March 31, 2014

Facebook's Awesome Bait-And-Switch

I guess you have to admire the shamelessness of their duplicity.

And I guess you have to marvel at the stupidity and naivete of an industry that not only allows such bullshit to exist, but doesn't even seem to care.

The subject is social media marketing, and the perpetrator is Facebook.

Let's go back a few years. Social media marketing was going to disrupt the traditional paid advertising industry big time (by the way, if I ever hear you utter the word disrupt I'm coming with a shovel to disrupt your face.)

You see, you and I were going to "join the conversation."

We'd be going on line and having conversations about brands. And these conversations would be read and shared by our network of friends and followers. And this would create a multiplier effect that would make folly of traditional paid advertising.

According to an article at, Facebook's Global Brand Experience Manager once believed that companies need to… replace random display ads. Those… ads will fall by the wayside, like so many other obsolete processes and technologies.

Well, by now it's pretty clear that the whole thing was an infantile fantasy. Or as McKinsey & Company put it a few weeks ago...
"E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined."
Now it seems that even Facebook, the former poster child for social media marketing, is joining the rats in abandoning the social media marketing ship.

Now that Facebook is a real company and has to make real money and is finding that real advertising is its real business, they are singing a new tune.

Last week, Time magazine reported that Facebook’s Pages platform reaches only 6% of a brand’s followers, and is headed down to 1 to 2%.

When questioned about this by Time, here’s what a Facebook spokesperson had to say...
“… if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and always has been, paid advertising.”
Boy, am I confused.

March 26, 2014

Talking About Talking

Today we have an audio post.

It's an interview I did for Advertising Week Europe promo-ing my talk in London next week (Weds. April 3, 10:30 am.)

Here is the interview.

March 24, 2014

Great Advertising Transcends Strategy

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know that advertising is 50% strategy and 50% execution. Or something like that.

But that's only true of normal advertising. The kind you and I do.

It's not true of great advertising -- the kind people a thousand times better than us do.

Great advertising transcends strategy. It's great for all the wrong reasons -- the reasons we never talk about in new business pitches, or mention at client meetings, or have break-out sessions about at advertising conferences. It's great because it's great. Period.

It doesn't matter if it differentiates the brand, or delivers a benefit, or has a call to action.

Good ads need strategy and benefits and differentiation. Great ads don't need any of that. They appeal to us as humans, not consumers.

It's like art or music or literature. The really good artists and musicians and writers know the rules of artistry. But the great ones say "screw the rules."

Here's an example. One of my favorite spots of the past couple of years was a spot for Audi. As far as I can tell, the strategy isn't very compelling, and the targeting is questionable, and there's nothing your average CMO would call a "benefit."

All there is is a great ad.

March 19, 2014

Crimes Of Passion

Today I am doing something I almost never do -- a guest post. The post was written by my good friend, Marcie Judelson (@MarcieJudelson) for her blog Chronic Fatigue. She has given me permission to reproduce it here.

My topic today is something I feel very passionate about; namely, the egregious overuse of the word "passion".

I can remember when I was quite fond of "passion". Once upon a time, "passion" was a term mostly reserved for expressions of romance and desire. As in "10 Ways to Put the Passion Back in Your Marriage," steamy Harlequin Romance novels, and swarthy Argentine Tango dancers. What's not to like?

One could also be passionate about a cause or one's art. We expect artists, dancers, and musicians to be passionate about what they do.  They operate in the rarefied world of Art, where passion is practically a prerequisite. I have no problem with that.

The problem is that today, suddenly everybody is passionate about everything. Passion used to be an extraordinary commodity. Its scarcity was part of its allure. But no more.  Now passion is plentiful.

Passion has lost its power. And has become something else: a tepid cliche.

I trace the overuse of the P-word back to the 1980s. Specifically, I blame advertising, and wine advertising in particular.  All of a sudden, it wasn't enough to just make wine.  Winemakers had to be "passionate" about their "craft".

That's when passion met its P-word partner: pretension.  And it all went to hell from there.

Soon, passion crept into food.  The more we fetishize food, the more passionate we get.  You can no longer simply like dark chocolate, coffee, or Greek yogurt.  You have to be passionate about those foodstuffs. Or fashion. Or yoga. Or your favorite brand of toaster waffles.

Being passionate about hair products and sundried tomatoes is bad enough. But now, passion has infiltrated Corporate America. In short, the P-word has been co-opted by the HR Industry. This is especially true in tech, marketing and other creative industries. And this is where it gets ugly.

Have you perused job listings lately? If so, you already know that practically every posting now includes the exact same requirement:  "Must be PASSIONATE about _________" (insert something excruciatingly boring here that no one with functioning synapses could possibly be passionate about.)

