Friday, August 14, 2020

How to copywriterize for fun!!! And profit!!!


 

1. Most successful copywriters, the legendary Ed McCabe among them, have been known to successfully use in their most successful copywriting in their most successful ads both vowels and consonants. I spoke to the crusty ad-scion McCabe who said, ‘go fuck yourself, dickweed, and somebody get me another dozen martoonis.”

 

2. Don’t be afraid to break many of the conventional “rules” of punctuation. For. Instance. A. Way. Of. Showing. A. Certain. Emphatic. Tendency. Is. To. Put. A. Period. After. Every. Word. In. Your. Key. Sentence. Or. Sentences.

 

3. Write your copy as if you are writing to a friend. In writing an email, Dear FIRST NAME is a suitable salutation. Dear Easily-Gulled Carbon-based life-form, is not...unless demanded by the client.

 

4. No matter what sort of brand you’re working on don’t forget that you, as a copywriter, have a good idea of what the future will be like. Be sure to tell your readers that in the future will, inevitably, be massively different and unprecedented. eg: “In the wake of the unprecedented changes brought by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), lunch, your traditional mid-day meal will never be the same. We’re the Campbell’s soup company, and since we were founded way back in 1869, our mission has always been the same: to grind up tomatoes, add salt and water, seal it all in a can and serve it to you. We know that today, and into the future, this tomatofication process is important to you. And that’s why it’s important to the 268,000 people of Campbell’s who, together, today and into the future say to you what we’ve always said, ‘mmm, mmm good. Void where prohibited. All rights reserved. Any resemblance to any characters, vegetables, or vegetable characters real or fictional is purely coincidental.”

 

5. Use Action Words. NOW! See how immediate and actionable that was? Action words get your reader to ACT! Some readers, you’ll find, will also ION. That’s why Action words are called Action words—they impel people to ACT! and to ION! Also, never forget that your reader has the common sense of a teenager on Spring Break. If you’re selling something wholly unnecessary, ugly, defective or over-priced, fear not. Under those circumstances all you need is a strong “call to action,” (a call that moves people to action) and people will act. Selling a bag of bent and rusty nails for $73.99? No problem. Simply put the words ACT NOW! in a starburst somewhere—everywhere—in your ad. Presto, Buy-o!

 

6. Be sustainable. And diverse. And sustainably diverse. And diversely sustainable. Be true. And tru. And even troo. Be transparent. And authentic. Start a relationship with your target. Be disruptive in a comforting way and comforting in a disruptive way. Make sure you’re in the Cloud. And using Artificial Intelligence. Influencers. Micro-influencers. And nano-influencers. Target. Re-target. And re-re-target in an omnichannel way. But don’t forget OTR. Have you gamified? What about earned media? What about Medea? And Oedipus? And earned Medea? Last but not least: algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm algorithm. And algorithm.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

A relic speaks.

 


The other day, I got sent a briefing form from the great creative agency BBH. I'm not exactly sure when the form dates from, but I'm guessing, partly because it's not sullied by Holding Company legalese, that it's from a quarter of a century ago, if not more.

Regardless of its exactly age, seeing this document is a bit like finding an old Cuneiform tablet. Those clay plates from 3000 years ago were most often not foundational stories or epic poems--they were usually accounting tabulations. Essentially the BC version of powerpoint.


Even so, those artifacts gave us a solid look at what life was like in Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit. They showed us how many dates were stored, how many camels were needed to transport how many ewers of water and in the inflow and outflow of various goods and trade routes.

This briefing form does the same for me. It shows me an industry we threw away with both hands.

We threw away what make us work and what made us good:

Simplicity.

Start with the form itself. It's just one page. Not seven pages.
It asks simple questions, smart questions, fundamental questions.

And all those questions are clear and written without jargon or ambiguity.

The template gives the author a limited amount of room to answer those questions. So the person filling out the form can't go on and on and on. It's a form that makes covering your ass hard. And it asks for a SINGLE most important idea. 

That would be special in an "everything is top priority" world.

Next, look at the little rectangle in the lower right of the form. 

It calls not for 17 rounds of reviews, not reviews by 21 levels of creatives, not 88 different people and 176 eyeballs. It also contains pertinent information--budget and the phrase "final sign off."

Final? In 2020? 

