Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Party's Over.

I have been waist-deep lately in a slough of despond. (Slough of despond, not a bad name for an agency if you think about it.) This morning while listening to the news out of Detroit on NPR I couldn't help but think of the song "The Party's Over" by Jule Styne with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

You really should go to iTunes and download the great Judy Holliday's rendition. Mournful and perfect. But if you can't spare the 99 cents, here's a You Tube video of Shirley Bassey singing it. video

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lead in our pipes.

It's been famously surmised, if not actually proven, that the demise of the Roman Empire was due in part to lead in the pipes of its famous water system. Lead poisoning, of course, leads to all types of mental and physical infirmities. So lead in the water supply is bad for business all around.

Spending time on Facebook, and Facebook's huge explosion of members, makes me wonder if Facebook is the binary equivalent of lead in our internet pipes. I don't give a shit what five albums touched you. Or what Peanuts character you are most like. Or that you got a new toaster this weekend.

I do not need a margarita thrown at me. I don't need a tattoo on my home page. And I don't need to see 78 photographs of your kitten.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Failure.

There are a lot of types of failure in our business. But today I am talking about just one. The good kind of failure, the failure that comes from aiming high, from ambition, from trying to do something special.

Years ago I worked for a great agency that trained its clients to expect failure now and again as the necessary by-product of trying things. Now however, if your spot doesn't dot all the i's and cross all its t's, in other words, if it doesn't accomplish all the myriad and unreasonable expectations laid out in front of it, it is deemed a failure and you will probably be fired.

I am dealing with this now.

Next time, that is if I'm not fired this time, I likely won't be so ambitious. The work will be humdrum, and therefore, considered successful.

This is life during the Re-De.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The tyranny of experts.


Nicholas Kristof had an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times that is worth spending a few minutes with. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/opinion/26Kristof.html?_r=1
The piece was called "Learning How to Think" and it begins like this: "Ever wonder how financial experts could lead the world over the economic cliff? One explanation is that so-called experts turn out to be, in many situations, a stunningly poor source of expertise."

Kristof, of course, is talking about the GEM (Global Economic Meltdown) whereas I find relevance to the advertising industry. What's happened, I am speaking in broad strokes here, is that rather than applying common-sense and gut to our issues, we have turned to experts (or focus groups) to tell us what to do.

Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley studied over two decades some 82,000 predictions by 284 experts. It turns out the experts' predictions were only a tiny bit better than random. As Kristof writes, "the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board."

No wonder our whole industry is depressed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A reminder.

A reminder to all those who feel they can treat people like crap because there are no jobs out there. So, fuck 'em, is the attitude. They'll take whatever shove with shiv them with.

This is from Albert Schweitzer:

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Scoundrels.

Reading people is an important skill. Not pre-judging, but reading. If you're in advertising I have a simple thesis. Don't trust anyone. Especially anyone that uses words like "model," "monetization," "process," and a few others. They are scoundrels, plain and simple.

Or as I wrote almost back in September 19, 2007:

In "The Captive Mind", Czeslaw Milosz's memoir/essay/study about artists and intellectuals living under Communism in the early 1950s, he attributed the epigram below to an ancient Jew from Galacia. Makes sense doesn't it?

"When someone is honestly 55% right, that's very good and there's no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it's wonderful, it's great luck, and let him thank God. But what's to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he's 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Remembering Betty Hubble.

This is a dumb story that pertains to my last post which was about the eradication or individualism in the world today. There's no larger point to it, really, just a recollection of a lovely woman and a different time.

When I was at Ally & Gargano almost two decades ago the petty cash woman was named Betty Hubble. She was a character that seemed to have stepped right out of a Joe Sedelmaier commercial. A bona-fide, central casting eccentric who bumbled through the halls with a smile, a kind word, a hug and a charm you don't often see. If you spent $7.80 for a taxi cab to an edit, Betty would run down and bring you your money and hand you a laugh while she was at it.

Betty had a "face" and was even cast in a couple Sedelmeier commercials and a few print ads. Then there was the story about how Betty got hired at Ally. I heard it from Betty herself, so as apocryphal as it sounds, I'm taking it for the truth. Betty was going for an interview in the building Ally was in and got off on the wrong floor--onto Ally's floor. Someone, presumably Carl Ally himself fell in love with her and hired her. That was the story.

With stories like that she became something of a legend. Part of the core of an agency.

I left Ally & Gargano in April, 1995, and the place closed a few months later. I wish I could say I knew what happened to Betty. I wish I could say I heard she won the lottery and is living on a 92-foot boat, but I really don't know.

Maybe I'll find her on Twitter and follow her.

In praise of madness.

"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."

