Friday, August 29, 2014

Data? I hardly know her.

The other night while listening to a financial news program on National Public Radio, I heard some blithering CEO of an online clothing company for women talk about the virtues of the data her company had access to. The CEO blithered on we'll be able to out Nordtsrom Nordstrom's. We'll be able to make precise suggestions. We'll be able to uniquely dress women exactly how they want to be dressed.

As usual she, sorry I'm using the word for a third time, as usual she blithered on about the power data has given her.

As usual, I almost threw up in the sink.

Here's the deal, and it's simple as this.

Everybody talks about "Big Data."

I've yet to hear anyone talk about "Smart Data."

I get about 200 emails a day for the following: The Genie Magic Zip Bra, Burial Insurance, Garage Coatings, Nitroxin (get back my youth) and Vydox (be harder than ever.)

In fact, even from Amazon, whose data capabilities I have a modicum of respect for, is a screw up. Because my daughters and my wife use my account, Amazon's recommendations to me are really recommendations to them. Their data, big as it is, is blind. And dumb. And not nearly as good as the young aspiring novelists who work in a bookstore near me, one of the last remaining independents.

What's more, I find data really creepy. I don't want companies to know that much about me. Maybe I'm too misanthropic for big data, but when they get things right--like suggesting hotels in LA because I've booked a flight there, or when they've obviously trolled my inbox and found something pertinent they can use, well, frankly, I get creeped out. Leave me alone, willya.

I'm not sure it's occurred to anyone that Big Data Blitherers and the investment community that plays along with them bidding up their "worth" to the billions, are really the alchemists, the pseudo-scientists of the 21st Century.

They claim to be able to turn base ones and zeroes into gold.

I think it's bullshit.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

For sale.

A friend of mine just sent me an article from "The Denver Post" about Bud Light's upcoming effort to takeover the town of Crested Butte, Colorado and make it one big spectacular for the brand. Bud Light intends to paint the town blue, open pop-up bars and host a huge "Twister" game. Of course there will be a huge soundstage and enough bands to put the grandest Bar Mitzvah to shame.

You can read about the MSEOTH (major special event on the horizon) here.

I have this strange, and perhaps outdated notion that oppressive advertising ubiquity actually hurts brands. When I witness logos everywhere and hear brand bombast blaring at me, I wind up hating the sponsors, not liking them.

I don't cotton to this crap. Brands have always had one hand down our pants, now they're adding a second and, somehow, a third.

The idea that I have to shell out, to see an opera for instance, $100 for the tickets and still have to bear ads everywhere offends me. The same holds true when I see a ballgame, or go to the movies, or, shit, ride the subway. I'm paying $2.50 to ride the train. Do you really have to abuse me further by barraging me with your crap?

Logos on lampposts, on tennis nets, a bank's name or a telco's on a tax-payer-funded stadium fairly makes my blood boil. Not only do I regard the sponsors as blood-suckers, encroaching on my personal space, such advertising also says to me two things. 1) The sponsor has more money than sense, and 2) They're making extortionate profits.

Crested Butte claims it's getting $250,000 from Bud Light. And surely, they can use it.

But really.

Does everything have to be for sale?
--
By the way, I feel similarly about advertising on my phone. This is my personal device. I keep it in a pocket near my crotch or hold it up to my head. Keep your filthy paws off of me.

That is, unless you give me something of real value. Money. Information. Entertainment. Otherwise, I won't only ignore you. I'll hate you.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Another observation on freelance.

One of the weirdly wonderful things about one of the places I'm putting some freelance hours into is how wonderfully archaic it is.

I don't mean they speak in Shakespearean English or that they don't understand the internet, but they are, in at least one regard, warm and old-fashioned.

Here's what I mean.

There's a lovely woman who comes in a few days a week to handle people like me. To make sure, among other things, that people like myself get paid in a timely manner.

No small feat in these impecunious times.

Today, she handed me two checks.

Always nice.

Then she did something even nicer.

She thanked me.

Thank you for the work you've done.

I think as the world has gotten corporatized and bureaucratized and technocraticized, we've come to forget our manners.

We've forgotten to say please.

We've forgotten to say thank you.

We've forgotten that perhaps work needs more of a quid pro quo than just "direct deposit."

Sometimes a handshake, a non-threatening pat on the back, and a "thank you" mean more than you can imagine.

No. Thank you.

Pressures.


When I’m really busy as I am right now, every hour, whether I’m awake or asleep, is time to work.

This is something the terrorists of timesheets will never understand.

