March 14, 2018

Ad Tech And Social Pathology

The history of civilization is littered with horrifying social and cultural practices that, at the time, seemed perfectly normal.

Today, we are mortified by the idea of slavery. We cringe at the way women have been treated. We are appalled by the past treatment of religious and ethnic minorities. Past child labor practices seem incomprehensible.

And yet, in the context of those times, these abhorrent customs and practices were not just acceptable, they were established cultural norms.

Sometimes, it is only in retrospect that we understand the harm of social traditions and policies.

Today we may be in the middle of such an unacknowledged and unrecognized pathology. The three-headed monster of ad tech, tracking, and surveillance marketing seem perfectly normal to us. Most people don't give them a second thought as they live so much of their lives online.

But these currently acceptable practices have the potential to lead us into very dangerous waters.

We know the dangers of totalitarian governments. But we have no idea where totalitarian marketing leads. And make no mistake about it -- we are quickly headed toward totalitarian marketing. Very soon marketers and media owners will know everything there is to know about us.

It is not at all farfetched to imagine a time fifty years from now in which people will look back and say, "how could we have allowed marketers to know what we believed, who we talked to, what we said, where we were at all times, and what we did?"

We do not yet know where such unprecedented access to our most personal and private information by organizations unknown to us leads. But I promise you one thing - it ain't good.

History has taught us that the hardest time to recognize social pathology is when you're standing right in the middle of it.

March 08, 2018

Digital First Equals Me First

"Digital first" is the philosophy of imbeciles who know the answer before they know the question.

They know the treatment before they know the condition. They know what tool to use before they know what's broken. Imagine a doctor whose philosophy is "appendectomy first." He knows the cure before he knows the disease.

There is no other industry that would accept such manifest stupidity. But it is not just alive in our industry, it is commonplace.

There are a few reasons why this idiocy exists. First, and most understandable, is that it's what some people were taught. They learned it in school and have sought to learn nothing new since. They have made a practice of interpreting the world through its myopic lens.

Believing in the rapidly decomposing digital fantasy (see this and this,) they never bothered to acquire any other advertising or marketing knowledge. If the only tool you have is a hammer...well, you know the rest.

These people are ignorant, but it is usually an honest ignorance.

But there's another group of "digital firsters" who are not nearly as ignorant and not nearly as honest. They are the ones who put digital first because it is more lucrative. They have found that they can make more money buying digital advertising than traditional advertising. It doesn't really matter to them what's best for you, they know what's best for them.

Sadly, reading between the lines of the ANA's media transparency investigation, some agencies seem to fit nicely into this box. They have no ideological commitment to digital, they have an ideological commitment to money.

Mark Ritson wrote a couple of compelling pieces about this recently in The Australian. Unfortunately, The Australian is behind a paywall so I can't link you to his pieces. After quoting a few media experts who assert that...
- commissions on traditional media usually run the in the 3% range
- commissions on digital media run in the 7-10% range
- because of automation, digital media are no longer any more difficult or time consuming to buy than traditional media
- agencies often set digital media buying quotas for media buyers to meet
... Prof. Ritson concludes...
"...let's also accept something that no one in the industry wants to talk about: that digital media gets a much greater share of the pie than news media (print) because it is more profitable for the agencies that recommend it."
"...The simple marginal profit that agencies make from digital media is almost triple what they would get from channeling the money to news media."
As I said in my Type A Group Newsletter last week, Prof. Ritson is too wise and prudent to make outright accusations. I'm not. There is no doubt in my mind that to some agencies "digital first" is just code for "me first."

Does this mean that everyone who recommends a digital media buy is a doofus or a crook? Of course not. There are circumstances when an online buy is a perfectly reasonable recommendation. But anyone with a functioning brain will consider what the problem is before he recommends a solution. Anyone who starts with the solution -- e.g., "digital first" -- is a fool.

Here's a surefire litmus test for determining who you're dealing with. If they have the answer ready before you tell them the question, they're either imbeciles or opportunists.

March 06, 2018

You Gotta Read This

I was sitting at my desk doing whatever the hell it is a creative director does, when my associate creative director walked in.

"You gotta read this," he said.

"What is it?"

"A letter from a copywriter."

"We don't need a copywriter," I said.

"I know. But you gotta read this."

So I read it. By the end of reading the letter we were both laughing out loud and had invited the writer in for an interview. In the fullness of time, she became the chief creative and president of our agency.

Recently, a friend asked me to critique a cover letter he was writing for a job application. The letter was perfectly fine. It stated its case nicely, it was well-written, and it was articulate. But it was indistinguishable from a hundred other letters the prospective employer was likely to get.

My advice to him was this: Someone's going to open this letter and do one of two things - put it in a file with all the other letters or bring it to one of her colleagues and say, "you gotta read this."

If she puts it in the file you still have a chance of getting the job. If she takes it to a colleague and says, "you gotta read this" your chances just tripled.

Today, it is said, we do a lot less reading than we used to. I don't know if that's true. But one thing I do know, ironically we do a lot more writing. All day long we are writing emails, decks, texts, ads, tweets (god help us), content (god double-extra help us), strategies... some of us poor bastards even write blog posts. And most of it is crap.

That's okay because most of the time it doesn't need to be anything other than crap. But once a day or once a week or once in a while you have to write something really important. I'm sure there are a thousand somber posts on LinkedIn telling you how to write something really important. It's all bullshit.

There is only one objective you should have when writing something really important. You want one person to take it to another person and say, "you gotta read this."