Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fred Papert, 1926-2016.

Fred Papert died on Friday--a famous ad man of yore that no one's ever heard of, much less mourned.

Back in the early 60s, Papert--an account guy by training, teamed up with Julian Koenig (the writer of DDB and VW's 'Think Small') and the notorious and infamous George Lois to form Papert, Koenig, Lois, or P.K.L.

Dave Dye on his surpassing blog, "Stuff From the Loft" wrote about PKL back in October and reprinted dozens of PKL's old ads. If you want to see classic advertising that's withstood the vicissitudes of time and trends, take a look at PKL's work. We could all, as an industry learn a lot.

Anyway, back to Fred Papert. 

Papert, according to his obit in "The New York Times" was fired from my old man's agency, Kenyon & Eckhardt. 

"I had to eat," Papert said, so he started his own agency. David Ogilvy referred one of Papert's first accounts because it was too small for Ogilvy.

That account was Xerox.

Papert was an innovator. His agency was advertising agency was the first to go public since 1929. And he and his partners reputedly made a fortune.

Here's P.K.L's first Xerox spot.

Some time today, think about Fred Papert.

And, maybe, say thanks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An Editorial. Rich Siegel for CEO.

Twenty-eight years ago in 1988, one of the hottest and best agencies was the fledgling start-up Messner, Vetere, Berger, Carey.

Messner et al was a creatively-driven agency that spun off from the great Carl Ally agency. The principals were not silver-spoon, country club guys. They created advertising that was tough and hard-hitting—helping primarily challenger brands punch above their weight.

Messner, a street-fighting agency, realized that they were losing new business pitches to the plaid-panted old school Madison Avenue agencies. So much business was transacted on the golf course. And at Messner, none of the partners played golf.

So, being street-fighters, they had a solution. They went up to a mini-golf course in Pelham Bay in the ramshackle Bronx and created their own golf tournament—an agency/client affair. Here’s how “The New York Times” covered the vaunted competition:

''It's a tough, competitive, awful business,'' [Schmetterer] snarled. ''If we're not golfing with the clients, someone else will be.'' Thus was born the Turtle Cove Miniature Golf Pro-Am, sponsored by the agency and held Thursday on a truly dilapidated course in the Bronx's Pelham Park. One didn't need to read the specially printed T-shirts to know where one wasn't. ''What'd you expect, Pebble Beach?'' they read.
"The greens - composed of threadbare carpeting - are pockmarked with cigarette burns. Graffiti are everywhere. Water holes don't have water because garbage would rot in them, and on Turtle Cove's signature hole -No. 4, where you roll the ball under a turtle -the reptile's head is missing. Explosions from the Police Department's adjoining bomb disposal range tend to throw off golfers' strokes."
You can read the entire piece on the agency and the tourney here.

I bring this up because I’ve always—in a Manichean way—divided agencies into two groups. 1) The agencies that exist because they do superior creative. And 2) The agencies that exist because they play superior golf.

Right now, there’s a lot of discussion about the incipient retirement of one or two of the heads of one or two of the major advertising holding companies. My friend, Rich Siegel—a stellar creative and even-more-stellar satirist is throwing his hat in the ring. He claims he wants to be the next CEO of the whole ball of wax. See his blog here.

Dozens of Rich's friends are jumping on the bandwagon, piling onto the joke.

But let's take it seriously for a moment.

When all the bullshit is done, lord willing, when all the neo-scientific blather comes crashing down on itself, when marketers realize that "programmatic" is still emailing baldness cures to the hirsute, maybe someday people will realize that the real competitive edge marketers have is better creative.

Think of the world's most-successful brands. 

Most of them make successful commercials.

Not always.

But often.

So what would be wrong if a holding company were headed by a creative? What would be wrong if a holding company doubled-down on great work?

In other words: Why not Rich Siegel? Why not now?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Five minutes with our CAAO.

AD AGED:               So your title is CAAO. I haven’t heard that amalgam of letters before. Tell me what do they stand for?

CAAO:                     That’s easy. I am Chief Architect Architect.

AD AGED:               That’s a real mouthful. Tell me, what does a Chief Architect Architect   do?

CAAO:                      I architect what other architects architect. The last thing you want is  information architects architecting information in an unarchitected   way. Not to mention the architects who are architecting our new  collaborative work space.

AD AGED:                Oh, your office is moving into new digs?

CAAO:                     We don’t call them digs. That’s low-brow, déclassé and ugly. Our new  space is architected with the most advanced architectural features. We  call our space, “The Office for the Connipted Age TM.”

