Apr 29, 2009

Pharma Killed The Video Star

Despite my chosen profession, I very rarely watch live television anymore. I mean other than basketball games, major news stories and the odd episode of American Idol, I’d say just about never. (And before Bob Hoffman has a coronary, I realize that still makes me the exception rather than the rule.)

But I’ve been thinking a lot about when and why I decided to start avoiding TV commercials and the answer I keep coming back to is “when they started running pharma commercials.”

You see before pharma, with their 40 seconds of “may cause rectal discharge, arrythmia and, in some cases, death” you could be pretty sure that the TV commercials you watched, would, at some level, be entertaining. Now of course they weren’t all gems and the later into the wee hours you got, the more likely you were to encounter low production values and “buy now and we’ll throw in a second one for free!” But by and large the TV spots you encountered during prime time hours weren’t noticeably more painful to watch than the network TV shows that surrounded them. (Manimal, anyone?)

What’s more, with the possible exception of tampon ads, most of them were for products I might conceivably have had some interest in buying, either for myself or as a gift.

But pharma ads violated both those contracts. They were (and are) for the most part squirm inducing, with their talk of anal discharge, erections lasting more than four hours, internal bleeding and death. What’s more, I don’t know what disease half of them are meant to cure (given that they’re purposely vague) and even if I did, I couldn’t tell you what the disease was or how one contracted it.

But the worst sin pharma ads make is that the overwhelming majority of them are flat out boring: the legal handcuffs placed on the creative teams all but guarantee 60 seconds of long, drawn-out ennui with the soundtrack to 10th grade biology droning on in the background.

It’s painful, it’s unpleasant, and like a well-trained lab rat, I do my best to avoid it.

I suspect I’m not alone either. As pharma ads take up more and more of the airwaves, we’re subconsciously learning to avoid all commercials, lest we unintentionally run into a pharma one. They’ve taken what was once a fairly innocuous and occasionally pleasant experience (the commercial break) and turned it into a rather painful experience. (Pun intended.)

I’m not sure what the solution is. At some level these spots must be working, because otherwise the pharma industry would not continue to throw billions of dollars at them.

But they’re also not working.

Because they’re driving people like me away from TV advertising to the point where we may never come back to it, not even for a system like Hulu, where ads are nicely timed out and generally somewhat clever and relevant.

The charm of television advertising has always been its entertainment value. We can argue about effectiveness till the cows come home, but I think we'd all agree that a good ad makes for good entertainment and that the better ones, the Whassups and Where’s the Beefs can even make it into the popular vernacular.

That’s something of an art form and it would be too bad if pharma killed it. I just don't know how to stop them.

Apr 26, 2009


Funny to see the spate of stories as of late by tech guys writing about media and media guys writing about tech. Neither side seems to have the slightest inkling about the other, but this does not stop the bloviating and floating of ridiculous-but-buzzworthy suggestions. Clear violations of the old "know what you don't know" theory all around, but that seems to have gone out the window as of late.

How long before "Mexican Swine Flu Is Coming" replaces "The Economy Is Collapsing Faster Than You Realize" as the media meme du jour? (If it hasn't already by the time you read this)

What's the next Twitter? Place you bets now, because writing a post claiming "X is the new Twitter" is poised to become the blogger meme du jour. (UPDATE: And just 36 hours later, the race is on: this post from Steve Rubel and his complementary column in Ad Age start it off.)

If I could invest in TV show, "Penguins of Madagascar" a Nickelodeon show based on the animated movies would be a clear bet. The show's a latter day "Bugs Bunny" with lots of adult jokes in it, and every child (and adult with a child) I know seems to be buzzing about it.

Front page New York Times story on how Wall Street bonuses/salaries are back to last year's stratospheric levels may either be a blip or a harbinger of increased populist outrage. Depends on how Mexican Swine Flu tracks over the next week or so.

And speaking of the New York Times: check out this great prototype reader that helps bring serendipity (e.g. finding something you weren't looking for) back into the user experience equation.

Enjoy the weekend.

