Wednesday, December 2, 2020

58 things I don't need:

It's that time of the year again. 

If there were any agencies left that still did production (not in the basements of their holding-company-rented low-rent buildings) it would be time for production companies to bestow all sorts of largesse on all sorts of creative people. 

Of course, agencies, production companies, production, largesse and, even, creative people are all, it seems, more or less vestiges of pre-Sorrellian times. Even so, the list below will serve to remind one and all that Scrooge himself might have taken a withered page from my lugubrious playbook. 

In short, and as always, leave me alone:


1. Socks with affirmations printed on them.

2. A personal trainer yelling at me.

3. Anyone yelling at me.

4. SEO solicitation from someone I don't know on Linked In.

5. Political opinions from washed-up actors.

6. Waiters asking me 'how is everything tasting this evening." And waiters referred to as servers who don't play tennis.

7. The little plastic tables they now put inside pizza boxes. They pollute the world so you get more cheese. And cheesy goodness.

8. Brands that make anything with ocean plastic.

9. Neighbors who fight over garbage cans.

10. Blueberry bagels.

11. Pictures of your fucking Christmas tree.

12. Agency holding companies.

13. The services of a Chief Risk Officer.

14. Fast food. 

15. Chatbots that pop-up the moment you visit a site.

16. Any car advertisement that uses the word adrenaline.

17. $6 coffee and the 16-minute line to get it.

18. People gushing about a TV series.

19. Anything to do with any Kardashian in any context.

20. People who are anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-fact.


21. Jokey newscasters. With bad shoes. Whether or not I can see their shoes, I know they're bad.

22. The corporate moguls who decided news should be entertainment.

23. Sports uniforms with corporate logos on them.

24. Sports stadiums paid for by taxpayers with corporate logos on them.

25. Sports stadiums paid for by taxpayers with all the best seats reserved for rich people who don't pay taxes.

26. Mitch McConnell's chins, two through 42.

27. Any commercial that shows people spontaneously breaking into dance.

28. Car commercials with spokesvixens who aren't funny and can't act. Especially the Toyota lady.

29. People who tweet proudly that their opinions are their own.

30. Any mention of black-random-day-of-the-week or cyber-day-of-the-week.

31. Frida Kahlo and her interstate eyebrow.

32. Anything from a major brand that they claim is free.

33. Accepting cookies. Extortion in exchange for web-viewing.

34. Movies for adults about comic book heroes.

35. People who feed the birds, especially rat birds.

36. Soft ice-cream places that close in the winter.

37. Loyalty cards from retailers.


38. Showerheads lower than my head.

39. Instructions with pictograms instead of words.

40. Anything or anyone that calls itself "smart," as in
your smart-speaker.

41. "I'm just a start-up," as a synonym for "I can't pay you."

42. People who say, "We need a stronger call to action" when what they're actually selling is crap.

43. People who post those word jumbles that claim "2021 will be defined by the first three words you see."

44. Or who ask about your five favorite albums.


45. Or anything about anything in retrograde. Except republicans who have been in retrograde since at least Thomas E. Dewey.

46. Leaf blowers. Especially on days that end in Y.

47. Chicken wings. Except on chickens.

48. Inspirational quotations from virtually anyone.

49. Anyone that finishes a sentence with, 'you're welcome.'

50. Pre-torn jeans.

51. Skinny jeans.

52. People who use the word craft. 

53. Swiffer.

54. Auto-tuned music.

55. Any strong opinion or judgment based about the Oxford comma.

56. Coins.

57. Television weather people talking about weather events.

58. Lionizing the recently dead.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

I'm not afraid anymore.

When you start out as a writer, even if it's when you're a third-grader and you're assigned to write about your Christmas break, you usually have to wrestle with a demon or two.

Most people clam up when they have something to write. Mostly because they've been told that writing is something not everybody can do. Or because they put pressure on themselves to write something for the ages. Or they're worried about their grade. Or revealing themselves. Or if it will be the requisite length. Or whatever.

Even among professional writers--even copywriters in advertising--I find that most people avoid actually writing. 

It could be that they hate deadlines. Or they're afraid of their boss or their clients. Or the legions of account people picking over the bones of your work like they're in a lifeboat at sea, starving to death and they just killed a seagull.

People, I've found, hear voices when they write. It could be that aforementioned third-grade teacher who instilled in them some cockeyed notion that there's a right and a wrong way to write. Or it could be the 79 things the client wants in the space your art director's allotted for copy--which has enough room for about 12 words. Or it could be that you're somehow comparing yourself to some gigantic writer superego who you can never quite measure up to.

For years I was in this group of timorous tappers on the keyboard of life.

I remember when I had to write my first ad for Steve Hayden and Chris Wall on some complex IBM server. In my mind, they loomed behind me and shook their heads like Ichabod Crane. 

