The Ad Contrarian: The five dumbest ideas about online advertising

by Bob Hoffman (@adcontrarian) The phenomenal rise of the internet as a medium of communication, information, and entertainment has given rise to some equally phenomenal conceptual flops about advertising. Today, we take inventory of these dumb ideas. We have selected our five favorites and we present them to you in one neat little bundle, in no particular order, but numbered to keep you on track.

The Ad Contrarian: eBay — paid search is worthless

by Bob Hoffman (@adcontrarian) A study done by eBay on the effectiveness of paid search for established brands has found it to be worthless. Presumably, eBay commissioned the study to figure out how much of their search money was being wasting. Their conclusion seems to be: all of it.

Social Media Gets An Ass-Whooping From Google, Email

Over four years ago, in a post entitled Looking For Volunteers, I wrote the following…

“TAC predicts that when the frenzy over Facebook, Twitter, and other social media calms down and the dust clears, email and search will continue to be the dreariest and most productive forms of online advertising.”

In an article on Monday entitled “Email Is Crushing Twitter, Facebook for Selling Stuff Online” Wired had this to say:

“An endless stream…of advice from marketing consultants warns businesses that they need to “get” social… Despite the hype… it’s relatively antique tech that appears to be far more important for selling stuff online.

Wired’s source for this article was a company called Custora that studied “72 million customers shopping on 86 different retailer sites.” Their conclusion: search and email are far more effective at generating sales results than Facebook, Twitter and banner ads.

Why advertising is business insurance

On April 23 of this year, Apple reported…

“We are pleased to report record March quarter revenue thanks to continued strong performance of iPhone and iPad,”

This report was remarkable for two reasons: First, it is generally believed that Apple has not introduced any new products or features of major interest to consumers in about two years. This in an industry whose oxygen is new products and features.

Second, it is also believed that Apple’s advertising has fallen from the lofty standard it had established over previous years, to a point that it is now inferior to its rivals in the tech industry.

So how did they achieve record revenues?

Beware Of Marketers With Ideologies

In 1996, Seth Godin had this to say to Fast Company…

“I guarantee you that by the year 2000, Internet banner ads will be gone.”


Let’s be fair to Seth. He’s a very smart guy and he has been right about a lot of things. But the problem with the above statement, like so many aspects of marketing these days, is that it is rooted in ideology.

Seth’s ideology was “permission marketing.” He believed that the “interruption model” of traditional advertising was on the way out, and that in order to communicate effectively with consumers, marketers would need their “permission.”

Like much of new age marketing philosophy, it sounds lovely. The problem is that the world is impossibly complicated. Having operating principles is fine, but being ideologically committed to a “big idea” often ends in a train wreck.

Marketers complicit in big data mischief

he snot really hit the fan last week when The Washington Post and The Guardian reported that the US had secret spying programs that are “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies.”

It was inevitable that our industry’s obsession with Internet data collection would come smack up against questions of civil rights and individual liberties. But no one in the marketing or advertising industries seems to care about the consequences of our obsession with data, or the central role we are playing in this controversy.

It is an article of faith among the pundit digerati that the Internet has given us reg’lar folks more control over our lives. One of the mantras of marketing’s chattering class is that “the consumer is now in charge.” These people think that because we can tweet “the fries at Wendy’s really suck” we now have greater economic, social and political control. They are alarmingly insensitive to the trade-offs the web has presented us with.

On several occasions during the past few years I have taken the, ahem, contrarian position that not only are we not “in charge,” but the illusion that we are is masking the fact that the powerful are getting more powerful and that the individual citizen has less control than ever.

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