Are You Running These Ads? Why?

Weekend homework. Ask yourself, are you running any of the ads rated as 3 or lower by the Coalition for Better Ads? If so, why?

And if you’ve decided that running lousy ads makes sense, ask yourself whether you’re worried about ad blocking. Also, go to your digital marketing team and your advertising agency and see how many of those people are using ad blockers so they can get their work done.

We can do better folks. Let’s start on Monday.

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Partner? Nope. Vendor!

One word that seems to have been banished from business is “vendor.” It has been replaced by the kinder, everybody-gets-a-medal term “partner.”

I hear this all the time in pitches to my clients. “We want to partner with you to help you unlock value in your business.” “As your partner, we’ll help you create amazing product experiences for your customers.” “We’ll partner with you to…”

What a bunch of nonsense. They want to make money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But please, don’t fall for the “partner” schtick. They know it’s harder to fire a “partner” than to get rid of a vendor. And you tend not to look as closely at the faults of your partner (think of your significant other, true business partner, etc.)  And that’s the psychology of getting you to use the term “partner” to describe what is in reality a vendor relationship.

Takeaway: Unless your “partner” is only working on a percentage of the incremental value they create for you, they’re not. They’re a vendor. And that’s ok.

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Blockchain vs. Digital Fraud?

I’ve been speaking with many people over the past few years about using blockchain technology to mitigate fraud and increase advertiser confidence in online advertising.

It sounds like other people are thinking the same thing. I just noticed this video from MetaX, which explains how it might work:

I’m encouraged, even though I have questions about whether blockchain ledgers are fast enough for programmatic marketing or whether this might just add another layer of cruft and cost to the digital marketing environment.

Ordinarily, I’m not in favor of adding more advertising technology. But, in this case, I think this might help. As every advertiser should be able to tell you,  it is preferable to have confidence in the ad inventory at the impression level before buying to playing whack-a-mole with easily-gamed anti-fraud technologies grafted on during and after the buying process.

MetaX still looks to be a work in progress. I know other competitors and approaches will emerge. I hope that our industry will be able to find a way for blockchain to be used effectively.

I’m encouraging my friends and clients to consider testing technologies like this. Your agencies should be doing the same.

Takeaway: Look into using blockchain technology to verify the chain of custody of the impressions in which you serve your ads. Until then, buy only what you know. And win.
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Marketing: It’s About People

Segment the universe first, determine your target audiences, and craft offers that appeal to those people. If you’re mostly worried about audience reach or how many devices are in your graph (whatever that is), you’re not marketing. Sorry.

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Advertising Needs More History Majors

In the United States in 2014, only 1.7% of the undergraduate degrees awarded were history degrees. In the period since 1971, the share of history and social sciences degrees has declined from 18% to 9%. 1

Why study history? According to R.G. Collingwood, Oxford philosopher,

“We study history in order to see more clearly into the situation in which we are called upon to act.”

An understanding of history is necessary to help us avoid making the same mistakes. Yet, as a society we no longer value the study of history. Everybody wants to get rich quickly, usually as a result of their “personal brand” or being on a reality TV show or as a Wall Street investment banker. (All pretty much the same thing.) So we get degrees in finance and leave the study of history to the musty old professors.

The result? When an advertising huckster comes along, pitching AI or machine learning, it all sounds great. The younger folks, with no exposure to past nonsense nor the inclination to look back in time, fall for it and add new things to the already gigantic advertising tech stack. Somebody gets rich, but it’s not the advertiser.

Those of us old enough to be exposed to history hear “AI” and “machine learning” and remember neural networks 2. We ask lots of inconvenient questions. The huckster leaves to look for more fertile ground. The advertiser keeps their money and stays on strategy.

With the constant bleat of “new” from well-funded startups that prey on the historically-challenged advertiser, is it any wonder advertising is such a mess? “XXX is dead” and “XXX% improvement” are storylines used for thousands of years and rejected by those successful enough to understand history–of their trade, of their nation, and of their civilization.

Takeaway: Hire some good liberal arts majors, particularly history majors. They know how to reason, how to write, and how to see if you’re being pitched some rehashed nonsense. And win.


1 Dr. Niall Ferguson, October 28, 2016, quoting Julia Brookins, “New Data Show Large Drops in History Bachelor’s 11.Degrees,” Perspectives on History, March 2016,

Witchcraft that was purported to be better than logistic regression models back in the 90’s. Call me to discuss.

