Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day memory.

Baseball season opens today. A couple weeks too early if you're a traditionalist as I am and, this season anyway, the weather agrees with me. It's 40-degrees and rainy in New York and they're predicting snow tomorrow, hardly baseball weather.

When my brother and I were little our world revolved around the Yankees. We didn't live all that far from the stadium, a fifteen minute drive if traffic was light and we had men like Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Elston Howard to idolize. In those days things weren't licensed like they are today. So we made our own "Yankee" shirts. I think all my brother's t-shirts had a magic-marker written "7" on the back for Mantle and mine had "16," signifying Ford.

CBS, the television network owned the Yankees in those more civil pre-Steinbrenner days and on their New York station on opening day, they played the movie "Pride of the Yankees" starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig and Teresa Wright as his beautiful and intelligent wife.

The problem was, CBS aired the movie at 9 and that was our bedtime. These were pre-VCR days. We were out of luck, but undaunted.

The next day we wrote a letter to CBS saying how unfair it was to play to movie past our bedtimes. A few days later we got a phone call from someone at the network. He invited us down to Black Rock, CBS's 6th Avenue headquarters for a private screening.

There, my brother and I sat on either side of an old film projector in a small projector room and watched the flick. A cigar-smoking projectionist would come in, say "hiya fellas" and change the reels every 30 minutes or so when they were done. They even gave us Yankee caps, a box of popcorn and a pepsi.

Gloomy Thursday.

ME: We had a good meeting.
SHE: Great! What's next?
ME: Another meeting.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Accenture's year-long review.

Accenture has been looking for a new agency now--an official search, for more than a year.

One of the smartest guys I ever worked with was an account guy running the business end of an account on which I was the creative director. He eventually left the agency business and became a big marketing muckamuck at a major financial services company.

When his business was up for review I called him to chat. I said, "Fred, how do you pick an agency." I'll never forget how he answered.

"George, what I've found is the work from all the agencies is pretty much the same. Basically you choose based on who you want to have to spend a shit-ton of pressurized hours with. Who gives you a proper vibe."

Therein lies Accenture's difficulty in finding an agency.

You pick agencies, or should, on human attributes. And they can't understand human attributes. They are consultants.

George Tooker, 1920-2011.



I go to art museums with some regularity, but I'll be the first to admit I had never heard of George Tooker, whose obituary ran in yesterday's "The New York Times." It was their headline that caught me "Painter Capturing Modern Anxieties." You can read the death notice and see a slide show of Tooker here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/29/arts/design/george-tooker-painter-capturing-modern-anxieties-dies-at-90.html?hpw

The Times said his painting's "haunting images of trapped clerical workers and forbidding government offices expressed a peculiarly 20th-century brand of anxiety and alienation."

I think that's something most people--and certainly most of us in advertising--can relate to.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Something I miss.

I always, since I started in advertising, did a lot of print. In fact, if I didn't worry about making money and moving up within agencies, I would have been happy being a print copywriter.

There was something special about print before digital came around. Something more careful somehow. Primarily I think this had to do with what was a cumbersome process of setting and getting type and making sure it looked good and fit in the ad. A last minute client change meant a mechanical artist had to go into the repro type and with the writer sitting over his shoulder, had to construct words out of the type that was already there. This was dangerous. Because type was simply glued onto mechanicals in those days. If you monkeyed with it, it could fall off along the way and you'd really be in a pickle.

What I miss--in addition to the labor I described above--is that the door closed on things. Things were done.

I can't help but feeling that in our digital age--in which changes can be made with such ease, we actually make more changes. And many of those changes which we can now so easily make are done at the whim and caprice of someone either without the confidence and/or brains to resist making changes for changes sake.

Well, it ain't never coming back.

But I miss it.

The Einstellung effect,

I read an article in "The New York Times" this morning that mentioned something called the Einstellung effect. This is basically our predisposition to solve a new problem in ways that we have solved previous problems--regardless of whether or not simpler methods of solving that problem are available.

Like most everything else, this makes me think of advertising.

Where we focus on what's done before and amend it. Where we rely on the tried and true. On best practices rather than next practices.

I'm on deadline this morning. Working on the Einstellunging of some new spots. I gotta go.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The woman loved fish sticks.


I don’t think you can imagine the pressure if you weren’t there, if you didn’t live through it. If you weren’t—pardon the excess—present at the creation. It was crushing. Soul-sapping. Non-stop.

Here’s the “back-story.”

When we were a junior team, my partner Craig and I had somehow sold a spot to the Gorton’s Frozen Fish people that featured a fish stick playing chess with Death like in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.” You can read about it here: http://adaged.blogspot.com/2007/07/ingmar-and-me.html
We outdid ourselves, Craig and I did, and even got the famously reclusive Swede to direct our spot.

You can imagine the fanfare, the success, the raises, promotions and awards we accumulated. We were drunk on our own power. How do you follow something like that up?

They said we couldn’t. But we did. First for our “Uncovering a Better Fish Stick” campaign which we shot with the beautiful and sultry stripper Bettie Page.http://adaged.blogspot.com/2008/12/bettie-page-1923-2008.html
We followed that award-winning spot with a campaign Gorton’s “Signature” Fish Sticks, where we did a spot featuring the great John Updike. http://adaged.blogspot.com/2009/01/john-updike-1932-2009.html
What now? Three award winning campaigns. And now our boss was breathing down our necks wanting more.

Five straight weeks of late nights and weekends had yielded us nada. Oh, we came up with great spots, of course we did. But nothing worthy of Gorton’s and their new “Giant” fish sticks. “These say big,” I said to Craig, tossing another sheaf of tissues into the trash bin. “They say big, they don’t say giant!”

Craig hit it. Or rather lightning hit Craig. “Giant! Starring Liz Taylor. We recreate the scene at the end where she waves goodbye to James Dean, only we have her wave goodbye to a Gorton’s fish stick!”

“Criminy!” I ejaculated. “That’s it.”

Craig and I quickly got on the blower with Liz’s people and in just a few hours the spot was sold through to Liz and Mr. Gorton himself.

Liz was a doll to work with. Took direction like well-trained golden retreiver. And at the end of the shoot, she gave us each a small diamond—a chip off the 66-carat one Burton (the cad) gave her. A small token of remembrance.

I’ll miss the violet-eyed beauty. Heck, I already do.

Most of what is wrong with the world in one quotation.


I was just now flipping through the digital edition of "The New Yorker" when I ran across an ad for James Gleick's new book, "The Information." The book is currently on my night table, likely the next thing I read if something else pressing doesn't knock it down a peg.

In any event, to the "blurb" I found in an ad for the book, I am struck by the phrase "sexily theoretical." That hits me as wrong.

