Friday, September 30, 2011

Uncle Slappy and the fish place.


About a generation ago slicing lox went from being an old-Jewish-man profession to one manned by young, first-generation Chinese. The Chinese began in the early 1970s by sweeping up after the alte-kocker slicers, by the late 80s to early 90s, they had taken over and were running fish counters at the old-school delis like Zabar's and even Barney Greengrass. A few years after that, they started open up their own "Jewish" delis, which, in many cases were better than the delis they replaced.

My neighborhood has one, Sable's, that opened about 20 years ago as a pure rip-off, right down to the orange and white signage of Zabar's which is from whence these Chinese lox-slicers sprang. The fish is excellent, sliced thin and even, as is the service. When Uncle Slappy lived in the neighborhood, Sable's was one of his haunts. He would stop there for their unmatched whitefish salad, their nova and all the other delicacies that were both reminders of his childhood and signposts of his current success.

On the wall at Sable's, which is cramped like the Collyer Brothers' apartment, are about 1,000 old polaroids of Sable's favorite customers. There are also pictures of former mayor Ed Koch, Yankee star Derek Jeter and sundry celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Brian Williams from NBC News. Uncle Slappy and I walked to Sable's today for fish. And to check to see if his picture is still there.

It was. It's right in the middle above. That's Slappy in his blue baseball windbreaker, eating a schtickel.

"That picture will be up there long after I'm down there," Slappy said, pantomiming death.

The Chinese guys heard him and laughed. Then they gave Slappy an extra-large free sample of fish.

Uncle Slappy goes to Shul.

For most of his life, Uncle Slappy was a rabbi at a small east side congregation, Beth Yuiz Miwo Mannow. He worked there for over fifty years. They made him Rabbi Emeritus a few years back and stripped him of his congregation. Said he was too old and opinionated. Since that point, Uncle Slappy has moved from his junior-four on East 87th Street and moved to Boca. He's rarely gone to synagogue, finding the rituals too constricting and the rabbis too, in his words, pusillanimous. For whatever reason, he decided to go with me yesterday for the morning service.

He started in right away.

"You know how you can tell who's the rabbi?" he poked. "He's the one with the goyische name." The rabbi at my synagogue has the last name of "Cosgrove." "Is his name 'Cosgrove Elliot or Elliot Cosgrove?" Slappy went on.

I knew enough not to answer.

We went through the metal detectors at the synagogue. "The only religion in the world where you need to go through a metal detector. And no one says anything about it," he barked. The metal detectors pushed him over the edge.

He softened a bit when in the sanctuary he bumped into Mindy Haubenslag. They chatted for a while, then kissed each other goodbye. Uncle Slappy explained. "I grew up with Mindy Haubenslag. For sixty-five years or so I've had a thing for her. In fact, every year when she would return to Beth Yuiz Miwom Annow, I would espy Mindy from the pulpit. This is not a violation of any commandment. I was not coveting, just noticing. Like me, Mindy Haubenslag is over 80. She still has a well-turned ankle. Now, Mr. Big Pisk," he said using the Yiddish for mouth, "don't say a word to Sylvie."

We finally sat down in our assigned seats. I could see right away the old man's mind wandering. "Oy," he exclaimed after about 20 minutes, "my foot's asleep...do you mind if I join it."

With that, Uncle Slappy nodded off, silently davaning in his sleep.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Phantom Carriage.

" video
Since I was a little kid I've always loved old movies. Today, there are a couple of great film archivists who month after month re-release old movies worth watch. The most prolific of these is Criterion and as a consequence I buy just about everything they produce.

My recently I received in the mail "The Phantom Carriage, a 1921 Swedish movie by director Victor Sjöström. "The Phantom Carriage" is a dark fable about love and death that foreshadows Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

It ain't exactly something you'd find on the Hallmark Family Channel or Comedy Central. In other words, it's no barrel of laughs.

But if you're in the mood to see Death in living two-color, give it a whirl.
--

BTW, a couple times a year, Criterion runs 1/2-price sales through Barnes & Noble. You can pick up a bit of brilliance and history like "The Phantom Carriage" for about twenty bucks.

Passion and money.

There was an obituary in "The New York Times" the other day of a movie producer called Mo Rothman who died at 92. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/movies/mo-rothman-dies-at-92-revived-interest-in-charlie-chaplin.html?ref=obituaries

Rothman was the man who brought Charlie Chaplin and his movies back to America after Chaplin had been essentially exiled by McCarthy-era hate-mongering for "left-leaning" views and moral turpitude. (At separate times, he married two 16-year-old girls--take that, Woody Allen.)

Here's a bit from the obit: "When Chaplin, a British citizen, left for Switzerland in 1952 after residing in the United States for 40 years, Attorney General James P. McGranery told reporters that he would not be allowed to return unless he could prove his “moral worth.” Chaplin announced soon afterward that he would never return."

Rothman worked with Chaplin. Re-released his black-and-white films and engineered his return to the US, which of course was great publicity for his movies. Eventually Chaplin was awarded an honorary Oscar and made the cover of Time Magazine. Along the way, a whole new generations of Americans was exposed to Chaplin and both Chaplin and Rothman made a fortune through the re-releases.

No real point today other than it's heartening to see someone get rich for following his passions.

It's a new year for Jews.

This sort of thing gives me hope.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Uncle Slappy arrived last night.

Last night after work I walked down to Penn Station to wait for the Amtrak "Palmetto" to arrive and discharge my Uncle Slappy and his wife of 57 years Aunt Sylvie. The Palmetto, like most of big American infrastructure is worse than it was 57 years ago--certainly slower and it took Slappy and Sylvie over 28 hours to make it up North from the Sunshine State. Needless to say, Sylvie looked worse for wear. For whatever reason, Uncle Slappy looked as brown and healthy as a newly-minted Pumpernickle.

"Aunt Sylvie, Uncle Slappy, you're here." I said somewhat fatuously when I met them on the grimy platform.

"Where else would we be, genius," said Uncle Slappy, starting in already. "Your aunt is ferklempt, Mr. Big Schott, she could use a Nedick's."

Uncle Slappy has called me Mr. Big Schott--a term of both endearment and derision since I can remember.

"Look, Uncle Slappy, there are no more Nedick's. There's no more Horn & Hardart's. No more Orange Julius."

Uncle Slappy unfolded an oversized Amtrak schedule which had been in his vest pocket. He was dressed as if it were 30 degrees out. "No, Nedick's," he said "when's the next train back home."

"Listen, they just opened up a Second Avenue Deli on First and 75th. We'll take a taxi there and get something to eat."

"Second Avenue Deli on First Avenue. A fachadick world we live in." He segued, as only he can from Shetl Yiddish to Shakespeare. "Fair is foul, and foul is fair:/Hover through the fog and filthy air."

