Friday, October 31, 2014

Not obsolete.

Halloween in the Tempus Fugit.

My wife, who just on Tuesday had her hip bionically replaced, returned home from the hospital yesterday afternoon. Though I consider myself a decent person and a more than moderate husband, I'll admit, I am not the most solicitous of people. I'd rather be waited on than wait on. Alas, now, I have no choice. Though my wife is no termagant, I am fairly at her whim and caprice.

Naturally amid all this turmoil, insomnia chose that very moment to strike. So, at approximately 2:47 in the morning, Whiskey and I made our way through the city to the invitingly dim incandescence of the Tempus Fugit.

"Did I ever tell you," the bartender began, as usual, without any pre-mumble or salutation. "Did I ever tell you of the haunt that haunts these latitudes?" He swung gingerly around the bar and placed a small wooden bowl of cold water in front of Whiskey. Then, back behind the mahogany, he pulled me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) filling the requisite six-ounce juice glass.

"Haunts," I said, with my typical sagacity.

Violet Klotz, 1903-1930. Photo taken shortly before her murder.
"Haunts," he repeated. "Haunts that to me, resemble one Violet Klotz, the hatcheck girl in 1930 when the Tempus Fugit was still a speakeasy."

"A hatcheck girl. The place had class, huh?"

Ignoring my feint at cynicism, he continued on his way.
Hymie "Iambic" Goldstein. An artist's rendering by Patrick Hamou.

"Klotz was a looker, and the inamorata of one Hymie "Iambic" Goldstein. Goldstein was one of the roughest muggs in the Jewish mob."

"Iambic?" I asked.

"He spoke, believe it or not, Hymie did, in perfect iambic pentameter. It was the most uncanny thing I ever saw."

"Short syllable then long syllable. Uncanny to say the least."

"Iambic made fortune for the mob, stealing cars and losing them. The gang would collect $100 insurance per, and Iambic would make $10 of that. Things went along fine until he got too clever by half."

"A stressed syllable that should have remained unstressed," I added.

"You could say that. Iambic, instead of ditching those cars, he brought them to a junk dealer. Together they stripped the cars and Iambic made another $10 bucks."

"You can't blame him," I offered, "it was the Depression. Who didn't need the extra scratch."

"Well the mob didn't see it that way. They pushed Iambic off the roof of a 17 story building."

He pulled me another amber and offered me a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. As always, I dismissed the goobers and drained the suds.

"Violet was checking coats when the boys that pushed Iambic came in. They were feeling good and laughing. One guy--I can't remember his name--kept repeating 'He got metrical feet, but he ain't got no wings.'"

"Quite a mouthful," I said, starting on Pike's number three.

"Violet got wise. She realized Iambic was no more and she pulled a small pearl-handled on the guys who offed her man. They beat Violet to the draw and gunned her down right over there, next to where there was a signed photo from Gene Tunney wishing me all the best. It was a veritable fusillade that did Violet in."
Gene Tunney, World Heavyweight Champion, 1926-1928.

"Wow," I said. "So now she haunts the place."

"She died amid the chinchillas and minks. And comes back every Halloween looking for Iambic. The holes in her corpus whistling in the wind."

"Grisly," I said getting up to leave. I slipped the leash on Whiskey and slid two twenties across the bar.

He pushed them back my way. "Happy All Hallow's Eve to you, says I."

All in perfect iambic pentameter.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered: "Fraud!"

One time, not long ago, I produced for a vaunted client a large series of banner ads. I dutifully sat through numerous media meetings where the ticket-takers jabbered on about how targeted our buy was going to be. They would reach people 45+ with a household income of $150K+.

About three minutes later, a work colleague called me. He had noticed one of my ads on a site called something like "Bug Frenzy." I think it featured cockroach races or something similarly rarefied.

Today, the major news in the ad industry is a report that says Kraft--one of online's top 100 advertisers--is rejecting between 75% and 85% of digital ad impressions due to quality concerns. You can read Ad Age's report here.

If you're too too to read the article, this graphic tells you much of what you need to know.
Over-blown-ness has been a part of the online world since the first binary biped uttered the first proclamation of "This will change everything."

The online ad industry is a bit like the vast strip of auto-repair bodegas out in College Point, Queens. Each shop will rip you off in different ways. Not only will they not fix your car, they'll take what is working from you.

Yet, advertising agencies keep selling such fraud.

I happen to have the soul of an historian. 

Perhaps regulation in America reached its pinnacle during the Johnson or Nixon administrations. Certainly since Reagan, regulatory power has been decimated. My two cents say it's why everything sucks.

