February 21, 2017
We advertising people often spend months trying to develop the correct messages for our brands. We do consumer research, we create strategy documents, we write briefs, we develop many rounds of creative material, we test and refine these materials, and then we launch them.
It is not hyperbole to say that we are obsessive about "messaging."
However, there are some very smart people who think that there is an equally important aspect to advertising success that we pay almost no attention to. It's called "signaling."
This is well-known in academic circles, but let me try to explain it in idiot blogger terms (if you want to read what grown-ups say about it, check out Don Marti, Rory Sutherland, and Doc Searls.)
I walk into a room. I announce that I am the handsomest man in the world. I have just "said" one thing, but communicated another. What I have communicated is that I am a big jerk.
My message was undermined by what I signaled.
This is one of the most important arguments against tracking-based, data-driven advertising.
Data-based advertising is nothing new. We've had it for decades. It first arrived as "junk mail", oops, I mean direct response marketing. It later morphed into 800 numbers and junk faxes and infomercials. Display advertising of the "click here" variety is just its latest, most technologically advanced incarnation.
Consumers recognize this type of communication as advertising's lowest level of quality. They may not understand why, but they recognize the form.
I am not trying to denigrate direct response. It is clearly effective at certain types of selling. But is hopeless at building major brands.
I cannot think of one major brand of anything in any major consumer product category that has been built by direct response advertising (beer? soda? soap? fast food? shampoo? snack foods? clothing? paper goods? pain relievers? toothpaste? cars?... okay, I'll stop.)
One of the reasons is signaling. The knowledge that an ad was personally targeted at us, that it includes mechanisms of direct response, and that it appears in a certain type of (sorry DR people) cheap and cheesy media, signals to the consumer that it is not a high quality brand.
This is why Tiffany doesn't run infomercials.
The value proposition of display advertising is re-targeting -- that we will find the most valuable target for a product at the least expensive site. In other words, we will find the most luxurious eyeballs in shittiest possible location.
This is essentially the promise of tracking, adtech and re-targeting.
And this is where signaling kills you. Most people are pretty good behavioral economists. They may not know anything about how the products they buy work, but they know how to read the advertising signals.
According to an article I read recently, the average Western household has about 10,000 items. People can't possibly take the time or energy to learn how every product they buy is made or the variables behind its efficacy. So they take what they can understand about the product as a proxy. And one of the variables they use as a proxy is advertising signal.
Their subconscious logic (is that an oxymoron?) goes something like this: A quality brand has a reputation built over years and worth billions. As a result, they have sufficient resources to advertise in proper places and with a set of skills that is unavailable to less successful, less reliable companies.
They know how and where quality brands advertise and what advertising for quality brands feels like. And they also know where shitty brands advertise.
When your re-targeted ad appears on a crappy website among the ads for divorce lawyers and discount dentists -- as it unquestionably will -- are you building a brand or sabotaging one?
You may be saying that you are the handsomest man in the world, but you may be signaling that you are a big jerk.
February 16, 2017
We poor oppressed advertising and marketing people are daily fed many flavors of bullshit.
One of the least understood is research bullshit. Research, because it sports the veneer of science, is generally not subjected to the same degree of scrutiny as, say, media bullshit or creative bullshit.
But, make no mistake, research bullshit is just as pervasive in our sorrowful world.
Here at the headquarters of Ad Contrarian Labs, we like to feature some nice research bullshit every now and then just to stay on our toes and keep our readers on the lookout.
Yesterday I was reading a piece in the Research Brief From The Center For Media Research. Now, I have no idea where the Center For Media Research is, but based on the logo at the top of the page, I have a feeling it's a laptop in the basement of the MediaPost office.
Anyway, the story in question was a little convoluted so I'm not going to recap the whole thing (if you want to read it you can find it here.) But I want to highlight a couple of "facts" found in the article. The study in question, done by a company called Kibo, reported that...
