Saturday, December 31, 2011

Flying with Uncle Slappy.

My wife, younger daughter and I are flying to the Cayman Islands for a week in the sun. Our flight connects through Miami, so we decided to fly down with Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie.

I got up early, 3:53 to be exact. Like my father before me (and, of course, like Uncle Slappy) I am a lousy traveler--neurotic about missing flights. Uncle Slappy was up in the kitchen drinking his coffee when I walked in just before 4.

"You slept in," the old man taunted.

"Morning Uncle Slappy. Can I make you an egg, some oatmeal?"

"Has the Times come yet?" Slappy asked.

Uncle Slappy has been staying with me since mid-December. He knows the paper doesn't arrive till around 8 on weekends.

"I thought maybe you told the girl we were leaving early and early she could come one day it wouldn't kill her."

"The Journal is here," I told him.

"Fascists." He muttered.

The ride to the airport wasn't any better. There were five of us so I had to hail a mini-van taxi so we could all fit. After waving a few cabs off, I got a creaky old Toyota Sienna.

My wife and daughter piled into the far back seat and I helped Sylvie and then Slappy into the car.

"It's like climbing Kilimanjaro," the old man said as he moaned into his seat.

It was a lot to take at 5:15 in the morning, fortunately he was quiet the rest of the way.

We checked in at Business Class, my wife being Executive Sapphire Diamond Platinum Elite, and Uncle Slappy as is his wont, kibbitzed with the woman behind the counter.

"Sir," she asked "would you prefer a window or an aisle?"

"I hope I'm flying a wide body," he answered. "And I'd like a seat near the stewardess."

The woman behind the counter ignored him, which was fine by me and Sylvie.

The flight took off and went off without incident.

After two weeks in New York we said goodbye to Slappy and Sylvie when we arrived in Miami. Cousin Dot was there to greet them at the gate.

"How was he," Dot took me aside to ask me.

"Same old Uncle Slappy," I answered.

We said in unison, "Thank god."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some thoughts on the past and the future.

It's the end of the year, the last day of work for most people in what has been a challenging 2011, or 5772, or 1432, or 4706 for a good portion of the world.

The economy and our industry seem mired waist deep in Big Muddy, to pilfer a phrase from the Vietnam era. Unemployment, cupidity and stupidity remain high. But nonetheless, we slog on.

I am reading right now, speaking of slogs, Steven Pinker's tome "The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence Has Declined." It's an amazing book. It's generated reams of debate and discussion. It's been named a "New York Times" notable book of 2011 and from what I gather from my bookish friends, is an early favorite for one of the big prizes--a Pulitzer (Pinker has twice been a finalist) or even a National Book Award. You can read a fairly recent book review here. That is, if you're still awake and reading this: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/books/review/the-better-angels-of-our-nature-by-steven-pinker-book-review.html?scp=7&sq=steven%20pinker&st=cse

Pinker's point in all this is that the world is actually getting better. Less violent. More liberal. More livable. Fairer.

He backs up this seemingly preposterous assertion with oceans of data, charts and graphs up the yingyang and a logic that even my harridan of a mother couldn't unravel.

Now, while I'm thinking of macro trends, let's turn to 2012 but first think back a bit more on 2011.

Most thinking people would agree that over the last 50 years or so, our economy has transformed from one in which we made "stuff" to one in which we make "information." The great five-mile-long assembly lines of the Willow Run Ford plant (that saved democracy it can be argued by producing a B-24 bomber every hour) are closed. The outskirts of just about every major city in America are girded with shuttered factories and abandoned warehouses. Waste paper, I'm told, is America's largest export.

The same trend has afflicted the ad industry. From a highpoint in the 60s and declining since then, the ad industry made "stuff." We made TV commercials and print ads and radio spots. We made the billboards that dotted American roadways. We produced, aired, printed, propagated, promulgated.



Then, as manufacturing stuff declined, we switched to generating "information." Meetings grew in importance. Decks became our shibboleth. Planning became our product. Clients paid for this. But increasingly questioned what they were buying. How did a deck, or a meeting or a "strategy" advance their ball?


As you might expect from a cockeyed optimist like me, there are glimmers of hope. Manufacturing is rebounding in the States. Factories--albeit ones run by robots--are slowly being built. Old ones are being reclaimed and repurposed. It's not "morning again in America" but by fits and starts, we are beginning to understand that as a nation you can't just be a pontificator. You have to make stuff.

Perhaps we will see a resurgence of "stuffiness" return to advertising, too. A premium placed not on what you say or "deck" but on what agencies make or do.

Maybe the pendulum is beginning to swing back from theory to practice.

Maybe we will find a proper heading again.

--
Thanks to my 10101101 friends at Sell! Sell! for the wonderful cartoon pasted above. Theirs is an excellent blog.

http://sellsellblog.blogspot.com/2011/12/fifty-years-of-progress-in-advertising.html
--
And here's to a "Stuffy" New Year. If we make stuff, it will be a Happy one.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Joseph Farrell, 1935-2011.

Over the long weekend there was an interesting obituary in "The New York Times" of Joseph Farrell, a market researcher and film producer. You can read the whole obit here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/business/joseph-farrell-dies-at-76-used-market-research-to-shape-films.html?hpw

Farrell, who had been an executive at the research company Louis Harris is credited with making the movie "Fatal Attraction" a success. As originally shot by Adrian Lyne, the Glen Close character killed herself--conducting ritual suicide to the music of "Madame Butterfly."

Farrell researched the movie and concluded "this is a great movie until the end..." and "They didn’t want to see her [Close] do herself in...They wanted to see her done in.”

Adrian Lyne reshot the ending. "In the revision, Ms. Close’s character and her paramour, played by Michael Douglas, have a violent struggle in which she is nearly drowned in a bathtub and is finally dispatched by a gunshot fired by his wife (Anne Archer)."

The movie went on to gross more than $300 million worldwide.

Of course, attitudes about research and its effects on creativity vary--in both the film business and ours. The "Times" reports:

"Whether Mr. Farrell’s influence was positive or malign was debated. Ron Shelton, the director of “Bull Durham” and “White Man Can’t Jump,” complained to The Los Angeles Times in 1992 that Hollywood’s reliance on marketing “contributes to the lowest-common-denominator mentality and the proliferation of formulaic movies and genres.”

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A walk with Uncle Slappy.



Uncle Slappy, thank god, is about as spry and active as an 85-year-old can be. Not only is he still as sharp as a tack, he thinks nothing of taking the elevator downstairs to the health club in our building and working out for 20 minutes or so on the stationary bike.

"The bike is good enough for me," the old man told me. "Not like that meshuggenah epileptical."

"Elliptical, Uncle Slappy."

"Whatever," Slappy replied, pedaling a bit faster through his laugh line.

Despite working out in the morning, Uncle Slappy announced after lunch that "he had spilkas. Ants in his pants."

Usually when Uncle Slappy needs a walk, we head over to the promenade just a block from our apartment. It's as sylvan a walk you can get it the city with sweeping views of the East River and the Hell Gate and Triborough bridges. Today, however, we piled into a taxi and headed over to New York's newest park, the High Line.

