kottke.org posts about advertising
For the past 12 years, working on kottke.org has been my full-time job. For all but two of those years, my primary source of income has come from a small advertisement that appeared on each page of the site served up by The Deck. The Deck was small advertising network that displayed ads on sites like kottke.org, Daring Fireball, swissmiss, MetaFilter, and The Morning News from advertisers like MailChimp, Slack, Adobe, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, etc. etc. etc. The ads were small & clean and accompanied by a bit of text and a link; that’s it. No tracking, no targeting, no pop-ups. The ads were tasteful, polite even. In exchange for allowing these companies a small piece of my site to tell you folks about their products and services, I was paid a fixed amount every month, direct-deposited like clockwork into my bank account. I never ever had to think about it — we didn’t even have a contract!1 — all I had to do was write. All in all, a fair trade for everyone involved.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that The Deck ad is no longer on the site. Some months ago, Jim Coudal informed me that the ad network was struggling to attract advertisers. An attempt at restructuring failed and, as of March 31, The Deck is no more. There’s much I could say about the challenges faced by small independent sites now and how drastically the online advertising market has changed in the past few years, but mostly I’d like to thank Jim (and original Deck co-conspirators Jason Fried and Jeffrey Zeldman) for building a service that allowed me do my thing with minimal fuss for so long. Jim, I wish you continued good luck in steering the Field Notes juggernaut.
So, where does that leave kottke.org? Luckily I anticipated something like this happening1 and the launch of memberships back in November has left the site on stable financial ground, even without advertising. Thank you, members! Seriously, you people saved the Building & Loan. And if you’re not yet a member and you find value in what I do here, there has never been a better time to support kottke.org.
Even so, in the interests of necessarily diversifying the revenue of this here very small business, I will be looking at options for replacing The Deck with….something. I have a few leads and ideas but am open to suggestions. Wanna do a year-long sponsorship of one of the best independent sites on the internet? Got a line on a small ad network with tasteful advertising? Do you have experience with online advertising and advice for me? Let’s talk. Chumbox providers need not apply.
In the second episode of the 6th season of Mad Men, ad man Don Draper of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce pitches Heinz on a campaign where you never actually see the product. The ads show French fries, steak, and a hamburger with the tagline “Pass the Heinz” and your mind fills in the missing ketchup bit. Here’s the pitch (which doesn’t exactly land w/ the Heinz folks):
Now, in the real universe, the actual Heinz is running Draper’s ads.
Partly a PR stunt, partly just solid on-brand communications, the campaign is sure to delight fans of the AMC show, which in July will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its premiere. And in a nice touch, the ads are officially being credited to Heinz’s current agency, David Miami, and to Don’s fictional 1960s firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. (Draper and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who approved the idea, are both listed in the credits.)
Heinz tells AdFreak that each one will get its own billboard in NYC. All three ads will also run in the New York Post, and the fries execution will run in Variety too. The ads will get support across Heinz’s social media channels as well.
See also Malcolm Gladwell on The Ketchup Conundrum.
Ezra Edelman’s fantastic documentary OJ: Made in America won the Oscar for best documentary this year. In a video for Fandor, Joel Bocko explains while the film’s focus is on Simpson, it also explores seven broader themes about contemporary America: sports, the media, Los Angeles, class, domestic abuse, policing, and race.
OJ: Made in America emerges not simply as a brilliant biography, it’s also a stunning social portrait that can stand beside any novel, epic film, or piece of longform journalism.
And in this video for The Atlantic, Edelman explains how, before murdering his ex-wife, Simpson was an advertising pioneer, the first black athlete to become a nationally known product pitchman, appearing in commercials for Hertz, Chevy, and Schick.
One of the most interesting aspects of Edelman’s film is how Simpson’s feelings about being black shifted after his arrest. For most of his life, he distanced himself from the black community, famously declaring “I’m not black, I’m OJ.” He didn’t get involved in the politics of the day or speak out like Muhammed Ali and other prominent black athletes did. He enjoyed preferential treatment by the LAPD, who help him keep his abuse of women under wraps. Black America had nothing to offer a man who enjoyed being rich and famous in white America. But then the trial happened and he hired Johnny Cochran, who made race into the central issue of the case, deftly aligning Simpson with a black community who had endured decades of racism and brutality in LA at the hands of society and the police.
