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View PostBeware the zone of forgettability!MAY 2024

Beware the zone of forgettability!

by Deacon Webster

In advertising, the scale of the campaign affects the approach. The goal is always to be remembered, but depending on how much you spend, memorability can be achieved in different ways. To illustrate this, I’ve created this beautiful hand-made graph.

At one extreme is Dollar Shave Club whose $1bn acquisition by Unilever, one could argue, came on the back of a single, extremely fun and memorable, viral ad. At the other is Verizon, who play the long game when it comes to reach and frequency. They don’t need to be especially clever because they can beat a message into your brain through sheer blunt force.

Problems arise when advertisers drift left and down – low creativity and low spend. If you don’t have the dollars, you better figure out a way to stand out, lest ye be ignored.

View PostHow to advertise in nine easy steps!APR 2024

How to advertise in nine easy steps!

by Deacon Webster

Advertising is not complicated. The Ad Industrial complex wants you to think it is. Don’t believe it. I’m going to tell you exactly how to do it in nine (not even 10!) steps. It’s all you need to know.

How to use advertising to drive sales:

1. Reduce your message to a single thing that you want to say. It needs to be true to your brand and it needs to be simple to understand. This part is hard but important.

2. Say that one thing in a way that’s unforgettable.You want the most memorable idea you can possibly conjure – it’s fine if it’s weird, maybe even better. Memorability is the name of the game, if you fail at this, the rest is academic.

3. Spend what you need to spend to bring the idea to life properly. There is no such thing as “non-working dollars.” Production value matters, and it affects the way you are perceived.

4. Utilize mass media channels: TV/CTV, YouTube, Out of Home and Instagram video. You want your memorable ad seen and talked about. Make it feel big.

5. The only form of targeting you should use is geo-targeting. Ignore all the other targeting bells and whistles; they don’t work, reduce your available audience, and add cost. If you don’t have enough money to run nationally, do it locally, reduce the number of markets. Keep narrowing the aperture until you can afford to run in the right places at the right levels. (More on that here)

6. If you’re going to drive demand you need to be prepared capture it. Allocate 30% of your budget on lower funnel channels like search, response ads and on-premise messaging that helps convert sales.

7. Things to ignore:
a. Engagement metrics – they mean nothing. You are looking to sell things, not coax smiley emojis out of people
b. Negative comments – Everything that’s at all noteworthy generates hate mail. Think of something you love – you can bet somebody out there hates that same thing. If you don’t have haters, you don’t have fans.
c. Attribution: We are not looking to make a sale right this instant, we are looking to be top of mind when a sale is imminent. Don’t bother trying to figure out which exact ad caused a customer to buy, it was probably a combination of ads, and a thousand other things that influence a decision.

8. Things to pay attention to: Sales. That’s it. It’s the only reason to advertise. BUT you need to give your advertising a moment to work. Think about how long it takes you to buy something you’re meaning to buy. It can take days or weeks or months depending on what it is. Be patient.

9. Re-invest. If you believe advertising drives sales, then it should be obvious what happens when you stop spending.

View PostWhat if your customers don’t want AI content?APR 2024

What if your customers don’t want AI content?

by Deacon Webster

What if the advertising industry is hurtling towards a future that consumers may not actually want. While WPP and their ilk are placing major bets on AI generated imagery and ChatGPT CEO Sam Altman has said that within the next five years AI will be able to do 95% of what we do as an industry, nobody is actually asking the hard question – do people actually want AI to make the things they watch?

What if one of the main reasons people actually enjoy any form of entertainment is because it’s made by and features actual humans?

Imagine spending the day at the Museum of Modern Art only to find out after the fact that every one of the paintings was actually AI generated. Would that change the experience?

Would you care to watch an olympics featuring robots instead of humans?

When Star Wars Rogue One placed a CGI Princess Leah in a scene, it was novel, but nobody walked away from that wishing for more re-animated people mingling about in live-action movies.

Whether or not you believe AI imagery will soon dominate advertising depends largely on your perspective on how advertising works. If you believe that audiences take every ad at face value and don’t think much about the motivations behind the messaging, then AI feels like a home run. Lightning fast, cheap, customized iteration – sounds amazing! But if you believe, as I do, that people are fully aware that they are being exposed to a calculated commercial message when they’re watching an ad, then the idea of outsourcing all of your creative to an advanced non-human algorithm has important implications for the way the advertiser is perceived.

What does using AI generated imagery say about the businesses who use it? Sure an AI fashion model is cheaper and you can put them in an infinite number of outfits in an infinite number of settings, but if everyone KNOWS it’s an AI model, there’s a downside. First and foremost it tells customers that the brand is cheap. It tells them that they are more interested in efficiencies than a human touch. It also tells them that they may not be seeing exactly what your product looks like and you don’t think that matters.

There are already signs that the public might not readily embrace AI in ads: The “He Gets Us” Jesus Super Bowl spot which was not AI generated but looked that way, came under fire online for its seeming use of the technology. Under Armor’s latest TV spot drew intense criticism just last week for its use of AI. And Mahindra, a Formula E racing team, retired their virtual brand spokesperson after just 11 social posts. “Mahindra creating an AI team ambassador that is a woman instead of simply hiring one real, actual woman to fill that role is so incredibly messed up”, wrote Devin Altieri on X (formerly Twitter).

Some thoughts for marketers who are dipping their toe in the AI waters:

– Don’t try and pass AI humans off as real humans. It comes off as icky.

