December 31, 2007

December 29, 2007

Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

My New Year's resolutions for 2008:

1. I will vote for the first presidential candidate who can complete a sentence without mentioning god.

2. I will strike dead anyone in my employ using any of the following words: engagement, branding, aspirational, counterintuitive, webinar, or quirky.

3. I will stop sending those pictures to Katie Couric.

4. I will buy a new Samsung TV because it is the official HDTV of the National Football League (who knew?)

5. I will have an open mind toward new ideas, new people, and new ways of doing things. (Pause. Laughter.)

6. I will rotate my tires and floss my teeth. Or the other way around.

7. I will ask my doctor whether Lunesta is right for me.

8. I will exercise less and eat more unhealthy foods (it's nice to have one resolution you know you'll keep.)

9. I will write a book called "Death By Branding."

10. I will not inject performance enhancing substances into Roger Clemens's ass.


December 25, 2007

Three Worst Christmas Songs

TAC is supposed to be on vacation but can't stop having tiresome opinions. Listening to the radio this week lead me to this list:

The Three Worst Christmas Songs Ever

1. Holly, Jolly Christmas -- Far and away the worst. A very annoying song sung by Burl Ives, a very annoying person.

2. O Holy Night -- I've heard this song a thousand times and still can't figure out the melody.

3. The Little Drummer Boy -- Not just bad, interminable. Not just interminable, ubiquitous.

Other Christmas song opinions

~ Up and Coming: Although first performed by Judy Galrand in Meet Me In St Louis (1944), Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane), seemed by unofficial count to be the most played Christmas song this year (ASCAP says it is number 3.) And if you haven't heard the James Taylor version, download it now.

~ The Power of Simplicity: White Christmas (Irving Berlin) has exactly 8 lines of lyrics.

~ The Other King: Sounds to these ears like Elvis's "Blue Christmas" was recorded at the same session as "One Night With You." Listen to the band, the guitar riff, and the backing vocals.


December 21, 2007

Guest Blog: The Disconnect

The following post was written by guest blogger John Joss

The disconnect between advertising claims and service to customers can cause deep dissatisfaction that may take immense effort to reverse, if indeed it is ever reversible. I refer in this guest blog specifically to a company that has been using the 'snide ridicule' approach to advertising in which is denigrates competition and claims superiority. If that is a mirage, not delivered at the point of sale, it engenders deep disillusionment in customers.

Orchard Supply, a Sears subsidiary, sneers in radio ads at Home Depot and claims that they offer in-store help to customers that Home Depot eschews. This is a mirage, a hollow joke. Recently I had to shop for bathroom lighting fixtures and chose to visit a local Orchard Supply, arriving at 8 AM opening time. Imagine my surprise when the only available lights of the type I wanted consisted of two open packages (I will not buopen packages and nor should you). No help was available. Finally an Orchard Supply staff person wandered by and, at my request, paged help in the electrical department. No result--I waited five minutes.

I went to Customer Service and asked, and finally got the help: "Out of stock. So sorry." At another Orchard Supply I went to the story was identical. At the third, a clerk finally managed to place a back order. Of the six staff people involved, only one knew the process. They were untrained and unmotivated, when I could find them. I only went back because the product they offered was precisely what I wanted, not available elsewhere. This failure to provide competent customer help at the point of sale is epidemic in the retail industry, an effort to cut costs by cutting staff.

Oh, sure, people who buy on price alone deserve what they get, right? Maybe. But companies that cut services below the bone and claim good service are committing business suicide. And agencies that pander to such claims and produce lying ads are party to the evil, inept co-conspirators.


December 20, 2007

It's Still Simplicity, Stupid

Have you tried to set the alarm clock in a hotel room lately? Have you tried to read a cell phone operating manual? Have you attempted to use the GPS navigation system on a rental car? Well, the same exasperating complexity that has infecting technology is creeping into marketing.

More than ever, the key to advertising success is a simple message.

Marketers have way too many messages and way too many options for delivering them. They are spreading their media dollars too thin and are not delivering consistent simple messages.

Thankfully, the people who understand that messages need to be simple also understand that technology needs to be simple. I no longer bother trying to set a hotel alarm clock. I set the alarm on my iPhone.


December 19, 2007

Brand Tinkering

As we mentioned in a recent post, tinkering with the brand is way more fun than solving real business problems.

Solving problems requires unpleasantness. Floors have to be swept and walls have to be painted. People have to be fired. Systems have to be changed. Products have to be redesigned.

Brand tinkering, on the other hand, is generally quite agreeable. All it requires is money and a bunch of congenial meetings. Hire some branding consultants. Appoint a task force. Interview "stakeholders". Conduct focus groups. Have an off-site or two at a nice hotel.

Then start reporting the "learnings". Fire up the PowerPoint projector. Share the results. But remember, everyone's point of view is valid!

Best of all, if there's any real work to be done, it'll be done by the consultants who'll give you a nice fat report to quibble over for months.

Unfortunately, after the money is spent and the naval-gazing brand babblers have gone home, someone still has to sweep the floor and paint the walls.

(For more on this see Everything You Need To Know About Branding On One Little Page)


December 18, 2007

Internet Chaos

Here's why your viral campaign went nowhere; why your video on YouTube is getting way fewer hits than you expected; and why your blog was a bust

The internet is chaotic. Success is random and unpredictable. Most success is the result of one person's good, odd idea and is very hard to duplicate or recreate. Creative strategy is less important than execution on the web.

You can make a hit record by making it sound like a previous hit. You can make a hit tv show by fashioning it on a previous show. But the internet is voracious. Look-alikes are not likely to be successful.

Chaos and oddness are difficult to plan or predict. There are, and will continue to be, a lot of one-hit wonders.


December 17, 2007

Web Films vs Bagels

I had a chance to stay at a Ritz-Carlton last week. The convergence of two recent posts -- Ritz Bits and The "Brand Problem" Problem -- came together in a perfect storm.

I stayed for 2 nights and had no turn-down service either night. I had horrible French toast for breakfast, made with stale bread. I sent it back and asked for a bagel. I got a stale one.

Meanwhile, Ritz is spending lots of time and money to enhance their brand by using a Hollywood director to create long-form on-line videos for their website. Here's some free advice. You want to enhance your brand? Cancel the films and serve some fresh bagels.

December 11, 2007

The "Brand Problem" Problem

There was a time in America when every problem was a "communications" problem.

If you couldn't get along with your husband, you weren't communicating. If your kid was incorrigible, you probably weren't on the same wavelength. If your boss didn't like you, you just didn't communicate well with him. There were no problems of substance, just problems of communication.

Well, the truth is, sometimes your husband is just a pain in the ass, and your kid is a nasty little brat, and your boss thinks you're a worthless shit. And all the communication in the world won't help.

Today we have the business version of this. Instead of communication, the problem in marketing today is always "the brand." So if your products are crappy, or your stores are dirty, or your service is lousy, or your business strategy is stupid, you -- my friend -- have a brand problem! Call in the branding consultants. Pay them a few hundred thou and let them study your brand for a few months.

