Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Flatiron Building.

I love the Flatiron Building.

And have ever since it was pointed out to me by my mother way back in the '60s.

I've looked at it a thousand times and it never gets old.

I'm not alone in this affection.

Steichen has shot the building. See above.

As has nearly every tourist who's ever come to New York.

Today I had a mix session at a sound place right around the Flatiron Building. I took the 5th Avenue bus downtown and got off early--at 34th Street--to have a short walk. I was early.

When I reached 26th, where Broadway crosses 5th, I saw the Flatiron in all its splendor. The light in New York this morning was like Paris in the Spring, or Santa Monica without smog.

I looked up and saw the statue I've pasted here. It's perched at the very top of the Flatiron. I had never seen it before.

I love New York.

Change and permanence.

Tonight I'm going out to dinner.

This is big news for me since I teeter, somewhat, on the brink of incipient agoraphobia.

That is, I don't go out much.

After putting myself completely into my job everyday for a good 10-12 hours, I need the restorative niche that my home provides. The tender mercies of my wife. The unconditional love of my golden retriever.

But tonight I'm going out with three people I last worked with almost two decades ago.

We were all together at Ally & Gargano. Adweek's "Agency of the Decade" for the 80s. Out of business by 1995.

Sic transit gloria mundi. Dig?

The four of us have lived through seismic changes in our industry.

The commercials we made together were conceived on hand-drawn storyboards.

Rough cuts were shown to clients on 3/4-inch tape.

When we were done, we got a 1-inch master.

The business has changed completely.

The past is dead and buried.

The old ways of doing things are gone.

But friendships built on long hours, on reliability, on shared problems, and humor and conversation, they remain.

Do the best work you can.

Don't be an asshole.

Don't be so serious all the time.

Find a few friends.

And keep them.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


It's funny what's happening at work lately.

I've been getting asked to record scratch tracks for a variety of in-house and pitch videos.

I've been at my agency for three years and haven't been asked before.

Now I've been asked twice in one week.

I wondered why.

I don't think I have a particularly good voice.

And I'm not really good in front of a mic.
I get nervous and a bit monotoned.

Nevertheless, I'm being asked.

And I'm being lauded for doing a good job.

I think I know what's going on.

My voice is now a bit like my hair.

It's showing its age.

It has some timbre.

Some grey in it.

The word I keep hearing from the people I'm recording things for is this: gravitas.

Here's the thing:

We live in a world without gravitas.

There can be 19 wars taking place around the world,
North Korean nuclear tests, revolutions in Egypt,
and the news still ends with a story about a kitten rescuing a sea otter.

We try to make everything one big ironic joke.

We lip-sync the National Anthem.

That's life in a world without grown-ups.

Without consequences.

Without someone with the authority to be listened to.

Maybe people need that.

They don't always want some spurious "buddy" type talking to them.

Maybe they need a soupcon of maturity.

Maybe things are swinging back.

New York taxi drivers.

One of the many things I love about New York are its cab drivers. Regardless of their generalized reputation of being crazy, or at least having a loose bolt, most of the guys (and cab drivers in New York are almost exclusively men) are decent, hard working human beings with an interesting take on life.

I took a cab this morning and right-away we got off on the wrong foot. First off, there was a race between two drivers up York Avenue to answer my outstretched arm. My guy, a Ford Crown Victoria, had the inside lane and though the other guy, a Nissan Altima, hit 83rd Street first, the Crown Vic won out and my wife and I hopped in the car.

Like I said, the driver and I immediately butted heads.

"We have two stops this morning," I began.

He snorted with disdain. Two stops sucks if you're a cabbie. You miss a flip of the meter.

"42 and 3rd and 18th and 7th. Why don't you head down Second or Lex?"

"No." Cabbies are supposed to follow your instructions but he was adamant. "We'll take the Drive. Second Avenue is a parking lot."

We took the Drive instead. Also, of course at 7:30 AM, a parking lot. But in any event, we got off on 38th Street in just 10 minutes or so.

"I'd head across on 39th," I suggested.

"No. 39th is stopped up. We'll head across on 42nd."

Seconds later, we were headed down 39th, which was moving quite well. We dropped my wife on 39th and 3rd--the far corner, mind you, and then headed over to Park to head downtown.

"That is your wife, or girl friend," he asked as we were making our way south.

"My wife." I answered.

"She is a beautiful woman. A beautiful woman. You have children?"

"Yes. Two grown daughters. One's studying in Boston. The other is taking a semester in New Zealand."

"I have three. A boy 13. A boy 12. And a girl 4. We wanted a girl. Beautiful. Beautiful."

At this point we had hit 18th and 7th.

I gave him a big tip. And was ten minutes early for my 8:30 call.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I am sick.

If phlegm were money I would be Warren Buffet.

