November 06, 2017

Steve Jobs: When Geniuses Are Wrong

In this clip, from over 35 years ago, a young, dumb Steve Jobs debates an older, wiser David Burnham, writer for The New York Times (and breaker of the "Serpico" scandal) about the potential dangers of computer spying.

This clip took place long before the idea of "surveillance marketing" even occurred to anyone.

Hat tip to the great Douglas Burdett

October 31, 2017

The Big Lie Of Transparency

Dear Online Advertising Industry,

I have noticed recently that you have become very passionate about transparency.
It seems like transparency is all the rage in the online ad world. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that talking about transparency is all the rage.

Because I have a problem with this transparency talk. I think you're all full of shit. I think you people are loud and outraged when you can't get transparency but you become awfully quiet when you're asked to provide it.

You see, there's more to this transparency thing than the petty bickering of CEOs and billionaires. There's also the little issue of the relationship between you and us. Or does the public not figure into your idea of transparency? Is transparency only an issue when your money is at stake?

Personally, here's what I (and about 7 billion of my friends) would like a little transparency on...
  • Mr. P&G and Mr. Unilever: I'd like some transparency on the type and the amount of personal, private information about me you have been gathering with your relentless online tracking.
  • Mr. WPP: Would you mind explaining to me what you and your colleagues in the holding companies are doing with my information?
  • Mr. Facebook and Mr. Google: If you wouldn't mind, I would like to know what kind of information about me you have been revealing to your clients.
  • Ms. 4As and Mr. ANA and Mr. IAB: Just curious about who your members have been buying information about me from and selling information to? 
I hope you will prove me wrong and be open and transparent about what you've been collecting on me and how you're using it. Because it seems you're very passionate about transparency when you want answers, but not quite so passionate when you're asked to give answers.

If you're really as committed to transparency as you say you are, I would be grateful for a full accounting. Otherwise, I would appreciate it if you would take your transparency bullshit and stick it up your ass.

October 24, 2017

Top 10 Reasons Online Advertising Must Change

The current model of online advertising is only 20 years old but it is already far beyond its sell-by date. It has become a ridiculous anachronism, born in an era of naive digital utopianism, and now absurdly outmoded and unsuited to its job.

In no particular order, here are 10 reasons why online advertising must change.

1. Fraud: Online advertising fraud is completely out of control. According to JPMorgan Chase it has grown by over 100% in the past year to over $16 billion. There are no serious impediments to its continued metastasizing. The fraudsters are miles ahead of the feckless cyber-security crowd who are filling their clients full of delusional happy talk. According to the World Federation of Advertisers, within 8 years ad fraud may become the second largest source of criminal income in the world, after drug trafficking.

 2. Waste: The amount of money advertisers are wasting on online advertising is astounding. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of the world's largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, says that only 25% of his programmatic budget ever reaches the consumer. The rest is wasted on non-viewable ads, fraud, and the questionable "contributions" of ad tech middlemen. When you add to that the fact that less than 10% of the advertising that does reach consumers is even noticed, you have a waste factor that is beyond belief.

3. Public Disgust: Worldwide disgust over online advertising is reaching a breaking point. People are so fed-up with the annoying, irresponsible, and relentless onslaught of online ads that over 600 million web enabled devices are currently armed with ad blockers. Every credible study ever done has shown that online advertising is the most disliked and distrusted form of advertising. The online ad lobby sold us on the idea that it would be more popular with consumers because tracking would make it more "relevant." What a joke that argument has turned out to be. In one study consumers were asked about 13 different types of advertising. The 8 most disliked were all forms of online advertising. Unless the current model of online advertising changes, ad blocking -- the mortal enemy of marketers -- will continue its unabated proliferation.

4. Effectiveness: Despite the growth of online advertising, substantial questions are being raised about its effectiveness. These questions are becoming widespread. Click rates are reported to be about 5 per 10,000 ads served. P&G announced that they had cut about $140 million in online ads from their 2nd quarter spending this year during which time their sales grew by 2%. According to The Wall Street Journal the online cuts ..."had little impact on its business, proving that those digital ads were largely ineffective."

5. Brand Safety: Anyone not comatose knows that in the bizarre world of ad tech and programmatic buying advertising can show up anywhere. Regardless of the empty promises of agencies and publishers, advertisers cannot control where their advertising appears. A comical example happened last week. An ad for the Association of National Advertisers, the body that exists to protect and defend the interests of advertisers, showed up on the big, bad, Breitbart website. The ANA, who strongly defend ad tech, looked like complete clowns when they had to apologize for "an unintentional result of a programmatic buy..."

6. Fake news: The online advertising industry is the engine that powers fake news. While most people believe that fake news is related to political operatives looking to deceive, the truth is it is also substantially the result of people looking to make money from a programmatic advertising ecosystem that rewards fraudulent sensationalism. A perfect example of how ad tech supports fake news can be found here. The fact that we have a populace that no longer knows what to believe from a media industry they once trusted is not an accident. It can be traced largely to online advertising, and specifically ad tech.

7. Degradation of Journalism: Ad tech drives money to the worst online publishers. Ad tech’s value proposition is this: we will find you the highest quality eyeballs at the cheapest possible locations. Ad tech can do this because of “data leakage.” Viewers developed by quality publishers like The New York Times are tagged and followed to crappy websites like and served ads there instead of at the Times' website. This means ad dollars that should be going to quality publishers go to crappy publishers. Now wonder quality publishers are struggling to survive.

8. Non-Transparency: In 2017, 90% of advertisers surveyed by the World Federation of Advertisers said they intended to review their agreements with ad tech suppliers. A significant reason for this overwhelming show of no confidence was a damning report issued by the ANA in the U.S. which demonstrated that many advertisers had no idea how their money was being spent or how they were being charged for online advertising services. The more complex a system is the more opportunities there are for unscrupulous actors to find devious ways to extract money. The programmatic ad buying ecosystem is beyond complex -- it's insane.

9. Corruption: Along with the problem of non-transparency, the ANA report also asserted that corruption was "pervasive" in the online advertising ecosystem. Agencies were found to be taking kickbacks and using client money to arbitrage online ad inventory without the knowledge of clients.

10. Public Safety:  
“Today in the United States we have somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every individual ... So we model the personality of every adult across the United States, some 230 million people.” — Alexander Nix (Chief Executive, Cambridge Analytica), October 2016.
We were taught to fear totalitarian governments. We feared they would know everything about us, follow us everywhere, track our every move, and keep secret files about us which could be used to influence our lives in ways that were only vaguely visible to us. We are well on our way to such a nightmare. Except it isn't our government that knows everything about us, follows us everywhere, tracks our every move, and keeps secret files about us. It is the marketing industry. Advertising used to be about imparting information to the public. Online advertising has become about extracting information from the public.

If we had set out to create an advertising structure that was a complete fiasco I'm not sure we could have done much better.

The online advertising industry is a preposterous train wreck that must be changed.

October 17, 2017

The Battle Begins

A few weeks ago, in a blog post entitled "The Battle Of The Century, " I wrote about the lobbying battle that is brewing over the EU's proposed ePrivacy Regulation.

If adopted the ePrivacy Regulation, along with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will make it much harder for online marketers and media in the European Union to collect personal private information about users without prior consent. In other words, it will make it hard for them to track us all over the web and collect, exploit, and sell the information they are harvesting without our explicit consent or knowledge. 

