October 01, 2014

The Anecdote Epidemic

I noticed it my first week in the ad business -- the naive belief in anecdotes.

As a junior copywriter I was amazed that account directors and creative directors could get away with it. They would stand before clients and tell the story of this company or that agency that did this or that and had remarkable results. And then they would inflate the anecdote into a rationale for what they were selling.

And the client would sit there and buy it.

It astounded me.

As time went on it only got worse. Specious claims about account planning or copy testing or whatever went unchallenged.

Then anecdotes went national. I would go to conferences and listen to experts tell how this thing or that medium (the one they were pitching) created a huge success. And the audience would accept it as if it were the rule.

There was no demand for what the normal results were.

And now, with the advent of the web, anecdotes have gone global. The most extreme case of anything is accepted as typical. So Zappos -- the most radical case of social media success -- became the case history that proved the standard power of social media.

We are in an endless echosystem of success stories about web marketing -- first it was podcasts, blogs and banners, then widgets and QR codes, now it's social media and content. And the thing that all these success stories have in common is that they are free of industry norms.

I have seen evidence that search and email -- as categories -- are effective online marketing activities.

But I have yet to see one disinterested study that shows me anything convincing about the standard effectiveness of podcasts, blogs, banners, QR codes, social, content, etc. If you know of any, please send them my way.

You would think that with the amount of money being spent on line, marketers would demand more than just anecdotes and outlier case histories. But it's hard to exaggerate the lemming-ocracy in marketing today.

September 29, 2014

5 Good Reasons To Ignore Millennials

I love millennials. My daughter is one. She and her friends are terrific, thoughtful people.

But I hate that the marketing industry has turned them into the cause célebre of marketing cement-headedness.

I am sick to death of hearing and reading marketing nitwits gushing about millennials.

Our industry is always on the lookout for some new jargonista bullshit we can invoke at the drop of a hat. Millennials are the latest magic. They are the mediocre marketer's obsession of the moment

The fuss about millennials is mostly
a) marketing flat-tires bloviating about their latest fetish
b) the noise of editors with millennial kids who think there's a big story there, or
c) the pathetic youth worship of older people who should know better.

Here are some facts about millennials that might attenuate your enthusiasm.

1. If you're in the automobile business and someone has convinced you to spend good money against a "millennial target" try not to soil your pants when you read this -- someone over 35 is about seven times as likely to buy a new car as a millennial.

2. If you sell luxury goods and your media target is redolent of millennials, you might like to know that millennials buy 3% of luxury goods. For every luxury product a millennial will buy, a baby boomer will buy 17.

3. If you're in the travel/hotel/hospitality business, people over 35 comprise over 70% of leisure travelers, and almost 80% of business travelers.

4. If you're selling "green" or "eco-friendly" products, millennials' much-vaunted commitment to such things seems to be a mile wide and an inch deep. Ten percent of millennials belong to an environmental organization. But once they have families this drops by 98%.

5. Like every group of young people the world has ever known, everything about these people will change when they get some money. For example baby boomers -- the generation that pioneered backpacking through Europe on $5 a day 40 years ago -- now represent the bulk of luxury travelers. By the time millennials are ready to become important factors in your category, they will have changed and so will your category.

If you think that by advertising to them now they'll remember your message in ten years, I've got news for you. They won't remember your message in 10 minutes.

Spend your advertising money where it will do you some good -- against people who are buying in your category now. If that's millennials, great. But if it's not, be careful.

September 25, 2014

Bulletin: Agency People Are Unhappy.

Last week Digiday ran a piece called "Why Agency People Are Unhappy."

Before we discuss how they got it all wrong, let's get a little perspective.

Unhappy agency people are nothing new. Agency people are whiners, always have been and always will be. Many are lovable whiners, but whiners nonetheless.

Half of the whining is legitimate -- many jobs in advertising suck.

Half of it is just the discontentment of people who consider themselves too creative for what they are asked to do.

And the third half is the natural inclination of everyone everywhere to bitch and moan.

Now back to Digiday.

Has the level of discontentment in advertising gone up in recent years? My sense is that has has, substantially. While I've heard an incessant drumbeat of unhappiness among ad people for 4 decades, I believe it is now considerably worse than ever.

Digiday drags out all the usual suspects to explain this:
  • Demanding clients
  • Low pay
  • Horrendous hours
  • Disrespect for the contribution
  • Disrespect for creative work
  • The effect of the Internet
  • Fear of innovation
These are mostly effects. They are not the cause. The deeper cause of all this angst is something much more subtle and misunderstood -- it is the consolidation of the ad industry.

As I have mentioned before, when I started in advertising, the largest agency in the U.S. was Y&R with about a 1.5% share of market. According to the latest figures I've seen, four enormous holding companies control over 70% of the advertising in the U.S.

The advertising industry is, structurally, a totally different industry than it was when it was pleasanter and creative-er. It is also totally different culturally. This makes an enormous difference.

A handful of giant megaliths -- controlled by financiers, accountants, lawyers and corporate flat tires (what a colleague of mine used to call "fearsomely dull men in grey suits")  -- run the ad industry. They are a very different breed from the craftspeople/entrepreneurs who used to run it.

I think you will find that the agencies in which people are most satisfied these days are either the independent agencies or the agencies that are so creatively successful that their holding company masters wouldn't dare screw with them. 

There is no secret to what happens to industries when they become consolidated -- the customers become angry and the employees become dispirited. Look at the airline industry, the telecom industry, and the banking industry.

The ad industry will never be any different as long as it is controlled by the likes of Michael Roth and Martin Sorrell.

We sold our industry to the highest bidders. And in doing so, we sold our soul.

It's hard to be happy when you're soul-free.

A few sidebars today...
...I try to be assiduous in my fact checking, but sometimes I screw up. In a few recent talks I have stated that "people 75 to dead buy more new cars than people 18-34." It should be "people 65 to dead." Sorry.
...Just checked the YouTube video of my talk in London at Advertising Week Europe earlier this year. I am blown away at over 30,000 views of something 45 minutes long. Thank you all so much.