Mickey Mouse Measurement And The Goofy Illusion Of Perfection

27 07 2009

UPDATE 8/4/09: Good FORTUNE magazine article on “Advertising’s Revenge of The Nerds”.  Will the algorithms that were peddled on Wall Street to inflate the housing bubble wreak similar havoc on Madison Avenue? I wonder.


The Formula Herd has descended on Austin, Texas, Mickey Mouse ears and eye-tracking googles at the ready.

Their mission: find the holy grail for online advertising.


“The goal” says Disney Media Networks’ Peter Seymour, the unit’s executive vice president for strategy and research, “is ultimately to have laws that apply.”

And so, without irony, the company that brings us Disney Magic sets out to eradicate magic from advertising in favor of a formula.

As you can imagine, this is serious work: you can’t use just any old Mickey Mouse tools.

Besides the eye-tracking goggles, they have heart-rate monitors, and skin temperature readers and probes attached to facial muscles to measure every grin and grimace.

And so the holy war between art and science continues. We continue chasing the goofy illusion of perfection. goofy

I’m not anti-science, or anti-research.  And, I have no doubt that the Disney execs are entirely sincere in their desire to get at the truth and are genuinely trying to help.

But after more than half a century of TV research, we still don’t know in advance what makes TV commercials work.  In fact, the best research I have ever seen comes from Nielsen IAG. Their conclusion? Engagement (aka “executional magic”) is the best predictor of sales.

So much for formulas.

Heretical Prediction Of The Day

Yogi Berra famously said “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”.  In spite of this sage advice, here goes.

On the day when all interactive advertising is successfully refined to the point where there is 100% efficiency and 0% waste, we will learn something shocking.

We’ll discover that 0% waste means we end up advertising ONLY to those people who were going to buy the product anyway – which of course equals 100% waste.

Spoiler alert: no matter how hard we chase perfect understanding, we end up in the same place of not knowing.

It’s a Zen circle. The difference is this time, it’s a Zen circle with mouse ears 🙂

Kevin Spacey Talks Twitter and Thumbs With David Letterman

23 07 2009

It’s so weird how big Twitter has become.

Can you imagine Fernando Lamas talking about Twittering and his Tweets with Johnny Carson?  (Come to think of it, I can.  In fact it’s not hard to imagine Charo getting involved somehow. Forget I brought the whole thing up. )

Anyway. This video doesn’t mean anything. But it’s fun. Enjoy.

Marketing Analytics, AKA “Why Is Scarlett Johanssen Hot?”

22 04 2009

Today, everyone wants to know to the penny what’s driving results. Exactly how much incremental sales are we getting from this effort vs. that one?

But, you can’t prove any of this stuff. Neither can I.  What we can do, if we want to waste a whole lot of time and money, is highlight the data that “proves” whatever each of us has already decided beforehand is the right answer.

It’s like doing an analysis to understand why Scarlett Johanssen is hot.


As you can see from the photo above, she is indeed hot.  But, is her left eye contributing more to the overall impression than her right eye? Is it her feet, or her hands? Which toe or finger is driving the most movie sales? Let’s also look at what it does to concession sales, I want a breakdown by popcorn and by Twizzlers. Let’s break it down by neckline and jewelry – do her films gross more when she’s wearing a scoop neck and a pendant, or a v-neck with a diamond?

I’m not saying don’t measure anything. You need that data for direction. But I am saying that we can dig into this until there’s nothing left to dig, and at the end of all knowing… there will still be more questions.

Out in the real world beyond spreadsheets, everything influences everything. Scarlett is hot because she is.

Your TV influences your direct marketing results. You’ll never know exactly how much. The banners you ran will make some sales happen earlier than they would otherwise. You’ll never know exactly how much. The paid search you did last year will drive some percentage of your sales a year from now.

You’ll never know exactly how much. Or why. And it doesn’t matter. It’s a sucker bet.

The competitors who are beating the daylights out of you in the marketplace aren’t winning because their analytics are better than yours.

It’s because while you’re focusing on your spreadsheet, they’re focusing on your customers.

The Blueberry Waffle Mix Lesson

15 04 2009

Here are some links to things that are worth reading.

