Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Grateful Dead.

I know many people think it's morbid to read obituaries. They think my doing so is yet more evidence of my innately lugubrious nature. 

Some people, I'm sure, look at the practice as some ones and zeroes form of necromancy--a dip into the Black Arts--in which I try to summon, communicate and maybe even influence the dead to do my bidding.

Having worked in mostly-giant agencies since 1980, I have plenty of experience with the dead. I'd go so far as to say that in any meeting you're called to that has more then ten people in attendance, at least six have left us and all the incessant texting in the world can't and won't bring them back.


The truth is, as Laura my insanely astute wife pointed out the other day, obituaries aren't about death, they're about lives lived. And from Plutarch's Parallel Lives till at least the end of humanity, which by my reckoning happens every year around St. Patrick's Day and will crescendo loudest at amerika's election day, people have always learned from the lives of other people. 

Long before some cockamamie episode of 'reality tv,' (cotton-candy tooth-decay for cognition) people learned from Gilgamesh, the Jewish Bible, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Decameron, Canterbury Tales and from the lives of great and small and comical and morose brought to life by the Bard of Stratford on Avon, aka, Billy Boy.

Late last week I read two obituaries which made their way into my "fuck-a-duck" files. My fuck-a-duck files are astounding things I trip upon that I learn from, share with friends and clients--as instruction--and even my daughters who take in my chazerai even though they seem to be ignoring me.

The first obituary was of a woman called Monica Hickey, who died at 100. Most often I highlight articles I save as a memory jog. I hope years from now when the Great Scorekeeper comes to pen my name, someone will say, "oh, that's why that weirdo saved that."

Ordinarily, you'd think I'd give nothing more than a rat's ass about the life of a woman who ran bridal salons at New York's society department stores. But, I pulled some fatherly "speak up for yourself" stuff and some more "be brave" stuff from Hickey's death notice.

Here are two examples, as I said above, highlighted:

---


The next obituary I noticed was perhaps more up my typical Georgian alley. It was of a software engineer, Niklaus Wirth, who died at 89. I shared it within minutes with two of the tech clients I am currently working with. 


Here are the two bits from Wirth's obituary that, to me, should inform both technologists as marketers--including advertising agencies.


That's a lot of life advice to find in a couple of death notices. You gotta give this blog credit. 

Now I am death, destroyer of worlds.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Clocked by Time.

It's just arrived.

A genuine time punch clock made by my ex-client IBM--when they made business machines and people, in turn, knew why they were in business--back in the 1950s.

I love machines made in the old style. Of metal. To last. To last as long as the Great Wall of China or the Pulaski Skyway.

Since my wife reconstructed our ramshackle tiny cottage up on the Gingham Coast and I got my first real office in almost a decade--and the best office I've ever had--I've been craving--lusting after, actually--a genuine punch clock.


I went for a walk yesterday night before dinner, and a UPS truck as wide as the asphalt I was walking on was blinking its way down the street. It stopped in front of our place and coughed to a halt. The driver, I thought, must be from the old school. He turned off the ignition--he didn't leave his truck idling--to go get the box.

"Tannenbaum?" He said to me.

"I'll take it," I said as he emerged from the canyon of boxes in the back. He handed the corrugated to me.

"Wow. It's heavy,"  I obvioused. I was afraid for a second Mark Read, CEO of WPP might be sending me a horse's head or something since so many of his ex-clients are working with me now. I felt the bottom of the box for equine ichor. Feeling none, I wrestled it into the house.

I had forgotten I had ordered the ancient time-clock from eBay a week or so ago. I'm not sure if it's functioning--and it was only $49. But I wanted it more as a stern working class reminder of a less effete time than a way to keep track of my hours. 

I carried it down to my office. It sits now, in kind of a bit of interior decorating irony, next to my sleek Apple-white wireless router. It looks, therefore, as appropriate as a Sherman tank next to a Tesla Cyber Truck. One was built to withstand the vicissitudes of time and gunpowder. The other as ephemeral as a donald trump marriage, inheritance or statement of fact.

I plugged the old machine in.

Our house itself was built in 1920, but everything else around me these days is younger than I am. We live in a world where everything, even expiration dates have expiration dates, and it's rare to have a machine built during the Eisenhower administration. I plugged the behemoth in. It's cord was as thick as a water main. It wasn't built to be pretty. It was meant to last. You could vacuum over it with a Toro lawnmower and that cord would scoff at the blades.

There were no lights on the dingus. There was no sign of life.

