Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oy vey.

Draftfcb, an agency hardly noted for its stellar creative has just formed a new unit. It's called (and I'm not making this up) the Institute of Decision Making and it's devoted to finding out more about the instinctual ways that consumers behave along with the rational and emotional ones.

The goal of the unit says the comically named Michael Fassnacht is to "make strategy sexy."

Listen. Strategy shouldn't be sexy. It should be smart. Ads should be sexy.

And as for "decision making," it's not that hard. People like and are motivated by ads that are interesting and entertaining. Focus on that. Not ways to rationalize the motivation behind your crappy ads.

An anniversary.

One year ago today I was fired.
Today I celebrate.

Jobs are like relationships.
If they don't want you, you should leave.

Yes, I had my moments of fear.
Maybe even a soupcon of despair.
And yes, I had a bit of a drop of income.

But I learned a lot.
First of all, I gained a deeper understanding of who's a mentsch and who's a schmuck.
Second, I learned that if you work hard at finding work and at doing work, you usually find work.
Third, I learned that while I can castigate myself for having burned some bridges in my career, my integrity commands respect in the job market.
Fourth, I got to see the inside of a lot of pompous old-school agencies that have as much hope of returning to flight as a Louisiana pelican.
Fifth, I learned to have a bit more faith in myself, in what I can do and what I bring to an agency.
Sixth, I remembered this quotation from Hemingway's "The Last Good Country": "He had already learned there was only one day at a time and that it was always the day you were in. It would be today until it was tonight and tomorrow it would be today again."

So to all the mofos who fired me, two things.
1. Fuck you.
2. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Toyota.

Often in this space I critique ads and other marketing exploits that miss their mark or are flat out dumb.

That's not really a tough job. So much of the work we're exposed to is well south of mediocre.

Right now, I want to comment on a rare body of work that actually seems to be working. I'm thinking of Toyota's campaign to refurbish their reputation in light of allegations of uncontrolled acceleration.

I wouldn't say Toyota's work is brilliant or scintillating. But it is clear, consistent and reassuring. It is also artfully and intelligently executed.

Not long ago I think a lot of people were saying, "How could anyone ever again feel safe buying a Toyota?"

Now I think people are buying Toyotas.

That's the point, right?

Advertising vs. Anarchy.

Of all the things that good advertising can do, perhaps first and foremost advertising can combat anarchy.

Anarchy, or brand entropy, is a brand's natural state. If you have 1,000 stores selling Starbuck's coffee, it would only be natural that everyone develop their own language, their own signage, their own sets of behaviors to sell that coffee. Much the same way small groups of people develop their own myths, methods and manners.

What brand advertising does is create order. It tells a company who they are, what they sell and how they should behave.

Today I read in "The New York Times" that Dell Computer (a brand name but not a brand) knowingly shipped almost 12 million of computers with faulty electrical components that were leaking chemicals and causing malfunctions.

I contend that if Dell had stood for anything other than "LOW" prices, someone along the line would have said, "No, we can't do this. It isn't right."

But Dell had no such brand order. Nothing to keep them honest outside of relentless price cutting and price competition. The "Dell Way" was simply to wring costs out of the supply chain.

But this is not to pick on Dell.

This is to serve as a warning. Companies that don't establish and commit to their values are not brands. They might have branding and a nifty logo like BP. But they are basically behavioral anarchists. They can do whatever they want and act however they wish. Expedience and anarchy rule.

I prefer the order of brands.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I don't want to hear about it.

Since I grew up in the crazy hippie days of the 1960s and 1970s, I often heard that it makes no sense to read or view something that isn't contemporary because if that something we are viewing or reading isn't about the immediate world, it can't be relevant.

We hear this all the time in advertising. And so the relevant ethos of the day, fart jokes, prevail in much of what we do.

On Saturday night I saw Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" in Central Park with the 70-year-old Al Pacino playing Shylock.

The audience was rapt when Pacino was on stage. When he whispered, he really whispered. And you could hear him, despite the police helicopters and laughing picnickers frolicking outside the theater.

The whole play was wonderful. The lusciousness of the language. The humor, the conflict. The debate it generated about Shylock. Was he the victimizer or the victim.

I don't want to hear things aren't relevant because they're old. Things aren't relevant if they suck.

Friday, June 25, 2010

25 words I never want to hear again.

1. Paradigm.
2. Agency model.
3. Robust.
4. e-mail thread.
5. Methodology.
6. Skill set.
7. Vision.
8. Operationalize.
9. Rounded corners.
10. Circle back.
11. Pre-meeting.
12. Brain-storming.
13. Exploratory.
14. Actualize.
15. Guesstimate.
16. Prioritization.
17. Workshop.
18. Visioning.
19. Pre-read.
20. Ideation.
21. Scoping.
22. Scope of work.
23. Statement of work.
24. Calendar (as a verb.)
25. Cheers!

Graphic representation of the day.


This is from Errol Morris by way of "The New York Times." http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/the-anosognosics-dilemma-somethings-wrong-but-youll-never-know-what-it-is-part-5/

The longest distance between two points.


If you've ever driven past a giant oil refinery or an electrical power generating plant, you've seen the way most companies and certainly most agencies work. What you'll see when you drive by these complexes are an array of ducts and pipes and smokestacks connecting this way and that and as tangled as a hippie's hair at Woodstock.

Of course these systems weren't originally built and designed that way. They were probably built with a certain degree of method and order. But over time as demands for capacity increased or new demands had to be met, wiring and ducting had to be re-routed. Before long whole new structures were glommed onto the old, then even newer structures were laid on top of the other systems and so on and so on.

In these plants nothing works as it should. The whole thing is a rickety mess. And the output of the plant is often at the mercy of the smallest, oldest and most insignificant parts.

Most businesses have come to be configured in similar ways. So we hear things like, "it's a matrixed organization." We find out it takes three years to begin to update a website because systems are built out of other systems. Straight line production is unheard of--all processes are complicated, bureaucratic and baroque.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Notes from Cannes.

I've been busy of late, running hither and yon and was delayed getting to this year's Cannes. I flew out around 4 yesterday afternoon on a specially recommissioned Concorde and arrived in my suite early this morning where I found some time to write this missive.

Though I do not usually succumb to the siren of nostalgia, I must say that I thought back to my first trip to Cannes some 22 years ago.

My partner and I were the creative team on Gorton's Fish Sticks. In Gorton's we knew we had inherited a legacy, a tradition of great work, and we had to do more than just another emotionally moving spot for reconstituted and breaded fish. We had to raise the bar.

The particular fish sticks we were to advertise were of the "Lite" variety. They had 15% less cholesterol than the our arch competitor Mrs. Paul's. "How 'bout we make Mrs. Paul the Whore of Babylon?" I ventured to my partner, Craig. We weren't just thinking another pretty commercial with a cut-away of a crispy fish filet, we were already thinking epic. "No," rejoined my partner. "Mrs. Paul is a Nazi dominatrix. With a leather cat o-nine tails she forces innocent victims to eat high cholesterol fish sticks."