-Jack Kerouac

The MBA-ization of the world has led to more than just the collapse of its economic system, it's led to the collapse of madness and the simultaneous adoration of order and process in a world that desperately needs epiphanies.

Creative industries need madness to be creative. Otherwise they are just industries. Ideas, when they happen, sometimes come late in the game. Re-writes. Re-shoots. Re-concepts. Re-thinking. You cannot project management your way to breakthrough work. You can not org-chart it. Or build a model that creates it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Exercising my vocabulary.


A babel-like gaggle of pissant poltroons gasconading with more wind in their sails than work in their portfolios. Meagre-minded midgets masquerading as humans. Pontificating dwarfs. Serpent-tongued frauds. Deceitful jezebels. Dissemblers, despoilers, despicable small-dicked double-dealers.
Asinine asses of arrogance.
Bombastic bloviating blowhards.
Carping caviling cowards.
Duplicitous distillate of dilettantism.
Excretia of ego.
Fellatio of foaming falsehoods.
Grandstanding glad handers of glib.
Hagiographers of the half-assed.
Imbeciles, idiots and in-grates.
Janissaries of Judas.
Kleptomaniacs of krap.
Liars.
Monomaniacal monoliths of mealy-mouth meagre-minded mush.
Nasty needle-dicked nits.
Odious otiose orotund obfuscators.
Pissant picayune pin-headed pricks.
Querulous quick-hits of quakery.
Rotten and righteous.
Slimy scum-sniveling sycophants.
Testicle-twisted two-bit twittery.
Undulating, under-cutting, uxorious, un-doing and ugly.
Vestigial, venial and vile.
Warts.
Execrable excrescence of effluvia.
Yon Cassius.
Zip-headed zeros.

The Hyped-Depression.


There's no doubt that the economy is in shambles and millions of people have lost their jobs over the last few months (seemingly half in our industry.) But we need a little perspective.

When FDR back in 1937 said, "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished" he wasn't exaggerating. Today life sucks. But we are not eating ketchup sandwiches or living in Obama-villes. Yet.

One of my favorite websites, moreintelligentlife.com has recently run an article about the iconic status the word iconic has achieved. Everything from sliced cheese to frisbees is called iconic. Just as every economic indicator from here to eternity is exaggerated to the point where we have to shove it aside for the four horsemen of the apocalypse to gallop through.

As for the word iconic, here is moreintelligentlife's iconic list:
Iconic albino, iconic assassin, iconic baby lotion, iconic brand, iconic bridge, iconic bucket, iconic building, iconic button fly, iconic camper van, iconic car, iconic cassoulet, iconic CCTV camera, iconic celebration, iconic chainsaw, iconic chair, iconic chef, iconic chimpanzee, iconic children’s entertainer, iconic clock, iconic cocktail, iconic comb, iconic combover, iconic comedy, iconic cooling tower, iconic Coventry City football shirt, iconic cricket bat, iconic crisps, iconic diaper, iconic doll, iconic dreadlocks, iconic drinker, iconic earthmover, iconic episode of “Emmerdale”, iconic escalator, iconic enema, iconic field armour, iconic film star, iconic fishing reel, iconic flat cap, iconic garden, iconic goggles, iconic gorilla, iconic grocery, iconic guitarist, iconic hairstyle, iconic halo, iconic hand cream, iconic handshake, iconic hanging laundry, iconic hazard, iconic helmet, iconic high heels, iconic hitman, iconic house, iconic ice cream, iconic icon, iconic injury, iconic injury-time winner, iconic itinerary, iconic jihad target, iconic jigsaw, iconic jingle, iconic jockey, iconic joke, iconic kitchen utensil, iconic knife, iconic knowledge, iconic lawnmower, iconic leprechaun, iconic light fitting, iconic lion, iconic lip balm, iconic mascara, iconic milkshake, iconic mittens, iconic moment, iconic moustache, iconic mouthwash, iconic movie, iconic murder, iconic noose, iconic ointment, iconic orangutan, iconic palace, iconic panda, iconic penis, iconic perfume, iconic philosophy, iconic photograph, iconic pig, iconic pimp, iconic piston, iconic playwright, iconic plumber, iconic pub, iconic pylon, iconic radiator, iconic relationship, iconic restaurant, iconic retail mall, iconic robot, iconic rodent, iconic saddle, iconic sandwich, iconic sausage, iconic shampoo, iconic shoe, iconic shoehorn, iconic shop, iconic silhouette, iconic snack food, iconic soft drink, iconic sound system, iconic steeplejack, iconic stethoscope, iconic submachinegun, iconic sunglasses, iconic surgeon, iconic taxi, iconic terrorist, iconic toaster, iconic toby jug, iconic toilet paper, iconic toilet seat, iconic tracksuit, iconic tractor, iconic treehouse, iconic trenchcoat, iconic typeface, iconic vending machine, iconic vindaloo, iconic wedding dress, iconic welder, iconic wheelchair, iconic wig, iconic wine, iconic yak, iconic yogurt, iconic zip hoodie.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Banned words.


