Saturday, August 30, 2008

An ontological advertising question.

Do two people who don't know what they are talking about know more or less than one person who doesn't know what he/she is talking about?

I think of this virtually every time I present creative.

As my august responsibilities grow evermore onerous.

The burdens on the editor-in-chief of a major international blog on something as relevant, important and potentially world-changing as Ad Aged are wearying. As Harry S Truman said when he assumed the Presidency after FDR's death, there are times "I feel like the sun, the stars and all the planets just fell on me."

To that end, I have hired (at a salary in the low seven-figures) an assistant editor. This was no easy task. This person had to have an outlook with insight--insight as benighted as mine. This person had to have the experience, the sagacity, the humor, the wit, the Shavian profundity coupled with Oscar Wilde's gift of the epigrammatic. This person also had to know the advertising industry.

After months of searching, I've found an assistant editor.

Here she is, my friends, the only candidate I could find to meet all those qualifications. The most qualified person for the job.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A hat and two t-shirts.

On a good day walking around Manhattan exposes you to more humor and oddness than, in the words of Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, you'd get from "one World Fair, a picnic, and a rodeo."

Bumped into my therapist this morning wearing a "Curb your enthusiasm" baseball cap. Is that behaviorial advice or homage to Larry David?

Came across a woman wearing a t-shirt that read: "My nipples get harder than most guys' dicks."

And another woman, a large-breasted one with these words emblazoned across her decolletage: "Couture starts here."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The road to html is good intentions.

Web design at its very second best.
By and large web advertising and web sites suck. Suck, suck, suck. Suck, suck, suck, suck, suck.

The typical landing page has about six places to click and no focal point. Think about opening one of those dentist-office-blue Val-Pak envelopes, take out all the buckslips and arrange them willy-nilly into a rectangle. That's what most landing pages look like.

"Geo, you ignorant slut. You're bringing a print ethos to a new medium that you obviously don't understand. The web is all about giving consumers options, therefore many places to click, facets to explore and offers to weigh. It's not about ideas--this is a post-literate world--it's about interaction design."

Oh, fuck me with an iron rod.

Communication hasn't changed since the beginning of time. God gave Moses Ten Commandments (ten headlines) not fifty-eight places to look each with nineteen codicils. In other words, clarity, simplicity and cogency work. A hodgepodge, visual and typographic spin-art rationalized by pseudo-new-media Newspeak doesn't.

I dare you to debate me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Paul Arden explains it all.

This is something Paul Arden wrote in his book "It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be." He had it as a pie chart titled "Life's Creative Circle."

Age 0 - 1 -- Nothing

Age 1 - 3 -- Minimalism

Age 3 - 5 -- Fantasy

Age 5 - 10 -- The Beginnings of Copying

Age 10 - 15 -- Art Becomes Grown Up

Age 15 - 20 -- A Need to Change the World

Age 20 - 25 -- Beginnings of Political

Age 25 - 30 -- Maturity

Age 30 - 40 -- Hell Bent On Success

Age 40 - 45 -- Repeating Success

Age 45 - 50 -- Trying to Keep Up With the 25-Year Olds

Age 50 - The Watershed

Age 50 - 60 Reinventing Yourself

Age 60 - 75 A Gentle Decline Into Senility

Age 75 - 85 Youth Regained

Age 85 - 100 Inhibitions Lost, Don't Give A Damn, Me, Me, Me

New York lunchtime observation.

I had Cuban food from a Tex-Mex place run by Chinese.

You think you have it bad.

This is from Dante's Inferno. Canto Three. As Dante and Virgil enter Hell.

"Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
To rear me was the task of Power divine,
Supremest Wisdom, and primeval Love.
Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here."

A poem for yet another Tuesday.

As another day emerges,
I'd rather stay home with
Preston Sturges.

The auteur who gave lines like this to Barbara Stanwyck in "The Lady Eve."
"I need him like the axe needs the turkey."

Monday, August 25, 2008

I heard this on a client conference call and it sure sounds dirty.

"We can dive in and then circle back."

Some thoughts on "Death of a Salesman."

I guess I am in a bad mood this morning. Feeling captive in an industry or a world that tries to suck out your brain, eviscerate your soul, and spit out your integrity.

Some years ago I heard an interview on NPR with Arthur Miller. He was talking about his apotheosis, Willy Loman. Here's how Miller described his creation. I quickly wrote it down and have carried it with me ever since.