They'll give you a big fat report filled with charts and graphs and the latest up-to-the-minute buzzwords and cliches. And if anyone asks what you're doing about the problems you can make a nice little PowerPoint presentation.

Tinkering with the brand is so much more pleasant than solving the problems.


December 08, 2007

Guest Blogger: TAC Needs A Better System

The following guest post comes from John Joss, a regular commenter here at TAC

Having seen, read and enjoyed the earlier TAC book, I willingly signed up to receive the new, expanded and improved edition. Imagine my disappointment, then, when after three attempts to execute the 'order' I found that there was no apparent, obvious way to send it.

This failure to devise a complete system that works end to end and would enable a person to become a 'customer' is symptomatic of the current trends in sales, marketing, advertising and communications in general: the failure to devise an effective, bullet-proof system for delivering to customers and assuring their long-term satisfaction. If there is any one single essential to business success, it revolves around the painstaking process of devising, executing and nurturing fully integrated systems for turning prospects into customers, recalling the age-old dictum that a customer is someone who buys again (first-time buyers are often mere tire kickers).

The agency bears responsibility in the creation of the sales system. The key account people, from the CD on down to the designer(s), the writer(s), the media buyer(s) and even the receptionist should have a close, involved understanding of the client's key staff, products, services, needs and SOPs. If anything is lacking, it must be identified and fixed (just as, in context, TAC needs to fix his book-ordering process).

This takes time, trouble and expense but the beautiful part about it is that it works, regardless of the client, the product or service, the market and the customers. It has been time-tested as the single most effective way to turn buyers into customers.

TAC appreciates and welcomes guest bloggers. It's hard writing this thing every day.

December 07, 2007

Now With 20% More Cranky Opinions

The new edition of The Ad Contrarian book is being printed and will be available shortly.

The difference between the blog and the book is that in the book we don't just whine about everything, we also give you ideas about how to make your advertising more effective. Also, the book burns easier.

And, it makes a great Christmas gift for people you don't really like.

Best of all, it's free. Just click here.


December 06, 2007

The Ignoramus Superhighway

For those silly enough to believe in the "The Information Age" and "The Information Superhighway" here are Yahoo's Top Ten search subjects of 2007:

1. Britney Spears
2. WWE
3. Paris Hilton
4. Naruto
5. Beyonce
6. Lindsay Lohan
7. RuneScape
8. Fantasy Football
9. Fergie
10. Jessica Alba

It's encouraging to see Americans getting so much useful information about so many important subjects on the internet

For more on this, see The Entertainment Age


December 05, 2007

Ritz Bits

People over 50 control 77% of the financial assets of this country and are the target for 10% of all advertising. The prejudice against older customers is so strong and so pervasive that even smart companies can't see beyond it (see Aiming Low.)

A few years ago, Saks Fifth Avenue decided their customers were too old. They embarked on a plan to attract younger, hipper customers. After two disastrous years, they came to their senses, fired their ceo, and got back to business.

Now Ritz-Carlton is taking the first steps toward the same dumb strategy. According to The Wall Street Journal, they are producing three long-form films that are aimed at repositioning them as "young and hip".

Here's what's wrong with this strategy:

1. Ritz is not young and hip. Why do they want to pretend to be something they are not?

2. There are plenty of young and hip hotels in every major city in America. Another y&h hotel is exactly what high end travelers don't need.

3. Remaining contemporary is important. It should be done with re-designs, re-furnishings, and new services. Ritz should take a look at some of the newer Four Seasons and Peninsula Hotels. They can get rid of the "fox and hounds" look without making a big "repositioning" fuss.

You can bet Ritz is doing this because they did some research that showed younger customers think they're stuffy. So what? I can tell you that as a heavy user of Ritz hotels, I stay with them precisely because I don't have to sit at the bar next to the leather pants, hat-on-backwards crowd.

You can also bet there a lot of 30-somethings at their agency telling them they need to get younger. It's impossible for these people to understand that they are not the world's only target audience.

The good news for Ritz? It sounds like these movies are only going to be accessible on their website, so no one will see them anyway.


December 03, 2007

In-Your-Face Book, II

According to The New York Times, Facebook is changing its "Beacon" marketing scheme after 50,000 people signed a petition protesting it.

As we reported earlier in "In-Your-Face Book", Facebook was playing with fire by paying only perfunctory attention to privacy sensitivities.

While consumers still don't fully understand internet privacy issues, TAC predicts that web-based marketing schemes -- and web sites trying too obviously to leverage user data -- are going to be facing more scrutiny and more unhappy users.

The scary part is that smart web marketers will get more skillful at utilizing user data in a more discrete -- one might say, sneaky -- manner.


Unreasonable People

One of the things web providers are going to have to get used to is the irrationality of everyday people.

This can be seen in the reaction of webbies to the fuss over Facebook's "Beacon" program (see In-Your-Face Book). They point out that people put their most intimate details on their Facebook page and then get all stirred up when Facebook publicizes what they've been buying. Isn't this complete hypocrisy, they say?

Darn right it is, and you better get used to it. And you better not argue about it with your customers either.

People are not logic machines. Their behavior is inconsistent, at best. It may take a while for software engineers to understand what marketers learned a long tme ago.


November 29, 2007

Readers Ignore Banners

TAC has been saying for some time that banner ads are a very weak form of advertising -- far weaker than most traditional advertising.

If you're a typical web user, you've probably been exposed to dozens of banner ads today. Can you remember noticing even one? We all trained ourselves years ago to ignore banner ads on websites.

There are statistics that show that click through rates on banners are remarkably low (see Legends of Interactivity, Part 2.) Now there is apparently research showing that viewing of banners is tiny.

From comes this: "Ads may be the bread and butter of your site, but studies have shown that readers largely ignore banner ads..."


November 28, 2007

In-Your-Face Book

In its attempt to monetize its cultural success, Facebook is looking for trouble.

As we predicted in The Ribbon, consumers are getting increasingly suspicious of social networks prying into and publicizing their private activities. Consumers still don't understand how pervasive this is, but as they get a whiff of it, they aren't liking it.

Last week the Associated Press reported that users of Facebook have started complaining about a two-week old marketing program that reports to their "friends" about their online purchases. In other words, buy something from Overstock, and in a flash every one of your "friends" is alerted to what you bought. Hope it wasn't an inflatable girlfriend.

While you can opt out of this, the opt-out notice is apparently well-hidden by Facebook. This kind of perfunctory attention to privacy issues is just what's going to land them in deep shit if they don't watch out.

Within twenty-four hours, liberal advocacy group had signed up over 6,000 people to protest this practice.


November 27, 2007

Cookie Monstrosity

One thing you can say about the internet with absolute certainty -- there has never been another invention that has spawned more bad ideas.

The latest comes from Pepperidge Farm. From some retro universe they have launched a campaign called "Connecting Through Cookies" (I kid you not.) The centerpiece is a website called The Art of the Cookie.