What makes something sexy is not the theory behind it, rather, it's the promise--no matter how prolonged--of consummation. A letch does not see a lap dancer as "theoretical."

Likewise, nice girls don't get theoretical on their first dates.

I guess my point is obtuse in its simplicity. Theory is not sexy, or shouldn't be. Only the visceral, that which you can one day touch and experience is sexy. By calling theory sexy we elevate and extol that which is only meant to be a passage onto something real.

Living off your hump.

I was watching, studying actually, Alec Guinness in the early 1980s mini-series, "Smiley's People." It hardly matters that the plot was Byzantine--inscrutable even, watching Guinness and his "gift of quiet," is to watch genius at work. He conveys more with a glance or a twitch than lesser actors do with a speech.

One phrase in the mini-series hit me. It came from an associate of Guinness' character, George Smiley, who was urging Smiley to drop a case, to go back into retirement. "George," he says, "it's time to live off your hump."

Living off his hump is something Smiley can't do. He cannot go gently into that goodnight. Instead, with persistence and resolve, Smiley moves slowly and inexorably forward. Finding loose ends and knitting them together. Smiley is obviously old. He doesn't have the energy he once had--he lays down and naps now and again, but nothing stops his forward motion.

Living off our hump is something we in advertising should never, can never do either. We are only as good as our last assignment, our last commercial. Our next assignment doesn't care what our last accomplishment was. The same goes for agencies, too. They cannot live off their humps, either. Nobody cares about a campaign done four years ago.

Of course, there are those who seem to pull it off--living off their humps. The people with a Titanic attitude and a minnow in the engine room. Living off the fumes of something they said they were going to do, or something they almost did, or something an agency they once worked at did.

Sooner or later though, the great scorekeeper reads your tally. There are the workers and the blowhards. As the great Grantland Rice wrote a century or so ago:

"For When the One Great Scorer
comes to write against your name,
He writes – not that you Won or Lost
but How You Played the Game."

What are you doing now?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

While I was on the West Side.

Of course I stopped into Zabar's, perhaps the greatest delicatessen, food and housewares emporium in the world. I've been stopping into Zabar's for nearly 40 years and during that time the store has constantly expanded--both its size and what it offers--and constantly gotten better. http://www.zabars.com/

You can learn a lot about marketing from going into Zabar's. You can really see how--from an integration point of view it all works together.

First, you have a strong brand. A brand that has been consistent and consistently innovative for more than half a century. Then you have the store itself. They constantly "broadcast" specials over the loud speakers. These, because they are targeted, well-written and timely. These "broadcast" announcements are enhanced by "print." In this case, hand-written signs that describe the delicacies being sold. Then come the little tables with people handing out samples. Sampling drives word-of-mouth. You see people and hear people smacking their lips.

My guess is Zabar's earns more per square foot than probably any store in creation. Anytime of the day or night, they're mobbed. People "advocate" for the brand in the form of carrying their shopping bags, toting their totes. I have a baseball cap with a Zabar's logo. When my father was alive, he'd drop by on every visit to the city.

Advertising isn't a complex business, though we have layers and layers of people with titles that make it so.

Part of me thinks that the best training for a career in our business might be learned from a place that sells lox.

What's in a name?

My wife and I throw nickels around like manhole covers, that is, we really don't like to part with money if we don't have to. We especially don't like to spend money at expensive and trendy eateries. The food usually sucks and too many smiling young people posing usually ruin both my appetite and my day.

This afternoon, however, we were across town in the Upper West Side and my wife--eagle-eyed as always--noticed a branch of the restaurant chain called "Five Napkin Burger," and, being in the mood for a burger, she persuaded me to eat there.

The place was stuffed to the gills, or udders and I was hoping for a burger of yore, the type we ate as kids before Dr. Christian Barnard discovered cholesterol. But what we each got was a fairly ordinary meteorite of ground beef. Even the "promised" five napkins were just a gimmick. We each got just one, and that was sufficient.

About five minutes into sitting down I realized that Five Napkin Burger was all sizzle and no steak. But the name did get me thinking about how important names are and how stupid most modern naming is.

Five Napkin Burger whetted both our appetites and our sense of nostalgia. A name like "Verizon" or "Best Buy" or any number of other such examples just leave people cold.

We'll eat dinner home tonight.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Old Iron Ass.

I read a book once on the American war hero (World War II) turned American villain (Viet Nam), air force general Curtis LeMay. (LeMay, though avowedly not a racist, was racist George Wallace's running-mate as a vice presidential candidate in 1968.)

LeMay was an old-fashioned sonofabitch. He believed that the answer to almost any military problem was to "bomb [your adversary] back to the Stone Age." LeMay was rumored to be one of the archetypes of Kubrick's Strangelove.

In any event, LeMay had the ability to work prodigiously. To sit on his keister for hours on end until he had worked out all exigencies and arrived at an answer. That ability earned him the sobriquet "Old Iron Ass."

I don't admire LeMay's politics. His bombast. And much more. But I do admire iron-assedness.

Some times when I am in trouble at work, when we have worked for weeks and failed to come up with something good, I'll sit at my table and type. Once I typed 50 scripts over a weekend. Just recently I wrote a dozen or more. Some of them wound up being good. Answering the bell.

When I am in that mode I think of myself and I think of LeMay.

Sometimes it pays to be Old Iron Ass.

Das Rheingold.

As we do with surprising frequency, my wife and I are planning on seeing an opera next Wednesday night, specifically "Das Rheingold," part of Richard Wagner's "Ring Cycle."

It's hard to have grown up in New York when I did and hear the word Rheingold and not think of the local beer by the same name and the advertising jingle that was on New York airwaves probably a few thousand times a day.

New York at the time had about four or six local beers that were big players in the market and they, and some national beers as well, had jingles that were the anthems of summer.

Today certain agencies mark themselves with pompous epithets like "pop culture engineers." I've seldom seen anything enter pop culture like these commercials did when I was a kid.

Ballantine sang of its three rings logo. Schaefer had a great song. Here are Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne singing it. Not bad.

video

video

"Schaefer is the
One beer to have,
When you're having
More than one.

Schaefer's pleasure,
Doesn't fade,
Even when your thirst
Is done.

The most rewarding flavor
In this man's world,
For people who are having fun
Schaefer is the one beer to have
When you're having more than one."

But back to Rheingold.

"My beer is Rheingold the dry beer.
Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer.
It's not bitter, not sweet,
It's the extra dry treat,
Won't you try extra dry Rheingold beer?"

video

By the time I got to around legal drinking age (which was 18 at the time, but 15 if you had your brother's draft card as I did) the local beers were under huge competitive pressures from national giants like Bud and Miller. Local beers were the mother's milk of underage teenage drinkers, usually because they were the cheapest beers you could find--as low at $1.59 for a six-pack, which was cheap even back then.

