for 1 May 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.
As a former ad fella (not even my girlfriend knows), I'll tell you a secret: The most effective form of advertising (according to statistics) is direct mail. There, I said it. But your arguments are valid. The reason direct mail (better known as "the logger's delight") is considered the most effective form is that it is empirically provable. You send out X number of mailers, you get Y number of responses = your success percentage. There is no other medium that this kind of measurement is possible with. Budweiser learned the folly of trying to compare advertising exposure with effect on sales in the 60's. They noticed that when their advertising was lower, their sales went up. Taking a note from this, they decided to go an entire quarter without advertising. Lo and behold, their sales rose again. Thinking themselves geniuses for figuring out this elaborate shell game, they went for a period with no advertising at all. They consequently watched their market share get eaten up by Miller, which they have yet to recover fully. Advertising is a tricky business, and not for the faint of heart. If the rise of the internet has proven anything, it's that businesses were not only gullible enough to swallow the dot-conomy--but they're also gullible enough to ignore it's advantages based on a few meaningless demographic studies.
Thanks for the insight, Gabriel. The figure that gets thrown around for direct mail response always seems to be 2 percent, but it's never made clear whether that's an industry-wide figure or the response to a typical successful campaign. Either way, that's a 98 percent failure rate, but people keep using direct mail, because direct mail works. And banner ads work even when you don't click through, because you still see them and the brand name gets out there. So it's all good.
Dear La Vache Qui,
I've always maintained that we'll know the Web has arrived when we see "Drink Coca Cola" banner ads. In the bricks and mortar world where most of us still buy most of what we buy, advertising--print, billboard, radio, or on tv--serves the purpose of establishing and (especially) maintaining market presence and market share. There is no expectation for a magazine ad that potential customers will drop what they are doing and drive to the mall, so why should we expect the same of a banner ad? However, it IS hoped that the next time that consumer is in the mall, he or she will remember to buy Benetton or shop Victoria's Secret. Similarly, we should expect that a surfer confronted with a banner ad might click through but probably won't. But they should (must!) be trained to believe that eventually, when they are in the mood to read Plastic or Suck, that a banner ad will be there for them--and might just appear. In other words, the banner ad serves the purpose of telling Internet consumers that there is a Suck, and when the mood strikes, the one-in-two-hundredth chance of a hit is worth paying for the banner. Sales is always a numbers game anyway, so knowing that hit rates are low doesn't argue against the technique, it simply gives the business information about how many impressions to buy and what price is worth paying for those impressions.
Cold-calling is inherently intrusive and, as anyone who has ever sold knows, necessary. As a consumer I consider small banner ads the least intrusive form of cold-calling the Web offers. I click through sometimes--if the product is something interesting, or if the ad is clever enough. Most of the time I don't click, but so what? Most of the time I'm engaged in "directed" surfing. When I'm footloose and surfing, I might just click through.
Enjoyed the piece.
An excellent summation, Richard. But you know, if we must live among the foolish, we must still try to please them. Every time you click through, an angel gets its wings.
But then there's always that internal debate. If you like a site but it has a really lame banner, should you click to reward the site, or are you really just rewarding the lame banner? Shouldn't we be encouraging artful banners, and discouraging bad ones? It's so confusing!
"lay like a flaming sack of poop on the doorstep of the future. " Brilliant similes like that are why I read Suck. Thanks. As for the rest of the article, I tend to agree. The problems of web advertising are the same as advertising anywhere, people learn to completely filter it out. As any veteran internet porn surfer knows, the reflexive ability to close a pop-up window in under 10 milliseconds is essential to enjoying the web experience (and preventing your task bar from being overrun by buttons declaring "hot,wet teens"). That same skill works for the blink 182 popup on excite thats been irritating the crap out of me for the last few weeks. I only saw it the first time because I was surprised excite had a porn popup but alas, it seems the popup is spreading. Then again, since porn is the only really profitable web enterprise, its surpising that its taken the other sites that long to copy their methods. I am sure you guys at "Suck" have never considered riding on the coattails of the more titillating sites out there.
