February 27, 2014

Much Better Yellow Pages. Much Worse Television.

In One Sentence
It took me seven years (I'm a little slow) but I figured how to describe the web as an advertising medium in one sentence. Here it is:
The web is a much better yellow pages and a much worse television.
You can quote me on that.

On Second Thought...
I've had second thoughts about my last post (The Epic Screwing Of Online Advertisers.)

The second thoughts are not about the conclusion that online advertisers are getting screwed. There's plenty of evidence for that. My second thoughts are about the data and the math that the guy used who wrote the article I was quoting.

He says that 15% of the "impressions" are technical errors, 60% are bots, and 25% are fraud. If my math is correct, that's 100%. All impressions can't be bogus because I seem to remember seeing an online ad somewhere.

Then he concludes that 85% of online impressions are phony. I don't know where that number comes from unless he is adding the bots and the fraud together, But this can't be right either, since some of the bots must be included in the fraud number.

Then he reduces by 54% because 54% of ads are not "visible." But this number must also be a sub-set of either the bot or fraud number.

So where does that leave us?

First, the definition of an online impressions is still bullshit. Next,  15% technical errors is still huge. The fact that 60% of online traffic is bots is still mind-blowing. The 25% fraud number actually seems low to me based on what I've read. And the 54% "invisibility" factor is well-documented.

However, I don't think it's mathematically correct to add the errors, bots, fraud and visibility factors together as it seems like it's double or triple counting. The impression shortfall is certainly very big, but I'm not sure this guy has it right.

The Epic Screwing Of Online Advertisers

Banner advertising continues to grow at a blistering rate. Apparently, the only thing growing faster is the screwing of the people who buy it.

In the past we have documented the alarming fraud that is happening daily in online advertising. But an article in MediaPost's Marketing Daily last week makes everything else seem like small potatoes. To be fair, the following are someone else's numbers, and I can't vouch for his numbers or his math.

The article claims that only 8% of online ad "impressions" have a chance of being seen. If this is true, it is beyond belief.

The story starts with what the online ad industry calls an "impression." It has nothing at all to do with what any rational human being would call an impression.

We think of an impression as one ad seen by one person. In the impossibly sneaky and perfidious world of online advertising an "impression" has nothing to do with either ads or people.

Instead, it has a definition that is so supremely full of shit that you have to be brain dead not to realize that it was created to confuse and deceive.

Here is the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) definition of an "impression":
“‘Impression’ is a measurement of responses from a Web server to a page request from the user browser.”
How's that for bullshit? In other words, a browser sends a message to a server to send it something, and that's called an impression.

There are three major things wrong with this absurd farce.

First, about 15% of the time, a technical error occurs. According to the article:
Most ad networks will report, and try and manage, these numbers but it happens about 15% of the time.
This is not intentional or crooked, but 15% is a very large margin of error.

Second, and more damaging, is non-human traffic. According to the article...
...bots count as site views, falsely driving up the impression count of your ad... Multiple studies show that up to 60% of all traffic on the web is bots (their words, but my link - TAC)
Finally, there's out-and-out fraud.
There is lots of money to be made in purposefully creating fraudulent impressions to steal ad dollars... Wenda Millard, president of MediaLink, claims that 25% of the entire online ad market is fraudulent.
According to the author, the cumulative effect of these three obstructions is...
...only 15% of impressions ever have the possibility to be seen by a real person. Then, factor in that 54% of ads are not viewable (again my link - TAC)... and you’re left with only 8% of impressions that have the opportunity to be seen by a real person. Let me clarify: that does not mean that 8% of impressions are seen. That means only 8% have the chance to be seen. That’s an unbelievable amount of waste in an industry where metrics are a major selling point.
As I have written before, the amount of fraud in online advertising is staggering. The metrics are bullshit. The data is fraudulent. If this guy is even close to being correct, the screwing that advertisers are getting from agencies and publishers is truly thrilling to behold.

If you want to prove to yourself the absolute cluelessness of the people pissing away your money buying online advertising impressions, here's a fun little experiment. Call your  CMO or your media buyer and ask him what an online "impression" means.

Ten bucks says he doesn't even know what the hell he's buying.

February 24, 2014

Why I Have A Blog, A Facebook Page, And A Twitter Account

People often accuse me of being hypocritical. They say I am constantly whining about online advertising yet I have all the online gizmos.

They say, "If social media is not an effective business driver, why do you have a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter feed?"

Or, "If online advertising isn't a very good business driver, why do you have a website?"