For whatever reason, unions, shelf-facings, consumer tastes, the locals couldn't compete and most sold out to larger brewers or went under altogether. Some have been resurrected in recent years, adopted by hipsters who drink them with irony, something I've never been able to master.

I will, however, go to "Das Rheingold" and hum the Rheingold jingle, possibly with irony.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A "want" ad.

My wife shared this link with me. It's pretty good.
http://motherjones.tumblr.com/post/4046557808/the-best-journalism-job-want-ad-ever-ever

We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. Every serious candidate should have a proven track record of conceiving, reporting and writing stellar investigative pieces that provoke change. However, our ideal candidate has also cursed out an editor, had spokespeople hang up on them in anger and threatened to resign at least once because some fool wanted to screw around with their perfect lede.

We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: “I can’t believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer.” As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you’re the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you’re our kind of sicko.

For those unaware of Florida’s reputation, it’s arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.

Let's talk about your ass.

In terms of asses, there are two types of people in advertising agencies. The ass-hiders and the ass-putter-outers.

The ass-hiders live within a narrow band of expectation. They understand the acceptable range of acceptable work and they do just enough to answer the call. You know these people. There are scads of them. Waves, they don't make. Ass-hiders often kiss ass. It's how they protect their ass.

There are fewer, of course, ass-putter-outers. These are the people who are bent on trying new things. Who think before they answer. Who question everything--especially prevailing "wisdom." Ass-putter-outers are often the ones in agencies who get fired. Because their work often misses the mark, or fails to keep a client happy. Ass-putter-outers often get their asses kicked.

I think about this this morning. I am a bit worried about my ass.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The new math.

"How many hours do you need for this project?"

"10 if they want it to be good. 75 if they want it to suck."

What happens when good writing meets good acting.

video
1:40. Near perfection.

Anton Chekhov on copywriting.

I am reading a book now by Rachel Polonsky--a long, magisterial book on Russian history called "Molotov's Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History." Last night I read a bit about Chekhov, whose story "Gooseberries" is one of my favorites and probably one of the great works of Russian literature. (If you have fifteen minutes to spare, you can read it here: http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/ac/gooseb.html)

Here's a bit I liked from Polonsky's prose--a bit that made me think about the work--such as it is--that we are paid to create. In this portion, Chekhov is explaining to a friend of his "inexperience at writing at length, his 'constant and ingrained fear of writing too much.' Writing in longer form was something he said he simply 'did not know how to do.'"

And now the coupe de grace: "to be laconic is ethically correct, that brevity in the temporal art of writing fits our place in the word, for we are small creatures and should not try to be bigger than we are, nor tire one another, for time and space are tiring enough."

I think about this, about writing too long, speaking too much.

I wish more people would, too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Advice from Uncle Slappy.

Uncle Slappy called tonight, as he does so often on Tuesday nights. Actually Uncle Slappy calls most every night. We don't so much chat as we "oy." "Oy, did you see what Carmelo just did?" Or "Oy, ferstunkeneh Libya."

Tonight, however, Uncle Slappy called with these words wisdom and advice: "Geo," the old man said, "Never eat the calamari at a bris."

Poem for a typical Tuesday.

Your clients, as usual,
Dropped a bomb,
Take a moment
Regain your calm.

And when you’re told
Re re re re write again,
Breathe nice and deep,
And try some Zen.

When manners go
From rude to rudest,
Relax and ooom,
Just like a Buddhist.

Don’t let the stress
Go to your head.
From your shoulders up,
You're better dead.

All my life's a circle.

Well, of course we want to get noticed. We don't have the advertising budget that a lot of our competitors have, so we have to do something that punches above our weight. So we know we have to do something unexpected. That said, we can't do something that isn't "us" or it will alienate our franchises, so we need something controversial but in a safe and responsible way. Yes, and we want something that rallies our organization, that makes them proud to be a part of the organization, but we can't ask them to do anything or dictate any behavior to them because they are busy enough. So while we want to give them a bit of a kick in the ass, we don't want to kick them in such a way that they actually feel anything. Yes, we want to be involved in the implementation of this campaign but not so involved that we have to stay late, miss our regularly scheduled after-work yoga class, or actually do anything. We want to be involved in a non-committal no-involvement kind of way.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Clarity of thought.

Sometimes your work--your writing--makes a statement even if it says nothing. If your writing is unclear, it says your mind is unclear or that you don't care enough to make things clear.

I just received a power point (where, often, writing has no power and makes no point) from a client. In response I wrote the words below.

Just for a lark, for no real substantial or important reason, or, better for no real or substantial set of reasons, I decided I would write a blog post with a 93 word sentence because I just received from a client, in a power point, naturally, a positioning statement that was of that ungainly and nearly incomprehensible length, of course, in this sentence, I had the decency to punctuate, to set up subordinate clauses which hopefully make this a bit easier to read than their positioning, but I’m sure you get the point.

Paying for The New York Times.

I don't know how things got this way, that the internet started and important news sites were given away for free. Not long ago, parts of "The New York Times," like the op-eds, were behind a firewall. You couldn't read the Times' most brilliant writers if you weren't willing to pay for them. Then somewhere along the way the whole thing went free, though if you liked to go into the Times' archives--in which you can find virtually every article ever published in the paper--you would have to pay something extra, unless you subscribed.

In any event, the Times has now decided to charge non-subscribers a fee after they "consume" 20 articles a month.

It seems to me, on this the day four Times' reporters were released after six days of captivity by Libyan troops, that there are few companies or brands that do their job better than the Times does theirs. Sure, we can throw stones. I get upset when I see the Times cover, with great gravity, a rare mushroom found in Bronx River Park.

That said, issue after issue, there is coverage of the events great and small of the world. There are slide shows, analysis, viewpoints from by liberals and conservatives and more. Like I said, name a company that does a better job in their field and does it daily, no matter the weather.

It will be interesting to see if the cool cats will read the Times when they have to start paying. It will be interesting to hear them blather on about the Times' business model and other nonsense.

It seems pretty simple to me. The Times costs a lot of money to make. Online ads are ineffective--they can't get advertisers to pay rates that sustain the coverage the paper provides, so they have to charge to allow people to read it. Except for the last fifteen anomalous years or so, that's the way the world has always worked. It will be interesting to see if it still works that way.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

45 minutes in the Met.


It's a beautiful Spring day in Manhattan. The early trees are beginning to bud, a few forsythia are yellowing, even a dogwood or two are showing their pink blossoms. After our run, my wife re-upped our membership at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, surely one of the greatest museums in the world.