Do a quick search on or any other job site and I can guarantee you will find the P-word mentioned in virtually every posting.  Never mind...I'll do it for you.

Here's a recent sampling:
"Must be passionate about customer experience"
"This job requires a passion for great storytelling"
"You are motivated, a team player, and passionate about sales technology"
"Must have a passion for creative excellence"
"Requirement: A deep, loving passion for the Lyft community. Join our creative team and tell the story of our passionate community" (Note: Lyft is a ridesharing company in San Francisco for people who are apparently passionate about driving around with strangers.)
And then there is this actual job posting for the CEO job of the yoga wear company, LuluLemon:
"You are passionate about doing chief executive officer type stuff like making decisions, having a vision, and being the head boss person."
There's so much passion in these postings, it makes me numb.

Passion in the workforce used to mean something fun and exciting -- like someone in Accounting was making breakfast for someone in Quality Control. Now it's just a condition of employment. Sort of like not having a prison record.

This is disturbing on many levels.

When you equate "passion" with work, it elevates the work itself (and the company doing the work) to a level of importance and faux altruism that is rarely, if ever, deserved.

I recall seeing a job posting for a well known local gaming company. It included this gem: "You are passionate about creating games that can change the world." So now I guess the geeks writing code for "Grand Theft Auto" will be getting seats on the Security Council.

What's worse, and more than a little troubling, is that the new corporate requirement for "passion" just happened to coincide with the Great Recession and record joblessness.

At the very same time millions of highly qualified, experienced people found themselves out of work, employers decided to up the ante. It was no longer enough to be skilled, dedicated, conscientious, and a hard worker. Now, you had to be "passionate" about doing your Excel spreadsheets or proofreading 6 pt. legal copy.

Why the sudden lust for "passion?" I have two equally cynical theories.
Cynical Theory #1:  "Passion" is code.  It's Corporate Speak for "must be willing to work around the clock and enjoy cold pizza at your work station." This is why job postings for start-ups require super-charged, prodigious levels of passion.
Cynical Theory #2: Companies are trying to screen out old people and attract low-salaried (or no-salaried) Millennials. Employers know that while many of the current crop of twenty-somethings may still be living with their parents and dining out on Groupons, they imagine themselves as uncompromising passion puppies. They won't stoop to accepting just any job. Oh no. These special young people need to be passionate about their work. It's a generational entitlement.
So much for my bitter theories. At this point, I'd like to offer up some historical perspective.

Passion, as it relates to work, had its birth in the classic 1970 bestseller, "What Color is Your Parachute?" At that time, "following your passion" was a radical — and very appealing — notion. It certainly was to me. I bought every edition of that book — as did millions of others. But now those dog-eared books sit on my bookshelf, mocking me.

Many of us never found our passion. At least not outside the Simmons Beauty-Rest. And in many cases, our parachutes never deployed.

Then, just as our colorful parachutes were deflating, Oprah arrived on the scene and single-handedly created her own Passion Industry. More than anyone else, I blame Oprah for creating the passion for passion.

O, The Oprah Magazine, is chock full of articles such as "Find Your Passion", "Take the 'What's Your Passion?' Exercise" and "Live Your Passion." The assumption being that if you are truly passionate about, say, knitting afghans, you can simply ditch your claims adjustor job and make millions with an online startup called "KnitWits." You go, girl!

But what if you don't find your passion? What if you don't have the moxie, the luck, the spare time, or the trust fund to find your passion in a career? Can you still like your job, without being "passionate" about it?  Is that acceptable today?  Can a job be...dare I say it?... a job?

Maybe you can channel your passion into other things. Perhaps it's even better when your passion isn't your job. Because then the things you truly love aren't tainted by the harsh realities of boorish bosses and klutzy clients.

By now you may be thinking that I'm just not a very passionate person. But, Dear Reader, I can assure you that you're wrong. As a matter of fact, I'm passionate about many things.  Cutting through bullshit is just one of them.

March 17, 2014

Recognizing Foolishness In Everyone But Ourselves

One of the great truisms of marketing is that a good deal of consumer behavior makes no sense.

While we often go out of our way to scour Google for the lowest prices and the best reviews, we also frequently behave in ways that defy common sense. When it comes to buying stuff, or any other human behavior for that matter, we are not logic machines.

Back when I worked on Toyota, there was a great example of this. The Toyota Corolla was built at a plant here in California that was a joint venture between Toyota and Chevrolet. In addition to the Corolla, the plant also built the Chevy Geo Prism, which was the exact same car as the Corolla.