In other words, I have a cold. A deep in the chest, weak in the limbs, dizzy in the brain cold.

I took off last weekend, literally spending almost all my waking hours sleeping. I sipped soup, drank gallons of orange juice, sucked on every lozenge and swallowed every pill my saintly wife brought my way.

Still, I am in the grips of the grippe.

Still, I've been too busy to take time off from work.

Not only is my employer impecunious when it comes to sick days, the crush of work does not abate. And work, sick or not, is an animal that marches on and must be fed.

Yesterday, I wrote that sometimes we need the strength and resolve of a marathoner to get through the day. You might not look like a thing of beauty, a gazelle or an antelope, but you must continue to put one foot in front of the other. You must continue to more forward, toward your goal.

And so it goes.

And so we go.

That's work some times.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The rule of threes.

Years ago I wrote in this space that it makes sense, in my opinion, to divide the agency world in threes.

1. There are finders--those people who find new business, find great assignments, find the next big things.
2. There are minders. The people who keep things on an even keel. They mind the business and keep clients happy and accounts humming.
3. There are grinders. These are the folks who keep their heads down and do the actual work it takes to keep and account running.

For me, the ideal agency employee has elements of each of these -ers. And the ideal agency lets its employees grow by expanding their -ers. Further, if you have someone on staff who excels at none of those three, you ought to think about nixing them.

Of late, however, I've noticed a different trinity we have to deal with. This, I stole from Paul Krugman of "The Times."

1. There are makers. These are the people who create what we sell. They make the sites. The ads. They deal with the rounds of revisions.
2. There are takers. These people swirl around the makers like flies around shit. They're there to swoop in when the going is good. It was their strategy (which the makers weren't aware of) or their leadership that was the cause of the project's success.
3. Finally there's our biggest group, the fakers. These are the deck doers. The meeting callers. The people who say 'I don't have the bandwidth.' They're there to look busy, to sit in judgment, and to be 'too busy' when there's work to be done.

Marathoners and sprinters.

From about the age of 20 until I hit 45 and various parts of my body gave out on me, I was a fairly accomplished long distance runner.

During that time, I had run 12 marathons, 11 in New York and one in Philadelphia and was consistently running upwards of 40 miles a week. I could run, seemingly all day, at a 7:30 pace. And while this wouldn't count for much among the Tarahumarra or the Masai, for a Jewish New Yorker with Jewish New York adipose, it was quite an accomplishment. I had made myself into a long distance runner.

Long distance running skills are of great use if you're in advertising. Most goals are accomplished only after long days, nights and weeks of hard work. The mere showing around of work--what many people call a 'road show,' can occupy weeks at a time. 

It pays when facing situations like these to do what distance runners do. Drop your hands low to open up your lungs, stand up straight, moderate your pace and chug along relentlessly, come what may. That's how you survive the long haul.

However, every so often a different sort of situation arises. Work is due to the client in 48 hours and we have to be finished and shipped and on the air in four weeks.

In other words, a sprint.

In these circumstances, you keep your head down, you pump your arms hard and you move like a missile. Anything that gets in your way, you knock over. Nothing slows you down.

The best ad people are distance runners with sprinters speed. People who can adjust their wiring to the pace demanded by the circumstances.

Long and loping.

Or short and fast.

They each have their place.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Uncle Slappy cures my cold.

I've worked basically every day since the New Year, having added to the usual crush of my daily work routine, the production and finishing of six new commercials on a very tight timeline.

Yesterday morning we shipped three of the spots and by yesterday afternoon a chest cold had begun to overtake my ox-like constitution. This morning it was even worse.

Uncle Slappy called and I told him I was coming down with something. As usual, he had some salient advice for me.

"Back in the old country," he began, "we knew how to handle the flu."

I didn't remind him that the Spanish Influenza epidemic had wiped out millions world-wide less than a century ago.

"Fill up the bathtub," he continued, "with 100 pounds of ice. Frozen ice. And get in naked up to your neck. Wear only your astrakhan hat on your head and sit buried in ice.

"Then, when you are almost fully submerged in the ice, have your wife bring you a 12-ounce glass. Half lemon juice/half tabasco sauce mixed and served piping hot."

"That sounds awful," I interjected.

"Finally, under each arm--right in your armpits, place two bay-leaves and a two cinnamon sticks.

"Then sit there for an hour or until the ice is fully melted, whichever comes first."

"That will cure my cold?" I asked.

"No," the old man replied, "but you'll forget about it for a while."

Friday, January 25, 2013


Young people often send me notes, LinkedIn invitations and the like.

In these they describe themselves as "an aspiring copywriter." Or "an aspiring art director."

Since both my daughters are "aspiring ____________s," I've been thinking lately about the word aspiring.

Some people think it simply means hopeful, as in "I hope to be in advertising someday."

And because of that many people think aspirations are the domain, therefore, of the young.