As only the British can, the Local Government Association (LGA) have compiled a list of 200 "uses of jargon" that should be avoided. Most of them we in the advertising industry have daily intercourse with. These words must be avoided the LGA said, in order to "communicate effectively."

From the bbc.com: "The LGA's list includes suggested translations of some terms, such as "measuring" for the civil servant's favourite "benchmarking", "idea" for "seedbed", "delay" for "slippage" and "buy" for "procure"...Town hall workers are urged not to use the words "mainstreaming", "holistic", "contestability" and "synergies"."


LGA banned words - full list

Here is the full list of 200 words which the Local Government Association says should not be used by councils:

Across-the-piece

Actioned

Advocate

Agencies

Ambassador

Area based

Area focused

Autonomous

Baseline

Beacon

Benchmarking

Best Practice

Blue sky thinking

Bottom-Up

CAAs

Can do culture

Capabilities

Capacity

Capacity building

Cascading

Cautiously welcome

Challenge

Champion

Citizen empowerment

Client

Cohesive communities

Cohesiveness

Collaboration

Commissioning

Community engagement

Compact

Conditionality

Consensual

Contestability

Contextual

Core developments

Core Message

Core principles

Core Value

Coterminosity

Coterminous

Cross-cutting

Cross-fertilisation

Customer

Democratic legitimacy

Democratic mandate

Dialogue

Direction of travel

Distorts spending priorities

Double devolution

Downstream

Early Win

Edge-fit

Embedded

Empowerment

Enabler

Engagement

Engaging users

Enhance

Evidence Base

Exemplar

External challenge

Facilitate

Fast-Track

Flex

Flexibilities and Freedoms

Framework

Fulcrum

Functionality

Funding streams

Gateway review

Going forward

Good practice

Governance

Guidelines

Holistic

Holistic governance

Horizon scanning

Improvement levers

Incentivising

Income streams

Indicators

Initiative

Innovative capacity

Inspectorates

Interdepartmental

Interface

Iteration

Joined up

Joint working

LAAs

Level playing field

Lever

Leverage

Localities

Lowlights

MAAs

Mainstreaming

Management capacity

Meaningful consultation

Meaningful dialogue

Mechanisms

Menu of Options

Multi-agency

Multidisciplinary

Municipalities

Network model

Normalising

Outcomes

Outcomes

Output

Outsourced

Overarching

Paradigm

Parameter

Participatory

Partnership working

Partnerships

Pathfinder

Peer challenge

Performance Network

Place shaping

Pooled budgets

Pooled resources

Pooled risk

Populace

Potentialities

Practitioners

Predictors of Beaconicity

Preventative services

Prioritization

Priority

Proactive

Process driven

Procure

Procurement

Promulgate

Proportionality

Protocol

Provider vehicles

Quantum

Quick hit

Quick win

Rationalisation

Rebaselining

Reconfigured

Resource allocation

Revenue Streams

Risk based

Robust

Scaled-back

Scoping

Sector wise

Seedbed

Self-aggrandizement

Service users

Shared priority

Shell developments

Signpost

Single conversations

Single point of contact

Situational

Slippage

Social contracts

Social exclusion

Spatial

Stakeholder

Step change

Strategic

Strategic priorities

Streamlined

Sub-regional

Subsidiarity

Sustainable

Sustainable communities

Symposium ­­

Synergies

Systematics

Taxonomy

Tested for Soundness

Thematic

Thinking outside of the box

Third sector

Toolkit

Top-down

Trajectory

Tranche

Transactional

Transformational

Transparency

Upstream

Upward trend

Utilise

Value-added

Vision ­

Visionary

Welcome

Wellbeing

Worklessness

Friday, March 20, 2009

Perspective.

Someone once said somewhere that in terms of its impact on white America, 100,000 deaths in India is about equal to 1,000 deaths in Europe, 100 deaths in the next state, or 1 death next door.

I think about this when I think about real issues in the world. Genocide throughout Africa, the two wars we are fighting, AIDS, malaria, 1/5th of the world without access to clean water.

But the biggest issue we all face? The redesign of the new Facebook page.

Brilliant. From The New York Times.

Once again, this is simple.


Somewhere along the way the notion of promoting a brand, a brand as independent from sales and marketing goals, became a shibboleth in the advertising industry. As an advertiser you could tell a story about your brand and it was enough to make people "feel good" about a brand. There was in such advertising no drive or impetus for consumers to actually do something, like actually buy a product.

This is/was dumbness at its apotheosis.

