Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Cost of Imagination.

I suppose it's one of the effects of our atomized and modern internet age. Rather than walk down the street at twilight and look into other people's homes and apartments, we can browse the real estate section to scratch our voyeurism itch. Accordingly, we can "visit" more homes each evening than a cat burglar on steroids.

Between the gilded real estate sections of The New York Times and the even more plutocratic section of The Wall Street Journal, all it takes is a few clicks to see how the 1-percent of the 1-percent of the 1-percent live. You know, the people who make upwards of $50 million per annum and have political-and-class-influence enough to pay a smaller percentage in tax than a school teacher or sanitation worker. You know, the ones complaining about the poor bilking the system.

In the cheery neo-fascist Wall Street Journal this weekend, I saw the article above. Anyone who loves New York and history as I do, has some affection for the Woolworth building. From 1913 when it was built, until about 1931, when the Empire State Building topped out, it was the tallest building in the world. And it housed the Walmart/Amazon of its day, the five-and-dime magnates of the Woolworth's corporation. Famous for cheap merchandise and not serving African-Americans at their lunch counters.

As you'd expect in New York, where a hot dog stand has more permanence than actual marble monuments, for the last quarter-century or so, the Woolworth Building has fallen into relative deshabille. The whole affair looks a bit like Miss Havisham's mansion--complete with stopped clocks--and the slovenly area around the aerie has that distinct smell of vintage New York urine--a mixture of the human, canine and equine liquids, with gallons of the rodent variety mixed in for an amuse-bouche.

Inveterate New Yorkers like myself also love stories of fall-on-your-face failure. We await, like we're waiting for a space-launch, the collapse of the Potemkin edifices made by Trump. And any New Yorker worth his spittle and gristle knows it's coming and knows it will resound like a ConEd steam explosion.

So when I saw that the penthouse in the Woolworth Building, which had been asking $110,000,000 sold for a mere pittance-- $30,000,000, the article beckoned like the Beatles were getting back together with maybe a boxing exhibition by Muhammad Ali as a warm-up act--and I was being offered front-row seats.

Despite the obvious allure of the apartment, the Journal reported, "The apartment is unusual for its verticality, resembling a lofty white cylinder with a quirky hodgepodge of windows. It is surrounded by four turrets and comes with a private, 360-degree observatory deck with elaborate Gothic ornamentation...."

Here's the bit of the article that struck me, an ancient advertising person as most important--and relevant to our industry.

"The penthouse was a particularly tough sell because it required a buyer to have imagination," [the broker] said. "All the buyers who came in were affluent and well-heeled. But I would say 50% to 70% walked in, even with their architects, and said, 'Great space, what do I do with it?"

That made me immediately think of all the metaphorical "great spaces," I had created in storyboards and print ads and websites and speeches through the years that I was unable to sell because they "required a buyer," (a client or an account person or a creative director) "to have an imagination."

While the "price" of my creative didn't plummet from $110 million to $30 million, my failures to fire my viewers' imagination surely hindered my ability to accumulate all the money or acclaim I might have been worth.

Maybe today's post is a stretch. 

But when we create work that we believe demands "bravery" from a client, perhaps we should think of it as a four-story penthouse in a century's-old office building converting to apartments for the mega-wealthy. 

The buyers have plenty of other choices. And there are plenty of apartments or commercials that are square, classical, elegant, expected and easy-to-buy.

The best of our work is none of those things. The proportions are usually askew. In short, the best of our work requires the buyer to have an imagination.

It takes a lot of work to come up with the work. And on those rare occasions that you do, you should remember, the work of selling the space is even more important.

Without doing that work, you could give yourself a $80 million haircut.

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