer-based, data-driven standards that companies in the online advertising industry can use to improve the consumer ad experience
  • In conjunction with the IAB Tech Lab, develop and deploy technology to implement these standards
  • Encourage awareness of the standards among consumers and businesses in order to ensure wide uptake and elicit feedback
This hooey reminds me of an initiative announced over five years ago by the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) called "Making Measurement Make Sense" in which they formed a "coalition" to try to make sense of all the bullshit metrics the online industry was peddling. At the time I wrote...
"The enormous success of digital advertising is based on the fortunate circumstance that almost no one understands anything about the numbers."
Happily for the online ad industry the initiative came to nothing and the confusion over online ad metrics is greater than ever.

This new "Coalition For Better Ads," including Facebook and Google, is doomed to spin in circles and accomplish nothing except waste money because it will not deal with the real problem -- consumer stalking (aka tracking.) If they just got rid of tracking, a great many of the problems consumers, publishers, and advertisers are facing would evaporate.
  • Consumers would not be constantly stalked and harassed by tracking software leading to insufferable  "precision targeted" ads.
  • Quality publishers would be able to monetize their audiences instead of having their ad revenue stolen by crappy or imaginary sites through re-targeting.

  • Advertisers would know who they are reaching and where; not have most of their media dollars pissed away on adtech middlemen; not have to rely on problematic "ad networks."
But this coalition will deal with everything but the problem. The reason they will not deal with the real problem is that the people who own the internet -- Google and Facebook -- will never allow it.

As Doc Searls says, display advertising is "tracking-aimed junk mail that only looks like ads."

Google and Facebook will never accept the suppression of tracking because surveillance is their business.

Dracula is guarding the blood bank.

On The Road Again...
This week I will be in Oslo speaking for Discovery Networks Norway. Then traveling to Dublin, Ireland to speak at the ADFX awards.

Next week I'll be in NYC attending, reporting and podcasting from the week-long festival of self-promotion called AdvertisingWeek. Stay tuned. That should be good for a few laughs.

September 06, 2016

I'm Not Lovin' It

You don't have to be a marketing genius to figure out how this works.

McDonald's hires a new cmo, and then after the obligatory designated waiting period she names a new agency.

Who's surprised by that?

But there is some disturbing news in this story. What goes unsaid is that in addition to a new agency, the cmo gets the big prize every cmo secretly lusts after -- the opportunity to run her own ad agency.

Of course, it will never be said out loud, but have no doubt about it -- the de facto ceo of McDonald's new  custom-made "agency of the future" (someone shoot me) is McDonald's cmo.

As you've surely read by now, Omnicom is following the revolting new agency gimmick-du-jour and promising to create a new agency from scratch solely for McDonald's.

After costs, the agency's compensation will totally rely on meeting key performance indicators created by McDonald's. Anyone who's ever worked in an agency in which the entire agency is in the clutches of one client knows that the key-est of the KPIs is "kiss my ass or die."

I had the opportunity to do advertising work for McDonald's (on a regional basis) for over 15 years. Here's why this new system is a prescription for awful advertising:

1. Omnicom is not new to McDonald's. DDB Chicago (an Omnicom agency) has been arm-wrestling Publicis's Leo Burnett (the other finalist) for McDonald's business on and off for decades. Most of this infighting and maneuvering was never revealed to the press, but it's been an ongoing soap opera.

2. No one who's any good will want to work at this "agency of the future." First of all, "agency of the future" is the cliché of the decade. For years now, McDonald's has been the last stop on the advertising train. They once were one of America's great advertisers. Now they are among the worst. I am officially skeptical that great creative people are going to be lining up for jobs at McDonald's new in-house agency.