Advertising exists to make a promise to a consumer that impels them to action. Apple apps are a good example of what I mean. They don't just make you feel good about Apple, you have to buy them. Since they launched, Apple has sold 800 million of them. That's advertising that both builds a brand while it drives sales. If your advertising separates the two--sales and brand--it is a waste of money.

In this week's Fortune, Bob Pittman has an article about advertising being the missing component in the givernment's (my new spelling of government) scheme to stimulate spending. That's what advertising is meant to do. Period. http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=71949537704&h=Q7eSp&u=Pswpy&ref=nf

Or, in short and in verse, as an anonymous poet wrote decades ago:

It Pays To Advertise

The codfish lays ten thousand eggs,
The homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles
To tell you what she’s done-

And so we scorn the codfish
While the humble hen we prize.
It only goes to show you
That it pays to advertise!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Advertising and banking.


The problem with the advertising industry is the same as the problems in the banking industry. Banking has a problem with toxic loans and has a raft of zombie banks. In advertising, we produce toxic marketing (boring and lie-laden or corny and ineffectual) and we are dominated by zombie agencies--that is, monoliths who do as they've always done, plodding along relentlessly until they stumble into a swamp or something and get subsumed.

Some of this is related to the mystification and professionalization of our business. The tyranny of if-then propositions. If you do a 90-page, non-customer-facing powerpoint, then your marketing will be effective.

This is business as usual. Think about the preposterousness of a bricks and mortar agency in a wireless interconnected world. As a client do you need to pay for hallways of people, ping-pong tables and a plethora of overhead that adds nothing to breakthrough?

But like the banking industry and the banking bailout, we have a small coterie of experts--the only ones deemed capable of actually doing the job that got us into this mess in the first place.

OK. I have to go. Probably to get fired for thinking like this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Isaac Newton and our current end of the world.

A friend sent this link to me. It is excellent.
http://www.aplagueyear.com/

There are lies, damned lies and marketers.


I always subscribed to simple beliefs. A brand is like a person. If it's honest, friendly, trustworthy, fun and caring it will be liked.

Somehow in our current world that seems beyond most every marketer. Mostly because, I suppose, it's easier to "say" than "do." So brands routinely make promises, both implicit and explicit, that they have no intention of keeping.

I am old-fashioned, I suppose, in my embrace of integrity. But I find the banner ad pasted above egregious. (If you click on it, the adipose belly will transform into sculpted abs.) What strikes me as shocking (though it shouldn't I suppose since the only thing that matters in the world is money) is that the advertiser in this case is using, with either impunity or consent, the implied endorsement of two major networks. You'd think that someone somewhere would protest, either from one of those networks or from our industry. Because seeing lies like the above, how do you then trust anything?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More on sameness.


Much of the nearly 1100 posts on Ad Aged have been, one way or another, about being creative, about confronting the status quo, about being unique, about resisting karaoke kreativity.

This morning, for whatever reason I started thinking about the now-defunct Braniff Airlines who, three and a half-decades ago commissioned Alexander Calder to paint some planes for them. The airline paid Calder $100,000 for each plane Calder painted. They featured the planes in their ads.


There are a lot of ways a company can say they're different. Usually the most expensive and least convincing is to run television spots proclaiming such. The best way and usually the cheapest is to actually behave differently.

Of course today, all planes look the same. And airline executives talk about things like "tail presence." Same old. Same old.

Now we have proof.

Advertising Age has a slide show of the ten best print ads of 2008 according to MRI Starch. http://adage.com/mediaworks/article?article_id=135148 Surprisingly, the ads are less odious than I would have imagined. Nothing that would make your portfolio, of course. And three of the ten top-scoring ads were created by in-house agencies. No wonder our business is in arrears.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Sameness Factory.

This morning I looked at some of the magazines my teenage daughter is flipping through. Vogue. Glamour. Marie-Claire. They are all the same. The all have the same cover. The same model smiling. The same cacophonous typography. The same articles. "Twenty tummy trimmers." "How to please him into pleasing you." And so on. It is all the same.

We have created in our world a giant abyss of sameness. As "creative" people we look for synthetic Goodby or Crispin or Chiat. Our clients look for ads they've seen before. Ah, life is easier that way, your judgment is not subject to judgment that way. Then there is the tyranny of scientific marketing. The "if-then-ness" that afflicts our business more and more. If you do this, then that will happen.

As usual, I am in a bad mood this morning. But at least my bad mood is mine, unique. And not like anyone else's.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My cousin, the gastroenterologist.

