Tuesday, August 8, 2023


Though I live by the code expressed in a famous quip by Groucho, that I'd never join any club that would have me as a member, I have been in a club for about a year now.

The truth of the matter is I have never willingly joined anything in my life.

I was on a track team in my twenties, but I never once went out for a beer after practice. I joined to get some interval training so I could push myself.

I was on one-hundred-and-nine baseball clubs through the years. But that wasn't a volunteer sort of joining. It was more vocational. And a nominal escape from the sonic boom deafening quiet of parents who hardly spoke to me.

But since then, really, I've never joined anything. No ad clubs. No coop board. No parent-teacher associations. Religious groups. Political organizations. I never joined the Cub Scouts. Or a Glee Club. Or anything else that I can think of.

However, about a year ago a friend sent me and a few other friends an email. 

Why don't we get together every-so-often for an early dinner at an elbows-on-the-table type place, have a burger or a penne alla vodka, maybe a soda (virtually all of us are abstemious) and let's talk about the business--our lives in the business and our present-tense in the business.

It was really close to a perfect idea.

When we started, we were more than two years into Covid, and the idea of bending an elbow with old friends was like finding an oasis in the Mojave. Since then, though we're all busy and somewhat scattered throughout the tri-state area, we've gotten together every couple of months to have a good time and some good conversation.

Last Wednesday was our most recent dinner. 

We met at Pete's Tavern down on 18th and Irving and held court in the same bar, served by some of the same waiters, that served O'Henry one-hundred-and-twenty-five years ago. Though the bar seems to be fairly overrun and spilling out into the street by young people in spandex, the aesthetics of the place suited us all. Even the art-director among us was ok with the grungy sticky-floor vibe.

Along the way, ie within two minutes of sitting down, theconversation usually turns to what most of us lament is the deterioration of the business. 

Back in May, we might have hung a Large Language Model AI in effigy and swatted at it like a piƱata. Last Wednesday, our evening's bugaboo was once-again, "data."

Because I am no longer in the heart of the business--aka, the heart of darkness--and because I have always been off to one side, my thoughts and opinions usually differ from the rest of my coterie. But running GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, I really only deal with CEOs, Presidents and the occasional CMO. They are less-enamored of the marketing shibboleths of the moment than the giant marketing organizations agencies usually have to deal with.

In other words, they have a lower tolerance for the bullshit du jour served on a tarnished silver platter at most marketing organizations.

Before long, I heard some of my friends bemoaning our world's infatuation with data and how an intelligent use of data will solve all our marketing problems scientifically, without having to engage in the caprices of "creative."

I've had a crazy career.

I worked at a senior level at direct marketing agencies that were data-obsessed.

I worked at a senior level at a giant consultancy that was data-obsessed.

I worked at a senior level at a digital/technology transformation business that was data-obsessed.

And at Ogilvy, I worked at a senior level for a holding company agency owned by a holding company that was data-obsessed.

At each of those stops, I learned something about putting my thumb in the eyes of groupthink.

I did it again Wednesday night as I was hearing about how every creative effort has been undone by data.

My tactic is simple.

I say, "show me."

I usually start like this. 

"For about thirty years, we've heard how data will allow us to deliver the right message, to the right person at the right moment."

"That's right," they usually answer.

"You're in the one-percent," I build. "Most brands would like a bit of your money. You have money and these days most people don't."

This time they're a little abashed regarding their good financial fortune, but eventually, they concede.

I continue. "Can you think of one time in your life you've gotten the right message at the right moment? One time."

Pause. Pause. Stutter. Pause.

"Let me ask you something. You live in the city, right? You still get 44 emails a day for gutter replacement. Touchwood, you have a full head of hair, you still get baldness cure ads, yes? And toe fungus ads. And washable carpets. And Cheech and Chong gummies. We got no coupons for half-priced beers when we said we were coming down here. Where was data then?

"That's my experience. That's your experience. Why do we believe the experience for masses of people is so much better and targeted than ours? Most of the ads I get, are the result of a spasm of fat-thumbed accidental clicking. And I don't then get served one ad for a "technology that moves at the speed of culture," I get one-thousand. Once they have your 'data' they besiege you like the Lilliputians shooting arrows at Gulliver.

"As an industry, why are we allowing ourselves to be schtupped by an agenda that is so divergent from the truth of our own experiences? Why aren't you saying it like I'm saying it? 

That every panacea, every technology promise of alchemy that will turn base-metal into gold is just like Medieval alchemy--a colossal fraud perpetrated by charlatans on the masses of people who don't question things."

At that point, the ancient waiter came with the bill. The six of us threw in various shades of gold, black and platinum credit cards.


I hardly know her.

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