I know, I know. This is a car commercial and it’s morbid and at this moment in time it’s not really that funny, but it caught me at just the right time today and I laughed harder at this than I have at something in several weeks. So I guess even ad agencies are capable of enabling righteous acts (or at least inappropriately hilarious acts) these days?
Wes Anderson directed a short holiday film starring Adrien Brody for H&M. It is delightful. You can criticize the twee formality in his work,1 but this is a reminder that Anderson can bring the emotion when he wants.
A site called FamilyBreakFinder produced a world map with every country’s tourism slogan on it. A few of my favorite slogans:
Netherlands: The original cool
Colombia: Colombia is magical realism
El Salvador: The 45 minute country
Slovenia: I feel sLOVEnia
Cape Verde: No stress
Morocco: Much mor
Bhutan: Happiness is a place
India: Incredible !ndia
Some of these countries should ask their ad agencies for their money back. (via @ftrain)
As a chaser to the last post, here’s Hillary Clinton’s latest campaign commercial. This is right up there with the best political ads I’ve seen. Obama’s words are taken from his speech to the Congressional Black Caucus last month.
Our work’s not done. But if we are going to advance the cause of justice, and equality, and prosperity, and freedom, then we also have to acknowledge that even if we eliminated every restriction on voters, we would still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. That’s not good, that is on us.
And I am reminded of all those folks who had to count bubbles in a bar of soap, beaten trying to register voters in Mississippi. Risked everything so that they could pull that lever. So, if I hear anybody saying their vote does not matter, that it doesn’t matter who we elect, read up on your history. It matters. We’ve got to get people to vote.
In fact, if you want to give Michelle and me a good sendoff, and that was a beautiful video, but don’t just watch us walk off into the sunset now, get people registered to vote. If you care about our legacy, realize everything we stand for is at stake, on the progress we have made is at stake in this election.
My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Ending mass incarceration, that’s on the ballot right now.
From a New Zealand sketch comedy show called Funny Girls, a send-up of a typical manly man “built tough” truck commercial. I barely watch any actual TV anymore, but those truck commercials have always been the worst. (thx, sarah)
While attempting to do a commercial for the chicken pot pie at Dysart’s Restaurant in Maine, this gentleman has a little problem with saying his lines. This just gets funnier and funnier as it goes on, and it is imperative that you watch until the very end. This is the hardest I’ve laughed all week.
P.S. If you live in New England, you can get a Dysart’s pie shipped right to your house. Fruit pies only, but they presumably still have that buttery crispy crun- … dammit! (via @heyadamroberts)
The advertising that Volkswagen ran in American magazines and newspapers in the 1960s was legendary, perhaps the greatest ad campaign ever. This is a great little documentary about how the ads came about — pitching “a Nazi car in a Jewish town”.
I had only ever seen a few of these ads…what an amazing campaign. For this one, they didn’t even bother showing you the car, an assurance to the buyer that you knew what you were getting.
A new commercial from Apple pairs photos & videos shot on iPhone 6 with a poem from Maya Angelou called Human Family.
We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
You can hear Angelou recite the entire poem here:
A cute Ikea ad imagines what Instagram might have been like in the 18th century…it involves a painter and a lot of driving around in a carriage soliciting likes.
Lo and Behold, a documentary about technology and the internet directed by Werner Herzog is coming out soon and so Herzog is doing some interviews and such about the film and dozens of other topics. With Paul Holdengraber, Herzog talks about North Korea and volcanoes:
The North Koreans apparently had seen quite a few of my films. I established a trust with them. It’s very strange because you’re accompanied by people who would look after what you were doing, who would politely tell you you cannot film this, or cannot film that, and at one point I filmed something which I was not allowed to do, so I wanted to have it edited or deleted. But since they are filming in 4K or 5K or so, very complicated data management, we were unable to delete it, and they wanted to take the entire memory hard drive. And I said, “But it contains two days worth of shooting, that would be terrible.” So I said, “You know what, I can guarantee to you that I’m not going to use this material.” And they said, “Guarantee, what do you mean by that?” I said, “Just look me in the eye, what I offer is my honor, my face, and my handshake.” And they said “ok” and they trusted me. And of course I’m not going to use this moment of filming that I was not supposed to film.
