Friday, September 18, 2020

Stolperstein and Listerine. But first a joke.

I usually try to write something funny for my Friday post. But I felt that today I had something serious to say. That follows. However, as a bit of recompense, a short joke.

A man has had a terrible day at work. He's dog tired. He's been beat up all day. To make matters worse, he's late with his timesheets. 

He sits down at the counter in a diner, and says to the waitress, "I'd like just three things: a cup of coffee, a slice of apple pie and a few kind words."

The waitress is back in just a moment. She places the coffee and pie in front of the man. He pauses for a moment and looks at the waitress with sadness in his eyes.

"What about my kind words," he pleads.

"Don't eat the pie," she answers.

Boys and girls, life is like that sometimes.


Starting Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, it seemed to me that half the world had sent me a link to articles about the Nazi-led Holocaust. According to a survey of 1000 millennials (I didn't know there were that many) two-thirds didn't know what the Holocaust was. 

(I would imagine "lesser" Holocausts don't even make anyone's radar: the Tutsis and the Hutsis. And no one but no one knows of the British slaughter of thousands of Dervishes in Somaliland back in the early 20th Century.)

As a Jew born just 12 years after the Nazi death camps were liberated by Russian and Anglo forces, the Holocaust has always played a large part in my life. It is a reminder, a dark, burning one that Jews are an "other." And as an "other" are never more than one aggressive sociopath away from attempted annihilation.

Steven Spielberg some years ago began filming victims of the Holocaust. He began collecting their stories, their moving, heart-wrenching tales of horror. There are hundreds of books by survivors, thousands. 

My point today, however, is not about the Holocaust. It's about advertising. And human memory.

Many people would agree that the Holocaust was the biggest cataclysm in a century filled with cataclysms. From Judgment at Nuremberg, to Schindler's List, to the god-awful Inglorious crap that Tarantino puts out--the Holocaust has scarcely been out of our "culture," for a minute.

Yet now two-thirds of millennials don't know about it.

Somehow however, marketers, most of whom have MBAs from high-falutin' universities have somehow convinced themselves that "awareness" advertising--essentially TV advertising--is no longer necessary. Or, that the same effect, awareness, can be achieved through something like a Twitter feed or an Instagram effort.

Not long ago I finished Michael Gorra's latest book, "The Saddest Words: Faulkner's Civil War." You should read it and you can buy it here.

Faulkner is really about memory.

How it's formed.

How it's used.

How it affects us--soothes us, fucks us, and has an impact on just about everything.

But in America, we have built a fantastic always-on always-noisy always-brain-deadening oblivion machine. 

As a culture, we don't remember the Holocaust. Slavery. Jim Crow. Black people not allowed to vote, to go to schools, to swim in pools their tax dollars paid for.

These are big things.

And the oblivion machine--which runs on RECENCY--has obliterated them.

How are we supposed to know what Listerine does if we're not reminded every day? How are we supposed to know about any brand or product or service?

Half the brands I've worked on during the last ten years of my career are facing a Kodak/Holiday Inn/Dupont problem: No one knows what they do, or what they sell.

It's not about "relevance." It's scarier than that. It's about "I don't know who they are and I don't know why I should care."

The MBAs of the world who shrunk media budgets and reapportioned funds to do "targeted" ads cheaply have destroyed, yes, that's the word, probably trillions of dollars of brand-market value. 

They let brands just fade into nothingness.

In Isabel Wilkerson's important new book, "Caste," she talks about memory as well. Buy it here.

She talks about how America has forgotten and ignored and deceived entire generations about our hate-filled and violent history. 

Then Wilkerson shifts gears to Germany, perpetrator of perhaps humanity's greatest single crime. Or at least greatest and most-concentrated single time crime.

Not only are their memorial tributes throughout German to the victims of Nazi hatred, there are more than 75,000 Stolpersteins dotted throughout the country.

They're little brass cobblestones with the name, date of birth and date of death of Holocaust victims. 

Stolperstein means stumbling stone. In Berlin at least, you stumble upon them everywhere. Ok

Part of being important to people is to be remembered by people. It's that simple. You can't be anonymous and an important brand.

Too many agencies and their clients have believed in Dali's title, "The Persistence of Memory."

There is no persistence without reminder.

That's just one of the reasons advertisers and agencies should be Keynseian about advertising. Keynes believed in monetary stimulus. He held that spending money begets money being spent. 

