Jun 29, 2007

Maybe They Deserve Sir Rupert

Today’s Wall Street Journal (pay site, sorry) has an op-ed piece from “venture capitalist and CNBC analyst” Paul Kedrosky called “The Jesus Phone.” It’s a tediously obvious rehash of all the wonders of the iPhone that concludes with Mr. Kedrosky’s none-too-original epiphany that the real reason people are clamoring for iPhones is that they hate their current cell phones. Okay no one is debating that cell phones seem to be purposely designed for maximum discomfort and confusion. But let’s examine Mr. Kedrosky’s assertion that a second reason is that people hate their current cell phone providers.
(P)eople hate their cell phone carriers. Hate, hate, hate, hate. The major cellular providers—with their ham-handed “support” and fascist control of software that can run on phones directly—are right up there with the IRS in terms of inspiring your average mobile phone user’s disgust and loathing.
Okay, first off, can we point out that your “average mobile phone user” (emphasis added) has no idea that there is such a thing as “software that can run on phones directly.”

But that’s besides the point.

Because what I really want to know is who the heck does Kedrosky think is providing service for the iPhone? The Phone Fairy? I mean does he not know that it’s AT&T, arguably the worst of all the major carriers? Has he not read the hundreds, if not thousands of reviews and articles all of which point out the fact that limiting the iPhone to AT&T may prove to be its Achille’s heel? It’s true that people are generally frustrated with the companies that provide cell service but I’m baffled at why he thinks choosing an iPhone will let them avoid that.
What’s more, isn’t someone editing him? Didn’t someone on the Journal’s editorial board read this and think “hey, this is just plain factually incorrect.”


Jun 28, 2007

The Times Gets All Snarky On Us

Every so often the "grey lady" steps out of character and gives us some snark about some of the more ridiculous aspects of modern life.

A double-header today, first from Guy Trebay in the Style section:

At a garden party staged for a pictorial in the July/August issue of Departures, Euan Rellie, the husband of the fashion gadfly Lucy Sykes, is seen wearing a Thom Browne suit that has all of that designer’s trademark details: cropped jacket piped at the collar, lapel, hem and pocket; shirttails left hanging; bow tie. A caption identifies Mr. Rellie as an investment banker, and one would certainly have to be making a bundle to afford a get-up that cost $6,170, not including underwear, socks and shoes. Yet far from embodying a model of fiscal authority or contemporary chic, Mr. Rellie comes across in the picture as the man hired by the caterers to make balloon animals.

The second from the frequently-snarky Alessandra Stanley in a review of Paris Hilton on Larry King:
Paris Hilton read aloud her prison writings as if she had spent a lifetime on Robben Island, and that was surely the highlight of the heiress/actress’s first television interview since her release from jail.
(PH is an easy target no doubt, but Stanley's lead made me smile.)

Jun 27, 2007

Things That Are The Same

As I’ve mentioned before, the single most annoying thing about the Web 2.0-niks is their fervently held belief that they have discovered just about everything to do with advertising and that no one had ever thought of any of these ideas before 2002.

So as a courtesy to them and to further their education, I’ve compiled this list of Web 2.0 “innovations” and their Jurassic era precursors along with a little explanation.

NEW: Viral Video
OLD: Ads with “pass-along value.”
Back in olden times when people saw an ad in a magazine or newspaper that they thought was funny, they stood up, walked over and showed it to their wife or roommate or officemate—IRL!!! We used to tell clients that ads that were very funny or memorable had “pass-along value” in that people would show them to their friends, thus extending reach of the media buy.

NEW: Blogger Outreach Programs
OLD: Celebrity Endorsements By Minor Niche Celebrities
If we thought a certain product might have an appeal to a certain market—say Timex watches to yacht enthusiasts, it was common to get a well known yachtsperson to endorse said watches. The tie-in to Timex would be tenuous—some tripe about a man who is tough and rugged needing a watch that is tough and rugged—but the expectation—that the readers of Yachting Quarterly would buy the Timex because it was endorsed by their favorite yachtsman was the same. Oftentimes the ad itself would disclose how the yachtsman was given the product for free so that he could test it out himself and report back to other yachtspeople how well it performed.

NEW: “Conversations” with customers online
OLD: “Conversations” with customers on the phone
We called it “customer service” and back in the mid-90s it was quite a buzzword- “customer-centric” “putting the customers first” – these were all huge marketing strategies back then. Everyone (especially Detroit) was going to become rich by focusing their business back where it belonged—on their customers.

