I’ve been interviewing lately and one of my favourite questions to ask is “What is your biggest fuck up?” One candidate asked me the same question, and this is what I told them.

I used to write a monthly newsletter for my clients, updating them on some of the digital trends and changes in the industry. Each section had a paragraph on the news and a button to find out more. It was always proofread multiple times (nothing worse than sending a typo to a few dozen clients) but one time I forgot to include a link on a button before it was sent.

As a placeholder to update later, I put in “xxx” rather than a URL in the hyperlink. But most browsers have a feature now where if a URL isn’t properly formatted it will turn it into a search instead.

Every client who clicked that button ended up Googling “xxx”.

So if you’re proofreading something, check the links as well. And if you’re going to use placeholder text, try “asdf” instead.

“Hate” is a strong word. Used here with the word “fucking”, it captures precisely how I feel about display advertising.

And not for the usual reasons. I don’t hate banner ads as a consumer. They’re an (usually) unobtrusive means of generating revenue for content creators. That’s why I don’t use an ad-blocking tool.

It’s the broader industry I have a problem with. That no one seems willing to challenge the notion that perhaps banner ads don’t work.

This is not another article about how you’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad (although apparently that is true). We know click-through rates are embarrassing.

Here is what I fucking hate display advertising:

  1. The percentage of users with an ad-blocking tool is now in double digits (and growing).
  2. The percentage of impressions which are fraudulent is also in double digits.
  3. There’s little thought put into formats (so the defaults are used).
  4. There’s little thought put into networks and suppliers (so the defaults are used).
  5. Almost always, too much is spent on production.
  6. Even more is spent on rich media production.
  7. With each campaign, learnings are thrown out with the assets.
  8. Wallpaper is acceptable.
  9. Matching luggage is acceptable.
  10. There is a belief that banner ads increase awareness.
  11. There is a lot of talk about optimisation but not much of it (or even knowledge on how to do it).
  12. There’s also a lot of talk about testing and learning without knowing how to run a fair double blind test. Or what a confidence interval is.
  13. Reports often cover nothing more than impressions and clicks.
  14. Impressions are an entirely useless metric to report on.
  15. There is little talk about visibility or unique reach.
  16. There is little discussion about what happens after the click. Rarely does a report mention, let alone analyse, how users behave on-site (god forbid if they actually complete a goal or convert).
  17. You are more likely to spot a unicorn than a mention of ROI in a report.
  18. ‘Post-view conversion’ is a bullshit attribution model.

That’s not to say all banner advertising is a complete waste. There will be an exception to each point above, and in some cases it can work. Performance media done efficiently and optimised can be very effective. I can appreciate a retargeting campaign as much as the next guy if you can prove results. Sadly, examples of smart people doing smart things are few and far between in this industry.

But above all else, the biggest reason I fucking hate banner advertising (#19) is no one is willing to discuss the issues above. We’re too afraid to have these tough conversations, let alone attempt to address them. Given how much this industry invests in display, I’d have thought it was a debate worth having.

I’ve been looking for something for more than 12 months.

Two weeks ago I finally found it online. But the retailer only shipped within the United States. So I setup a international mail forwarding service and made the purchase.

The next day it was refunded because the retailer “didn’t trust forwarding services”. I didn’t mind taking the risk, but she was insistent. So I asked if she could make an exception and ship to Australia. When she finally agreed, she couldn’t work out how to invoice me the shipping cost. I suggested I could just send her the money through PayPal. Of course, she didn’t trust PayPal.

Crazy cat lady aside, I persisted. And so I turned to a complete random on the internet. Using /r/favors on Reddit I asked if anyone would be willing to let me use their address, and then I’d send them some money to forward the item to me in Australia. Within minutes someone offered a hand.

Unfortunately the paranoid retailer still wouldn’t process the payment because the delivery address was different to the billing address.

So I asked the Redditor if he could do me a solid and not only forward me the package but make the purchase as well. And I sent a complete random person on the internet $220.

And today, the package arrived.

That internet thing ain’t so bad.

In my last post I attempted to answer the question What Does A Digital Strategist Do?

Some readers debated that the role definition was too narrow. They argued a Digital Strategist’s scope should include either digital creative or digital comms planning.

I still disagree – a pure-play Digital Strategist should not be more than what I defined in my last post. Of course, in this market those additional skills are incredibly handy as there aren’t many agencies that are big enough to take on someone who works only within the strictest definition of the word “strategic”.