But aspirations are all those things all of us hope to accomplish.

Aspirations are about ambitions.

About striving.

Even about soaring.

I've been working for 33 years.

I'm 55 years old.

I've led agencies, accounts and clients.

I'm heavily titled.

But I got that way because I'm still an aspiring copywriter.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

About abbreviations.

When I was an ACD, I saw the resume of a fellow ACD who abbreviated her title "Ass. Creative Director."

I vowed never to be an Ass. Creative Director.

Just today I saw an online quip: "I always thought ECD stood for Extra Creative Director."

There are a lot of Extra Creative Directors in our business.

They don't do.

They review.

They're usually first to second guess.

When the going gets tough they're usually gone.

My point isn't to blast them.

My point is to urge you to look inside your title and the work you do.

Are you intrinsic?

Does your work matter?

Do you create work that makes a difference?

Regardless of your title, don't be an ass or an extra.

Underground art.

Art, like laughter, love and lunacy, is where you find it.

I took this picture this morning as I entered the #6 Lexington line (downtown) at 77th and Lex.

"The Lady in Gold" is in residence at Ronald Lauder's Neue Gallerie, just nine blocks further uptown.


My younger daughter, Hannah, is 21. Ever since she was a little kid she's had a strong will and a mind of her own.

Like over-protective parents everywhere, we would strap her into her stroller, but Hannah would find a way to wriggle out. She did not then and does not now like being tied down.

For the next few months she'll be studying marine biology--and whatever else strikes her fancy--at Auckland University in New Zealand. But first she's spending a few weeks in a place called Roratonga, the capitol of the Cook Islands.

She wrote to me last night, a little worried, because a storm named Garry, which threatens to turn into a cyclone is bearing down on the island. In 2010, the island was devastated by Cyclone Pat, and five years before that, in 2005, Cyclone Meena met and damaged the island.

I'm not worried about Hannah facing down Garry.

Hannah has always been a breathtakingly level-headed person, mature and wise beyond her years. She will find high-ground and a building with a deep foundation. She will hunker down and withstand the winds. She knows that storms come and go. How you handle them is how you handle life.

Storms, whether they are meteorological, political, work related, or interpersonal are part of life. Some people seek to avoid storms, some just hope they never come. A few, like Hannah, will prepare and prepare properly.

They will let the winds and the debris do their stuff.

When it blows over, they will emerge from their safe place.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Steve Hayden.

Last night there was a ceremony in New York held in a grand old bank building, honoring five men by inducting them in the One Club's Advertising Hall of Fame.

I went which is unusual for me.

I usually shun socializing.

And an event such of this, I guessed, would be just the kind of affair I usually avoid.

Still, I was invited as a friend of Steve Hayden.

And Steve Hayden did more for me than any other man in my life, perhaps including my father.

Steve was introduced by former Ogilvy Chairman Shelly Lazarus.

Shelly made this post easy for me to write.

She summed up an essential part of Steve's greatness in a sentence.

He always gave credit to others and he made the people around him better.

Steve taught me confidence.

He taught me persistence.

He taught me patience.

I had the best years of my career at Ogilvy, under Steve's tutelage.

I had someone in a high place who gave a shit about my career.

This post was written quickly and is not a fitting tribute to Steve.

I'm not good enough a writer to write that tribute.

All I can say is, like a few hundred other people at the induction last night, I love Steve Hayden.

And thank you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A meeting.

A friend from afar writes:

We just got off the blower with a client. Our big assignment for 2013 is to do a raft of about ten commercials, come up with a new campaign line, a new website, a host of banner ads and more.

"We want ten commercials, the client said. One for each of the products in our product line, two dealer spots and two brand spots."

That seemed clear to me. My client sells plastic wrap and they're in intensely competitive marketplace.

Then our ECD piped in.

"I know you want ten commercials," he conceded. "But they shouldn't look like commercials."

"Of course not," stammered the client.

The ECD galloped ahead. "And the tagline. Well, it shouldn't sound like a tagline. It should capture the emotion of what we do as opposed to saying what we do.

"The same goes with the website. It can't look like a website."

"Naturally," said the client.

My ECD continued: "I mean it will have navigation and scrolling and deep information. But it can't look and feel like a site. And the banners too. Make them feel native.

"We're not looking for a big idea, either. Big ideas get in the way of making things. Let's look for a way to make something that's important to the consumer."

The client was nodding.

And I left the room wondering what any of this had to do with plastic wrap.

Uncle Slappy and the hat.

Uncle Slappy called this morning from Boca. He must of heard on one of the news programs he listens to constantly on the radio, that it was cold in New York.  Colder than it's been for some time, with the temperatures in the low 20s fahrenheit.

Slappy was worried I'd be cold. And he wanted to make sure that I'd wear the great grey Astrakhan hat that he had bought me for my 55th birthday.