"Uncle Slappy," I tried to calm him as we got into a cab, "It's a good deli regardless of where it is. It's walking distance to my apartment and you can get a nice bowl of soup."

I realized that the conversation almost always turns to soup within half an hour of seeing Uncle Slappy.

"Hungry I'm not," said Slappy. "Just a bit fahtutzed. Let's go right to your Mr. Big Schott castle in the sky. Soup I can have tomorrow. Mushroom Barley."

We arrived at my apartment and I brought their bags into our guest room. Uncle Slappy turned on the television set.

"A new TV you have, Mr. wide-screen Big Schott. The shows are better on a bigger screen?"

"No Uncle Slappy," I replied sheepishly, "it's the same old drivel."

"I'd switch back to my tiny black and white RCA in the oak cabinet," he grumbled, "if it played Sid Caesar."

Uncle Slappy sat in his favorite chair and turned on the PBS News Hour, or as he called it "the news with the fancy Puerto Rican anchorman." Aunt Sylvie was in the kitchen chatting with my wife.

For a brief moment the old man was silent. Then he spoke.

"Mr. Big Schott," he said, "a stickle of cake you have?"

By the time I returned with a cup of coffee, black, and three rugelach, chocolate, Slappy had pulled a blanket over himself and had fallen asleep.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Today's editorial.

Write we must.

video
About three times or maybe twice a year I am tapped out, I am in a slump. My work at work slows to a standstill. The easiest task becomes onerous. I slough assignments off. My synapses stop snapping.

Even my blog becomes difficult for me. Nothing strikes me as worth writing about. I can't seem to coherently string words together. I'm not astute. I'm not funny. I'm not even bitter.

I just suck.

Lately I've had a few of those days. I feel as dull as a moderate Republican.

When I was a kid when Con Edison used to plaster signs around their work sites that read, bluntly, "Dig We Must." The signs were Con Ed's way of saying they were doing essential work.

On days when I feel like I can't do anything, I think about those signs. Then I try to write something.

Even if it's as dumb as this.

--
PS. A very bright Interaction Designer just pointed me to the Saul Bass video above. It's Saul Bass. So, of course, well worth watching and thinking about.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My father's 20-year watch.

When my father died, not unexpectedly but suddenly, he was rushing between classes at Northwestern University where he taught marketing communications. He had started teaching there when he turned around 55 and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him. It gave him a place to go away from my mother and gave him a place where young people would hang on his words. By all accounts, and I can believe this, my father was a passionate and riveting teacher, passionate and riveted by his subject--advertising.

My father died in May of 2001 and I say it wasn't unexpected because he had suffered a heart-attack at the age of just 39 and then had its sequel just seven years later in 1974. Later on he had trouble with his kidneys and wound up in dialysis for most of the last years of his life.

My mother held a memorial service for my father on September 22, 2001, just 11 days after 9/11 and I couldn't make it. Planes were flying only sporadically and the idea of a 24-hour train ride to Chicago didn't appeal to me. I had said goodbye to my father earlier at a graveyard outside of Philadelphia where we "put him to rest," and sat shiva. The memorial service seemed like something I could miss during that frightening time when it seemed like the world was coming to an end. I felt it was more important to be with my daughters.

As a consequence of not being at my father's memorial, I got no paternal hand-me-downs. No set of cufflinks that were his favorite. No gold fountain pen or well-worn watch. Nothing, other than the disdain, everlasting, of my mother who never forgave me for not showing up.

Six years almost to the day after my father's death, my sister died in a motorcycle crash. She was just 47 and had no significant other. It was up to me to take the train out to the fringes of Park Slope and clear out her rented apartment. Most of what was in her apartment was trash but there were a few artifacts of my father's, including the watch his advertising agency gave him at his 20th anniversary with the firm.

Shortly after his 20th Anniversary, he was fired by the same agency. That’s when he started working as a professor at Northwestern.

The watch was a gold one, from Cartier’s and of course it was stopped. The battery hadn’t been replaced since my father had died. There had been at one time an emerald bezel on the crown but that had long since disappeared. My father had broken his left wrist at one time and had a large bony protrusion where a watch would ordinarily be worn. Instead he wore his watch on his right wrist—the hand he wrote with and for that reason, he claimed, he was rough on them.

The watch was engraved on the back. It had his name, the name of his company and “Twenty Years” in an elegant block type.

I’ve never worn an expensive watch, certainly not one from Cartier. Growing up in the 60s, when status was attained by not kowtowing to status symbols, such appurtenances were never important to me. I suppose it drives my wife and kids crazy that I care nothing at all for expensive clothes or shoes or jewelry. I don’t begrudge my family such things, but they are unimportant to me; I’m happier wearing old blue jeans, sneakers (without irony) and a t-shirt and, frankly don’t even understand why someone wants or needs such expensive things. We all have voids in our lives, a sense of loss or deprivation that we seek to fill. But a watch, in my view, won’t do the trick.

Nevertheless, the watch was a memory of my father. I felt compelled to wear it. Maybe it was a moment of sentimental weakness to have, in the wake of my sister’s death, an item of my family, of my past on my wrist.

My father and I had never been close. We knew, each of us, that we should have been, that fathers and sons ought to be close. But try as we might, if pressed, each of us would have admitted we were disappointed by the other one.

I wasn’t the son my father wanted. Wasn’t a hit with girls, wasn’t the star athlete, wasn’t adept in social situations. The truth is, I hated doing almost everything my father really wanted me to do. Likewise, my father came up short for me. He seemed mute when I needed help with something and was often missing when he was wanted most.

The first time I wore his watch it took me a full day to realize that it ran irregularly. I would show up for a meeting twenty minutes late, or show up for another one twenty minutes early. It seemed the watch was the very model of my father. Reliably unreliable.

From that point nearly six years ago when the watch let me down until recently I locked the watch away in a small fireproof safe I had screwed deep into the floor of a walk-in closet in my apartment. I gave it no thought, really, until my everyday watch smashed when I knocked it to a tile floor. Then I needed a watch and figured my father’s would do—I would just replace the battery--until my watch was repaired.

Now, here’s where the story gets even stickier with symbolism. I took the broken watch to what might be the world’s largest watch store. Three weeks later they called me to say the watch could be picked up. The necessary parts were no longer available and they couldn’t repair it. From 57th and Madison I ran up to 69th and Madison where there’s a small Cartier shop.

Cartier is just about everything I hate in the world. Conspicuous consumption at its most conspicuous. Not to mention salespeople dripping with both French accents and disdain for customers who are not sartorially splendid.

“This watch is not aw-zen-teeck,” I was told.

“Whaddaya mean, not authentic. It was given to my father after twenty years at his company.”