Last week, another shot in this battle was fired. A consortium of advertising, marketing and media companies sent a misleading and disingenuous letter to the members of the European Parliament attacking one of the core points of the ePrivacy Regulation. I have posted the letter here if you'd like to read it. The lead sentence of the letter reads...

    "ePrivacy Regulation threatens data-driven advertising business model of European press publishers and other online media and services."

Before we talk about what's wrong with this assertion, let's talk about what the letter gets right. The letter claims that most of the stuff we like about the web, including news, is made possible by the revenue publishers get from advertising.

This is true. Publishers could not exist solely on the payments they get from users. They also need income from advertisers. However, the letter then goes on to put forward two deceptive arguments.

First they imply that without "data-driven" advertising the revenue to publishers will dry up. This is nonsense. First of all, all advertising is "data-driven." Advertisers have used data for decades to make media decisions about TV, radio, print and every other advertising medium. If this regulation is enacted they will still use data to make decisions about online advertising.

It is not "data" that will be regulated, it is the means by which certain data is collected - involuntary tracking, or spyware. What they won't be able to do is track us without our permission and use data derived from spying on us.

The second assertion has to do with a publisher's right to block users who won't agree to be tracked. The ePrivacy Regulation states that a publisher is prohibited... 

"...from denying access to their advertising-funded offerings if users do not consent to data collection needed for data-driven advertising."
In other words, publishers will not be allowed to block you from reading the content of their website if you refuse to be tracked. The letter claims...
    "...the ePrivacy Regulation puts into question the ability of publishers and other online services to continue offering a value exchange that affords Europeans access to content and services at little or no cost supported by advertising revenue."
This may not be true at all. As far as I have been able to determine, publishers can still block people who block ads, as they can do now. But they will not be able to block people who refuse to be tracked. The difference is enormous.

Publishers are entitled to some value for their work and efforts. None of us works for nothing, why should publishers? I believe it is a fair exchange for publishers to require users to allow ads in exchange for access to the content or news they publish. It doesn't mean we have to pay attention to the advertising, but we ought to allow it on the page. 

When we agree to be exposed to advertising we know what we are agreeing to. But if we are forced to agree to be tracked we do not know what we are agreeing to. We don't know what personal private information is being collected, how it is going to be used, who is going to have access to it, who it may be sold to, or how it will be protected, if at all.

Agreeing to receiving advertising is impersonal. Agreeing to be tracked is wholly personal. 

I want to repeat that I am not certain that the ePrivacy Regulation will allow publishers to block people who block ads. But I think it should.

Having to agree to be tracked, however, creates an unfair value exchange in which the publisher knows exactly what he is getting but the consumer has no idea what he is giving up.

In summary, for us to get what we enjoy from from the web we must understand that a great deal of the value is supported by advertising. But the advertising industry must understand that their desire to monetize data about us does not supersede our right to privacy.

The online advertising industry does not need to spy on us in order to thrive. Every other advertising medium has done quite well, thank you, without trampling on democratic principles of privacy and security.

Tracking, surveillance marketing, and the current model of ad tech are affronts to the values of free societies. The ePrivacy Regulation is a sound and reasonable reaction to our industry's inability to exercise a mature degree of restraint or self-control.

October 09, 2017

When Data Is Dangerous

It has become an article of faith in the marketing business that the future of marketing is about data.
 "Data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change," says The Economist.
Scientific American says, "The digital revolution is in full 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind..."
The primacy of data in marketing has been beaten into us for the past 10 years. In fact, it has become such a platitude that we no longer even stop to think about what it means.

Data sounds very scientific, impersonal and hygienic. But it is not.

When marketers talk about data what they usually mean is personal private information about us that is collected, traded, sold and exploited without our knowledge or consent.

To marketers, data is not all numbers and algorithms. It is your sexual preferences, your religious beliefs or lack thereof, your banking details, your medical and psychological diagnoses, your work history and political preferences. It is thousands of facts about you that you never suspected anyone knew or collected.

It has the potential to be used in a myriad of dangerous ways by any incompetent, irresponsible organization that has the wherewithal to collect it or buy it.

Data is just a bland, emotionless word for some highly sensitive information. It makes the collection of personal private information about us seem to be an inoffensive remote branch of mathematics.

Next time some cliché-spewing marketing-droid  blithely repeats the mantra that the future of marketing is all about data, remember this -- data isn't neutral. Data, in the wrong hands, is dangerous.

And we have every reason to believe that the marketing industry is the wrong hands.

October 05, 2017

Yahoo: Incompetent, Irresponsible, And Dangerous

If you would like an example of how the online ad industry's insatiable lust for "data" - usually just a pleasanter term for personal private information about us - has defiled our society and undermined our right to privacy, look no further than Yahoo.

In my new book, BadMen, I tell the story of how in 2014 Yahoo demonstrated utter disregard for the privacy and security of its users.

Their security chief warned them that their platform was woefully insecure and easily hacked. He recommended a system of end-to-end encryption to protect their users.

The ceo and the board rejected his recommendation because implementing the proper security measures would mean they could no longer scan the emails and text messages of their users and use this information to create targeting opportunities for their advertising clients.

Soon thereafter, half a billion Yahoo accounts were hacked.

But that ain't nothing.

It was revealed yesterday that a year earlier, in 2013, every single Yahoo account -- 3 billion of them -- were hacked. Somehow Yahoo never bothered to fully investigate the extent of the hack.

Earlier, Yahoo had reported that the 2013 hack affected 1 billion accounts - which is bad enough. But an investigation by their new owners - Verizon - revealed that the hack was actually three times larger than Yahoo reported. And, in fact, was the biggest known hack in history.

If I ran the world, Yahoo's ceo and board would be fined $1 per hack and dragged off to jail. But, then again, if I ran the world Yahoo would have been put to sleep years ago.


October 04, 2017

From Amazing To Appalling

It was all going to be so amazing. It all sounded so great. Advertising was going to be amazing.

People weren't going to just look at online ads, they were going to interact with them.

People were going to go online and “join the conversation” about our brands and start their own conversations. And these conversations would grow virally and it wouldn't cost us a penny.
"If you can harness social media marketing, you don’t have to pay for advertising any more,” said a partner in Sequoia Capital.
It sounded so amazing. And it's turned out to be so appalling.

The online advertising "ecosystem" is a complete disaster.
  • The ANA says corruption within the agency media buying community is "pervasive."
  • Viewability of online ads is reported to be below 50%.
  • Interactivity with online ads is now reported to be about 5 clicks per 10,000 ads. You can't get much closer to zero.
  • The public is so disgusted with online advertising that 600 million web-enabled devices are armed with ad blockers.
  • Facebook and Google are reaping 77% of all online ad dollars in the U.S. and have become an arrogant duopoly who refuse to abide by long established standards of measurement and auditing.
  • The three-headed monster of tracking, surveillance marketing, and ad tech are endangering consumer privacy and undermining important principles of a free society.
  • Quality online publishers are struggling for existence while the crappiest online sites - fed substantially by ad tech's data leakage - are stealing and monetizing their audiences.
  • Fake news, also fed by the scourge of ad tech, has undermined the public's confidence in our news media.
  • Foreign governments, encouraged by the online ad industry's irresponsible practices, have been caught trying to subvert the integrity of our electoral process.
If you set out to create an advertising medium that was a complete fiasco I'm not sure you could do much better.

