Friday, January 30, 2015

Found copywriting.

At a .99 cent store on Lex and 124th Street, Harlem, NY, USA.

Big things. Little things.

I was up early this morning. Not as early as yesterday when I was up at 4. But early nonetheless.

My wife had scheduled an appointment up in Harlem for us to look at some new hardwood floors we're hoping to have installed in our apartment. After living in the place for 16 years, we're finally getting around to renovating it.

Renovation is a time when things that should be unimportant in the greater scheme of life become pressing. You find yourself perseverating over tiles. You engage in deep conversations about a drawer that holds a microwave and pops out with the push of a button. You have Talmudic debates over the virtues of maple as opposed to oak.

I'm sure all of this will be worth it when our apartment is a showpiece out of "Architectural Digest," or at least "Metropolitan Home." But for the time being I feel like a bleeding man discussing the efficacy of various tourniquets. Just do the fucking job the best way you know how.

I suppose a lot of advertising life is like renovating an apartment or home.

You're told to do a lot of things that are really minor and somewhat excruciating. I remember once working with a vaunted designer on an ad. I showed him the headline I had written and he asked me to re-write it without descenders. That is without q's, y's, p's, g's and j's. It's not that it was that hard to do, it's just...why?

It seems to me that most advertising these days is more about decorative flourishes than foundational strength. I guess that's the world we live in, too.

Little things mean a lot.

Big things mean fuck all.

That's all for now.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Found copywriting.

Sometimes I think the best copywriting in New York can be found on the sides of panel trucks. Even if they're from Jersey.

The Super Bowl, Downton Abbey and Uncle Slappy.

"I'm not a fan of Downton Abbey," Uncle Slappy said at 4:30 this morning when he decided to call me.

"Uncle Slappy," I said. "Why are you calling this early? Only farmers and milkmen are up."

He laughed at that.

There are no more farmers. And certainly no more milkmen.

But as usual, Uncle Slappy had a rejoinder.

"I knew you were up," he said. "I could feel it in my kishkas."

I had to hand it to the Old One. His kishkas were right. I was up at 4:30 this morning.

"So you were in Atlanta, and you didn't swing by?"

He made it sound like the distance from his place in Boca to Atlanta was nothing more than a mile or two.

"I was working, Uncle Slappy," I said. "I didn't have a moment to myself."

"Down to watch the Super Bowel I was hoping we could together see," he jumbled. Articulate as he is, and intelligent, sometimes some Chomsky-element of Uncle Slappy's brain slips into Yiddish sentence structure. I unravelled and answered.

"I would love to be able to watch the game with you," I answered. "But I have too much to deal with in New York."

"I'm not watching," the old man admitted. "Bunch of thyroid cases in tight pants."

"As you know, I have to watch. I have to see the commercials."

"The blight on our culture that interrupts the blight on our culture."

"That's about right," I agreed.

"The Super Bowel. Feh," he concluded. "Sylvie will have me watching Downton Abbey."

"Of which you are not a fan," I reminded.

"On the Lower East Side amid the rats, the pushcarts, the no heat and the landlords I grew up," he said. "Manor houses, butlers, footmen and inherited wealth do nothing for me.

"Now if Pupik Broadcasting did a series about my childhood, that I'd watch. I even have the perfect title."

"What's that," I asked. George Burns has nothing on me as a straight man.

"'Downtown Shabby.'"

With that he hung up. Leaving me staring into my iPhone.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Me, Huntz Hall and long ago.

There’s a small store around the corner on 11th between Broadway and University that sells all manner of baseball memorabilia. The owner of the place has an art director’s eye and a copywriter’s wit and he usually has something in the front window, or on the chalkboard he places on the sidewalk that impels me to go in. While I’m inside, more often than I should, I drop $29 on an old-style baseball cap.

The one I’ve been wearing of late is black with an orange button on top and a seriffy interlocked NY also in orange up front. It’s a replica of a cap the New York Giants wore before they abandoned Coogan’s Bluff and the Polo Grounds on 155th and 8th Avenue and moved to Seals Stadium in San Francisco.

It’s the cap Mays wore—the one that flew off his head as he rounded the bases with another base-clearing triple. It’s the cap Dusty Rhodes wore. It was worn by one Foster Castleman, who in the Giants’ final season in town batted all of .162, a full 13-pounds under his playing weight.

What makes these caps perfect is they’re made the way caps used to be. Their brim in particular is malleable. You can crush the things and carry them in the back pocket of your flannel uniform, or, if your playing days are over, your blue jeans.