"Wait," I said. "Wait."
"The Seventh Seal," said Craig.
Simultaneously, we said "The Gorton Fisherman plays chess with death."

The rest, of course, is advertising history. We got Ingy Bergman to shoot the spot and it blew the judges at Cannes away.

I missed the place. And glad I'm back.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I removed an earlier post.

Because I was indiscreet.
I'm not censoring.
Just not exposing my not inconsiderable keister.

Some books on baseball.

If you're bored or looking for something to read this summer and would like some real writing about baseball, pick up "You know me, Al" by Ring Lardner or his great short story "Alibi Ike." You should also take a look at any of Mark Harris' four baseball novels, "The Southpaw," "A Ticket for a Seamstitch," "Bang the Drum Slowly," or "It Looked Like Forever." The last is best for us old-timers. It's the story of a once dominant pitcher at 40--looking to hold on for one more season. It's beautiful.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3 things to think about.

I've also heard that it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said: "Small people talk about people, average people talk about things, great people talk about ideas." Though according to the internet everyone and his cousin also said it. In any event what's important here isn't who said it, it's about what it means.

And I'm thinking that the quotation has something to tell us about advertising.

Along the way, a lot of junk gets in the way of doing significant work. There are fiefdoms, complicators, the political, the dumb, the impecunious. In other words, there are a lot of "people" aspects that interfere.

Then there are the "thing" interferences. Timing. Directors "vision." Technique masquerading as an idea.

Finally it comes time to analyze your ideas. Are they new? Interesting. Arresting. Build-upon-able. Or are they trite and formulaic.

Here's my two cents:

Ignore the people.
Ignore the things.
Focus on the idea.

A night out in the Midwest.

I am in the Midwest for dinner. We went with the clients to a steak place last night where they served a 50-ounce piece of meat on a giant Flintstone bone. They called it the "Beef Bludgeon."

Monday, June 21, 2010

A new IM abbreviation.

I haven't received this one yet, but a friend told me about "WFW." The analogue to WFH--working from home. WFW is working from work.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Back in 1999, two Pittsburgh-area psychologists gave their names to the thesis that the incompetent are too incompetent to recognize their own incompetence. It's called the "Dunning-Kruger Effect" — and it's described this way, "our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence."

I hope I'm getting that right. I might not be. But I'd never know.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My father and I play catch.

After my father nearly died from a heart attack when I was around nine, he perfected the art of stationary exercise. That is to say, regardless of what physical activity he allowed himself to take part in, he taught himself to do that exercise with an absolute minimum of movement.

Once I saw him play handball against some Puerto Rican kids who were batting the ball around against the bare concrete wall in the school yard near our house. The Puerto Ricans were thin and wiry with long muscles and not a visible trace of flab. My father stepped onto their court and asked if he could play for a few minutes. The Puerto Ricans were startled. The races hardly mixed in those days, much less the generations, but they allowed my father in.

My father took position on the court and hardly moved from there. Maybe he took a loping step like a chess piece in this direction or that. But he never ran for the ball. He knew the angles and how to hit the ball just right so the Puerto Ricans would run their skinny asses all over the asphalt only to hit the ball to him just where he wanted it. He was uncanny like that and before long the Puerto Ricans would give up on him, throwing up their hands and speaking rapid-fire Spanish, not knowing how he did what he did, but unable to cope with his skill.

Growing up in New York in the early 1960s meant you were growing up with the Yankees. It was the same, or almost the same, I suppose, as growing up at the foot of Mount Olympus in ancient Greece. These were not flawed men playing a boys' game. The Yankees were chief in the Pantheon of heroes. Their names, their faces, their deeds were god-like. Mantle was Mars, war-like and strong with his 36-oz bat. Ford was Zeus, working with wisdom and guile and a sneaky fast ball to defeat the enemy. Maris. Berra. Gods.

There was a cigar and candy store two blocks away from our house. A reliquary of these gods. There they sold their images on small cards and also sold small, plastic versions of the Hall-of-Fame busts of earlier gods. You could buy these busts for $1.50 and build your own shrine. For 39-cents more you could by a little bottle of Tester’s model paint and bring these busts to life in living unshaded color, their skin orange or yellow because there was no skin-colored Tester’s.

Our lives revolved around these gods, like Ceres and Persephone, they came to life in April when the buds appeared, and they went away, they disappeared when the leaves fell in October, usually after fighting (and vanquishing) enemy gods in the World Series.

My father had an old baseball glove. A small one, with short stubby fingers, two or three shades darker than my glove, from years of use and years of oiling. On weekends he would take me into the backyard, our house separated from the neighbors’ by interwoven shrubbery and we would have a catch. Catch was the sport my father liked best. It gave him time to get out and time to call all the shots with no interruption.

He would announce a whole game while we played. “Pepitone, the batter” he would say, “And here’s the pitch, Pepi takes it outside for a ball. Oh, Joe gets under that one and pops it sky high down the third baseline.” With that he’d loft one high into the air for me to catch. “Ward, going back,” he’d announce while instructing me, “Ward circles under it and he makes the play. Pepitone is down for out number one.”

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, we could play a full ballgame this way, a game where the Yankees nearly always squeaked it out in the bottom of the 9th, with Mantle or Berra or the great catcher Elston Howard hitting a seeing-eye line drive that seemed to find a magical path around some phantom fielder’s glove. My father tossing the ball my way in tune with his announcing, me running back and forth in the too-small-yard like a field mouse then, again in time with his narrative, I’d wing the ball back to him and listen to crack into his glove, him moving hardly and inch and ready to have me once again go deep into the hole to try to toss out another player.

We would play like this for hours and a rhythm and routine would develop. Most outs involved a simple, loping “fly ball.” Still others would be Ford zinging in high hard ones and striking out opposing batters. These outs were the easy, metronomic portions of the catch. Throw, catch, throw, catch. However, that wasn’t enough of a game for my father and my father’s announcing. He wanted more. So there were the wild throws that represented base hits, liners and hard grounders. These balls were all my responsibility. My father stayed still, like an actor on a mark. Any uncaught ball was solely mine to chase after. Every base hit, every double, homer, triple, wild pitch. He’d stand and I’d pursue.

The back and forth of the ball and my father’s announcing went on for hours. The tossing and catching were as relentless as the traffic on the Major Deegan Expressway—the road that would take us from our little house to Yankee Stadium. On the way to Yankee Stadium, just a mile from the big ballpark was a blue brick low-rise building called the Stadium Motor Lodge. The O’s in name were baseballs. I always wanted to stay there. I imagined ballplayers always did when they were on the road. What with the O baseballs in the sign. Years later, after the crash of the Bronx, the Stadium Motor Lodge became the Stadium Family Center, temporary housing for homeless families. Its bricks which were once a sky blue are now grey like slate from the exhaust of the nearby highway. Today there is a rickety swing set out front. No ball player would dream of staying there now; the baseball O’s are gone as well, gone with the name change.

