Sunday, November 30, 2008

On being trampled to death by the crowds at Walmart on Black Friday.

On black Friday there was a trampling death of a "sales associate" in a small Long Island strip mall qua village called Valley Stream. The Valley, I suppose is still there but I'm sure the stream is PCB-d over.

Almost thirty years ago I was a cub copywriter for the in-house agency at Bloomingdale's. Bloomingdale's was quite a store at the time and we had quite a good advertising department. Many of the people I worked with went on to bigger and better. Every year, I guess around November 1, there was a competition to come up with the words that would adorn each ad and which would be on in-store signage. Invariably my cohorts forwarded words like "Believe," "Tis the Season," "Love."

I was from the Carl Ally/Ed McCabe school of advertising even then. I believed advertising should punch you in the gut and hit you right between the eyes. As Carl Ally famously said, "Advertising should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted."

The New York Times then and now fills the bottom of short columns during the holidays with a short imperative, "Remember the neediest!" they exhort. I took that thought and twisted it--these were the Raygun (Reagan)/Gordon Gekko early '80s. The line I came up with was simple, poetic, satiric and rejected:

"Remember the greediest."

It worked then. It works now.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

More on my morning walk.

One of the places I stopped this morning was one of the last independent bookstores in the world--a good little shop where the sales help can read. I bought nothing today but will probably go back tomorrow to buy Gary Wills new translation of "Martial's Epigrams."

Martial was a pretty wild guy and wrote some scathing and erotic little poems that remain of interest today. Here are two that I like:

A Tonsorial Question
You cut off your remaining hair to hide your baldness, Laurence;
how will you conceal your impotence?

On Impolitic Virtues
When a politician's praised for honour, decency and such,
it's a sure bet he never accomplished much.

A pre-Depression walk on the Upper East Side.

I finished a short and labored run and decided to walk home from the park. I began meandering along Madison Avenue. First I stopped in Villebrequon. They make high-end swim trunks that cost between $185 and $265 a pair. Perhaps in the scheme of women's swim-wear that ain't a lot, but it's a heckuva lot more than the cut-off Levi's I've been wearing.

"Tink of dem as an invessmen," the exotic sales clerk purred. "An' dey coom vit a vallet to hol yur tings," she said handing me a vinyl ziplock bag.

Next stop a men's store with a $365 leather baseball cap.

Final stop, the pinochle of posh. In a "gourmet" food shop, a small batch of only 75 jars of apricot jam, each jar signed and numbered by the jammer. I almost gagged on the handful of cashew nuts I had stolen and had begun to scarf down.

All this makes me think of Jean Renoir's "Rules of the Game," a movie many critics consider the best ever made. It's a scathing critique of the French aristocracy fiddling while Paris is about to burn--or at least be occupied.

I'll close with a nice little couplet from the flick:

Robert de la Cheyniest: Corneille! Put an end to this farce!
Corneille, le majordome: Which one, your lordship?

The measure of all things.

Orwell's "Newspeak" and "Thought Police" do all they can to limit the sheer number of words. By limiting their number and their "nuance," you limit sophistication, debate and finally thought itself. I wonder if this is what has already occurred in America.

It seems more than ever that money, not man, is the measure of all things. We flock to movies because they grossed more than any other. We know exactly how many dollars a candidate has raised--we know more about that than about his ideas. We know the contracts of athletes, the cost of a luxury box. We know the results of Black Friday and Cyber Tuesday. We know the salaries and severance packages of Wall Street big wigs. We know what Nardelli walked away from Home Depot with. As I like to kibbitz, we follow the Nikkei more ardently than we follow the Knicks.

Yes, in Amoneyca money is the measure of all things. No one says, "What has he done?" They say, "How much does he make?" No one asks, "Is the movie any good?" They say, "It grossed twenty-seven trillion last weekend."

This is what drove us down. Because someone paid himself $120,000,000 per annum and awarded billions in bonuses, we assumed there was some legitimacy there. We assumed that because a ballplayer earns $100,000 per home-run hit that their accomplishments are legitimate regardless of the drugs they took so that they could bang those homers.