Agencies should be promoting memory-stimulus. 

"Hey, remember me! Remember what makes me great! Remember that you like me!"

Ok, that's not a conversation with a brand. It's push marketing. It's everything that's wrong and wretrograde.

In fact, worse than all that, like Keynesian monetary stimulus which argues that one dollar of stimulus is three or more of spending, it might even drive sales. Because keeping a brand top-of-mind is the only way to keep a brand top-of-wallet.

The bad news? 

You probably won't win anything at Cannes.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The struggle between light and dark. With apologies to everyone.

In the Manichean belief system adherents saw the world as a fundamental struggle between light and dark, between good and evil. 

Manicheanism flourished back around 200 AD in the area we now call Iran. The belief spread widely throughout the Middle East and North Africa. It even spread to the town of Hippo, where St. Augustine was born. He was a Manichean long before he converted to Christianity.

The religion lasted for about 500 years. About one-hundred times longer than most agencies. And about, to date, twice as long as America. I'd be surprised if America makes it to 2270, wouldn't you be?

Manichea was subsumed by other religions and persecuted out of existence around 800 AD, though traces remained alive well into the 12th Century.

I'm surprised it didn't last longer.

It's easy to see the world in a binary way: good vs. bad. Us vs. them. Light vs. dark.

There's a lot of that dialectic going on in our fractious debates of today. There's an awful lot of "binaryism" in today's debates. You're either with us or against us. Love it or leave it. A real American or a coastal elite. It goes on ad frikken nauseam.

As a denizen of the ad industry, early on I had either the wisdom or the stupidity to embrace a sort of advertising catholicism. That is not at all a religious statement. Small c catholic means to "include a wide variety of things." To be small c catholic is to be "all embracing."

So while I've worked the bulk of my career in traditional advertising, I've also won a Diamond Echo, the highest award in Direct Marketing. And not only have I won dozens of awards for "digital" work, I spent two fairly miserable years leading an agency called Digitas and five years as an ECD at R/GA--someone's "Digital Agency of the Decade." I even spent two years leading the world's most celebrated events agency. 

In short, I believed early-on that the blatant opposite of integrated marketing communications was segregated marketing communications. And segregation, whether it's of the xenophobic "let's build a wall" ilk, the Jim Crow type or the media type is almost always retrograde and unproductive.

Of late--and I am partly responsible for this--there's been a shit storm around some statements by WPP's CEO. He trumpeted the ineffable advantage he enjoyed from a communications point of view of having 70% of his staff under the age of 30. And only 1% 60 or above.

As if youth bestows super powers of understanding and acuity that lessen with every trip around the sun.

What was missed along the way was what was most important and obvious.

Good comes in all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, heights, religions, ethnicities, orientations and more. As does bad.

Reaching people in a meaningful and effective manner for the purpose of changing a belief, a behavior or an attitude is not a function of any of the categories I mentioned above.

It is a matter of Bill Bernbach.

As everything intelligent in modern marketing is. (I wonder if WPP's CEO can cite one "Bernbachism," quote one DDB ad, or for that matter even one "Ogilvyism.") All that shit harkens back to the oh forget it.

Everything in modern marketing goes back to Bernbach. A broad statement to be sure. Though If you don't believe me, buy this book, as I did a decade ago. (Though not for $300.) 

Bernbach believed that all communication is based on simple, timeless, human truths. It's not about age. It's about simple, timeless, human truths. 

Like in this Apple Watch spot. It's honest. Informative. Funny. And it makes fun of "other." Humans like that.

It's not about age. It never has been. It's about finding those simple, timeless, human truths.

Bob Dylan did when he was 21.

He's still searching for them at almost 80.

Billy Wilder found them from the time he shot his first great movie in 1930, People on Sunday, until his last in 1981, Buddy Buddy.

There's no age requirement. Just as there's no age limit.

Just as there's no gender, racial, religious, sexual orientation requirement. Or anything else. Other than the ability to...think like a human.

There will always be Manicheans amongst us. Whether or not they know that they are. They're the people who say, as Zuckerberg said, "young people are just smarter." Or organizations in which only one person in one-hundred is over 60.

They look at the world as an "if-then" proposition.

"If we hire ______, then we will be more _______."

I can see the appeal of that kind of over-simplification. It lessens the hard work, the unknowns, the failures that come from trying to do something different.