Lately I’ve taken to wearing my cap like I did when I was a youth. I’ve been popping the brim up like Huntz Hall did in the old “Bowery Boys” pictures in which he played a doofy character called Horace Debussey “Satch” Jones.

I like wearing my cap this way, always did. I like the pressure the brim puts on my forehead; it feels right. I also like how it annoys the shit out of my wife. How do I put this? I think it makes me appear a little dim. I revel in my dimmitude, whereas she looks askance at it.

Back 39 years ago, I brought this fashion to the Seraperos de Saltillo, the team I played for and the perennial cellar-dwellers in the Mexican League. It started with me, and unintentionally, it spread through the roster.

Soon, we had a whole skein of guys wearing their caps in a most unsophisticated manner. Even Hector Quesadilla, our manager, took to popping up his brim. In a league and in an era where things like batting helmets were optional, we even went to bat with our Louisville Sluggers in hand and our silly hats on head.

I suppose someday in the not-so-distant future, I will tire of wearing my caps this way. I will lose the ones I’ve bought or I will need to move onto something new to nettle my wife. But for now, a tip of the hat to the tip of my hat.

Long may she wave.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Kim Kardashian and the Snow Storm of 2015.

There's the old advertising joke about a woman of 70 who dies and goes before St. Peter. 

Everything seems to be in order until St. Peter notices that she'd been married 45 years and is still a virgin. "Explain," St. Peter tells her.

"Well, my husband was in advertising," she answers. "Each night he'd sit on the end of the bed and tell me how great it was going to be."


The heaviest snowstorm since the end of the Ice Age seems to have resulted in little more than a few inches of snow and a few miles of over-reaction.

The news ran non-stop. Airports closed. City subways and buses--stopped at 11PM. Even the hardiest of all, Chinese delivery boys, were pulled off the streets. That's when you know things are serious.


I'm stuck in Atlanta because every flight from Teterboro to Timbuktu was cancelled.

Hyperbole seems to be our modern metier.

In weather. In sports. In celebrity. And of course, in advertising.

In advertising, we don't have to do anything.

We just have to talk about it.

Maybe I'm reacting this way because I just saw a well-done spot by that queen of nothingness, Kim Kardashian, for T-Mobile. It's a funny-enough spot, and she is certainly attention-getting. What's more, as T-Mobile's CMO puts it "Who better than Kim Kardashian? She's a social media powerhouse. This isn't just a TV commercial. This isn't just a 30-second spot. This is a social media event."

OK. I get it. She has 28 million Twitter followers and 25 million followers on Instagram.

I can't be the only one who wouldn't buy ice-cream from her on a hot day in August. She has all the class of a used-car salesman with a prosthetic ass. She's over-exposed, under-clothed and in-my-face and I don't like it, or her, or any brand that drafts off her caboose.

I get T-Mobile's point, and Kardashian's spot makes it.

But I hate it.

When we were kids in college, there was always a sign on the bulletin board in the student center that said in huge type "SEX!"

Then underneath that, "Now that I have your attention, I need a ride to Poughkeepsie for the long weekend."

It was weak then.

In our steroidal, hyperbolic era, it's even weaker now.

Monday, January 26, 2015


The biggest snow storm since the last Ice Age is expected to hit New York starting this afternoon and a bunch of us are flying out early--earlier than we had planned--to make a client meeting some thousand miles from here.

We're due to fly back to LaGuardia on Tuesday night, but surely we will be delayed until Wednesday or maybe even Thursday. In any event, I've packed four days of clothing for an overnight trip and, as usual, I'm expecting the worst.

If it were up to me, which of course it's not, I'd have opted for a "web ex" meeting rather than an in-person one. That seems to make sense given the two-feet of snow that is expected to choke the tri-state area. You can probably tell, I'm less than excited about this.

I'm a freelancer, however, and I don't get a vote.

So I'm packed.

I'm ready.

I'm caffeinated.

And off we go.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beach day.

Though approximately the 30th or 40th "Blizzard of the Century" is due to descend upon us starting this evening, Whiskey's nose nudged me awake this morning at 6:15. I pushed her away and she volleyed back like a tennis "champeen," nudging me again at 6:16--push--then 6:17.

With her cold, wet nose on my back a third time, and my wife showing no signs of life, I rolled out of bed and put on yesterday's clothes. We made coffee  and checked our email and facebook for signs of intelligent life. Finding none, Whiskey and I walked around the block. She attended to her canine ablutions, while I was salivating like an FOP (friend of Pavlov) just thinking of the coffee I had made.

