Monday, May 31, 2010

Random memories.


When I was a kid growing up in New York there was a bank called Bankers Trust. And there was another bank called Irving Trust.

Of course through the years each of these institutions have been eaten by other institutions and the word trust is as antiquated a notion as the two-cent deposit bottle. (We used to find bottles after school and then run over to the Carvel in the neighborhood where you could buy a small cone for 17-cents. A "Brown Betty," a cone dipped in chocolate topping was eight cents or four bottles more. Which was usually out of our price range.)

Anyway, Bankers Trust had a slogan in those days, "There really is a banker at Bankers Trust." That was an era when you could put banker and trust in the same sentence and the appellation banker wasn't roughly equivalent to that of Adolph Eichmann, Director of Personnel.

In any event, I grew up seeing these banks and hearing these slogans. They were a part of my life, like the Hoffman's Soda jingle:

"The prettiest girl
I ever saw
Was sippin' Hoffman's
Through a straw.
The prettiest girl
I ever saw,
Was sippin' Hoffman's through a straw."

Girls, in fact, did look prettier sippin' Hoffman's through a straw but I debated which was the better slogan, Hoffman's or Cott's, who always proclaimed "It's Cott's to be good!" Then there was Yoo-Hoo who scored the coup of having Yogi Berra as a spokesperson. Though Yoo-Hoo never really caught on in my neighborhood--my gang were more Bosco drinkers. "Hey Roscoe, it's Bosco!"

In any event, it's my blog and they're my digressions. When I got to be around 15 I wrote a slogan for Irving Trust based on Bankers Trusts' slogan. "There really is an Irving at Irving Trust." That one never did catch on.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

From Craig.


A rare advertising friendship. We were partners 25 years ago.

Spanx for men.


The New York Times is arguably one of the ten most important newspapers in the world, so when they write about a fashion breakthrough like the slimming shirts of Spanx for men (available at Neimann-Marcus, Saks, Bloomingdale's and other fine stores) this adipose aficionado sits up and takes notice. "Shapeware" is all the rage, and boys, let's be honest, who couldn't use a little tummy trim these days, don'tcha think?

Spanx t-shirts start at just $59 and tank-tops begin at $55. Small prices to pay for picture-perfect pecs, ab-fab abs, and more.
Don'tcha think, boys, or don'tcha?
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/fashion/30spanx.html?ref=fashion

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Getting without giving.

It never ceases to annoy me, our three-day-weekend Bacchanals. We have turned what is meant to be solemnity into an orgy of televised sports and barbecued meat. More mourning over a fourth rate child star than memorializing of our war dead. It makes me mad.

We get a day off. But we don't give. We don't think about the meaning of the day. We think about sales.

Getting without giving has ruined us.

Getting without giving has destroyed our economy. We are a Ninja society (no income, no job and no assets.)

In advertising clients want work to perform miracles. They want it to get attention without giving it the money that pays for attention. Getting without giving.

In sports we want to get strength and muscles without giving up the time it takes to get them. We inject steroids. And it's ok. They are our heroes.

I grew up hearing that you get nothing for nothing.

In America today we want everything for nothing.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Poem.


Or at least a couplet.

If there's anything I surely hate,
It's people who text while they urinate.

Get back to work.


I am now reading Niall Ferguson's "The Ascent of Money, A Financial History of the World." A book that primarily outlines the progress the world's made because, as my mother would have said, "our collective eyes are bigger than our collective stomachs."

In other words, because as a species we always want more, we are always finagling a way to get it. The big wigs, the money men, most often construct ways so that they benefit from the labors of many. Chances are right now you're wearing clothing made by people who earned 30 cents/hour making it. That's the way of the world.

So get back to work.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dispatch from the Land of the Rising Blonde.

Maybe it's because I've been out of Manhattan for the last 48-hours. Maybe it's because for the last two days USA Today as been foisted upon me--a zombie-like brain-eater of a journal where everything from world hunger to environmental catastrophe is sublimated to last night's Idol winner. Maybe it's just the my bio-rhythms are out of trim. But I am feeling particularly gloomy about the state of mankind this morning.

Yesterday I wrote about companies working its employees to death--metaphorically. Today, I read about it literally. At the Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. which makes iPads, HP computers and Nokia cellphones, 10 workers have jumped to their death this year alone. Yes, the company employs 400,000 people, so maybe 10 deaths is the actuarial norm, nevertheless, in the words of my spiritual predecessor the great Borscht-belter Shecky Shecky "People are dying to work there." Ha ha.

Then, further gloomifying me, I read in The Wall Street Journal that Wrigley Field ushers are wearing shirts made out of 100% recycled materials including plastic cups. If they work for Wrigley, why not make the shirts out of recycled chewing gum?

I've never gotten along with upper management (even when I was upper management) because I always thought people should be treated like people. That whole "Golden Rule" thing. But I am a dreamer and a sap and poor. And treating people well is no way to run a business.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's joke time again! (Kinda.)

A midget goes into a Psychiatrist's office and asks "by any chance to you treat dwarves?"
And the psychiatrist says, "sure but you'll have to be a little patient."

Somewhere along the way.

No, this is not a send up of Manifesto videos which almost always start with the phrase "Somewhere along the way." This is a post about an central advertising disconnect. And it's all prompted by an article I ran across in "The Economist" called "Overstretched." With a subhead: "Many people who kept their jobs are working too hard. What can companies do about it?"