The answer is, there are certain costs associated with being in business. You need business cards, you need a sign over the door, and you need office furniture. These items do not create much in the way of sales but are essential to doing business.

Online presence has become one of these.

Those of us who were around in the middle 90's can remember when having a website was thought to be the magical road to success. Some companies that announced they were launching a website actually saw their stock prices increase. Today, a company launching a website is greeted with as much excitement as announcing they are painting the break room.

With the exception of online retailers, having a website today is understood to offer a business advantage of pretty close to zero. And yet every company has one. Why? It is a cost of doing business.

The same is true of social media. Five years ago every company in the world was rushing headlong into social media with the expectation that magic would ensue. In fact, while there have been a handful of notable successes, the advantages that social media offered most companies were small if at all, and have continued to provide diminishing returns as every company, every organization, and every individual on the planet now has some kind of social media presence.

It has become clear that a Facebook page or a blog is not the fabulous sales driver we were all promised. It's not much more than an online business card.

Adopting a technological innovation does not necessarily lead to a marketing advantage. Often times it just represents a new cost of doing business.

A perfect example is the telephone. When first introduced, having a telephone must have seemed to be a remarkable business advantage. But as every business quickly acquired one, having one provided no business advantage at all. It just became a new cost.

Just like traditional advertising, it's pretty hard for most businesses to draw a straight line between a website, a Facebook page, or a Twitter feed, and sales results.

You don't have them because they are the magic that all the bullshit artists promised.

You have them for the same reason you have a business card -- because you kinda have to.

February 21, 2014

An Open Letter To Book Publishers

Dear Book Publisher,

Hi. My name is Bob.

I'm almost done with my third book. It's called Advertising Needs Troublemakers.

My last book, 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising, has been the #1 ad book at Amazon for almost a year.

But here's the thing. I'm really lazy.

I don't feel like going through the agony of self-publishing like I did last time. It's a huge pain in the ass.

I'm also too lazy to write up a proposal and send it around to publishers. Ergo, this letter.

If you think you might be interested in publishing a semi-brilliant book about advertising, please contact me and we'll talk. I think it might sell well at airports and county fairs. Just kidding about the county fairs.

You can reach me here.


Your friend, Bob

P.S.: Those of you who are not publishers, feel free to forward this to someone who is.

February 20, 2014

Okay, Sherlock, How'd You Do?

Yesterday I posted a problem to demonstrate the difficulty of understanding some purchasing behaviors.

Here was the problem:
I get The New York Times delivered to my home in the San Francisco Bay Area every morning. Yet when I'm on the road, I don't buy The Times on Mondays or Tuesdays. I do buy it, however, on Wednesdays through Sundays.

Pretend you're a marketing strategist, and see if you can come up with a logical explanation for this purchasing behavior.
Before the answer, an observation.

While most of our purchasing behavior is done for obvious reasons, we each have little quirks that are very difficult for a strategist to intuit or even discover.

For example, there are restaurants I go to not because I like the food, but because I like the bread or the bar. There are also restaurants I avoid whose food I like, but whose bathrooms stink. Likewise, there are a number of categories I participate in in which my behavior is due mainly to personal quirks. I am sure we each have some of these.

The point is, it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking that data has all the answers. There are always personal behaviors that are not easily explained by anything other than knowing the person.

Now to The New York Times mystery.

The answer is this. I get most of my news on line, not from the newspaper. I get the newspaper for basically three reasons: the sports section, the business section, and the crossword puzzle.

The Times has a terrible sports section so I don't read it for that. The business section is very good, but not compelling. The primary reason I get The Times is the crossword puzzle.

The Times crossword puzzle gets tougher as the week goes on. Monday and Tuesday are not challenging for me; Wednesday starts to be a challenge; Thursday is usually pretty difficult and contains a trick to it; Friday and Saturday are killers; Sunday is about as hard as Thursday, but it's big so it's fun.

So the explanation is, I don't buy The Times on Monday or Tuesday because the crossword is too easy. It's highly unlikely that this behavior is representative of anyone but me. Nonetheless, I think it demonstrates that synthesizing a correct explanation for a purchasing behavior - when not obvious - can be a tricky business.

Kudos, and a free beer, to Adam and DuBoisterous, who nailed it, and also to Vinny Warren and Charlotte, who made me laugh.

February 19, 2014

Strategies And Mysteries

Today we have a mystery for you to solve. Get out your pipe and deerstalker hat. But first, the set-up.

Yesterday, Dave Trott had an excellent post about the limits of strategy.