NEW: Social Media Sites
OLD: CB Radio
Back in the 1970s the entire country jumped onto the CB convoy. People would talk to strangers over citizen band radio (previously employed solely by truckers) and on-air communities of strangers were formed, where people used “handles” (e.g. on-air nicknames) to identify themselves. There was even an extensive lingo that CBers used. 10-4, Smokey=CB lingo. LOL!

NEW: Web Banners
OLD: Billboards
I’m on my way somewhere and I pass an ad that’s housed in an elongated rectangular unit. If I have time, I may scan it quickly and then continue on with what I’m doing. Nuff said.

NEW: People making parody commercials and posting them on YouTube
OLD: Actors making parody commercials and performing them on Saturday Night Live.
Back in the day, the actors were actually funnier.

NEW: People entering contests to write Super Bowl commercials
OLD: People entering contests to write jingles and ad slogans
It was a fairly popular concept back in the 60s and 70s, especially for packaged goods: write the new jingle for Cruchi-os and win $1,000. There might even have been an episode of I Love Lucy or The Brady Bunch about it.

NEW: Web 2.0 Gurus making lots of money telling clients why ad agencies are on the way out.
OLD: Trout and Ries making lots of money telling clients why ad agencies are on the way out.
Al Trout and Jack Ries had a consulting firm (I believe they’re still in business) whose mantra was that ad agencies were only interested in shooting expensive TV commercials and winning awards and as such could never have their clients best interests at heart. Sound familiar?

I’m sure there are plenty of others- I’ll update this in a few days if I think of any, but please, feel free to add your own.


The unlinkable-because-it's-a-pay-site Wall Street Journal today has a story about Professor Luis von Ahn at Carnegie Mellon and a pretty brilliant Tom Sawyer-esque plan he has to get people to do work for him for free.

He's set up an online game-- the ESP Game You go and you are linked up with another online player. A picture flashes onto the screen and you have to type in possible keywords to describe the picture. If you and the other player match, you get points and then move on to the next picture. People have been known to play for hours, the Journal reports.

Sounds like a good time-killer. But here's the catch: Von Ahn is using the game to label millions of unlabeled pictures on the internet. His theory is that humans do a much better job of this than computers, so why not get humans to do it.

For free.

Pretty darn brilliant, if you ask me.

PS: Von Ahn, who is all of 28, is also responsible for Captcha, that distorted code thing you have to correctly type before you can, say, post your comment on The Toad Stool.

Jun 25, 2007

Your Brand Is Not My Friend: Web 2.0 Unmasked. Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Part 3
Part 4 (via MP Daily Fix)
June 2008 Update (via Adweek)
SXSW Video (July 2009)

Wherein we turn our attention to blogs and the folly of using them as advertising vehicles.

Why is the "blogosphere" so popular? I mean there’s got to be something that gets so many people reading the opinions of a bunch of blowhards like myself.

The main reason, is no doubt authenticity. Bloggers are, by definition, writing for no one but themselves. It’s the unvarnished truth, or at least the blog writer’s version thereof.

So why is this so important? Well, mostly because people have lost faith in the mainstream media. Big time. They see the mainstream media as manipulated by everyone from PR agents to terrorist organizations. I mean the very existence of a phrase like “media savvy” tells you that something is wrong. But at a time when we’ve got everything from terrorists posing random unrelated crying children next to dead bodies for maximum effect on the BBC to Paris Hilton and her even classier parents negotiating to sell her jail stint story to the highest bidder, it’s hard to actually take anything you see or read in the mainstream media very seriously.

Enter bloggers. Mavericks who write for their own satisfaction, beholden to no one. Which makes them a lot more interesting than the guys who get paid to write the news for a living.

Take the ad industry. The trades are full of regurgitated press releases and scared execs verbally masturbating to each other’s work. Daily columnists like Stuart Elliot are busy trying to cover “larger trends” for “broader audiences” and basically ignore the day-to-day workings of the business. (How’s that for generous?) And then one day I discover George Parker and his Adscam blog. Parker, a foul-mouthed Brit who’s spent several decades as a copywriter, mostly on tech accounts, has no problem telling it like it is. (And then some.) His rants come off as authentic even when I don’t agree with them (his constant trashing of DraftFCB, for example) because they’re clearly uncensored and clearly heartfelt. And the conversations that stem from them ring true as well because none of the people posting on there seem to have any sort of (corporate) agenda either. Just lots of equally heartfelt opinions, even if that opinion can be summed up as "I hate my last agency because they screwed me over."

But here’s the rub: Adscam is exactly the sort of blog that 2.0 advocates would like to advertise—excuse me “engage you” on. (They do not, as I’ve been told several times, work in “advertising.” Yup.) The attempts they’ve made on this front are so well, amateurish as to seem laughable. Let me give you some examples: Nikon recently handed out free cameras to a bunch of bloggers, including Web 2.0’s unofficial spokesman Joseph Jaffe as loaners. In return, the bloggers (few of whom had ever expressed any sort of prior interest in photography) were supposed to post pictures they took with the cameras and write about how wonderful their new Nikon cameras were.