What advertising companies can and will do about it is nothing, and here's why. Somewhere along the way the people that run and manage agencies stopped being people who have actually created ads. Worse than that, they aren't even interested in how ads are made or what it takes to make them. (BTW, I use the word "ad" broadly, meaning any creative output from any sort of agency.)

According to the lofty-sounding "Corporate Leadership Council," a consultancy group that surveys 1,100 companies each quarter, our "job footprint," that is, what you're supposed to produce has increased by 33% since the start of the recession. Meanwhile, pay isn't just frozen, it has hypothermia. And perks?

I am producing a 50-page or so "Brand Book" for a client. That's a lot of work. I have a producer on it who's never produced a bit of print in his life. Can he help me see this piece to its logical conclusion? No, all he can do is annoy me by asking every 17 minutes or so, "where is it."

Years ago a boss of mine told me a story about when he was partnered with an excellent and highly awarded Art Director named Ted Shaine. Year after year Shaine won assorted gold in The One Show. (Before your ad had to be about pet training to qualify for entry.) Shaine told him "I just have to produce one ad a year."

Surely, and I guess thankfully those days, too, are done.

But somewhere along the way people--not ad people--have conflated us with the machines we work on.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Where have all the scruples gone?

Where have all the scruples gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the scruples gone?
Long time ago?
Money's killed them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

From a strictly speaking adverting POV, the work that Ogilvy & Mather's did for BP--positioning them as a green, beyond petroleum company is masterful. The logo itself is one of the best. And the face the advertising put on this evil, rapacious company made them seem human, respectful and forward-thinking.

Even after 15 people died from a negligence-fomented blast in Texas, BP was happy and cuddly. Turns out--surprise surprise--they were Adolph Hitler in a Teletubby outfit.

I'm not sure where Ogilvy's responsibility lays in all this. They did their job. But, if memory serves, this is the same agency that once turned down tobacco accounts for ethical reasons. The one whose founder proclaimed "The consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife." ie Speak to the consumer, as you'd speak to your spouse, with intelligence and candor.

I'm not sure where the network clearance people were in approving all this advertising. I've been asked for back-up to claims a lot less suspicious (and it turns out spurious) that BP's "Beyond Petroleum." That isn't beyond petroleum destroying the environment, folks.

I'm not sure where the advertising journalists were.

I'm not sure where WPP stockholders were.

I'm not sure about what we can do about BP, their flouting of regulation, of truth, of anything but profit.

Not sure what we as ad people can do when we are asked to do something in support of the goals bad companies. We have kids to put through college. Mortgages to pay. To lose your job over morals?

An old joke--circa 50BC.

Julius Caesar walks into a bar and says to the bartender
"I'd like a Martinus, please."
The bartender, taken aback says, "You mean martini, don't you?"
And Caesar says, "If I wanted more than one, I would have asked for it."

Wait, wait, here's another one. Slightly newer.
Say from the 1890s.

"Why do bachelors make such bad grammarians?"

"Because when they're asked to conjugate, they decline."

Monday, May 24, 2010

A lesson from Socrates.

Probably apocryphal but you get the idea.

One day the Socrates came upon an acquaintance, who ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students...?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me, I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called The Test of Three."

"Test of Three?"

"That's correct," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to test what you're going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man replied, "actually I just heard about it."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him even though you're not certain it's true?"

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued, "You may still pass though because there is a third test - the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really..."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?"

A guy died who we could have learned from.

This from today's "New York Times." "Martin Gardner, Puzzler and Polymath, Dies at 95"

"http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/24/us/24gardner.html?ref=obituaries

The article says “Martin Gardner is one of the great intellects produced in this country in the 20th century,” said Douglas Hofstadter, the cognitive scientist.

"W. H. Auden, Arthur C. Clarke, Jacob Bronowski, Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan were admirers of Mr. Gardner. Vladimir Nabokov mentioned him in his novel “Ada” as “an invented philosopher.” An asteroid is named for him.

Now here's the part I really like:

"His was a clarifying intelligence: he said his talent was asking good questions and transmitting the answers clearly and crisply."

Can you imagine?

Nothing should take that long.


It's not unusual for the gestation of a creative campaign to take six months or more. In fact, there was an article in one of the trade magazines last week or so about the pitch of the California Lottery in which it took three years for the client to choose an agency. It's also not unusual to hear of a web refresh or redesign that takes between 18 months and three years.

Really?

I suppose I could accept a labored campaign development, testing and refining process if such processes assured success either from a business or creative point of view. I could live with a three-year pitch process if it guaranteed that the client-agency relationship was happy, productive and blithe. I would be happy with lengthy web redesigns if I could actually tell the difference between what was and what is.

Unfortunately, most things that take a long time take a long time because they support an infrastructure that demands that a long time be taken. Or there are so many constituencies involved that making a good product is less important than making a product that isn't bad. Or that doesn't offend. Or that ticks a box for a dozen different constituencies.

Things shouldn't take that long.

Oil wells shouldn't take that long to cap. Buildings shouldn't shouldn't take that long to rebuild. Ad campaigns shouldn't take that long to discuss, test, and put into market.

Things take a long time because people are lonely and feel unimportant. Meetings give people a chance to be with other people and feel important. That's why things take so long.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dumbness during the game.

"The Toyota halftime show is brought to you by Toyota."

Oh.

My father plays ball.