You work on your way to the urinal, rewriting dialogue, framing an argument. You work on the bus coming home and going to, jerry-rigging a set up so I can get online while in-transit. I work, of course who doesn’t, in the shower. Perhaps most consuming, I work while I sleep. I find, at times like these, your brain percolates pretty well when it’s resting. Somehow the junk, the anxieties and the bullshit disappear and I’m can turn things over and over and maybe find something fresh.

It’s good feeling pressure despite what some stone-stacking new agers think. When humans first jumped down from trees many hundreds of thousands of years ago (or about six thousand if you’re a Republican) pressure was part and parcel of our lives. We dealt with the pressure of battles, the pressure of finding food, the pressure of landing a partner. Pressure, handling it, is what we do.

I cope with it by working hard.

By trying something new.

By concentrating, concentrating, concentrating until something reveals itself.

Sometimes, naturally, the pressure can get to you. You could plotz running for the bus. Or you could kick your cat. Or yell at your loved ones. Or drink. Or overeat. Or all of those things.

My two cents says you’re better hunkering down.

And working.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

War.

When I was a kid, Vietnam was our next-door neighbor.

Nearly every night my mother would listen to WQXR, "the radio station of 'The New York Times,'" to hear how her stocks had done. Along with that litany of statistics came the numbers of Viet Cong killed. The number of South Vietnamese killed. And, last, the number of Americans killed.

I was with my baseball coach at summer camp (I was 11) when he got a letter that his best friend had been killed in action. Six years later, a guy on my team, Andre, came home heroined and drugged. Six years after that, I saw him homeless and strung out, crazy on a New York City subway platform.

Taking a page out of Bertoldt Brecht, the government televised the draft lottery. They'd put all the birthdays into a drum, spin it and pick them one by one. The lower your number, the greater your chance of going to war.

I remember the year my brother got number 91. I still remember this 38 years later.

Then, America, under pressure from liberals ended the draft. Since the mid-70s, we've had an "all-volunteer" army.

This has had an unintended effect.

Wars are now hidden from us.

Our children, our neighbors, ourselves no longer have to go. They no longer get killed.

Wars which are distant geographically are also now distant psychographically.

So when a bunch of chicken hawks call for troops to go fight in some distant land, those of us in upper-middle-class America might hate it, but we don't feel it.

We never see the carnage or the coffins.

The all-volunteer army became a hidden army. An army primarily of the underclass fighting to protect primarily the upper class.

We need to make war--the culmination of evil--egalitarian again.

If we're so eager to fight wars, we should have to put skin in the game.

We shouldn't send someone else's kid to die if we're not willing to send our own kids to die.

--

Watch this link from 2:18 to 2:59. You'll get my drift.

Definition.

Years ago when I started in the business, and even before, successful agencies were defined by not just the work they created but by the brands they built.

You could, in effect, play a version of word-association. Agency word-association.

If in 1980 you said “DDB,” the response would be “VW,” or maybe “Polaroid.”
If you said “Scali,” the typical response would be “Perdue,” or “Volvo.”
Ally…Federal Express or Saab or MCI.
NW Ayer…AT&T.
Lord Geller…IBM.
And so on.

Somehow, almost 40 years ago agencies did important work which defined both the clients they worked for and themselves. This is not because they adopted a “house style” that meant such work was the only kind they did. It’s because their work was big, consistent and ubiquitous. Accordingly accounts stayed at their agencies for many years, if not decades.

Today such agency account associations are, I think, hard to come by.

Of course, you link Weiden and Nike.
And Ogilvy and IBM.
Maybe there are a few others, but I’m hard-pressed to name them.

I’m not sure which is cause and which is effect. Have ad agencies become less important because they’re not doing work that is instrumental to the propagation of a brand? Or has the atomization of messaging been so deleterious that advertising’s ability to define the ethos of a brand has diminished?

Most agencies have a page on their sites with a display of the logos they work on. Many creatives organize their online portfolios in a similar manner. It all begs the question—what did you actually do for that brand to make it stand for something and stick in the public’s consciousness?

I worry that as an industry we have chased the ephemera of 360 while ignoring our primary role as brand definers.

We say this, that and the other thing. Often in lieu of saying what’s really important.




Monday, August 25, 2014

Uncle Slappy on gravity.

Uncle Slappy called, as he so often does, just as I was in the arrears of waking up this morning. More often than not, Uncle Slappy wakes up in the fours. By the time six o'clock comes to bear, well, dammit, you should be up by now, he's been up for hours.

"Boychick, I learned something just now about Sir Isaac Newton. Undoubtedly," the old man continued, "Undoubtedly, a wife like your Aunt Sylvie he had."

"Well then," I answered, "Sir Isaac was a lucky man."

"Lucky, my foot. Newton probably had the bends from living with his wife. Like I have the bends from living with Aunt Sylvie these past 54 years."

"The bends?" I asked, innocently enough.

