Sunday, December 30, 2007

An agency that shall remain nameless...

Basically, about three years ago I was hired by a mundane, creatively ossified if not outright moribund Boston i-agency, to breathe some life into the place, to invigorate its creative product, to raise their level of ambition and their profile. Less than two years later, I was out on my keister. I was hired to change a place, then canned for trying to change the place. Mother fucking sons of bitch bastard child of a rabid one-eye jackal.

Today I ran across this article in the NY Times. The best article I've read in a while.
Here's the gist: There is a "curse of knowledge." It means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, you know exactly what to do, how to proceed. You start spouting jargon and dredging up best-practices. Then when it's time to do the job--i.e. create advertising, since you've always done it your way, you revert to form and do it the way it's always been done. Innovation be damned.

This is the way most agencies approach creative and media today. They do what they've always done. They write essentially the same script. Cast from a pool of the same actrons. Even hire the same director.

Then they worry the same worries. Why are we smaller today than we were five years ago?

Friday, December 28, 2007

For position only.

For a couple years now media and communication experts (mind you, Harry Truman defined an expert as "an asshole from out of town) have averred that the internet has altered the balance of power between the customer and corporation. That is, this is the era of the empowered customer.

Unfortunately most every company--while asserting that their communications are integrated and their website is so very 2.0, have failed to provide even the rudiments of adequate customer service. One reason for that is corporations, like the military, are always preparing for the last war. So, customer service is seen as a cost-drain. Though so many corporations have CRM programs (ha! If all you have is a program, your CRM won't work because it is seen as an adjunct, not an implicit part of your corporate gestalt) and proclaim that they think in terms of lifetime value, the fact is those portions of companies that touch the consumer are often understaffed and almost always undervalued by the companies themselves. I defy you to find a customer service phone center that isn't "currently experiencing unusually heavy call volume."

My point here is one that I've promulgated since the earliest days of Ad Aged. Customer service will have more of an impact on your brand than any ad campaign you can create. Period. End of story. United Airlines--when they were with Leo Burnett, when they were with Fallon, and now at their new agency--has always done wonderful advertising. Billions of dollars worth over decades and decades, that is all canceled out by surly ice-chipping flight-waiters, dirty planes, and lousy service overall, not to mention bait-and-switch pricing tactics and flat-out deceptive frequent liar programs. Of course you've heard me excoriate Detroit, the PC industry (including Apple), the telcos, supermarkets, movie theaters, big box retailers and our purported government of the people, by the people and for the people for the same offenses. I guess, I'll say it one more time: advertising is saying. Customer service is doing. And people believe doing more than saying. Since the first internet bubble advertising has been, as it should be, long on promise. Companies, however, have failed to live up to those promises. So millions of angry, disappointed people lay in the wake of hyperbole and falsehood.

OK. Enough moralizing. Enough. Enough. 2007 is well-nigh over. And we'll end this year--unless I write again before the 1st, with a bit of Robert Frost. I'm not sure why, except it's a poem I love and think about.

Provide, Provide
--Robert Frost

The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag,
Was once the beauty Abishag,

The picture pride of Hollywood.
Too many fall from great and good
For you to doubt the likelihood.

Die early and avoid the fate.
Or if predestined to die late,
Make up your mind to die in state.

Make the whole stock exchange your own!
If need be occupy a throne,
Where nobody can call you crone.

Some have relied on what they knew;
Others on simply being true.
What worked for them might work for you.

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Truth in advertising.

My wife picked up a baseball cap for me from Barney Greengrass, since 1908, the Sturgeon King. As you'd expect, it's made in China. The hat, not the sturgeon. On the inside of the cap is a tag that says, "One Size Fits Most." How's that for candor. Now I will see no one with elephant-cephalitis or suffering from pin-headery wearing a Barney Greengrass cap. Presumably it won't fit.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In praise of simplicity.

I have just turned 50 years old. In our youth-obsessed world, a world in which an entire generation has grown to adult-hood without learning how to tuck in a shirt, I am a codger, a coot, a crone, that is, if a male can be a crone, and I'm not sure he can.

Right now I am staying in a twelve-star hotel in the Caribbean. Years ago, it would have earned three-stars, but since everything today is over-praised and over-hyped, from politicians, to movies, to pregnant rock-stars' rehab facilities, to wars, they have to add a constellation or two to draw distinctions between facilities. So a nine star hotel means that the vermin in the room is very high class. Ten stars is hot and cold running sludge, and so it goes. Zagat's, by the way, is a great perpetrator of over-inflated ratings. I've seen filthy pizza parlors that get a 21 for food, and like the Borscht Belt wife joke, "My wife has served leftovers for 30 years; the original meal has never been found," the same can be said of many of Zagat's picks. They win praise because of proximity and experimenter bias. Not because of the quality of their victuals.

OK. Back to my fifteen-star hotel (it went up three stars while I was writing this) I don't know how to turn off the lights. I grew up in a world where up meant on and down meant off. It worked. Now there are buttons, switches and dimmers. None of which seem to respond to touch. I understand I am not cool--and at times I like things black and white, no grey areas. You know what? That's how I like my light switches. On and off. If I need to dim, I'll squint.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Copywriters sans frontieres.

"Send me somewhere East of Eden,
Where their best is like our worst.
Where there ain't no Ten Commandments,
And a man can raise a thirst."
--Rudyard Kipling

I am off to the tropical third world, where the tsetse flies fly and yellow fever is all the rage. There I am bringing my copywriting skills to those places and climes less fortunate, where the construction of a simple classified ad to sell a diseased goat can
disable a village for a month. Look for some award winners from our little brown brothers.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

There's something happening here.

Since 1980 and the rise of Radical Reagan Rightism, the rise of compassionate conservatism, the number of prisoners in state and federal prisons has increased nearly 500%--in federal prisons alone that rate increase is nearly 700%. Jail population from 1985 to present is a bit of a laggard--it has merely tripled.

These facts I've discovered just a day after the story breaks that J. Edgar Hoover, the freedom-hating protector of our liberty, planned to arrest 12,000 people, 97% of them citizens and keep them in military prisons without access to due process, unprotected by habeas corpus.

Of course, none of this is as important as Britney's sister's pregnancy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

GEIFY. (George Explains It For You.)

Something is happening in America that isn't pleasant to watch. The Presidency is fast becoming an autocracy and our country seems to be in the hands of bloated plutocrats who earn billion dollar payouts while their companies eliminate jobs.

Some have called this period in America's history "the New Gilded Age," referring to the original Gilded Age when people like John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Leland Stanford, Huntington, Gould, JP Morgan, Charles Schwab and other amassed fortunes that in today's dollars would overwhelm that of, say, Bill Gates. While these "malefactors of great wealth" were accumulating their millions, there were millions of people living hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck in fetid conditions, without access to health care, education, advancement or workplace protection. In other words, a few were well-off and millions and millions suffered.

Being a country which has no historical sense means that most Americans alive today have no sense of what life was like in America only one century ago. And so, we have taken the progress made due to liberal policy that started during FDR's New Deal and continued through to Johnson's Great Society as the norm. What I call the Liberal Period in America, lasted from 1933 to approximately 1968. During this period we saw a narrowing of the disparity between rich and poor, aggressively progressive taxation, a bridling of corporate influence. We also saw a remarkable rise in our general standard of living. Home ownership reached new heights, as did college attendance and the broad distribution of once-unattainable consumer goods.

Since the Reagan 80s, the trend toward a more egalitarian distribution of wealth has been rolled back. Our public education system has been all but destroyed. Nearly 50 million Americans have no health insurance. Public services, like libraries and other cultural institutions have decayed and in many cases have cut back on the hours they are open. Further the state of our cities and concomitant city services are approaching Dickensian levels. In fact, diseases we had all but eradicated a generation ago are making a comeback. Housing standards, while on the books, are not enforced and millions of people are living in conditions that more liberal eras might have termed inhuman.

