Meta-Meta-Advertising

So THAT’S how ad agencies work!

Badda-book, badda-boom? Really? This fingernails-on-a-blackboard tagline has been interrupting shows, games, movies, and news broadcasts for a couple of years now. Could it be the worst ad campaign of the decade?

One mark of a bad ad is that you can’t recall the advertiser. With this one, though I’ve seen these spots hundreds of times,  I had to look up its name before I started writing this blog because I still couldn’t remember the sponsor. I had just assumed it was one more of those innumerable online travel booking engines (like Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, Booking.com, etc.). No, it’s a Maryland-based hospitality holding corporation representing a portfolio of hotel chains. I’m not going to tell you the name or the names of the chains it owns. That’s the ad campaign’s job. At which it fails miserably.

Indeed, the latest iteration of the campaign, called “Glow,” features yet another meeting of the ad agency and the client.  What an engaging concept! The spot begins as two account executives brag about the success of last year’s ad campaign and present a commercial to “take it up a notch,” letting us know right away that this is an ad about advertising.  The commercial-within-a-commercial (an inframercial?) shows a glow around two slo-mo walking customers after they’ve checked into the hotel. These radioactive customers block the logo behind them, teasingly, so we can’t see the brand. The presenter says he assumes that viewers would think they too would glow when they checked in. Then the campaign’s spokesman, who, we gather, is supposed to be the CEO of the company (a white male, naturally) says, “Who glows? Just say ‘Badda-book. Badda-boom.'” Whereupon his sycophant, who is in most of these spots, smirks and says, “Nobody glows!” The CEO gestures at him approvingly, “He gets it” and throws him a treat. (This last part I made up, but the whole thing is just sickening.)

The real-world ad agency that came up with this campaign (McCann Erickson NY) seems to think their job is to inform the public how they come up with these clever ideas, and to make the ad all about how brilliant their tagline is. That comes through loud and clear, unlike any product benefit. Or the name of the brand.

But the tagline they are so proud of is meaningless. It’s a flaccid riff on a mid-20th century rolling gag (bada-bing, bada-boom) made popular on the 1950s Jackie Gleason Show and by generations of gangster movies and TV series ever since.  From what I can understand, the tagline is supposed to remind us that travel (or, at least hotel reservations) is easy to book online. Just like every other hotel or online travel booking service. Whaaaaa!? You mean I can make reservations on this new thing called “The Interwebs” now? I’m sorry, I’ve been trapped in a mine for the past forty years, living on blind cave-crickets, and didn’t know that. What a brave, new world we live in. What’s next? Microwavable popcorn?

Ad Narcissism

Watching this campaign, I get the impression that the people at McCann are mighty pleased with themselves. So much so that they have to keep feeding us these spots that advertise the advertising.  So it’s meta-advertising. And now in this year’s campaign,  with straw-man spots nested within the spots, as if to ask, “Aren’t you glad we didn’t make you watch these dull concepts?” they’re meta-meta-advertising. Like a matryoshka doll of inanity.

To be fair, by itself, badda-book-etc. is not the worst tagline ever written. In fact, if it were paired with clever scripts, it could be an effective tail. But the tail is wagging this dog. All of the spots are just about it and how perfect it is. They are ads for the tagline, not for the hotel…or whatever it is. Which makes it advertising narcissism. Ad nauseam.

The campaign, in spot after spot, breaks a cardinal rule of advertising. It hides the customer benefit. In this and previous spots, if you stay in your seat long enough to wait for the logo and the final line, they do mention something about the chain having the lowest prices (itself a very weak and unsubstantiated position, but at least a customer benefit), but that comes out of nowhere and has nothing to do with the badda-book slogan. If they were going to seed that position in our awareness, they would have generated concepts reinforcing cheapness. But they didn’t, because badda-book badda-boom is just so cheek-pinchingly adorable. So let’s make the whole campaign about that. Jackie Gleason is beaming from the grave.