You simply go to the "staffing store" and say, "give me seven _______s and nine ________s and a dozen _______s. That's the magic egalitarian formula that will uncockeye a cockeyed world.

If you're under-scrutiny, you double-down on your efforts. You form a blue-ribbon committee. You appoint a Chief ______ Officer. You change the color pattern of your logo, issue a noble-sounding proclamation or two and in time, the whole thing will blow over.

It always has.

But what I've learned in my 62 years on this burning-to-death orb, what I've learned in 40 years in the business at 13 agencies is this simple, timeless, human truth: The world ain't an "if-then" proposition. Nothing, nothing is that simple.

It's a "what-the-fuck" proposition.

A "holy shit" proposition.

A "heaven help us" proposition.

As the great screenwriter Robert Riskin wrote in "Meet John Doe," "I know the world's been shaved by a drunken barber."

That's right. Any moment you can get nicked. Or just-as-likely get your throat slit.

That's not pessimistic, foreboding or dour.

It's a simple, timeless, human truth.

The kind of truth that defines our business.

The kind of truth I think our business has decided to run away from.


Just one last ditty. And I'm not 100% sure why it pops right now into my head. 

Written by an early 20th Century sportswriter called Grantland Rice. Yeah, it's maudlin and Edgar Guest-y, but there's something <simple, timeless and human> about it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The vision thing.

This might be complicated, so if you haven't had your coffee yet, go grab a cup. If you have, maybe pour another. You might need it.

Some years ago, before the time when most people in Mark Read's wet-dream of a low-wage agency were even born, I had Lasik surgery. I had been an athlete through my 40s. First baseball, then long-distance running and I never much cared for wearing glasses. They fogged up.

So I went under the knife. 

Or the laser.

I chose, or more accurately my wife did, one of the most highly-regarded eye-doctors in New York. I had no problem putting my baby blues into his able hands.

But soon after the operation, there was a small complication. My doctor was nervous telling me about it. 

"I'm going to call in Oleg Alexevich Chernyshevsky," he said. "He's one of those $99 Lasik doctors who advertise on the subway."

"You're regarded as the finest eye doctor in New York. He runs a chop shop," I said. "Why him?"

"He's a very good doctor. But more important, I've done a lot of Lasik--maybe 1000 operations. But Chernyshevsky's done 50,000. He see things I don't."

OK. I'm rounding into my point.

About 15 years ago, a headhunter reached out to me. I didn't know her. In fact, since she wasn't one of the New York power-headhunters, I had never even heard of her.

But she got me on the phone and berated me. 

"George, you're going about things all wrong. These days, sure it's about your portfolio. But people shop on LinkedIn. Your LinkedIn profile isn't as good as you are."

I thought back to my eye doctor.

When I was working for an agency, I might have looked at 100 books a year. This headhunter, I figured, might see 100 books a week. Fifty-times the number of books I do.

Not too many months ago, I was seldom if ever on Twitter. To be clear, I didn't understand it. And I had additional disdain for the platform because of how the imposter in chief uses it. I regarded it as a wasteland. Apologies to TS Eliot.

At the time, I had 96 followers.

This lovely headhunter called again and was indignant again. And she let me have it.

"George," she was fairly screaming at me. "George, Twitter is your movie trailer. It's where people go to see what's playing, who's who in advertising."

"I'm not interested," I said.

"George: LISTEN TO ME." I've been smacked across the face by dozens of people in my days. This was a Grade-A whipsaw.

"Twitter is where people shop. Your job is now to tweet. To get a following." 

Kindly, she sent me some Twitter tips. Most of which I followed.

It's six months later now. 

I've gone from 96 Twitter followers to 2,717. 

I ain't exactly Yeezy. Or even Weezy. More likely Sneezy. But that's a big increase.

Can I attribute any revenue to that growth? No.

Is it paying for my new ramshackle cottage on the Long Island Sound? No.

Is it making me better at my job? No.

Do I like it? No.

But somehow I'm getting about 30 calls a month. Sure most of them are duds.

But some of them aren't.

And that's my point today.

Go get your eyes checked.


BTW, this same headhunter sent me a note yesterday. Naturally on Twitter. 

I had mentioned her in a tweet and she's been deluged with calls. 500 or more.

For now, I'm keeping her identity secret.

I am not in the mood for another slapping.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Be like everyone else.Trust me.

Touch wood.