Every once in a while one would get away from my father and he would toss a ball high over my head or zinging hard past me. The ball would scream into the bushes and I would search for it. My father would hardly stray from his spot, though he’d take a break from his announcing and say things like, “I think it’s over to the left” or something like that. Though our yard hadn’t many bushes, the ones we did have were thick and tangled. The ground beneath them laden with mulchy old leaves and the tangle of litter. Occasionally while searching for a lost ball I would find a sodden and hardened ball lost in some other game my father and I had had. I would toss the balls into the yard, a sign of progress as I hunted for our current casualty.

“How’s it going, son?” my father would inquire from his spot. Usually I wouldn’t respond, not to his first question anyway. Being ensconced in the bushes was about the only time I didn’t have to answer to my father.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Second Avenue Subway.


My little slice of Manhattan has been dug up and boarded up and sliced up. After 70 dilatory years, they seem finally bent on building an abbreviated version of the Second Avenue Subway. We're told it will be called the "T" line and will go from 125th Street down to 63rd Street where it will connect with the rest of the system. It was originally meant to go all the way to the Lower East Side. But the world has run out of money for everything but war and bankers' bonuses.

Every once in a while, through the fencing and the wood-plank reinforcement you can catch a glimpse of the tunnel. It's a big project.

People in the neighborhood have taken to calling Second Avenue a war zone. Where they're building it's down a lane. The sidewalk has been shaved down so cars have more room. A lot of cross-walks are closed.

Second and Third Avenues used to have "els." They were gone before my time. But my father used to sing, "You can't get to heaven on the Third Ave. El/Cause the Third Ave. El only goes to hell." Ray Milland rode the Third Ave. El in "Lost Weekend." Looking for a pawnshop on a Sunday to hock his typewriter to gain money to drink.

In 1944 in New York, e.e. cummings wrote a poem that included the 6th Avenue El.

plato told

him:he couldn’t
believe it(jesus

told him;he
wouldn’t believe
it)lao

tsze
certainly told
him,and general
(yes

mam)
sherman;
and even
(believe it
or

not)you
told him:i told
him;we told him
(he didn’t believe it,no

sir)it took
a nipponized bit of
the old sixth

avenue
el;in the top of his head:to tell

him

-
This is my writing today.
Thank you for reading.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Talking to bricks.

We've heard a lot over the last couple of years about companies that are "too big to fail." What I'm concerned with is companies that are "too big to succeed."

A decade ago I did work for a small, rapidly growing internet company. The CEO told me a story. He said that when they were about 50 people, the coffee guy would come in, leave his cart and allow people to take their own coffee and donuts. At the end of the day the coffee guy usually had more money than he would have had had he monitored things. In other words, people were honest. They were accountable. They took something and they paid for it. Chances are if they hadn't enough money on Tuesday, they'd still take their danish and wind up paying double on Wednesday.

Now, he continued, when companies get larger than that, dishonesty creeps in. People say, someone will cover my arse. Or, it's not my problem. Or most likely, this business doesn't reflect me, I take what I need.

More and more I'm coming to the conclusion that the right size for an agency is about 200 people or so. More than that and there are departments that exist solely to monitor other departments. You have people who don't know the people in charge. You have loyalty to a fief not the whole. You also have entities like HR which destroy souls and lives because that's their job.

I look around at the holding companies. I don't wonder how such things are ostensibly good for stockholders, but for clients and people?

Of course I know I'm right. But I might as well talk to a brick.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Working together.

I read a lot of books about military history. One thing that seems to come through, whether I'm reading about Roman legions 2,000 years ago, Napoleon 200 years ago or more recent battles, is that different branches of the military all denigrate each other. The air force, for instance, always believes that air power alone can win wars. The infantry believe in the primacy of their branch. And so on.

Similar dickering takes place everyday within the walls of ad agencies. The social media people believe in social media. The digital people believe in apps and digital experiences. The TV people believe in commercials.

What's important to remember in both sorts of sectionalism is that most often it takes a synergy of forces to prevail.

I'm tired of this shit. And may take a few days off.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Causality.

One of the strange and horrid phenomenons of modern life is that we seem to have eliminated, or tried to eliminate causality. For instance, as a society did we really think that giving no money down mortgages to the unemployed on million dollar homes would have no consequences? We throw up our hands when BP's estimates of escaping oil is revised from 1,000 barrels a day to 60,000 barrels a day. (I've been wrong a lot in my life--but never by a factor of 60!) Did we really think we can send millions of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere and not have hell to pay for it?

The same lack of causality has infected us in the advertising business. When I worked at Bloomingdale's or wrote ads for large national banks, you knew immediately if your ad worked. Run an ad and see what business it "caused."

Then the anti-causalists became ascendant and such accountability was seen pejoratively. It made advertising crass and commercial--gasp--.

Today, as my friends at various blogs have pointed out, we build things slowly. First we might have a conversation about a brand, then I might become a fan of it. Then maybe I'll send a tweet.

Well as Archie Bunker used to snarl, "whoop dee doo."

Look, this is really simple. We advertise not to make friends or even to build relationships. We advertise to influence minds and wallets. If we spend a dollar on an ad, then we should see at least a dollar and a penny in return.

That's cause and effect.

That's the way the world is meant to work.

A better writer than me summed it up this way:

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

It's not as ye sow, so shall ye tweet.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup humor. Or humour.

There's an old joke where the Germans have just defeated the Brits in a soccer match and a German fan asks a Brit how it feels to have been beaten by the Germans in the Brit's national sport. "Not good," says the Brit. "But remember, we've beaten you twice in your national sport."

The Finck Building. (Across from which I work.)


For the time being (what in advertising isn't for the time being?) I work across from the Finck Building. I got in at 7AM this morning and did a bit of research on the edifice.

Moshe Finck was 12 when he arrived at Ellis Island just before the Great War broke out, with his father Bensalem, an itinerant bootmaker from the eponymous Finck, Austria. Like so many poor, immigrant Jews before them, Finck pere and fils settled on the Lower East Side and began scrounging for work.

Bootmaking, being a heavily unionized trade, was closed to the Fincks so they applied their manual skills to the garment trade, originally working at the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory. The Fincks survived the famous fire at that factory only to see the elder Finck crushed to death when a seamstress fleeing the fire leapt 13 stories to her death and landed on Bensalem, killing him.

