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.

Interactive brilliance.

I have just gotten an email from the much excoriated (by the fascist-controlled press and radical republican right) anti-fascist group.

It is very good, simple and effective. It's a calculator that figures what taxes you and I will have to pay thanks to the Alternative Minimum Tax (which is neither alternative nor minimum) vs. what investment bankers have to pay (their tax rate is pegged at 15%--roughly 333% less than mine) for the ostensible reason that their investments involve risk.

There is no art to moveon's communication. No fancy-schmancy "interaction-design." No obeisance to the fad of the day. Nothing in fact compelling at all. But a simple truth well demonstrated.

Logos in the 21st Century.

From virtually the beginning of logos--when colophons were created in pre-literate times, logos have been sacrosanct. You didn't screw with them. They were emblems of a brand and a company and like the Star of David or the Cross, they were Holy, at least to the Gods of Commerce.

In the consumer-controlled era--the age we live in now--logos are more extemporaneous, mutable. I'm thinking of what Google and Yahoo do on special days, replace O's with pumpkins, or whatever. Or MasterCard morphing its red and yellow orbs from, say, baseballs into their logo.

For once, no judgment from me. Just an observation.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

It's not about Facebook.

It's about ideas. Facebook might have inside it a calculus that allows for intelligent tracking and ad serving, but that's not an idea any more than understanding that a billboard outside the Lincoln Tunnel will be seen by more people than one in Nowheresville.

Yes, social networks are important. Communities are important. But ideas are more important. It's that simple.

Apropos of cars we can't ignore.

GM just posted the largest quarterly loss it its history: $39 billion. Or $433 million a day. Or $18.5 million an hour. Or $300,000 a minute.

As the late Everett Dirkson famously said, "sooner or later, you're talking real money."

“Things are bad and getting worse,” Peter Nesvold, an auto analyst with Bear Stearns, wrote to clients this morning, assuring them that the number was “not a typo.”
I know I'm just a stupid creative guy, but with numbers like those, if I were GM, I'd think about blowing the whole thing up and doing something radically different. Not just another :30-second gag.

Some good writing I fell prey to.

I am reading a book of essays called "Creators" by a scholar named Paul Johnson. It's brief accounts of creative courage--and how great creators, "From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney," got the stuff to do what it is they did--change the world. It's a book I can recommend--it's even marked down at the Strand from $25.95 to $9.95, so it's a bargain to boot.

Right now I am reading Johnson's essay on Shakespeare, perhaps the most profound creative force in the history of the world (though I always enjoyed Chaucer more.) So I just came upon some words from The Tempest, and at 8AM on the C-train, I laughed out loud. They conjured up real images of people and agencies I can't stand. It's a fairly high writing-bar, and if nothing else should stoke your ambition to come up with fresh words, images and ideas. Here goes:

"What have we here? a man or a fish? Dead or alive? A fish: he smells like a fish; a very ancient and fish-like smell;..."

Of course, there's another line from The Tempest that also reminds me of agency
life: "Hell is empty and all the devils are here." But that, I suppose, is besides the point.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A joke HR would hate.

So two gay men are standing on the corner when all of a sudden this absolutely stunning blonde in a low cut, clingy dress walks by. She is drop-dead gorgeous and oozing sex.
One gay man turns to the other and says,
"It's times like this I wish I were a lesbian."

A final word on HR. And the agency you work for.

Think of your agency while reading these two quotes by Kerouac. Then you'll know if it's time to leave.

“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

A bit more on HR.

Don't get me wrong, some people in HR are nice. I enjoy their company. But the nature of HR is to promote a certain amiability and gentleness. And creativity, most often, does not come from such circumstances. Therefore, as HR grows increasingly powerful in agencies (because law-suits become increasingly more expensive) more and more agencies and people are put through the blanderizer.

To cite George Bernard Shaw again, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world around him. The unreasonable man attempts to adapt the world to him. Such is the source of all progress and creativity." For clarity's sake, I'll toss in a little Henry Ford, "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'a faster horse.'" By that I mean, conforming, listening, catering to, adapting to prevailing wisdom is stultifying. That's the culture most agencies seem bent on creating.

I am not advocating mean-ness. But I am advocating tolerance of those on the far right of the bell-curve. The ones who might not pass Rorshach tests or who might pose a question like, "what's the difference between a duck?" Not logical. Not answerable.
Not anything but provocative. And in creative organizations, provocation as in--you're provoking me--is what is often needed. Otherwise you're fastening bolts and doing the prescribed, which is a prescription for sameness and mediocrity.