The Prism was built on the same line, by the same people, in the same plant as the Corolla. The only difference was that at the end of the line someone would either put a Corolla badge or a Prism badge on the car. The Corolla cost $1,500 more than the Prism, yet it outsold it 3 to 1.

We in the ad business are always reminding our clients that consumer behavior is not always rational. We lecture them on the importance of emotion as a factor in buying decisions and brand preferences. We explain to them that an ad is not a court case in which the best argument wins.

And yet, while we are exquisitely sensitive to the illogical nature of consumer behavior, we are completely oblivious to illogical behavior in our own business decisions. Our business decisions are just as illogical and just as governed by emotions as consumer buying decisions.

An example:

Last week I spent a few days in San Diego attending conferences that, in part, were about marketing to people over 50.

As you may know, a large part of my consulting these days is explaining to the flat tires in mainstream marketing how much money they're pissing away by ignoring the people with all the cash.

At one conference, sponsored by the American Society on Aging, I was on the faculty (I was a presenter) and at the other, called the Boomer Summit I was a "reporter" (these days, I'm not sure if that's a promotion from "blogger" or a demotion.)

To give you an example of how astoundingly illogical the marketing and advertising industries are, I think this one fact will do it:
If people over 50 in the U.S. were a country, they would be the third largest economy in the world:
1. USA
2. China
3. Americans over 50
They are bigger economically than Japan, or Germany, or Martin Sorrell. They buy 62% of all new cars and 55% of consumer package goods. And yet, they are the target for only 5% of US advertising.

We in advertising and marketing have all kinds of fairy stories and stupid bullshit excuses for why we don't advertise to these people. In fact, the truth is we don't advertise to them for reasons that are completely illogical and fully emotional.
  • We don't like being associated with old people
  • We like to feel young and hip
  • We can't build a career on success marketing to older people
  • Consequently, we have invented all kinds of bullshit reasons why we ignore them
One of the great failures of the advertising industry is how clueless we are to our own prejudices and illogical behaviors. We know how to recognize foolishness in everyone but ourselves.

Pathetic Excuse For Laziness...
I am in the middle of a heavy travel schedule and will be posting intermittently over the next month.

March 12, 2014

Branding For Dummies

Among the topics that marketing and advertising people can bore you to death with, perhaps the most annoying is "brands."

On one side we have brand maniacs (often, agency creative directors) who think that all advertising has to do is get "the brand" right and everything else will fall into place. On the other end of the spectrum we have brand deniers (lately, online advertising zealots) who think brands are "dead." Both sides invariably overstate their case.

Let's start with first principles.

At the most basic level, what a brand helps us do is identify things. Just like we give ourselves names, we give products brands so we can distinguish them from each other.

At the next level, brands help us build value into our product. If all products were generic, why invest in making ours better? Anyone who lived in a communist state can tell you all about that.

At the third level a brand helps us differentiate our product and build consumer preference. There is a reason why people prefer Coke to Pepsi, and it has very little to do with what's in the can. In fact, if we took every Coke can in the world and filled it with Pepsi, and took every Pepsi can in the world and filled it with Coke, I doubt there would be very much change in the relative success of the brands.

At the highest level is brand love - the theory is that people love certain brands. This is where the brand ideologues runs into big trouble.

While we all have a handful of brands we're attached to, for the most part our attachments are paper thin. We have preferences and habits, but we have very little love.

We participate in hundreds of product categories and there are probably somewhere between five and ten brands that we actually feel strongly about.

We will gladly change airlines if it will save us a few bucks. We will happily move to a new bank if it's more convenient. We will change cell phone carriers and cable companies in a heartbeat for a better rate.

The Apples and Nikes of this world -- brands that people truly feel stubbornly loyal to  -- are very few and very far between. And even these brands will find that under certain circumstances a strong product will trump their brand.

A good policy is to ignore the irresponsible yakking of both agency brand babblers and digital data dweebs. The brand maniacs and the brand deniers are both wrong.

Brand power is real, but it is highly contingent.

March 10, 2014

Most Published Research Is False

Over the years, this blog has been highly skeptical of marketing, advertising, and media research.

What passes for research in our world would be laughed out of most reputable scientific laboratories.
  • We almost never use controls
  • We almost never replicate our work 
  • We don't have peer review 
  • We don't have others see of they can reproduce our results.
There are so many ways for research to go wrong, that not bothering with any of these fundamental necessities of valid science creates enormous problems. Consequently, among sensible advertising people, there is widespread skepticism about research data and the interpretation of data.

Personally, the only thing I trust our researchers to do competently is to count. They can usually give us a pretty good idea of "how many." But asking them for a "why" or a "what" or a "how" is likely to get you an opinion masquerading as a fact.