Here's a secret: The powers at Automatic were telling us for a while that we were going to start running some kind of popup ad. I was actually looking forward to fielding the hate mail, but the whole project seems to have dissolved.
"What is the clickthrough rate for a billboard? For a radio jingle? How about a TV commercial? Or the one form of advertising that the banner most resembles ˜ an eighth-page ad in a magazine ... can't we just as easily conclude advertising itself doesn't work?"
Someone the other day said the same of Taxi Cab ads: Is their effectiveness measured by the number of fares who ask to be driven to a sponsor's site ("Get me to 200 Varick St. No, wait make it the Lion King, and stop for some Virginia Slims, quick!").
In Monday's WSJournal, there were TWO pullout sections about advertising online. And, to prove that not just exploding tires rate clickthroughs, they talked up IBM/DoubleClick's college campus campaign rating 25%+ when they'd serve ads featuring Boston College-clad co-eds to folks coming in through bc.edu. Try *that* with "New York" or "Seventeen" magazines. The Journal even admitted that some banner ads were pretty good as in targeted, clever, and informative.
Let's not concede the whole branding-vs-clicking debate; let's see their data tell us why IBM should pay a hundred Gs for that 30-second spot on the XFL or all that sidewalk graffiti vs. the combined inventory of Automatic & Lycos for a year.
Thanks for fattening up the skeleton crew over there.
And gotta love them simpleton plugs
You raise a point I wanted to include in the piece, but left out because I wanted to quit writing and go get drunk: Where is all the banner ad eye candy? Every day the New York Times features cute girls in underpants right there in the A section. With TV we get the creepy hint that Bob Dole's got wood for Britney Spears. Every glossy magazine features half-nekkid hunks and honeys. So what's the problem with banner ads? Other than the porn ads, banners feature some of the most sexless campaigns ever devised. Has the web so transformed the world that we don't need to remember the fundamental marketing rule that people notice pretty faces?
In regard to your article on the oft-maligned banner ad: Great job at expressing what I have been trying to tell my readers for the last several months. It drives me crazy when I hear anti-banner rhetoric without any real support. Viva la banner.
It's all perception, Brent. As soon as Business Week does a cover story that says "Web advertising is back," reliable statistics and actual results will once again not matter. Or rather, they will continue not to matter as much as they don't matter now. Or something like that.
I am beginning to think that the very name "suck" is inspiring the lot of you artisans in the vein of "break a leg" or the usual in-circle jabs among friends. Maybe with a name like suck you won't. Or maybe it has more to do with actually being good writers...
Anyways, keep 'em coming.
I know there was some reason why we named it "Suck," Ted, but I can't remember what it was. Maybe it was to guarantee we'd never get mentioned in Entertainment Weekly or attract anything larger than a cantankerous micro-readership. Whatever it was, it's worked beautifully.
Hannah Arendt took a couple hundred pages to say, in "Eichmann in Jerusalem," what you said in a paragraph. Mr. McVeigh killed my father along with a lot of other people; so I've had the opportunity to tell a number of people in the media (print, because I know better than to do TV) that the guy just ain't the creature they're making him out to be. You may therefore take this as first-hand confirmation that the fiction is, in fact, willful.
Thanks and well-done.
I've been sitting here trying to figure out a good way to respond to "your comments about the guy who killed my father were really perceptive," and I have to admit that I've pretty much failed at finding a good way to do that. But thank you, of course, and I'm sorry that you lost your dad, and I'm sorry that you lost your dad in such an awful way.
The even-more-sad thing in the inflation of Tim McVeigh, I suspect, is that it's going to accelerate in the next couple of weeks, and lose whatever small anchor it has in reality altogether once he's dead. He'll be a martyr to the militia movement, and a shorthand symbol for the news media, and a figure rather than a person. And that seems to be pretty much what he wants out of the deal.