That’s right. For the cost of a seven hundred dollar camera, Jaffe and his ilk were given the ability to totally destroy any credibility they once had. To wit: Jaffe just posted about the birth of his new son. And used the opportunity to note that the lovely pictures he’d posted were taken with the aforementioned Nikon camera. Turning something that should have been a somewhat poignant moment into just another advertising opportunity.

Another situation involved Microsoft paying a bunch of tech-bloggers to use phrases like “people ready” (or whatever Microsoft's tagline is these days) on some microsite and have their names associated with it. A great uproar ensued in Geekistan followed by much tech blogger backpedaling.

In both these situations the brand in question wound up coming off like some sort of pedophile. Some big creepy unwanted entity that’s intruding, uninvited and unwanted, on a private conversation. An over-the-top metaphor, perhaps, but there’s no exaggeration to the feeling many readers had that they’d been violated. Because (all together now) Your Brand Is Not My Friend. And when I’m talking to my friends, I don’t want to talk to your brand. I may talk about your brand, but that doesn’t mean I want to talk with your brand.

The blogosphere, as my friend CK points out, is all about independence, objectivity and trust. (She calls it authenticity.) And she’s right. I mean if I thought that say, Nikon was paying George Parker to write about how wonderful their campaign was, he’d permanently lose me as a reader. Even if he was open and up front about it. Because it’s a slippery slope: once you take that first step, the doubt is always there-- is that really what he’s thinking or did someone pay him? Which is the exact issue so many people have with the mainstream media these days. Why replicate it in another realm?

Now blogging itself has become a popular tool for many corporations. It’s an easy solution for unimaginative agencies: get the CEO to write a blog. It’s trendy, it’s hip, it sounds good when you’re talking to other CEOs on the golf course. “Hey guys, I have a blog now!” But I don't see how it's a viable solution. A CEO clearly has an agenda. So his blog reads like a serialized version of an annual report. His opinions are safe and neutered and only the most gullible of us assume they weren’t written for him by some in-house PR flack (excuse me, “corporate communications officer.”)

So next time you feel compelled to suggest that the CEO write a blog, remember that a far better solution might be a well done FAQ. Not nearly as sexy. Extremely low key. But it’s one of the few things on a web site that’s generally written from the consumer’s POV. Here’s all the stuff I, the consumer, want to know. With answers. Arranged in a way that makes sense for me, not you. My questions define the document, not your answers. You’re finally being silent and telling me what I want to hear rather than what you want to say.

That my friends, is a conversation.

Part 4 (via MP Daily Fix)

Jun 24, 2007

Your Brand Is Not My Friend: Web 2.0 Unmasked, Part 2

Part 1

Part 2

While Web 2.0 may be of limited value, marketers who ignore it do so at their own risk. They just need to be aware of its limitations.

To begin with, it’s not going to replace television. Theater has been around for thousands of years. That means sitting back and letting someone else tell you a story. It’s a wonderful feeling to enjoy what John Gardner called a “vivid and continuous dream.” It’s something people in just about every culture on earth have created. Television is just the latest incarnation of theater, one that allows you to watch a show without leaving home. DVRs and other devices just take that one step farther and let you watch it when you want rather than at a set time.

Now “television” will no doubt change (has already changed) from the days of 3 networks and rabbit ears. But the ultimate experience—of watching actors perform some sort of show—isn’t going away. It may be delivered on the internet to your computer, you may get it via some sort of universal “on demand” system, but it will still be television. And it will be passive, rather than interactive. Because most people don’t want to be able to buy the wristwatch the hero is wearing online while they’re watching TV or chat online with the 20 million other people watching The Office about Pam’s new hairstyle. Because, among other reasons, most people are not watching TV alone.

YouTube isn’t replacing television either (a surprisingly common misperception) – it’s something people watch in addition to television. There aren’t that many things on YouTube worth watching. And spending 5 minutes a day on there doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly decided to drop Entourage.

Which brings me to another point, something that’s overlooked by the Web 2.0 types, most of whom tend to come from a media, rather than creative, background: Quality. Or the lack thereof.

You see, not many people actually want to “create content” – whether that content is a blog comment in response to something they’ve read, or a funny video on YouTube. And within that tiny subset of “content creators” there are precious few who can actually create “compelling content”—things that people actually want to watch or read. It’s a fact that the Web 2.0 gurus need to learn and it’s proving to be their Achille’s heel: A poorly written corporate blog is a lot worse than no blog at all. And the odds of having a poorly written corporate blog are astonishingly high, unless you happen to be GE or IBM and have the wherewithal to pay for a talented writer.

