Friday, August 31, 2012

The two ways of writing.

There are two ways to write an ad, or a manifesto, or even an email.

The first way is as you might expect. It involves order, planning and discipline. In common parlance, it's writing when you have a rough idea of your beginning, middle and end.

The second way is equally important and equally effective.

It comes into play when you're stuck with a problem.

Or your partner and you aren't connecting.

Or he's unavailable.

Or you have an idea you need to work out alone.

This kind of writing is like Jackson Pollack's painting.

Let your words splatter over the page.

Don't start out trying to form something eloquent.

Just start dipping your brush into the paint, your fingers on your keyboard.

Type.

See what comes out.

See what's behind the part of your brain that's smart, that seeks order and logic.

Let your words drip.

Go.

Give yourself an hour and type. Type about anything. Don't worry if it makes sense or not. See what happens.

Then don't read anything you've written. Instead take a walk around the block. Before you come back to the page, walk away from the page.

When you do come back to what you've written, there's probably something there.

A thread to pull.

A pattern that presents itself.

Find what's good in what you've written.

And start again from there.

Maybe this manner will work for you.

Maybe it won't.

But sometimes it works for me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A clean, well-lighted deck.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the absurdity of our business.

About 65 page decks talking about strategy.

About two-hour meetings about a 30-second commercial.

About 200 hours producing work two dozen people will see.

I was thinking about how much we talk.

And how little we say.

I wondered what would happen if an agency had a directive.

Self-imposed.

Write your decks like Hemingway would.

Or McCabe.

Or Bernbach.

Design them like Krone would.

Or Glaser.

Or Lois.

Take out everything that doesn't matter.

Everything that's windy.

Everything that gives you linguistic gas.

In short, what if an agency remembered this from Hemingway, and took it as creative direction:

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” 

The replacements.

The National Football League season is about to mercilessly start, though no one ever intended 400-pound men to wear 75 pounds of equipment and bang into each other in the ever-longer-lasting heat of summer. But no matter, sport is quaint, but money is where it's at and money is what the National Football League is about, so it's coming and there's nothing we can do to escape its hormonal/steroidal apocalypse.

Yesterday's "Times" ad column--what's left of it, it's now written by people who are not reporters, they're press-release-sifters--called the NFL and its 181-million viewers, "the greatest advertising delivery vehicle ever invented," and I think that's about right. There is no sport involved. It's about selling tires, nachos and beer.

It's about to kick off, the NFL mammoths are, and not with professional referees presiding but with, from what I glean, "replacement" referees who have neither the skill nor composure to adjudicate a game in which two tons of mean slams into the opposing two tons of meat with intent to kill.

We have disposed of the professionals, of the trained, of the experienced. Bring on the replacements.

Replacements infect our everything.

Our ads are rife with them.

Stock photos instead of real. Replacement visuals.

Cliches instead of thoughts. Replacement copy.

Hyperbole instead of emotion. Replacement soul.

We are a world which has embraced the replacements.

In hipster heaven our arms, back, legs and necks are sloganeered in permanent ink. Replacement wisdom.

Our clothing, our shoes, our handbags, our glasses are festooned with brand logos. We rely on brands for our identity. Replacement personality.

We labor under the delusion that every snapshot is a photograph. And never look at the work of masters. Replacement taste.

Because we're too lazy to read, we rely on idiots, windbags, professional pontificators, limbaughs, coulters etc. for our opinions. Replacement judgment.

In our business, where our goals have mutated from building brands to winning awards, we rely on pay-per-trophy award shows to affirm our worth. Replacement qualifications.

This is what we have come to.

A plasticized, synthetic, naugahyded world.

Throw out the originals.

They are trouble.

Here come the replacements.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Commodities.

video
There's certainly no shortage of bad advertising in the world--and there's no one in advertising who isn't responsible for at least some of it. We all fail now and again, despite the vigor of our effort or the nobility of our aspirations.

Perhaps the central cause of most failures comes not from thinking viewers will find it hilarious seeing white men dance badly (bad dancing has replaced the one-eyebrow-raise as the sure-fire laugh-getter that no one laughs at) but rather the underlying belief that the product or service you're advertising is a complete commodity.

A commodity to such a point that there's nothing important to say about the product or service, so let's not even try.

The Avis ads I've pasted above are a case in point. Avis apparently rents cars that have both radios (always magically tuned to a song you like) and space inside them. Those attributes appeal, of course, to busy businessmen who will suddenly break into song in their own private Malibus.

I'm sure some pea-brain of a MBA, on either the client or agency side, said something like this to the creative team: "Our insight is that the space inside a rental car is a private zone where our target can get himself ready for the challenges that come."

That's an insight on par with this one. On hot summer days fat people like ice cream.

50 years ago Avis developed an ethos to differentiate itself from a bigger, richer, more-established brand. We try harder.

Today the company and its agency is run by cowards who rather than try to do something smart, something unique, something ownable they instead write un-believable drivel acted by un-real people.

99 times out of 100 you advertise something that has no differentiating assets. Your job as marketing practitioner is to find one. A creed. A fact. An idea.

It's not just to cast for white people dancing.


Walking north.

It's only Wednesday, but I've already had a helluva week. I'm not busy at work--which is rare. I'm experiencing that lull that comes before a big shoot. That stillness before a storm. But that's ok, I'm enjoying it.

There is still, of course, the daily dosage of drudgery to attend to. Small ads that need to be done, well and on-time. And meetings called by people whose job it is to call meetings. Agencies are teeming with meeting makers these day, people who, like cardboard actors, come to life only when amphetiminized by powerpoint.

My youngest daughter is home for the first time since late May, and my oldest is coming home today for 48 hours or so. The new puppy roars to the rafters. And my wife is back and forth from LA like a tennis ball at the US Open. In all, the usual delicious mayhem of family.

Last night, with the Republicans glowering on TV, fat and pale like marzipan, I headed north, as I so often do, for a walk with my dog Whiskey along the river.  There was not a dark face in attendance in republican Tampa last night and once I got north of 96th Street, there was not a white one--except for me. Up here I was safe from the dying elephant bellows of New Jersey charlatan governor Chris Christie. I was safe from the Stepford wifery of Ann Romney who spun a Horatio Alger tale of she and Mitt accomplishing the American Dream, oMITTing the part about starting with a $50,000,000 nest egg.

Up north, amid the as-yet-un-gentrified precincts of Harlem, I was happier, away from those parts of America where they don't believe in minimum wages, health care, pollution controls, Darwin, taxing the rich, unions and global warming.

Whiskey and I walked north. North through the broken sea wall of the East River Drive, collapsing into the drink. North past the Triboro. North past the projects where the great ballpark the Polo Grounds used to be, where Willie Mays caught Vic Wertz's flyball and wheeled and made that throw to second.


We exited the promenade around 165th Street, four miles from my apartment and walked through the broken asphalt of Highbridge Park, leaving the park at Yeshiva University, not far from the original Washington bridge over the Harlem River, a span that predates its more famous namesake by almost 50 years.

Whiskey's tongue, by now, was as long as my forearm. I found a gypsy cab manned by a fat Dominican, got in, and headed $20 home.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Regimens.