I haven't been inside an agency in seven months. I ask all of you who are still getting briefs, to compare yours to this. The 29-page powerpoint explaining the psychographics underpinning a banner ad, or the four options of a Call To Action that the client wants to see. The five-hundred words of legal mandatories and more.

When I was a kid in advertising working in-house at Bloomingdales's I learned a very important lesson.

Every so often an ad would go through round after round of revisions. You, as the writer were dedicated to answering everyone's qualms and just getting the damn thing out of your typewriter and into production.

My boss came into my office on one of these occasions. He must have heard me screaming "muthafucka" at about 177 decibels. He read my copy as it came out of my Selectric.

"Stop trying to fix your copy," he said. "They broke it. Turn it over or tear it up and start fresh."

I think that might be where we are today in advertising.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

I don't know who you are.



I don't know where I was or how old when I first saw the ad above. But I do know it was in the "book" era, not the digital era and as much as I wanted to, I couldn't rightfully tear the ad from the volume I was reading. Nevertheless, I made mental notes about it and stored it in my near photographic memory.

Some years or decades later, after making one of the many wrong turns that eventually add up to a career, I was the co-head of the flagship office of a big dull agency. We were pitching some giant piece of business and I remembered that ad and, having access to Google, was able to get my grubby hands on it.

I showed it to my assistant, a bright young woman. Instead of seeing what I saw, all she could see was the scary "school-teacher's face" of the man in the chair and couldn't even consider that that was part of the point of the ad.

Now it's 20 years after that moment which was 20 years after I first encountered the ad which was 20 years after the ad was originally written. The ad, in fact, was created by an agency I never heard of, Fuller Smith & Ross, and the man in the chair was an account executive who helped create the ad, Gilbert Morris. It first ran in 1958. A few months after I sprung from my mother's loins. If I can say that on a family blog.

Our current world is infected with a disdain for everything old. At least half the industry these days have never written an ad for paid media, and many of those in the industry haven't read, or understood, a single bit of anthropology. They believe that with every "new" thing, the wiring of humanity itself will change.

So, they believe people, for whatever reason, will want to have conversations with brands. They believe people will want to interact with ads. And they believe useful consumer information is no longer needed in order to buy a product. No, they proffer, without evidence. I will buy a $70,000 car because a sallow model drives it, or a drunk and philandering golfer or because they append the meaningless adjective "Joy," to the automobile's logo and call that a tagline or summary thought.

In fact, the stupidity of marketing professionals seems to be increasing even faster than global temperatures. And I say that on a 98-degree day.

Not long ago, for instance, the German automaker BMW inflicted on the world a minor logo update. Though they're ten years (at least) behind Tesla in making an electric power-plant, for whatever reason their logo is consuming thousands of employee-hours and, I'd assume, millions of dollars.

Here's the massive change.


Here's what Jens Thiemer, Senior Vice President of Customer & Brand at BMW had to say about this brilliant communications apotheosis.

"[It's] more than just a design update: The layout of BMW’s new brand look and feel stands for the mobility of the future.

 

“BMW becomes a relationship brand. The new communication logo radiates openness and clarity. With this new transparent variant, we want to invite our customers more than ever to become part of the BMW world. In addition, our new brand design is geared to the challenges and opportunities of Digitization for brands. With visual restraint and graphic [sic] We are equipping ourselves flexibly for the wide variety of contact points in communication at which BMW will show its presence online and offline in the future. The additional communication logo symbolizes the significance and relevance of the brand for mobility and driving pleasure in the future.”

I suppose I do a fair amount on Mad Magazine-level parody on this blog. But even when I'm going to extremes I can't lay the bullshit on nearly as thick as good ol' Jens can.

I ask you, and I ask my friends in the design end of the industry, have you ever smelled more redolent fertilizer? It might even put Terry Southern, Peter George and Stanley Kubrick to shame.


My deepest belief is that 99% of all people feel about 99% of all brands as the man in the chair above does. 

In brief, I don't know who you are, what you sell, or why you're better.

But rather than tell you what you want to know, lemme send out a puerile tweet and take 18 months to slightly change a logo while employing a raft of people who are categorically unable to speak without shoveling manure. That passes, today, for salesmanship.

Whatever you want to call our business today, communications, advertising, marketing, brand interface engineering, our most important function is to define who a client is and what they do and or sell.

Most people don't know, don't care, don't remember or are dealing with the awful and pressing vagaries of life--made worse by a cruel economic system, the crushing unequal distribution of wealth and a concerted attack on middle-class standards of living.