We have reduced all things to a financial measure. We have assumed more is better. We have lost the plot. We have forgotten about rich men and the eye of the needle. We have ignored Biblical imprecations about the love of money and evil.

No, in Amoneyka money is the measure of all things. Calvinistically we equate wealth with goodness and need with badness. This is why we are in a sump and will remain in a sump. We don't think about what these measures mean. We gobble on in the conviction
that more is the measure of all things.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Buick and Tiger Woods break up.

Imagine the shouting and fighting and cussing and all tha' and all tha' going on in the Tiger Woods' household right about now.

Mrs. Woods: "You what! You gave up your endorsement deal with Buick! You mean I have to give back my Enclave--the car of my dreams."

Tiger: "My dear, I'm sorry. I know how much you and I drive that Buick Enclave. It's amazing how much I personify the brand. I don't know what came over me."

Did the marketing people at Buick, did their advertising agencies really believe that anyone anywhere really believed that Tiger Woods drove a Buick? It's kind of like Daniel Craig endorsing the "Shecky Green School of Comedy." It just doesn't add up. It does more than strain credulity. It is laughable in its stupidity.

Well, I gotta go. I'm going out for a run around the reservoir with Dom DeLuise.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thus I aver.

Anyone who shows up at Kohl's tomorrow morning at 4AM for their Early Bird Thanksgiving Sale has a screw loose.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The great American swill machine.

I just watched the new James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace" and I fear I am the one in need of solace. Listen, when you get kicked in the head, fall twenty flights and land on your kidney, get shot at repeatedly by automatic weapons, you get hurt. The wholesale dismissal of consequences in this move is staggering. Then there's the editing, seemingly done by stopwatch. Every 2 minutes 30 a car must blow up. Every 4 minutes and 27 seconds a sweaty troop of cleavage bounces into frame. Every 8.27 minutes Judith Dench appears looking haggard and disconsolate about her rogue blue-eyed killing machine. The cuttiness of the chases and the fights is so rapid that sequence and linearity matter not a whit. It's like the whole mess was directed and cut by an old-time Broadway choreographer but instead of "kick, kick, kick, turn, kick, turn, kick," it's "punch, grunt, axe, punch, grunt, grunt, punch."

Plot, character development, humor: zip.
Blood, gore, rape-fantasies: 1,000.
Entertainment value: void.

If you want to see a fight scene, go rent John Sturges' "Bad Day at Black Rock" and watch one-armed Spencer Tracy knock the daylights out of Ernest Borgnine. Or take five minutes and watch it here.

Sorry. This Bond movie sucked. But it will gross enough to pay a Citibank bonus so we're sure of another one.


The comedy that is all around us.

I took another day off today and so this morning took a short run and a long walk. As Yogi Berra might have said, "you can see a lot just by looking." You are subject to a lot of stimulus walking around New York City, and I guess I'm blessed, because a lot of what I see makes me laugh.

My first laugh this morning was the poster for Guns N' Roses' new album. The headline reads "The Most Anticipated Album Ever."

I'm no fan of Guns N' Roses but I find that hyperbole difficult to fathom. Of course at my age, I listen not to Guns N' Roses but "Gums and Cirrhosis."

My second laugh was a poster in the window of the neighborhood Bra Store, Victoria's Slutty Secret. There the headline emblazoned over a pair of breasts the size of an 18-wheeler's Michelins read: "Cleavage like this could only be a miracle."

Perhaps I'm naive but I always thought that part of the deal with Christmas was that Christians celebrated the miracle of Christ's virgin birth. If you believe in that sort of thing, that's a miracle. Cleavage is lovely, fine, enjoyable, but miraculous? Nah. Let me leave it at this: if you believe your cleavage is miraculous, put on a v-neck, come on over and let ME be the judge.

That's it, I think, except for Sleepy's, "The Mattress Professionals" being named one of "New York's top places to work in 2007."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Introducing a new geo- demo- and psycho- graphic category.

My wife and I called in dead this morning, fired up the Lamborghini and took a trip to the country. We drove about two hours north of the city, got off the highway and made our way to our destination.