We are assured through various advertising campaigns featuring women with firm perky breasts and men with granite abs and prodigious biceps, that we are all athletes. We are told that our slog around the reservoir in their gear will make us glorious, victorious and valorous. Puma calls us "after hours athletes." Nike tells us to "find our greatness" (and urges us to track our every motion through their 'fuel band.') And adidas assures us that impossible is nothing.

With billions of dollars beamed at us we suit up and run and bike and swim and lift and spin and step and jump and box and skate. We do it every day, a modern-day religion of self-actualization.

What strikes me as odd is this: I may fantasize about running a three-hour marathon (30 years ago, I came close, clocking in at 3:10:15) but my reality is I am a writer. Writing, not writhing, is what I get paid to do. And while there is nothing wrong maintaining a fitness regimen, I question why so few maintain a creative regimen.

How many art directors, how many copywriters train everyday to improve their skills?

More than 300,000 words ago I began writing this blog. 300,000 words is 1,200 typewritten pages. And those 300,000 words have made me a better writer than I have ever been. Because I have been practicing.

My blogging friends, Rich Siegel at http://roundseventeen.blogspot.com/, Bob Hoffman at http://adcontrarian.blogspot.com/, Tore Claesson at http://toreclaesson.blogspot.com/, Ben Kay at http://www.ben-kay.com/, the people at Sell! Sell! http://sellsellblog.blogspot.com/ and Dave Trott at http://www.cstthegate.com/davetrott/2012/08/the-answer-asks-the-question/ practice their skills every day, or nearly so. They are doing the creative equivalent of 50-mile weeks. They work and work and work to sharpen their skills, their perceptions, their insights.

They practice every day. And, as my mother would be sure to bludgeon me: practice makes perfect.

To bastardize a line from above, they, like me, are "after hours creatives." They find time late or early, to do what they do and by doing get better at it.

It's the only way, I think.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Language.

Sitting in an open workspace exposes you to a lot. Not only can I hear just about every conversation within 50 yards of my table, I get to hear the sort of language that fairly makes my skin crawl. If we think about language and the semiotics behind language, the words I hear almost every day are upsetting. If language reflects thought, we are as an industry moribund.

I hear people talking about "decks." Not about a presentation--something living. But about a deck. Something large, ponderous, heavy and inanimate. No one ever said, I'm looking forward to reading that deck. But decks are what we produce. Boring.

I hear account people say, "we'll get the assets from the creatives." Not the ad, or the banner, or the commercial. Again, we as an industry, use a dead, material word. A word that commoditizes that which we get paid to produce.

And we are no longer people, it's no longer "I'll get the work from Tom and George." That sentence is human. It's "I'll get the assets from the creatives."

Even our departments are tainted. Human resources. I am a resource, like a geyser, a fir tree or a vein of coal. Thank you for admitting I am a human.

I remember once when I was in charge of a large Boston agency and we were moving buildings, the General Manager came to me with a "stacking plan." We are not people. We are cord-wood.

We no longer take a day off. That is too casual and not officious sounding. We're on PTO. Some relative, I suppose of PCBs. As if our employer is doing us a favor by paying us for our leisure day. PTO could, after all, be ETO--earned time off. But we willingly give the linguistic power to the holding company.

Language is power and we have given it away.

That's all for now. I have some assets to ideate and have inserted into a deck before a conference call.

Eulogy.

By some unfortunate twist of fate I was born, not with the gift of laughter, but on the cusp of slaughter. Not at the hands of the father, like Isaac to Abraham, but at the hands of a cruel and knife-wielding mother who was narcissistic, unstable, borderline and, worst of all, just plain mean.

We have complicated and fancy words now and rarely call people mean, but that is what she was, like a kid pulling the wings off of flies or burning ants alive, I was her insect.

My father, who should have been my protector, because he was aware, was largely absent. Gone for days every week and weeks every month on business trips. And my mother saw in me, magnified and right before her eyes everything she hated in my father writ large. So it was me she scorned, punished and kicked the shit out of.

It was me she slaughtered, more than my older brother and my younger sister, I bore the scars--scars in three places on my head by the time I was four. I was a pin-cushion for her invective and her cruelty.

Yet, she gave me gifts, even if they came from the back of her hand. A love for books, a love for words, a sense of humor (the only way I have survived) and for those I thank her. She gave me a hunger to learn, which I still have. Most of all, she gave me a bad example. She showed me in real life every day, day in and day out, what I would not become. In this way, she became an inspiration.

But for the abuse, the cruelty, the lack of support, the absence of niceness, I can't forgive and after 33 years of therapy, I can't either forget. It's just there, her. Like a permanent limp, or those scars on my face that, being scars, will never be erased.

My brother called this weekend to tell me that she had finally died. We had been watching her for months sink even deeper into her living coma, not leaving her bed, much less her apartment. And now the people who gave her round-the-clock care that we paid for, said she sunk dead.

I can't cry, Willy.

I had done all my crying growing up. I had done all my crying for the past 54 years.  I am cried out.

And I can't cry.



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong, a remembrance.

Reprinted on the occasion of Neil Armstrong's passing.
Years ago--I think it was the 10th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong's moon walk, I had the honor of interviewing Armstrong for my college newspaper.

Being a "writerly" sort, asked him specifically about his words on setting foot on the moon. How did you come up with "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

Armstrong looked me dead in the eye, "I never said that."

"Mr. Armstrong," I replied, "I've heard the recording a thousand times. I've read about it in history books. Every school child knows you said 'One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.'"

Armstrong said, "What I said was 'one small step for man; one giant leap for Manny Klein."

I begged the famous flier to explain.

Armstrong told me this story, "When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, the walls in our apartment house were very thin. You could hear everything. And every night I would hear our neighbor, Manny Klein, begging his wife for oral sex. Every night, Mrs. Klein would demur.

"Finally," Armstrong continued, "Mrs. Klein relented. She said when a man walks on the moon, I'll give you oral sex. Hence 'One small step for man; one giant leap for Manny Klein.'"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Save America. Kill an MBA.

My older daughter is swimming a five kilometer race in Lake George this weekend. And my younger daughter returns to Manhattan after 84 days teaching scuba in the Caribbean. So my wife and I have rented cabin for the weekend for the four of us to have a family reunion of sorts.

My wife announced yesterday that she needed to pickup the rental car on Thursday. If she did so, the rate was $59/day. Whereas if she waited until today to pick up the car, the rate would be $179/day. So four times $59. Or three times $179.

Such a "pricing strategy" could only have come from an MBA.

Now take a look at this piece of shit commercial they are running the shit out of in New York. Don't judge it for its lack of idea or its corny cgi device. Try, instead, to unravel and understand what seems to me to be the point of the spot. That is that you get "a single pool of shareable data that powers up to ten devices."
video
Since when were phones, computers, tablets, etc. "powered by data." And since when was my phone called a device. I'm 54 years old. To my generation a device is a thermonuclear bomb.

Only powerpoint-fueled imbecilic MBAs could make sense of any of this.

And shit like this drives companies to ruin. Makes people hate them. And ignore their advertising.

MBAs don't get that.

Never will.