Slappy had never been to the High Line. It was railroad tracks when he was young and derelict most of his middle and old ages. Slappy eschewed the elevator at 23rd Street and braved the 27 steps (he counted each one) at 22nd. I give the old man credit. He wasn't even winded when we reached the modest summit.

We walked south from 22nd toward Gansevoort, strolling slowly, watching other walkers. At around 15th Street we noticed a huge and ugly billboard fouling the beauty of the scene. It was advertising a "Gentleman's Club" called "Scores."

"Those are no gentlemen who go there, to that Scores," said Slappy, "And those are no ladies."

We looked at the billboard for a second when Slappy noticed that some clever graffiti artist had climbed up the sign and bearded one of the ladies, subtly and well.

"In my day, we had show girls but show girls didn't have beards," said Slappy. "Not even mustaches."

We walked a few blocks further, then descended to street level and took a taxi home.

Slappy went to lay down. He's still sawing wood in the guest room.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Uncle Slappy gets a gift.

Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie arrived from Boca last week ostensibly to celebrate Hanukkah with us. Tonight is night three of a promised eight nights and while I love Slappy--he is after all my father's brother--I can clearly understand why my wife has lately been rolling her eyes--even more than usual.

The truth of the matter is, Slappy and Sylvie should probably never have left New York for Florida. I think they felt they had to. That it was some obligatory journey they had to make like Muslims to Mecca. In any event, Boca's been no Mecca for them and they seem to be spending more and more time in our guest room and less and less in their two-bedroom condo not far from the beach.

We've been renovating the room over the last six months and unfortunately the painters had to come today to finish their work. Uncle Slappy and Sylvie don't like to complain but the smell of the paint is a little much. Nevertheless, we've thrown open the window, turned on a fan and given the place a good airing out. It's a little dusty, but I'm sure Slappy and Sylvie will sleep like logs.

On Hanukkah, it's traditional each night to exchange small gifts. Nothing lavish, certainly like nothing you'd find in the Neiman-Marcus catalog, but, instead, little tokens to show you care.

I took the train downtown after work today and bought Uncle Slappy a baseball cap from Sammy's Roumanian Steak House--one of the last of the old Jewish Restaurants in New York. I also bought for him a quart of kasha varnishkas with onions and mushrooms with the gravy in a separate container so things don't get soggy.

We lit the menorah this evening and I gave Slappy his gifts, wrapped.

I've known the old man my entire life but tonight I really struck a chord. He unwrapped the hat first and quickly put it on, not even taken off the tags. Then he opened the container of kasha varnishkas. His eyes suddenly became as big as kreplachs.

"For me you got," he said, "kasha varnishkas from Sammy's?"

"For you, Uncle Slappy," my wife answered.

"A fork please, you'll give me." And he dug right into the container.

I think I saw a tear in his eyes.

And it wasn't from the onions.

The Availability Heuristic.

Right now I'm reading two-time Pultizer-finalist Steven Pinker's new book "The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence Has Declined."

It's a tough book to read. Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard and he's not above getting a little technical and statistical for a "lay-reader" like myself. Still, the reviews and praise this book received upon publication was so fulsome that I bought it the day it came out.

According to people who know about these things, "Better Angels" is on the inside track to win perhaps the 2012 National Book Award and the 2012 Pulitzer. I read a lot of books that have won such awards and winning them is not like winning a daytime Emmy or even a Clio. The quality is pretty high.

Pinker's book analyzes about 6,000 years of human history and shows that, contrary to how we all feel, we are currently living in the least violent period in human history.

Here's a bit from what I read last night that I think has bearing on our industry today.
He says, in a section called "Was the 20th Century Really the Worst?" "The twentieth century was the bloodiest in history" is a cliche that has been used to indict a vast range of demons, including atheism, Darwin, government, science, capitalism, communism, the ideal of progress, and the male gender. But is it true? The claim is rarely backed up by numbers from any century other than the 20th, or by a mention of the hemoclysms (blood floods) of centuries past. The truth is that we will never really know which was the worst century, because it's hard enough to pin down death tolls in the 20th century, let alone earlier ones...."

Now, here's the part that has a bearing on what we say and do in advertising and it involves a concept propagated by Nobel-Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky. It is the notion of "the availability heuristic." In short, "the easier it is to recall examples of an event, the more probable people think it is."

So, we think of the 20th century as the bloodiest because it has the most bloodshed that we remember.

Likewise, we issue proclamations like "nobody watches TV," or "mobile websites are vital to a brand's success," or "Facebook 'likes' are the new currency" because they're the latest things we remember seeing, hearing or experiencing. They may have no relation to reality other than "recency."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A POV. Revised.

I was asked a brief while ago to lend my considerable heft and gravitas and help guide a pitch. Much of my complaints about meetings, posturing, empty-headed jargon was propelled by my experience on this assignment.

But now, with hours to go, another POV emerges. The whirlwind has slackened. The tornado is now only gale-force. The jabbering is abating. Individual specialists are sitting at their desks and doing what they do.

It's a nice thing when professionalism takes over a process. When muscle memory of how things should be done cancels out megalomania. When people zero in on their strengths and do the work they should have been doing all along.

Years ago as I was leaving Ogilvy, my boss and mentor said something to me that I think about almost every day. "George," he said, "You're never going to be happy because you get places too fast and grow frustrated with the pace of everyone else coming along."

That's the trouble with things like pitches.

Doing the work is not that hard.

Dealing with all the meandering, the waffling, the inability to make decisions is.

Advertising advice from Holden Caulfield.


As 2011 draws to a close (you could shoot a cannonball through my office right now and not hit any living thing but maybe a rat or two) I started thinking about what would make 2012 a better year.

The first thing that came to me was a quotation by Holden Caulfield from "The Catcher in the Rye." Obviously he isn't talking about advertising but, nevertheless, there's a lot of wisdom contained below.

"I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddamn stupid, useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life."

First, we could improve 2012 by having "fewer goddamn stupid, useless conversations." Take the time to coalesce your thoughts before you "think out loud." Actually, think before you speak. Actually, don't speak unless you have something to say.

Second, "write it on a piece of paper." In other words, commit. Put something down. Put some skin in the game. In advertising we make things. We do not merely speculate. Grow some balls.

Third, "I'd be through with having conversations..." Our daily routine should be about creating work not creating meetings. Meetings are not our reason for being, work is. So stop booking meetings to bring yourself up to speed or to have the "group" do the thinking you were supposed to do.

I'm sure there's more we could do to make 2012 better.

We could not interrupt someone when they're typing.
We could not book meetings from 12-2 and not supply lunch.
We could show up on time.

But this would be a good start.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A meeting is not a solution.

In the days before Microsoft Outlook ruled our lives, we did not start our days by printing out a Microsoft-generated schedule of our meetings. In fact, if a meeting was needed, a "secretary" would walk over to your desk and say, "Steve and Harold want to see you guys at 2." We would show up at 2 and chat.

