Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Brand USA.

Karen Hughes, a Bush crony announced today that she's leaving her job as undersecretary of state. In that job she was responsible for improving America’s reputation and standing overseas.

During Hughes' tenure, favorable opinions of the US have plummeted. In Indonesia, the nation with the world's largest Muslim population, the numbers went from 75% favorable pre-Bush to 30% in 2006. In Turkey, another nation with a huge Muslim population, the US has declined from 52% favorable to 12%. US reputation among our traditional "friends" has also slid precipitously. Germany from 78%-37%; Spain from 50% to 23%;France from 62% to 30%. And even among our greatest allies, the Brits, our standing has declined from 83% to 56%. Read the whole megillah here:

As much as I'd like to, I can hardly fault Hughes for this decline. The Bush administration, our elected officials and our silent selves have made this or allowed this to happen. What worries me is that once a brand earns the reputation as untrustworthy, a liar, a bully, or irrelevant--once the damage is done, in other words, it's hard to undo.

To my mind, resurrecting brand USA is the most important job for whomever assumes the Presidency in January, 2009.

Miami and Detroit.

Just a little over two years ago I went to a portfolio review in New York sponsored by the Miami Ad School. I was so impressed I offered jobs to five different students. I felt in general the work was refreshing and media agnostic, with a strong under-pinning of strategic insight.

Since then I have participated in two more portfolio reviews sponsored by MAS. Now let me tell in two words you why the work coming out of the school has slid dramatically downhill: It's derivative.

A couple years ago, "environmental" work in books was relatively fresh and unexpected. It was a new way of intruding upon our frontal lobes. So a spec ad for dental floss on subway doors with a line about getting into hard to reach places, was fun, smart and impactful. Plus, the portfolios from a couple years back reflected a diversity of ways to reach people--there were all kinds of "touch-points," including ads that showed the ability to write and think strategically.

Now, every book I see from MAS seems to have a toilet paper logo at the bottom of an escalator with a line like, "never runs out." What's happened is obvious to me and it's the same thing that happens in real life. The MAS students say,"these are the ads that got people jobs, so let's do ads like that." In the industry we do the same thing, "this is the piece of music, or the director, or the cliche or the technique that's getting attention, so let's do it, too." Copying something else is the essence of brain-cell-destroying conservatism.

This is supposed to be a business about originality, not for originality's sake but for impact's sake. Now all those kids are thinking differently exactly the same way.

A metaphor for many things. Too many.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I just heard a report on NPR about a dam built in Mosul, Iraq under US auspices that was apparently constructed on swampy ground and, so, represents fraud and a waste of $27 million. Some government spokes-shill was expressing all kinds of contrition. How could such a thing happen? $27 million wasted?

Our government's protestations remind me of Captain Renaud in Casablanca who shuts down Rick's place because as he says to Rick, "I am shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here." In the next moment of course, one of Rick's employees hands Renaud a wad of cash and says, "Your winnings, sir."

$27 million of fraud in a country where billions of American dollars are stolen everyday. In fact, Vanity Fair magazine reported not long ago about $9 billion in cash that somehow just "went missing."¤tPage=all

I bring this up because years ago an agency I worked at was attacked by government "whistle blowers" for some time-sheet miscreance. I'm not endorsing what the agency allegedly did, but the government went after the agency with incredible fervor. Why? Because agencies are fun to attack. No one would ever protest an attack on an ad agency, we are perceived as smarmy and profligate--and that's on a good day.

I fear the same thing is happening here. Some government official will now say they're going after waste and fraud. God forbid some realist like myself protests the insignificance of this investigation. He'll be lambasted and labeled "pro-fraud." I believe this is what's commonly known as a red herring. Some thing's fishy all right. And it stinks.

360-degree reviews.

Of all the nonsense visited upon the world by Human Resources professionals (even the term "human resources" makes me gag. So technocratic and un-human is it) perhaps the most invidious is the 360-degree review.

Yes, in the spirit of feckless and responsibility-free collaboration, in an effort to make everything an ostensible learning experience, or a team-building opportunity or to make sure that "everybody has a seat at the table" (what fucking table. I don't see any table...) companies now ask everyone to solicit opinions on their performance, their behavior and their character from, say, half a dozen different people from half a dozen different departments.

Here's an analogy: "Roy is doing my root canal this afternoon. He didn't go to dental school but he got a really great 360."

Snort snort snort. (That's the sound of a bull shitting.)

Look, as far as senior creatives go, chances are you want professionals who've spent years in the business learning their craft. You hire them for their brains and passion and talent. Sometimes those qualities are accompanied by a certain volatility or even brusqueness. Those ups and downs are often what make an exceptional person.

360s, however, and the HR people who propagate their use, have brought the Lithium-ization of our workforce. We want friendly, like the person who greets you at TGI Friday's. We want conciliatory and kind, like an ur-Mommy. We want compromise and a saccharine egalitarianism. In other words, we want people who won't offend--who would do well in focus groups.

Those aren't the people who lead great companies, make great advances, produce great creative.

Take your choice. A sandbox where we all get along. Or a place you're proud to work.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Introducing the "Worsties."

Ad Aged has invented a new advertising award. One that, despite the proliferation of self-congratulation that infects this industry, hasn't yet surfaced. The award is called the "Worstie." And, dear reader, with your help, I will announce the inaugural winner in about a week. Here are my nominees:

1. Interactive agencies that have web-sites less well designed than those normally done by local pizza places or small municipalities in Croatia.
2. Creative Directors who can neither create nor direct, but instead are expert pontificators.
3. Actors who arch one eyebrow for comic effect--the extent of their repertoire.
4. Spokes-apples.
5. Agencies that post bios of their top people but don't include creatives.
6. Other (your nominees.)