Lack of quality is also a big problem in so-called “viral marketing.” Why “so-called?” Because something only becomes viral when other people say it is. When other people determine that it’s clever enough or relevant enough to be passed on. Just calling it “viral” doesn’t make it so. And with so many people creating things that are supposed to be “viral” it stands to reason that most of them will suck.

Look at the Smirnoff “Tea-Partay” video that won all sorts of awards at Cannes. It’s probably one of the best “viral” videos out there, but if you pit it against sketch comedy television, it’s luster begins to fade. Because let’s be real- if “Tea-Partay” was on Saturday Night Live it would be cited as further proof that the show isn’t what it used to be. It would be somewhere in the middle of the pack of this season’s skits. Compare it to “Lazy Sunday,” one of the better recent SNL videos and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Okay, looks like this is a three or even four -parter. Since today we covered the problems of Web 2.0, tomorrow we’ll go over the solutions. And probably even get to why you shouldn’t write off TV commercials.

Part 3
June 2008 Update (via Adweek)

New Villian Alert

Ruthless Chinese Factory Owners.

Poisoned dog food. Lead paint on fifteen dollar toy choo-choos. Slave wages. Child labor. And now they've gone and taken a New York Times reporter hostage.

Even the PC crowd will let Hollywood and Madison Avenue enjoy a new flavor of bad guy.

Jun 23, 2007

Your Brand Is Not My Friend: Web 2.0 Unmasked - Part 1

NOTE: As most of you are likely coming to this post from Google search, links from other blog posts or my own lackluster PR efforts, I wanted to point out that "Your Brand Is Not My Friend" was originally written in June 2007. That's ancient history in web terms and so some of the ideas and notions expressed herein may seem outdated. (e.g. Facebook's rise and broad acceptance and Twitter's rapid growth all happened after this series was written.) That said, the main idea, that brands are not our friends, still holds true as do many of the other thoughts and notions. As for the rest, you can view it as a snapshot of history.

--Alan Wolk, July 2009

Part 1 of 3

When I was 27, I would have loved a site like MySpace or Facebook. I was single and childless, had a large group of similarly single and childless friends both from school and from advertising, and I actually cared what bands most of them listened to, what they’d done the night before, who they were sleeping with and what wacky pictures they’d recently taken.

Today, nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m married with kids, spend most of my leisure time at Little League games and PTA socials and have zero idea what music most of my friends actually listen to and don’t really need the details of their sex lives. As it is, my schedule is so tight I barely have time to keep up with them via the occasional email or phone call, let alone update a website.

Yet to listen to all the self-appointed Web 2.0 gurus, this is the wave of the future, it’s a matter of years before every single American- nay every single denizen of the planet- has a MySpace site and that hanging out on MySpace will replace watching television and anyone who disagrees with them is a fucking Luddite.


Only there’s one thing they keep forgetting: The whole world is not made up of people EXACTLY LIKE THEM. Let’s look at who your average 2.0 Guru is: a 20 or 30something graduate of a better-than-average college. Probably from an upper-middle-class background to begin with. Their high-pressure job doesn’t give them a whole lot of time to just hang out and socialize and even if it did, their friends and family are spread out across the US, if not the globe. Which is why MySpace and Facebook and even Second Life are perfect for them. There aren’t real live people living nearby they can connect with, so they connect with their old friends, virtually, online.

Who’s the other hard core user of these sites? Teenagers. My nieces and nephews (nieces, in particular) love these sites because they share a lot of the same traits as the gurus: They are overscheduled with the sorts of extra-curriculars they need to get into college, so less time just hanging out than they’d like. They love connecting in large groups. And living with their parents limits the amount of private time they have to socialize. So spending the hours they’re supposed to be asleep gossiping with each other on Facebook is perfect for them. And will be until they leave adolescence and the very extended version thereof that’s endemic to the American upper middle class.

But overall, I’m reminded of nothing more than the CB radio craze of the mid-1970s. Lots of people spent the better part of a year or two gabbing on them, making new friends, inventing a whole language (for those of you who missed it, that’s where things like “10-4, good buddy” and referring to police as “smokies” comes from.) And then just as quickly, it faded away. People got bored, they developed new interests, moved on, etc. Which is what’s already happening with Web 2.0: Adpulp just ran a story on how the “hip” geeks are moving on to Facebook now that MySpace is just “too popular.” And I will guarantee you that when the hardcore Facebook user gets married, has kids and moves to the burbs, his Facebook (or the successor thereof) account will fall by the wayside. If it hasn’t already, because, let’s face it, there are only a small percentage of us who actually enjoy socializing with large groups of people, either online or off.