“Well, I tell you,” the clerk said superciliously “it is what you call a knock oof. It is not aw-zen-teeck.”

I put the not authentic watch back in my pocket. It had been my father’s. It was mine now.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Incest.

I have nothing against Meg Whitman. I never jumped on the eBay phenomenon, never saw it as a way to make a living, a way to have fun, a way to rid my too-crowded closets of the crocheted toaster covers my Aunt Louise had "gifted me" with. Nevertheless, I think her purported ascent to the head of HP is evidence of an incestuous myopia the infects so much of our world.

Years ago I was a senior creative person at a once-venerable then shaky mid-sized agency. Of all the senior creatives, I was probably the most independent-minded and, for that reason, when both of the agency's new business people quit, the CEO called me into his office to discuss a replacement.

I recommended a young, bright Asian account person who was probably ten years and two levels junior to her predecessors.

The CEO looked aghast. She's so young. She's a she. How could we do such a thing.

I remarked that she couldn't do any worse than the last two guys and could potentially add some life to a moribund process.

Here's my point, when companies like HP go looking for new CEOs (or when IPG does for that matter) they pick from a small pool that is almost all dried out by the sun. A pool of candidates that are fundamentally just like the person they had before that left them in such dire straits. Essentially they act like a married couple who divorce only to marry each other again.

Like I said, I have nothing against Meg Whitman. Nothing against the person who will eventually take over from Michael Roth at IPG. But I do have something against incest.

Call me old fashioned.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A long-lost connection.

I got a call last night from someone I haven't spoken to in 40 years.

She was best friends with my sister and was looking for her on Facebook--looking to reconnect after many years. She couldn't find my sister, found me instead and asked what happened to Nancy.

Telling someone their best childhood friend died, tragically, at 47 in a motorcycle crash is not something you want to post on someone's "wall." I sent my sister's friend my phone number and last night she called me.

We had a long talk. I said about ten minutes into the talk that I'd spoken to her more now than I ever did when she used to hang out with Nancy. I never cottoned to anyone growing up and spent the bulk of my time not speaking to people.

Facebook and with it, our ability to connect or reconnect with near-strangers is an amazing phenomenon. I suppose in previous eras there were lonely-heart columns in local newspapers and people wrote letters to penpals and long-lost friends. None of which had the immediacy of what we have today. Like I said, Facebook is an amazing thing.

Whether or not this amazingness has anything to do with advertising (outside of being a re-seller of personal data) remains to be seen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Personal brands.

video
As readers of Ad Aged well know, I think most of the advertising and marketing that IBM does is second to none. Yes, it doesn't win awards. It isn't cool, au courant and flashy. It's simple, smart, approachable and propagates big ideas. (If our industry judged work based on anything other than what's notorious and cool, IBM, IMHO would sweep many an award show.) They don't do creativity for creativity's sake. They do honest work that moves people--and their stock price.

In any event I've just come across the video pasted above and the last 10 seconds or so really struck me.

In them Sam Palmisano talks about how leaving a company a better place than you found it is what matters, is how a leader should be judged. However, too often, way too often, leaders spend their time cultivating their personal brands as opposed to moving their companies forward.

This is the curse of our age. A triumph of patina over foundation.

Everyone from the president, to the presidential contenders, to junior art directors are out cultivating their personal brands. Consider it a slash and burn strategy applied to everything. Doing doesn't matter, achievement is secondary or tertiary or quadriary. Boasting about things rules.

BTW, the current Republican candidates' infatuation with corndogs seems an apt illustration. Eating a corndog at a state fair, some strategist somewhere has posited, is proof that you're "one of the people." So every Republican and his cousin has been shown in some fellatio-esque shot scarfing such a monstrosity. An image as apropos for a Mitt Romney as Michelle Bachman at a Mensa meeting.

Years ago I went to a Miami Ad School portfolio review. One thing I noticed is that everyone had a resume with their picture on it, usually striking some sort or nonchalant or asinine pose. All these students had been trained, honed and perfected into personal brands.

But what's missing in personal brands and is missed by the people who cultivate them is that brands in and of themselves, brands devoid of accomplishment and spine, are meaningless.

Apple would be nothing if they didn't actually make something.

Doing stupid things.

According to Maureen Dowd's op-ed in today's "New York Times," Rachael Ray (I know she's famous, I don't know what for) recently asked former president Bill Clinton what superpower he would most like to possess. Clinton answered thusly: “'I would be able to enter the minds of people who were about to do really stupid things' and stop them."

I thought about that a bit--about all the stupid things I have done in my career, all the times I have--in the parlance of child psychologists and the like--"acted out." Cursed and quit and said fuck you when I should have, if I were wiser and maybe stronger, bided my time, collected my paycheck, kept my thoughts to myself until I found something better.

Once I quit an agency because they hired a creative over me who tried to wrest control of my account from me. She expected me to hand her the reins (and my power) without a fight.

I quit. Just like that. Packed up my things and went for a long walk during a snowy January.

I was young then, or relatively so, having just turned 40. It was a different, pre-Great Recession era when jobs were easier to come by. After a couple hours of petulance-based retirement, I checked my voicemail and had a message from the head of HR, a friend, asking me to come in and talk.

I probably shouldn't have, but I did. And they lured me back. Eventually for more money.

I'm not sure if I was dumber when I quit or dumber when I came back.

Another time I quit because an account guy insisted on a concocted and made up pitch for a giant piece of business. The only time the client would concede to see us was over dinner the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

I said that's no way and no time to present work and I wouldn't do it. I said to the agency president, if that's when we're presenting include me out. And they did.

Of course, they went ahead with the pitch which earned them nothing but lost weekends.

The third time I quit was the most recent and most painful. The president of the agency of which I was ECD had a mild crush on a creative I didn't think much of. She mandated that I put him in charge of an account and I refused. They insisted. I quit.

Overall most of these quittings have cost me money. One or two have made me money. All have caused me stress and strain.

In aggregate, I'm not sure if I'm better off or worse for acting rashly.

I'm stupid that way.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Out to Lunch.




One of my favorite movies of all time is Vittorio De Sica's "The Bicycle Thieves." No director I've ever seen casts and shoots people more realistically and no one tells a small stories about "unimportant people" with such poignancy and subtlety.

Today, work is a little slow and with not much to do I snuck out at lunch and took in De Sica's 1947 movie "Shoeshine."

Here's a "New York Times" recap of the story: "Set in Rome, soon after the American Army had driven out the Germans but before the wider war was over, “Shoeshine” is the story of two boys — the cherubic, towheaded Giuseppe (Rinaldo Smordoni) and the slightly older, more experienced Pasquale (Franco Interlenghi) — who make a living polishing the boots of American soldiers and dabbling in the black market. The boys dream of raising the money to buy a beautiful white stallion that has somehow entered their lives before the film begins (De Sica’s first sacrifice of plausibility to poetry), and in their eagerness allow themselves to serve as innocent dupes in a robbery attempt set up by Giuseppe’s brother....