Herzog talked about Pokemon Go and film school with Emily Yoshida:
Q: You might be able to catch some. It’s all completely virtual. It’s very simple, but it’s also an overlay of physically based information that now exists on top of the real world.
A: When two persons in search of a pokemon clash at the corner of Sunset and San Vicente is there violence? Is there murder?
Q: They do fight, virtually.
A: Physically, do they fight?
A: Do they bite each other’s hands? Do they punch each other?
Jason Tanz spoke with Herzog for his profile on the director and his new film:
Herzog grins as he takes a seat in a conference room at UCLA, which has been set up for an event later this evening. His eyes droop, but his skin is remarkably smooth, like the surface of a slightly underinflated balloon. And then there’s that voice-silky, portentous-you can imagine it coming out of a GPS system giving driving directions to Valhalla. “I like to look back at the evolution of modern human beings,” he says of his interest in the Internet. “Using fire or electricity was an enormous step for civilization, and this is one of those. And I think the poet must not avert his eyes.”
What is interesting about Lo and Behold is that it’s technically branded content. No, really:
It’s a bonafide film that premiered at Sundance in January and has been generating lots of buzz heading toward its wider release. It also happens to be one giant ad, half in disguise, for POD New York client Netscout. The whole thing started out as an agency idea to produce short videos about the internet as part of a online Netscout campaign. But after they roped in Herzog, the vision for the project soon changed-for the better.
“I come from a digital background, and I’ve talked about the internet for my entire career. My first job was as the internet guy at DDB in Brazil,” Pereira said. “When we hired Werner to do content about the internet, I felt like, OK, I know it’s going to be awesome, but I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to see. But actually, it’s mind-blowing. We gave him the beginning of the idea and told him, ‘This is where it starts.’ He took it from there and owned it. It’s a mind-blowing documentary.”
I saw the film last week,1 and from what I remember, there’s nothing about Netscout in the film. They financed the film but according to Tanz, Herzog had final cut:
Herzog retained final cut while granting McNiel veto power, a privilege McNiel used only once, to excise some of the more horrifying troll comments, a decision Herzog now says he agrees with.
See also 24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog.
The Internet Archive has just uploaded a bunch of commercials that were shown during Saturday morning cartoons during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.1 Holy nostalgia bomb, OMG that Frosted Mini Wheats commercial! I somehow remember most of the 80s ones…can I delete those memories somehow to make more room for new thoughts about AI, self-driving cars, and climate change?
Keiichi Matsuda’s Hyper-Reality “presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media”. This is like a 5-minute episode of Black Mirror. Do not want. See also these previous videos about augmented reality overload, including an earlier video by Matsuda.
Is this for real? 43 people simultaneously tossed coins into jars while standing 15 feet away with only a single miss? Impressive.
If it is fake, how’d they do it? CG? Coins dropped from above each jar? It seems unlikely the broken jar near the beginning of the sequence was done in CG or resulted from a coin falling from above. The coins, jars, and tossing seems real. How about 43 motion-captured green-screened robotic arms accurately tossed the coins and the actors were added in later. Or was it magic?
Before the Reagans cranked up the War on Drugs in the early 80s due to the massive influx of cocaine from Latin America, advertisements offering all kinds of coke paraphernalia could be found in magazines. The World’s Best Ever collected a bunch of ads offering spoons, mirrors, straws, knives, and the like for America’s coke sniffers.
I am an episode and a half into Narcos on Netflix. Pretty good (but not great) so far.1 (via adfreak)
I have been doing a poor job keeping up with my Steve Jobs-related media. I haven’t had a chance to pick up the new Becoming Steve Jobs book yet. And I had no idea that the Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic was still in the works, much less that Michael Fassbender is playing Jobs and Danny Boyle is directing. Here’s the trailer:
The trailer debuted during last night’s series finale of Mad Men, which was possibly the most appropriate venue for it. [Slight spoilers…] Draper always had a Jobs-esque sheen to him, although the final scene showed us that, yes, Don Draper actually would like to sell sugar water for the rest of his life.
Update: A proper trailer has dropped. I don’t know how much we’ll learn about the actual Steve Jobs from the movie, but it looks like it might be good.
Update: Another trailer. This is looking like a strong film.