--
BTW, here's my chat with "Chad" from Verizon.

Please hold for a Verizon Wireless sales representative to assist you with your order. Thank you for your patience.
You are now chatting with 'Chad'
Chad: Hello. Thank you for visiting our chat service.  May I help you with your order today?
george: what does a single pool of shareable data that powers up to ten devices mean?
george: are devices powered by AC or DC?
Chad: I'd be happy to assist you.
Chad: Would you mind holding for a moment while I check that information?
george: sure
Chad: The currents are for AC. Also the shared data refers to the new plan offerings.
Chad: All of your phones/devices would have access to the "data pool" if you will.
george: i dont understand how that "powers" my devices
george: and what's a data pool? Is there a deep end? Do I need to wear a data swim cap?
Chad: The data package is more for internet usage however the phones run off of being plugged into an outlet.
george: so when they say powers in the commercial, it's misleading
Chad: The thing is smartphones are updated through the internet.
george: Oh. You mean from a software pov. But that doesn't mean they're "powered."
Chad: That is correct.
george: So, I'm not dumb. The commercial is.
Chad: Do you have any questions about our phones or accessories today?
george: Well, I would, if I understood your commercials.
george: It's like they're written in Martian.
Chad: It has been my pleasure to chat with you today! Please feel free to re-open the chat session if you need further assistance . Thank you and have a great day!
Thank you for chatting with us, visit our Online Workshops to learn more about your devices. Click "End Chat" to tell us how we did today via our survey.




Friday reflections.

When I was a kid I was really not that much different than I am today. By that I mean I was as obstreperous, disagreeable and captious as they come. Growing up in the 60s, I wasn't the only one in my "gang," to be this way. But perhaps I was the most voluble.

Consequently, my mother spent a good portion of her time with her hand whacking my head with no little amount of ferocity. I had the kind of child-rearing that could get you arrested today. Back five decades ago, it was merely regarded as strict.

Since I knew no different and assumed that most everyone got fairly-well cuffed fairly often, I never protested this treatment. I figured it was normal to be batted around. Like my mother's cooking, it wasn't until I got to college that I actually found out meals could be served hot.

I left home at 17 and have seldom been back. Partly because my parents moved to Chicago then, and Chicago never was my home and partly because I never liked my parents all too much. Sure, I learned from them. I got a good education and certain skills. But I've still felt the need to have spent the last 33 years of my life in fairly intense, very expensive therapy. And as my therapist says to me, "George, you're a lifer."

My disdain for authority which was generated by my parents' treatment of me has, I think, served me well in my career. First off, I never take what a client says at face value. I question every claim and every brief. I think this makes me a better creative.

I also don't take anything else at face value. The bullshit agencies produce like cattle generate methane. The holy-shit-this-will-change-everything proclamations that seem to be spouted every seven minutes of so by people who want to believe they can turn base metal into gold.

Most of all, what I got from my parents is the feeling that I'll never have a home. I'll never really settle in anywhere and buy into the status quo.

Most agencies, though they claim they want original thinkers and combative personalities want them only so long as those personalities can fit into an Excel spreadsheet cell. What they really want are amen-choristers. People who say amen no matter what the leaders blurt.

Being an outsider means you work hard. You work to do your best. Because you never let your hair down and feel safe anywhere.

Outsiders are, as I stated above, obstreperous, disagreeable and captious. And most agencies can't handle them. They don't fit the mold.

They are, however, where good work comes from.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

For Klimt.

As I said in my previous post, I took the day off to see the Gustave Klimt show at the Neue Gallery on Fifth Avenue and 86th. The museum is celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Klimt's birth and the gallery is showing a half dozen portraits (including Adele Bloch-Bauer I) and dozens and dozens of smaller paintings and charcoal sketches.

Additionally, the exhibition rooms are decorated the works of the Wiener Werkstatte, including furniture by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser. Their work deserves a show in its own right. If you don't know the work of the Werkstatte, do some Googling. My guess is you'll like what you see.

The whole schmear, as they say in Yiddish, made quite an impression on me. 

I especially liked this line which Klimt wrote in a letter to a friend in 1903. "There is always hope, as long as canvasses are empty."





A day off in New York.

Some years ago, maybe half a decade, Ronald Lauder, the billionaire heir of the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune, bought a giant mansion on Fifth Avenue and 86th Street and built a museum dedicated to German and Austrian art and culture called the Neue Gallery.

Lauder also spent about $150 million buying Gustave Klimt's masterpiece, "the Mona Lisa of the 20th Century," Adele Block-Bauer I. The Neue Gallery has the painting on display only through this up-coming Monday, so my wife and I decided to beat the last-minute crowds and we're taking the day off and seeing the painting today.

Klimt was a crazy man. A man of Lucullan appetites, who painted and slept with virtually all those Viennese who lauded his avant-garde works. He was scorned by the Viennese establishment, hated for his upsetting of the societal applecart. His many sketches of female nudes assertive in their sensuality and sexuality would put hair on your chest today. In Klimt's time they were considered degenerate, "Jewish" and were banned.

Apparently, there were Republicans back then, too.

I haven't traveled that much in my life so I can't say I'm fully-knowledgeable in the matter, but I do believe New York is the greatest city in the world. Just as Vienna was in the early 1900s. And London was some years before that.

I've been going pretty hard at work over the last few months. I've partnered with a new art-director, conceived and sold and new campaign and chosen a director for the three spots we'll be shooting in about a month.

Along the way, the usual crush of new business and regular work has continued.

But today, all that is forty blocks away.

I am seeing "The Lady in Gold."


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Floaters.

When you have insomnia as I have, there are two things you can do. One is you can fight it toss for turn and attempt to will yourself to sleep. You can swallow a battery of pills, drink warm milk, chamomile tea. You can try all manner of things to get yourself asleep.

The second thing you can do is live with your insomnia. You can tell yourself your "normal" is to be up from 1:30 to 3:30 every morning, so accept it and find something useful or valuable to do with that extra time. Use the time to watch Buster Keaton silents, to read the histories of Xenophon, or, if you're lucky to have a golden-retriever puppy as I am, you can take her for long, destination-less walks as I do.

The city along the river in the wee hours is an amazing place. It's as quiet as a small town in the midwest, with few people, few cars and only light shipping on the estuary. You can hear the roiling water--which you can't do during the day, and I believe hearing a river "speak" is one of the true joys of living.

Last night, at two, I slipped a leash on my dog Whiskey and headed one block east to listen to the river. We walked quietly uptown for about 20 minutes, passing virtually no one. The dope-smoking teenagers were home, the vandals were looking elsewhere to ply their spray, and whatever ruffians there are left in New York were, presumably, hunting in more populous locales. Whiskey and I walked uptown, unmolested.

We passed the footbridge at 102nd Street that connects Manhattan to Wards' Island. We passed the rotted pilings at 116th and meandered our way around the deteriorating macadam and hex-block. At 122nd Street, we skirted a rusted chain link fence and kept on uptown, across the gravel that lay underneath the Triboro Bridge.