I know we destroy the polar ice-cap and may possibly threaten every carbon-based life-form on Earth, but some really good people drive us.

Hummer's latest defilement of what was once God's green Earth is so horrendous I feel like quoting Sartre, to wit: "I laughed so hard I cried."

You see Hummer's new ads feature "Hummer Heroes." Good samaritans who drive Hummers to deliver water to Katrina victims, etc. Therefore the ruination Hummers and other gargantuan SUVs designed for people with non-distended penises visit upon the environment is perfectly acceptable. Right?
Thomas Friedman wrote a column in yesterday's NYTimes called "Did We Do That?"
In it he quotes Nate Lewis, an energy chemist from the California Institute of Technology who asks, Is man’s cumulative impact on the climate now as responsible for the weather as Mother Nature herself? “That is the question Katrina really introduced for the first time — the sense that soon, if not already, what we used to call acts of God are really acts of man,” Professor Lewis said.

More lies from GM. Earning them more bad karma. No wonder they've lost a point of market share every year for the last 30. Being bad for the world (and lying about it) isn't good for business.

Everything's a 'mash-up.' And so can you.

Two of today's most annoying cliches are in the title above. Ad-Something just did a "Creative Mash-Up" conference. What the heck is that? A mash-up sounds like something that happens on the L.I.E. on Sunday night driving back to the city. And 'And so can you,' made famous, or notorious via the title of Colbert's new book and made vomitous by dozens of writers who seem to be using it in every third headline, especially the writers in the NYTimes, where I saw two permutations of such in the past couple of days.

For those hordes of new readers who are new to Ad Aged or in case you've forgotten, here is the link to Orwell's important essay "Politics and the English Language." It can teach you more about advertising, communication and, yes, politics than anything else you're likely to read. So read it.

If you're way too busy to bother with one of the great minds of the 20th Century (George Orwell, not George Tannenbaum) here's a pertinent excerpt:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

More on Applebee's.

The new commercials for Applebee's are airing during the World Series. They are even worse than I thought they'd be. They feature a spokes-apple with a female Amos 'n Andy voice. Entirely offensive.

Further, nothing she says is funny. The spots lay there like a lox. Or an apple. A wormy one.

Steal a base, get a taco.

Taco Bell, the company running and running and running one of the most god-awful commercials I've ever seen during the baseball post-season (something about an older brother teaching his younger brother his rules of life) ran a promotion during yesterday's game. It had a fairly simple proposition. If someone stole a base, all of America was eligible to get a free taco at Taco Bell during certain hours on a certain date. Read all about it here:

Ad Aged felt the promotion was a little crass. It seemed to have crossed a line between what I always believed should be objective reporting and what is commercial shilling. Frankly, not that I'd ever eat at Taco Bell, but it turned me off to the chain even more.

Finally, since Taco Bell linked a taco giveaway to running the bases, I couldn't help but make this connection: Taco Bell gives you the runs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A leaf-blower in a wind storm.

Late this morning it was very windy in New York, with gusts up to 30 mph. I was out in the park with my dog and I came upon two park workers who were blowing leaves into a pile with their leaf-blowers and a nano-second later, the wind would scatter all those collected leaves to the--er--wind.

That got me thinking about the state of the advertising industry and how traditional agencies, to me, are like the leaf blowers I saw, and the wind itself is like what's happening in the world. Maybe that's obtuse, but what I mean is it seems to me that adherence to traditional advertising is fighting something as inexorable as continental drift, the rotation of the planets or the law of entropy. TV isn't over, but the tv-centric universe is gone. If you don't buy this, you're a leaf-blower in a tornado.

Another way Applebee's will make you sick.

McCann-Erickson is breaking a new campaign for Applebee's featuring a spokes-apple. Hold on a sec, I'm about to roll on the floor laughing. Whew, that hurt. OK, back to the business at hand.

A spokes-apple. Stop. Stop. Stop. You're killing me.

You can watch a little of the riotous comedy here but hold onto your sides, because they're sure to be a-splitting.

Without even having seen this campaign, I'm predicting the worst, as evidenced by the still from the Adweek article on its launch.
Cliched acting in cliched situations, the joke almost invariably underscored by the arching of a single eyebrow. The spokes-apple as "deus ex-macintosh." And then the food shots, steaming, cheese, red tomato-ey and smiling people (never obese) laughing and gushing over the swill. And wait...a button at the end.

Perhaps I shouldn't pre-judge. But as they used to say in some frat houses, "Go ugly early. Avoid the rush."

PS: I'll be the first to admit, I am somewhat punctilious. But you don't have to be obsessive-compulsive to be infuriated by online typos. The Applebee's site has one that I noticed--and I wasn't looking. I know that copy, craft and carefulness are undervalued in the online era. However, to me they say, "we don't care about our product, whether it's a website or a side of fries."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blue balls.

According to Wikipedia (Ad Aged, personally, wouldn't know)blue balls is a slang term for a temporary fluid congestion in the testicles and prostate region caused by prolonged sexual arousal in the human male. It is often accompanied by a cramp-like ache of prostatic congestion and pain/tenderness of edema of the testes. While the term is usually applied to men, the female homologue is usually referred to by the more general term "pelvic congestion," or "pink ovaries."