Here's my point. If you're reading this, if you grew up after WW2, you grew up during the American anomaly of distributed wealth. Rapacious and exploitative wealth has always been the rule and it is back in force. That rule, by the way can be summed up thus: capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich. I say that because the poor are subject to the whims of the marketplace, while the government is on hand to bailout or support wealth with tax-payer-financed largesses. (Think Halliburton no-bid contracts.) Or what today we call Global capitalism, I call Gobble Capitalism.

What follows by the way was written in 1963 by Alan Greenspan, in Ayn Rand's Ur-Unfettered capitalist newsletter. I'm quoting from Paul Krugman here:

"Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”

Greenspan and company have helped run our nation for quite a while. They are running it now. Welcome to the Dark
Bob Herbert of the NYTimes agrees with me, btw. For further elucidation, read his oped piece (which was released after my post.)

Here's another one for you.

I heard a promotional announcement on NPR this morning. Some people call these ads, but not Public broadcasting, but let's move on.

This one was for Lufthansa and they were trumpeting their "Lie-flat beds." That got me thinking. Aren't beds, by definition, "lie-flat?" Here's my supposition. Airlines stared calling large seats "beds" even though they were merely reclining seats with footrests. So you had a "bed" shaped like a fallen over Hebrew lahmed, which wasn't really a bed at all. That verbal hocus-pocus has now forced the language to append an adjective (lie-flat) where none has been needed before in the history of English.

I look forward to more of these in the future. As linguistic lies become more and more pervasive--factories producing pollution from their plants which they'll call "pure oxygen," so air will soon need the modifier "breathable." You get the point, yes?

A special post is coming soon. I'm calling it GEIFY, pronounced "guy fee." Geify is my acronym for George Explains It For You. I will put order into the universe and with other-worldly-like luminescence will bring serenity to your soul and a beatific smile to your lips. Either that or outrage.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

There are no black people in the future.

In our scrupulously PC world we have figured out ways to code language and image so what we show and say is "acceptable" but is just as virulently racist as the epithets that scarred our nation for so many years. As Reagan advisor and right-wing hero Lee Atwater noted, we no longer yell "nigger, nigger, nigger," we proclaim "state's rights." America's nativist, anti-semitic beliefs are couched in politesse, like "Eastern liberals," or "New York intellectuals."

I've noticed that architectural renderings of future developments portend a world without darker hues. Why is this? It's probably not intentional, but the message is loud and clear. To so many, utopia is white. And has a shapely ass.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The economics of rudeness.

Last night I had to send my Sony Vaio back to Sony for repair. Their middleman in this process is FedEx-Kinkos. I was told to drop by with a service number and the FedEx people would take care of the rest. Uh huh.

FedEx, who forged its early image of efficiency by NOT being the Post Office has become the Post Office. The lines, which were long and meandered like Dick Cheney's colon, were disorderly. They were out of supplies (like envelopes)and no one knew what I was talking about when I said I was there for a Sony repair.

Finally, one FedEx guy came to my aid. He found the appropriate box, had me pack it and then processed the order and charged me $10.84 for the box. He seemed the very model of a modern retail worker. Except he did everything wrong. Finally his boss came and reprocessed the whole thing, which took an additional twenty minutes not counting ten more minutes to refund my $10.84.

My question is this. What are the economics of hiring low-wage workers, offering them no advancement path, no training, no management so they deliver nothing more than lousy service and high-turnover? This "hire the cheapest" philosophy infects every business--T-mobile, Delta Rapelines, supermarkets, drug stores, FedEx-Kinkos. Can someone explain this? Does it make sense to alienate customers and tarnish your brand to, maybe save a few dollars an hour? I say maybe save because I can't even imagine the hourly wage savings compensate for the high-rate of turnover these businesses suffer.

If you know an MBA, an economist or a Ayn Randian crypto-fascist, will you please ask them? I would like to know.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I snapped this walking back from lunch. Neither of the 6'2" twin Lithuanian supermodels I was with got it, but it made me laugh.

Undone by language.

I might be galloping hither and yon in this one, so try to hold onto the reins and stay aboard, he said mixing his metaphors. Last week an unnamed client of mine "bought" what in my mind was an innovative and unique idea to provide relevant content to its customer base.

Now the word content is the first word I will examine. To most people, particularly webophiles, content is any bucket-load of crap that pertains, however loosely, to a topic. It does not have to be interesting, funny, fresh, original or authoritative. It just has to be there. There are many in the industry who say "content is king." Tru dat, but only if it's interesting and unique. Most content is crap. Crap with a capital K. It's just a hodgepodge of crap or moving images meant to show the client, the only person outside of a creative's 360-review-group who will spend time on the site, how much stuff is on the site. When the client, and most clients are so distracted by fear that, honestly, I don't believe they can read, sees a bucket-full of drivel the agency calls content, the client remarks, "look at all that content." It is at that point that the client proclaims the site robust and wields her cliches like a Viking double-sided broadaxe. "The content is rich and our site is robust." At that point there's not a single person within axe-length who will ask, "Oh, it's full of stuff all right, but is that stuff interesting?" That would be considered by agencies and clients alike to be controversial and inflammatory. And would probably, eventually get you shit-canned.

Gerry Graf, the creative doyen of TBWA/CD NY, is video interviewed in the ever- star-fucking Creativity magazine this month. He doesn't have much to say but what is important. He can say what's important in ten seconds--but that's too short to qualify as content so the video runs and runs until Graf repeats himself about nine times. Basically, Graf says, a commercial isn't any good if people have seen it before. In other words, if it ain't interesting it's just a continuing onslaught of panicked pixelled pusillanimity.

Now, let's talk specifically about web agencies for a minute. "Dear Web Agencies: sixteen months ago I found a statistic that said there are over 600 billion web pages in the world, ergo there are probably 700 or 800 billion pages today. Must you produce more and more filled with crap no one cares about outside of a conference room? My god. Aggregation is not work. It's taking a bunch of someone else's crap and calling it your own. It's kind of like going to twenty restaurants and taking portions of meals from each, mixing them together in a Cuisinart and re-serving it up with your client's logo attached. Would you pardon me while I retch."

OK. I've got one more phrase to cover in this philippic. "Soft launch." The client doesn't feel something is ready so they, in the feckless, fuck-faced farce of fuckdom decide on a "soft launch." A launch that's not really a launch. Think of it as a soft amputation. A soft pregnancy. Soft genital herpes. Sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Client. A soft launch is soft-headed. And a new-speak excuse for half-assed.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Robust, my ass.

I am so nauseated by the use of the word "robust." Everything that is full of content nowadays, everything that may have a scintilla of interest is referred to as robust. Dear boys and girls, there are other words out there. Robust is over-used, hackneyed and a cliche.

The Red Tag Sale.

GM is having a red tag sale. That's good. Because there are probably more people who want red tags than GM vehicles.

What is amazing to me is the absolute and utter lack of retail innovation on the part of GM. All they do is the same old asinine (or asieleven) sales tactic,one that, at best, denigrates any price integrity they have left.

Years ago, when I was knee-high to a cockroach, I worked in the advertising department at Bloomingdale's. These were pre-computer days, and the ad you dreaded "writing" above all others was for Levellor blinds--because you had to type the chart of lengths and widths and prices that took a bad typist like myself forever. I bring this up because periodically, when the US had a government, the blind buyer would be sued by the FCC because Levellor blinds are always on sale. Like mattresses and American cars. If you're always on sale, the sale price becomes your regular price and you can't then advertise things at 50% off. So, once or twice a year, usually a day before a holiday where Bloomingdale's was closed, the blind buyer would sell every blind at its regular price, thus averting the long hand of the law. Or avoiding the letter of the law.