My Cousin, Dr. Kenneth Rosenthal is in town this weekend for a Gastroenterology convention. He told me last night at dinner that MDigestive CARE™, a medical group of 46 gastroenterologists in Broward and Palm Beach County, has launched the "Bottom Line Poetry Contest" to draw attention to March being National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Cousin Kenny said, "By launching this Bottom Line Poetry Contest, we hope to bring more attention to the life-saving value of regular colonoscopies as part of a person's ongoing professional medical care." A prize of $500 or the option of a free colonoscopy will be awarded to the best original poem about colonoscopies.

Here is my entry:

There once was a man with a colon,
That was, inexplicably stolen.
So his GI re-routed,
Made his insides less crowded,
And finally put a new hole in.

You can read all the entries on Digestive Care's website: http://www.digestivecareonline.com/

A slogan.

This morning I woke early and happened to turn on the radio to hear the great thinker and surgeon Sherwin Nuland talk about life, death, love and belief. (If you've never read anything by Nuland, do yourself a favor and pick up "Lost In America." If it doesn't change your life, it will at least make you think, which may, in turn, change your life.)

video

Nuland couples brilliant thinking with a soft, under-stated gentle manner. Comforting in an age of shouting, bombast and bullshit.

Today with so much horror in the world and dark worry in our souls, we need pause and we need wisdom. Nuland imparted a lot to me in the half-hour I listened this morning. You can catch a replay of the program here. http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2009/biologyofthespirit/

He attributes the following quotation to Philo of Alexandria, a philosopher who lived from 20BC to 50AD. We could all use a bit of Philo today. Or at least Philo Lite, same great thoughts with 20% fewer calories.

"Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

That's a lot better than "be kind. rewind." But no one listened to that slogan either.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Magritte on the Upper East Side.




I walked out of my apartment yesterday morning and stumbled upon these two absurdist scenes. Affirmations that maybe there is some life left in the world.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Emblematic of most advertising.


Most advertising obfuscates rather than illuminates. For whatever reason, MBAs and the agency people who kowtow to those MBAs think this is effective.

Lies kill relationships, whether they are interpersonal or corporate. I think of this having read that the Haagen-Das ice-cream brand is introducing a new pint size that is 14 ounces--two ounces less than a real pint.

Daily Dumbness Report.


I heard these second-hand from friends and family in the business who heard these phrases from clients or agency folks.

A "beauty" client who refers to medium establishing shots as "lazy-workers" because they aren't focused on the talent's, say, lips in a lip-gloss commercial.

And these two companions--a "floating positioning" and a "moving strategy." That is amorphous direction that is constantly subject to change according to whatever whim and caprice effects "decision-makers" at whatever moment.

All of which leads me to reassert a motto I promulgated during a particularly dark moment some years ago: "We keep trying to idiot-proof our work; they keep making better idiots."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

There's something happening here.

Is this your spine?


I just glanced at a front page story in The New York Times about the raging debate in Europe over the efficacy of castrating sex offenders. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/world/europe/11castrate.html?_r=1&hp

Unfortunately the re-Depression, or the Mega-Recession, or Depression 2.0 has already rendered that debate moot in the advertising industry. Castration, or attempts thereof, is rampant.

I explained it this way to my wise-beyond-her-years 21-year-old. For my generation (I am 51) it took a certain confidence, outspokeness, zeal and, yes, perhaps, pain-in-the-assness to make it in this business. Now, as the specter of fear looms larger and larger we are expected to be more easy-going, more compliant, less confrontational, more amenable.

When the client or "management" says, "I have concerns," you prick up your ears. And yes, that is as painful as it sounds.

"Do not go gentle into that good night," Dylan Thomas wrote half a dozen decades or so ago. Maybe now he'd have writ, "Do not go gentle into unemployment."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A bit of Charlie Chaplin.

Our generation has decried Charlie Chaplin as over-sentimental and mawkish. And that may be somewhat true. However, whenever things look really bad to me, Chaplin reminds me of the triumph of the little guy over the powers that be. This boxing scene from "City Lights" might just brighten your day.
video

Monday, March 9, 2009

Some days life is like this.


A woman called Ruth Jacobi shot this photo. Virtually no one has ever heard of her. When she died in 1995, she left no immediate survivors. She did however leave nearly 800 prints and 3000 negatives in storage in Mission Viejo, California which have recently been gaining some celebrity, mostly in Jacobi's native Germany. (She fled the Nazis in 1935 and lived for most of her remaining 60 years in Astoria, Queens, the wife of Doctor. As my Yiddishe grandmother would have said, 'you could do worse.')

My guess is that there are times we all feel like the window-washer in this photo. Nothing but thankless ahead of us, almost as far as the eye can see.

It's ok, you have to tell yourself. One window at a time and you'll get through this.

The two attitudes.

On Saturday I heard on the radio a wonderful, mordantly cynical turn of a phrase from Steve Post, the host of a radio show on WNYC called "The No Show."

The phrase was, "Where there's a will, there's a won't."