I don't know how or why we've stopped caring or knowing about that or about people. I don't know how or why ads that never run have become more important to a dying industry than ads that move business. I don't know how or why we've gotten here. I do know that to, again, 99% of all people, as an industry we don't matter because we don't do things that matter to the people who pay us.


Someone somewhere updated the classic ad above with the classic ad below. I don't 100% agree with all of it. 

But I certainly agree with its first line.

And to all those people spending nine days to write a brief, maybe it's all as simple as answering that issue. We have to make people care who we are.




 



 

Words. Of wisdom and not.

I was listening to the news this morning, as I do nearly every morning, on National Public Radio. I made the switch about forty years ago from TV news to NPR. Not only are the stories longer and more informative, you don’t have to be in front of the set to take anything in. For me it’s a bit like taking in a baseball game. The sport is better “viewed” on radio.

In any event, since the rise of Covid in America, say about the beginning of March (roughly four months before the non-popularly-elected president admitted its existence, if not its virulence) virtually every story on NPR has been the same. To sum up, they’ve all been about a shortage of resources, or a half-assed response, or general unpreparedness.

 

This morning, as I was hearing this governor or that bemoan the inadequacy of Trump’s executive orders on financial relief for the unemployed, I said to myself, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That statement, and thousands of other maxims or axioms were, for centuries or millennia, part of human-kind’s upbringing.

 

They went under a variety of different names, the 147 Delphic maxims, Aesop’s fables, Poor Richard’s ramblings, the Ten Commandments and more. But chances are, if you grew up around the time I did, you were inculcated with these precepts.

 

I remember as a kid reading an autobiography of the great Negro leagues’ pitcher Satchel Paige. Paige, because Black people were kept out of the major leagues until 1947, didn’t pitch in the bigs until he was 41—probably twenty years past his prime. He lasted five distinguished seasons in the majors, and then he came back in 1965 at the age of 58 and pitched three shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics.  

 

As for maxims, Paige was famous for these:

 

Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.

If you stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.

Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.

Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.

Avoid running at all times.

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.


This disappearance of maxims, Delphic, Paigean or otherwise troubles me. Today, I suppose we call them memes. But for virtually the entirety of human existence on this troubled orb, we’ve used these bon mots or seminal stories to transmit wisdom from one generation to the next.

Today it is our habit as a society to call everything a “culture.” To my ears, the word culture seems, today, to be a shorthand for splinter group.

So you have people talking about skate culture, ink culture, goth culture, garden club culture. Errol Morris even shot a movie on the “Nub Club,” people who intentionally blow off limbs to get insurance payments. In our severely atomized world, it seems there’s a culture for everyone, even the limb-deprived.

But what we may be missing from a macro sense is our cultural ability to pass and communicate shared values and histories across large groups of people—millions of people. I’d bet less than 50% of the US population knows exactly when WWII was fought, much less the Spanish-American war or some lesser conflagration. Even the lessons we might have learned from the 1918 flu pandemic which killed 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 Americans (at a time when the US population was only 103 million) are almost entirely unknown.

Patience now, I’m rounding into my point. You really can’t rush these things some times.

I worked at Ogilvy for a total of eleven years, spread over four decades in two chunks of time.

First, I was there when the office was in Manhattan, on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Street—right on the footprint of the old Madison Square Garden. I worked in that location from 1999 to 2004.

I came back and was in Ogilvy’s new offices in East New Jersey, from 2014 until I was fired late in the day (always considerate) on Tuesday, January 14th, 2020.

The big differences between the two office spaces were two-fold. One, the agency had moved far West to a neighborhood of Toyota dealers, methadone clinics and homeless shelters. And two, all of the hundreds of Ogilvyisms that used to festoon the hallways around the entire agency had been expunged.

My first round at Ogilvy, the agency was branded. David’s face was on a giant poster looming in the lobby. The carpeting was red. And there were David’s statements everywhere, his maxims, his wisdom. Many of these axioms we good, smart and memorable. They made up a decent part of my advertising education because, there’s no other word for it, they were ineffable. As a way of personal comportment, business ethics, they stressed the importance of creativity, individualism and sales.

They just made sense.

By my second round they were all gone except for some bland statements stuck in an emergency fire stairway.