"Everything is so stuffed with stuff, every time you open a door to a cabinet or to the icebox or to the linen closet, something falls to the floor. And I have to bend and get it."

"Ergo, the bends."

"You're darn-tooting with your high-falutin' ergo. Last night into the icebox I ventured to get a slice of rye bread for this morning's breakfast that I could toast."

I unraveled the sentence then said, "Ok."

"Half of a Bohack's supermarket came tumbling out. Everything is balanced like a circus act on something else. She has in the deep freeze a three-pound can of Savarin coffee that she bought from when Roosevelt was president. Teddy, not Franklin. My foot was almost assassinamated by the three-pounder."

"I feel ya," I said. My wife is something of a pack-rat as well.

"Forget about that a-pocket-frill story about the apple on Newton's head. It was probably a three-pound can of Savarin on his foot."

With that, the old man hung up the blower.

I went into the kitchen to make some coffee.

Integrity.

Twice late last week, echoing off of various agency walls, I heard the word integrity.

I'll admit the word stops me in my tracks like a great black and white photograph, something by Walker Evans, Bernice Abbot, Ansel Adams, Edward Curtis or Louis Hine.
A Louis Hine photograph.

It's an old-fashioned word, integrity.

As old-fashioned as the aforementioned black-and-white photographs.

Like those photographs, the notion comes from a time when things were labored, costly, scrutinized and cared for.

I imagine a monk in a dimly-lit room making each letter letter perfect. And then the illuminator of those illuminated manuscripts making perfect prose art.

Integrity, if you look at it etymologically, is not about honesty. It's about wholeness and purity. It's about doing the job, doing it completely, and doing it well.

I understand, maybe better than any copywriter who's ever lived, the need for speed. Work needs to run and reach people if it's going to have an effect.

I also understand the tendency rife among creative people to be too precious. To perfect something to death.

But integrity has, really, little to do with time or speed.

And everything to do with breath.

Taking breaths, taking a moment so you know what it is you want. Seeing it in your mind or on your Mac. And working it to make sure it works.

Structuring it. Making it stand. And stand for something.

Work with integrity--work that is the product of care and caring, isn't always easy to come by. There are a lot of vicissitudes along the way, a lot of temptations to process, a lot of things that can get in the way.

The biggest obstacle to integrity isn't lack of talent. It's expedience. It's the attitude that the little things don't matter.

When usually it's the little things that matter most.



Sunday, August 24, 2014

Botero on the beach.


As we do both Saturday and Sunday, we piled into our 1966 Simca and sped (as much as the 48-year-old machine can speed) 20 miles up the coastline to Rye, New York. There, we spread open the doors and Whiskey galloped out onto the sand. I quickly grabbed the float I toss into the water for her to retrieve, and that was our next two hours, me tossing, despite my partially torn rotator cuff, and Whiskey swimming out to fetch what is hers.

About an hour into our routine, three squat Mexicans, two middle-aged men and a woman, walked onto the beach. The men dragged an inflatable two-man kayak to the edge of the water. Then they wend back to their station wagon and carried out fishing tackle, buckets and a cooler the size of a small filing cabinet.

The woman, the spouse of one and sister of the other, spent the whole time looking nervous. Her men were about to go out to fish for porgies in a craft more-suited to a small backyard swimming pool than the Long Island Sound. The men, as men so often are when they're doing something foolish, were completely nonchalant.

video
The two men, their physiques reminded me of the old Jimmy Rushing song, "Mr. Five by Five," each straddled a gunwale of the small boat, one leg in the water, one in the boat. They paddled in short, determined strokes until they were out by some rocks about a mile from the shore. Porgies lurk in the rocks, I was told.

Meanwhile, the wife/sister, also five by five, reclined on a red wooden bench that was stationed between the parking lot and the edge of the sandy beach. Anticipating a long, nervous wait, she reclined on the bench like a painting by Botero.

She had a pair of binoculars and she watched over her men like a 19th Century Sea Captain's wife on a widow's walk. She'd get up and pace nervously. Was it really worth it, she fretted, all this worry for a few porgies.

After about two hours, as Whiskey tired, the men paddled in.

"Didja catch any," I shouted their way.

"Nada, amigo, nada."

They dragged their small boat, buckets, rods and cooler up to the bench where their woman was sitting.

I accoutered Whiskey with her leash and we headed to the boardwalk about a mile away to dry off in the sun. 

"Adios," I called.

"Adios," they replied.

"Tal vez manana," the porgies chirped. "Perhaps tomorrow."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday reflections.

I got a slow start this morning and had an early work-related phone call, so here it is, after 10:00, and I've yet to post anything.