September 27, 2017

Doomed: Why The Current Model Of Online Advertising Can't Survive

The current model of online advertising -- based on the 3-headed monster of tracking, surveillance marketing, and ad tech -- is unsustainable and will not survive.

The forces against it are building and will shake up the advertising and marketing industries. Here is why it is doomed:
  • It is too abusive of consumer rights and personal privacy.
As of today, most people are not aware of how effectively the online ad industry is using questionable technology (ad tech) to track their every move. They are not aware that they are the targets of constant and unrelenting surveillance by the advertising and marketing industries. But over time this will change. If nothing else, clever politicians will adopt this as a cause célèbre and, because it is a non-partisan issue (all sides of the political spectrum oppose erosion of privacy), it will resonate with the public.
Smart companies with Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives will get ahead of this wave and insist that their media partners and agencies not utilize ad networks and publishers who secretly track their customers. They will promote this to the public and unlike so many Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives that are tiresome clichés, it is one that will have traction.
  • It is too laden with fraud and corruption and too wasteful of advertising dollars.
Ad fraud is currently responsible for many billions of dollars of criminal theft. The WFA (World Federation of Advertisers) says that within 8 years ad fraud may become the second largest source of criminal revenue in the world, after drug trafficking. While naive marketers are being told that ad fraud is being controlled, knowledgeable insiders say it is metastasizing.

A large component of ad fraud is enabled by ad tech and programmatic buying. Every credible study I've seen demonstrates that programmatic ad buys (those powered by tracking and ad tech) are far more encumbered by traffic fraud and click fraud.  
Sooner or later CFOs and CEOs will come to realize how much money they have lost to online ad fraud and will demand that asleep-at-the-wheel CMOs get off their asses and insist on a better model.
  • You can't fool all of the people all of the time.
The online ad industry has had a 10-year free ride in which its preposterous assertions and absurd metrics have been swallowed whole by a naive and enchanted advertising industry. Those days are coming to an end.
Although ad agencies are supposed to be protectors and defenders of their clients' media dollars their venal malpractice in promoting and defending the corrupt and fraudulent practices of the online ad industry have been a disgrace. However, grown-ups on the client side are starting to ask the right questions and demand sensible answers.
All the powerful forces (Google, Facebook, Amazon, the 4As, the ANA, the IAB) are currently aligned in favor of tracking. But sooner or later someone with integrity will conclusively demonstrate to advertisers how insanely convoluted and immensely wasteful the current ad tech model is. They will show advertisers how little value they are getting for their ad tech dollar. 
  • It is too dangerous to democratic societies
We were taught to fear totalitarian governments. We feared they would know everything about us, follow us everywhere, track our every move, and keep secret files about us which could be used to influence our lives in ways that were only vaguely visible to us.
We are well on our way to such a nightmare. Except it isn't our government that knows everything about us, follows us everywhere, tracks our every move, and keeps secret files about us. It is the marketing industry.
“Today in the United States we have somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every individual... So we model the personality of every adult across the United States, some 230 million people.”
-Alexander Nix (Chief Executive, Cambridge Analytica), October 2016.
In May the GDPR regulations and perhaps the ePrivacy Regulation will go into effect in Europe. This will make it much more difficult for online advertisers and media entities to collect personal private information about people without their prior consent.

I expect this will create a period of chaos in Europe until the regulators figure out what is working and what isn't and adjust the regulations accordingly. But in the long run it will set a precedent for balancing the privacy rights of individuals against the power of online media and marketers.

It may take a while to raise the consciousness of people here in the US about the dangers of the 3-headed monster, but ultimately it will.

Like a stock market melt down, it's easy to say it's coming, but it's impossible to say when. It could be five months or five years. One thing I'm certain of, however, the current idiotic, wasteful, and corrupt model is doomed.

In Other News...
BadMen is now available as an ebook here for just $2.99.

September 25, 2017

Battle Of The Century

Get ready for what could be the PR, lobbying, and regulatory battle of the century as the Goobook (Google and Facebook) duopoly start to realize what the new regulations of the EU (European Union) may mean to their businesses.

In May, a new regulation, called the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will go into effect. More importantly, something called the ePrivacy Regulation may also go into effect. These regulations will seriously limit the collection of personal information by online entities. In fact, they may cripple substantial parts of their businesses.

Right now, Goobook are essentially in the surveillance business - a business that yields tens of billions of dollars in revenue annually. By tracking us across the web, collecting information about us, and monetizing that information by selling it as targeting data to advertisers, Goobook have essentially taken over the online advertising industry, reaping 77% of online ad revenue in the US.

But things are going to change. Many commentators have suggested that the new EU rules will not materially effect Google and Facebook. Not so says an opinion from a law firm hired by Digital Content Next (DCN) to analyze the likely effect of the ePrivacy Regulation on the duopoly (the doo-wops?)

I have had a look at the opinion and it is startling.

Below are quotes from the legal opinion as well as quotes from the SVP for Government Affairs at DCN.
"... much of the... data on which Facebook and Google currently sit could lose its value because it could not be used for online behavioral or targeted advertising purposes..."
"...Google and Facebook’s ability to collect and use consumer data will be dramatically curbed. They would be restricted from targeting advertising based on data from electronic communications services such as WhatsApp, Gmail and Messenger unless they receive consent from all parties involved in the communication. As currently drafted, Facebook would likely be prohibited from using data transmitted from the clicking of a “like” button for the purpose of targeting advertisements."
"...Google and Facebook would be required to get separate consent from consumers before attempting to collect and use browsing history or “personal” data...What’s more – companies would not be allowed to bundle consent for multiple purposes nor require consent as a condition for using a service."
"...companies that collect and use data at smaller scale (such as solely on their owned and operated domains) are likely to be less impacted by this Regulation. These companies will be significantly less challenged in getting the required consent for their limited purposes. As a result, companies that create trusted, premium digital experiences, enjoy direct relationships with consumers and do not rely on tracking consumers at such a large scale may find new leverage and opportunities in the marketplace." 
"...the ePrivacy Regulation could conceivably prohibit any data transmissions by Facebook or Google between connected IoT (Internet of Things - BH) devices."
" matter what happens, it is highly likely Facebook and Google will need to make major changes to their online behavioral and targeted advertising practices in order to comply with forthcoming EU privacy laws and regulations."
One thing to keep in mind is that the ePrivacy Regulation is currently in draft form, the final language has not been approved, and the regulation has not yet been adopted.

As I said in BadMen
"The key thing to remember is that most of the major players in online advertising have a big stake in surveillance marketing. They will fight like hell to protect tracking."
I expect that in the next six months we will see a battle royal. Google and Facebook will use every trick in the book to try to influence European regulators to take the teeth out of the ePrivacy Regulation. Get ready for an avalanche of horseshit about it being anti-democratic, anti-American, anti-free speech (it's already started) and every other spurious argument they and their advertising industry apologists can pull out of their asses.

When confronted with the unprecedented power and influence of Goobook, we will discover if the European regulators really have balls or if they're just grandstanding.

Meanwhile advertisers, who are already in shock over the fraud, corruption, waste, and non-transparency in online advertising, and have flocked to Google and Facebook as presumed "safe havens," are going to get another shotgun blast to face. They've been living in a fantasyland and it will soon start crumbling.