I remember when I was asked to write a long piece on something I knew nothing about--cloud computing--for the fearsomely demanding Steve Simpson. And another writer was given the same assignment. In my mind I wasn't only facing Steve--I was facing a guy who I feared was better than I.

But writing, it turns out, is like anything else. 

As Yogi Berra might have said, "The only way to do it is to do it."

Being old helps of course.


This ain't my first rodeo. In fact, during my first rodeo, I think the riders were trying to break stegosauri--not stallions. 

Also, from my earliest days as a catalog copywriter to my days of writing twenty ads a week at Bloomingdale's, till today, I've written literally thousands of ads. 

All of them on deadline.

And half of them because no one else could.

I've also had the great good fortune to have been born with a stiff-neck. I'm as stubborn as a confederate statue. And my sense of discipline makes Bruce Lee appear to be a slacker.

That means that nearly every spare moment I have, I am writing something.

My humble blog--a stupid one-man-boat that at this point might be constructed of two-million words--is getting about 80,000 readers a week. And I'm getting about 100 notes a week from people telling me how much they like my shit.

This writing is also getting me business. Business from all around the world. People like what I do and ask me to do it for them.

Mostly, I don't let myself think about things too much. I don't, like Hemingway, face the blank screen as if it's the white bull of fear.

I just write.

Like I talk.

I try to do the things I do best. 

Be clear.

Be honest.

Be strange.

Funny.

And sometimes throw a curve-ball when the batter is expecting the heat.

What I've noticed through the years is that I no longer put off getting down to work. I read the brief sixteen thousand times. I read the notes I made during meetings. 

And then I write.

So fast there's no time or space for fear or second-guessing to intrude.

I don't think there's a pill you can take to get this way. 

And, I'll admit, I ain't writing something for posterity. Or probing the meaning of the universe.

Usually, I'm selling a pasta, a pc, or a principle.

Usually, I have assignments coming in like jets into LaGuardia on a Friday night.

There's really no time to dilly-dally and nothing to be gained by putting things off.

I've learned to talk myself out of being afraid.

That's what I've learned so far.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Only the Dead know Advertising.







A lot of people in our industry have been left for dead.

They've reached a certain age.

The agency business has decided to be one of decoration rather than one of substance.

Or they've pissed off someone somehow over the last four or five decades.

They might freelance a bit here or there. 

Either directly for clients or on occasion for the six or eleven agencies still able to keep their lights on.

Did I say eleven?

I mean ten.

Ooops.

Nine.

One of the lessons I learned through the years is that businesses have to be run like ball teams.

You always have to have an eagle eye out for talent.

More often than not, you find it the most unexpected of places. Like when I played for the Seraperos de Saltillo and a tall Indio with long muscled arms wired like bridge cables would come down from a mountain village.

Many times he was barefoot. Walking through the dusty streets of Saltillo without shoes because his father was plowing and needed the family's pair.

Gordo would run into the locker-room and bring the boy some spikes. Hector would urge him to climb the hill and uncoil his arm.

It would strike like a cobra.

With fastballs lethal and mean.

Talent.

When I was at Ally & Gargano, I was friendly with Kiki Fernandez, the mailroom guy. He had been there since the beginning, when giants roamed the hallways and Kiki stored everything in his head.

He told me how the best people in the agency kept a small index-card-file in their memories. 

Terse.

Epigrammatic.

Of everyone they ever met in the business. Of every portfolio they ever saw. A box-score of every ad or commercial that they liked and who did it.

Today, we've professionalized that job of finding people. 

ECDs and CCOs are too busy. They've handed off that task to others. Finding people has become a bureaucratic task. Not the driver of the agency.

Mistake.

Big Mistake.

I'm thinking, it's Monday now, by Tuesday I could announce the opening of an Agency called DEAD.

It would be staffed by a few dozen people the industry has deemed deceased.

It would have a level-of-talent so far beyond any other agency in the world, it would make Wieden & Kennedy look like a production of Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Cats" performed by Donald Trump in spandex and a cast made up of the Trump cabinet, with make-up by Rudy Guiliani and costumes by Sean Spicer.

DEAD would attract clients who behave very well.

Trusting clients.

Clients more about "wit" than "nit." 

More "that's it," than "that's shit."

Clients who understand that a brief can/should be no longer than five or seven words.

"We want to be famous."

"We want to kill our competition."

"We want to sell shitloads."

"We want to define who and what we are."

That's enough direction when you've got DEAD people on your business.

Most of the DEAD people I'm speaking of would be thrilled to work this way.

What's more, my guess is DEAD would be cheaper than most-every other agency because DEAD has the experience and wisdom to be fast. They've spent their bygone lifetimes following that old carpenters' dicta: measure twice, cut once.

Of course, this is just a cadaver of a pipe-dream. 