I'm inveterate, I am, having written nearly 4,000 posts, most of them, like Seinfeld, about nothing. I don't, like some of my similarly inveterate blogging friends, plot out my posts beforehand. I let them come according to what strikes me when it's time to write.

I don't do a lot of critiques of specific commercials. I think it's unfair, somehow. And it ignores the idea that we're each fighting our own battles, carrying our own burdens and dealing with our own clients. Of course, it's easy to make wonderfully entertaining, viral, funny and motivating commercials if you don't actually make them.

Just like it's easy to critique "Citizen Kane" or "The Bicycle Thieves," if you never have to put celluloid to paper.

Usually when I'm struggling to find an idea (as I am this morning) I can stumble upon an indignity in the workplace. Some meeting where poseurs pose and trumpeters trumpet and say nothing and do nothing but f-f-f-f-f-fulminate and breathe through their mouths harrumphing like a be-wigged barrister in an old English movie.

But I don't go to meetings now, I'm a freelancer. So I am finding no grist from the meeting mill.

What's more, and I thank the ghost of Bill Bernbach or whomever's watching over me for this, I'm working at places that are fairly roll-up-your-sleeve affairs.

The Guru-class, which as far as I'm concerned should be dropped into a specially-built giant blender placed in the center of Times' Square or Central Park, and pureed into pink slime and dumped into a nuclear landfill, is right now missing for me. The ethereal mother-fuckers who have never done anything but move up the ladder thanks to their ability to a) not offend, b) not to do work, c) say how great their work (which is never produced) will be and d) and most-importantly, kiss motherfucking ass, well, I haven't dealt with them for more than half-a-year.

Halavai.

That said, and despite the comfort of being paid an amiable freelance day-rate, there are things, of course I miss. Maybe I'm too much the old soldier who finds he misses being periodically shot at.

For now however, and thanks for asking, I am hanging in there.

No evil bankers have darkened my door and threatened to evict me or tie me to the rail-road tracks for not paying my mortgage. I've been able to keep my kids in both the latest trendy togs and their chosen educational institutions--they have not had to turn to peeling potatoes or dining in soup kitchens. I've even taken a European vacation and am looking forward to an end-of-year Caribbean one.

So I count my blessings.

And for now, put away this blog.

I have work to do.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Change. Changes.

We live in a time where change comes at us at warp speed.

It was said in the mid-20th Century that Napoleon's armies had more in common with Roman armies from 1800 years earlier than they had with modern armies just 100 years later.

Surely, if I talk to a hipster about my black-and-white suburban childhood they will regard me as old as the hills.

Things change quickly, inexorably, in the blink of an eye.

Except when they change hardly at all.

I think about this because this photo is making the rounds, as is the horrific news from Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY.

I think what we need to delineate is that there are different types of changes. There's functional change, I'll call it. And spiritual change.

Functional changes are the changes we see and live through. From black and white TV to TV on a phone. From rotary phone to Skype in one generation. From 12 mpg gas guzzlers to driverless cars.

Then there's spiritual change.

Back after WWI when Woodrow Wilson was president, he was pressured to enact legislation to assert equal rights for African Americans. Hundreds of thousands had gone to war. More had worked in war industries. Many believed they had earned "full citizenship."

Today, we'd call Wilson a racist. He believed it would take hundreds and hundreds of years for real, substantive, attitudinal change. Not just legislative change.

Fifty years later by political sleight of hand, LBJ got the Civil Rights Act passed and the Voting Rights Act. The biggest change in race relations since the Emancipation Proclamation.

Fifty years after that, Barack Obama was elected President.

But have we really spiritually changed?

I think one of the issues in our industry is that we conflate these two types of changes into one. We see a new gizmo and say "that will change everything."

We don't look at the underlying (perhaps innate) human behavior the gizmo is meant to change. We assume because there's a new machine, or a new app, or a new website, PEOPLE will change.

Though I've used race relations as an example, this is not about race relations. This is about our need as marketers to go beyond shiny-new-objectisms and get to the core of fundamental human attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

For instance, I believe, regardless of the splendor of new devices, man has a fundamental need when he comes home from work to sit on a soft seat and scratch. I think it will take more than a new remote, or a nifty app, or a slick website to change that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

1/3 of a commercial.

Yesterday, on various blogs I saw two "commercials," that were each, really 1/3 of a commercial. One was nominally for Dell and was, I'll admit, mildly entertaining. The other was a four or five minute affair and was for Audi. It featured a couple million dollars worth of talent, including Julia-Louise Dreyfus and Bryan Cranston.

Neither commercial had anything to do with the logo slapped on the end of the spot. They were merely "entertainments." They weren't about a product. They weren't ownable. They weren't differentiated. They were mini-sitcoms with a logo at the end.

