December 07, 2016

Another Scandal In Ad Land

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating whether agencies are guilty of bid-rigging on production and post-production jobs. Commercial production and post-production is a $5 billion business in the US.

There is no announcement yet of which agencies may be under investigation but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to take a good guess. WPP, Omnicom, IPG, and Publicis all have in-house production and post-production capabilities. IPG has said that it has been contacted by the DOJ about this investigation.

According to The Wall Street Journal, agencies have been accused of manipulating the bidding process and coercing production houses into submitting phony, overpriced bids — called “check bids.” These phony bids create a paper trail that agencies use as cover when clients want a rationale for why agencies award jobs to themselves.

This new scandal comes on the heels of the ANA investigation this summer which found that unethical media buying practices were “pervasive" in the agency business — particularly in online advertising.

There is a big difference, however, between an ANA investigation and a DOJ investigation. The ANA investigation was a toothless joke. It was all thunder and no lightning.

The DOJ is a whole different ballgame. You do not want to fuck with these people. Price-fixing and bid-rigging are criminal activities. The same person who is apparently investigating the bid-rigging for the DOJ was also involved in investigating criminal charges that sent several agency print production execs to jail not long ago.

It may turn out that this investigation goes nowhere. But don't bet on it.

As each new scandal comes to light, it becomes harder and harder to overstate the damage that consolidation has done to the advertising industry.

There is little doubt that there have been crooks in the ad business - just as in every business - since the beginning of time. But the culture of the publicly-traded, consolidated agencies, steeped in financial sleight-of-hand and Wall Street monkeyshines, have created an environment in which ethics are malleable.

The agency business is a mess. You have to ask yourself how much of this crap clients are going to put up with? Is it any wonder that they are taking advertising in-house or hiring consulting firms to do their advertising? We are losing the confidence of sensible business people everywhere.

We jump from one fad to another; we are a cesspool of -isms; we have traded our knowledge-base for trendy clichés; we have eroded anything resembling a moral code; we have fired our experienced, talented people and replaced them with cheap, amateurish nobodies who have degraded our product; and we have brutalized our language into a liturgy of dreadful jargon and insufferable bullshit.

Other than that, we’re doing great.

December 05, 2016

Potato Chip Line Extensions

It all started with pineapple pizza.

Who's fucking idea was that?

Then we got blueberry bagels and olive oil ice cream and avocado toast and almond milk and pretty soon it'll be salted caramel Viagra.

Have you tried to buy potato chips lately? Do they have to fuck with everything? Can't they leave potato chips alone?

I went to the grocery the other day to buy my favorite lunch: a tuna sandwich, chocolate milk, and potato chips.

I stood there staring at the potato chip shelf for about 10 minutes and couldn't find a bag of simple, plain-ass potato-flavored potato chips. Everything had insane ingredients that had no business being anywhere near a potato chip. Bloody Mary and Jalapeno and...

Anyway, as long as the snack food industry has decided to go off the deep end, I thought I'd help them out with some new flavor ideas for potato chips. Here we go:

- Red Pepper and Milk

- Sweet Maui Onion and Handbag

- Fully Grown Beaver

- Cheddar and Self-Driving Car

- Mushroom and Dust

- Diet Dijon

- Honey Glazed Sweatsock

- Sri Lancan Sriracha

- Spicy Field Mouse

- Plump Chicken and Beans

- Aggressive Panhandling and Vinegar

- Wax Paper and Maple

- Crispy New York Toenails

Enjoy your lunch.

November 30, 2016

The Danger In Storytelling

I have noticed something recently when I read articles in trade publications.

Much of the data we are getting about online advertising is negative. To wit:

- The amount of fraud
- The extent of ad blocking
- The siphoning of revenue by ad tech middlemen
- The minuscule rates of interactivity
- The absence of consumer engagement
- The lack of transparency in media agency buying

Much of positive news we get, however, is anecdotal. The trades tell us about this successful social media program and that successful Facebook campaign.

And the anecdotes seem to have far more impact.

One of the principles that every good copywriter learned in her first six weeks on the job was "tell a story." The reason is simple -- people remember stories (sadly, storytelling has now become an inescapable and insufferable cliché that every dimwit marketing poseur is required by law to mention twice in every sentence. But we'll leave that for another day.)

But storytelling has its dangers.

The danger is that anecdotes make far better stories than data.

For example, the anecdote of the Ice Bucket Challenge makes a much more memorable story than the report by the American Marketing Association that 88% of marketers find no return on social media marketing.

And so the Ice Bucket Challenge lives on as an exemplar of the power of social media while the AMA report is nowhere to be found.

Someone once said "don't bring an anecdote to a data fight." But smart salespeople know better. They know that a good story trumps a bunch of numbers every time. And they use anecdotes wisely and widely to camouflage data (see this post from last month.)

Stories are a good technique for communicating. But they're a bad basis for making business decisions.