Apr 22, 2009

A Platform Like Any Other

The late David Ben-Gurion once said that the new state of Israel would achieve normalcy and be “a state like any other” when you had “Hebrew-speaking policemen arresting Hebrew-speaking criminals.”

I’m reminded of his words as I watch the Twitterati rend their garments and gnash their teeth as Oprah and Ashton lead their minions onto the platform, with seemingly hundreds of thousands of non-social-media-aware newcomers signing up each day.

I mean seriously people: what were you thinking? That Twitter was going to become home to 250 million social media experts, all of whom were on there to “add value” “build a personal brand” “contribute to the conversation” “provide useful links” and otherwise “give back to the community.”

And sadly, the answer to that is “yes.” Many seemed to expect just that.

But to paraphrase Ben-Gurion, Twitter will achieve a state of normalcy and be a “platform like any other” when tweeting receptionists share links to PerezHilton with tweeting manicurists.

Twitter can—and should—be home to all sorts of communities: sports fans, fashion fans, gossip fans, plumbers, surgeons, new parents, neighbors, co-workers, friends: despite the proclamations of thousands of newly minted experts, ninjas and gurus, there is no right way to use Twitter. There’s only the way that evolves as more and more people use it. That becomes the “right” way.

There’s also been much fear that Oprah and the Celebrity Tweeters are going to turn Twitter into a broadcast medium, as part of a counterattack by the Old Media Order, who, if you follow that logic train, are going to pull the iPhones out of our hands and replace them with day old copies of the Detroit Free Press.

But that’s not going to happen and it’s pretty easy to see why: Broadcast Twitter is boring. Really, really boring. I mean it’s one thing to have Shaq’s observations pop up once or twice a day. But a stream comprised entirely of “eating carrot sticks with Gail” and “telling Demi those jeans don’t make her look fat” gets very old very quickly. And while I’m sure many (if not most) of the new Twitterers will only follow their celebrity superheroes at first, they’re not going to turn into power users. Seriously, few people are that pathetic as to sit there hitting “refresh” every five minutes in the vain hope that Oprah will have had something new to say.

What we will have, in fits and starts, is a community that starts to resemble the real world more and more. People with different interests and backgrounds, some more serious, some less. Which should—gurus, ninjas, and sherpas take note—make Twitter a lot more attractive to advertisers.

Apr 21, 2009


Wow. The post I did about "The Trolls of Madison Avenue" generated 101 comments over at AgencySpy. That's a pretty incredible number. Clearly hit a nerve with it, let's hope it results in some better/kinder online behavior.

One of the most fascinating things to see was the difference in tone between those posting anonymously (or via pseudonym) and those posting under their own names. (Would love to do a more detailed analysis of that.) Though by and large the commentary was all pretty tame and above board, with much intelligent input.

The Future of Twitter?

About two years ago, David Armano wrote this post about how celebrities might change Twitter and what that business model could look like. With the onslaught of Oprah, Ashton and their followers, I'd be surprised if this is not the exact model that emerges.

Great call on his part.

Armano graphic above, entire post here.

Apr 20, 2009

Live (Sort of) On The Beancast Podcast

Bob Knorpp hosts a really great podcast called The Bean Cast.

This week's episode features Bill Green from MakeTheLogoBigger, Duane Forrester from Microsoft, and me.

The discussion focuses on the Amazon and Domino's kerfuffles this week and meanders off to a range of other topics.

Here's Knorpp's description:

I love a feisty group! And right from the start these guys pulled no punches on opinions. But would you expect anything less when the subjects included Amazon and Domino's?

Two of the most contentious issues of the week, plus a host of other great topics made this one of our longer shows but one worth listening through to the very end. Hope you get as much out of the discussion as I did.

Download the podcast .mp3 here

Get it from iTunes here

Check out the Beancast homepage

PS: One thing I learned is I need to move the mike away from my mouth so my "p's" don't pop as much. Still, quality really high considering it was done on Skype.