It occurs to me this gloomy Monday that that phrase, and its more usual counter-part, "Where there's a will, there's a way" encompass the difference between successful and unsuccessful businesses. (As opposed to the Marxian, "Where there's a will, there's a lawyer," which has nothing to do with anything.)

Here's what I mean. And don't for a minute think I am writing anything profound here. It's all so painfully obvious--painful because it is most often the obvious that is over-looked.

1. Where's there's a will, there's a won't. Companies and people with this attitude are destined to fail. This is playing defensively, back on your heels. There are plenty of reasons why NOT to do something. Choruses of nay-sayers. Innovation, risk-taking, challenging the status quo is prohibited.

2. Where there's a will, there's a way. The companies and people with this attitude make things happen despite difficulties and obstacles.

There are two ways and only two ways we can face the future. Which will you choose?

Newspapers, remember them?

Ad Age, the nearly superfluous analog edition, has a chart today "Where 1990's Top Papers Are Now." You can find it here for free:"> http://adage.com/mediaworks/article?article_id=135094">

The chart lists 1990s top circulation papers, ranging from #1, The Wall Street Journal at 1.857 million daily readers to #25, The Arizona Republic at 330 thousand readers. Of the 25 papers on this chart, 20 of them have seen declines in circulation--some, like the Detroit Free Press, the Miami Herald and the Boston Herald have seen circulation decline precipitously, between 49% and 53%. There are just two papers that are up in double digits: USA Today, up 60% and The New York Post, up nearly 23%.

Ad Age with their usual journalistic perspicacity has no numbers on online readers, but Ad Aged has its suspicions and its thoughts on this.

First, if printed newspapers have allowed themselves to become irrelevant, so be it. The idea of a daily press was a technological marvel when it burst onto the scene some centuries ago. It was the first time in human history that a wide-swath of people could get news virtually instantaneously. Today, printed news papers don't serve that function. In fact, you'd have you'd have to think long and hard to discover anything they do better than their digital counterparts--except that you can read them on the train and use them to pick up after your dog.

Newspapers are dying not because of a dumbing down of the public or the decline in advertising. They are dying because, like agencies, they haven't found a way to stay meaningful. And they haven't found a way to charge for ads that run in their online editions. In fact, they've made it easy for major advertisers to be picayune. The largest brands in the country routinely run ads that are postage-stamp-sized. Like much of the advertising industry, newspapers have allowed advertisers to judge the efficacy of ads solely on click throughs, not impressions or brand metrics. In other words they have pushed advertisers into buying small and virtually meaningless ads because they get proportionally more clicks than ads that might help build a brand.

My point here is really simple and only nominally about newspapers. In fact, despite all the words above, I can sum my point up in two: Be Relevant.

There was a time when you wanted to see how much a car cost, you went to the newspaper. There was a time when you wanted to tell the world about your brand, you went to an ad agency. No more.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

This is from my daughter.


She calls it "Sylvia Plath in Home Depot," a nice blend of art and commerce.

From the great Steve Post.

Steve Post is a long-time radio host in New York who every-once-in-a-while hosts a program called "The No Show" on WNYC.

His latest bon mot: "Where there's a will, there's a won't."

As the world seems to collapse around us.


I've been thinking a bit of the speech William Faulkner made when he accepted his Nobel Prize in Literature in Stockholm in December, 1950.

The world then probably sucked more, was probably more threatening than the world today. 60 million people had been annihilated in WWII, which had ended just a few years earlier. The Russians had just exploded their Hydrogen Bomb and the world was on the brink of nuclear doomsday. People were building bomb-shelters in their backyards. (As yet, we are not eating spam and tomato soup made of ketchup and hot-water.)

Anyhoo, straight from Yoknapatawpha is Faulkner's inspiration:

"I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work -- a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed -- love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

The poet’s, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Some words from Horton Foote.

Horton Foote, the great playwright and story-teller died earlier this week. I found this from his obituary in The New York Times. It's worth remembering. Especially now.

In 1986, in an interview with The New York Times Magazine, Mr. Foote expounded on the themes that run through his work, saying, “I believe very deeply in the human spirit and I have a sense of awe about it because I don’t know how people carry on.” He added: “I’ve known people that the world has thrown everything at to discourage them, to kill them, to break their spirit. And yet something about them retains a dignity. They face life and they don’t ask quarters.”

Brandtail.

About twenty years ago I got fired from FCB in part for telling the president of FCB's direct agency that I believed that Fed Ex's "Fast-Talking Man" commercial was the best direct spot ever done. After watching it you knew exactly what to do and why you had to do it and you had the motivation to do it now.

Of course, it didn't have "calls-to-action" and "and if you act now, you'll get..." What it had, interwoven in every frame was lust as in "yeah, my business needs that now."

