Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Brand Denigration Theory.

Some time ago when I worked on the west coast--yes, I have spent time out of Manhattan--I developed something I call "The Brand Denigration Theory." How I came upon this thesis was pretty simple.

HP, my client at the time, was doing brilliant brand work. They were also doing horrific work for their PCs. Work that was shrill, discounted and crass. Of course, they added brand accoutrement and decorations to make sure their PC work looked like their brand work.

The net result of these two distinct actions was that they canceled each other out. One was saying HP is classy and premium. The other was saying HP is cheap and available. The consumer cannot resolve such contradiction. The consumer is left confused and without a clear understanding of who, in this case, HP is.

Houston, we have a problem.

With the onslaught of alternative distribution channels like a company's website and You Tube, the demand for cheap video is greater than ever. It must be cheap, of course, because the size of the audience it reaches is small, at least in comparison to a TV audience, and thus these channels don't therefore support television-level production values.

In other words what happens to your beautiful million-dollar spot when it's butted up against a $30K web video?

We speak a lot about integration in our business. We make things look-alike. We'll end the million-dollar spot and the $30K web video with the same logo treatment. But the spirit of each will contradict each other. Each will denigrate the other and cancel each other out.

Regardless of how we try to convince each other that this is all ok.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The tyranny of numbers.

Back about a decade ago I worked on the server business for IBM. The market trend at that time in the business was all in the direction of cheaper PC-based machines that ran on Intel chips. Dell, who were used to selling on a stance of value and used to selling directly, dominated the market. My client (who later became my friend) decided we should do as Dell was doing and try to sell servers "directly off the page."

After we started running ads, my client told me a story. His boss asked him how the ads were pulling. He replied, "sales are up 400%." What he later told his boss was that the ads sold eight machines, up from two from the previous week. A 400% gain.

Of late, it seems to me, we have had a proliferation of data. And, more to the point, a proliferation of people who analyze data and interpolate out of that data what is called "business intelligence." Most often the data is about as meaningful as my server example above. It's not exactly a lie but it's not exactly something you should or can learn from.

I think about this when I think about all the effort clients make to post videos on their You Tube pages or the time and money they spend creating Facebook pages. All to get a dozen or two eyeballs of dubious value. I'm sure those You Tube videos that gain 136 views in a month are ballasted by data that says something like "but we're trending up 11% week over week."

That might be true. But what does it mean?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Liking.

At the risk of being called a troglodyte, a cretin, a flat-earther or a red-state Senator, I must herein admit that I don't understand the concept of "Liking" something on Facebook. Not the value it delivers to brands, but why I would announce to the world that I like this brand or that.

I understand most people walk around "in public" (as my mother would hiss) festooned with logos, but perhaps I am inured to that banality--it's been around longer.

My relationship with brands is pretty simple and will remain that way. There's an elementary value exchange. I spend money on them if I like what they offer me. I may even talk about them if they do something fabulous. In other words, I'm mostly quid pro quo with brands. Treat me well, I'll keep buying you. That's the deal.

Liking something seems like a PDI. A public display of insecurity or maybe vacuity. I am not a person in my own right, it says to me, I am only a reflection of the brands I like.

More Churchill.

If you want to learn how to be a great creative or a great client you'd be better served by reading about Winston Churchill than you would be by poring through awards annuals or studying marketing at a university.

I am talking about wartime Churchill, though almost any period in his nearly century-long life would serve.

First and foremost Churchill was about doing. He was about finding a task that could rally masses of people and then finding small (sometimes insignificant) actions that moved the assemblage closer to completing that task. Small victories lead to capital V victory.

In World War II, his first great victory, Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, was staving off defeat. His second great victory, his North Africa campaign against the Italians, was finding a way to have a string of victories. Good news for his generals, his soldiers and the citizenry back home.

Think of all the clients who are outnumbered, as England was, and who therefore throw in the sponge and allow themselves to become a second or third tier brand.

Think of all the clients who never attack but always lay low lest they lose some battle.

The aim of advertising is to win marketshare against all sorts of odds. Most often your brand will be outspent or out-somethinged. You have to find a way to win. Not a way to hide.

So that's it, in a nutshell. Under adversity you have two choices: You can act scared. Or you can act like Churchill.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ed Butler, my-ex boss.

