November 26, 2014

No App For Gratitude

Today's post is my traditional (since last year) Thanksgiving post.

Thanksgiving is my kind of holiday.

It doesn't require gods or miracles or tragedies or victories or angels or kings or winners or losers or flags or gifts.

All you need is some pumpkin pie, a big-ass flat screen, and a comfortable sofa to drool on.

Oh, and a little gratitude.

Gratitude, by the way, is a commodity in very short supply. Regrettably, we seem to have mountains of expectation but not much in the way of appreciation. It's a socially transmitted disease.

So this Thanksgiving, let's put aside harsh judgments for a day or two. Thank a cop. Give a bum a buck. Kiss an in-law.

I don't like Puritans of any stripe. But I like the idea of them having the Indians over for dinner. I know the detente didn't last too long, but any day you're eating sweet potatoes instead of shooting off muskets is a good day.

Be grateful that you have shoes. Be thankful that your cat is healthy. Compliment someone's posture.

If you can't do any of that stuff, then at least give thanks that you won't be dining with Whoopi Goldberg or Donald Trump. That alone should be enough.

Finally, do yourself a favor -- quit whining. That's my job.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving.

November 24, 2014

Display Advertising Is Poison

Display advertising is ugly and infuriating. It never stops. It never leaves us alone. It is ubiquitous and toxic. It is polluting the web.

About 30% of online ad dollars are spent on display advertising. But display is responsible for about 100% of the maddening stupidity and annoyance of the web.

As a general rule, things that are successful expand. But it is the opposite with display ads.

Because they are so ineffective we get more and more of them. The rate of clicking on banner ads is so tiny, that for a media genius to deliver the 100 clicks she promises a client she has to buy over 100,000 impressions.

And so, in trying to achieve goals, an enormous amount of ads must be bought. And splattered all over everything we are trying to do online.

Also, because they are so ineffective, they are ridiculously cheap. And they keep getting cheaper. The result is that every creepy company in the world can afford these things and annoy the shit out of us with them.

When you watch a TV program you get somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 minutes of entertainment for your 8 minutes of annoying advertising.

Online the ratio is reversed. You often get six or seven display ads for your one page of "content." (By the way, Facebook is one of the few sites starting to show a little restraint by upping their ad rates and running fewer ads.)

I am an ad guy and I know that advertising provides us with a whole lot of free entertainment and information that most people don't appreciate. While I may find a lot of advertising annoying, and most forms of online advertising misguided, I don't hate them. But I hate fucking display ads.

Display has become the dregs of advertising. If being ugly and stupid isn't bad enough, the whole culture of the display industry is corrupt and infested with creeps, charlatans, and crooks.

Display is poison and it needs to be reformed.

November 20, 2014

The Danger In Being Different

In marketing and advertising everyone is faking it.

I mean everyone -- you, me, your boss, your client, Martin Sorrell -- everyone.

Let me be even clearer: Nobody knows a fucking thing about how any of this works. We throw money at it and we cross our fingers.

Having said that, it is also true that there are some people with exceptional instincts. These people are very good at "precision guessing." That is, they are much better at intuiting what is going to work than the average ad bozo.

These are the stars in our industry. While I have met good precision guessers in many disciplines, the best precision guessers I have met in advertising have been creatives.

They hide their exceptional intuition behind the language of marketing -- strategy and benefits and brand personality and all the other bullshit jargon of our trade. But make no mistake about it -- they are cleverly using our language to bamboozle us. They are going on their instincts but employing our ideology and vocabulary to pretend they are one of us.

In other words, they solve the problem viscerally and then reverse engineer a rationale that we can accept.

This is a very good thing. If they told the truth -- that they are just making shit up -- no one would listen to them.

But let's get back to the rest of us for a minute.

If you read yesterday's post, you know that Forrester Research released a report saying that social media marketing on Facebook and Twitter is substantially worthless. This is a conclusion some of us reached years ago. 

When I left the agency business, people within agencies were essentially forbidden from saying this. If you did, you were labeled a Luddite, a dinosaur, or just plain stupid. You "didn't get it." It was a one-way ticket out the door.

Advertising is one of the world's trendiest businesses. The consequences of being considered out of step are far more powerful than the satisfaction of finding out you were right five years later.

When nobody knows anything -- like about social media, for example -- you would think that controversial and eccentric opinions would be numerous and welcome. In fact, it is just the opposite.

Ignorance demands conformity. Because everyone knows they are faking it, they seek comfort in the warmth of consensus.

Speaking out against the agreed-upon fantasy is looked upon as both heresy and betrayal. No one is more despised or vilified than the nonbeliever in a tenuous theology.

And so the people who knew better about social media -- the precision guessers -- were coerced into shutting up. Agencies were making money, careers were being built, conferences were being held, clients were demanding more of the magic.

The lesson was clear: When everyone is faking it in unison, there is danger in being different.