This is gonna be the best show in town.

September 21, 2017

Apple Right, Ad Industry Wrong

This piece from the Type A Group Newsletter was very popular this week. I am reprinting it here today.

As usual, the tin-eared aristocrats of the ad industry are on the wrong side of an important issue.

Apple is planning to release a new version of its Safari browser with new cookie-blocking technology, called "Intelligent Tracking Prevention."  It will put strict limits on the ability of websites and advertisers to track us across the web.

According to digital expert Don Marti it looks like Safari has built a set of features that will help protect us from the kind of tracking we don't like, while not screwing up features we like such as single sign-in to favorite sites (my words, not his.)

Apple has said  
“...users feel that trust is broken when they are being tracked and privacy-sensitive data about their web activity is acquired for purposes that they never agreed to.”
Damn right. I even know a guy who wrote a book about that.

Of course, all the major advertising trade bodies are soiling their shorts at the thought of not being able to spy on us everywhere and know everything we do online. They are not satisfied that people are so disgusted with online ad practices that 600 million web enabled devices are now armed with ad blockers.

Listen to this horseshit from a consortium of ad trade groups including the 4A's, ANA, and IAB:
“Apple’s unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love...Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful."
What planet do these imbeciles live on? Do they really believe anyone is going to buy that crap?

Here is a study published last year that reports that of 13 different forms of advertising studied, the top 8 most disliked were all forms of online advertising.

Furthermore the argument that Safari's "Intelligent Tracking Prevention" is "...bad for consumer choice..." is laughable. Any idiot who prefers to be followed around the web by assorted squids and slugs is perfectly welcome to download dozens of free web browsers that are more than happy to spy on everything we do.

Every impartial study I've ever seen says the same thing: Online advertising is the most disliked and most distrusted form of advertising. One of the primary drivers of this situation is tracking.

When are the "leaders" of our industry going to get their heads out of their asses and realize how they are destroying the integrity of web advertising by not supporting initiatives like Apple's that are trying to establish responsible guidelines for online advertising?

September 19, 2017

Why Online Advertising Needs To Be Regulated

Last week I did a video interview with Australian ad site Mumbrella. Here is an excerpt from that interview that discusses the issues raised in my new book BadMen: How Advertising Went From A Minor Annoyance To A Major Menace. 

To watch it, click here.

September 18, 2017

The Pritchard Problem

Marc Pritchard -- chief brand officer at the world's largest advertiser, P&G -- has done the advertising industry a great service over the past 15 months.

He is the first grown-up to acknowledge head-on the awfulness of online advertising as it is currently being practiced. Of course, some of us less-than-grown-ups have been writing about it for years, but very little attention is paid to the chirping of people without a $2.4 billion ad budget.

Pritchard has spoken unambiguously about the problems of a murky and often corrupt system of buying and selling online advertising; the scourge of ad fraud; the problem of viewability; the opaque financial dealings of agencies; the issue of brand safety; the head-spinning number of third-party toll takers standing between advertisers and publishers; and the arbitrary and unreliable methods used for measuring ad delivery. He has done an admirable job and deserves praise.

If you're an astute reader you probably feel a "but" coming, and here it comes.

But as far as I can determine Mr. Pritchard has neglected to say a word about the single factor that enables most of these issues - tracking.

Essentially, there is only one thing that differentiates online advertising from all other forms -- and makes it both susceptible to the types of appalling mischief we've experienced and dangerous to a free society -- the relentless tracking of every one of us online.

Advertising used to be about imparting information. Online advertising has become equally about collecting information.

In a recent article, Marketing Week says "Pritchard believes that next generation will be mass one-to-one marketing. That is the promise digital has always held, but so far it has failed to live up to it."

We know what 'mass one-to-one marketing' means, don't we? It means more surveillance marketing, more tracking, more despicable "ad tech."

If Mr. Pritchard really wants to do something valuable -- not just for our industry, but for society -- he will put his influence behind this issue.

September 07, 2017

Will Facebook Ever Stop Bullshitting?

You'd think by now Facebook would have learned.

For years anyone with a brain has known that Facebook "metrics" are a joke. They make shit up, imbeciles at agencies believe it, dimwit clients fund it, and - bingo - more ad money. Most famously, not long ago they inflated video viewing time on their site by as much as 80%.

Recently in my newsletter, I recounted this story...
Facebook Discovers 300,000 Invisible Swedes

Facebook "metrics" have a long illustrious history of being laughable bullshit. Anyone who believes their numbers is an idiot. Here's a lovely example.

According to a recently published report, Facebook says they reach 1.5 million Swedes between the ages of 15 and 24. The  problem here is that Sweden only has 1.2 million of 'em. If Facebook reached 100% of them, they'd still be 300,000 short. Sometimes I think Facebook's calculations are done by bloggers. 
But today we have something even more delicious.

According to Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group, one of the industry's most respected media analysts, Facebook is at it again.

Facebook's Ads Manager says that the website is capable of reaching 41 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 24. The problem is there are only 31 million Americans of that age. But hey, what's 10 million people here or there?

You have to admire Facebook for their ability to reach 10 million imaginary 18-24 year olds. But as well as they do against imaginary 18-24 year olds, where they really excel is against non-existent 25-34 year olds. They reach 60 million of them. Unfortunately, there are only 45 million alive.

So it looks like, if your media target is the highly coveted imaginary American between the ages of 18-34, Facebook is the medium for you.

We always knew that Facebook was an amazing company, but their ability to reach non-existent people sets a new standard for the online ad industry -- which has always prided itself in imaginary advertising accomplishments.

Perhaps the only area in which Facebook can exceed its amazing use of metrics is its amazing use of language. When they were asked to explain the bullshit they were peddling, they had this to say about their numbers...
"They are designed to estimate how many people in a given area are eligible to see an ad a business might run. They are not designed to match population or census estimates."

September 05, 2017

Gunfight At The Ad Tech Saloon

Reprinted from Sunday's Newsletter

My new book has just been released. It's called: BADMEN: How Advertising Went From A Minor Annoyance To A Major Menace.

Maybe it's just me, but I think surveillance marketing, the collection and selling of personal information, online tracking, and ad tech are existential dangers to free societies.

I think the monopolistic powers of some tech giants have gotten way out of control.

I think the idea that "the consumer is in charge" is the stupidest, most naive bullshit we've been fed since some dimwit decided that people wanted to "join the conversation" about their frozen fish sticks.

The book is about all these things.

 It is also about how ad agency holding companies have turned into lapdogs for the corrupt and unsavory online ad industry and have, in the process, squandered their credibility.

Oh, and it's also about fraud, terrorism, hacking, fake news, kickbacks and everything else that makes the online ad business such a golden ray of sunshine. Best of all, it's under a hundred pages and under 6 bucks. If you're looking for advice on...

   - Where to find the best cheesecake in Pyongyang
   - President Trump’s surprising secret for longer lashes
   - What to do if Gary Vaynerchuk calls your sister

... I'm afraid this ain't it.

But if you want to get pissed off about how we're being screwed blind by creeps, squids, and slugs, this just might be your ticket. So, here's what to do...

1. Go here now
2. Click "Add to cart"
3. Read the book
4. Go to Amazon and write a glowing review
5. Send a copy of the book to all your clients, friends, and dumb-ass colleagues who have bought into the online ad industry's horseshit
6. Fix yourself a martini
7. Fix yourself another martini

BadMen was selected by Amazon as #1 "Hot New Prospect" in advertising and also #1 "New Release" in advertising. On its first day it got to be the #5 best seller in advertising. Thanks, people.

