May 23, 2017

Global Brand Equals Global Bland


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.

May 15, 2017

Live TV Declines Bigly For 3rd Month


Here at The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters, we try to be fact-driven rather than ideology-driven. And it's time to say that the recent declines in live TV viewing are a becoming a worry.

For years we have argued against the ignorant hysterics who said TV was dead. While TV remains by far the most popular form of video viewing and by far the most popular entertainment medium, the past three months have not been pretty.

Here are some data from the Pivotal Research Group...
  • In April, total daily TV use was down 5.3% for adults and 2.1% for households versus 2016.
  • Among adults 18-49 day time and prime time viewing of traditional TV programming fell by double digits for the third month in a row.
  • A bright spot for video in general was internet delivered viewing which rose by more than 50% versus 2016, but which is mainly not advertising supported.
As Pivotal suggests, the recent declines are likely to invigorate "efforts to explore and encourage the use of alternative media vehicles" by marketers. 

One of the problems for TV is that for decades they have used "time spent" with the medium as a proxy for the effectiveness of the medium. But these are two different things.

Time spent with a medium may be an interesting sociological point, but it is not a measure of advertising effectiveness. Here in The Ad Contrarian Executive Board Room, we spend a lot of time with vodka bottles. That doesn't make them a good vehicle for advertising.

There is little doubt in our minds that overall TV remains the most effective form of advertising. Or as Pivotal says, "television is the worst form of advertising except all those others..."

But if the declines in viewing time keep increasing, TV is going to have a tough time convincing advertisers that the "time spent" narrative they touted for years wasn't really important.

May 10, 2017

Evolutionary Change In Advertising


If you are a young person working in marketing or advertising, let's say you're 28, you probably think the world of advertising is changing at warp speed.

You would say that every day new technological breakthroughs in communication and media are changing how the advertising and marketing industry reaches and influences people.

You would point to smart phones and say that in just the past decade smart phone usage has soared and is now the second most popular electronic device we spend time with. This is something that didn't even exist 10 years ago. You would point to Facebook and say that here we have something that barely existed 10 years ago but is now the biggest media entity on the planet.

And you would be right to say those things.

If you were an old fuck like me, however, you would say that advertising and marketing are evolving  more slowly than you think. You would point to the fact that only about 8% of retail activity happens online, and that people still buy an overwhelming amount of their stuff in stores, and still spend more time watching television than all other leisure activities combined.

And you'd be right about that, too.

In biology, it has been suggested that evolution runs more quickly on short time scales, and more slowly on long time scales. This isn't just a cute sentence, it seems to be an actual scientific fact.

Think about stock markets. If you follow the markets all day you are witnessing wild swings minute-by-minute. It looks like ever-changing chaos. But if you check them once a month, they look pretty much this month like they did last month.

Yes, every few years there may be a bust or a boom that puts the punctuation in "punctuated equilibrium." But looked at from a distance, the changes seem to have a surprising smoothness.

As time scales expand, there is a fluidity to change that is not evident in the turmoil of the hour-by-hour mayhem.

This can be seen in trendy marketing obsessions that seem terribly consequential over short periods but tend to flatten out as time passes and perspective advances.

It's good to remember this when we start popping off about something being dead, and something else being the future.