Blue balls, I might add, is also what putative internet start-ups give you when they promise to "premiere" on a certain date, or promise they're coming soon and then they miss every deadline. Specifically, I'm irked with Firebrand, a company I mentioned a dozen or so posts ago in "Is this the new "new new thing." They claimed to be debuting on October 22, and took out full-page back covers announcing their debut in advertising trade pubs. So far, they're still "coming soon." Another company "coming soon" is, supposedly a company at the van of the semantic web (whatever that is) or Web 3.0 (whatever that is.) Also, Boeing who have missed all their Dreamliner deadlines. Also, certain advertising agencies (especially interactive ones) who have been redesigning their for-shit web-sites for literally years.

OK. This is pretty simple. If you make a promise, keep it. If you can't keep it, publicly eat crow and then get it done. Otherwise you lose people. Or, you piss them off.

An observation.

I've looked on a dozen or so traditional agency sites over the last few days.
Goodby ( the only one that shows its creative portfolio by leading off with interactive. There is no silo discrimination in evidence. They also do consistently the best work in America, if not the world. Even as they grow larger. Do you think there's a correlation?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A black page.

Valerie Wilson the CIA Agent "outed" by the Bush-Cheney Wehrmacht in retribution for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, telling the truth about Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction, has just published her book: "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House."

Valerie Wilson upheld her contractual obligation to the CIA and submitted her manuscript to the CIA's "Publication Review Board. According to the NYTimes, "That draft came back heavily expurgated. She was then expected to rewrite her book so that it made sense despite many deletions.

But Ms. Wilson and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, contend that much of the censored information is in the public domain — and that the suppression of information is itself part of Ms. Wilson’s story. So “Fair Game” has been published with the censor’s marks visible as blacked-out words, lines, paragraphs or pages."

Wow, portions blacked-out by CIA censors--shown in Wilson's book in living black and white. I hope these images in "Fair Game" become the lasting images of our government's evil and their attempt to cover it up--much like Nixon's 18 1/2-minute gap. Except, I'm afraid, our current regime has been much more murderous even than Nixon's.

BTW, this post is about advertising. Because whether it's politics or marketing eventually the truth will out. Don't lie if you are an advertiser. Don't say "unlimited" if you mean "limited." Don't dissemble. Don't mislead. You will be caught. And undone. Even if it takes a while.

Going Postal.

Yesterday's NYTimes ad column was about Campbell-Ewald's efforts to update the image of the US Postal Service. "Post Office Aims to Leave Yesterday’s Image Behind"

There is so much wrong with that headline. The USPS will never leave yesterday's image behind because everyday but Sunday 700,000 indolent postal workers remind you of the reality and the oxymoron-itude of the words Postal Service. Image is nothing. Service is everything.

I think the problem with the post office goes way beyond one advertising can solve. Simply put, they are not a "customer first" organization. The in-store experience is lousy, and at least in the city (which I know is anomalous) mail delivery seems capricious if not arbitrary. I'm afraid people perceive the USPS much like they look at telcos--well maybe they don't hate the postal service as much as they hate Verizon, but you get the idea.

Advertising can help fix this image, but really, only a change in performance will really remedy the USPS's woes.

If I had to belong to a union.

I'd belong to SAG. For obvious reasons.

The revolution will be televised. And internetted. And live-evented. And guerillaed. And word-of-mouthed.

Lee Clow, he who must be listened to, has said in his Keynote Speech at Adweek's Creative Conference that the "Next Revolution" is here. "An increasingly complex and creatively challenging media environment means that agencies' "product" would no longer be defined as advertising, but as "media arts. Everything we do now is media. It's how people come to a decision about a brand." As the crippled "newsies" used to say in 1930s movies, read all about it here:

Clow's speech had further music to my ears. Artists, he said, are taking over the internet from technologists.

So, to all you internet shops out there who think sophisticated and mechanical boredom will win over consumers hearts, see ya in hell.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More, more dumbness from Chevrolet.

In a previous post called "More dumbness from Chevrolet," I remarked that I thought Chevy's Malibu campaign was, in a word, crap.

Today, I paid closer attention to the outdoor I also mentioned in my previous post. Again, there are simulated hand-prints over the board, a photo of the car, and the meaningless headline "The Car You Can't Ignore." Beneath the copy there is a legal disclaimer that says something like "$19,625 list price. $26,625 as shown." This makes the ad even worse. Because my question for Chevy is this: is the $19K Malibu ignorable? Is that why you had to add 33% to the cost with options? And if the $19K Chevy isn't ignorable, why did you add so much to the car?

The same old refrain from Ad Aged. Don't lie to the people via hyperbolic advertising and false prices.

The same old refrain from Chevy. The public be damned. We'll try to shove this piece of crap down their throats.

America today.

If you want a view of the future, rent Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Conformist." It was shot in 1970 and set in Europe in 1943. Prescient. Except it has a happy ending.

Someone who makes sense.

Though I am in advertising, I am also a child of the 60s. As such, I have always been anti-materialistic, anti-acquisition, anti-thing-gathering (except for books and dvds.) This morning I found a wonderful essay, the whole of which you can find here:

The author, Rebecca Solnit, starts off this way: "THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF MY APOCALYPSE are called Efficiency, Convenience, Profitability, and Security, and in their names, crimes against poetry, pleasure, sociability, and the very largeness of the world are daily, hourly, constantly carried out. These marauding horsemen are deployed by technophiles, advertisers, and profiteers to assault the nameless pleasures and meanings that knit together our lives and expand our horizons."