 A few questions I've been getting:

1. Yes, it will be released in ebook format in a few weeks. But it's ok to buy the paper version. Amazon needs the money.
2. Yes, it will be available in the UK. Apparently it takes a few days for US titles to get fully integrated into the UK system, but they assure me it will available by the end of the week.
3. Same in European countries.


August 29, 2017

Doing Stephen Hawking's Light Work

I know you're worried about KPIs and journeys and data-driven everything and dashboards but, honestly, there are bigger things to worry about.

Stephen Hawking says Earth is about over and we're going to need to leave here within a hundred years and find a new planet. And he's even smarter than a blogger.

So I thought it would be good to start a conversation about the kind of place we want. This way when we send out the interplanetary real estate agents to look for a new home they don't come back with some piece of shit planet for us.

Here are the things I think we should be looking for in a new planet:

   - Plenty of free parking

   - TVs that automatically turn off when you start snoring

   - Lots of pretty flowers

   - Super-hot nymphos who dig old bald guys

   - Coffee shops with good cinnamon twists, not the crap they sell at Starbucks

   - Dogs that don't shit

   - And while we're at it, babies that don't shit

   - And while we're at it, guys in front of you on the bathroom line at restaurants who don't shit

   - Free beer on Wednesdays

   - Invisible flying millennials

   - Public transit without the public

   - Bottomless martini glasses

   - Lots of amazing banner ads. Only kidding

   - Floors that give off a deadly electric shock when someone misses the urinal

   - Mandatory mid-day naps

   - Cars that drive themselves...oh, wait a minute...

   - Reverse digestion.The more lasagna you eat, the thinner you get

And this would be our planetary anthem...

That's my kinda planet. No charge, Stevie.

(h/t Malcolm Gordon)

August 22, 2017

Can Facebook Make Old Cool?

Say what you want about Facebook, they have proven to be amazing salespeople.
  • When they started out they convinced gullible marketers that advertising was dying and that social media, in the form of conversations, was the future. Mark Zuckerberg said... “For the last 100 years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation.                                                                                                                                                                       That is, until he discovered he could make billions pushing out advertising to people all over his platform and then Facebook quickly morphed into another channel for delivering traditional paid advertising. Doing a complete 180, a Facebook spokesperson had this to say “… if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and always has been, paid advertising.” Oh.
  • For several years they sold imbeciles in the marketing industry the fairytale that "likes" were worth something. 
  • When every discount dentist was advertising on Facebook, they convinced marketers that the key to advertising success was getting clicks through "precision targeting." But when big advertisers balked, they changed their tune and decided advertising was all about that tired old thing, reach and frequency.
The point is, if there's anyone who knows how to blind the marketing industry with horseshit, it's Facebook. But now, they may actually be in a position to do the marketing world some good despite the industry's unwillingness to help itself.

According to Bloomberg, Facebook will lose over 3% of its teen audience next year  -- the first year in its history it has lost any part of any audience. A few more years of this and Facebook may be forced to do the unthinkable -- start selling its clients on the value of an older target.

People over 50 are the most valuable consumer group in the history of marketing. But the television and radio industries, who have plenty of over-50's, have been totally incompetent at explaining to advertisers the incredible amount of money they are losing by ignoring this group.

The one and only media entity with the brains and skill to sell advertisers on the value of advertising to a mature target may very well be Facebook.

If so, it would be the second time Facebook stole billions of dollars in ad revenue from the asleep-at-the-wheel broadcast industry.

August 17, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse Insider Summit

Monday in North America we will be experiencing a total eclipse of the sun.

A total eclipse occurs when God turns out the lights for few minutes because he has to do scheduled  maintenance.

It is further proof (as if any were needed) that everything revolves around the earth. Otherwise how could airplanes get anywhere? Answer me that, Mr. Smart Guy!

A total eclipse is different from a total ellipse.

A total ellipse is a curve that is the locus of all points in the plane the sum of whose distances r_1 and r_2 from two fixed points F_1 and F_2 (the foci) separated by a distance of 2c is a given positive constant 2a.  This results in the two-center bipolar coordinate equation r_1 + r_2 = 2a, where "a" is the semimajor axis and the origin of the coordinate system is at one of the foci. The corresponding parameter "b" is known as the semiminor axis.

But let's not dwell on the obvious.

The question for marketers is how will they leverage the eclipse to create experiential brand purpose that will authentically resonate with consumers to contextualize the millennial target's relevant alignment with your ecosystem? Either that or something about engagement or blockchains.

Here's why you don't want to miss the Total Solar Eclipse Insider Summit:
  • Learn best practices, case studies, and newest tactics which can all be applied to your eclipsifying strategies.
  • Understand emerging models of true one-to-one, highly personal, addressable and real-time eclipsification.
  • Craft Identity Graphs and translate them into people-based eclipse shit.
  • Use everything from  dynamic content tools and embedded multimedia to AI and cross channel data to serve what is relevant or at least edible.
  • Plus all kinds of horseshit about conversations! 
So, don't be left in the dark (get it?) The Total Solar Eclipse Insider Summit is the one must-attend marketing event of the year. There won't be another total solar eclipse for another billion years or something.

And there won't be another Total Solar Eclipse Insider Summit until February.

August 16, 2017

Report: Over 40% Of Mobile Ad Impressions Fraudulent

First the disclaimers: I'm not a researcher, I'm a copywriter.

When I print research results I try to use only 3rd party sources I trust. There are often no perfectly dispassionate sources and you have to use some discretion. But unlike idiot agencies, you shouldn't rely on Facebook to tell you what Facebook's metrics are.

Nevertheless, all research is modeling and interpretation so you always have to look at the source, the methodology and the credentials of the researchers before you take it too seriously.

Having said that, a report issued last week by Marketing Science is pretty astounding. It claims that overall, 43% of mobile ad impressions they studied were fraudulent.

This remarkable result is based on a study of 1 billion ad impressions from nearly 1,000 mobile apps.

Marketing Science is the consulting company of Dr. Augustine Fou, whose credentials are pretty impressive. Here's a summary of what they found. Click to enlarge.

Second, here's a summary of a study conducted by Dr. Fou on viewability. The bottom line is that he found only 41% of ads were viewable on open exchanges vs 91% for "good publishers" -- another ugly blemish for ad tech and programmatic buying.

August 08, 2017

Proof I'm An Idiot

Before we get to today's indisputable proof that I am a complete idiot we have a long way to go, so stay focused.

First we start with Oath. As you may know, Oath is the new name of Yahoo's parent company. Yahoo's parent company used to be called Yahoo, but when Yahoo sold off everything it owned that was worth anything the remaining dregs were branded "Oath."

Only marketing people could come up with a name as alarmingly dumb, but we'll save that for another day.

Oath now owns Yahoo, AOL, and a bunch of other rotting media carcasses.

Working at Oath is a guy named David Shing. Shing is known as "Shingy" in certain circles. Shingy's title at Oath is "Digital Prophet" the same modest title he held at AOL for many years.