Today, we live in a meeting-centric universe. And meetings have become conflated with work. Specifically, there are hordes of people, yes, hordes, who define their jobs by the meetings they make.

Meetings, to bastardize Protagoras, become the measure of all things.

There are meetings to discuss things that were discussed at previous meetings. Meetings to set up subsequent meetings. Meetings labelled "work sessions." Meetings to discuss the status of various projects. Meetings to discuss schedules.

Setting up a meeting is not advancing the ball.

All meetings do is generalize responsibility so that no one is responsible.

It's a couple days before we have a couple days off.

Vacation can't come soon enough.

Kim Jong Il. Some memories.


This happened 25 or 26 years ago, yet I remember it like it happened yesterday. I was sitting with my partner, Craig, in my office. We were just coming off the high of winning a raft of awards for a small fast-food chain called El Pollo Cubano in which we named their new fish sandwich "the Fidel o' Fish." The sandwich was a huge hit and Craig and I were riding high. I wrote about it some years ago and you can read it here: http://adaged.blogspot.com/search?q=Fidel

Now we were charged with bringing El Pollo Cubano's new Korean BBQ fish sandwich out of the test kitchen and right into the very fabric of American culture. This was to be more than the introduction of just another sandwich. We knew we needed to start a movement. We needed to synch with and have an impact on popular culture.

Craig was flipping pencils up at the ceiling when the phone rang. I picked up the Ameche and heard a crackling on the other end of the line. "Hold please for the great and exalted leader of all Koreas."

I snickered and just about put down the blower when I heard a heavily-accented voice on the line.

"This is Kim-Jong-Il. It would do me a great honor to have, like my comrade Fidel, a sandwich named after me."

Apparently having an eponymous sandwich was now a mark of honor among the world's dictators. I could see Tito Taters. Noriega Nachos. And of course, fish and Gorbachips.

I put the phone on speaker. Craig took over.

"We shall do our best, Exalted One" my partner intoned.

Then we heard a peremptory click from Pyongyang.

I think I was the one who said it, though Craig swears it was him.

"The Kim Jong. The Il-lest Korean Barbecued Chicken."

We ran that up the client's flagpole and in a few short weeks, we had a hit on our hands.

We tried phoning the Exalted One, but could never get through to the North.

I'll miss you, Big Guy. I'll miss you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Katz's.

Years ago I worked for a brilliant and eccentric Creative Director at Ally & Gargano called Ed Butler. Ed was like a lot of successful people in the agency business. He was incredibly passionate about advertising. In fact, often when Ed saw an ad he really liked, he would find out who created it and phone them with his compliments.

Today, I came across some copy on Katz's Deli's web site. I think it's pretty damn good.

"Hanukkah

The same thing happens at the big Hanukkah celebration every year. Someone, maybe your grandma, your mother or whoever wears the apron in your family, is stuck cooking for the big Hanukkah meal instead of spending time with the family. After finally having brought out the latkes, knishes and the rest of the meal, he or she sits down and tries to enjoy a few spare moments with the family. But you can see in that face with the frustrated look of someone already thinking about doing dishes. Why should a loved one be slaving away in the kitchen? It defeats the whole purpose of Hanukkah.

You can see the problem. Maybe you have even heard the complaints. Rather than commandeering the kitchen like a pirate (watch them look over your shoulder), you should sweep in with food. You will be more like a superhero (cape is optional). Granted, few places make food appropriate for Hanukkah (although there is a lot of Chinese food options for Christmas), and you sure as hell can’t insult the cook by fetching food from your corner bodega.

Only Katz’s Deli will be worthy of the apron. We’ve been at the table as a family for over 123 years. That’s more than 963 days of Hanukkah. That’s a lot of latkes. Our legendary meats will kill the worries that occur when a cook relinquishes the kitchen. You may even transform your cook into an animated conversationalist (or chatterbox). But other than being designated the best daughter, brother, step-son or niece, think about the jealousy you’ll engender from the rest of the family. That’s its own reward. You always were the smart one anyway.

The rest is pretty easy. Place an order. Pick it up or we’ll ship it to you. We prepare it (pastrami, corned beef, rugalach, etc.) and you take the credit.

The dishes, however, are up to you."

Time frames.

About two weeks ago I went to a symposium at the Times Center which featured economic historian Carmen Reinhart. Moderator Thomas Friedman asked Reinhart to speculate on the economy in the first six months of 2012. Reinhart took the question, slowly closed her eyes for a moment and then answered. "I am an historian. I don't work in six-month time frames. That's less than a blink of an eye. I deal in 60 or 70-year sweeps."

I've been thinking about Reinhart's statement since I heard it.

Lately at work we are creating voluminous decks on our "Facebook strategy." These are intelligent and well thought-out and the product of people who really know how Facebook is being used today. These decks show how people can connect, share and form communities on Facebook. They are the stuff are dissertations. Gems of insight, data visualization and vision.

But there's a problem.

We are looking at the future in a six-month time frame. We are assuming an orderly, predictable universe without breakthroughs, without disasters, without upsets.

Only five years ago or so it looked like Lonely Girl 15 was going to take over the world of advertising. Today, Facebook is ascendant. Ascendant though no one I personally know uses Facebook the way decks say people do.

Tomorrow, however, who knows?

Maybe Facebook will elect presidents, find spouses for the lovelorn and build potent brands that would make Steve Jobs envious.

Maybe in three-years-time, Facebook will be on life support or dead.

The point is, no one knows.

We need to look at the proper time frame.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Uncle Slappy on Marriage.

I suppose it's a holdover from another, more decorous era but "The New York Times" still dedicates about eight pages in its Sunday Style section to announcements of engagements and wedding. For as long as I know him (which is my entire life) Uncle Slappy has been reading these pages and commenting as only he can.

He started with a linguistic thrust like Errol Flynn in one of those old swashbuckling movies.

"Everyone talks about gay marriage," Slappy began. I put down my coffee waiting for the punchline. "I'm tired of all the coverage. Gay marriage discussed in the Senate. Gay marriage discussed by the ferstunkenah Republicansches. Gay marriage this, gay marriage that."

"Well, it's a very important issue to some," I temporized.

"Gay marriages, fine" he continued. "What about morose marriages? That's the real issue. Almost everyone I know has a morose marriage. 55 years Sylvie and I are married. She still doesn't know what size spoon I like to eat my honey nut with."

I grabbed the sports section and left the old man alone in the kitchen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Joe Simon, 1913-2011.


Joe Simon, who created the comic book hero Captain America died on Wednesday in New York. You can read his obituary here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/16/books/joe-simon-a-creator-of-captain-america-is-dead-at-98.html?hpw

I loved comic books when I was a kid and still, on rare occasions read them today. I used to love Captain America when I was about 12. This was during the peak of American involvement in Vietnam, when our country seemed to be crumbling, and there was something reassuring about the comic. What's more, comics in those pre-inflationary days cost 12-cents. I had a paper route, and could buy eight a week for less than a dollar. My brother did the same. We were careful to avoid getting doubles. These comics were much of our education growing up, though my brother is a lawyer and wouldn't admit that now.