Since I got canned from Ogilvy eight months and one day ago, I’ve done pretty well. After my corporate-mandated isolation period (according to WPP's legal-battery (assault not included) if you work while you're being severed, you sacrifice your severance) I almost immediately went to work for my ex-boss: Ogilvy’s former CCO, Steve Simpson.


Steve is an amazing talent blinded enough by my boyish good looks to have been fooled twice into hiring me. Steve and I had a nice thing going—as nice as two writers can have. We respected each other’s talent and liked the way each other wrote. So often, Steve would scribble something or blurt something and sling it to me like a baton in a relay race. And vice-versa. There’s was no “his” or “mine.” There was just the work and we enjoyed doing it together. And making it good.


Along the way, my phone started ringing.


“Can you help us out with ____?”


I was taught during a freelance sojourn many years ago to never say “no” to work. You can always find a way to get things done. So, I took on eight out of ten assignments that came my way.


Much to the disdain of so many people who “manage” creative people, raising your hand in an agency these days is regarded as a sin. I don’t exactly know why. It just is. I guess it fucks up scoping somehow. 


In fact, the biggest fight I ever got in during my eleven years at Ogilvy was when an ECD team asked for my help on a pitch.


Holy shit.


Late one night, they saw me at the urinal and flat out asked me. THEY DIDN’T GO THROUGH ANY OF THE 27 PEOPLE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO GO THROUGH TO ASK ME A QUESTION.


I was peeing at the moment and I asked what it was for. Not the pee. The pitch.


“Listen,” I said. “I’m not supposed to work on anything but _______. But I’m heading out tomorrow for a week of shooting. I’ll have six hours on a plane out and six hours on a plane back. I’d be happy to put a dozen hours against it.”


The next morning, crammed in a coach seat, I got a flame mail from a creative mangler—I mean, manager.


How dare I? Don’t I know I’m owned? How could I raise my hand when my hands are owned?


As if after 36 years in the business I don’t know how to handle my own workload.


In any event, knock wood, I’ve been busy since then.


But I worry.


I worry about sustaining GeorgeCo, a Delaware Company into year two. So I started thinking about how I could tell people who I am, what I do and why I’m unusual.


I decided to start with a little research.


I read the “About” sections of 29 agency websites. (Though we’re purportedly a creative business, every agency website is structured almost exactly the same. Just as almost every creative’s website looks almost exactly the same—roughly the design of the J. Crew catalog. A name. A title. And below that 12 or 16 boxes of work.)


What I found in these About sections was a house-of-mirrors similarity. We were founded by ____ back in ____ and we’re dedicated to credo. Now we have ____ offices in _____ countries. And we’ve been named _____ of the year in ___, ____ and ____.


That seemed wrong to me. 


It occurred to me that the About section shouldn’t be About the agency. It shouldn’t be About who an agency is. It should be About what an agency does for its clients. The promises it keeps with clients.


So, I did that weird thing writers used to do: I wrote.


I did that weird thing a good communication is supposed to do: I made a promise to the reader.


To date I’ve shared it with a couple clients, to good effect. I’m not ready to share it here because, frankly, I’m not so sure it won’t be pilfered.


My point today is simple. If you’re running a business, don’t just run your business.


Think about what kind of business you want to be and how you’re running it. How you can make it better. How you're treating people you work with and how you're treating yourself.

Most of all think about what promises you’re making with your customers. And keep them.



Monday, September 14, 2020

Killing the Ad Business. From the inside.

Apologists say things like: “I’ve known Mark [Read] for 20 years and he is not a bigot."
I contend the data tells a different story.

Just recently in Forbes magazine there was a article titled “
Ageism Is Not Just A Disease—It Is The New Business Model For Top Ad Agencies.”


The author concludes his article this way: “Primarily focusing on reducing cost by getting rid of your best performers will eventually kill agencies. You can cut back on dough and make a pizza so cheap nobody will eat it. You can make an agency so young that nobody will hire it.”

Exactly what happened in the newspaper industry is happening to what was once the profitable advertising industry.