The other cardinal rule the campaign breaks is: Don’t talk about yourself, talk about what you can do for the viewer. The audience doesn’t care what you think of yourself, what JD Power Awards you’ve won, how great you think you are, what your passion is. If they’re going to stick around at all, tell them what you can do for them. But this campaign breaks that rule in spades, because it not only doesn’t talk about what it can do for the customer, it doesn’t even talk about the client; it talks about how great the tagline is  That’s badda-dumb.

 

 

 

 

 

Marketing Mars

Mars from Curiosity Rover
Just look at this place! Who would ever want to live here?

Ever since I was a teenager reading Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” series (the latter mostly because I had the hots for Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars, who walked around naked all the time), I’ve fantasized about going to Mars. Indeed, by 1969, when we first landed on the moon, I was certain that we’d not only have colonies on the moon, but on Mars by 2001 (A Space Odyssey).

Yeah, right. It’s 2018 and we’re still talking about moving to Mars… some day. We even dropped just colonizing the moon quite a while ago.

And we don’t even have flying cars yet.

We’ve sent a few robot SUVs to Mars and have found out a lot that we didn’t know when my adolescent self was curled up reading about John Carter getting busy with Dejah Thoris. We’ve found out there’s no water there (or not enough to do anything with, like growing plants and drinking). There’s virtually no atmosphere. With an average temperature of -67 degrees (in the summer!), it’s about as balmy as an Antarctic winter.  There’s no life, or the suggestion that there ever once was life.  The planet is perpetually cooking in a wind of lethal, solar radiation because Mars has no magnetic field. Why is that? Because it’s such a feeble would-be planet that it couldn’t even keep its iron core molten to generate a magnetic field. Living there would be like setting up camp inside of a giant microwave oven.

And it goes without saying that there are no canals, ancient  glass cities, flying ships, lush valleys, or naked princesses. In fact, the feasibility of colonizing Mars is infinitely less likely than turning Antarctica into a Sandals Resort. Have the time of your life; all remaining 2.7 minutes of it.

And, yet, we’re still flogging that idea of not only putting a human on Mars, but of living there. Countless movies (The Martian, Red Planet, Mission to Mars, Total Recall, John Carter, Mars Needs Moms), cable TV series (Mars),  and sci-fi books (Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”, Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars” trilogy, “The Case for Mars”), have fanned that ardent desire, and kept Congress and successive administrations funding it. But does anyone really think it’s ever going to happen? Or is it just a marketing campaign run amok?

Science will solve everything.

Of course, I don’t know what I’m talking about. When I point out some of the not-so-small problems of colonizing Mars, like–oh, I don’t know–NO MAGNETIC FIELD, I’m told by people (who also don’t know what they’re talking about) that “science will solve all problems.” They love to bring out that old trope about the craziness of man flying, and yet along come Wilbur and Orville. Or about this thing called the Internet. Or the human genome. Or a phone in your pocket. Or shirts that look good untucked. Things we couldn’t even dream about a few years ago because we didn’t know they were possible. But what we have been dreaming about since before Wilbur and Orville is living on Mars. Still not possible.

These “science can solve everything” optimists love to talk about the resourceful, indomitable, human spirit. They make false comparisons about how the New World was inhospitable before Europeans colonized it. But no it wasn’t, it was already freakin’ paradise and home to hundreds of millions of people who were perfectly happy there before white men showed up with their guns and smallpox. It was no Mars. (I guess one advantage to colonizing Mars is that we won’t have to commit genocide on the indigenous Martians.)

The whole argument behind the marketing of Mars is the promise to solve problems that can’t be solved. Like that lack of a magnetic field. That’s something we can’t do anything about, unless the colonists want to live deep underground. And then, what’s the point of that? We can do that here.

