"Targeted Advertising" cartoon
’Tis the season of targeted holiday advertising. According to the AA/Warc Expenditure Report (UK), brands spend 35% of their annual ad budget in the Christmas period, more than any other time of the year. Christmas advertising spend in 2014 is setting records (up 24% in the UK over the last 5 years), with much of that moving online and to mobile.

Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good, but marketers know all the sites you’ve visited and all the products you’ve browsed. It can feel a little like Elf on the Shelf has been watching your every move.

Marketers have been working hard to leverage consumer data to create better targeted and more personalized advertising, but there are a lot of kinks to work out. Retargeted ads appear for products you’ve already bought. Shopping history is used to create assumptions about shopping intent that may be far from reality. In targeted ads, there’s a fine line between useful and annoying.

This can be annoying this time of year, when ads can leak your gift plans to family members who might use the same computer. Mashable recently posted an article titled “Are retargeted ads for the stuff you’ve bought ruining Christmas?”

The article included this interesting reaction from Eweware’s Dan Vrony: “Ad networks are very good at remembering and very bad at forgetting … This aggregated notion of my identity that becomes something that I can’t control and owned by these networks like Facebook and Google and I’m not sure of what they’re doing with it. That makes me uncomfortable.”

As marketers enthusiastically embrace the promise of big data, I think it’s important to be aware that not all consumers share that enthusiasm.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

Here’s a related cartoon inspired by retargeting ads this time of year.


"Unbiased Data" cartoon
Marketers are increasingly driven by data. But as I parodied a couple weeks ago, we have to be careful with what data we choose to listen to.

Data is malleable. We can cherry pick data to support just about any argument we care to make. That’s one of the skills we learn in business school.

But as Kraft’s Julie Fleischer said last month at the Ad Age Data Conference, “90% of data is crap” and “they don’t teach data literacy in business school.”

Big data doesn’t inherently lead to greater insight. Marketers have greater access to data than ever before. But finding the signal in all of that noise is the hard part.

Confirmation bias — the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs — is one of the many pitfalls for marketers learning to work work with data.

Data doesn’t have biases. It’s people who collect and select the data who bring bias to it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of the pitfalls of working with data as marketers.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

"Brainstorm" cartoon
Organizations often give mixed signals with innovation. There is a constant drumbeat to come up with the new ideas that will take a business forward. Yet, there is also resistance to change and pressure to maintain the status quo. It’s an innovation catch-22.

A few years ago, I attended an innovation brainstorm that rented out a room full of beanbag chairs to illustrate how unencumbered everyone should feel in coming up with ideas. Yet, to kick off the day, an executive stepped up to a podium to lecture about everything that was off the table, which turned out to be everything. It felt like a wet blanket, and created a disorienting message that we should be innovative, but not too innovative.

Beanbag chairs and squishy brainstorming toys aren’t enough to create a culture of innovation. We need to apply just as much creativity to what happens after the brainstorm as in the brainstorm itself.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

Here’s another cartoon that I drew on this theme in 2011.

"Personalization" cartoon
Marketing is getting increasingly personalized. Mobile technology in particular is making it easier than ever for marketers to personalize their message to consumers. But “personalization” doesn’t necessarily mean “personal.” Personalization is a blunt instrument. It’s often inaccurate. And when marketing tries to personalize, but misses the mark, the effect can be more annoying that not personalizing at all.

Awkward personalization happens at every Starbucks where the barista tries to guess the spelling of your name. There’s a funny meme of Starbucks name fails (including Virginia). A couple weeks ago, someone put out a video profiling a Starbucks barista who butchers everyone’s name for sport.

I think the awkward name personalization at Starbucks is symbolic of where marketers are with personalization in general. Pinterest recently sent a congratulatory email to many women with the message “you’re getting married!” because these women had pinned a lot of wedding-related pictures. Unfortunately, many of these women were single. Pinterest drew inferences from site behavior that ultimately wasn’t correct.

It will be interesting to watch how brands continue to experiment with personalization. As the technology improves, and the the inferences become more accurate, it will be interesting to see if and how consumers welcome personalized contact.