This sort of advertising is what I call Brandtail.

It builds the brand, makes the brand great, and drives you, the viewer, to action.

This sort of advertising, used to be, back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the standard of good. Check a One Show Annual from say 1981. All the Gold Winners reflect my Brandtail definition.

Here's what happened to our industry as it became "professionalized," i.e. over-wrought and over-thought.

Direct became a separate entity and profit center and became heavily measurable from a response POV. Traditional advertising couldn't compete, so they developed their own set of metrics. Changing minds became one thing. Changing behavior became another.

That's hogwash.

Maybe in Depression 2.0 we'll get back to real advertising. Advertising that propels a brand forward while driving results.

Those are the sole reasons we do what we do.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

25 Not So Random Things I Hate.


Last month it seemed that everyone on Facebook was responding to a scourge called "25 Random Things About Me," or something like that. I thought I'd write a list that makes sense to me.

1. I hate do-nothings who pontificate and judge but don't create.
2. I hate syncophants and suck-ups whose egos are inflated and portfolios are flimsy.
3. I hate poseurs who try to snow you about technology and new paradigms instead of having ideas.
4. I hate people who tell you how late they worked the night before.
5. I hate people who say things like, "we're going to own the color blue." That's like saying we're going to own the letter "s."
6. I hate when people show up late for meetings.
7. I hate bad spelling and sloppy diction.
9. I hate people who don't say please and thank you.
10. I hate people who call meetings between 12-2 and don't provide lunch.
11. I hate people who think shooting with "Mario" is an idea.
12. I hate agencies who have plenty of reasons why we can't do that.
13. I hate creative directors who hire senior people based on ads that never ran.
14. I hate award-show incest. Ads that never ran being judged by people who never built a client's business.
15. I hate closed doors.
16. I hate analysis that ignores gut.
17. I hate people who take themselves seriously.
18. I hate all those that make this so hard.
19. I hate soul-sapping cost-cutting that winds up costing more than it saves.
20. I hate 360-degree reviews.
21. I hate jargon.
22. I hate creatives who haven't read the old VW ads. That's like a film-major having never seen "Citizen Kane."
23. I hate too many words.
24. I hate stock photography.
25. Most of all, I hate bullies.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

LWFF.*

*Lest we fucking forget.

Fool (to King Lear):
"He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health,
a boy's love, or a whore's oath."

King Lear (III, vi, 19-21)

A picture I like. A world I don't.


I found this in this week's issue of The New Yorker. I think it's about right.

On a lighter note here's a portion of a note I recently sent to a friend who is in the throes of looking for work. The names have been changed. The above photo could also illustrate my screed.

________________________is a fucked up consultancy, loathe to make a decision. there is a ny svp gcd job that has been on job sites for a good nine months. There are so many excellent people on the street now it's hard to believe they can't find anyone that fits. But what you have to remember about shithole places is that you get
fucked in them when you DO things. If all you do is talk, you aren't
accountable and you continue to flourish. That's how these places work...

The unenjoyment rate.


I have always been blessed, truly blessed because I love to work. Almost regardless of what I do--from the time I was a cashier on the night shift in a liquor store on Rush Street in Chicago till thirty years later--today--when I am the ECD of a mid-sized agency in Manhattan, I have enjoyed much of what I do. Creating. Solving problems. Learning. Helping people.

However, I'm thinking something is changing of late. If not for me, than for millions of people not as fortunate as I.

The New York Times this morning has one of their brilliant interactive maps that charts the unemployment rate for every county in the US. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/03/03/us/20090303_LEONHARDT.html?hp It occurred to me while looking at this data this morning that there might be a statistic we are over-looking as we calculate the depth and breadth of Depression 2.0. We are focused on the unemployment rate, but we should also be thinking of the unenjoyment rate.

The unenjoyment rate, at least to my eyes, has sky-rocketed. We are all so beleaguered by TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) that fear and loathing has replaced fun and laughing. We are looking back over our shoulders rather than ahead over the horizon.

Enjoyment at work is holy and blessed. It's what makes us human. For me, it's what makes me me. It's what makes me good.

Try as I will to make life at work better for others I can only do so much. Most of all I will try to lower the unenjoyment rate. If you still have a job, please do the same. :-)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Guys, this is real simple.



Above is an ad that works on many levels. It works for all the same reasons communications have always worked--from Babylonia of yore to the babbling idiocy of today.

1. It imparts useful information in an executionally brilliant way.
2. It breaks through. It's large, prominent, something you would notice. This ad is running just below the masthead of the Times. Apple is the only advertiser I've ever seen make this media buy on the Times' site.
3. It makes a promise to the viewer.
4. It is simple and unvarnished.

This is really all there is to advertising. If you do anything but all of the above you are wasting your clients' money.