You see, this website is going to be a social network (apparently there aren't enough online social networks) and lonely housewives are going to get together on line and talk about their cookies. And if you think I'm going to make a cheap joke here, I want to remind you that my daughter reads this blog.

Anyway, the marketing genius behind this had this to say... the company conducted ethnographic research by “going into our consumers’ homes, sitting down with them, talking to them about how they use our products.”

Hope you didn't pay too much for that ethnographic research, Mr. Pepperidge -- they use your products by eating them. No charge.

And, by the way, if there are any lonely housewives out there who want to connect through their cookies, I have a very nice single friend.


November 21, 2007

What A Concept!

The International Herald Tribune reports that Publicis is prepared to launch a brilliant new idea.

It's a fully-integrated agency with, like, the creative and media in one "agency-like entity." Holy cow, what'll they think of next!

Now, am I wrong or isn't this way ad agencies were configured for about a thousand years before the global bozos got their sweaty hands all over us?

For about a decade or more these guys have been talking out of both sides of their mouths -- reciting all the platitudes about the power of integration, and meanwhile dis-integrating an agency's two most important functions: creative and media.

And speaking of turkeys, have a nice holiday and we'll see you Monday.


November 20, 2007

More Marketing Morons

According to Ad Age, Pontiac is shifting its advertising efforts toward media that appeal to younger audiences such as video game tie-ins, Web ads and spots on sports channels and late-night shows.

The logic of this is perfectly idiotic and, as such, perfectly in line with the brainless reflexes of so many marketers. (See Aiming Low) A few facts:

1. The average Pontiac buyer is over 50.
2. Baby Boomers and older comprise as much as 80% of the market for new cars.
3. Of the 13 cars the average American will buy in a lifetime, 8 will be bought after they're 50 years old.
4. Even if they want a Pontiac (which they don't and never will) young people can't afford new cars, and no lender in their right mind will finance them.

By the way, Pontiac sales are down over 14% this year. Hard to figure, isn't it?


November 19, 2007

Not Dead Yet

From the usually sensible Bob Garfield speculating in Advertising Age, March 26, 2007, about the future of advertising: “It's a world ... in which ad agencies are marginalized ... in which marketing -- and even branding -- are conducted without much reliance on the 30-second spot ... Because nobody is much interested in seeing them, and because soon they will be largely unnecessary.” Yeah, right.

Meantime according to The Wall Street Journal this year there is more demand for Super Bowl spots than anytime since 1999, the height of dotcom insanity.

All this hyperventilating over digital media really needs to calm down. People still spend half their media time with good old television and the click through rate on banner ads is still under .002 -- in other words, zilch.


November 14, 2007

Excuses, Excuses

TAC apologizes to my loyal readers (both of you) for missing a couple of days. Been traveling and doing real work. I'll be back tomorrow.


November 12, 2007

Marketing Gurus Finally Getting It

I read something in Seth Godin's blog today that made me think some marketing gurus are finally starting to get it. The post is called "What Brand Is Your Mattress? "

Seth says, "They (some marketers) believe that the brand can build the product. That's backwards." Which is what we've been screaming about for years.

Remember The Ad Contrarian mantra: We don't get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand, we get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

You will find a lot more about this in The Ad Contrarian book. (It's free)


November 09, 2007

Dirty Rotten Liars

A while ago we posted something called "Research or Baloney".

The subject was the unreliability of online research. Since then, the ARF (Advertising Research Foundation) has called for a study of online research.

One of the points we made was that online samples are terribly unreliable because you can never know who is responding. If a sample is unreliable, the results are worthless.

Now Business Week confirms our opinion with an article about rampant lying online by teens.

Yes, online research is cheaper and quicker. But cheap, quick research can turn out to be costly for a long, long time.


November 08, 2007

Status Anxiety

I gave a luncheon talk yesterday. It was to a hundred or so ad execs. Some from agencies, some from media.

They were lovely people who seemed in large part to agree with what I had to say. This is deeply troubling.

I think I may be losing my status as a contrarian.


November 07, 2007

The Rolling Wave

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be writing about a phenomenon which we (my colleagues and I) have dubbed "The Rolling Wave."

This wave is a hugely important and influential group of people who are breaking the traditional adoption pattern of new products and new technologies. They are looking beyond product benefits and brand personalities and are making buying decisions -- both consciously and emotionally -- on a whole new set of criteria.

We call them "The Rolling Wave" because they are continually being replenished from the vast sea of consumers and are moving quickly and steadily in one direction.

If you're in the business of marketing a new product, a new technology, or a new brand I think you will find this idea interesting. Stay tuned.


November 06, 2007

Read A Book

People sometimes ask me what my favorite books about advertising are. Here you go:

1. e by Matthew Beaumont
A truly hilarious novel about a London ad agency in the throes of a big new business pitch. The gag is, it's written in the form of company emails. I know it sounds tedious but, trust me, it's terrific.

2. Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris
A very funny, and mildly frightening, novel about a Chicago ad agency that's going down the tubes.

Hope you enjoy.


November 02, 2007

Ads or Content?

In a headlong rush to get ahead of the digital curve, some once-upon-a-time excellent ad agencies are turning out some pretty awful advertising.

These agencies have decided they are no longer in the ad business. They're in the "content" business -- whatever the hell that means. Apparently they have stopped hiring advertising creatives and have instead been hiring "content providers." And you know what? The content stinks.

These agencies better figure out who they are and what business they're in. If they're in the ad business they better keep these "content providers" away from the ads, or their hard-earned creative reputations will fade in a hurry.


October 31, 2007

October 30, 2007

The Yellow and Brown Process

Prospective clients want to believe that there is a method to the madness.

More and more, success in winning new clients is not about the effectiveness of the advertising you create, but about how clever you are at articulating a convincing process behind your creative endeavors.

Well, there are processes for doing just about everything an agency does. But when it comes to creating ideas, sorry, there ain't no process. I once asked marketing icon Jack Trout how much of his success was due to his process and how much to inspiration. He said 95% inspiration.

Don't get me wrong, we all pretend there's a process (see Precision Guessing.) We have to. Clients insist. We sometimes even give it a name...oops, sorry...I mean, we brand it.

A prospective client once asked me what process I used to create an ad he particularly liked. I told him I used the "Yellow and Brown" process. He seemed excited, "Really? What's the 'Yellow and Brown' process?"

"I took a legal pad with me to the bathroom."

We didn't get the account.


October 28, 2007

Nobody Knows Anything

In Hollywood they have a saying: "Nobody knows anything." This explains how huge-budget, big-star, focus-group-approved movies manage to bomb on a regular basis.

It is not dissimilar in advertising. Most of consumer behavior is perfectly obvious -- people like things that look nicer, taste better, work more dependably and cost less (see Salesmen & Sociologists.) But then there’s the mysterious emotional part. And what we claim to understand about the mysterious part is usually speculation and ideology masquerading as knowledge.

Our clients don’t want to be told that they’re paying for speculation and probabilities. They want data and they want it now. No wonder ad agencies spend great quantities of time and money dressing up probabilities to look like facts.