"Your Russian hat I bought you, today you'll be wearing it?" He jumbled.

I had complained to him a couple weeks ago that with the absence of really cold winter weather the Astrakhan was laying fallow.

"It's on now," I told him. "I put it on when I walked Whiskey.

"Those hats saved the world. The Russians turned back the Nazis wearing hats like yours."

"I've seen the pictures, Uncle Slappy."

It drives Slappy crazy when people go out in the cold without a hat. The complete illogic of it fries his still active brain.

"So it's cold, cold enough to wear the hat?"

"Well, it's not the Siege of Leningrad," I answered "but for New York in the age of global warming, it's plenty cold."

"Let me know how you survive. Drop me a line when you get in."

I promised I would:

Uncle Slappy, my head was positively toasty. Thank you.

Monday, January 21, 2013


There are people, and sometimes I'm one of them, who proclaim loudly and often that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket.

Watching Barack Obama inaugurated for the second time belies the notion that everything in America and the world is getting worse.

In fact, there was an obituary in today's "Times" of a guy called James A. Hood, who died on Thursday at the age of 70. (Obama is 52.)

49 years ago, in other words, in President Obama's lifetime, Hood sought to become one of the first blacks to pursue a degree at the University of Alabama.

Alabama Governor George Wallace, who carried five states and received almost 10 million votes when he ran for President in 1968, tried to block Hood's entry into the public university. John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard, and Hood entered the school. The next day,
Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers (whose widow gave the invocation at today's inauguration) was shot to death in Mississippi.

Hood was able to last just a few months before he left the university "to avoid a complete mental and physical breakdown."

This is all recent history.

49 years ago a fellow student sent Hood a dead black cat in the mail.

And now we have an African-American as President.


Of late Ad Aged has been subjected to an onslaught of bot-generated comments proffering everything from Chinese porn to Chinese porn. Lest you think I am censoring negative remarks, I am not. I get so frustrated by the very idea that spammers would find the meager readership of Ad Aged worthy of spamming, that I try to remove these comments right away.

Some of the other comments I get are equally annoying.

They're from "anonymous." And they almost invariably confuse me simply because they seem to so widely miss the mark of what I was writing about.

I'm not really sure what motivates someone to write anonymously.

I don't have a magical taser that can take them down.

And besides, there is no shortage of advertising blogs, so if you don't like mine, don't fucking read it.

Some people, I suppose, just like to nettle me.

That's ok.

I don't mind being nettled and probably deserve it.

Not much to say today.

We've been working all weekend, and today, on six new spots for a new client.

And I'm trying to both listen to Obama's inauguration on the radio and think about Dr. King.

I'll write better later.

If I have the time.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bob Levenson. Copy. And letter-writing.

It's late on a Friday afternoon and as Holden Caulfield might say, "It's cold as a witch's tit" outside. Much of the New York ad world is thinking of leaving the office for the long Martin Luther King day weekend. There's the faint clack and click of computer keyboards, some account people laughing in the distance, but all in all, people are getting ready to shut down.

I don't blame them.
That said, I think Friday afternoon can also be the perfect time for a simple, brilliant lesson in copywriting. That is if you find the right inspiration.

I found it today in "The New York Times" obituary of Bob Levenson, who died last Wednesday at the age of 83, after 30+ years in the business and countless great ads.

The copywriting lesson comes at the end of the obituary.

Dominik Imseng who wrote a book on DDB’s great VW ads asked Levenson about his approach to writing copy. Levenson replied:
“I always started by writing Dear Charlie, like writing to a friend. And then I would say what I had to say, and at the end I would cross out Dear Charlie, and I was all right. ”

Some thoughts for the disconsolate.

There comes a time in everyone's career when they feel like shit.



Lower than low.

They're treated badly.

They're working harder than those around them.

And being treated worse.

Their bosses are fuckheads.

Their clients are worse.

And it seems, there's no way out.

Everyone, everyone I've ever met anyway, feels this way at times.

What do you do when it strikes you, as it inevitably will?

Hunker down.

Remind yourself what you do well.

Breathe deep.

Show some courage.

And do what you do.

Ignore the bullies, the brow beaters,  the damners and the doubters.

Ignore the bullshit, the politics, the volume of vomitous venom.

And be who you are.

Remind yourself of all you've accomplished.

The accounts you have won.

The businesses you have helped to grow.

The accolades you have received.

Like a basketball coach whose team goes 60-22 one year
and 22-60 the next, remind yourself that that coach is the same coach,
the same person.

As are you.

Your past successes were not a fluke.

You are you.

If you're wearing pants, hike them up.

Be you.

Keep your head up.

And your pencil down.

Do your job as only you can do it.

That's how you survive.


That's how you thrive.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Phonetics, swimming and the modern world.

