December 14, 2017

Best of 2017 #5: Another Decade, Another Miracle


In March we turned our attention to the one thing marketers love above all else - miracles. Here is Best of 2017 #5.

This is one of those blog posts you write when you’re on a transatlantic overnight flight and you haven't slept a fucking wink and you’re groggy from taking way too many drugs that aren't doing shit.

But you have to be alert when you land because you have all kinds of obligations that you foolishly agreed to when you imagined a pleasant flight with kindly air hostesses pouring champagne, and a gentle few hours of nocturnal reverie, instead of a smelly dark cabin with the faint aroma of fresh-squeezed urine emanating from every closed door.

Yeah, one of those posts.

So if I get a few details wrong, like what decade I’m talking about, I don’t want any shit from you people. Please click this button if you agree to our terms.

So while I was not sleeping, I was thinking that every decade I worked in the ad business there was always a miracle that was going to make advertising finally reputable, orderly and grown up. A real honest-to-god business with predictable and reliable outcomes.

In the 70’s, the miracle was marketing. Suddenly every agency was flush with freshly minted MBAs right out of the best schools in the country. Mostly they were nicely scrubbed frat boys who made us street rats feel somehow inadequate. They had actually read books about advertising and spoke a language that was impressive if you didn’t listen too closely. Sadly, they were mostly dumber than stumps but luckily they weren't allowed to do too much damage.

By the 80’s the frenzy over the MBA’s had grown stale as it turned out that their only reliable competence was for choosing the right wine. The 80’s gave us the miracle of research. Out of some dank and pungent caves in the basement of your client’s headquarters emerged a new species of researcher. They were proto-nerds. They had all the characteristics of nerds but none of the charm. They had no idea what any meeting was going to be about but somehow came armed with studies to refute whatever it was you were planning to advocate. It was a kind of bizarre and evil ESP.

Bless Jay Chiat’s heart, he saw to it that by the time the 90’s rolled around the client research people were sent to bed without dinner as the research function was cleverly ripped away from them through the genius of account planning. See, you research geeks view everything from the company’s standpoint. We ad geniuses see it from the consumer’s standpoint. This became one of the greatest misdirection operations in advertising history and the power of its brilliance can be seen in many agencies yet today as account planners are still allowed to walk the halls and, in some compassionate agencies, even speak.

But planning's Decade Mirabilis ended abruptly as the year 2000 approached and online advertising became the new miracle. The web was the answer that everyone needed. The agency industry was tired and lifeless. Clients were restless and cranky. Advertising was stale and expensive. We needed something new, modern, exciting, and cheap. We also needed something that no one had a fucking clue about so we could make shit up. Something that we could build all kinds of dreamy expectations around. Online advertising was a godsend for everyone. Until it turned out to be a devilishly clever bento box of lies, fantasies, crime and mark-ups.

In our current decade we're finally on to a true miracle - data. At last, a scientific-smelling miracle that will make advertising reputable, orderly and grown up. A real honest-to-god business with predictable and reliable outcomes!

Yeah, and I’m the fucking Queen of France.

And as a postscript I would like to add that for the most part, "data" turns out to be just a pleasanter term the marketing industry uses to describe personal, private information they collect about us without our knowledge or consent.

December 13, 2017

Best of 2017 #4: Cocktails In The Morning


Here's the fourth in our series of so-called "Best of 2017." A reminder: just because these are the best of 2017 doesn't mean they're any good.

Let's face it. Most of what we ad people do is really dopey.

I wasn't much of a creative person, but I've had the good fortune to know some great ones. There is one thing about them that I love.

They work hard and have high standards, but they also have an enduring sense of how silly the whole thing is.

It takes a special kind of intelligence to be diligent about what you do and yet keep the part of your brain alive that realizes it's largely ridiculous.

There is a great deal of nonsense in the advertising business and I think it's very healthy to appreciate the absurdity. All the somber imbeciles who think that what they're doing is terribly important need a good solid whack in the golden globes.