It's why you can't make sense of your phone bill. It's why air travel blows. It's why people like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch have more votes than you.

The online industry needs regulation.

Left to its own devices, it's a sham.

And a shame.

The joys of lack of candor.

As a freelancer, I get a lot of calls that lead me down the garden path. They say, you'd be perfect for such and such and we're putting you on hold. We'll let you know by the end of the day.

Of course, the end of the day comes and goes and by morning, I give up being patient and send an email. In short order, I often find an email back with some sort of bs apology. "We decided to move in a different direction," they say.

I know enough to know that this is part of the game. And I get too much work as it is, so I don't take these set-backs personally.

But what I do do is keep my eyes tuned in to the TV to see what such and such agency's different direction is.

Over the past couple of days I saw some spots that are so reprehensibly bad as to almost make me gag. They're for a financial services firm and are all joke and no substance. Exactly the equation I'm looking for when I invest my money. After all, if your stock-broker isn't funny, well, why bother. I mean, really, comedy is what I want from financial advice.

In any event, I have a policy when I'm asked about such horrid work. When someone says, "what did you think or our new spots."

I do something uncharacteristic. I bite my lip, keep my feelings to myself and mumble, "Well, it's not what I would have done."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Political ads.

Our Industry, capital I, seems to be doing its best to diminish and marginalize itself.

Every night on TV we are barraged with scurrilous political ads, almost always 30-seconds in length, almost always the basest kind of attacks, ad hominem and otherwise.

These ads--unlike the ones we create for sugar water and the like, are not subject to network clearance. They aren't bound by even the loosest definition of truth. They are a blight not only on our airwaves but they pollute the already rotten image my Americans have of advertising.

The operative word here is money.

The networks are making hand over fist from these ads. And they don't want to kill the goose laying all those golden eggs.

It's wrong.

Advertising should have standards.

And these have none.

Advertising should impart truth.

And these do the opposite.

It seems to me about every two months, at some lavish place in Cannes, or the Biltmore in Phoenix, or the Greenbrier down in West Virginia, advertising scions in loud plaids, drink, canoodle and post selfies of drinking and canoodling. Then they give themselves lifetime achievement awards.

They have abdicated their responsibility to us folks. The ones trying to make a living in the industry.

Someone needs to speak up.

I'm all for political ads. But they must be backed by facts. They must be network cleared. They must say who paid for them. And they should probably be longer than 30-seconds.

It's sad.

We work in a leaderless industry.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New York advertising.

I'll admit.

I'm out of step with most advertising award shows.

When I judge, I don't go along with the opinions of most others.

I don't go for the 27-seconds of beautiful imagery followed by a non-descript tag and a logo.

I really want ads that are about the product.

Heresy, I know.

Too many ads, imho, could be for anything or anyone.

I suppose we have "parity" products we might as well have parity ads.

I've never believed that.

I've always busted my ass to find a fact or a truth that only the brand I'm advertising can say.

I've been excoriated for having these out-moded beliefs.

But that's ok. 

I have to do what I think is right and let the chips fall where the cookies are.

On my way home today I saw this truck. I particularly liked the line "Pumps that Pump."


That's telling it like it is. It's New York advertising. Tough, persuasive and no-nonsense.

ExxonMobil is the world's largest corporation with $491 billion in sales and a market cap of $438 billion. Their tagline is some insipid affair like "fueling life's journeys."

Gag me with a leaky tanker.

Say something unique.

Have an attitude.

Have some balls.

Time and tide.

For the past two years my wife, who was once one of the top female runners in New York, has suffered with a debilitating deterioration of her left hip. Today, this morning, we are at the Hospital for Special Surgery where, though the miracle that is sometimes modern medicine, it will be replaced by a high-tech contraption that will, in all likelihood, be better than the Original Design.

It's tough going through something like this. As my ex-boss used to say, you're staring down the barrel of old age.

As regular readers of this space know, I've had my own flirtations with mortality, culminating last summer in pneumonia, a car crash and pericarditis. Later on in the year, I took a tumble in a dog playground, breaking my Ozymandias-like fall with my outstretched arm. That resulted in a torn rotator-cuff, which still visits me with pain. Especially on days when I'm scheduled to pitch.

All these ailments suck.

But they're part of life, they're part of growing old.

I have legions of friends in their 30s and 40s and I'm sure these woes--which are normal and natural--seem as alien to them as black-and-white television or a rotary phone. That will never, that could never happen to me. That's the kind of thing that happens to ack ack ack my parents.

