Monday, June 23, 2014

Fathers and sons. (Not Turgenev.)

It turns out my father was nothing but dots.

"The New York Times" has a new online feature that lets you see the paper as it was printed for any day in the last 129 years. You can not only browse via topics you're interested in, you can see the surrounding articles and, of course, the ads of the time.

The "interface" is a little unwieldy, I'll admit, but nevertheless, over the weekend, I lost an hour going through the Times' archives.

The first person I looked up was my father, Stanley I. Tannenbaum. He worked at a large New York agency, Kenyon and Eckhardt, rising from copywriter in 1954 to Chairman of the Board 15 years later. Six years after that ascent, he was out on his not inconsiderable keister.

As much as I knew about the bare-bones of his rise and fall, reading about him in the Times' ad column was a bit of a revelation. It's seeing a person as he's seen by the world, not as you might see him as his son.

At the end of one article, by the great Times ad columnist Philip Dougherty, my old man was asked about the efficacy of Kenyon & Eckhardt hiring so many senior creatives at such high salaries. My father explained it this way: "We're putting our money where we make our money."

In a strange way those nine words summed up everything that's gone wrong in the advertising business in the holding company era.

We put money everywhere but where we make money.

Like most things in our modern world, there's a really simple solution to everything complicated.

You want to balance America's budget? You stop spending $1 trillion on bombs.

You want to stop terrorism in its tracks? Find alternatives to importing petroleum.

You want to heal advertising? Make better advertising.

That starts with putting money where we make money.

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