I read an op-ed piece a few days ago I forget where - that argued that the best way to really punish the man would be to let him die slowly, in isolation and obscurity, and make him watch his balloon deflate for a few long tedious decades in the dark. You have a much-stronger claim to the right to say what's just punishment for him, obviously, but that makes a certain amount of sense. At the very least we could shut down the circus, but that's not going to happen.
Thanks again for your kind comments, and good luck to you, particularly over the next few weeks.
Tim McVeigh is a sad, tiny man who, having misunderstood everything about everything ˜ having wasted the only finally precious thing on earth, over just about nothing at all ˜ is committing the final, awful obscenity of casually giving up his own life and being smug about, as if it proves something.
With crystalline eloquence, as always. Well done.
Would have been even better if I hadn't dropped the "it" in that last sentence, but I'd been drinking that night.
I, being a relatively liberal person currently finishing up my second term in the military, have a hard time finding people with a balanced perspective about it. That difficulty is exacerbated when it comes to the media as a frequent reader of The Nation, Mother Jones, In These Times, Utne Reader, and other periodicals I half-jokingly refer to as "liberal rags", I'm used to seeing the military or rather, stereotypes of the military being attacked.
Add to this the constant feel-good propaganda I am subjected to on post through the post paper, the Medical Corps newsletter and the like, and I feel like a ping-pong ball vacillating between the extremes of loathing and narcissistic praise.
Then, like a ray of cut-through-the-crap sunlight, I read your article on the reaction of the Rangers to the Army's headgear change.
Well, maybe that's not accurate.
I didn't read your article, I devoured it, recommending it highly to everyone I knew. Then I read several of your older articles... and recommended some more.
After I finish writing you, I'm going to have to do some more recommendations. Thanks for writing such levelheaded articles about the armed forces.
Thanks for the kind comments. Spread those recommendations around together, we can halt the collapse of original online content, and bring all eight readers back into the fold.
I admire the fact that you're on your second term. I'm at the end of my first, and they've stopped asking me about re-enlisting; I think they eventually figured out that "I'd rather be shot" wasn't a joke. But then, I walked into the recruiting office talking about psy-ops or civil affairs or combat photojournalism, became hypnotized by the videotapes (helllllicopter. guuuuuuun. helllllicopter. guuuuuuun...) and signed the infantry contract.
And now I stand in formation and watch the grass grow, and that is how I make a living.
Ah, but, and funny you mention the subject: I was so stunningly bored after the first year and a half that I volunteered to write for the post newspaper, figuring that I could use the opportunity to "cover" people blowing things up and flying helicopters. And I have, in fact, scored some Blackhawk time as a result, which was really, really good. But so now I'm stunningly bored, and get to write stories with headlines like: "Post Safety Policies Continue to Prove Effective" and "29th Regiment Continues to Prove Commitment to Excellence."
How many more daze left before you're honorably let go from that large corporation you work for? As a longtime Suck reader ('96) it seems like you just got into the military, not that it probably feels the same to you. Really like to buy you a beer and talk about heady subjects when you get out at some point. I'm trapped in the hell that is Atlanta north of you in the hell that is Georgia but a New York transplant via Seattle and San Fran, but mine is a civilian tour of duty of sorts. If I find any young, cute, single, intelligent, artsy chicks in the meantime I'll be sure to pass along your email for your "release," that is, if you can find any intelligent women in Atlanta! (Note: Thankfully my Girlfriend is from California.)
Keep up the great writing!
I'm trying not to count the days, yet, so that when I finally start I'll be pleasantly surprised to discover that I'm under a hundred. But I start terminal leave on August 13. And, no, it doesn't feel like I just got into the military. Wow.