In any event, this is the part I really like from Simon's obit:

Simon "moved to New York, where his first job was for Paramount Pictures, retouching still photographs of movie stars. 'I retouched some of the most famous bosoms in motion pictures — Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Carole Lombard and Dorothy Lamour,' he wrote. 'Good bosom men were considered experts and got lots of work. I could hold up a sagging bust line with the best of them.'”

Hello, sports fans.

I just happened upon a list drawn up by ex-Major League baseball player, pitcher Don Carman. Carman pitched for 10 major league seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cincinnati Reds and in the junior circuit, the Texas Rangers. When he wound up his career he had lost one more game than he had won.

It seems that even a mediocre pitcher like Carman was still beset by sports reporters after the game, so in order to avoid having to answer their banal stock questions, he posted the following list on his locker:

"1. I'm just glad to be here. I just want to help the club any way I can.
2. Baseball's a funny game.
3. I'd rather be lucky than good.
4. We're going to take the season one game at a time.
5. You're only as good as your last game (last at-bat).
6. This game has really changed.
7. If we stay healthy we should be right there.
8. It takes 24 (25) players.
9. We need two more players to take us over the top: Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig.
10. We have a different hero every day.
11. We'll get 'em tomorrow.
12. This team seems ready to gel.
13. With a couple breaks, we win that game.
14. That All-Star voting is a joke.
15. The catcher and I were on the same wavelength.
16. I just went right at 'em.
17. I did my best and that's all I can do.
18. You just can't pitch behind.
19. That's the name of the game.
20. We've got to have fun.
21. I didn't have my good stuff, but I battled 'em.
22. Give the guy some credit; he hit a good pitch.
23. He, we were due to catch a break or two.
24. Yes.
25. No.
26. That's why they pay him _____ million dollars.
27. Even I could have hit that pitch.
28. I know you are but what am I?
29. I was getting my off-speed stuff over so they couldn't sit on the fastball.
30. I had my at 'em ball going today.
31. I had some great plays made behind me tonight.
32. I couldn't have done it without my teammates.
33. You saw it... write it.
34. I just wanted to go as hard as I could as long as I could.
35. I'm seeing the ball real good.
36. I hit that ball good.
37. I don't get paid to hit."

What occurred to me when I read this is how we in advertising can likely come up with similar lists. One set of lists would pretty much cover any meeting you might be forced to attend.

1. We're trying to start a conversation about the brand.
2. It's part of an integrated ecosystem.
3. We need to put the consumer in the center of things.
4. We're going to own the color blue.
5. Media has some slides on that.
6. This game has really changed.
7. We want a clean, simple, uncluttered layout.

And so it goes.

Please stop sharing.

Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for "The New York Times" and a National Book Award winner for his brilliant account "The Worst Hard Time," the account of "Okies" who didn't leave the Dust Bowl when the Great Depression (the last one, not the current one) struck.

Today he has a wonderful op-ed in the digital paper called "Please Stop Sharing." I feel compelled to repeat that title in all caps. PLEASE STOP SHARING. You can read his thoughts here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/please-stop-sharing/?hp

There's a lot I like about Egan's piece, here are a few selections from it:

"...there is only one difference between the knuckleheads of yore — me, for example — who did numerous stupid things between the onset of puberty and a late adolescence lasting to nearly 30, and those Twit-iots of the 21st century.

"And that is technology. Facebook, Twitter, cell phone text messages and palm-size appliances yet to sprout from Apple’s labs allow all of us to be banal in real time."
--
"People I once admired, even looked up to — smart, literate, funny folks — have gone down several notches in my estimation after they decided to reveal their every idiotic observation via Twitter."
--
"I cheered the news from my colleague Jenna Wortham this week that the march of Facebook into every facet of our lives has slowed at last. Of course, with 200 million active users in the United States, Facebook has won the war. It’s all over but the arguing among corporate overseers about how to divvy up our private information for profit..."
--
"The imperative of Facebook — maximum exposure of the personal “brand” — is by itself a form of poison to lasting relationships. It’s hard enough trying to stay close to say, five good friends. Why have surface relationships with a hundred of them?"
--
Read the whole article.

You might even want to share it.

Uncle Slappy and the mushroom barley.

With Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, beginning next week, Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie pulled into town last night. I was working late and unable to meet their train from Florida at Penn Station but somehow my favorite octogenarians made it into a cab and up to my apartment.

Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie reached my apartment before I did last evening. Fortunately I had left my house keys with the doorman and they let themselves in. When I arrived home around 9, they were sitting in the guest room--which my wife and I are in the process of redecorating--in virtual darkness.

"Aunt Sylvie, Uncle Slappy. Why are you sitting in the dark?"

"There's just the overhead," Slappy said "you are missing some bulbs."

"Why didn't you turn on the lamp," I asked.

"What's there to see? Aunt Sylvie I've been looking at for 55 years."

I knew enough to change the subject.

"Have you eaten?" I asked, knowing that talk of food was always fertile ground.

"Sandwiches I packed for the ride," Sylvie said. "But Mr. Big Mouth finished his before we hit Georgia."

"It's a 24-hour trip by train," I reminded them. "You haven't eaten since yesterday?"

"Yesterday, schmesterday," rejoined Slappy with one of his trademark dismissals. "When you're my age, the days all run together."

"Let me get you some..."

Slappy cut me off.

"Mushroom barley would be nice. Not too hot so that it burns. And four saltines."

Slappy has, I knew, a weakness for mushroom barley and I had therefore gotten some at Park East, a kosher grocery on 2nd and 84th. I microwaved a bowl for he and Aunt Sylvie.
They shuffled their way into my eat-in kitchen and sat down. I brought the soup to them.

Slappy, as he's been doing for nearly nine decades blew on it.

"Not too hot, is it?" the old man asked.

"No, it's just the way you like it Uncle Slappy. And," I said bringing over a plate with a short stack of saltines, "your crackers."

"Low sodium?" he asked.

"Of course."

Uncle Slappy dipped his spoon in the mushroom barley like a surgeon making the first cut. He blew at the spoon, then tasted the soup.

"Ach, you microwaved," he asked.

"Yes, Slappy. I zapped it."

"It's not good hotting with a microwave." He ate slowly and deliberately two saltines. Then he got up, left the kitchen and went to sit alone in the dark.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A note from Harper Lee.

I don't usually do this but I am incapable of topping or adding to a post I just found here: http://www.abebooks.com/blog/index.php/2011/12/14/letter-of-advice-from-harper-lee/

"Letter of Advice from Harper Lee

"I love stories like this. People can sometimes go out of their way to be so lovely. This must have made that one reader’s whole month.

"In 2006, a young reader who loved the book To Kill a Mockingbird wrote a letter to 85-year-old author Harper Lee, in the hopes she would send him back a signed photo of herself.

"While Lee did not grant the photo request, she did respond, personally, in handwriting, and offered him life advice, instead:

“06/07/06

Dear Jeremy

I don’t have a picture of myself, so please accept these few lines:

As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, “I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.”