One of the things my ex-boss Ed Butler taught me I've carried with me for almost two decades. Ed, like so many of his generation, served in the army against his will. It was one of those rare times in our history since WWII that there were no wars going on, so days in the army meant dealing with officious sergeants and numbing regulations. Ed figured out how to avoid most of that. His secret? Carry a clipboard at all times.

My father and the day after.

By some anomaly of my birth date, I was in first grade when I was just five. I never felt unable to keep up with kids who were, at least from a percentage point of view, significantly older than I, but looking back on being the youngest, I suppose there was a lot I just didn’t get. I don’t know if that had to do with my age and level of development or if I was just not that interested in what was going on around me. I think I spent a fair portion of my time tuned out or tuned into my head. I remember looking intensely at the reading books we had in class and studying the coloring of the drawings—the very dot patterns--and the curves of the serifs in the type.

Maybe if I were a kid today I would have been poked and prodded, analyzed and pronounced ADD or ADHD or even mildly autistic. But whatever the case, I survived being lost in my world probably better than I would have survived participating in most other worlds. Once I remember holding an oval ceramic ashtray over my head in my parents’ living room and letting it drop to the linoleum because I wanted to study its path on its way down. That experiment got me more than a few whacks on my ass though the ashtray still sits to this day in my mother’s house, neatly glued together and barely showing its breaks.

When John Kennedy was shot I was sitting in school in first grade and the principal’s voice came on over the loud speaker announcing that the president was shot. I heard it wrong, or misunderstood what was said, and pictured the president being stood against the bright blue doors at the end of our elementary school hallway and executed. I didn’t understand why or what. But the next thing I knew, we got to leave school early to go home. (This was a simpler time. We could walk home or run—at five years old—without a parent or guardian, even past a small swamp that was overgrown and scary with skunk cabbage.)

The television was on when I got home with my mother watching. My brother and I watched, too, grainy tel-star beamed images from Dallas alternating with sonorous announcers from just miles away in Manhattan. We weren’t allowed to change the channel. My mother was watching.

Usually my brother and I watched after school a show of cartoons hosted by an actor pretending he was a charming and affable Irish cop. He called himself “Officer Joe Bolton” and he bored us with little anecdotes and admonishments to behave and do our homework between playing Dick Tracy cartoons with villains like “the Frog” or “Joe Jitsu” or “Hemlock Holmes.” Or he played old Popeye the Sailor cartoons, with Popeye vanquishing Bluto to win Olive only to have to go through the whole thing again in the next cartoon, though Olive always seemed like a whiner and a two-face to me. But this day we would watch no cartoons. The president had been killed.

My father got home late that night and sat in the living room dominating our sole TV and whispering about the end of everything with my mother. My brother and I ran around the house, trying to figure out how to be busy and silent until bedtime with no TV to watch and no noise allowed.

-
The next morning was Saturday and my father woke me up early, poured some hot chocolate down me and wrapped me warmly in my brown corduroy Mighty Mac winter coat. We got into his 1949 Studebaker and drove into the country. Weeks earlier, long before someone gunned Kennedy down, my father’s boss had invited my father and me to go skeet-shooting.

I’m sure my father protested this. I’ve never even held a gun, I can hear him saying. But it was something his boss wanted, it, therefore represented a chance to get ahead, and my father complied. I was along as his companion, in case he got bored or needed a hand to hold.

I don’t remember much of that morning except that the sky was gray, the color of a wet newspaper and I felt the cold despite the advertised promise of my Mighty Mac. I remember picking up the red cylinders of shot from the ground and being surprised. They weren’t at all what I thought bullets would look like. I remember seeing black discs in the air and then the loud firework report of someone’s shotgun smashing a clay pigeon and taking it down. I remember walking over the ruts of the farmer’s land the men were shooting on and stopping to pay close attention to the dried out and ploughed over detritus of what used to be living stalks of corn.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quotation of the day.

Such is the cosmic comedy of life, we spend our days on conference calls on mute. Talkative people silenced by bureaucracy and propriety. Our on mute hours interrupted by gems like this one: "Either way, I agree."

Leo Cullum, 1942-2010.


Leo Cullum published 819 cartoons in "The New Yorker."

Winston Churchill on Advertising.