Now, I'll admit I have a less than charitable view of the ex-urbs. The teeth seem bad, the goiters ready to burst and the general populace seem a little broad in the beam. We drove down the main drag in a small burg and I saw a bar with a neon sign on top, "Exotic Dancers," it said. I wondered, what kind of exotic dancers do you get in a town called Sloatsburg?

It was then that it hit me.

There's the Sun Belt, the Borscht Belt, the Snow Belt, the Rust Belt. But bi-coastal ad-guys like me-self don't live in such places. We live in something I have now officially dubbed "the Svelte Belt." It's a land inhabited by the fairly wealthy, fairly educated and, of course, the fairly fit.

It's not a bit like America.

Monday, November 24, 2008

And one more thing.

From "Duck Soup."

Minister of Labor:
The Department of Labor wishes to report that the workers of Freedonia are demanding shorter hours.
Very well, we'll give them shorter hours. We'll start by cutting their lunch hour to twenty minutes.

The above is a prelude to something I've heard approximately 97 times just today. This week is not a short week. This week has seven days. What we are having is a short work-week.

Stop it. OK?

Another post about spam.

I rarely take days or even time off. And when I do, virtually the first thing I do when I leave the dentist or the parent-teacher conference is check my email. This happens almost every time. I see an email from a name that sounds familiar, so I open it up. Almost invariably it is someone trying to sell me off-priced boner-enhancing drugs.

I do need a drug.
One that would enable me to check my email less often.

Happy penny-stock Thanksgiving.

I bought my apartment just over ten years ago thanks partly to the shares of Interpublic stock I had amassed through the years which had reached $84/share. On Friday IPG's stock closed at just over $3.50.

Bailing out Citibank.

Throughout the years--years that seem like eons now--I've worked on various bank or financial services accounts, so, you get to know people on the client side.

When you work for a bank and you get fired, my experience tells me, you get about a month of severance for every year you work. In an agency, again my experience tells me, when you get the inevitable axe, you get a week for every year. In other words, bankers get, according to my un-official survey, 425% more severance than ad people.

No great point here. We're not going to see Omnicom Bank and Trust anytime soon. It's just something to think about.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sometimes I think about Viktor Frankl.

Viktor Frankl was one of the great psychological thinkers of the 20th Century. He was a Viennese Jew who survived Auschwitz and later went on to publish an extremely important book called "Man's Search for Meaning." It's worth reading.

After I read "Man's Search for Meaning," I read a continuation of his autobiography called "Recollections: An Autobiography."

Here's the bit that really got me:

In 1942, at the age of thirty-seven, less than one year after being married, Frankl was granted a visa from the United States Consulate in Vienna. Emigration to the United States would allow him to escape Nazi Europe. Frankl had waited years for the visa. Getting it meant he would be able to leave for America and continue his work.

The one thing that emigration would not allow him to do, however, was to help his family. He would have to leave them to fend for themselves in Vienna.

Frankl doesn't know what to do. He walks home during Kristallnacht--the state-provoked pogrom that destroyed thousands of Austrians synagogues and lead to scores of deaths. He walked through the embers of his local synagogue which had recently been desecrated and burned by the Nazis and while there picked up a shard from the marble depiction of the Ten Commandments. The shard contained one letter which Frankl realized was from the Talmudic imperative: “Honor thy father and mother.” The moment he saw the inscription, Frankl knew exactly what he had to do.

Within a few short months, he and his family were deported to the camps.

Working in an agency, when you keep it in perspective, isn't that bad.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Art imitates agencies.

This is an installation at the Saatchi Gallery in London. It's called "Old People's Home" by Chinese artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu.

It reminds me of the EVP offsites I've had to attend in my past. Or life in certain sclerotic agencies that used to employ thousands and now employ hundreds.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"As a Vice President of Marketing, Paul was tasked with..."

This sentence fragment above came to me in an email.

My skin was immediately tasked with crawling and my blood was tasked with boiling.
I was also tasked with paying no attention to the rest of the email because the writer had been tasked, I assume, in school with learning the difference between a noun and a verb but decided to ignore the "lessoning" he received.