"Sent to a juvenile prison, the boys are put in separate cells and fall in with a much tougher population, learning the value of keeping their mouths shut. But a guard tricks Pasquale into betraying Giuseppe’s brother by staging a phony beating. (When Pasquale hears what he believes to be his best friend’s screams of pain, he confesses everything he knows.) When Giuseppe learns of Pasquale’s betrayal, the boys’ beautiful friendship is destroyed."

I don't often goof off at work. I seldom duck out and treat myself to a flick.

But sometimes neo-realism beats realism hands-down.

A friend writes.

I just got an email from a friend of mine.

"There's an assignment kicking around in my group now to create some guidelines for videos that my client produces on their own.

"It seems to me that such guidelines are a silly and futile attempt to keep people who have no taste from producing something tasteless. To idiot proof idiocy.

"Any thoughts on this?"

Here's my response.

X, there's no way to completely stop people from doing something crass and stupid, but I wonder if there's a way of adapting Orwell's "6 Rules for Decent Writing" to your task. I've pasted them below and hope they help. They seem like pretty good rules to me, something you might have gotten from Ogilvy.

From his "Politics and the English Language."

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I wrote this almost four years ago.

A Ballad for the Republicans.

Rudy, Rudy, thank the stars in Heaven
For protecting us from nine eleven.
Mitt's strong and ain't afraid to veto,
His grin is nice, his hair is neato.
I like him more than Tom Tancredo.
Fred Thompson's aspect is Reagan-esque,
He'll sit behind that Oval desk.
And John McCain is tough as granite,
The strongest guy on all the planet.

Republicans there are galore!
They're freedom loving to the core,
They hate abortion, choice and more,
To immigrants, they'll lock the door,
And fight the necessary war,
The Christian god, they all adore.
They'll help the rich and tax the poor.
Support the NRA, of cour'

Republicans there are galore,
I'm a fascist, hear me roar!

What Makes Sammy Run?

As I've written about before in this space, when I was a young graduate student at Columbia, I had a relationship with Budd Schulberg, the Hollywood screenwriter who wrote "On the Waterfront," "The Harder they Fall," and "A Face in the Crowd."

Schulberg also wrote a great American novel, "What Makes Sammy Run," which followed the rise and rise and rise and rise of Sammy Glick, an amoral conniver who would do anything to get to the top of the Hollywood heap.

(Schulberg knew whereof he wrote. His father, B.P. Schulberg was head of production at Paramount Pictures after Irving Thalberg died at 38. Budd was writing alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald while he was still in his early 20s.)

All this was rattling through the recesses of my head when the 1959 NBC television broadcast of "What Makes Sammy Run" arrived at my apartment the other day. The novel was one of my favorites when I was young, and though I haven't read it in 30 years, it holds a nostalgic place in my heart. What's more, I often think of a line from the novel, "going through life with a conscience is like driving with your brake on." A line that seems so relevant so often, whether you're in Hollywood, advertising, politics or in love.

In any event, I just watched the movie. And one moment hit me as being a genuine bit of genius. It involves Sammy stabbing his mentor in the back. Burying Sidney Fineman, casting him as old, obsolete, washed up. The way Sammy kills him is an art form. It is murder by Rembrandt.

STUDIO MONEY MAN: Mr. Glick, there's no point in hiding the fact that we're contemplating some changes in our organization here. And we feel that your record entitles you to a voice in that reorganization.

GLICK: That's very kind of you sir. I feel it's only fair to tell you how much I've learned from assisting Sidney. He's been like a father to me. In fact, he's taught me everything he knows.

STUDIO MONEY MAN: Perhaps he's given you all he has to give. He's certainly let too many expensive flops slip into the program this past year.

GLICK: Mr. Harrington, only a genius could produce 40 pictures a year without coming up with some turkeys. Sidney Fineman has done some great pictures.

STUDIO MONEY MAN: I appreciate your sentiments, of course. But frankly the real purpose of my visit is to determine if his recent record is good enough.

GLICK: Mr. Harrington, you put me in a very difficult position. I don't like to speak about my superiors especially a man like Sidney Fineman, a man who was such a pioneer in this business. I mean, he goes way back to the nickelodeons.

Maybe the scene acts better than it reads. But if you've got a spare 1:47 hanging around, I highly recommend "What Makes Sammy Run" from "The Archive of American Television."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Some football cheers.

There was a great article in today's "New York Times" sports section about the University of Chicago and their small-scale football program. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/sports/ncaafootball/at-the-university-of-chicago-football-and-higher-education-mix.html?scp=1&sq=university%20of%20chicago&st=cse It's the story of the University dropping football after many years of collegiate dominance is recounted. Today, University of Chicago plays Division III football.

What really got me in the article however was the University's football cheer--a cheer that was more about the school asceticism than its love of the game:

Themistocles, Thucydides
The Peloponnesian War
X-squared, y-squared
H2SO4
Who for? What for?
Who we gonna yell for?
Go Maroons!

That of course made me think of the cheers Philip Roth recounted in "Portnoy's Complaint."

Give a yell, Give a yell,
A good, substantial yell
And when we yell, we yell like hell
And this is what we yell.

Ikey, Mikey, Jake, and Sam,
We're the boys who eat no ham
We play football, baseball, soccer
We keep matzohs in our locker.
Aye, aye, aye, Weequahic High!
-

White bread, rye bread,
Pumpernickel, challah,
All for Weequahic,
Stand up and hollah!

-

Then I did a bit of research and came upon a few more University of Chicago cheers.

CHICAGO CHEER

C-H . . . Chicago!
C-H . . . Chicago!
C-H . . . Chicago!
What is C H for?
METHANE!
-

PHYSICAL CONSTANT CHEER

Gimme the speed of light ......C
Gimme Planck's constant.........H
Gimme root negative one..........I
Gimme carbon......................C
Gimme the Bohr radius..............A
Gimme the gravitational constant....G
Gimme the additive identity of a non-trivial group...O
What's that spell? ...............CHICAGO!
(if you said CHICAGO, you are a true Maroon)

ARHYTHMIC CHEER (MM. = 72)

Largo, lento, adagio, andante,
Allegro con brio,
Presto, presto, presto!


LAW SCHOOL CHEER (apocryphal)

Wall Street, Law Review,
Contingent fees, all right!
To get an A from Levi,
We'll study all the night.
Rules of law and bar exams,
They can go to h---;
It's economic theory,
For which we're goin' to yell.
SO GO, GO, EFFICIENCY,
GILBERT'S ALL THE WAY.
Learned Hand and U of C
Are going to win this day.
GO, MAROONS!