However these conversations did spark a thought about another area Digital Strategists often play in. If you were to separate it into its own job title you might call it a Digital Tactician. Someone with extremely strong knowledge of platforms and channels who can assist in digital implementation. Their role would be to work with Digital Producers to ensure campaigns and projects leverage technology in the most effective way possible.

Rory Sutherland thinks these are so impact that there should be a name for small things that have big impact. Some digital specific tactical examples might include:

Again I don’t believe this should be in the scope of a Digital Strategist’s role,  but it often is due to how closely they relate.

Firstly, it goes hand-in-hand with doing digital strategy. Some recommendations might be tactical in nature, or are required to feed into and support broader strategic ones. Secondly, the way many agencies are structured, there’s likely no other resource who is in a better position to have this knowledge.

You won’t see the job title Digital Tactician any time soon, particularly as most other roles start to naturally build these skills. There’s also probably not an agency in Australia that would be able to support this role full time. But there certainly is value in being able to make recommendations like the dot points above to enhance a digital project or campaign.

About a year into my first job in advertising, I decided to change my job title. I updated my email signature, printed up some new business cards and suddenly people started introducing me as a Digital Strategist. It sounded about right for what I wanted to do so I ran with it, not really knowing what a Digital Strategist did at the time.

A few years later, it’s still a tough one to explain to my Mum.

The simplest definition is integrated problem solving through digital efforts. 

It works on a few levels. Firstly, solving marketing problems like increasing awareness or driving leads. Secondly, solving operational problems like making your sales team more efficient or increasing the accuracy of data collection. And thirdly, solving consumer problems, where you start building utilities and products (this doesn’t happen often in agencies).

It is the Digital Strategist’s responsibility to develop these strategic solutions. But just as importantly, it’s also their role to sell it. Not only the need for the work upfront, but the conclusions and recommendations that result as well. Hustling a project through stakeholders, aligned to resources and in cohesion with brand and campaign work is no easy task. The solutions must be integrated, working with the broader business context.

What people tend to find most interesting is that the word campaign has not yet been mentioned. A Digital Strategist does not develop concepts, even for big digital campaigns. Nor do they account manage, write comms plans or plan media.

Instead, Digital Strategists work on programs and projects. Efforts that often sit outside of campaign timelines and budgets, but help a client with their business problems.

This could look like a social program to change brand perceptions. Or a content program to retain customers. Email programs for lead management. Optimisation programs to improve conversion. Monetisation programs to generate revenue for the business.

Or it could look like a project to make a client’s life easier. Or their production budget more efficient. Or in one case we even freed up 100% of an internal resource by automating a process.

The scope of these start to vary incredibly. Yet at its core, digital strategy is solving client problems with technology, done with consideration to the rest of the business. A Digital Strategist sells this and then develops recommendations for potential programs and projects (usually prioritised on a road map).

And that’s sort of what I do. Admittedly it’s still not Mum-friendly.

What do you think?

One of my more engaging posts last year was list of Ideas From 2013 That Didn’t Happen, so I thought I’d do it again. It feels like a healthy habit to clean out the ones collecting dust. If I haven’t done anything with them during the year, it’s likely I won’t do anything at all.

Interestingly, an item on last year’s list did get back on my radar. (The magnetic Beerend is currently in the running to win some funding and you can help by voting it as the People’s Choice.)

Here are the ideas I didn’t/couldn’t do anything with this year.

  • An app that tracks who’s borrowed your stuff. The app maintains a list of what you’ve lent and what you’ve borrowed, with friendly reminders of when they’re due back.
  • A craft beer advent calendar for December counting down the days until Christmas.
  • A ten-pack of craft beer for Australia Day, with the top 10 beers from the previous Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers.
  • A case study/white paper using Facebook’s hyper-targeted advertising to get a message in front of a celebrity, probably someone like Kevin Smith. (Since first writing this done, it was executed much more creatively when a guy did the same thing to prank his roommate.)
  • A movement to cleanse the internet of banner ads. The initiative would purchase advertising space and instead display pictures of cats that would click through to a site asking for more funds.
  • An online community for non-profit grassroots sports clubs to share and collaborate. The objective would be to foster knowledge sharing of best practice and process, bulk discount ordering, supplier recommendations, etc.
  • A website that connects crowd-funding projects with brands.
  • A project commissioning people from different cultures to draw a ‘dick and balls’, similar to this project where a woman asked people around the world to Photoshop her. (Okay, immature, but would be fun.)
  • An app that takes two selfies and merges them together to not look like a selfie.
Again I’ve held off on posting the full list, with hopes to progress on a few of the ‘better’ ones. But if you see something you like, hit me up when you’re rich.