While I could pull DEAD together in an afternoon or two, and I'm sure my idea would work, I'm not sure there's any client who would have the balls.

Dead or alive.





Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The stuff that dreams are made on.

I woke up yesterday at 3:47.

That's unusually early, even for me.

My sleep patterns have changed since my wife, Whiskey and I have been bivouacking in the wilds of the Gingham Coast. I am perfectly circadian now. I wake with the rising of Venus, the morning star. And I fall asleep when first I see the red planet rise in the east.

I like to say I have the sleep habits of a Gloucester fisherman. And the aroma.

My ever-lovin' tells me that's not true.

I smell worse.

Besides my infernal alignment with the heavens, there was another reason I woke early.

Work.

I have a large-agency-sized assignment that's due on December 9th. The client sent me a note last night asking for a check-in today. I'm still in the marination phase. 

The first thing I do when I have an assignment is to create a file with a document within that file. I call it "___________ running." It's just a place for me to scribble notes, phrases, observations, ideas. Good, bad or ugly.

What I usually write in this space is "unconcerted" effort. I'm not focused on the exigencies of the assignment. I don't out to find ideas, I let them find me.

One of my guides in all this is Columbia professor and Nobel-prize-winner, Eric Kandel. His great book "The Age of Insight," should be required reading for anyone who works in a responsible position in any creative enterprise. If there are any such people.

Of course, that assumes that holding company executives can read. Or do anything, in fact, but spout accepted (and usually wrong) illogic and platitudes. We're better at accepted wisdom than accepting wisdom.

You can read more about Kandel here.

Kandel writes, "
Sleep is a forgotten country of the mind. A vast majority of our technologies are built for our waking state, even though a third of our lives are spent asleep. 

"Current technological interfaces miss an opportunity to access the unique, imaginative, elastic cognition ongoing during dreams and semi-lucid states. In turn, each of us misses an opportunity to use interfaces to influence our own processes of memory consolidation, creative insight generation, gist extraction, and emotion regulation that are so deeply sleep-dependent. In this project, we explore ways to augment human creativity by extending, influencing, and capturing dreams in Stage 1 sleep. 

"Sleep offers an opportunity for prompting creative thought in the absence of directed attention, if only dreams can be controlled."

That was a lot to read, I know.

And it runs counter to the accountancy-mania of creative management in which creative people are managed by the same dogma that's meant to raise productivity among factory-workers or ditch diggers.

I can imagine the looks on the faces of about 39-thousand petty bureaucrats and ECDs when I tell them I'm going home to dream. But without unconscious mental cogitation, the apotheosis of creativity would be a PowerPoint presentation.

Over the over forty years I've been writing for a living I've learned a few things. Primary among those is the "control of sleep."

I know how to put shards and lithics of ideas into the stewpot of my head and have them all boil together while I sleep. I know how to put a hundred stimuli on for an overnight simmer. I also know how to trust what comes out when I awake.

Naturally, sometimes nothing comes out. Sometimes your brain takes a night off. Or it spends the evening thinking about some winsome lass you knew decades ago and things that might have been. 

But other times, like last night, the gourmet kitchen in my brain works like Julia Child.

I faced my new MacBook Pro at 4 yesterday morning, my imperative check-in seven-and-a-half hours away. I typed. I typed some more. I wrote so many sentences that made sense to me, I reduced my type-size two points from the 14pt. I can read without my glasses to 12pt. which strains me a bit. But eight I had filled two pages.

I'm not finished with what I have to do.

But I got weeks' of work done.

Even before Whiskey woke up.

I'll try again soon to write some more.

Or at least I'll sleep on it.





Tuesday, November 24, 2020

You're bothering me.

When you spend a significant amount of time with little kids and when you watch TV or see movies with them, you can quickly divide the world, Manichean style, into two schools of thought.

One school seems to say, "they're just kids. Their brains aren't well developed. To be interesting to them, we have to talk down to them."

The other school takes a different approach. It says, "these kids might not have a two-dollar vocabulary, but they're more sophisticated than you'd suppose and they can handle some pretty complex ideas as long as they're presented in an age-appropriate way."


A couple hundred thousand years ago, our hominid ancestors figured this out pretty well. There wasn't, half-a-million years back, a notion of childhood--a discrete time for kids to toddle, grow and learn. Kids, as soon as they could walk, were given jobs to do. Chewing animal bones to remove sinew, cutting stone blades or caring for other young people.

They had less to do, but they were never made to feel useless. In fact, if kids hadn't learned to pull their weight they'd probably have perished. The Neanderthal world was a pay as you go place.

I've noticed in advertising people making the work have a hard-time not talking to people like they're imbeciles. They either don't understand their audience or they think their audience is dumb.