Down the street from my parents’ house was a vacant lot surrounded by six to ten story buildings on two sides. Those buildings had no windows looking out over the lot because where the lot was now, a building used to be. The lot was square and the city did some work on it, putting down some grass, a backstop and a couple of benches for players and a small section of bleachers for people to watch. A couple of evenings a week in the summertime when it stayed late out till almost nine, a couple dozen neighborhood men would show up there and play baseball.

The games weren’t formal affairs. There was no umpire and no uniforms, just a bunch of older guys in shorts, sneakers and t-shirts drinking beer and playing ball. All the kids in the neighborhood and some of the moms would head over there in the evening to watch the men play. Even though we lived less than five miles from Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees were on TV virtually every night, these games somehow seemed more important than those played by Big Leaguers, at least until it got dark out and the kids would run home to watch the Yankees.

The dimensions of the lot were such that the building that loomed over right field was close to what was designated home plate, maybe 150 feet away. This gave the field a drama that was missing from more traditional fields, like normal school yards. It was like the “short porch” in right in Yankee Stadium that was just 296 feet from home; it was something to aim for and since a ball hit off the wall was ruled as in play, it led to a lot of excitement and even more arguments.

My father never played in these games. They were more the province of the heavily muscled Italian men who lived in the neighborhood and who didn’t work in the city. The neighborhood I grew up in was divided roughly in two. On one side lived the Italians, the people who worked locally and made the town run. They were the carpenters, the shop-owners, the plumbers, the auto repairmen. The mothers often worked too, as nurses or they helped out in the family shop. Some were substitute teachers or worked in the school as cafeteria ladies.

They lived in run-down little houses with fake brick fronts attached with two penny nails and neatly manicured lawns. Or slightly larger houses covered in stucco, with detached garages further back. Or in two-family homes that were symmetrical like a Rorschach blot.

These Italians were tough men who had heavy beards by the time the game started even though they had shaved that morning. They were men who had lived in our neighborhood for generations in houses that were even smaller and more beat up that ours and big families accompanied them to the sandlot. They were the regulars.

On the other side of town lived the Jews. Men like my father who didn’t look at home in a tee-shirt. Not a bit like the Italians with major-league-looking sweat stains under their arms and big, burly forearms like Popeye. My father was a big guy, more or less gone to seed, but over six-feet tall with broad-shoulders and long arms. One night, I suppose one team was short a player, my father was coaxed into playing. It had probably been 20 years since he played a serious game of ball and you could tell he was nervous in front of his children, nervous that he would look uncoordinated or un-athletic or not adequate in the way that the other men were adequate.

A couple innings passed uneventfully. Not a single ball was hit to my father who was manning second base. But in this inning it was my father’s turn to come to the plate. I had never seen my father hit a ball before except for fungo with me and my brother so we could practice our fielding. I wasn’t sure he could do it. The guy on the mound for the other team threw entirely too hard and seemed entirely too cocky.

Nevertheless my father stepped into the box and went through a slightly comical major-league pantomime, rubbing his hands with dirt, tapping the dust off the soles of his sneakers, taking a couple of slow, looping practice cuts and checking down the line with the third base coach for any signs and instructions.

The pitcher wound up and zinged one in and my father let it whiz by for a strike. Because my father wasn’t one of the regulars, the few people rooting for him called him not by name but by “hey, batter.” “Hey batter,” I repeated, cheering my father on.

There were standard baseball insults in those days that didn’t involve either profanity or originality. To a pitcher there was “we want a pitcher, not a belly itcher” and the infinitely wittier “we want a pitcher, not a glass of water.” For guys at the plate there were barbs like “ya swing like a rusty gate” or the slightly clerver “Aunt Jemima makes a better batter.” I dreaded hearing either of those about my father. I knew, somehow, he was no match for the Italian men, nevertheless I was hoping some muscle memory would allow him to make contact with the ball. My big fear was that he’d swing like a rusty gate. That Aunt Jemima was a better batter.

The second pitch came in high and my father swung hard if a bit late but somehow lined a rocket hard off the close-by rightfield bricks. He hit the ball hard. It resounded off the wall with a crack. This ball clearly would have gone far, but for the wall. On a regular field—or in Yankee Stadium with its short rightfield porch, it might have cleared the fence for a homer.

My father ran toward first, slowly. He was creaky and could hardly move. His body unfolded like an over-starched shirt as he transitioned from hitting to running. He probably hadn’t run for at least as long as he hadn’t hit a ball, twenty years or more. As he slogged toward first, the ball ricocheted fast off the wall and was fielded cleanly by the first baseman on one bounce not far from the first base bag. The first baseman ran quickly over to first and beat my still unfolding father there. My father was out by two steps and a half. It seemed unfair, somehow, to hit one so hard and to put out so easily, but as my father said as he trotted in after making an out, “It’s a game of inches.”

I don’t remember who won or lost the ballgame. Or what my father, or anyone else did after that. I suppose it got too dark to continue playing and we all went home to our little houses or too-small apartments and watched the pros on TV. I don’t remember if my father got up to bat again, or if he had to perform in the field, catching a towering popup or deftly turning a double play.

I just remember that he hit the ball. Hard. And that was good enough.

Going to college.

My 18-year old is filling out dorm-room forms. "They ask for your personal gender identity and your biological sex."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hipsters.