– Wrap the concept around it. Heinz, Old Spice, and Burger King have all found interesting ways to put the technology front-and-center in their ads to great effect.

– Consider using AI additively rather than as a wholesale substitute for something real. It’s another tool, not a replacement for the whole toolbox.

Unquestionably AI tools have a major role to play in the ad industry going forward. But we need to be careful when it comes to removing all signs of humanity from the finished work. Those signs of life might be the only thing people actually respond to.

View PostTech & Marketing News 2.9.24FEB 2024

Tech & Marketing News 2.9.24

Welcome to the latest edition of Walrus Tech & Marketing where we’re talking A.I., TikTok, robot restaurants, and brands that crushed dry January! The days are short, and the skies are grey, what better time to sit back and relax with your favorite e-newsletter? 

Fake image by Justin Metz for the Financial Times

AI is in the news every day now and this is unlikely to change any time soon. The technology is permeating every level of society with major implications. Some of the latest:

– Last week, X (Twitter) had to suspend all searches of “Taylor Swift” as a pornographic deepfake bearing her likeness spread across the platform.

– Our election is only getting started, but Argentina’s has been a full blown AI image generated war thus far. Much of the content has been clearly fake with the candidates using AI image generation to make themselves look like Indiana Jones and their opponents look like movie villains. But a few creations have wandered into disinformation territory. One of the candidates produced a deepfake video in which his opponent explains how a market for human organs would work, something he has said philosophically fits in with his libertarian views. 

Above: A deepfake from the Argentina presidential election where one candidate put his opponent’s face into the movie A Clockwork Orange

– TikTok, which has increasingly become a source of news for younger Americans has been subject to a glut of political deepfakes including one of former President Barak Obama defending himself against allegations surrounding the death of his chef while paddle boarding (there is an internet conspiracy theory around this apparently).

– Robo-calls featuring a deepfake of President Joe Biden were making the rounds in New Hampshire ahead of the republican primary where a movement to write Biden onto the ballot was gaining traction. “We know the value of voting Democratic,” the robocall says. “It’s important that you save your vote for the November election. We’ll need your help electing Democrats up and down the ticket. Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.”

It’s increasingly clear that some form of digital fingerprinting is needed to ensure the provenance of digital stills, video, and audio. Solutions are in the works, including one from Adobe. Whatever the eventual standard, blockchain will likely be central to the solution. A decentralized public ledger with an accounting of every alteration that’s been executed against a piece of media is maybe the only way we will be able to trust that what we’re seeing and hearing is real.

Universal music has pulled its catalog from TikTok after licensing negotiations with TikTok parent company ByteDance hit an impasse. Universal is the largest record label in the world, and the catalog freeze has caused millions of TikTok videos to go silent. It will be interesting to see who blinks first as Universal artists’ new releases lose a valuable promotion channel while TikTok creators lose the soundtracks to many of their most popular videos.

Above: Universal’s power will be put to the test against TikTok

To read the news, one would think that TikTok was GenZ’s social platform of choice, but in actuality its young user base is still a fraction of YouTube’s in the US. YouTube has quietly become the most used social media platform overall with almost 93% user adoption for Americans aged 18-29 and 30-49. By comparison TikTok’s top cohort (18-29 year olds) only sport around a 65% adoption rate.

Above: YouTube adoption reigns supreme

Of course YouTube has been around much longer than TikTok which was the fastest to reach a billion users. But TikTok is having issues monetizing that growth, and has been encouraging creators to develop making longer form (1+ minutes) horizontal video in hopes of attracting more ad dollars. 

The request has been met with skepticism by creators. “It’s interesting that a platform that reinvented how we consume content is now asking people to go back to the ‘legacy’ way of thinking,” said Sid Raskind, a content creator with over 4.4 million followers on TikTok. “Obviously, the only reason is ad dollars, but this means overall short-form vertical content may fizzle out and be a memory for a lot of career creators. I hope that people can still grow with vertical and not be shoehorned into only making horizontal.” Abandoning the horse that brought you is rarely successful in the world of social media (see the Metaverse). Time will tell.

Above: Kernel – lunch with an inhuman touch.

In food news, this month Chipotle founder Steve Ells will open his first Kernel restaurant – a vegan lunch spot that will utilize robots to assemble meals instead of people. Ells’ vision is to reduce costs and human error through automation.

“Skilled cooks at a central kitchen will prepare ingredients, which will be loaded into insulated totes and bicycled to perhaps a dozen small satellite restaurants within a close radius. Each of those locations will be staffed by just three employees and one robot, working together to cook and assemble orders.”

“Customers will place their orders ahead of time on Kernel’s app and, when the time comes, use an SMS code to unlock a metal cubby that contains their food.”Aspiring robot overlords rejoice as they inch one step closer to full control.

Above: Athletic Brewing is taking non-alcoholic beer to new heights.

Abstinence is having a moment. “Among 18- to 26-year-olds in the US and Japan, more than half claimed not to have consumed alcohol in the previous six months, according to data provider IWSR. In a separate Gallup Poll survey, 62% of American adults under age 35 said they drink, down from 72% a decade ago.” No brand has taken better advantage of this trend than Athletic Brewing Company. Just six years old, Athletic brewing had $90 million in sales last year and is now the #1 beer in Whole Foods. Not the #1 non-alcoholic beer. The #1 beer overall.