If you're a New Yorker think how many ads you've seen that mimic language that no New Yorker ever uses. Sometimes it seems that 1/3 of all ads contain some allusion to the city never sleeping and another 1/3 seem to believe that the only thing a New Yorker ever says is fuhgeddaboutit.

To me, talking down to kids or trading in cliches is just a form of bias. The talker doesn't take the time to really think. He or she just assumes. Pre-judges.

As you get older, you get more and more messages that seem more and more cliche. Whether it's how older people are depicted in pharma ads (I can't wait to talk to my fictional grandchildren about my fictional COPD, using the Big Bad Wolf as a metaphor.) I also can't wait until I spin arms-outstretched in a field of wheat because I've licked my anal leakage issues. And I can't wait till I press my face against a wall in a dark room because I'm feeling depressed.

So much of what we see and hear is unreal, un-human and un-natural. As an industry or a discipline, we seem not only to use stock photography but to think in stock and cookie-cutter ways.

Just an hour or so ago I got a letter from a State Farm insurance agent who has an office near where my wife and I are holed up while we try to ride out the Covid storm.

I'm sure the agent is a very nice woman and she means well. 

But someone convinced someone at State Farm that in order to sound modern and contemporary, they had to write their business letters for insurance products with a certain 21st century air of insouciance. Or stupidity.

The header on the letter said, "Don't you just love that lower rate smell?"

My wife asked me why I was shaking my head.

I recited the line.

"You're kidding," she said.

"I suppose someone thought that was funny," I said.

"Lower rate smell?"

"Here's the worst thing," I answered. "Someone fought for that line. Someone fought to sell it."

I'll admit, the few times a decade I think about insurance, I'm not usually in a jokey mood. I understand why GEICO chose to be funny--they were unknown and humor got them known. I even understand--though I hate--the work done for Progressive. But now virtually everyone in the category is trying to do the same spot.

I suspect the LiMu Emu is working well because Liberty Mutual was all but unknown a few years back. And whoever did Mayhem had a pretty good run for a while. But this shit from State Farm.

It's all trying so hard.

It's all so devoid of meaning, devoid of persuasion or humor or, heaven forfend, reasons why.

I guess these brands only want to be noticed.

But noticed isn't good enough.

You have to be liked.





Monday, November 23, 2020

The advertising industry's holiday gift guide.

With the holidays fast approaching, we once again face those challenging seasonal questions. What do I get for the ad person in my life--what can I give them that they'll want to start using even before the wrapping paper hits the floor? 


Is there something perfect for that persnickety art director? Something that will make your manic-depressive copywriter smile? How about that ever-so-demanding account person?

Most of all, how about the Holding Company scion who already owns most-everything in the world? What can you get him or him that will make him as happy as bonusing himself after a 20% reduction in force?

At Ad Aged, we've scoured the world to bring you the best things you can give to some of the worst people. 

The Bloody hell Arm Wrap.
Your project manager is looming. The latest client presentation is only 109-pages and it's going in front of the client at 10AM. Your job--the PM tells you--is to write 29 mobile ads and six or twelve social campaigns post-haste.

Fortunately, some loved one gave you, the "I-can't-write-your- social-campaign,-I'm-bleeding-to-death" arm-covering™. Not only will you get out of yet another meaningless assignment of churning out deck-fodder, you'll just possibly be able to go home a bit early--like by 11:15 PM. 

Just $79.99 at the Ad Aged gift shop. Continental US only. Ask about our special pre-merger "I'll be unemployed soon" discounts for WPP employees.



*****

You're on a roll.
Another all-caps email from a petty functionary working in a Holding Company sweat-shop somewhere on the sub-continent. You know the sort. THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING!!! YOUR TIMESHEET IS FOUR MINUTES OVERDUE!!! COMPLY IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL BE LOCKED OUT OF THE SYSTEM AND RECIRCUMCSIZED--WHETHER YOU'RE MALE OR FEMALE. CHEERS!!!

Fortunately, someone's given you your own two-ply ultra-cushiony roll of timesheet toilet paper. Next time you're off to the loo, you know just what to do! In just minutes you can fill in all those fake hours. With more paper per roll and with each time-sheet perforated for your convenience, now it's easy to "spill and fill." No, thank you!!!

Package of four rolls, just $19.99 at the Ad Aged gift shop or wherever fine toilet paper and employee harassment are sold.



*****

The sands of time.
It's a dilemma--no, a crisis the entire industry is dealing with. With the Sands of Time 6-second glass, your problems are over.

Sure you've been relegated to creating six-second spots in the basement production studio for less than the price of a pastrami sandwich at Katz's (Dr. Brown's cream soda not included). Sure you're spending nights and weekends working on "creative" no one will ever see and that will have absolutely no salutary effect on a brand, but thanks to that certain someone who's gifted you with the Sands of Time 6-second timer, your spots will come in not a frame over. Frame over? Game over!!!