But let’s say science does figure out a way to throw a protective magnetic field around Mars,  generate a breathable atmosphere that won’t evaporate from Mars’s weak gravitational field or sublimate into space under the relentless solar wind,  squeeze water out of rocks, grow stuff we can eat, and build stuff we can live in from the stuff lying around the planet. How much will that cost? Will it cost less than just stabilizing our own planet so it’s more livable? I mean, we already know this planet right here is comfortable for our species: We evolved for it. Many parts of Earth are breathtakingly beautiful. We just need to be a little more responsible, keep our population in check, and clean it up a bit. That would surely seem to me to be an easier marketing problem to get behind than colonizing Mars.

Not that I’m against sending some people to Mars. If I can choose the people. You know, just to test to see how many minutes a human being could live there.

Berry’s Laws of the Universe

I’m sure it’s perfectly safe.

After a lifetime of careful thought and exhaustive study, I have derived a number of irrefutable Laws of the Universe. Live by these and your life will be perfect.

Law #1:  Nothing will ever go wrong. Ever.

Law #2:  If something is carried to an extreme, there will never ever be a backlash. Ever.

Law #3:  If someone disagrees with you, just keep repeating the same argument over and over until they agree with you. This always works.

Law #4:  Nobody ever got sick from eating under-cooked chicken. Or eggs. Or pork.

Law #5:  If there is black ice on the pavement, that’s the best time to go for a walk.

Law #7:  There is no Law #6

Law #8:  It is better to get a good night’s sleep before a test than to study for it.

Law #9:  Nothing bad can possibly happen if robots are in charge of everything.

Law #10:   If you’re driving a train toward a curve at high speed, don’t slow down; centrifugal force will keep you on the track. (or maybe it’s centripetal force…I always mix those up).

Law #11:  I’m sure it’s perfectly safe.

We Know You

man on a couch w laser
Stay right where you are.

I know you. You have a passion for life. You won’t anything slow you down. You won’t accept compromise. You stomp on necks when you don’t get what you want.  Wait… What?

Here’s another copywriting trick to get your audience to instantly fast-forward through your commercial or block your ad: Tell them that you know them.

Start with a list of banal virtues that some phoned-in market research has associated with a target market. Then proceed to make your target market feel like a target market, like just another datum waiting to be harvested. People love to be categorized. People love to be second guessed. They love being harvested.

And, most of all, people love being made to feel like a target.

Reality Bites Data

blackswanflockI’ve been thinking about all of the ridiculous upsets in reality, or at least data-driven predictions of reality, in the past three months. From Five Thirty Eight to all the major polls predicting an easy Clinton victory in last year’s election,  all were so wrong that everyone, including the winners, just stared with jaws agape at the broadcast that night. How could this be happening? What about the data?

Prior to that there was the major upset of the World Series, where, against overwhelming data-fueled prediction, the Cubs came from behind and won, heralding in a sign of the End Times as foretold in Revelations (or was it Nostradamus?). Then there was the CFP Bowl in which Clemson didn’t read the script and beat Alabama at the last minute (was that even legal?). Then the Superbowl upset of the upset (also at the last minute, more or less). And the most recent example was the fiasco at the end of the Oscars, in which slam-dunk favorite La La Land lost to Moonlight for Best Picture, even after the former had been mistakenly announced as the winner.

After all these upsets in prediction, it has occurred to me that data don’t know squat. Or we’ve been looking at the wrong data.

What’s going on? How can so many data-fueled models be so off? Aren’t we supposed to be living in a new, enlightened age where every tiny thing can be predicted, every human need anticipated before the human lifeform even knows what it needs?

Apparently not. If you thought that’s where we were going, then you haven’t tried to have a coherent exchange with Siri or Alexa lately. Or tried to get your iDevice to play the song you actually want to listen to instead of what it thinks you’d like to listen to.

I’m sure, too, that all of you have been emptying your email inbox every day of so-called “targeted” junk mail, finely tuned to your most minute desires based on your web-browsing history or your Facebook likes. What? You mean you aren’t worried about your severe-to-moderate irritable bowel syndrome at the moment?  Or that when you look up a title on Amazon or Netflix, they offer up random titles that their algorithms assume are just like what they think you are looking for? (Do you really care that people who watched Sherlock also watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2?)