I suppose someone decided, in some agency rendition of “The Death of Expertise,” that because they were writ by a white man born in 1911, they couldn’t possibly have any meaning to the new generation of clients and employees. Abiding by Ogilvy’s dicta, having vestiges of the culture and agency he created, would make the agency seem woefully out-of-date, retrograde, gasoline-powered in a Tesla-powered era.

I wonder if the same is true for our country and the world.

I wonder if verities stay verities when they’re no longer taught, understood and believed.

I wonder, for instance, if anyone knows any of these (gently amended by me for gender sensitivity.)

Consumers aren't morons. They’re your family and friends.


The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.

In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.

What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it.


Don't bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals.

 

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.

 

Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.

Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your family to read. You wouldn't tell lies to your own family. Don't tell them to mine.

 

We sell, or else.

I picked those maxims relatively at random. They were the first quotations that popped up in my Google search.

Words like those, just like words like these, to be effective, to be part of the fiber of an agency, to become inculcated across departments, down hallways, around the country and the world—they’re not a some time thing.

You repeat them. You live them. You demonstrate them in how you act, how you pitch, how you create, how you promote, hire and fire.

Ping-pong tables, Thirsty Thursdays and Wastrel Wednesdays don’t make great agencies, a great place to work or great, effective work.

A set of values does.

Just as a 4th of July Mattresspalooza does not make a great country.

Imparting the wisdom of a Lincoln, who hoped for a government of the people, by the people and for the people, could.

But, that’s old. That’s archaic. Let’s try something cool.

Ok, dude?

 

 

 

 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Be it ever so humble.

When the storm hit our little seaside cottage I didn't know what to expect, really. My wife, Laura, and I have been renting up here on Connecticut's Gingham Coast since March and had been through half-a-dozen Nor'easters, some with winds strong enough to knock over a $3000 gas grill. But we had never borne a storm in our own home and we did not know what to expect.

Our house is of the sturdy variety—built in 1920 when 2x4s actually measured 2x4, not some legalese abbreviation thereof, and it was built with a full concrete basement despite being just a long spit from the sea. Nevertheless, the last owner, a wicked old man who in my mind conjures up an image of a male-version of Almira Gulch, was grudging with the house. And things started falling to pieces the moment we moved in.

First, the refrigerator stopped cooling. Then the washing machine stopped working. Then the oven decided to no longer ov or even en. Worst for me, someone who prefers the chill of winter or the icy grip of the nearest harridan to the dank humidity of summer, the air-conditioning starting gasping and wheezing. If it were a Looney Tunes character, it would have its tongue out and would be panting against last week’s 90-degree heat.



Even so, I like a good storm. There’s something of a Maslowian comfort to be sheltered and dry when the hurly burly’s done. And I like seeing the anger of the gods in the javelin of lightning and the timpani of their furious thunder. Most of all, as long as I’m not plying a small craft, I like seeing the fury of the sea. I like seeing the bravery of the rocks as they battle the waves. I like seeing the osprey fly to their aeries for cover and the gulls flap and flap their wings just to stay in place as they battled the gale.

Our little house is not in a flood zone. Though the entire area around us is low and littoral, we are on the highest in town. A good twenty feet above the highest tides. That elevation might not avail us when the petro-republicans are done destroying the polar icecaps, life as we know it and our entire planet, but it will probably suffice until it’s time to turn our home over to our daughters some time just before my size 13s zero in on a nearby bucket.

The storm quickly knocked out our power which put both my wife and I in a panic. It’s not quite on the order of a flame going out in a coal mine as the oxygen becomes exhausted, but when you’re working 20x7 (we do sleep) from home, and your deadlines offer no leeway for missing amperes, well, I felt like singing an old Wobbly song or two, something maybe by Mother Jones or Joe Hill.

I walked out to the sea with Whiskey and took these videos. If you’re an ocean person, the waves don’t look like much. But technically, the Long Island Sound is merely an estuary (the north coast of Long Island is just ten miles away, as the Ederle swims) and waves do not often crest at much more than two feet.

These waves were double that, or triple. And were atop rolling swells another three or four feet high. The winds were blowing the tops off the waves and down and up the moraine east and west of us, we could hear the thunder of the sea.

About an hour into the storm, I was still working putting together a large presentation for a meeting the next day with a large client. Like the storm was bearing down on us, I was bearing down on my copy. My wife who is even more ursine than I and can bear down like a freight-train, hardly stirred.