Basically, what Solnit rails against is what many of us alte kockers rail against: speed for speed's sake. The mania of getting it done now because there's a meeting scheduled on account of there's a meeting scheduled because it's the only time it could be scheduled since there are so many other meetings scheduled. "I believe that slowness is an act of resistance, not because slowness is a good in itself but because of all that it makes room for, the things that don’t get measured and can’t be bought." The conundrum is that the language to describe the ineffable splendors and possibilities of our lives takes time to master, takes a certain unhurried engagement with the tasks of description, assessment, critique, and conversation; that to speak this slow language you must slow down, and to slow down you must have some inkling of what you will gain by doing so."

Solnit is good. Let's slow down fast and think about this.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The internet. Don't count on it.

The gray lady, i.e. The New York Times reports today that websites don't know how to count how many hits they get. That is, how many eyeballs advertisers are being charged for. As Johnny Friendly might have said in "On the Waterfront," such lack of accountability is "bad for business all around." The article claims: "the growth of online advertising is being stunted, industry executives say, because nobody can get the basic visitor counts straight.

“'You’re hearing measurement as one of the reasons that buyers are not moving even more money online,' said Wenda Harris Millard, president for media at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and, until June, chief sales officer at Yahoo. 'It’s hugely frustrating. It’s one of the barriers preventing us from really moving forward.'” Read the entire exegesis here:

The online side of the advertising industry is still swaddled in diapers. It is a side of the industry that has yet to mature. Much of the "creative" is crap, reliant on asinine tricks to gain attention like a gyrating silhouette in an ad. There is more imitation in work than innovation. And there has been a failure of the large online agencies to assume the mantle of thought leadership--there is so much money to be made just being a channel executor.

That being said, let me not come down too hard on online. Television ratings, newspaper and magazine readership measurements are equally spurious. Those folks, however, represent the establishment, so their analytics are more widely accepted. It all underscores Ad Age's contention that the analytic and metric side of the advertising industry has not kept pace with the technology side. Maybe because most media people went into the business in the first place for free lunches and sky box tickets to the Knicks. Well, it looks like the Knicks will suck this year. So someone should have time to fix this mess.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More dumbness from Chevrolet.

My neighborhood in New York has been inundated with outdoor ads for the "New Chevy Malibu." The ad shows a picture of the car and ghosted images of handprints (as if people are trying to get at it) and the headline, "The Car You Can't Ignore." I've also seen commercials. One in which a female jogger jogs right into a car that presumably isn't a Chevy Malibu and then the voiceover says, "soon there will be a car you can't ignore." I'm too dumb to get it. My guess is people will ignore the new Malibu--especially in New York where the Chevy brand itself is irrelevant. People will ignore because Chevy has done nothing to spiritually resuscitate their brand. And as a brand, they still lie. They are spending a fortune trumpeting their progress on an electric car and a hydrogen car. Yep. And I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

I hate Chevy's advertising. It's arrogant, artless, unoriginal and insulting. It makes me hate Chevrolets even more than I previously had.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My fight with Barnes & Noble.

Having seen the widely disseminated clip of Frau Coulter on Donnie Deutsch's show (Hannah Arendt might call Coulter's spoutings The Banality of Banality) my disdain for her, always at quite a high level, has skyrocketed. The day after making her anti-semitic remarks I came across a raft of her books on display at Barnes & Noble. Incensed (as always) I decided to write an email to them protesting, not that they are selling her inflammatory racism, but they have it prominently displayed. In my email, I mentioned that I believed having Coulter's trash front and center was an "implied endorsement" on the part Barnes and Noble. For instance, if there were a book called "Negroes are Dumb," having it in the window of your store, like having a certain dress if you are a dress shop, means this is something you want to sell--something you are pushing.

Of course the note I got back from a Barnes & Noble customer service person convinced me that no one at all actually read my reasoned and moderate email. What follows is a semi-logic-leap, but this to me illustrates one of the dangers of media consolidation. When a few control much, debate is stifled and one company's opinions or business practices can have undo, and undeserved, influence.

Oh my God. Every four minutes, it's interrupted by a Papa John's commercial.

The quotation above is from daughter Hannah who is attempting to watch an episode of Heroes on

NBC, as it hemorrhages young viewers, has decided to pull its downloadable shows off of iTunes and offer them "free" on their own site. The rub is the insipid inundation of spots.

"Damn the customer, full steam ahead" is the mantra of the old-line. Whether it's calcified networks or ossified agencies. Shove commercials they hate down their throats.

My kid isn't dumb and she isn't alone. Eventually she will find another way to watch Heroes. She holds nothing but disdain for NBC, unless it is the belief that they are utterly irrelevant.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity.

With apologies to Tennessee Williams and Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Bullshit Brigade is galloping fast in our direction and in its van is a banner with these words emblazoned on it: Web 3.0. Oh, Heavens to freakin' Mergatroid.

Web 3.0, aka "the semantic web," is supposed to do more than understand how pages are linked together. Supposedly it will allow us to better understand what people are doing while online. That's fine. I hope it works. And more power to the developers who are challenging the status quo.

But what I am dreading, and I know it's coming, is the horde of no-idea-men who will trumpet the technology and proclaim said technology a creative solution. Yes, dear client, all your problems will be solved if you just adopt (and allow us to charge you millions for) a user-interface that employs the best of web 3.0. I can hear the affected British accents now lecturing to those still wallowing in the muck of web 2.0.