They’ve done it by opening up new usage occasions. “As it turns out, 80% of Athletic’s customers still drink, according to the company. Some of them choose Athletic when they don’t feel like raging. Some of them mix in Athletics to pace themselves and keep drinking without getting too drunk. They don’t buy Athletic instead of beer. They buy Athletic in addition to other beers.” Athletic Brewing’s earliest sampling events were held at marathons and triathlons – places where beer sponsorship felt incongruous.

The alcohol-reduction trend is also impacting spirits. Worth less than $1 billion in sales globally, nonalcoholic spirits make up only a sliver of the $650 billion spirits market, but they’re booming. They’re poised to grow around 30% annually in the coming years, versus 6% for conventional spirits.

Enter: The non-alcoholic psychoactive substances–Alcohol-free spirits that still claim to have the same relaxing qualities as alcohol. Sentia, from start-up Gaba Labs, is one such beverage.

“It promises to deliver “that two-drink feeling,” lifting a person’s mood and making them open and chatty, without the nasty anxiety spirals, headaches and nausea that booze can bring. And it contains only 9 calories per serving, plus vitamins.

Alcarelle’s formulation is shrouded in secrecy, but Sentia’s active ingredients are listed on the bottle and include botanical extracts, such as magnolia and linden, many of which are already known to have relaxing properties.”

This New Yorker profile on French graffiti artist, Invader, is worth a look. For over 30 years he’s been going out every night to glue pixelated tile mosaics in hard-to-reach nooks of the world’s urban centers. Tracking down Invader mosaics has become a way for people to meet friends, and see the world. His app “flash invaders” has gamified the act of photographing Invaders, giving points for each mosaic a user “flashes”. Now people plot entire trips around finding all the mosaics in a given city. 

Above: An Invader mosaic oversees the goings on in Marseilles

Awesome Instagram follow of the week: Steve Birnbaum who tracks down the locations of famous music photoshoots, and re-shoots them.

View Post“Right ad, right place, right time” is wrong.JAN 2024

“Right ad, right place, right time” is the wrong approach.

by Deacon Webster

It’s time that we disavow ourselves of the the notion that advertising’s platonic ideal is being able to serve “the right ad to the right person at the right place at the right time.” This idea has been eroding the industry and brands for a decade and at this point there is ample evidence that it is ineffective.

Marketers have long been titillated by the idea that every ad dollar spent could be tied to a sale. Fully attributable, targeted ads would put an end once and for all to the uncertainty lingering behind every ad buy. No more not knowing which 50% of your advertising is working. It wasn’t until the Internet and specifically social media began capturing troves of user data that this became a real possibility. In-stepped the ad-tech peddlers, some of which are multi-billion dollar companies, armed with claims that they (finally!) have the technology to bring the dream of perfectly targeted waste-free advertising to life. Simply plug in your audience, add in your assets and let the platforms optimize your way massive ROI.

The problem is, it doesn’t work. Because this is not the way that advertising works.

Here’s why.

Directing every advertising dollar towards reaching the “right person at the right time” might make sense in a world of limitless demand, but in reality, the number of people that performance marketing can convert is finite. Performance marketing can only CAPTURE demand, it cannot generate it because it’s constructed for conversion not persuasion.

Above: The performance plateau is reached when existing demand is tapped out.

In fact performance campaigns actually LOWER demand by being annoying and usually irrelevant.

Problem #2 – Defining the “right person” is not so easy. “Millennial moms” are an audience we encounter a lot, but there’s not much that the 17 million millennial moms actually have in common other than when they were born and that they’ve reproduced. In the chart below we see that Orangina drinkers and people who floss have more in common with each other than millennials. More specific, narrower targeting parameters could be employed (“orangina drinker” is not currently available) but in practice tight targeting leads to tiny addressable audiences across most platforms. (Facebook has dealt with this by simply lying about their numbers, which has led to a class-action lawsuit)


Problem #3 – The technology doesn’t actually work. The programmatic platforms use third party data to figure out who they’re going to serve ads to. It’s supposed to be verified data, but look at what happened when third party data were cross-referenced against the actual audience data:

See above: They can only divine gender with about 50% accuracy – same as a coin toss.

When you cross reference against two attributes, like gender and age, the accuracy drops to 24%.


Yet targeted ads cost MUCH more. Adding targeting to a video campaign increases the cost by 58%. Worth it? I think not.

Problem #4 Response media reduces creative to a set of best practices. To the platforms, the right ad is simply a product shot with an optimized CTA. It does not take on board the possibility that if everyone has the same data, and the same tools, the “right ad” is probably sitting next to 100 other right ads:

Fine then.
So what should we be doing?

1. Lead with brand messaging to drive demand.

2. Let the idea of a fully attributable media plan go. Advertising is cumulative, give it a little time, and focus on the important number: sales.

3. Get back to contextual media – A person is more open to the idea of a camping tent when they’re on than when they’re searching for a divorce lawyer. Context has value.

4. Video is still king for story telling and brand building. CTV and YouTube followed by Instagram stories are the best channels for this.

5. Don’t abandon acquisition media, but make it complementary. It should be conceptually connected to the brand creative, and it should only represent 30-40% of the total media spend.

6. Stop believing everything we hear from the ad tech industrial complex. They are not honest brokers as has been proven time and time again.

View PostDeath by approvalsOCT 2023

Death by approvals

“I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities – and found no statues of Committees.”