Arriving home, my wife had emerged and in short order we decided, despite the inclemency and the snow already fallen, to head up to Rye so Whiskey could romp in less urban environs. We piled into the Simca, my wife wrapped in an old afghan since our heater isn't working and drove the twenty or so miles through the Bronx and southern Westchester to a sylvan park that runs along the Long Island Sound for about a mile.

There, Whiskey cavorted with her canine cohorts, chasing various throwing toys and chasing furry backends which hold so much appeal. After about two hours of this, Whiskey still had energy and I headed with her down to the water, crossing about three-hundred yards of sand to where the small waves lapped against the coast.

I've been on these beaches a hundred times and spent one summer working alongside the beach on the boardwalk, yet I had never seen the tide so far out. It was as if we could walk--almost--across the Sound all the way to Glen Cove, Long Island.

The beach was empty, or nearly so. There were small clumps of people on the littoral with small clumps of dogs careening around. I clomped through the sandy mud in my winter boots, sinking in and sucking out with the sound like a drain draining. It was quiet, peaceful, so far from the world of the city just 20 miles south.

Whiskey and I walked the mile-length of Oakland Beach, skirting the fence that separates it from Rye Beach and then walked some more. I tossed her toy, she brought back. Though the water was just above freezing, she was all for going for a swim, paddling out, fetching that which compelled her and returning proudly to my side.

We did this for a good hour. Whiskey running, fetching, swimming, barking, rolling in the muddy sand. You could scour the globe and you'd be hard-pressed to find a happier creature or one more comfortable in her element.

The office was calling and it was time, so back we headed to the Simca and the city.

We're safely home before the storm.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Six things that make a great client.

We talk a lot about what makes good work, or a good creative person, or a good agency. We seldom think about what makes a good client. Of course, maybe more than anything, good work does not happen (consistently) without good clients. What follows I adapted from Martin Puris' "In Advertising, What Distinguishes a Great Client." He wrote it for Adweek back in 1988. It works today.

1. A spirit of partnership. 
There are two kinds of agency/client relationships. One has the client as the superior and the agency as the subordinate. A climate of fear prevails. If you, the agency, don’t do as you’re told, you’ll get canned. This kind of relationship is characterized by mistrust and intimidation. And good work never results.

Great agency/client relationships are those based on equal partnership. Fear, intimidation and disrespect have no place. And it is precisely the absence of fear that makes the relationship work. That allows for honesty. That allows agencies to disagree with their clients, to argue, to take great risks that almost inevitably are required to achieve great results. It also allows agencies to admit when they have failed.

2. Make the agency totally absorbed in the company’s product, the people and the corporate culture. 
Great clients totally immerse their agencies in the products. This is hard work for both agencies and clients. It takes time, costs money and involves risks.

Only through total immersion can agency people learn the facts that become emblems for the whole. Total immersion is when an agency team thoroughly understands a client’s “corporate culture. It’s only then that it will be more likely to create campaigns that last.

3. Create an environment of experimentation and be prepared to pay for failure. 
Nothing leads to mediocrity in advertising as directly as an environment of risk-aversion. And mediocrity is advertising means your messages will be unobtrusive.

Very few advertisers have budgets large enough to allow unobtrusive advertisements enter a target’s mind. Most advertisers spend at a lower level—a level at which you can’t afford to change messages frequently. So you have to find a winning campaign: one that will stand out.

Great clients want advertising that stands out. So great clients create an environment of risk-taking, and great clients back up this philosophy with a willingness to pay for experiments that go wrong.

4. Get to know the people who work on your business.
Not just the C-Suite. But the people who are in the trenches. These people are people with a true passion for your brand and for creating work that will work for you (and for themselves.) Great clients know it’s human nature for people to work harder for friends than for business associates. The happy consequence is that the great client gets more effort out of the agency.

5. Agree on a clearly defined objective for advertising. 
Most advertising fails to work before the first bit of copy is ever written. It fails because we haven’t defined or agreed upon the message we wish to communicate.

Most often it seems that creative strategies are often “approved” with an alarming lack of discussion—but creative executions are scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb, often at numerous levels within an organization.

6. Keep approvals simple, and disapprovals simple and clear. 
Nothing saps the energy and spirit of an agency more than presenting the same work over and over to different levels and sections of a client’s organization, debating nuance and detail along the way.

The best system for approval of advertising is, frankly, to have as few layers as possible. And yes, this does mean one layer is best.