Since our trip to Italy we've been on a Caravaggio jag, so we saw the Caravaggios in residence. The light and radiance. The darkness and juxtaposition. Then we saw the Met's sole Bernini: "Faun Teased by Children," a stunning work the artist created when he was just 18.

Finally, I spent about ten minutes in front of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Corn Harvest." This painting got me thinking about advertising in that three people are working and about a dozen or so are goofing off. Finally, to the left of the Bruegel was a Bosch, "Christ's Descent Into Hell," with people entering the depths through the open mouths of a giant skull.

There's a lot that sucks about the world. The entire Middle East is in revolt, radiation looms over the world's third largest economy and about half of America doesn't believe in evolution. Also, the 120 cruise missiles we shot at Libya yesterday cost $569,000 each--at a time when America is broke.

Regardless of all that, 45 minutes at the Met makes you feel better.

I was in New Jersey yesterday.

And no, that's not a punch line to a joke, though it could be. "Did you hear what's happening in Libya?" "No," she non-sequitered, "I was in New Jersey yesterday."

Be that as it may, I was in New Jersey yesterday. It was cousin Philip's 90th birthday. Everyone was there, the three Macbethian aunts, Shirley, Millie and Louise. Louise, the one who was kicked in the head by a horse when she was 20 and hasn't been the same since, has a soft spot in her heart for me. Maybe because I'm the only one with the patience to listen to her as she talks into her hands and bewails the decay of the world. She crochets for me brightly-colored doily-like luggage tags and packs up five of them in plastic containers that once held blue-berries or cherry tomatoes.

Aunt Louise had the salmon. There's no place in her Elizabeth, NJ neighborhood to get fresh fish. It's all Puerto Rican now and they drive like crazy and don't stop at lights. She's the only Jew left in her apartment building and she doesn't dare complain about the lack of heat. She can't afford to move.

Cousin Leo got up and sang a song for his father. He has Phil Spector hair, a clump like a ghost town tumbleweed. For whatever reason, presumably a paranoia about fluoride in water supply, he walked everywhere with a plastic gallon jug of distilled water. He drank nothing else but this.

Cousin Mark, the doctor, spoke too. The aunts wondered why he hid that handsome face behind that mustache.

The youngest son, Cousin Julius spoke too.

I thought of a Harry Ruby song that I heard Groucho Marx sing on an old record album I had.

Today, Father, is Father's Day
And we're giving you a tie
It's not much we know
It is just our way of showing you
We think you're a regular guy
You say that it was nice of us to bother
But it really was a pleasure to fuss
For according to our mother
You're our father
And that's good enough for us
Yes, that's good enough for us.

Then out came the cake with each candle, there were 10 in all, representing a decade, one decade being for luck. Cousin Philip, who still practices his violin two hours a day and still plays softball with the mens' group from the synagogue, blew out them all, though he hesitated and inhaled deeply around candle five.

We took the Holland Tunnel back into the city. We were gone for just six hours. It only felt like 90 years.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Exasperation.

Lysenko and advertising. This is complicated.

Right now I am reading a book by Rachel Polonsky called "Molotov's Magic Lantern Travels in Russian History." It's pretty high-faluting stuff for a copywriter, but I digress.

This morning I read a section on the Soviet destruction of an eminent Soviet scientist, Nicolai Vavilov. (The secret to reading a book about Russians is to clear your throat every time you get to a name. That sound approximates the pronunciation.) In any event Vavilov was the natural scientist. He studied grains from an anthropological point of view to determine how to modify them to survive conditions in Russia. He was trying to solve--90 years ago, the chronic food shortages that still afflict that part of the world. For his work, which stuck to rigorous scientific methodology, he was the cat's pajamas in Russia, even earning a ride in Lenin's Rolls Royce.

Then along came a scientist called Lysenko and the madness of Stalin. Lysenko played into Stalin's dialectic that humanity can be shaped into perfection. Lysenko--a pseudo-scientist--believed something like this. If you put a horse in an environment with only high-leafed trees, the horse, itching to nibble on the leaves would grow into a giraffe.

The biggest difference in marketing today as opposed to even 30 years ago is that it's infected with MBAs. MBAs inherently believe that education trumps money. In other words, if you're really smart (as MBAs obviously are since they have MBAs) you don't have to spend money you can cogitate your way to success.

So, in a Lysenkian way we are buying the notion that people want brands as friends. That they want their conversations to be about brands. That people are resistant somehow to mass media. All these so-called truths allow marketers to be cheap. To not spend money and do the work it takes to get known.

In fact, while brands can deepen the engagement people have with them with apps and websites and facebook pages and tweets, very few brands have actually been created online (except online businesses.)

Cheap is as cheap does. A horse will never be a giraffe.

Apologia.

The problem with the advertising business is that it's a business. A client decides to pay you 12 million dollars to do shit, it takes a special group of people not to do that shit--to resist the lure of mammon.

You fight, of course, you show them a "righter" way, a way you believe in your heart to achieve all the things they want their work to achieve but with some taste and dignity, but, as my mentor once said about another client, 'Some times you can't keep the dinosaurs from the tar pits.'

That's right, some times you do work that blows.

You shouldn't accept shit work. You shouldn't convince yourself that it's good. You shouldn't rationalize. You shouldn't stop fighting.

But some times you just have to lie back and think of England.

Sorry.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In a nutshell.

The internet was supposed to deliver to the world, or at least the world of modern communications, a host of splendors. It was supposed to speed the forming of communities. It was supposed to help tie people together. Help them communicate better. It was billed as being able to speed and increase commerce.

Whatever the issue, "there's an app for that" became the response.

Guess what?

The world, macro or micro, is full of problems for which there is no app.

Japan has exploded and according to some reports is as radioactive as a TSA guard's ass. The entire Middle East has Shi'as fighting Sunnis in a battle that's been raging for 1,000 years. As a nation it appears America has lost its will to be great.

There are no apps for that. Or those.

In short, the thorny problems of living on Earth are huge.
The thorny problems of influencing customers and prospects are huge.

The internet, like the telegraph before it, like the telephone before it, like the Panama canal and the Suez Canal, promised shortcuts that people inflated into panaceas.

There are no panaceas. There's only hard work.

In the land of the blind.

Of course we all know the old adage, "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Well, in agency life today the phrase might be restated thusly, "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man gets reported to HR."

I've been riding the "integration" bronco for over ten years now. For some of that time, I sat in a traditional agency. For some of it, I was with digital agencies. For some of that time, I was gainfully unemployed.

Fuck "new agency models." Fuck various and sundry agencies of the future. This is really simple. To survive and prosper, an agency must have the ability to own the brand, to be a thought-leader. To set the tone. They must combine that with a deep understanding of the power of one-to-one communications. Finally, they must also be fast.