One of the many pejorative things I've taken to saying about clients is that they don't know how to read.

I don't mean they can't read a stop sign or microwave cooking instructions, but that they don't know how to fathom thoughts and stories in a sequential way.

For instance, if you wrote the words "Don't worry" in copy, chances are they would ask you to re-write it without the word "Don't." Don't they regard as a "negative."

What occurs to me is that clients--and most people--don't know how to handle things sequentially. To break them down into component parts and add them up again.

Here's a for instance I remember from more than 20 years ago.

My daughter was in summer camp. She was just five years old and she was afraid she would be unable to complete the seven swimming laps she needed to swim in order to be allowed to go into the deep-end of the lake.

"Dad," she said, holding back tears, "I can't swim seven laps."

"Sarah, you don't have to swim seven laps. Swim one lap, breathe, then swim another. Then when you're done with that lap, breathe and swim another."

Of course, she passed her test with flying colors.

Fifty some years ago when I learned to read, we learned phonetics.

We didn't read all at once.

We broke things down into pieces.

And then we put them back together.

This breaking down and assembling is lost today.

We stop at the first syllable and say "that doesn't make sense."

Communicating, understanding, comprehending demands the ability to break things apart and put them back together again.

Get it?

Fear eats your soul.

Every day, I'm sad to say, I deal with people who are scared out of their wits.

They're scared of the meeting they're in.

They're scared of the next meeting they have to rush to.

They're scared of the meeting after that.

And meetings that haven't been scheduled yet.

They're scared to have an opinion.

They're scared not to have an opinion.

They get scared when they see a closed door.

And they're scared when doors are open.

They're afraid their boss will find out about them.

They're afraid their subordinates will undercut them.

They are folded, spindled and mutilated by fear.

They are consumed by fear like an alcoholic is consumed by drink.

They can no longer think straight.

They no longer relate to their spouse.

Or their kids.

Their weekends are spent cowering.

As are their nights.

There is fear of showing that you disagree.

Fear of saying something is good.

I am sad for these people.

They are afraid to laugh at jokes.

They are afraid to be themselves.

They are afraid to speak their minds.

They have no self, no minds.

They've been eaten, Zombie-like, by fear.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

73 days.

It was damp in New York last night, or at least in my little slice of it. The rain, or sleet, or frozen slurry hadn't yet begun, but you could feel the wet and the lethargy in your bones. The Chinese and Puerto Rican delivery men wielded their beaten bikes with their usual bravado, but they were sheathed in bright orange plastic, or black Hefty garbage bags with openings they tore for their head and arms. They outpaced cabs and swerved past pedestrians. They alone are impervious to the weather.

Whiskey was tired still from the weekend. We had traveled to the suburbs with her and found a foggy beach in Rye. She cavorted in the sand and Sound with a dozen other dogs and had come home, well, dog tired.

Though she didn't have her usual bounce, she didn't register even the slightest objection when at 2:17 this morning I slipped on her leash and led her out into the cold.

We walked, as we usually do north, uptown. Where the people are poorer and darker, and I've found through the years, more prone to having a conversation with a stranger and his dog in the early hours of the morning.

Around 104th Street on the East River Esplanade, the river bends and widens. This is mid-Hells Gate, but away from the roil where the Sound collides with the incoming tide. The water last night was glassy. The surface being broken only by the bait of a single Puerto Rican fisherman trying his luck alone.

"Buenos noches," I offered, dropping my esses so I sounded like I speak Spanish better than I do. He greeted me back in Spanish and then began in English.

"I come here every night," he began. "I have seen you and your dog many times before."

"We're out here a lot. I have an issue with insomnia and this is what I do to combat it."

"I too, have insomnia," the old man continued. "Or I used to. Now I fish because I must."

There was a long pause after the word must. I've learned that pauses are precious in these conversations and it's better to wait them out than to try to fill them.

After a minute or two and two or three spits into the water, he continued.

"A fish, I have not caught in 73 days. I must keep coming and fishing until I find my luck."

"There can't be much running now. It's deepest winter."

"It does not matter," he said "A fish I must again catch. That is why every night I am here."

I understood.

Every four minutes or so, with the metronomic precision of a Beethoven etude he would wind in his line and cast it out again. His bait remained where he had hooked it. He was not even getting nibbles.

"73 days." He said again.

Whiskey and I stayed with him for most of one of those days.

I got home just in time to shower and get to work.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How to kill an ad.

Killing ideas, whether they're ads, radio or TV commercials, online communications or whatnot, is something that has to be done wisely if it's to be done well.

Whether the killing is warranted or not, that's not my point today.

Today's post is about mercy killing.

It's about killing effectively.

It's about killing with no ambiguity.

It's about killing completely.

That is, not letting things linger and hold onto life like a flounder 45 minutes after you've hooked it.