Which brings me to my final point: most people aren’t living in a city they weren’t brought up in, thousands of miles from their closest friends. They’re living with spouses and children who actually get offended if they spend a few hours online, which is a solitary activity, rather than joining the rest of the family watching “American Idol.” Which mindless though it may be, is still a group activity.

So they’re not busy updating their Facebook site. Because their friends don’t really change. They tend to stay put after a certain point. And live locally. Which means they don’t care about their second cousin’s new buddy from work. Or that his kid is starring in the school play. They’ll find all that out at Christmas when they get around to exchanging emails. The friends they care about all live locally. And they don’t need to get online to find out what’s up with them.

Most people aren’t writing blogs either. Or reading them. Mostly because most people don’t like to write. Or read, for that matter. Especially things that aren’t escapist fiction. I’d even go as far as to say that most people find people who write blogs to be a bit full of themselves, and for the most part they wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

Tomorrow(ish), I’ll post Part 2 of this, which, now that we’ve established the less-than-universal allure of Web 2.0 will be all about the folly of relying on it to reach all but a very limited audience.

Part 2
Part 3
June 2008 Update (via Adweek)
The SXSW Video (July 2009)

Jun 21, 2007

Win Some, Lose Some

I was very happy to see the Nike/Apple running site done by R/GA win big at Cannes. It's a great idea because it actually provides the consumer with something of value that they can't get elsewhere on the web. The much ballyhooed "community-building" aspects are nice, but I suspect to the average user the best part of the site is that it's actually something they want to use. That's something most advertisers seem oblivious to. They're constantly creating sites that are either useless or that duplicate something available elsewhere in a more inviting format (which makes them doubly useless.) Because as with their advertising, they start off with "what do I want to say" rather than "what does my customer want to hear?" (On the web that translates into "what do I want to build" vs. "what might my customers like to have.")

What's interesting about the site is that it's something the client might have thought up themselves- it's a marketing idea as much as an advertising idea. So the fact that they are turning to agencies for ideas like that is a sign of our potential future value.

And now for the other side. The Tide campaign from Saatchi. Which won P&G it's first gold lion. It's a very clever campaign, unique idea, doesn't need words, nicely art directed. So what's my problem with it? Well, I just don't think most people are going to take the time necessary to get it. It's laundry detergent, a very low interest category. And you have to study the ads for a bit to actually get them. (The one above, for instance, if a mob of white-ish robots surrounding a smaller group of black-ish robots. I think.) Otherwise they look like a blow-up of fabric. And I suspect most people will leave it at that: blown up fabric with ketchup trapped inside. Got it.
It's the same problem I have with a lot of visual campaigns- the one for Bic with the inifinity symbol comes to mind. When you get it, there's a big "ah-ha." But most people won't be bothered to get it because most people actually try and avoid advertising. Now I'm sure the agencies argue that when people do figure it out, they tell their friends and it goes the offline equivalent of viral. But somehow I don't see that happening with a Tide ad.

Jun 17, 2007

Attention Ketel One Drinkers: The People Who Write Their Ads Are Idiots

Okay so the all-type ads themselves aren't the reason.
Nor their slightly condescending tone
Not even the "did an ad agency really do that?" factor.

Nope. This is all about misspelling.

You see this month, Ketel One is running an ad in Entertainment Weekly (among other places) with their list of the 50 Best Movies Ever Made. The ad asks you if you agree or disagree, but gives no vehicle to express your opinion.

But that's still not it.

No. The idiots cited "Battleship Potempkin" (sic) as one of the movies. That's not a typo. That's someone who's unfamiliar with the term "Potemkin Village" and/or the actual name of the movie. Not to mention an agency (or a CMO-- not sure an agency does those ads) that can't be bothered to hire a proofreader.

UPDATE (8.29.07): Today's ad in the Wall Street Journal has the correct spelling. Finally.

Jun 14, 2007

More Media Agnosticism

I'm going to keep a running tab on stories in the trades about new CDs whose sole quote is about their media agnosticism.

Here's the first, via Adweek, from Alex Flint, who's going to be moving from Modernista! to Saatchi/LA:

Flint said that at Saatchi he would work across all models with an eye on new-media opportunities. "I'm very passionate about that," he said. "A lot of people confuse media ideas and creative ideas within new media. I can't wait to get started on the Toyota brand."

