Friday, March 24, 2017

I am the very model of a modern marketing plan.

Yesterday I had two of those excruciating meetings that really rub my goat the wrong way.

They were meetings ostensibly convened to discuss knotty marketing problems and how to solve them. 

The first involved a product that has 0% unaided brand awareness. It has about 5% marketshare and shrinking. And, really, it's worse than that. By my calculations of the real market it has about 1/1000 marketshare.

Still, despite all this, we are told to overcome these issues with banner ads. I was about to write 'small-space banner ads,' but then I realized that that would be redundant.

The second meeting was much the same as the first. A tough marketing problem that the client was looking to solve with banner ads and social tiles.

I sit in these meetings and stew.

When the phones are hung up I ask questions.

"Has any brand ever raised awareness via a month of banner ads?"

"Are you persuaded by social tiles? Do you notice them?"

And my favorite, "Do you like when ads 'retarget' you?"

I got no answers to these questions. Just blank or annoyed looks.

Sometime about 25 years ago when the internet started showing up on people's laps, some MBA somewhere got the notion that marketing nirvana could be achieved without cost.

One-to-one or precision-targeting was going to be the magic bullet. Ads would be cheap and there'd be no waste.

In other words, we'd get something for nothing.

Tenaciously, marketers charged with doing things on the cheap have clung to the notion that something can be gotten for nothing. Each time something-for-nothing-ism is abnegated by real-world (lack of) results, they pull another cockamamie flood of jargon out of their quivers.

Now content will do it. Now inexpensive video. Now search. Now programmatic. Now mobile ads literally the size of a thumbnail. Now six-second unbranded Snapchat videos.

Now, leave me alone.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Nobody asked me, but...

Nobody asked me, a tribute to the great New York sportswriter, Jimmy Cannon. When he could find nothing to write about he wrote columns of stray observations. 

....I don't care how cold it is, I don't understand wool hats indoors....

...Or women who wear ballet-style shoes in winter...

...Or lunch-time meetings where there's no lunch....

...I don't understand track changes. They are impossible to follow, ugly and invite no discussion...

...I don't think I've ever watched a talking-head video from start to finish....

...I don't believe data--especially data that says ads you've never seen are working....

...I can't believe Burger King has won "Marketer of the Year" at Cannes. It shows how corrupt the awards business is...

...Since agencies charge for all our hours, why don't we get paid for all the hours we work...

....What does a Chief Risk Officer do?...

...Why are all-agency memos always officious...

...And almost always 50% too long...

....Who fills out your timesheets if you die at your desk...

...The only one who looks good in a puffy jacket is the Michelin Man, and I'm not so sure about him...

....Why would anyone get their news from Buzz Feed....

....Why are the Yellow Pages still published....

....Do Ruth Bader Ginsburg's kids complain that she's too judge-y?...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Writer time.

Once again, it's writer time.

Seven AM.

The sun is up, and gold shines through the plate-glass.

The only other sound's the sweep of white noise from the ceiling.

It's writer time.

Time for thought.

For typing.

For thinking and typing.

Without the cacophony of the day.

Without the beeps and dings and chimes and interruptions of 'can you take a look at this,' or 'I'm sorry to bother you,' or 'can I jut ask you one question.'

It's writer time.

Time to let my thoughts out--the thoughts I walked home with, the thoughts I had last night at three.

It's time to write without self-consciousness. Without wondering what he'll think, or what she'll say, or even what the brief tells you to do.

But time to write.

To see where your brain and your fingers take you.

It's writer time.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Forrest Plotnick misses breakfast.

Uncle Slappy called last night on the house phone—the only one who ever calls on the house-phone, save for robo-calls from corrupt political candidates and scammers who usually claim they are representing the electric company, the NYPD or the IRS.

“Boychick,” he began by way of no introduction. “Sylvie and I thought we lost Forrest Plotnick this morning.”

Forrest Plotnick was a lawyer from West 99th Street who lives next door to Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Slappy. He had a very nice practice and lives with his wife Hermione and their two King Charles Spaniels, Church and State (‘I always keep them separate,’ Plotnick says at least twelve times a day.)

“I knocked on Forrest’s door to get some breakfast,” Uncle Slappy said, “his wife was out of town, visiting their grandkids and we promised we’d look after Forrest.”