SCHOLARLY YELLS

Logarithm, biorhythm,
Entropy, kinetics,
MPC, GNP, bioenergetics!
Maximize and integrate,
Titrate and Equilibrate--
GO, MAROONS!

Maximize our GNP,
Titrate their solution;
Calculate their MPC,
Crush their revolution!
GO, MAROONS!

New York City on a beautiful pre-Autumn Saturday.

It's a beautiful pre-Autumn Saturday here in New York city. The sky is deep blue punctuated by billowy cumulus. The temperature is in the low-60s. Though the leaves haven't turned yet, the inevitability of Fall is evident. The tourists who it seems flock to New York in ever-greater numbers are bundled up against the chill that isn't here yet. Even the Muslim hotdog vendors are rushing the season. They're out with hot chestnuts already.

My wife and I ran around the Central Park reservoir this morning then down the Lincoln Center to exchange some opera tickets. We wanted, call it masochism, as much Wagner as we could get, so we swapped some lesser operas out for Die Walkure and Gotterdammerung. While my wife was exchanging the tickets, I traipsed through the excellent Opera gift shop at the Met. Today absolutely everything is merchandised.

There was a small wooden cutting board. The label read "Romeo and Julienne."

I spoke to the lady at the ticket window and told her we were trying to see all of the Rinse Cycle.

You mean the Ring Cycle, sir, she corrected.

No, I mean the Rinse Cycle. Because we have to bring in laundry to afford the tickets.

We walked the three miles home and stopped and watched for a few minutes the Germans in their annual Steuben Day Parade. Their red, black and yellow flag was everywhere, as were oompah bands and lederhosen.

Suddenly they broke into a Neil Diamond song, "Sweet Caroline."

Why are they playing that? my wife asked.

"I don't know," I answered "but it's better than Deutschland uber alles or Horst Wessel lied."

Fifth Avenue was barricaded against crossing. Finally we found an opening manned by two Puerto Rican NYPD cops.

"How come the Germans get to march up to 86th?" I asked, "And the Puerto Ricans have to stop at 79th?"

"I don't know," one of the cops answered, "but I'm issuing a complaint about it."

"I don't blame you," I said, "Now let us across. They killed all my people."

The cop didn't bat an eyelid. "You're the second guy who's said that to me."

Friday, September 16, 2011

As promised.

video
One of my new spots. Be gentle with me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bill Mlkvy.


There's a young Polish woman who sits near me at work who, today, brought in a guide, in Polish, of the town in Poland in which she was born. The name of the town looked like a comic strip curse. Something like STKPRRYJ.

It reminded me of my father.

My father grew up poor in Philadelphia and somehow earned a scholarship to Philadelphia's Temple University. One class behind my father who was Temple class of 1951, was the great star of the Temple Owls basketball team. All-American Bill Mlkvy, a 6'4" forward, class of 1952 who was nicknamed, ingeniously, "The Owl without a Vowel."

In one college game, March 3, 1951 to be exact (my father was a few weeks short of graduation) Mlkvy poured in an unheard of 73 points in a game versus Wilkes University, his hands, I can only guess, like wild birds. At the time, it was an NCAA record.

Mlkvy averaged 21 points per game as a collegian and also tallied rebounds in the double digits. (Accurate stats weren't kept for rebounds in those days.) In his junior season, Mlkvy averaged an astounding 29.2 points per game. He was less of a success as a pro, playing one season for the Philadelphia Warriors and averaging just over 3 points per game.

Mlkvy went onto become a dentist (this is all I could find out about him) graduating from Temple University Dental School in 1955.

Is there anything else I can help you with?

I've had it with The New York Times. Not the paper itself, which I love and depend on (though, like most other news outlets, the Times has increased its coverage of the puerile and banal and decreased its coverage of petty things like wars, famines, pestilence, global warming, hate crimes, slavery, poverty, locusts and the Mets)but the home delivery service my wife and I subscribe to.

We, we were told when we subscribed, would get our paper before 6AM. Which means we'd have a chance to read it in the morning before we leave for work. Of late, and by of late I mean for the last ten years, the paper's been coming well after 7.

So I called the Times.

First they tell me, a recording tells me, that I'll be on hold between 8 and 13 minutes. That's just what I like, a margin of error of over 50%. Imagine interviewing for a job and being told you'll get paid between $80K and $130K. Not even close.

Finally I get a "customer care representative." I explain my problem. I tell her that my apartment house is served by two delivery services. One seems to deliver the paper in the 6AM range. Mine, is unacceptable. I don't want to cancel my subscription, I just want to change delivery services.

"Oh," says the central Kentuckian on the phone, "I can send a memo to the distributor, but it's not what we do here. We're a phone center."

"Your recording said you're a customer care service. I'm not getting any care."

"We're a phone center."

"Well, connect me to a supervisor."

I hold for about five minutes.

Finally Little Abner comes back on. "The are no supervisors available. Can I have one call you?"

"Yes, I say. After 9:30. I'm in meetings until then." I said, knowing I'll never get a call back.

And then the clincher.

"Is there anything else I can help you with?" She drawls.

"You didn't help me."

"Ok, but is there anything else I can help you with?"

"You didn't help me." And I hang up the phone.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Me and Jackie O.


There's a spate of attention of late about Jackie Kennedy Onassis because 8.5 hours of taped interviews between she and Arthur Schlesinger have just been released, 47 years after they were recorded.

Believe it or not, I ran into Jackie one Sunday afternoon in the D'Agostino supermarket on 75th and Lexington, just a few blocks west from my apartment and a few blocks east from hers.

This was about twenty years ago, I was a young father and, of course, buying something we desperately needed to keep my kids from tearing down our apartment. I got to the checkout with my sundries and all at once, behind me pushing a sparsely populated shopping cart was Jackie herself hiding behind a caricature of large sunglasses.

As a chatty person and someone who believes one's personality can be divined according to what's in their shopping cart, I began a conversation with Jackie. If I remember correctly she had some Carr's water crackers, some Martinelli's sparkling apple cider and some Del Monte "fresh cut" creamed corn.

"I'm buying apple juice, too," I offered, "for the kids."

"Oh, how old?" she asked.

"6 and 2. You know, I haven't had creamed corn in years. I used to love it when I was a kid."

The checkout girl was getting impatient.

"Well, Del Monte makes the best" said the former first lady.

At that, we parted.

From F to B. (A ramble.)

If you read advertising blogs, as I have said in this space before, you traipse through a universe where nearly everyone is a hack and any work that any agency has ever done sucks a bone the size of the Washington Monument.