Today every mechanical device from my electric toothbrush to a heating pad I use once-a-year when my back demands it after, excuse me, an hour's of yard work has pretty little lights on it. Some MBA somewhere has convinced some industrial designer somewhere that lights that indicate nothing are luminescent branding. The interiors of most modern houses today look like landing strips. A dozen machines are blinking. Even though virtually nothing works.

I wasn't sure if the time clock was on. As I was leaving my office, I heard a click like a bank vault closing. Yep, my machine resounds once of a minute. As in, 

8:51, click, Frank's here.
8:52, click, Charlotte's arrived.
8:53, click, Alphonse is here.

The machine was once a symbol of authority, of order, of hierarchy. It presided over a world of bosses and the bossed. Of watchers and people who had to show up on time and couldn't leave early.

That world--and the integrity that comes with hard-work and following the rules that worked for so many centuries--has vanished like democracy in modern amerika. 

My wife said to me, "You know, the most fun jobs I ever had, were places I had to punch in. Even when I flipped burgers at Geno's."


I was lucky enough to punch in and out at Bragno's, the night shift, 4PM-12AM, 1978, Chicago

"Me too," I said, thinking of working at Bragno's liquors on Rush Street in the City of Broad Shoulders, the Hog Butcher of the World.

I wondered why we've lost that. 

Why we've lost machines like the old one in my new office.

Agencies want us to track every bit of respiration we do. A friend at a giant Omnicant agency tells me, "They are tracking people’s IP addresses and letting them know they’re not in the office enough. Even when they’re on shoots and in edit…" 

I don't know why, since your agency day is spent in a windowless conference room, they can't have time-clocks. You punch in when you arrive, punch out when you leave. Let a machine track you. You shouldn't have to string your own noose with a bad SAP time-system.

But that's the world today.

Freedom's just another word for time clock's you don't punch.

-

And why not:





Friday, February 23, 2024

Bad News. Worse News.



BAD NEWS: You've gotten Covid again.

WORSE NEWS: It's Covid 19--as in your 19th time.


BAD NEWS: You've gotten hired by a WPP agency.

WORSE NEWS: You harken back to the 2000s.


BAD NEWS: Bagels in the break room.

WORSE NEWS: Stale.


BAD NEWS: The client loves your copy.

WORSE NEWS: She loves it in seven colors of contradictory direction.


BAD NEWS: Verizon is offering a free phone.

WORSE NEWS: You had to watch an entire Verizon commercial to find out about it.


BAD NEWS: You work for the industry's second most-awarded agency network.

WORSE NEWS: Every other agency network is tied for first.


BAD NEWS: You worked for months and won a giant piece of new business.

WORSE NEWS: You worked for months and won a giant piece of new business.


BAD NEWS: Your new CCO has a really crappy creative reputation and a terrible reel.

WORSE NEWS: She didn't do any of the work attributed to her.


BAD NEWS: Your new CCO has a really crappy creative reputation and a terrible reel.

WORSE NEWS: Her replacement will arrive soon and will be even less qualified.


BAD NEWS: Upper management has decreed you have to be in the office three days a week.

WORSE NEWS: Unfortunately they're the same three days upper management is in the office.


BAD NEWS: Upper management has decreed you have to be in the office three days a week.

WORSE NEWS: There's no place to sit.


BAD NEWS: The holding company expense system is so complicated at takes three weeks to do your expenses.

WORSE NEWS: They'll be approved just three weeks after you get charged a credit card late fee.


BAD NEWS: The client is on Net 120.

WORSE NEWS: After taxes, your net is gross.


BAD NEWS: The agency has a new podcast.

WORSE NEWS: You're expected to listen to it.


BAD NEWS: The global holding company town hall discusses nothing but data.

WORSE NEWS: For a moment it seemed like you understood what they were saying.


BAD NEWS: Five years until you retire.

WORSE NEWS: You're only 27.




Thursday, February 22, 2024

Malefactors of Great Meh.




A friend of mine works for a new business consultancy. They recently published the Agency Family Tree which I've pasted above with a GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company headline attached. I removed the name of the new business company. They had nothing to do with my repurposing.

I realize my art direction and design skills are minimal and, really, without merit. I couldn't, though I tried, make the listings of all the individual agencies above that have been subsumed into the giant holding companies large enough to be legible. 

But you should, just based on the mass of grey lines underneath holding company headings, OMNICOM, WPP, PUBLICIS, INTERPUBLIC, DENTSU, HAKUHUDO, CHIEL, HAVAS, STAGWELL, get the idea that the malefactors of great wealth and bland advertising have bought up just about every agency of any considerable size. 

They've kept their paws off of Wieden & Kennedy, who somehow remain independent, and they haven't yet acquired or been folded into the giant accounting consultancies like Accenture or Deloitte. My guess is, that's coming.

