13 lessons for the future of marketing from Ad Contrarian

13 lessons for the future of marketing from Ad Contrarian


bob-hoffmanBob Hoffman has the marketing industry in his sights in his new book Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey. Marketers Are From Mars is a sweary, frequently hilarious polemic that challenges much of the considered wisdom of modern advertising, marketing and public relations.

Bob Hoffman tackles the exalted status of brand marketing, flaws in digital advertising, social media marketing, our obsessive with innovation and technology, and planning.

He yearns for a time when the ad business was a craft run by creatives rather than accountants.

Hoffman is an agency man and author of the Ad Contrarian blog. Subscribers will have read much of the content before.

The book is repetitive in places but Hoffman's critical and frequently caustic appraisal of modern marketing means that it should be on your summer reading list.

Here are my favourite quotes from the book.

#1 The contrarian

Ignorance demands conformity. Because everyone knows they are faking it, they seek comfort in the warmth of consensus. Speaking out against the agreed-upon fantasy is looked at as both heresy and betrayal. No one is more despised or vilified than the nonbeliever in a tenuous theology.

#2 Brand bollocks

No, for the most part consumers are not in love with brands No, consumers do not want to have a conversation with your brand, or an “authentic relationship” with it, or co-create with it, or engage with it, or dance with it, or take a shower with it. […]“Brand loyalty” is simply habit, convenience, mild satisfaction or easy availability.


The point is this: our brands are very important to us marketers and very unimportant to most consumers. […] You want customers raving about your brand? Sell them a good fucking product.

#3 “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”

I know that the people who write all these insufferable “____ is Dead” articles are imbeciles, but please, when will the Guardians Of The Internet stop publishing this crap? Who the hell is in charge here?

#4 Change is a lucrative business model

The “thought leaders” of the marketing industry are no less guilty of playing the hysteria card to buy themselves status (and consulting gigs) than the media are. The more they can convince us that everything is changing — and we need them to interpret the changes — the longer they stay employed.

#5 Agencies, clients and the Emperor’s new clothes

Every few years we invent a trendy new miracle and everyone immediately jumps on it.

Every agency in the known universe jumps all over the new miracle and it becomes the centerpiece of their website and their new business pitch.[…]

Amazingly, clients believe in these miracles.

#6 Advertising is run by accountants

We analyze everything and understand nothing. We have forgotten that some of the best advertising ideas weren’t the result of algorithms and analyses. They were the result of someone sitting on the potty with a yellow pad and coming up with a great idea.


Advertising was once an industry of craftsmen and craftswomen. Industrious people would start their own agencies. There were dozens of independent, entrepreneurial agencies in every major city. Now there are a handful of advertising holding companies that run the world. The advertising business has been consolidated into submission.

#7 There ain’t no algorithm for creativity

The thing that drives ad people crazy, and makes advertising such a fascinating endeavor, is that there is no algorithm for great advertising.

#8 We’re all sales people

One of the problems advertising has always faced is that there are a lot of people in the business who don’t want to be salespeople.

They’d rather make believe that what they’re doing is a form of social intercourse. It makes them feel better. They’re not here to sell you something. They just want to have a conversation and build a relationship.

#9 Ice bucket challenge: “Sometimes silly shit catches on”

And now we have the Ice Bucket Challenge. Every dim bulb is drawing grand conclusions from this one-off. I guarantee you there are about a thousand Powerpoint presentations currently in the works explaining the “Five Critical Lessons” we should be learning from it. In fact, there is only one lesson to be learned from the Ice Bucket Challenge: sometimes silly shit catches on.

#10 Anti-social Apple

If ever there was a secretive, paranoid, walled culture that absolutely, positively refused to “engage in a community” or “co-create with people” it’s Apple. [It is] the most secretive enterprise in the history of mankind. Apparently, opaque is the new transparent.

#11 Content crap. Tell me a story

Your social media strategy doesn’t suck because Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs can’t reach people. It sucks because you’re stuffing it with crap that no one is interested in. Creativity is the ability to be interesting, funny, or different. It’s easy to be interesting, funny or different at lunch.

#12 Planning: over-50s are a lucrative and underserved market

According to Nielsen, people over 50 are “the most valuable generation in the history of marketing.” […] They are healthy, wealthy, and wise. And, in many ways, hipper and more youthful than the marketers.

Yet only 5% of advertising is directed at them. Why? Because marketers are embarrassed by them. They are afraid that 18-year-olds will, god forbid, see people over 50 using their products.

#13 Surveys: people tell you what they want you to hear

In the hard sciences, research is reasonably reliable because it measures things. In the soft (social) sciences, research is often not about measuring things, but about asking questions. In other words, rather than watching to see if you’re cheating on your wife, they ask you if you are. […] The consequence of this is that a great many of the surveys, reports, and studies we read tell us nothing about what we’re trying to understand, they tell us what people say about what we’re trying to understand.

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