"Toyota is ready to continue implementing new media and new ways of engaging the consumer," said Harvey Marco, executive creative director at Saatchi. "It's an attraction economy. We have to bring more to the party than the next 30-second television commercial. Alex comes here to do just that. His enthusiasm about pursuing ideas that push conventional wisdom and his desire to take risks was an infectious draw for all of us. He comes here to help us bridge the divide between the so-called digital world and the so-called traditional world."
And while I have no doubt that Flint is a good creative, who does actually understand new media, I just find it funny how every single new agency CD makes more or less the same statement to the trades.

It's Different Out There

Meanwhile over at Linked In, Mat (not Matt, mind you) Zucker, an interactive CD, uses the new "Answers" feature to ask the perfectly valid question of why so much internet advertising sucks. (I think the PC word he used was "mediocre" but we all know what he really meant.)

And while a few people correctly identified the main reason (internet creative generally sucks because too much of it is created by former actors, PR people, journalists, DM writers and the like who are just passing time while they write the Great American Novel/Screenplay. In other words, no one who's got much of a vested interest in making sure it's great... though that is thankfully changing.)

I'll even give credence to the secondary reason mentioned: since much banner advertising is subject to testing and rewritten to increase click-through, creativity is not really a priority there.

But reading through the responses, I was shocked to see that a number of people were blaming the bad writing solely on general advertising people who had the temerity to try writing for the web. Because, they claimed, they only knew how to write "linear" copy that involves a "one-way conversation" (All quotes are real.) One knucklehead even claimed that while ad writers were the internet's ruination, people who write TV shows and movies were ideally suited for writing for the web. Because everybody knows that crafting an episode of "Suddenly, Susan" or "Everybody Loves Raymond" makes one ideally suited to create banners and websites.


More troubling though, was the tonality of the aforementioned responses, which all focused on the fact that the web was a different medium than TV or print and thus needed a different skill set. And this was all stated in a somber tone AS IF THE FUCKING IDIOT WHO WAS WRITING IT WAS THE FIRST ONE TO EVER THINK OF THIS.

I mean the web is a different medium than TV. Go figure.

And the fact that it is a different medium might require a different approach. Go figure again.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, this is the thing that kills me about the Web Squad. They constantly proclaim the obvious as their latest brilliant insight. As if no one had ever heard of customer service before they started demanding that companies respond to bloggers who dis their products online and calling it "joining the conversation."

Take this from my favorite Web Squad whipping boy, New Media Jaffe's site. NMJ is contemplating switching to Mac and invites his readers to come up and spend the afternoon with him teaching him about Macs in exchange for a free lunch.
Kind of like asking your friends to help you move in exchange for free beer and pizza.
Only one of the knuckleheads on there actually responds, with no sarcasm:
I think your idea to have someone familiarize you with Mac and offer them lunch and a spot on the 'cast is genius.
Genius? As if NMJ was the first one in the world to offer his friends lunch in exchange for some sort of help.

Oy. When they roll, they sure roll big.

PS: Before you all get your Star Wars boxers in a twist, in the past year or so there's been a lot of progress on the internet advertising front. Both in terms of getting good people to work there, paying equitable salaries and the type of work that's being done. There's also a lot more real integration of disciplines. But I don't think you're who Mat-with-one-t, was talking about.

Jun 12, 2007

Shark-Jumping, Hipster Style

So there's an ad in this morning's New York Times for Converse high tops. The ad, which shows a preppily-dressed father and 5 year old son both sporting black high tops, promises that the store will have a graffiti artist on hand to personalize the high tops for you.

Which only becomes strange when you get to the bottom of the ad and realize that the store in question is Saks Fifth Avenue.

Jun 6, 2007

The Real Digital Revolution

Remember you heard it here first ;)

The Real Digital Revolution has nothing to do with advertising or marketing. In fact, it's the mortal enemy of advertising and marketing.

Because the real digital revolution is about consumer empowerment, the ability to research and learn about products and services and make decisions independent of marketing and advertising.

The car companies are the ones who are hardest hit by this development. Given that a car is the second most expensive purchase you'll make in your life (your home being the first), sophisticated consumers are flocking to review sites, message boards and the like to get the real deal on the car they plan to buy. And even to find out what kind of car someone like them should buy. A pretty shocking development in a market that was shrouded in mystery and misinformation for years.

Sure there was Consumer Reports and the car magazines. But CR attracted a very specific, Naderesque demographic and the car magazines were rarely concerned about the sorts of things the average car buyer was concerned about, especially if the average car buyer had kids.

Now what all this information does is destroy the power of advertising. I might see some new VW ads and think they're great, so great that I decide I want to buy a Jetta for my next car. But, if I go online and read about how much the Jetta sucks and how much better the Nissan Sentra is, I'm buying the Sentra. No matter how much Marc Horowitz (the guy who lived in a Sentra for seven days) bugs me.