Leave no cash-flow unpillaged, right?

I realized something a few years ago when I was in the local supermarket. Where there used to be Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up and then a considerable number of local brands in the soda section, now there are no more local brands. 

The oligarchs, by introducing Coke Diet Zero Low-Caffeine Cherry Vanilla Lemon-Lime light, have bought a shelf-facing. They ain't selling a lot of that SKU (stock-keeping unit) but they're keeping that shelf-space out of the hands of any still surviving smaller competitors. Ask Russia. Ask Ukraine. In a war, you grab territory. Er, it comes with the territory.

The same strategy has removed competition in the hotel industry, the automobile industry, the handheld-device industry, the airline industry, the hamburger industry, and the political-industry. When giant companies own everything and limit choices, quality usually plummets and prices usually rise. There's little question that dynamic--paying more for less--has happened in what remains of the advertising industry.

The "Internet Service Provider or ISP Industry" in the US is a metaphor for so many of the extortionate business practices we no longer question. First, there's no Service-ness or Provider-ness anywhere near their names. Second, if you ever wondered why so many terrible sports teams are owned by cable and internet companies, think of how much money you could make, and what you could do with it, if you owned a toll-booth. These companies have a government-ordained unregulated utility. Billionaireitude usually follows. They make money by strip mining. They never re-invest.




I'm not one-hundred percent sure why there's no anti-trust sentiment arising against this agglomeration of capital. There's a verbal fudge in the law that's on Federal books, it's called "the rule of reason." Corporate lawyers maintain that some restraint of trade is "positive or beneficial for consumers or society." And, I'd allege for reasons of graft, the Sherman Anti Trust Act is about as effective as abstinence videos aimed at horny teens, a tautology if there ever was one.

If you have $100 million and an unwieldy superego and seven or nine Senators on your payroll, maybe you could start to fight for the spirit of the 1890 Sherman Anti Trust laws to again be upheld. But you'd quickly be called a Red and a Socialist and FoxGnus would revoke your citizenship. Besides, you have $100 million--your raison de crumb-cake is to get your next $100 million. That's the American Way. E Pluribus Unum, that's Latin for stick you hand in someone's pocket.

To be fair, year-over-year GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company is growing faster--and maybe even larger--than any of the companies listed in the horrorshow family-tree above. But while my clients range from pre-revenue start-ups to the Fortune 50, I'd really love an auto-maker account, or even a motor-oil, or the electric car division of an automaker or a chain of pool-halls in the midwest or a supplier of fishing gear or a string of training centers that tutor dogs to improve their SAT scores.  

A lot of being a small operation is pushing water uphill. You're shut out of a lot. And you have to compete not only against other creatives but an overwhelming dominant complacency, which includes a depressed fee schedule based on the commodification on creativity perpetrated by the holding companies. Half your work is de-commodification--and that ain't easy.

But they ad game--the ad game that <er> harkens back to the 80s was always an underdog's playground. The little guys always took on the big guys. Like Apple versus IBM or VW versus Detroit. 


I wish it were easier being The Alternative.

At least it's fun.




Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Be Bop Shee Boop.

You can't go on any social media site, read any feed, or even go on a news site without 75 or 50 otherwise intelligent people gushing over the latest advent in some sort of AI-enabled film technique, word-to-image technology, weapon-system, satellite rapine or whatnot.

Different in every way. But hyperbole.

The system is rigged.

Jed Clampett, a dramatization.

Humankind seems to be gushing more over our collective binary destruction than Texas oilmen did over gushers at Spindletop a century and a quarter ago.

The wealth bubbling up was going to change everything and all would be right with the world. We refused to see the unintended consequences of all this gushing. The corrupting wealth. The environmental destruction. The forcing people off ancestral lands. The climactic cataclysm. 

Today, people post absolute AI garbage. Worse than crap. Awful disgusting ugly dumb insulting. Seriously, the above is the technological second coming? I've sat through thousands of meetings in my day. I'm 66 years old. I've been to Disney Land and through "It's a Small World." I've never seen anything worser.

Yet.

The gush continues.

And for whatever reason, on Twitter, I'm in a small coterie of ancient ad people. And non-ancient ad people like to share these things with us. Like an early neanderthal might have shown an early sapiens his latest cave drawing. We're supposed to be awed, I suppose. Lascaux-a-go-go.

Seriously. AI can't even top Neanderthals.

It's all so empty. 

You learn more looking at the fractals of a puddle in a Bronx parking lot. No aurochs need apply.

Yet.

The gush continues.