They're everywhere. Since they're not ironic, they have to wear ironic clothing. Since they're not sure who they are, they have to trumpet their "personality" through brand affinities (I don't need a logo on my glasses.) Since they're not cool, they have to self-consciously dress cool.

Lately, many of them have decided to wear small fedoras and sport soul patches like Thelonious Monk did 50 years ago. They've never listened to Thelonious Monk--that would be too much work.

You know what, hipsters. You're no Thelonious Monk. His farts are cooler than you'll ever be.

Two of my favorites.

A little Friday fun. Buster Keaton set to Paul Simon. video

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The four types.


Many years ago, a Duke University historian, James David Barber wrote a book called "The Presidential Character" in which he categorized America's presidents into one of four groupings.

These were "Active-Positive," "Passive-Positive," "Active-Negative" and "Passive-Negative." Without getting political here, this is (roughly, I read the book almost forty years ago) what Barber meant by these classifications.

Active-Positive described a high-energy president who did generally good things.
Passive-Positive was a dilatory leader who did generally good things.
Active-Negative was a high-energy president who did generally bad things.
Passive-Negative described a malevolent lazybones.

You get the idea.

It occurred to me tonight that both clients and agencies can be sorted in much the same manner.

Active-Positive agencies want clients that want to take over the world--who want to do big great things and they want to do big great things for and with them.

Passive-Positive agencies wait for orders then do superior work.

Active-Negative agencies do big work for clients that tends to be strident and shrill.

Passive-Negative agencies do little and little that gets noticed.

Sure this is subjective, which agency fits into which category. But for me, there's value in thinking about the kind of clients you work for and the kind of agency.

I need to do this every once in a while.

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 impostors 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 breathe 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!

This makes sense to me.

Approximately every 28 seconds or so someone somewhere proclaims that print media is dead. My sense is that print isn't dead it's that it hasn't differentiated itself to the point where you'll pay for articles that you can get online for free. Print hasn't advanced itself beyond the everyday chatter of life.

Right now, I'm thinking specifically of the advertising trade magazines: Adweek and AdAge. I can get more vital and intelligent information from any number of free sources like Ad Contrarian, Ad Scam and Dave Trott's blog.

So here's my idea from the paper press.

A weekly article called "WFW?" That's Who's Fucking Whom?

Each week we learn about C-level horizontalism. Not Jack and Diana "powerpointing" in a broom closet. C-level canoodling. Lori boffing John. Miles boinking Bill. Then we can also learn about different kinds of schtupping. Clients sticking agencies. And vice versa.

This would get read and makes sense to me.

Re-envisioning the annals of dumbness.

A waggish friend of mine forwarded an email she just received from her agency's HR department.

Good Morning,

Please reply back if you would be interested in obtaining a flu shot in 2011 at a
cost of $22.00/shot.

Please let me know by the end of the this week.


Cheers,
-
$22.00/shot.
I'd like 6 please. Enclosed is my check for $132.00.

And then there's the ever-so-merry sign-off, "Cheers."

Go fuck yourself.
I'm not having a drink.
I'm not toasting someone's engagement.
I'm not Christening a ship.
Take your cheers and shove it.
Unless you're English.
Ok.

The center of the universe.


Years ago I worked with a tall, blonde and statuesque copywriter who no matter how crazy things got always managed to stay above the fray. Cynthia was her name and she had a level of self-possession and self-worth that I could only envy.

One Halloween a bunch of us were talking about what we were dressing up as. Cynthia, all 6' 1" of her dressed entirely in black (before that was in vogue) and pasted celestial shapes on her lissome form. "What are you supposed to be?" I naively asked. "The center of the universe, of course" was her reply.

What I didn't realize then but realize now was how prevalent is the ego-centricism that Cynthia's costume satirized. Today entire agencies think they are the center of the universe.

If they design coupons for Sunday FSIs, they believe coupon ads make the world go round. They'll spout data that says things like, "whereas newspaper readership has decreased to just 11-minutes per day, time spent with coupons is at a 37-year high." Further, beyond extolling the importance and efficacy of their medium, the ego-centrics need to do more. They need to say that all other media is dead.

Much like you can find dirt on virtually anyone (Did you know Arlen Spector had oral sex with a squirrel?) you can find "ego-centric experts" who will supply ballast to any argument you wish to make.

So, we hear assertions like "people don't read." "People don't watch TV." "All commercials are zapped." And so it goes.

These assertions are made by ego-centric experts who believe the only medium that matters are the ones they're engaged with. Naturally, agencies do the same thing. They pontificate on the efficacy of their expertise and claim its superiority over all others. In fact, all others are dead.

No good comes, ever, from unfounded proclamations. No good comes from tearing things down because you don't understand them or don't do them. No good comes from ego-centric experts.

Cynthia, on the other hand, had great legs.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Putting it together.


According to an organization called the "The Conference Board" just 45% of workers are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61% in 1987.

While the usual culprits are responsible for this decline (bad bosses, job insecurity, a rotten and decaying ecchonomy) Samuel A. Culbert, a clinical psychologist at UCLA says too many people work in "toxic" environments. His new book casts an interesting light on what Culbert believes are some of the causes of this toxicity, it's called "Get Rid of the Performance Review!" http://www.performancepreview.com/ His website proclaims: "It's time to put the performance review out of its misery."

Culbert states: "The performance review. It is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities. We all hate it. And yet nobody does anything about it."