(Signed, ‘Harper Lee’)”

"What an incredibly lucky fan. Not only did she give him some beautiful, sound advice, but frankly, Harper Lee’s signature usually costs quite a bit."

All my life's a circle.

Hedy, not Hedley, Lamarr.


There's a new book out by Pulitzer-winner Richard Rhodes on the surprising life of Austrian-emigre and film siren Hedy Lamarr (not Hedley Lamarr.) It's called "Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World." And you can read the review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/books/hedys-folly-by-richard-rhodes-review.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=hedy%20lamarr&st=cse

Louis Mayer, head of MGM called Lamarr “the most beautiful girl in the world.” I've always been more inclined toward Rita Hayworth or Madeliene Carroll, but why quibble over callipygian peaks? In any event, Lamarr was also an accomplished inventor and during WWII, invented a remote control torpedo, a precursor to today's spread spectrum technology.

But here's the part of the review I really liked, a beautiful last paragraph:

"Lamarr longed for people to see her as more than another sultry face. “Any girl can be glamorous,” she once said. “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”

Concrete.

Not all that terribly long ago I was the head of the flagship office of a large digital agency. I guess because they paid me a lot of money management felt the need to punish me periodically by making me attend two-day symposia led by HR. I've been to a dozen or so of these brain-drains over the years. They always leave me feeling homicidal.

This particular one was centered around, it seemed to me, being concrete. Concrete. That was the word they used. And they used it as a pejorative. They meant rigid, hard-assed and unyielding. These attributes were, according to the outside consultant who ran the sessions, bad things. We should instead be welcoming, open to all points of view and work styles, and we should seek a sort of ethereal amity--the agency equivalent, I suppose, of rainbows and unicorns.

Right now at work I am spending a few spare hours a week helping out on a new business pitch. Just about every day some producer or another schedules a two-hour "touch-base" or "work session" where about eleventeen-dozen fairly high-paid people crowd into a too-bright conference room and stare at their handhelds.

What I've noticed in these meetings is that everyone is HR-correct. No one is concrete. No one comes in with a thought, a fact, a thorough reading of the potential client's annual report.

Yesterday I brought in two well-written manifestos. Two paths I think we could chase down to get to a tone, a feeling, a point of view.

I was concrete. I did something. I put thoughts on paper.

One of the eternal debates in advertising is whether or not we are in a service business. You hear it all the time, usually from account people or brainwashed creatives.

No.

We are in a product business. We make communications that transform businesses. That's our product. It's that simple.

If you don't come into a meeting with something real, something concrete, stay home.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Truths.

As long-time readers (if there are any) of Ad Aged know, I am a nut about old movies. This is not because I am living in the past. It is because I find moments of truth, humanity and wisdom in them that I seldom see in newer works.

Jean-Pierre Melville's 1956 movie "Bob le Flambeur" starring Roger Duchesne had one such seminal moment. Bob is an aging crook looking to get out of debt and to make one more killing before he retires to a life of leisure.

Bob is "too old for this" and he knows it. He is staring down the barrel of his own mortality. It's a painful moment for him. An admission that he's lost his looks, his physicality, his elan. Melville communicates all this in about 48 frames of film. Bob, getting dressed in front of a mirror closes up on his face. He is immaculately groomed, ready to face the world. Then, just before he leaves the mirror, he pinches his throat and wiggles an inch or two of excess skin, skin he never had before. That's it for Bob. That excess skin defines his destiny. There's no escape from it.

Another such moment I love is from Ernst Lubitsch's small 1937 comedy "Angel" which featured a drop dead gorgeous Marlene Dietrich, the great and under-rated Herbert Marshall and the greater and still more under-rated Melvyn Douglas.

video

Lubitsch was the master of the small cinematic touch that conveyed big meaning. In "Angel" Dietrich is married to Marshall but is embroiled in an affair with Douglas. Lubitsch illustrates the character of his characters with a few simple lines of dialogue.

Dietrich: (At her dressing table. Marshall enters the room. She looks at him, indirectly, through the mirror. She doesn't like what she sees.) "The op-wa starts at eight, doesn't it?"

Marshall: "Oh, the opera."

Dietrich: "Oh, darling, you promised."

Marshall: "And I'm going to keep my promise. You love the opera. I hate the opera.
So, why shouldn't we go?"

Their entire dynamic, her imperiousness, his attempts to please, all in a few lines.

Good communications relies not on platitudes and puffery.

It is contingent on minor moments of reality, of truth.

There is beauty, laughter, wisdom in these small moments.

Find them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What's wrong.

It’s hard to be conscious and not be inundated (and depressed) about the sorry state of affairs in American politics.

Our Congress, that branch of our government that makes laws, no longer functions. The 47 or so Republicans slinging it in the hopes of gaining their party’s nomination so they can run for president seems to have yielded a gaggle of half-wits. Some are incapable of finishing a sentence. Some don’t have even a basic grasp of world issues. Virtually all of them deny established truths like Climate Change and evolution.

Here’s where the trouble lies:

Today candidates are asked their opinion on almost every conceivable topic, from a pipeline across the center of the nation, to the gold standard, to whether or not all people have the right to marry. These opinions get aired, discussed and debated. Constantly.

We wind up considering about 75 viewpoints of each candidate. And in our “absence of hierarchy” era all of them are important.

That’s a problem.

Because you’ll never find someone who agrees with you on every “issue.” So we wind up having candidates that no one really likes. A candidate could hit on 67 of those 75 viewpoints but you could hate him because he disagrees with you on those missing 8. That’s why, today, no one has any real support.

It goes something like this: “I agree with him on almost everything, but I just can’t vote for him. In 1958 he came out in favor of protecting the migratory path of the Latvian Lake goose and I’m against that.”

Unfortunately, advertising has fallen victim to the same “everything for everyone” syndrome.

A television ad can have everything going for it and then some pipsqueak consultant will grab the floor and ask: “I don’t think this ad will build community and conversation.” And poof, your ad is dead, though it was never meant to build community and conversation.

In short, our list of expectations is so vast that we can only be disappointed. That’s what’s wrong.

Smart work, well executed.

video
I was watching TV a few weeks ago--I confess, it was "The Hitler Channel," one of those stations at the dusky end of the "dial" that caters to the esoteric, obscure and the downright strange. Usually the commercials on such channels suck. They're for cleaning solutions that wipe out mold and mildew like republicans eviscerating the middle class.

But I saw the ad above for "Ballroom Jeans" and was enchanted. I googled Duluth Trading and found a couple more pretty wonderful little commercials.

I've never heard of the agency that created these small pitch perfect masterpieces. Google, again, tells me they're produced by Planet Propaganda out of quaint old Madison, WI.

It doesn't matter from whence it comes. This is nice work.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Read me.

Years ago, back when typewriters roamed the Earth, I got a raft of insipid and politically-driven changes from a client named Ken.

I was pissed. And I worked hard to show it in my copy. In fact, if you read down left-hand column it would read:

K
e
n

I
s

a

F
u
c
k

I finished this little copywriting insurrection and walked down the hall to show my copy to my account guy. I should say here that on the account I was working on I produced probably 50 ads a year. The client loved me and generally loved my copy. The fact of the matter was I made the lives of my account people pretty easy.