- "94% of consumers do research online before visiting a store"
- "92% of consumers reported interactive content influences them to make a purchase"
The problem here is not that the numbers are wrong, it's that they are grossly, and perhaps intentionally, misleading.
Here's how this baloney works.
It's hard to tell from the article what period of time this study encompasses, but it seems to be six months. Let's assume that.
So if you went online once in September to check the price of motor oil at Costco, you are one of the 94% of consumers who "do research online before visiting a store." You may have shopped for thousands of items in the months before and after and never gone online to do "research before visiting a store" but if you did it once, you are one of the 94%.
Similarly, if you happened to once come across a tweet that said you could save $1 on a pizza you ordered, then "interactive content" influenced you to make a purchase. You are among the 92%.
This is the same type of deceptive horseshit that a few years ago lead to the absurd "fact" that "60% of shoppers use QR codes." Yeah, right.
What's obvious here is that if the researchers wanted to do a serious analysis on the impact of "online research" on shopping, and the influence of "interactive content" on purchasing behavior, they would have reported on the frequency of each behavior, which is much more relevant, not the reach. But I doubt it would have made for very clickable "facts."
I mean, what kind of story would you have if the facts turned out be...
- 6% of items are researched online before they are bought
- 2% of purchases are influenced by interactive content
February 13, 2017
There are days here at the West Coast Regional Campus of The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Global Headquarters that we just sit around and scratch our heads.
We think about how online advertisers are being penetrated in every possible orifice and we wonder why in the world they don't do something about it?
See if you agree with our logic.
Adtech has proven to be an utter disaster. Unless you are Google, Facebook, or WPP, adtech is a monstrosity that is stealing your money, harming your business, threatening your security, and alienating your customers.
- If you're an advertiser, adtech middlemen are scraping 60-70% of your media dollars (WFA and The Guardian)
- P&G says that "precision targeting," the great value proposition of adtech is actually harmful to their marketing efforts.
- Because adtech is a black box, you don't know where your ads run or who may be profiting from them. In fact, you may be unwittingly funding terrorists, nazis, and pornographers.
- Adtech helps fraudsters steal...who knows?... anywhere from 2% to 90% of your media budget.
- This is why 70% of marketing executives say they are dissatisfied with the state of online advertising.
- 90% of you are planning to review your programmatic contracts this year to get more transparency. Adtech is the mortal enemy of transparency.
- If you're a quality online publisher, adtech is stealing money from you by following your valuable audience to the crappiest website they can be found on, and serving them ads there instead of on your site.
- If you're an advertiser, this means adtech is essentially following your customer to the bathroom in the basement of the luxury mall and trying to sell her your necklaces there (h/t Tom Goodwin.)
- If you're an online publisher, adtech sees to it that you are constantly struggling to monetize your content while the duopoly (Google and Facebook) that create no content reap 72% of all online ad revenue outside China (Pivotal Research Group.)
- If you are a consumer, adtech's relentless tracking and intrusive unremitting ad serving cause massive dissatisfaction with your user experience, and allow for all kinds of nasty prying and criminal activity in your personal and financial life.
- Which is why 600 million devices (PageFair) are now reported to be loaded with ad blockers, constituting the largest boycott of anything in human history (h/t Doc Searls.)
Bob Liodice, CEO of the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) recently said "marketers have to take their industry back." I couldn't agree more.
So, Ms Advertiser, talk to me. Why don't you insist on a simple transparent buying process in which your agency buys directly from online publishers?
You'll know exactly where your advertising is going to run. Exactly whom you're buying from. Exactly what you're paying, and exactly what you're getting.
In what universe is the corrupt, incomprehensible, wasteful and dangerous world of adtech better than that?
My Favorite Tweet Of The Year
"Jaguar Land Rover has suspended all its digital advertising in the UK following last week's investigation by The Times which named the company among brands which unwittingly funded terror groups...The company said it was "very concerned" and that the online ads were an "unintended consequence of algorithm technology" used on some sites." Campaign Magazine 2/13/07