Just $39.99 at the Ad Aged gift shop. Additional seconds available at just $12.99/second. Not recommended for pharma commercials. 

*****

Hark, it's the 80's. The perfect gift for that creative in your life, a genuine Awards Annual from the 80s. (Year of Awards Annual may vary.)

It's over 300-pages of great brand-building ads for brands like Apple, Absolute vodka, BMW automobiles, Federal Express and more. Many of these ads contain actual ideas, full sentences in the English language, persuasion and more. 

Imagine Mark Read's face when he sees you harkening back to a bygone era when clients bought and agencies ran effective work in paid media!!! You'll be on the unemployment line just in time for New Years!

Just $49.99 at the Ad Aged gift shop. Ability to read required. Not responsible for terminations, furloughing or career obsolescence. Professional creative, closed-course.

*****

Tell me a story. You've heard it and heard it and heard it. We're all story-tellers now. The pressure is almost unbearable. You can no longer talk about how plastic wrap keeps food fresher, longer. No. You need to tell a story about it. Something Homeric and moving that reaffirms exactly what it means to be Post-Human™ in the Post-Human world we live in.

Fortunately, you've got the story maker. Pre-heat your cranium to 80-degrees Fahrenheit and get "story-ing." 

Find yourself suddenly typing: "We open on a young girl at the breakfast table. We notice she has just one leg and is blind in one eye. 

"Cut to her plate of eggs. We see her pushing the scramble aimlessly on her plate. She obviously doesn't want to eat. Her father, stern and seemingly inattentive enters the scene.

"What's the matter little one-legged half-blind daughter?"

We see a single tear roll down her face. Cut to dad, a single tear rolls down his.

"I'm not hungry," she answers plaintively. "These aren't Eggland's best eggs farm-fresh monthly from a free-range chicken's ass."

A smile dances on dad's lips.

"We can wrap them up," he says.

Cut to CU of Saran Wrap package and tag.

"Save it f'later."

Stories like this are easy with the Story-teller-teller kit. Complete with buzzwords, jargon and meaningless phrases, inhuman and clunky dialogue that mentions the product in the first seven-seconds and more. 

This Christmas, get your hack back. 

Just $14.99 at the Ad Aged gift shop. Bad creative direction and additional copy for two-minute behind-the-scenes web video not included. Client feedback at additional cost.


*****

Meet the Meeting Master. He drones on and on. Oblivious to his own banality. Reveling like a nymph in the cool crisp waters of his own flowing cliches. 

He's just used the word "journey." And "scalable." And now he's talking about a "robust, scalable journey to a customer-centric nexus." It's 11PM, you've been stuck in this unventilated conference room for a 45-minute stand-up since 5PM. 

Fortunately, you've got the Meeting Master. Soft, plush, breathable and cushioning, the Meeting Master covers both your eyes and both your ears. In just moments you'll be drifting away to your own thoughts and dreams. 

The Meeting Master's sophisticated PPCT™--powerpoint canceling technology--filters out up to 97% of all advertising pomposity. That six-hour meeting that starts at 6PM? With the Meeting Master, you'll be out of there by 11:15. Taxi!

Just $89.99 at the Ad Aged gift shop. Subscription to Meeting Master's "The best of the worst," recorded meetings available for a small monthly fee.


*****
The Classic. Revisted. You know and love "Ogilvy on Advertising." Now it's been revised, revamped and re-moved by people who know nothing about either Ogilvy or Advertising. Think of it as your single most valuable guide to the Ad Industry's Vulture Capitalist era.

In its 168-pages you'll learn top secrets on how to see revenue plummet by 40% and still revel in your own promotions and...self-promotions. You'll find out how a single agency can have six-to-eight CEOs and former CEOs all getting eight-figure salaries all on the payroll--decades after they've stopped working. You'll discover the ins-and-outs of alienating clients. 

There's more. Find out why Martin Sorrell--the ousted CEO who still owns 2% of WPP is still being paid over half-a-million dollars a year. See who's getting bonuses and pay raises though salaries have been "frozen." Meet the high-ranking employees  who have risen to the top without ever having built a single brand or created a single ad!

Learn the master's tips for decimating the workforce, killing morale and going 39-months without being invited into a single significant new business opportunity.

This is a rip-snorting of a book that the entire industry is reading. Especially the biggest reader of them all, Mark.

Just $189.99 at the Ad Aged gift shop. Public school English accent, client alienation, employee attrition and lack of a viable future not included.







Friday, November 20, 2020

I don't miss you.

Nothing is quite as counter-intuitive as an entity--a company, a business, a friend or lover, even an idea that has out-lived its usefulness.

When the 39th-best pizza place in your neighborhood closes, you don't shake your head, rend your garments, raise your fist to the heavens and shout "why?!" 

You don't miss them at all. If you think about them at all, you might wonder why they went into business in the first place.