Undaunted by this horrible tragedy and still only a teenager, Moshe redoubled his efforts, sewing night and day. Eventually after five years of working eighteen hour days, Finck had saved enough money to open a small garment factory on Avenue D and 11th Street, specializing in "dickies, ascots and other affairs of the neck."

Fortune shined on the young Finck. He entered the dickie manufacturing business just as the Roaring 20s Dickie Boom began. Dickies were all the rage--everyone from Babe Ruth to Warren Harding were wearing Finck Dickies. In fact "Lucky" Lindy was wearing a custom-designed Finck dickie when the Spirit of St. Louis crossed the Atlantic.

Finck left the Lower East Side for a 12-room apartment on upper 5th Avenue. He was driven to work in a Dusenberg and was seen at Toots Shor's with high-rollers like Abe Rothstein, Bugsy Siegel and Toots himself. In 1928, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a story purportedly about Finck, "A Dickie As Big As The Ritz."

Then came the crash. And the dickie bubble had burst. Suddenly destitute men were selling dickies on street corners for a nickel a piece. Finck watched as all he worked for went down the tubes. He survived the Depression pressing clothes in Wo Hop's hand laundry.

However, with World War II, Finck's fortunes returned. Suddenly the Army-Air Force's demand for aviator's scarves sky-rocketed. It was Lindbergh who remembered Finck. "He's a fuckin' immigrant Jew," the good-natured pilot grumbled "but he can sew like Jesus Christ."

Soon Finck Aviator Scarves were supplying 25% of all scarves to Allied pilots. Then 40%. By war's end, Finck was making 75% of all Allied aviator scarves and was employing over 1,000 scarf-makers.

Finck built the Finck Building in 1943 to house his massive operation.

Finck Aviator Scarves and its subsidiaries closed in 1961 bowing to both closed cockpit aircraft and Japanese competition.

No comment.


Baseball-themed coffins and funereal urns. http://www.christyvault.com/caskets.html From Christy Vault Company, Inc. For people dying to see a game.

My boy Luke can write 50 ads in an hour.

"MY BOY SAYS HE CAN WRITE
50 ADS, HE CAN!

YEAH, MAN, HOW LONG?

AN HOUR.

I'LL TAKE
PART OF THAT WAGER."

I sat in hours upon hours of meetings yesterday with people saying they needed more time to do something. More time to write a brief. More time to come up with a future vision. More time, more time, more time.

I had the best training you can have in this business. I started out writing catalogs and then shifted to writing ads in-house at Bloomingdale's. There were days in which you had to write 10 ads. If you didn't write the ads someone else would and you'd be
canned.

It was pretty simple.

Today we are so minutely specialized that there is very little fear of death. And very little real accountability. I don't really fathom "usability" or "interaction design." I'm dumb enough to think that a brief should be written in simple English. So obviously I'm not aware enough to understand why everything is so difficult and takes such a long time.

Next time I have some copy to write, I'm going to tell the account people I don't use the letters p, n and f. We need to bring in a specialist for those letters. "My part is almost done," I'll tell them, "but I haven't found staffing to help me with the modalities of p, n and f."

"But you promised the copy two days ago," they'll say.

"Well," I'll parry "I can have a vision of the copy for you by the end of the week."

"You've known about this copy for two weeks. We've had a schedule."

"Listen. I can't get any help on this. Mike can help out on the p's but he doesn't do n's and f's."

"Can't we present the copy without those letters? Can't I fill them in?"

"No, Sheila says we'll get help on n tomorrow then f early next week."

And so it goes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This is an ad.


What 99% of all companies don't realize is that everything they do is an ad. If you go to the Verizon store with what should be a simple question and they can't help you, that's an ad. A long wait time is an ad. A spewing smoke-stack is an ad. Everything a company does is an ad.

Over the next few days and weeks, BP will start showing us marine life that they've cleaned up. They'll show us birds taking off into flight from pristine waters along a pristine coast. This will be the avian equivalent of their green sun logo. Lies.

BP won't show us the sludge these birds ingested as they preened themselves. They'll show us happy birds. On a grease-slicked path to death.

I can relate.

As I have mentioned in this space many times before, there are times when I can think of nothing to write about. When that happens, I turn to the great movie maker, Jean Renoir and try to find something he said and use that as inspiration.

This morning I stumbled upon this quotation: “Goodbye Mr. Zanuck: it certainly has been a pleasure working at 16th Century Fox.” (Darryl F. Zanuck was the major American film producer of the middle 20th Century.)

I don't know what Renoir's beef with Zanuck was but I'd like to imagine that it wasn't that dissimilar to the gripes lesser creatives (like advertising people) have with their money men (account people.)

The one thing I know about Zanuck is that his biography was subtitled "Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking."

That probably gave Renoir cause.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Down by the Riverside. 2.

The river was running fast, the tide coming in in a hard, strong current, the white caps rising in the swells. Somewhere, not far away, maybe in the mouth of New York's bay, a storm had kicked up this nastiness. But here, a few miles uptown, there was just the upstream rush of water and the still humid air that made me sweat though it was just under 70 degrees out.

I stopped and leaned on the wrought iron and watched a stout ancient tug push a long barge against the current. The tug labored but pushed its huge cargo toward the sea.

It wasn't yet dark and young parents were carrying children in all manner of conveyances. Backpacks, tricycles, strollers and scooters. The Puerto Ricans, finished with their annual parade were not done celebrating. They were wearing clothing in patterns like their island's flag and some wore their flag like a shawl, draped across their shoulders like old women and cashmere in Miami Beach.

Up ahead, beyond the fifty-foot mast now seeing duty as a flagpole, on this day, like most every other day, small groups of Puerto Ricans, heavily tattooed, their fingers stained by the stubs of cigarettes they smoked, stood in small bunches with their poles and crab-traps and looked to pull something out of the heavy water. Near them were their squat, heavy women barbecuing chickens over small fires built on grills the city built along the highway.

My dog, my quiet companion, urged me closer to the chickens. She could smell the succulence of the birds. The women shooed her away and I pulled her closer to my side. Just then a passing tug let out a long blow from its horn, deep and throaty. With the sound of the horn, as if choreographed, the skies darkened to night and everything, even the incessant traffic on the highway, seemed to stop. The whole city stilled.

Then as quickly as it came the darkness left but motion did not return to the Puerto Ricans. They moved slowly as if they were cryogenically treated. It was then that it happened. One of the chickens, whole save for its missing head came to life on a grill. It stood on its drumsticks and pointed my way with its featherless wings. The aperture where its head was once attached to its neck opened and closed like a mouth. "My Uncle Ichabod said, speakin' of the city, 'It ain't no place for a woman, gal, but pretty men go thar.'"

With that, fullness came back to the scene. And I walked home slowly with my dog and thought like I never thought before.

Friday, June 11, 2010

My father takes me golfing.


I have a two-inch scar on the inside of my left elbow that I got from watching my father play golf.

