Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Etiam si omnes, ego non.

The following is not political. It's human.

The title above is in Latin, a language I have studied off and on for nearly my entire life. There's something magical about Latin. Things sound profound and important in it.

The phrase means, "Even if all others, I not."

In other words, I will not go along with the horrors that are happening in our country right now.

The violence against the environment. The violence against our own citizenry. And the violence against those attempting to emigrate to the US for their own safety.

Back in 2014, the great German writer Joachim Fest wrote a memoir of growing up in Nazi Germany. It was called in German, "Icht Nicht." In English, "Not I."

The book, it pains me to say this, is worth reading today. Not as a memoir, but as a warning. You can read a review from the Times' here.

Things are bad in our country. And we must pay our taxes and obey our laws. So we are going along with it.

You might want to read Nobel-prize winner Paul Krugman on the matter. Here.

If the economy really picks up, or an American Reichstag fire is discovered, there's a decent chance the Regime's popularity with soar.

With that popularity will come oppression of people like myself who speak as loudly as they can against the Regime. National broadcasters are already demonizing the opposition. Former politician and television judge Jeanine Pirro on national TV just called Democrats Demon Rats.

Once you start calling people rats--whole groups of people--mobs violence probably isn't far behind.

There's not much we can do. We can spend our money to support blue candidates and our time.

Until things, god willing, change in November, I will remember two Latin phrases.

Etiam si omnes, ego non.


Icht nicht.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Shakespeare for the birds.

Saturday night in New York City might have been the most beautiful night since creation itself began. The sun was setting casting a golden twilight. The breeze was calm and cooling, and the temperature was just right for a tee-shirt and shorts.

I was with 2,500 other New Yorkers in Central Park's Delacorte Theater to see the Public's presentation of Shakespeare's "Othello."

I first saw a production of Othello fifteen years ago when I found an old VHS tape of Orson Welles' 1951 interpretation with Welles himself as the Moor and wearing a most politically-incorrect blackface.

Still. Shakespeare. Welles. Holy. Shit.

About ten years ago I saw a small production downtown at a theater at NYU with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the insidious Iago. It was one of the worst interpretations of Shakespeare I had ever seen, with Iago climbing over TV screens playing static to torture the Moor.

Saturday night was in between the two productions. Blackface aside, I'm not sure anyone could play a better Othello than Welles. But Chukwudi Iwuji, though small in stature, rises to the role. Corey Stoll was fine as Iago, but to my mind lacking in unctuousness. 

Perhaps for me the highlight of the evening happened early in Act I. As the actors were going through their lines and setting the setting, plot and characters, as we thrilled to the language of the Bard, a small sparrow flew down from the rafters and settled stage left.

It was a small bird, about half the size of a clenched fist, and being a New Yorker, he felt every-bit entitled to enjoy the show from his particular vantage point. He sat there and looked around and watched, pecked, then watched some more.

Until this point in my 60 years I wasn't aware that sparrows enjoyed Shakespeare. But this must have been a bird from up by Columbia, where Shakespeare, and Marlowe, and even Ben Jonson are, still, currency.

For a while the sparrow sat and took it in. Then he must have had enough--or he heard his girlfriend sparrow calling. He flew up into the towering lights, circled the stage and then off into the night he disappeared.

The show, as shows do, went on.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Nobody asked me but....Ides of June edition.

Nobody asked me but is my periodic homage to the great New York sportswriter, Jimmy Cannon. When Cannon was stuck, when he had no ideas (it happens even to the best of us) he would write one of these. About everything but sports.

Nobody asked me but...

...When it's 81 degrees and sunny, with a light wind blowing off the Hudson, and you're far enough away from the odors of horse manure emanating from the stables on West 48th street, New York might well be the greatest city in the world.

...I generally don't like people who call New York the greatest city in the world.

...Especially if they've never been to Akron in a snowstorm.

...That was a joke.

...When did we start appending the suffix "oid" onto the word fact?

...And what's the difference, anyway, between a fact and a factoid.

...Is there such a thing as a
 little bit of fiction, a fictionoid? 

...Part of me thinks the Trump administration will end the same way Senator Joseph McCarthy ended, with someone asking him on national television, "Sir, have you no sense of decency?"

...Back then and today, that's a rhetorical question.

...The more you need to print something, the greater the likelihood that the printer is broken.

...I think they call that HP's law.

...It goes along with Mac's law that a two-hour software upgrade happens just as you're on deadline.

...Does anyone really think AT&T buying Time-Warner will be good for customers? 

...Do those people actually use AT&T or Time-Warner?

...If you do, do you actually think they'll ever answer their phone or fix a problem?

...How do the people who send out shrill notices that your timesheets are late fill out their timesheets?

...Every once in a while, when the world gets too much with me, I feel like watching an old episode of "Mr. Ed."

...Did you expect more from a post on a summer Friday?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Here there be Charlatans.