As long-time readers of Ad Aged know, I am an inveterate and eclectic reader. I read a lot on a lot of different topics. However, when I am feeling a bit untethered in the world (as I am now) I return my focus to Winston Churchill. For all his human-ness, for all his foibles, for all his bombast and bull-headedness, he is one of the great men of history. You could safely say he saved Western Civilization and leave it at that and you wouldn't be far off.

I am reading now "Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945" by the great historian Max Hastings. (For you Brits, the book was originally published in England as "Finest Years:
Churchill as Warlord 1940-1945.)

In the early days of Churchill's tenure as Prime Minister all seemed lost. France was falling as fast as a house of cards and the Low Countries were overrun as well. The British Expeditionary Force was all but trapped at Dunkirk and near-ready to be annihilated by the Hun.

For all that, the real reason all seemed lost was that people felt all was lost. All of France's generals, of course, and seemingly half if not more of the English government and ruling class felt there was no way to resist German forces. Plans were made to seek peace terms with the Germans.

It seems to me we often face similar situations in advertising. We work for clients who have scant resources and shrinking marketshare. We are fighting against forces that have great momentum and power. They are stealing territory from us and we have no way to resist. To use Sir Alexander Cadogan's words "no communications and no one knows what's going on, except everything's black as black."

Churchill had one weapon when things looked bleak in 1940: Resolve.

That is, he would not surrender to defeatism or anything else for that matter. Churchill resolved that he and his nation would not just fight on, they would find a way to win. Or die trying.

This is the lesson we in advertising can learn from Churchill. Resolve to fight. Resolve to win.

You might go down in flames, but it's better than relegating yourself to creating Facebook pages.

Churchill put it this way, quoting from George Borrow's 1843 prayer for England: "Fear not the result, for either thy end be a majestic and enviable one, or God shall perpetuate thy reign upon the waters."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Client stories.

It seems that every client between here and kingdom come (whatever that means) has decided that the creating stories of clients who use their products will be answer all their marketing needs. Let's tell client stories! Let's show happy people! Let's use their own words! That will solve everything! People will believe them because--don'tcha see--these are real people!

Someone just mentioned that they read that there are 200,000 survivors of the holocaust. I went on www.holocaustsurvivors.org to see if I could verify this statistic. And what I found was a link to survivor stories.

Here's the thing. These people lived through one of the most horrific time periods in human history. Their stories are moving, incredibly gripping. But you know something(and I realize this is horrible) most people would look at a few of these stories and say something like "these stories all run together." Or "Yeah, I've seen that before." Or, "that's not relevant to me."

What I'm saying is that viewers hardly have interest in even the most emotionally moving stories in the world. What chance do you have with client stories about a room freshener?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Some memories.

I never got to meet my mother's father, my grandfather. He died long before I was born and judging by the stories that my mother told me about him, or the lack of stories, he was a man who was quite successful at keeping to himself.

From the little my mother told me, her father Michael, from whom I got my middle name, was a man who had a hard time holding a job. His skills were greater than the opportunities open to him as a poor immigrant who spoke little of our language and who had no guild memberships or formal training in anything. So he would take a job only to lose it or, rather, leave it when he got bored or frustrated. This is a family tradition that somewhat continues to this day, though my brother has had the same job since 1981.

As a consequence of my grandfather's unwillingness to hold onto a job, my mother's family wound up moving a lot. Sometimes they were evicted and had to move. My mother often told me what it was like coming home from school and seeing her family's furniture in the street. Sometimes on those rare occasions they were in the chips, they moved to bigger, nicer places. But almost always, they regressed back to the mean, a crowded apartment in a row house in West Philadelphia.

The job that my grandfather held most regularly was that of a stone carver at a gravestone yard. In those day, gravestones were carved by hand, and it took a fairly skilled guy to carve them. How my grandfather learned to do this, I don't know. It probably entailed some native, in-born skill--a skill that I suppose in someways he passed onto my mother, who not only had meticulous handwriting but would hand-copy for the Philadelphia jewelers she worked for the intricate patterns found in sterling silver. These were the days before photocopiers, of course, and it was nice to have skills like this.

In some measure these skills were passed onto me, as well. I have an eye for type that few--even few art directors--have. This weekend I took the subway up to 215th Street to see the Columbia Lions play the Big Green of Dartmouth in football. In the mosaic tiles marking the signs 181th Street station, there is too much space between the hundreds 1 and the 8.