Some politician had the name of the Triboro Bridge (a perfect name for a Bridge that connects three boroughs, The Bronx, Queens and Manhattan) changed to the RFK Bridge, in memoriam of Bobby, but the functionality of Triboro fits too perfectly the functionality of the span to change what I call it.

As we emerged from beneath the interchanges leading to the Bridge, Whiskey and I re-entered a recently-renovated esplanade that starts around 129th Street. We kept heading uptown, the evening soft and gentle like a blonde.

We rounded a slight inlet of the Harlem River (the Harlem and the East Rivers connect around 125th Street as the FDR Drive changes into the Harlem River Drive) and up ahead we saw the visual cacophony of police sirens. Of course there were two police prowl cars there. At night, the cops travel in pairs, like nuns. There was also, in the calm water of the river a police boat with siren flashing and bright light floods lighting the river.

We arrived at the scene. A cop came over to admire my dog.

"What's going on," I asked.

Usually cops stay D and D at a crime scene, but this one spoke. "A floater," he answered. He pointed to a diver in the water next to a shapeless shape.

"Late in the season," I said. Trying to sound street-wise.

The floaters usually come up at the start of the warm weather. This one must have been weighed down with something to come up in late August.

"It's a gruesome way to spend a Tuesday night," I mentioned.

"Well, I ain't in the water with him," he answered back. "You thank God for small favors."

I decided enough was enough. And thank god, though sometimes the river calls my name, that I ain't in the water with him.  Whiskey and I turned tail--her literally and me metaphorically and headed downtown, for home.

We had had enough for one night.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Years ago and today.

In some of my earliest moments in "advertising," I worked for Montgomery Ward as a copywriter in their catalog division. This was every bit as bad a job as it sounds. It involved a lot of "grinding it out," page after page after page and not a lot of creativity.

Nevertheless, I did get paid to write. I had to write to spec. I had to work with buyers (who were essentially clients) and I had to sell my work, usually under a great deal of pressure. I also got to work with art directors, print producers, typographers and editors. All of that was valuable.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned on this job, however, was none of the above. This is something that happened twice a year in which the buyers would report how much revenue they produced from each of the catalog pages we created. We would breakdown their page, and indicate that this item earned $47K, and that earned $88K and so on.

What I realized early on is that buyers essentially "bought" a page for, say, $200,000 from the company. They, therefore had to sell $200,001 off that page for them to keep their jobs. And, of course, for me to keep mine. What's more, if that page earned, say, $400,000, the buyer who bought that page for $200K, would get a huge bonus.

It occurs to me in looking at the world that landing pages and websites aren't all that different from catalog pages. That is, the things in the most prominent positions must earn you the most money or at least the most eyeballs. If no one cares or no one spends, you're out of business.

Like the buyers at Montgomery Ward you also need to learn that putting more shit on page, more stuff to sell, doesn't mean you sell more stuff. Best Buy has many more SKUs than Apple but does many fewer dollars/sq. ft.

I'm sure there's a mathematical way to calculate the "cost" or at least the opportunity cost of owned media. And therefore you should be able to say how much you should earn from each pixel. This doesn't seem that complex to me. I'm not sure, however, if anyone does this.



Measurement.

Yesterday I had one of those horribly enervating meetings. Not the kind that make you question why you persist in the industry. The kind that make you wonder why assisted suicide is illegal.

We were discussing, in all its glorious banality, an integrated campaign. How will we apply measurement to each of the channels we're in?

I kept saying we can't apply measurement until we know what each communication is meant to do. You cannot rate the efficiency of a garden hose if you think it exists to make a pie crust.

Yes, that's right, people kept jabbering. But how will we measure it?

It was a beautiful sunny day in New York yesterday. The previous months of humidity had dissipated and there was even a slight touch of autumn in the air. Even so, we went around and around like this for about three hours, talking about measurement when we don't know what we're measuring for.

We do so much, it seems to me, so much pseudo-science that's meant to bring us success. And all of that pseudo-science isn't, in the real world, worth a bucket of warm spit.

If you want your marketing to be successful, forget pseudo-science. And look to successful brands. Learn from what they do. Copy it. Do it.

And while we're on the subject of learning, learn this: Success costs money. There are very few brands and very few people who can get by on good looks alone.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Round heels.

Every once in a while, someone asks me why I read with such avidness, obituaries. They seem to think it's because I have some morbid fascination with death.

It's really not that. Every time I read an obituary, I find out something interesting--something about someone notable, or a little bit of information I hadn't heard before.

Yesterday, "The New York Times" ran an obituary of an Emmy Award-winning actor, William Windom. Windom won his Emmy for a short-lived TV series that ran for one season which was based on the words and pictures of James Thurber. He is probably best known for a Star Trek episode, "The Doomsday Machine," and for his role as the leading doctor in 50 episodes of "Murder, She Wrote."

All that is well and good but what really got me in Windom's obit was a quotation about enrolling in college and getting laid. Enrolling in Biarritz American University in France, Windom said “To be honest, I signed up because I thought it would be an easy touch and we had heard that actresses had round heels.”

I had never before head the phrase "round heels." It refers to a woman of lax morals. Her round heels make it easier for her to lie down and assume the position.



Some early advertising memories.

When I was 22 I worked for a short while on the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer account. This was back in 1980, decades before Pabst became the ironic hipster brew it has now become.

I'll admit, I can't quite accept doing things for ironic purposes except being ironic. I don't understand ironic clothing, ironic bicycles, ironic food and drink, ironic music, ironic tattoos.

I always drank beer based on one of four reasons. One, I liked the taste. Two, it was local in some place I wasn't and I wanted to try it. Three, it offered a cheap way to get drunk. Or four, I ordered something else and the waiter heard me wrong. (On Saturday night, I ordered a Peroni and got brought a Corona. The difference was too negligible to me to make a fuss.)

video
In any event, I was 22 and working on Pabst. Pabst at the time was about a dime less a six-pack than premium beers like Bud, Schlitz and Miller. It was a blue collar beer for, in the words of Sheldon Leonard, "guys who like to get drunk fast."

We had decided to do research--I guess today we would call it ethnographic, so we flew down, about six of us, including the CEO of the agency, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to do it. Rather than sit in a sterile focus group facility, we would go to bars and drink with students from University of North Carolina, Duke or slightly further afield, NC State.

I was the ringer in the field, being the same age or younger than most of the kids.

I don't remember much about the evening except for two things or three. First, I got drunker than I had ever been in my life and I haven't been that drunk since. Second I was with the CEO of the agency who was also drunk as a skunk and made an ass of himself. Third, the CEO almost got us killed when he drove us to the hotel after our research and couldn't stay on his side of the double yellow.

Currently Pabst is the 18th best-selling beer in the US, up 16% year over year, selling $204 million of beer. Back in 1980, it was the number two brand in the US.

I'm not sure what any of this means, except this. Pabst will never be ironic to me. No matter how many hipsters wallow in their swill. And in the 32 years since that night I've had exactly one Pabst Blue Ribbon. And even that I couldn't finish.

--
BTW, the heavy-set black pianist in the opening of the above clip is the great "gut-bucket" barrelhouse impresario Meade "Lux" Lewis. He is wearing two-types of plaid, completely without irony.You could do worse for yourself than downloading some of his work.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pushing a rock.

