"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 October 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Adman Agonistes



"Great advertising can sell

product. Great advertising can

build a career. Great

advertising can even make you

rich. So why the hell not do



They do it for gold, not glory.

Because great advertising will

not make an Ad Man famous. It's

not supposed to, of course. It's

the message, not the men.


On TV, Ad Men spend billions,

telling you to go into debt, get

hammered, rot your teeth, put on

weight, and pollute - the Ex-Lax

of capitalism. Both the people

who have to watch ads and the

people who have to pay for them

hate ads and Ad Men. And still,

all those billions... go figure.


[A atsty test]

The reason that management suits

hate ads, just like you, is that

the kind of dysfunctional human

that makes it to the corner

office is pretty vacant as to

both what actually sells and

why. The CEO of Brand X has

spent a good portion of his life

convincing himself that Brand X

tastes better than Brand Y; he

probably understands better than

anyone the dubiousness of the

claim, that you only believe it

if you've already spent a good

portion of your life repeating

it to others.



So the companies with something

to sell but no clue how to sell

it pay huge sums to bicoastal

banditos with egos the size of

747s. And they tolerate an

all-too-perceptible mixture of

fawning and contempt as the Ad

Men tell the execs how to

market. Neither this nor

actually watching the ads is a

pleasant experience.



But somehow it works. Coke and

Pepsi beat back the threat of

the cheap supermarket colas -

not by making their product

better, not by making it

cheaper, but by cranking up the

ads. Sneaker supremos figure out

that the way to make the

product, uh, fly, is to slash

manufacturing expenses and pump

up the advertising budget -

driving the cost of each drop of

sweat on your average NBA

bowling-ball head into the

five-figure range. Presumably

this is the kind of analysis

that leads an internetworking

company to pay tens of millions

to put their name on a cold,

nasty baseball stadium.



I was there. I went out and built

a big site that did something

useful. I saw all these big

numbers about ads on the web,

and got dollar signs in my eyes.

It sez here that Toyota spent

how much on web advertising? Oh,

you mean for their own site - a

cache cow that, in its coverage

of everything from stencilling to

Fantasy Football extends into

ever-expanding realms of

irrelevancy? Wonder if it's

doing as well as the L'Eggs



[Oh Yes]

Ad Men have never let market

realities interfere with the

beauty of an overarching

creative vision. The vision:

"This site, so redolent with our

design talents, worth every

penny you paid, will sell. Just

gotta get 'em here." So, Ad Man

to ad vendor: "If they don't

click, I don't pay." At first,

the screams of outrage were

deafening, if indirect, because

no one (well, almost no one)

could come right out and say the

advertisers were morons, or were

paying the price for the decades

of ad-aversion therapy on TV.

And when you're shitfaced on IPO

Fairy Dust, you'll put up with a



Puzzling thing is, these ad-based

Web companies were actually

putting up pretty good numbers.

Kind of. Ever notice how you get

ads for Netscape on c|net, and

ads for c|net on Netscape? In

the trade, they call these

"contra deals," and (given the

appropriate paper trail) as far

as an accountant, or an Internet

stock promoter, or even the SEC

can tell, they're just the same

as revenue. (To understand

business it helps to remember

that the accountants who work

for you are whores, and the ones

who regulate you have

professional courtesy.)


There's at least one web

advertising success story: the

love match between the sex

merchants and the search-engine

guys. Because a whole lot of

search users are mostly looking

for pictures of TV-star twats

(presumably they're too ignorant

or new to have figured out

Usenet filth.) And the

number-one solid-cash-flow

success story on the web is the

people who sell sex. The list of

search terms you can most

profitably link ads to: Well,

you can print anything in Suck,

but it's just too depressing -

imagine the walls of a

high-school boys' room blended

with TV Guide. And here is

capitalism at its best -

bringing buyers and sellers

together in a new marketplace -

a stirring creative fusion of

technical and financial




Still, I think shareholders can

chill out, because eventually

it'll fly. Someone's going to

figure out how to blow through

the mental firewall of all those

fugue-state geeks out there who

have enough money to be on the

web and nothing better to do

with their time. But more

important, the Ad Men are

eventually going to unclench

their sphincters, decide the net

is real, and tell the suits

there's a new line in the



At least, that's what we're

depending on.

courtesy of Bottom Feeder