– Gilbert Chesterton

The point is a simple one: If you want to put noteworthy ideas into the world, you need to involve fewer people in the creation of those ideas. By putting the creative process in the hands of a small group of key individuals, and allowing them to arrive at a solution without having to second-guess what kind of feedback those who are not in the room might have, it opens the door to the type of lateral thinking that would typically be quashed by a larger group.

Having done this job for almost 30 years I can tell you with certainty that the degree of uniqueness an idea maintains through its creation is inversely proportional to the number of individuals whose opinions were taken into consideration during the process. It’s to be expected. We all see our opinions as valuable, so in a work setting if we are asked what we think, “It’s great, I wouldn’t change a thing” just doesn’t feel like the right answer.

Successful creative endeavors are rarely group affairs. If you think about your favorite album, painting, book, or movie, more likely than not, it’s a reflection of just a few people’s vision. Yes, movies have large teams involved with bringing them to life, but there’s a reason a Wes Anderson movie and a Christopher Nolan movie are so easily distinguishable from each other.

To see the debilitating effects of committee overload on a grand scale, consider the plight of the architecture firm who bids on a public project. Their ideas must undergo the scrutiny of not just the site owners, but also the zoning boards, local politicians, neighbors, nearby businesses, schools, and editorial boards. It should not be surprising that exactly zero square feet of Daniel Liebskind’s competition-winning Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site actually got built. In the book “Yes is More” by architect Bjarke Ingles, he describes entering two hundred competitions in a year without selling a single plan. I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that large public works projects suffer from an over-abundance of input, but it’s worth considering just how different that decision making process really is from the one that puts marketing communications into the world.

At big ad agencies a lot of this committee-ization starts before ideas even leave the building. Ideas often have to run the gantlet of strategists, account folk, ACDs, CD, GCD, and CCO, each looking to put their mark on the idea. From there, the idea must pass through equally complex layers on the client side, and if testing is involved, add in a third wave of opinions. In the end what’s left is a benign final product whose every edge has been sanded down smooth as a Ken doll’s undercarriage. You’d think the ad industry would be pushing for less of this, yet WPP just merged four agencies into one creating a singular 30,000 person multi-layered creativity death-star. Places like this no longer sell creative excellence, they sell process.

There is good news however, because there has never been a better time to do something that goes against the grain. The public is out there, bored to tears by the committee-made blandness that permeates their field of vision all day every day. Put a small team on the job, trust them to do what they were hired to do, and watch what happens. Maybe you’ll even get a statue.

by Deacon Webster

View PostThink like a thumbnailAUG 2023

Think like a thumbnail

by Deacon Webster, CCO Walrus

Advertisers can learn a lot from the lowly thumbnail image. Small but mighty, thumbnails rule consumption and they’re everywhere. Whether we’re on Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, or in a local bookstore, our environments are throwing thousands of these little billboards in our direction in hopes of piquing our interest enough to warrant a deeper look. All day, every day thumbnails are busy tipping the scales in the favor of those who are smart enough to take them seriously.

Mr. Beast, YouTube’s most followed streamer with 172 million followers cites thumbnail improvement as one of his keys to growth. He arrived at his formula after years of trial and error and now employs a thumbnail team of six that have helped shape his look and feel based on their learnings which include upping the production value and making the image more conceptual. They test over 20 thumbnails per video and they make them prior to even shooting the video.

Netflix also understands the power of a good thumbnail and serves alternative versions of program art of the same show to different viewers in hopes of attracting the widest possible audience.

Not everyone has figured it out. If you look at a category like books (because what is a book cover if not a big thumbnail) you find that there is an institutional need to blend in. Instead of vying for attention book covers seem to strive for genre compliance. Biographies look like biographies, cookbooks look like cookbooks, and summer fiction looks like summer fiction. It’s impossible to judge these books by their covers.

Which brings us to advertising. As we have said, if an ad doesn’t hold attention for at least 2.5 seconds, the message will have no impact. It’s completely forgotten. The first frame of a video ad is essentially the thumbnail. It needs to pop, it needs to be visually iconic, and it immediately needs to pull you in. We need to give that frame the attention that Mr. Beast gives his thumbnails. It should go without saying that our thumbnails deserve this level of scrutiny. There are wider applications for this thinking.

Nils Leonard from Uncommon, talks about the importance of iconography across their campaigns. They look for a visual shorthand for the idea that’s easily cut, pasted, and shared. Often when we do experiential stunts we’ll make an announcement in the newspaper. We do this not because we think that our audience still reads the physical paper, but because we want the media to have something to share. It’s important to have some sort of graphic element that can be easily photographed and dropped into a story or an Instagram post. A thumbnail, if you will.

Above – CNBC story about the Steak for Stock exchange at Smith & Wollensky. Image taken from our newspaper announcement.

As attention continues to be in shorter supply, we’d all do well to think about our campaigns with a thumbnail creator’s mindset. What’s the thing that’s going to stand out and grab someone? What is the icon for this idea? What is the easy simplified graphic thing that anyone can easily share? It’s not enough to have a great idea anymore, if you want people to engage with it, you need an amazing tiny rectangle.

View PostIf you build an ad and nobody remembers it, did it run at all?JUN 2023

If you build an ad and nobody remembers it, did it run at all?