Not sending the creative team scrambling, looking to make something more "sophisticated," when you, the passive executioner know you will never buy it.

It's not about saying "let's see if we can make it more 'edgy.'

Or 'I like the idea but not the language.'

Or some other such rot.

It's your job, if you are reviewing work--whether you're on the agency or the client side--to wield a cleaver.

It's not about being nice, hoping not to dampen the enthusiasm of the creative teams. Some people think beating around the bush with creative teams is kind.

It's not. It just prolongs things that should be lopped off.

This isn't a popularity contest.

It's about focusing and making decisions.

Which, in sum, is about using resources wisely.

So listen.

Next time you see an ad you don't like, that you know you could never buy,
just say, "I appreciate the effort. But that ad is wrong. I don't think animation is right for this."

Don't keep things alive out of kindness.

When you should be killing them.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Re-branding for a cause.

Some work I did over the weekend with the brilliant Tore Claesson. 

If you like them, please spread the word.

From Ed McCabe.

By way of Sell! Sell!'s marvelous blog.

“Advertising has evolved into a business driven by megalomaniacs who know
a lot about making money but little or nothing about making advertising.
In some respects it's also being driven by “creatives,” who have it wrong
to the opposite extreme. They believe the ad or commercial is everything
and that winning awards is something. They've lost sight of the fact that
advertising, in and of itself, isn't anything. Advertising's sole purpose
is to be the cause of something else. To cause a sales increase. To cause
a shift in perception. To cause the creation of an edifice of imagery that
allows a product or service to be something. But advertising itself is
nothing. Nothing but a means to an end. Only fools believe the means is as
important or significant as the end.”

Friday, January 11, 2013


Of the many ways business has changed since the dawn of the digital era, perhaps the most seismic is the "death of the end."

Here's what I mean.

When you grew up in print--which many people of my vintage did--there was a limit to how much copy an ad could handle. A page has finite dimensions. Unlike a website, it has an end. You had to learn to make every word count--because, simply, you didn't get many.

Likewise, content. When you had a prescribed and immutable time limit, you had to excise extraneous thoughts. You had a minute. Or 30 seconds. Not 3:16, or :47. Your time had an end. You had to finish.

Shooting on film also gave you limits. A "mag" lasted just about seven minutes and then the camera had to reload. And film was expensive. You couldn't just let the camera run through rehearsals. You had to find your shot and get it.

All these limits, all these endings demanded stern discipline.

They demanded an editor's eye at the outset.

That's all.

A summation.

Well, we wrapped five days of shooting in LA.

Six commercials.

Over 80 shots.

Five early calls followed by five late nights.

A lot of work and now, one stage is done.

Now post begins.

It's always hard for me being on set because I don't really mix well with others.

My mind is on Egon Schiele or Edward Curtis.

And downtime talk usually centers on Tosh 2.0.

Or Lindsay.

Or some thing or someone I regard as puerile.

Nearly every day I feel more and more distant from those around me.

Their film references and mine are usually separated by forty years.

They talk about tracking shots and never saw Renoir's in "Boudu, Saved from Drowning."

It's a little depressing some times and it worries me.

To my mind, our "culture" is so vapid I can't seem to warm to it.

I know I should, but I don't want to be a part of it.

That probably makes me obsolete. Or, better, lends to my obsolescence.

But I have something others seem to lack.

I can take a Rubik's cube of a brief and make it four words.

And from that, good can come.

A thought can be expressed in an
understandable, credible, intrusive, memorable and interesting way.

Palettes and styles change.

But the fundamental things apply.

And that's why they still need me.


BTW, the picture of the painting above is George Bellows' "Men of the Docks."

It was painted over 100 years ago, in 1912.

It's still good.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Machine guns vs. snipers.

In my meanderings I came upon a quotation by Michael Caine about John Huston the great film-director, actor, and writer. 

Caine said: "Most directors don't know what they want so they shoot everything they can think of--they use the camera like a machine gun. John uses it like a sniper."

It's not hard to see the parallels to our business.

Nearly everyday we are subjected to meetings and presentations that are unfiltered. 106 page powerpoint decks containing two pages of thought.

We listen to people who call statements like "people drink coffee in the morning," an insight.

We see teams present 24 "ideas" in "answering" a creative brief.

In other words, we see machine gunners.

We need more snipers.

People who think first.

People who edit.

People who think.

And most of all people people who filter.

Roy Grace, late of DDB esteem, once said that a Creative Director's job is to "take out the garbage."

I wonder if today he'd be as overwhelmed as Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill. I wonder if he could handle the flow of trash.

I wonder if anyone can.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Country George and the Fish.

A long time ago, probably after reading Holden Caulfield's ruminations about where Central Park's ducks go in the winter, I wondered about what fish do in ponds and lakes when the water freezes.