Well, I've got news for you, Bucko.

Judging by the subway-like hordes of middle-aged people in the waiting room this morning, my wife's woes, and my own, are by no means unusual. (What's unusual is actually having insurance to pay for it.)

When the advertising industry exploded in the 60s, the median age in the US was 28. Today it is pushing 40. We are getting older as a population. That's a statistical fact.

When I watch TV at night it seems like every commercial features some kid who does a series of standing back flips or one who breaks out into spontaneous gregarious dance.

This is not the way the world looks except for perhaps a few square blocks in Williamsbeard.

As they say, growing old sucks. But it beats the alternative.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy creative direction.

There are at least two or three different types of creative directors you can face in our business. And I suppose what distinguishes these types is their amount of hands-on-ness.

Some, and there's not really anything wrong with this, get right in there with you. They thrash out every word, collaborate over every color, they sweat every detail with you.

Others are more diffident. They work under the assumption that they hired you, or you were hired for a reason, and they leave you pretty-much alone to do your work the way you do it. They're there for important reasons even though they're not in the trenches with you. They make sure you don't go "native," that you aren't just a mouthpiece for the client.

They're also, and I think most important, there to make sure your level of ambition stays elevated. That you keep doing work that isn't merely good under the circumstances but is good, period.

I happen to like the technique of a creative director I'm now working for.

He combines elements of the two methods I described above. He'll push and push and challenge you along the way. But you never cede your work to him. It's yours.

And he's ok with it.

Ok that is if you answer one question to his satisfaction.

Before client meetings he'll ask you, "are you happy?"

If you're not, the meeting is cancelled or you're working all night making yourself happy.

I think the "Are you happy" scheme is a pretty smart way to run a business.

Creatives are hard on themselves and are notoriously hard to please. If they're happy with the work, chances are it will work for the client, for the agency, for the people involved.

I think it's a pretty good way of moving forward.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wallowing with Bernbach.

One of the odd things that seems to have happened in our industry since it reached its apotheosis during the "Bernbach Era," is that we've walked, and in some cases run away from everything that we should have learned and inculcated from Bernbach.

Bernbach and his legions created product ads that connected both rationally and emotionally. More often than not every frame of the TV spot or ever visual in the print ad featured only the product. Today it seems most every ad is an ad for the category. The new Beats headphone ads are a perfect example of this. I'm supposed to buy beats because a well-muscled superstar does? Really?

Further, Bernbach avoided decoration in his ads. Today, all we do is decorate. We add scrumptious eye-candy and fancy filigree. No one ever bought anything thanks to post-effects.

Along with avoiding decoration came truth and honesty. Usually a hard dollop of information that clarified things for me, the viewer. Read an old Volkswagen ad and you'll see what I mean. Bernbach also talked to his viewers as if he were talking to his friends and neighbors. Today ads seem to present most people as morons or, worse, buffoons.

Finally comes the way we work.

I actually think Bernbach's early insight to pair art-directors and copywriters is being ignored. It seems, despite our embrace of workspaces that allegedly promote collaboration and openness, we seem more divided and apart than ever.

Maybe I'm just in a shitty mood. Perhaps I'm nostalgically wallowing in a past that's gone forever.

But I think we are ignoring the truth of what we all know.

And it saddens me.

BTW, the commercial above was done at Carl Ally, not Doyle Dane Bernbach.
But I love it. And it illustrates my points.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chester Himes and the client.

Decades ago, probably when I was knee-high to a knee, I saw the movie "Cotton Comes to Harlem." It was--slightly predating the sub-genre of Blaxpoitation--one of the few movies of my youth written, directed and acted by, predominately, black people.

I loved the movie.

It gave me a crazy view of the Harlem we only ever drove through or trained through on our way to whiter locales.

I loved Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, the heroes of the movie. I loved the writing by Chester Himes and I was pleased to discover that "Cotton Comes to Harlem" was one of nine Harlem detective novels written by Himes.

It took me some years, but eventually I read them all. I'm a better writer for having done so.

In any event I was thinking of Himes today--New York can be pretty noir in the rain, especially if you have some Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins playing on your iPod. But I was thinking of Himes because over the past few days I've had a couple of long phone calls with some private clients who are frustrating me.

They're control freaks. But they're disorganized.

In my mind, you should pick one. If you're a control freak, be organized. Or if you're disorganized, let go.

These clients, well, they made me think of the Chester Himes title shown above.

A blind man. With a pistol.