Things aren't done by hand like this anymore, either in our business or our world. My grandfather, who never had an easy time finding work, would have been superseded by a stencil and a drill. My mother by a copier or a scanner. The old mosaic tiles on the subway lines have been replaced by black enameled signs with white helvetica type.

Things are more regular now. More orderly, perhaps and regimented. But maybe along the way, something has been lost.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Apparently, this is real.

A long walk.

Last night was another one of those nights where I felt lone and lorn. The world was too much with me. So I did what I do. I put the leash on my golden retriever and headed out to the East River for a long, solitary walk.

The wind was steady along the water, blowing at me as I walked uptown. Usually, I stop at the Pier at 107th Street, my little dog must think it queer, and all that. But last night, with autumn's crispness in the air, I walked further.

The fishermen, gnarled Puerto Ricans with home-made tattoos, are gone now, gone for the season. What fish there were in this lonely estuary, are off in warmer climes, or somewhere--buried in the mud?--other than where the fishermen wish they were, in their old spackle buckets filled with water from the river.

I walked uptown, slowly, watching the occasional barge tug by. A well-lit yacht with people partying. Just me and my dog.

I got to 122nd Street, where the promenade along the river used to end. There in the flat wasteland under the Triboro Bridge (which, after 75 years, they have inexplicably have renamed the RFK Bridge) the city has decided to continue the walkway along the water. We pass rusted backhoes and vast piles of tarpaulin-covered road salt stacked against snows that hardly come anymore. I lift my dog over a low fence and we continue uptown, through the 130s and 140s.

My dog and I get off the promenade up around 155th Street and we walk through a housing project, the Polo Ground Towers, four thirty story monoliths of architectural anonymity. We walk past where Willie Mays made his catch and throw of Vic Wertz's long ball back in 1954. We mingle with the ghosts of Bill Terry and Mel Ott.

Then we take the long walk home, three and a half miles in all, to watch the Giants, safe in San Francisco now, lose to the Phillies.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lack of speed kills.

If you think about how we have evolved from the primordial goo into living, breathing, walking, thinking human beings, our success as a species has depended our ability to quickly decide how to face and respond to threats.

Yet when it comes to "professional" decisions we put aside our instincts. We are trained and told we must abide by something called "process." The process which will yield, after many hours and much meandering, a decision.

I have always been cursed with having dual core processors in my cerebellum. They spin, I like to think, at high speeds and thus run through a million-and-one if-then propositions. That's how I make decisions.

What I've noticed through the years is that "process" delivers success no more often than instinct. In fact, the opposite usually results. Process entails sundry opinions and the accommodations that go along with those opinions. What's more, all this takes time and a ton of money.

In short, as an industry we perseverate over decisions. Doing so is costly. Doesn't yield the desired results. And makes the work worse.

But we keep on doing it.

It keeps so many of us employed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Taking steps.

There was an article in yesterday's "New York Times" which reported on how many steps per day people in different countries and different nations take per day. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/the-pedometer-test-americans-take-fewer-steps/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&scp=4&sq=steps&st=cse

As might be expected, Americans, with an average of just 5,117 steps a day, take many fewer than Australians (9,695), Swiss (9,650) and Japanese (7,168.) Men in America take a few hundred more steps than women, but everyone in the world takes fewer than the Amish, who have 18,000 steps. In their usual laconic style the Times states: "The health community typically urges people to take at least 10,000 steps a day to maintain good health, which is equal to about five miles of walking."

What I think most people and the "health community" over looks is the number of steps taken in the workplace.

Today it typically takes forty or fifty steps to get work out of an agency and another two quintillion steps to get through client organizations. Then another sixty-six binfillion to get back out of the agency.

All these steps take us down the road to perdition.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A question on watching the Yankees vs. the Rangers.

How do you strain your left groin?

10 meaningless phrases.

From ragan.com and quite good.


Meaningless phrases people use every day
By Matt Wilson
mattw@ragan.com



Start at the beginning


Isn’t that where I would expect you to start? You’d really only need to warn me if you were starting somewhere weird there, Horace, like the middle, the end or somehow before the beginning.

Let me begin by saying


Is someone stopping you? Just say it! This is the rhetorical equivalent of, “I am now going to write about.” They teach second-graders not to start their essays that way, so keep it out of your adult conversations.