While it doesn't take a lot to anger me, it takes a lot to anger me enough to write about it on Twitter. But finally, I cracked. And I wrote this:

every time we show some advance of technology, we should show something amazing that's human-made. I think we're forgetting that our brains have six trillion synapses and are way more advanced than the most-complex computers ever built.
youtube.com
Palm Beach Story (1942) - The Weenie King plays Fairy Godfather.
Claudette Colbert and Robert Dudley in Preston Sturges's classic comedy, The Palm Beach Story.Check

And that's how I feel. That's what I believe. STFU about the splendors of science if you ain't willing to what a piece of work is man, how Noble in reason, how infinite in Faculty, in apprehension how like a god.

Every time I see some butterfly with a clown face playing pickelball on Mars, marvelously rendered by a billion-dollar machine programmed by people who have never visited a proper museum, we should look at a Caravaggio or Artemisia Gentileschi. Or go to the Egyptian wing at the Met or see an old Roman mosaic of fish or gods.

AI. Cain't.

Or read Ozymandias, whose giant trunkless legs are today built on binary bullshit and their description has a 140-character limit. Or go outside one dark and moonless night at look at the blackness of black and see the flicker of a billions years' past and wonder like the ancients did as they tried to derive our place in the universe.

A place made by humans and brains, of awe and fear and wonder.

Not pixellized spin art.

Sorry, Alan.

It's worse today.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

Or, Babs. Even better.






Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Stakanovite.

For most of the seventeen years I lived under my father's roof and under my mother's borderline personality (or whatever the latest DSM calls 'a nasty old hag') my older brother, younger sister and I had to tiptoe around their tilted little house.

First, any noise might set my mother's hair-trigger to 'extra-hairy,' and two, my father almost died of a heart-attack in 1967 and again in 1974, and we, as children were told it was the noise we made which was largely responsible.

I grew up knowing my father could die at any minute and my mother could explode. As I learned about my parents when I left home for good, age 17, no one is entirely useless; they can always serve as a bad example.


Even Joe Louis couldn't take a punch like a time-clock.


One of the examples I learned from was my father's work ethic. Except for his non-stop schtupping of various secretaries, he seldom took a break. There was hardly a moment he didn't have a yellow legal pad and a black Pentel pen.

At an early-age, I vowed I would be more moderate than he. In fact, in an attempt at moderation, I set out for a career in academia. I incorrectly thought the ivied halls of some leafy campus somewhere in say Maine or New Hampshire--somewhere suitably out-of-the-way-and-fray, would be much more benign than my father's martini-fueled Madison Avenue hallways. I quickly learned that the only difference between advertising stiletto knives and professorial stilettos was that at a university the stabbings come fully annotated and with copious footnotes.

So, mostly because I had rent to pay and no visible or invisible means of support and I was tired of getting my furniture from ratty piles on city sidewalks, I went to the School of Visual Arts and after some years of working at it (I think I dropped my portfolio at 41 agencies) I finally started my advertising career. 

I vowed, however, not to cardiac my way to an early death. While I always worked hard, I never got into the practice of staying all hours to show my fervor. I'd get in early, work hard, and go home at a reasonable time. Peer pressure be damned.

When my first ACD (when that was a big title) had a heart-attack virtually right in front of me when he was just 37, I redoubled my efforts not to redouble my efforts. 

In short order, I convinced myself, I was not a hard-worker.

It's now forty years later, and I have two daughters, 36 and 32, who are fast making their ways in their careers. My 36-year-old is a Clinical Psychologist and runs a Harvard-affiliated clinic specializing in helping children and their parents. My 32-year-old is a Marine Biologist and helps run the University of California San Diego's Master's Program in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. It's kind of funny and fascinating to me that in a sense they have the academic careers that I wasn't able to pursue.

The Stakhanovites (стаха́новцы) modeled themselves after Alexei Stakhanov, a coal miner, 

and took pride in their ability to produce more than was required by working harder and more efficiently, thus contributing to the common good and strengthening the socialist state.


My daughters, touch wood, often call me. And, as children do, they excoriate me for having worked so hard. They chastise me for giving them a Stakanovite work ethic.

They tell me about the late nights they work and the 5AM wake-ups. They tell me about the pressures of living in a world where nearly everything that tries to uplift others is under-funded and understaffed and under-pressure. They say, with some anger, "Dad. Why'd you teach us to work so hard?" Their voices are not without rancor in these moments.

I look at them and I have a simple answer.

The same answer Joe Louis, the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, uttered when assessing his twelve years as champion and holder of a fight-all-comers 66-3 record. The same answer Philip Roth quoted when he evaluated his career and more than thirty novels: "I did the best I could with what I had."

In thirty or so years, lord willing, my kids will say the same to their kids.