AD AGED:               The Age of Connitptions TM.

CAAO:                    That’s right. We have dozens of innovations you won’t see anywhere else. We have windows. Natural and artificial light. We even have chairs on wheels that can actually move. We also have ingresses and egresses and a broad inclined-plane that gives our workers the ability travel—using their personal mobility appendages—from level to level.

AD AGED:               It all sounds amazing.

CAAO:                     Yes. Amazing. And the architecture of architecting architects has helped us architect a workforce where all our employees are happy. That's life in the Connipted Age TM.

AD AGED:               Well, thank you for your time today.

CAAO:                     My pleasure. 

AD AGED:               Enjoy your conniptions.

CAAO:                     How could I not? I'm working in “The Office for the Connipted Age TM.”

The Nussbaums stay over.

The Nussbaums came over this weekend, Ettie and Freddy. 

They're friends of Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie from their condo complex, and their grandson, Teddy, was graduating from Columbia Medical School, and with all the graduations this season, they couldn't get a hotel room in Manhattan for less than $800, so Uncle Slappy asked could they stay, and I said 'yes, of course, they could stay with us.'

Ettie and Freddy called when they landed at LaGuardia to let us know they arrived safely.

"We just picked up our baggage at carousel three," Freddy said, "and now we're headed to the taxi line."

"Good," I soothed. "Then we'll see you in about half an hour."

"Carousel three is a dump," Freddy continued. "It creaks like an old man's knees and is dirty, to boot. The taxi-line is covered in nicotine and monoxide."

"This is New York, Freddy. Not everything is as spic-and-span as we'd like. Just don't take a Gypsy cab. Not only will they rip you off, they're dangerous, too."

"Forty dollars this will cost me. Is there no other way to get to Manhattan."

Freddie was a Certified Public Accountant in Rosyln Heights. He's been retired for 20 years and living in Boca--two down from the pool. He has plenty of money but acts as if his will run out any minute.

"I'm turning off the cellular now," he barked. "We're in a taxi, 2B19, should we get abducted and I don't want any roaming charges."

I tried to explain--as I've tried to explain to Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie--that the phone company doesn't charge you any longer when you just leave your phone on. And turning it off defeats the purpose of having a cell in the first place. I tried to explain, but the line had already gone dead.

The Nussbaums arrived as I expected in about half an hour. They quickly dropped their Tumi luggage, which Howard, my second cousin got for them half price (he's in the business and knows people) and sat at the dining room table where my wife served them some fresh-brewed coffee and a slice each of cinnamon babka she had removed from the freezer and toasted.

"You toasted," Freddy said.

"It was in the freezer," my wife owned up.

"Ach toasted. It's from Glaser's? I'll have another slice-ala."

"So," I said sitting down with the Nussbaum's, "A doctor in the family."

"It's about time," Ettie said. "It hurts when I go like this." She said, touching her left shoulder blade with her right hand.

On cue, Freddy said, "So don't go like that."

He got up to leave the table, brushing a pound's worth of babka crumbs on the floor, "for the hundt. Then he padded into our well-worn guest room.

"A nap I'm taking," he yelled from behind the closed pocket door. 

"Forty winks will do you good," I answered.

"Thirty-nine," he said. "I don't want you to think I'm a lazy bones."

Friday, May 20, 2016

A bit more on writing good.

Yesterday I had no time to write, so I reposted something called "How to Write Good." I don't know why exactly when I wrote the post some years ago I titled it ungrammatically, but I guess that's part of the point. I could have called it "How to Write Well." That would have felt supremely mannered and tucked in. But in my estimation would have been less friendly and approachable.

This morning, like so many mornings, I am not bristling with topics for this blog. There's nothing, lately, that's enraged me, nothing I've seen that I've felt worthy of commenting on, nothing that feels so much like I need to write about it.

When you've written over 4,600 posts stretching back almost nine years to 2007, you hit a lot of dry spells. I wish I had a dime for each morning I faced this space with nothing to say.

So maybe this post is about what happens when, as a writer, as a creative person, you have nothing to say.

I've never taken a formal writing class--though many people I respect have and sometimes it seems like they're all around me like leaves in the fall.

Still, I've resisted.

Often in this business and in life, we're handed something difficult or inchoate. Often, we just aren't in the mood. Or people around you in your workspace that's allegedly designed to foment collaboration is so fucking noisy you can't concentrate your way out of a paper bag.

I'm afraid that's life.

Every profession from copywriting to housepainting has its vagaries. In my opinion, as copywriters, we don't get a choice. Your way through confusion to clarity is a path you must often blaze. If you wait for the perfect topic to present itself to you, or the most elegantly refined and disciplined brief, you might find yourself waiting yourself out of a job.