GM and other domestics, because of their political influence and heft, don't need such subterfuge. However customers know. The few cars they do buy they buy during a red-tag sale, or president's day sale, or ground-hog's day sale. So, GM can put an MSRP of $20K on a car, but no one in their right mind will ever buy a car at that price.

It's a fire sale in Detroit.Which is fitting. Since most of that once-great city is in ashes.

(Oops. I just check GM's corporate site. It's a red tag EVENT, not a sale.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chief Stupidity Officer.

I got an email the other day--you know, one of those pregnant missives from corporate--reminding me and every other employee of Monolith Advertising Holding Co., to either not do or to do some certain sort of behavior. Naturally I paid no attention whatsoever to the "content" of the note, but I did observe that the sender's title was Chief Risk Officer. How small is your penis if you need to be compensated by such a title?

The trend I'm remarking on is the proliferation of banal titles. Chief titles. Chief Integration Officer. Chief Strategy Officer. Chief Compliance Officer. Chief Facilities Officer. Chief Digital Officer. Chief Digital Strategy Officer. Chief Client Operations Officer. Chief Creative Officer.

What does an officer do anyway? He offices? He officiates? He's officious? (Sorry for the gender specificity but the dumber the title the more likely it is to be filled by a schlong-challenged man.)

There's a point here, I think, and it's about the demise of the original intention of advertising.We are no longer in the creativity business. We are in the managtivity business. People, ideas, relationships, spontaneity, spark, insouciance are controlled by faceless Chief Squash Your Spirit Officers.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ad Aged. Now with 30% more conspiracy theory.

As I walk around the world I have noticed that latex gloves are popping up everywhere. On letter carriers, food service works, transit workers. They are as ubiquitous as pimples on a steroid user's ass.

Last weekend my 2.5 oz. can of shaving cream was confiscated by the TSA while I was passing through LaGuardia because I hadn't placed it in a plastic bag.

Latex gloves and plastic bags are petroleum by-products. My guess is that this is another way the oil companies profit through the alleged terrorist threat. In other words, terror = profit.

PS: If you are an employee of Halliburton in Iraq, rape is not illegal.

I started writing copy for credit card refinancing this morning...

and this came out of my computer:

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

I think I must be on copywriter steroids.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

If all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

Traditional advertising agencies--scratch that--old-fashioned advertising agencies are in deep shit. By old-fashioned I mean any agency that favors one medium over ones that may be more viable simply because that is where their expertise lies. In other words, interactive agencies that think the solution to every marketing problem is a bunch of banner ads and a site or a sitelet are just as dumb, ossified, calcified, hobbled, crippled, lame and obsolete as the former behemoths who think every marketing problem can be solved via TV and print.

The answer is much more egalitarian. First, what's the involve-the-consumer-idea. Second, what different media do we use to disseminate or dissovaryate that idea. That's the future, boys and girls. And it's coming at you way faster than you think.

A perfect name for a new agency.

I hate the new naming taxonomy for ad agencies. I don't want to trust my dollars to a place called "Purple Sweat Socks" or "Ashcan Skool." That said, in a tribute to Jean-Paul Sartre, how about an agency called "Being and Nothingness"?

Being because agencies "be" by attending meetings and writing decks. Nothingness because nothing actually gets done.

I laughed so hard I cried.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Some Olympian suggestions.

Listening to NPR this morning and reading the New York Times, it's just occurred to me that we in the West are going about this anti-terrorism thing all wrong. We could fix the entire problem with just a slight change of perspective. So, here's what I propose:

Dear 2008 Beijing Olympic Committee:

I know the games are less than a year away and so suggesting a new competition will likely meet with your derision but that said, I feel this is an idea whose time has come. Let's make car-bombing an Olympic sport.

There are certainly enough nations "practicing" now, and perhaps if we make car bombing official--with rules, provisos, codicils and regulations, we will be able to exercise a bit more control over it. Let's make car-bombing a demonstration sport in 2008. Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, Spain, Pakistan, Northern Ireland and a few other nations already have strong squads. None of those nations do well in traditional sports like swimming and running, so perhaps this is a chance for more egalitarian medal representation.

If car-bombing succeeds, I suggest another sport, though it's possible that only the good ol' USA will be able to send a squad: Mall Shooting.

Wrong on every level.

"White Kwanzaa"

I’m dreaming of a white Kwanzaa,
Just like the ones I never knew,
Where the roof-tops glisten
And gangstas listen
To hear po lice in ‘hood.

I’m dreaming of a white Kwanzaa,
With every Kwanzaa card I swipe
May yo' days be merry and bright
And may all yo' Kwanzaas be white.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The best job I ever had.

Walking to work this morning I saw a few hoodie-clad men on scaffolding knocking down a four-story building. They weren't razing it with a crane with one of those Looney Tunes wrecking balls, instead they were knocking it apart, floor by floor with sledge hammers.

That reminded me of the best job I've ever had. When I was twenty, I got a job working for a guy called Olindo Nocito and his brother Frankie, who spoke virtually no English. Olindo and Frankie were aluminum-siders. They also installed casement windows. I was their helper and their prep-boy. That meant that I was given the job of removing all of the old siding before we could put up the new siding. So a couple mornings a week, they would drop me off at a site with a ladder, a crowbar, a hammer and a few canvas bags and tell me to rip off every shingle on the place.

It was pretty brutal work, but cathartic. At the end of eight or ten hours the house was de-nuded down to the plywood. And the next day we'd be there to insulate and galvanize it.

I bring this up because it occurs to me that a lot of agencies need to be torn down and refurbished. I know there are weaknesses to this metaphor--that aluminum siding is ugly and we don't want to make agencies uglier and that the changes were primarily cosmetic. I hope, however, you'll get the point. The agency business needs to be remade. It's going to take more than a couple of Chief Change Officers to do it. It's probably going to demand a couple of people armed with ladders, crow bars and hammers. And few canvas bags--for carting off the old carcasses.

The "Citizen Kane" of talking chipmunk movies.

Thanks to my ongoing work with Hollywood's Weinstein boys, I got invited last night to a preview of the new soon-to-be-smash-hit movie "Alvin!" It crackled with excitement. The wit was Shavian. The dialogue brought to mind the best of Preston Sturges. All-in-all a veritable tour de force.

OK, let's get serious for a moment. Is today's America so devoid of creativity and imagination that the best we can do for holiday entertainment is resurrect a third-rate cartoon that is memorable mainly for its breakthrough use of helium. I've just heard a report on NPR about more and more animation being shipped to Mumbai and Bangalore. And one of Alvin's producers going on about the detail and realism in the chipmunk's eyebrows and facial expressions. After I cleaned up my vomit, I remarked to myself (the only one listening) that movies--story-telling--is about the story, the characters. It's not about runaway art-direction and technology.

There's a slim chance "Alvin" will be fun. If it turns out that way it will be because of the innocence and camp humor of its plot and the wit of the language. It will not be because of an arched-eyebrow.

Productions values cannot trump originality, humanity and humor. If your work has been eviscerated of those qualities by your own inability or by your client's over-active thyroids, you can pray for a good result. But chances are your name will be attached to another snippet of well-wrought crap.

If you want to see acting and script-writing, chemistry and production at its very best, rent a movie from 1934--the Thin Man, directed by WS Van Dyke and starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. You can turn off the volume completely and just watch the body language between Loy and Powell--and Powell's eyebrows--and you will laugh. Any single frame contains more originality that the entire Alvin opus.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The world is too much with us.

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not�-Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

William Wordsworth (formerly of Grey Healthcare)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Low-Bid Economy, Continued.