If you buy Dave Trott's thesis (which I do) that all purposeful communications must contain three elements: 1) Impact, 2) Communication and 3) Persuasion, these two commercials are merely impactful.

They communicate nothing.

They don't even make a stab at persuading.

See Mr. Trott explain it all here.

Somewhere along the way, this became acceptable. This became "award winning." And standards like "effectiveness" became pejoratives and disparaged.

I date this bifurcation to the rise of "direct marketing." People in traditional welcomed the rise of direct marketing and said, in essence, "someone else will do the hard, dirty job of persuasion and selling. All we have to do is be "creative."

They excised everything "commercial" from commercials.

Commercials became as vapid as the worst of fashion advertising. A pretty woman with a bottle.

Frankly, it disgusts me.

The glib and non-sensical masquerading as creative disgusts me.

The holier-than-thou airs people put on. "I would never put a price in my ad."

Go back to Bernbach.

Go back to Scali McCabe.

Or Ammirati and Puris.

Or Ally & Gargano.

They did complete ads. Ads that got your attention. Told you something important. And persuaded you to act.

They built brands.

They drove sales.

They were real.

Arthur Miller described Willy Loman as a man who tried to conquer the world with "a handshake and a smile."

They're not enough.




Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Uncle Slappy is angry.

Uncle Slappy just called and he was seething, not an unusual condition for the old man. I've learned from experience that the best way to get through his storms is to let them blow themselves out. He's like a tropical weather condition, Slappy is, before long he peters out into a light rain.

"It seems," he began "that everyone in the country is going to see Bernie Mann. I can't get you to fly down for a long weekend to visit me, much less the kids. Yet, Bernie Mann is as schmucky as the day is long, and he gets people seeing him left and right."

"I don't know Mann," I said, trying to let some of Uncle Slappy's steam out.

"A capital S schmuck, he is. A schmendrick, a schnorrer, a gonef, a putz. He lives two condos over. He's the one who gets up early and holds four chaises by the pool, sometimes six, when he needs only two. A grade-A, government-inspected schmuck. And he's all everyone is talking about?"

"Bernie Mann?" I interjected. "I've never heard of him."

"Everyone is going to Bernie Mann. They're going to Bernie Mann to get in touch with themselves. They're going to Bernie Mann like he's some citadel, some tower of nobility and accomplishment. He's nothing but a chaise hog and a low-life."

I finally caught on.

"Uncle Slappy," I began. "No one is seeing Bernie Mann. They're talking about a big festival in the desert out in California or Nevada. It's a big event. Hundreds of thousands of people go."

"So," he said.

"It's called Burning Man," I answered.

"Not Bernie Mann."

"No," I told him.

"Then never mind," he said. And he hung up the blower.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Data Janitors.

For the last few years we've been bludgeoned with all the wonderful things that will happen in marketing, in selling a product, in finding consumers at the exact moment they want to be found, due to big data.

Big Data (I've capitalized the D for effect) was going to solve all our problems. We'd be able to look at a vomitous mass of 1s and 0s and say, 'such and such person is poised to click on my banner ad and buy an entire case of Scrubbing Bubble. I know it to be so, because Big Data told me so.'

Big Data, I'm afraid, is just another of humanity's hype-bubbles, like investing in Tulips, the Suez Canal, the Transcontinental Rail Road, South Sea Islands, housing developments in suburban Sprawlsville or myriad others.

Big Data is just another 'get-rich-quick-scheme.' A sham, a fraud, a canard without the orange sauce.

As Jeffrey Heer, a professor of Computer Science at University of Washington says (as reported in "The New York Times") "It's an absolute myth that you can send an algorithm over raw data and have insights pop up."

In other words, what's needed amidst all the crap we're accumulating is exactly why 99.9% of all companies will fail to glean anything but horseshit from the data they have. And that includes the NSA.

Big Data can't really be read automatically. To make any sense of it at all demands "Data Janitor Work." That is the reading of that data to turn it from digital clutter into something useful. There are dozens of companies trying to automate the process of turning straw into gold. But for now, Big Data has what they're calling "an iceberg issue." We focus on seeing the promise of a result, rather than on all the toil beneath.

It's a basic human desire to dream of an easy way of success. Some people get down on their knees to pray for it. Some people turn to science and try to turn base-metal into gold. Others sell snake oil and liniments that will magically cure all.

Nah.

There's one easy way to success.

Hard work.


Licia Albanese, 1909-2014.

About 30 years ago, my wife got bit by the Opera bug. For whatever reason, she fell in love with the art form. To learn more about Opera, to get an inside look, she took a Master Class presided over by the exalted soprano Licia Albanese.