This isn't alchemy. There are people who can think big and apply it through all sizes. But as an industry we are so caught up in banality that no work actually happens.

Let's have a meeting.

We have expensive Microsoft applications that make it easy to check people's schedules and allot time to make a meeting. We have an entire layer of employees whose job it is is to monitor people and work and to make sure it is proceeding apace. They call meetings to check in. We have people who are plugged into headphones all day because of the cacophony of the open-plan workspace. The only way to communicate with them is to have a meeting.

So, we have meetings.

Work used to be about thinking about a client's issues. It used to be about creating communications that gave them an edge. It used to be about getting smarter than the other guy.

Today, it is about meetings.

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

-
The Microsoft Meeting
by Ad Aged

so much depends
upon

a time suck
meeting

glazed with
posers

beside the white
chickens.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On being a student.

When I was very much younger in this business I worked for a couple of guys who were in the advertising hall of fame. Despite that accomplishment, I quickly determined that there wasn't a lot I could learn from them. They had checked out. They no longer had either the passion or direction that had led to their accomplishments.

If I was to learn, to get good so I could make more money, I needed to be a student. Here are a few of the things I did.

My office at the time was down on 18th Street and Fifth Avenue. A seven minute walk to the Strand, one of the great bookstores of the world with its 18-miles of books. I would go down to the Strand probably three times a month, if not more often looking for inspiration to make myself better. At the Strand I found a trove of old award annuals. I bought pretty much every one I could lay my hands on and they dated from the early 60s--just as Doyle Dane Bernbach was starting to 1988 or so.

Another thing I did was read every magazine and newspaper I could get ahold of just for the ads. I would tear out ads I liked and keep them in a giant cardboard box. I did this for three reasons. One, it was, of a sort, competitive research. If I was working on a telco, I could see what others were doing. Two, it made me aware of who was doing what in our business. Third and most important, it helped my critical eye. At the end of the year I could see how my measure of a good ad stood up to One Show judges. Was I "voting" as they were.

I also started reading "The Wall Street Journal." Not for its neo-fascist politics but because I wanted to be smarter than everyone else in the room, including planners and account people. I was usually the first one in my agency who knew news about our clients and our clients' industries. Also, what I've found is that the "Journal" employed some of the world's best writers--writers who know how to grab your interest and keep it.

The final thing I did was pore over and save a series of ads for "The Wall Street Journal" called "Creative Leaders." Each month or so they would do a portrait of a luminary in our business--how they started, how they approach work, what drives them. I read these like a kid who loved basketball would study the on-court moves of Kobe Bryant. http://www.aef.com/industry/careers/2026 You can find these portraits above. I still look at them now and again.

I have a friend who was the head of the pre-school my darling daughters went to. I'd see her a couple times a week on the crosstown bus. Once she interrupted me as I was reading a book and said to me, "I've never seen a student like you."

I am a student. I still do most of the things I mentioned above. These days I also read a few advertising blogs as well, Bob Hoffman's, Dave Trott's, the observations of Tore Claesson. All because I want to get better so I can make more money.

Facebook's valuation.

I'll admit, contrary to my anti-social real self, my digital self is a fairly good networker. After almost 30 years in the business, I have somehow maintained a decent reputation and have risen to a level where even people who don't like me think it might help them to link in to me or to friend me. As a consequence, I have nearly 600 friends on Facebook and over 750 colleagues to whom I am linked.

I've heard a lot of late about Facebook being worth $50 billion, more than giant industrial corporations that employ tens of thousands of people. Partly I suppose this is valuation is a function of Facebook's over 600 million members and their ability to target ads based on customer information.

Then why the hell am I getting ads for slim-fit dress shirts?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A bit of Ogden Nash.

For a crappy day.

Let George Do It, If You Can Find Him
--Ogden Nash
from "A Penny Saved Is Impossible"

The wind comes walloping out of the West,
And the sky is lapis lazuli,
And the hills are bold in red and gold,
And I cannot take it casually.
Oh, cruel day for a man to spend
At counter or desk or forge!
I think I shall stray from duty today,
And turn it over to George.

George! George! Where are you, George?
Clear the air for a call to George!
There is work to be done, dear George,
And fame to be won, dear George!
There are words to write,
And columns to add,
And everyone says
That George is the lad.
Here is a pen and here is a pencil,
Here's a typewriter, here's a stencil,
Here is a list of today's appointments,
And all the flies in all the ointments,
The daily woes that a man endures --
Take them, George, they're yours!

I will arise and roam the fields
Where edible coveys flutter.
I will conquer, methinks, the perilous links
With a true and deadly putter.
I'll forsake the grime of the city street
For valley and hill and gorge;
I will, or I would, or I shall, or should,
But I can't get hold of George!

George! George! Where are you, George?
Come out from under the sofa, George!
I thought you were braver, George!
I'm doing you a favor, George!
You can use my desk,
And sit in my chair,
Snugly away from the nasty air.
Safe from the other fellow's cartridges,
Safe from returning without any partridges,
Safe from treacherous spoons and brassies,
And the flaming shorts of the golfing lassies.
All this, dear George, I am trying to spare you.
George! You softie, where are you?

Definitions.

One of the troubles of our time is a matter of definitions. Nothing means anymore what it used to mean.

Celebrity is one example. You used to have to do something. Act in a movie, write a book, sit on a flagpole for 30 straight days, engage in serial affairs with other celebrities.

Today all you need is an ample, largely prosthetic ass and a press agent.

Another example are the words "creative director." The holder of that title used to have to be able to both "create" and "direct." You used to have to have an abundance of experience and it was understood you made a fair amount of money. Today if you search the title online you'll see some job listing demanding 3-5 years experience, offering between $40K-$70K where the prime requirement is the applicant's knowledge of flash.

One last example. Helping the less fortunate or disaster victims. At one time we lowered our personal flags to half mast. We thought about these people and we donated either elbow grease or significant amounts of money. Today it seems--at least judging by my Facebook feed--it's ok to change your profile picture and thumb ups for help. Most people brook no interruption to their banality. The tragedy is commented upon but not felt.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bad Mood Monday.

In Christopher Hedges' seminal book "The Empire of Illusion," he rails against how esoteric academia has become. No longer do scholarly papers and scholar talk about central issues of thought, writing and philosophy. They deal instead with the "role of broccoli in Melville's 'Typee.'" In other words in order to find something "new" to say about a well-traveled route, academics dive deeper and deeper into the obscure.

I think about this as I see tweets and Facebook burps out of SXSW. It's not just that navel-gazing seems more inappropriate than usual coming on the heels of the Japanese Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Disaster. It's that it seems that half the industry is talking to itself at a conference about things that matter only to attendees of said conference. Most of what they're blathering on about will be of no consequence six months from now and little of it has anything to do with persuading people to love and use a brand.