Way back in August--when the temperature was higher but the globe was some degrees cooler--I wrote about a phenomenon called "The Low-Bid Economy."
This weekend, I've been forced to attend a Bat Mitzvah in Ann Arbor, Michigan (that is not the start of a joke) and I've run head-long into another facet of the low-bid economy--the complete and utter lack of service.

I flew Northwest. Surly flight attendants. No service or accountability whatsoever. Seats literally crooked on their runners as low-bid workers try to jam in another couple of rows. A dirty plane. No food except $2 trail-mix, which really sounds like something a gerbil would eat.

Then the Hertz counter in the Detroit airport. A line of six customers. And one fat Hertz rep behind the counter unable to make the contract printer work. Three Hertz people milling about, complaining in loud voices about the cold. Or looking at USA Today on their computers. No sense in serving customers--they pay us to pass hours not help people.

Then the Marriott Courtyard Inn. One pimple behind the counter. She can't spell my name. Can't even bother to listen to it when I repeat it again. And I'm an "Elite" customer. Ha! A filthy hotel. Because why pay people a decent wage to clean? It is dirty. You are dirty after a shower. And if you are over 5'5" you have to bend to get your head under the showerhead. Low-bid, everybody down.

Then, an attempt to replace a broken cell-phone still on warranty at the T-Mobile store. "T" as in terrible service. Terrible attitude. Terrible. Terminal. Tacky. Tsurly. Trafe. The phone they sold you breaks, and you are inconvenienced. You get charged for shipping. You get no apology.

Dell has just awarded some billions in advertising to a new WPP group. If Dell does not become the "Nordstrom's" of the PC world, their market-share will continue to shrink.

The Low-bid world is a dirty, dumb and dispiriting place. A place where no one cares. We need an alternative.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Would you please speak English, please?

The abuse of the English language spreads like a California wild-fire. While I am exacting and punctilious by nature, I do believe that language is mutable, always changing. But that by no means excuses the sloppiness of diction and thought that infects our speech today. Much of the infection is pure laziness--people chuck in extra cliche-d phrases because, well, it's so easy to say what someone else said before. So, you hear and read things like, "We will provide access to transportation," rather than "We will provide transportation." Then there is the segment of our language that is sullied because it has become propagandized or politicized or both. Somehow political discussions are "debates." They are not. They are questions and answer sessions with little interplay. Abortion. You are either anti-abortion or pro-choice. Well, guess what? I am anti-abortion--of course I am. Abortion is a horrible procedure and probably a painful choice. I mean who ISN'T anti-abortion. However, I believe women and men can opt to choose an abortion if they wish. I can go on and one and probably will. Because the manipulation of language shapes the world we live in. The Manichean world view of the Radical Right eliminates nuance and says, basically, anyone with a skin-tone darker than Paris Hilton is evil, especially if they don't believe in salvation through the one-time Jew, Jesus Christ.

Perhaps in a later post I will come up with a list of warning words. If you hear those words in a conversation or read them, do everything you can to escape. Because they are used only by scoundrels, charlatans and know-nothings. Robust is high on that list.

Finally, I am writing this from a visually cacophonous room in a Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There is no courtyard in sight. And no one named Mari. And certainly no yacht.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

This is for smart people only.

:30 seconds is more time than people will spend with something they're not interested in. And 30 minutes may not even be enough time if people are interested in something.

That's why we see print ads and print vehicles disappearing but books proliferating. People now know they can skip things they aren't interested in. And choose instead to focus on the things they care about.

What marketing people haven't done to date is alter their communication mixes following the simple logic outlined above. So we see mass marketers spending billions on commericals and media sending virtually zero information (brand or product) to people who don't care a whit or can't afford what is being proffered.Further, they show no acuity at targeting their customers and saying "here's where to and how to satisfy your needs."

American automakers are the worst offenders. Let me say it one more time: No matter how many and how good the commercials are that Buick runs, people are not coming back to the brand. If they can somehow build a car that gets 95 mpg, lasts 25 years, doesn't pollute and costs $3000, maybe they have a chance at long-term survival. Barring that, they are simply throwing away their dough. But since GM lost $5000 per second last quarter, apparently they don't care. (BTW the $5000/second is not hyperbole. It is fact.)

What marketers are forgetting is something Steve Hayden famously said in 1994, ten years after producing what is often regarded as the greatest commercial of all time. "Direct is the future of advertising, and interactive is the future of direct." In other words, though paraphrasing Mr. Hayden is somewhat sacriligious, to a targeted audience, a :30 is the movie trailer and the website is the movie. Tell people who want content how exciting the content is and where they can find it. Then let them customize that content and get it on the devices that matter most to them.

In this week's Ad Age, Peter Noel Murray (who sounds like a phallus, the Christmas season and a guy who slices lox in a deli) writes this and I think it's pretty good.

"To maximize the potential of the internet, the CMO must take the lead in developing and researching applications that will resonate with the customer. Steps that the CMO can take include:

1. Put communication front and center.
Establish communication as the priority by challenging the company's marketing resources and interactive agencies to think from the larger perspective of the internet's "narrative voice."

2. See ad formats from a consumer's perspective.
Evaluate existing internet advertising formats and capabilities from the perspective of consumer psychology. How well are they aligned with human information processing? How can they be improved?

3. Make messaging the end goal.
Lead the development and testing of new advertising forms and structures that are built on the foundations of customer understanding and the harnessing of the technology to communicate messages most effectively.

4. Develop a more emotionally rich experience.
Establish long-term goals for internet technology that will transform the medium from its current data-centric character to become a richer medium in communicating values such as emotion, an active ingredient in the most effective ads."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nattering nabobs of positivism.

Perhaps this is an understatement or maybe it's an overstatement, but it seems to me that there is one giant fundamental difference between account people and creative people.

Account people consider it a good day when they've had a good meeting. Creative people don't give a rat's arse about the meeting, so long as producing something good comes from it.

I've just gotten out of a rousing client meeting--prelude to another meeting with the largest of all client cheeses tomorrow. Those around me are high-fiving. We've had a good meeting.

But so far, we've sold fuck all.

Remember that.

A public service announcement.

As the weather turns chilly, Ad Aged would like to remind its throng of faithful readers to wear a hat. Science has determined you lose upwards of 40% of your body heat through your head so when the mercury dips, it makes sense to bundle up. If you're at work and you forgot your hat and the temperature suddenly plummets, you can wrap your head with old print outs and foam-core. That will also do the trick.

Let's run this up the flagppole and see who salutes it.

I think I've finally had the advertising idea that will make me rich. I'm going to create a holding company for holding companies.

Get me Sir Martin on the phone.
Tell Wren to hold.
I'll see Roth in a second. Tell him to cool his heels.

I'm about to introduce WinteromniPubliseurohavascom. I will own every agency in the world. And first I'll lower your salaries. Then I'll consolidate your back-office. Then I'll fire your asses.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Eliminate your but.

If you want to work for a good agency or be a good client, it's easy. Just have everyone around you eliminate one word from their vocabulary. But.

As in, "Yes, but."

Eliminate that's funny, but...
I like it but...
We should do that but.

It's so easy to kill an idea and enthusiasm.
Just use your but.

Monday, December 3, 2007

My agency's Christmas party.

Ok, ok. I just ducked out of my agency's Holiday party to write this post. Now, I'm not one for parties. In fact I despise them. But the party I'm attending right now is off the hook with a capital H. Or a capital O.

Can you say Bacchanal? Can you say orgy? Can you say moral turpitude and lewd and licentious?

I showed up late, mais oui, but within five minutes of arriving and hanging my coat up on a super model's erect nipples, I counted six of the seven deadly sins taking place, and a couple more sins that may only induce comas.