Albanese was one of the greats--a specialist in singing Puccini operas and when she retired from the Metropolitan Opera in 1966, she had performed in over 400 Met productions.

Albanese died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 105.

Albanese was more than just a belter of tunes. She was a musician. As such she understood the nuances of the music she was singing to. She knew when a composer made a mistake. And she adjusted to that mistake.

For instance, when she was playing her most famous role, Cio-Cio-San in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," she realized Puccini had not left a long enough pause in the music to allow her to take off her shoes before entering a home.

Albanese took her stage shoes home with her and practiced taking them on and off until she could do so without crossing up Puccini's score.

I like that story.

It's about making things work. It's about putting your craft first and your ego second. It's about being a professional. A grown up.

It's easy in our business to cite all the reasons why when things don't turn out great. It's even easier to sit in judgment and, with vitriol, disparage work that's actually running and the people who do it.

What's harder is battening down the hatches and making something work. It's not about shrugging your shoulders and saying "it is what it is," and throwing in the towel.

Life and careers are about finding some gumption  and some ingenuity and making it happen. For better or worse.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Minnie Minoso.


A wistful Minoso in 1953.
I read in the paper Sunday night that the great Minnie Minoso, a nine-time All Star, was hospitalized in Chicago after he fell from his boat. Minoso, whose given name is Saturnino Orestes Armas Minoso, is 88. The news item brought me back to the summer of 1979.

Minoso was known as "the Cuban Comet," and he starred for the Chisox throughout the 1950s. In his 17 seasons in the bigs, he amassed 1963 hits, including 336 two-baggers and 186 round-trippers. He wound up with a sterling .298 batting average, hit .300 or over eight times, maxing out with a .320 mark in 1954. He led the league in steals three times and in being hit by pitches 10 times. For whatever reason, election to the baseball Hall of Fame has unfairly eluded him.

Along the way, Minoso became something of a legend in the City of Broad Shoulders. He returned to the Sox in 1976 at the unheard of age of 50 and then returned again in 1980 when he was 54. In those two stints in the majors combined he went just one for 10. But still. Still.

I met Minoso when I lived in Chicago during the summer before his last big league at bats. It was 1979 and I had taken a job at a Rush Street liquor store called Bragno's, after the two brothers who owned the place. I was hired at $3.50 and hour and was guaranteed six overtime hours a week at time and a half. That put my weekly gross at $171 and change, which wasn't half bad in 1979.



Minoso worked for a local beer company called Old Style and one evening (I worked the night shift from 4PM to Midnight) Minoso came in carrying a case of suds under one arm.

I popped out from the counter and fairly ran to greet him. I shook his hand like we were long-lost fraternity brothers. He had the biggest hands I ever held, and on his right ring finger he wore a diamond-encrusted All-Star ring.

He put his case of Old Style down on the countertop behind which I worked. He tore a can from the plastic rings that kept six packs together and took a Magic Marker from his jacket pocket. "Minnie Minoso," he signed the can.

I wish I could say that I still had the signed can somewhere. But I suppose I lost it along the way, or drank it, or left it as I moved to New York to start graduate school. In any event, it's long gone.

There's no way Mr. Minoso will see this post. Besides Chicago White Sox representatives report that Minoso says he's "feeling fine." I can only hope he's back on his feet and home from the hospital soon.

In any event, 'get well soon, Minnie. '

I'm pulling for you.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

A New York observation.

Since America no longer has a functioning government, our roads--whether they're city streets or major highways--are pot holed and pockmarked like those in a war zone. It's estimated that the average driver spends $600 a year on car repairs due to our sorry highways and byways.

I thought about all this one night last week as I was taking a long, undulating cab ride home from yet another freelance assignment.

That's when my cab driver turned to me and said, "Do you know how you can tell a drunk driver in New York?"

I thought for a minute before giving him a good ol' New York "Dunno."

"Drunk drivers in New York? They're the ones driving in a straight line."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Emily.










I am blessed in so many ways. Not the least of which, I have people in my life who send me, now and again, little fillips of loveliness.

This one, I received in the mail on Tuesday.

It seems a perfect bit of mental caffeine for a perfect, Fall-like summer Friday.

A cab ride.

Yesterday I had a day's work in lower Manhattan. I was off from my usual temporary gig and had secured an even more temporary one.

In a way, working one day at a time is like writing a :15. You get in and you get out. There's no room for bull-crap. I rather like it.

I left the office around 7:45 and quickly hailed a cab. I gave the driver my address.

"How you want to go?"

"Whatever's quickest," I said using my standard answer.

"We'll cut over on Houston and head up Second," he said confidently.

I checked the number of his hack license. The lower the number, the longer they've been driving. A new driver, these days has a number around 560,000. His number was in the low-3's. Meaning he'd been a cabbie for more than 40 years.