I love Shingy. He is so monumentally full of shit that he makes bozos like me seem sensible in comparison. He also has amazing balls. Not just the little dimpled Titleist kind of balls, but big inflatable multi-colored beach ball kind of balls. Anyone who can get up in front of audiences and get away with the incomprehensible horseshit he spouts is my kinda guy.

Plus he has the greatest  hair-do on the planet. Somewhere Between Jackie Kennedy and Phyllis Diller.

With that as background, I was reading a piece in The Drum a few days ago that was sent to me by the great Claudia Caplan. It had me very confused. It was an article entitled  "‘Brand love must be core to the DNA of the brand’: Oath launches new video series exploring emotional connections"

 The article stated that the video series was a group of "in-depth conversations" by Shingy with  "industry prodigies" to "explore the nuanced aspects of what drives brand love..."

As you can imagine, within seconds I was strenuously exercising my gag reflex. Just for starters...

- Are there 2 companies anywhere in the world that have destroyed their brands more thoroughly than Yahoo and AOL? In what bizarre universe do they have the balls to lecture anyone on "brand love?"

- Is there a more profitless prophet anywhere on the planet than the fabulous Shingy? What have his brilliant futuristic insights done that have created a nickel's worth of value for AOL?

But what really blew me away was the fawning, gee-whiz nature of the article.
  • Shingy was referred to as a "digital prophet" without a hint of irony, as if he really was one.
  • It posed the question, "what can brands do to make their customers fall in love with them?" as if "brand love" was a recognized fact instead of a steaming pile of marketing droppings.
  • It promoted the participants in this festival of horseshit as "some of the most respected and interesting minds in media, marketing, and entertainment" who were offering "one-of-a-kind insights and rare perspectives on how brands can make that crucial emotional connection with the consumer."
I read the article three times in utter disbelief. It claimed Shingy "represents a nexus of brand and individual, thinker and marketer, and analog and digital, making him the perfect choice to lead this conversation."

What kind of journalism is this?

What the fuck is going on here? I asked myself.

And then I saw it. Greyed out, near the name of the so-called "reporter", were the words "Sponsored by: Oath." The whole thing was a fucking ad masquerading as journalism.

You'd think a cynical old fox like me wouldn't be fooled by the despicable, corrupt games the online media are playing. But I was.

Is it any wonder that nobody trusts a fucking word they read from online "news" sites.

Except, of course, from bloggers.

August 02, 2017

Marketers And Millennials

Earlier this week, The Drum had a piece by Samuel Scott about marketing and millennials.  As an add-on to the piece, Scott interviewed me about my thoughts on the subject. The following is a reprint of that interview.

Samuel Scott: One rule in marketing is to 'hook ​ them while they're young', so marketers have usually devoted some of their budgets to that. After all, no one would want to purchase luxury cars in middle age unless they had seen ads for those cars their entire lives. How useful has this approach been in general over the decades? Has the usefulness of this practice changed in recent years?

Bob Hoffman: It depends on the category. People buy luxury cars in middle age that didn’t even exist when they were young (Tesla). But some products (Coke) are bought not because we saw an ad yesterday, but because of the ads we’ve seen for 20 (or 30 or 40) years. For the most part, advertising now because you think somebody’s going to buy your product in 20 years is stupid. We see that all the time in the car industry.

​Scott: A frequent comment about millennials is that they are still broke at worst or underemployed at best following factors including the 2008 financial crisis. How valuable of a demographic segment are they today? But even if they have less money today, will they not have more money tomorrow? What is the problem with brand advertisers targeting them with long-term goals in mind?

Hoffman: There’s nothing wrong with targeting millennials when appropriate. The problem isn’t targeting. The problem is obsession.

Scott: ​Of course, 'millennials' may be a demographic segment but they may not be a useful marketing segment. Why are there so many news articles and marketing essays today that focus on what millennials want as though they have a single identity and set of characteristics?

Hoffman: There is just as much diversity within generations as there is between generations. The idiotic idea that all millennials are this or all baby boomers are that is just the stupid lazy thinking that makes most of marketing a joke. Remember, marketing consultants and researchers have to make a living. So every few years they have to come up with new 'generational' bullshit to sell to jackasses in marketing departments and ad agencies.

Scott: Most news articles out there portray millennials in a negative light. They are supposedly narcissistic, selfie-absorbed snowflakes who are lazy and want trophies for everything. I don't believe that. But why does everyone have those negative perceptions?

Hoffman: You can always find a component of any population that is lazy, self-absorbed and narcissistic. Nothing new here. But because culture and technology change, the manifestations of laziness, self-absorption and narcissism change. Consequently there is always something that seems new to write about. It’s horseshit, but it’s good copy.

​Scott: ​ Many marketers believe in segmentation. But is there not a case for some B2C products and platforms with millions of users such as Snapchat or Coca-Cola targeting a broad demographic group such as millennials?

Hoffman: Sure. At different age stages we use different types of products.

Scott: From what I have read, baby boomers have all the money and are projected to live a very long time. So, why do you think that marketers ignore them?

Hoffman: I could write a text book on this subject. In short, marketers ignore mature people because we hate them. All the 'reasons' for ignoring older people are bullshit. Ignoring mature people and obsessing over millennials is just narcissism disguised as strategy. It is marketing by selfie-stick.

Scott: Can you cite any examples of brands losing sales or market share by focusing on millennials?

Hoffman: Scion targeted millennials, although at the time people over 35 bought 88% of 'youth vehicles'. It succeeded in becoming the car brand with the youngest owner population — and it went out of business.

Scott: What do you recommend brands do in the future in terms of generational targeting?

Hoffman: I recommend they ignore the ignorant, lazy thinking of generational cliches. Stop trying to hold a mirror up to your target and saying “we’re just like you”. Advertising should be about the desirability of your product, not your superficial assumptions about who I am.

Scott: What do you wish digital-focused millennials would know about traditional marketing and advertising?

Hoffman: I wish they knew how much they don’t know.

Scott: Lastly, I myself straddle the border between Generation X and the millennials. Generation X has always gotten lost in the debate. What do you think of us?

Hoffman: I think you’re all lazy, self-absorbed and narcissistic.


In other news...
I have a new website which you are welcome to visit here.
The Australian Financial Review did a nice story on my misgivings about online advertising here.

July 17, 2017

Brand Preference Vs Brand Love

Today's post first appeared in my newsletter this week.

There is only one essential job for marketing - to acquire customers.
Everything else marketing does is a footnote. This is why the current obsession with social media is largely misguided.
People are far more likely to use social media to follow a brand they currently use than a brand they don't. It is very reasonable to assume that the vast majority of people following your brand on social media are already customers. And usually they are a tiny component of your user base - well under 1/10 of one percent.
Consequently, most of the money you spend on social media is spent talking to a tiny group of people who are probably already using your brand.
Every hour and dollar spent talking to these people is a dollar and hour not spent on acquiring new customers.
The justification for this is usually some fuzzy nonsense about "brand love." It comes from that infantile school of marketing that believes if you shower people with social media or "content" - whatever the hell that means -- they will fall in love with your brand.
Here is a recent chart from McKinsey. Frankly, I can't vouch for the methodology or the conclusions, but even if it's only half-true it demonstrates pretty convincingly the daunting limitations of "brand love."
 There is obviously nothing wrong with trying to communicate with some of your customers through social media and trying to build a nice relationship. It's a matter of perspective. It is reasonable to devote a small component of a marketing budget toward that. If you do it well, your objective should be modest -- to maintain or motivate brand preference.
However, spending a lot to chase the chimera of brand love is usually a wasteful and largely empty exercise. The idea that social media creates brand love is a fantasy. A recent article published in the Harvard Business Review reported that...
“Across 16 studies, we found no evidence that following a brand on social media changes people’s purchasing behavior."
I'm sorry to tell you this, but most people just don't care that much about your paper towels. And if some do, and they follow you on social media, it's not likely to change their buying habits.
Unfortunately, we have been lead to accept a very seductive philosophy based on the fantasy of brand love. It is founded on the expensive, wasteful delusion that people want to have "conversations" with brands, read and share "content" about brands, co-create with brands, and several other flavors of childish nonsense (for a great read on this subject, particularly for creatives, I suggest "Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t" by Steven Pressfield.)
Our brands are critically important to us marketers but in the vast majority of cases not very important at all to most consumers.
Instead of spending a lot of money trying to convince a small number of people to love your brand, your money would be much more wisely spent trying to convince a lot of people to like it.
I'll be taking some time off from the blog for vacation and to finish up my new book. See you in a few weeks.