The informed digital consumer is a threat to any business where there are objective standards for judging the product. So while certain foods may be immune (you either like Oreos or you don't, there's not much objectivity there) even packaged goods like laundry detergent can fall vicitm too, since there's an objective standard for how clean your clothes are getting.

All the BS you hear from the New Media wing about "conversations" is just a fancy word for people sharing objective opinions of products on review sites, blogs and other digital media. The "conversation" is when the marketer responds to criticism with a pledge to try harder or some such. Which, as I've told Joseph Jaffe, is just common sense. But enough "conversations" about how bad your product is, no amount of clever advertising or clever media placement is going to save it.

The people have spoken.

To give you an example: I want to buy an iPod adapter for my car. So I went to the online Apple store, Amazon and CNET and read a bunch of reviews. Winnowed them down, listened to the experts, eliminated the clear whiners and the "can you believe how cool technology is" know-nothings. And learned that (a) the category's improved a lot over the past several years (it seems static was a big issue) and that (b) the Kensington adapter enjoys a very slight advantage over the Monster one, and while both would be fine choices, the Kensington is $20 cheaper. So Kensington it is.

And while I may be more advanced than your average consumer, I see more and more purchase decisions being made this way. Clever ad campaigns be damned.

Hug It Out

This week’s AdAge has an article about ex-BBH chief Cindy Gallop, who is working to revamp a venerable London headhunting (err- “talent recruitment”) agency and turn it into something resembling CAA or the fictional Miller Gold.

The idea is that there’s a lack of talent in the advertising and marketing business and that companies need to look beyond the usual suspects to find the talent they need. And that there’s a perception in the advertising business that actually looking for a job is an act of desperation, that agencies seek out good people and hire them, not the other way around.

So far, so good.

A look at the company’s web site reveals a promise to manage their talents careers and to find out what’s important to them. To put you, the advertising talent, in the drivers seat in terms of job hunting.

Again, this sounds promising. Though I’ve heard it many, many times before. From people who meant it and people who didn’t. I remain skeptical that just saying that you want to put talent in the drivers seat makes it so. Agencies aren’t organized enough to make proactive hiring decisions (freelancing is still the best way into an agency, especially a good one) and high client turnover makes staffing a very inexact science.

Having a global pool to draw from, as Ms. Gallop’s company will, should help, as American agencies still hold onto the belief that hiring someone who’s been a big hit in Barcelona is a lot more glamorous and avant garde than hiring someone who’s been a big hit in Boston.

But none of this actually addresses the industry’s biggest problem: compensation. Or lack thereof.

This is a real issue at the higher end of the spectrum, where CD-level salaries have dropped precipitously over the past five to ten years. And it matters a lot because people get into this business to get rich. Or something close to rich. And if all they have to look forward to is running a creative group for $175K/year, then they’re not signing on. Not when there are so many other, better paying options.

I’m not sure what’s causing the salary drop, but every headhunter I’ve spoken to as of late has commented on it. Big agencies, or big agency networks, are making as much money as they used to while employing far fewer people than they ever did before. The John Wrens of the world are still raking it in (as per a report in Adweek) but people aren’t getting into advertising in the hopes of being one of the dozen people to run a big agency network. Part of the problem is that there are fewer people in the business. Which means fewer CD positions and fewer big agencies who have the wherewithall to pay that kind of scratch. But that's only part of it.

Because what exactly does a John Wren do to deserve $13 million a year?
What kind of value does he add to the agency business?
If you can answer that, you are, like Bob Garfield, a lot smarter than me.

Jun 4, 2007

Red Carpet Blues

A few of you have asked me if, as a not-that-ancient alum, I had any perspective on Ogilvy's recent troubles.

The answer is, I honestly don't. Frankly, I'm baffled, as they seem to be in as good a position as an large NYC-based agency could be in these days.

They've got a strong DM and Interactive division (OgilvyOne) that's actually in the same building.

Which should be pretty significant-- many of their big agency competitors only have one part of that equation, e.g. a strong direct division (Y&R and Wunderman ) or a strong interactive arm (DDB and Tribal). And while Ogilvy's two halves may be more integrated on paper than they are in reality, they at least give integration lip service, which is more than several of their competitors do.

On top of that, they actually do some good work and they've got lots of smart and talented people working there, notably in account management.

So what gives?

Two theories I've heard bandied about, which may have some degree of truth to them are:

A. The whole Shona Seifert mess, while downplayed by people in the ad business, may scare off perspective clients more than anyone realizes. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with it. Shona Seifert was the former president of Ogilvy who is serving (has served?) an 18-month prison term (along with the former CFO) for doctoring time sheets while Ogilvy was working on the ONDCP account.)