Then a crash came. A “house” sound. Something she and I, apartment dwellers did not recognize. She looked at me and locked in on eye contact. She slowly blinked than locked in again. A silent communication, unspoken but as clear as a telegram, that it was my job to get to the source of the cacophony.

I went outside onto the front lawn. Next to a low stone wall that girds our property stands a noble Acer Rubrum, a red maple or a swamp maple. The wind was rustling its burgundy leaves and whistling like a tea kettle neglected on a stove. I looked up to our roof and not even knowing what our roof looked like—we’d been in the house just two weeks at this point—deemed it fine.

My wife silently interrogated me when I returned. I mumbled something stupid, which is what I do when I mumble stupidly.

A minute later a teenager wearing a bikini top and very short shorts knocked on our double-pane plate glass.

“I think your chimney blew off,” she informed me, handing me an aluminum apparatus that looked like you could fry french fries in it.

“My what?” I mumbled stupidly.

“Your chimney cap,” she answered, rolling her eyes. “It was in the neighbor’s driveway, two houses down.”

I thanked the young lady and brought the small structure inside.

In the end, the storm passed. After 60 hours with no power, and a brief return to the Masked City, we returned to Connecticut this morning.

A piece of my house blowing away to the point where it could have decapitated someone or killed a small dog taught me something and it all made me feel a bit at home, at last.

It was the first time since we moved here that I’ve felt really really guilty.

It feels nice to be home.

 

 

Friday, August 7, 2020

No one knows anything.

My wife and I piled into my 1966 Simca 1500 (without air-conditioning) and left Old Saybrook yesterday precisely at noon and headed back to New York City.

Though the Simca was originally equipped with a 1.5-liter four cylinder producing just 81-horsepower, Lothar, my Croatian mechanic who is considered the world's foremost expert in all things Simca, swapped out the original four-banger for a 2.8-liter BMW straight six. Accordingly, my little tin box can blow the doors off just about anything else on the road.

I am not endowed with a lead foot but nevertheless, we made it back to Manhattan in just under two hours, despite a log-jam of traffic that started around Stamford and continued on through New Rochelle. A distance of around ten miles, as the Simca flies.

After being away for nearly five months, I pulled into my garage space and moments later was safe in my apartment--ensconced with the glow of electric lights, cooled by central air-conditioning and informed by a strong wireless signal.

We left Old Saybrook because we had no power and didn't know when it would return and couldn't get information--accurate or inaccurate. 

Under the corrupt hand of Donald Trump and his negative legions of enablers, even the foremost areas of the first world have become like third-world countries. Virtually at every "touch-point," we are "owned" by monopoly powers. Monopolies that stay in control thanks to the graft they pour (legally) into the pockets of this or that "representative."

As a country we pay more than the rest of the civilized world for almost everything we buy: health care, insurance, cable, internet access, phone service and more. We beg for low taxes then make up for their purported lowness by paying through the keister of the things we need to live.

Here are some charts that may sicken you:


Before we left our small village for the chaos of New York, 'when would the power be back on?' was the talk of the neighborhood.

The fat guy two houses down said he heard 'this afternoon.' A less sanguine neighbor said she heard not earlier than Tuesday
--there was still a nursing home without power!

When I was out walking Whiskey in the morning a giant maple on Maple was still resting on wires as thick as a quarterback's wrist. The Eversource energy people--our local extortionate utility was handling things the American way.

Nine men in overalls and hardhats were leaning on trucks staring at the arboreal catastrophe. They scratched, talked on cellphones, and scratched some more. The big tree just lay there, laughing at the indolence around it.

One neighbor told me millions of people around the state had no power. And that neighboring states' utility workers had offered help, but Connecticut's governor turned down the offer of help lest they bring Covid into a state that's just about eliminated it.

No one knows when and if any of our current raft of calamities will lighten, mitigate or even end.

On Monday I had a call with an employment suitor. I said to him, "Ordinarily I'd ask for a three year plan. But these days, I can't even expect a three-minute plan."

The only thing I know is that great Latin metaphor, "terra firma" has lost all its meaning. It should be replaced with a George-Latinate: "Terra Jell-o." The Latin phrase today means nearly as much as justice or honest or philanthropy or even kindness.

I know this is dour. 

Especially dour for a Friday.

But it's late. I'm tired. 

And though I have two homes now, I feel homeless.

Worse, homeless, and without a country.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Storms. And calms.

On Tuesday night, the furious edge of hurricane Isaias ran straight into the quiet little middle-Connecticut hamlet where my wife decided we would ride out the Covid storm.