Everything seems to be not just off, but spectacularly wrong.

Reality Hath Reasons that Data Knoweth Not

Here’s what I think is going on: Reality is biting back. Again. Just at a point in history when we think we have reached the limit of all there is to know in the universe, and Big Data will be the answer to all human needs, everything we thought we knew turns out to be bass ackwards. It reminds me of a similar point of hubris at the end of the 19th century when it was also widely trumpeted by pompous scientists that mankind had just about learned everything that needed to be learned, and everything useful had been invented. Then came Einstein. And the Wright Brothers. And Henry Ford.

Now the age of Big Data is discovering that reality doesn’t give a shit; it has its own agenda.

Chaos theory is rearing its ugly head again. It’s quantum unpredictability (the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) applied to human behavior, whether that behavior is voting, playing a game, or buying.  Quantum Mechanics come into play in the physical world as the observational scale gets smaller and smaller, down at the sub-atomic level. And as that happens, predictability vanishes.

In the realm of human behavior this Heisenberg analogy applies to individual humans, or to individual human events, like a single game or a single election.  This is the atomic, quantum scale of behavior. On that scale, predictability is mythic.

This getting it all wrong is especially true of data-driven advertising.  Advertising data-specialists can try to convince their clients that they can serve up an ad to the exact person in the precise frame of mind for their product at the perfect moment; when they’re ready to buy. But all of our personal experience is that they get it dead wrong more often than not.

Wait, Wait, Wait. Too Many Variables.

Besides the Quantum Mechanics of individual events,  there’s the sheer number of variables that sabotage predictability. Each game, each election, each competition, each purchase decision, each individual event has so many variables that the degrees of freedom in any statistical model flatten the bell curve, making it worthless as a predictive tool. The extreme outcomes on a distribution function become as likely as the mean.  The black swan event becomes a flock of black swans.

In the last election, those extra variables (like the ineffable frustration felt by the traditionally Democratic white labor voters) were ignored in the more traditional models used. Of course, pollsters will probably incorporate those variables in the next round, but then there will be other variables not taken into account. There always are. People always fight the next war with lessons learned from the last one.

Same with marketing again. At any instant of time, there are so many variables in play with a marketing campaign–the economy, social memes, the weather, external stressors, scandals involving your client, local conditions–that advertisers can’t possibly account for them all. And each one tends to spread out that bell curve, so you might as well take a wild guess as to how to frame your message, or where to put it.

But there’s a way around the fickleness of reality.

Great. So What’s a Marketing Professional to Do?

Well. You can always go back to marketing as an art, relying on the ancient psychological tricks of empathy and creativity to make yourself noticed and loved. These tricks used to work pretty damn well, back before Big Data swallowed up advertising like a swarm of army ants, eating it down to the bone. We’re starting to see these ancient tricks pop up again, like plants poking above the soil after a long drought. Every once in a while you see an entertaining TV spot, or a clever web ad that seeks to entertain as well as sell. Marketers are just starting to rediscover the power of creativity. They not only stand out, they use a key into the human psyche that Big Data never had.

This is Unbreakable Rule #3: Be Creative or Die.  It’s also Rule #6: Give Love to Get Love. Data may allow you to ring the doorbell of the most likely customer for your product, but it won’t help you when the door is opened. For that you need to disarm, to charm, to entertain, to win that customer over and keep them from slamming the door in your face, or clicking “skip”. And for that you need both empathy and creativity.

This is what the winner of the last election did, upsetting all predictions; he empathized with just enough people to get him elected. And he sure entertained the hell out of them. He even entertained those who didn’t vote for him, though they continue to hate him. And the reality of that vote will bite not just pollsters, but all of us.