Doing vs. Talking.

My first job in this business was as a copywriter at Bloomingdale's. Retail writ large. I literally wrote about 10 ads a week. Most of them with headlines as compelling as "Plush cotton towels 30%-40% off."

When I got my first agency job, in my first year I think I produced 12 ads, more print than anyone else in the agency. The slowness of the pace, the amount of picking, the endless conversations and nonsense before an ad got approved fairly drove me crazy.

Today, of course, we're lucky if we produce four ads a year. The level of scrutiny, the layers of client approval pretty much obviate your ability to create ads that are timely and in step with what's happening in the larger world.

There are two ways you can choose to go through life--inside or out of an agency. You can do things, make things happen, put your ass out there. Or you can sit back and talk about things so that nothing gets done.

It reminds me of an old joke about a woman who dies at 73 after 48 years of marriage and she's still a virgin. When she gets to heaven, St. Peter asks her how this is possible. And she replies, "Oh, my husband was in advertising. Every night he sat on the side of the bed and told me how great it was going to be."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

On becoming an anachronism.

When I was in graduate school looking to become an English professor, I had a specialty in Afro-American literature. As a child who grew up in a dark and forbidding household, Dickensian you might have called it, I found something resonant in such literature. But my real course of study was something I called (I shared this with no one else) the literature of the oppressed. Whether it was black people in America, the Irish as treated by the English, Jews as treated by the Germans, Indians as treated by the British, I found a similarity--a universality-- of storyline, tension, anger and response. My overriding thesis, and this was heretical, was that all oppressed people are different but their responses to oppression take on similar attributes.

I'm told today, because I find comfort in silent movies, and operas, in classics like the Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare performed outdoors in Central Park that I am in danger of becoming an anachronism. What those people who regard me as an anachronism don't understand is the universality of these great works. The humanity and truth that is in them.

Knowing the latest music, speaking the latest slang, watching hours of TV to stay current is not what makes you human. What makes you human is your power of understanding. Of appreciating the forces arrayed against humanity.

I'll admit I often feel that the world is too much with me. I am old enough to hold to the hoary notion that underwear is not something I want to see in public much less someone's ass crack. So often I depart the world and go to my leather chair and my gooseneck lamp that gives me 200-eco-friendly watts of light and I read. I know I read things other people do not read. I read about different people and different centuries and different problems than the ones we face today. I sit in my leather chair and I think about these things. About Pompeii in 79AD.

That doesn't make me an anachronism. It makes me care more about today

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seltzer.


About a dozen years ago, I was walking home and I saw an old panel truck and an old black delivery man delivering old bottles of seltzer in old wooden cases. When the delivery man had put down his load of bottles I asked him for a business card. I decided I wanted seltzer delivered to my apartment in antique siphon bottles as it has been virtually every Thursday since that day so many years ago.

The seltzer comes in thick glass bottles, most times they are clear, other bottles are tinted blue, more rarely, they are tinted green. The coolest among them have their original provenance etched into their sides. "National Seltzer Bronx NY, 25 cent deposit," "Jacob Cohen 7 Summit Street, Newark New Jersey." And so on.

The siphons are the only thing modern on these bottles. While some of them are the old metal ones, with the lever shaped like the curve of your thumb, more of them are aerodynamic and brightly colored plastic--yellow or orange--with "Made in Argentina" imprinted on their side.

I was thinking the other night about our seltzer delivery, how odd it is to have a "seltzer man" to kibbitz with--to tip at Christmas--and how much better seltzer in these antique bottles is than any other soda pop drink you can buy. The seltzer is actually better than what you get in the supermarket. It's carbonated under higher pressure. It's fizzier.

From an environmental point of view I need to say only this. The bottles and crates my seltzer comes in are probably 100 years old.

Some times, I'll be blunt about this, old is better. Most people don't know this, have never experienced real seltzer in a real, old siphon bottle. It's just better. And no one even knows.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Manifesto Manifesto.


A friend passed this on to me. It was passed on to him by the lovely Cara Kelly. Most notably, it was written by Kim Mok. I think it's absolutely perfect.

The banality of kindness.


I just came across the above photo on Facebook this morning and it, like so much else, made me angry. C'mon. If you want to help a mangled child or a mangled country, a badly spelled message will not help.

David Brooks, the erudite conservative op-ed columnist for "The New York Times" has an interesting piece in today's paper. It's called "The Modesty Manifesto" and you can read it all here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/opinion/11brooks.html?hp

These are some of the facts that stuck in my craw: Ninety-four percent of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills. A survey of high school students found that 70 percent of them have above-average leadership skills and only 2 percent are below average. In the 1950s, 12 percent of high school seniors said they were a “very important person.” By the ’90s, 80 percent said they believed that they were.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Misc.

"Forbes" reports that Facebook has "minted six billionaires." Which proves there's money to be made in announcing that Marcia is going to the spa after work and Will is at TED.

She was so ugly she was declared a "no fly zone."

David Broder, the Pulitzer-winning political reporter who died yesterday, wrote an average of 250,000 words a year. It takes us a year to write the 60 words that make up a 30-second spot.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's wrong with our industry.

video
A friend just sent me three of the latest Geico spots. One involved a deer. Another, a pen and a sword. And the third involved a dog and a cat. I've posted my favorite above.

I laughed out loud. No, really.

For what seems like forever, the Martin Agency has been doing really brilliant work on Geico. Funny stuff that drives drives drives home Geico's sales message. In the process Geico has grown and grown. I like them.

As far as I can tell, the Martin Agency doesn't win awards for this work. I suppose it's too crass and commercial. Doesn't measure up to some inscrutable double-paged visual pun spread for Scrabble or some such.

Likewise, IBM. Year in and year out, Ogilvy does singularly intelligent, interesting, well-crafted work. It doesn't win awards either.

I know we're supposed to be in a creative field. I know we're allowed to goof around at work, play ping-pong, drink beer, wear our baseball caps backwards.

But reality (remember that?) is that advertising is a serious business. It's meant to move minds and hearts.

I don't want to enter any awards show that doesn't consider Geico and IBM's work award-winning.

Another hour gone.

Rocks fall when dropped says study on gravity.

There's a report just in from the 4A's Conference that concludes agency employees feel no loyalty for the agency who pays them. You can read the thing here: http://adage.com/article/special-report-4as-conference/andrew-benett-offers-bleak-talent-management-stats/149297/

As Captain Renault said in "Casablanca," "I'm shocked! Shocked!" Or as Andrew Benett global CEO of Havas' Arnold Worldwide said at the 4As, "Wow. I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was that bad."

