Lessons from The Ad Contrarian

I spent the better part of last week soaking up the sun in Los Angeles while attending the semi-annual meeting of the Intermarket Agency Network (IAN), of which Lessing-Flynn is a member. I had the opportunity to meet Bob Hoffman, “The Ad Contrarian” … and my new advertising hero at a recent meeting. Bob runs an ad agency – Hoffman/Lewis – with offices in San Francisco and St. Louis. Bob isn’t your typical “the sky is falling, death of traditional media, it’s the digital way or the highway” doomsdayer. In fact, he’s quite the opposite. A few interesting facts:

• More than 98% of video is still watched on TV, not the internet. • 60% of social media “fans” will “like” a brand because they want a deal, not a relationship. • E-commerce equates to less than 5% of all purchases. • Mobile viewing of video consists of less than .2% of all video viewed. • Click-through-rates for Facebook ads are less than .05% • Households with Tivo watch live television 95% of the time.

Bob also calls out marketers who talk in what he calls “brand babble”. In fact, he makes a pretty convincing argument that the advertising world mutated with one little change in the English language. When “brand” mutated from a noun to a verb – the beginning of “brand babble”. Two telling examples:

The first, an excerpt from the book “Kellogg on Branding: by The Marketing Faculty of the Kellogg School of Business”

“The word brand has a tripartite etymology. One emphasis clusters around burning, with connotations both of fiery consummation and of banking the hearth. A second emphasis clusters around marking, with connotations of ownership and indelibility, as well as paradoxical allusions to intrinsic essence, whether of merit or stigma. A third emphasis clusters around the delivery of, or deliverance from, danger (stoke, anneal, cauterize; conflagration, possession, aggression). The brand embodies the transformative heat of passion, properly tended.”

The second … well, I think you’ll get it:

Finally, my favorite excerpt from Hoffman’s presentation. Did you know that Coca-Cola is failing? And Apple is failing and McDonald’s is failing and Proctor and Gamble and Geico are failing? I didn’t know that. Silly me. I thought they were doing okay. But it’s obvious. They have to advertise. Advertising is a failure.

This is because according to our chattering experts, there is a new species of human being who have relationships with all the companies that make the products they use. And the only time companies need to advertise to these people is when their relationship is broken and failing.

You see, these new humans don’t buy things for practical reasons like, it works better, or it’s cheaper, or it looks nicer. It’s all about the relationship. So you needn’t bother telling them that your product works better, or is cheaper, or looks nicer. That’s just a sign of failure. It’s just a sign that your relationship is failing.

These new humans want a relationship with their peanut butter maker and their muffler manufacturer. They want a relationship with the company that makes their socks and their chairs. And their pickles, and their half-and-half, and their mayonnaise, and their cookies, and their tires, and their chewing gum, and their toothbrush, and their umbrella, and their dishwasher, and their napkins, and their toaster, and their gasoline, and their horseradish, and their dental floss, and their paper towels, ……and their golf balls, and their shoes, and their pillows, and their pencils, and their deodorant, and their books, and their nail clippers, and their furniture polish, and their frozen chicken strips, and their lamps, and their potting soil, and their bathing suits, and their glasses, and their clocks, and their fungicide, and their dishes, and their cat food, and their sun block….. and their cookie dough, and their motor oil, and their light bulbs, and their burglar alarm, and their ironing board, and their fire insurance, and their coffee filters, and their pillow cases, and their allergy pills, and their mouthwash, and their vacuum cleaner bags, and their shower curtains…

These new humans live in a wonderful world. It’s a world in which their minds are free to evaluate the relationships they have with all these companies. They don’t have to worry about their jobs, or their children, or how they’re going to pay the mortgage. They don’t need to wash their bath tubs, or have mammograms, or go to work, or apply for loans, or bail their kids out of juvenile hall, or fold the laundry, or take their parents to the doctor, or vacuum, or make dinner.

They have unlimited time to develop relationships with all the companies they buy from. It’s a wonderful world.

Want more? Buy the book for $7.95 here.