If you speak English, please speak it properly, unless you use slang or a colloquialism or a broken phrase for effect.

A screen-writer called Irving Brecher.

Irving Brecher died earlier this week at the age of 94. He was the comedy writer Groucho Marx called "the Wicked Wit of the West." And that's good enough for me.

The last line of The New York Times' review really got me--and made me think about some of the people I've worked with in the past. The line was slung at Brecher's 75th birthday celebration by Milton Berle, back in 1978.

“As a writer, he really has no equals,” Berle said. “Superiors, yes.”

A question for the times.

Is it just me or does it seem that these days Friday comes later in the week?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Business today.

HUSBAND: Oh, it’s fine. It doesn’t bother me at work, only when I think.

Will the world become Detroit?

As usual from The New York Times. This time a photo of the port of Long Beach, California, the nation's second largest port where hundreds of millions of dollars worth of un-sold cars languish. Meanwhile, the port's largest export--old cardboard boxes we ship to China that they then used ship back with consumer electronics inside also keeps piling up.

Flash! Detroit is out of business.

Yes, I know I suffer from a surfeit of synapses--synapses that fire, at times, like a Russian Katyusha rocket launcher.

The Big Three, who, if we weren't xenophobes we would call the "The Medium Three" or "The Inconsequential Three," are all but gone. As the dog-whisperer Mitt Romney says in today's Times, a bailout will only delay their eventual demise.

Monday it was announced that BBDO has lost its flagship account of 48-years, Pepsi.

Do these two paragraphs belong in the same post? I think so. I can't recall a time my head turned with callipygian motivation to look at an American car. I can't recall a time I've said to myself that's a nice GM ad or a nice Chrysler spot. No, Heidi Klum could shill one naked and I wouldn't take heed.

Likewise Pepsi. It ain't that their commercials suck. It's just that outside of three or four moments during the year--the Super Bowl, the Oscars, I just don't see commercials. BBDO--that great TV Uber Alles agency--has maintained that attitude and has thus made Pepsi, like Fords, inconsequential.

Suppose you shot with Pytka and nobody watched.

The old model is dead.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I've always been a sucker for W.C. Fields

Because I like to laugh, I like W.C. Fields. Kino, the film curators, restorers and issuers have just released a five-DVD set called D.W. Griffith's Masterworks, Volume 2.

One of the films contained in the set is a 1925 Field's/Griffith flick called "Sally of the Sawdust." That got me thinking about Fields. Here are the names of some of the characters he portrayed in a few of his movies. They make me laugh.

•Mr. Postlewhistle
•Egbert Sousé
•Cuthbert J. Twillie
•Larson E. Whipsnade Frothingill
•Professor Eustace P. McGargle
•Ambrose Wolfinger
•Harold Bissonette
•Mr. C. Ellsworth Stubbins
•The Great McGonigle/Squire Cribbs
•Sam Bisbee, Optometrist
•Nuggetville Sheriff 'Honest John' Hoxley
•Augustus Q. Winterbottom
•Cornelius O'Hare
•Prof. Henry R. Quail
•Mr. Dilweg
•Mr. Snavely
•Rollo La Rue
•Bela Toerrek
•J. Effingham Bellweather
•Richard Whitehead
•Gabby Gilfoil
•Elmer Finch
•Pa Potter
•Samuel Bisbee
•Elmer Prettywillie
•Professor Eustance McGargle

Let them eat shoe-repairmen.

In the last economic boom everyone who makes something or fixes something or cleans up something have been forced out of the best of neighborhoods and replaced by people who sell something we don't need.

I work in Soho. I cannot get a watch battery, a heel put on, or a $12 haircut. I can easily buy a $400 pair of shoes, a $16 martini, or a $2300 handbag.

Does that strike anyone as perverse?

What old movie was it, was it the 1935 version of "A Tale of Two Cities," starring the great Ronald Colman where the barons and counts and dukes were forever galloping at full-speed in their carriages over limping peasants, stooped washer-women, and crippled orphans? Isn't that who we have become? A city of Bentleys and Benzes and BMWs run amok?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The importance of taking an extra second to read over your work.

An email I received today.