After my epiphany earlier in the year, I’ve become obsessed with content marketing. Although now I’m not sure if it will beat out “programmatic advertising” as 2014’s buzz word of the year.

Having now rolled out a number of content strategies and programs, I’ve found the biggest challenge is getting started. Aligning your content marketing to business objectives, talking to the right audience, publishing on the right channels, with a creative concept and effective distribution is a lot to get your head around.

Not to say you shouldn’t plan all that, but sometimes you don’t have the resource or the budget to get caught up on the bigger piece. Especially if a quick win on the board gets you buy-in for later.

So you if you want to jump in the deep end, here’s three fairly sound places to start:

  1. Look through whatever consumer research you have and identify their single biggest barrier in purchasing your product. Create something that addresses it.
  2. Look through your social media channels and identify the most frequently asked question. Create something that addresses it.
  3. Look through your on-site search queries and identify the most popular topic people are looking for on your site. Create something that addresses it.
Whether it’s a YouTube video, blog post or tweet – if you’re addressing one of the above with some common sense you’ll be doing more than most marketers (and more effectively too).

I really enjoy writing. I particularly like the challenge of writing for digital, where being succinct is critical.

Having written on here for seven years along with a number of freelance articles, here are three things I do before writing a post. These aren’t tips on how to create and source better content but instead how to ensure your writing is succinct as possible.

1. One single thought
Each post should focus on a single idea or thought. If you start getting into a second territory, you are rambling. If it’s a good territory, keep it for a different post. Follow up the original a week later and keep the conversation flowing. It also means you’ll have more to publish and share (great for SEO and social).

2. Remove all unnecessary words
Every word should bring something to the post. If a sentence reads as you intended without a word, remove it. I often run my pieces through the Hemmingway App before publishing to see what can be removed (or reworked).

3. “That” is rarely correct
Review any use of the word “that”. 60% of the time it can be removed completely (see second point) and 20% of the time it would be more proper to use “which”. Try it yourself on an old piece of your writing.

They’re not going to change the world, but they might make make your writing a little punchier. (Short and sweet – see first point.)

At the time of writing, I’ve been blogging here for nearly seven years. Although the volume has slowed significantly in recent years, that’s 401 posts and more than 270,000 pageviews.

The problem with blogs though, is that once a post falls off the front page it’s pretty must lost forever. And among those 400-odd posts, I believe some of them are pretty good (I’m happy to admit the rest are complete nonsense).

So here are the best blog posts I’ve ever written on Pigs Don’t Fly:

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.

Even I’m getting over my anti-Facebook tirade at the moment, having recently called them out on manipulating people’s emotions and their great bait and switch on marketers. But they continue to grind my gears, and this time it’s as a page owner.

For those of you who run small pages, you’ll be familiar with these notifications that pop up regularly suggesting a post is “performing better than X% of other posts”.

These are just a few I’ve received through my hockey club’s Facebook page recently.

They are incredibly annoying, there’s no way to turn them off and one of the above I received a notification for seven times. But what I’m most interested in, is where this data comes from. What metrics is it based off, and over what time period? Facebook doesn’t provide any information that I could find, so I thought I’d see how accurate the figures were.

Without a date range or set of metrics, I have to make some assumptions. Facebook only allows me to review post data from April 2014 onwards (I’m not sure why), so that becomes my data set. And the three metrics I review are commonly reported on; unique reach, unique users engaged and engagement rate.

The first notification says that specific post performed better than 95% of other posts on the page. Of the 55 posts published at the time, that means it has to be in the top two. But upon analysis, it doesn’t come close, ranking 18th instead for reach, users engaged and engagement rate.

The second post would have to rank 15th or higher out of the 62 posts published at the time. Again not close at 48th for reach, 47th for engaged users and 37th for engagement rate.

The third post is a little better, also requiring a rank of 15th or higher out of 75 posts. It achieves this for reach (11th) and engaged users (12th), but not engagement rate (20th).

Happy to be corrected, but even this simplistic analysis tells us that Facebook is lying to page owners.

I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that each notification encourages you to spend money on promoting the post.