July 12, 2017

Why All Advertising Philosophies Are Wrong

As a former ceo of a few ad agencies I think I know something about how agencies work.

One of the core principles of the agency business is to develop a philosophy about the advertising process that differentiates you from your competitors. Then you give it a name -- you "brand" it -- and you speak to your clients and prospects in the language of this brand credo.

There's nothing evil about this. I did it when I ran an agency, and almost every agency does it.

The only problem is that it is inevitably wrong. The reason it is wrong is that advertising success is about likelihoods and probabilities, not certainties. But there is no agency in the world that is brave enough to say out loud that their philosophy is contingent and uncertain.

For brand marketers, there are no straight lines in advertising. You cannot assume that if you do this, that will happen. The best you can do is infer likelihoods.

I believe in the power of probability (by the way, I wrote a curious and highly unpopular little pamphlet about this called Quantum Advertising.)

I am often asked to speak at conferences and I sit there and listen to speakers talk with great certainty about how whatever it is they happen to be selling is the root of great brand success. I don't buy it.

If you tell me that advertising success is all about emotion, I'll show you a hundred campaigns that were successful with no emotional factors. If you tell me that advertising success is all about logic, I'll show you a hundred successful campaigns that were completely logic-free.

You want to claim that all advertising success is based on strategy? I'll show you a hundred successes with no discernible strategy. You want to claim it's always about creativity? I'll show you a hundred successes my dog could have written.

What does skepticism about fixed advertising philosophies - and belief in the power of probability - mean in the real world? It means...
  • The more people who see your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
  • The more people who remember your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
  • The more people who like your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
  • The more people who have an emotional reaction to your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
  • The more people who agree with the logic of your advertising the more successful it is likely to be
These may seem like platitudes, but it is remarkable how many marketers waste money creating messages that are directed only at their fans, are immediately forgettable, are crass and unlikable, are emotion-free, and cliché-ridden.

Does this mean that advertising that is pervasive, memorable, likable, emotional and/or logical is guaranteed to be successful? No. It just means it's more likely to be successful. And that's all you get in advertising.

If you want to be a simpleton who believes in certainties, get into politics.

July 10, 2017

A Day In The Life Of A Blogger

4:50 AM - Wife’s Alarm Goes Off
First decision of the day: Divorce or hit man?

5:15 AM - Roscoe The Dog Starts Barking
Second decision of the day: What to throw at him? Shoe or iPad?

7:00 AM - Wake Up, Get Out Of Bed, Drag A Comb Across My Head
Oops. No hair. Drag a wash cloth across my head

7:30 AM - Meet My Breakfast Boys At Coffee Shop
Discussion: Ailments, Medications, Basketball, Trump

8:15 AM - Return Home

Read nasty emails from people who hate me

8:30 AM - At Home Office
Write nasty emails to people who hate me

9:00 AM - Decide Not To Do Much Today
It’s a great habit to develop

9:30 AM - Check Bank Account To See If Nigerian Prince Has Deposited The $22 Million
Not yet.

10:00 AM - Rummage Through Old Unpublished Blog Posts To See If There’s Anything I Can Use For Tomorrow
Not a fucking chance

10:15 AM - Start Writing Blog Post For Tomorrow
Realize I've written this same post 20 times before

10:20 AM - Decide I Need To Think A Little Before Writing Blog Post
Maybe checking Facebook will help. (Or porn sites!)

10:30 AM - Receive Invitation To Speak At “The Real-Time Customer Journey Optimization Insider Summit”
Third decision of the day: Slit wrists or jump off building?

11:00 AM - Go For Swim
With every stroke, wish it was over.

12:00 PM - Buy A Tunafish Sandwich
Fourth decision of the day: Chocolate milk or apple juice?

1:00 PM - Check To See If There’s A Baseball Game On Television
No. Need a different excuse for not writing blog post

1:05 PM - Get An Email From Former Colleague Telling Me How Much He Hates His Agency
Feel ashamed but nevertheless bask in my Schadenfreude

1:30 PM - Check “To Do” List To Make Sure I Haven’t Done Anything
Clean bill of health

2:00 PM - Cancel Meeting I’m Supposed To Be At Tomorrow
Hasn’t today been exhausting enough?

2:30 PM - Start Panicking About All The Shit I Haven’t Done
Decide to review the status of my projects

2:40 PM - Review Novel I’m Supposed To Be Working On
Get depressed because it sucks

2:50 PM - Review Book About Ad Tech I’m Supposed To Be Working On
Get depressed because it sucks

3:00 PM - Review Speech I’m Giving Next Week In London
Get depressed because it sucks

3:30 PM - Try To Get United Airlines On Phone
What was I thinking?

4:00 PM - Check Email
Why do all these people want to join my LinkedIn network? Didn’t even know I had a LinkedIn network. Who knew there were so many award-winners, storytellers, founders, co-founders, advisors, analysts, professionals, globals, passionates, worldwides, innovators, data-drivens, strategists, authentics, experts, coaches, transformers, disruptors, leads, champions, builders, advocates, ambassadors, pioneers, architects, lifelongs, change agents, believers, motivators and ideators?

4:15 - Get Sucked In By Click Bait About Pop Star I Never Heard Of
You won't believe what she looks like now!

4:30 PM - Find A Baseball Game On TV

This is better

7:30 PM - Find Another Baseball Game On TV And Eat Something Garlicky
This is even better

10:30 PM - Go To Bed
This is even betterer

3:00 AM -  Wake Up And Write The Fucking Blog Post
Get depressed because it sucks

July 05, 2017

10th Anniversary Edition

This week marks the 10th anniversary of The Ad Contrarian blog.

I can't think of a more interesting time to have been writing about the ad industry. I've had a few favorite story lines -- marketers' detachment from reality; brand babble; the devaluation of creativity; the unhealthy consolidation of the agency industry; the foolish disregard for the most valuable consumer group in history.

But the biggest ad story of this decade is undoubtedly the story of online advertising. It has gone from infancy to pimply-faced adolescence in the last decade. And like all adolescents it is annoying, stupid, and stinky.

One can't help but marvel at how our industry was presented with such an extraordinary opportunity and has managed to fuck it up it so thoroughly.