Apr 17, 2009

The Trolls of Madison Avenue (on Agency Spy)

Okay, so I'm back from vacation and off to a rousing start, with this post over at Agency Spy about why ad people are so vicious and petty:

Advertising has never been a gentle business. But the growth of the social web has made this tendency towards vitriol and negativity quite visible. The resulting image is not a flattering one and creates an impression that advertising is a failing industry staffed by bitter has-beens and frightened overpaid frauds. READ THE REST HERE

Please leave any comments over on AgencySpy, so we can keep them all in one place. Thanks.

Apr 8, 2009


This is something I actually wrote a couple of weeks ago but never got around to posting because it seemed like there was too much being said on the topic just then. Consider it vacation filler:

I remember back in the mid-90s, ad agencies (at least the smarter ones) had figured out that this internet thing wasn’t going away and started to talk to their clients about doing web work for them. The answer they often got was “thanks, but WTF do you know about the web, we’ve got our special web agency here to do all that stuff for us.”

And the agencies would look at the “special web agency” and become infuriated because they were generally a couple of programmers and designers who had never worked in advertising before and didn’t seem to understand even the most basic marketing principles.

The situation got even worse as the web agencies grew, Agency.com and Razorfish in particular, which, if you recall, were media darlings with multimillion dollar valuations and 25 year old owners who were alleged to have become zillionaires. I mean seriously, if I had a dollar for every traditional agency type who griped “but they don’t even know the first thing about advertising, they’ve never even worked in an agency before! Why are people paying them so much money” I’d be a very rich man today.

Now the answer to that slam from the newly minted digital types was always “it’s different on the web. Old rules don’t apply.”

But the gripe was eventually heard and clients started turning their web work over to agencies, who hired some of the guys who “didn’t get it” along with some old direct marketing guys (since banners had become nothing more than online DM vehicles) called it a “digital department” and went to work creating what Brian Morrissey calls “matching luggage”: banners and microsites that mimicked the TV campaign.

So the same thing is happening now in social media. Clients are telling agencies they don’t want to hear social media ideas from them since they already have “social media consultancies” in place and WTF do they know about social media.

And the number one gripe I hear about these social media consultancies from agency types is that the people fronting them have zero expertise in advertising, marketing, corporate communications or PR. “Motivational speakers with active Twitter accounts” is the most popular (printable) slam.” (NB: Agency types don’t really see the subtle differences social media types do in terms of who is legit because they have the most Twitter followers or most active blog: they’re looking solely at experience and I suspect that many of those regarded as “top names” in social media would be surprised to hear themselves derided as frauds.)

And once again, the newly minted social media types are saying “it’s different in social media. Old rules don’t apply.”

My gut tells me that as the revenue flows out the door, big agencies will react by setting up social media departments staffed by people who have done some work in the space along with senior people they’ve been able to lure away from PR agencies (PR : Social Media = DM : Web 1.0). Given the nature of social media, they won’t be able to create “matching luggage” but they will be able to create campaigns that tie in to the broader themes of the brand campaign (e.g. “fun,” “innovative,” “chic,” etc.) And while they'll likely be given the same respect (or lack thereof) of agency digital departments, they will help stop the money from flowing out the door.

Which is precisely what the big agencies – and the holding companies that own them—want them to do.

Apr 7, 2009

Gone Fishing

I am on vacation this week and most of next, so posts will be few and far between.

Regular posting will resume the week of April 20th

Apr 3, 2009

Two Good Reasons To Buy This Book

1. It's for a good cause - Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which supports breast cancer.

2. I'm one of the authors. And seriously, who can ever get enough Alan Wolk? I know I can't.

The book, Connect! Marketing In The Social Media Era (and it's an actual, physical book) is part of something called Project 100, but together by a great guy named Jeff Caswell.

It's described as "100 Authors. 400 Words. 1 Topic 1 Great Cause. 100 marketers share their thinking on Marketing in the Social Media Era."

Some of the names you might recognize are: Adam Broitman, Adam Kmiec, Ana Andjelic, Ann Handley, Bill "MTLB" Green, Brian Morrissey, Dave Knox, Dirk Singer, Drew McLellan, Gavin Heaton, Jacquelyn Corbett Cyr, Marc Meyer, Michael Hastings-Black, Michael Leis & Paul McEnany.

And did I mention it was for a good cause?

You can order yours here.