Thanks for coming through with that ad. It was very cleaver."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

You know you're about to have a bad day when.

The state of American retailing.

There are large, bundled-up black men standing on various corners throughout my neighborhood holding day-glo yellow signs that are emblazoned with a Circuit City logo. The signs say "30% off," "closing this store" and, predictably "everything must go." (When must everything NOT go? The idea that some things may stay is an affront to both capitalism and the natural order of things.)

I decided to head to Circuit City---which I call Circuitous City--to check out all bargains great and small. There's a fevered frenzy that hits all of us in America when we hear something is on sale. The hopped-up bender of over-consumption takes over--we must go, we must shop, we must buy!

Circuit City was one of those stores where you could never get either sales help or a straight answer. Ask for information about a product and you got surliness in return. Still, the heroin-tinged rush of a bargain was pulsing through my veins. Maybe I can buy a new portable hard-drive, I calculated, or a new laptop, or a new Flip, or a flat-screen TV. I found, once inside the fluorescent big-box cellar every DCV and every CD on sale. I quickly scooped up five second-rate flicks I will never watch. No hard-drives--all sold out. No Flips. So I wrestled my way to the flat-screens. Ah, my built-ins permit a TV that is 35.8-inches wide. "Have you a tape-measure?" I asked three sales-people. "No," they answered without the slightest concern. "How do I know if the TV will fit in my home?" I asked. "I dunno," they shrugged and went on with their word-jumble. And so I left that fresh linoleum hell having bought nothing.

I guess from a Macro point of view, this isn't about the state of American retailing at all. It's about the state of everything. After all, who in government, health- care, education, work, gives you answers to what should be simple questions? Who gives you help? Who has a spiritual tape-measure? Who serves? Who makes things better?

No, as a nation, as a society we are enmeshed in a giant world-wide Inventory Clearance sale. We have turned into a "Shrugocracy." If there's a problem, a question that requires thought--shrug.

Cartoon classic.

Click to make it legible.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

And now, a metaphor.

When I was an early teenager--13 or 14, I loved Steinbeck's book, "Of Mice and Men." Also, there was a 1939 movie of the same name starring Burgess Meredith as George and the hulking Lon Chaney Jr. as George, the simpleton. Aaron Copeland composed the music.

In one of the seminal scenes in the book, Whit, an old man, is persuaded by Curly, a cad, to let Curly shoot Whit's old dog--to put the dog out of its misery. Whit relents and Curly executes the aged canine. Whit angry at himself for giving in to Curly--angry at his own cowardice hears the single pistol shot and remarks: "I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn't ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog."
I read Mark Harris' classic novella "Bang the Drum Slowly," about eight years after I read "Of Mice and Men." In the story Bruce, a journeyman catcher, is suffering from Hodgkin's Disease, a terminal illness. Henry, his friend and the star of the team, is Bruce's protector. Their team, the Mammoths, goes on to win the World Series, and Bruce goes on to die. Henry is the only one from the team to go to Bruce's funeral. Henry (via Harris) writes this after Bruce dies. "In my Arcturus Calendar for October 7 it says, 'DeSoto visited Georgia, 1540.' This hands me a laugh. Bruce Pearson also visited Georgia. I was his pall-bear, me and 2 fellows from the crate and box plant and some town boys, and that was all. There were flowers from the club, but no person from the club. They could of sent somebody."

Those are my thoughts for the day. When something nasty has to be done. Do it yourself. In person. No matter how much it sucks.

Friday, November 14, 2008

One of the great cosmic jokes of our times.

When one gets fired these days we rush to offer them a chance to continue their health insurance shrouded in something called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act is also called COBRA. I find this a remarkable example of government-inspired gallows humor. Cobras--for the non-Herpetologists in my vast readership--are both vicious and venomous. They are the world's largest poisonous snake. What is more, some cobras can even spit venom. And that projectile venom as Bob & Ray might have said, "can render a man senseless" on contact.

We name that which helps protect us in our unemployment after a deadly reptile. Nice marketing.

The ways of looking at problems.

I just recently finished a merry little book by an English historian called John Hatcher. The book is titled "The Black Death: A Personal History".

