Big Data. Big Promise. Big Caution.

Big Data imageBig data claims to be the new salvation for all businesses. Because, we’re told, big data will discover amazing new truths. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, most big promises should also be accompanied by big cautions. Which one’s are most important as we approach big data? Recently, on the Financial Times website, Tim Harford wrote a blog post on the topic: Big Data: are we making a big mistake. It is one of the few really thoughtful big data discussions we’ve come across in a while.
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Advertising Awards: Protecting the Creative Status Quo

As a strategist, creative director and student of advertising’s impact, I love to see advertising that’s challenging and interesting – when it comes to it’s impact on marketing. But we’re not seeing many impactful ads like that when you look at “award winning work”. And by that I mean agency style awards like Clio’s, New York Festival or Cannes (industry specific awards are usually far more interesting).

Yes, agency award show winners exhibit tremendous creative values – like clever film making, design, or writing. But despite all this art, from the point of view of a marketer, award winning work has become pretty dull, predictable and uninteresting.

How did it come about that all this extraordinary creativity could end up delivering bland marketing impact? How could this happen in a business that never ceases to tell itself how clever it is with myths like “thinking outside the box”?

We can blame, at least in part, the award shows themselves. After all:

The primary value of agency driven award shows is maintaining the creative status quo.

And when advertising is driven to satisfy the status quo it loses its ability to deliver brilliant results.

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“The Best Ideas Come as Jokes”… But the Best Quotes are Sourced

The Quote
OgilvyMemeRecently, at Atomic we came across a funny meme on DigiDay. The piece was a blend of clever quotes attributed to David Ogilvy, mixed with a couple pictures from Mad Men. A great comment about finding ideas through creative process stuck out:

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the quote doesn’t say “the best ideas ARE jokes”. But in this advertising world, many people would prefer to interpret the quote to mean the best ads are “funny”.

Rather than just assume that Ogilvy’s only meant the creative process, Doug asked me to locate the context of this Ogilvy quote. Seems like an easy Google search, right? Wrong.

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Using Response Measured Advertising in an OmniChannel World

I’ve spent my advertising career in the most immediately measurable of TV disciplines…direct response television. Through that career I’ve seen the tremendous economic power that DRTV offers. Used in the right situation, DRTV delivers far more economic impact (including brand value) than traditional TV.

At the same time…in contradictions we find truth. And here’s the response contradiction.

Response measurements are exceptionally powerful at helping make campaigns more effective.

But if response becomes your ONLY focus, campaigns become less effective.

How’s that happen? We must remember that even the best metrics (response, audiences, targeting, etc.) can never measure the total impact of a TV campaign. They are helpful guides but don’t tell the entire story.

So it’s important to respect the numbers for the extraordinary help they offer as we make media dollars go further (up to 4x further). And it’s important to respect that response numbers are only one window in to the impact of our work.

This reality doesn’t only apply to DRTV. It applies to online ads (especially), direct mail, catalogs, search, and many more areas where we are able to measure response.

Here’s a recent article I called “Seeing the Forest Despite the Trees” (link here) that appeared Response Magazine’s December 2013 edition. It digs deeper into how to work with response measured media in the highly (and extraordinarily profitable) market you enter when your product is sold through the omni-channel world of phone, web, and retail store.

It’s no surprise to find DR marketers obsessed with response to the exclusion of all other reality. But it has been a surprise to find that experienced audience measured advertisers also too quickly lose sight of the fact that response measurements are indicators – but not the whole story.

It’s surprising because many of these are advertisers who have lived in a world their entire careers where they had NO measurement of response and where impact is projected by guys in the back room with pointy hats and crystal balls reading Nielsen reports. (For clarity: I do love audience numbers. But while there’s tremendous learning to be found in audience measurement, projecting sales impact based on audience remains an area for alchemists.)

So embrace response measurement for what it is: An extraordinary measurement that can help us spend client media money far more efficiently. And then lets use that measurement to drive campaigns where the total impact surprises us all.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

“Practicing on the Bandstand”. Some Thoughts about Miles Davis, Improvisation & Business.