October 26, 2007

Stay Foolish

"Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice... Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
- Steve Jobs


October 25, 2007

The Ribbon

One of the things that worries me about the internet is the naive and foolish belief that it has, and will continue to have, a substantially empowering effect on the individual.

Web advocates speak eloquently about how the advent of the internet has allowed individuals to influence communities, organizations, and enterprises in completely unique and original ways. While there is some truth to this, I believe it is diverting attention from a much larger and more pernicious trend -- the alarming corporatization of everything in our culture.

I used to get off an airplane and know where I was. Not today. Today Dallas looks exactly like Walnut Creek. The local news in Cleveland looks exactly like the local news in San Diego. The Gap in New Jersey carries the same stuff as The Gap in Miami. The radio station in Atlanta sounds just like the radio station in Seattle. I could go on.

We have become blinded by science. We are swimming in a sea of dis-empowering corporate homogenization so vast we can't even detect it. The shiny new thing that is dangling in front of us -- the web -- is masking the big picture.

For now, the internet seems an antidote to the malignant effects of corporate homogenization. This is because the intrusive reach and depth of Google, Facebook, et al, are not yet understood by the general public. This will change at some point. When it does, the web may be viewed as the ribbon that ties the whole corporate package together. If that happens, look out Mr. Google Shareholder.


October 24, 2007

Marketing Tips for Geniuses

DOTAC (Daughter of the Ad Contrarian) is in full college application mode, which means we've been traveling around looking at colleges. We've met some genius-type people on our visits but have witnessed some woefully inadequate marketing practices. If you're a college or university marketing or admissions officer, here are some tips:

1. A visiting high school senior bases about 99% of his/her impression of your school on the student giving the tour. There is a very simple calculation the senior makes -- if this is not my kind of kid, then this is not my kind of school. Make sure you pick your tour guides carefully.

2. Parents make a slightly different, but similar, calculation. Student guides who begin every sentence with "so", use the word "like" three times in every sentence, and end every sentence with "so that's cool", make a bad impression on parents. Somehow we expect a university to teach a student to speak the language.


October 23, 2007

Baloney Sandwich

I came across two marketing stories today that made me want to scream. Or even worse, update my blog.

First from the Boston Globe. A story about how net research can explain everything in the universe.

"You can use online data to predict what consumers are doing across every facet of their lives," said Stephen DiMarco, chief marketing officer of Compete Inc., a Boston firm that tracks Web traffic. "The Web is so mainstream and so ingrained . . . this is kind of like the dawn of a new age."

Yeah, this is kind of like the dawn of a new age...of total nonsense. So, Steve, if the web can predict "every facet of their lives" please tell us what stocks they'll be buying tomorrow so we can make a little money on this deal.

Second was this piece of baloney from CNET:

"A report by U.K.-based Datamonitor, titled "The future of social networking: Understanding market strategic and technological developments," predicts that growth in the number of people signing up to be a part of the cultural phenomenon, which has put the likes of Facebook on the map, will peak by 2009 and plateau by 2012."

Really? Wanna bet? These guys know as much about what's going to happen to Facebook in five years as the guy from Boston knows about the stocks we're going to buy tomorrow.

TAC predicts: Bullshit press releases from research companies will increase in 2010, come with side curtain airbags in 2016, and be available in both regular and sour cream and onion in the year 2525 (if man is still alive.)

(For more on this, please see Sky Not Falling, Update)


October 19, 2007

And Speaking of Churchill

Yesterday we posted a quote from Winston Churchill. Apropos Sir Winston, guest blogger Simon Billing contributes this piece on the silliness of focus groups.

May 28, 1940

The Rt. Hon. W.S. Churchill
The House of Commons
London W1


Please find below the results of our focus groups on the speech you intend to make before Parliament next week. Please note that this research is qualitative in nature and represents the views of: "16 doughty yeomen and good burghers of Albion" (your stated target audience). Nonetheless we feel confident in making some recommendations which we feel will add clarity to the messaging and ultimately garner the desired listener response.

Original Text
"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

Our Findings
• The burgher group felt that use of the pronoun "we" significantly diminished the credibility of the text overall as, for the most part, they felt that you personally wouldn’t be doing any of the fighting.

• Some respondents found the use of the auxiliary verb "shall" to be rather old-fashioned.

• Respondents in Birmingham were unclear on what exactly constitutes a beach.

• It is strongly recommended that reference to "landing grounds" be deleted altogether as most respondents were unable to recall ever seeing or visiting a landing ground.

• The yeomen group had some trouble with the use of fields and streets in the same thought; we must be absolutely clear on what we mean here.

• Respondents generally felt that fighting on hills might be a little tricky, as a result this phrase tended to diminish our "intention to fight" rating.

• Both the burghers and the yeomen were a bit put off by the word "surrender" and felt that the final thought should leave things on a more positive note.

Recommended Text

"We, or rather you, will fight on the sandy bits where the sea meets the land; and you, depending on your precise whereabouts at the time, will fight either in the fields or in the streets, we/you will fight on reasonable inclines; and, so long as things seem to be going our way, we’ll do our best to put on a damn fine show."

In summary, we feel that your text represents a very good start and, with some judicious tweaking, the basic idea will work hard in getting the point across. A final thought: some of the respondents were a little uncomfortable with the notion of "fighting" per se; it may be worth looking at some less confrontational language.

By the way, the preliminary results are now in on the "Never in the field of human conflict…" speech. People seem a little confused by the "field" metaphor given that you are in fact referring to aerial combat. We may need to be a bit more direct on this one.

As always, I remain your loyal and most humble servant,

Brigadier (Ret’d.) Sir Percival Postlethwaite (Bart.) M.C. (and bar) M.B.E., T.D., M.A. (Oxon.)
Managing Director
Stirring Insights Limited

Thanks to Simon Bolling. To be a guest blogger send your post to


October 18, 2007

Reality Check

"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."
--Winston Churchill


October 17, 2007

Marketing To Yourself

One of the great joys of being in the advertising and marketing business is the power to market to yourself.

So if you're young and work for an NBA team, you blast the hip-hop music in the arena even though the average season ticket holder is an over-50, fat-ass white guy.

And if you work on a car account, you write a spot your friends will think is cool, even though no one under 25 can afford a car and the average American car buyer is 46. The best thing is, you don't even have to justify it to your client, because they want to market to themselves, too.

But be very careful. Don't wander out of the city or talk to anyone who isn't like you. Those people just aren't cool.


October 15, 2007

TAC Predicts

Casey Stengel once said, "I never make predictions, particularly about the future." The Ad Contrarian does not have the wisdom to follow Casey's sage advice. TAC predicts:

Within the next year there will be a very disturbing report/investigation/article on the influence of internet pornography on the sexual behavior of young people.

This report will create headlines, a furor, lots of posturing among the political class, and will even be a factor in the presidential race.

There will be hearings, editorials and lots of smoke blown. And nothing will happen.

Remember, you read it here first.


October 12, 2007

Start Your Own

I was talking to a young lady the other day. She went to a great college, studied advertising, and now has a job in an agency. She expected the ad business to be full of oddballs, eccentrics, and iconoclasts -- like in the movies.