We, as human beings


As opposed to what? We, as robots? We, as orangutans? Unless you’re speaking to or writing for some especially diverse audiences, you can just say “we.”

That said

Yes, someone said it. And that ought to be pretty evident to everyone else who either heard it or read it. You don’t really need to reiterate that something was said. If you’re offering a counterargument to that statement, a “however,” “conversely” or “but” will do just fine.

Happens to be


Sometimes a coincidence can be so shocking that a “happens to be” may be justified. But in most cases, it’s just a cute way of pointing out someone or something has an interesting or unusual trait, like “That vagrant just happens to be my nephew.” All you need is “is.” That vagrant is your nephew.

All things considered


Here’s what you’re saying when you say this: “Anytime I don’t use this phrase, I’m only considering some things when I make judgments.” Or possibly, “I’m making a too-cute joke about the NPR program of the same name.” In either case, they’re not really statements you want to make.

All in all

As I think about what this phrase could have originally meant or what it could really mean, my brain has tied itself into a Gordian knot. Is it the opposite of “none in none”? A contrast to “some in some”? Is it supposed to imply that every single thing has been fitted into every other thing?

I’d better lie down now.

At the end of the day

Like the previous two, this phrase signals that you’re about to sum up all the various pieces of your argument and come to a conclusion. But what does that have to do with the time of day? Almost always nothing. What you’re talking about might even be happening in the morning!

In order to


What you really mean is “to.” The last time an “in order” was justified, it was in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. And I’m only cutting James Madison some slack because of the whole three branches of government idea and the Bill of Rights. Plus, he was writing back when a lowercase “s” looked like an “f.” Times have changed.

In all its forms

Ahhh! Look out! It’s a shape-shifter!
But seriously, you really don’t need to point out that you like chocolate “in all its forms.” For one thing, that should be self-evident. For another, chocolate is pretty much chocolate, regardless of its physical state.

We are amused.


As Queen Victoria might have said.

Oy.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Edward G. Robinson.


The first time I heard the phrase "magic bullet" I was probably 10 or 12 years old. This was back around 1970 or so and my father worked across the street from a place called Willoughby-Peerless from whom you could rent old movies on 16mm reels.


My father had bought an old Bell & Howell projector and in an effort to give me and my brother a proper film education, he would bring home old movies for us to watch on weekends. Naturally, or maybe not so naturally, my brother and I grew up loving the snarling Edward G. Robinson who was so great in "Little Caesar," "The Sea Wolf" and "Kid Galahad."

Somewhere along the way my father brought home the movie "Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet." Of course my brother and I were expecting a good old-fashioned shoot 'em up. What we got was a bio pic of Dr. Paul Ehrlich (played by Robinson) who discovered the "magic bullet," the cure for syphilis.

In any event, I digress. This post has nothing to do with Edward G. Robinson, syphilis or nearly anything else.

It is about clients who want something for nothing. Clients who want magic bullets.

Let me make this simple. Work takes work and work costs money. No commercial is so effective that it will transform your business and your brand without commitment on your part.

In other words, there is no magic bullet.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Leave me alone.

I happened upon these sentences in 3-time Pulitzer-winner Thomas Friedman's column in today's New York Times and they hit me like a ton of bricks. Friedman is a progenitor of "the world is flat." And he's someone whom I usually respect, but what's below rubbed my goat the wrong way:

"The logic is that all of us are smarter than one of us, and the unique feature of today’s flat world is that you can actually tap the brains and skills of all of us, or at least more people in more places. Companies and countries that enable that will thrive more than those that don’t."

I'll be blunt.

When it comes to ideas, I hate collaboration.

I hate everybody adding to an idea.

I hate the idea that all of us are better than some of us.

Apple is not a product of group-think. Nor is Virgin. Nor are successful companies, countries and politicians.

There are times of course when you need to listen to others. Take their pulse and consider other povs. But good work, good thinking, good ideas synthesizes imputs and decides alone what is right and good.

I don't want to live in a Twitterocracy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gap flap.

The false hoohah over Gap's logo imbroglio points to so much that is banal and diseased in our industry. And our world.

Gap, so far as I can discern, has been an obsolete brand for about 15 years. Who knows what they stand for or has any desire for their product?

Can a logo change that?