I have always felt that in advertising, strategy is essential but it's not enough. The problem with most of our agency strategists is that they complicate the shit out of the easy stuff and screw up the hard stuff.

For the most part, peoples' purchasing behavior is pretty easy to figure out. First, there's the utilitarian stuff. They buy these things because they're cheaper, nicer looking, more convenient, better tasting, or work better. No mystery there.

Next, there's the emotional stuff. They buy these things because the brand makes them feel better. Also, no mystery.

Planners and other strategists take great pains to make these obvious behaviors seem arcane. After all, if a dumb-ass blogger can figure this shit out, who needs a "cultural anthropologist?"

Then there are the 10% of consumer behaviors that really are mysterious. This is the stuff that is very hard to explain and truly requires the help of a good strategist. Sadly, this is the stuff that many of them get wrong.

Here's an example.

I get The New York Times delivered to my home in Oakland every morning. Yet when I'm traveling, I don't buy The Times on Mondays or Tuesdays. I do buy it, however, on Wednesdays through Sundays.

Pretend you're a marketing strategist, and see if you can come up with a logical explanation for this purchasing behavior. Leave your explanation in the "Comments" section and tomorrow the mystery will be revealed.

Anyone who gets it right receives a free beer next time they're in SF.

February 17, 2014

The Only Ad Bozo You Can Trust

As regular readers know, I consider people who make predictions idiots.

They almost always turn out wrong and they give smart-ass big-mouths like me wonderful opportunities to make fun of smart-ass big-mouths like them.

Every now and then, however, I step outside my comfort zone and make a prediction. When it turns out wrong I conveniently forget about it. But when it turns out right, I really like to rub it in.

Today, we're going to do some rubbing.

Back in May of 2009, when social media mania was at its hysterical high point, I wrote a post called Looking For Volunteers.

In it, I wrote the following...
TAC predicts that when the frenzy over Facebook, Twitter, and other social media calms down and the dust clears, email and search will continue to be the dreariest and most productive forms of online advertising.
Well, guess what? McKinsey released a report a few weeks ago about the astounding failure of social media to drive sales (my words, not theirs.)

The title of the piece was Why Marketers Should Keep Sending You E-Mails and it reported a finding that...
E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined.
To repeat, nearly forty times as effective as Facebook and Twitter combined. That's a lot of times. And we're talking about email here. Not exactly the most profound or sophisticated type of advertising.

Now, being honest, I have no idea how McKinsey conducted its research or whether its worth anything or not, but they agree with me, so I'm here to tell you it's a brilliant piece of work!

They also published a chart...

And what does this chart demonstrate?

Well, ahem, I believe it shows that despite the frenzy over Facebook and Twitter, email and search continue to be "the dreariest and most productive forms of online advertising."

Which demonstrates once again that The Ad Contrarian is the only ad bozo you can trust.

February 13, 2014

The Joke Called Facebook Likes

A few weeks ago I wrote a couple of blog posts entitled The Slow Painful Collapse Of The Social Media Fantasy (Part 1) and  (Part 2).

The thrust of these posts was that...
"The idea that consumers were enthusiastic about having conversations about brands online, and they would activate their network of friends and followers to share their enthusiasms and create a socially transmitted tsunami of sales has proven to be deeply fanciful."
"Social media are quickly evolving into just another channel for delivering traditional interruptive advertising."
This week, a wonderful video from a science blogger about his testing of how the accumulation of Facebook "likes" really works has been flying all over the web. If you haven't seen it yet, here it is. It is 9 minutes long but it's worth every second.

This is just more evidence that the assumptions behind social media marketing are turning out to have been naive and unrealistic.

In the fullness of time, Facebook will be seen to be no different from any other website. Its primary value to advertisers will not be in the infantile fantasies of social media marketing -- the value will be in its ability to deliver traditional paid ads to a large audience.

Which, coincidentally, just happens to be the way it makes money.

February 12, 2014

Cats Who Want To Be Dogs

Today we'll be chatting about one of my favorite subjects: stupidity.

Typically my stupidity rants center on digital stupidity. But today we'll be talking about good old-fashioned traditional stupidity.

A significant part of what I am doing these days is trying to explain to marketers the silliness of ignoring people over 50 (they are responsible for almost 50% of consumer spending, but are the target for about 5% of advertising.)

A perfect example of this occurs in the automobile industry where the facts and the practices are in complete opposition.

People over 50 buy 62% of all new cars, but are not in any auto maker's media target. Auto makers typically buy 18-49 years-olds or 25-54 year-olds.