The other consequence of these flock of black swans we’ve been experiencing has been that people have begun to lose faith in data at all.  We now live in a time where conspiracy theories abound, where people believe what they want to believe. To hell with the data! Or so-called facts and experts. Reality is what each person says it is. The biggest problem facing us now is still a marketing one. It is to persuade people that data and mathematical models, even though discredited by recent events, are still useful.  And purveyors of them, pollsters, marketers, account planners, all need to start marketing their value again to a public that has lost faith in data.

 

 

 

People, please, please use a professional to do your ads

twin-towers-sale
A Twin Towers Mattress Sale? Wow! What could go wrong with that?

I know, it’s so tempting to do a commercial yourself.  Why should you pay an overpriced ad agency with expensive writers and art directors and strategists and producers and planners and experience? Your daughter has more creative talent in her little finger than a whole skyscraper (oops, bad metaphor) liberal arts college full of so-called “experts”.  What could possiblay go rong? It’s just a commercial, for crying out loud!

And if something does go wrong–I don’t know–but just say somebody–I don’t know who, some tiny coven of “politically correct” wackos–could possibly be offended by an ad that was intended to be lighthearted as being tasteless; well, you can always quickly take down the ad and nobody’s the wiser. Right? Right? Sure you can.

But here’s another unbreakable rule. In the 21st century, once something is posted, it’s posted and reposted and rereposted for ever and ever. Amen. It’s even flying off out past the Oort Cloud, away from our sad little solar system at the speed of light, to entertain alien supercivilizations we can’t even imagine…in a galaxy far far away.  It’s permanent. To the end of time. (I know; that’s what “permanent” means. I am a writer, after all.)

The poor company, Miracle Mattress, in San Antonio, has announced that due to the unexpected backlash of its “Twin Towers” (of mattresses, people! MATTRESSES!) 9/11 Day Sale ad, it has not only taken the ad off the air, it is closing its doors indefinitely. I feel so sorry for the owner’s daughter, who didn’t mean any harm and acted her heart out in this innocent commercial. She’s probably crying inconsolably. Can you imagine how she must feel?

Still, use this as a cautionary tale. You may be tempted to DIY your own advertising campaign. And save big bucks. And it’s all mad fun …until someone loses an eye. Or a business. But have the professionals do it. Sure, we’re more expensive. But we don’t make business-killing mistakes like this.

Mostly.

There was that time when I…

 

 

 

What? You want to see the commercial? You sicko! I’m not going to indulge that behavior. Google it yourself.

Everything is Clueless

Xfinity Everything is Awesome Still 2
Warning! Not recommended use of mobile device

I couldn’t help spraying my ginger ale through my nose last night when I caught this spot from Comcast (or is it Xfinity? I’m confused. Are they the same company? Can’t they make up their minds what their company name is?). A riff on the Oscar-nominated song, “Everything is Awesome” from the The Lego Movie, the creators of this unintentionally ironic ad must have thought, “OOO-OOO-OOO, this song is about us! Let’s spend a fortune and buy it for our own jingle!”

“Jaylen, you’re awesome! Let’s go tell Nigel!”

(And yes, they probably really do use exclamation points to end all of their sentences.)

I hate to admit it, but they’re right. It is about them. But not in the way, I suspect, they intended. In the movie “awesome” was about the over-hyped shallowness of corporate hegemony, in which everything, however ordinary and unremarkable, is dialed up to 11. Or, as Mr. Incredible observed in that other satirical CGA movie, The Incredibles, “It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity!” So it was a satire. And that Comcast doesn’t realize that the original song was making fun of monopolistic corporations like theirs, dragging everything down into the same level of banality, makes their commercial unintentionally hilarious. Enough to spray ginger ale out your nose. I wonder what they spent on that license? The movie’s original creators must be rolling on the ground. In massive piles of treasury notes.

Chris Miller, director of The Lego Movie, Tweeted, “Everything Is Awesome used in an Xfinity ad to sell a corporate idealization of consumer culture is more meta than the movie itself, love it.”