--
PS: I want no bullshit that "that's Apple." As if Apple and TBWA/Chiat/Day have a different set of rules that permit them and only them to do work that actually works. Speaking as someone with some knowledge of the personal computing world, any number of PC-manufacturers can make some sort of relevant statement. There is nothing magical about Apple + TBWA/C/D other than they choose to follow the strictures I've enumerated above.

Advertising made easy in which George plays Peter Arnell and thousands of others.


We looked at the modalities of the evanescent marketing paradigm and have derived a suite of solutions custom-tailored to meet your needs. We believe that a Facebook app, an i-Phone app and a downloadable or scrapable widget that serves up relevant content that is both immersive and scalable and can be syndicated in order to maximize reach and optimize click-throughs will align with the market exigencies and customer-focused, user-generated infrastructure.

And a picture by the great Ronald Searle as your reward for reading the above.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A word I just learned.


A couple weeks ago I picked up John Kenneth Galbraith's classic "The Great Crash 1929," an instructive little book about history repeating itself.

My college-age daughters mock me, but I am still studying for my SATs. I look up, try to memorize and use the words I learn. Not to be a snob, but because they interest me, and often though they're esoteric, these words are better and more accurate than any other word.

One word I picked up from Galbraith is usufruct. I love it. It sounds like something a Dickens' character would do or an object one would wield. As in, "Uriah Heap picked up a usufruct and struck his adversary."

Above is how Webster's defines usufruct.

It seems to me that a lot of high-rollers have usufructed us in a pretty bad way. And I'm not sure who gave them the "legal right" but they did it nonetheless.

Interview tips.

Amid the rise in unemployment many people are looking for work and, as a consequence are turning to blogs like this one for counsel and advice. To that end, here are some things I've learned along the way.

1. Don't bring up your criminal record.
There's time enough for that AFTER you land the job. Stay cool. And don't cross your legs if you're wearing your house arrest anklet.
2. No pets, please. I know, I know, "love me, love my pet." But these days, too many employers don't cotton to this motto. There's time enough for that AFTER you land the job
3. Save the sandwich for later. Too many people show up in my office gobbling a chicken drumstick, a rack of ribs or even a simple sandwich. Remember this simple rule, if there's not enough to go around, leave the food at home. There's time enough for that AFTER you land the job.
4. Put the cellphone on vibrate. No texting or gabbing with pals during the interview. There's time enough for that AFTER you land the job.
5. Leave your weapons at home. Too many people show up in my office "packing heat." We all have the Constitutional right to bear arms, of course, but many employers are wary. There's time enough for that AFTER you land the job.

Yesterday and today.



It's been said that journalism is the first-draft of history. This picture from today's New York Times (top) alongside Andre Kertesz's 1964 shot of Washington Square Park (bottom) makes me think that at its best journalism might also be the first draft of art.

Institutional obsolescence.


When you've spent as much time in airports as I have you begin noticing things, petty stupidities that, for me, illuminate the larger stupidities that mark our life and times.

At virtually every airport there are doors and passage-ways that are intended for exit only. But, of course, if you're bent on bringing down a jumbo jet you could sneak in via one of those exits. So posted by those exits are "security guards" who are meant to make sure that no one sneaks in and then brings down the entire West by carrying four ounces of liquid.

Here's the question. Has no one heard of the entry and exit cages like we have in the NY City subway? Is is really so impossible to design a one-way door that we're better off having somnolent low-wage workers sprinkled throughout the airport? Or are we as a society willing to spend 10X to compensate for 1x's worth of infrastructure dumbness?

It occurs to me that in virtually every company there's a decent percentage of people who are employed in an analogous manner. That is they work to compensate for some structural dumbness that management doesn't want to address.

I guess there's some job advice here, something I learned early on in the business. If you're a creative, is your work on the agency's reel? Are you helping win business? Are you indispensable (or nearly so) to a client?

Or are you spending the day making sure doors don't work two ways?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Obsolescence on a pedestal.

For the last few days I have been in California, looking at colleges with my 17-year-old daughter. The campi are wonderful and wireless. Streamlined and gigabyted with hordes of binary code bumping into you at all times.

And then you enter the library. Amid millions of analog volumes are scores of pcs and macs, dozens of printers and more. And then, off in a corner somewhere, or behind a column sits on a pedestal a twenty-pound dictionary.

A real-live dictionary with pages you can turn. With real-live dust because no one ever uses a real-live dictionary anymore.

I think about obsolescence because if you work in advertising you have clients who have never texted, who have hardly been online. If you type in Microsoft Word, words like texted and online and blog are highlighted because the English language changes faster than the dictionaries that are embedded within the programs we live by.

To me, it's amazing how relevant obsolescence has become.