I sat there while the account guy read my copy. He was a pretty good guy, pretty smart and dedicated, but he had a bit of a stammer.

"G g g George..." he started "it's f f fine, b b but it's not as as as good as your u u usual copy."

"Read it closely," I said.

He read it again. After a minute he said, "It j j just doesn't f f flow."

"Read down the left-hand column."

He did and got it.

"Y y you know if you d d didn't say anything, I I I would have f f faxed this to K k Ken."

Here's my point.

This particular account read my copy. He even gave it some thought.

Today, it seems, no one reads anything. Account people, "producers," no one seems interested enough in either the work or their jobs to bother.

Who knows what's sneaking through because of that.

Catherine. The Great.


I am reading Robert K. Massie's magisterial new biography of Catherine the Great. (I know it will disappoint George Parker, but 3/4ths of the way through, the Empress has so far avoided doing anything with horses outside of riding them.)

Be that as it may, next time you think your agency is a nest of vipers, pick up a tome like this. The politics, the intrigues, the back-stabbing and gossip are, literally, murderous. 18th Century Russia makes agency life seem like skipping through the tulips.

After Catherine led a coup d'etat to knock Peter III, her putative husband and full-time weirdo, off the Throne, she spent a good amount of time and showered rubles, titles and other largesse on her lover of the time Captain Gregory Orlov. Orlov was a rough, crude man who had designs on marrying the Empress. That and an attempt by Lt. Fedor Khirtovo to release Ivan VI from imprisonment in the Schlusselburg Fortress, and thus challenge Catherine's right to the Throne, led to a lot of gossip and speculation that Catherine's hold on Mother Russia was, at best, tenuous.

So Catherine did something we could all learn from.

"To end this chatter, she issued on June 4, 1763, a so-called Manifesto of Silence. To beating drums, people across the empire were summoned into public squares to listen to heralds reading her proclamation, which declared that "everyone should go about his own business and refrain from all useless and unseemly gossip and criticism of the government."

Ah, a Manifesto of Silence. Golden.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A contradiction.


I just came upon this photograph by the unmatched photographer and Hungarian emigre Andre Kertesz. It got me thinking.

At a time in world history when we are more pressed for time than ever before (in every time in world history we have been more pressed for time than ever before) there are more ways to fill our lives up with junk than ever before.

Just sticking with photography for a moment, we are Flickr'd and Instagrammed into mediocre submission. We are bludgeoned with snapshots of cats playing polo. We are pinioned with pics of people we hardly know.

We hardly have time for great because we are so besieged (and besotted) by the deluge of daily dreck.

There is greatness in the world. Greatness and originality. In art and in work.

But we're too busy looking at shit (and in looking at shit proclaiming that "everyone is a photographer") to notice.

The question.

There's a simple question that, in these days of multiple touchpoints and "surround-sound" strategies, seems is never asked. Because every agency now has 32-million "practices" each fighting for their own bottom line, the question is never posed, never considered, never even brought up. We don't ask it because we're more concerned with what WE need as a practice or an agency (to hit our holding company numbers) than with what our clients need to succeed.

The question is this: "How can we do the greatest good, influence the greatest number of people for the money we have to spend?"

What we have barring this question is competing fiefs. We have the mobile people spending like crazy developing WAP sites that few people will use. We have legions of tweeters and Facebook zealots creating "experiences" that have, at best, dubious return on investment. We have data-viz visionaries. The content confab. The video vehements. And they're all saying to clients who are also trying to hold onto their jobs "ME ME ME!"

In our nation right now which is so wracked by sectionalism and divisiveness, no one asks the question. In the multiple wars our Offense Department is waging, the question is never asked. I've been in the agency since 1984 and I've never heard the question asked by anyone but me.

So oceans of people are running around agencies and in client organizations producing myriad media pinpricks that viewers swat away like flies.

Because no one asks the one simple big picture question.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A lesson in copywriting.


Almost 40 years ago I got my first lesson in being a copywriter.

It wasn't from a course in school or even from a book. I got it at the New York Auto Show.

Like a lot of teenage boys I was a bit of a car nut growing up. Every year I would go to the Auto Show at the old New York Coliseum. The Coliseum was a hulking space on Columbus Circle (gone now and replaced by the gleaming Time-Warner Center.) It smelled of concession-stand hotdogs and cigarette smoke. The Coliseum was built ugly and quickly went down hill.

My lesson came when I walked over to see the new VW Super Beetle. This was one of the last of the original bugs made for America. I remember it was the first time I'd seen taillights with an amber turn signal.

The salesman at the booth started talking about the turn signal. "The minute you flip it on," he said "the turn signal starts." A few people in the audience laughed. "The turn signal on some cars doesn't turn on for as long as a second." The audience snickered again. Finally he said, "If you think that doesn't matter, at 60 miles per hour, a car travels 88 feet in a second. So the Beetle's turn signal turns on 88 feet faster."

I was floored by that fact.

Suddenly I believed in the VW. If they cared that much about a turn signal, these must be very good cars.

It was certainly very good copy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I met an older woman on the train today.

video
We were sitting next to each other and I could tell she was an older actress--that she was reading a typewritten play was a giveaway.

I turned to her and asked her, "Any good."

"Yes, it's the story of Leni Riefenstahl. Do you know her?"

We went on from there, chatting about Nazis, underwater photography and shooting in South Africa past 81st Street, 72nd Street, 59th Street all the way to 42nd.

Anyway, Nazi or not, propaganda or not, the clip above is well worth viewing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Quiet please.

Maureen Dowd, that is, the brilliant Maureen Dowd, has a surpassing column in today's "New York Times" that puts a finger on much of what is wrong with our industry and the world today. Her column today is titled "Silence Is Golden" and if you have a couple of minutes (that you're not wasting on Facebook, Twitter or some other diversion) you can read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/07/opinion/dowd-silence-is-golden.html?hp

Dowd's column is about our loss of silence.

Near its start she provides this 50-year-old quotation by Swiss philosopher Max Picard:
“Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence,” once as natural as the sky and air.

Dowd continues: "fiendish little gadgets conspire to track our movements and record our activities wherever we go, producing a barrage of pictures of everything we’re doing and saying..."

What's lost today is all this:

Silence is something you hear.

Quiet and solitude are things you can do or seek out.

Repose and "being in the moment" are special activities and should be cherished.

She points out, silence is like a zero in mathematics.

It's not nothing.

It's powerful.

It can lead to actual thought.

That's what she said.

Last night I went to a discussion at the Times Center, a 300-seat auditorium in the new New York Times building. It was moderated by three-time Pulitzer-prize winner Thomas Friedman and the panel featured Nobelist Paul Krugman, National Book Award finalist Joe Nocera and author-historian-economist Carmen Reinhart. Together and for the next 90 minutes the four had a lively discussion about the economy and the trouble the entire world faces.