Culbert's site also has a quiz: "How much do you hate performance reviews?" http://www.performancepreview.com/survey.html
which you can take right here.

Now, here's the thing. Performance reviews are a concoction of HR. What the fuck does HR do but intimidate, frustrate, bog down with rules and cost money. While we're eliminating reviews, let's kill HR.

Napoleon on Advertising.


Right now I am reading, about to finish actually, Dominic Lieven's weighty tome and soon-to-be-classic "Russia Against Napoleon--The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace."

I find books on military history interesting in and of themselves but also because they often reveal something about milder forms of social organizations--that is advertising agencies. Last night in the penultimate chapter I read a sentence that really hit me. "...the situation was turning in the allies' favor in all three crucial areas of the war, in other words supply, diplomacy and military operations."

It occurred to me you can similarly break down what we do in advertising. We have supply: This is the people who create ideas--that is who make what we sell. We have diplomacy: the relationships and salesmanship that elicit trust, that allow you to sell work. And finally, we have [military] operations: that is, fresh ideas, new techniques, different approaches. The work that takes territory, subdues a foe and wins hearts and minds.

Having worked full-time at nine different agencies in my 26-year career, very rarely do agencies utilize all three prongs of this three-tined fork. And if they do have and utilize all three prongs, they are more often than not badly coordinated.

I'm not one for war metaphors. But since we already have campaigns and war rooms, why don't we think about what we do a bit more martially. My guess is we'd be a bit more successful.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Advice from a headhunter.

Every place sucks. It's all about the commute once you're over 35.

Making things easy.

Do you want to be old or do you want to be new?
Do you want to be small or do you want to be big?
Do you want to be the same or do you want to be different?
Do you want to blend in or do you want to stand out?
Do you want to look cheap or do you want to look refined?

7:1.

The amount of time to talk about the need for a new campaign, to talk about testing the new campaign, to argue over paying for the new campaign, to sell the idea of a new campaign, to read the research about the old campaign, to propose research for the new campaign versus the time to create a new campaign.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dustin Shuler died today.



He did this sculpture, Car Kabob. It says a lot. At least to me.

Irvine, California and Chico Marx.

My wife, an inveterate business traveler, told me a story this morning about the splendid customer service at the Doubletree Inn in Irvine, CA. She asks for a king bed and the check-in clerks says, "we're all out of king beds. But I can upgrade you to the Executive Floor."

Turns out every floor in the hotel is called an "Executive Floor".

Anyway, it reminded me of this dialogue from The Marx Brothers' 1929 movie "The Cocoanuts."

Hammer: What would you like? Would you like a suite on the third floor?
Chico: No. I'll take a Polack in the basement.

How many companies don't get this?

If you sell a drink that demands a straw, it's not good to say to a customer as you're handing them the drink, 'I'm sorry for the inconvenience, we're all out of straws."

A story about Eleanor Roosevelt.


A little less than two decades ago I attended an advertising awards show that focused on the financial services industry. (I was working on a bank account at the time.) This awards show featured Elliot Roosevelt, Franklin and Eleanor's son, as a speaker. I'll never forget the story he told.

He said something like, "Everyone knows my mother wore those big black glasses. She really couldn't see without them. What people don't know is that she couldn't hear either and thus had hearing aids within the temple portion of her glasses. When she was really bored, she would look at the person boring her, take off her glasses and look intently and say to herself, 'I can't see you and I can't hear you.'"

I have always admired Eleanor Roosevelt.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Best practices.

Every day I hear some hyper-active swirl of blather about best practices. Basically stealing shit you like and saying it works because you like it.

Best practices are bullshit and an inherently negative look at the universe. Those who believe in them seem to adhere to the thesis that "best-ness" has been achieved and no further trial or experimentation is reasonable.

I'm in a bit of a rush this morning so let me make this simple.

Best practices is a nice name for imitation.
Next practices is what we ought be doing. And that's innovation.

(Of course innovation subjects you to the possibility of failure. That is failure out of which success grows. And that which most companies and agencies find unacceptable.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What happened to all the chairs?


Almost every time I look at a magazine or newspaper or see an ad online, I see a smiling lady looking at a laptop. Why don't they have desks? Or chairs? What's going on here?

This just in from Czarist Russia.


Like most social organizations, whether they're frat houses, corporations or the military, certain behaviors tend to prevail and behavioral types tend to emerge. Right now I'm reading a book called "Russia Against Napoleon" by Dominic Lieven and in it the Commander in Chief of the forces allied against Napoleon had this to say about a few of his key subordinates: [I am...] "surrounded by weaklings, fops of every sort, creators of eccentric schemes, intriguers, idiots, chatterers and fault-finders."

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Going home early. A one-liner.

I got food poisoning from eating a bad fish sandwich. I guess you could call it "An Act of Cod."

Safety first.

video
David Brooks in the New York Times writes that about a decade ago he began to notice a certain type of high-achieving person
--the sort that has now given us Elena Kagan. "If they had any flaw," says Brooks "it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged...they were prudential rather than poetic." Here's Brooks' entire op-ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/11/opinion/11brooks.html?hp

Brooks' description got me thinking about the state of the advertising business. Risk taking is no more. Blandness, lack of commitment, beige is ascendant. Everything has to look like something that proceeded it (see the new Cadillac work from BBH.) Nothing has energy or soul.

Twenty years ago when I worked for Ed Butler he used to say this about ads he didn't like: "It's flat as a plate of piss."