As for as disapprovals, be honest, articulate and specific. Work hard to express your issues. Only then can changes be addressed. Great clients demonstrate that they have listened very carefully to the agency’s point of view and respect it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A weird dream.

I had a dream last night of a kid I grew up with nearly 50 years ago. His name was Albert Mezzomo and he was—as we used to say back then—a little touched in the head.

His parents owned the bakery in my neighborhood at a time when every few blocks every neighborhood had one. Their’s was called “Albert and Pierre.” The Albert an homage to my friend’s dad who was also named Albert and the Pierre, a tip of the chapeau to the idea that the best bakers come from France.

I miss, I’ll admit, bakeries. They’re few and far between these days, and when they do exist they usually exist in a snootier form than suits my taste. At least in Manhattan fresh-baked rye breads with caraway seeds and gooey cherry danish have been squeezed out of the bakery landscape by things like six dollar Technicolor macaroons and precious little cupcakes with curb-appeal.

I’m not sure why I dreamt of Albert last night. I was friendly with him, or at least I didn’t bully him like a lot of kids did due to his “touched-ness.” Once or twice, when he was being picked on, I probably even interceded. That’s something I’ve always been able to do. The privilege of my Promethean size and generally gruff temperament.

I dreamt last night that Albert and I had worked at an Agency together and Albert had been just recently fired. As either retribution or because he liked them, he had stolen some of the agency’s hand-painted coffee mugs. He didn’t want anyone to find the mugs and was looking for a place to hide them.

We found an old culvert and dug a small hole and hid the mugs there, covering them with about a foot of dirt, figuring that way they’d keep for a year or so or until the storm had blown over.

That was about it.

I’ve looked, in real life now, for Albert and Pierre Bakery, but it’s long gone. Like so much of my youth, it’s like a fist when you open up your hand. And as for Albert, I found his obituary in the online version of our local paper. It didn’t say how he died. Just that he had died. And died young.

It all makes me want to sit shiva.

And have a danish on the way out.

10 things I hate.

1.  People so obsessed about a food or drink that they'll do anything to get it/them.
2.  People smiling while banking or gushing about banking with their smart phone.
3.  White people rapping/twerking/using gang symbols.
4.  Balloons in an auto showroom.
5.  Flo.
6.  Commercials about commercials.
7.  Kids who talk like adults.
8.  Adults who talk like kids.
9.  Impossibly pretty people at impossibly "off-the-hook" parties.
10. Talking products.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Helping Obama.

Imagine a nation with a population of 100 people and a money supply of $100. Now imagine if one of those hundred people had $90. That’s 1% of the people with 90% of the wealth.

That’s basically what we have in the United States.

Imagine now that among our 100, there’s a middle class—it’s twenty people, 20% of the population. They have 30-cents each. That means the 20% of the middle class have 6% of the aggregate wealth. Those 20 people have an aggregate of $6.

That leaves 79 people dividing the remaining 4% wealth. They get, at best, a nickel each.

That’s what income disparity is.

It means the vast majority of the nation can’t afford to buy things.


While the world spins through the 21st Century, I have decided—in the evening anyway—to leave our troubled era and the issues of today and travel to Tsarist Russia where I am marking the life and times of one Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili, known to us all as Uncle Joe, or Joseph Stalin.

I am reading Stephen Kotkin’s new volume (the first of an anticipated three volumes) on the great dictator. It’s called “Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928” and it measures a full 950-pages.

So far, I’ll admit, I’ve been enjoying reading on the device. Certainly carrying a ounces of e-book around beats carrying around seven or nine pounds of Soviet despot. And the device works simply, intuitively. I’ll miss having books as my living room, and bedroom, and guest room, and kids’ room décor. Like Umberto Eco who is reputed to have a personal library of 35,000 books, or like the aforementioned Jefferson who had 3,000, I love books and love being surrounded by them.

I've also been thinking of changing my reading habits. Of walking away from contemporary non-fiction to the Classics.

What if, I ask myself, for the rest of my life, I read nothing but Homer. Poring over the Iliad and Odyssey. What if I read Piers Plowman and Chaucer. And Gilgamesh. And Shakespeare. And, of course, Cervantes? What if I search, not for the temporal, but for the essential and elemental truths of our woebegon species? If I read Thucydides would I be any worse off for my knowledge of foreign wars?

Of course with the esoteric comes estrangement from others. The inability to chat about what's going on on Netflix or HBO or even NBC.

But I don't really care about that.

Like Garbo, I vant to be alone.

With my books.