The flip-side of that is pretty easy to get to.

If a loved one has died you think, "I really miss Nancy." If your favorite bagel place has closed you think, "I wish H&H were still open." If you're in business and your business is suffering you might say, "I wish I had Steve Hayden here to help me" or something like that.

That might be the hallmark of viability.

Would I miss them if they were gone?

[There was a place my friends and I hung out when we were teenagers, called Cook's. It was a barn of a place and a cafeteria. They served 200 different kinds of foods, from a really good and fatty corned beef sandwich from a real steamtable to crunchy hot-dogs to crispy french fries to about 20 different flavors of ice cream and all kinds of splits and floats and Sundaes. What's more, they were open late. They had a penny arcade in the back. And girls would hang out there as well as boys. So in 1973, when you were drunk and looking for something soft, it was the place. I miss it today. Almost 50 years later.]


Of late, the 1962 New York Mets of advertising holding companies, WPP, has merged half-a-dozen famous advertising agencies out of existence.


They'll deny that of course.

A lot of Germans in 1943 denied that Stalingrad was a mistake as well.

I can imagine a client, big, small or in between, at some point in their lives saying aloud, "I wish I had Grey in the room." Or "I wish I had Ed Ney from Y&R or Steve Frankfurt or someone here to help." Or "I could use some people from J. Walter to help me solve this gnarly problem."

I can imagine all that.

You probably can, too.

What I can't imagine is a client saying, "Damn, I need some WPP to help me manage my digital transformation and improve my balance sheet." Especially since WPP is about as transformed as a ham sandwich in a kosher restaurant and has as much balance sheet acuity as Donald Trump rolling loaded dice.

Maybe it's too Jewish and too Old Testament to write, "your value can't really be gauged until people will figure out how much they'll miss you when you're gone."

But to my eyes it seems like a lot is gone from the industry. The aforementioned Grey, JWT, Y&R. Not perfect, certainly. Maybe today not even viable. But at least with centuries of track-record in building and supporting important brands. Experience. Muscle-memory.

What's left still standing for now is an entity called WPP. Which to paraphrase Winston Churchill is a "nothing, wrapped in a nihil, supported by a void." Or, better, in the words of Samuel Beckett in "Waiting for Godot," "There's no lack of void."

No one ever in the history of marketing or no one in the history of America's $22 trillion economy has ever said, "Margaret, I've got a sales problem, or a marketing problem, or a relevance issue--get me a technocratic bean-counter on the phone."

I'm a lugubrious son-of-a-bitch. I don't see the glass half-empty, I don't see the glass at all. But I can't see any reasons why for holding companies like WPP. Outside of a "nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM"-sort of thinking, it's hard for me to put a finger on what value such companies provide, or even what they do.

I suppose it has something to do with scalability, robustness and compliance.

But I don't really know what those words mean, either.

Scrolling back to the top, I have the sense that the 39th-best pizza place in my neighborhood is about to close for good. But that's ok. As Yogi Berra might have said, "No one even goes there anyway."



Thursday, November 19, 2020

Schadenfreude.

Back when my daughters were living at home--this is almost 15 years ago now--I would occasionally visit one of their schools for a recital, a play, a ceremony or a parent-teacher conference. The great thing about these moments is that they're a very clear way to mark the passage of time.

Visiting a high-school is to, in effect, visit a place that is frozen. The desks seem smaller. The classrooms bring back memories of your own classrooms, from way back in the 1960s. 

Even the teachers have a mien and a deportment that remind you of Miss Keiserling and 1967. The over-sized windows that could only be opened by a medieval-looking metal-tipped pike. The black-out shades that were probably a hold-over from World War II. The smell of steam pipes and sweat in the boys' bathroom. The artwork on the walls in various classrooms that seems as ancient as the Lascaux caves.

Mostly, you get the sense that that world has stayed the same. And you've moved on. 
Miss Havisham in full-decrepit regalia.


But because your past has Miss Havisham'd--it seems smaller somehow, and even decrepit.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin said more than a century ago, "there are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.

Of late, such Sovietization seems to be happening to at least one of the Holding Companies--WPP. From just five years ago to today, it has virtually demolished the names--and the heritage--of some of Madison Avenue's most-storied brands.

A theoretical Stolperstein. 

Young & Rubicam has been initialized into Siberia. J. Walter Thomson has been grafted onto a direct agency and has lost its J and its Walter. And now Grey--famously effective since 1917--has been placed in the basement of a virtual edifice called the AKQA Group. I think something called Geometry Global has been smoosherized into that subterranean space as well.

Y&R.
JWT.
Grey.

Gone.
Gone.
Gone.

That's like seeing:  
The Packers become the Bengals.
The Yankees become the Mets.
The Canadiens become Zamboni drivers.

