Monday, October 16, 2023


There's been a lot in the news lately about "Junk Fees." That's the practice of tacking on additional mandatory charges for services people may or may not get. Or want. Or need.

If you go to a resort hotel, in addition to your room charge, you probably have to pay a daily resort fee. That fee--which is required--allows you to use the pool, walk by the tennis court and take a kayak out. You pay whether or not you use these resort appurtenances.

Every company seems to add these fees. If you ever are brave enough to face your cable or ISP fee, you'll probably see that you pay $3 a month for a remote control that costs the cable company less than $3 to make. But you can't buy it. That's a junk fee. 

I suppose junk fee is a modern way of saying "fuck the customer." Either they don't notice or we have them over a monopoly-controlled barrel.

Above is the listing of the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission's fees for getting into a yellow cab. You think $3/mile. In reality, with all the added fees, it's more like $8/mile.

I suppose agencies tack on junk fees to their clients, too. They bill for hours not spent. They pitch with seniors and staff with juniors. They recycle work till it sells. And more.

Back when I was at Ogilvy working on IBM I said to management that it was time we recommended to the client that they stop retargeting people with our ads. My logic was pretty simple. People hate being re-targeted. Eventually, they'll wind up hating those doing hateful things. Besides, it would have been newsworthy and valuable to IBM to take the moral high-road.

I was told, "We get a seven-percent lift from re-targeting."

I responded: "We get two clicks per 10,000 impressions. A seven-percent lift gives us 2.014 clicks per 10,000. Is that worth it?" Of course, I was brushed away.

But here's the point.

And it's about choosing cowardice over bravery. Because it's short-term more profitable and almost always easier. It's the way of Amerika and the ad industry today.

I would like to see someone run something like this today. I'd likely be a customer for life.

Let's say Verizon, which today runs generic undifferentiated price advertising, decided to say, "Under the aegis of our claim of being the 'most reliable network,' we're going to eliminate junk fees, mouse type and deceptive practices from our services. That's real reliability--believing what we say.” No. Easier to do bad spots of smirking low-grade comedians.  

Scali, McCabe, Sloves and Volvo ran this exalted ad long before 91-percent of my readers were born.

In other words, couldn't "honesty" be a unique selling proposition? An edge over competitors who won't or can't follow. Also, first mover advantage?

Back in the 1990s, when I worked at Ally & Gargano on Dunkin' Donuts, their coffee competitors were the local Greek diners who had those giant Bunn coffee machines. They sold coffee for fifty-cents a cup and it was as bi-polar as my mother. You never knew what you were going to get.

Dunkin' and Ally saw that as a competitive advantage for them. So they advertised that they poured out their coffee every eighteen minutes and made a fresh-pot. Wow. Fresh coffee. 

Of such practices, brands and brand loyalty is built.

Yet today, though people hate these deceptive marketing practices, the ad industry, in its rampant pusillanimity, does nothing, says nothing and smiles along the way to its own irrelevance. 

One of the many reasons advertising sucks is that it's easier to say nothing than it is to say something. It's easier to be told what's important to the client than to find out what's important to people. It's easier to be cowardly and do the same as everyone else than it is to be brave and do something different. It's easier to talk than to do. It's easier to hide than to show up. It's easier to go-along than to speak up.

It's easier to talk about how you're trying to be brave and improve the world than it is to actually do something material that exists outside of the purview of an awards show or fictional case-study that consumed more hours of billable time to produce than the work it purports to speak about.

No wonder all advertising today looks the same. 

All companies act the same.

And all of those self-proclaimed "brave" advertisers and agencies have exactly the same spinal cord.

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