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Fairy Tale: “Ads We Want to See”

One of the biggest fantasies shared by digital marketers and advertising technology providers is that people want to see ads. The problem isn’t them, it’s us. If only we installed more technology (and chipped away at privacy a little more), we’d improve our omni-channel results, they say.

This belief has been used to pile technology, algorithms, and nonsense on our marketing efforts. The first result is a supply chain that’s so opaque almost nobody can tell you why a particular advertisement was run. The second result is that adtech companies have made a lot of money by skimming your media dollars.

It’s a narcissistic delusion to believe that anybody cares about what we have to sell. There’s no magical technology solution that will make consumers* suddenly want to “engage” with our advertisements or our brands.

In the offline world, we always knew that our ads weren’t wanted. But they were tolerated, because they are part of the deal. We spent a lot of time making sure we got the targeting just right, put forth a compelling offer and did strong creative to catch the eye.

In the digital world, the focus is mostly on more algorithms and outright surveillance. How’s that working for you? How’s your signal to noise ratio look? Are you running ads on jihadi websites? Are you even showing ads to human beings? Are you sure?

Think the problem with digital advertising will be solved with more technology?

Takeaway: Segment your audience, select the target audiences, understand your allowable, craft compelling messages with stunning creative ideas, then decide which channels to use, and show your ads to people–not “identities.” Underpin all this with a core truth: Nobody cares about your product, your brand, or your ads.
And win.



*When I see the word “consumer,” my BS detector goes off. Mold, fungi, and insects are consumers. People buy our products and services.

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Answering critics

I’m as guilty as many marketers for taking certain key marketing assumptions as truisms, without doing the proper research to see if those strategic assumptions are based on data or mere belief.

One belief that I never accepted, however, was the old saw “it costs X times to acquire a customer as to retain one.” I knew from my years of experimentation as a continuity marketer that it wasn’t true. Acquisition was the entire key to growth.

This is a great post by Professor Byron Sharp, where he addresses criticisms of his fantastic textbook “Why Brands Grow.” And if you haven’t purchased the book yet and read it, please do so now.

Marketing Science

Our critics have been few, and rather kind (nothing of substance has been raised).

Now and then a marketing guru issues a thinly disguised advertisement for their consulting services that tries to have a go at the laws and strategy conclusions in How Brands Grow. They usually say something like:

“Our data confirms that larger market share brands have much higher market penetration BUT our whizz-bang proprietary metric also correlates with market share, and this proves that it drives sales growth, profits, share price, and whether or not you will be promoted to CMO”.

Often some obscure statistical analysis is vaguely mentioned, along with colourful charts, and buzzwords like:
machine learning
emotional resonance

And sexy sounding (but meaningless) metrics along the lines of:
brand love
growth keys
brand velocity
true commitment
loyalty intensity

All of this should raise warning bells amongst all but the most gullible.

Let me…

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“Amazing?” “Remarkable?” Actually, Not Likely

67% of everything is mediocre (+/- one standard deviation from the mean) and 84% of everything is mediocre or worse.

Seems like 84% of the comments I see on social media start with “amazing” or “remarkable” or similar.

Heuristic: When you see “amazing,” assume the opposite and act accordingly.

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Twitter’s NYC Targeting Tribulations: Dunkin’ Donuts Edition

img_6945As usual this morning, I was blocking brands on Twitter that had the temerity to target me in a poor fashion. Meaning all of them. However, this ad from Dunkin’ Donuts of NY, NJ and Southern CT caught my eye.

Forget for minute that they have only 9,258 followers out of the millions of customers they have in the New York Tri-State area. Or that they only average 5.4 followers for each of the 1,700+ locations. Or that they’ve only received 1,545 “likes” for their Twitter efforts.

The problem with this effort starts with location. I’m not remotely near metro NYC and therefore had zero chance of buying breakfast this morning at Dunkin’ Donuts. But wait, it gets better. Continue reading

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Native Advertising: The Laughs Don’t Stop


Thanks for the retweet!

I ran a quick article on native advertising yesterday. Lo and behold, my article was picked up by a Twitter handle that tweets out positive news about native advertising.

Looks like the bot never read the article. Get some machine learning in there!




You might have read it first, however.

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