If you’ve bought a ticket to an event in the past, oh, 15-20 years, chances are you got it from Ticketmaster. Chances are also pretty good that you think Ticketmaster completely sucks, mostly because of the unavoidable and exorbitant convenience fee they charge. And that probably has you wondering: if everyone who uses the service hates Ticketmaster so much, how are they still in business? Because ticket buyers are not Ticketmaster’s customers. Artists and venues are Ticketmaster’s real customers and they provide plenty of value to them.
Ticketmaster sells more tickets than anybody else and they’re the biggest company in the ticket selling game. That gives them certain financial resources that smaller companies don’t have. TM has used this to their advantage by moving the industry toward very aggressive ticketing deals between ticketing companies and their venue clients. This comes in the form of giving more of the service charge per ticket back to the venue (rebates), and in cash to the venue in the form of a signing bonus or advance against future rebates. Venues are businesses too and, thus, they like “free” money in general (signing bonuses), as well as money now (advances) versus the same money later (rebates).
Read that whole Quora answer again…there’s nothing in there about TM being helpful for ticket buyers. It turns out asking “who’s the customer?” is a great way of thinking about when certain companies or industries do things that aren’t aligned with good customer service or user experience.1
Take Apple and Google for instance. Apple sells software and hardware directly to people; that’s where the majority of their revenue comes from. Apple’s customers are the people who use Apple products. Google gets most of their revenue from putting advertising into the products & services they provide. The people who use Google’s products and services are not Google’s customers, the advertisers are Google’s customers. Google does a better job than Ticketmaster at providing a good user experience, but the dissonance that results between who’s paying and who’s using gets the company in trouble sometimes. See also Facebook and Twitter, among many others.
Newspapers, magazines, and television networks have dealt with this same issue for decades now.2 They derive large portions of their revenue from advertisers and, in the case of the TV networks, from the cable companies who pay to carry their channels. That results in all sorts of user hostile behavior, from hiding a magazine’s table of contents in 20 pages of ads to shrieking online advertising to commercials that are louder than the shows to clunky product placement to trimming scenes from syndicated shows to cram in more commercials. From ABC to Vogue to the New York Times, you’re not the customer and it shows.
This might be off-topic (or else the best example of all), but “who’s the customer?” got me thinking about who the customers of large public corporations really are: shareholders and potential shareholders. The accepted wisdom of maximizing shareholder value has become an almost moral imperative for large corporations. The needs of their customers, employees, the environment, and the communities in which they’re located often take a backseat to keeping happy the big investment banks, mutual funds, and hedge funds who buy their stock. When providing good customer service and experience is viewed by companies as opposite to maximizing shareholder value, that’s a big problem for consumers.
Update: I somehow neglected to include the pithy business saying “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”, which originated in a slightly different phrasing on MetaFilter.
Update: One example of how maximizing shareholder value can work against good customer service comes from a paper by a trio of economists. In it, they argue that co-ownership of two or more airlines by the same investor results in higher prices.
In a new paper, Azar and co-authors Martin C. Schmalz and Isabel Tecu have uncovered a smoking gun. To test the hypothesis that institutional investors gain market power that results in higher prices, they examine airline routes. Although we think of airlines as independent companies, they are actually mostly owned by a small group of institutional investors. For example, United’s top five shareholders — all institutional investors — own 49.5 percent of the firm. Most of United’s largest shareholders also are the largest shareholders of Southwest, Delta, and other airlines. The authors show that airline prices are 3 percent to 11 percent higher than they would be if common ownership did not exist. That is money that goes from the pockets of consumers to the pockets of investors.
How exactly might this work? It may be that managers of institutional investors put pressure on the managers of the companies that they own, demanding that they don’t try to undercut the prices of their competitors. If a mutual fund owns shares of United and Delta, and United and Delta are the only competitors on certain routes, then the mutual fund benefits if United and Delta refrain from price competition. The managers of United and Delta have no reason to resist such demands, as they, too, as shareholders of their own companies, benefit from the higher profits from price-squeezed passengers. Indeed, it is possible that managers of corporations don’t need to be told explicitly to overcharge passengers because they already know that it’s in their bosses’ interest, and hence their own. Institutional investors can also get the outcomes they want by structuring the compensation of managers in subtle ways. For example, they can reward managers based on the stock price of their own firms — rather than benchmarking pay against how well they perform compared with industry rivals — which discourages managers from competing with the rivals.