Mark Mothersbaugh, the song’s original composer, said  it “…was supposed to be like mind control early in the film. It’s totally irritating, this kind of mindless mantra to get people up and working.”[link to interview]

And one of the song’s co-writers, Shawn Patterson, described the painful process of writing it, “I was going through a very ugly divorce when I wrote that song…There were definitely elements of darkness seeping into my lyrics — sarcasm, heavy f—ing sarcasm.”[link to“The Utterly Depressing Story Of Why Lego Movie’s ‘Everything Is Awesome’ Was Written”]

But I’m sure the Comcast creative team that had the brilliant idea of using the song had never seen the movie, or, if they had, it probably went right over their heads. “OOO-OOO-OOO that’s a catchy tune!”

And compounding the irony, their interminable commercial strings together a montage of teenagers making selfies, funny cat videos, jackass pratfalls, a ZZ-Top-look-alike imagining himself as a character in Game of Thrones, dancing chickens, and image after image of our modern idiocracy. And all the while the painfully shoehorned lyrics try to convince us that these endless banalities are, guess what? Yeah. Awesome.

I’ve already ranted on the incessant use of that tired adjective. God, how I have come to hate that word. Unless, of course, you use it to describe the super-massive black hole, Sagittarius A, with a mass of 4.31 million suns at the center of our galaxy thirty-thousand light years from us.  That, by definition, is awesome.

Oh, and so is a super funny cat video. But it has to be really super-funny. Like wearing an adorable costume.

Don’t ask.

Roman Thumbs down 2
Wanna buy a toothbrush?

Here’s a hot tip for you ad-makers: Don’t ask for the sale right off the bat.  Really good salespeople already know this. Really good marketers also know this. Normal human beings know this. But whoever’s been producing the bulk of advertising lately don’t seem to know it. They apparently think they have to start off by asking for the sale. “Looking for tires?” “Tired of paying high prices for catheters?” “If you die, have you planned enough for your funeral?” “Wanna buy a toothbrush?” (this latter isn’t an actual lead line in an ad, but a punchline in an old joke about marketing, which I think you can reconstruct yourself.) All of these may sound like perfectly innocent questions, but we all hear them as sales pitches.

It’s a well-known fact that nobody likes being sold to. Even when we’re in the actual market to buy something, we don’t like being pitched. It feels pushy. It feels like the sales person only sees us as a mark. And forces us to have to answer something unpleasant back, “No.”

And yet, generation after generation of marketers, who themselves don’t like being sold to, seem to think other people aren’t like them. They just charge right in asking a question that they know they don’t want the honest answer to. They force an answer before we have a chance to even consider their offering.

Even as I’m writing this, I just received an e-mail ad with the subject line: “We haven’t heard from you lately, what’s wrong?” Nothing’s wrong, Bucky; now go away. The first line of this e-mail put me on the spot by asking why I hadn’t clicked on any of their recent e-mails lately (or, in my case, never). “No. No. No. Go away.” I felt like shouting. Did the poor guy who is responsible for this e-mail marketing think this approach would work? That starting off defensively, negatively, would somehow win me over? It’s like a person whom you work with asking, “How come you never want to go out with me?”

Never Ask a Question

Years ago, when I was in art school taking an advertising class from one of the industry’s great copywriters, he told us a maxim: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask a question in an ad. Even if it’s a rhetorical question. The reason is that the person reading or hearing the question will, in their mind, automatically answer it.  And, more often than not, the answer is “no.”  He pointed out, that once they’ve said “no”, even to themselves, they’ll shut you out. “No” is the most negative of responses. And people don’t like saying no. It makes them feel negative. I even felt bad sending that e-mail I just got to the spam bin. I feel like I just cost that poor guy a commission, or his job. I’m an awful person. A monster. And I hate that guy for making me feel that way. I want him to die. And now I even feel worse about myself. I’m a seething mass of negativity. And I have to lie down now.