As you may or may not know, the black death was a scourge like no other in the history of man. In fact it wiped out--depending on whose estimate you cotton to, between 30% and 70% of the population of Eurasia and Europe.

Hatcher's account studies records from one small town, Walsham, England. Walsham was a town of about 1500 people that was struck by the plague in the summer of 1349, back when I was just knee-high to a cockroach.

One of the interesting things about the plague was that people knew it was coming. Though there was no radio or television and most people couldn't read, news of disasters always travels in internet time--even 650 years before the internet. So people learned through sailors, traders and merchants of the plague's impending arrival and the devastation it caused in the regions it hit.

Here's what I find interesting--a glimpse at the character of the world, politics, our industry. By and large people responded to doom in one of two ways.

1.) They fornicated with everything they could. They spent every last coin they had. They lived like there was no tomorrow.
2.) They believed that despite the wrath of god, life will go on. These people helped others, prayed, helped their community.

I suppose I have a point buried in here somewhere. Maybe it's this. Crap happens at work. With your family. With your friends. In your country. Nothing is going to change that.

How you respond to crap is the measure of man.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

If you were a boy at the turn of two centuries ago.

If you were a boy 100 years ago, you read Rudyard Kipling. He was the most popular writer in the English-speaking world. "Gunga Din," the movie based on his poem was a huge hit when it came out in 1936. (How could it not be--it starred Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Cary Grant, Victor McGlaughlin and Sam Jaffe.)

Kipling has fallen out of favor over the last 50 years or so. Too much "White Man's Burden," colonialism, and the racism and sexism that then infected the English-speaking world is present in his work.

Nevertheless, a certain turgid profundity is there too.
Last night, given the state of so many things, in my agency and out I read the poem below and sent it to my daughters as well.

If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do you suffer from E.D.?

We all work with myriad people who suffer from the embarrassment and pain of E.D.

No, not erectile dysfunction. E-mail dysfunction.

They cc everyone and his cousin. They don't proofread. The matter of their email is trivial. And the worst--they send an email when they should have a conversation.

E.D. is killing our business.

Don't ask your doctor.
Just stop.

Some wisdom from Norman Mailer.

I am lucky enough to have been blessed with a peripatetic mind. I can take in a lot of information and know a lot of things and can make a lot of connections. Of course this upsets clients who prefer people who think in manner depicted by the directional chevrons you find in powerpoint and act as if the world were an orderly and logical place.

This morning I somewhat randomly picked up Norman Mailer's reportage of the 1968 Republican convention in Miami Beach. You can find all this in his book on the 1968 conventions, "Miami and the Siege of Chicago."

Here's a passage I particularly enjoyed. "Unless one knows him well, or has done a sizable work of preparation, it is next to useless to interview a politician. He has a mind which is accustomed to political questions. By the time he decides to run for President, he may have answered a million. Or at least this is true if he has been in politics for twenty years and has replied to an average of one hundred-fifty such queries a day, no uncharacteristic amount. To surprise a skillful politician with a question is then approximately equal in difficulty to hitting a professional boxer with a barroom hook."

I read a lot. From Virgil and Euripides to Maureen Dowd to body copy. Mailer's words above are some of the best I've stumbled across in a long time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A burning question.

What stock do we use in order to look different?

I meant to put this in powerpoint.

Will somebody please tell me differently?

Is there an agency anywhere--anywhere--that spends as much time creating work as it spends creating decks?


I didn't think so.

That being said, for now on creative girls and boys, I propose just running the deck. No, I'm serious. A 30-second spot should accommodate about four slides, so a campaign of six spots will get you through about 24-pages. OK, I know that ain't ideal--24 pages is only about 1/4 the length of most decks, but that, friends, is why we supplement out broadcast efforts with a robust print campaign. Imagine an eight-page insert which contains the entire deck, plus a "call to action" that sends you to our website where you can download the entire presentation--in color!

Now you're saying Ad Aged is being stupid. "Decks aren't 'customer facing.'" Well, if that's the case and we're in the customer communications business, why does decksturbation dominate our days and nights?