Sometime around the time I was nine, my father was well-enough recovered from his most recent heart attack so that he was able to persuade my mother into letting him play golf. I don’t know that my father actually even liked golf. However, he had achieved enough career success on his way to his heart attacks and had rubbed enough elbows with enough successful advertising people who did enjoy golf, that my father felt obligated to play the game and probably obligated to say he enjoyed it.

I wasn’t privy to the pre-game conversation my mother and father had about my father playing. But I assume at the end of it my mother reluctantly conceded. My father could play golf as long as my father took either me or my brother along and rode an electric cart. There would be no carrying a golf bag for my father. No walking up hills. No strenuous activity. My father was still recovering from his infarction.

I don’t know why my mother conceded. She was a stubborn as a glacier. Maybe she needed some time alone—my father had been convalescing at home for a good two months. Maybe she simply wanted him out of the house. Maybe she thought the fresh air and an afternoon with his son would be good for him. Maybe it was my father's ability to quip his way through any situation that finally wore her down. "The ol' ticker still has a lot of life in her," he would say when asked how he was feeling. "Ol' blue eyes will be back in no time."

My brother was older than me and was slyer and craftier than I was at getting out of things like accompanying my father. Maybe he used his guile to extricate himself. Maybe, on the other hand, he had some school event or a sleepover party. Whatever the case, I had to go with my father and watch him play.

My father’s reward to me for going with him was he allowed me to drive the electric cart. The cart, though it had but three wheels (two in the back and one in the front, which turned with the steering wheel) was as close to driving a car as a nine year old could get. Wow, I thought. I’m driving. Braking. Speeding up. Slowing down. Driving. Look at me, I’m driving.

I watched as my father got out of the cart on the first tee and selected a club. I’ve lost half my father, I thought to myself. He used to be a big man. A football type gone to seed. Now he was spindly, long and bony. Worse, he walked slowly, like he was on ice and afraid to fall. I had known my father had been sick but it wasn’t until I watched him on the course that I knew how sick he was.

He hit the ball and made his way, on ice, back to the cart.

“That was good, Dad.”

He answered with a platitude. Something like “Oh, I’ll be hitting them further than that once I get my sea legs.” Or “Feels good to get back on the ol’ horse after she throws you.” Or “It ain’t Arnold Palmer, but that wasn’t half bad, was it?”

We continued with our platitudes for most of the afternoon. My father hitting the ball. Returning to the cart and then driving with me until he had to hit it again.

“Nice, Dad.” I’d say.

And he’d respond quickly, eagerly, jokingly with something like, “The old fella’s still got it.”

Occasionally I’d escort him from a shot back to the cart, or take a club myself to dig through the woods in search of a lost ball, or I’d rake the neat white sand of a trap after he visited one.

That was pretty much the afternoon. A sunny day in the early fall, with few others on the course. My father hitting the ball. Me driving the cart.

Then we came to a hill. Maybe midway through the course. It was a downhill and the path down which carts were to travel was studded with small rocks. To my nine year old eyes, the path looked good for sledding. It seemed steep and treacherous and so perfect for careening in the snow.

“Dad, I don’t think I can handle this,” I said.

He looked at me, slightly annoyed, and then leaned over on the single seat we shared and navigated the cart down the hill. Or tried to. Halfway down the hill we hit a protruding stone. It upended the cart. The cart turned over, my father’s clubs snapping in half against its weight, one of the halved clubs’ shafts cutting deep into my left elbow. The cart toppled on top of us.

My father lay dead on the ground. My right hand filled with blood as I tried to stop the bleeding from the gash on my elbow. I ran for the clubhouse to try to get help. I found two men there who quickly drove over the course in a white Plymouth station wagon to where my father lay.

The cart was over on its side. His clubs were strewn and bent. The men ran toward him. I wasn’t as fast and trailed a bit behind.

By the time I got there the men had my father sitting up. He breathed deeply and slowly.

He looked at me. Saw the blood on my arm, my pants, my shirt. The two men helped him to his feet and led him toward the Plymouth.

Finally he said to me, “Guess that one got away from me, eh, son? I never even saw what hit me.”

He joked just like that pretty much the whole way to the hospital.

You can call it Chevy again.

From today's "New York Times."

"G.M. issued a statement on Thursday that said the memorandum had been “poorly worded.” The statement said that the memorandum reflected Chevrolet’s strategy as it expanded internationally, but that the company was not “discouraging customers or fans from using” Chevy."

More progressive (and symbolic) thinking from Detroit.


Which is the new Caddy logo? And which is the old? And how do they make you feel about the brand?


Of all American car companies including Ford, Cadillac seems to have done, to my untrained eye, the best job of reinventing and rejuvenating their brand. Since the days of the Sedan deVille and the Eldorado, they've come out with newer, hip models that seem to have created genuine interest. They're not something I would buy but Cadillacs no longer appear to be the last car wealthy people buy before they die.

Now comes this news from Cadillac. They have redesigned their logo so it now has “A new image was created in our design center to show off the detail and jewel-like quality of the Cadillac Wreath and Crest,” said Max Wolfe, a Cadillac designer.

There's nothing wrong with Cadillac's effort. If they think a bejewelled logo will help them compete with the likes of BMW and Mercedes, more power to them.

But personally, I am not a logo-ite. Undoubtedly a good logo can have incredible power. (We believed in the greenness of BP thanks to their logo.) But it seems to me that quite often more attention is paid to the cosmetic than the real. We're more about style than substance. We stress more about kerning than about the words themselves.

I hope Cadillac's new logo drives sales for the brand. I hope GM starts paying back its government loans with real money, not just government loans. But for me, I'd rather Cadillac were spending their efforts making a car that doesn't pollute or one that could kick BMW's ass.

That would make me look at the brand differently--regardless of how the logo looks.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Talent shows.


Taking a taxi down to the client, the account person and the planner were both reminiscing about talent shows they had been in during their youths.

It occurred to me on hearing the phrase "talent show," that in a sense, that is the business we should be in.
Showing (not showing off) our talent.

Being in a talent show means you can always get sent home if your performance isn't up to snuff. As much as relationships in our business are important, they do not and should not be more important than the talent you show. In short, you have to bring your talent, all of it, to bear in everything you do.

Seems to make sense to me.

In any event, it's my metaphor. At least for now.

"Drove my Chevrolet to the Levrolet but the Levrolet was dry."

"The New York Times" reported today that General Motors and its Chevrolet division is attempting to estop employees, dealers and others associated with the brand, which I suppose also includes its customers from using the diminutive "Chevy." http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/automobiles/10chevy.html?hp

“We’d ask that whether you’re talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward,” said Alan Batey, vice president for Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim Campbell, the G.M. division’s vice president for marketing in a memo.

Reportedly, Goodby Silverstein is behind this suggestion.