Instead, she said, everybody repeats the same 10 cliches, drops the same 3 agency names, and talks about the same ads.

One of the problems is that it's getting harder to hold unconventional ideas in a consolidated, globalized industry. Conventional wisdom has become too canonical and too powerful. The pressures to accept it are too great and the penalties for doubting it are too severe.

I'm glad I have my own company.

For a wonderful piece on the dangers of blindly accepting conventional wisdom, I highly recommend this.


October 11, 2007

Big, Dumb, Global Bozos

Every now and then some big, global agency comes sniffing around trying to buy us. Usually it’s because their agency in SF is a disaster, or they want to get their hands on one of our accounts.

Recently it was driven home to me why we’ve never taken any of these guys seriously. The ceo of a very large agency came around. He’s sitting in our conference room. He leans across the conference table. The first question he asks is, “So, Bob, what would you say are your core competencies?”

What are our core competencies? What are our core competencies? We’re an AD AGENCY. What do you THINK our core competencies are? Folk dancing? Knitting? Cheese making? We make ADS, schmuck. That’s our core competency!

No, I didn’t say that. My mother taught me to be nice to guests.

Even big, dumb, global guests.


October 10, 2007

Big News from Brandweek

Stop the presses! Here's some huge news. Consumers favor brands that offer them good quality at a low price! Oh my god!

"The 26,000 men and women polled... showed a strong inclination to brands that either saved them money or were perceived as having good value" is how Brandweek reported it.

A company called Brand Keys did the survey. Apparently, they had to poll 26,000 people to figure this out. Ya think we could have saved these people some money?

But wait. There's more. Just the name of the survey tells you it was run by nitwits: The "2007 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Leaders List" is what it's called.

Congratulations to Brand Keys on squeezing every horrible cliche and buzzword in the marketing lexicon into one survey title. A masterful achievement. And just for the record, what language is that?

Oh, and one more thing -- a warning to anyone who uses the word "engagement." I'm going to come after you. I mean it.

Note to Brand Keys and Brandweek: In case you haven't read "Everything You Need To Know About Branding on One Little Page" on The Ad Contrarian web site (and shame on you if you haven't!) here is an excerpt:

'You want to have a strong brand? Quit “branding”. A strong brand is a byproduct. It comes from doing a lot of other things right. For example:

1. Make sure you’re selling excellent products.

2. Make sure you're taking good care of your customers.

3. Make sure your ads demonstrate how you are different and better than your competitors.'

Didn't need 26,000 people to figure that out.


October 09, 2007

Stick a Knife in My Head

We’ve been ranting for quite some time about how advertisers are missing a huge opportunity by always targeting young people.

In short, people over 50 have 77% of the money and are the target for about 10% of all advertising (see "Aiming Low.") According to The New York Times it looks like some companies are starting to wake up

However, with their typical heavy hand, most marketers will blow their opportunity with this target by pandering to them instead of talking to them. They will make the same mistakes that they make with every other “generation” by holding up a mirror and saying, “This is you. See, we understand!”

Let’s clear this up right now. A person is not a generic symbol of his generation. He is an individual. In order to motivate him you need to provide a specific, differentiated benefit. All the sociological/cultural baloney you hear from your agency about “Gen Xers are this” or “Gen Y’s are that” or “Baby Boomers are this” are simply lazy clichés that offer virtually nothing that is useful in advertising strategy.

Nonetheless, TAC predicts even more of that brainless, atrocious “Ameriprise”-style advertising that makes me want to stick a knife in my head.


October 08, 2007

Absence of Choice

A recent post by Seth Godin in Seth's Blog called "Choice" had this to say: 'If I had to pick one word to describe what's new, what's different and what's important about now vs. then, it would be "choice."'

As usual, TAC disagrees. What's new and different is absence of choice.

"Then" there was a mens' store, a pharmacy, a grocery, a shoe store, a fruit stand, a pizza joint, a coffee shop and a bakery on every corner. "Now" we're stuck with Wal-Marts, Rite-Aids, and Pizza Huts. Our economic choices are being consolidated at an alarming rate (see "Dull Men in Grey Suits.")

Of course, what Seth is talking about is electronic choice. Like most of us who sit in front of a computer screen all day, the web is Seth's default frame of reference. Certainly the web, cable and satellite tv, and other electronic innovations give us choices we didn't previously have.

But, as so often in life, there are cross-currents. When it comes to commerce, it's a different story. The best stats I can find say that internet commerce represented 2.4% of economic activity in 2005. Let's be generous and say it's doubled since then (guaranteed it hasn't.) If so, internet commerce comprises about 5% of our economic activity. So for 5% of our purchases we have a lot more choice. But for 95%, we have a lot less.

Choice? Anyone tried to find a tailor lately?


October 05, 2007

Dull Men in Grey Suits

A piece called "Why Have Admen Lost Their Mojo?" in The New York Observer asks where have all the visionaries and scoundrels gone?

The writer has a lot to say, but most of it is off target. The reason there are so few big personalities left in advertising is that advertising has been homogenized into submission by consolidation, globalization and corporatization.

The ad business used to be an industry of entrepreneurs. Now it's in the hands of a few lawyers, accountants and other publically traded dull men in grey suits.

A couple of decades ago Y&R had the largest share of the ad market in the US at a little over 1%. Today four global holding companies control about 75% of U.S. ad dollars. Along with this consolidation of dollars has come a consolidation of thinking. In our opinion, these guys all sound alike, look alike, and smell alike. They spout the same clichés and dreadful jargon. Here is an actual press release from one such global agency. I've changed the names to protect the innocent:

"Mr. A will report to Mr. B, executive creative director of ________, who said Mr. A “represents a new generation of creative visionaries who are able to bring the total brand experience to the development of integrated creative solutions."


How can people who write idiotic nonsense like this be interesting? Or create comprehensible ads? Right, they can’t.

October 04, 2007

Worst Idea of the Week. Any Week

CBS is planning a "reality" show in which the contestants compete to write the best ad jingle. This is not a joke. It's called Jingles.

Apparently no one has told the programmers at CBS that nobody has used a jingle in advertising in about 20 years. They really ought to watch their network sometime.


October 03, 2007

Overstimulated by the NBA

The new NBA season is soon to begin, so you can expect me to become even crankier. I used to love the NBA. Now, every time I go to a game I swear I'll never go back. Until the next game.

The constant marketing drives me crazy. There is not a minute during the game when someone isn't trying to sell me something. And when they're not selling something the idiotic promotions and incessant music and noise are appalling.

People on skates taunting the crowd with cold, gelatinous pizza. Morons with their hats on backwards shooting t-shirts into the crowd. It's got all the delicate charm of Las Vegas, except without the free booze.

Would someone please tell the NBA marketing people that the game is exciting enough. I don't need constant, relentless, artificial stimulation. They are now even pumping in canned crowd noise. I'd like some quiet time. I'd like my taunting of Mark Cuban to be heard.