Since about 5PM Tuesday night we've been without power and without air-conditioning and without refrigeration. The last without is pretty severe. My wife knows how to pack a refrigerator. I'm pretty sure we could have ridden out the Nazi's 900-day siege of Leningrad and we would still have had bagels to toast, chicken dinners to defrost and if she were feeling somewhat positively disposed toward me, enough ice-cream to last the duration.

All that food is ruined now. And I don't even want to think about the monetary loss. I should have bought a generator--but buying a house in need of repairs was enough and I didn't want to spring for even more.

Tuesday night, I was to teach my last class at AdHouse and of course I had to postpone. You can't teach over Zoom if you have no computer power and no wifi.

Wednesday morning--still without the appurtenances common in the "First World," I had a major client presentation, my first with this client--a division of the World Bank.

I drove early to a local hotel with my wife and enough power source cordage to stretch from Connecticut to Upper Lower Lompoc, a distance of approximately 2,500 miles.

We got online and we charged our various Apple machines. I dropped my wife off at home, walked and swam and shampoo'd Whiskey, showered in cold-water and headed back to the hotel for my presentation. 


Though fucking Verizon spends $1.5 billion on trumpeting the reliability of their fucking network, it never fails except every time you need it. In my home, I get 1/2 a bar. In the hotel I was crashing, four.

I can't wait until Verizon and the other bionic monopolies like AT&T finally roll out 5G-spot. And we'll surely get faster dropped calls and speedier unreliability for more money with less recourse for complaint because, well, we're dealing with monopolies who graft senators and congressmen to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. We pay for that via their extortionate monthly rates and additional hidden gouging.

It ain't easy being a solo pilot in the advertising world. Along the way you have no one to reassure you as you go through the pain of reading and understanding a brief and birthing your creative, putting together a presentation, a set of reasons why and a rationale for what you've done.

There's no infrastructure to support you. No planners, no account people. No wise and hard-working partner to reassure you and/or carry you. There's not even a nearby and nearly soporific CCO to mumble something encouraging or nearly encouraging whichever comes second.

I enlisted a long-time friend, an account person from my long-ago past to help me with this one.

As you might imagine in dealing with an organization as complex and unwieldy as an international monetary body, there was a shit load to read. Even the paperwork to become an approved vendor required an attention to minutia that I simply don't possess. I needed "support." 

Thankfully, I found the right person to provide it. As I said, a brilliant ex-Ogilvy account person who is steady, smart and personally winsome. 

I drove back to the hotel and as I pulled my 1966 Simca 1500 into the parking lot, I notice a single parking spot in the shade, against the 91-degree heat. Like a veteran cop, I chucked the Simca, without coming to a complete stop into reverse and backed the old sedan into the single space.

In short order I was able to get Verizon's vaunted reception--four bars and Microsoft meeting across four continents to present five manifestos and fourteen "provocations," headlines passing as thought starters, in an era when mentioning the word print could get you pilloried and kicked out of what's left of the once noble ad community.

Sitting in my car, the windows rolled down, the slightest breeze, I presented my obliquity off. And thank god, my work, if not my obliquity was well-received.

We smiled and we laughed at the conclusion. We applauded the work. We talked about next steps and steps after next steps.

Along the way my friend and support texted me.

"George, you did great." She wrote, even including the requisite comma most people these days elide.

A lot has changed in the seven months since I was booted out of Ogilvy--since I was deemed disposable, despite having spent ten years there, coming through on the most-pressured assignments in the holding company.

That punctures you, I'll be honest.

And seeing the heralding of new CCOs, who I suspect can't do what I do and never will be able to, rubs my goat the wrong way. Sure they're great, perfect, surpassing, keyed into culture and all that chazarai.


That angers you, I'll be honest.

But in the meantime, me, just me, presented a giant amount of work to the World Freaking Bank. I did it with the help of an old and trusted friend, but essentially alone, from the back of my 1966 Simca, in the dark.

The rest of you?

You can go fuck yourselves.

And I say that in the nicest possible way. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The bridge to nowhere.

About two decades ago and in short order, I read two books by Malcolm Gladwell. The first book was “The Tipping Point.” The second was “Blink.”

After reading those, I quickly gave up on Gladwell.

To me, his books contain one sentence of clarifying idea surrounded by 300 pages of padding. Sorry, Malcolm.