By Deacon Webster, Walrus CCO

Somebody has actually taken the time to figure out how long it takes for something to enter your memory. It’s called the “attention-memory threshold” and for advertising that point occurs after 2.5 seconds of active attention. Anything under 2.5 seconds, it’s as if it never happened. Unfortunately, that threshold is being crossed less frequently, according to this chart from Les Binet, Tom Roach, and Dr. Grace Kite’s fantastic talk in Cannes last week.

It’s not hard to figure out why. Advertisers are not actually trying to stand out. I can’t think of the last category review we did that didn’t include a huge “It’s a sea of sameness” collage. The rise of the “bland” has made it de rigueur to sit back and blend in; category “best practices” make it a business imperative to look and behave like the competition in order to appear as if you belong in the category; and of course, there’s the ever looming threat of social media backlash, making it scary to do anything too noticeable. Programmatic targeting has made it easy for advertisers to convince themselves that they’re doing the right thing because their ads are so precisely targeted that they should deliver sales regardless of how unique the messaging is. The actual numbers bear little of this out. DTC brands are running up against a performance plateau. Marketers like Adidas and AirBnB have realized that the response-heavy ad buys don’t perform over the long term and have seen tremendous success upon turning back to brand work.

Brand building remains the best way to ensure long term growth, and a strong brand is a memorable one. From the chart above, we know that in order to even have a chance at being committed to memory, an ad needs to capture attention and hold it for at least 2.5 seconds. This is an extremely important piece of data that lets us know whether or not an ad is going to even have a shot at performing, yet memorability metrics are far down the ad performance KPI list if they’re on there at all. What if memorability was a primary goal? Like in the top three. What if all advertising started with the mission of capturing attention right out of the gate and holding it – how different would advertising look? Would advertisers still strive to blend in? How much slice-of-life advertising would we still see? How many ads would continue to be set in a kitchen, or at a backyard barbecue, or in a car? Under this lens, the most important frame of an ad is the first one, and from there you need to hold on for dear life or else you’ve wasted your money. Think about your favorite ads of all time – how quickly did they pull you in? Here’s a telling exercise for marketers and agencies: Take a screenshot of the first frame of every one of your videos and go through them one by one asking yourself the same simple question: Does this frame make me want to stick around to see the next one?

(Above: Frame one of Tiny Toast Horse by Walrus)

View PostWhy AI can’t make a tusk or a unique playlist.APR 2023

Why AI can’t make a tusk or a unique playlist.

In a recent New York Magazine article, the author comes to the realization that Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlists are not, in fact, particularly unique to the listener after hearing a good portion of their “personalized” songs played in a local bar. Discover weekly seemed like a service that could magically take ALL the music a listener had ever played, dump it into a black box, and spit out a one-of-a-kind list of new music, perfectly matched their unique listening DNA. In fact this is not how Spotify Discover weekly, or any of the other algorithm-driven applications actually work. They work by taking massive amounts of data and averaging it in order to provide the “best” results. The problem is that averages are weighted against novelty.

Discover Weekly is unlikely to ever recommend a brand new song by a brand new artist, even if it’s something that a certain listener would 100% love, because Spotify has no data to back up that decision. Their recommendations are not based on the contents of the songs, they’re based who else likes the songs, and those numbers are always going to veer towards mass because mass equals consensus in the eyes of a bot. Users are finding similar issues when they query Chat GPT whose responses are simply an average of whatever is in its database, regardless of veracity. If there are enough blog posts in that database questioning whether the moon landing happened, Chat GPT will also question whether the moon landing happened. Something to keep in mind when using Chat GPT to write your term paper on the Apollo missions. The same issues apply to AI image generators like Mid-journey. They’re great at creating images that look like other things we’ve all seen, but they’re terrible at originating more novel images. Walrus tusks, for example, are very difficult for Mid-journey to draw. I know this for obvious reasons. Mid-journey has no clue that there are lots of walruses in captivity who have had their tusks removed and that they are not the platonic ideal of the way a walrus should look. It just knows it has x number of walrus pictures and some have white things on their faces and some don’t. As a result, it kind of splits the difference. All of these algorithms can be tweaked, and weighted to make them more efficient, but fundamentally they exist to provide consensus answers, not novelty and that is why they will never be a substitute for human creativity.

Human creative choices and tastes are hard to replicate because they are so individual and unique. For years at the agency we’ve run into a similar issue whenever we need to use stock photos to generate comps for ads. The images available in stock libraries are generic and not up to the task. It’s often impossible to pull together a decent representation of what we’re envisioning in Photoshop because the visual is something entirely new. For a photograph to make it into a stock library, it has to be useful across lots of applications so the stock library can make money off of it. This makes most of those images useless to someone with a new idea. We end up using a drawing instead, because it’s much easier than cobbling something together from disparate existing photographs. In fact, we’ve found that this is a good check on the freshness of an idea: if you can find really good reference for it, it’s probably not a very original thought. Initially we had thought that Ai would be a boon to this type of photo comping because we could finally generate quality representations of visually unique ideas. Sadly it’s not the case – no matter how hard you try and manipulate the query, it’s impossible to generate a good image of, say, a 900 foot walrus rampaging through Union Square like we have on our holiday t-shirt. Ultimately, AI is extremely useful in surfacing the aggregate of what’s already been thought, photographed, drawn, discovered, but if you’re looking for the NEXT thing, you’re better off talking to a human.