Here’s a cartoon I drew on the Future of Advertising last year. I’m interested in your thoughts on how marketers should incorporate personalization.
"Future of Advertising" cartoon
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

"Data-Driven Marketing" cartoon
Marketing is increasingly “data-driven”. But that doesn’t have to mean “data-blinded”.

It feels like there’s a polarizing schism between the art and the science of marketing — the Mad Men and the Math Men (and women). Mad Men resent the Math Men for taking over the creative process with analytics and Math Men resent the Mad Men for making marketing decisions based on subjective opinions rather than data.

I drew this cartoon last year imagining data-driven marketing as the reason Don Draper’s silhouette falls from the sky scraper.


But marketing ultimately needs both. Data alone can’t create the next big inspirational marketing idea. And marketing ideas need to be data-savvy to be effective.

This creates a huge opportunity for the next generation of marketer. But, in the meantime, there will be friction.

I’d love your thoughts on how best to adopt data-driven marketing.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

"Programmatic Advertising" cartoon
Programmatic technology is fundamentally changing advertising. Programmatic is an auction-based system where ads are bought and served across the web to a specific audience in real time.

Currently 20% of online ad buying occurs with programmatic technologies, but the number is growing quickly. GE sent out a brief earlier this year that they’d like to become 100% programmatic some day. P&G stated that it wants to buy 70-75% of its US digital media programmatically by the end of this year. Programmatic is starting to spread to outdoor ads too.

There are obviously huge benefits in cost-efficiency with programmatic buying, and ad tech has the potential of reaching the right audiences with the right message at the right time.

But it feels like we’re still in the awkward adolescent stage of programmatic advertising. Many brand owners are hesitant, particularly on concerns around quality of the ad inventory. There are complaints of fraud, confusion around where the ads actually show up, and lack of control over the context surrounding the ads.

My first job out of college in the 90s was selling advertising space for an English language magazine in Prague. As anyone who has worked in print ad sales knows, the process was the opposite of programmatic. It involved a lot of labor-intensive schlepping and schmoozing and haggling (and even faxed insertion orders) — the human factor. But the value that we provided to brands was editorial context. Brands wanted to be part of the reading experience we provided to our readers. There were valuable associations provided by the surrounding content.

Years later, when I worked at method, we cared about that editorial context. Telling our advertising story in RealSimple wasn’t just about the audience that RealSimple provided. It was about the associations of the RealSimple brand and how that connected with the method brand. Context mattered.

Programmatic promises to remove that type of inefficiency. It’s obviously here to stay. But it feels like programmatic doesn’t give enough credit to context. I riffed on this idea a couple weeks ago with John Battelle’s quote that “programmatic has torn audience away from its contextual roots.”

As it continues to mature, I think programmatic advertising will need to deepen its appreciation of editorial context to help brands, not just with direct response, but with brand building.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on programmatic advertising and the importance of context.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

"Attention Span" cartoon
In 2000, the attention span of the modern consumer was 12 seconds. It’s now 8 seconds. The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.

Marketers are in the business of trying to catch (and hold) people’s attentions. That has always been a challenge. But it’s only getting harder.

Thus the the trend toward “snackable content”, a marketing buzzword for breaking marketing communication into really small engaging pieces. The rise of infographics and of videos that can fit into a 6-second Vine are part of this trend. Marketers are experimenting with a lot of ways to produce short attention span theatre.

But I don’t think “snackable content” is just about brevity. What sometimes gets overlooked is the importance of taking a serial approach to content. Rather than an isolated one-off (like an infographic), I think that content should be thought of as mini-series, where each piece may be bite-sized, but over time, there’s a common thread. If the content is good enough, people look forward to the next installment.

My favorite example of this is still Oreo’s 100-day “Daily Twist” campaign from two years ago. To celebrate Oreo’s 100th anniversary, Oreo released a new image every day combining an image of their cookie with a spin on pop culture, from Gay Pride to Elvis Week to the anniversary of Pong. Leave it to a snack brand to nail snackable content.

This is one of the things I love about the medium of cartoons. Our content marketing studio has been working on a fun project with Google to help introduce a new book from Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. We parsed out 15 of the top insights from their book, How Google Works, and then illustrated them in cartoons that they shared, two a week, leading up to the book launch.