Here's another of what account people like to call "clarifying comments." "We're not taking our own advice. We don't have time to market ourselves, to care about our talent," said Mr. Benett. "We say 'Talent is our number one asset,' but you look more into it and you look at how managers are, revenue is more important."

Oh, and Mr. Benett, I think you skipped over a few items that have been nettling me and the gaggle of people who call me bi-weekly looking for work. There's virtually no job security and salaries, at least in my experience, are lower than they were a decade ago because we are now owned by an oligopoly of holding companies run by extortionate money grubbers.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sameness.

There was an obituary in "The New York Times" yesterday of a guy called Sam Chwat whom the Times called a "dialect tutor to film stars." You can read the obit here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/nyregion/08chwat.html?hpw

Chwat was, according to the Times, a "Henry Higgins to the stars," helping "thousands of clients prepare for roles, succeed in business or assimilate into the rushing stream of American argot by losing — or gaining — regional accents."

As for accented speech, Chwat said, "You can afford to find accents charming as long as you’re part of the power structure that has the accent of the ruling class.”

This last sentence struck me because it speaks of the eternal struggle between the standardized and what's unique.

Chwat made people sound like they were part of "the ruling class." He normalized the speech of Southerners, Bronxites and Brooklyners. He smoothed the edges. Evened things out.

It occurred to me, and this is no slight against Chwat, that the losing of "accent" is much of what is wrong with advertising (and the world) today. Everything looks, feels and sounds "normal." There is little character and humanity. Flaws are sanded down. Noses are fixed. Visceral reaction--laughter--is replaced by polite applause. Nothing raises the pulse. Everything is generic.

In short, personality quirks are expurgated. We are left with baby food. Bland, tasteless, without much nutritional value. But it won't make you sick.

What we as creative people are meant to do is to be noticed, to swim against the tide, to upset the status quo.

Our work is meant to stand out, not fit in. We are meant to in the transmogrified words of Dylan Thomas "rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Chart without comment, 2.

I bid adieu to Uncle Slappy.

I left my apartment early this morning with Uncle Slappy in tow, heading in a taxi for Penn Station where he would take the train back down to his condo in Florida. He had wrapped two brisket sandwiches in wax paper hours before I was up and had one in each pocket of his overcoat wrapped also in a napkin and stuffed down to the nether regions of his coat and kept in place by "a nice macintosh apple."

Years ago I had bought for my kids the ipod shuffle, the little one that's about 3/4-inch square. I loaded one with some of Slappy's favorite operas and gave it to him at the gate to the train.

"You should have something to listen to on the way down, Uncle Slappy."

"I listen too much is the trouble. I listen to the conductor, I listen to Sylvie, I listened to Benny, the crook, when we went in halves on the dry cleaner in Fresh Meadows. I listen to the Cuban kids at the bagel shop when they say there's no sesame. What for should I listen to this?"

"It's Maria Callas, Uncle Slappy. Your favorite. 240 songs, whole operas. For Crissakes, it's got "La Forza del Destino."

"The 40 D'Agostinos," Slappy joked. "So how do you use this thing?"

"It's intuitive, Uncle Slappy."

"I'll give you an intuitive up your Tuchas, big shot. Where's the on/off?" I explained the scroll wheel as best I could. "Let me get you a "Times," Uncle Slappy.

"A Times I don't need. I have my paperback." He was reading William Shirer's "Inside the Third Reich" for the eightieth time.

They were calling "All Aboard" and I walked Slappy to a car and found him his seat.

"You'll call me when you get in Uncle Slappy?"

"Call you? Yes, I'll call you, if I'm not dead."

With that the train lurched and I ran to get off. I waved to the old man through the filthy window and the train left into the dark of the tunnel.

Monday, March 7, 2011

An email from Uncle Slappy.

Uncle Slappy is staying with me while he's up in New York from Florida for a shiva. He sent me this email today:

Today, being in New York as I am so infrequently, I went for a walk in your neighborhood looking for a place where I could maybe get some lunch without spending an arm and a leg. What I found was nothing. A Starbucks with their cellophane wrapped sandwiches for $7.95. Who knows when that sandwich was made? I want a sandwich that was made in the same time zone I live in, that's too much to ask, Mr. Upper East Side? And not something, like I said that's an arm and a leg.

I know you left lunch for me in the frigidaire, but a walk I needed.

So I made my way down to 74th St and found the Glendale Bakery where in addition to the things they sell in an ordinary bakery, like baked goods, they sell a cup of soup a regular $2.50, a medium $3, with a slice of bread with it.

They have a choice of three soups. "What's good," I say to the soup girl. She looks at me like I have two heads. "What's good?" I repeat. She repeats only their list of soups which I can plainly read. "We have mushroom barley, vegetable and chicken noodle."

I take a cup medium of mushroom barley, a nice warming soup in nice cold New York. I sit on a stool at the little table by the window and open my soup and what I find I have is half a cup. The soup she didn't fill all the way in the cup to the top.

Now coffee I understand you don't to the tippy-top fill. People add to it cream or some such, but soup, soup is a thing you don't add to.

"Miss," I walk back to the counter and say to her, "my soup, you didn't fill it. It's down to here and it should be up to there." I point out. She doesn't understand and calls over a fat Puerto Rican, the manager wearing a tie.

"Young man," I say, "a whole medium soup I wanted and I am down an inch." He looks at me and he looks at my soup sitting there lonely in the medium cup. He ladles more soup in, up to the top now. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, sir," he tells me and carries for me the mushroom barley to my table.

Cold.

Chart without comment.

Uncle Slappy returns.

Uncle Slappy came up yesterday, on the Amtrak, all the way from Florida, wet and looking worse for wear. It was raining like a sonofabitch in Manhattan yesterday when Uncle Slappy's train pulled in. I had gotten him car service to take him up to my place because I knew there would be no cabs, but it was still a distance for him to walk and no one was there to help him with his bags, though he'll be 85 in April. I should have met him down there, I know, he's my father's brother. But I crapped out on the old man, figured I was doing enough with the car service and staying in my guest room.

"A roller bag, you should get," Uncle Slappy, I offered. "Cousin Howard's in the business, for half price he can get you."

"Roller bags are for fiegeles, Mr. Roller Schmoller. When it comes to the point I can't schlepp a bag, I get to the point where I stay home with Sylvie and watch Oprah. Better than staying home with Oprah and watching Sylvie." I agreed.

Then Uncle Slappy who was up in New York for a shiva told me a bit about life.

"First, in your twenties," said Slappy "you go to weddings. The weddings of your friends. Then, the baby namings, and B'nai Mitzvot of your friends' children. Then the funerals of your parents. Then the weddings of your kids. Then the namings. Then funerals. Funerals. Funerals.