The problem was further impressed on me recently when I read a piece by George Johnson science writer for The New York Times. Johnson writes about Dr. John P. A. Ioannidis, "a kind of meta-scientist who researches research."

Dr. Ioannidis wrote a paper in 2005 called “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” According to the article, "Dr. Ioannidis devised a mathematical model supporting the conclusion that most published findings are probably incorrect."

Now let's be clear.  Ioannidis is writing about real research, the kind that is done in biology and physics labs. Not the baloney that we call research.

Johnson also relates the story of the chief scientific officer of a pharmaceutical company who set about to reproduce the results of 53 "landmark papers about cancer." In 47 of the 53 cases he and his colleagues could not reproduce the results "even with the help of the original scientists working in their own labs."

Anyone who thinks cancer research is problematic but advertising research is reliable needs professional help.

By the way...
...recently a government study found that obesity among young children had plummeted 43% in the past ten years. I'd love to see Dr. Ioannidis get his hands on this baloney.

March 07, 2014

Money For Nothing

Money For Nothing
Radio Shack reported this week a 20% drop in 4th quarter sales. It was their 8th consecutive quarter of losing money. They also announced that they would close over a thousand stores. Oh, and they also announced a half-million dollar bonus for their ceo.

Dude shoulda closed 2,000 stores. Then he coulda got a million.

Running My Mouth
Two speaking gigs coming up in the next few weeks.

Next week I'll be at the American Society on Aging conference in San Diego on a panel about marketing to people over 50.

On April 2nd I'll be in London to give a talk at Advertising Week Europe. I expect to see you all there. And, please, no lame excuses about passport difficulties.

And if you're looking for a dynamic and provocative speaker for an event you're having, I can do a pretty good impersonation.

And the Oscar For Technical Difficulties Goes To...
...the Interwebs.

According to an article on Quartz entitled, Internet TV Was The Big Loser On Oscar Night...
One of the biggest nights in American television was essentially unwatchable online, as technical problems marred various live streams of the Oscars and highlighted the huge gap between internet TV’s promise and its glitchy reality. 
Hold on a second. Does Adweek know about this?

March 04, 2014

Bulletin: Advertising Trade Press Discovers Television

Stop the presses!

The advertising trade press has just awakened after a 10-year nap to discover that television is popular with consumers. Well, f*ck me blind!

That's right after 10 years of bullshit about how TV was dying and the web was taking over the world, Adweek had a piece on Monday called You Won't Believe How Big TV Still Is.

Really? We won't?

Well, guess what, Adweek, not only do we believe it, we've known it all along.

Nothing personal here, Adweek, but while you were busy publishing nonsense about how TV was dead, we were looking at the facts. You remember facts, right? That's the stuff that separates truth from bullshit.

In typical trade press cluelessness, even while they're telling the story in gee-whiz tones, they get it wrong. They published the following chart:

These charts show that television has almost twice as many viewers as online video, and that the industry is about 20 times bigger in terms of ad dollars. These are both interesting statistics, but neither is a proper indication of how much more popular TV viewing is than online video.

The proper way to do this is to compare total viewing hours. Using the numbers Adweek provides, it turns out that TV viewing constitutes about 95.5% of all video viewing, while online and mobile combined constitute about 4.5%.*

So while the death of TV has been an article of faith among the self-absorbed digital maniacs huddled in their Brooklyn walk-ups, in the rest of the world TV is kinda popular.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of Adweek in which we learn that Canada is still a country.

* To prove this to yourself, multiply the number of monthly TV viewers (283,000,000) by the average number of hours they watch (146) and compare that to the total number of online and mobile watchers (155,000,000) multiplied by the average number of hours they watch (12.5 combined.) By the way, I'm officially skeptical that the amount of video watched on a mobile device is about equal to that watched on a PC, but we'll leave that for another day.

March 03, 2014

The Eternal Eye-Roll

There are a substantial number of people in the marketing and advertising industry whose livelihood depends on convincing us that we need them to help us understand and interpret the "unprecedented" changes in our culture and society.

These market researchers and "behavioral anthropologists" are constantly bombarding us with propaganda about how changes in our culture are uniquely different from the past.

These are people who know nothing about history.

They seem to think that the world was at a standstill until the invention of the internet. They have no idea that previous advances were at least as "earth-shaking" to society.

They are clueless about the impact that earlier breakthroughs had on society -- electricity, or the automobile, or radio, or armor, or the telephone, or gunpowder.

They only know what is in front of them. They think what they are experiencing is unique. They think that history didn't begin until they were born. And like every generation before them, they think they have a unique perspective.

After a while it becomes entertaining to watch successive generations of narcissists and clowns assert that they have a ringside seat for the most momentous changes in history.

Every generation believes it, and every generation is wrong.