Today that's a sign of success.

--
The clip above is from Harold Lloyd's 1923 classic "Safety Last."

Supreme Court separated at birth.


Elena Kagan and Jerry Mathers (as the Beaver.) Who's who?

Swinging doors.

Last night was cold and blustery in New York. The wind was howling. It felt more like March than like May. We had dinner with clients at a fancy restaurant in the West Village smack against the West Street and the Hudson River. And the restaurant's proximity to the river seemed to make the cold more biting and the wind fiercer.

I sat at a long table with colleagues and clients and I faced the door. What I noticed as the evening wore on and the wind got stronger was that people, accustomed to opening doors with one arm, couldn't swing open the heavy glass door to the restaurant. They saw the place was open but for a brief moment they went pale, thinking it wasn't open for them, that, given the general cool-ness of the joint, they didn't somehow pass muster and so were shut out.

Now, eventually either the Captain would help them with the door, or they would swing it open. Nevertheless the whole door thing got me thinking. How many businesses make their metaphorical doors hard to open?

It seems to me that in this internet age where you can, in most circumstances, try before you buy, that too many businesses bar entry. Car companies for instance allow you to test drive a car and then make you loathe to do it because you have to deal with a sales-spiel or other driving hazards. Banks promise bright white smiles and free this and that and then follow up those inducements with a skein of 6-point type that could choke Mama Cass. Even businesses actively recruiting newcomers seldom if ever tell those potentials what a day in the life is like. They'll proffer some bad "vision" writing and a few bios of key executives (whom you'll likely never meet) but you'll gain no real sense of what life is like there.

Keep your doors open. You'll never know who might come in.

Thanks.

For all my screeds, philippics and diatribes against holding companies, I'll say this for at least the one I've worked for since Ad Aged began almost three years ago. No one has made me stop writing it. No one has said, knock it off. No one has forced me to hide or try to hide behind a cloak of anonymity.

The fact is, there is probably a lesson in here somewhere. That is, let people complain about your company. They probably don't have much of an audience (like Ad Aged) and if you try to censor them, you'll likely be charged with something more heinous and look worse--kinda how Goliath looked to David fans.

Anyway, I wanted to make a public, or fairly public thank you to IPG for not being pricks about this.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ipso facto.

What does it tell you when your holding-company-sponsored-benefits-update email gets stopped and sent to junk mail by your holding-company-approved-email-spam-filter?

Every once in a while.


Now and again I get in a writing slump. Or more accurately, I can think of nothing to write about. Nothing angers or upsets me. Nothing tickles me. Nothing strikes me as interesting.

When that happens, as it does a couple times a year, I turn to my friends--Jean Renoir, Rene Clair, Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges, four of the greatest directors of all time (sorry Pytka) and see what they have to say.

Today I happened upon this quotation from Renoir: "A director makes only one movie in his life. Then he breaks it into pieces and makes it again."

There are many things that strike me about this. First, and most important, is that the fact of the matter is, there are not that many ideas in the world. I've heard it said that there are but seven jokes and seven plots in the world--everything is a variation on just a few themes.

Second, is the clarity, simplicity, authenticity and lack of pretense in Renoir's statement.

Finally, Renoir expresses no infatuation with doing something "new," "breakthrough" or the need to do such because "everything's changed."

The fact of the matter is everything hasn't changed. People are still people. And Renoir's 1939 "Rules of the Game" will tell you more about Goldman Sachs than anything you'll read in the paper or, most certainly, hear on the glib lip-flapping illusion we call the news.

Take six hours next weekend. Don't watch two baseball games. Watch instead "Rules of the Game," "Le Bete Humanite" and "Boudu Saved from Drowning."

They'll give you something to write about.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Random thoughts.

I think one of the reasons people are so fat today is that everything sounds like it's something you can eat--everything sounds like food.

I am in Boston now, having attended my older daughter's college graduation. And I'm staying at a fairly nice hotel.

I wash my face with an oatmeal soap. Then I wash my hair with Rosemary-mint shampoo. Together, they'd make a pretty good meal. Though, truth be told, Rosemary Mint sounds like a small-station newscaster in the mid-west.

Finally, there's my mother. Genghis Mom, I used to call her when she let me out of the restraints. She was so evil she gave my sister a Klaus Barbie doll to play with.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What is creativity?

There's an important and interesting article in today's "The New York Times" about the nature of creativity, which is described in the article as "the ability to combine novelty and usefulness in a particular social context." You can read the article here and it's well worth a few momenths: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/08/books/08creative.html?scp=1&sq=creativity&st=cse

As someone who is aware of his own mental peregrinations, I particularly liked this quotation: “The brain appears to be an efficient superhighway that gets you from Point A to Point B” when it comes to intelligence, Dr. Jung explained. “But in the regions of the brain related to creativity, there appears to be lots of little side roads with interesting detours, and meandering little byways.”

I think of all the rehearsal agencies insist upon before meetings--rehearsals that are intended to destroy meandering little byways and which turn meetings into death sentences.

If you accept creativity, you must accept the meanderings that go along with it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

We have the technology.

I have been working in advertising since 1984 and have been fairly senior since about 1993. Accordingly I have sat through my share of meetings, workshops, off-sites, deep-dives, brain stormings, and so it goes.

This morning I heard on the news that the wacko nutjob gun-loving terrorist group, the Hutaree are to be released on bail. However they'll have to wear monitors while they're awaiting trial.