View PostOscar Mayer Gives the Finger to Hot Dog HandsFEB 2023

Oscar Mayer Gives the Finger to Hot Dog Hands

And this isn’t the first time they’ve held onto their wieners…

By Deacon Webster

Everything Everywhere All at Once, the A24-produced movie, received 11 Oscar nominations, making it the most nominated movie of the season. The film already won big at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, which is fantastic news for everyone except possibly the Oscar Mayer corporation, which turned down a seeming once in a lifetime opportunity to play a major role in the plot of an award-winning film.

The film centers on the idea of the multiverse—the concept that our universe is but one of an infinite number of parallel universes in which things are the same but different, sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in ways that are much bigger. The film prominently features one such parallel universe where everyone, including stars Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis, have hot dogs instead of fingers.

Michelle Yeoh

Seeing an obvious sponsorship opportunity, the producers at A24 reached out to Oscar Mayer but the entreaty garnered no response, so the movie went on with no tube steak sponsor. A24 revealed the ghosting in a tweet.


To some this may seem like a major missed opportunity for Oscar Mayer—but this is not the first time the processed meats purveyor has shunned Hollywood. Oscar Mayer holds their brand in high regard and, like the Beatles and Bob Dylan, feel that the use of their works in commercial ventures would devalue their product. You may be surprised to know that over the past 50 years, Oscar Mayer has turned down countless opportunities to be featured in many of the most iconic movies and TV shows. To them, the chance of being the poster-child for the next Flubber is too much of a risk.

Here are a just a few of the films that Oscar Mayer has rebuffed over the years:

Pulp Fiction
Pulp Fiction

What eventually became a Big Kahuna Burger was originally supposed to be an Oscar Mayer wiener in this iconic intimidation scene from Sam Jackson.

“Do you know what they call a foot-long hot dog in France, Brett?”

Star Wars
Star Wars

True fact: The Jedi Master in the original George Lucas script was actually a 1,000-year-old cocktail wiener.

Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing

Rumor has it that Patrick Swayze specifically requested a Chicago-style dog as his castmate in this summer classic. The deal fell through.

The Ring
The Ring

Producers from The Ring saw the obvious branding synergies between frankfurters and a creature that emerges from dark murky water.

The English Patient
The English Patient

According to people with knowledge, the on-set chemistry between Juliette Binoche and her would-be co-star was palpable during screen tests.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

“Master has given Dobby a chili dog. Master has freed Dobby.”

The A-Team
The A-Team

If viewers of this ’80s TV classic ever wondered how the secretive squad of hitmen blended-in to Los Angeles traffic with their black and red striped van, the original plan for the vehicle would’ve raised even more questions.


Little known fact—Kate Winslet only got the role in Titanic AFTER a James Cameron rebuke from the Oscar Mayer Company.


Sand worms—scary. All-beef sand-frank—terrifying.

High School Musical
High School Musical

This one actually happened. Really.

Squid Game
Squid Game

How much more harrowing would the first Squid Game challenge have been if their original concept had come to fruition? We’ll never know.

In the end it’s clear that Oscar Mayer has missed out on the type of publicity that most brands can only dream of. Will they change their ways if Everything Everywhere All at Once wins it all at the Academy Awards in March? Only time will tell.

(Originally appeared in Muse by Clio)

View PostAdvertising doesn’t have to ruin Netflix.JUL 2022

Advertising doesn’t have to ruin Netflix.

The day that pandemic TV bingers have been dreading is finally upon us: Netflix will no longer be an ad-free platform.

When word emerged that Netflix was in talks with Google to build out an ad-supported option, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would go the easy route of slotting in a few ad breaks during each show a la Hulu, or seize the opportunity to re-imagine what a modern advertising platform could be?

We should all hope for the latter.

After all, no one is forcing Netflix to adhere to the rules set by 20th century linear television. At the very least, it should aim to make the advertising bearable for an audience accustomed to blissfully plowing through full seasons of “Emily in Paris” sans interruption.

As someone who has spent time both being tortured by ads on streaming platforms and creating ads that have quite possibly tortured others on streaming platforms, I feel uniquely positioned to offer up some thoughts on how to make the experience a good one for advertisers AND viewers.

Put data sharing in the users’ hands
Rather than miring itself sticky with privacy/walled garden decisions, perhaps Netflix could let its users decide how much data gets shared and with whom.

What if monthly fees were linked to users’ willingness to share data? Willing to share your age, ZIP code and family status? That’s one fee. Throw in your household income and how many cars you have and that’s cheaper. Willing to also take two surveys a year? That might even be free. A user could opt out of sharing any data and that would be fine, too, but more expensive.

Say no to ad repetition
Anyone who watches ad-supported Hulu knows all about ad repetition. It’s not uncommon to see the same spot in every single commercial pod of a show. It’s highly annoying. Hulu claims to have frequency caps and other software that prevent repetition, but these only apply to ad buyers who purchase through the platform. Anyone buying programmatically has zero control over the order of spots within an episode or fine control of frequency.

Netflix should work with a DSP like the Trade Desk to solve this. Being able to control ad frequency would open up lots of creative possibilities for advertisers.

Hold back inventory for big events
Imagine if the Squid Game season two premiere were only available through direct purchase at a premium price. Advertisers gain a degree of prestige for being there and might even feel inclined to create something custom for the event.

Reward un-skipped ads
While Netflix probably won’t have a skip button, why not let advertisers take a gamble and include one? And if that ad gets viewed to completion frequently, Netflix could reward them with free or cheaper placements for doing viewers the invaluable service of not being horribly disruptive.