And one more thing. The Star Spangled Banner has a fucking melody, okay?

I'm crankier already.

October 02, 2007

New Species of Human

According to most new age marketing gurus, there is apparently a whole new species of human being. This species has some interesting traits:

1. Other than the internet, they don’t trust media.
2. They are immune to marketing.
3. They dislike advertising.
4. They want a “conversation” with brands.

This, of course, is a lot of nonsense. But it’s remarkable how widespread these beliefs are becoming in the advertising and marketing community. Just to set the record straight:

1. The internet is by far the least trusted of major media sources (click on chart above.)

2. No one is immune to marketing. That’s why companies spend so much time and money doing it.

3. Nobody has ever liked advertising. At best, advertising is a minor annoyance. Always has been. Always will be.

4. Most people don’t even have time to have a decent conversation with their children. Do you really think they want to have a conversation with “brands”?


October 01, 2007

Pudding Heads

DOTAC (Daughter of The Ad Contrarian) sent TAC this link. Apparently some geniuses called Pudding Media are going to provide you with free VOIP phone service if you will let them listen in on your calls and send you ads that relate to your conversation.

Of course, this will not intrude on your privacy. "Mr. Maislos (chief executive) said that Pudding Media had considered the privacy question carefully. The company is not keeping recordings or logs of the content of any phone calls..." Yeah, right. Anyone wanna bet this ends up in a huge "oh, we're so sorry we overstepped our bounds" scandal?

TAC predicts: Within a few years years, congress will haul all these clowns (including Google, which monitors your email subjects) up to Capitol Hill and rip them a new one.

And nothing will happen.

People are willing to give up freedom for security, and privacy for money.

Kudos to DOTAC, only a high school kid, who understands the dangers in this a lot better than the new media hustlers do.


September 26, 2007

Good At Counting

In the world of advertising, research is no different from creative work -- some of it is excellent and powerful, and some of it is worthless and dangerous.

My experience has been that market researchers are good at counting, and very little else. So if you want to know "how many", you can hire a research firm and be pretty confident you'll get an accurate result. But if you want to know, "why" or "how" or "which one", look out. This is particularly true of copy testing.

There is an advertising blog called Copyranter which I like to read. It is foul, libelous, largely incomprehensible, and often hilarious. Copyranter responded to a Business Week columnist who was confused about the meaning of a study about advertising effectiveness in the following way:

"Just like every other study that's been done to figure which ads "work," this one means absolutely nothing."


September 25, 2007

Quantum Advertising

Quantum theory makes scientists crazy. It's the only area of science in which the idea of cause and effect (or, as they like to say, "deterministic causality") has to be suspended. One of the consequences of quantum theory is that in certain cases things just pop into and out of existence. In fact, there are physicists who believe our whole universe is a quantum event -- it just appeared out of nothing for no reason.

Even Einstein, whose work laid the foundation for quantum physics, hated the idea. And yet it's the best and only explanation science has for a ton of phenomena that occur at the atomic and sub-atomic scale.

I'm starting to believe in quantum advertising. I think there are things that just happen for no reason. I've seen ad campaigns that are brilliant, strategically perfect, and beautifully produced fail miserably. I've seen stupid, ill-conceived campaigns work miraculously. Sometimes, all our logic just doesn't work.

I've seen agencies with tremendous experience in a category get a new account in that category and make a pig's breakfast out of it. I've seen the world's dumbest agencies get accounts they had no right to win and succeed wildly with awful, insight-free advertising.

It's uncomfortable for us to believe that success and failure in business are sometimes random and just happen in spite of our efforts. We've been taught to look for reasons. But I guess if a whole universe can appear for no good reason, the odd marketing success can, too.


September 24, 2007

Terrestrial Locomotor Performance

What happened to the simple declarative sentence? Why can't people talk straight? Do they think they sound smarter by talking in dense, incomprehensible jargon?

Not long ago I wrote "Everything You Need To Know About Branding On One Little Page." In doing so I came upon a book called Kellogg on Branding: The Marketing Faculty of the Kellogg School of Business. In an excerpt from the book, I found this gem:
“The word brand has a tripartite etymology. One emphasis clusters around burning, with connotations both of fiery consummation and of banking the hearth. A second emphasis clusters around marking, with connotations of ownership and indelibility, as well as paradoxical allusions to intrinsic essence, whether of merit or stigma. A third emphasis clusters around the delivery of, or deliverance from, danger (stoke, anneal, cauterize; conflagration, possession, aggression). The brand embodies the transformative heat of passion, properly tended..."
Yeah, whatever.

Then last week I was reading an article about anthropology in The New York Times concerning our primate ancestors and I found this little beauty:
'The lower limbs and arched feet reflected traits “for improved terrestrial locomotor performance”...'
Terrestrial locomotor performance? You mean walking, right? So why the fuck don't you just say walking?


September 21, 2007

The Backlash Will Come

It's not going to take advertisers long to figure out that on-line display advertising has been a failure as an interactive medium (see Two In A Thousand.) It can't sustain its growth for long with a response rate under 2 in a thousand unless it's willing to take big cuts in cpm.

Right now, we're still in the frenzy part of the adoption cycle in which every marketer thinks she has to be doing banner ads on the web. She doesn't know why, but she knows everyone else is and so assumes she has to.

Web zealots can do themselves, and us, a favor. Nobody with half a brain is going to continue to accept banner advertising as dynamically interactive when it has a click through rate of .2%. Instead of continuing to try to sell display advertising on its supposed interactive merits, they can face the facts, admit the issues, and derive a set of principles that help advertisers use the medium in an effective way.

Unless they do, they will face a backlash. It may not be this week or this month, but it's coming.


September 20, 2007

Favorite Ad Of The Week

Check out the description for this used golf club on eBay.


Jersey Old Men

TAC has written previously about the remarkably under-utilized potential for marketing to people over 50 (see Aiming Low)

It was reinforced recently when I went to see Jersey Boys, a stunningly mediocre exercise in pop nostalgia (full disclosure: I almost always hate Broadway musicals.)

The writing was exactly what I expected -- that cloying high school sensibility that so often infuses Broadway shows. The real shocker was the music. A Vegas Four Seasons cover band could have done better.

None of this seemed to bother the baby boomer crowd that packed the theater. They reveled in the self-referential material.

The producers of this musical have cannily filled a gaping marketing hole -- entertainment for baby boomers. Just as so many other industries have foolishly placed all their chips on the youth market, the entertainment industry is not producing nearly enough "product" for these people.

I expect the producers of Jersey Boys have made a fortune. There are more fortunes to be made.


September 19, 2007

Account Planners Gone Wild

The same day I posted "Smelly Volvo Families" an article appeared in Ad Age about the new Volvo campaign.

The article was about how Volvo's agency developed the idea for its new campaign. Apparently, the agency interviewed valet car parkers to find out what Volvo owners are like. I swear this is not a joke. Valet car parkers.

I wonder what planning genius came up with this idea.