"He was trying to be great without being great."

"He's a man trying to carve his name in a block of ice on a hot June summer day."

And Loman's eulogy, from the play:

"I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a don't have to be very smart to know what his trouble is. The man is exhausted...

"...He works for a company thirty-six years this March, opens up unheard-of territories to their trademark, and now in his old age they take his salary away."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Curing cancer. Finding an endless supply of eco-friendly energy. Reversing global warming. Eliminating global poverty.

Pictured here is the new F35 fighter. According to BusinessWeek, in toto, the program to develop and deploy this aircraft will be $300,000,000,000. Three hundred billion dollars. Figure a 50% cost overrun. My conclusion: if you scrap it, all the world's problems can be solved.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Two aphorisms.

Unfortunately, too often we live by these.

"If you can't raise your standards, lower the bar."


"We keep trying to idiot-proof our work and they keep making better idiots."

Great advertising.

I mean no offense with this photo.

About a decade ago I worked at an agency located across the street from Bryant Park. The guy pictured here had a pretty good business because he wrote an entertaining sign--which, in reality, was a great fund-raising ad.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Riches. Fame. Glamor. Mammon.

If you want all of the above, send me $1000 for the correspondence course that will surely be your ticket to a life of all things Prada.

The course? "Be an Olympic Announcer in One Easy Lesson."

Want to announce diving? Learn the phrases you need to know:
"She nailed it."
"Ooooo, she came a little over."
"No splash on that one, Bob."

Want to announce gymnastics? I'll teach you how to say:
"She stuck the dismount!"
"That little hop will cost her some points."
"She's been coached by the big Romanian practically since she was in diapers."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

This has happened about five times now.

I'm watching TV and I hear a voice that sounds like the voice Lexus has been using for twenty years. It turns out to be the VO on a BMW commercial. ie, BMW is essentially aping Lexus' vibe. And this from a car company that says they don't follow the rules.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Today's dumbness report.

Boy, is there a dumb ad on the inside back cover of this week's New Yorker. It's for the Acura RL and it shows a rear 3/4 view of the car and has the headline "It's pondering dinner." Huh? because it has technology that gives you restaurant reviews in the car? Huh?

This sucks.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Taschen, for those of you who don't know them, are publishers of perhaps the highest-quality massed-produced books in the world. If you'd like to, check out their site.

Recently I just bought a Taschen retrospective of the great Japanese artist Hiroshige. It's called "Hiroshige, 100 Views of Edo." The book is a wonder to hold and to behold. It has a silk-wrapped wooden cover. It has a stitched binding. A bone closure. And 100 absolutely precious prints.

In short, this is a book that is an experience. It pushes the book "medium" to a whole new level. In other words, it takes something ordinary and says, "we will resist the usual. We will do something absolutely stunning."

Leaf through the book here:

This is what all of us should do in every piece of work we approach.

Monday, August 18, 2008

1,852 emails.

As of tomorrow, I will have been away from the office for eleven working days. During that time I received nearly two-thousand emails. Over one-half of them superfluous.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Good copy.

I found this on a coaster in a "pub" in Melbourne. It's the best copy I've read since Ed McCabe hung up his Selectric.

It's for James Squire beer whose tagline is "Never forsake flavour."

Here it goes: "Soon after his arrival as a convict on the First Fleet, James Squire was caught stealing supplies to brew Australia's first beer. The result was so palatable, the colony's ranking officers only gave him 150 lashes. After fathering eleven children and working his way up from convict to publican and landowner, Squire established his brewery and the Malting Shovel Tavern on the banks of the Parramatta River. In his name we brew on to this day."

Information, a story and a pretty good beer.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I am in Melbourne, Australia now and took a run this morning through the Botanical Gardens. The bio-diversity of plant life, of bird life is absolutely staggering. That got me thinking about variety and individuality in all its forms.

There are more types of cars on the road here. It's more twenty brands with 5% marketshare each than the 7 brands in America with 14% marketshare each. The same can be said for coffee shops. There isn't a Starblands on every corner. Instead, little places without surly "baristas" selling a Disney-version of authenticity. The same with barber shops, people, newspapers and more.

This could be inaccurate. I haven't been here long and perhaps the unfamiliarity of the locale just makes the world here feel different. Maybe Australia is every bit as homogenized as the good old U.S. of A.