Later…

I’m okay now.

But I’d go further than the No Questions Maxim. I’d advise you never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask for the sale anywhere in an ad, not even at the end. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a CTA (call-to-action) in it . It’s okay to let people know what you’d like people to do after they read the ad; go to this URL for more info, think about us next time, ask your doctor, etc. But it shouldn’t be to ask them to make a decision about whether or not they’ll buy. Leave that open. Because once you’ve forced the decision, that’s it. Once they’ve said no, heard themselves say no, they imprint that in their memory and condemn you and your low-priced catheters to the spam bin forever. So don’t ask.

Besides. They know you’re trying to sell them something. It’s an ad, for crying out loud! Just don’t sully the mood by asking them to part with money out in the open.

Why Crowd Sourcing Is a Terrible Idea

Boaty McBoatface
Toot! Toot! All aboard for the wackiest cruise this side of fun!

RRS Boaty McBoatface. That’s what you get when you ask the public what they think about naming an arctic research vessel in the U.K. This was the facetious name that won overwhelmingly in an online poll. But what did the organizers expect? Did they think the public would put their wise minds together and somehow arrive at a respectable, inspired name like RRS Borealis? Or RRS Shacketon? (Okay, an ANTarctic explorer, but a name with gravitas.) The most responsible name voted for was RRS David Attenborough but it only won 11,023 votes to RRS Boaty McBoatface‘s 124,109. The Minister for Stopping Silly Names in the U.K. just ruled that BMcB was “not suitable” for a ship’s name and cancelled the whole thing.

But now they face a problem. My dad used to say that once you ask for someone’s opinion, you’re bound by the answer. And by making such a sanctimonious deal about the democratic process of this exercise, those responsible are going to piss off a lot of people (124,109 people at least). Why ask them in the first place? (Which is probably what they thought as they voted overwhelmingly for Boaty.) But this is just one of the problems with the misguided myth of crowd-sourcing. The other is the mood of the contestants.

The Public knew what they were doing.

The Boaty public were not idiots, though Lady Poppy Smythe-Binkieton of the Ministry probably thought they were (not her actual name; there’s another contest for that). They were actually voicing their opinion of the whole trivial, pandering exercise itself. “Boaty McBoatface” actually translates as “Name it yourself, bozos. We don’t care. It’s a f***in’ boat.” It’s sort of like the ridiculous primary process in the U.S. this year ending up with the most asinine candidates. It’s not that people are idiots when they support reality show clowns for president, it’s just their way of saying to the powers that be (or thought they were), “FU. You asked us our opinion last time and ignored it. So here’s our six foot, orange, middle finger with a bad comb-over.”

Oregon plate
You can’t tell what is going on in this house salad unless you’re close enough to replace the expiration stickers.

We had a similar crowd-sourcing fiasco several years ago here in Oregon when the Department of Motor Vehicles held a state-wide contest to redesign the new license plates. They got so many thousands of entries from professional graphic designers that the three-person board assigned to review and judge them was overwhelmed and arbitrarily announced it was only going to look at the last few submitted. This insulted those thousands of people who thought they were participating in an honest competition and had gotten their entries in early. And when the panel (consisting of a state legislator, an employee of the DMV, and a state police officer) picked the winner, they so altered the design that the “winner” disavowed that it was hers. So Oregon now has one of the butt-ugliest license plates of the 50 states. (They went on to add more, equally hideous options over the years.)

Infinite Monkeys

The whole theory behind crowd sourcing, at least in creativity, is that when you chain an infinite number of monkeys to an infinite bank of keyboards, one of them is bound to write King Lear. Nice in theory. But in reality, what you’re going to get from those infinite monkeys is an infinite amount of poo-slinging.  Otherwise known as Fifty Shades of Grey.

