30 July 2010

The Man Who Sold America

There's a new book about the old days of advertising. Before the Internet. Before television.

Before even Mad Men.

The Man Who Sold America

This new book, written by Jeffrey L. Cruikshank and Arthur W. Schultz, is called The Man Who Sold America. It's a biography of Albert Lasker, who made Lord & Thomas into the most successful American ad agency before selling out in 1942 to three men named Foote, Cone and Belding.

If you believe the past offers lessons for the future, and if you're interested in the fundamentals of the advertising business, this would be a book worth reading. (We posted about this era back in May.)

Yes, it's a recommendation

Full disclosure: One of the authors is a former chairman of FCB, and yours truly is employed at Draftfcb.

But don't take our word for it; check out this review in the Wall Street Journal written by former O&M chairman Ken Roman.

16 July 2010

Why closing Agency.com is a good thing

Omnicom announced this week the closing of Agency.com. They are dividing up its businesses and merging them with other Omnicom units like TBWA and its sister unit, production services shop E-Graphics Worldwide. This is a good thing.

The name alone should have been retired

"Agency.com" tells you in the most generic way possible "this is a digital agency". It also sounds a little out of date. When Chan Suh (pictured at right) founded Agency.com in 1995, the name made sense. Since then, however, even Publicis rebranded Modem Media as "Publicis Modem" which if it didn't sound like a Latin phrase would evoke ancient 20th century technology. Who uses a modem anymore? You might as well start an ad agency called Black Rotary Telephone.

Digital has evolved into much more than web sites

The ".com" suffix describes a company that came of age when most digital work was the creation of websites. Agency.com didn't seem to develop a reputation beyond that kind of work during most of their tumultuous history. Their biggest recent achievement was the 2009 revamp of Skittles.com. The world doesn't need an agency specializing in websites anymore, because people (read: consumers) engage with brands via many other vehicles such as social media.

The race to the middle has many courses

To that point, new breeds of digital agency have sprung up, some with highly specialized capabilities (Reprise for SEM, Ansible for mobile) and others with broader, evolving capabilities (R/GA, Digitas). As Forrester pointed out in their survey of digital agencies last year, many of these have distinct orientations, i.e. some are more analytical, some more focused on writing code, some more focused on creative, et cetera.

Closing Agency.com is a good thing

It seems Agency.com had solid skills in digital production, because many of their people and assets are being merged into Omnicom's production services companies. This makes a lot of sense given holding companies' move into the production business.

It's worth mentioning that Omnicom rechristened Agency.com San Francisco as "Signal to Noise" and according to Adweek it will "operate as an integrated marketing company."

So: The name was old. The business model was old. The work, and the people, live on in different business units better suited to their talents. And that's a good thing.

15 July 2010

How to know "which half of my advertising budget is wasted"

The biggest change in the advertising business today isn’t digital, social media or even the tectonic plate shifts of retail. It’s the measurement and accountability of marketing programs.

Measurement and accountability have been an issue for at least a century, as evidenced by the John Wanamaker quote, “I know half my advertising budget is wasted; I just don’t know which half.

We’ve written about this here, here and here, and made it a central theme in The History of Advertising, which is posted here on SlideShare. Today’s post won’t be the last one on this subject.

How do you know which half of the budget is wasted?

The simple – but not easy – answer: “do your homework”. Just by slogging through data and analyzing it you will learn a lot. So far there is no magical data processing program that can calculate the ROI of everything together.

You can still learn, however, by sitting down and concentrating on Nielsen data, costs-per-lead, et cetera, and figuring out what’s really going on. There is no shortage of data, just time to sort through it all.

Lesson from the world of Economics

Recently two economists published a book about financial bubbles throughout history titled “This Time is Different”. Their thesis is that every time an economic bubble grows, the market’s participants believe “this time is different” – and it never is. We’re always surprised when the bubble bursts.

What’s amazing about their work, though, is how comprehensively they collected and analyzed data. They reviewed economic records across five continents, sixty-six countries – and over a time period of 800 years. 800 years.

You’re a lot less likely to doubt their findings when they’ve put that kind of work into their analysis. (If you’re interested in what they did, you can buy the book here and read more about it here and here.)