“That’s a good neighbor,” I added meaninglessly.

“Be down in a minute,” Plotnick said. “I’ll meetcha downstairs.”

“So Sylvie and I headed to the breakfast room. After 20 minutes, Plotnick was nowhere to be found.”

“’To his condo you should go,’ Sylvie urged.

“So to his condo, I went. Again, he said he’d be right down.”

“He’s usually so punctual.” I added.

“He should be,” the old man continued. “He’s a lawyer, he charges by the minute. Anyway, our whole breakfast we eat—with me having two toasted sesames, we must have for a hour been down.”

“That’s a big breakfast. You’re not worried about bikini season.”

Uncle Slappy ignored that barb.

“So up to his apartment, finished with breakfast, we again on the door bang.”

“Call the fire department,” I hear Forrest yell. “I have lost control of my legs and cannot get up.”

“Gott und himmel,” Syvie intoned, and she reaches into her handbag which contains in it rolls from our dinner three nights ago and coupons from the Bohack’s on West 92nd Street in 1966--the one with the eight items or less express line that was always closed. She pulls out a set of keys for the Plotnick’s apartment.

“They’re for an emergency,” said Uncle Slappy.

“So this isn’t an emergency,” Sylvie said.

“So we opened the door and there was Plotnick prostrate on the floor.

“I can’t get up. I have no strength in my legs. Call 411,” he shouted.

“911.” Slappy said, “411 is information.”

“Whatever,” said Plotnick from the floor.

Meanwhile Sylvie went over to Norman to calm him down. It didn’t take her long to determine what was the matter.

“Both legs in one pant hole he has,” she said, “and they’re stuck.”

“And sure enough, Plotnick had fallen from his own pants.”

“I suppose that happens all the time,” I said with more charity than sagacity.

“It happens all the time, yes,” Uncle Slappy said, “if your brain is scrambled like powdered eggs. Sylvie got him up and dressed.”

“So Plotnick was ok,” I asked.

“OK, and pissed,” Uncle Slappy responded. “He was angry that we hadn’t brought him a bagel.”

And with that, the old man hung up the blower.

Monday, March 20, 2017


I can't help but feeling that as bad as things are in Trumpmerica right now, they will only get worse. They will get worse because, I fear, we are normalizing his behavior.

We have spent the months since his phony, Russian-influenced, gerrymandered non-mandate election donating to the ACLU, wearing pink-hats and maybe marching. And that's all good.

But as outrage after outrage continues to cacophony their way upon our once-liberal heads, we are slowly and surely becoming inured to his antics and anti-democratic behaviors.

Gorsuch will be approved--and we'll talk about Duke's loss in last night's tournament. Another foreign relationship will be sullied, and we'll giggle about John Oliver or feeble skits on Saturday Night Live. The environment will be sullied. The rich will get richer. The noose will tighten--once again--on the poor and dispossessed. A giant, purposeless wall--a symbol of hatred and fear will be built by a once-great nation that pleads poverty when it comes to the arts or the despoiling of the reefs, or college loans, or health-care.

Our great national trivialization will accelerate. As fascism and hate extend, I look at the front-page of the once vaunted 
"New York Times." These are the stories I see:
* Duke falls
* Berry and Breslin die
* Early bluebonnet bloom in Texas
* British man kills butterfly
* How I became addicted to online games
* What happened to the usual floral bouquets?
* When decorating styles clash
* Oregon Shakespeare Festival stages same-sex "Oklahoma"

Are these the same articles we saw in Berlin newspapers in 1937?

Friday, March 17, 2017

God in the Tempus Fugit. (A re-post.)

My younger daughter Hannah who had been traveling around the world since January--she visited the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Bali, California, New York, Boston, St. Maarten,
St. Kitts, St. Barths, Saba, Stacia, Nevis and some places I'm surely forgetting--packed up her bags and left yesterday morning for her senior year of college in California.

It's hard when your children do what they're supposed to do, which is fly the coop and bravely make their way in the world. As proud as I am of them, I miss them intensely, and so, last night, unable to sleep and looking for some compensatory companionship, I headed north once again with Whiskey in tow and found myself some few minutes later within the warmth of the Tempus Fugit.