I think I blame it all on conferences. There are way too many fucking conferences. I go to a lot of these conferences because I'm one of the speakers and I get paid. But if I didn't, I wouldn't (I think this is what's called "biting the hand...")

Most of the people who speak are so fucking serious. I'm sorry but after sitting through 8 hours of “The Programmatic Real-Time Digital Insider Summit” you can't help but want to go to your room and watch a good hockey fight. Or go to the bar and start one.

I suspect the reason we lost the war on drugs can be laid at the feet of marketing conferences. How can thousands of people every day sit through these things if they're not high?

I know why people go to conferences. They think anything's better than a day at the office. But they're wrong. They wind up getting the worst of both worlds. They pay for the conference but wind up standing outside the ballroom all day talking on their cell phones to the same dipshits they were trying to escape in the first place.

I know what my great creative friends would do to solve this problem. They'd have backwards conferences. They'd start the day with the cocktail party and then have the presentations.

That way, instead of presentations called...

  • Real-Time Bidding Algorithms In An Optimized Content Management Environment
we'd have presentations called...
  • Boosting Your Personal Brand Through Naughty Videos.
  • The Open Plan Office: What Asshole Dreamed Up This Shit?
  • Millennials: Pathetic Narcissists Or Unsufferable Bedwetters?
  • Working From Home. Yeah, Right. 
Sounds more fun, no?

December 11, 2017

Best of 2017 #3: Global Brand Equals Global Bland


Continuing our stroll down memory lane, here's a piece from May.

If you wonder why so many big brands are obsessed with media, the answer is simple. It's the only thing they have left to argue about.

Their determination to demonstrate "globularity" has had an unintended consequence -- the trivialization of strategy and creativity.

Globularity leads marketers to bland, non-specific strategies and bland, non-specific advertising.

It's really quite simple. The grander the "brand purpose," the less specific the strategy. The less specific the strategy, the blander the advertising.

My favorite example of the power of specificity was Apple's introduction of the iPod. They didn't give it the vanilla, global "World Class MP3 Player" treatment. They said "1,000 Songs In Your Pocket." They were specific. They talked about the virtues of the product, not woolly melodramatic horseshit

My direction to the creative teams who worked for me was always the same - be specific. Today the objective is to ignore the specific and "ladder up" the benefit.

In the idiotic world of "laddering-up," every piece of chewing gum, every vacuum cleaner bag, and every can of sugar water is purported to "make life better and the world a better place."

Specificity has died because it's too sales-y. It doesn't have sufficient virtue or globularity.

It seems that every big brand is instituting its own flavor of the same strategy:
"We're inclusive and committed. Our products are for every type of person in the whole darn global world and our awesome universal values prove it."
Why has the ad industry given up on specificity in favor of globularity? First, it flatters the self-absorbed client. She loves to hear wearisome bullshit about how her yogurt is changing the world.

Second, it's so much easier. By insisting on the default strategy of universality - including every type of person and every cultural stereotype - they find themselves creating not the best possible advertising but the least objectionable advertising. And selling the least objectionable advertising to their corporate overseers is a much easier task.

Another consequence of this fuzzy thinking is that it leads marketers to focus on silly fantasies like "millennialism" -- huge swaths of people who are presumed to have a uniform "global" identity.

Then, instead of doing the hard work of differentiating the product, they just hold up a mirror and try to tell us who we are and how they are just like us.

This type of spineless, watery exercise in tedious whacking-off usually leaves very little of a strategic or creative nature to argue over. Just show every kind of person engaged in every kind of virtuous activity. And the result is that the conversation quickly turns to something everyone can have a fine old time arguing about - media choices.

It's no wonder "global" brands are obsessed with media. It's the only thing left to them. When it comes to strategy or creative, the only issue is which key to sing "We Are The World" in.