But true or false, we are too much the same. Too much iterative. Too much unoriginality. Too much generic. Too much in search of the lowest common denominator and "proven breakthrough. Too much look-alike. That, I don't think you dispute too much.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


There was a time when even a corporate focus-group-lead homogenized white bread bourgeoise bs behemoth like GM dreamed. Just as there was a time when agencies dreamed. Gad, imagine getting "1984" produced today! There was a time when dominant complacency was challenged. Startling ideas emerged.

Remember George Bernard Shaw. "The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man."

So we have a choice. Blanderize your ideas and shove them into an acceptable format where they're framed by the limited expectations of clients. Or be yourself. If, that is, you have any self left.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It occurs to me.

That this small bottle of detergent might be regarded as blasphemous. Or, perhaps, pandering to the clothes-washing religious right and evangelicals. A product-named
"All Mighty." As in god.

The Sydney Biennale.

I went to Australia's Festival of Contemporary Art and I especially liked these two pieces. More than the guy who lived five days in a two-foot-square locker or the guy who filmed himself falling down two flights of steps. I sneaked these shots because photography wasn't allowed.

The taxidermed horse was called "Novecento" which means "1900" and is also the name of a movie by Bertolucci. Nevertheless, I called it "Hung Like a Horse."

The other piece was created out of artfully-hammered nails to spell out the words. I suppose everyone feels that way some days.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What are the odds on them making it to 110?

NW Ayer.
Dancer Fitzgerald Sample.
Lord Geller Federico Einstein.
Lord Einstein O'Neil.
Benton & Bowles.
D'Arcy Masius McManus.
Keye Donna Perlstein.
Geer Dubois.
Geers Gross.
Delehanty Kurnit and Geller.
Calet Hirsch and Specter.
Needham Harper and Steers.
Ally & Gargano.
Rosenfeld Sirowitz.
Scali McCabe Sloves.
Levine Huntley Schmidt & Beaver.
Leber Katz.
Kenyon & Eckhardt.
Erwin Wasey.

Will obsolete business models and leadership do in Detroit and Madison Avenue?
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

A bad joke from the other end of the world.

I crossed the International date line and no one asked me out.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

This is America today

If you care about freedom, liberty and the Constitution--the promise of America, you may want to read Jane Meyer's new book, "The Dark Side." Or read the review from the front page of the Sunday New York Times book review.
BTW, the illustration above is from the Times book review. I know I happen to agree with its editorial stance, but even if you don't, you may agree it's a pretty thoughtful concept.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The comedy of an omitted hyphen.

This copy is from tomorrow's Sunday New York Times' Real Estate section: "A one-bedroom two-bath co-op with a dining room in a prewar doorman building."

Read the whole sentence and you'll see the writer wasn't timid in using hyphens. But then you get to the three words I put in bold face--the three words that made me laugh.

Does the copy mean that this co-op comes with a prewar doorman?

Funny is good.

Sometimes I get a synapse snap and something pops into my head. It's usually something funny--from the Marx Brothers, Preston Sturges, Philip Roth or someone else. This popped in this morning:

"In Portnoy's Complaint Philip Roth gives a sense of what Weequahic was like through two (legendary) Weequahic fight songs:

Give a yell, Give a yell,
A good, substantial yell
And when we yell, we yell like hell
And this is what we yell
Ikey, Mikey, Jake, and Sam,
We're the boys who eat no ham
We play football, baseball, soccer
We keep matzohs in our locker.
Aye, aye, aye, Weequahic High!

White bread, rye bread,
Pumpernickel, challah,
All for Weequahic,
Stand up and hollah!"

News from Detroit. And Madison Avenue.

Once again auto sales plummeted last month--13.2%--to the lowest total since the Bush I administration. Let's see, GM was down 26.1%. Ford, 14.1%. Chrysler down 28.8%.

Those stats got me wondering. I left a great agency some years ago. What percentage are they down? (It seems all they've done over the last few years is cut staff.) About five years ago, a friend of mine left the presidency of a venerable agency--is that agency down 20%, 30%, 40% or more over those years.

The point isn't that misery loves company. The point is that in relatively free markets there is a bit of Darwinism working--you know, survival of the fittest.

These are dinosaurs that are dying. One that runs on dead dinosaurs. One that's run by dinosaurs.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pre-vacation haiku.

If I stay offline
Would my un-read email soon
Overwhelm the globe?