What I learned is that fish can lower their metabolism. They "slow down" in effect, lower their pulse, so they can survive adverse conditions.

I've always envied this ability in fish.

I wish when I was stuck on a long plane flight, in shul during the High Holy Days, or, most often, trapped in some endless and mindless morass at work--the usual messy stew of indecision and pontification--I was more like a fish.

I wish I could lower my metabolism until it all just goes away.

Agency models.

You can't spit in the environs of metaphorical Madison Avenue without hearing some gasbag spout about the need for 'a new agency model.' You know, how the old model is 'broken' and we need to outsource this or that function to Upper Lesotho or we'll all go belly-up (except, of course, for the heads of the holding companies who, though never having created an ad, pocket salaries and bonuses that are routinely in the eight digits.)

Having worked almost three decades in the business, I think I know more about agency models than most. And I probably know how to make an agency profitable--very profitable.

Acknowledge that no matter where you work or whom you work for, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Get rid of the dim bulbs, the slackers and the talkers and hold onto your workhorses and you'll make a mint--agency models be damned.

And there's one other thing you can do.

Agree with all clients that after a certain number of reviews of work, the agency will introduce a "dumb fee." A charge for statements that are so blatantly boneheaded they could make your hair curl.

"I know we haven't met any of our dates, but why are you late?"

"I know we haven't approved the copy, but why haven't you recorded it?"

You know, that sort of thing.

An advertising life.

As long-time readers of Ad Aged may know, I am a third generation ad guy.

My father, born in 1928--back when dinosaurs roamed the earth--had a 30 year career in advertising, and went on to teach advertising at a major American university.

My uncle, my father's brother, was born in 1913 and had an even longer career in the business.
He owned, for decades, Philadelphia's largest ad agency.

In short, advertising has been in my family lineage for 100 years.

Only a century or two short of the amount of time my ancestors were raped by Cossacks.

Despite of, or maybe because of all that, growing up I never pictured myself in advertising.

I pursued, almost to the time I was 30, an academic career, hoping to teach English literature at a quiet, decent college or university.

That didn't work out for me.

And having no money for rent sobers up a lot of aspiring academics. Or at least it sobered me up.

I got a job, where else, in advertising.

It's been 29 years now.

I guess I'm looking to outlast my uncle and my father.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Speaking. And not.

Years ago I did a pro-bono campaign for the last jazz radio station in the New York area. I was doing research--actually just frittering time away reading about jazz--and I came upon a quotation by Dizzy Gillespie. "It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play."

It occurs to me that there is a parallel in our business.

"It's taken me all my life to learn what not to say."

There are so many opportunities in business, at work, with clients, at meetings to shoot off your mouth. To over-react. To blurt. To shout. To say without thinking.

What most people don't realize is the indisputable power in speaking last.

In measuring.

Thinking things through.


And breathing.

Or as Dave Trott might say, "letting the ball come to you."

Try it some time.

Learn what not to say.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The OODA Loop.

I came across an interesting acronym in Thomas Friedman's Sunday op-ed in "The New York Times."

Friedman says that the U.S. military trains its fighter pilots in something called the OODA Loop. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

Friedman sums up the essential of the OODA Loop this way: "The idea is that if your OODA Loop is faster and more accurate than the other pilot’s, you’ll shoot his plane out of the sky."

It occurred to me that it would be wondrous and splendid in our business if more agencies made sure that it followed OODA principles.

If people were given time to OBSERVE how a client or a brand works.
If they were charged with understanding a brand's ORIENTATION in its market.
If only then would we DECIDE what the brand needed to define itself and to stand apart.
Only after we OOD-ed,
would we ACT.

Sometimes it seems to me, we ACT before we OOD.

And as we all know, that's backwards.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


About a dozen years ago, I got "hot."

Hot for probably only the first or second time in my career.

I had a lot of spots--good spots--on the air.

And I had three print campaigns running simultaneously.

I could hardly open the "Times" or "The Journal" without seeing a full-page ad I had written.

People at the agency were pissed at me.

They asserted I had done something "political" or otherwise nefarious to achieve what I was achieving.

I remember having a conversation with my older daughter about it.

She was 15 at the time.

And being an Upper East Side teenage girl, well-versed in the petty bullshit that goes on in both 10th grade and ad agencies.

I remember saying to her, "It's taken me 46 years to become an 'overnight success.'"

In other words, it took me a lot of work to be able to do what I was doing.

Now, I am in LA shooting six new commercials.

It's my fifth month in a row where I'm shooting something I like.

I'll hear about it when I return to the agency.

I'll get excoriated for taking too much on. For doing too much myself. I've heard this throughout my career, "George, you're a one man team."

That's a pejorative.

Here's the deal.

I do what I do.

And I will continue to do so.

If I'm at an agency that gets that, we're fine and we're all better off for it.