You know what? Communication is communication. And 99 out of a 100 ads or marketing messages don't even get the basics of "please" and "thank you" down right. Trumpeting web 3.0 as a panacea is akin to saying the secret behind a good movie is the lensing of the camera.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Battle for Algiers, 2003--Present.

If you've never seen the Oscar-Winning movie The Battle for Algiers, you owe it to yourself to see it. Not only is it one of the greatest examples of cinema verite ever filmed, it is also a riveting story and a terrible portent of the wasted lives and money we are spending waging a war that has been un-winnable since we started it. I am reminded of this because I just watched a short video called "Know Thine Enemy" which was posted as an op-ed on The New York Times web site. Check it out here:
You might also want to check out the film's site:

By the way, whether or not you agree with the politics expressed in this particular post,the trailer on the Meeting Resistance site is as fine a piece of advertising as I have seen in a long time.

Finally, this is from the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Richard Hofstadter writing in a 1964 essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Think of our current junta, and the Republican candidate dwarves.

"The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse."

An insipid sump of sameness.

I just got a raft of emails from different agencies this morning. Each of them at the bottom had statements like the ones below. All of which leads me to conclude that the only people making money in advertising are lawyers.

This message is the property of --- and contains information which may be privileged or confidential. It is meant only for the intended recipients and/or their authorized agents. If you believe you have received this message in error, please notify us immediately by return e-mail and destroy any printed or electronic copies of the message. Any unauthorized use, dissemination, disclosure, or copying of this message or the information contained in it, is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. Thank you for your cooperation.

This message and any attachments contain information, which may be confidential or privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, please refrain from any disclosure, copying, distribution or use of this information. Please be aware that such actions are prohibited. If you have received this transmission in error, kindly notify us by e-mail to helpdesk@---com. We appreciate your cooperation.

[ALERT] -- Access Manager: This email is intended only for the person or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential or otherwise protected from disclosure. Dissemination, distribution or copying of this e-mail or the information herein by anyone other than the intended recipient,
or an employee or agent responsible for delivering the message to the intended recipient, is prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please immediately notify us by calling our Help Desk at

If your carbon footprint is small...

Does that mean you have a small carbon penis?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This is your life.

47% is time spent in meetings.
36% is time spent discussing meetings.
10% is doing timesheets.
7% is working.

Blasphemy, twenty-first century-style.

Get a bar of soap ready and prepare to wash out my digital mouth. I'm about to say something so incendiary you could just plotz. Words don't just matter, words are experiential.

Yes, after hearing that we live in a visual age, after seeing the 27,938th award show grant gold, titanium or some precious metal to yet another visual pun, after seeing yet another cacophony of over-produced masturbation, I do herewith proclaim: words matter.

And this time it's not just me as Vox Clamatis in Deserto. It's smart people! Like, duh, I mean, you know, like, duh, ya see, you know, like people with kollege degrees. You can read about it in toto here (and btw, in toto does not allude to an obscene act with Dorothy's dog.)
But as usual, I will discriminate and summarize for ye. In an article called THE SHAKESPEARED BRAIN--A THEATRE OF SIMULTANEOUS POSSIBILITIES from an Economist-related web site titled, actual real, live scientists run electrocephalograms of normal human brains under the influence of challenging cliche-defying language. What they found is when people hear something linguistically challenging (like Shakespeare) their brain experiences something. Their brain grows in sophistication. They think. They learn. They act. Jeepers! Here's the summation:

In that case Shakespeare's art would be no more and no less than the supreme example of a mobile, creative and adaptive human capacity, in deep relation between brain and language. It makes new combinations, creates new networks, with changed circuitry and added levels, layers and overlaps. And all the time it works like the cry of "action" on a film-set, by sudden peaks of activity and excitement dramatically breaking through into consciousness. It makes for what William James said of mind in his "Principles of Psychology", "a theatre of simultaneous possibilities". This could be a new beginning to thinking about reading and mental changes.

I've felt this for a long time. But too often it's easier for agency folks and clients to resist the unusual and slip into the comfortable. Comfortable is invisible. Comfortable is easily approved. Alas, comfortable is brain-deadening. Out, out damned cliches.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This is cool. And by Al Gore.

Current TV is consumer-generated TV and for people way younger and way cooler than I. It also boasts the involvement of Nobel Oscar Popular-vote winner Al Gore. Apparently Current TV is available 50 million homes. Current lets users submit their videos to the site, leave comments and vote on the videos they like, perhaps propelling them onto television (Current pays contributors whose work it airs). Check out their very cool, very smart interface here:

Official Ad Aged Solipsistic T-Shirts sold out.

Demand has been unprecedented. We might have to hire another nine-year-old coolie to keep up.

Before the hagiography begins.

I have nothing against the Dalai Lama who is about to waft into the US to spread his serenity and enlightenment. God knows, I could use a bit of each. However, I would like an accounting, from either the "Reincarnation of Compassion" or from our Government, of the Dalai Lama's role as a CIA operative. Is he still on the CIA's payroll? What has he done with the sixty tons of treasure that preceded him into exile? What does he wear under his robes?

Here's my point. On Sunday I watched twenty minutes of football on television and ten of those minutes were spent scrutinizing whether or not a certain receiver's feet were in bounds when he made a catch. If we can be so scrupulous about football, why are we so derelict with matters of, arguably, more import?