Cartoons have always have a serial dimension to them (Peanuts ran daily for 50 years). But I think that the “serial” dimension can extend to any form of content.

As marketers, we can’t fight the incredibly shrinking consumer attention span. It just forces us to get better at telling our story, and connecting with our audiences in ways that matter to them.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

"Retargeting Ads" cartoon
Retargeting has taken the advertising world by storm. No longer do advertisers have to hope that an audience they want will be found at a particular publisher. They can chase audiences everywhere based on some signal of intent, independent of publishers. Not even Waldo can hide.

The problem of course is that ad stalking can be creepy. It’s creepy not just because the ads are persistent, it’s that the ads are tone-deaf. They don’t take any context into account.

Browse a red-and-white striped sweater and ads for that red-and-white striped sweater will stalk you across the Internet. Even if you already bought the sweater somewhere else. And even if you browsed the sweater on a lazy Sunday and are now reading a business article on a work day and aren’t in the mood to shop. The sweater ad won’t leave you alone.

As John Battelle put it recently:

“Fast-forward to today, and programmatic has torn audience away from its contextual roots. Using programmatic tools, a media buyer can identify almost any audience segment they want with pinpoint precision – down to the exact cookie or data segment that matches a customer target. And for various reasons, including price, those audience members are targeted mainly on who they are, independently of what they are doing. Put another way, we buy audiences, but we aren’t buying the show they’re watching – we’re ignoring where that impression is served.

“This is nuts.

“After 20 years of chasing click through rates as a core metric for branded display advertising, we’re finally realizing that CTR is a race to the bottom. The ecosystem optimizes for clicks, and we lose the value of branding in the process. We’re making a similar mistake with audience buying. Exercised without context as a key signal, it’s a bad habit, one we need to change if we’re going to build brands using programmatic media.”

Stalking audiences with retargeting is done in the name of more relevant advertising. But we’re in an awkward adolescent stage of understanding what messaging is truly relevant. To be really relevant, messaging will have to factor in context.

Advertisers will have to think outside the cookie.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

"Truth in Advertising" cartoon
Jerry Seinfeld recently recently started a harsh, but funny, rant about advertising at the Clio awards by saying, “I love advertising because I love lying.”

He went on to say “I think spending your lives trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy.”

It got me thinking about truth in advertising. Some advertisers may have earned their reputation as snake oil salesmen. But I think that consumers get the last laugh. The better that marketers get at breaking through the clutter, the better consumers get at ignoring any message that marketers send their way.

The real truth in advertising is that most advertising is ignored altogether.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

our startup idea


"Our Startup Idea"
It has never been easier to start a business. The infrastructure is in place to get businesses going for lower investment than just about any time in history.

Yet that doesn’t mean that every startup is worth starting. There is a skewed sense of reality (particularly where I live near San Francisco) that capital seems to reward startup ideas for very low levels of validation.

Many pitches are structured around trying to be the next (insert successful startup here) for (insert category here). I understand the appeal of framing new ideas around successful models. But I crack up every time I hear a startup described as “the Warby Parker for” everything from men’s socks to headphones to active wear to art framing to furniture. This week’s cartoon was partly inspired by Vooza’s hysterical take on an entrepreneur trying to invent the next “Like Uber For” mobile app.

In the startup bandwagon, companies sometimes miss the marketing basics. One of the basics that I think gets missed is understanding your customers. There is a sense in startup culture that if you build it, they will come.

I’ve been thinking about this dynamic recently while illustrating cartoons for a new book called “Talking to Humans: Success Starts With Understanding Your Customers”, written by Giff Constable (CEO of Neo) and edited by Frank Rimalovski (Executive Director of the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute). It’s a short handbook on how to talk to customers in the earliest stages of a startup to validate and shape the idea. You can download the PDF for free or find Kindle and Paperback versions. Here’s one of my cartoons from the series.


Startups sometimes place more emphasis on what might sound good to investors than on actually validating their idea with customers. I’d love to hear your thoughts on startup ideas worth starting.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)