Surely, BP, another notable logo changer, did an exemplary job with their redesign. But along the way their Temple, Texas plant blew up killing 11 or so and their deep-water platform exploded inundating hundreds of miles of ocean and coast line with the killing efficiency of another petrochemical, napalm.

We were stupid to believe that sunshine in a logo made them sunny.

Logos are a cosmetic facade on a brand. They don't change who you are. They just change your clothes. They are pasted on superficiality if they convey something and mean nothing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

We have made it all so complicated.

There's a restaurant review in The New York Times today of a restaurant called Xiao Ye which is owned and operated by Eddie Huang.

About 1/3 of the way through the review, I happened upon this quotation by Huang, “I’m interested in the culture of eating. I am not a chef.”

I admit my tastes in food run to the plebeian, but if I go to someplace expensive, I want my food prepared by a chef, not a culinary anthropologist. Huang's statement (and I'll admit I'm in an unusually curmudgeonly mood) strikes me as the apotheosis of pretense.

It is yet another example of the removal of reality from real life. Ads today are about the culture of advertising. They speak to the culture of this sub-group or that. And along the way, they alienate the masses who want a pair of sneakers not to imbibe in sneaker culture.

A Chilean miner joke.

Now that they're bringing them out Juan by Juan.

Academia and Adverdemia.

As the myriad dedicated readers of this space surely know, I am an inveterate reader. I typically read a book every week, or every two weeks if I am ensconced in some long history such as the role of the Mugwumps in 19th Century America, or some such.

One thing I've noticed through the years is that a gap has opened up between writers writing as academics and writers writing for a general audience. The work of academics has become increasingly obscure, obtuse, inscrutable and esoteric. They write on subjects that are increasingly minute and removed from our world. In short, they write pieces that display their scholarly virtuosity to other scholars but have little interest or impact on general readers.

The histories written by journalists are no less deep but are infinitely more accessible. Further they discuss grander themes (right now I am reading Pulitzer-winner Isabel Wilkerson's "The Warmth of Other Sons--the Epic Story of America's Great Migration." They are, and I'm generalizing now, writing about themes that affect our culture and society, not details that affect academic standing and tenure track.

I bring this back to advertising because I've been thinking of a comment made by Anonymous to a post I wrote a few days ago on my first job in advertising. Anonymous said, "first jobs in the business. yr experience seems unthinkable today when seated across the table from a Miami Ad school wannabe or Williamsburg dandy. Expectations. Mentoring. Learning one's craft. All have changed radically..."

What's happened is that the rise of ad schools mirrors the ascent of scholarly esotericism. We are creating ads about ads for people in advertising rather than ads that move product.

As my mentor pointed out to me a month ago, "At ____________________, we do ads that move presidents of companies and countries. Not presidents of award show juries."

Yet, the award mania continues. It's not what you do. It's how you impress. How you calculate how many angels can dance on the head of a lucite trophy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hiding in plain site.

One of the great advances of the digital age is that it allows you to be social and anonymous at the same time. It allows people to be passive in an active way.

You don't actually have to donate money to a cause. Merely color your Facebook photo pink, "like" disaster relief and continue scratching yourself. You look as if you did something.

And why actually play basketball? Instead you can assign yourself an avatar and not only not use no muscles but not even use your imagination.

In other words, you can portray yourself as an Albert Schweitzer with Amare Stoudemire's muscles. But in real life, you're Homer Simpson.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My first advertising job.

My first advertising job involved writing copy for a company that was 30 years ago major catalog--Montgomery Ward. There were some pluses to the job. 1) It was a job during one of those long-running Reagan recessions. 2) They allowed you flex-time. I got in around 7AM and so was allowed to leave around 3. 3) You had to learn the tonnage game--the Montgomery Ward catalog was no place to be an artiste. You were a laborer. Everyday you had to write your requisite number of pages. 4) You had to learn a way to get along with people because you would literally produce 200 pages a year. That means 200 layouts to work on with an art director, 200 discussions with buyers, 200 pages to be proof-read and produced. If you were an asshole you'd have been found out within 20 pages and fired by page 100.

One guy I remember was the print production manager, Rocco Imbriale. He'd look over blueprints with you of your pages and ask "Do you want a bang there? I think it needs a bang." Bang was what he called an exclamation point. He also had a giant peg board in the light room; he'd move the pegs forward each time another step was completed.