But given that the word Chevy is in extremely wide-circulation and is probably a consumer preference, it seems to me that GM's edict borders on the autocratic. It seems the very opposite of being sensitive to consumer proclivities.

Robots in the workplace.


"BusinessWeek" or "Bloomberg's BusinessWeek" if you insist, has a long section on "Robots in the Workplace." http://www.businessweek.com/technology/special_reports/20100601ceo_guide_to_robots.htm The link above has "The CEO's Guide."

Though it seems that robots will be used primarily to perform tasks humans find distasteful, like delivering mail and disposing of medical waste, I wonder how long it will be before they complete their mission to rid workplaces of pesky humans.

Humans, after all, get tired. They take vacation. They get sick. They have to see their kids in school plays. They get pissed and surly.

Robots on the other hand work tirelessly and without complaint. You also don't have to give them benefits.

In our technologically advanced world, robots can do almost anything humans can do. In fact, a robot wrote this post.

George wasn't up to it this morning.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wisdom from Preston Sturges.

One of my favorite lines in movie history. And how I feel today.

From "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock." (1947)

Harold Diddlebock (Harold Lloyd):
"A man works all his life in a glass factory, one day he feels like picking up a hammer."

A rare fact about paper bags.


Paper bags, like the one shown above, are signed by the person responsible for making them. Maria Figueroa made the one pictured here. I suppose the CEO of the bag company decided to do that because it gives his or her workers more pride in their work and more accountability. Is it any wonder we don't put our agency's name on our work?

Last is first.


I'm reading a book now by sociology Professor Juliet Schor. It's called "Plenitude. The New Economics of True Wealth."

Without getting into too much detail, Schor asserts that are living in a "Five Planet World." Meaning we are consuming and exhausting so many resources it would take five planets like Earth to sustain our planet.

One of the issues Schor discusses is how more and more things have become "Fast Moving Consumer Goods." Such goods used to be things like razor blades or soap. Today they include clothing (think H&M, Old Navy, the Gap) and furniture (think Ikea.) That is, we used to buy things that last a long time and then have further use after their original purpose fades. ie I wore my brother's old trousers until I out-grew him. When those trousers were ragged, they became patches on blue jeans. When they were really far gone, they became rags.

We don't live like that today. Things aren't made to last. They're made to be obeisant to the whims of fashion (as those whims are changing ever-more-rapidly) and then replaced when those whims change.

We have become a disposable society. Nothing lasts.

Naturally that brings us to advertising.

In the course of events we are often pushed--hard--to produce work in haste. Before we know the market. Before we know the company we are working for. As a consequence we produce fish. Work that rots quickly.

We produce work, in other words that doesn't last.

Sometimes we move away from work that could last because it doesn't "work" quickly enough. Ignoring the fact that sometimes things take time to build. All work is not retail. Though we seem to want to treat it that way.

If work is good, it should last. We should demand the time it takes to make such work.

Work that lasts costs more in time. It might not be so utterly and hyperly timely. But it means that you don't have to reinvent your advertising every couple of years. And it imprints brains. In the long-term work that lasts is the most effective, least costly work there is.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

And furthermore.

There's been some debate in this space of late. About 60s advertising versus today's. And about if old-style advertising would be effective today. This post is not really about that debate. Though it is.

Just now I ran across a couple of sentences in "The New York Times" from an op-ed by David Brooks. His topic is the importance of studying the humanities while in college.

Brooks says, "Studying the humanities improves your ability to read and write. No matter what you do in life, you will have a huge advantage if you can read a paragraph and discern its meaning (a rarer talent than you might suppose). You will have enormous power if you are the person in the office who can write a clear and concise memo."

I agree with that but what really hit me is what came next:

"In an information economy, many people have the ability to produce a technical innovation: a new MP3 player. Very few people have the ability to create a great brand: the iPod. Branding involves the location and arousal of affection, and you can’t do it unless you are conversant in the language of romance."

It seems to me that a lot of what's happened in every quarter of advertising is that there are tons of people who can produce technical innovations. Many of them get ahead by doing so. Many of them have started agencies based solely on their purported ability to analyze data.

There are very few people, in any era who can locate and arouse affection.

But that's what business we're in.
At least that's what business we're in when our business doesn't suck.

Experts.

video

Just recently I came upon this quotation from "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller. It made me think of advertising.

"He knew everything there was to know about literature, except how to enjoy it."

It seems that much of the problem in the world today is that we're too smart, too professional, too schooled and too scared.

Liking something--and responding with a gasp or a chortle or anger or a laugh is like a fart or a hiccup. Liking something is involuntary and a reaction. Such things are not meant to be controlled by our intellect. However, in the corporate world brains rule and hearts are something you use on the weekend when you're pushing your kids in a $500 stroller.

In short, how many people do you work with--including creative people--who know everything about advertising or marketing, except how to enjoy it.

Maybe the difference between good advertising and bad advertising is enjoyment. Good advertising should be enjoyable. You should feel enriched by it. It should elevate, educate or amuse. It shouldn't just lay there like a lox.

A lot of people think enjoyment and work are mutually exclusive. Nothing on any 360-review says "Does he/she enjoy work?" Laughter in the workplace is insubordination, insurrection. Noise is the start of a revolution.

In a month or so I'll be presenting a new campaign to my client. I'm going to ask them two questions when I'm done showing the work.

1) Is it better than the shows around it.
2) Did you enjoy it?

--
Above is a 1979 commercial from Collett Dickenson Pearce in London. It shows a car being made and tested. I enjoyed it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

From simple to un-simple.

Whether they're art, a tool or a pair of shoes, most things start out simple.

Look at cave drawings. Simple, direct, functional.

The Ten Commandments did a pretty succinct job of laying down the law. Some would argue that all legal thinking since the tablets is just commentary on the original ten rules.

And the Romans, Greeks and Phoenicians all had serviceable footwear. Since it seems that half the women in New York have band-aids all over their feet from shoes that don’t fit that well, I’d wager ancient shoes did their job at least as well as their modern brethren.

Of course, advertising started out simply enough as well. Old ads were usually simple declarations of product benefits.

Now along the way simple things fall prey to ornamentation. The assumption is that items need to be gussied up because people got bored with simple, or they wanted something new or different.

From simple to ornate then from ornate to simple is a progression that happens every couple of decades or centuries or so.

In 20th Century advertising we quickly went from fancy filigree and overpromise to “Lemon” and then back again. So advertising is just where it was before Bernbach came onto the scene. Again, just how I see things. There's a lot of noise, not a lot of thought.

Outside of Apple, seldom do you see something that differentiates and does so simply.

I’m not saying we need to bring back Helmut Krone. But from my 52-year-old point of view, none of the brands I currently know and understand were created during our current, noisy era.