The Tempus Fugit, I'm sure, is not for everyone. I suppose there are those who might find it gloomy. Its dark bar, its mis-matched tables and chairs along the back wall, its dim incandescence and its thoughtful, almost pensive ambiance. Some people prefer a bar to be garrulous and loud. But I find the Tempus Fugit just the sort of place I need. When I'm staring into a short glass of Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) or trading grudging words with the bartender, I find I can see a thousand miles.

Whiskey took her place as usual at the foot of my stool, one in from the end. And as usual, the bartender fairly leapt around the bar, carrying for her a small wooden bowl filled with water. He was back in a trice at his usual station behind the bar.

"Are you drinking again?" he asked. "Have you recovered from your elevated liver readings?"

I nodded assent. "I am told I am well. My levels are level. My a-fib is gone."

With that he pulled me a Pike's in an eight-ounce juice glass and slid it over the highly-varnished mahogany to its place just inches in front of me.

"I have been looking forward to this," I said.

"Let your Pike's tiptoe to you like a maiden. Never should a Pike's approach like a linebacker."

I sipped at the amber. It was cool, sweet, clean and unlike any other beer I have ever tasted.

"Nectar," I said.

"Nectar," he echoed.

He placed in front of me a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I pushed them to my right and laughed along with him as I said as I always do, "A pound in every nut."

He then began his discourse. He fairly declaimed like a stentor.

"A little man walked up and down,
To find an eating place in town,
He read the menu through and through,
To see what fifteen cents could do."

"One meatball," I completed.

"That is correct," he said. And then he continued.
"One meatball. He could afford but one meatball."

He filled my glass with another Pike's and began wiping the bar in a circular motion with a damp white terry. 

"Today's disquisition is on meatballs?" I asked.

As he so often does, the bartender plowed ahead. My question was not even an underachieving speed bump.
"He told the waiter near at hand,
The simple dinner he had planned.
The guests were startled, one and all,
To hear that waiter loudly call, 'What,

"'One meatball, one meatball?
Hey, this here gent wants one meatball.'

"The little man felt ill at ease,
Said, 'Some bread, sir, if you please.'
The waiter hollered down the hall,
'You gets no bread with one meatball.'

"'One meatball, one meatball,
Well, you gets no bread with one meatball.'

"Most people," he said "prefer the Andrews Sisters' version. But for me 'One Meatball' starts and finishes with Josh White."

I sipped at my Pike's. In an eight-ounce glass your beer doesn't go flat or stale  or warm. I agreed with him. Josh White took the song from novelty to Biblical.

"To use your word," he continued "the lyric seems a disquisition on those who want something for nothing."

"Bread with a single meatball."

"It's not about wanting something for nothing. It's not about being a gonif. It's about goodness. Helping a fellow man, perhaps someone down on his luck."

"Fifteen cents can't do much. Never could." 

He pulled me another Pike's and placed it in front of me. He swept from behind the bar and refilled Whiskey's bowl with some ice-water. Back behind the bar he brought me again the bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I took a half a handful.

"It's about being there," he said. "Maybe it's about God."

I stared into my Pike's a thousand miles. Then I finished it off in two gulps and pushed two twenties across the bar.

"On me," he said, pushing the bills my way.

And Whiskey and I walked quietly home.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Angina Monologues.

I got a call the other day from a old partner of mine from the early 80s. 

Jack and I haven't worked together in over 30 years, and haven't seen each other in 15 (he lives in Chicago) but thanks to email and social media, we somehow stay in touch.

"George," he began, "remember how when we worked together there were basically three departments in our agency."

"Yeah," I answered. "There was creative, account and media."

"Now agencies have about 15 departments."

"Every time I turn around there seems to be another one."

"So, when we worked together, if there were 100 people in the agency, 30 were in account, 30 were in media, 30 were in creative, and 10 were all else."

"That sounds about right."

"Today, the same hundred people are divided into about 100 categories.  Maybe 15 media, 15 social strategies, 15 planning, 20 account, 15 in technology, 10 in analytics and, maybe, 10 in creative."

Again I said, "that sounds about right."