Netflix could make shows shoppable
Like that Pogue’s bikini top on “Outer Banks”? Add it to your cart.

Develop proprietary ad units
Netflix could take the experience out of advertisers’ hands by doing recurring “ads” that act more like content. During Stranger Things, for example, imagine a Demogorgon doing “product reviews” during ad breaks, sampling (and ultimately destroying) products that advertisers pay to have included. I’d watch it.

Gamify the viewing experience
Netflix is an interactive platform. It should embrace that more. Binge all six seasons of Peaky Blinders in a week? You get a free bottle of Bushmills. Think you’d be better at laundering money than Marty Byrde? Play the Ozark Tax Simulator by TurboTax and find out.

Allow for deeper exploration of relevant content
If someone watched the Scorsese documentary on the Rolling Stones, they could be served a Spotify link to three albums from that same era along with the audiobook of the Keith Richards autobiography. The possibilities are endless.

With a little creativity, Netflix has the opportunity to re-imagine the way online advertising looks and behaves. Let’s hope it does. It would be exciting for advertisers–and possibly even tolerable for viewers.

View PostHaley Joel Osment Saw Dead People. I See Annoying User Experiences.OCT 2018

Haley Joel Osment Saw Dead People. I See Annoying User Experiences, and They’re Everywhere

Frustration is the mother of entrepreneurialism. Many of humanity’s best ideas, from the windshield wiper to the Cuisinart to the iPhone, started with a person throwing up their hands and saying, “Screw it, I’m fixing this myself.” Without problems, there are no solutions. 

These days, “creativity” comes in many forms, and an ability to recognize points of friction in user experiences—and ultimately eliminate them—can be an extremely valuable way to apply the craft. You just have to know where to look. If you would like to learn how to better tune your radar to the ultra-high frequencies of minor human discomfort, there is no better way to start than by channeling me, the most neurotic man in the world. 

Most Saturday mornings for the past 12 years I have stood wedged between two beverage coolers in my local bagel shop drafting a letter in my head titled, “The La Bagel Delight Bagel Ordering and Payment Process: An Optimization Plan.” La Bagel Delight is a free-for-all when it comes to the mechanisms of bagel commerce. Walk in there, and you’re walking into the International Waters of breakfast food acquisition. Customers order, wait for, and pick up their bagels from the same 100 square feet of space at the back of the store—a setup that turns even the most well-adjusted human into a hunched, groveling Breakfast Gollum slithering through the masses to retrieve the goods. 

It’s a process that could easily be made 10 times more pleasant and efficient by simply reconfiguring the shop and designating lines for ordering and pickup. The fact that the ownership hasn’t realized this drives me insane. I find myself almost uncontrollably compelled to inform them that this is a problem. 

I talk about things like this constantly. My family does not derive joy from these musings. Maybe you will. 

Here are some things that I noticed this past Monday:

• The vertical poles on older N-line New York City subway cars are positioned in such a manner that people by the doors have nowhere to hold on when the car is full. 

• My breakfast spot sells only green bananas. I can only assume this is to accommodate people who are buying an egg and cheese for today, and fruit for next Tuesday. 

• At lunch, Pret A Manger gives me a bag that’s too short for my sandwich, which ends up sticking out of the top, past the handles, so you have to squeeze the bag closed around the sandwich. I feel strongly that Pret should have measured its sandwiches before landing on a universal bag size.

• Throughout the day I take approximately seven inadvertent screenshots on my new iPhone because the volume and power buttons sit on opposing sides of the device and depressing these buttons simultaneously (some might simply refer to this as squeezing the phone) creates a screenshot. 

• I play Stevie Wonder through my car’s audio system. This is the default album image:

• I am forced to watch a 30-second ad before I can see a 7-second ESPN clip. 

• I listen to Sonos in my house. Sonos has taken everything that’s fun and easy about playing digital music and summarily discarded it. Sonos is exactly what music listening software would be like if it were designed by the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

• At night I use my television. SOURCE: HDMI1, HDMI2, CABLE IN, PC IN. I am the only one in my house who is willing navigate the backwaters of this interface.

• CBS is on channel 2, AMC on channel 54, and HBO on channel 400. I manually toggle between the three using the channel guide and the up/down arrows (which, incidentally, move the screen in the opposite direction from the page up and page down arrows).

• Later I spend 15 minutes trying to find National Lampoon’s Vacation, searching Netflix, HBO, Showtime, Hulu and Amazon Prime to see if I’ve already got it for free before giving up and paying for it on-demand. 

Yes, that’s what I thought about on Monday. 

My fixation on these issues is not normal, but usability frustration is common. The ways in which we move through our environments, the paths we take through interfaces, and the order in which information is served to us have all been pre-determined by groups with ranging objectives, many of which have nothing to do with providing a good end-user experience. It’s not in Spectrum cable’s business interests to allow me to move HBO next to AMC in my channel guide, but its unwillingness to provide the best user-centric solution opens the door to someone else who can. 

Frustration points translate into opportunity. In a recent New Yorker profile on Rent the Runway, CEO Jennifer Hymen cites the notion that “every woman has the feeling of opening up her closet and seeing the dozens of dead dresses that she’s worn only once,” as their catalyst for starting her clothing rental company.