3. The agency will have full responsibility and virtually no authority. They will be held to "KPIs" over which they have little to no control.
  • They will have little to no control over the strategy. The strategy will be dictated by a combination of the McDonald's marketing department (don't ask) and a committee of franchisees (yes, it's everything you imagine.) The extent to which the agency's strategy will be executed is exactly the degree to which it mirrors the thinking of the corporation and the franchisees.
  • They will likewise have little to no control over the creative product. They will create idea after idea and all will eventually wind up in the McHomogenizer and come out as price/item promotions. Maybe they'll be allowed an 8-week honeymoon at which they'll introduce a new campaign, but after 8 weeks the campaign will just devolve into a tagline on price-item spots.
  • They will have little to no control over the field. McDonald's has about 20-40 field agencies in the US (I've lost track) who (when I was there) created about 50% of McDonald's advertising on a regional basis. These agencies are very busy keeping chronically dissatisfied franchisees in the corral. The new agency will make a grand tour and present their awesome Powerpoint to every franchisee group and field agency in the nation. The agencies will roll their eyes and do exactly what their local franchisee groups want.
  • Everything I've read from the cmo leads me to believe that she is auditioning for the job of grand marshal of the "more data/more digital" parade. This is the default mantra of every flat-tire cmo on the planet. Before McDonald's leadership falls for this horseshit, they might want to take a long, hard look at P&G's recent experience.
  • No national advertising plan at McDonald's ever gets approved without a positive vote of the franchisees. If you've never presented advertising plans to a ballroom full of franchisees you simply haven't lived.
  • Further, under this scenario, the agency is perfectly positioned for the delegation of blame. They will have no authority over either pricing or operations. McDonald's sales performance is far more related to prices and operations than anything the agency does. 
So when you have full responsibility and no authority how do you demonstrate "performance?" Easy, don't argue with the boss.

The new agency is starting with two hands and several other major body parts tied behind its back. If they manage to create anything exceptional it will be a miracle, and they will have my eternal admiration.

(For an opposing view, read this from my good friend Mark Ritson.)

In other inter-global worldwide news...
Watch me shoot my mouth off about the evils of online tracking in this clip from TVNZ, in New Zealand.

September 01, 2016

"Highly Creative, Annoyingly Successful And Sometimes Completely Mad"

As regular readers know, I've been traveling and speaking and haven't had much time for blogging in recent weeks. Today, to atone for my dereliction, I'm sending you to a site where you can find a podcast I did while in New Zealand a few days ago with Ben Fahy of StopPress. You can listen to the podcast or read a transcript of it. Here's the intro to it:

"In the first of an irregular series of podcasts where we interview an assortment of highly creative, annoyingly successful and sometimes completely mad humans from across the marketing, media and advertising industries, we've set the bar pretty high: Bob Hoffman, AKA The Ad Contrarian. 

As a long time fan of Bob Hoffman’s spiky musings on marketing, advertising and media, a little bit of wee came out when TVNZ announced it was bringing him over to speak as part of its Forecast series.

Hoffman, who has been the CEO of two independent advertising agencies and the US operation of Mojo, is the author of the popular Ad Contrarian blog and of several books, including 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising, which became Amazon’s #1 selling advertising book. Now he spends most of his time slaughtering sacred cows, questioning the conventional wisdom of the marketing industry and using the phrase ‘horseshit’.

And so, in the atrium of the newly renovated TVNZ building, the closest thing you could find to a marcomms whistleblower gave a presentation to a group of TVNZ staff, clients and friends of the family that focused on what he believes are three main fallacies: 1) digital advertising is not very effective, regularly fraudulent and it hasn’t killed traditional media as promised. 2) people don’t love brands and 3) targeting young people is stupid.

His goal was to make the audience uncomfortable through the power of facts, rather than through the biased expertise that regularly pushes a specific, often digital, agenda and prove that people who work in this industry are definitely not normal. Judging by some of the knowing glances as he spoke, he achieved his goal. And, not surprisingly, he got plenty of laughs along the way. StopPress was lucky enough to get a few minutes of his time the following day to explore some of his ideas. Here’s what we talked about:" 

Now, please go here for the podcast.