I used to know what Budweiser was about. But now it’s about tits and foam. Just like every other beer. I knew what AT&T was about but I don't know Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile or the new AT&T. Except everything they sell costs more than they say it does. I know what BMW and FedEx are about but only because those brands communicated who they were 30 years ago and I remember.

I'll put this simply: we need to simplify.

A kiss is still a kiss.


This morning, "The New York Times reported that a cache of ancient silent films was discovered in New Zealand and will be restored, copied and returned to the United States. You can read the story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/movies/07silent.html?hpw


None of these films--films which are between 80 and 100 years old--will be seen by the general populace. Most people regard film (like advertising) as a contemporary medium and it's like pulling teeth to get people to see a movie that doesn't have a current star, a contemporary music store and a modern sensibility. I don't know why that is, it just is. For whatever reason we'd rather see Ashton Kutcher in "Killers" than Burt Lancaster in Ernest Hemingway's "The Killers." Societally we assert that something can't be relevant unless it's contemporary and timely.

As a consequence we ignore brilliance if it pre-dates our era. We don't study it. We don't learn from it. We don't steal from it.

Techniques change over time. As do production values and styles. So does language and how we use it.

Whether it's 2010 BC or 2010 AD, people have stayed essentially the same. We fall in love. We laugh. We destroy. And we do it much the same way we've always done.

We like to think we're modern and different. We like to think we invented things. That we're perfecting the species.

We're not. And that's the way it's always been.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Risk.

For about the last ten years or so, maybe more, giant entities--corporations and concentrations of money, have acted as if their behaviors are completely risk free. They've acted with hubris--that arrogance that doesn't just insult man, it insults the gods.

How can drilling a mile-deep be risky? We're so smart it can't be. How can NINJA mortgages and credit default swaps and the like be risky? We are annointed therefore they must be safe. How can re-insuring insurers be risky? We've looked at the numbers.

We've seen over the past twenty-four months as we've tiptoed on the brink of Great Depression II--we might still fall in--what the results of ignoring risk are. Tremendous arrogance leads to tremendous disasters. Likewise, tremendous arrogance has caused tremendous environmental damage in the Gulf and perhaps even worse damage via Chevron-Texaco in the Ecuadoran Amazon. (Read about that in Bob Herbert's "New York Times" op-ed today.)

Tremendous arrogance has marked the advertising world as well. Our holding company leaders (if that's not an oxymoron) have forgotten about risk. They think they know the answers. And they've discovered a modern alchemy. They can turn shit into gold. They can treat employees like shit and still get work out of them. They can treat clients like shit and in turn still expect loyalty from them.

Clients, of course, have also forgotten about risk. If we test enough, if we parse enough, if we committee enough, there is no risk in creating ads.

Obviously risk-hubris in client-ville and Madison Avenue does not constitute disaster. A few jobs are lost. A few hundred more rotten commercials run.

There's no risk when that happens.

Hipsters in hell.

Look, I don't care what the hipster-ocracy is saying direct from Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Wearing a wool cap in the 93-degree heat isn't hip, it's dumb. Wearing cowboy boots with a short skirt isn't cool, it's dumb. Wearing your hoodie with your hood up when it's so hot the cab drivers are steaming vegetables in their turbans is dumb.

It's dumb.
Not cool.
Not hip.
Not au courant.
Dumb.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Toxic Happy Meals.

The New York Times just reported this morning that Shrek glasses sold at McDonald's for $2 contain Cadmium, a carcinogenic element. 12 million glasses are being recalled.

It leads me to this conclusion.

Merchandise with logos cause cancer.

Fear.

Yesterday and the day before there were, at least for Ad Aged, quite a lot of comment activity on a particular post of mine. Much of that commentary centered around the notion of fear. As in, you should be afraid of speaking your mind to superiors because you'll be crushed like a gnat if you do.

Though I have as many if not more neuroses than most people, I am blessed (and cursed) with a big mouth and, I think a concomitant lack of fear. Sure I get nervous that my work isn't good enough and at times am timorous to show my work. But somewhere along the way I overcame my fear of "superiors." I've always reckoned that they paid me for my mind and my insouciance. Though it troubles agency organizations at times, I have pretty much always been somewhat fearless.

Steve Hayden, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy has always said, "All power comes from the barrel of a client's gun." So perhaps the key to fearlessness is forming the sorts of relationships--relationships based on trust that allow you a certain amount of internal impunity. I have always served, not catered to, clients. Fought with them over the course of their business. Been blunt and at times caustic when I think they're doing something boneheaded. This course has always served me and serves me today.

Fear is a cancer. And if you live with fear, like a cancer, it will kill you. It's that simple. I've been at 10 agencies over the last 26 years. Only a couple were "Fearocracies." Those two places I left as soon as I was able (FCB and Momentum.) I wish the denizens of those Houses of Usher the worst of every Yiddish curse ever, delivered by my mother without makeup.

So to those people who live their careers afraid to argue or challenge creative directors, upper management or client, I suggest you find a different profession. Accountancy. Sales at Saks. Teaching middle school.

My biggest successes, such as they are, have always come from speaking my mind. What's the worse that can happen? If I get fired, I didn't belong there anyway. I've been fired twice in my life. Sure there were moments when I cried into my hands--but more moments where I got introspective, figured out a plan and moved on.

And living as a coward (because if you live in fear, you are a coward) is not at all living.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Another one bites the dust.

This blog, as I have stated many times, started as an analogy. Would the ad industry--Madison Avenue, replicate the bureaucratic ossification of the auto industry--Detroit, and collapse under its own, aggressively stupid weight?

Yesterday The New York Times announced that Ford is discontinuing its Mercury brand. Mercury has been selling cars in the US since 1939. 1978 was its peak sales year when they sold 580,000 cars. Last year they sold about 1/6 that total 93,000 vehicles.

My first car was a Mercury, a 1964 Park Lane convertible that was as long as a football field and gushed oil like a BP well. The bumpers were heavy and chrome and once when the brakes gave out I slowed the car down and crashed head-on into a telephone pole and no one was hurt. In the summer when the roof was down, you could pile half your high school class in the car and head to the beach.

In the past two years or so Mercury, Pontiac, Saab, Plymouth, Saturn and Hummer have ended. There hasn't been a similar shuttering of ad agencies (outside of Enfatico and Lowe) though I suspect that certain entities have seen their staffs and revenues decline precipitously.

I'm not well-connected like George Parker. But my guess is there are now nearly as many empty offices in Ad Land as there are empty suits.

Mental silos.

Here's the scenario. You work to advertise a brand where 80% of sales are attributed to customer referrals. Half the people in your agency immediately latch onto that statistic and begin saying things like, "this means we have to optimize social networks. We need a Facebook strategy." And so on. Further they trumpet this data to proclaim, once again, the obsolescence of traditional advertising. After all, it makes little sense to spend 80% of your ad budget on traditional advertising is 80% of your sales come from word of mouth.