If I didn't write in this space until I had a fully-formed topic, this blog wouldn't right now be the 17,279th most-popular blog on advertising written by an old Jew from Yonkers.

My point is simple.

This most I can tell you about writing is this: write. Write your way through confusion, through noise, through intractable problems. 

Think of writing not as something elevated and erudite, but as something rudimentary and basic. Banish phrases like "I'm not feeling it" from your head. Imagine if you had a leaky toilet and the plumber said that.

Writing, yes, is an art. But don't use that as an excuse.

Treat it more as a bodily function, like breathing. Make it something you do to stay alive. Something that's at the core of who you are.

I've never written anything importat. I am miles away from anything like "Absalom, Absalom." But still, I am a professional writer who gets paid to make things clear and interesting.

If you want to do the same, there's only one way to start.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

How to write good. (A re-post.)

I have no time to write this morning, owing to the resumption of my usual Thursday therapy and a 9:30 meeting that I can't be late for. So, regrettably, here's a repost.

Back tomorrow.

How to write good.

Every so often someone asks me for advice on how to become a better writer. My standard response is usually pretty simple and includes three general thoughts.

1. Find writing you like and admire that is considered good. Study that. Imitate that. Copy that style. Until you're confident enough to find a style of your own.

I remember when I was a kid finding in an old record shop an early LP by Ray Charles, who was then as he is now, my favorite musician. This album was old. And on it Ray was singing, but not as Ray. He was imitating Nat "King" Cole.

There's nothing wrong with imitation. Especially while you're finding your voice.

2.  Write everyday. Write long copy ads to get your thinking straight. Write and write and write then write some more. I read somewhere that the great baseball player Ted Williams would take batting practice until his hands bled. If it's good enough for Ted Williams, it's good enough for you.

3.  Read a lot. This is really part of point one. It's about studying and searching until you find a voice of your own.

Those are some broad strokes.

Now here are two specific tricks I learned along the way.

1. When you've written your copy, cross out the first paragraph and start right in on the second. Usually first paragraphs are tip-toey and timid. Get right into your story with vigor and confidence.

2. Re-write your headlines backwards. You'd be surprised how much better things sound when you jumble them up a bit. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but try it. Adidas would have been less successful with the line "nothing is impossible." "Impossible is nothing" is lightyears better.

Finally, thank your reader for reading.

With a nice turn of the phrase or a smile.

If that fails, just say: thanks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New York morning.

This morning, I got out of my car service at 53rd and Madison and decided to hoof it the remaining mile-and-a-half to work. That's been my regimen for about the past six months as I attempt to battle the ravages of age and adipose. 

It also put me back in the center of the city, a welcome melange that I miss since I started working on 11th Avenue (East New Jersey) almost two years ago. I like the cacophony and the mayhem. I like the noise and the bustle. I like how everything, even a leisurely walk in the morning, is done at double-time.

On 53rd and Park, I saw a well-dressed 50-something couple waiting on the corner for the light to change. Standing in front of them was a young woman--their daughter, probably next to a gowned soon-to-graduated Columbia man, wearing his skyblue robe and a mortar board.

I'm not sure where they were going. I was sure Columbia's graduation is up on campus, some 60 blocks north. But I stopped and said to the old man--the father, I guess, congratulations.

36 years ago I graduated and the world was more like the photo above than it is today. Somehow, I was more comfortable in time.

New York, of course, was more dangerous, and grimier, and dirty. But we didn't know any better. That was the New York we had always known, and for all the collapsing of the rafters like "The Fall of the House of Usher," there was a comfort to the place. Change seemed to come a little slower.

That's probably not true.

Change always comes too quickly.

And even back then, the tides of change were sweeping clean the beaches you had grown up with. Even back then, Salters, the great bookstore and Columbia institution, had given way to a 24x7 food market, and rumors were afoot that the giant Chock Full O' Nuts coffee shop with the serpentine formica counters and the 32-cent cup of coffee was being razed for a trendy Chinese restaurant.

My old man used to joke that New York will be a great place when it's finally finished. Though I'd love to give my father credit,  Thomas Wolfe--not Tom--said it better: "One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years."

I've been in New York, been eating, breathing and living New York since 1957, just a year after Diane Arbus took the photo above. Sometimes I hope a 1950s Checker will pick me up in the rain and take me through a wormhole back to the black-and-white world I miss.

Where, like I said, you could get a cuppa for 32 cents, rent an apartment for $90/month and the future was still in the future.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Public Masturbation.

