August 20, 2014

Confessions Of A Contrarian

I received an email last week from a reader.

The reader had some kind things to say about the blog, then asked a few questions. I thought the answers might make an interest piece. Here are the questions:
How did you continue to move along in your career while being so contrarian? 
What did you do to mitigate the negativity that a contrarian attitude so often incurs? 
You mean well. How do you get other people to understand that?
First, let's be clear about something. My career and my experience are in no way a model for anyone else. You have to do things your own way. I started as a copywriter and through a series of unfortunate accidents I wound up as ceo of two agencies. I guess that's the price you pay for not being a very good copywriter.

Anyway, here are some answers to the reader's questions.
  • While I have always had a contrarian bent, I didn't flaunt it until my career was well-established. What that means is that when I had to make a living, I mostly kept my mouth shut about the stupidity I saw around me. It is much easier and safer to be a loudmouth when you own the agency than when you're an employee.
  • I always tried to put my clients' interests first. Even though I may have thought what they wanted me to do was stupid, I didn't let my personal ideology get in the way of helping them. For example, if they insisted on spending a lot of money on a social media jack-off, I did the best I could to help them do what they wanted to do. If they asked my opinion, I told them the truth as I saw it. If they didn't, I kept my mouth shut and did the best I could.
  • Third, and this was probably the hardest part, I did not insist that everything done in my agency be done my way. The staff of the agency knew what the principles of the agency were -- we published them -- but they were usually left free to interpret the principles according to the needs of the client. There were times I wanted to explode, but mostly I bit my tongue and let them do it their way.
  • You are right that contrarianism is often misinterpreted as negativism. They are different things. This doesn't mean that I am not negative about certain aspects of our business -- I certainly am -- nonetheless, contrarianism and negativity are not the same thing. There are people who always think that if you disagree with them you are being negative. They are idiots, but you're never going to change that.
  • I am very gratified that you recognize that, despite my immoderate writing, I mean well. Many people do not understand this. Do I want people to like me? Sure, we all do. But when you sign up to be a show-off loudmouth -- which is exactly what bloggers are -- you are going to be criticized, disliked, and misunderstood. It is not something I spend time worrying about. I believe the advertising and marketing industry are drowning in bullshit and I feel a need to express that. I am at a very fortunate point in my life at which I don't really care where the chips fall.
  • The advertising industry is one of the trendiest industries in the world. As soon as an idea, a gimmick, or a fad becomes publicized, it immediately becomes ubiquitous. It was just a few years ago that every campaign had to have a street team, a flash mob, and a podcast attached to it. Now these are seen for the stupid contrivances they were. But at the time, it was heresy to be negative about them. If you questioned their value you "just didn't get it" or you were a "Luddite dinosaur." The pressure in the ad world - the pressure to believe what everyone else believes, to talk like everyone else talks, to do what everyone does - is oppressive and, if this is possible, even worse than high school.
  • Being a contrarian has its dangers. If you are going to swim against the tide, you'd better have damn good reasons and damn solid arguments. Otherwise people will  call you a petulant brat -- and they'll be right.
Having said all that, the most important thing you can learn from me is that the way I succeeded was by helping my clients sell a lot of stuff. All the rest is chit-chat.

For those of you who signed-up for more information about our One-Day Personal Reboot, please be patient. It's been a little busier around here than we expected and we probably won't be launching it until early October. More info will come soon, stay tuned.

August 18, 2014

The Unrelenting Assault Of Marketing Bullshit

Now that I am on the speaking circuit, one thing has become very apparent to me. The  appetite for marketing bullshit is inexhaustible.

Of all the new age marketing doubletalkers, one guy is my favorite. I'm not going to name names because I don't like to do that.

But this guy was there at the beginning of the fabulously disastrous Pepsi Refresh Project -- going from conference to conference telling all the drooling dimwits how fabulously successful this fiasco was.

Three years ago I quoted him in this space:
" much are we encouraging the continual learning from inside our staff about how to leverage these technologies with inside of their communications and engagement plans but as well as just for their own personal communications and internal communication with inside each other..."
I'm still trying to figure out what language that was.

Then he went over to Mondelez (that's what Nabisco is now called) where he is Worldwide Global Engagement Bullshit Meister, or something. A couple of years ago, Stephen Colbert did a hilarious take down of a preposterous Mondelez/Nabisco Wheat Thins product brief. You can see it here.

Our guy pitifully tried to make a positive out of being ridiculed on national TV by claiming, “You could not ask for something better even if you wrote it yourself.” Yeah, right.

Well, the good news is that he's still imparting his wisdom to the cretins who go to these hopeless marketing whack-a-thons.

The guy is truly amazing. Here he is being interviewed recently at another bullshitfest by some doofus with a British accent.

It is impressive to watch someone who has totally mastered the most important skill for a contemporary business "thought leader" -- the ability to use jargon and buzzwords to make it sound as if you're saying something while saying absolutely nothing.

Thanks again to Prof. Byron Sharp.

August 14, 2014

Confusing Gadgetry With Behavior

Today's post is a follow-on to a post from a couple of weeks ago called "Technology And Consumer Behavior"

When I was a kid, I wore jeans.

Now that I'm a thousand years old, I still wear jeans.

I don't know how the jeans got to the store when I was a kid. Probably some guy went and picked them up at a warehouse. I don't know how they get to the store now. Probably some computer controlled hypersonic drone.

I don't really care. As long as the store can sell me jeans, I don't much care how they get there.

The point is, for the most part, people don't care about delivery systems. They want what they want when they want it. How it gets there is irrelevant.

For example, they want to sit back and be entertained by video. They don't care if the signal comes through the air, or a cable, or the web, or a DVR. Ask them what they're doing and they say the same thing: watching television.

What I'm getting at here is that for over a decade the marketing industry has been confused. They've confused media technology with consumer behavior.

Even though there's been a revolution in media, technology, and communication, consumer behavior has remained surprisingly stable. Of course, there have been some big changes. But a lot of what has changed are the gadgets, not the behaviors.

Consumers are still watching TV for a record amount of time. No one predicted this (okay, maybe one guy did.)

Confusing technology and behavior is nothing new.

Many years ago I was pitching an account. It was around the time that cable TV was becoming an important media factor. At the final pitch, the client ceo said, "We're looking for an agency that really understands cable."

"What's there to understand?" I said. "The signal comes through a wire instead of the air. So what?"

Needless to say, we didn't get the account.