Last night I read a review of a new Infiniti model with a big engine whose top speed is "governered" to be limited to 155 mph.

In other words, we can impose limits on excess if we want to.

Well, now allow me to make a plea for some venture capital. Give me a couple million in development funds and I'll create a sensor that will limit peoples' daily allotment of words to, say, 100.

Imagine how much more thoughtful people would be if they knew they had only a few words a day. Posturing would disappear. Three hour meetings would turn into three minute meetings. Work would get done. Business would prosper. The economy would kick into high-gear. Raises would return. And so would wealth and leisure.

And speaking of leisure, here's the thing--you could talk as much as you like while on vacation.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From a genius friend and ex-partner, Lisa Levy.

Cinco de Mayo means St. Patrick's Day in Spanish.

What's the story?

Years ago, I mean back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I picked up some freelance for the digital arm of a vaunted creative agency. This was in the early days of the digital revolution--to be honest, I might have gotten this work before I had ever even been online.

In any event, I was talking about it with a wise friend of mine. And he issued this proclamation (most of my wise friends are adept at issuing proclamations.) "The problem with the internet," he said "is that there's no hierarchy. All information is equal."

While today, fifteen years later, my wise friend would probably temper his statement, I still think he's not far from wrong. Information tumbles out onto you from the internet. There's no front and back. There's no real organization.

Worse, the internet, it seems to me, is affecting the way humans attempt to organize information when we're not online. Everything is a jumble. Stories are told without beginning, middle and end. Crescendos and climaxes come and go like smiles and handshakes. 75-page powerpoint decks, pitches, big meetings are put together without thought of a story-line.

It's au courant of course to say things like "our business is about story-telling." But then we rush people along so we lose the pace of the story, the time it takes to develop one properly. That's because the internet has trained us to expect 1.7 million results in .003 seconds.

Lately--well actually for about the past three years--I have been looking for a commercial written by Jim Durfee about 45 years ago. The visual action was simple. There was a spokesman with an inflated balloon with the word Avis written on it. As the spokesperson deflated the balloon in stages he refuted each of Avis' claims and asserted Hertz's superiority. Finally when the balloon was as limp as an eel on valium, the announcer said something like "I'm sorry we had to do that in public."

It was as perfect a commercial, an argument, a story as I have ever seen. It took 60 seconds to tell. And I've remembered it all these years.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Combatting disaster.


BP, British Petroleum, has had a rough stretch over the last six to eight decades. A long record of criminal malfeasance, neglect for the safety of its workers accented with a soupcon of ecological catastrophe.

What can advertising do in such a situation. Clearly BP can not continue its much vaunted "Beyond Petroleum" campaign. A claim of green would bring rebuke and/or lawsuits.

Because I care, here's an idea I had.

Go back to the great "Laugh-In" TV show from the late 60s and reintroduce (with a twist!) one of their catch phrases. That is, "You bet your sweet bippy we did."

Only have it read like "You bet your sweet BP we did" and have it accompanied by a faintly hysterical laugh track.

VO: Last year, 20 workers died in an explosion in our Houston refinery. Who was responsible for ignoring OSHA regulations and the most rudimentary safety provisions? You bet your sweet BP we are!

VO: Just recently we sullied one of the most delicate ecological regions on earth, spilling oil over an area more than four times the size of Rhode Island. Who created this wondrous disaster? You bet your sweet BP we did.

Over time, this phrase would catch on. People who think of BP as a company of honesty and humility not to mention humor.

Is your presentation rgaonzdie? (organized)

I was not a great student when I was an adolescent. I had reached an age at which I was coming to grips with how clever I was, how a single witty remark would get me all sorts of attention and "laffs." Further, in my arrogance, I reckoned I was probably smarter than the people teaching me and therefore I hardly listened to what anyone had to say.

That said, when I was a 5th grader I did learn something valuable. We were trained, when confronted with a raft of information we had to soak in, to take notes. And we were trained in how to create a classic Roman numeral outline.

You were forced to categorize things in major groups with supporting ideas or topics beneath them.

In other words, you were trained to bring order to what could otherwise be a mess of information.

Preparing for a big meeting today. An outline surfaced a bit late. But maybe in time to keep the presentation shorter than "War and Peace." Maybe.

Very few people know how to write an outline. And follow it.
To order points in a sequential and logical manner.
Even fewer know how to get rid of extraneous ideas.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Just before a meeting.


One of the great things about working in an open-plan workspace is that you can't help but experience a diversity of work styles and approaches to problem-solving.

I am lucky, sitting amidst this swirl, and I have a lot of people try out their ideas on me.

The analytics woman gets all gushy when she finds a previously under-messaged group within our target. If we can reach these people, she tells me, we're talking to literally trillions of dollars of potential revenue.

The interaction design people are marking up a whiteboard in multiple colors. They've got a triple double-helix design--it's Timothy Leary meets Watson and Crick. Something way more complicated than I can fathom. It plots every intersection between the brand and the potential consumer.

The media people have made their GRPs do the limbo. How low can they go and still be effective.

The account people are running around like a Russian general at Borodino. They're trying to get it all together in deck form. All neat and logical and, of course, unassailable.

My portion was done on Thursday night and seems fairly buttoned up, or maybe it's just that I'm so grumpy everyone's afraid to argue with me.