They enjoyed many deep insights about Volvo owners from this exercise. "They are users not havers; they use what they have," says the agency's account director. Apparently the rest of us don't use what we have. I know I haven't been using what I have lately.

Their director-global advertising added, "Safety is about enhancing the quality of life for people inside and outside the car."

Uh...excuse me, moron. Safety is about saving your childrens' fucking lives, okay?

According to the article, 'The results were enough to build a campaign showing Volvo drivers as "we" people as opposed to "me" people.' To this I would just like to add, Give Me A Fucking Break!

I know agencies are brilliant at coming up with this bullshit, but what kind of nitwit clients actually believe it?

This account planning thing has gotten way out of control (see Salesmen and Sociologists). We've got to kill them all and start over.


September 18, 2007

How To Get Bad Advertising

Over the past few years, some large advertisers have decided that the best way to get good ads is to have a roster of agencies and make them compete for assignments. Now smaller advertisers are starting to do this.

It's a perfectly brilliant way to get lousy advertising, but a lovely way for narcissistic marketing executives to get agencies to kiss their asses.

Anyone who's spent 15 minutes in an ad agency knows that good creative people want nothing to do with clients who don't respect them. They'll take a shot at one of these circle jerks and if they don't win, phone it in the next time around.

Clients who don't know the psychology of ad agencies think that by getting agency account managers all worked up over competition they'll get the agency working extra hard. They get the opposite. The creatives laugh at the hysterical management people, do some perfunctory work, and spend their real time on real assignments that will actually get produced.

Marketing managers would do themselves a favor by remembering that the only value they get from an ad agency is imagination -- imaginative strategies and imaginative campaigns. When you turn off the people with imagination, you lose big time.

On the other hand, nothing motivates high-quality people more than a sense of personal responsibility. Turn that on and you win.


September 17, 2007

Smelly Volvo Families

I was at the movies last Saturday night and saw a remarkably ill-conceived theatrical spot for Volvo. It was a faux James Bond thing with yachts and helicopters and jet planes and very expensive looking people doing idiotic superhero things.

The gag, you see, was that it was a couple trying to get somewhere for their anniversary. It ended with some inanity about life being better together. A beautiful example of a spot written to justify a tag line. It had absolutely nothing to do with Volvo and had the tortured logic of account planning written all over it.

The theater was in Berkeley where there are more Volvos per capita than Stockholm. If Volvo had intentionally set out to alienate their customer base they couldn't have done a better job.

My daughter used to call them "smelly Volvo families." They drive beat-up 10-year old Volvo station wagons with Goldfish crumbs lodged in the folds of the upholstery, plastic milk crates in the back filled with old sneakers, and "John Edwards for President" bumper stickers. The men all have some form of facial hair, the women have an unfortunate tendency to wear Peruvian ponchos. At least one of them is a therapist. Very few of them hang out on yachts.

They drive a Volvo for the following reasons:

1. To show they are smarter than us.
2. To show they are immune to imagery and marketing.
3. To show they are more concerned with safety than style.
4. Oh, and did I mention they are smarter than us?

They will be appalled by this "new" Volvo.

Volvo is making a classic marketing mistake. They are trying to be someone else. Instead of positioning themselves as a new, safer, more stylish Volvo they are aiming to be the second best BMW.

I'm sure there's some marketing genius/account planner telling them that safety isn't enough and they have to make an "emotional bond" with consumers. In fact, safety is an emotional bond to their customer base and TAC predicts that they will learn this the hard way. They have relinquished their unique reason for being.

I haven't seen any other work from this campaign, but if it's like this thing, these people are in trouble.


September 14, 2007

Two In A Thousand

In "Legends of Interactivity, Part 2" we saw that the click through rate on a typical banner ad is under 2 in a thousand.

The question is, why is the level of interactivity so alarmingly low on display ads?

We understand why response rates are low in traditional direct response media -- you have to cut out a coupon or tear out a card; fill in your name and address; take it to a mailbox, etc. It's a pain in the ass. But in banner ads, all you have to do is move your finger. And yet, even with such a low threshold for interactivity, almost no one interacts.

I can think of only two possible explanations:

1. We trained ourselves very early on to ignore banner ads. Banner ads used to exist mainly in the upper third of a web page and it didn't take us long to figure out what our eyes could profitably avoid.

2. The people creating banner ads are particularly incompetent.

I think it's a lot of #1 and a little of #2.

On-line display ads are just too easy to ignore. They are small, annoying, generally ugly, and slow us down. And the people creating them are using what is essentially a direct response medium without understanding the principles of direct response.

What do you think?


September 13, 2007

The Ad Contrarian Mantra

Just about everything you read on The Ad Contrarian blog derives from one unifying principle:

We don’t get customers to try our product by convincing them to love our brand, we get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

This seemingly innocuous sentence represents a radically different perspective from how most companies and most ad agencies practice advertising and marketing today.

It is different because it flips the cause and effect relationship that is the rationale for most “branding”.

This principle asserts that the most effective way to build a brand is to sell someone something.

It is a comment on how tortured the logic of marketing has become that this observation, so stunningly obvious, is actually controversial.


September 12, 2007

Legends of Interactivity, Part 2

I really pissed off some net heads a few weeks ago with The Legend of Interactivity. As a matter of fact, they were so pissed off they actually interacted.

It’s amazing how vehemently zealots react when their beliefs are challenged. The major objection to "The Legend of Interactivity" was that I based my observation that interactivity on the web has been grossly exaggerated on one data point -- the number of people commenting on blogs. Well, here's some more stuff for them to get hysterical over.

We all know that the great advantage that an on-line banner (display) ad has over a magazine ad is that it is interactive, right? In other words, you can click on it and be taken somewhere where an actual buying or learning experience can occur.

Except for one thing. In about 99.8% of cases nobody clicks. (See this recent data from DoubleClick)

So all this hoo-ha about the interactivity of on-line display advertising is really about two people in a thousand.

In fact, if a magazine ad has a response mechanism that gets a 1% response rate, it will be five times as effectively interactive as the average on-line display ad.

Any traditional direct response advertiser that has a response rate of one-fifth of one percent will be bankrupt in about fifteen minutes.

Okay, net heads, let’s have it.


September 11, 2007

Sky Not Falling, Update

In 2003, Forrester Research (see Nailed) estimated that DVR's would be in about 26% of homes by now.

In fact, Nielsen reported earlier this year that DVR's were in 17% of homes. About 1/3 fewer than Forrester had predicted.

Always remember that without change nobody needs research. Consequently, it is baked into the DNA of research companies to emphasize (and, unfortunately, sometimes exaggerate) what is changing, and downplay what is stable.

Exaggerating change works for research companies in two ways:

1. It gets them press. Nobody ever got famous predicting that things would stay pretty much the same.

2. It gets them customers. There's no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he's missing a wave.


September 10, 2007

The Long Tail and The Fat Head

There is an interesting marketing hypothesis called The Long Tail. The Long Tail states that companies with low costs of inventory and distribution (like web powerhouses Amazon and Netflix) can derive substantial income, even a majority of income, by selling unpopular items to tiny market segments. There seems to be significant data to back up this idea.