Holy cow. Great pay. Great people. Great work. Great parties. Have I died and gone to heaven?

Weapons of Mass Communication.

A book was reviewed in yesterday's New York Times (for those of you unfamiliar with that term, a book is a collection of printed words on a page, usually bound and placed between two covers.) The book is called "War Posters--Weapons of Mass Communication" and as the title indicates, it is a collection of a couple of hundred posters from various combatants from the dozen or so wars the world has fought since the advent of mass media. Here is the review:

I recommend this book for about four reasons:
1. It makes for great history of the wars we've fought (and started.)
2. It tracks our attitudes about other nations and races.
3. It provides an archive of 100 years of great ads. You can also see great illustrators, graphic design and typography (including type from one British WWI poster that is a dead-ringer for the Altoids typography.)
4. My 16-year old daughter learned something.

For your free copy, please respond to this post with a check for $72.50 to cover shipping and handling. Thank you.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Meeting facilitators.

40 foreign leaders in Annapolis, ostensibly trying to settle one of the world's most intractable problems. So my question is this: was there a meeting facilitator at Annapolis? Did someone stand up in front of Abbas and Olmert and the rest of the chic and the sheik and say "There's no such thing as a bad idea?" Did they have "brainstorming sessions," and flip charts and someone keeping sticky flip-charts that they can post on the wall with the "no bad ideas" that we come up with, and everyone gets ten day-glow circle stickers to place next to the idea they think is best.

"I think we should get all the Palestinians really good jobs."
"I think the Palestinians should accept the existence of Israel."
"We should give everyone a camel and a goat and some baclava and then we'll have peace."

Then we can take all those ideas and look at the ones that got the most votes and figure out "action-items" around those and "next steps" that will lead to brotherly Semite love, philosemitism will reign, the Dead Sea will kick into life, manna will rain from heaven and milk and honey will be freeflowing and lo-cal.

Write to me at this address with your thoughts and I will send you a complimentary .ppt file of innovative clip art.

Friday, November 30, 2007

An equation.

Pissy mood today. Too many meetings, agencies, clients, friends, politicians who talk about what needs to be done without doing anything.

This is going to be very blunt therefore:

Vision + action = movement.

Vision without action is masturbation.
Action without vision is flailing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nincompoop Forest.

This is by Mark Fenske. I love it.

"Do not learn to compromise. Every time somebody has an idea, Nincompoop Forest grows up around that idea. It is made up of people who become trees. Clients, marketing researchers, creative directors, account people, anybody who can get in the way of an idea (intentionally or not) is a tree in Nincompoop Forest."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

News Flash! Lifesavers are sweet.

This is a funny spot. It will do nothing for Lifesavers. It won't change their image. It won't make them cool. In fact, the idea that someone doesn't know what a muffin top is as the premise of a commercial, might make them even less cool. There is no information in the commercial. Outside of disseminating (or to be genderly-balanced, de-ovary-nating) the Lifesavers' name--which is confined literally to the last 50 or so frames of the spot--I see no purpose whatsoever in this execution. They'd have been better off buying a :04 and doing some nifty graphic crap with the logo. An utter waste of money. However, this is the kind of work traditional Madison Avenue extols. Duh.

I've never been a big fan of Jack Trout.

Jack Trout has always seemed to me to be an absolutist when it comes to advertising. You know, a best practices, Starch kind of guy. If you do this, then that will happen. I've always felt if business can be reduced to an if-then proposition we can all be replaced by software or be out-sourced to Bangalore and that hasn't happened yet, so people who can think, invent, create and act otherwise contrary still have, at least in some precincts, some perceived value.

Now, that said, I agree with Trout's column in this week's Forbes--not necessarily his examples--but his principle that there's more to good advertising than just creating an emotional connection. Read his column here:

I've been saying in this space and in my rantings in front of the urinals at any number of agencies, that today every brand follows the same strategy. "I'm cool. Buy me and you will be too." Sometimes that works. But more often, more effective communication appeals to both the heart and the head. Think about meeting a person of your preferred gender (it's ok if you don't have a preferred gender. Ad Aged is a tolerant blog and accepts you for who you are no matter how freaking deviant you may be.) You might, on first blush be attracted to that person's bosoms (as my Yiddeshe mama would say), or her legs, ass or eyes. That might induce you to boink her. But, since most marketers claim they are looking for long-term, lifetime value, sooner or later other things count. Her intelligence. Generosity. Kindness. Ability to make a pie. In other words, there are rational reasons or a rational component of many decisions.

Of course we want to feel emotionally connected to brands. But we want to be rationally connected too.

How is this possible?

That Mike Huckabee is a leading Republican candidate and does not believe in evolution? I'd be ok with that if he were running on the Troglodyte ticket.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A game we can all play.

Take the person in your office with the oddest name and make a pharma commercial out of them. As in:

MAN: Heartburn was really burning up my life.
WOMAN: He couldn't eat. He couldn't sleep.
MAN: I couldn't play with my grandkids.
Then I asked my doctor about benezirbhutto.

MAN: He said it could help reduce heartburn caused by
acid reflux.

VO: Benezirbhutto should not be taken by people with
all four limbs, hair growing out of their ears,
lefthanders or people who use vowels. Serious side
effects may include death, heart failure, laughing
at Frank TV and voting Republican.

MAN: Ask your doctor if benezirbhutto is right for you.

VO: Benezirbhutto. Take back your life.

Are they trying to tell me something.

If you are one of my legion of faithful readers, you have heard me excoriate the HR function before, so this post should come as no surprise to you. I have just transitioned from a month of freelance to a full-time job as an executive creative director at a medium-sized (and growing) agency in the Interpublic stable of shops.

Today, though it is early yet, I still don't have a computer, desk lamp or printer--or access to the network--but I do have four garbage pails. Three regular, one for recycling.

Oh, and someone just left a bushel of Dunkin' Munchkins on my desk while I was in a meeting.

Garbage, Xmas-style.

A brief flip through the A-section of The New York Times this morning reveals these Ed-McCabean headlines.

"Let it snow. Let it snap. Let it send." (Sprint.)
"Who said holiday shopping was hard?" (Acura.)
"The hottest gifts. The reliable network." (Verizon.) And since Verizon insists on having about three headlines on a page:
"Give America's most reliable wireless network."
"Winter wonderland." (Links of London.)
"How they accessorize in 7th Heaven." (Harry Winston, and not bad.)
And now my absolute favorite for Macy's:
"Layers are Joyful."

Let's think about that for a minute--Layers are Joyful. Putting on a tee-shirt, then a shirt, then a sweater, then a vest, then a Joseph Abboud jacket is Joyful.

Talk about taking the soul and guts out of a word.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I don't understand this at all.

I have just started a new job. Ostensibly I am a big cheese, with a good (for advertising) salary and a title that my mother would be proud of if she weren't such a bitter and narcissistic termagant.

So answer this for me. Why is it nearly impossible to get a $79 printer for my office and a $29 desk lamp? And why have they instead regarded it as important to put a 12 fl. oz. bottle of Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer with Moisturizers and Vitamin E on my desk.

Did someone tell HR that my hands are dirty? Do they not like us using the washrooms to wash in?

And here's something else troubling me. Why do they call businesses firms, or the firm? I've looked around a fair bit and no one here seems particularly firm except for a secretary or two and the anti-harassment policy says I'm not allowed to notice that. If this were my firm, I'd call it a flaccid or a saggy. There's truth in advertising for ya.

Reclaim your soul.

In my peregrinations I came across an idea floated in the UK called "Buy Nothing Day." Here's some copy from their website:
"Saturday November 24h 2007 is Buy Nothing Day (UK), It's a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from consumerism and live without shopping. Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!"