1.    Vulture capitalists, the holding companies, strip the companies of value.

2.    The chiefs of the holding companies and their shareholders profit.

3.    Clients see less value from the holding companies agencies.

4.    Clients leave or lower fees.

5.    The holding companies must further reduce costs to maintain their margins.

6.    The holding companies fire more people to reduce costs.

7.    Clients see less value from the holding companies agencies.

8.    Clients leave or lower fees.

9.    The holding companies must further reduce costs to maintain their margins.

10. The holding companies fire more people to reduce costs.

11. Clients see less value from the holding companies agencies.

12. Clients leave or lower fees.

13. The holding companies must further reduce costs to maintain their margins.

14. The holding companies fire more people to reduce costs.

15. Clients see less value from the holding companies agencies.

16. Clients leave or lower fees.


What I don’t agree with in the article isn’t its conclusion, it’s its semantics.


Numbers one-16 above are not a business model. They are a going-out-of-business-model. A death spiral model.


Because there will be no business left when it reaches its natural conclusion in, I believe, three years or less.


I remembered something I wrote in the early days of this blog, back in 2007. It was about the phone company Vonage.


Remember Vonage?


Here’s Ad Aged from June 4, 2007:


“Last year, Vonage spent more money in online advertising ($185.7 million) than anyone else. Unfortunately for Vonage, they've had a churn rate of 2.11%. Meaning they lose about 30,000 customer a month. That's a lot of customers when you're working with a base of just over one million. Today their long-term viability is in question.”


The holding companies—to strain a metaphor—seem to be holding less and less. They no longer, to my eyes sit at the center of the world’s business. They seem to be able to charge less and less. Their tenure with clients seems to be evaporating. And fewer and fewer employees feel any loyalty to any agency. What’s more, agency offering—among holding company agencies—seem pretty much undifferentiated.


I fail to see all of the above as a business model.


Just as I wouldn’t see


1.    Sit on sofa all day.

2.    Watch Wheel of Fortune re-runs.

3.    Eat seven pints of Haagen-Dazs


as a health regimen.


Naturally, I could call it my “health model.” I might even get some people to believe in it.But it’s really death by a thousand spoonfuls.


What the holding companies have devised is similar. It’s not a business model. It’s a plan of rapine and robbery.


They’re the coal-mine-owners. We’re the workers. Once they’ve removed all the good from our brains and our creative coal is exhausted, like in every other extractive industry, the owners will move on.


Leaving waste and ashes behind.


You can’t see those things from their yachts.


But there’s more wrong in the holding companies than just business malpractice. There’s a lack of business morality.



If ageism is indeed discrimination as defined by US law, whether or not it’s profitable, it is morally wrong and indefensible.

Not all that long ago, Woolworth’s the once high-flying retailer did not allow Black people to sit at its lunch counters to eat lunch. Woolworth's were profitable at the time. Did that make racism a legitimate business model?

Given that parallel, I cannot accept age discrimination as an acceptable business model.

Frankly, I’m more than a little disgusted with Linkedin connections and putative journalists saying things like this, as the author of the article above, Avi Dan, said in Forbes.


“I’ve known Mark [Read] for 20 years and he is not a bigot. He tried to walk the initial statement back with an attempt to apologize, but actually made it slightly worse,…”

That’s fine.

I’m sure we can find hundreds of people saying how kind and loving people like Eugene “Bull” Connor was. He’s not a bigot. He plays so nicely with his grandkids. He's a sweetie pie. 

All I know about Read is this; I don't know him for decades. I only 1% of employees at the holding company over which he presides are over 60—versus roughly 17% of the US population as a whole. So, one out of six Americans are over 60. And only one out of 100 WPP employees are over 60.

But he’s not a bigot. 

And Brutus is an honorable man.









Friday, September 11, 2020

Special Edition. Very very special.


Recently, Holding Company Omnivorous Parsimonious and Picayune's (OPP) CEO, Mark Cannotread, (NYSE: ROTFL) boasted that 80% of its workforce of 120,000 people in 259 offices at three desks, is under the age of 20. And they get paid in yoyo's, scrunchi's, Skittles, gum that squirts and Mountain Dew.

"They don't hark back to the 2010's, luckily" Cannotread said. "All of them have digits and are fully, therefore, digital. Luckily, they aren't beholden to remnants of the past, like big brand ideas that define and communicate the purpose of our clients to a skeptical public. They're much more interested in making culture, making playdates and making wee-wees."

With that, ADPISSANT is proud to present tomorrow's talent today, with our first 12 under 12 list that recognizes talented individuals advancing the world into their teen years. The list honors the best and the driest diapered: the savants, the rainmakers, snow-makers and play-doh makers.