I started as a copywriter in the advertising department of Bloomingdale's department store here in New York. The store's service was woeful. They had stock-keeping issues and often ran out of products a store of its ilk should never run of. Nevertheless, everyday the place was packed like sardines on the 6 train.

Once in a meeting I asked a big wig executive why the store was so crowded if service and selection was so spotty. "We succeed," she told me "because people are insecure. They figure if they buy something at Bloomingdale's--whether it's a blouse or a dining-room table, it indicates they have taste, because at Bloomingdale's, we have taste."

Here's my point. Most people don't know what to think about a product until some sort of superego informs them. That, in part, is a role of television. It's a taste maker. It gives people permission to advocate for a product or service.

It's been said that 1/3 of all auto-advertising, for instance, serves not to drive sales but to validate purchase. That is to give buyers permission to propagate word of mouth.

The silo-ites, in an effort to dominate the internal life and assume power within agencies, don't see things this way. They want to believe that "their" medium, and their medium only, is the only one that matters.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dr. Paul R. Garabedian.

I entered college at the tender age of 17 and began studying to become an aeronautical engineer. When I was a freshman I was lucky enough to have a seminar class with Dr. Paul R. Garabedian, who passed away on May 13th.

Garabedian was a mathematician whose computer computations helped lead to fuel-efficient wings for modern jetliners. Oddly enough, Garabedian didn't work on a computer at all. He did his calculations long hand on 4x6-inch pieces of paper and would leave them to his students to verify and test.

After I worked for him for a year, he had decided to leave Columbia for the west coast to do some esoteric work on nuclear fusion. He began looking for magnetic field structures that could better hold and harness hot gases for future power plants. He was, I was told, still working on that problem at his death.

After Garabedian left Columbia, I was without a mentor. Aeronautics seemed less interesting without him. Fact is, for the first time in my life I became wayward. I drank too much. I cavorted with too many co-eds and, eventually, came close to flunking out of school.

I had lost my keel, my rudder.

It wasn't until I was a junior that I snapped out of it. Switched my major to literature and decided to try to become an English professor. I didn't succeed in that dream either.

However, if Garabedian were here today, he'd say this to me, as he said to me so many years ago. "Alfred," (he always called me Alfred no matter how often I corrected him) "A tree-legged donkey can go down hill as fast as a stallion."

Somehow that always made me feel better.

Some clarification.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0j9tHPJlSJA&feature=related
We use words and phrases nowadays with such utter imprecision that they have lost much of their meaning. Last summer I went to Egypt and saw the pyramids and the Sphinx. They were awesome. A tuna salad sandwich from Starbucks is not awesome. It's good. Maybe very good. If your standards are low, maybe it's excellent. But awesome. Naw.

When I was 17 or so my friends and I went to a Woody Allen triple feature. They played "Play it Again, Sam," "Take the Money and Run" and "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But We're Afraid to Ask." By the time I got to Gene Wilder and the Sheep I was laughing to the point where it hurt. But I wasn't ROTFL or LMAO.

Often I see people talking about some film clip or some such and then the ubiquitous LMAO. Save it for something really funny.

If every response is exaggerated then no response is real and believable.

New York advertising.

Yesterday the great Dave Trott commented on a post of mine, "Random Memories." He referenced a special sort of advertising that thrived here in New York in the 1960s and early 70s. This was advertising that had a tough, roll up your sleeves and no-nonsense tone. And a brusque and unassailable logic that woke you up and changed your perceptions.

"It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." For Perdue.
"Drive it like you hate it." For Volvo.
"Choosing an airline for its food is like choosing a restaurant for its flying ability." For Pan Am.

And then there was this house ad for DDB. Written by Bob Levinson and art directed by an ex-boss of mine, Len Sirowitz. Below, I've pasted the copy.

As we say in New York, read it. Or get the fuck out of here.

Do this or die.

Is this ad some kind of a trick?
No. But it could have been.
And at exactly that point rests a do or die decision for American business.
We in advertising, together with our clients, have all the power and skill to trick people. Or so we think.
But we're wrong. We can't fool any of the people any of the time.
There is indeed a twelve-year-old mentality in this country; every six-year-old has one.
We are a nation of smart people.
And most smart people ignore most advertising because most advertising ignores smart people.
Instead we talk to each other.
We debate endlessly about the medium and the message. Nonsense. In advertising, the message itself is the message.
A blank page and a blank television screen are one and the same.
And above all, the messages we put on those pages on those television screens must be the truth. For if we play tricks with the truth, we die.
Now. The other side of the coin.
Telling the truth about a product demands a product that's worth telling the truth about.
Sadly, so many products aren't.
So many products don't do anything better. Or anything different. So many don't work quite right. Or don't last. Or simply don't matter.
If we play this trick, we also die. Because advertising only helps a bad product fail faster.
No donkey chases the carrot forever. He catches on. And quits.
That's the lesson to remember.
Unless we do, we die.
Unless we change, the tidal wave of consumer indifference will wallop into the mountain of advertising and manufacturing drivel.
That day we die.
We'll die in our marketplace. On our shelves. In our gleaming packages of empty promises.
Not with a bang. Not with a whimper.
But by our own skilled hands.

Doyle Dane Bernbach Inc.




Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Stuart Elliott is an ass.

There is no shortage of death knells being rung for print media. And pundits, experts and other assholes forward all sorts of reasons for its demise. But, naturally, they leave out the most salient one. That is, most of the writers suck and don't report on anything relevant.

If you work in advertising the most egregious hack writer of all is the ad columnist for The New York Times. Whenever Stuart Elliott feels like taking a three-day weekend he writes a column that asks 20 irrelevant questions that I suppose are meant to be funny.

Not only does Elliott ignore virtually everything that's of importance to the industry--say Joyce King Thomas' resignation, the decimation of the industry, one of the major accounts up for review, in today's column he asks this odious and tone-deaf question. "Will the executives of an oil company whose extensive, and expensive, efforts to create a greener image are drowning in a sea of black crude tell a reporter, “You ask a lot of questions for someone from Brooklyn”?"

I mean c'mon, Stuart.

1) You can mention BP by name.
2) There are larger issues than your Brooklynite provenance.
3) The subject-object split between BP's advertising and BP's reality demands real investigation. What is BP's culpability in propagating their green lies? What is Ogilvy's, their ad agency? What of the networks? Have we no check on outright lies in advertising--where is the FCC in all this?

Apparently none of these issues matter to Elliott or, even, The New York Times. They'd rather focus on burning matters such as this: "Did anyone who saw the magazine ads for chino pants from the Banana Republic division of Gap, which carried the headline “Live in Chino,” call the chamber of commerce in Chino, Calif., to inquire about housing or jobs there?"