In other words, auto sellers direct about 100% of their effort at 38% of the market and about 0% of their effort at 62% of the market.

Even more remarkable are "youth cars" like the Ford Focus, the Toyota Scion, and the Chevy Cruz. These cars are targeted at 18-34 year-olds. And yet 18-34 year-olds buy only 12% of these cars -- 88% are bought by older people.

When I describe this anomaly to marketers and agency people, I often get the following response: "Yeah, but older people want to be like young people."

Now, this may be true -- I doubt it*, but it's possible. But it's irrelevant. Here's why.

Let's say these folks are right and older people want to be just like young people. That is still no reason to target young people. Young people don't buy cars. Showing young people in an ad is one thing, but targeting young people makes no sense at all.

Let's create an analogy.

Let's say we want to sell milk to cats. Cats love milk and they drink 90% of the milk. Dogs don't buy much milk. They only buy 10% of the milk.

But here's the catch: cats want to be like dogs. So the way to convince cats to drink our brand of milk is to tell them that dogs like it. Okay, maybe there's some logic here.

But why would you target dogs? Targeting dogs misses the milk drinkers -- cats. We are confusing message strategy with media strategy. Maybe we need to show dogs drinking our milk in our spots to influence the cats. But in order to influence the cats, the spots need to be seen by cats. Not dogs.

In the same way, even if it is true that older people want to be like young people, the message needs to be seen by the people who buy cars -- older people.

This is not rocket science. It's not even kindergarten science. It's fucking logic and it is completely lost on the dimwits who call themselves marketers.

* This may be the oldest and perhaps dumbest  fairy tale about older people. Do older people want to be youthful? Yes. Do they want to be like young people? No. This is a crucial distinction which seems to be completely lost on marketers. People over 50 have their own idea of what it means to be youthful, and I promise you it has nothing whatever to do with Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus or the young, hip doofuses we are bombarded with in advertising.

February 10, 2014

The Danger Of Paying Too Much Attention

For a guy who writes relentlessly about the ad industry, I pay remarkably little attention to it.

I never read Ad Age or Adweek or Brand Anything. I read very few ad blogs or marketing articles. I could no sooner tell you who won a Gold Lion than I could tell you who won the Swedish lacrosse championship.

While I have tremendous respect for excellent work, I don't know who the great copywriters or art directors of our day are, and I don't know who runs what agency or who just got hired or fired.

I am not bragging about my ignorance. The truth is I am interested in advertising, but I am not interested in the ad industry.

I find that the only way I can maintain perspective about the impact of advertising on real people in the real world is to live among them. If I really want a sense of how it works and how it doesn't work it is best to see it as a consumer sees it, not as a practitioner sees it.

When you pay a lot of attention to the industry, you start to give too much weight to popular notions. You question the evidence of your own eyes, and your own common sense. You forget that the assertions of experts, loudmouths, and zealots are mostly just opinions tarted up to resemble facts.

You start believing that people have a strong bond with your brand of gasoline, and that when you run TV spots next quarter you can calculate a precise ROI.

Or you believe that people want to go on line and have conversations about your cream cheese. And that these conversations will lead their friends to share this enthusiasm and will result in great marketing success.

In other words, you become a moron.

No sensible civilian would believe this nonsense. Only a marketing professional could be so silly.

The best way to keep a proper perspective about advertising is to remain at a safe distance from its legendary lack of self-restraint, and notice for yourself what is working and what isn't.

Observe what real people do and, to the extent possible, try to be one.

February 06, 2014

Art, Demographics, And The Super Bowl

An article about Bruno Mars, the halftime performer at the Super Bowl, that appeared in The New York Times arts section last Friday is indicative of the role that demographic analysis is playing in our lives.

The piece had some information about Mr. Mars as an artist, but dealt substantially with demographics, and the way business decisions (disguised as artistic decisions) are made.

The obsession with demographics that started in the advertising business, spread to the entertainment business, and has infected politics is not a good thing or a healthy thing.

One of the problems that the emphasis on demographics creates is that it tends to divide people. When you are trying to reach baby boomers or millennials, for example, you tend to look for "tells" -- the things that make them different. And when you create messages that emphasize differences, you tend to exaggerate them and make them badges of uniqueness.

Contemporary political campaigns and political discourse are an example of this trend gone completely mad. People of good will, who may agree on a lot of important matters of public concern, are driven apart by "wedge issues."

This also exists in the world of marketing. There is a whole industry of researchers, consultants and marketing geniuses making a living off convincing us that every generation is different and unique. They are not. It has been my observation that there is just as much diversity within generations as there is between generations.

