February 15, 2018

Can We Trust P&G?

Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer for Procter & Gamble, made a big splash last year when he stood up before the annual IAB conference and lambasted the online ad industry.

Pritchard said the industry was “murky at best and fraudulent at worst” and "It's time to grow up. It's time for action... the days of giving digital a pass are over."

According to Ad Age, P&G, "vowed to no longer pay for any digital media, ad tech companies, agencies or other suppliers for services that don't comply with its new rules." 

Recently, however, Pritchard has been far more gentle -- one might even say strangely sympathetic -- in his statements about the online ad industry.

According to AdAge, Pritchard recently said he has "little reason to make good" on his threats of last year. He said...
"...I’m encouraged by the progress made over the past year to clean up the digital media supply chain, driven by the entire industry stepping up to take action."
"...progress with these big players is really strong. It's a sea change versus where we were a year ago."

This is difficult to understand at a time when everyone else in the world seems to have finally caught on to the fraud, corruption and malevolence that are rampant in the digital ad ecosystem.
- The New York Times recently ran a scathing front page story about fraud and corruption on Twitter.

- Keith Weed of Unilever is threatening to pull their advertising from digital platforms...
“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children – parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us.”
- The US Department of Justice has indicted 13 Russian operatives on a variety of charges related to illegally exploiting digital ad media.
- The Russian government continues to secretly exploit social media to influence US public opinion.
- Google and Facebook are still not in compliance with the Media Rating Council
- Even Mark Zuckerberg said recently, "Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against the interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is well spent,”
So what's going on with Pritchard? I've got a hunch...

I've been told by insiders that several years ago one of the largest and most respected advertising trade associations was ready to tear into the corrupt online media industry. But Pritchard stepped in and blocked it. This was during an era in which P&G was deep into digital love.
"...digital is incredibly effective, and we're doing more,” said their CEO
“...effectiveness and the consumer impact of our advertising spending will be well ahead of the prior year... (because of) an optimized media mix with more digital, mobile, search and social presence..." said their CFO.
They had moved billions of their spending online. By blocking the trade association from taking on the online ad industry, P&G saved face.

That all quickly became farce when their sales dropped 8% in a twelve month period and they lost $6 billion in sales. Pritchard suddenly grew a pair and gave his famous IAB speech.

So why has Pritchard changed his tune again and gone all cuddly? Are the days of "giving digital a pass" back? First, let's be fair.

I'm sure P&G's agencies have stopped playing word games over what types of compensation they're entitled to. I'm also sure Google and Facebook have done a damn good job of putting a happy face on their relationship with P&G. And I wouldn't be surprised if a dollar or two has changed hands.

But here's why I'm suspicious. After going through the most expensive proxy fight in history, activist investor Nelson Peltz won a board seat at P&G a few months ago. According to The Wall Street Journal during the proxy battle...
Mr. Peltz’s Trian Fund Management LP criticized P&G’s cutback on digital spending. P&G’s improved earnings “came as a result of reducing advertising, specifically digital, a tactic we believe will damage the value of the company’s brands if continued in the long term”
Could it be that Pritchard's new coziness with digital is as much about politics as principles? I have no facts, but my smell detector is in the red zone.

February 12, 2018

Parachuting Behind Enemy Lines

This is gonna be fun.

I'm about to enter a contest called "The Q Award" sponsored by Ad Age and Quantcast (they do media hocus pocus with AI) that could win me a trip to Cannes and some kind of Grand Prize. I am compelled to enter this thing because it would allow me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sip putrid rosé with everyone in the world I've ever insulted.

The contest goes like this...
"The Q Award Details
We are looking for people who challenge the status quo, question everything and strive to break conventional wisdom. The winning team will have discovered new insights and implemented a new strategy, campaign or product that ultimately resulted in increased brand awareness, growth and sales."
Am I crazy, or is BadMen a slam dunk to win this fucking thing?

Just one little hurdle: Somewhere along the line I've probably called everyone on the judging panel a dickhead or an imbecile.

January 31, 2018

Trump's Twitter Torrent Doesn't Have Legs

Last week I was interviewed by BBC World Services. The topic of the interview was Trump and Twitter. One of the questions they asked was whether the fascination with Trump's tweets would be the new normal for politicians. My answer was no.

Historically, large social media successes have mostly been one-offs and have not been repeatable. Here are a few social media phenomena that were supposed to change everything and changed absolutely nothing.

First was The Blair Witch Project. It was a super-low budget film that became a smash hit through clever use of social media. It was hailed as the turning point for movie marketing, and was "proof" that movies would no longer need expensive TV advertising. Tune in to the Super Bowl to see how wrong this turned out to be.

Next is Zappos. They built a very successful online shoe retailing company (eventually bought by Amazon) on the back of Twitter. This was supposed to disrupt retailing forever as clever marketers would use Twitter to replace paid advertising. There has never been another Zappos.

We then had The Ice Bucket Challenge. Charitable fund raising would never be the same as non-profits learned "The Five Essential Lessons Of The Ice Bucket Challenge" as defined in hundreds of insufferable Powerpoint presentations by every marketing and social media nonentity on the planet. There was only one essential lesson to be learned -- sometimes crazy shit catches on.

Finally, social media brought us the revolutionary "Arab Spring." The less said about this delusional horseshit the better.

Now we are told that Trump's Twitter tornado will change politics. It won't. It is most likely another social media one-off that will work for Trump and no one else.

First, the whole Twitter phenomenon is not a Twitter phenomenon. In April of 2016, at the height of Republican presidential nomination hysteria, Trump had 7.5 million followers on Twitter. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say they were all American voters (which they most certainly were not) and they were all humans and not bots (not a chance in the world.) He still had a following that constituted only 3% of American adults.

How was it that only 3% of Americans followed him on Twitter but 100% knew about his tweets? Simple - TV, radio and newspapers decided they were big news. Think about it - how did you find out about Trump tweets? Did you follow him on Twitter, or did you hear and read about them on TV, radio and newspapers? The mass media enormously amplified his tweets and still does.

Journalists are bewitched by Twitter. A recent survey showed that 96% of journalists use Twitter on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, about 20% of Americans have a Twitter account (Pew Research.)

Obviously, journalists put a lot more value on what happens on Twitter than you or I do. They became enthralled with Trump's tweets. Let's face it, his tweets are good copy. But journalists are probably already regretting that they made such a fuss over them and spread them all over mass media. Journalists eventually learn their lessons. No one will ever again get the kind of mass media free ride from tweeting that Trump has gotten.

Twitter, like all social media, is a corrupt and sordid thing. It works most effectively for athletes, pop stars, actors, and other famous people because average people want to bask in the reflected glory of their famous heroes. After starring for 14 years on a "reality" TV show Trump fits this profile. He's a made-for-Twitter politician. Most politicians don't even come close. Who the fuck wants to bask in the glory of Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell?

You can bet the farm that every half-assed pol in the world is currently trying to emulate Trump's Twitter formula to aggrandize him/herself. In 99.9% of cases it will come to nothing.

What are "The Five Essential Lessons Of The Trump Twitter Phenomenon?" There is only one - it won't happen again.

my interview with BBC World Service can be found here.