As Woody Allen said many years ago, "Don't knock masturbation. At least it's sex with someone I love."

That said, I think there's no place for public displays of what used to be called self-gratification. 

That's what the flap over Instagram's new logo seems to me. A self-indulgent display of "creativity" in a bubble for creativity's sake that has no bearing on the brand but is trumpeted with all the fanfare of a royal procession.

Of course, the un-fucking-veiling of the logo was accompanied by a video that showed the ardour and brilliance and rigor with which it was created. When did work begin to have to be accompanied by a video announcing the work for it to qualify as work? I suppose somewhere, some be-tatted wool-cap-wearing hipster is creating a video on his latest bout of flatulence (tracing it back to an artisinal bean burrito he ate consisting of farm-to-table hand-picked pintos) and posting it on YouTube where it might collect four dozen views, including two from outside his immediate circle of friends and family.

We are so pompously full of ourselves.

Creating fictions around our work to tell the world how effective and special our work is.

Imagine if you took the tens of millions that agencies spend on award submissions and aimed it at improving diversity, or some other more-noble cause.

I'm tired of it all, really. Tired of the pomp without circumstance. Tired of the self-congratulatory glow. Tired of the mania that takes away--distracts from--the purpose of our jobs and makes us look like little children at a carnival craving a balloon.

I'm just tired of it.

Tired of the trophyization of everything. When basically everything sucks.

If the work is good, IMHO, it should speak for itself.

I don't need a cheering section to help me judge something.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Untying knots.

What a glorious March day dawned today in late May in New York. The sky is bright and blue and little puffs of cumulus are wafting over the city. The temperature is in the high forties and the wind whipping up 11th Avenue is in the high twenties. There are whitecaps like a convention of nuns on the nearby Hudson and little kids on their backpack-laden way to school are holding onto their colorful hats against the breeze.

It doesn't feel like summer is around the corner, and though I like the San-Francisco-ness of the briskness, I am already saying to myself that I hope it warms before I head to Cape Cod in two weeks for some much-needed r and r.

You'd never know that global warming is upon us, that carbon in the atmosphere has reached, after 200,000 years of human life, 400 parts per million, the climatologists' measure of "deep shit." No, the weather is unseasonably cool--a perfect day to walk the four miles to work, not to think about weather-related disasters and rising sea-levels.

I walked and walked, past, like I said, the hat-holding school kids. Past the tie-askew business men. Past the lycra'd runners and the construction workers and sanitation men and the office-goers like me.

So often the world seems like it's on the brink of absolute disaster. There's the aforementioned climate-change, the sprectre of either Republican-or-Democratic-apocalypse. There are terrorists who blow themselves up along with 30 or 40 others. There are madmen with nukes. There's the dumbing down of virtually everything. And income inequality that makes ancient Rome look equitable.

It's easy to get tied up in knots about all this. And then, on top of that, there are all the work-related knots to get tied up into. 

It's enough to make you crazy, really.

But, then, the day comes bright and clear and crisp. And you find yourself with enough sap running in your veins to walk to work.

And somehow, just somehow, everything is ok.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A late start.

I got a late start this morning--at least on the blog--for a couple of reasons.

First, I had a 7:30 conference call. That seems like something you'd have if you worked for the East German government before the collapse of the Communist Bloc. But it's how things go in advertising these days.

Not only share work in the least effective way imaginable, we do it at an hour when most self-respecting creatives are not even close to their first cup of hand-picked, sustainably-grown, cold-poured cup of seven dollar coffee. 

Then, while on the call, I had an eye doctor's appointment. Since my near-death car crash almost three years ago put me on almost a year of steroid treatment to combat a nasty run-in with pericarditis, the eye doctor has been watching some slight abnormalities in my corneas. Accordingly, I have to see him and his bevy of fetching eye-dropping assistants every six months. 

Right now, I can barely see what I'm typing--the effects of dilating drops.

It's been a long week but I can sense its end like a champion Kenyan long-distance runner can smell the finish of a marathon. Like that runner, the end of this week can't come soon enough. It's been a week dominated by an offsite and the concomitant over-eating, over-drinking and worst: over-talking.

Yesterday, starting around 9AM and ending around noon, I sat through 17-hours of pedagogy on the transformational importance of "design thinking."

I couldn't help but think of a quip by either Alexander Woolcott or Monty Wooley, I can't remember which. "My foot's asleep, do you mind if I join it?"

I guess that's all for now.

I'm two hours late.

And I can't actually see what I'm typing.

Would that I could join my foot.