Have you driven a piece of crap lately?

According to Ad Age, Ford, now the #3 automobile company in America after GM and Toyota, has just hired Jim Farley from Lexus as their new VP, Marketing and Communications. Farley will be "working with the company's worldwide-business-unit leaders and global-product-development organization" in areas that include brand development and product planning. He'll be "a significant voice" in product planning, marketing, public relations and communications." His budget will be in the neighborhood of $5.1 billion. You can read the whole kit and kaboodle here:

By all accounts Farley has done a great job at Lexus. But his challenge at Ford is more formidable. Ford's problem, to my mind, isn't that they make ugly, sexless cars. Or their union/healthcare issues. Or that many of their commercials are horrendous. (Have you seen the Derek Jeter one for their "crossover," the Edge? It is to advertising what the Gowanus Canal is to clean water.)

No, Ford's problem is that they have lied to the car buying public for at least the length of my lifetime. From a corporate point of view, Ford was as duped by their chrome-clad-ness as they hoped consumers would be. They made cars that didn't work or were outright dangerous ostensibly masked by glitter. They created a dealer network that didn't serve their customers and had no appreciation whatsoever of the notion of lifetime value. They've been anti-fuel-economy, anti-environment--claiming that higher fleet mileage averages are impossible to achieve as are alternatives to internal combustion.

This is the challenge Farley faces. Good ads and good styling will not save Ford (or GM, or Chrysler, or anyone else.) Ford must find a way to rebuild the trust its squandered. That is job one.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Official Ad Aged Solipsistic T-Shirts now on sale.

The demand has been great. The hue and cry from the Blogalaxy, pressing. So it is time for me to succumb to the lure of MAMMON. Herewith, I am offering Official Ad Aged Solipsistic T-shirts. To the un-informed, to the unsophisticated eye, they may look like plain white shirts, but avid readers of Ad Aged know, that man is the measure of all things. And you, therefore know what you want your shirt to say.

T-shirts are just $35. Each at least 50% cotton and 50% post-consumer-use materials. Send me cash and I'll send you a shirt. Allow 4-6 years for delivery.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lingua Tertii Imperii.

The title above is a phrase created by Viktor Klemperer whom I have written about before. It means "the Language of the Third Reich." Klemperer was a philologist (one who studies language) and a survivor of both the Nazi era and the Stalinist reign of terror in Soviet East Germany. He wrote extensively on the manipulation and misuse of language by those fascistic regimes.

Unfortunately, in America today we are manipulating the truth in the same way right now. We are using language to mask the lies and horror perpetuated by the current radical right regime. In today's New York Times, the paper Anne Coulter said she wished Timothy McVeigh had bombed (yes, she said that publicly but she is not excoriated), Frank Rich writes the following:

"By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: 'Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.'”

Verschärfte Vernehmung. Extraordinary Rendition. Homeland Security. Global War on Terror. Pre-emptive strike. Yellow-cake uranium. Smoking gun=mushroom cloud.
Blackwater (black shirts). The list goes on.

Today the news comes out that the government was spying on Americans through phone records well before 9/11. As the New York Times said today, we have watched "Mr. Bush shred the Constitution in the name of fighting terrorism."

Don't be a good German. Don't be polite. Don't acquiesce. Do something. Even if it's just writing a blog that nobody reads.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Is this the new "new new" thing?

A friend of mine has just told me about a company that will launch on Oct. 22. It's called Firebrand and you can find out a smidge more at their virtually content-free site, Firebrand has a heavy-duty heritage so they're probably worth watching. It's co-founded by John Lack, one of the co-creators of MTV and is backed by Microsoft, NBC Universal and Nielsen, the parent company of Adweek magazine.

The idea is to "program spots like a DJ spins music in a club" and to let Gen Y and Millennial consumers build their own commercial playlists. It also gives advertisers and their agencies the chance to gauge how their spots are received. Maybe this marks a trend/movement of commercials that act more as entertainment than mere propagators of logos, over-acting and copy points. Maybe some advertiser/agency will wake up and do something that's not confined by a mere 30 seconds.

One caveat. The info above was gleaned from Firebrand's press-release, so we might have to sift through the hype. But keep watching and keep me updated. Especially if you're a gen Y/millennial.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Detroit, Detroit.

Today's ad column in The Wall Street Journal is as damning an indictment of the ad industries' dominant complacency as I have ever seen. I can't supply a link because the WSJ isn't free, so I'll summarize for those of you who don't have access to the WSJ, America's cheery neo-fascist newspaper.

Here's the headline: "Password to Marketers' Meeting: Digital." And now the pithy-core of the item, "'digital marketing still lags the shift in consumer behavior' prompted by the Internet. The findings indicate that while 'eight in 10 Americans are now online' and spend as much time online as on TV, most marketers allocate only 5%-10% of their ad budgets to digital media." Further, "40% of consumer goods participants spend less than 5% of their budgets on digital."

This reminds me of Detroit's complacency after the first gas shock in the early 70s when the prevailing Big 4 thinking was, "the Japanese will never have more than 10% of the domestic auto market."

This is pertinent both to traditional agencies that act as if they believe TV's hegemony hasn't been broken and interactive agencies who refuse to grow up and force the issue--that they should be leading brands, not merely channel-executing a traditional campaign.

As Dylan sang, "the times they are a-changing." But unless we start changing with them, there are going to be a lot of used Herman Miller Aeron chairs on sale.

Something I don't understand.