Having a bit of the counter-culture in me, I live (almost inexplicably in 21st Century New York) below my means. I do not have a mortgage the size of a fat-woman's ass. I don't have a BMW, Mercedes, Bentley or even a Honda. I carry little or no credit card debt. And I don't define myself by shoes and clothes adorned with other people's names.

What's more, though I am not religious, the notion of a Sabbath, of a day of rest--a respite from getting and spending--has always appealed to me, at least theoretically. It would be nice if the days to honor our war dead or dead presidents or the birth of the US were more than excuses for sales and three-day weekends and football or some other foolish steroidally-agitated mayhem. I am not protesting the government or the fascism they propagate, any of the wars we are currently fighting, or anything else. I just think we all need time to think and talk and maybe hug our families.

That's my resolve in 2008. One day a month, I buy nothing. But the Times.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gutenberg and interaction design.

We might not be fully in the Kindle-era (see previous post) but 550 years ago we weren't yet fully in the Gutenberg era either, and things turned out ok for the movable type guys over time.

Right now, I am serendipitously in the middle of a book by John Man called: "Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words." It is an interesting story of how a business idea (mass and uniform production)combined with existing technologies (the wine press or the olive press) to revolutionize the world. What really made things click for Gutenberg though was interaction design. Books, scribed books, hand-written by dozens of bald-pated monks had their rules. Words looked a certain way on the page. And Gutenberg, though it would have been easier and perhaps more intuitive to change the old order, stayed with the program. And his printed books looked and read much like scribed books. In short order, thousands and thousands of books were printed in Europe. Gutenberg's technology was the Windows of its day. Because good ol' Johann understood that humans can't take too much change at one time.

I'm not a fan of the shibboleth of interaction design. It's not a substitute for an idea. But there is something to be learned here.

A bisel on Kindle.

I am intrigued by Amazon's Kindle, now sold out through December 17th. Though I am a paper-and-ink guy, the idea of carrying around 200 books at once, downloading them instantaneously from anywhere, and being able to do book-like things like underline, take notes and dog-ear (virtually) pages, seems like a fairly brilliant application of interaction design. In other words, it seems like everything you can do with a book, you can do electronically with Kindle. And of course, you can do more, like get The New York Times delivered to you poolside as you are being fanned by bikini-clad nubile vixens while vacationing in St. Lucia.

Now come the part I don't understand. I watched the 6-minute Amazon video that's there ostensibly to explain Kindle and excite prospective buyers about it. Man, did it suck. The "talent" was talentless. He certainly couldn't act, he was stiff and un-fun and boring. The film was informative, but why did it have to be so dull. Dull from about a million different angles. It seems to me that Amazon could have gotten virtually anyone in the world to act in and put together this short movie. In fact, they have another film on their site which features Toni Morrison. But the dweeb movie is the key-note. I'm not sure why.

This only re-affirms my belief that people don't take the importance of production values on the web seriously enough. Or they fail to equate production values with the value of the brand. This is lamentable. And dumb.

I buy approximately five books a week, so my apartment is bursting at the seams with erudition. I will probably buy a Kindle at some point. However, I might have bought it today, if its online commercial didn't suck so bad.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Where are all the black people?

I've noticed something of late--and maybe I've been late noticing it, but nevertheless, notice it I have. What I'm talking about is artist's renderings of new developments. There are never people in them who aren't white. Actually, there are never people in those drawings who aren't anything but perfect blonde WASPs in Paul Stuart clothes.

Imagine seeing a Hasidic Jew. A black man in a dashiki with a big afro. A Puerto Rican fixing his car. Someone old feeding the birds leaning to one side and drooling.

Friday, November 23, 2007

If I see one more...

If I see one more ad with a snowflake motif or a product that has a red ribbon on it, or some insipid jingle-ly music track, I think I might plotz.

Is there an Marketing Manager out there who thinks the American public does not know that in one month we celebrate the birth of Chris Mass, the inventor of revolving credit? Is this what we hear in fuck-us groups, that Lexi (the proper Latinate plural of Lexus) will sell better with ribbons on their roofs, as will Verizon cell phones and everything that Circuit City sells.

Ho ho ho, Santa and the elves are working overtime this year to bring you the flat screen TV you've been wanting. Oh, wait! This is the ironic post-Seinfeld era...let's wink wink nudge nudge talk about re-gifting! Ho ho ho. I have an idea! Let's do a spot with Mrs. Claus! And reindeer that never shit on your roof.

$1 million an hour.

In 2006 P&G spent $1,000,000 an hour every hour on marketing. That's roughly $9 billion a year, or $1.50 for every woman, man and child on earth.

I feel kinda bad that I don't keep myself cleaner.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

400 years ago or so...

The Pilgrims alighted upon these shores and headed right to Kohl's for their post-Thanksgiving sale which starts tomorrow at 4AM. After an hour at Kohl's Miles Standish and the rest of the gang headed over to Macy's (which opened at 5AM) to buy a plastic Christmas tree.

Then when they got home from the 2-day Saleabration at Target, Mama Standish made a turkey sandwich and choked on a bite the size of a pack of cigarettes. Finally, the Patriots kicked the beejesus out of the Redskins in ye Olde American Football.

There's nothing like the crassest, grossest commercialism to take all of the solemnity out of a holiday. At least this year, Bush and Cheney, the great Chicken Hawks of Mass Destruction, have the decency not to fubar up our troops' Thanksgiving in Iraq, forcing them to eat turkey "dinner" at 6AM so it hits prime time news.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This almost makes me cry.

Here are four commercials produced by that attempt to define what it means to be a Progressive. The spots are so bad, so ham-handed, and so unoriginal in concept and execution that they contradict the very notion of progressivism. How could moveon have done no better than this? Perhaps these spots were created by right wing conspirators.

And now a word from Billy Wilder.

Billy Wilder, you could argue, was America's greatest movie maker. Oh, I know that I'm supposed to say Kubrick or a modern auteur, but Wilder made great movies (he won six Oscars) in more different genres than I think anyone else. Double Indemnity (noir), Sunset Boulevard (tragedy), The Apartment (black comedy), Some Like it Hot (comedy), plus Stalag 17 and Five Graves to Cairo (war), Witness for the Prosecution (courtroom) and a host of other great flicks.

I bring this up because as I was writing my last post on the jargon that infects our business, I kept thinking of Wilder's rules for screenwriting. Though many of these appear to be applicable only to the silver screen, I think they apply to our business as well. Here they are:

Billy Wilder's Screenwriting Tips

As told to Cameron Crowe:

1. The audience is fickle.

2. Grab 'em by the throat and never let 'em go.

3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.

4. Know where you’re going.

5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.

6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.

7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They'll love you forever.

8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’'e seeing.

9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.

10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then -- that's it. Don’t hang around.

A simple desultory philipic.

A friend pointed me in the direction of this article from Adweek about our industry's glee when it comes to creating words that are jargon at best and deceptive at worst. The article asks select industry-quasi-luminaries to "create and define a marketing-related catchword or phrase, e.g., incentivize." The words they come up with are pretty good, er, bad. Read the article here:

But as bad as internal agency speak is, what's worse is when agency-generated blather appears in ads. For years, in chrome script on the glove box of Lincoln Town Cars were the words "Ride engineered." Oh, ok, I always thought the Town Car was flight-engineered. Some years ago, flying back from a client on USAir, my partner and I survived a horrific flight. As we were "deplaning" the flight attendant came on the PA and said, "Remember, USAir begins with You." And my usually laconic partner shouted at the stupidity of that line by saying, "And ends in R."

My refrain is simple. Bullshit is a virus. Avoid it.

BTW, I know the location of the epicenter of BS. But I'm not telling unless you ask.

Norman Mailer and me.