So maybe it all comes down to this--some Seth Godin/Malcolm Gladwell-esque pronouncement. Advertising is dead. Deckvertising has replaced it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I took a new route to work this morning.

Uncharacteristically I left my apartment late this morning--in a rotten mood I was going to defy the man! I was going to get to work AFTER nine--like 9:07. That'll show 'em.

As a consequence the subway was unusually crowded. So instead of my usual leisurely ride on the local, I took the express, and I took it about three stops south of where I usually get off. I walked to work via a different route.

What a joy.

Part of living lives of quiet desperation is never noticing the beauty around you. Never noticing the cast iron columns adorned with cast iron swirling vines. Never seeing the grandeur of the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank building. Never seeing the store-front of Mr. Skewer--a Brazilian restaurant, and a nickname I wish were mine.

One of the things I noticed this morning was the broken copper-clad clock and thermometer on the old New York Sun building. You can't read the ornate letters in the photo above but they proclaim: "The Sun It Shines For All." Ah, I felt like I was on the set of "Citizen Kane." I felt for a moment I was in a different world where the sun did, or at least might have at one point, shined for all.

Here's my advice now and forever. Get lost. You will probably find something that keeps you from getting lost.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Amid the greatest economic downturn of the last 80 years.

I was in Bloomingdale's yesterday--they were having a "1-day only Home Sale," and everything or nearly everything, by the time you were done with the asterisk, was 40% off.

It was a rainy day in New York and the store was mobbed--maybe it was just foreigners who wanted out of the rain--or maybe the "economic meltdown that's hitting Wall Street and Main Street both" (as they say on the nightly news) is as hyped and exaggerated as Winter Storm Watch 2008 when we were supposed to get eleven feet of snow and be besieged by the second coming of the Mastodon. Maybe the economic forecasting is as measured and intelligent as the Doppler 9000 radar which assures us every time there's a low pressure area two-thousand miles from land that we had better start building an ark. Or maybe it will be Depression II, just when you thought it was safe to go back into Charles Schwab.

My wife and I needed new towels. First I saw bath-sheets (those over-sized bath towels) for $57, and I said, 'how can that be.' But then I went to the next display and saw bath-sheets for $75 each. Then to another display where they were marked $93.
At that price, buying five costs more than the average family takes home in a week.

My wife and I settled for some discontinued towels from Ralph Lauren which cost $14.99 a piece less the 40% they took off at the register. I think they will work as well as the $93 ones.

Call me cynical (you won't be the first one) but part of me feels that this great economic crisis is just another made-for-tv adventure. It's bigger, badder, louder and worser than anything that's ever gone before. We will never extricate ourselves from the interwoven, international mess--at least that's what they tell us and on we go.

In my lifetime.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Occasionally I steal.

This I stole from a website called
click on the image to make it larger.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Years ago, oh maybe fifteen, before all the banks in America consolidated, subsumed or merged into three or four, there was a local institution called the Dime Savings Bank.

I thought of that this evening as I crossed over the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn into the city.

The Dime Savings Bank building on the Manhattan side used to have a large red neon sign on top saying, as I suppose you’ve guessed, Dime Savings Bank. Only somewhere along the way the “e” had burned out. So it read “Dim Savings Bank.”

Martin Luther King. Barack Obama. Advertising Agencies.

In my last few jobs I've been hired in senior positions to teach old dogs new tricks. To help traditional agencies learn to leave the 1980s. Or to help an interactive agency become something more than a technology and infrastructure vendor. Or to help a non-traditional joint learn the intelligent discipline and creative bigness most often associated in traditional marketing.

This is a damn difficult and dispiriting job. Especially when the economy tumbles or someone's stock price goes down 47% or accounts are lost or new business isn't won. Because change, like principles, are easy to stick to until they cost you money.

Today Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times in writing about Mr. Obama recalled a speech made Dr. King. As Kristof says, "it’s an apt description of the idea of America today: 'Lord, we ain’t what we want to be; we ain’t what we ought to be; we ain’t what we gonna be, but, thank God, we ain’t what we was.'"