Over the past few years, since the rise of email for office communication, more and more people have taken to signing off their notes with the word "Cheers." Usually with an explanation mark.

Unless you're a Brit, and even if you are, I don't get it.

Therefore, starting today, all my missives will end with the much more sensible and authentic, "Chairs!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Two in a row.

"What puts the mega in Kohl's 2-Day Mega Sale?"
"What's the news in deodorant?"

The opening lines in two spots I saw tonight.
Makes me proud to be in the biz.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Ballad for the Republicans.

Rudy, Rudy, thank the stars in Heaven
For protecting us from nine eleven.
Mitt's strong and ain't afraid to veto,
His grin is nice, his hair is neato.
I like him more than Tom Tancredo.
Fred Thompson's aspect is Reagan-esque,
He'll sit behind that Oval desk.
And John McCain is tough as granite,
The strongest guy on all the planet.

Republicans there are galore!
They're freedom loving to the core,
They hate abortion, choice and more,
To immigrants, they'll lock the door,
And fight the necessary war,
The Christian god, they all adore.
They'll help the rich and tax the poor.
Support the NRA, of cour'

Republicans there are galore,
I'm a fascist, hear me roar!

Advertising doesn't matter.

Goodby has done exemplary work in relaunching the Sprint brand. Yet in the last quarter alone, Sprint has "bled" 340,000 customers. That's despite spending $1.78 billion in advertising last year. Of course, advertising will get blamed for the loss. In fact, it wasn't long ago that Sprint pulled their account from TBWA/C/D and moved it to Goodby.

Sprint's bleeding has nothing to do with advertising. It has everything to do with lousy customer service and a network that is as advanced as Amtrak's rail system where you can whiz from DC to New York at a speed slower than you could a century ago. This is yet another company that draws customers into its ranks only to lose them because they don't provide the service they promise.

I don't have an MBA like I'm sure a passel of Sprint people do. But I'm sure nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.

Sprint is looking for a new CEO. Let me throw my hat into the ring. The first move on my agenda? To take the billions spent on marketing and put it instead on building an up-to-date network and a service organization that actually serves. In other words, make Sprint the Nordstrom's of telcos. If they can do that, they won't even need to advertise. Their customers will do it for them.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Philosphy Joke of the Day.

Descartes is sitting in a bar, having a drink. The bartender asks him if he would like another. "I think not," he says and vanishes in a puff of logic.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Something seminal.

If you are of the baby-boom generation like I am, you grew up being warned "don't believe everything you read." Such an imprecation had a chastening effect on marketers and advertising people. We looked to convey permissions to believe. We tried (and we're trained) to write convincing communications about 5-link suspensions, personal computers, vacation destinations. We created to overcome skepticism (a healthy dosage of doubt).

Today, the prevailing ethos "don't believe anything you read." We are lied to so often and so incessantly that marketing words themselves have lost complete meaning (as have the words of politicians and other authorities.) Despite Herr Goebbels assertion that people will believe the "big lie" if it's repeated often enough--hence our "perpetual war for perpetual peace," the healthy skepticism of previous eras has been replaced by unhealthy cynicism.

So advertisers and marketers and politicians instead try to convey and ever-so-hip "we're one of you" attitude in their communications. "Yeah, we've got that." vs. "We run the tightest ship in the shipping industry."

I have no answers. I suppose this has all been motivated by Condoleeza Rice promising Blackwater (Schvartzvasser) oversight and G. Walker Bush saying our government doesn't torture.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Truth in advertising. And Washington.

Bush Defends Treatment of Terrorism Suspects

Published: October 5, 2007

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 — President Bush defended his administration’s treatment of terrorism suspects today, but the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee accused the president of keeping Congress in the dark about how those suspects are interrogated.

“This government does not torture people,” Mr. Bush said. “You know, we stick to U.S. law and our international obligations.”

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The best ad of the last ten years. Continued.

Here's something I left out of my earlier post. And here's why Ad Aged believes Madison Avenue will become, or is rapidly becoming Detroit, i.e., of no use to anyone and for all intents and purposes obsolete.

99 out of 100 scions of Madison Avenue, plus 99 out of 100 CMOs don't realize America's Next Top Model is a brilliant marketing tool--a brilliant commercial. They're still acting as if a color correct or a celebrity voice-over is the way to win over consumers.

There's a military aphorism that says Generals always prepare to fight the last war. Apparently that's true of the Captains of Industry, too.

The best ad of the last ten years.

There's been a lot of good work over the past few years--the H-P work done by Goodby, Crispin's original Mini work, Burnett's Altoids, and TBWA/C/D's Apple opus. Last night however I watched with my younger daughter America's Next Top Model hosted by Tyra Banks. The show is by far the most compelling bit of advertising I've seen in a long time.

If you haven't seen it, the seres starts with a flock of about 50 anorexic model wannabees, and over the course of the 13-week season it winnows that gaggle down to one. She's named America's Next Top Model. Along the way, of course, there are competitions. For instance, the models are escorted into an Old Navy store, they have ten minutes to pick-out and accessorize and then Tyra and the judges select a winner, who in turn gets to model in a Old Navy ad. Old Navy is just one sponsor. The entire show is sponsored by Cover Girl and the big winner is Cover Girl's girl for the next year. So naturally they have last years' winner (Jaslene) in commercials and posters on this year's show.

In other words, the whole show is a commercial. And it works.