I'm sure the golden-parachute scions of WPP have great expectations from their holdings making a forced march into merger-hood. I'm sure their Bullshit Bingo cards will fill up in no time with phrases like "cost efficiency," "digital and data expertise blended with the craft of story-telling," and even the old stand-by, "economies of scale."

In less than a month I'll be 63-years-old. I grew up in a black-and-white America of 150 million people. We're now a country that's more than doubled in size. Everything's different.

I said to an old friend not too long ago that every place we used to hang out when we were young is now a Home Depot parking lot. 

Maybe that's progress.

But it makes me sad.

Maybe the disappearance--or the subsuming--of these famous advertising brands will lead to the resurgence and the strengthening of new brands. 

Or maybe, and more likely to my jaded eyes, the whole thing will collapse like a rust-belt downtown and the only one's left standing will be the Holding Company oligarchs who disappeared those brands in the first place. By that time they'll have made up various awards for themselves and have had themselves elected into some spurious Hall-of-Fame that celebrates their Titanic egos and their minnow-sized engines.

In fact, I have a feeling the only ones doing well in advertising in 2020 are the very people who have destroyed the industry.

I also have the feeling that if I ever find myself back in one of those buildings that used to house one of those agencies--one of those agencies that are now no more--when nobody's watching, I'll sit down at one of the desks or in one of the conference rooms and I'll hit my knees.

Everything has gotten very small.





Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Mondelez Annual Meeting. An HUMANIZATIONARYOLTARIANOSITY story.

CEO:
HELLO FRIENDS. HELLO MONDELEZZ FAMILY.

HELLO LADIES. HELLO GENTLEMEN. HELLO SHE, HE, THEY, IT AND ZORTRON THE SEX-IS-A-CONSTRUCT PROTOPLAM FROM THE PLANET IXNAY IN THE CRAB NEBULA.

HELLO ONE AND ALL. 

AND WELCOME TO THE MONDELEZ ANNUAL MEETING.

IN A NORMAL YEAR, WE'D BE IN RIO. OR THE COSTA DEL SOL. OR ONE OF THOSE THATCH-ROOF HUTS OVER A CLEAR BLUE SEA IN THE SOUTH SEAS.

BUT THIS IS NO NORMAL YEAR!

WHAT IS IT?

CROWD:
UNPRECEDENTED!

CEO:
I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!

CROWD:
UNPRECEDENTED!!!

CEO:
THAT'S RIGHT! UNPRECEDENTED! But at Mondelez, when things are unprecedented, we're just getting started! We're just revving our engines! We're just beginning to all pull on the same oar! 

FRIENDS! 2020 is just the petro-chemical on the cracker!

But 2021 will be the year we all pull-ahead. 2021 will be the year of Mondelez!

And much of that pulling ahead--forging a new path--galloping into a rosy and sugar-coated future will be led by our NEW CORPORATE ETHOS: HUMANIZINGIZATION.

Before we begin to talk about HUMANIZINGIZATION, let's spend a few moments to tip our wafers to some people around Mondelez who are raising the bar as we at Mondelez bar all raises.

First, I want to talk about Irwin Fenster in our Bern, Switzerland R&D Lab. Fenster labors in relative obscurity. But it is his quiet heroism--and the quiet dedication of thousands like him that help Mondelez push the boundaries of HUMANIZENOSITY!

Fenster, working tirelessly, looked at the success of our Double Stuf Oreo.™ It's the number one cookie in Bolivia, Cincinnati and in Upper Lower Silesia--with a bullet! 

Fenster said, "That's not good enough." And it's already been a great success in test-markets around the world! 

Lisa, would you flip the slide?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Fenster's Nineteentuple-Stuf Oreo! Eight-full inches of delicious Stuf, all deliciously-stufed between two delicious oreo cookies


I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the brilliant philologists of Oxford University--Isaac Newton's alma mater--not Fig Newton--who labored day and night to develop our trademarked new spelling of stuff. Folks, we--you and I--own the word STUF, with one F. We couldn't have done it without the language slaughterers we so often take for granted.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, cookies and crackers, we turn to the CRUX of this year's Annual Meeting.

That of course is HUMANISIZING.

We all know that cookies and crackers and snack foods are one of life's simple, loveliest and most beautiful pleasures.

We are not talking about teeth-rotting, waist-expanding, diabetes-deducing snack food. NO!!! We are about HUMAN connection.

We are LOVE. We are TOGETHERNESS. We are the warm embrace of a significant other biomass. We are light and life and laughter and, yes, even lust.

We are SEX with a Fig-Filling.

Why, that's Biblical! In the Bag-gining!

Right back to Adam and Eve and their concealing Fig Leaves.

My friends, THAT IS HUMANIZINGIZATION. That is the deliciousness of life processed with preservatives and chemicals and no end of artificial additives you can't pronounce, all in the service of bringing the world's riven populace together.