The marketing industry has hijacked the web. It has become a relentless 24-hour marketing machine. Online advertising has been an integral factor in many of today's most dispiriting realities -- the degradation of journalism, fake news, industry corruption and fraud.

In the past ten years online advertising has gone from a minor annoyance to major menace (this is the subject of a book I'm working on.) It is not simply a pesky nuisance; through the twin agencies of tracking and ad tech it has become a danger to democratic societies.

It's been a fascinating decade -- but frankly hard to watch for someone who has derived substantial pleasure and prosperity from advertising.

I don't believe much in legacies, especially in an industry that doesn't even bother to bury its dead. But if I did, I'd hope that this blog would be seen as contributing to the story of how an industry went so far off the rails so quickly.

What a stroke of luck to have been inadvertently chronicling the whole thing. I know it's unseemly to derive amusement from the decline of an industry, but I have to admit I've had a blast for ten years.

Despite the foolishness of our aristocratic "leaders," there are many wonderful people in advertising and I've been fortunate to get to know many of them. This blog has allowed me to become friends, even if just 'virtually,' with great people all over the world.

It has also permitted me to share some of my immoderate views with tens of thousands of others. No matter how wantonly we have endeavored to screwed it up, the web really is a remarkable connection device.

It is not hyperbole to say that some of the people I like best in the world I've met as a result of this blog.

Thanks for reading this thing. I hope it has been of value to you -- if not illuminating, at least thought-provoking.

June 27, 2017

Who's Gonna Guard Marcel?

Publicis ceo Arthur Sadoun made big headlines last week with his announcement that he's taking the $20 million they piss away at Cannes every year and sinking it into an artificial intelligence gimmick called Marcel.

The goal of this AI system is to connect all 80,000 of Publicis' employees for the purpose of universal access to information and collaboration. You can learn about it on this video cliché-fest.

According to Chip Register, co-CEO of Publicis.Sapient...
"In a group of 80,000 people ... how can we assemble that team and allow that team to work and collaborate virtually to bring the best ideas and values we can to a client at a moment's notice?...The use of technology enables great creative work. It enables the connectivity of people... It enables teams to work and it enables ideas to generate, be shared globally and virtually, through the use of better insight in culture and the journey of human beings."
Let's forget the "human journey" horseshit for a minute and talk about the practical use of Marcel.

We know that digital security is a cruel joke. We know that hackers have gotten into White House systems, CIA systems, and just about any system they want to hack.

What I want to know is, how is Publicis going to protect the ideas and information accessible through Marcel from every hacker and every rival agency and marketing entity on the planet?

But let's give Publicis the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that they have better cyber security than the White House. How about the internal issues?

Let's say Publicis is pitching Coca-Cola or General Motors or Unilever or any large global brand. Do they really expect us to believe that they are going to put essential brand strategy, creative work, and media ideas into a system that can be accessed by 80,000 people all over the globe?

Do they really want to tempt some intern or junior planner with Marcel access to sell critical information to a rival agency?

If they're not going to put essential information into the Marcel system, what use is it? How can it enable "ideas to generate, be shared globally and virtually" if they're not, um, shared globally and virtually?

And how about their current clients? Do they really think their clients are going to want proprietary information they give to Publicis to be within reach of 80,000 employees, any one of whom may skip to a rival agency or rival brand tomorrow?

But if they don't put proprietary info into the system, how can they possibly "assemble that team and allow that team to work and collaborate virtually to bring the best ideas and values we can to a client at a moment's notice?"

No company in its right mind puts sensitive, critical, or proprietary information into an email. The same will be true of Marcel.

One of the key attributes clients expect from an agency is mature and discrete handling of confidential information. Not an 80,000 person circle jerk.

When the dual imperatives of protecting confidential information and providing essential security dawn on Publicis, they will discover that Marcel is destined to become not much more than a massively expensive and technologically elegant next gen version of a conference call.

In an amazing timing coincidence, I posted this last night and WPP got hit with a crippling hack attack this morning.

June 22, 2017

Apple Treats The Disease. Google Treats The Symptoms.

Apple and Google both know there's a big problem. The problem is that online advertising is a shit show of unprecedented proportions.

In recent days, both Apple and Google have announced initiatives to deal with the problem. Google's solution is timid. Apple's solution is much better.

First let's define the problem. Essentially everyone who uses the web is fully fed-up with the horrifying state of online advertising. It is beyond annoying, beyond stupid, and beyond insufferable.

People have always viewed advertising as a minor annoyance. But online advertising and the imbeciles who create and propagate it are so far removed from reality that human beings are in revolt. Over 600 million web-enabled devices are currently running ad blockers.

The hidden hand behind the horror of online advertising is tracking. Tracking, and the collection of personal information, is in large part responsible for many of the worst aspects of online ads. Let's put aside for a moment the damage that tracking is doing to privacy, security, democracy, and journalism and just talk about two simple reasons why Apple's solution is much better than Google's.

- The personal data that is amassed by tracking has turned the web into a non-stop direct response ad machine. Direct response advertising (whether of the "junk mail", "800 number", or "click here" variety) has always been the ugliest and most annoying type of advertising. It is usually enabled by data bases.

- Tracking enables marketers to creepily follow us around the web and pester us everywhere we go with whatever ads their idiotic algorithms tell them we're interested in and would be delighted to see. Yes, they actually believe this horseshit.

Google's Chrome browser (the world's most popular with over 50% market share) will in the near future be loaded with a partial ad blocker that will block what Google considers the most annoying type of ads.

Google's ad blocker has been developed with a group called the CBA (Coalition for Better Ads). This is a bunch of advertisers, publishers, online media, and agencies whose stated objective is to force better online advertising. But whose hidden agenda is probably to protect tracking and surveillance marketing.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation has this to say about Google's plan...
“…While we welcome the willingness to tackle annoying ads, the CBA's criteria do not address a key reason many of us install ad blockers: to protect ourselves against the non-consensual tracking and surveillance that permeates the advertising ecosystem operated by the members of the CBA.”
I agree with the EFF. Any effort to fix the awfulness of online advertising is laudable, even if it ain't perfect and even if it is somewhat cynical.

But Apple's idea is much better. Apple's Safari browser will soon employ "Intelligent Tracking Prevention." This will keep marketers from tracking us across sites. Don Marti sums up the benefit of Safari's solution succinctly:

  • Nifty machine learning technology is coming in on the user’s side.
  • “Legitimate” uses do not include cross-site tracking.
  • Safari’s protection is automatic and client-side, so no blocklist politics.
The key difference in the way Apple and Google approach the problem can be found in the nature of the companies. Apple makes very little money from online advertising and has a self-interest in protecting their users' experiences.

Google, on the other hand, makes virtually all of its money from advertising and has a self-interest in protecting tracking and surveillance marketing. The key thing to remember is that most of the major players in online advertising have a big stake in surveillance marketing. They will fight like hell to protect tracking.

Google have proven to be geniuses at subtle misdirection. Their whole search engine business is founded on the idea of misdirection -- create a paid search result that seems to a consumer to be close enough to a natural search result to be believable. This is the essence of their business.

It is not surprising that Google's "Better Ads" solution would look like it's treating the disease while actually only treating symptoms.

Always keep in mind that Google, Facebook, the IAB, the ANA, and the 4A's will always fight to retain tracking. Why? They are now in the surveillance business. Their business is collecting, selling, and exploiting the details of our personal lives and our personal behavior.