There are many diletantes in our business.

Summer soldiers.

Downhill runners.

Eat dessert first-ers.

These are the people who come in at 10:30. Take 30 minutes to get settled. And still find time for lunch.

Yet, they're always busy when work needs to be done.

Years ago when I ran tens of millions of dollars of business in my group, the bulk of which came from IBM, some sluggard who ostensibly worked for me had the temerity to tell me he didn't like technology.

Oh.

Then, apparently, you also don't like a paycheck.

Here's the thing.

Work is work.

It doesn't get handed to you on a silver platter.

Even on so-called "good" clients you have to bust your hump and your partner's and a few other miscellaneous humps to make work work.

Work never never never sells itself.

It's work.

Early mornings.

Late nights.

Day after non-working-from-home day.

The road to Hell is paved with great comps.

That will never be anything more than a great comp.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A note to the future.

I am here for a few simple reasons.

I take client problems and I figure out answers.

I take their complications and I simplify them.

Then I put those simple solutions in elegant, intelligent and emotionally moving communications that change the way people think or act.

I am not here to make decks.

Or be an ersatz consultant.

Or to wallow in office politics and HR bludgeoning.

I am a gifted writer and strategist.

I am not here to make powerpoints "read better."

I am not here to kiss asses.

Or hold hands.

I do what's more important.

I make good ads.

Old eyes.

I am in pre-production on a new set of spots for my client which will feature a well-known Academy Award winning actor.

Almost invariably people ask me what it's like working with this actor and how much he gets paid. When they hear his price, their response is usually, "He gets that much for eight-hours work?"

I've taken to answering this way. "It's not eight-hours work. It's 40-years of work that's earned him his money."

This, I think, is an important distinction.

We often excoriate corporations for thinking, not long-term, but quarter to quarter. But, of course, in our own lives and workplaces, we do the same.

We often choose to hire the team with five-years experience over the team with 25-years because they are less expensive. We fail to consider, I think, the depth of experience, insight, pragmatism and moderation that experienced hands can bring.

This is not to say, of course, that people with fewer years under their belt can't deliver the goods as well or even, sometimes, better than the oldsters. Just as a hot young director can on occasion out Pytka Pytka.

This is not meant to be a comparison between youth and age.

What it is meant to do is remind people that there are many ways to measure success. And there's value, at times, in having eyes on a project that have seen much of the world.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Epiphany.

It just occurred to me: we have two people doing the work and three people scheduling meetings to discuss the work.

Theory and practice.


For longer than I care to think about, a gaggle of very smart theorists in my agency have been divining something they call a "content strategy." This deck will somehow show my client how to create, curate and publish content that people will actually want to view and pass along.

Their deck was beautiful. And 90 pages long. About 25 pages longer than Hemingway's "Old Man in the Sea." Which was a great book and a great John Sturges movie starring Spencer Tracy.

Believe me, this deck, even if it were starring Spencer Tracy would not be interesting.

We presented the other day to the client. Who in their fear-fueled and coffee-addled way said, "we don't understand."

So, for the last two weeks we've attempted to cull a 90-page tome into 40 pointed pages.

Still no go.

Last night my partner created four pages of content. With compelling headlines, interesting pictures and an organizational structure that can make our work replicable.
Which is the point.

Which leads me to this. An ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Yes, the New Yorker.


Thoughts on the letter R.

During one of the last broadcasts from the London Olympics, NBC aired a long paean to England during World War II. It was history for those who have no sense of history--who have read nothing, seen nothing and learnt nothing from the past.

The usual newsreel footage was shown. The goose-stepping Nazis. Christopher Wren's cathedral amidst the flames. The heroic RAF. The crackle of Churchill's voice on the BBC.

Toward the end of the piece, they showed the tombstone above in which the great man is interred. I had never seen it before and it struck me.

My mother's father--who came from the old country just before WWI and settled in ghetto-ized Philadelphia had been, among other things, a cutter of gravestones. This might have provided a living for my grandfather, his wife and his five kids (four girls and one boy--my mother the youngest) but he was too mercurial, too thirsty and too in the thrall of the Whore of Babylon.

He had genius in his hands. Genius that might have sculpted. Genius that might have carved great words in great buildings. But he was cosigned instead to tombstones. Small monuments to the small dead.

When I saw Churchill's stone, I was smitten--yes, that is the right word--by the curve of the "R" as it fairly embraces the following "C."

It seemed irreverent to me. Playful. Anti-establishment.

That R captured, it seemed to me, the essence of Churchill. A man who led history's greatest triumph of good over evil--and who then was booted out of office.

I don't know what went through the head of the stone carver when he carved CHURCHILL in that granite.

I do like to think my grandfather might have, nonetheless, done the same.

Three times.

I've been dealing of late, in addition to a lot of work and a good amount of freelance, with some personal matters that are rapidly coming to an end. That is, someone I've known for my entire life is about to kick the ol' bucket and pass the pearly gates. Or, more likely, the gates to hell.

That's well and good and what will be will be. And, as Michael Corleone said in "The Godfather" of Hymen Roth, "he's been dying of that same heart attack for twenty years."

The person in question in my life has been dying her slow death for even longer. And now it looks like she's finally, after forty years, telling the truth.

Naturally I talked to my spiritual advisor, my therapist about this, my therapist whom I have been "married" to since 1996. I talked about the chasm between me and this person--about our lack of reconciliation as she approached her maker.

I have tried to make amends, I said. I spent my life trying to reconcile.

He replied with his usual Talmudic wisdom. "You ask forgiveness three times. That's what the Talmud says." So I've asked forgiveness from her for the sins I sinned in her eyes. I asked forgiveness from my old man who was guiltier than I'll ever be, so guilty that his guilt spread over me. And I ask forgiveness from a god I pray to but don't believe in.

I don't mean to go all Jewish on you. But asking forgiveness three times seems like the greatest extent of what we should do in our lives.

Ask clients to accept work--three times. And then let them bury themselves in mediocrity. Ask agencies to promote you--three times. And then leave and leave them to finding three people to replace you.

Ask three times.

That's enough.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Some thoughts on the Olympics.

On Friday evening, I heard an interesting interview on NPR with two Olympians--one a rower from the 1996 games and one a team handball player from the 2000 games--who both finished ninth in their sports. It came out that more than 80% of all Olympians don't win medals.

80% of some of the best athletes in the world go home empty-handed. So the question becomes, are those athletes losers, after all, they are not "award-winning."

Our current award-mania would make the man who finishes fourth to "Usainity," an anonymity. Someone not to be considered. A poor performer. He can run at, merely, 26.5 miles per hour, not at Bolt's 27 miles per hour.

I think about this also in terms of advertising. Despite all the work that people say sucks so bad, much work is really pretty good. Sure too much is shackled with saying too much. Sure you can sometimes smell the mendacity from miles away, but much of the work we see is pretty good. Or goes to build a business. Or define a brand.

Not all work can run a 9.58. Some work runs a 9.92.

That doesn't mean it sucks.

Much of what is wrong with our judgment of advertising comes from our judgment criteria. Not all brands are cool. Not all brands are universally known and so can get by with the slimmest allusion to what they actually do.