Business has a tremendously complicated relationship with improvisation – often preferring a mythological quest for risk-free management and ignoring the value of leaving room for improvisation.

I think it’s a fear of losing absolute corporate control (absolute control being another myth) and fear of mistakes. In fact, some companies spend so much money avoiding mistakes that the mere cost of doing business skyrockets to where its impossible to do new things. And by rewarding detailed planning over end results (usually implicitly rewarded through corporate politics), too many companies ensure that no one will take the risks necessary to drive new innovation.

20130114-191437.jpgSo I was struck by a story about Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Miles and his band were on a road trip in the 1960s when one night the sax player trotted out a set of new solo licks and used them during the performance – flawlessly and perfectly. The report is that Miles was furious and chewed the guy out saying “I pay you to practice on the bandstand.”

Yes. Miles meant practicing in front of an audience. He meant making mistakes in public. And all this can be a very uncomfortable idea – especially if we don’t grasp it in context.
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Succeeding Despite Bad Choices. Thoughts on “The Myth of the Media Shootout”

Quite often businesses succeed in spite of specific choices – not because of those choices. Yet most never stop to consider which it is – choosing to believe they must have been smart rather than admit what they don’t know.

Take the idea that media buyers for DRTV ad campaigns should be chosen based on direct, head-to-head competition between media vendors.

Constructing a valid media vendor test that accurately judges each firm’s abilities is far, far harder than it seems. So here’s The Myth of the Media Shootout (link here), an article I wrote for the October edition of Response Magazine. It looks at a popular competitive testing myth in direct response television.
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Seven Dysfunctional Ways Ad Agencies Learn the Wrong Lessons

In my last post I wrote about agency feedback loops – how important they are and the three tiers of feedback that drive the best improvement. (Link here.)

Now it’s time for the fun stuff – the agency dysfunctions that come from poor feedback loops – starting with seven strange abnormalities that agencies rely on to decide what makes up good work.
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The Emotional Impact of Facts

Facts used in advertising leave behind emotion.

I ran across this thought provoking idea in the Jaques Ellul book “Propaganda” (published in 1965, I read this book in the 1980′s and recently decided it was worth a re-read). 20130114-191437.jpg

Rational and Irrational Communication. Ellul considers the difference between information and propaganda and the tendency to believe that “information addresses reason and experience … where propaganda addresses feelings and passion”. He concludes: “It’s not that simple.”
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Don’t Test Whispers

Key to marketing success is a disciplined approach to testing ideas and action. After all, marketing writing and consulting is filled with tremendously attractive and detailed theories about action “X” causing result “Y”. Yet all these theories were developed based on specific experiences under specific circumstances. So there’s no guarantee that taking them and applying them in your world will create the same result.

So we should test, test test. And yet…testing experience shows that far more things are tested than are found to conclusively help or hurt. Why? One quite common testing error is to “test whispers” – small changes that simply can’t have a large enough impact to drive measurable change.

I once watched Rubbermaid test whispers in focus groups where a series of 5 statements of brand differentiation were evaluated. But rather than vary the statements with ideas that were truly significant to consumers, the statements traded off tiny wording changes. (I found it ironically enjoyable to watch the focus group participants quite frankly explain that all the statements said the same thing.) Read more of this post

Agencies Need to Be Good Stewards of Their Own Brand

I’m often amazed at how poorly agencies manage their own marketing – especially their own brand. Look across the ad biz and you’ll find a cacophony of agency names in an ever changing landscape.

You might assume these changes reflect agencies going in and out of business. That’s not usually the truth. There is a tendency in the agency business to chase name fads – a practice that leads to annual or biannual name changing as a matter of course (as in “this year the coolest agency names are based on…insects…so we’re changing our name to FleaBag”). In an amazing act of euphemism, I’ve heard this called “re-branding”. Read more of this post