Dora, 6, never stops exploring new ways to push the boundaries of the new media-eco-scape and connect with lucrative pre-natal consumers in preternatural style. Nothing can stop her--except lunch.

Don't be fooled by his Jack-o-Lantern grin and his post-hipster haircut, Al Falfa, 7, has been winning awards since last Tuesday. Cannes Lion Bronze winner for best drawing of a rocket ship.

Patti Mayonnaise, 12, and Doug Funnie, 12. Big marketing problems? This Dynamic Duo knows Instagram and gets to Insta-Answers--instantly! They're simply Insta-mazing!

Brooklyn "Red" Hook, a tough, talented art-director who, luckily doesn't have one diaper tab stuck in the 2018s. A tireless worker who burns the mid-night oil starting around 2:15. "Sure he's cranky," said one CEO, "but he gets the job done. Especially if you cut up his food for him. In bitsy witsy wittle pieces."

So bewitching, so beguiling, so be-dazzling she goes by just one name: Lolita, 12. So beware. She lives in a kingdom by the sea and loves with a love that has never been loved. A maiden. A copywriter. Soon to be a major motion picture.

Gary Coleman, 7. Fast, feisty and a firecracker. A deep well of ideas and executional brilliance. Coleman holds high standards and terrorizes account people and clients alike. His famous "What chu tawkin' about, Willis?" raises everyone to a higher standard.

"The Smurfs," 6. After nine grueling hours auditing classes at Miami (Ohio) Ad School, the "Smurfs" as they're known are ready to work on your multi-million dollar ad budget. "Their lack of experience," said OPP's Mark Readbetweenthelines, "is only matched by the fervor of their unfounded convictions."

"'Spermy' doesn't have one foot stuck in the '80s, because his feet haven't developed yet," say OPP OB/GYN Mark Rude. "Spermy is the future. He's not stuck in the past. In fact, right now, he's stuck in the ovaries."

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Holding Company OPP announces new CCO, 3.

OPP's new CCO, Brooklyn Flatbush, 3 years, 2 months.

OPP, Organic Potato and Potash, (NYSE: STFU) a creative transformation company that uses the power of creative transformation to creatively transform its clients' creative transformations, announced today the hiring of Brooklyn Flatbush, 3, as OPP’s new Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, reporting to Brooklyn Greenpoint, 7, OPP’s Intergalactic Chief Creative Officer.


OPP’s CEObot, Mark Cannotread, said today, “We build better futures for our clients through an integrated offer of communications, experience, commerce, technology and bullshit.

“Brooklyn has been at the forefront of creative transformation since he was 2. He brings a wealth of experience in creativity, technology and talent to drive sustainable top-line growth, even though we haven’t had top-line, middle-line or even below-the-line growth in over 44 quarters.


Cannotread continued, “It hardly takes a CPAbot, which is what I am, to know that 44 quarters adds up to almost nine dollars. Ca-ching.”


OPP, a creative transformation company has recently come under fire for transforming companies without their consent. OPP transformed one client’s men’s rooms to women’s and then back again before anyone noticed.


“Creative transformation is a transformative creative business,” Cannotread said, reading from prepared remarks. “Brooklyn has a wealth of experience in creative transformation. He plays well in the sandbox—the literal sandbox, we don’t speak metaphorically at OPP. Brooklyn’s only 3 and he’s insisted upon having a sandbox in his cubicle.”


Cannotread acknowledged that since most of OPP’s account people talk about marketing buckets, Brooklyn’s sandbox prowess should be very useful and "bucket-friendly."


“So many creative people today are almost in their tween-years; one or two are even in their teens. Brooklyn doesn’t hark back to the 2018s or even the 2019s. In fact, he doesn’t hark back any further than Tuesday at 2:15PM, which was his nap-time.”


OPP spokesbot, Mark Cannotwrite added, As a transformative transformation company, Brooklyn will not only help us transform, he’ll help us transform how we help other companies transform their transformations.


Cannotread said, “OPP remains at the forefront of lagging behind. And Brooklyn will help us continue our starts-and-stops and we leap forward into the past. And the best part is, we can pay Brooklyn in fruit roll-ups and Pepperidge Farm unsalted goldfish. That right there will save us at least eighty-cents. Win-win.




Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Faulkner. Mark Read. Anger. And Ageism.