B. Ogilvy's senior management team isn't exactly warm and cuddly. Several of them are also somewhere close to 7 feet tall. Combine the physical intimidation factor with the very white, very old school/old money feeling of the place and you can see how perspective clients could be left feeling kinda cold.

Now there's a third theory, which is the one I'm prone to subscribe to: bad timing and bad luck. Sometimes the ducks just don't line up. And while there's probably some degree of truth to the first two theories, I think bad karma may be at work here.

Another Word For Common Sense

Today's ad column in the Wall Street Journal focuses on Arnold's use of Lisa Harvey, a woman with a PhD in cognitive science, to help them figure out such hard-to-figure-out things like the fact that a spot for diet Ocean Spray cranberry juice that features women exercising is an easier "get" for consumers than a similar ad that shows them partying.
Ms. Harvey who the unlinkable article claims (I kid you not) walks around Arnold's Boston offices in a lab coat, also persuaded the agency to wait a few extra beats before announcing the name of the commercial because there was too much action going on in the ad (the exercising) for consumers to process the name right away.

No shit, Sherlock.

First off, WTF is with the lab coat? You're a shrink (of sorts) not a biologist. The purpose of a lab coat is to prevent chemicals, blood or other yucky things from getting on your clothing. I mean does she walk around with a monocle as well?

Second, in my world, we call observations like these "common sense." Exercising conveys "diet" faster than partying? Ya think?

So many people make so much money giving fancy names to things we already know. And with her lab coat prop, Ms. Harvey is certainly a master of this.

Jun 3, 2007

Smells Like....???

There's a full page ad for Dolce & Gabbana cologne on the back cover of some section of today's New York Times, featuring a sweaty European man in a white bikini laying on his back, his sweaty, hairy armpits front and center.

And while it wasn't something I needed to see over breakfast (though I'm sure it appeals to some sort of gay armpit hair fetishists) it set me wondering as to who actually wears cologne these days, given the zillions of dollars that seems to be spent on advertising.

I know that teenage boys wear Axe and Old Spice and the like, but most of the men's cologne ads seem to appear in the sorts of upscale publications rarely read by 16 year old high school students.

More than that, I don't know any men who wear cologne on a regular basis-- or even on special occasions-- anymore. Well men born in the US, anyway ;)

Even women seem to have cut back considerably on perfume- you rarely smell it at work (unless it's become more subtle and/or I'm losing my sense of smell.)

So who's driving this market? Clearly someone is buying the stuff, otherwise they wouldn't be advertising it.

My only guess is that people are still buying it- as Father's Day gifts and whatnot. It's just that the recipients aren't using it.


Jun 1, 2007

Bob Garfield Is Smarter Than Me

Lovable old Bob Garfield is expounding on those annoying Wendy's commercials with the guy with the red pigtails, and claims to have discovered a clear "positioning" in them.

He writes:

Remember positioning? Remember, before it became all about punch lines, marketers tried to articulate a unique selling proposition, a differentiating benefit or at least a point of view? Nah. Why would you remember that? Positioning is just sooooo analog, sooooo uncool, the client-pandering behavior depended upon by the calcified and unimaginative.

Like Nike. BMW. Southwest Airlines. Absolut.

You know, losers like that.

Cooked to order
Well, for the first time since Dave Thomas passed the scene, Wendy's has discovered a positioning. Or rediscovered one. Harking back to its "Hot 'n' Juicy" days of the '70s (and brief resurgence in the mid-'80s), Wendy's is reminding everybody that its burgers are cooked to order.

"I deserve a hot, juicy burger!" the protagonist shouts in one TV spot, because he's fed up with the assembly-line, heat-lamp-warmed servings of Wendy's competition.

Wow. I've had to see those commercials a few times and I've never gotten "cooked to order" from them. Individualistic, maybe, but that just seemed to be a me-too iteration of Burger King's "have it your way" mantra.

Maybe I just don't eat fast food often enough (e.g. more or less never) to realize that there was a difference. But I sure didn't take away "Only Wendy's burgers are cooked to order" from those spots.

Anyone else?

Tadpole's Friday Fave

As per my post on award shows, this is the Tadpoles' favorite commercial. Ever.

It's got all sorts of sports heroes packed into it (Jeter, Manning, Wade, Hamm) plus the "yo I'm cool" dialog and posturing are right up a grade schoolers alley.

From an adult perspective it's a pretty funny spot (if you can get past the aforementioned forced dialog) and there's some fun in trying to figure out who the bobble heads actually are.

But to the ten year olds who love Gatorade, this is pure genius.

PS: Check out this spoof/homage version (it's hard to tell which it is) of the spot that some kids made with their home video camera.