Subjects? Facebook, ROI, CPG, social media, drugs, and the death of print.

But for me the real gem is the story of a guy who almost drowned in a vat of blueberry waffle mix.


Thankfully, he’s OK. But I see this story as a sort of absurd cosmic lesson: a reminder to always maintain our humility and sense of humor. No matter how smart we think we are, we’re always just one slippery step away from some darkly hilarious disaster.

Happy reading. And watch your step while you’re walking over the waffle mix 🙂

Photo credit: MHaitaca

CPG Jobs

3 04 2009

Looking for your next job in CPG in marketing, market research, or some other discipline? This looks like an interesting resource


There’s a site called CPG Joblist that represents consumer packaged goods giants like Hershey, ACNielsen, Sara Lee, Kellogg’s, Tyson, Conagra, Miller Brewing, Mattel, Crayola, Disney, Dannon, Revlon, and Kimberly-Clark.

I wonder how these sites are doing these days?  Social media cuts both ways for them: it can raise awareness (these guys have a group on LinkedIn), but it could also disintermediate them.

Disclaimer: I don’t know anything about CPG Joblist except that it exists and seems to be credible.  If you were a candidate or hiring manager who used the site, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the site.

On Doing More With Less

18 03 2009

“Do more with less” may be the four most commonly heard — and hated — words in business. In reply, management inevitably hears the same four word sentences fired back.

“You’re asking the impossible”.

“We can’t do that”.

“It just won’t work.” 

Here’s a new one to try: “Let’s all reach higher”.


This Is A Picture Of How To Do More With Less. 


And this is a picture of the four Spanish teenagers from La Bisbal school in Spain’s Catalonia who did it. 

With the guidance of their teacher Jordi Fanals Oriol, they sent a weather balloon right up to the edge of space, taking readings and shooting photos with a Nikon Coolpix camera. They kept track of it the whole way up using sensors communicating with Google Earth. (Nice idea: is there existing infrastructure for your project that you can leverage?) By the way, they built the sensors from scratch. (Another nice idea: is there a cheap but effective homebrew solution you can use, instead of buying something fancy?)

No one likes having to do more with less. But students like Gerard Marull Paretas, Sergi Saballs Vil, Martm Gasull Morcillo and Jaume Puigmiquel Casamort prove that it can be done.

Next time you’re stuck trying to do the impossible with less resources than you need, team leader Gerard Marull Paretas has a great piece of advice.

“We put in a lot of effort, we did a lot of tests before flights.

“We also have learned that in practice, things are not so simple. And in the field problems appear that a textbook can’t help you with.”

Let’s all reach higher.  Maybe we can touch the sky after all.

Everything Is An Ingredient

11 03 2009

At a macro level, digital does two things to media:

  1. It destroys scarcity (and with it, pricing power, but that’s a separate discussion); and
  2. It creates abundance, which then breeds more abundance.

Every new digital asset created and posted online — a picture, a sound, a video — is now not only a completed product but is also a mashable ingredient. That means CPG brand assets, too: the commercial you labored over, the package you tweaked until it was just right: everything.

The world has just reminded been reminded of this in a compelling way by the Israeli musician Kutiman. As Mashable describes:

“Kutiman has taken YouTube samples – often non-musical ones – and turned them into an album that’s awesome on so many levels that it leaves you stunned. (…) it’s amazing to see all those unrelated YouTube bits and pieces fit together so perfectly. Kutiman, whose self-titled debut received high praise from sites such as Pitchfork Magazine, proves that any sound can be music if you know what to do with it.

It’s impossible to really imagine how this can work until you see one of the videos:

The Beatles are an ingredient. Jay-Z is an ingredient. Interestingly, Jay-Z not only knows this — he embraces it: lately he’s been releasing CDs with acapella vocals only. It’s all ready to mash.

Superman is an ingredient. “Friends” is an ingredient. Everything’s an ingredient.

Even two commercials can be an ingredient to create a third.

doughboyOf course, not every brand likes to be poked.  Or tweaked. Or remixed. But it’s the new reality.

Everything is an ingredient.  What sort of ingredient do you want to be?