The small-minded, mean-spirited venom you find on the likes of Agency Spy, or even George Parker's wonderful blog Ad Scam is almost enough to make you give up blogging altogether. (Not that blogging has any importance. I blog because I love to write. And now that I've worked my way down in advertising to the point where I'm not a Big Cheese anymore, no one is around to listen to me spout. In a blog people can ignore my thoughts anonymously. Which is much safer for all concerned.)

In any event, I was thinking this morning about something I've always said to associates, bosses, big bosses and giant bosses. "If you want to move an account from a "B" to an "A," I'm not your man. But if you want to move one from a "D" or an "F" to a "B," there's no one in the industry better than I am."

The fact is, very little of the work in the industry today can be regarded as "A" work. And very little, as far as I can discern, of that "A" work actually ran.

Much more of the work we produce is unimportant, mediocre, mild and mundane. It is insultingly dumb. Uninspired. It is work designed to fill 30 seconds, not move a client's business ahead.

Of course, our mania as an industry is to divine excruciating "A" work that no one sees or notices. In the parlance of thousands of account dweebs sprinkled across this not-so-green planet of ours, we create work that "boils the ocean." Conceited, small and incessantly masturbatory.

The bigger job--the rising tide meant to life all boats--of taking dreck to respectable is a quality we, as an industry, ignore.

Albrecht Durer on Advertising.


If you ever decide to search for the apotheosis of Western art, looking at the work of Albrecht Durer isn't a bad place to start. His work has a precision, soul and depth that's hard to fault. Or maybe I just like zoo animals.

In any event, during the course of my recent literary, historical and biographical peregrinations I happened upon this quotation by 19th Century millionaire art historian and patron Charles Ephrussi on Durer.

"Picking up a drawing enables us to catch the thought of the artist in all its freshness, at the very moment of manifestation, with perhaps even more truth and sincerity than in the works that require arduous hours of labour, with the defiant patience of genius."

It's the last five words of the above that caught me..."the defiant patience of genius."

This is not to say that I believe any work in advertising is genius on the level of a Durer. No, that ain't the point.

What first struck me in the quotation was the word 'defiant.' Being a creative takes defiance. It demands an upset of the status quo, a search for the startling, the different, the unexpected, bold, unorthodox.

The word 'patience' is next. Genius/creativity takes patience. It takes an abnegation of those timesheet terrorists who rush you along. Patience doesn't mean slow. It means a dedication to the task that is stronger than those ephemera that press on you. It means unraveling a problem on your walk to the train, in the shower. It means the patience to derive something defiant against all odds.

An atmosphere that encourages or at least allows defiant patience is a hallmark of successful agencies. Successful creatives, too.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shame on us.


I was out of the country when the TV Game Show "Jeopardy!" featured the IBM super-computer "Watson" as a contestant. However, last night and for the next few nights, ABC Television will re-run the segments. Jeopardy! like most everything else has been severely dumbed-down (Three-letter word for feline; "what is a cat, Alex?") but I'll admit, on those rare evenings I am home by 7PM, I often tune in, as I tuned in last night. http://www-03.ibm.com/innovation/us/watson/?cn=agus_watson-20100712&cm=k&csr=google&cr=jeopardy_watson&ct=USJWK002&S_TACT=USJWK002&ck=jeopardy_watson&cmp=00000&mkwid=sRONsUpeR_15714878373_432n0d3749

The show, the foibles and excellence of the computer, the genius and humility of IBM scientists were all on display. And it was amazing. Of course, I knew the outcome. I knew Watson mopped the floor with its two human contestants. But that's not the point.

The point was the IBM Watson/Jeopardy! shows were probably the best "ads" for a company I had ever seen. And yet, as far as I can tell, the "advertising" effort wasn't cited by a single awards show--or even the recipient of ad-industry buzz.

The IBM Watson/Jeopardy effort wasn't gratuitous and tacked on like so much product placement. It wasn't blatant bombast like so much sports and entertainment sponsorship. It wasn't self-serving and small like one of this year's Cannes Grand Prix winners, "pay with a tweet."

It was a full and astounding product demonstration fully integrated into the surrounding show and a brilliant evocation of IBM's "Smarter Planet" campaign.

The fact that the effort wasn't covered by the trade press, isn't the topic of agency conversation and isn't even noticed by awards shows shows how far the industry has strayed from recognizing and praising work that is genuinely good, business building and important.

We will continue to debate what crappy advertising icon gets on the Walk of Fame. We will extol the virtues of trivial work that's never run. And we ignore what's really happening.

Some conclusions.

I just watched a too-long video on an advertising blog that was so bad it defies description. It put me in a bad mood, or, more accurately, a worse mood. It did, however, lead me to publish these conclusions:

1) Agencies shouldn't show anything that purports to show off their creative ability unless it's been approved by clients. Clients' taste might suck. But watch enough videos like the one I just saw and you'll start thinking as I do, that at least clients have a shred of dignity.

2) Advertising trade journals and blogs should only show work that is about the business we're in. They should not show "intern" videos and an agency's "recycling" film. These will invite more of the same and they are sickening.

3) Never underestimate the importance of an editor who isn't on staff. Staff editors have to do what their "superiors" tell them to do. They can't afford to speak their minds. So we are left with a monstrosity like the one I just viewed.

4) There's much you can say in favor of 30-second spots. Even if they suck, they are quickly over. This abomination I just watched seemed to last as long as the George W. Bush administration.

Never forget.

With non-stop 24/7 coverage, the 10th Anniversary has come but has not yet gone. We are still wallowing in the absolute horror of what happened in New York, Washington, DC and Shanksville, PA. It seems like people everywhere are all saying one thing: We will never forget. In fact, I find this proclamation self-centered, solipsistic, simplistic and short-sighted.

Only 100 years ago, World War I monuments proliferated throughout towns, cities and villages across Europe, America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada and other nations. The world had just suffered through around five years of sustained slaughter and surely we would never forget.

However, just twenty years later, we were at it again. This time with nuclear weapons.

The blood was barely dry from WW II, when we were slaughtering ourselves and others in Korea and Vietnam.

Slaughter, whether of "innocents" or soldiers, is ceaseless.

One nation's "never forget" is another nation's divine retribution.

I'm sorry this is so cynical, so anti-American. And the people who "did this to us," may be the incarnation of pure evil but they did not wake one morning and suddenly decide to try to destroy America. America was not passive in the Muslim world.

We have supported torture, put terrorists on our payroll and put despots in charge. We have taken trillions in oil wealth for our own purposes. We have flouted our wealth and imposed our values.

There is very little in the world that is black or white. We, Americans, were victims of horror but not unwitting, innocent victims. Though the 3,000 who died were innocent, America is not without sin.

I'm not excusing, rationalizing or minimizing the horror of what happened 10 years ago yesterday. But I do believe that more intelligent national introspection would have been more productive glib sloganeering.