Right now, about 150 days into the global pandemic, I am listening once again to the news on National Public Radio. It’s early August and almost the exact same news broadcast could have run back in April or March.

Sure, there are temporal stories—the latest hurricane, the death of some K-List celebrity like Regis Philbin that we will never recover from—but about 99% of the stories—150 days into the global pandemic are about the need to wear a mask and keep six feet away from people.

It’s driving me more than a little bit crazy, to tell you the truth.

For five months, sonorous newscasters and raspy public officials and intemperate “persons on the street,” are all screaming about the global pandemic and the need to wear a mask and keep six feet from people.

Here, with both hands on my metaphorical leather-wrapped steering wheel, I turn quickly away from the absolute banality of the world and screech to the even greater absolute banality of the advertising industry.

This humble blog has gained a lot of C-suite readers of late, so I’ll keep things simple. Very simple.

There are three things that work in communication.

1.    You have to be interesting, unusual and startling with your message or you won’t be noticed.
2.    You have to have a concise, simple and clear message.
3.    You have to repeat it and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it some more.

There’s a probably apocryphal story about the old Ted Bates agency—one of the giant, boring package goods agencies until it was subsumed and destroyed by the Saatchis' back in the mid-80s.

The story goes that some senior exec was showing a senior client around the agency. There are hundreds and hundreds of employees in hundreds and hundreds of offices.

The client says to the Ted Bates’ executive, “We’ve haven’t changed our ad campaign for 15 years. What do all these people do?”

The Bates’ executive replied, “They keep you from changing it.”

Today, in the modern always on, let’s-inundate-the-consumer-with-99-messages-a-minute-every-day-from-here-to-the-end-of-time-ad-industry there’s no one to keep clients from changing messages.

In part because the financial structure of ad agencies (they get paid when they make new things) gives ad agencies an incentive to actually hurt the health of their clients. So we change messages every two microseconds.

As a result, we have 40% of the nation not believing that when you cough on someone you can spread an illness.

And we have 40% of the nation not believing that vaccines work. Though major diseases have been eradicated by vaccines.

Sure there’s Trump and Fox that have worked to destroy facts and logic. But even in the civilized world there’s not been a consistent, insistent and persistent effort to propagate information about either the virulence of the coronavirus or the efficacy of masks, lockdowns and social distance.

It’s worse than that.

Liberal government has forgotten to tell people that liberal government works. Whereas starve-the-beast-ers have been consistent and unrelenting in telling us government doesn’t work.

There was a time when every road, every bridge, every school, every hospital, every sewer system under construction was heralded with a giant sign proclaiming “This government effort to build a new ________ is putting one-thousand of your neighbors to work.”

The neglect of our primary jobs as communicators: to be interesting, to be simple, to be consistent, has huge ramifications in our business. Formerly package goods companies dominated the airwaves. Then they decided to do things on the cheap—running Facebook ads rather than TV commercials.

No longer do I as a consumer recognize any brand value in buying Listerine for $6 vs. buying Walgreen mouthwash for $5. They have the same packaging, the same colors, the same ingredients, the same shelf-space. Listerine stopped telling me—over and over—why they were better.

People rarely remember their loved one’s birthdays. Why would I remember anything about Listerine unless I’m told 20 times a week in an interesting way?

This is all really another case of our societal cheapness and our social lack of attention span.

In the Listerine example above, it might cost Listerine 50-cents to get that extra dollar of revenue. But that’s a pretty good bargain in my book.


Three views of a bridge that wasn't built.

Back after World War II, New York’s power broker, Robert Moses, wanted to build another connection between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Roughly where the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is today, Moses had planned to build a giant, soaring and gleaming bridge. A tribute to the power of government to get things done—and a tribute to himself and his power.

The tunnel which was eventually built was hundreds of millions of dollars cheaper, caused less environmental damage and displaced many thousands fewer New Yorkers. But Moses wanted his bridge.

Bridges communicate. There would be no mythic San Francisco with instead the “Golden Gate Tunnel.”

Moses, and the dying vestiges of our industry, understood the power of consistent, big and powerful ideas on display.

You can call it what you will.
Propaganda. Brain-washing. Soviet.

The fact remains, if you want something, you have to tell people so they hear you.

Then tell them again.

Then tell them again again.

Back to mouthwash. I don’t really care if my customer wants to have a conversation with me.

So long as they buy my product.