We at MONDELEZ are not a cookie, cracker and snack-food company, we are not even a company at all. We are a Humanpany. A Humanporation. With a customer-centric centricity that is central to the center of our centerpoint.

Now, Lisa, thank you, Lisa. Will you please dim the lights? And all of you, my friends out in Zoomtopia, I'd like you all to close your eyes for a second. Deep cleansing breath. Another.

Now, come with me on a journey. The journey of journeying that encompasses the journey we all journey down as we journey through life's journeys.

Eyes closed?

We see a white picket fence. It's sundown. And the rosy fingers of dusk reach over the verdant branches of a spreading maple tree. Somewhere a dog barks. Its master has just come home. 

We cut inside, and our story begins.

What are we at Mondelez Humanitizationing for? That's the question, Mondel-fleas. 

We're connecting with little girls putting on frilly petticoats for their first dance. We're humanizationizing for a mom helping her autistic son strive and succeed in school. Oh, look! There's a young girl with Down's Syndrome...she's just won a beauty contest. Her big, burly dad adjusts her tiara. A kiss.

A middle-aged woman, her face smeared with grease and grime and wearing a hardhat takes a break from getting those California wildfires under control.

That's what we're humanizationingizing for. 

Look, a political candidate--he's not kissing babies--he's handing out cookies. 19-stufal Oreo cookies, with 19-times the Stuf as usual Oreolas.

Three old men in flannel shirts sitting around the cracker-barrel playing checkers. A local baseball team in the twilight over a well-groomed sandlot celebrating a close-fought win.

A white cop helps a black motorist with a jumpstart. That is humanizationizing.

A priest helps a rabbi reel in a fish. An Arab and a Hasid playing pickel-ball.

A hippie and a school marm dance closely and slowly. She lets down her hair, takes off her owlish glasses. They fall in love.

That is our humanitory-sensory-humanizationary customer-centric-centricity.

A boat-load of refugees welcomed to a giant dinner set and abundant at a long communal table. 

A young suburban couple--they're Black but they look white, or white but they look Black, and they've painted themselves into a corner as they restore their $11 million starter home.

A fat man limps across the finish line of a marathon. The whole town cheers.

A dog gets a bath and shakes off on the stern dad reading a newspaper who then bursts into laughter.

That Mondel-sneezers, Mondel-fleas-ers and Mondel-tweezers is Humanitizationaryosityness.

That's what's going to make 2021 the greatest year in Cookie-Cracker-and-Confection Customer-Centricity-Connection.

That is what we're about.

Anyone can sell snack foods, my friends.

Only we can sell the very essence, pith and core of CON-X-SHUN.

Thank you.

And snack well.



Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A story of no consequence.

A friend and some time partner just sent me a note. I don't know how or why, but it led me down the swirling drain of memory into my advertising past.

I'm teaching at two ad schools now, so my Monday and Tuesday evenings are booked from seven to ten. There's preparation beforehand--I usually compile a dossier on an advertising luminary from way back when, or I try to wrangle a friend to come into class who can provide a different perspective than mine. 

My "jadedness" puts the greatest works of the Ming Dynasty to shame.

In any event, I told my friend, I'll call him Marc, that I took only one class at the School of Visual Arts and Beastiality, and quickly got a job as a copywriter at the in-house advertising agency at Bloomingdale's, the Mecca of a department store on New York's Upper East Side, back from when New York had stores and was a city.

Not only was I tied to the whipping post and charged with writing twenty ads a week, 50 weeks a year, I had the opportunity to work for a young, brilliant creative director called John C. Jay.

I was probably 23 at the time. John might have been two or three years older. But he was already showing sustained periods of genius. And his genius at spotting trends and talent before they emerged was already evident.

I remember seeing a veritable who's who of photographers around our warren of dinky offices, including Norman Parkinson and Debra Turbeville.

John, and I, I wrote to Marc, are still in touch. Even after his vaunted success at Wieden and his continued ascent at Uniqlo and in the art world, John will drop me an occasional note or a snide comment on something I've written. 

If we were both in New York, I'm not sure he'd deign to have a cup of coffee with me--and there's a chance I wouldn't be admitted into any place he regularly frequents, but still, we are connected, no matter how tangentially.

I wrote to Marc that John once asked me to do some freelance with him. I worked and I worked and I worked the sinewy 24-year-old me. 

None of what I did made John happy. He had an idea--a visual idea--and he wanted me to write to accommodate it. Having at this point already written a couple of thousand ads, I was pretty adept at getting things writ in the requisite style.

John said, "I want the headline to be shaped like an inverted pyramid. Can you write something like that?"

So I did.

The little image below explains all you need to know.


I'm not sure what happened with this particular ad. And I was never really impressed with it. Come to think of it, I'm not sure he ever paid me.

John? With interest, please.