It's easy to say 'Never forget."

It's not so easy to act in ways that don't propagate and extend hatred.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The best line I ever wrote.


Larchmont is a beautiful suburban community about 34 minutes by Metro North from New York's Grand Central Terminal. As its name indicates, on the lawns and open spaces are beautiful, old larch trees. There are lovely, large homes and rolling hills that meet the shimmering, if slightly polluted, waters of the Long Island Sound.

Somehow, for some reason (perhaps it was the private school tuition we had to pay for our two daughters) my wife got it in her head, her intransigent head, that we should find a house and move to Larchmont.

The very thought sickened me.

Nevertheless, I found myself in a realtor's BMW sedan and looking at homes within walking distance of the Larchmont train station. We stopped in front of one beautiful home built in the 1920s. "This is a four-bedroom," the realtor said, "with a finished basement and a detached garage."

And that's when my line came:

Larchmont. Where the garages are detached and so are the husbands.

Somehow, that line alone broke my wife.

We remained in the city.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Testudo formation.


Today my producer and I shipped four television spots and have sent a longform web video to the proper site. The culmination of literally 15 months worth of work.

During those 15 months, I've written, along with some help from a handful of fellow creative colleagues, a lot of scripts.

Above is a picture of them all.

The Roman legions, many centuries ago, developed something called the Testudo formation. In it, legionnaires would interlock their shields and, in so doing, make themselves virtually impervious to enemy slings and arrows.



I suppose this was the forerunner to the modern-day tank or "armored personnel carrier."

Over the past 15 months, I've thought a lot about the Testudo formation. Many times, when you're dealing with client bullshit and agency bullshit, it feels like you are on the receiving end of a lot of missiles. You, or your work, are under siege.

During those times you have to hunker down and look for cover. And even if there's no one to form a Testudo with you, keep moving forward.

One thing.

Paul Krugman, the New York Times op-ed columnist, Princeton economics professor and Nobel Prize winner has a wonderful sentence in his column today that can be expanded to be about our business.

Krugman described Mitt Romney's jobs plan as "59 bullet points with nothing there."

So much of what we receive as briefs, so much of what we produce as decks, so much of what we create, air or digitize is similarly cluttered. Tales of sound and fury, told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

Our job in advertising is a job of bringing clarity.
To make a case compelling.
To motivate.

Most advertising and most of the meetings around advertising are a rat's breakfast.

A decade ago I shot some unscripted spots with Tony Kaye. He and I, for two weeks, became best buddies. Before he would shoot someone he would get in my face, literally putting his nose within two inches of mine. He would stare me dead in the eyes and demand "what's the one thing you want to get?"

Kaye wouldn't even let me answer in a sentence. If I tried, he would repeat with more insistence and, even, fury "one thing."

I had to get it down to one word.

Not 59 bullets in search of a point.

---
BTW, the spots I shot with Tony Kaye, in the end, weren't great. That happens some times. But I learned a lot doing them.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Homer, Virgil and us.

One of the things that strong brands do is they create for themselves a "creation myth," a story that captures their foundation, their beliefs, their over-coming of the odds, their strength.

Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" were creation myths that unified the people of ancient Hellas, just as Virgil's "Aeneid" glued together the Roman Empire, just as stories about the Revolutionary War and Washington crossing the Delaware helped define the American character.

These are (or were) important brands in their time.

Today, brands like Apple, Mercedes-Benz, IBM and a few others have creation myths--strong stories that define them.

At its most elemental and its best, advertising finds or creates creation myths. It finds a way to make a brand understandable, important, likeable and true.

I know such lofty thoughts can get in the way of writing another "This Fall, Rake in the Savings" ad, but sometimes it's nice to dream.

The homestretch.

Since I started at my current agency I've done nothing but work on one account. And on that account, I have done everything, and at a fundamental level. I've worked closely with my client's c-level executives and now, after about two years, have figured out--with them--the 'story of their brand.' Who they are. How they act. How they'll present themselves to the public.

A little over a year ago I got a brief from the client to create a TV spot. That brief went through myriad changes and I presented probably about 100 scripts over the last year.

That's all drawing to a close.

Yesterday, I mixed four spots and a long form film. Today and tomorrow I am 'conforming.' Tomorrow, we ship the spots to the networks. They are meant to start airing beginning September 18th.

It's been a long, mother-fucking road.

Too long by at least half.

But I'm nearing the finish.

I'm not ecstatic over the spots. They were a lot of work. They suffered from a lot of compromise. I made a number of mistakes along the way.

That said, the spots are like nothing I've ever worked on. Every word, every scene, every nuance was picked over, dissected and over-analyzed to the point of atomization.

None of this helped the quality of the creative. It seldom does.

However, a particularly difficult client is happy--pleased with the work. As is, moderately anyway, my agency.

In any event, I'll post the spots after they air.

You can see for yourself.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is honesty suicide?

Thomas Friedman, the three-time Pulitzer-prize winning op-ed columnist for "The New York Times," has a line in his column this morning: "Honesty, we are told, is suicidal in politics."

That made me wonder if honesty is suicidal in agencies. And with clients.

Last night I had a meeting with the President and the CEO of the client I toil on. They signed off on five cuts, but had an issue with one of them. There was a jump in the cut from a medium shot to a close-up. The CEO felt it was jarring and disruptive.

I have a good relationship with these guys. I've worked on their business for about two years--day in and day out--and have done nothing but come through. Along the way, and I don't say this to sound bombastic, I have helped guid their business and helped them coalesce their vision for the company.

The CEO mentioned his issue with the cut and then said, "Do you think I'm wrong?"

"Yes," I answered. "I've never lied to you and I'm not lying now."

"Ok," the CEO conceded. "I'm ok, then."

Here's my point.

Being blunt and honest is one of the hardest things you can do in the business.

To get through the day without bullshitting yourself or your clients.

Honesty takes work. Because in the words of the great fictional character Sammy Glick, "Why tell the truth when you can lie."

But honesty works.

Especially if you've been honest enough to have earned trust.

--
PS. If you haven't read Budd Schulberg's classic novel "What Makes Sammy Run," you owe yourself that favor. It follows the career of Sammy Glick whose personal philosophy is summed up by this line: "Going through life with a conscience is like driving your car with the brakes on."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A subject-object split.

If an alien creature were to fly down from the heavens and if it were alien enough to read advertising blogs, that creature would conclude an oxymoron.

That is, the best people, the most creative people, the smartest, kindest people in advertising are not the people who actually make advertising, they're the people who comment on it.

You see, everyone who does work sucks and everyone who doesn't actually make anything could have done light years better.

This attitude is endemic.