Norman Mailer died last week at the age of 84. And while I was never a big fan of ego-lit, he did, at one time, have a certain burly appeal to the sort of rough-and-tumble Kerouac-wannabe New York intelligentsia. So when I was working on a single malt whiskey account, Liphromiaginnagorrfhaggh (a word unpronounceable in modern English)I proposed using Mailer in an ad.

Somewhat inexplicably, the client, and Mailer said "yes." And now I was on the hook to work with Mailer. I had come up with the headline, "What I Think and What I Drink by Norman Mailer." Mailer originally mumbled, "yeah, that's fine." But when he got on set for the print shoot he had a snootful and was belligerent as hell.

"That fucking line sucks," he screamed to one and all while assuming his classic boxer's stance. "Where's the fucking copy fuck?" he screamed. I had no choice but to try to calm the puglistic penman down. "Norm, let's just sit here, we'll shoot a few and we're outta here."

"It's no go, Jew Boy," he slurs. "The line should read 'It's my type.' Alluding to both the fucking whiskey and my fucking writing."

"But Norman, I think that's less clear," I mustered up my courage to say. It was then and there Mailer hauled off and punched me in the eye.

When I woke, the shoot was over. Mailer finally agreed to my line and the next day he had sent a dozen boxes of Corona Coronas to my apartment along with an autographed copy of a first-edition of "The Naked and the Dead."

That was Norman. I'm going to miss the big lug.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mr. Whipple is dead.

At least until Crispin brings him back with their inimitable irony.

I don't know about this, I'm Jewish.

There are about 20 pages of ads in Adweek and Ad Age today, in tribute to O. Burtch Drake, the outgoing Chairman of the AAAA. As the child of immigrants, I don't understand the whole initial before the name thing, though I suppose if you have to have an initial O is a good one, because it sounds a bit Jeanette MacDonald calling to Nelson Eddy, "O. Burtch, won't you please come hither."

So, say you're sitting next to O. Burtch on a plane, what do you call him? O? Burtch? Or O Burtch?

Oh, boy. Won't someone please help me?

"Chevy. Gas-friendly to gas-free."

That's a headline of a banner ad I saw this morning from the liars at General Motors and their associated agencies. Let's be very clear here. GM makes more big monstrosities, including the Hummer, than any other automaker. They are not gas friendly in any way, shape or form, and they're even less likely to be gas free than my Uncle Morris after eating a second-helping of stuffed cabbage.

If you click on the banner ad, you go to a site that features a photo of a tree being hugged. Get it? GM loves the environment. Yet GM, and the rest of Detroit say they can't meet more stringent fleet mileage per gallon standards that the government proposes. They still put bigger and bigger engines in their cars--absurdly big engines. And they attempted to foist e-85 on us. A sham of an alternative fuel if there ever was one--it would bring us more pollution, more global warming and monopoly control over the fuel supply.

Liar. Liar. Market cap on fire.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The scariest book I've ever read.

Last summer I read a history of the CIA by Tim Weiner called "Legacy of Ashes." Just yesterday it won a National Book Award for History.

Until I picked up "Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy," by Pulitzer-winner Charlie Savage, Legacy of Ashes was the most frightening expose of the falsehoods of America I'd ever encountered. Takeover makes Legacy look like Peter Rabbit. You can read the NYTimes review here:

I bring this up because this blog is also about the decline of the English language. And in the hands of dishonest people, language can kill. And destroy a country.

Rich Silverstein vs. the Bush-Cheney Junta.

A friend sent these posters designed by Rich Silverstein. He wants them very large. I want them posted on the subway walls and tenement halls.

My wife is at a focus group in Baltimore.

She just sent me this from behind the glass...

One of the lovely people here in the back room just asked
"What's your favorite artificial flavor?"
These are the people who sit in judgment of our work.

Is Starbucks a brand?

First let me posit this: my generational bias does not permit me to go to Starbucks. I can't bring myself to spend $4 or more on a cuppa joe and I can't abide the lines and the pretense. That said, I heard a report on NPR this morning that Starbucks is experiencing the first drop in same-store sales in its history. Also reported in Ad Age, the hoary traditional advertising ossified fossilized has-been.

First I wondered, should there be something called the Starbucks Index--a harbinger of a recession? Because you'd have to assume, in the midst of a serious economic downturn people might begin to chasten their $20/day coffee habits. Then the NPR report continued and said that Starbucks will be launching its first national television campaign as an attempt to stop what it hopes is only a temporary slide.

In all, however, it made me think about Starbucks. Is it a fad, a trend or a brand? Does it stand for something permanent?

I'd love your thoughts.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's not about just making a better car.

As the article linked above speaks to, GM (and probably Ford and maybe Chrysler) are making cars that are up to Japanese snuff. Somehow there's a jingoistic notion in America (it's most redolent in Detroit) that now that that's so, the domestic automakers have redeemed themselves and should once again ascend to market domination.

About a trillion things are wrong with this argument. I'll focus on three.

1. The Past. GM and the rest of Detroit have had, for at least the last fifty years a "may the customer be damned" attitude. Planned obsolescence. Lack of quality. Lack of innovation. And perhaps most egregious, franchised dealer networks that kicked the shit out of customers coming and going--ripping them off in every way possible.
2. False Patriotism. Since the 1960s rise of VW and then the onrush of Japanese autos into our market, Detroit has bludgeoned consumers with the notion that it's un-American to buy a foreign car. This is so contrary to logic and any notion of a free-market. Consumers have a right to buy the best product they can with their money. To impugn their patriotism is the worst form of bullying, abuse and dishonesty.
3. Lack of innovation. Detroit continues to be dishonest about its commitment to either decent fuel economy or pollution controls. They are quick to trumpet the few hybrids they do build and the few micro cars that get "world-class" gas mileage, but in point of fact, they are still pushing gas guzzlers and lag way behind Japanese and German automakers in alternative fuels. What's more, Detroit's powerful lobbies have, to date, prevented the US Government from raising fleet mileage standards. This is to the great detriment of our environment.

Detroit may someday make the best cars in the world. But when you've lied and broken promises to consumers for the better part of fifty years, you must to more than merely fix your product and yourself. You must apologize and make good on previous bad behavior.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My feces thesis.

With the possible exception of one or two agencies, needle-dicked-ness, fear, and schlock run rampant through our industry. There is scarcely any escape. So if you're looking to switch jobs, my suggestion is make your decision based on the cleanliness and the amenities found in the bath-rooms.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Idea Factory shuts down one assembly line.

Just months after super-charging the GSDM brand by attaching the words "Idea Factory" to those letters, the Idea Factory has laid off 90 factory workers. You get the idea.

Call me nutty, but I think it takes more than a new name to change an old order.


BusinessWeek has called David Droga's new enterprie,, a combination of QVC and MTV. Because I can speak proper English and prefer proper English to sentences like, "Yo, word, the man be, you know, the man, what it is..." I can't say that I understand the genius behind it. To me, in fact, honeyshed is more than depressing. It's evidence of the absolute demise of civilization.

There are two sets of people who present the virtues of products you can buy. Two young white bimbos with low-cut outfits and short skirts along with tons of cleavage and "look at my vagina" exhibitionism, and four heavily-tattooed men, two white, two black who speak in the vernacular I attempted above to transcribe. They act like the coarsest and lowest hoodlums. Their vocabulary seems limited to a few stock phrases and a couple dozen other words. One of them is proud to show off his house arrest anklet.

If this is what appeals to America's youth today, we are dead as a culture and a country. If honeyshed were a bit funnier it would be a nice satire (for about 45 seconds.) As a real selling channel, it's downright scary.

Word of the day: Fucktory.

Ooops. I mean factory.