In fact, some commercials--and they will never win awards or echo through the blogosphere--are smart, informative, persuasive. They are not sexy, fast and notorious.

Today, qualities like smart, informative and persuasive make them also-rans.


200 years of 'the book is dead.'

Harvard English Professor, Leah Price, has a typically pointed essay in today's "Sunday Times Book Review." Like much of what appears in those oh-so-erudite pages, I almost always find something that wiggles its way into the world of advertising.

You can read Price's essay here and it's well-worth your effort: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/books/review/the-death-of-the-book-through-the-ages.html?src=twr My father was absent for most of my life, busy at work, away on business or waist-deep in his fifth martini and his eleventh secretary. But he still, somehow, drilled into my head that if you want to learn to write, you ought to read the "Times'" book reviews. I never thanked him, though I should have, for that.

Price's essay is about the death of the book. We can extrapolate from dying books to other dying media: television, print, radio (of course) and more.

She starts her essay by citing an article that ran two decades ago in the Book Review by Robert Coover called "The End of Books." Even in those more paper-friendly, pre-e-book times, Coover "questioned whether print could survive the age of video transmissions, cellular phones, fax machines, computer networks, and in particular out in the humming digitalized precincts of avant-garde computer hackers, cyberpunks and hyperspace freaks. Was the book as 'dead as God?"

Price jumps off from Coover and gives us a little "the book is dead" history.

In 1835, with the rise of newspapers Théophile Gautier’s had declared that “the newspaper is killing the book, as the book killed architecture.”

She cites similar predictions from H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, Marshall McLuhan and others. Books would be replaced by all manner of science fiction.

Price says, "Every generation rewrites the book’s epitaph; all that changes is the whodunit."

Here's Price's money phrase, at least as far as I'm concerned: "In hindsight, we can see how rarely one technology supersedes another. Television didn’t kill radio any more than radio ended reading. Yet by 1927 a librarian could observe that “pessimistic defenders of the book . . . are wont to contrast the active process of reading with the lazy and passive contemplation of the screen or listening to wireless, and to prophesy the death of the book.” By 1966, in a Life magazine profile, Marshall McLuhan lumped books with other antiques: “clotheslines, seams in stockings, books and jobs — all are obsolete.”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Remember these words.

Yesterday I wrote about the runaway costs that come from having unclear direction and unsettled briefs. Today I want to talk about something even more pernicious, more dangerous and more expensive.

This waste of money is easy to understand though no one understands it. It is summed up by this simple phrase: Mediocrity is expensive.

Mediocrity is expensive.

In that millions are spent on work, on words, in efforts and speeches that no one will ever remember, act upon, or pass along.

Work that goes nowhere, says nothing and inspires no one.

Mediocre work often costs as much to produce as great work. It goes through as many if not more layers of approval. It plays just as frequently to applause from the "amen-chorus."

Yet it has no impact.

If you're concerned about money, as everyone claims to be, if you want more "bang for your buck," as everyone parrots, remember these words:

Mediocrity is expensive.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Measure twice.

We live in an age of penury. An impecunious era. In which every penny spent is examined and worried about and mourned as a loss.

Clients and agencies are constantly moaning about budgets, scope creep, allocations, SOWs and the like. Thousands of dollars are spent trying to save hundreds of dollars. When, truth be told, we can make this really simple.

If you've ever done a home-improvement project, you quickly learn the adage "Measure twice, cut once." That is, if you do your home work upfront, you have, ultimately, less work to do.

Virtually every assignment I get, from the largest to the smallest, is devoid of accurate "measurement," that is a proper, thoughtful, and approved brief. So, of course, what happens is we, as creators, flail about trying to make sense of the senseless. And then when we do, we often find out from the clients, that their objective of what they want from their communication has changed.

So, we go back to square one. We start "cutting" again.

And again.

And that's how costs get over-run. And agencies and creatives get the "rap" of being expensive.

Busy.

I've been busy of late, busy at work, preparatory to shooting a new television campaign. And busy writing speeches for various C-level executives of the client for which I toil.

Busy, I've found through 30 years of working, begets busy. Busy people know how to get things done, and like matter to a vacuum, busy sucks work toward itself.

The consequence, in short, of busy is more busy. And my freelance switchboard has been lighting up like a Christmas tree. In fact, if my freelance sustained at its current level, I might have to hire a freelancer to handle some of it. (That was a joke. I work hard for the work I get. It provides extras for my family, like maybe a car or a vacation. And most of the freelance I get is about 30% pro-bono, that is, I like the people or the project and I make my rates amenable to them.)

There's really not much point in my post this morning. Except to say this. If you're looking for work, don't tell people you're looking for work. Tell them how busy you are. And work will then, almost magically, find you.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A blog you should know.

My good friend Keith whom I've worked with at two different agencies, has fired up his typing fingers and begun a new blog.

I know.

You're already waist-deep in blogs.

Do you really need another one?

Yes.

Keith can write.

And think.

And make you laugh.

And he's some decades younger than me, and the Ad Contrarian, and George Parker
and Dave Trott.

He has a different way of sniffing out the world.

Spend some time with Keith.

You'll enjoy his company.

http://keithrbyrne.tumblr.com/

56 headlines.

Some days you need to be a machine.

Some days there's so much that just has to happen that you have to find a way to get it all done.

Don't think about the 37 things you need to do.

Think about the next thing you need to do.

Do that thing.

Then do the next thing again.

Somedays work is like that.

It's ok if it is.

And it's even better when your account people understand and appreciate how much you're doing. How simple you're making things. And how good and efficient you are.

Years ago I was handed a steaming pile of shit. For worldwide usage, the client needed seven alternative headlines for eight different products.

56 headlines in all. And of course, they had to be on brand. And good.

My account person, maybe the best I ever worked with asked me to write them. I had scheduled a personal trip to San Francisco and told her I'd write all 56 if the client paid my airfare. It was done and they were.

I guess there's a lesson in that.

When people go above and beyond go above and beyond in rewarding them.

Death of a.

One of the many maladies of modern day life is the absence of precision in speech. We have become, societally, expert at delusion. We major in memory loss.

My thoughts today, of course, are precipitated by our total lack recall on this the 67th Anniversary of the atomic-devicing of Nagasaki in which tens of thousands died literally in a flash.

We're too busy watching beach bikini volleyball to care.

In any event, here's Arthur Miller's final soliloquy from "Death of a Salesman."


LINDA: Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, I
can’t cry. I don’t understand it. Why did you ever do that? Help
me Willy, I can’t cry. It seems to me that you’re just on another
trip. I keep expecting you. Willy, dear, I can’t cry. Why did you
do it? I search and search and I search, and I can’t understand
it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today,
dear. And there’ll be nobody home. (A sob rises in her throat.)
We’re free and clear. (Sobbing more fully, released.) We’re free.
(Biff comes slowly toward her.) We’re free... We’re free...
(Biff lifts her to her feet and moves out up right with her in his arms.
Linda sobs quietly. Bernard and Charley come together and follow them,
followed by Happy. Only the music of the flute is left
on the darkening stage as over the house the hard towers of the
apartment buildings rise into sharp focus, and the curtain
falls.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Some thoughts on hagiography.