I don't know if the doyens of Lions and Pencils would say that it's great creative, but millions of people watch week after week for 30 minutes. I can't think of many commercials I'd like to watch for more than 30 seconds.

Amazin' Amazon.

Yesterday I had to go to the seventh ring of hell--T-Mobile--and replace a lost cellphone for my 16 year old. Of course the service sucked. Of course we felt bound and gagged by our extortionate "service" contracts. Of course we were subject to bait-and-switch pricing. And of course, even while in the T-Mobile store, we got messages on our phones saying things like "call not allowed," "service not available," and worse.

It would cost us $800 to get out of our T-Mobile contracts, so we remain--though they don't fulfill their contractural obligations by actually supplying service.

Then I got home and had an email from Amazon. Before I go into its content, I'll admit that I am probably one of Amazon's better private customers. I probably buy 75 books a year or more from them.

Here's what the email from Amazon said: I get a refund of $2.11 on a book I just bought because in between the time I bought it and the time they sent it out to me, the price went down.

$2.11 doesn't mean that much to me. But that's all it cost for Amazon to buy my loyalty.

Screw all the bs about Web 2.0 or 3.0 (now, I'm actually seeing 4.0). Amazon engages in Good Business 101. That's what it's about.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

To everyone who has fired me or has wanted to.

I was just reading some George Bernard Shaw and came upon this:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Creativity and change, that is, progress, depend upon the unreasonable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Medium is the Mess.

There is an article in the week's Adweek called "Do Web Ads Lack Credibility?" The article cited a study that claimed when it comes to "trust," banner and search ads score significantly worse than either magazine or television ads. You can read the entire article here:

I'm not at all surprised that web ads lack credibility. Because, once again, ad agencies and media companies (not to mention web sites themselves) who have failed to police the properties they support or own. How many times have you clicked on a banner, only to have it not allow you to click off it? Or what about those asinine ads with the people dancing in the background (for no apparent reason other than to catch your eye)? Or even "personal ads" with impossibly beautiful people who are looking for you you you?

Agencies, clients, etc. have allowed such clutter. Such ads denigrate everything else around them. Yes, other mediums accept ads from shitty companies. But on TV or print those ads are usually relegated to late night or small space. Therefore they are "outweighed" by more credible messages. In more established media, you tend not to see ads for the University of Plumbing Arts butted up against something from Verizon.

I can explain it all.

I believe it is possible that I have read more books on Germany in the 20th Century than any other person on earth. Currently I am reading a book by Columbia Professor Fritz Stern called "Five Germanys." With all that in mind, I'm going to attempt to explain the current mess America is in and how we got here.

Very simply, Hitler's success in Germany came because he was able to make the State and his political party (the Nazis) one and the same. Government officials, judges, local police, the military--you name it, all the roles the State usually carries out--were carried out instead by party functionaries--people whose loyalty was not to the State, but to their party. Opposition to party politics became tantamount to treason.

Much the same has happened in America in the last seven years. State and party have become essentially one. There are no checks, there are no balances. Laws are re-written that will perpetuate State/party power (needing ID to vote in Georgia, proportional representation in California, denial of voting rights in DC.) I am not passing judgment on these dicta, but bring them up only because implicit in them is a bias that will strengthen the State/party nexus.

So here it is in one simple equation: if State = Party, then Fascism.

Sorry this isn't about advertising. Even I find some things more pressing.

Media mediocrity.

The more I watch television, the more I read the trade journals, the more I believe that media departments exist to procure tickets for Agencies and comment upon the "upfront" and the "changing media landscape." I suppose it's true in most disciplines and media is no exception--most of media is about buying at advantageous rates (based on scale) rather than saying "hey, we should try something different."

I bring this up because in large measure it seems to me that as an industry, we are still being pilloried on the Cross of the 30. That is despite all the death notices of the past few years that claimed the 30 is dead.

Here's the thing. I think 30 seconds is plenty to do a funny little spot for Skittles or Pepsi. Basically those spots don't have much to do other than say "we're here and we're cool." However, I'm not sure the 30, or the 60 for that matter, does all that much for more complex marketing problems. It's hardly enough time to say anything much less differentiate. Yet in a communications world where virtually everything has changed over the last few years, the 30 has remained sacrosanct.

Adam Morgan in his seminal book, "Eating the Big Fish" said that one of the tenets of a challenger brand should be to puncture dominant complacency. TV is a challenger medium today. We should puncture its complacency and do something different.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Censorship and advertising.

Early last month, this blog ran a post called General Betray-us. A couple days later, ran an ad in the NYTimes with a similar headline. Since then, there has been radical-right outrage over the disparagement of Petraeus and the NYTimes' complicity in "smearing" the general as evidence of the so-called left's lack of patriotism, honesty and fair-play.

Today, Chevron had a series of small space ads in the same newspaper culminating in a spread. Their advertising (which sucks) is meant to put a pangloss on Chevron, much as BP's advertising has helped accentuate their positive--and ignore the reality that BP and Chevron and ExxonMobile (who conveniently has a "double-cross" in their very name) are, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt "malefactors of great wealth". We're not a rapacious oil company. No, we care about the environment, global warming, people, we pay our taxes and eschew drilling on public lands.

Here's my point. Let's admit that there is a bias in's ad. They've slanted the world as they see it to make their point. Exactly the same as Chevron has. Right or wrong, that's often what advertising does.

The outrage over moveon's ad is nothing more than the radical right's belief that there are rules that don't apply to them. They can Swift Boat candidates, but people other than they can't.