"And along the way," Jack continued, "the volume of work has tripled. It's no longer just print, TV, radio. It's Snap Chat, Facebook carousels, mobile doohickeys, TV, experiential. And so on."

"Emphasis on so on."

"My math says it's three times the work with one-third the people."

Third time's the charm. "That sounds about right," I said.

"That's why I'm leaving the industry," Jack said. "I'm opening a small store in Chicago: 'Just Croutons.' Every kind of crouton you can imagine. All fresh."

"Aren't croutons by definition not fresh."

"Don't you have some copywriting to do?" 

And with that, the blower went dead. And like Jack said, I went back to work.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Food critic.

Image result for battleship potemkin
You've probably never seen Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 classic movie "Battleship Potemkin." Though it's almost 100 years old, it remains near the top of cinematic art. In fact, the "Odessa Steps" scene has been so imitated, it is practically a cinematic trope.

In any event, in today's modern agency meetings are scheduled throughout what used to be considered lunch hour. Further, the economics of our business are such that agencies are now located not on the Madison Avenue of yore (when we were regarded as central to business we were in the center of cities) but we are usually somewhere in the urban boonies.

In other words, you usually have about six minutes to get lunch and very few lunch places to choose from. That's why, I usually wind up in our agency cafeteria. In the three years that I've eaten there, I think I've had two good meals.

Just now, the lines were too long to get anything else, I availed myself of the cafeteria's salad bar. Something I chose to eat was frozen that wasn't supposed to be. It was either romaine lettuce or cubed chicken. I couldn't tell which since neither had any flavor.

That's what made me think of "Battleship Potemkin." Specifically, this scene.

Yeah, I know. I run a little red. It's that old Jewish, rock-throwing Socialist in me.

But really, if they're going to make you work 24/7, the least they could do is feed you decently.

:( Wednesday.

Years ago, long before office-space theorists decided that we would be more productive if we couldn't hear ourselves think, offices had doors.

If you wanted to think, to write a piece of copy, to have a private conversation, to read someone else's copy without having people on either side of you talking to each other, you could go into your office and close the door.

Today, it's been deemed more efficient and productive if there is absolute mayhem all around you, if you can be interrupted by anyone at any moment.

Currently I have about eight ads running through the system, running through me. I'm not "the writer" on all of them, but I have to see all of them. I have to consider the things you have to consider when you're considering ads. Like does the copy make sense. Does it say what it has to say with clarity and precision and, heaven forfend, some degree of √©lan or even euphony.

It took me an hour to read one 60 word piece of copy. It took me an hour to find ten minutes of concentration--and I have prodigious powers of concentration.

Serious issues of work are no longer discussed. Lack of security. Ageism. Sexism. Racism. Retrograde wages. Or even the viability of "snap chat six-seconds ads." Certainly not the viability of working while in the center of a maelstrom.

Oh, boy.

Maybe I need another snow day.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A snow day in New York.

Mastodon bones were found in Inwood Park in northern Manhattan as recently as 1891.
It's snowing like the end of the world in New York this morning and there are surely Mastodons tramping down 2nd Avenue, looking to get into mischief, as Mastodons do.

We got an email yesterday around four telling us that New York City had declared tomorrow something they're calling a "Snow Emergency Day," and we should stay home with our families and loved ones and be safe.

All over the Tri-State area, people flocked to grocery stores. In short order, the shelves were bare. Milk was gone, bread was gone, Trader Joe's even sold out of low-fat cheese puffs, and over in the Whole Foods on 87th Street, there wasn't a single leaf of kale to be found anywhere.

Across the street from my apartment is a old tenement building painted forest green. On its ground floor is the butcher shop of the venerable Ottomanelli family. Though they live out on the island, the staff somehow made it in. My wife walked there this morning and bought a couple of their surpassing corn muffins for breakfast.

So the machine at work keeps chugging, of course, it must, we have a docket of conference calls scheduled today. Even during a snow emergency, the wheels of commerce must keep spinning.

In fact, every half hour of my day is booked from 9:30 to 4:30. From a day on the phone, I might well, like an old journeyman pugilist, end the day with cauliflower ear.

But for now, I've got my corn muffin, my Times, and Whiskey at my side. The snow is swirling outside, but in my apartment it's toasty.

And there's not a mastodon to be seen.