Finally, please permit me a rant that I'm aiming at the newspeak that infects agencies often through the offices of HR. "People of color." Fuck you. I have a color. I am not pale or transparent like the visible man models we had as kids. I have color. I am colorful and I don't like being segregated as one of those un-colored. And then there is the word "Diversity." I always took diversity to mean a mixture of different people. Now it is code for black, hispanic, asian or something else. "We're looking for diverse candidates" means we are looking for people who are not white. That means white people are all the same? That is racism of the lowest and most offensive order.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Somehow this reminds me of HR.

People managing people who manage people.

The bane of the world, or, more accurately one of the world's many banes, or one of the world's most banal banes, is HR. I hesitate to say HR people because that term, "HR people" is an oxymoron.

They're not people because they have no soul. They're not people because they would rather speak in coded language, and have you do the same, than tell the truth. They're not people because they are essentially lazy and dishonest, rarely returning calls, rarely being there when they're needed and, most egregiously, rarely being honest at all.

Here's why I'm outraged. For whatever reason--I guess the avoidance of litigation--HR has assumed vast power in most agencies. There are Chief People Officers. HR people who are EVPs. HR people who seem to rule the roost. Once I decided to fire a lousy copywriter who happened to be of Indian (sub-continent) descent. HR tells me she's a minority. I respond, "There a billion and a half Indians in the world and 12 million Jews. How are they a minority and I'm not?"

Another time, I tried to fired my assistant. This took me six weeks though she was on probation when they gave her to me. "Why do you want to fire her?" I was asked by HR. "Because she's dumb," I replied. "You can't say she's dumb. You can say she fails to meet your needs. She doesn't anticipate. But you can't say she's dumb." "Listen, she writes "ciao" on emails and spells it "chow." Her learning curve is actually a negative slope. She's dumb." But no, candor is not allowed.

Finally, HR people, whether they're real or pixeled, don't return phone calls. They're too busy.

I worked for a very tall man once who said creatives should be evaluated thusly:
Do they come through?
Can they handle a tough client?
Can they command a room?
Can they win new business?
Can they win awards?

HR hates shit like that. They'd prefer a form that takes two hours to fill out and will tell you nothing about the person.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hey, it's Truck Month!

Chevy just said so, or they said truck month has been extended into November. I better go out and buy one now! I don't want to miss out.

Friday, November 2, 2007

No one lives in this agency, really.

You, dear reader, have heard Ad Aged decry the decline of the English language. I reckon the error below is just a typo, but it does make me a little nuts.

I pulled this from Adweek today at 1:15 PM. Typo in bold.

"Initially, Brooks and Bennett, who will share an office, will focus on integrating the two staffs and establishing how they will operate as one. "The type of integration we're talking about is really as complete as integration can get, where you literally have no boarders and you have people sitting by function," said Bennett."

The car you have ignored.

The October sales of the heavily advertised--blitzed, even--Chevrolet Impala are down 5.4% from October '06. Meanwhile sales of the Toyota Camry are up 17.1% and the Honda Accord's sales are up 26.3%.

As much as I hate the Impala's advertising, bad ads alone aren't the reason for Chevy's continuing decline, just as good ads aren't the impetus behind the continuing surge of Japanese manufacturers. The essential point is this: for Chevy advertising is not the problem. The problem is a deeper one. One of trust and credibility destroyed. If the resurrection of Chevy and other GM brands is ever to take place, it must be accompanied by a radically different approach to getting their message out. Gags and puffery about the un-ignorability of a sedan ain't going to ameliorate literally decades of bad product, bad service and over-hyped sell.

Some have said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and again and expecting a different result. Chevy expecting a boost from a couple of :30s just might fall into the insanity camp.

Even if it doesn't, if I had $5 billion to spend on marketing (as GM does) I would apportion some of it to doing something different.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Advertising and election 2008.

I just went to the websites of the top six candidates currently vying for their party's presidential nomination. Mitt. Barack. Hillary. McCain. Rudy. Edwards. With the exception of McCain's, they all asked for the viewers' name and email address (and in many cases, a donation of time and/or money) before you even got to their site. On McCain's site, money and information is asked for alongside the landing page's key visual.

This frightens me and I don't think I'm overreacting. It frightens me because it is about candidates taking from us as opposed to doing for us. It also is evidence of a profound lack of understanding that the president is not meant to be an imperial presence, rather, an exalted public servant. In other words, where is the value exchange here? Direct Marketing 101 would tell you that you shouldn't ask of the customer without promising something to the customer, ie. "I'll give you my email address in exchange for a coupon." Quid pro quo is missing from these sites. Semiotically that augers ill.

Here's what I wish the sites did.

"This I believe." By Candidate X.
1. I believe that the global war on terror will exist as long as we are dependent on foreign oil.
2. Therefore I believe we must spend a dollar amount equal to half our current defense budget to find a non-polluting, regenerating energy source. Not corn, which is the pawn of the Agri-business lobby. Not coal which is deadly. Not nuclear which is deadlier. We will do this before my first term is done in 2012.
And so on.