It's kind of a beautiful thing all this. The preparation. The teamwork. The passion. The different people in their own ways looking to do something good.

No sarcasm. No irony. No kidding.

It's work, the curse of the drinking class. In the words of Oscar Wilde.

It's joke time! (Kinda.)

video

40 years ago tomorrow.


I was sitting in Mr. Weiner's English class, parsing sentences, and we were told the National Guard killed four college students at a place we never heard of, Kent State.

I don't know how many weeks later we started hearing this song by Neil Young.

Ohio.

Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are gunning us down.
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are cutting us down.
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.

A far cry from Lady Gaga. Dontcha think?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My father teaches me about trees.


Looking back on it I guess you could say I was six before I ever saw a tree. The house I grew up in had a tree in front of it, as did all the other houses on the block but those were store-bought trees, trees that were planted when they were about four feet tall, neatly one in front of each house. A great row of assembly line trees.

I had seen trees in books of course or on the television. I knew kids in other places climbed on them, swung from swings on them and carved their initials in them. But those trees weren’t like the trees in the sorry little corner of Yonkers where I grew up. Those were trees that were as fantastic as King Kong which we watched one rainy Sunday at 8PM on our black and white RCA Victor television set when a local channel played the movie during a show they called “Million Dollar Movie.” They were huge and Paleolithic. They were as much like the trees in our neighborhood as King Kong was like the squirrels who had appropriated the electrical wires to travel since there was no connecting foliage.

Then one day we took a trip to the country. My father was shooting some commercials in Maine and he and my mother decided they could combine his work and our vacation. We would drive up there in our Ford Country Squire with the plastic wood sides and stay in a cabin. On one side of the cabin was the sea, on the other were trees the likes of which I had never seen.

Maybe because they were so alien to me, trees always seemed threatening to me. The way country quiet seems eerie to city people. The most frightening element to me of The Wizard of Oz was never the witches, or the flying monkeys, it was the anthropomorphic trees, those gruff and grumpy guttural-voiced growths that pelted the Scarecrow and Dorothy with apples and rebuked the pair for their insensitivity. That scene, which we’d see annually when CBS TV replayed the movie was burned in my memory. It led me to see faces in trees. Not in the trees in my neighborhood in Yonkers, they were too skinny to have faces, but when I saw these trees in Maine, large and gnarled and knotty. Could these trees steal me from my bed—I’d eaten apples before, would they come and get me?

We stayed in small cabins in Maine. My mother and father in one and my brother and me in another one, one just a few yards away from theirs. One night as we walked back from dinner in the twilight, I saw the first frog of my life. A real live frog, it hopped on the path in front of us and as it did, I hopped down onto the path to capture it. I got it, cupped it in my grasp just as it was about to find safety under my parents’ cottage. My father brought out from his cabin a cigar box. He had emptied his remaining cigars out of it onto his dresser so I could keep the frog. I kept the frog in that tobacco-scented too-small home until my mother persuaded me the next morning that the frog probably had a frog family somewhere and that frog family missed him. I didn’t really mind giving up the frog. I had a feeling it had pissed on my hands and that had dampened the appeal, somehow, of frog-ownership.

That night my brother and I lay in our beds. I looked out the windows and saw the brightness of the night. The glow of the moon and the stars silhouetting the height of the trees against the sky. The trees were long and reached like fingers into the sky. From my bed, I looked up at their tops, through the window high above me. The coastal Maine wind was blowing and the trees swayed. To me it looked like there was a colossal storm outside, yet the was no lightning, no rain, no thunder, just the wind blowing the tops of the trees until it looked like their tops were taking bows like an actor in a stage play.

I lay in my bed looking at the trees, convinced that at any moment the wind would blow one or more of them over and they would crush me and my brother in our beds. Their branches would reach in a grab us like I had grabbed my frog. Our cabin would be like a large cigar box, us trapped inside with holes in the roof for us to breathe through. The trees were swaying, blowing, whipping in the air.

The wind was worse at the first light of dawn. I had somehow survived the night but now to my eyes my future looked dimmer. The trees were blowing around worse than they had all night. I felt sure that they would get me. I got out of bed and went out on the little porch at the front of my cabin. I saw my father sitting in a chair smoking a cigar. I picked up my frog cigar box and went over to my father and sat on the chair next to his.

“What are you doing up so early, Sport?” he asked me. Sport was one of about 100 different names he called me. I told him I couldn’t sleep for fear that the trees would crash in on me, killing me in my bed. He recited, from memory, Kilmer’s “Trees.”

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

Before I could focus on hungry mouths and leafy arms (or even on the word bosom) he quickly switched to Ogden Nash’s doggerel version:

“I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I'll never see a tree at all.”

Then he finally turned to calm my fears and improve my knowledge of botany. “When trees sway in the wind,” he said “it strengthens their roots. When you have to worry,” he went on, “is when they stop swaying.”

I don’t remember much more about our time in Maine, except on one particularly nice day when my brother and I climbed down the cliffs to the cold water of the ocean. In the little tide pools the waves left behind were hundreds of little snails—another creature I had never seen before—and the smoothest snail-like like black stones I had ever seen.

I think when I was down by the water was just about the only time I felt absolutely safe from the trees. There was plenty of wind down by the waves and neither trees nor my father were anywhere nearby.

5:34.

Integrity. Passed on to me by my brilliant friend, Tore. http://toreclaesson.blogspot.com/ video