"Sponge cake longa, vita brevis. All is mutable. Except for the challah and the sponge cake."

Uncle Slappy fell asleep around 8:30 after he had had a slice, thin, of sponge cake we picked up from Park East. Feh, not like the old days. The Knicks were on the TV beating the Hawks by a dozen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

And the beat goes on.

Acquired wisdom.

Being over 50 in an advertising agency today is like being a virgin in a whorehouse.
Sooner or later you're going to get fucked.

Angry.

I've been writing this blog for about 1,500 days and have written well-over 2,000 posts. Yeah, some of them have been lame-brained and some of them have been one-liners, but some of them, I think, have been measured, thoughtful and even astute.

I'm a writer in my soul, a copywriter by profession, so I do what I do. I write. I try to tap into my thoughts, observe the world and put it all down on digital paper.

To my mind, it's all very simple. Writers write.

Right now half a dozen of my Facebook friends are planners who seem to be attending TED. If writers write, designers design, photographers shoot, directors direct and comedians joke, I'm wondering what planners do to keep themselves sharp--plan?

What is it they produce? What do they make that advances the ball?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Starting out.

When I was in my early twenties I was having a hell of a time breaking into the advertising industry. Maybe the economy sucked. Maybe my book wasn't that great. Maybe I was just to shy too make calls and nudge people.

Whatever the case, somehow my book made its way to a pretty famous creative director called Shep Kurnit. He was the "K" of a well-regarded agency called Delehanty Kurnit & Geller or DKG. He had a good reputation in the industry and was kind enough to send out four letters for me to prominent creative directors. None of whom hired me, but eventually Shep's fondness for me did help me get a job working for a guy who used to work for Shep. It was my first agency job.

It's 30 years later now, and I'm still thankful to Shep. Shep died just before my father did in 2001, but I still think about him and how he helped me.

He never taught me this but he might as well have. When a bright, young, eager person finds you and asks for help, help them. Introduce them to people, criticize them constructively. It's the least you can do for the help you got along the way.

Chronic traumatic adkillopathy.

There's been a lot in the news for the past couple of years about football players, hockey players and boxers--you know, people who get hit in the head for a living--and an ailment called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions.

Just last week a former NFL star, fearing the manifestations of that disease killed himself.

In advertising we suffer something similar. I'll call it chronic traumatic adkillopathy. Clients who, willy-nilly, kill ads and expect you to come back time and again with new ads. And quickly.

For the 30 years I've been in the business, my ability to come back with new ads has been my greatest strength. I've always believed that "the best revenge is a better ad."

But, to quote Preston Sturges, "A man works all his life in a glass factory, one day he feels like picking up a hammer."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mario Vargas Llosa on Advertising.


I just came upon something in "The New York Times" by Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. It made me think, as so many things do, of advertising.

Here's Part the First:
"A successful society minimizes the unhappiness of its people, and encourages them to resist failure." I'd say, in part, that's what a successful agency does.

And Part the Second:
"I work, and I work hard precisely because I have an enormous difficulty in writing. Many times I sweat, I sweat ink, but with joy - suffering joy.
And I wouldn't trade with anyone, for anything, this task."

A metaphor, 2.

I just got an email solicitation from The Museum of the City of New York telling me about an upcoming exhibit called: "Women in the Great Depression."

Story of my life.

A metaphor.


About three evenings a week, I head home from work via 8th Avenue, one of the grittier avenues in the city where glitter has yet to completely replace "gritter." 8th Avenue, being just off Times' Square, used to be the epicenter of New York's porn industry and despite the puritanical ministrations of Guiliani and his thugs, it's still home to private viewing booths and places where you can buy edible panties in a variety of delectable flavors.

Thanks to an antique looking, Hopperesque (Edward, not Dennis) looking neon sign, there's a bar I notice on my way home called, "Smith's Bar Restaurant." The sign includes 20 characters in all and in my entire life I've never seen all 20 illuminated all at once. Often it's "t's ba rant," once it even read "Smith's B r a."

Somehow looking at this sign in all its variety makes me think of advertising. How nice it is, sometimes, to let viewers fill in the blanks and how incomplete information is sometimes more enticing than the whole kit and kaboodle. That's the positive side of the sign. The negative may be even more prevailing.

It reminds me of how sloppy and careless marketers (and agencies) are about their brands. How a piss-stained ATM does more to hurt a bank's image than a million dollar spot does to help it. How work that's badly conceived, badly written and badly produced often gets out because it's politically expedient.

By the way, I've never been to Smith's. But I might go this afternoon for lunch.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dizzy Dean and Advertising.


I was talking to a fellow copywriter and somehow Dizzy Dean, the great pitcher for the 1930s St. Louis Cardinals "Gas House Gang" came up. That led me to look online and find some quotations by Dean. This one really struck me:

"The dumber a pitcher is, the better. When he gets smart and tries to experiment with a lot of different pitches, he's in trouble. All I ever had was a fastball, a curve and a change up and I did pretty good."

It occurred to me when I read that quote that Dean could be talking about advertising as well as pitching. We are good as an industry when we don't get too smart, too clever, too crafty. When we're simple, honest, direct. We are good when, simply put, we are entertaining, interesting, human and real.

When we get all crazy about things, when we talk about modalities and new models and game-changing paradigms, we are, in the words of Dean, "get[ting] smart." Or too smart.

That's no good.

Notes from a future client meeting.

Roadmap roadmap. Next steps, low-hanging fruit. Next steps, timesheets, roadmap, status report integrated new media roadmap. Touch-base check-in roadmap next steps. Interstitial integrated 300 by 250 roadmap. Powerpoint next steps roadmap concerns roadmap powerpoint. Media roadmap Facebook social unpaid media roadmap powerpoint.

Ontogeny recapitulates clientology.

The way I understand it--which admittedly could be off a bit--ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny means that the birth process of a single organism copies that of an entire species. In other words, the birth of a single person goes through stages similar to the birth of our species.

From an ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny point of view, I've been trying to make sense of what's been happening in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and, probably, a couple other medieval Sheikdoms that have been forced off the front page of "important" newspapers because of someone's Oscar dress.

What I've concluded is that big, monolithic, autocratic governments are like big, monolithic, autocratic brands. In other words, the Middle-Eastern countries mentioned above are a lot like a lot of client organizations.

Because I'm rushing this prior to a client meeting this morning, let me give just one example.

Both Middle-Eastern plutocracies or military states regard their customers (citizens) as wholly tangential to their rule. Rulers will do what they want regardless of what the ruled say. The simplest way of thinking about this in marketing terms is to (mis)quote Henry Ford. "A customer can have any color car as long as it's black."

Essentially, what's being said in the Middle-East is you can have any sort of government, as long as the plutocrats stay in office and can steal billions.