"Second goes downtown," I reminded him.

"I've been driving long enough so I get a pass," he said again, confidently. "It's something Bloomberg put in at the end of his term for us old-timers. We can go anyway we want on any street."

Sure enough, he turned left onto Second and started heading uptown against the grain. The downtown traffic magically cleared out of the way for him. Naturally, there were no lights and no other cars to interfere with our trip.

"There aren't many of us left. I've been driving six days a week since the Mets won the World Series in 1969. Forty-five years. We also get to pay for gas at 1969 prices. It costs me just 33 cents a gallon."

He took a right, again against the traffic and headed down my block, dropping me right in front of my building. I handed him a $20, the usual fare from downtown.

"That'll be $2.75," he said to me.

I gave him a five.

"Keep the change," I said.

"Groovy."

He sped off, against traffic, into the night.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

P and L.

I just got an email from a Creative Director friend of mine. A guy who in the words of Ron Burgundy, is "kind of a big deal," at an agency I consider one of the best, if not the best in the world.

He writes, "I spend hour after hour being forced to think about things I never knew existed before. All of a sudden every meeting is about 'P and L.'"

He then went on to supply me with a list of possible meanings for P and L. All of which, to creatives at least, should be more important than 'profit and loss.'

Produce No Losers. 
Please Never Lie.
Pee Near Latrine. 
Post No Lists. 
Pixels Never Leave. 
Prefer New Life. 
Promote Nothing Life-changing. 
Peons Never Laugh. 
Please No Lackeys. 
Producers Need Love. 
Praise Nearest Lefty. 
Poke No Ladies. 
Pastrami Not Lox.
Putzes Never Leave.



Good vs. bad.

I guess the reason Volvo's new advertising annoys me so much is not just that it's insipid, bland and meaningless but that Volvo's advertising used to be so great.

The brand, as defined by the decades-long efforts of Carl Ally and Scali McCabe Sloves stood for something. Volvo had an edge and a point of difference.

Sure, Volvos would win no "style" awards, but if you were looking for something durable, smart and incredibly safe, Volvo was your car. Everything about the ad above was different from other auto ads. Rather than showing a pristine car in a country club-setting, Volvo showed a muddy machine being driven hard.

They were different.

Today, those days are done.

Maybe the commercial you can find here is Volvo's worst-case scenario, a sale ad that for whatever reason attempts to be "likeable" and "genial." And nothing more. No attitude. No edge. No difference. Just pretty women, pretty kids and pretty pictures.

You can put any logo on the end of the spot.

It's anyone's ad.

The prevailing wisdom in the ad business is that if you have a car account, you have to hire people who have done car ads. Just as if you have a pharma account, you hire pharma people.

I'm sure some great car guys worked on the Volvo commercial heralding their Summer of Wonder sale event. I'm sure they're disappointed and maybe defensive too.

But you can't blame the milquetoastness of that commercial on any individual.

I think you have to blame it on the prevailing thinking in our industry.

That you can bland people into buying something.

Let's say nothing and smile our way to sales.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Today's big advertising news.

Today's big advertising news in our solipsistic universe isn't about the death of TV.

It isn't about some jury-rigged holding company team put together to do bland work on a giant global client.

It's not about sweeping layoffs or some holding-company-merger shenanigans.

It's about me.

I just concluded a four month freelance stint and I need work.

I'm a rare creative who doesn't bullshit, who gets to the heart of a marketing problem and solves it with compelling, motivating creative.

Check out my Linked In profile.

I'm probably the only creative in the world recommended by both Steve Hayden and Nick Law. The top of their fields in both traditional and digital advertising.

I'll admit, I'm expensive.

But I'm worth it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The "Agency Spy" Comment Generator.

Rather than take billable hours out of your day crafting comments on Agency Spy, use the handy guide I've created. You'll communicate the same callow, anonymous vitriol in a fraction of the time.