As usual, a whole lot of marketing people with low reading comprehension have completely misunderstood this concept. They think it means they should focus their marketing efforts on trying to sell their products to light users or non-users in their category.

I have dubbed this phenomenon The Fat Head. The Fat Head states that only a fathead would waste his marketing dollars trying to sell golf balls to tennis players.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of fatheads.


Report From the Real World

A few brave souls volunteered to drop out of pop culture for two weeks (see Media Droputs) and tell us how it feels. Here are two reports after the first week:

From "Dotcalm"
I have realized this is not easy to do! I'm used to either waking up to Whoopi or NPR - so there's news in my face one way or the other - so set it to buzz...
Then, my e-mail login page has "Bad News" and "Celebrity Idiots of the Day" sections, so tried to avert my eyes...
Okay, is baseball and juvenile comedies sexist? I'm usually aurally entertained with soaps and sitcoms while I work, but tried to just play jazz instead...
I usually don't read newspapers as they like to print 10 bad stories for every good one - but giving up Sunday paper....?
We eat in front of the TV so that's tricky too (no kitchen table here folks!)
So... I did feel more productive with just the radio on, and less stressed. I tried to just stay in my office one night and avoid tv with my husband, but a steady diet of that would create tension all around!
It was great to avoid all the stupid lead ins and teasers the news and "entertainment" shows bombard us with; not hearing "crap" like that - only bits of "real" news - gave me less stuff to "worry" about (ie, clutter my mind with).
I think this has been a difficult, but useful, challenge!

From "The Professor"
So far so good. Not feeling much different but it's early. The hardest part is remembering. I have discovered that consuming Pop Culture is habit more than anything. I don't think about it, I just find myself in front of the tube for no apparent reason. If this gets me to start making the consumption of Pop Culture a decision rather than a reflex it will accomplish a lot.


September 06, 2007

Help wanted

I need your help:

1. Does anyone have an ounce of data that indicates that campaigns created with the benefit of account planning are any more successful than those done without it?

2. Now that the “upfront” is concluded for 2008 and the tv networks increased their take by almost 5%, where are all the geniuses who were predicting its demise a few months ago?

3. Can anyone remember an ad they saw on the internet this week?

4. In American business, is there anything dumber than the previous generation of management?


September 04, 2007

How to Watch TV Commercials

Now that fall is approaching, the new tv season is almost upon us. There used to be just one new tv season every year. But now there’s a new season every, well, season.

We can all get more out of the commercials we’ll be seeing if we know a little more about advertising.

The first thing you need to know is that there are basically two types of tv commercials: those with talking animals and those without talking animals.

Commercials with talking animals are the best commercials because they are for the best things -- like car insurance, cable tv, and beer. There's one with a duck for supplemental disability insurance, but no one knows what that is, so it doesn't count. In the recent past we’ve seen hilarious frogs, polar bears, lizards, geckos, and dogs. Who knew animals could be so funny? (Well, we knew monkeys and amphibians were funny, but reptiles?)

When I was a kid there used to be talking camels but the government outlawed them because they were too dangerous. (Plus, when they talked, their mouths looked really stupid.) So then they invented camels that smoked, but one of our former Presidents didn’t like that so he outlawed them, too. That President didn’t think people should use smoking materials. Not for smoking, anyway.

A while back the advertising industry demonstrated its commitment to diversity by introducing dogs that spoke in a foreign language. These dogs were popular but didn’t sell very many tacos. Adios, amigos!

Once in a while you see insects in commercials, but they never talk. They usually just die.

One ad agency took the monkeys out of their ads and they lost the account. Let that be a lesson.

Commercials without talking animals are not nearly as creative. Sometimes they just have very poor kids from far-away lands talking about the internet. Or sweaty “urban” people playing basketball. Or half-ton pick-ups with 0% financing for 60 months.

A few years ago a new kind of advertising started appearing. It has 27 seconds of something really "creative", then 3 seconds of the company’s logo. Nobody knows what this means. It’s called branding.

I hope this will help you enjoy the new season. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. There’ll be another new season in a few weeks.


Today's News Tomorrow

Reports from media drop-outs tomorrow. Apparently, they've become so mellow they've stopped consulting their calendars. But don't worry, TAC is on their ass.


September 01, 2007

Brand Babble

I read an article by the creative director of a large international ad agency. He said his advertising is not intended to sell products. The objective is to "build brands".

There was something alarming about this statement, but I had heard it expressed so many times before that I'd begun to take it for granted that I was crazy and everybody else was right.

A few days later, however, a thought occurred to me: How does he know whether he's building a brand if not by selling products? How does he know?

Does he ask a panel of account planners? Does he consult with advertising award committees? Does he conduct focus groups? I can imagine the conversation: "We know you won't actually spend your money to buy this stuff, but are we building a brand here?"

What could possibly be a better indicator of whether a brand is being built than whether people are willing to spend their money to buy it?

And so it occurred to me that by disassociating his ads from selling stuff, this guy had craftily found what the ad industry has always secretly been seeking -- the Holy Grail of unaccountability; the ultimate Catch-22. When the product sells well, it's because the ads are brilliant. When the product doesn't sell well, it’s not supposed to. It’s a branding campaign. No wonder clients are sick of ad agencies.

If you ask me, the brand babblers have it all backwards.

First of all, you can't separate selling products from building brands. The idea of taking a deconstructionist view of brands -- that they are somehow discrete from the products they represent -- has led to the phenomenon of brands without content, the product equivalents of empty suits. We've heard their names, we've seen their ads, but we have no idea what they are, what they do, or why we should want them. What’s an AIG and how is it different from an ING? And what does a Cisco do that an Intel doesn’t?

Second, the brand babblers are wrong about how great brands are built. They think they can do it with short-cuts -- with "branding".

So instead of a brand being an intrinsic, organic thing that evolves over time from a) the true essence of a company and b) carefully conceived product advertising, they have turned it into a contrivance that they tack on.

It's the Dennis Rodman school of marketing: if you don't have a personality, get some tattoos.

Concurrently, the notion has gained acceptance that some campaigns are "branding" campaigns and some aren't.

To understand the folly of this idea, let's talk about me. Someday you may meet me. When you do, you will develop an impression of me. Whether I intend for you to develop an impression of me or not is irrelevant. You will develop one anyway.

The same is true in advertising. Whether you intend your advertising to be a "branding" campaign is irrelevant. It will create an impression of your brand regardless of your intent.

But let's not be coy. What most ad agencies mean when they say a "branding" campaign is a campaign that is not about the product. It is a campaign about the consumer -- about her feelings, her emotions, the way the product intersects her life.

In other words, it's the next generation of all that awful lifestyle advertising we had to endure in the 90's. The only thing that's changed is that in lifestyle advertising everyone was clean and ran marathons. In branding ads they need to shave and tuck their shirts in.

Great brands have never been created by "branding". Great brands have been created by excellent product advertising and patience.

Brands need character, not tattoos.

For more on this, see
Indirect Marketing