Sure, people of similar ages are going to have similar age-related sign posts and behaviors -- not because of their particular generation, but because of their stage in life and their environment.

Most young people are going to like Miley Cyrus because young people are idiots. Middle-aged people are going to like golf because middle-aged people are boring. Old people are going to watch more tv because old people have lost interest in screwing.

It has nothing to do with what "generation" we've labeled them, it has to do with biology and psychology.

Every generation has its Miley Cyrus. Every generation has its golf. And every generation has its sex substitutes.

While Mars was a controversial choice for the halftime show, it has been widely acknowledged that he did a very good job on Sunday. His value as a performer has very little to do with demographics and a lot to do with talent.

Intelligent people of all generations recognize art and talent regardless of era. Dimwits of all ages think only their generation produces good stuff.

February 04, 2014

Product Advertising And The Super Bowl

For the last few years, whining about the lousy quality of Super Bowl spots has become de rigueur among advertising observers.

While I hate to be non-contrarian, I'm afraid these people are right.

I'm sure there are a number of reasons for this. But I have a feeling that behind this phenomenon there's something going very, very wrong.

I believe that most agencies have bought into the idea that TV advertising is a dying category and the web is where they need to invest.

The result is that ad schools, ad agencies, and ad leaders are primarily looking for creative people with web skills. My experience with web creative skills is that they are substantially tactical. There is simply not much creativity behind most web advertising. I know, I know, every now and then someone does something wonderful on the web. But most of it is pure awful.

On the web there are two kinds of advertising: direct response, and "branding." The direct response stuff wants clicks. The branding stuff wants "engagement."

As far as I'm concerned, direct response and branding are the two least important types of advertising. The most important type of advertising is product advertising -- advertising that tells you why you need a product.

That type of persuasive, eloquent advertising is no longer to be found in the Super Bowl.

Ten years ago, Super Bowl advertising was heavily laden with direct response spots -- virtually every spot ended with a website it wanted you to go to. (The idiocy that TV spots should be about sending people to websites has, thankfully, died.)

Now Super Bowl advertising is all about "branding." It wants you to love the brand because the brand is fun or irreverent or is associated with some unassailable virtue like America or diversity.

It has always been my opinion that in most categories strong brands are built on great product advertising, not "branding." But it is virtually impossible to find a compelling product benefit in any Super Bowl spot anymore.

Product advertising is not just the type of advertising least commonly found on the web, it is now also the type of advertising rarely found on the Super Bowl.

I don't think that's a coincidence. I believe this fact is substantially responsible for the state of Super Bowl advertising, and TV advertising in general.

The web-first chickens are coming home to roost.

February 03, 2014

The End Of The $4,000,000 Spot?

And what a super bowl-full it was.

It had everything. Bad playing, bad ads, enormous wastage of money on celebrity cretins, Joe Namath's coat...

And then to top it off, the dumbest line of copy in Super Bowl history: "There's nothing more American than America."

The extent of this mess could mark the end of the $4 million dollar spot. Only kidding. Dumb advertisers will always need stuff to put on YouTube

Some random thoughts on the Super Bowl ads:
Doritos "Finger Cleaner": One of the funniest spots ever made for the Super Bowl didn't run. Someone must have gotten cold feet. Here it is:
Budweiser: Puppy dogs? Give me a fucking break. As usual, this will be the USA Today poll winner.

Audi "Doberhuahua": More goddam dogs. This is another one that should score big with the public. People will remember everything but the advertiser.

SodaStream: Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn.

Noah: Trailer looked like SNL spoof.

T-Mobile "Tebow": Buried the lead under mountains of "creativity." Their all-type spot at the end way more effective.

Cheerios: Perfect performance by that little girl, and very sweet.

Jaguar: There's always a big, dumb helicopter spot. This was it.

GoDaddy "Body Builders": Yuk. Bring back the sluts (but great music by Joel & Co.)

Hyundai "Dad's 6th Sense": Might actually move some metal.
Hyundai Elantra: WTF was this thing about?
Chobani: More stupid animals tricks.

Wonderful Pistachios: Not wonderful. Colbert act getting tired.

Heinz "Hum": Dum
Bud Light "Screw On Cap": See, America can still innovate. Which reminds me...
Chrysler: What can I say. Bob Dylan speaks the dumbest copy line ever written and wears make-up. We all become what we make fun of.
Axe: Peace? Give me a fucking... wait, did I say that already?.
This whole miserable thing makes you wonder if the banner ad crowd are now allowed to play with storyboards.