a) That work sucks.
b) That work is done by a hack.
c) Said hack is the biggest hack the world has ever known.
d) That work is derivative.
e) That’s been done.
f) That agency is going down hill.
g) That agency is dead.
h) That agency sucks a bone.
i) Everyone at that agency is a talentless douchebag
j) Dinosaurs.
k) Washed up hack dinosaur.
l) He’s never done anything good.
m) He’s an ass-kissing brown-nose.
n) He’s an abusive phony.
o) He always fails.
p) Poseur.
q) You suck.
r) You’re a douche.
s) Your mother sucks.
t) And is a douche.
u) You’re a loser for being in advertising.
v) You’re a loser for caring about advertising.
w) You’re a loser.
x) Advertising is dead.
y) You’re dead.
z) Your mother is dead.
A) The writer of this post sucks.
B) The writer of this post sucks dead monkeys.
C) You idiot, your grammar is horrid.
D) Your grammar is horrid and you suck dead monkeys.
E) This has no basis in fact.
F) I’ll tell you what’s really happening.
G) You’re a monkey-sucking douche.
H) Only I know what good is.
I) I could have done it better.
J) This sucks because I didn’t do it.
K) Typical crap by that ass-suck agency.
L) Another agency could have done better.
M) You’re an idiot.
N) Your an idiot.
O) Everyone’s an idiot.
P) Everyone’s an idiot but me.
Q) No, you’re an idiot.
R) You must have just been fired from there.
S) Kiss ass all you want, they still won’t hire you.
T) You must be a creative on that spot.
U) You have a sad, pathetic life.
V) No, you have a sad, pathetic life.
W) Advertising is full of sad, pathetic lives.
X) Get a life.
Y) No, you get a life.
Z) This is no life.


Depression.

If you want to read a book about depression, you can read Andrew Solomon's "Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression." It's a nearly 600-page book and National Book Award-winner that looks at depression personally, painfully and analytically.

For my dime, however, I'd pick up the great William Styron's "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness." Not only is Styron one of the 20th Century's best writers, his short volume brings you into his cloud, his anguish, his despair. It's only 96 pages. But they're 96 pages during which you might find it hard to breathe, hard to do anything but feel.

As a follow up to "Darkness Visible," you might want to read a book by Styron's daughter, Alexandra. It's called "Reading my Father: A Memoir" and it's a living, breathing chronicle of growing up with a monster in the house. A depressed monster.

In our forcibly happy-go-lucky world of advertising where we acclaim the virtues of "diversity," "inclusion," and "collaboration," there really is no room for those, who like Robin Williams, struggle with depression. We live in an HR-anesthetized universe where behaviors out of the norm are hardly tolerated.

Employee appraisals are geared to praise the easy-going and disparage the difficult.  We reward nonsense like "bridge-building." In reality, we tolerate very little.

In the wake of Robin Williams' alleged suicide, it seems half my Facebook contacts have posted some tribute or another to the man.

I wonder if they're as accepting and gracious to those in their midsts who are battling with the "darkness visible."


Monday, August 11, 2014

It ain't easy.

Saturday night was as near a perfect night as you get in a year, or even a decade. The temperature was in the low-to-mid 70s and the humidity was low, giving the air a pre-autumnal crispness. On top of that, clouds were few. Though New York is “light-polluted” you could see a star over there, and another over there.

The night was crowned by what people today call a “super moon.” That’s a coincidence when the moon is full and its at its closest orbital point to earth. According to NASA, a super moon can be 14% closer to earth than a non-super one and up to 30% brighter.

In all, the weather and the stars were the perfect accompaniments to “King Lear” which was being performed at the Delacorte Theater during New York’s annual summer Shakespeare in the Park.

Despite the loveliness of the evening, and the loveliness of my wife who secured the tickets, I wasn’t too keen on going to Lear. Not only were Myrna Loy and William Powell appearing in “The Thin Man” on TCM, the play itself (despite having John Lithgow play Lear and Annette Bening as evil Goneril) got a lousy review in the “Times.”

In fact, Ira Glass of “This American Life” fame said this in the Times: “I think I’m realizing: Shakespeare sucks.” The gist of the criticism was essentially this: the production sucks because it’s hard. It’s demanding as a play. And draining. It ain’t easy to see a man destroyed. It ain’t easy to see professions of love reveal hatred.

I think Lear’s bad reviews are mostly due to the demands Shakespeare makes on an audience, especially a modern one. We are expected to understand a language that is only slightly like our own. We are expected to endure four hours without respite. Harshest of all, we are expected to listen, actually and really listen.

All this is beyond what most people seem to be able to stomach. Shakespeare’s demanding. And, I’m sorry but I believe, most people today equate demanding with impossible.

In advertising in fact I think we do many products and services a disservice because we make things too easy. We scratch the surface and show stock-like photographs. Even out most important decisions we’ve reduced to a system of stars or a five-point scale.

I don’t think buying a car, or investing in a retirement account, or even booking a vacation is easy. I think things like this are costly and important. If you screw them up, you can screw up your life. They demand close attention. And a lot of work.

But we live in a world where simplicity is the answer to everything. We clamor for marketers to make it easy. 

I don't think simplicity and easy are the answer to everything. Maybe I believe too much in peoples' intelligence. That an argument well-written can move the reader better than glib platitudes.

I guess, once again, I'm a voice crying in the wilderness. But I happen to think interested parties will take the time, and do the work it takes to make a wise purchase decision.