At one point, Nocera brought up two factories he visited recently in North Carolina. One built by the German mega-corporation and Nazi lubricant Siemens, the other built by Caterpillar, the tractor people. Together to build these factories the companies were given $36 million in tax relief (socialism for the rich) and together these factories employ a whopping total of 1,200 people.

In Obama's Osawatomie speech yesterday, he mentioned "Steel mills that needed 1,000 employees are now able to do the same work with 100."

Everywhere such realities are present. Except perhaps in our industry.

Yes, I know most agencies have dramatically downsized. Yes, I know that basic digital work is being "off-shored" to places like Costa Rica or Minsk. Yes, I know all that.

However, I also know that I have a purportedly big client meeting tomorrow to discuss 2012 planning. I know that to put a deck together has probably, so far, cost the agency 500 man hours. And I know that, unsatisfied with the meandering group-think that is the output of all these banal and wasted hours I sat at my table and wrote the deck we eventually decided to use. It took me one hour.

I do not like writing decks. It's not what I do. But I like even less sitting in massive meetings and "collaborating" with people who are sentencely-challenged.

It does not take a lot of people to do what we do.

It takes, often, a lone person thinking clearly and without distraction.

That "model" is cost-efficient and produces work that is more solid.

I don't know why we make things so hard.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An idiosyncracy and a confession.

Since I love to sketch and since I have an admiration for some things old, I write primarily with fountain pens. Because I often lose them, the ones I use at work are usually moderately priced, bought in most cases at airport duty-free shops for less than $50. Even so, I'm still a little paranoid about losing them. Accordingly, I think I spend two billable hours a day looking for my pens.

Some thoughts on bras.

In the book, "The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm," author Juliet Nicholson spends some time talking about a recent innovation that changed a lot. The summer of 1911 was when monied and titled young scions in England began to make the leap from laced-up corsets and mounds of petticoats to a new-fangled invention, the brassiere.

The brassiere did more that damage the whale-bone industry. Suddenly, women could get dressed (and undressed) in minutes, not hours. It no longer became an ordeal to undress. It was much easier, thanks to the brassiere, for couples to couple.

It occurs to me that while simplicity is often good and beneficial, it can, and often is, taken too far.

I am not a fan, for instance, of the state of deshabille in which most young people are attired. I like the feminine form in all its luxuriant softness as much as the next guy. However, I have no desire to see anyone's ass-crack and cleavage, while there's a time and a place for it, does not rightfully belong in an office. Plain and simple, it is distracting. Likewise, I have absolutely no desire to see people's underwear.

I bring this up because I believe that the semiotics of today's dress speak volumes about much of what is wrong with our world today.

While the brassiere might be considered a boon to young lovers everywhere, today undressing is too easy. In fact, most people only walk around half-dressed.

In short, in clothing and most all else, we have made things too easy. In so doing, we have removed the quality of consideration from most actions.

It used to be if you wanted to comment on an article you read you needed to find pen and paper and envelope. You needed to write it down. Address the envelope. Find a stamp and mail it in.

Now, any dickwad with vectored fingertips can write any banality at any time.

Whatever is gained by this freedom of expression. Much is lost.

Likewise, in our business, any In-Design pixel putz can make a professional-looking layout. It can be done in mere seconds. You can slap some blather, some stock and some tautological twatology onto the page and, voila, it looks like you've had a thought. When all you've really had is a semantic belch.

And belching is not thinking.

And even if it passes for thinking in what some day may be called "The Dark Ages 2.0" it isn't thinking.

And I don't care what you think about that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

24 digits and ontology.

As usual, I am sitting on a conference call.

The producer punches in 10 numbers, then 10 more, then four more--24 digits in all just to get into a conference call.

For all its flaws, the Social Security system operates with fair efficiency with nine-digit i.d.s.

Are the 24 digits for security reasons?

If security is so paramount why not cause us to punch in 100 digits and be really safe.

Graffiti by my friend Lisa.


http://lisalevyindustries.com/

The best toys of all time.


I've just been emailed an article in "Wired" magazine entitled "The 5 Best Toys of All Time." It got me thinking.

For the last few decades or so Wired, and journals like it, have run an enormous number of articles that fall into two categories. 1) The "This-Will-Change-Everything" category and 2) The "Things-that-Mankind-Have-Known-Forever-Are-No-Longer-Germane" category.

We've read in recent years about the death of print, the death of television, the death of agencies, the death of bricks-and-mortar, the death of "the death of" articles.

We've also been treated to about a gazillion gizmos that will change everything. Lonely Girl 15. The segway. Just last week in the "Times" we were told to get all heated up by a new thermostat.

All that is why I liked this article so much on the best toys of all time. They are according to Jonathan Liu:

1. A stick.
2. A box.
3. String.
4. A cardboard tube.
5. Dirt.

You can read the piece here: http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2011/01/the-5-best-toys-of-all-time/all/1

The same reductio ad absurdum quality can probably also be applied to our business. We can analyze the quantum appeal of pixel manipulation, we can create apps that allow you to create more apps, we can augment reality while we change the paradigm to decrease costs, but when push comes to shove, a gag, a pratfall, a funny expression or an intelligent appeal do more to drive more business and brand value than any new "toy."

It's that simple, really.

Or, as Preston Sturges noted in his "11 Rules for Writing a Hit Movie,"

1. A Pretty girl is better than an ugly one.
2. A leg is better than an arm.
3. A bedroom is better than a living room.
4. An arrival is better than a departure.
5. A birth is better than a death.
6. A chase is better than a chat.
7. A dog is better than a landscape.
8. A kitten is better than a dog.
9. A baby is better than a kitten.
10. A kiss is better than a baby.
11. A pratfall is better than anything.

My cousin Herb.

My cousin Herb and his father before him had a small leather goods company that made high-quality attache and brief cases for men. Schlesinger Brothers was founded in 1919 and stayed in business until about ten years ago when in was bought by Tumi. The cases Schlesinger built had fallen out of favor with most men preferring soft-sided bags with straps they could throw over their shoulder.

One weekend I was with Herb, he was my father's age and more of a father to me than my own, and he talked about closing his factory which he had relocated from Camden, NJ to a small town called Berlin, NJ.

"In the old days," he remembered "men would come in and apply for positions. We didn't look at applications. We didn't background check. We didn't ask for their employment history. We didn't care that they 'interviewed well.'

"We gave them space on a bench, leather, wood, nails, hardware and tools and we told them to make a bag. If the bag they made was good, we hired them."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Saturday in New York.


My wife, ever-resourceful as she is, and I are members of the Metropolitan Museum which is just a few blocks from our apartment. One great advantage of membership is that you can pop in for 30 minutes and scout the place out and see what you want to go back to see later in more depth.

The museum today was like a flower that just opened. It was so full of beauty it was ready to burst.

We went specifically to see the new galleries dedicated to art in the new Near East galleries which featured art and artifacts from the parts of the world we are trying to blow up, Iran, Syria, Iraq etc. The Met, of course, does an astonishing job and has a breath-taking collection. They've recreated whole rooms, from floor tiles to benches to window treatments. The result is stunning and transformative.