Crowd sourcing for creative ideas doesn’t work. One reason  is that the participants think whoever is running it must be incompetent to judge, and so they have no respect for the process. You end up with disingenuous submissions at best, or outright sarcasm at worst (like Boaty McBoatface). The result is not just a committee-designed horse turned into a camel; it turns into Cthulhu.

The other reason crowd sourcing creativity doesn’t work lies in how the winners are decided. If you announce that the winner will be decided democratically, by vote, you either get the most bland name possible (as Eric Hoffer said, “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.”) or, if they are in the mood, something shocking and silly. And then you’re bound by the outcome of the election.

If, on the other hand,  the winner of the competition is selected by the decision of a panel, even if the contestants were sincere and diligent, the judges on the receiving end most likely have no talent, credentials, or imagination themselves to competently pick the best entry.

How do we know this? Because it was their brilliant idea to crowd source the thing in the first place.

Wasp Traps: Superb Marketing

Yellow Jacket Trap
The Perfect Marketing Campaign

We’re all familiar with those chartreuse-colored wasp traps, right? Especially this time of year as we start thinking about gardening, barbecuing, al fresco dining, outdoor weddings, and Easter egg hunts. There’s nothing can ruin an outside dinner like a bunch of yellow jackets landing all over your food. And they are so pissy! You can’t just wave them away. Everything makes them mad. They come to the table mad. Have you ever had a face full of angry yellow jackets? Try it. It’s fun.

So, if you’re like me, you start hanging wasp traps around the property this time of year. And when you do, you’re doing marketing.

Here’s why: Marketing is, by definition, anything you do to get someone to do something you want them to do, even if they aren’t your species. And wasp traps are the perfect example of that.

Sorry Bees, Wasps Only
In the first place, they are elegantly designed to target only yellow jackets. They use wasp sex pheromones that drive wasps crazy with lust. They don’t hurt bees or other pollinating insects because those guys couldn’t care less; that smell does nothing for them.  It always amazes me, when I empty out the desiccated carcasses of my traps in the fall, that the only insects in there are yellow jackets. It’s like there’s a sign on the entrance that says, “RESERVED FOR VESPIDAE FAMILY PICNIC.” What big-data-driven ad agency wouldn’t love to have that kind of market efficiency?

In the second place, because the only chemical the traps use are natural (and concentrated) wasp sex pheromones, they don’t harm the environment. No ecosystem killing pesticides or genetically altered anything. My hat’s off, though, to the brave people who have to extract those sex pheromones from the yellow jackets (they must have very tiny hands).

yellow-jacket-insect
Oh sure. They look really cute up close. But don’t be fooled; that adorable face masks a bad attitude.

In the third place, the trap designs take advantage of a peculiarity of the target market (wasps); that they are stupid. Once a wasp climbs into a trap, it just doesn’t have the neural wherewithal to turn around and climb out the way it came. I know a lot of people like this. In a way, the wasp trap follows the same design principle as the typical Las Vegas casino.

And in the fourth, and best, place, this little pheromone broadcaster also lures its target audience with their own vices; lust. I like the moral poetry of that. Prepare one of these things by squeezing in the little phial of sex juice into the cotton in the bottom, and horny insects come from hundreds of feet away, thinking they’re going to get laid. They may even see dozens of the dead carcasses of their compatriots filling the transparent cylinder, but it doesn’t matter; they can’t help themselves. They probably think all those bodies are just having a wasp orgy.  “Let me in there!” they cry, in Yellow Jacketese. It’s like a biblical lesson in the wages of sin. An insect Hooters.

Why is this marketing again?
…you’re undoubtedly asking. As I pointed out already to those of you who forget how you climbed into this post, marketing is any technique you employ to get someone to do something you want them to do. In the case of the wasp trap, the thing you want your customer to do is enter and die. A pretty tall order for a marketing campaign. But the inventors of the traps hit upon an enticement that few arthropods (or humans) can resist, the promise of sex.

And sex still sells. Even to invertebrates.