The young, cute, single, intelligent, artsy chicks are in Athens, not far from you at all, clustered around the downtown area just off campus. There is also beer. There are also many bands. Athens is good. Don't get there anywhere near as often as I'd like, but it's an incredible few days whenever I do.
But, hey: Atlanta isn't that bad, either. Compared to Columbus? Big time. Walking around Little Five Points with a military haircut is some kind of free entertainment.
Nice article. I really enjoyed the Salon article on the McVeigh bio. I've always been curious about McVeigh's background and (much like the author) was not surprised from what I learned. Perhaps the only thing less surprising were the rationalizations for his actions. The star wars analogy was most revealing:
"McVeigh saw himself as a counterpart to Luke Skywalker, the heroic Jedi knight whose successful attack on the Death Star closes the film. As a kid, McVeigh had noticed that the 'Star Wars' movies showed people sitting at consoles -- Space-Age clerical workers -- inside the Death Star. Those people weren't storm troopers. They weren't killing anyone. But they were vital to the operations of the Evil Empire, McVeigh deduced, and when Luke blew up the Death Star those people became inevitable casualties. When the Death Star exploded, the movie audiences cheered. The bad guys were beaten: that was all that really mattered. As an adult, McVeigh found himself able to dismiss the killings of secretaries, receptionists, and other personnel in the Murrah building with equally cold-blooded calculation. They were all part of the Evil Empire.
WHOA!!! Duuuuude! EB, don't you think that Luke (deep down, in his own Lucas-cartoon-fantasy-like way) still felt sorry for the ignorant clericals who were perhaps victims of circumstance working at the Death Star because they had no choice.
So Gary Kamiya discusses McVeigh's remarkable insight that he's following the shining example of Luke Skywalker, and attacking the equivalent of the Death Star. (Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, is more of a Battlestar Gallatica guy.) The conclusion Kamiya draws is that this makes McVeigh cold-blooded and calculating.
The conclusion I draw is that McVeigh was a perpetual fifteen year-old: self-absorbed, mindlessly cruel, hungry for attention, and incapable of seeing other people as anything more than objects for him to manipulate. Dude, it's all, like, in that one movie and stuff, you know?
And, I mean, I guess you can say that that adds up to saying the same thing. But I really, really don't think it does. "Cold-blooded calculation" really strikes me as an incredibly irresponsible romanticization, and probably pretty close to what McVeigh himself wants to project as he completes his martyrdom project.
Pretty sad stuff.
Once again, I feel a need to write just to let you know that your work is resonating out here. If I don't write, you don't know!
I have a strange relationship with the services. I have always supported them, but when I was draft bait in the early seventies, I most definitely did not agree with our Vietnam policy. I requested conscientious objector papers, and threw them away. Sometimes, a country has to kick ass, and I will kick as necessary no matter what my draft status. I had a low draft lottery number, and just avoided getting called.
Every male ancestor before me had joined one of the services, but my father didn't want me to go to Vietnam. If I signed up, I would easily have gone into the officer corps. That was my quandary: I could either be cannon fodder or a policy giver in a situation I disagreed with totally. Thus, I became the first member of my lineage to skip military service, a path followed for whatever reason by everyone following me.
Your personal path continues to intrigue me, as does your writing.
Thanks for the kind comments.
One thing: I'm pretty sure that the choice between serving as an enlisted soldier in Vietnam and serving as a lieutenant in Vietnam wasn't a choice between serving as cannon fodder and serving as a policymaker; it was a choice between serving as cannon fodder and serving as cannon fodder. Nobody lets lieutenants make policy, but on the other hand they are expected to run around rallying troops and urging them forward when everybody else is quite sensibly trying to burrow into the earth with their faces. So they have the best of both worlds: Basically ignored, but also killed by the box lot. Pretty shitty deal.
(Drill Sergeant to recruits, pacing back and forth: "What! Is the most dangerous thing! That you will ever encounter! In the combat zone?")
(Answer: "A second lieutenant with a map.")