From there we went to a collection called "Infinite Jest." A panoply of satirical cartoons lambasting, among other things, the profligate and pretentious rich.



Then a gallery of about 200 Steichen photographs.

Then, in an effort to battle the persistent cough and cold that's affected me these past two week, we walked to the 2nd Avenue Deli which opened in my neighborhood over the summer and is located, somewhat inexplicably on 1st Avenue. There we had the greatest art of all--a light dill-flavored chicken broth with two really good kreplach.

Art is great and powerful. Many of the pieces we saw were thousands of years old. Others have endured through the centuries. That's all well and good.

But there's nothing like a really good kreplach.

--

For non-Jews:
Kreplach are small pasta dough triangles filled with ground meat or mashed potatoes. Similar to dumplings, they are sometimes called Jewish ravioli or Jewish wonton. Sometimes kreplach is boiled and served in soup. Other times kreplach is fried and served as a side dish. It is customary to eat kreplach before the Yom Kippur fast, on the last day of Sukkot, and on Purim.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Alan Seus, 1926-2011.

video
Alan Seus, a comedian on Laugh In just died. He handed me a lot of laughs when I was a kid. You can read his obituary here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/03/arts/television/alan-sues-a-laugh-in-cast-mainstay-dies-at-85.html?hpw

Industrial advertising.

This might be a little disjointed but hopefully I'll get around to a point.

I went to work via a different route this morning and saw a billboard festooned with McDonald's golden arches. That, together with some recent media news got me thinking.

What's happened to almost everything that touches our souls--from hamburgers to advertising to publishing--has been industrialized.

We create "marketing engines" that are distinguished not for their interest, motivation or persuasion but instead aim to reach the greatest number of people at the lowest possible cost.

Just as McDonald's has created a "hamburger engine" to distribute the greatest number of patties at the lowest possible cost.

The original intent--to make something distinctive and delicious is gone. The technocrats that run ad agencies and major corporations aren't lovers of advertising or hamburgers.

They are lovers of efficiency. Create multiple communications distributable over dozens and dozens of touchpoints that inhabit a communications ecosystem.

So systematically they destroy the companies they lead by abnegating their original purpose.

The sad fact is, it seems to me, that advertising has little to do with creating great ads. It's about content strategy, ecosystems, fractal landscapes, data visualization, content syndication.

These are the topics which occupy our days.

Outside of a stuffy conference room I've never heard anyone use any of those terms.

They are meaningless.

So is much of what we do.

Thank god for advertising.


A reminder.

Uncle Slappy has a cough.

The phone rang at 6:45 this morning.

That can mean only one of two things. One of my daughters has a problem or Uncle Slappy needs to talk.

It was Uncle Slappy.

"A cough," he started, "A cough I have for three weeks and can't get rid of."

"I'm sorry, Uncle Slappy."

"To Dr. Richard P. Cohen I am going this morning."

"Good, he'll probably just give you an anti-biotic and knock it out of your system."

"Richard P. Cohen, the doctor, not Richard T. Cohen, the podiatrist."

"I got that Uncle Slappy." I waited, pregnantly for Slappy to continue.

"I just hope ammonia I don't have."

"Pneumonia, Uncle Slappy."

"That too," the old man said, and he hung up the phone.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Faded New York.







I just read a book review in "The New York Times" about the fading advertising signs of New York. You can read it here: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/01/the-handwriting-on-the-wall-says-gigi-young-originals/?hp

Here's a little from the review:

"Advertising murals painted by hand on blank brick side walls in the 1800s and 1900s were supposed to have disappeared by now. Color slides were supposed to have disappeared by now. Books were supposed to have disappeared by now...

"They all survived longer than expected. That happy confluence has yielded “Fading Ads of New York City,” a new 224-page book from the History Press. It showcases...[a] loving record of hand-painted “ghost signs” that lasted long enough to go from eyesore to historical asset..."

I've ordered the book and if I like it, I'll tell you more.

New York, 1970.

When I was a kid, 40 or more years ago, the world was a very different place than it is today. I was in 7th grade and like my brother who was a grade ahead of me, I had been enrolled in Latin. My teacher, and my brother's was a man named Howard Comeau.

I don't know how Latin is taught today but back in 1970 or so it was probably taught much the same way it was taught in 1870 or 1770 or, even, 1370. It involved an enormous amount of rote memorization, recitations, translations, dictations and mneumonic tricks, many of which I remember to this day. (There are but four masculine nouns in the first declension and they are a PAIN. Poeta, Agricola, Insula and Nauta.)

We were drilled and drilled and drilled some more. All of us had to be able to conjugate verbs like machinery. I can still rattle off Sum Es Est, Summus Estis Sunt, etc. like a sonofabitch. We were also drilled so that we could decline Bonus Bona Bonum, Hic Haec Hoc, etc. through the five cases both singular and plural--30 words with different endings in under 30 seconds. My best was in the sevens, more than respectable, but Connie Jacobs (who once got sent to the principal for calling something asinine) was the class champ--she declined Bonus in under five seconds.

None of this knowledge has really been helpful to me in my life and career. I do enjoy reading Roman history (in English) and when in Rome find that I can muddle through inscriptions on monuments.

The real value of this torture transcended Latin. I was forced to use my mind, to discipline it in ways that I fear have vanished. The power to understand, store and retrieve information--to recall conversations, dates and ideas, is vitally important. Mr. Comeau and Latin taught me that.

Mr. Comeau also taught me a lesson about the semiotics of dress. This was the early 70s when all the old rules about girls wearing dresses and boys wearing trousers to school were disappearing. Kids started wearing t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. The old order was collapsing.

There was a dance one Friday night in my Jr. High. Mr. Comeau was a proctor and reminded us that we would not be allowed in the gym if we weren't wearing a jacket and tie. We were outraged and couldn't understand why the dress code was so strict.

Mr. Comeau explained it simply: "you won't roll on the floor if you're wearing a jacket and tie."

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BTW, if you're ever in the mood for a good movie I think about when I think about my education, get ahold of the 1951 classic "The Browning Version." It's directed by Anthony Asquith, written by Terence Rattigan and stars Michael Redgrave.

My iPhone.

I got an iPhone about six months ago and here's how it's changed my life: I had been carrying three devices, a personal Blackberry, a work Blackberry (because I couldn't get my work mail on my personal phone) and an iPod. Now, I carry just one device and, therefore, my life has improved.

Some design stuff sucks about the iPhone. When I cradle it against my shoulder and ear, I often activate the mute button. I lose a lot of calls that way.

The thing that really annoys me about the iPhone involves apps. When I'm in a taxi on the way home, I often play Solitaire. My younger daughter just this past weekend introduced me to a game called "Fruit Ninja." When I turn on these games I get a little pop-down window that cloyingly tells me "Welcome back, George."

You know, I'm kind of embarrassed to be playing the lame-brained games. Surely there's something better I could be doing with my time. So I resent the assertiveness of the apps welcoming me back.

I think of these welcome greetings much the same way I think of a lot of online utility. It's there and we can do it, but it doesn't really serve any important, legitimate purpose.

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.