If I'm at an agency that doesn't, that's filled with back-stabbing and petty jealousies,
I will eventually leave.

And I'll be better off for it.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

What is our responsibility?

Almost 200 years ago, a small group of passionate English women helped abolish slavery in British possessions by starting a sugar boycott. You can read about this social activism in Adam Hochschild's great book "Bury the Chains." Hochschild

I think about this as I think about our gun crisis in America and the silence of corporations. In an era where we are bludgeoned with the notion that brands ought to engage with us in conversations, brands are silent about the issues of the day. Gun control, I believe, is one of those central issues.

What would happen, I wonder, if Apple ran an open letter to Congess? If Verizon, AT&T, IBM, Exxon/Mobil, General Motors and a few others joined in?

Sure, they might alienate some of their customers.

They might lose some business.

They might depress their stock prices.

They might even be harassed by the same Congress they wrote to.

But more than 20 children were shot multiple times by an assault rifle in Connecticut just a few weeks ago. And every four years, a Vietnam's worth of people die at the hands of guns.

Where are the voices of corporations (people, according to the tax code) who are such a big part of our lives?

What is their responsibility?

What is ours? As people, ostensibly of influence over our clients, over the giant corporations that are so important in our nation?

Surely, it must be more than silence.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Late night New York.

Last night I was once again visited by my old and persistent Nemesis, Dame Insomnia. She drops by often and is hard to get rid of. In fact, the only way to chase her away is to arise from bed, get dressed, accouter Whiskey my nine-month-old golden retriever, and head out for a late night toddle.

Usually on these sojourns I walk long-enough to chase her away—even if it takes three or four hours. These journeys have taken me and Whiskey all over Manhattan and into the South Bronx. We go without thinking, where our six feet take us. All in the hopes of “disappearing” she who must be obeyed.

Ninety-first Street between First and York Avenues is as desolate a street as you’re likely to find in Manhattan. When the city was industrial—really, not too many years ago, there was small industry here. A vinegar factory. A commercial bakery. A plumbing supply company.

The buildings on the street are of the broad-shouldered ilk. They are low and wide, with high floors and a squat demeanor. The industry has left and they house now gourmet food stores, Pilates studios, dog-groomers and other dilections of the near-rich white.

Still, there is warehousing here. Verizon one of the evil phone companies that deregulation of the telecommunications industry have visited upon the citizenry, stores its ugly black, white and red vans on 91st Street along with assorted equipment they use to disrupt the service they promise is so reliable.

Their presence, and that of sundry other industrial concerns, lends the block a 24-hour life. There are comings and goings at all hours, which is fine because there are no residences on the block, except at its corners, which have been gentrified into condominium high-rises.

I wandered last night onto 91st Street, having heard about an after-hours place called The Tempus Fugit. I walked past the street number three times before I found it, hidden behind industrial doors painted slate grey and showing 20 years of dents.

Behind those doors was a vintage liver-colored bar, complete with brass rail, with 10 or 12 stools along with four or five rickety tables for two or four pushed hard against the far wall. In all The Tempus Fugit was no more than 15 or 20 feet wide and maybe 25 feet deep. A small place, but inordinately the right size.

I made eye-contact with the ancient bartender—the only other human present—and immediately glanced down at Whiskey. A silent indication that I intended to bring her, though she’s under-aged, into The Tempus with me. He gave me a nearly imperceptible nod and Whiskey and I walked in and I sat on a stool one in from the end.

I ordered a Herzmorder, complete with an umlaut over the “o”—they had it on tap—and secured a bowl of water for Whiskey.

“Insomnia,” I offered when the bartender brought me my brew.

He scanned his 400 square feet. “You beat the crowd.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Me? I've been here forever.”

“No, The Tempus Fugit. How long has the bar been here?”

“Since Prohibition,” he explained. “We opened behind those doors to cheese the bulls, and we just never closed.”

“I’ve lived here for nearly 40 years and never--” He cut me off.

“We get that a lot.” Without asking, he drew me another Herzmorder and slid it along with a small wooden bowl of Spanish peanuts along the bar as he walked back to me.

“Apnea?” He asked. “Nocturnal myoclonus? Tell the doctor. It’ll make you feel better.” He leaned over to listen.

“I have a lot going on. I’m getting old. I’m staring down the barrel of,” I stammered “of obsolescence. Non sum qualis eram,” I said in Latin: I am not what I was.

“Latin,” he said stating the obvious. He gave me quid pro quo: “Sum quod eris.” I am what you will be.

“An old man,” I laughed. “But one people count on.” I drew a long swig of my Herzmorder, finishing off the umlaut and wiping my lips dry.

I left a $20 on the bar.

“On me,” he said shoving the bill back my way.

“Veni, vidi, ibam,” I agreed. I came, I saw, I went.

And Whiskey and I walked home. It was time. I was tired.