Not long ago, GSDM changed it's name to the Idea Factory. Now a combo platter of Leo Burnett, Starcom Media and Digitas are doing some opportune collaborating under the name of the Insight Factory. Read about it here.

I don't know what's going on at the Idea Factory or the Insight Factory. I do know that I've already had enough of stupid-ass au courant appellations though. Trends are one thing. Fads are another.

Wait 'til next year.

At the end of a given sports season, regardless of the sport, regardless of the level at which it's played, all the teams but the team that won whatever championship, vow "Wait 'til next year." By that they mean that during the off-season, changes will be made in personnel, in training, in attitude, in philosophy even, that will bring more success in the subsequent season. Whew!

Much the same is happening in the agency world as we speak. "We're going to be media agnostic." "Embrace the internet." "It doesn't matter where ideas come from." "We're going to excise clients who don't get it." "For now on, we'll deal only with c-level client--we'll partner with them."

There are myriad other "new paradigms" out there. But the ones above seem the most prevalent and redolent. (Redolent means smelly.) My guess is if I had a quarter for every agency that said it's going to change and doesn't, I'd be rich enough now to resolutely rebuff News Corp's offer of $785 million for Ad Aged and my editorial services. As it stands, I'm forced to paraphrase Mark Twain. "Everybody talks about change but nobody does anything about it." Most often, the big wigs blather on about how it's happening while the fellas in the trenches are baling with their hands and old coffee cans. I dare you to look at how big Y&R NY was pre-Fudge and how big they are now.

The rant above got me thinking about Adam Morgan, author of "Eating the Big Fish," and "The Pirate Inside." In "Fish," published at the peak of the original dot-boom, Morgan codified what it takes for "challenger brands" to be successful. Agencies, I think, are always challenger brands--growth and dominance lasts about as long as an account guy's smile when creatives leave the room. So here are Morgan's principles of change, which I culled from his book:

The Eight Credos of Successful Challenger Brands

1. Break with your immediate past.
Be open to abandoning business as usual.

2. Say who you are.
Be clear. Be consistent. Be persistent.

3. Assume thought leadership.
Show the world you’re smarter. Define the playing field.

4. Puncture dominant complacency.
Change how you view yourself and change how you’re seen.

5. Definition over depth.
Be sharp and concise. Own who you are.

6. Overcommit.
Be prepared to do everything you can to sell the work to those
who adhere to business as usual.

7. Advertising (getting your definition out) is a vital ally.
Be shocking, combative, intrusive.

8. Momentum. Gain it and keep it.
Go. Go. Go.

In short, if you want change to happen within your own private House of Usher, those eight steps are worth thinking about.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The latest dumbness in American car advertising.

Of late I have noticed that a new rung on the latter of stupidity has been reached by American automakers and their advertising agencies. In a day-late and a dollar-short effort to proclaim their relevance, both Chrysler and Ford have been running commercials of late that talk about how some of their misbegotten vehicles now have MP3 players. Ford's headline is MP3 meets MPG. Whoopdefuckingdoo. Meanwhile, Buick, is running a series of ads in today's NYTimes telling us that their new Enclave is beautiful. They remind me of Jaguar ads of recent vintage that told us that Jaguars are "gorgeous."

It's obvious I have a problem with all this. I believe if you adapted Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to autos the presence of an MP3 player would become relevant probably long after the need for reliability, overall cost of ownership (resale), cost, fuel economy, safety and about 926 other needs were met. In short, boy is this stupid. I don't think the car-buying public cares, or in the case of American car-makers, the car-not-buying public.

All this MP3 nonsense reminds me of a quote widely attributed to Gloria Steinem: "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." I think cars that don't work need MP3 players like the American election system needs another donation loophole.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

More on blind ads.

Just saw a new spot by Publicis for Citibank. God does it suck. Oh yes, it looks nice. The music is cool. The locations are stunning, the acting is fine. In fact, it's all so good you can use it for every credit card out there. It is completely devoid of any ownable essence. The most egregious non-ownability is the VO (there's nothing wrong with the voice) it just sounds exactly like Billy Crudup who does Mastercard and has for about 32 billions years.

In all the spot tells you that nothing whatsoever is unique about Citi cards. Except maybe that Citibank customers are so dumb on their father's 60th birthday they don't know if they are Norwegian or Swedish.

Here's my uber point. Saying you're cool is not a strategy.

I don't understand.

There was a time in advertising that calling an ad "blind" was pejorative. Headlines were supposed to impart useful information that differentiated a product or service. I think a moment's look at UPS's tagline will serve as a decent example. From: "We run the tightest ship in the shipping business," To: "What can brown do for you?"

I have been told that I have an old soul. But I prefer, and always have, ads that give me more than an image and a personality. I want a reason why. As I often say, if advertising is like dating, I understand the short-term efficacy of a big-breasted blonde; said blonde may get me to sample her wares. But as far as buying goes, and a long-term relationship goes, I do want to make sure that there's something under the hood, if you understand my mixed metaphor.

I am writing all this because I hate Epson's new "Epsonality" campaign. Yes, attention getting and nicely produced--I would expect nothing less from the talented people of Butler,Shine. But there is no depth, just pangloss. At some point I'm going to shop for a new printer at a big box electronics retailer where there is no such thing as sales help. I'm going to want to know stuff. Reliability, cost of ink cartridges, you know, points of difference. Here's what I've been told by Epson: you can use their printers for scrapbooking and they print photographs. Wow, seminal.

I want more from my ads. I want to know what makes a product not like everybody else's. Otherwise it's all about price. Which is a game that no advertiser wins.

Friday, November 9, 2007

69 years ago today. And today.

On the nights of November 9-10, 1938, the Nazi state perpetrated a pogrom called Kristallnacht--the Night of Broken Glass. Thousands of Jewish Temples were burned to ashes, dozens of people were killed, thousands beaten and arrested and tortured. Millions were terrorized. Goering eventually sent a bill of over a billion marks to the German Jewish community--the cost of cleaning up the damage. The world stood by.

Yesterday our government confirmed the nomination of a new Attorney General who won't admit that filling a victim's lungs up with water and drowning them is torture. (That's what waterboarding is, not some "dunk the clown" game in a carnival.) And the leading Republican candidate claims he understands the torture of sleep deprivation because he is deprived of sleep while on the campaign circuit.

Like Heinrich Heine said about book-burning, "Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings," a government that tortures enemies will eventually torture its own.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Giuliani and Pat Robertson explained by Sinclair Lewis.

"When Fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross."

A bit more on losing $5,000 per second.

Yesterday, I think it was, though it feels like a week ago, I wrote a bit on GM's economic maelstrom, the fact that they posted a loss of $39 billion in a quarter, or as the title of the post indicates, $5,000 a second.

I think a financial holocaust that magnificent--perhaps the greatest financial loss by a single corpus since the beginning of time--can, it is to be hoped, teach us an
ur-lesson. And that lesson is very simple. The goal of advertising is to make companies appear and act human and likable.

What an odd statement, huh? But I see GM and the rest of the domestic auto makers, I see the airlines, the telcos, the movie-theatre owners, the super-market owners, the supervisors of rapid transit systems etc. as being infested and infected and in-fucked-up-the-arse by engineers and bureaucrats. Ah, they purred, the efficacy of planned obsolescence. Eureka, the reductive brilliance of "de-contenting." Voila, the untarnishable luster of chrome-coating. Such business practices, virulent for so many decades in the auto industry (and with slight adjustments the other industries I mentioned above) have killed those industries. In other words, in-human arrogance (no matter how human that is) and hubris have been their un-doing.

I shed no tears for GM. They've been fat, happy, lethargic or inert, for too long. They deserve no bailout. They deserve to die.

This took me eleven minutes to write. Another $3.3 million loss for them.