Rudy Mihalovich was the proofreader. He was the only guy in the office who wore a suit. Rudy was a nervous guy who stuttered if he came upon a mistake. A mistake was to be feared. If a catalog number was wrong or there was some other form of typo on a blue, you would get something called a "Blue Star Notice." It meant that a final mechanical needed to be changed. Five Blue Star Notices in a year would get you fired. Rudy was on the hook for these because he was the last stop on the error train.

Rocco and Rudy, and one other guy, Pat Patrichuk were the old men in the office. They were even older than my father and had fought in WWII against the Nazis. Now they were fighting the battle of retail against Sears.

I did this job for about two years while I was putting my advertising portfolio together. My starting salary was $11,700 and when I left I was making $18,300.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The power of Facebook.

There has been much discussion--loud and ill-informed--about the power of "friending" a brand or a cause on Facebook.

I'll admit I don't understand Facebook as an advertising medium. I have nearly 500 "friends" but have yet to have a conversation about brands with any of them. I do not turn my facebook profile picture pink to show my support for breast cancer. I do not stripe my face for gay rights, I do not obliterate my profile picture for the satisfaction of my mother.

I find it weird when people write that they love today's weather and append onto that message something like "on another note, can china plz release liu, and while they're at it, also the nation of tibet?!!"

I do not understand that and never will. It seems to me so much posturing or poseurism. "I am not a stupid slug who cares only about Snookie. See how politically aware I am; I support Tibet."

Well today I ran across this fact by way of "The New Yorker" and Malcolm Gladwell. "Save Darfur" had 1.3 million people as friends or fans. From that base they collected less than $120,000." Nine cents a supporter. Not even a dime. OMG LOL!

I think that's about right.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

George S. Kaufman.

Dick Cavett has an item in today's "New York Times" that relates an anecdote that is so withering and symmetrical that it bears repeating here.

The setting is a game show in the early days of TV. Eddie Fisher is a contestant, George S. Kaufman, "the gloomy dean of American comedy" was a panelist.
The show was called “This is Show Business” and in it a performer would come on, tell the panel a problem of his, perform and then return to sit before the panel. Each panelist would then comment on the person’s 'problem.'"

What follows is Kaufman's comment on Fisher's problem:

"Mr. Fisher, on Mt. Wilson there is a telescope. A powerful telescope that has made it possible to magnify the distant stars to approximately 12 times the magnification of any previous telescope. [pause]

"And, Mr. Fisher, atop Mt. Palomar, sits a more recently perfected telescope. This magnificent instrument can magnify the stars up to six times the magnification of the Mt. Wilson telescope.

"As improbable as it would doubtless be, if you could somehow contrive to place the Mt. Wilson telescope inside the Mt. Palomar telescope, Mr. Fisher . . . you still wouldn’t be able to see my interest in your problem."

Friday, October 8, 2010

They get it right.

Steve Jobs, you'd have to say, is the greatest marketer of the last thirty or so years and early this morning I just got another example of his prowess.

My Mac's hard drive died. So I went, more than a little agitated, to the Apple Store near me for help. I got more pissed when, at 6:30 in the morning they said I needed an appointment. Fuck heads, I said to myself, this is a mechanical problem--your problem-- that you're making me pay for. I was getting angrier.

Finally, about 30 minutes later, I got to see both a genius and Job's genius. When I turned my machine over for them to keep and repair, the Apple technician said to me, "I'll take care of your baby."

Wow.

He understands, he gets it, what my computer means to me. All my anger, agitation and animus disappeared with that one simpatico sentence.

The the ability to have your workforce speak the language of your brand not just mouth the words is an amazing feat.

The kind of feat that keeps customers coming back.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Under new manglement.

I am always amazed at the mangling of English. I'm not one of those punctilious people that believes languages don't adapt and evolve. I accept that. What I don't accept is abject, obfuscating dumbosity.

"Brazilian Spanish."

And then, this sentence from an email: "Thanks for your help as we solution and evolve."

When it's not going well.

While I am generally prolific and full of ideas, there are times when I feel tapped out and barren. I'm feeling a bit like that now. Not a great deal to say--writing this blog, which generally comes fairly easy to me, comes grudgingly lately. Ideas at work, writing scripts, having thoughts, seem to have abandoned me.