Vice did a nice little feature on George Lois, the kind of 1960s big-egoed ad man on which Mad Men’s Don Draper was based.
Lois created a number of iconic ad campaigns as well as dozens of fantastic Esquire covers. Or at least he says he did. ;) (via devour)
Update: Here’s the transcript for the episode of This American Life in which Sarah Koenig interviews her father Julian Koenig about George Lois taking credit for some of his best ideas.
In my instance, the greatest predator of my work was my one-time partner George Lois, who is a most heralded and talented art director/designer, and his talent is only exceeded by his omnivorous ego. So where it once would’ve been accepted that the word would be “we” did it, regardless of who originated the work, the word “we” evaporated from George’s vocabulary and it became “my.”
Of course, Koenig also claims to have invented thumb wrestling and to have popularized shrimp in America, so… (via @kevinmeyers)
For a Visa commercial, Errol Morris gathers a number of Nobel Peace Prize winners and nominees (including Lech Walesa) to talk about how important it is for their countries to beat the crap out of the other countries in the World Cup.
Two quotes in the video caught my ear:
Sport is a continuation of war by other means.
Look, football isn’t life or death. It’s much more important than that.
The first is a riff on Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz’s aphorism “War is the continuation of Politik by other means”. Clausewitz also devised the concept of “the fog of war”, which Morris used for the title of a film. The second is a paraphrase of a quote by legendary football coach Bill Shankly:
Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.
Errol Morris has directed a new series of Taco Bell commercials where a bunch of ordinary men named Ronald McDonald review Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu. Here’s one of the spots:
What the what?! Hunter S. Thompson was in an Apple Macintosh commercial? Check it out:
Looks like Don Draper may have contributed to Lucky Strike’s recent sales increase.
While the claim that Mad Men could have driven a nearly 50% (representing an additional 10 billion cigarettes) increase in Lucky Strike sounds like typical advertising puffery, it’s hard to pin down another driver. Lucky Strike did launch new flavors, update packaging and launch “capsule” cigarettes in the five years since Mad Men premiered, but so too did its competitors. The only new country the brand entered was Turkey — and that wasn’t until 2011. Even if one excluded all capsule (2010- ) and “All Natural” (2011-) cigarette sales (which would have been predominantly cannibalized, rather than net new), Lucky Strike would still have grown 12% between 2007 and 2012, five times faster than the industry overall and eight times British American Tobacco (the owner of Lucky Strike). Could it really have been Don Draper?
Sales of Canadian Club whiskey have turned around since Mad Men started as well. (via nextdraft)
If you’re compiling a list of the least cool brands, Kmart deserves serious consideration. But you’ve got to give them props for this daring ad touting free home shipping of out-of-stock merchandise.
I almost shipped my pants laughing at this. (via ★interesting)
If the advertising parts of Mad Men are your favorite bits of the show, might I recommend Taschen’s two-volume Mid-Century Ads (on Amazon).
It’s a beautiful set of books, tons of ads from the 50s and 60s presented in large format.
Before Dr. Seuss became famous for his children’s books, he made advertisements for the likes of GE, Ford, and Standard Oil.
Long before Sam went to extraordinary lengths to peddle discolored breakfast foods to obstinate citizens, Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss, if you please) made his living as an advertising illustrator—and in retrospect, his work is unmistakable.
Seuss became the father of the modern day children’s stories not solely through his inventive lexicon molded into clever syntax and anapestic meter, but also through vivid imaginary worlds and the charming characters within them. Take one look at his early creations for brands including GE, Ford, and NBC, and there’s no denying the framework of his style that would later turn into the denizens of Whoville, Cat in the Hat and Fox in Socks. And, according to the keepers of the Seuss collection at the UC San Diego Library, the enduring brilliance that is Seuss’ legacy can be traced back to a very unlikely source: bug spray.
Adweek has a list of some of the best commercials Wes Anderson has made. It’s tough to beat his two-minute spot for American Express.
“Can I get my snack?”
“You’re eating it.”
Why does McDonald’s food look so much better in the ads than at the restaurant? Watch as the director of marketing for McDonald’s Canada buys a Quarter Pounder at McDonald’s and compares that to a burger prepared by a food stylist and retouched in post by an image editor.
Short answer: the burger at the restaurant is optimized for eating and the photo burger is optimized for looking delicious. (via ★interesting)