A meaty sandwich is the opposite of charlatanism.
Lately in this space, I've howled at the moon. Mostly I howl at the new age "this-will-change-everything-ists" who tell us of the magic 'best practices,' or media format or analytic capability that will lead our business (and our clients) to some sort of promised land. 

A land where sales go up, customers are always loyal, conversations are had about your brand--and they're passed along. A world of inexpensive 'brand films' that are viewed and shared and shared some more. A world where marketers can get something for nothing, and everyone is blissful, happy and rich.

In Tuesday's failing "New York Times," there was an opinion piece that asked "Why We Are So Vulnerable to Charlatans Like Trump." You can read it here.

This paragraph really stopped me:

"What makes us so vulnerable to charlatans today? In part it’s the complexity of the modern world and the rate of technological and social change: Quackery provides what Saul Bellow once called a “five-cent synthesis,” boiling down the chaotic tangle of the age into simple nostrums. Modern life bombards us into exhaustion and boredom as much as anxiety; sometimes we are just looking for entertainment in a surprising notion."

If that doesn't capture the spirit of those in our business who spend their days and our money trumpeting and selling the next response panacea, I don't know what does.

We've heard during the last twenty or so years of our complex and rapidly changing world, a new platitude or two every month or so.

We've heard all sorts of ideas that will change marketing forever. They're often accompanied by statements that the old ways are unequivocally and forever dead.

Charlatans become especially prevalent in ages of “rapid development of the sciences, or quickened progress in technology” when “minds are overburdened with the effort to keep up with these accumulations of facts.”

Sound like our business?

In these periods simplistic reductions of complex issues and marketing cure-alls function the same way as quack medicine: They seem to provide an answer. But really, as is the case with phony medicine, they only make the patient (in our case, the marketing industry) sicker.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

It's complicated. (It shouldn't be.)

In our industry, for every one person who tries to simplify what we do, there are 19 or 47 who try to complicate things.

Complication, when you get right down to it, is good for business. If no one knows exactly what you’re talking about, they’re usually afraid to admit it. So they nod their heads and you charge them for it.

Don’t believe me? Think about getting your car repaired or your washer-dryer, or getting your kitchen redone. Someone tells you your Freon capacitor is clogged, and before you can say “Alexa, what’s a Freon capacitor?” you’re out $179 for parts and $235 for labor.

Back in the real world it seems I spend one-third of my day hearing about agencies who are going to help their clients with business transformation. Business transformation? Most clients don’t pick up the phone when it rings and have no one competent on staff to handle minor problems.

Does it really take an MBA and a specialist in transformational strategic frameworks to tell a business to answer the phone by the third ring, to call people back when you can’t resolve their questions and to have enough cashiers when the store is crowded?

My personal belief is most businesses—and this includes the near-defunct like Sears and the like—would even today be more viable if they took care of their customers in a helpful way. That’s the easiest step one there is, and you don’t need a degree in behavioral economics and user interaction design to get there.

Our business, of course, has no immunity from the disease of over-complication. In fact, and I wish I were exaggerating here, I think one-third of the meetings I attend might just as well be conducted in Swahili. I have no idea what anyone is talking about. And the human connections and behaviors and journeys we’re supposed to be “optimizing” seem to have no connection to any real observable human behavior. In other words, I don’t understand what you’re saying, and I’m not sure people act that way anyway.

As long-time readers of this blog know, my old man was in this business a generation before me. I stumbled upon an article from the New York Times from November 26, 1968—49 and a half years ago.

We hear a lot in our business about how “the agency model is broken.” I guess that’s the 21st Century way of saying such-and-such place sucks. Or their management is made up of tasteless dodos.

I wonder if our worlds would be dramatically improved, smarter, friendlier and productive of more successful work if we followed the dictum from my old man so many years ago. What if we started “putting the money where we make the money”?

In other words what if we cut the crap, reduced our industry to its simplest and reaffirmed that “great creative makes great brands.” (See Apple. See Nike. See IBM.)

And then, as an agency, we invested accordingly.

Simple, right?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


1. We will award ads that have a “cultural impact.” There’s no telling if that impact is positive or negative.

2. We will engage in “human storytelling.” Except when we have Chinese food. Then we’ll engage in “Hunan storytelling.”

3. Despite saying that this year will be less lavish than last, in reality next year will be less lavish than this.

4. The most serious statements about industry retrenchment will be issued from the most expensive hotel suites.

5. People sipping $1000 bottles of wine will judge creative work about world hunger.

6. Meetings to discuss moving Cannes elsewhere will be  held at Cannes. Usually in a comped room.

7. Someone will win an award for something to do with Blockchain.

8. Disruptors will be disrupted.

9. Marcel will change everything.

10. We will pledge to be data-driven. Unless we’re in a limo. Then we’ll be Mercedes-driven.

11. A lot of content will be pushed out. 99 percent of it will be unwatchable.
12. Much will be said about brand purpose. Nothing about bran purpose. Which is kind of gross anyway.