Of the many ailments that afflict our business, perhaps this one is small scale. Like a cancer patient with a blister. It's painful, but it the great scheme of things, inconsequential.

I'm talking about the proclivity held by so many of glorifying--maybe even deifying people because they once created a cool campaign, came up with a great logo or won some piece of well-designed scrap iron.

We make people heroes, forgetting completely (or worse, never knowing or understanding) the F. Scott Fitzgerald quotation, "Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy."

Hero worship whether its of a brand, a band, a creative director, a director, a baseball player or, beneath the guise of patriotism, a country, sickens me.

It is a view of the world through a defracted prism. It is a picture in a concave mirror. That is, it is un-real.

Years ago, I worked for a writer who was taught to believe in his own genius. He was a Hall-of-Famer. He had won more awards during a ten-year-period of the 60s and 70s than just about everyone else combined.

Now, ten years later, he had convinced himself that everything that sprang from his head was fully-formed and beautiful like Athena from Zeus.

There are people in all corners of all agencies who are fully-invested in their own genius, their own heroism. They believe because they were lavished by praise once, that all they create is praiseworthy.

(Speaking of Mitt Romney--who's penchant for wealth was given a boost by bestowals from his father who was President of American Motors and Governor of Michigan, they are people like George W. Bush, of whom someone said, "he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.")

My ex-boss--who was a hero to some--once said of people like this, "They have a Titanic attitude and a minnow in the engine room."

They are more show than go.

More talk than action.

Or as someone like Tommy Lee Jones might say, "all hat and no cattle."

I read an article last week about a baseball player who over the course of his 15 year career never scaled the highest heights. He's never led the league in anything but once a long while ago in games played. Yet when you look at the accumulation of what he accomplished over his span, it's impressive, perhaps more-so than that of his more illustrious peers.

Ah, you've heard it before.

It's not one sprint. It's a dozen marathons.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Doing what I've always done.

A couple of days ago I got a call from a reporter who was writing an article about, among other things, blogging. She asked, as reporters do, how I started blogging. I answered as I usually do.

I started blogging, I told her, at the behest of my dear friend and erst-while partner, Tore Claesson. I was out of work and Tore suggested that keeping a blog and writing on it everyday, or nearly so, would allow me to keep my "name" in front of people who could potentially hire me. I couldn't call and nudge people everyday, but I could put something out there that they might want to read.

Second, my blog impelled me to write everyday. It gave me cause, purpose and deadlines. All of which I need for my sustenance.

The final reason, I think, is most important.

Ever since I was young in the business, I would get to work early in the morning fairly brimming with things that excited me, intrigued me, annoyed me or, most often, all three. When thing were going right for me, I would share these observations with my partner.

Later, when I started moving up the agency ladder, I still arrived at work early. But now, too often, I worked alone. Either as an ECD, without a partner, or as head of a creative department, also without a partner. Nevertheless, most days a couple of fellow early-ers would show up in my office and I would rant. One group of guys who often plopped down in my office used to call it "George's Breakfast Club."

Today, it seems we don't have the time or the intimacy to have a "breakfast club." What's more, there are sites that let you, simply, write down your thoughts and publish them to the world.

So, in short, I'm doing what I've always done. Now, I'm just doing it online

It's everywhere.

My cousin, I'll call him Myron, was in town last night and came up to my apartment for an early night-cap. Myron is a mensch of a man. Good, honest and a no bullshit kind of guy.

Myron's spent his life working in the luggage business. His family manufactured briefcases starting in 1919, and somewhere in the late 80s or early 90s, they sold out to a giant manufacturer. Myron went to work for that manufacturer.

The company he works for now sells luggage, accessories and business cases and by all accounts are hugely successful. They have gone from being unknown to being a "hot" brand in just a few years. A testament to this is the fact that, for what it's worth, they have almost 81,000 Facebook "likes."

At his heart, Myron is a sales guy. After all, what would his company's business be if they had one-million likes but sold no luggage. Myron believes that sales drive the company. Perhaps causally, he leads the divisions that account for both the largest and the second largest number of sales in the company.

Right now he's engaged in a ongoing battle with the CEO of his company--a guy worth probably $60 million because guys like Myron sell. (The company had $400 million in revenue last year.) Myron's boss told him this: "we're not in the luggage business, we're building a brand. Sales aren't important, our brand is."

One of the great maladies of our age is the obfuscation of work. It's not enough for us to be in advertising anymore. We have to be "brand stewards." Or we have to be "product innovators." Or we have to help clients "navigate the changing media landscape." (On a separate note, I've never pulled the car over into a scenic overlook to view a media landscape.)

Life, if you can filter out the horseshit, really is simpler than all that. Without a good product, good brands don't exist. Apple became a strong brand because they built better products. BMW ditto. Nike ditto. Very few brands are so strong that they can tolerate bad products, bad service or bad sales.

The "Obama" brand, which seemed so strong just four years ago might be out of business in three months. The product didn't live up to the branding.

I had no words of wisdom for cousin Myron. Except maybe he should call my brother Fred, the lawyer. Howard has a lot of stock in his company. It might be time to sell.


Monday, August 6, 2012

My new business ventures.

When I get down on the world, when I feel the world is too much with me, it is almost always the result of a feeling that despite all I do--both at work and at home--I am neither understood nor appreciated.

It is times like these when I feel like punching a heavy bag, going for a long run, or playing a couple hours of full-court basketball.

However, as I age, these physical pursuits are harder to come by. My wrists ache for a week after the punching bag, my knees similarly after a run and my whole body is torn apart after basketball.

At lunch today I had an idea.

I'm planning on opening up a business called "I'm Stumped."

I'm going to rent a storefront in the city and position every few yards or so a sturdy tree stump. Then, for just $20-30 an hour, stifled executives can grab an axe, a maul and a wedge and go at it, knocking the hell out of a stump.

I suspect if I can arrange the capital, the "I'm Stumped" concept will spread like wild-fire, with [ahem] branches opening everywhere.

I might even open another business. In this one I'll cover the floor in a thick strata of dirt and stone. I'll rent shovels and pick-axes.

You dig?

Some thoughts on how holding companies work.

Some years ago I was at a small agency in a big holding company. Like many such agencies, there was a kitchen that had coffee machines, coffee in little "K cups," assorted teas, sweeteners and creamers.

This one particular agency also made available Quaker instant oats in little sealed envelopes. You can buy a box of ten of these little envelopes for about $5. That's 50-cents an envelope.

One day, my little agency lost a piece of business. Before our 90 days were even close to being up, the oatmeal disappeared. Never to return.

I can't imagine more than 20 people a day ate oatmeal at the agency. It would have cost them $10/day to keep those 20 in oatmeal. A whopping $2,500/year.

The price of a bottle of a typical bottle of wine ordered by a holding company honcho.

But still, it disappeared.

I wish they would.


Curvin O'Reilly.



I never knew Curvin O'Reilly in the way that I never knew Mickey Mantle. But I stood in awe of him all the same. Mr. O'Reilly's death was reported yesterday.