When something bad happens to you, the reaction you get from many people is, “Give it a little time. You’ll get over it.” Or, “you have to grieve for a while, and then put the past aside.” Or austerely and grudgingly, “get a grip. You can’t dwell on these things,” as if you have no grip and have no right to dwell where you wish.

You can think about these responses to issues large and small. 

I heard them all when Nancy, my younger sister died in a motorcycle crash on 12th Avenue at the very-too-young age of just 47. We hear similar Hallmarkian platitudes about race, sexuality and more. Societally, we hear them from all sorts of people usually appended to sentences like, “Nobody handed me anything. Made it myself. Why can’t ______ people put the past behind them?”


All these statements might be uttered by well-meaning people. But they are tainted and sullied by the lack of understanding or, worse, willingness to abjure the past. They are in most cases insensitive and unfeeling, even cruel and racist.


Back almost 50 years ago, my best friend, Fred and I, as ninth-graders, as 14-year-olds, made our high school varsity baseball team—as starters. Most of the other guys were seniors. They were thinking of starting college, or getting laid, or avoiding Vietnam or finding new ways to get stoned—or all of them.

Fred and I were alone on the team and we began a closeness that continues today.


One afternoon, I had hit a single and Fred, at bat after me, lined a ball to right centerfield. I made it safely to third, but Fred stumbled between first and second and there was a play at second base. I yelled from 90-feet away, “Slide, Freddy boy.”


Fred slid and came up safe against the tag. He stood, dusted himself off and called time. He walked over to me. Got close to me, and said something quietly to me that changed my life.


“Watch that boy, crap” he said.


I started to protest, but realized I was wrong. Inexcusably wrong. No explanationly wrong.

I never called anyone boy again. Even if they were a boy. It's a word that's loaded like a hand-grenade. 


I also realized something as quick as a throw from the outfield. Words can and often do mean something different to the hearer than they mean to the speaker. You have to be thoughtful with words. Even innocuous ones can be weighted with centuries of evil and cruelty and social order and racism.


It’s not unusual, since being corporately kicked to the curb by a holding company that fires people over 60 at 600% the rate that their proportion in that company would indicate, for people to remark that I am angry.


You’re damn fucking right I’m angry.


For fifteen years I received no raises. For fifteen years it was assumed that the grey of my sideburns meant that my ambition, intelligence, contemporariness had been pushed out by those very follicles.


For most of those fifteen years I was handed the steamiest of the steamiest piles of shit in the agency. Soothing a troubled CEO with a speech or manifesto. Handling a particularly gnarly commercial or pitch. Or client video.


Not me. Not in Cannes. Not ever.

But I was too old to ever be invited out to dinner with those same important clients. Too ugly and otiose in pink shorts and sockless shoes to consider taking to Cannes. Too taken for granted so so often asked to do more and more for the company that offered me less and less.


Worst of all, to someone who made his living from being attuned to language, was the language. “Well, you’re just riding it out,” I would hear. “Well, you get tired.” And worst by far, people two decades younger than I but “above me,” calling me dude.


“Dude, I really need you to do this.”


“Dude, can you work on this over Christmas break.”


I’m tired of this whole Ageism thing. Sick and tired.

Tired that people like Mark Read could say what he said and keep his job and his in-perpetuity salary. Tired that no one says, really, what needs to be said. That no one says what is really the salient truth of the ad industry today.


It’s this:


Advertising is a low-wage industry.


And like any industry that competes solely on price (procurement) not quality, the race will continue and it will be a race to the bottom.

When today's 24-year-olds are 34, 2020 will be the good old days. A RLO (Read Like Object) will say "They don't hark back to the 2020's, luckily."



Wages will decrease. Raises will become an anachronism. And money will go to those only who deliver boardroom value, not value to clients. A greater and greater share of the industry’s revenue will be glommed by fewer and fewer people those with more and more distance from the actual work of our industry.


Right now I am nearing the end of an amazing book called “The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War,” by Michael Gorra. Faulkner famously said in “Requiem for a Nun,” words Shakespearean in their brevity and their import.

“The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”


And this thought, maybe even more seminal: “Happen is never once.”


It keeps occurring.

This will keep happening. The RLOs will never learned the lesson I learned as a 14-year-old clad in dirty baseball flannels.

Happen is never once.


Yes, I am a voice crying in the desert. I always was.


Yes, I am angry. I always have been.


Yes, I am staying angry. Why shouldn't I?


Maybe my outrage comes from age.


But dude, I deserve that.