There isn’t a multimillion-dollar solution for every pain point, but you’ll rarely go wrong if your mission is to fix things for people. The ability to use creativity to alleviate people’s frustrations is a superpower. If you can harness it, you will be a hero. 

By: Deacon Webster (originally appeared in Muse by Clio)

Top photo: Katerina Kamprani / The Uncomfortable

View PostWhy CMOs shouldn’t hate agencies that are Lions obsessed.JUN 2017

Why CMOs shouldn’t hate agencies that are Lions obsessed.

In John Immesoete’s recent Ad Age op-ed, “Here’s Why CMOs Hate Agencies That Are Lion-Obsessed,” he describes a chief marketing officer who came to his agency and told him what he thinks about agencies that win awards. It’s not pretty:

“I’m a CMO of a company that is losing sales, bleeding to death slowly. I need solutions for growth. You know why? Because we have an accountability to our investors, shareholders and board to grow. I need people who can help me achieve this, not win Cannes Lions. And this is why we hate you.”

Some may read this as a rally cry to get back to more response-oriented advertising. I read this as a classic example of a misguided client.

To be clear, I completely understand why a CMO couldn’t care less about whether or not an agency has won awards, and I think it’s fruitless to bring them up at all in new business meetings. However, the prevalent notion that the work that wins in places like Cannes is different from advertising that actually drives sales could not be further from the truth.

From this CMO’s perspective, the hype around “creativity” is just a big masturbatory exercise for stunted artists who are getting their kicks off his brand’s dime. This line of thinking makes sense if you’re worried solely about the interests of shareholders, investors and bosses. But there’s another party in this equation that needs to be accounted for: the audience.

The poor people who are going to be subjected to whatever content the brand puts out in the world, interrupting binge watching and web browsing loudly and rudely, should be the CMO’s top priority because they are his actual customers. Luckily, these are the exact people that his agency creative departments are trying to win over on the brand’s behalf. Creatives know that to the average human being, a half-amusing Geico ad is a welcome respite from the monotonous onslaught of testimonials and generic aspirational lifestyle imagery thrown at them for 14 minutes of every hour on TV.

The aforementioned CMO claims that he is losing sales and bleeding to death slowly. Sounds to me like a highly creative campaign is exactly what he needs, not a harder working FSI program. It certainly worked for Old Spice, which saw sales increase 107% after hiring Wieden & Kennedy and winning the Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix in 2010. The Domino’s Mea Culpa campaign by Crispin turned the brand completely around (and won a few Lions in the process). Shareholders were surely happy seeing the stock go from $8.76 to $106.

Are we actually to believe that our CMO would be pounding the pavement right now had he greenlighted this year’s triple-Grand Prix winning Fearless Girl — a single bronze statue that managed to be covered by every single national news outlet, sometimes over the course of multiple days, after its installation? The ROI on that statue is probably pretty decent. What about campaigns like Always’ “Like a Girl”? Awards show fluff? Examples of the power of creative advertising are everywhere, and it’s no coincidence the things our angry CMO is worried about — shareholder value and sales — are exactly the things that great creative ads are ultimately geared to drive. Don’t believe me? Ask Dollar Shave Club, which was just purchased by Unilever for $1 billion in a sale that would unquestionably never have happened were it not for a single piece of amazing creative advertising.

This CMO claims that our “industry is in huge trouble” because there’s too much drive to create type of work that’s winning at Cannes. I’d argue that the trouble comes from there not being enough of it.

View PostEffectiveness is the new blackAUG 2016

Effectiveness is the new black

I had the honor of taking part in the final round judging of the Effies last week, and one thing that struck me was the number of senior people that made up the judging panel. I saw agency heads, I saw CMO’s, I saw Chief Strategy Officers, I saw top people from industry trade organizations. All these heavy hitters taking time off from their busy schedule to make sure that the right work received the awards. As my judging group hashed the winners out, it was heartening to see how much immediate consensus there was on what constituted a good case and what was suspect. Vague results were met with skepticism. Causation was constantly brought into question. Whether or not a campaign even belonged in a particular category led to more than one extensive discussion. If my group was any indicator of the quality of discourse across the judging, this year’s winners will truly represent the best cases as judged by a panel of experts.

The fact that we were all willingly there to take part in effectiveness judging speaks volumes about the importance of results (and ROI) to both agencies and marketers today. This didn’t always appear to be the case. Back when I started in the business, the awards shows that agencies cared about were the One Show and the D&AD, which are amazing showcases for creativity, but are not judged on their effectiveness. Some time after, Cannes became something worth entering (very possibly because it was so worth attending), but things like the Effies and the Clios always lurked in the periphery as second tier awards (at least in the minds of agency folk).

While creative awards were and are coveted by agencies, I’ve seen countless clients glaze over whenever they are presented with an awards tally during a credentials meeting. You get the sense that they see awards as an indicator that the agency doesn’t care about results or when it comes time to work with them, they’re going to be artsy prima-donnas. The Effies, on the other hand, hold a unique place in the awards eco-system — they straddle the worlds of creativity and results, which makes them much more tangible to clients. They want to win them too; and that is why the Effies have become the award to win. It’s a true benchmark of success for the entire industry. Given all of this, one might expect that the big winners at the Effies would differ greatly from the big winners at the other non-results driven shows. Guess what — they don’t. — a quick scan of the Effie winners list from the past few years features many of the exact same campaigns that won big in all the other shows. Maybe better ideas DO drive better results, agencies just needed the Effies to prove it.