Lesson for the world of Advertising

Surprisingly, economists seem to have the same aversion to data as many in our industry. In an interview about “This Time is Different”, the co-authors both observe that modern economic thinking emphasizes theories over actual analysis. Their 800 years of homework is apparently not the norm for economists.

This was reflected in one of Ronald Reagan’s better lines: “An economist is someone who sees something that works in practice and wonders if it would work in theory.”

We run a similar risk, relying only on theories and never sitting down with the data to understand what actually happens. Doing your homework will help prove your worth, and perhaps which parts of the budget are being wasted.

10 July 2010

Bogusky wasn't the only interesting personnel news last week

Alex Bogusky’s resignation from MDC and CP+B last week created quite a stir in the ad industry. To be sure, it’s the end of an era. It wasn't a big surprise, though – Bogusky has increasingly worked on side projects to the point where it seemed his day job became a side project.

It might be an understatement to say his next moves will be closely watched by an industry hungry for heroes, prophets and high priests. There’s no doubt he will go on to pioneer some new ways to engage consumers on behalf of marketers.

Print and Digital at Condé Nast

Meanwhile, Condé Nast just promoted Scott Dadich, the creative director at Wired magazine, to the additional post of “executive director of digital magazine development.” According to some press reports, his mission is to replicate the success of such projects as Wired for the iPad at other Condé Nast titles.

With all due respect to Bogusky, this may turn out to be an even more interesting personnel move. Most of us have realized that Digital has affected Print media much more than it has affected Broadcast. Dadich is in a real position to leverage this shift for a big legacy print publisher.

The CMO: Not so endangered?

Executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart has been tracking the average tenure of CMOs for the past few years. You may have the figure “18 months” in mind. You may also have in mind that this is an indicator of how hazardous is the changing landscape of marketing.

If so, perhaps the situation is improving. A year or so ago, CMO tenure was actually 28.4 months. Just a couple of weeks ago it moved up to 34.7 months. Healthcare and Financial services CMOs tend to stay longer. Automotive and media company CMOs don’t last as long.

None of this means that the pace of change is slower or that marketing no longer needs to innovate or adapt. In fact change is coming at us much more rapidly. It’s just that we won’t have to deal with the additional – and often unnecessary – change of command.

02 July 2010

Freedom and Diversity

We often post about diversity -- or the lack thereof -- in the advertising business. By virtue of previous posts I've become acquainted with Derek Walker of Brown and Browner Advertising in Columbia, South Carolina. Derek writes about diversity in AdAge.com's Big Tent column.

At least, he used to. On 27 May 2010 he published his last column. I'm calling it to your attention for two reasons.

First, Derek's is an authentic, frustrated voice. Reading this column may upset you, or make you uncomfortable. That's probably normal -- and good.

Second, scroll down if you would and read the amazing comment posted by Harry Webber. He wrote about a Memorial Day experience that's equally appropriate for July 4th.

You can find Derek's article and Harry's comment here. If you like what Harry Webber wrote, give it a "thumbs up".

After you read Harry's comment, you'll understand how the fight for freedom is like the fight for diversity.

As we say in Latin: E pluribis unum. Out of many, one.

01 July 2010

Latin America: Cannes, World Cup, and the Economy

I've been thinking about Latin America, my former home, a lot this week, partly because Mrs. Ad Majorem is in Guatemala on a missions trip helping run a medical clinic.

A few other things keep Latin America top of mind.


Every year at Cannes the Latin American countries win recognition for their work, and this year was no exception. This morning AdLatina.com published a rundown of festival performance, with Brasil and Argentina leading the pack. (They list Spain as #2 because AdLatina represents an Ibero-American perspective.)

World Cup

Going into this weekend's games, four of the eight quarter-finalists are from South America. I'll be cheering for Brasil over Holland, Uruguay over Ghana, Argentina over Germany, and Paraguay over Spain.

The Economy

Beyond Cannes and the Cup, the region enjoys some economic success, at least for the moment. NYTimes.com has a good roundup this morning. Also see this article on Brasil's tax policies.