When I was young I was quite a decent long-distance runner. Not super-fast, but strong and steady, capable of running 7-minute miles pretty much all day. Along the way I decided to start running marathons.

Running a marathon--at least at my level of athleticism and no matter how much you train, is not a sure thing. You could get a cramp in your leg. The weather could be too warm. You could start out too fast and fade too soon.

Still, your job in running a marathon is to finish the marathon. When you get to those miles that feel like they're entirely up-hill, where your legs feel as heavy as telephone poles, you can't go home for the night and try again tomorrow. You keep running.

To be more precise runners have a certain posture when they are running well. When you run lousy, you lose that posture. So when I hit one of those bad patches I minded my posture. I stood up straight. Kept my arms low and looked straight ahead.

That's what I'm doing now. Minding my posture. Putting one foot in front of the other. And moving forward.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A well-rounded (and sexist) couplet.

I will admit my morale is bolstered
When I work with women who are well-upholstered.

Delayed gratification.

Almost 12 months ago I started freelancing at the agency that now employs me full-time. I was brought in to do a couple of what seemed to be fairly simple tasks. One was to write a capabilities brochure--that assignment wrapped in late January. The other was to write a brand book. That piece was just delivered yesterday.

It's not atypical for an advertising assignment that should take a few months to take a dozen or more. There are more tiers in client organizations than there were in the Tower of Babel. Everybody gets a shot of input and then another and another.

There are literally scores of rounds of revisions. Scores after "final" approval.

I have no more to say other than this is work today. You have to be like a diesel engine not a jet engine. The chuggers win.

After 11 months I got my copy of the client's brand book yesterday. Yes, it was excruciating. Yes, there was too much rigamarole. Yes, there were too many stupid and capricious changes.

But you know what? You see this shit through and don't give up on the big stuff.

My brand book arrived yesterday.

It's among the best work I've ever produced.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Modern Times. Hipster Style.


A hipster's confidence in how something should be done is inversely proportional to his inexperience.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On the water.

video
When he was despondent, Joseph Mitchell (who wrote for The New Yorker for something like forty years) always went down to the New York waterfront. There he found a different life from the one he lived and different people, with simple values and assessments of right and wrong.

An ex-boss of mine once described a writer who was standing in my way as "all wind and no sail." It's hard to get away with that sort of deportment on the waterfront. There's no reporting bs to HR. You'll, instead, get the shit kicked out of you. It would be a better world if people who are duplicitous fuck-faces would get the crap beat out of them, but alas, we are civilized and can't do that. So instead we stew, get ulcers and spend sleepless nights.

In any event, today I went with the New Yorker Festival out on a tugboat tour of the New York harbor. We were out on a 1800 horsepower tug built in 1958--a tug about the same age as I am.

The tug was strong, like me, and determined. Its diesel engine ran through the brown waters, past the tip of Manhattan and the helicopters of the rich. Past the Staten Island ferry and the Statue of Liberty and into the hard working estuaries where ordinary people don't go. The backside of oil refineries and container ports presided over by massive cranes. In little creeks where pilings decayed and snowy egrets hunted.

All the while the large diesel chugged and chugged. It plowed through the murk as if it knew its way on its own.

After four hours past Kill van Kull and Fresh Kills, past Governor's Island and Red Hook, we moored once again at a pier in Lower Manhattan.

The 52 year old had made it back.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The lies of technology.

One of the most powerful indictments of the online world is the transmutation it has foisted upon our language. I say this with one example in mind, but I'm sure there are many others. Like "select sex" on Facebook. Or "Personalize Your Weather" on the New York Times.

Here's the situation: I am in the George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas. (As an aside, I have nothing against either George or Bush, but when you put them together, my skin crawls.)

Be that as it may, I am online thanks to a Boingo connection. Of course, I first am greeted by a "welcome screen."

Welcome, my ass. Plain and simple what every website in god's green earth calls a welcome screen is, in fact, an ad.

However, the engineers and technologists who designed this medium--people who, generally speaking care little about art or copy, have been told to call this screen something other than what it is. They are not word people, these technologists. So welcome screen it is. Everywhere you go.

Linguistic lying isn't up there with flesh eating viruses, genocide in Sudan, cataclysmic climate suicide, or a trillion other woes that afflict our world. But calling things other than what they are is at the root of much evil and woe. Furthermore, I'm in a pissy mood this morning, so there y' go.