His homeruns were ads for Saab, BMW and dozens of other brands that we take for granted today. His words brought them to life.

When I was knee-high to a cockroach in this business and poring over One Show and Art Director annuals, his name was attached to many of the ads I liked the most.

I read the ads he wrote over and over again. Particularly his ads for Saab. These ads were as well-argued as a legal opinion by Clark Clifford. They were beautiful--euphonious even--and accompanied by wit, logic, persuasion and an underlying sense of intelligence that made you, the reader feel that the brand thought you were intelligent, too.

Tom Messner, whom I met just once, has written in his usual trenchant style a lovely, deeply-felt eulogy on George Parker's blog. http://adscam.typepad.com/my_weblog/2012/08/tom-messners-remembrance-of-curvin.html

Like the work of O'Reilly, it is well worth reading.






Cleanliness. And piss.

Just about every time I write something, I try to come up with a line or a thought that "makes" the piece. Something intrinsic on which the piece turns.

When you write a commercial, this is the money line. The seminal bit of "truth" that makes the spot work.

In a print ad, it's often the linchpin on which the logic of the ad rests.

In an email, it's often a scintilla of humor that makes a weighty subject less onerous.

There's something they're teaching now in MBA school. And they've gotten very good at it.

They're teaching clients or arming them with wit polygraphs that allow them to zero in on the corpuscles of humanity.

It is these milligram slices of life that make work work.

But clients are fast to remove them.

All over American they've put hand-sanitizer in lobbies, bathrooms, hallways and more. This sanitizer is meant to kill the germs and grime that presumably can grow on your hands like mold on a locker-room floor. They're meant to make the world air-brushed and anti-septic.

In the process, the world has been scrubbed so clean that we are no longer as resistant to illness as we used to be.

We are, in short, cleaning ourselves to death. Or if not to death, then we are left with work that has the soul of an in-flight video. Sparkling smiles, flaccid prose, spineless, insipid, bland.

Or in the words of the late, great Ed Butler, my boss for three years when I was at Ally & Gargano, work that's "as flat as a plate of piss."

Friday, August 3, 2012

Some thoughts on 51 years in the business.

I've been making money in the advertising business since 1961.

That's right, 1961.

I was three years old and was cast in a commercial with a bunch of other kids for a cereal from Nabisco. Then, because I was cute with big blue eyes and platinum blonde hair, I was cast in another commercial for another Nabisco cereal.

In this one I was the sole on-camera talent. I had to sit and eat a bowl of cereal with vigor. That is, I had to look like I liked it.

I made about $4,000 for these two jobs. Which wasn't bad money in 1961 when the average teacher made just about $5,000, a VW Beetle cost $1,800 and the minimum wage was $1/hour.

I also had to join SAG and AFTRA.

However, at the point where I started making money, my parents feared I would become "one of those kids," so I retired having just two spots under my belt. Maybe I lost my cuteness 51 years ago.

In any event, I went 20 years--from 1961 to 1981 before I re-entered the business. I was fresh out of college then and began writing catalogs for Montgomery Ward.

So, when I say I've been in advertising virtually my whole life, I mean it.

It can be a frustrating business at times. And I know I have friends who castigate me for being such a curmudgeon.

The fact is, I have intermittent serotonin issues and stupidity-tolerance issues.

In all, advertising has been good to me. I've been able to buy my home, send my kids to private schools and private colleges, and lead, generally speaking, a fulfilling life with travel, comforts and even a luxury or two. Most important, my kids have found ways to do what they love. Advertising helped make that happen.

Sure, I wish my 401K were larger. Sure I wish I had more job security. I wish a lot of things.

But mostly, I've enjoyed these years.



Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dealing with crap.

For two years running now I have been working on a campaign which uses a noted Oscar-winning actor as on-screen talent. This actor was chosen for his persona--of a no-nonsense man of integrity. In real life, or as real as it gets when you're shooting him, he is to curmudgeons what Stalin was to mass-murderers. Or maybe Mao.

There's a lot of crap we have to deal with in our business. From clients, from bosses, from account people.

If you're going to survive, you need to do a couple things. Among them are 1) Develop confidence in the quality of your output and 2) Develop thick skin.

Today I shot a two-minute industrial film with my talent. And it went like this.

He came in and immediately said, "Who do I see about this script? It's unreadable."

I stepped up to the plate and in ten minutes had worked things out. It turns out, he doesn't like sentence fragments. Ever.

After he had settled down, my producer grabbed the script sheet with his notes on it.

Like I said, there's a lot of crap we have to deal with in our business.

You have to face it. Handle it. Work around it. Make things work. And keep moving.

Oh yeah.

And don't forget to find a way to laugh now and again.





Data vs. Dada.

Yesterday I had one of those conversations with a "data-ist." Not a dada-ist, that I could understand. A data-ist.

A data-ist is someone who has "data" that proves whatever they say. Chapter and verse. The only thing they never question is where the data comes from.

Years ago I was sitting in a meeting where we were told Coke was the most valued brand in the world, IBM was second and The Learning Channel was third. The account guy asked rhetorically, "the Learning Channel?" and I blurted, "they paid for the study."

But back to yesterday's meeting.

I was told by the dataist that QR codes really are the real deal. They're working for Macy's who's incorporated them into their logo.

OK. I said. People might use them if they think they're getting 40% off.

Have you ever scanned one?

But but, the dataist stammered, I have the data.

We know better than this.

But dataists insist data trumps logic.

Why, because we want to, at our very core believe in magic. We want to believe that tiny ads work. That "content" syndicated can be delivered virtually free. We want to believe we can get something for nothing.

If you really believe the world works that way, I have a bridge to sell you.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chico Marx and Neuroscience.

I think the most annoying aspect of the pseudo-sciences that afflict our business, is how much real science it's forced out of the equation.

Dilettantes have usurped thinkers. Poseurs have surpassed those of substance.

As I stated last week, I am reading Eric R. Kandel's new book "The Age of Insight." Kandel is the real deal. Not only is he the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, he also picked up a little bauble called the Nobel Prize, for his work on memory storage in the brain.

As even my mother would concede, he's no slouch.

And, he makes it pretty clear over the course of the book's 600 or so pages that brains do not respond cognitively to stimulus. Rather, the most visceral responses occur emotionally. We do not look at a Klimt or a Van Gogh and say, "my, what brushstrokes you have." We react. With emotion.

Of course, this is the opposite of how we view work in the advertising industry. We take hold of the paper. We read it again. We examine every frame. We deconstruct every word for alleged meaning. We read it again. We pore over things microscopically. We subject work to committees, interns, wives, focus groups. We do everything to it under the guise of understanding it, except letting it be understood.

A little over 70 years ago the Marx Brothers made one of the great movies of all time, "Duck Soup." In it, Chico (Chiccolini) utters the famous line of charlatans, pimps, bunko artists and planners everywhere: "Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

As a culture we have ratiocinated our way to never hearing, seeing or believing truth. We fall prey to "experts." Pseudo-science has replaced real thought. Bluster has replaced brains.

BTW, look at this by my friend Drew Christie:
http://video.nytimes.com/video/2012/07/31/opinion/100000001695225/allergy-to-originality.html