I guess that's what those of us in the change business have to remember: "we ain’t what we want to be; we ain’t what we ought to be; we ain’t what we gonna be, but, thank God, we ain’t what we was."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Walter Rathenau.

I don't mean to be a downer but I suppose it comes naturally to me--the result being raised Kaspar-Hauser-like by wolves in the wilds of 1960s Yonkers, NY.

For the past few years I have likened 21st Century America to Weimar Germany. A decadent, frivolous world, riven by extremes, prejudices and hate. A time of tumult, hope and despair. A time of upheaval in the world (the wake of WWI, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia) and a time of economic uncertainty and calamity.

Walter Rathenau, a Jew and the head of AEG (Germany's General Electric) was elected German Foreign Minister in February, 1922. He was a wise, conciliatory voice in an increasing factionalized and strident nation. In June, 1922 Rathenau was assassinated by members of the nascent Nazi party. And Germany began its fast and steep descent into hell.

Its economy collapsed. Germany was isolated on the world stage. And the politics of hate and intolerance prevailed.

I told you I was gloomy.

Two new words..

Given my previous post, I am herewith proposing two new words for the racial amalgamation represented within the President elect.

White + black = Whack.
Black + white = Blite.

Last night and disappointment.

The victory of Obama is being hailed in many quarters as a triumph over the racism that has riven this country since the first slaves were dragged to this continent in the 16th Century. This notion of Obama as a black or African-American or person-of-color President is, in and of itself, a sign of racism.

I say this because as a nation we are still subscribing to notions of blood or racial differences and we have decided that a person who looks a certain way is, according to their appearance, their self-definition or the definition imposed by those around them belongs to a certain racial or ethnic category. In Louisiana, until recently, a black person was defined as anyone who had a drop of "black blood" in them, no matter how infinitesimal the amount. The metaphor that was used was simple, a can of white paint is no longer white if a speck of black is mixed in.

Plain and simple as a society we are sticking to eugenic notions of racial purity.

What makes Obama black as opposed to white, after all, he is as "white" as he is "black"? What we should be celebrating is the triumph of heterogeneity over homogeneity.

I suppose my problem with all this is we are upholding dangerous racist notions of blood and race. What happened last night wasn't a black man defeating a white man. It was a triumph of inclusion against exclusion, of liberal versus illiberal.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jumping on the band-wagon.

Vote and Starbucks will give you a free cup of coffee.
Vote and Ben & Jerry's will give you a free cone.
Vote and I will personally write you a free ad, TV or radio spot.

At 5:50 this morning.

My wife and I stood in a line of about 100, twenty-yards away from another line of about 100. By 6AM the lines were down the block and around the corner. Upper East-siders elbowing each other, squeezing past folded-up lunch tables in a public school gymnasium to get into the half-functioning voting machines that date, I guess, from Eisenhower's first term.

A neighbor was first to vote--he arrived at 4:45 and having voted hustled off to a Starbucks to grab his free coffee. Later to Ben & Jerry's for a free cone. And then to Pinky Nails for a free Brazilian.

The helicopters chopped overhead, who knows why? Traffic watch, intimidation, surveillance, news crews?

Absent the giant visage of Comrade Stalin looming above, it all reminded me of my young boyhood in Moskva. The out-dated machinery. The mechanism of propaganda. The crumbling infrastructure. The naive hope that we, the people, could effect change through the ballot. My father, Stanisliv Irvinovich, would grip my hand and impart his cryptic wisdom as we shuffled slowly ahead in the snaking line. "My son," he intoned, "a man's vote is like a donkey in the breeze. Up close you can ride it. But from a distance, it smells."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My younger daughter.

My 17-year-old, Hannah, is about 79% smarter than the smartest people you'll find in an advertising agency. That makes me glad because it means I'll never find her inside an agency.

This is a photo of a bar in our neighborhood. You can't really see the sign but underneath the name of the bar it says "DRINKING CONSULTANTS SINCE 1998." Every time Hannah sees their sign she asks why anyone would want to drink consultants. I couldn't agree more--for the most part, I don't even want to have lunch with them.

Yet another reason I am not a football fan.

I cannot even conceive of what a Nose Tackle is, what he does or why he does it.