I've been working in the industry 27 years come December and I guess you could say I've enjoyed a fair amount of success. But the fact of the matter is this, I know that in any agency worth its ampersand, there are scores of creatives who are better than I am.

They know film techniques I can hardly fathom.
They think of ideas that would never occur to me.
They know the latest this and the latest that.

The trouble with them is simple however.
They don't know how to do the grievously hard work of shepherding the work.
They don't know how to make things accessible to clients.
They don't know how to challenge clients and win them over.

While they are creating castles in the sky, beautiful and elegant but ephemeral or un-sellable, I am doing what I do.

Facing the world with a dose of pragmatism.

And selling work that clients spend money on and agencies make money on.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Franz Hals at the Metropolitan Museum. And death.


There's a small exhibit of the Dutch Master Franz Hals at the Metropolitan Museum. It runs through October 10th and if you're in the vicinity, you should take a gander.

Hals painted about 350 years ago and though his subjects are accoutered in ruffles and lace, his portraits are surprisingly real and contemporary and evocative. My wife saw Caravaggio in his paintings whereas I saw the brushwork of the Impressionists. And of course, we are both right.

Recently I read something about how painters feared the death of their medium when photography and motion pictures came into being. What's the point of a close representation of a subject when you can have an exact duplicate? Surely someone somewhere declared painting is irrelevant and dead. Another medium bites the dust.

Also in New York this weekend, at the Film Forum, is an all-day Buster Keaton festival with live piano accompaniment. Ah, surely, Keaton is dead. He is silent. He is black and white. Contemporary film makers don't discuss his editing technique. He is past and no more. Though I guarantee the theatres at the Film Forum will be stuffed to the gills with aficionados and there will be more than a few families with young kids in attendance.

My point is that we are quick to pronounce old forms (and old people) dead. We are quick to assume they are superseded by newer and better.

But old doesn't die if it works on an elemental level. If it communicates, breaks through and imparts insight, humor or information in an emotionally moving way.

The photo above is of a painting by Rembrandt that was in the Hals exhibit. It's called "Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer." On the gold belt around Aristotle's waist hangs a pendant with a portrait of Alexander the Great on it. This is a painting, in short, about the imparting of wisdom, and respect, through the ages and across generations.

It's something we could all learn from.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Using your ears.

Last night my wife and I took a walk through East Harlem to have a pizza at one of the few remaining Italian restaurants that have survived the neighborhood's transition from an Italian slum to a black and Hispanic slum. We headed up to Patsy's between 117th and 118th on 1st Avenue where, in our estimation, their coal-fired brick oven yields some of New York's best pizza.

We walked home as well through the crowded streets on a hot Saturday night. Around 114th I heard this bit of kibbitzing--a 30-something guy ragging a 30-something woman.

"Just because your head is shaped like a bullet don't mean you're a big shot."

Perfect.

And evidence once again that the language of real people is real language.

Which is why it makes sense to walk and listen, or take the train and eavesdrop, or talk to cabdrivers when you decide to cab it.

New York, if you listen well enough, has an electric, living language.

The language you don't get from briefs.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The "Swirlathon."


A friend wrote me an email last night.

"It happens almost every night. I check my email before I go to bed and my in-box is empty. When I wake up six or seven hours later there are 30 or 40 emails in it.

"I wouldn't mind if something of consequence was being thrashed out in these emails. If something important was being discussed and gotten to the bottom of. But, sadly, the surfeit of emails reflects just the opposite.

"Usually something of little consequence has bothered the client. Maybe it's the registered mark on the logo in the end frame of a TV spot looks pixelated. That starts the swirl. The client, of course, sends an email cc-ing about nine people at the agency.

"Naturally each one feels compelled to react. Some of those nine, say three, feel that an accusatory finger is being pointed in their direction. So they send an email deflecting responsibility. Another portion of the nine, big cheeses, usually wind up sending emails saying 'how did this happen,' as if this problem were on the same order of magnitude as global warming or nuclear proliferation. Then there is an eruption of emails from people out of the original nine who are clueless. They open the door in their emails to additional problems. They'll ask something extraneous like 'how does this issue effect residual payments?' This, of course, will precipitate another series of emails.

"Now what's important to note here is that NOTHING has gotten done. No one's fixed anything, reported on anything, unraveled any great mystery. No one's even gotten back to the client with how this issue will be addressed. Everyone has just 'covered their own non inconsiderable obliquities' and shunted the problem along some circuitous path.

"What they've created is something I call "The Swirlathon." A cacophony that's an admixture of blame, obfuscation, ignorance, denial and chatter. The fuel that makes agencies run.

"I don't know about you, G, but it's wearing me down."

A memory.

video
When I was a kid, the television world I watched every evening was a wildly different place than the world we now live in. Domestic problems were small. Crimes were solved neatly in every episode. Beautiful people or cowboys (who were beautiful to me) smoked long cigarettes. And women really did worry about waxy yellow build-up.

I was just nine years old when the above commercial came out and it was something of a symbol on how the world was changing. It was notorious, it was sexy, it was startling. It also featured just about the most beautiful woman me and my friends had ever seen.

These were, as I said, different times. My friends and I wouldn't have known what to do with this woman--sex wasn't as ubiquitous and available as it is today, but we were able to admire her from afar.

When I hit 7th grade, I was 12 or so, my Latin teacher was absolutely gaga over this woman. After class when we would hang with him--he was funny, and probably just about ten years older than we were, he would talk about the Noxema woman and Brigette Bardot.

Every one of his Latin classes would start with him counting backwards from ten in Latin, and when he got to "nihil" (nothing) we had to be in our seats. This wouldn't be memorable except the word in Latin for six was "sex" and our teacher would linger on the word to the merriment of all of us.

No advertising point today.

Just a memory.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Advertising lessons from The New York Times, 2.











With the exception of ten months I spent working at Hal Riney in San Francisco and two years I spent at Digitas in Boston (and in each case I commuted home on weekends) I've been a New Yorker my entire life. It wouldn't surprise me if my parents lined my litterbox with "The New York Times," when I was an infant. That's how big a part the Times plays in my life.

Maybe I'm being xenophobic, but I don't reckon there's another daily newspaper anywhere that brings as much, on a regular basis, to its readers as the Times. And to my eyes at least, the Times as gotten better in the digital era. There are brilliant videos, slideshows, and art to consider almost every day.

Today in a preview of this Sunday's Magazine, there's an article called "Iron Workers in the Sky" with brilliant "Louis-Hine-esque" photos by Pulitzer-Prize-winner Damon Winter.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/us/sept-11-reckoning/04Mag-ironworkers.html?hp

No advertising point. Except to say beautiful, stirring creativity is all around you if you know where to look.

Typical brilliance from Tore.


My erstwhile partner, art director, creative director, photographer and blogger. http://toreclaesson.blogspot.com/